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Quote of the Day: Attorney General William Barr Wages War on Secularism

Cartoon by Jen Sorensen

He [U.S. Attorney General William Barr] is a devoted Catholic who has said he believes the nation needs a “moral renaissance” to restore Judeo-Christian values in American life. He has been unafraid to use his platform as the nation’s top law enforcement officer to fight the cultural changes they believe are making the country more inhospitable and unrecognizable, like rising immigration and secularism or new legal protections for L.G.B.T. people.

….

A series of assertive public appearances in recent weeks, laced with biting sarcasm aimed at adversaries on the left, have brought a sharper focus on Mr. Barr’s style and worldview, both of which share aspects with the president’s.

….

He [Barr] has painted a picture of a country divided into camps of “secularists” — those who, he said recently, “seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience” — and people of faith. The depiction echoes Mr. Trump’s worldview, with the “us versus them” divisions that the president often stokes when he tells crowds at his rallies that Democrats “don’t like you.”

His politicization of the office is unorthodox and a departure from previous attorneys general in a way that feels uncomfortably close to authoritarianism, critics said.

“Barr has believed for a long time that the country would benefit from more authoritarianism. It would inject a stronger moral note into government,” said Stuart M. Gerson, who worked in the Bush Justice Department under Mr. Barr and is a member of Checks & Balances, a legal group that is among the attorney general’s leading conservative detractors. “I disagree with his analysis of power. We would be less free in the end.”

….

He’s [Barr’s] offering a fairly unabashed, crisp and candid assessment of the nature of our culture right now,” said Leonard A. Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society and a prominent advocate for socially conservative causes. “There’s certainly a movement in our country to dial back the role that religion plays in civil society and public life. It’s been going on for some time,” Mr. Leo added. “That’s not an observation that public officials make very often, so it is refreshing.”

Mr. Barr helped make the case for conservatives to shift to war footing against the left during a speech at Notre Dame Law School in October that was strikingly partisan. He accused “the forces of secularism” of orchestrating the “organized destruction” of religion. He mocked progressives, asking sardonically, “But where is the progress?”

And while other members of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis have acknowledged that the sexual abuse crisis has devastated the moral authority of the church in the United States and is in part to blame for decreasing attendance, Mr. Barr outlined what he saw as a larger plot by the left and others. He said they “have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”

At one point, he compared the denial of religious liberty protections for people of faith to Roman emperors who forced their Christian subjects to engage in pagan sacrifices. “We cannot sit back and just hope the pendulum is going to swing back toward sanity,” Mr. Barr warned.

— Jeremy W. Peters and Katie Benner, New York Times, Barr Dives Into the Culture Wars, and Social Conservatives Rejoice, December 8, 2019

Who Is Billy Graham, and Why Should I Visit His Library?

billy graham 1951

Billy Graham, 1951, when he was still associated with the Sword of the Lord

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Recently, my New Jersey-based family took a trip to North Carolina for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday. We flew into Charlotte, rented a car, and traveled about an hour and a half west to our destination. My son, having visited Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina several months prior while visiting colleges, wanted to play our favorite highway game in the South – “count the Jesus signs.”  The rules are simple: merely spot an overtly Christian billboard or other sign not part of a church campus.

It didn’t take long for us to see a sign featuring a picture of a Bible and the message “Who is Jesus? Read Matthew’s Gospel 855-FOR-TRUTH.” This is a professional billboard that you can find on Gospel Billboards offered by Christian Aid Ministries. According to its website, CAM is a religious charity organization for Amish, Mennonite, and Anabaptist groups and people to provide physical aid and to spread their version of the gospel to different sites around the world. As I researched CAM, I came across this article regarding an investigation of a CAM aid worker who was indicted for 7 felony charges of gross sexual imposition and seven misdemeanor charges of sexual imposition. There is an investigation regarding whether 2 CAM managers knew of the sexual abuses for several years yet allowed this individual to continue to “minister” to those in need. (Please see Black Collar Crime: Mennonite Aid Worker Jeriah Mast Accused of Sex Crimes and Black Collar Crime: Mennonite Aid Worker Jeriah Mast Pleads Guilty to Sexually Abusing Minors)

We saw several more signs our first evening of driving, including a series of white wooden crosses with a different message on either side and elaborately floodlit so that they were visible at night. Apparently, these crosses are the work of Henry “Hank” Vegter, a Saluda, NC based Baptist pastor.

Here are some of the messages:

  • Jesus Paid It All
  • Blood Secured Redemption
  • Jesus Saves From Sin
  • Jesus Died For Sinners
  • Jesus’ Incorruptible Blood

My family thought it was funny when I told them that “Jesus Paid It All” is a common hymn, and I sang it for them. As my husband and kids have rarely ever attended an evangelical church service, they are always amazed at my wealth of knowledge regarding hymns, evangelical Christian messages and doctrines, and those doctrines’ implications for current politics.

My son was excited to spot the small yellow “Thank You Jesus” sign in a yard, as he recalled seeing dozens of them in North Carolina several months ago. One morning, we counted a dozen of these signs within a 30-minute time period. These signs were the brainchild of a North Carolina teen who wanted to spread the gospel. (Please see Thank You Jesus Signs.) These signs may be purchased to fund the 503(c)3 organization whose mission is to spread the gospel. In addition to the signs, one may purchase magnets, bracelets, and garden flags.

