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MERRY CHRISTMAS From the Atheist Santa

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I love Christmas. I even say “Merry Christmas.” I thoroughly enjoy the holiday season, and I might even listen to a few religious Christmas songs. At the Gerencser home, Christmas is all about family, good food, booze, gift-giving, lights, and a Lionel train circling our fresh-cut Fraser fir-tree. Tomorrow is our family Christmas. Our children, their spouses/girlfriends, and our twelve grandchildren will all be here if the fates allow.

Surprisingly, Christmas means more to me now and is more enjoyable than it ever was as a Christian. No dutiful sermonette before gifts are open; no boring reading from the Gospel of Luke; no verbose prayers reminding everyone that Jesus is the real reason for the Season.  While some in attendance still believe in Jesus, others do not. What we all agree on, however, is the importance of family and of love. Oh, we don’t always like each other, and we can fuss with the best of them, but we never forget how blessed we are to have each other.

I plan to take a break from writing until January 2. Polly and I continue to battle health problems, so we hope over the next two weeks unwind a bit, visit Polly’s parents (her mom has been given six months to live and her dad is slowly fading into the background of life), and maybe take a couple of day trips IF the damn Sun ever deigns to shine again in rural northwest Ohio. It’s winter in Ohio, and one thing seems constant: cold, dreary, gray days.

I hope you and yours have a blessed holiday season.

Bruce

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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor John Schouten Impregnated Christian School Teen

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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 October 2018, I wrote a post detailing the resignation of John Schouten, pastor of Vineyard Grace Fellowship (VGF) in Newark (Heath), Ohio His congregation found out that he had a sex crime in his past. While neither Schouten or VGF is willing to name the crime, an email sent to congregants stated Schouten did something that was “wrong, evil, and illegal.” The use of the word “illegal” narrows the field to: rape, sex with a minor, sexual assault of a minor, and a handful of other underage sex crimes.  According to the Newark Advocate, since the incident occurred 30 years ago, the statute of limitations has passed.

Yesterday, the Newark Advocate published a story detailing exactly what it was that Schouten did:

The former pastor of VGF Church stepped down from the church he founded because about 30 years ago he had a relationship with a minor while he was a teacher.

John Schouten admitted to the relationship when confronted by church elders after the church received an email about the relationship during the summer, according to Advocate media partner 10TV.

Two people reached out to The Advocate corroborating the story.

While a teacher with Liberty Christian Academy in Pataskala during in the 1980s, Schouten had a relationship with a female teenage student. The two had a child together, according to 10TV.

….

You can read my original post here.

Previously, Schouten told congregants that he had committed “rebellious and sinful actions” in the past. He never admitted that what he actually did was commit a felony for which he should have went to prison. The good pastor waited until the statute of limitations expired before coming clean about his past criminal behavior.

 

1983: Drafty Windows, Bubbly Water, Dead Kittens, and the Christmas from Hell

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Storefront meeting place for Somerset Baptist Church, 1983

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in the southeast Ohio community of Somerset. I rented a storefront, spent a couple weeks cleaning up and remodeling the space, and then on the second Sunday in July, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were sixteen people in attendance, including Polly and our two youngest children. At the time, we lived half an hour north of Somerset in the lakeside community of Buckeye Lake. I worked for the village as a grant writer, litter control program manager, workfare program manager, and property code enforcement officer. In September of 1983, we moved from Buckeye Lake to New Lexington, ten miles south of Somerset. We didn’t live but a few months in New Lexington, thanks to our rented home having a horrible odor from the previous renter’s animals peeing all through the house. Our landlord replaced the carpet and shellacked the underlying wood floors, but the awful smell remained. In early December, we packed up our meager belongings and moved to a ramshackled farmhouse near Glenford.

Our new home had been moved from Glenford proper to the top of a hill just outside of town. It was an uninsulated, drafty house that had free natural gas for heating. Perry County had a lot of oil/gas wells, including the one that sat behind our house. It was good that the gas was free. Ohio winters can be cold, and the winter of 1983-84 was one such winter. We set the furnace at eighty degrees, running it constantly, just to keep the house warm enough to live in. One of the side effects of having a natural gas well nearby was that our water well was infiltrated by the gas. Drinking water had to sit before use so the gas could dissipate. The gas levels were such that we could light the gas straight out of the kitchen faucet. Fun times. Worse yet, the gas made the water quite hard, so we had to use water softening agents when we took baths.

The one nice thing about this house was that it had a fairly new basement. It became the inside playground for our two young children and our foster child. Of course, there were things our boys could get into. One day I went to the basement only to find our son Nathan and our foster son JR rolling up papers and sticking them in the standing pilot on the hot water tank so they could set them on fire! (The boys had seen me do the very same thing when lighting the pilot.) One spring day, the boys were playing in the basement when Polly called them up for lunch and a nap. At the time, we had two kittens. The boys had been playing with the kittens and left them in the basement when they came up to eat. Unbeknownst to us, they left them in cooler and shut the lid. This of course, killed the kittens.

