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Hey Girlfriend, When You Feel Tempted to Hug Your Boyfriend . . .

christian side hug

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Hey girlfriend, when you feel tempted to hug your boyfriend, hug your dad, brother, sister, or an old lady in the church instead. Nothing quenches sexual desire like hugging a male family member or ancient Sister Bertha, right?

Paula Hendricks, a writer for the Lies Young Women Believe website, had this to say to young women who doubted an invisible Jesus could meet their sexual longings and desires:

 Apparently I’m not the only one who has wondered how God can satisfy when all I want is a pair of strong arms to hold me close. Here’s what Rebecca wrote me:

“The biggest thing I think my crush can give me that God can’t is his strong arms wrapped around me. Although my crush has yet to hold me in his arms, his physical closeness sends shivers throughout my body. I know that God is always there for me . . . but sometimes my feelings get the better of me, and all I want to do is be wrapped up in my crush’s arms and attention.”

Grace added:

“I think what always gets me is that God isn’t physically there like a guy is. He can’t wrap his arms around me. Sometimes I just want that.”

And finally, Isabella said:

“I have often thought, I wish God could come down here and give me a big bear hug. Then I would really be in love with Him.”

But here’s the thing . . . He has come down! And while He was here, He picked up kids and cradled them in His arms. (You have to admit, that shows a tender heart—few guys walk around doing the same thing!)

I know He’s not physically here now…But one day soon, we will see Him. We will be with Him.

When Christ comes again to “marry” the Church, His Bride, He will likely hold us too…

…Now that is something to look forward to! Jesus Christ is not an idea; He is a Person. A Divine Person with arms and legs and beautiful probing eyes. He loves you. Enough to spread His arms wide in order to bleed so you might be healed. And if you have put your trust in His death and resurrection on your behalf, you will soon see and know Him fully.

So in the meantime, as you wait for Him, by all means, hug! No, not your crush. Hug your dad. Hug your mom. Hug your brothers and sisters. Hug your friends. Hug those old ladies at church…

I wonder if Hendricks has heard about the Christian side hug, a type of hug sexually aware, virgin Evangelical young people can give one another without causing sexual stirring or lust?

Video Link

Rational Wiki describes the Christian side hug this way:

The Christian side hug is a means by which young Christians can show affection for each other without engaging in possibly tempting and impure front-to-front contact.

Instead of hugging face-to-face, the huggers stand side-by-side, and can be facing either the same way or in opposite directions. Unlike frontal hugging, side hugs minimize the risk of an eternal damnation which could result from possible incidental contact with a boob or penis of somebody to whom one is not married.

For extra affection, the side hug may be accompanied by a few non-contact blessing pats. If even the side hug is too intense, you can work up to it coyly with this elaborate sequence of gestures. There’s even a Christian side hug rap, which attracted the attention of The Young Turks. The degree of parody and satire intended in the rap version is unknown, but that doesn’t make it any better.

Several years ago, I wrote about the Six Inch Rule, a regulation used at Midwestern Baptist College — the college Polly and I attended in the 1970s — to keep young adults from touching one another. It proved to be a dismal failure. I don’t know of one couple who lived in the Midwestern Baptist College dorm when Polly and I did who didn’t violate the spirit and the letter of the six-inch rule. Something tells me — oh like common sense — that teenagers and young adults are still failing at keeping the touching prohibitions of Evangelical moralizers such as Paula Hendricks. Why, you ask? Simple. We are sexual beings and we desire physical, intimate contact with others. All the sweet, sexy Jesus in the world won’t quench human sexual desire. When it comes to choosing between sexual intimacy and Jesus, my money is on sexual intimacy.

jesus hug

What makes writers like Paula Hendricks so harmful is that they encourage teen girls and young women to act against their nature. They encourage them to repress their sexual desires. Sadly, when these girls later marry, they often bring a warped view of physical intimacy and sex into the marriage (and men can do the same).  Marriage is tough enough without starting life with sexual dysfunction. Instead of teaching teenagers and young adults to repress their sexual desires, they should be encouraged to responsibly act on their desires, starting with a hug or a kiss. If there is more to the relationship, then they can determine where to go from there. There are three bases between the batter’s box and home. Hendricks wants unmarried teens and adults to stand in the batter’s box, never moving or swinging when the pitch comes their way. No running to first, rounding second, sprinting around third, and sliding into home. Not a very fun or interesting game, yes?

Contrary to Paula Hendricks’ horrible advice, hugging is not a gateway to sexual intercourse. Teenagers and young adults can sexually experiment without having intercourse. And if they decide to slide into home base, the best advice to give them is on how to be sexually responsible and use birth control. Of course, this advice must be given to them BEFORE they are rounding third and heading for home. In fact, before they even get to first base, wouldn’t it be better to prepare single teenagers and young adults for their sexual future?

Hendricks now sports the last name Marsteller. She’s married, and I suspect is regularly playing baseball with her husband. I wonder if she touched her husband before they married?

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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What Kind of Christian Are You?

heaven and hell

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I am often accused of lumping all Christians together.

I’m not like those nasty, hateful, judgmental Christians who comment on your blog, says the Good Christian.

Fair enough.

But, let me ask one question.

When I die, will I go to Heaven or Hell?

Well, that’s up to . . . stop it.

When I die, will I go to Heaven or Hell?

I reject your God, Jesus, salvation, and Bible.

I reject the notion that Jesus was God, was crucified, and resurrected from the dead three days later.

With my whole heart, I reject every teaching that is central to what it means to be Christian.

I reject the Christian concept of sin. I have no need of atonement, redemption, or salvation.

So, I ask again, When I die, will I go to Heaven or Hell?

How you answer this question determines what kind of Christian you are.