At the end of our trip, on our drive back to the airport in Charlotte, we saw more Christian signs. One from Gospel Billboards spurred a discussion. “The Bible: Wisdom, Correction, Truth” was the message, and I pointed out that the creators of the billboard probably wanted to say “Discipline” instead of “Correction” but most likely realized that “Discipline” might be off-putting to potential converts. I asked my husband and completely nonreligious kids what they thought when they saw that sign, and their reactions included ambivalence and rejection. We saw two billboards listing John 3:16 in full, but because the verse is so long and the font was difficult to read, my son had trouble catching the whole message, thus negating the purpose of the advertisement. Fortunately for all involved, my years of early childhood indoctrination ensured that I was able to recite the verse in its entirety.

At the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, we saw several signs that encouraged people to visit the Billy Graham Library. My daughter asked, “Who is Billy Graham, and why should I visit his library?” I explained that Billy Graham was a Christian evangelist who spent decades touring the world spreading the message of Christianity. My husband mentioned that Billy Graham was fairly free from scandal, unlike Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart and a host of other evangelists who quite publicly used their ministries for personal gain. My kids were fairly unimpressed.

If my mother or grandparents were still alive, they would be horrified that my kids know very little of Evangelical Christianity or its vaunted icon Billy Graham. My mom was “saved” at a Billy Graham crusade in Nashville in the mid-1950s. My grandmother rarely watched television, but she ALWAYS watched the televised Billy Graham crusades. I have a very vague recollection of attending a Billy Graham Crusade in Nashville in the 1970s, as a group from our church rode our church bus to the downtown Municipal Auditorium for the grand event. I wasn’t “saved” there as I resisted “going down front” for altar calls as long as I was able to avoid doing so.

Whenever I visit the South, I am reminded of the familiarity of Evangelical culture but am very much put off by it. My kids find the culture curious, and we are all bothered by the “Blue Laws” that affect us as malls and stores aren’t open until after church hours. And that was another question from my kids – how long does church last on Sunday? My response was that it depends. The truly devout attend hour-long Sunday School, followed by a worship service, and some churches have a coffee hour or some other “fellowship” after the service. They were both glad that they were not required to attend church services, and instead able to enjoy other activities.

Do you live in an area where there are a lot of religious road-side signs? Do you live in an area with blue laws? Are you nonreligious or casually religious but living in a religiously saturated area?

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: God’s History Book, The Bible

Was ancient man (or mankind) intelligent? Many Christians today have unanswered questions about the authority of the Bible due to their acceptance of an evolutionary timeline of history and, in particular, their view of mankind within that timeline. If the claims that mankind emerged from the slow process of evolution are true, then the Bible must be wrong, because the biblical record tells us that men were intelligent since the day of their creation (e.g., able to converse with God, able to work, and so on).

Yet our modern society believes we are just reaching the height of human intelligence and capabilities. If we accept this evolutionary view, what do we do with the biblical account about ancient man? Is it completely unfounded and simply a myth? Or is the Bible true and verifiably so, thus making the evolutionary timeline errant?

Most secular historians have not completely ignored the record of the Bible. However, they cite it as simply a source of information (e.g., a document of men, without God). In doing so, they undermine the authority of Scripture by not placing the Bible in its rightful place. Many Christians unwittingly accept this abuse of God’s Word and furthermore even promote it! When it is assumed that the Bible is only one of many records of early man and it is placed in a timeline alongside the other legends predating it, two key points are missed:

1 God existed before creation and is the infinite, omniscient, and omnipresent Creator and, as such, He is the ultimate authority above all things (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 40:28; Isaiah 40:14; Proverbs 15:3; Psalm 24:1).

2 The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative Word of God, given to us as God spoke through human writers (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16).

Therefore, God’s account of what happened at the beginning of time, and since then, is accurate and true, and it is fallible man’s accounts of history that is subject to error. No matter when in human, historic time the Bible was actually penned or by whom, it has priority over any other account. In our book, The Genius of Ancient Man, we refer to this idea as the “priority of God in sequence and time.” God predates the universe and all human history; He was actually there, and His account (which He revealed to us in His Holy Word) is the accurate one.

— Andrew Snelling, David Menton, Danny Faulkner, Georgia Purdom, Answers in Genesis, Ancient Man and Intelligence: Were People Originally Dumb Brutes or Brilliant?, December 7, 2019

Quote of the Day: The Rising Tide of Religious Indifference

I’m sure that you’ve experienced it before; that passionless, detached “meh” you receive in response after asking someone questions about their belief in God. Those crucial questions to philosophy, faith, and the meaning of life, which you ponder and return to over and again, are dismissed with the kind of disinterest typically experienced by a policy specialist at the IRS when they explain what they do for a living. As a committed believer, you happily engage someone with the kind of dialogue that stirs your mind to explore the most significant questions human beings can ask. But, to your surprise, the person is wholly indifferent to the topic. You ask, “Do you believe in God?” And they respond with a deflating grin and shrug-of-the-shoulders reminiscent of The Office’s Jim Halpert deadpanning Camera 2 after his buffoon manager, Michael Scott, asked him a ridiculous question.

Sometimes, the disinterest comes from the kind of person you would expect—an agnostic who, after years of oscillating between religious and areligious beliefs, has finally thrown their hands in the air and given up. Other times, the disinterest comes from the kind of person you would least expect—a self-described religious person who, for one reason or another, is utterly indifferent to the very foundations upon which their worldview was constructed. Either way, the result is the same. In our culture, there seems to be a growing apathy toward theism. In conjunction with declining religious service attendance and the rising of the religiously unaffiliated has come a new challenge to evangelism. It is no longer the pugnacious New Atheism at center stage, but something far less passionate—apatheism. This nonchalant attitude toward God is more challenging to evangelism than religious pluralism, agnosticism, and atheism. For this reason, the phenomenon should be taken seriously. Evangelicals ought to examine and understand it for the sake of the gospel. The more that we understand apatheism, the better equipped we are to engage it.