Christmas 1983 was one we would never forget. My grandparents, John and Ann Tieken, along with my mother, her new husband Michael Monshine, and my sister and her family joined us for Christmas. Polly and I were excited about having my family over for Christmas — our first and only such event. The Tiekens joined us for church that morning, and everyone else arrived early afternoon. It was bitterly cold and snowy, and while driving the five miles to our home from church, the radiator on our car froze up, leaving me stranded. I walked to a nearby house, used their phone, and had someone come and get me. Little did I know that my car radiator freezing was the best thing that would happen to me on that day.

The radiator freezing, of course, elicited a lecture from my grandfather about making sure I had enough antifreeze in the radiator. Grandpa’s lectures, warranted or not, were a gift he gave me every time he saw me. Having my mom and the Tiekens in the same room was risky, thanks to past violence, sexual abuse, and Jesus-loves-you judgmental behavior. Grandpa was a mean, judgmental son-of-a-bitch who loved Jesus. Ann was more of a passive-aggressive type of person, but she too could cut you to the quick with her self-righteous judgments. Needless to say, the entire afternoon was filled with tension; so much so that Polly and I were relieved when it was over. I made matters worse by not letting mom or her husband smoke inside our home. I told them they would have to stand outside on our front porch to smoke. The temperature that day? Nine degrees below zero. This “order,” of course, infuriated my mother. She let it be known that she would NOT come to my house again if she couldn’t smoke inside. She kept her word, killing herself a decade later without ever darkening the door of my home again.

1983 was quite the year for the Gerencser family. We would have many more eventful days in the years ahead. In fact, I suspect if I gave a full and honest reckoning of my life, I would find that EVERY year had life-altering moments. Sure, life is filled with the mundane, but there are those days and moments when the circumstances of life alter our present and transform our future. The eleven years Polly and I and our growing family spent in Somerset fundamentally changed us, and laid the groundwork for what one day would result  in us leaving the ministry and walking away from Christianity.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Thanks for the Advice, but I Think I’ll Keep Doing it My Way

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It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a . . . basketball.

I am often asked for photography or computer advice. I have a fair bit of expertise in these areas, so it doesn’t surprise me when people want my advice, have questions, or want me to fix something for them. I don’t mind helping people. It’s my nature to be helpful. Some people only contact me when they want something from me. This used to irritate the hell out of me, but I have since made peace with their neediness. Too bad I’m not still a Christian. Maybe I would get some heavenly rewards for helping family members and friends with computer repairs.

I started my own computer business years ago, only to fail miserably. My desire to be needed and helpful made me a terrible businessman. I could not bring myself to charge family and friends for the work I did for them. More than a few of them were quite happy to have me work for free. Fortunately, some of them do realize that a laborer is worthy of his hire and will pay me for services rendered. I have a similar problem now with my photography business. People ask me to do free work all the time, and I find it almost impossible to say no or charge them money for my work. This is my fault, not theirs. Being a pastor for so many years, constantly on-call and helping people, has made me a terrible businessman. I have tried to change my ways, but more often than not I revert to the norm and either work for free or charge a nominal fee. I am currently doing work for my sister. She, at least, insisted I charge her for my work.

Years ago, I had a then-family member ask me for advice about buying a new computer. I did a lot of research on her behalf, and then let her know what I thought would be the best computer for her. I patiently explained why she needed a computer with certain specifications, and why it was usually a bad idea to buy a budget/cheap computer. After a through explanation and thinking I had satisfactorily answered her questions, she said to me, thank you for your opinion. I thought, opinion? I didn’t give you an opinion. I gave you an expert’s answers to your questions. I naïvely thought she would follow my advice, but instead she went out and bought a cheap, under-performing computer.  I told her later, next time, don’t ask if you don’t want to know.

I frequently get asked sports related photography questions. People want to know why their sports photos don’t look like mine. Generally, it is not the equipment that makes a photograph, but the photographer. However, sports photography, especially poorly-lit interior events, requires fast lenses that are usually quite expensive. People often have cameras that come with slower lenses that are impossible to use suitably when taking inside sports photos. Using these lenses will almost always produce dark, noisy, blurry pictures.

One family member asked me to critique her basketball/baseball photos. She had an entry-level Nikon DSLR for which she had paid less than $500, including the two lenses that came with it. This equipment was not up to the task, and it naturally produced horrendous photos. I don’t like to critique the work of others, especially that of a family member. I tried to avoid doing so, asking her, are you really sure you want my advice? Yes, she told me. So, I sent her a long email detailing how to take sports photographs. I talked about equipment, ISO speed, aperture, shutter speed, and other settings. I talked about where to sit or stand and what the rules were for high school sports photography. It took me almost an hour to put everything together. Her response? Oh, wow. I think I will just keep doing what I am doing! I wanted to tear my mythical hair from its roots. Here I had taken the time to educate her and she blew me off with a wave of the hand, and what amounted to a thanks for your opinion, but I’m going to keep taking dark. blurry, grainy photos.