The Phelps clan, with all the viciousness of a starving rabid dog, screams that I will go straight to Hell when I die and I will be tortured by God in a place where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched. 

How about you, Christian friend? What say ye?  When I die, will I go to Heaven or Hell?

You can be the nicest person in the world, but if you believe that non-Christians go to Hell when they die, you are not really any different from the Phelps clan. 

If you answer my question with the word Hell, then you are just like those nasty, hateful Christians you say are “bad” Christians. You may wear fashion designer clothes, smell great, and have the best smile money can buy, but if your answer to my question is “Hell,” then you are no different from the trailer park trash Christians you say aren’t part of your family. 

Virtually every Christian sect believes that eternal punishment awaits atheists. I am an atheist, proudly so. I ask you, again, When I die, will I go to Heaven or Hell?

Your answer tells me all I need to know. 

It really is that simple.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Music Leader Edward Thompson Convicted of Sex Crimes

edward thompson

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

Edward Thompson, a music ministry leader at Christ Fellowship Church in Eugene, Oregon, and a former member of Eugene Faith Center, was convicted of “repeated acts of rape, sodomy and sexual abuse of a child” that started when the victim was a toddler. Thompson was sentenced to life in prison.

KVAL-13 reports:

A jury found Edward Samuel Thompson of Eugene guilty after a week-long trial earlier this month.

The jury convicted Thompson on charges of: 4 counts of Rape in the First Degree,Sodomy in the First Degree, 5 counts of Sex Abuse in the First Degree.

Thompson was sentenced Tuesday afternoon to 125 years in prison.

Prosecutors say the charges stemmed from “repeated acts of rape, sodomy and sexual abuse of a child.”

“The abuse began when the victim was a toddler, spanning from 2012 to 2018,” the Lane County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement. “The District Attorney’s Office appreciates Presiding Judge Debra Vogt’s recognition of the seriousness in this matter and reflecting that in sentencing Mr. Thompson.”

Thompson had been a leader in Eugene church communities.

“At the time of his arrest, it was reported that Thompson was a long-term member and a music ministry leader at Christ Fellowship Church in Eugene and former member of Eugene Faith Center,” Eugene Police said.

In 2018, Thompson was arrested on federal child pornography charges. A FBI news release stated at the time:

FBI agents and Eugene Police officers arrested Edward Samuel Thompson, age 38, at his Eugene home on Tuesday, August 21, 2018, following the service of a federal search warrant. Agents filed a criminal complaint against Thompson, charging him with accessing, receiving, possessing, and distributing child pornography. The arrest was without incident.

At his initial appearance on Tuesday, August 21, a federal magistrate ordered Thompson held. He is currently lodged at the Springfield Municipal Jail.

Thompson is a long-time member and a music ministry leader at Christ Fellowship Church in Eugene and former member of Eugene Faith Center where he still plays on a volleyball team at the church. The FBI offers this advice to concerned community members:

Parents who have a child who has come in contact with Thompson should let that child know that Thompson has been arrested for inappropriate behavior. Parents should tell that child that if Thompson did, or said, anything inappropriate to the child to let the parents know. If a child discloses an incident that did happen to him or her or that the child observed an innappropriate incident happen to someone else, the parent should not ask the child detailed questions about the incident. Instead, please contact Eugene Police Detective Chris Mackey at (541) 682-5175 or call the FBI at (541) 343-5222.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Mike Jenkins Found Guilty of Sexual Abuse

pastor mike jenkins

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.

William “Mike” Jenkins, pastor of New Season Church in Townley, Alabama, was convicted of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor (a misdemeanor) on Thursday, and sentenced to one year in jail and fined $5,000. Jenkins is also a transportation supervisor for the Jasper City Board of Education.

The Daily Mountain Eagle reports:

A transportation supervisor for the Jasper City Board of Education and pastor was found guilty Thursday of sexual abuse of a minor.

William M. Jenkins, 58, of Nauvoo, was sentenced by District Judge Henry Allred to one year in the Walker County Jail on the charge of sexual abuse in the second degree, a misdemeanor. According to a court order dated Nov. 19, Jenkins pleaded not guilty. 

In addition to jail time, Jenkins is ordered to pay $5,000 in fines.

….

Jenkins was initially arrested on Sept. 30, 2019, and charged with second-degree sexual abuse. 

A complaint, dated Sept. 26, 2019, alleges that on or about June 15 of last year, Jenkins had sexual contact with a 14-year-old female, inappropriately touching her genitals underneath her clothing. 

It is unclear where the alleged assault occurred.

In addition to working for Jasper City Schools, Jenkins is a pastor at New Season Church in Townley. 

Jasper City Schools Superintendent Dr. Ann Jackson said she will be recommending to the school board that Jenkins be terminated of his position with the school system.  

Jenkins appealed his conviction, and is currently out of jail awaiting a jury trial.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren Says Only God Can Kill Us

calvin and hobbes death

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Several years ago, Southern Baptist Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, came out in opposition to California Senate Bill 128. If passed, the bill would have given terminally ill Californians the right to terminate their own lives. Warren, whose son committed suicide in 2013, thinks that none of us should have the right to determine when we die. According to the Purpose Driven pastor:

“I oppose this law as a theologian and as the father of a son who took his life after struggling with mental illness for 27 years.”

“The prospect of dying can be frightening, but we belong to God, and death and life are in God’s hands…We need to make a radical commitment to be there for those who are dying in our lives.”

According to the Death with Dignity National Center:

SB 128 would allow patients who are mentally competent and have fewer than six months to live, as determined by two physicians, to obtain prescriptions for medication to end their lives in a humane and peaceful manner, while protecting the vulnerable with strict guidelines and procedures.