….

Apatheism—a portmanteau of apathy and theism—is, in part, the belief that God and questions related to his existence and character are irrelevant. These God questions (GQs) are the big ones: Does God exist? Can we know if God exists? If so, how does he reveal himself, and what is he like? What is the nature of his person and character? And what does God do? If God does not exist, then what does his non-existence mean? Apatheism is wholly indifferent to these questions.

….

So, why apatheism? Why is it that affections toward God today in Western society are so inert? It is difficult to imagine that a person could be so apathetic five centuries ago. Back then, questions about God’s province over salvation and moral duty dominated the public imagination. Everyone asked these questions because they believed that ultimate meaning is found beyond humanity and nature. Religion, especially the Christian faith, offered answers to questions of meaning, so GQs were very important. But something changed. Western society began to separate itself from religion or, at least, no longer aligned with a particular religion. This separation led to questioning whether or not God is involved in our lives (deism), if we can know God (agnosticism), or if he even exists (atheism). After a while, some people began to question the relevancy of GQs themselves, like Denis Diderot (1713–1784), who famously quipped, “It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley, but to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.” In short, apatheism has become possible because society has secularized.

— Kyle Beshears, The Gospel Coalition, Athens without a Statue to the Unknown God, December 4, 2019

Kyle Beshears is the teaching pastor of Mars Hill Church in Mobile, Alabama. While I don’t agree with his answers for apatheism, I did find his survey of indifference towards religion helpful. Your mileage may vary.

Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Cameron Giovanelli Pleads Guilty to Sex Crimes

cameron giovanelli

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 May 2018, I wrote a post about the sexual assault allegations made against Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher and college president Cameron Giovanelli. (Please see Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Cameron Giovanelli Accused of Sexual Assault)  Giovanelli resigned from Golden State Baptist College and did what disgraced IFB preachers often do: moved across the country, joined up with one of his preacher buddies, and continued on in the ministry as if nothing happened.

In May 2019, I received word that Giovanelli was in Florida working as the associate pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Giovanelli planned on helping Immanuel Baptist’s pastor, Greg Neal, start a new unaccredited IFB secondary institution called North Florida Baptist College. Neal, himself, was caught up in a sex scandal in 2011 when he was accused of video voyeurism. You can read more about Neal’s brush with the law here and here. Neal, unfortunately, escaped prosecution. (Please see Black Collar Crime: Pastor Cameron Giovanelli Resurrects From the Dead, Found in Florida)

cameron giovanelli charges

In August 2019, Giovanelli was charged by Baltimore, Maryland County police with sexual abuse of a minor and several other sex crimes. If convicted, Giovanelli faced up to thirty-six years in prison. (Case Information)

WBAL-11 reports:

Police charging documents claim Giovanelli initially tried to teach her how to kiss which turned into a daily encounter and eventually sexual assault. Police say an associate pastor at the church became suspicious. The associate said he confronted Giovanelli and told him to stop and the associate got an email later that night from Giovanelli thanking him.

“[Thanks] for saving his life and saving his ministry …. He thought God sent him to stop him from doing something,” said Giovanelli in police charging documents.

An investigation was opened in May 2018 when the victim reported the abuse to police. The completed investigation was submitted to the office of the state’s attorney, at which time the decision was made to charge Giovanelli.

An arrest warrant was obtained and served on Monday. Giovanelli voluntarily turned himself in to police Tuesday. He was released on his own recognizance at an initial bail hearing under the condition that he have no contact with any minor.

Based on information provided by the victim, police believe it is likely there are additional victims who were abused by Giovanelli during his time as pastor at the church [Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, Maryland] and school located in the 7300 block of Manchester Road.

Today, Giovanelli pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree sex offense and second-degree assault. Giovanelli will serve a whopping 90-days in the county jail and be on probation for five years. He will not have to register as a sex offender.

Knowing the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement as I do, Giovanelli will likely have a new ministry gig lined up before he even leaves jail. There’s no shame in some IFB circles. I’m sure that Giovanelli will paint himself as an innocent victim who pleaded guilty to avoid a long prison sentence. No shame, indeed.

Letter to the Editor: Ohio Representative Craig Riedel Supports Extreme Anti-Abortion Legislation — HB413

craig-riedel-quote-on-abortion

The following letter was recently submitted by me to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News.

Dear Editor,

Supposedly, Republican Craig Riedel represents the interests of all his constituents in the 82nd District. However, it seems clear, at least to me, that the only people Riedel is interested in representing are people who hew to his right-wing political and religious beliefs. Riedel continues to trample the line between church and state, repeatedly supporting legislation that forces his religious beliefs on others. (Please see Should Every Effort be Made to Preserve Human Life?)

I get it. Riedel is adamantly anti-abortion. However, many of his constituents, including some of his fellow Republicans, do not support his extreme views. Take Ohio House Bill 413, legislation supported by Riedel. This bill, if enacted, effectively outlaws abortion in Ohio. Further, HB413 criminalizes abortion, both for the physician and the patient. HB413 adds terms such as abortion murder and aggravated abortion murder to Ohio law. If convicted, Ohioans could face life in prison.

Not only does HB413 effectively outlaw and criminalize abortion, it makes no exception in cases of rape and incest. That’s right. Riedel has no problem with forcing women to carry fetuses to term, even if they have been raped. Worse yet, Riedel supports requiring physicians to reimplant fertilized eggs from ectopic pregnancies. Never mind, that such a procedure is medically impossible and could lead to women bleeding to death. All that matters is that the fertilized egg be spared at all costs. It seems, then, that not only is Riedel anti-abortion, he is also anti-science.