It’s not that I necessarily expect or demand people do exactly as I tell them, but when I lend them my expertise, I do expect them to at least pay attention to it. I have their satisfaction and success in mind when I give them advice. I know how frustrating it can be to use a cheap, slow computer and I most certainly know how to take shitty photographs. I have knowledge in these areas, which, if accepted, can make life easier and possibly produce photographs that are keepers.

I have always prided myself in being a writer, but it wasn’t until my editor contacted me the first time that I found out that I had great content but lousy grammar. In the early days of this blog, I tended to write like I talk. Sermons rarely make for great books, and so it was for my writing. I had to learn how to be a writer, complete with proper grammar. I like to think that my writing has gotten better over the past three years. Oh, I still make way too many mistakes, but I hope Carolyn can see my progress. When she makes a correction or suggests I change this or that in a story, I always comply. Why? Because she’s the expert, not I. I value her advice. Imagine how short our relationship would have been had I ignored her advice and corrections? The first time she contacted me, she said I love your writing, but your grammar really needs help. I was, at first, offended, but after a few edits by her, I realized she was right. Gawd, was she right! Sometime in early January, I will write my three-thousandth post. Currently, I have written 2,959 posts, totaling two-and-a-half million words. I can only imagine how my writing might be today without the patient instruction and correction of my editor. Expertise matters. None of us knows everything, and wise people realize this and seek out experts when they are lacking knowledge in a particular area. By seeking out experts and heeding their advice, we learn from them. And what is life if not a lifelong learning process?

Do you have family members or friends ask you advice about a particular skill for which you have expertise? Do you get frustrated when they ignore your advice? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Caring for Foster Children: Lice, Scabies, and a Stolen Car

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Bruce and Polly Gerencser with son #2, 1981

During the 1980s, Polly and I took in foster children from Licking and Perry counties in Ohio. We saw fostering children as an opportunity to not only help children psychologically and materially, but to also lead them to saving faith in Jesus. Most of the children placed with us were teenagers, though we did care for a two-year-old boy and a pair of sisters. We also took in a black girl, making her the only non-white student in the local school district. Some of the children were court referrals, teenagers who had been in trouble with the law. I suppose, if I am honest, I naïvely thought I could turn them around just by changing their home environment.  We also had a teen church girl live with us for a year. She had been living with her grandparents, and they were unable to control her. I don’t remember what the exact issues were.

One girl was from Buckeye Lake. She was a delightful child who had the bad luck of growing up in a dysfunctional home. She lived with us several times over the years. On occasion, she would spend the weekend with her parents and siblings. Their home was quite unkempt, to say the least. Without fail, she would return from these visits infested with head lice. We would treat her with RID, only to find reinfestations after she came back from seeing mom and dad. This, of course, led to our children also getting head lice.

One time, another child went home for a visit, only to pick up scabies while she was there. By the time we figured out she had scabies, so did Polly and I and our two sons. At the time, I was the assistant pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye, Lake, Ohio. The church was holding a revival service with John Babcock — a pastor and friend of Polly’s parents. John stayed with Polly’s parents that week. One day, he mentioned to them that he had this funny rash on his belly. It was quite itchy and all he wanted to do was scratch. Of course, when Polly’s parents let us know that John had some sort of “mystery” rash, we knew what it was right away: scabies.

In the mid-1980s, we took in two teen boys who had been referred to us by the Perry County Juvenile Court. The one boy lived us for quite some time, whereas the other boy was with us for only a short while. He would later attempt to rob someone at knife point. He spent time in prison for his crime. While living with us, he was quite a handful, constantly pushing the rules. The other boy was quite friendly and likeable. He loved our boys and we got along quite well with him. Years later, he and his wife would live for us a short time.

One day, Polly and I awoke to an epic nightmare. In the night, the boys had gotten up, stolen our money, checkbook, and car and run off. The one boy picked up his girlfriend, and off the three went to infinity and beyond. Their joyride was brought to an abrupt end by a New Jersey police officer who had stopped them for running a red light. The officer discovered they were driving a stolen automobile and promptly arrested them. Local law enforcement went to New Jersey to retrieve them, charging the boys with felony grand theft auto. The girl was not charged with a crime.

The boys were released to the custody of their parents to await prosecution. What complicated matters was the car they stole did not belong to us. Our car was at the Chrysler dealership getting the motor replaced. The car they took was a loaner car. New Jersey law enforcement informed the dealership it was up to them to retrieve the car. They did, and then tried to bill me for their costs. I knew they had insurance for such things, so I refused to pay — end of story.