Warren’s comments illustrate, once again, why there must be a strict separation between church and state. While Warren might find some vicarious purpose and meaning in suffering, many Americans do not. In Warren’s world, the Christian God is sovereign over all, including life and death. Warren tries to frame his objection as “wanting to be there for those who are dying,” but I suspect there are many Californians who have no need of Pastor Warren or any other pastor or priest “being there” for them during the last days of their life.

While the government certainly has an interest in protecting those who are vulnerable, mentally ill, or unable to make a rational decision, I see no compelling reason for government to forbid the terminally ill from ending their lives through drugs provided by their physician. Warren is free to suffer until the bitter end. He is certainly free to let cancer eat away at his organs or allow ALS to turn him into a vegetable. If that’s what his God demands of him, far be it from me to deny him the right. However, millions of Californians do not worship Warren’s God, nor do they have such a “Biblical” view of suffering, death, and pain.

right to die

Chronic illness and pain are my “dark passengers,” to quote Dexter, the serial killer. I fully expect that I will continue, health-wise, to decline. I see no cure on the horizon, and I highly doubt God is going to send Benny Hinn to fake heal me. There could come a day when I no longer desire to live in what Christians call this “house of clay.” I am sound of mind — okay, mostly sound of mind. Since God is not my co-pilot and I have no desire to be a poster child for suffering, shouldn’t I be allowed to determine, on my own terms, how and when I end my life?

Perhaps I will never reach the place where the reasons for living are no longer enough to keep me alive. There are days when my pain is unbearable and I ponder what death will be like. THE END. Lights out. I have the means of death at my disposal. I take medications that would surely do the trick, but maybe not. Perhaps they wouldn’t quite send me and Toto to the other side. Then Polly would be left with a brain-dead vegetable of a husband. Wouldn’t it better for a doctor to prescribe drugs that are sure to do the trick? If we can execute murderers (against their will), surely we can help the terminally ill die when they want to call it a night. Wouldn’t this be the compassionate thing to do?

Many people are opposed to assisted suicide for religious or philosophical reasons. By all means, suffer to your heart’s content, but you have no right to demand that others play by the rules of your religion or philosophy. I hope the California legislature will not allow Evangelicals and Catholics to pressure them into not giving the terminally ill a death with dignity option. The dying should have the right to determine when and where the show ends. (Please read Dying with Dignity.)

This post was originally written in 2015. The California legislature and then-governor Jerry Brown, after legal challenges by religious zealots, successfully enacted and put into effect the California End of Life Option Act. God loses again.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Short Stories: Down the Hill in Chula Vista

chula vista 1960s
Chula Vista, early 1960s. Front Row: My brother Bobby, my sister Robin, friend of Marijene’s, Aunt Marijene, and Butch. Back Row: Neighbor boy. Gotta love my gun, hat, and vest.

In the early 1960s, my dad packed up Mom and me, along with my younger brother and sister, and moved us to California. Dad was certain that California was a land of rainbows, and that a pot of gold awaited him in the Golden State. Three years later, as broke as when he arrived, Dad moved us back to Bryan, Ohio. In fact, Dad was so broke that he had to trade his pocket watch for a tank of gas in Illinois — just enough fuel to get us to Bryan.

We lived in several houses in California, one of which was a sprawling ranch house on a hill in Chula Vista. One day, my grandmother, Jeanette Rausch, and her daughter, Marijene, came to visit us. While Grandma and Mom were talking, my siblings and I went outside to play; “play” being climbing in the front seat of Grandma’s car.

I was sitting on the driver’s side of the car, and my sibling were next to me. I am sure both of them would say that it was no surprise that Butch (my family nickname) was in the driver’s seat. I was ALWAYS in the driver’s seat; the boss; the “man” in charge.

I had not yet shut the driver’s side door when I decided — as ornery six-year-old boys are wont to do — to grab the column shifter and put the transmission in neutral. Much to my youthful surprise, the car began rolling down the hill. Instead of trying to put the car in park or hit the brake, I bailed out of the open driver’s door, leaving Robin and Bobby in the car as it rolled down the hill.

The car picked up speed as it went down the hill, crashing through the neighbor’s fence and mowing over his beautiful poinsettias. The car continued rolling through his yard, ending up in the middle of the road at the bottom of the hill.

Payday for my crime was swift in coming. Grandma was livid. I remember hearing her hollering as she spanked Robin and Bobby. I received no such whipping. I denied being in the car, despite the protestations of my siblings. Somebody had to pay. I was sure glad it was Robin and Bobby.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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.

Is the Bible All About God’s Love and Grace?

genocidal god

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Several years ago, a Christian Fundamentalist by the name of Matt stopped by this blog to let me know what God and his servant Matt thought about me. After a week of comments, I finally banned Matt. You can read his comments here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. After I banned Matt, he wandered over to the Quakers and Jesus: A Spirituality of Love (no longer active), the blog of my Australian friend John Arthur.

Watching John and Matt go back and forth was quite entertaining. I’ve learned John is far more patient — most days — than I am, even when dealing with an intractable Fundamentalist who is certain he is absolutely right like Matt. (Please read The Intractability of Christian Fundamentalists.) In all the discussions on this site and John’s, Matt has not changed or moderated his viewpoint one bit. He is certain he is right. Why? Because he can read the Bible for himself. He has no need of books because he has THE book.

While there are any number of Matt’s comments that I could respond to, I want to focus on the following comment:

The wrathful God of the Old Testament and the loving God of the New Testament is a false dichotomy. The love of God is the central feature of both.  The story of the entire Bible is a story of grace. It is a concept foreign to every other religious worldview, but central to Christianity.