I am left wondering what happened to the Ohio of my youth. There was a time when our political parties worked for the common good of the people of Ohio. Today, right-wing extremism rules the roost in Columbus. How can Ohioans ever find common ground on issues such as abortion as long as men such as Craig Riedel demand pregnant women be kept hostage by his peculiar religious views? And make no mistake about it, Evangelicals and other conservative Christians are the ones driving women to resort to back-alley abortions. Using an incremental approach, right-wing Republicans have enacted a plethora of legislation meant to roll back Ohio to pre-Roe v. Wade days.

Is it really in the best interest of Ohio women to outlaw and criminalize abortion? I think not. While I support legislation that regulates abortion post-viability, I can think of no rational reason to ban access to morning-after drugs and procedures that end unwanted pregnancies. The only thing standing in the way is religion.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

Other posts about Rep. Craig Riedel

HB565: Ohio Republicans Take ‘Abortion is Murder’ to its Logical Conclusion

Children Should be Taught Facts, not Religious Beliefs, in Ohio Public School Classrooms

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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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Black Collar Crime: Evangelist Acton Bowen Pleads Guilty to Sex Crimes

acton bowen

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.

(Please read Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Evangelist Acton Bowen Arrested on Child Sex Charges,  Black Collar Crime: Why Did Young Boys Need to be Protected from Evangelist Acton Bowen? Black Collar Crime: Evangelist Acton Bowen Accused of Additional Sex Crimes and Black Collar Crime: District Attorney Says Evangelist Acton Bowen is a ‘Danger to Every Child in This Community’ for further information about Acton Bowen.)

In April 2018, Evangelical evangelist Acton Bowen was arrested on child sexual abuse charges.

AL.com reported at the time:

A well-known Alabama evangelist, public speaker and author was arrested in Hoover Tuesday on child sex charges.

Paul Edward Acton Bowen, a 37-year-old Gadsden native who now lives in Etowah County’s Southside community, was taken into custody by Hoover police about 12:35 p.m. The founder of Acton Bowen Outreach Ministries is charged with second-degree sodomy, enticing a child to enter a vehicle or house for immoral purposes, and second-degree sex abuse. The victim was a young male, but police did not release his age except to say he is over 12 and under 16.

Hoover police Capt. Gregg Rector said the department’s Special Victim’s Unit first launched an investigation three weeks ago. The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office issued the warrants on Monday.

“This is certainly one of the more disturbing cases that we’ve investigated in quite some time,” Rector said. “Mr. Bowen is in a highly-respected position of influence and he is trusted by many. We believe he betrayed that trust in the worst kind of way.”

Bowen was taken into custody in Pelham and transported to the Hoover City Jail. He was moved to the Jefferson County Jail where he was released early Wednesday on $90,300 bond.

Rector said the victim in this case is an underage family acquaintance, “He is currently doing well and has been in a safe environment since police were first notified,” Rector said.

….

Bowen is president and founder of Acton Bowen Outreach. His bio says he served for 12 years in a local church, led a citywide student Bible study in Gadsden and was also the host of xlroads TV, a worldwide broadcast viewed weekly by millions of teens and adults in every city in America and over 170 countries around the world.

The website says Bowen is a cohost of Top3 on the JuceTV Network in New York City.

“Everyone associated with JuceTV was shocked and disheartened to hear of the egregious allegations made against Acton Brown this week. Our prayers go out to those who may have been hurt and victimized,” a JuceTV spokesperson said in a statement to AL.com. “Mr. Brown made four appearances on JuceTV, an affiliate of TBN, the most recent last summer, but there are no on-going ties.”

The outreach website described Bowen as a regular contributor on Fox News as a correspondent on faith and religion. However, network officials say Bowen has never been employed or paid by Fox News.

It goes on to say he speaks up to 20 times a month at churches, disciple-now weekends, citywide crusades, camps, conferences, school assemblies and leadership seminars – giving him a live platform in front of more than 350,000 people.

acton bowen donald trump

Acton Bowen and President Donald Trump were Best Buds. I suspect, if asked about Bowen today, Trump would reply, “Never heard of the guy.”

Bowen was also charged with committing sex crimes in Florida. ABC 33/40 reported:

 The list of sexual abuse accusations against evangelist Acton Bowen has crossed state lines. Bowen was charged with lewd or lascivious battery in Bay County, Florida according to the local sheriff’s office.

The charge was filed on May 23rd. According to Florida state law, a person commits lewd or lascivious battery by engaging in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age or encouraging, forcing, or enticing any person less than 16 years of age to engage in sexual activity.

….

After posting the two aforementioned stories, it was reported that, two days after Bowen’s arrest, his wife filed for divorce, stating that she “fears for her immediate safety from (her husband) and any third parties that may attempt to contact (her husband) as a result of the crimes for which he has been alleged to have committed.” Several days later, two of Bowen’s ministry board members, Trenton Garmon and Josh Dodd, resigned. Al.com reported that Bowen was required by his board to install the Covenant Eyes porn-blocking software on his computer. Why? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. A daily report was sent to his accountability partner. No mention is made of how board members ensured Bowen was not accessing pornography on other devices.

What stood out in the AL.com report is the following statement by Garmon:

We requested that he never be alone with any female other than his wife. And we requested that he never be alone with a male minor which I considered to be someone under 16 years old. I was told that these minimums were being followed. Yet, in light of the allegation, it appears that the Guardian Policy was not always honored. This is not to imply criminal guilt by any means, yet our policy was not abided by. As you may be aware he has publicly denied the criminal allegations.