One day, the Common Pleas Court judge’s office called and asked me to come to the judge’s office so he could talk to me. After arriving at his office, I could tell that he had already had a few to many. He asked me, Reverend, what do you think I should do with these boys? I pondered his question for a moment, and then replied, I think they need to be punished, but I don’t want them sent to prison. The judge decided to sentence them to one year at the youth detention facility in Columbus. Unbeknownst to the boys, he planned to set them free after thirty days — a sentence I totally agreed with. I knew these two white boys were in for a rude awakening when they found themselves locked up in a facility where being white made them a minority. As I mentioned above, the one boy went on to commit other crimes, but the boy who had lived with us the longest was scared straight and did not offend again.

Polly and I like to think that we made a difference in the lives of the foster children who spent time in our home. We did what we could to give them a stable place to live, along with a little — okay a lot — of Jesus, too. We hope our small acts of kindness made a mark on their lives. Several years ago, someone whom knew us let us know that one of our foster children had told them we had made a positive difference in her life. Hearing this made our day. I do wonder from time to time what has become of them. I think of our first foster child, a two-year-old boy. After a year in our home, he was returned to his drug-addicted mom. The boy’s father had gotten out of prison and they were attempting to make a new start in life. I wonder if the new start lasted. What kind of man did this little blond-haired boy become?

Have you ever taken in foster children? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

What Will the IFB Church Movement Do About Sexual Abuse Allegations?

jack hyles quoteIn the post that follows, I deliberately paint with a broad brush. If what I write doesn’t apply to your church or your pastor, then feel free to ignore my words. Be aware that I am no friend of the IFB church movement. It will be a good day when every IFB church in America is shuttered. IFB beliefs and practices are psychologically harmful, and in some instances physically harmful. There are better, kinder, gentler expressions of religious faith available for people who need it. I have spent the last decade telling my own story and listening to the stories of others. So much pain, so much abuse. The only advice I can give is this: RUN!

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a collection of thousands of churches who are independent denominationally, fundamentalist (Evangelical) in doctrine, and adhere to Baptist ecclesiology. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Under this large tent are churches that voluntarily associate with one another, often gathering around a particular Fundamentalist college (i.e. Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, The Crown College, Midwestern Baptist College, Massillon Baptist College, Maranatha Baptist University, Hyles-Anderson College, Baptist Bible College) or certain geographical locations (please see Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps). Virulently anti-denominational, IFB churches/pastors pride themselves in being answerable only to God.

Answerable to no one but God — who never says a word to them — IFB churches are often controlled by authoritarian pastors who rule their churches with a rod of iron. Believing that they are divinely called to be pastors and commanded in Scripture to rule over their churches, these so-called men of God far too often become a law unto themselves. Their churches become their possessions, their ministries given to them by God to lead, direct, and control. It is not uncommon, much like in the business world, for IFB pastors to be the CEOs of their churches for decades, and when they retire, to pass their kingdoms on to their sons. Their churches become the family business. Ask IFB congregants where they attend church and they will often reply, not First Baptist Church, but Pastor or Bro. Johnny B. Awesome’s church. IFB churches are pastor-centric. Everything revolves around the pastor and his decrees.

The church culture described above is a perfect medium for sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, and other predatory behavior. There’s little-to-no accountability to anyone except God, and I can safely say that he hasn’t been seen in IFB churches in a long, long time. While an IFB pastor is answerable to his church’s membership, practically speaking, unless he steals money from the church, is caught fucking the deacon’s wife in his study, or some other egregious “sin,” he is pretty much safe from being fired. Over time, such men gain more and more power, so much so that it becomes almost impossible for congregants to get rid of them. I have seen church constitutions — often written by the pastors themselves — that require a seventy-five-percent “yes” vote to remove a pastor.

IFB church members are often taught to implicitly trust their pastors and to ignore any rumors they might hear about them. (Please see Sexual Abuse and the Jack Hyles Rule: If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen.) Rumors swirled around Jack and David Hyles for years, yet because church members were taught (indoctrinated) to “trust and ignore” the Hyleses escaped being held accountable for their abhorrent criminal behavior. Yes, I said “criminal.” It is clear from the latest Fort Worth Star-Telegram report on sexual abuse in IFB churches that David Hyles committed sexual crimes and his father covered them up. This story has been repeated in numerous IFB churches over the years. Don’t think for a moment that the latest report on sexual abuse is new. This kind of behavior has been going on ever since I was a teenager at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, five decades ago. It was covered up back then and it is covered up today.