First, Matt lets readers know that there is one true religion — his. Now we don’t know for sure what that religion is because Matt refuses to say. My money is on Baptist or Church of Christ.

Second, Matt believes that the love of God is the central theme of both the Old and New Testaments. This line of argument is often used in an attempt to negate the charge that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament. According to Matt, there is one God, a God of love and grace. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, the Bible is one long, sweet, and enduring love story. However, such a view is based on either a selective reading of the Bible or an attempt to make the Bible awkwardly fit the love/grace paradigm. As I will clearly show, not only is the God of the Bible not a God of love and grace, he is actually a vindictive, temperamental, genocidal son of a bitch. Richard Dawkins was right when he said:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

One of the reasons people deconvert from Christianity is their inability to reconcile the Old Testament God with the Jesus/God of the New Testament. While Jesus is certainly a much-improved version of God, particularly if one sticks to the gospels or the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reverts to the God of the Old Testament in the book of Revelation. Revelation is 17 chapters of God/Jesus opening can after can of whoop-ass and pouring it out on the earth. The slaughter and violence of God/Jesus far exceeds anything humanity, animals, and the earth have ever experienced. Billions of people will be killed, their only sin being the worship of the wrong God. Even the Jews, Jesus’ people, will face slaughter. Only those saved during the tribulation and subsequently martyred will escape the Lake of Fire.

Here are a few of the things God/Jesus promises to do come the end of the world:

  • 1/4 of the inhabitants of the earth will die of starvation
  • Earthquakes
  • Hail and fire mingled with blood will fall on the earth
  • 1/3 of the trees will be destroyed
  • All the green grass will be destroyed
  • 1/3 of the seas will turn to blood
  • 1/3 of the ships will be destroyed
  • 1/3 of marine life will be destroyed
  • 1/3 of the waters will be made undrinkable
  • 1/3 of the sun, moon, and stars will be darkened
  • Locusts that sting like a scorpion will sting earth’s inhabitants
  • 1/3 part of earth’s inhabitants will be killed by smoke, fire, and brimstone
  • Seas will be turned to blood and all marine life will die
  • Heat will scorch earth’s inhabitants
  • Earth’s inhabitants will be afflicted with painful sores
  • Islands and mountains will collapse
  • Large hail will fall on the earth
  • Those left? They will be slaughtered when Jesus returns to earth

I complied this list by briefly scanning the book of Revelation. There are many more things I could have added, but this list should suffice to prove that the God of “love” in the New Testament reverts to his Old Testament ways, killing everyone who does not worship him.

In the Old Testament, even a primary-age Sunday school student could prove false the notion that the God of the Old Testament is a God of love and grace. The 39 books of the Old Testament are a testament to the genocidal rage and violence of the Judeo-Christian God. One need only read Genesis 6-9 — Noah’s Ark and the Flood — to see how God responds to those who get on his bad side. God drowns millions of men, women, children, infants, and unborn fetuses, saving only Noah and seven family members. Where is God’s love and grace in this story? This is an ancient version of the modern “airliner crash, 250 killed, 1 survived” story. Christians focus on the miracle of the one survivor, ignoring the fact that God killed 250 people.

God continued his murderous ways when he slaughtered everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah, save Lot and his family. Then in the book of Exodus, we find God killing all the firstborn sons in Egypt. Only those who had animal blood applied to their doorposts escaped God’s killing spree. When Israel left Egypt, headed for the Promised Land, God commanded them to kill almost everyone who stood in their way. God especially had it out for the Canaanites, ordering the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites whenever they encountered them.

Shall I go on?

There is no possible way for a rational person to maintain that the Old Testament God is a God of love and grace. I know every argument Evangelicals use in an attempt to make their God look good. All of them fail miserably. The God of the Old Testament, if he were human — and technically, he is — would be sitting on death row awaiting execution for murder and genocide. If he were human, none of us would want him as our father, family member, or friend.

The dichotomy between the Old Testament and New Testament Gods is one of the reasons I deconverted. I suspect the same could be said for many atheists and agnostics. If being a Christian requires embracing, accepting, and loving the God of the Old Testament and Revelation, no thanks! I have often wondered whether the Christian church rues the day they decided to make the Old Testament part of their canon of Scripture. Imagine how much simpler Christianity would be to defend if the Old Testament was tossed into the dustbin of human history. But the Old Testament is a part of the canon, and Evangelicals are left with the task of defending their psychopath Father. Good luck with that.

Imagine a person having no exposure to Christianity one day stumbling upon a book called the Old Testament. Would this person, by only reading this book, come to the same conclusions as Evangelicals? Would they conclude the Christian deities are Gods of love and grace? That a rhetorical, question, by the way.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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.

An Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Hate List

love not the world

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

The Bible says in 1 John 2:15,16

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB) are taught to be anti-cultural — to hate the world. For all their talk about salvation by grace, IFB preachers preach a works gospel. If church members don’t obey the Bible – specifically the pastor’s interpretation and application of the Bible – they are considered rebellious, out of the will of God, backslidden or WORLDLY.

bought-by-the-blood, sanctified, sold-out, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost, King-James-Bible-carrying Independent Baptist shuns the world. Instead, he embraces an alternative world, also known as the church family. Being a good member of the church family requires conformity to the pastor’s (I mean God’s) dictates. If the pastor hates something, you better hate it. After all, the Bible tells Christians that they should love what God loves and hate what God hates. Funny how people mistake the pastor for God.

What follows is a list of things I told church members they should hate. This list evolved over time, hitting its peak in the early 1990s and it slowly shrank after that. I find this list quite embarrassing, but it is what it is.