Why did Bowen’s board specifically require him to never be alone with boys under the age of sixteen and never be alone with females regardless of their age, other than his wife?

acton bowen anniversary gift to wife

After his arrest, Bowen said he was completely innocent of all charges:

I have not done what I am accused of and have not acted inappropriately in any way. My family and I trust the legal system and the people who are entrusted with the duty of protection each of our rights. I believe the truth will stand and I will be vindicated of this false accusation. We ask that each of you keep everyone involved in this process in your prayers.

AL.com reported:

In his first public statement, Bowen said he wanted to say “thank you” to the countless number of people who have prayed for his family. “My wife, Ashley, and I along with our incredible family are so grateful for your prayers,” he said.

“I’m also thankful for the countless calls of support from those who have walked a lot of life with me and know me best,” he said. “Your steadfast, unshakable support gives me strength. For almost 20 years (since I was 18) my life has been committed to serving Jesus by serving people.”

“When this accusation was made known to me I was hurt, confused, and heartbroken,” he said. “Prior to the arrest only one side of the story was heard.”

….

On Monday, the “innocent” Acton Bowen pleaded guilty to 28 counts of sexual abuse involving victims between the ages of 13 and 16. I wonder if his praying supporters will now admit that Bowen is a sexual predator; that it is likely Bowen sexually molested other children who have not yet reported their abuse to law enforcement? Is it too much to ask that God’s people, in unison, condemn Bowen for his heinous behavior? I jest. Bowen’s supporters will scurry away in the night like cockroaches when the light is turned on, but few will take to social media or blogs to publickly excoriate Bowen. Forgive, forget, and move on. That’s what Evangelicals do.

AL.com reports:

An Alabama evangelist pleaded guilty this morning in an Etowah County courtroom to 28 counts of sexual abuse involving six victims.

Paul Acton Bowen, charged in both Jefferson County and Etowah counties, was facing criminal charges, including enticing a child for sexual act, sodomy, traveling to meet a child for sexual act and sexual abuse involving six different victims between the ages of 13 and 16.

He was first arrested by Hoover police in April 2018 and has remained jailed since then.

The 39-year-old Bowen is a Gadsden native and founder of Acton Bowen Outreach Ministries.

Bowen entered a blind plea to the Etowah County charges, meaning he could face the maximum for each offense, including up to life in prison. Circuit Judge Debra Jones will set a hearing for sentencing later, during which Bowen’s lawyers could present mitigating evidence toward any sentencing. Jones was hearing the case after several Etowah County judges recused themselves from the case. Bowen’s ex-wife was the daughter of an Etowah County judge.

….

Bowen served for 12 years in a local church, led a citywide student Bible study in Gadsden and was also the host of xlroads TV, a worldwide broadcast viewed weekly by millions of teens and adults in every city in America and over 170 countries around the world.

The Etowah County charges dealt with young boys who told investigators that after they met Bowen through his ministry, they were abused in several ways not only in Etowah County but during trips to different states and abroad.

Bowen remains in jail, awaiting sentencing. He faces up to life in prison for his crimes. Bowen still faces charges in Florida.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Pastor Kyle Brown Accused of Child Molestation

black collar crime

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.

Kyle Brown, a youth pastor at Marysville First Assembly Church (which is now called Grove Church) in Marysville, Washington, stands accused of sexually molesting a minor female church member. The victim alleges the abuse began when she was just eleven and continued for three years. Brown is described in a video as a “worshipholic.” Now he can add child molester to his résumé. Brown’s name and visage have been scrubbed from Grove Church’s website. See, he never worked here, Praise Jesus!

Herald Net reports:

Snohomish County prosecutors charged Kyle Brown, 25, in November with second-degree child molestation. The alleged abuse occurred between 2011 and 2015, when Brown was a youth pastor at Marysville First Assembly Church, according to charging papers.

The victim, who’s about six years younger than Brown, told police most of the alleged abuse started when she was 11, just after her father died.

At the time, she attended the church’s youth group almost weekly, where Brown held several leadership positions.

The victim told police the alleged abuse occurred away from the church, except for one instance during a camping trip, according to court documents.

She often tried to stop Brown, but couldn’t because of his size, according to the allegations described in court papers.

The molestation stopped when she was 14 and stopped attending the church, she told authorities. She later decided to tell her mother, a friend and her new pastor about Brown because of his continued work with children, which includes camping trips, she said.

Her new pastor, who is affiliated with a different church, reported Brown to Child Protective Services in April.

Contentment

contentment“Bruce, your problem is that you lack contentment.” I was stunned when my counselor told me this. I have been seeing him for years. I am beginning to wonder if it is time for a change. His words seemed sharp and judgmental. I felt as if he was ignoring me as a person and making a character judgment instead. Two weeks later, I am still talking about whether this judgment was correct. Polly would say, I’m sure, “Bruce, you are discontented over contentment.” :) Maybe.