Sexual assaults, rapes, predatory behavior, and adultery are covered up way too often in IFB churches. Protecting the “good” name of the church in the community becomes more important than rooting out predatory behavior. Far too often, victims are either not believed or are blamed for what happened to them. IFB pastors are known for their sermons about how women dress, and how inappropriately dressed women are culpable for how poor, hapless, weak Baptist men respond to their carnal display of flesh. Women (and teen girls) are expected to be gatekeepers; to dress and act in ways that keep church men and teen boys from having lustful thoughts about them. When Jack Schaap, the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana and Jack Hyles’ son-in-law, was arrested for sexually assaulting a church teenager he was counseling, more than a few Schaap defenders blamed the girl for seducing him. She was called a slut, a whore, a Jezebel. Schaap was viewed as a tired, overworked man of God who was an easy mark. Never mind the fact that Schaap was old enough to be the girl’s father and that he, through letters, cards, and text messages, sexually manipulated this help-seeking, vulnerable, naive girl. His disgraceful fall into sin was all her fault, according to his defenders.

The title of this post asks, What Will the IFB Church Movement Do About Sexual Abuse Allegations? The answer should be clear to all who are reading: NOTHING! As long as IFB churches remain independent and accountable to no one but the silent God, sexual abuse will continue. As long as congregants are taught to revere, fear, and obey their pastors, it is unlikely that predatory IFB preachers will be in danger of exposure or criminal prosecution. As long as IFB preachers continue to promote warped views of human sexuality and sexual accountability, it is doubtful that predators and abusers will be held accountable for their crimes. And as long as churches value their own reputations more than the innocence of their children and the vulnerability of their women, pastors will continue their wicked ways.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Ladies Cover Your Bums Says Baptist Pastor Gabe Hughes

pastor gabe hughes

Now, having said all of that [about why yoga is okay], women need to stop wearing yoga pants in public, or she must wear some kind of warm-up pants over them. Just as a Christian needs to consider that practicing yoga might cause someone else to stumble [you won’t stumble, pastor if your eyes aren’t on women’s asses], a Christlike woman needs to keep in mind that exercise pants are very form-fitting, and a man’s mind works differently than a woman’s does [really, pastor? the “men are visual, women aren’t”  bogus argument?]. Some of those yoga poses can also be… let’s just say awkward [don’t look]. A woman is instructed to adorn herself in “respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control” (1 Timothy 2:9). There are no ifs, ands, or buts about this, sisters: be considerate and cover your bum [ Baptist for ass].

— Gabe Hughes, First Southern Baptist Church in Junction City, Kansas, Is Yoga a Sin?, November 28, 2018

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Michelle Lesley Says It’s a Sin to Tell Children Santa is Real

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We have raised our five year old to know that Santa Claus isn’t real. Now that he’s getting old enough to have conversations with his little friends, how do we explain to him what to say to them when they talk about believing in Santa? I don’t want him to crush their dreams but I also don’t want to teach him to perpetuate the lie for his friends.

This is a great question, and one my husband and I also had to address with our own children, since we raised them to know that Santa Claus isn’t real.

Before I tackle your question, I’d like to address Christian parents who tell their children Santa Claus is real, that he is the one who brings their presents, etc.

I’m sure you have the best of intentions and only want to make Christmas fun for your children, but when you tell them these things about Santa Claus, you are lying.

Santa Claus isn’t real. If you tell your children he is, or that he is the one who brings their presents, or that he knows whether they’ve been naughty or nice, you’re lying. The Bible says that lying is a sin, period. There’s no exception for jolly old elves who pass out toys (or for tooth fairies or Easter bunnies, either, for that matter). And not only is lying a sin, it is extraordinarily hypocritical to lie to your children about Santa Claus and then turn around later and punish them when they lie about something. Lying to your children about Santa Claus teaches them that it’s OK to lie (i.e. sin) when you want to or when it would be to your advantage. Excerpted from: The Mailbag: What should we tell our kids about Santa Claus?

And this reader has raised another ripple effect of your sin of lying. You’ve now put your brothers and sisters in Christ in the difficult position of figuring out how not to blow your cover when their child (who knows the truth) interacts with yours. Do they teach their child to take part in your lie, or do they risk their child telling the truth, disappointing your child and possibly angering you? And think about the pressure on a five year old child to try to keep something like that a secret, knowing someone will be disappointed if he doesn’t. You’ve created a no-win situation for people you are supposed to self-sacrificially love, encourage, and edify.

Our sin always negatively affects others.

Michelle Lesley, Mailbag: My Kid Knows the Truth About Santa. What if He Tells His Friends Who Don’t ?, December 3, 2018

Leave it to Christian Fundamentalists to suck the magic and fun out of Christmas (and Easter too).

Black Collar Crime: Star-Telegram Report Exposes IFB Sexual Abuse Scandals

david hyles

David Hyles, Present Day

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.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a four-part investigative report today by Sarah Smith detailing the rampant sexual abuse found in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I have talked with Sarah Smith several times over the years. I appreciate her dogged and thorough reporting on what many of us gave known for years: the IFB church movement has just as big a problem among its leaders with rape, sexual abuse, and sexual misconduct as does the Roman Catholic Church. Two decades in the making, reckoning day has arrived for IFB churches, pastors, and colleges. I have no doubt Smith’s exposé will be widely reported.