  1. Roman Catholics
  2. Charismatics
  3. Pentecostals
  4. Arminians
  5. Calvinists
  6. Denominational Baptists
  7. MTV
  8. Television
  9. HBO
  10. Secular radio
  11. Contemporary Christian music
  12. Christian TV
  13. Pagan holidays
  14. Rock and Roll music
  15. Country Music
  16. Long hair on men
  17. Short skirts on women
  18. Pants on women
  19. Shorts on women
  20. Smoking
  21. Alcohol
  22. Hollywood
  23. Atheism
  24. Secularism
  25. Humanism
  26. Pluralism
  27. Socialism
  28. Communism
  29. Liberals
  30. Progressives
  31. Democrats
  32. Bill Clinton
  33. Liberal Christian colleges
  34. Female preachers
  35. Effeminate male preachers
  36. Effeminate men
  37. Hen-pecked men
  38. Haughty women
  39. Psychiatry
  40. Church members who disagree with the pastor
  41. Premarital sex
  42. Extramarital sex
  43. Abortion
  44. Christmas
  45. Halloween
  46. Easter Bunny
  47. World Council of Churches
  48. National Association of Evangelicals
  49. Billy Graham
  50. NIV, NASB, NKJV, RSV, ESV, NLT
  51. The Living Bible
  52. Dancing
  53. Card Playing

The number one hate for the Independent Baptist? Self!

The Bible says IFB believers are to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus. Human beings, according to the Bible, are wicked, vile, evil, depraved sinners. We deserve having the wrath of God poured out on our heads. We deserve judgment and Hell.

Jesus, the eternal, sinless son of God, came to earth, died on the cross, and rose again from the dead three days later, so we could have our sins forgiven and go to Heaven when we die. Once God saves us, we are to spend the rest of our life groveling before a thrice-Holy God, praising him for delivering us from our wickedness and the world.

Every week, IFB believers go to their churches and listen to their pastors and teachers tell them more things they need to do, more works they need to perform, more laws they need to obey. Do this, do that. If you really, really love Jesus you will______________, their preacher says.

Loud sermons. Pulpit pounding. All for dramatic effect. It’s as if God is trying to pound the preacher’s words into their heads. Evidently the Holy Spirit works better if the preacher yells and is theatrical.

Is it any wonder that people raised in such an environment have low self-esteem? Many IFB preachers even preach AGAINST having self-esteem. Church members are taught to hate self so God can get all the glory. We wouldn’t want humans taking credit for anything, right? Well, there’s one thing church members can take credit for. Any good that happens — God gets all the credit. If bad things happen or someone screws up, it is all on IFB church members. God ain’t taking any credit for the bad shit.

I have spent the last twelve years trying to find myself. The flesh and blood Bruce Gerencser who spent a lifetime in the Evangelical church is dead. My being, my self-worth, was swallowed up by God, the church, and the ministry. My life was defined by the call of God. Nothing else mattered.

I left the ministry and told God to take a hike. At the time of our divorce, God and I were not on speaking terms. God owes me some money, but he refuses to pay up. All I asked for was some of the treasure I had in laid up in Heaven. Since I am going to Hell when I die, I thought it would be nice to have the treasure now so I could get some good use out of it.

Bit by bit I am finding out who I really am. It is not always pretty, but it is honest and authentic. Some people don’t like the new Bruce Gerencser. They want the old Bruce back. They still cling to the hope that my apostasy is just a phase, and that I will come back and be a better than ever pastor. What a testimony I could have, right? I could milk the “From Preacher to Atheist to Preacher” story for all its worth.

There is no going back. The Apostle Paul taught me to run the race that is before me, and that is what I am doing. The longer I run, the more distant Christianity appears behind me. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I DO know what lies behind, and I have no desire to return to the leeks (onions) and bondage of Egypt.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Hello Bruce, I’m a “Nice” Evangelical

hell

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Several times a month, I get emails from Evangelicals who want to let me know that they are not like “other” Evangelicals. They want me to know that there are Evangelicals who are nice, polite, decent, kind, and respectful people. That’s great, their mothers taught them well. However, these “nice” Evangelicals aren’t really as nice as they would have me believe. They desperately want to be viewed in a good light, thinking if I just knew that there are “nice” Evangelicals, I would fall on my knees and call to Jesus to save me. As if my entire deconversion hangs on how I was treated while I was an Evangelical pastor.

When I am feeling up to it, I respond to the “nice” Evangelical’s email with a few questions. Questions like:

  • Do you believe that humans are inherently “sinful”; that humans are broken and in need of fixing?
  • Do you think believing in Jesus is the only way for people to have their sins forgiven?
  • Do you believe there is one true God, and that all other deities are false?
  • Do you believe the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible text?
  • Do you believe that a person must be saved/born again/become a follower of Jesus to go to Heaven when he dies?
  • Do you believe that a person who is not saved/born again/a follower of Jesus goes to Hell when he dies?

The answers to these questions will quickly reveal that the “nice” Evangelical is no different from Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson, Steven Anderson, Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, Bob Gray, Sr., Bryan Fischer, James Dobson, or Franklin Graham. The “nice” Evangelical and the nasty/hateful Evangelical, both share the same beliefs. The former comes in a nicer, more pleasing package, but inside the package are the same abhorrent, vile beliefs.

Sometimes, a “nice” Evangelical will be coy about his beliefs. When pressed on the question of God torturing non-Christians in Hell/Lake of Fire for eternity, he often replies that he leaves such things up to God. A “nice” Evangelical want me to know that he doesn’t judge, he just unconditionally l-o-v-e-s others. However, if he believes the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, then he already knows what God says on the matter. Fact: non-Christians will go to Hell when they die. Fact: atheists, agnostics, secularists, and humanists will go to Hell when they die. Fact: most of the readers of this blog will go to Hell when they die. Fact: most of my Facebook friends will go to Hell when they die. Fact: most of my Twitter followers will go to Hell when they die. Fact: and, to make it quite personal, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and most of their children will go to Hell when they die.