Last week, I wrote a post titled, Living with Unrelenting Chronic Pain: Just Another Day in Paradise. I intended to write about contentment then, but the post, as is often the case, went in a different direction from that which I had intended. As that Spirit moves, right? It’s impossible to determine if I am content without first understanding the primary issues that drive my life: chronic illness, chronic pain, loss of career, loss of faith, OCPD, past emotional trauma. Pulling a singular event out of my life and rendering judgment based on it is sure to lead to a faulty conclusion. Think of all the clichés we use about understanding people: walk a mile in their shoes, see things through their eyes, judge not, lest you be judged. If we truly want to understand someone, we must take the time to see, listen, and observe — not something we do much of these days. We live in the social media era, a time when instant judgments are the norm. As a writer, I find it frustrating when people read a post or two and then sit in judgment of my life. In 2,000 or fewer words, I have, supposedly, told them all they need to know about Bruce Gerencser. Of course, I have done no such thing. Want to really get to know me? Sit down, pull up a chair, and let’s break bread and talk. Truly understanding someone requires time, commitment, and effort. I have been married for forty-one years. It took years for Polly and me to really get to know each other. And even today, I wonder, do I really know all there is to know about my lover and friend? I doubt it.

Contentment. What does the word even mean? Happy? Satisfied? Complacent? How do I determine if I am content? Do I even want to be content? Is contentment a desirable human trait? What would the world look like if everyone were content? The Apostle Paul wrote spoke of contentment several times:

  • I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
  • But godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6)
  • And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. (1 Timothy 6:8)
  • Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)

“Bruce, you are an atheist. What the Bible says is irrelevant.” Tell my mind that. These verses were pounded into my head by my pastors and Sunday school teachers, and then, as a pastor, I pounded them into the heads of congregants. Just because you say, “I’m an atheist,” doesn’t mean that decades of training and indoctrination magically disappear. I spent most of my adult life trying to be the model of a “contented” Christian. Try as I might, I came up short.

My father was the epitome of “contentment.” Dad lived by the maxim que sera sera (whatever will be, will be). He was passive and indifferent towards virtually everything. Dad and I were never close. It’s not that we had a bad relationship; it’s just that he treated his relationship with me the way he treated everything else.

I was much more like my mom. Passionate. Contrary. Opinionated. Everything mattered. It comes as no surprise that I am a perfectionist; that I struggle with Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder; that I have high (and often unreasonable) expectations not only for myself, but for others. Ask my children about what they “fondly” call the Gerencser Work Ethic. Oh, the stories they could share. I am sure a few of you are thinking, “are you not admitting here that you are discontent?” Maybe, but I am not convinced that it’s as simple as that — as I shared with my counselor.

You see, I have always been a restless person. Does this mean that I am discontent? Or, perhaps, I am someone who needs a steady diet of new experiences. I bore easily. In my younger years, this resulted in me working a number of different jobs. My resume is quite diverse. The same could be said of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I loved starting new churches. However, over time, these new churches would become old churches, and when that happened, I was ready to move on. I pastored a church in West Unity, Ohio for seven years. Awesome people. Not a problem in the world. Yet, I resigned and moved on. Why? I was bored. I was tired of the same routine Sunday after Sunday. It wasn’t the fault of people the people I pastored. I was the one with a restless spirit. I was the one looking for matches and gasoline so I could start a new fire.

dogs and contentmentMy counselor asked me if he could wave a magic wand over me and instantly make me content, would I want him to do so? I quickly replied, “absolutely not.” I told him that instant contentment would rob me of my passion and drive. “What kind of writer would I be without restlessness and passion?” I asked. He replied, “ah yes, that which drives creatives.” If being content requires me to surrender my passion and drive, no thanks. I am not interested. Now, I can certainly see where I would be better off if I, at times, let go and let Loki. I have never been good at “be still and know that I am God.” I like being busy. I enjoy “doing.” One of the frustrating problems I face with having fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis is that I can no longer do the things I want to do. My “spirit” is willing, but my “flesh” is weak. Does this lead to discontentment? Maybe, but I am more inclined to think that the inability to do what I want leads to frustration and anger, not discontentment.

I’ll leave it to others to determine if I am content. I will leave it to the people who look at me and “read” my face, thinking my lack of a smile is a sure sign of discontentment; as if there couldn’t be any other explanation for my facial expressions — you know, such as chronic, unrelenting pain. Would it settle the contentment question if I tell people that I am generally happy; that I enjoy writing, shooting photographs, and spending time with my children and grandchildren?  I doubt it. Much like my counselor, people seize on anecdotal stories as evidence for their judgments of my life. I told my counselor about a recent visit to a new upscale pizza place in Defiance. I told him that the waitstaff left a lot to be desired, and our pizzas were burnt on the bottom (the restaurant uses a brick pizza oven). I told our server the pizzas were burnt. The manager gave us a 50 percent discount on our bill. My counselor seized on this story as a good example of my discontentment. Never mind the fact that I rarely complain about the quality of restaurant food. I just don’t do it. I am willing to give a place a pass, having managed restaurants myself. I know how things can get messed up. That said, I always wanted to know when an order didn’t meet customer expectations. No, customers are not always right. Some of them are idiots and assholes. But I couldn’t make things right if complaints never reach my ears.

Am I content? Probably not, but I sure as hell don’t want the kind of contentment preached by the Apostle Paul, modeled by my father, and suggested by my counselor. No thanks . . . I’ll take happiness with a slice of restlessness, and garnished with passion every time.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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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Should Every Effort be Made to Preserve Human Life?

calvin and hobbes death

Currently, Ohio House Bill 413 is winding its way through the legislative process. If enacted, the 723 page bill would become the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the United States. HB413 is so extreme that some Ohio anti-abortion groups oppose the bill. Not only does the HB413 turn having an abortion into a capital crime, it also requires doctors to reimplant fertilized eggs from ectopic pregnancies into the womb. Refusing to do so could result in doctors facing murder charges.

Never mind the fact that reimplanting ectopic pregnancies is medically impossible to perform. Doctors are required to attempt the procedure regardless of the outcome.