I can’t wait to see how various IFB luminaries respond. According to Smith’s report, thus far her exposé has been met with silence. For those of us raised in the IFB church movement, this comes as no surprise. I hope law enforcement will pay attention to Smith’s report and prosecute these predators to the fullest extent of the law. Sadly, the statute of limitations will likely hinder criminal prosecution of many of the allegations detailed in Smith’s story. Perhaps, then, victims will turn to civil courts to litigate their claims. Nothing like hitting Independent Baptists where it matters: the offering plate.

What follows is an excerpt from Smith’s report. This excerpt details the alleged predatory and criminal behavior by David Hyles. At the end of this excerpt, you will find links to posts I have written about David and his father, the late Jack Hyles — pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana.

Joy Evans Ryder was 15 years old when she says her church youth director pinned her to his office floor and raped her.

“It’s OK. It’s OK,” he told her. “You don’t have to be afraid of anything.”

He straddled her with his knees, and she looked off into the corner, crying and thinking, “This isn’t how my mom said it was supposed to be.”

The youth director, Dave Hyles, was the son of the charismatic pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, considered at the time the flagship for thousands of loosely affiliated independent fundamental Baptist churches and universities.

At least three other teen girls would accuse Hyles of sexual misconduct, but he never faced charges or even sat for a police interview related to the accusations. When he got in trouble, Hyles was able to simply move on, from one church assignment to the next.

….

In Joy Evans Ryder’s mid-1970s church-driven world, skirts had to go past knees, men and women had to be separated by six inches, and a good daughter’s gift to her father was to save her first kiss for the altar.

A father himself, Jack Hyles was nicknamed the “Baptist Pope” for the sway he held over the nationwide independent fundamental Baptist movement from his power base in small-town Indiana.

His son Dave was tall, skinny and already balding by his mid-20s. He had his father’s eyes that pulled down at the corners. No one would have called him traditionally handsome, but he had his father’s ability to make you feel a part of the in-crowd with a compliment or sarcastic joke. And he could just as easily push you out with a cutting insult.

Dave Hyles had taken an interest in Ryder when she was 14, and it scared her.

One Sunday morning after service, she stood in line to speak to Jack Hyles — the most important person in her world — about his son’s repeated calls to her house. The attention made her uncomfortable, she said.

The pastor sat at his desk and took her in for a moment.

“Joy, you’re not special,” he said. “He does that with everyone. So don’t think he’s trying to do anything with you.”

Not long after, she was raped by Dave Hyles. It continued for two years.

Reached by phone, Dave Hyles declined to comment. The Star-Telegram followed up by sending him a list of written questions. He did not respond. Jack Hyles died in 2001.

At 16, Ryder thought about suicide, fearing she might be pregnant with Dave Hyles’ child. She imagined ramming her car into a telephone pole or a tree, killing her and the baby.

She didn’t think about going to police.

“I went to somebody I thought would be my protector,” Ryder said. “Not my dad, because this shows you how we were taught to think about our pastor, Dr. Hyles.”

Dave Hyles had warned her to stay quiet or he’d get her parents fired. Her father was president of Hyles-Anderson College, a school started by and run from First Baptist Church. Her mother was the school’s dean of women.

To her friends, Ryder looked happy. She was popular, secure in her social status, and had a spot in the church school’s coveted choir, called Strength and Beauty. She liked to run off to the mall with friends every chance she got and had her light-brown hair feathered, Farrah Fawcett-style.

But she was also angry and ready to rebel against the system that entrapped her. She sneaked to movies, wore pants and swiped cigarette packs, all verboten in the church.

At 17, Ryder snapped. She called her parents from a payphone at the church school and told them to meet her at home. She told them everything.

The next time she met Hyles, her father would follow.

He drove behind her to a Holiday Inn, and waited in his car as he watched Ryder walk into a first-floor room and shut the door.

“I’m leaving,” Ryder told Hyles.

He asked what she meant.

“I’m leaving,” she repeated. “I told my parents, and my dad is outside.”

Hyles pulled back the curtain and saw her father’s car. She says he shoved her against the wall, his forearm pressed on her throat.

“What have you done to me? You’ve ruined my ministry. How could you do this to me?’”

He let her go and paced the room. Ryder walked out, got in her car and drove home. Her father followed her. He didn’t confront Hyles.

He did, however, go to Jack Hyles, who dismissed the report about his son because Ryder’s father didn’t record Dave Hyles’ license plate number.

Her father dropped the subject.

Ryder’s father, Wendell Evans, wished he could do it over, he said 35 years later in a notarized statement provided to the Star-Telegram, taken because Ryder was seeking evidence to take to the church.

At the time of the abuse, Evans’ career was blossoming in the church. Pushing Hyles, his boss, on the allegations would have been difficult, he said.