The “nice” Evangelical, if he is truly a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Evangelical, is boxed in by his beliefs. There is one God — the Christian God; one way of salvation — Jesus; and Hell awaits all of those who reject him. This is why I respect someone like the late Fred Phelps more than I do a “nice” Evangelical. Phelps just tells non-Christians how it is. He makes no effort to hide his beliefs. The forwardness of such Evangelicals allows me to know exactly where I stand with them. No need for us to play the pretend-friend game or make nice with each other.

Sometimes, “nice” Evangelicals will take a psychological approach. They view me as one who has been wounded by the nasty, hateful, judgmental Evangelicals. They read a few of my blog posts and determine that I have been hurt in some way, and that this is the reason I am not a Christian. In their minds, they think if they are just really, really, really nice to me that I will be overwhelmed by their niceness and fall in love with Jesus all over again. Since “nice” Evangelicals think Jesus is w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l, they can’t imagine someone NOT wanting to become a follower of Awesome Jesus. A “nice” Evangelical sees Jesus patiently knocking on the door of my heart, pleading for me to let him in. Isn’t this the same Jesus who says that if I DON’T open the door, he is going to torture me for eternity in a lake that burns with fire and brimstone, a place where the worm dieth not? Isn’t this the same Jesus who will fit me with a special body after death so that no matter how severely he tortures me I can never die?

While there is certainly a truckload of harm and hurt in my Evangelical past, the reason I am not a Christian is because I do not believe the central claims of Christianity to be true. I don’t believe the Bible is an inspired, inerrant text. I don’t believe Jesus was God, virgin-born, a miracle worker, or resurrected from the dead. I don’t believe God created the world, nor do I believe in “sin.” Simply put, I reject everything one must believe to be a Christian. No matter how “nice” an Evangelical is to me, I do not buy what he is selling. Salvation requires faith, a faith I do not and will not have.

Look, I am glad that many Evangelicals are nice people. I am glad they treat me and others like me with kindness, decency, and respect. Their behavior certainly makes the world a better place. That said, I suspect their behavior is a reflection of their tribal training and culture more than it is their Evangelical beliefs. I am glad someone taught them to be decent, thoughtful people. I do, however, wish they would stop wasting their time by trying to “nice” me to Jesus. I have no interest in Jesus, and I think their time would be better spent teaching Evangelicals how to behave in public. As blog comments, news articles, blogs, social media,  and personal emails show, there are a lot of Evangelicals who don’t the first thing about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Instead of trying to save people who don’t want to be saved, “nice” Evangelicals should spend their time getting fellow Evangelicals saved.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Is Christianity a Religion or a Relationship?

christianity a relationship

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before: Man gives us religion, but Jesus gives us life; True Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship; Religion kills, Jesus gives life. According to this line of thinking, religion is bad and Jesus is good. I have often been told that my reactions and objections to Christianity are really about religion, not Christianity. In fact, I’ve been told, more than a few times by Evangelical zealots, that I never had a real relationship with Jesus at all. I had religion, but not Jesus.

There is this assumption that if somehow, some way, we can get back to a pristine version of Christianity; first-century Christianity; a Christianity that is pure and free from the trappings of 2,000 years of history, we will end up with the Christianity of Jesus.  This, of course, is bullshit. Western Christianity is actually the Apostle Paul’s baby, and I doubt most of those trying to find authentic-Jesus-Christianity would really want it if they found it. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus makes it clear what it means to be his follower. Modern-day Christians ought to contemplate these verses a bit before they say, I am a follower of Jesus.

Is there any such thing as pure Christianity? Even if we go back to the first century, we find division and controversy among those who called themselves Christians. They weren’t unified, and shortly after the death of Christ, we find a huge controversy between Peter and Paul over whether a person had to be circumcised to be saved. The early church was made up mostly of Jews, and many of them thought it proper to expect Gentile converts to adhere to the teachings of Judaism. As history shows, the followers of Jesus were considered a subset of Judaism for many years. And then we have James’ and John’s take on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Their gospels bear little resemblance to that of Paul.

From day one, Christianity was a controversy-filled religion. Christianity was not something that was new. It was a culmination, completion, or extension of something that was old. According to theologians, Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament types and shadows. The New Testament church (the elect) became the covenant people of God. Without understanding Judaism it is impossible to understand Christianity. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say Judaism was not a religion, it was a relationship. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say religion kills, but Judaism gives life. Yet, one would be right to suggest that without Judaism (or the Bible) there would be no Christianity.

Judaism is a religion and so is Christianity. I realize that some people want to distance themselves from the modern Christian church. The church is a monolithic behemoth full of corruption and perversion, and there is little within the church that is worthy of emulation. But just because you don’t like organized Christianity doesn’t mean it’s not what it says it is.

Who is it that gave us the Bible? Men. Who is it, then, that told us about Jesus? Men. Who is it that tells us everything we know about the teachings of the Bible? Men. It is clear that men gave us Christianity. Using the logic set forth in the first paragraph, Christianity is indeed a religion. How could it be otherwise? If true Christianity is this mystical I-feel-it-and-I-know belief, how could people know for sure that they have the real thing? Well, the Bible says___________. Yes, and that brings us right back to the men at the center of Christianity.

For those who believe in the distinction between religion and Christianity, I would ask them to describe the differences between the two. I would ask them to tell me what this pure Christianity looks like and where I can experience it. I would ask them to explain to me how they can square the teachings of the Bible with their belief that one can have Christianity without the church.