HB413 is the logical conclusion of believing life begins at fertilization. Ohio Evangelicals and Catholics have been pushing for zygote personhood for years. The goal has always remained the same: an absolute ban on abortion. These zealots demand no rape or incest exception, and many of them object to abortion to save the life of the mother. “Let God sort it out! He’s the giver and taker of life. If he wants the mother to live, she will. If not, his will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Fundamentalist Christian Jeff Maples believes ALL life matters, and it should be protected at all costs. Here’s what Maples said Sunday on the Reformation Charlotte website:

Critics have argued that reimplanting a fetus from an ectopic pregnancy is a procedure “not known to medical science” and would place obstetricians and gynecologists in a dire situation for not performing an “impossible procedure.” However, the bill does not require doctors to be successful in the procedure, rather take all measures at attempting to do so. This would, in effect, advance the science behind the practice making it more likely to save lives in the future. When dealing with human life, it is imperative that all measures be taken to preserve it — an unborn child deserves no less than a two-year-old child or an adult. That’s the whole point of the measure.

I wonder if Maples really believes all life matters. I wonder if he is a pacifist or anti-capital punishment? I wonder if Maples opposes President Trump’s barbaric immigration policies; policies that have led to the deaths of adults and children alike? Something tells me he is not a pro-life as he says he is. Most Evangelicals are schizophrenic when it comes to matters of life and death. Typically, Evangelicals, and their counterparts in the Catholic Church, only think life matters before birth. After birth, humans are on their own. Well, that is until it comes time to die. Then Evangelicals show up to protest and criminalize end-of-life attempts to lessen suffering and pain. Humans must suffer to the bitter end. Euthanasia is humans playing God, and that must never happen. In their eyes, physician-assisted suicide is murder.

Maples believes that every effort should be made to preserve life. No matter the cost or the outcome, life must be preserved. I am sure that Maples believes his anti-death viewpoint is noble. It’s not. Maples and others like him see no qualitative difference between a fertilized egg and a thirteen-year-old; no difference between a thirteen-week fetus and its mother; no difference between a teenager with a full life ahead of her and a ninety-year-old man whose life is nearing death. Such thinking, of course, is absurd.

I do my best to have a consistent life ethic. That said, all life is not equal, nor should every effort be made to preserve life. There is a qualitative difference between a fertilized egg and its mother. The fertilized egg represents potential life. It cannot live outside of the womb. That’s why I support the unrestricted right to an abortion until viability. Once a fetus is viable, then the mother and medical professionals must consider its interests along with that of the mother. When it comes to choosing between the fetus and the mother, the choice, to me anyway, is clear: the mother. Granted, if the mother is gravely ill with cancer or some other terminal disease, then consideration should be given to saving the fetus. Such decisions are never easy, but one thing is for certain: we don’t need Evangelicals, their God and Republican politicians deciding what should be done.

As someone who knows that he is on the short side of life, I don’t want the Jeff Maples of the world butting their noses into my end-of-life decisions or that of my family. I know how I want the end of my life to play out, as do my wife and children. I don’t want Christian Fundamentalists getting between me and my God. “Huh? Bruce, you don’t have a God.” Well, I do when it comes to this discussion. If Evangelicals want to wallow in needless pain and suffering at the end of their lives — all so their mythical God will give them an “attaboy” — that’s fine by me. However, my triune God — humanism, science, and reason — doesn’t demand that I unnecessarily suffer; when it is my time to die it is okay for me to say, “No más.” I expect my doctors, wife, and children to honor my wishes. I have seen far too many people endlessly and needlessly suffer all so Jesus would be honored and their family would know that they fought to the end. I have watched countless dying people go through unnecessary, painful procedures and treatments, all so their spouses and children could rest easy knowing that every possible thing was done to preserve their life.

Sadly, many people ignorantly think that longevity of life is all that matters; that enduring surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation is worth it if it adds a few weeks or months to the end of their lives. Evangelicals speak of being ready to meet God. They sing songs about Heaven and preach sermons that suggest True Christians® yearn and long for eternal life in the sweet by and by. Yet, when it comes time to die, they are in no hurry to catch the next train to Glory.

Instead of focusing on longevity of life, the focus should be on quality of life.  Sure, it is human nature to want to live as long as possible. But some things are worse than death. Often, treatment is worse than the disease. Personally, I would choose to live three months and then die, than to suffer the horrible side-effects of end-of-life treatments that often only add weeks or a few months to a person’s life.

When it comes to dying, God is an unnecessary middleman. He and his Bible-sotted disciples get in the way of what is best for the dying. Demanding that life be preserved at all costs only causes unnecessary pain and suffering. I know of Evangelical families who refused to let their dying loved ones die with dignity. You see, in their minds, all that matters is playing by God’s rules. All that matters is pleasing God. If their loved one has to suffer, so be it. God comes first. God mustn’t be offended, even if he prolongs the misery of the dying. Quite frankly, when it comes time for me to die, I don’t want religious zealots anywhere near me. I don’t need or want their prayers or admonitions. I want to be surrounded by my family. I want to hear them say, “Dad, it’s okay to let go.”

I have made my wishes known to my wife and children. Polly and I have spent a considerable amount of time talking about the various end of life scenarios; about what we want or don’t want to be done in the various circumstances we might face in the future. Both of us believe that quality of life is more important than extending life. We reject Jeff Maples’ notion that our lives should be preserved at all costs. We know that one day we will physically reach the end of the line. Hopefully, not any time soon, but who knows (certainly not God), right? Better to have these discussions now than to have them under pressure or when one or both of us might not have the mental acuity to make rational choices.