“I mean, Hyles and I were still good friends,” he said. “We marveled sometimes that our friendship survived this situation.”

But in an interview with the Star-Telegram, Evans was not so forgiving of Dave Hyles. He regrets not calling the police on him.

“I think it’s remarkable that in 40 years, Dave didn’t find time to ask forgiveness from his victims and their parents,” said Evans, now 83.

It was not the first time Jack Hyles heard allegations against his son, nor would it be the last. One woman alleged Dave Hyles raped her at 14 when she attended the church’s high school, years before Ryder. The woman’s 10th-grade teacher also confronted Jack Hyles about his son, only to be brushed off.

Dave Hyles’ ministry wasn’t ruined. Instead, he got promoted.

A few months after Evans and Jack Hyles spoke about the encounter at the Holiday Inn, Dave Hyles became the pastor at Miller Road Baptist Church in Garland, Texas — the church his father led before moving to Indiana. Jack Hyles would later say he never recommended his son to any church, but deacons and staffers at Miller Road said their search committee called Jack Hyles about Dave. No one heard any warnings.

Two more women would accuse Dave Hyles of molesting them in Texas. One woman, who went to Hyles-Anderson for college, said she tried to tell Jack Hyles what had happened. He told her not to tell anyone else.

Then, she said, he kicked her out of his office.

….

Dave Hyles left victims across the country. They are still in recovery.

In the 1970s and ’80s, with his dad’s church among the biggest in the country, Hyles cut a celebrity-like figure in the movement — and took advantage of it.

Rhonda Cox Lee felt special when Hyles noticed her out of the hundreds of kids who attended his dad’s church.

The first time anything sexual happened, she said, they were in his office. He sat at his desk, she sat across from him on a chair. He walked around the desk and placed her hand on his groin.

“Do you feel that?” he asked.

At first she thought it was some sort of spiritual test. He was a man of God, after all, and even though it felt wrong, he wouldn’t ask her to do anything wrong. Several meetings later, their clothing came off. She was 14. It felt wrong, she said, but she knew it had to be what God wanted.

“He compared himself to David in the Bible and how he was anointed, and said this is what I was supposed to do,” Lee said. “I was supposed to take care of him because he was the man of God.”

Hyles, she said, alternately promised her that they would be together once she turned 18 and warned her not to tell anyone in the church because if she did, the church would split, America would go to hell, and the blood of the unsaved would be on her hands.

Brandy Eckright went to Hyles for counseling at his church in Garland, Texas, when she was 18, after being molested as a child. She said he soon took advantage of her, and they had sex for the first time in 1982.

“Dave, I thought he was a God,” said Eckright, who like Lee had never gone public with her allegations against Hyles. “I thought if I got pregnant by Dave Hyles, it would be like having God’s baby.”

At 54, Eckright can barely talk about what happened. She’s survived three suicide attempts. She works as a cashier and said she can barely hold down the job.

In 1984, Hyles left Miller Road Baptist Church in Garland after a janitor found a briefcase stashed with pornography featuring Hyles and married female members of the congregation, ex-members said. He and his new wife went back to live near First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, and then moved again.

Dave Hyles has managed to stay out of handcuffs.

Today, he runs a ministry for pastors who have fallen into sin, supported by Family Baptist Church in Columbia, Tennessee, pastored by David Baker.

In 2017, Joy Evans Ryder’s brother emailed Baker, outlining Hyles’ alleged crimes against his sister. Baker took five words to reply: “Thank you for your concern.”

Baker, a Hyles-Anderson College graduate and a military veteran, said he thinks Dave Hyles has been unfairly blamed. Hyles, Baker said, is a good man, with a strong marriage who has helped many people through his ministry.

“He’s someone who made mistakes years ago, and through that brokenness and God restoring him, wants to use what he’s been through to help others,” Baker said. “I’m not going to debate anybody about those issues.”

Dave Hyles, with gray hair and a beard, is pictured on his Facebook page in a red polo shirt and square-rimmed glasses similar to the ones his father so iconically wore. He sends posts in his private Facebook group, Fallen in Grace Ministries, contemplating the nature of sin and restoration.

In a September missive forwarded to the Star-Telegram, Hyles wrote that he had enemies, people who harassed him and slandered him. “In fact, I have come to realize that there is nothing we could do to satisfy them. The more we tried the less we would satisfy them,” he wrote. “So, what exactly do they want?”

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About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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: What Do We Really Know About the Birth of Jesus?

bart ehrman

To begin with, we are extremely limited in our sources when it comes to knowing anything at all about the birth of Jesus. In fact, at the end of the day, I think we can’t really know much at all. Just to cut to the chase, I think that it is most probable that he was born in Nazareth in the northern part of what we today think of as Israel (back then, in Galilee), where he was certainly raised from the time he was a child. His parents were Jewish by birth, religion, culture. I’d assume their names were really Joseph and Mary. We don’t know anything about them other than the fact that Joseph may have been a TEKTON, which means that he worked with his hands, maybe with wood, or with stone, or with metal. Jesus also had brothers (four are named in one of our sources) and sisters, so it would have been a relatively large family and presumably living at or near the poverty line. Nazareth was an impoverished little hamlet.