This kind of thinking primarily exists in the United States. We are a nation of individualists, and that’s why we are attracted to individualistic (narcissistic) forms of religion. If the Bible teaches us anything, it teaches that Christianity is a communal religion with every believer being a part of the whole. The Bible speaks of the church as a body, and that every part is vitally important to the rest of the body.

Let me be clear, it is impossible for people to claim Christianity and reject the church. Without the church and the Bible, there is no such thing as Christianity. Since the church wrote the Bible, it is the church that gave us Christianity. To be a Christian requires a communal connection with a visible body of believers. It has always been this way, and it is up to the Christianity-is-not-a-religion crowd to show why it shouldn’t continue to be this way.

Feelings and personal opinions don’t matter here. What does the Bible say? Is the Bible the bedrock of Evangelical Christianity? I maintain that there is no Christianity without the Bible. It is up to those who disagree to prove otherwise. Show me how it is possible to have Christianity without the church or Christianity without the Bible. From my seat in the atheist pew, the church and the Bible are joined at the hip and each needs the other to survive.

I’m sure someone is going to ask why this matters to me. After all, I’m not a Christian, so why do I care? This issue matters to me because I write a good bit about Evangelical Christianity. Whenever my writing gets too uncomfortable for Evangelicals, they like to suggest that I am not writing about their brand or their version of Christianity. They like to suggest that I have confused religion with Christianity. When family members do bad things, they like to divorce themselves from their relatives and pretend there is no familial connection. But, like it or not, every Christian is connected to other Christians, and the crazy uncles and aunts are part of the family.

I will tell my Christian readers this: it is your Church, live with it. When you attempt to have a Christianity without the Church, you are in effect starting your own religion, the Church of the Churchless Christ-Followers. You are simply doing what Christians have been doing for 2,000 years, spawning tens of thousands of sects.  If you don’t like what you see, start something new, right? But no matter how much you try, and no matter how often you reinvent yourself, Christianity will always be a religion.

Wikipedia states it succinctly:

Religion is the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or in general a set of beliefs explaining the existence of and giving meaning to the universe, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

Christianity was, is, and always will be a religion.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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.

An IFB Funeral: Fundamentalist Christianity Poisons Everything

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

In 2007, the atheist firebrand Christopher Hitchens wrote a book titled, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. While I think Hitch painted with too broad a brush, I can say Fundamentalist Christianity does, indeed, poison everything — especially the stench of Fundamentalism found in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Polly’s IFB preacher father died on Sunday. Polly’s parents have attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark Ohio for the past forty-five years. Dad left to start a church in Buckeye Lake for eight years, but returned after the church shut its doors. Mom and Dad have remained loyal members of the church ever since.

The Baptist Temple was pastored by James (Jim) Dennis for over four decades. Both Dad and Jim graduated from Midwestern Baptist College, the IFB institution Polly and I attended in the 1970s. Jim retired from the ministry in 2017 and died from complications of myasthenia gravis in 2018. Mark Falls is currently the pastor of the Baptist Temple.

Jim Dennis and I, for more reasons than I will ever publicly share, had an adversarial relationship. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) Jim was a typical IFB preacher: always right, arrogant, and self-righteous. I wasn’t much different back in my IFB preaching days.

Ten years ago, Polly and I decided to stop attending family holiday events in Newark. Polly’s family is littered with IFB pastors, evangelists, and missionaries, and their families. Imagine being the only out unbelievers in a room full of IFB preachers and their families. Not fun, to say the least.

We decided that we would only attend weddings and funerals, especially if they were held at the Newark Baptist Temple. I told one of my sons this: imagine if you were abused as a child, yet you are expected as an adult to return to the house where you were abused for family events; that your abuser still lives in the house. That’s how my wife and I view the Newark Baptist Temple and some of its leaders and members. We refuse to put ourselves in positions where we have to come in contact with our abusers. Behaviors have consequences, and unlike Pastor Mark Falls and the fine folk at the Newark Baptist Temple, we don’t have to forgive or forget. Forgiveness comes only when there is accountability for past bad behavior; admissions that the “saints” so revered by the congregation were/are anything but.

We have moved on, but we haven’t forgotten, and in moving on, Polly and I have decided to not put ourselves in positions that dredge up bad memories and experiences. That is, until Polly’s father died.

Earlier this year, I took Mark Falls and the Baptist Temple to task for their refusal to cancel services in light of COVID-19. (Please see IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic and No Need to Wear a Face Mask: When it’s My Time to Die, I’m Ready to Go.) Polly and I were, and still are, worried about her parents contracting COVID-19 and dying. We learned not long ago, that Polly’s mom had lied to us — for obvious reasons — about attending in-person services and Christian school events. The Baptist Temple has had members contract the virus, including the pastor and his family. Yet, services continue as if everything is normal. No pandemic to see here, praise Jesus. Our God is still on the throne.

One young family member, who faithfully attends the Baptist Temple with his family, told one of my sons that Falls and the church really do take COVID-19 seriously. Just to make sure that I was not operating on outdated information, I viewed hours of videotaped church services and school events — fast forwarded, of course. My original assessment of the Baptist Temple stands. From choir members spitting out for the glory of God, to unmasked staff members and congregants in the first six rows, I saw little evidence for the church doing all they can to keep people from getting infected. I saw the same behavior as I did in March. Ten months of knowledge about COVID-19, but all that matters is Jesus.

Mark Falls was wearing a mask, so kudos to him for doing the right thing. But, as the CEO, boss, and pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple, he refuses to require church members to wear masks. I assume he knows studies conclusively show church services are super-spreader events. And choirs and choir practices? Some of the worst virus spreaders of all. By not putting an end to such practices and by refusing to demand congregants wear masks, he’s shown that he doesn’t take the virus seriously; that as the Libertarian that he is, he values personal freedom over social responsibility; that he puts little value on the health and safety of not only his congregation, but his community.