Not talking about death is not an option. Pretending we will live forever only leads to heartache when the lie is made known. The moment we are born, we begin marching towards the finish line. While I would love to live to threescore and ten or fourscore, (Psalm 90:10) I know that’s unlikely. Probabilities come into play. All the positive thinking in the world won’t change the odds. I am grateful to have lived longer than my mom and dad. But it would be foolish of me to ignore the realities staring me in the face. Pretending that I am going to live to a hundred helps whom, exactly?  The Bible is right when it says, “Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” (Proverbs 27:1) Solomon was spot on when he wrote:

Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

Last week, I referenced the advice I give on the ABOUT page. I think it would be good to end this post with that advice again:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Do you think life should be preserved at all costs; that every effort should be made to preserve life? How do you come to terms with your mortality? Do you prefer longevity of life over quality of life? Please share your astute thoughts in the comment section. If you are so inclined, please share approximately how old you are. I am interested in how age affects our end of life viewpoints.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Quote of the Day: Why Don’t You Just “Believe?”

bart ehrman

What do you have to lose by having faith and believing that Christ was born supernaturally as a result of a virgin birth to Mary, that Christ performed miracles, that Christ died by crucifixion and came back to life from the dead, and that Christ went back into heaven in a supernatural ascension into heaven? I don’t see any downside.

I get this kind of question on occasion. Usually when someone asks it they tie it to “Pascal’s Wager.”

….

The first question I would ask this person is: Are *you* able to believe something that you honestly do not think is true?

The question itself raises a much bigger issue: what does it mean to believe? Does anyone really and genuinely think that authentic faith means mouthing certain words that you don’t actually subscribe to in order to be let off the hook? Would God be convinced by that? Wouldn’t he, uh, see through it?  I assume so. So what good would it do for me to say that I believe something I don’t actually believe?

And how can I force myself to think something is true when I don’t think it is? Belief isn’t mouthing words or lying to get off the hook.

 

The second question I would ask is, for me, the real zinger: Can it really be a simple case of either/or?  Either you believe or not?  In other words, is it really a case that if you choose to believe and you’re right, you may be saved, but if you’re wrong you will be damned?   Doesn’t that assume there are only two options: believe in Christ for salvation or don’t and be damned?

That may have made sense for Pascal, who lived in a world where, for all practical purposes, there were TWO options. But what about our own world?  We don’t have two options. We have scads of them. And it is literally impossible to take them all.

That is to say:  If you want to make sure you cover your bases when it comes to salvation: WHICH religion do you follow? Suppose you decide, OK, I’ll take Pascal’s wager and decide (somehow) to believe in Christ? What if, it turns out, Christ is NOT the right option?  Or even, say, the only/best option?

In concrete terms:  what if you decide to believe in Christ and then it turns out the Muslims are right? You could be damned forever for choosing the wrong option. So how do you cover the Islamic option as well as the Christianity one? And … well …  there are lots of religions to choose from.

Even within Christianity: I know some Christians who have an entire detailed list of what you have to believe to be saved. And I know other Christians who have a *different* list. It is impossible to believe both at once, since they are at odds with one another. On a most simple level, I know different Christians who believe that if you do not belong to *their* denomination, you will be damned; and even Christians who say that you have to be baptized in *their particular church* to be saved. So what’cha gonna do?

On this logic, do you become Mormon to cover your bases? And Catholic? And Southern Baptist? And a Jehovah’s Witness? And an Independent-Bible-Believing-Hell-Fire-and-Brimstone Fundamentalist? And …. ?

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Why Don’t You Just Believe?, December 1, 2019

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Quote of the Day: Ohio Anti-Abortion Extremists Demand Doctors Reimplant Ectopic Pregancies

abortion

A bill to ban abortion introduced in the Ohio state legislature requires doctors to “reimplant an ectopic pregnancy” into a woman’s uterus – a procedure that does not exist in medical science – or face charges of “abortion murder”.

This is the second time practising obstetricians and gynecologists have tried to tell the Ohio legislators that the idea is currently medically impossible.

The move comes amid a wave of increasingly severe anti-abortion bills introduced across much of the country as conservative Republican politicians seek to ban abortion and force a legal showdown on abortion with the supreme court.

Ohio’s move on ectopic pregnancies – where an embryo implants on the mother’s fallopian tube rather than her uterus rendering the pregnancy unviable – is one of the most extreme bills to date.

“I don’t believe I’m typing this again but, that’s impossible,” wrote Ohio obstetrician and gynecologist Dr David Hackney on Twitter. “We’ll all be going to jail,” he said.

An ectopic pregnancy is a life-threatening condition, which can kill a woman if the embryonic tissue grows unchecked.

It also appears to punish doctors, women and children as young as 13 with “abortion murder” if they “perform or have an abortion”. This crime is punishable by life in prison. Another new crime, “aggravated abortion murder”, is punishable by death, according to the bill.

….

“There is no procedure to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy,” said Dr Chris Zahn, vice-president of practice activities at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “It is not possible to move an ectopic pregnancy from a fallopian tube, or anywhere else it might have implanted, to the uterus,” he said.

“Reimplantation is not physiologically possible. Women with ectopic pregnancies are at risk for catastrophic hemorrhage and death in the setting of an ectopic pregnancy, and treating the ectopic pregnancy can certainly save a mom’s life,” said Zahn.

— Jessica Glenza, The Guardian, Ohio bill orders doctors to ‘reimplant ectopic pregnancy’ or face ‘abortion murder’ charges, , November 29, 2019