Back to the sources.   Our earliest accounts are in the New Testament.  Two of the Gospels , Mark and John, say nothing of Jesus’ birth; the other two, Matthew and Luke are where we get most, but not all, of our traditions of Jesus’ birth from: the trip to Bethelehem, no room in the inn, the Shepherds, the wise men, the slaughter of the innocents, the flight to Egypt, etc. etc.   These Gospels were written over fifty years after the events they narrate, and there is nothing to suggest that they had access to eyewitness reports, or to any reliable information at all.  Both accounts contain several implausibilities, as we will see, and they are hopelessly at odds with one another on numerous points.

….

Finally, there are lots of things that we do not know about the birth of Jesus.   As examples:

• We don’t know what year he was born.  If he was indeed born during the reign of Herod the Great, then it would have had to be before 4 BCE, since that is when Herod died (creating, of course, the intriguing irony that Jesus was born four years Before Christ!)

• We don’t know what day he was born (it was not until the fourth century that Dec. 25 was chosen, so that Christmas could replace Saturnalia as the great holiday to be celebrated)

• We don’t know – as I will try to demonstrate in subsequent posts – anything about the virginity of his mother (how *could* we know?  Anyone who thinks she was a virgin does so as an act of faith, but there’s no way to demonstrate anything like that historically; in theory, even if she told people she was a virgin, that wouldn’t prove it [of course!]; and there have been lots of people who claimed to be virgins who gave birth, either because they were self-deceived, or willing to deceive others, or unknowingly violated or … other options) or whether he was actually born in Bethlehem (I’ll argue that the answer is probably not).

— Bart Ehrman, What Can We Know About the Birth of Jesus?, December 8, 2018

1980s: My Weekly Respite From Fundamentalist Christianity

bruce gerencser 1987

Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987

From 1983 to 1994, I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio. It was here that I learned the ins and outs of the ministry. From 1986 to 1988, the church grew rapidly, and was, attendance-wise, the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County. Somerset Baptist was a busy beehive of activity. I preached a minimum of three times a week, taught Sunday School, preached at the nursing home, and spent hours each week counseling congregants and evangelizing the lost. The church operated four bus routes, covering upwards of thirty miles one way in every direction. Throw in youth activities, revivals, special meetings, and events, and, well, virtually every day of the week had some sort of church activity going on.

Somerset Baptist was the perfect place for someone such as myself; a type-A workaholic who thoroughly enjoyed the non-stop busyness of the ministry. It was not uncommon for me to work sixty-plus hours a week, taking one vacation in eleven years. Even when I had to work outside of the church, I still pastored full-time, believing the church deserved to have all of me. Of course, I worked myself right into health problems, some of which are with me to this day. If I had to do it all over again, I certainly would have done things differently — or so I tell myself, anyway.

For five or so years, I would once a week play basketball at Somerset Elementary School with a group of men who had no association with the church. One man’s teen son rode the bus to our church, and through this connection I joined these men for a weekly game of hoops. I found that this game was a respite from Fundamentalist Christianity and the stress of the ministry. These men were not Christian in the least. Some of them were Catholics, but as is the case with many Catholics, their religion was in name only. Here I was, a Fundamentalist Baptist preacher in the midst of ten or so unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines, yet they welcomed me into their group, and every week I looked forward to the two hours we played basketball together.

The first week, the men were worried about whether their swearing would “offend” me. I told them, not in the least. You are not going to say anything I haven’t heard before. And so we played, week after week, year after year. Men would come and go, but the games never failed to provide me a moment in time when all I had to concern myself with was my defense and making shots. Physically, I would sweat off five to ten pounds in the two hours we played. Afterward, I would enjoy drinking a sixteen-ounce ice-cold glass bottle of Pepsi; sometimes even two. I still miss the days of popping the cap off a bottle of Pepsi using the car-door latch and guzzling it down. Good times . . .

I now see that this weekly game was a sanctuary I carved out for myself. No preaching, no evangelizing, no inviting anyone to church. Just testosterone and basketball. Many of these men were underground coal miners; physically strong brutes. Our games were quite physical. Each player called his own fouls, but they were rarely called, adhering to the no blood-no foul rule.

Five years into playing games, several of the men moved away or were divorced. This put an end to our weekly event. Thirty years later, I still have fond memories of our games; of being accepted as a man without any religious expectations. I will always be grateful for these men seeing beyond my Christian Fundamentalism and viewing me as a man, as their equal. All that mattered to them was whether I could play the game. There were other “games” I would play the rest of the week, but on basketball nights, all that mattered was the court, the players, and the score.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.