And that brings us to Dad’s death and the funeral on Saturday. As you might expect, Mom is having a full-blown give-Jesus-the-glory funeral for her husband at the Baptist Temple. I believe there will be meal of some sort afterward. And then, there will be a outdoor, family-only graveside service.

Before Polly first talked to her Mom after her father died, our nephew called to talk to us about the funeral — assuming that we were on board with a church funeral. He quickly learned that, no, we aren’t fine with group gatherings, we are not fine with public visitation, and we are not fine with masks not being required. We told him that we informed Mom months ago, that due to our own serious health problems, we would not attend any group gatherings — including funerals. At the time, speaking of her own funeral, she haughtily replied, “I don’t care, I’ll be dead.” Months later, and now the proverbial shit has hit the fan.

We made it clear that we wouldn’t be attending the funeral, visitation, or meal; that we would attend the outside graveside service as long as it was family-only. Our nephew passed this on to Mom, and when Polly called her, she refused to talk to Polly about the funeral plans. The next afternoon, Polly’s mom called to let her know what the plans were. Since then, some of my sons who take seriously the virus and hadn’t planned on attending the funeral were guilted into being pallbearers. I understand this, I really do. They love their grandparents dearly, so it is hard to say no. Polly and I, however, love life more than we do her parents. I apologize if that seems callous and blunt, but we are not willing to sacrifice our future with our children and grandchildren for a church funeral.

Our relationship with Polly’s parents has been hanging by a thread for years. We walked away from Christianity twelve years ago. Since then, Polly’s parents have had not one meaningful conversation with us about why we left the ministry and later left Christianity. All we get from them are thoughts and prayers. Everyone, of course, at their church knows that we are unbelievers. Mom told Polly that “people” were praying for us. Well, you know what THAT means. IFB funerals are never about the deceased. It’s all about Jesus and evangelizing the heathens — the Gerencsers — who will be in attendance. I am sure Baptist Temple members, its pastor, and Fundamentalist family members think that maybe, just maybe, Polly and Bruce will gloriously come back to Jesus and the one truth faith. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this happened on the day of Polly’s father’s funeral? Way to go, Pastor Falls, uh, I mean Jesus. You reached those atheists for God! That ain’t going to happen, and even if we were so inclined, we wouldn’t recommit to Jesus at the Newark Baptist Temple.

On Memorial Day, 2005, Polly’s sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. Here is what I wrote about Kathy and her funeral:

It’s a sunny, spring day, Memorial Day weekend.

Utica, Ohio is having its annual ice cream festival. A woman and her husband decide to attend the festival. Hopping on their Harley, off they drive to Utica.

The traffic is busy, and the husband knows he had better be careful.

But off in the distance, a woman grows impatient with traffic. She’s in a hurry, wanting to get home. She makes a decision that will have catastrophic consequences a few seconds later. She quickly makes a u-turn, and much to her horror there is a motorcycle coming right at her.

It’s already too late. The husband does what he can to avoid the oncoming car, but his wife, the mother of his three children, is thrown from the Harley and her head hits the pavement.

And just like that, she’s dead.

Every dream, every hope, and every opportunity of tomorrow is now gone.

Being a Christian family, we turn to our God and ask why. We pray for strength and understanding. The heavens are silent, and they remain so even to this day.

In a moment of anguished religious passion, someone says, if one soul gets saved through this, it is worth it all.

No, it’s not. How dare we reduce the worth of a life, this one precious life, to that which God can use for his purpose. A husband has lost his wife and his children are motherless. Her grandchildren will never know the warmth of her love. Her sister and parents are left with memories that abruptly stopped the moment their sister and daughter hit the pavement.

No, I say to myself, I’m not willing to trade her life for anyone’s salvation. Let them all go to hell. Give us one more day when the joy and laughter of family can be heard and the family is whole. One more day to enjoy the love and complexity she brought into our life.

One more day.

Polly’s mom let her know that we shouldn’t expect her (and the Newark family) to ignore Dad’s love for Jesus, the church (though I could tell stories about his “love” for the Baptist Temple — but I won’t), the Bible, and witnessing. We would, of course, never expect her to do so. This is how she has translated our willingness to attend the funeral. It’s our atheism and agnosticism that’s the problem. I wonder who put that idea in her head?

I should the note that her pastor has been front and center in all of the funeral preparations. Mom, fearing that we would not respect her funeral wishes — again, where’s that shit coming from? — typed out exactly what she wanted funeral-wise for her funeral and Dad’s. She sent us a copy and filed a copy for safekeeping with her pastor. Read into that what you will.

Several years ago, when Mom and Dad started having serious medical and financial troubles, we gently suggested they move to rural northwest Ohio and let us care for them. We thought this would also give them a better opportunity to know our grown children and grandchildren. Our offer was rebuffed, just as it was in 2005 when we told Mom and Dad we would stay in Newark if they asked us to, putting aside the fact that all of our children and grandchildren lived hours away. Mom and Dad pridefully said no, telling us to do what we wanted. Fine — weeks later we returned to northwest Ohio, bought a home, and have spent the past fifteen years enjoying the lives of our six children and thirteen grandchildren — and preparing to die.

During Polly’s discussion with her mom about moving here, Mom told her in no uncertain terms that her church mattered to her more than her only living daughter. These words crushed Polly, unlike anything in our forty-two years of marriage. To Mom (and Dad) Jesus and the Baptist Temple were what really mattered to them. They had their “saved” family near them, and got to see them see them every Sunday. Those Gerencsers are atheists, agnostics, Catholics, and the like — nothing like the saved, sanctified sister, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in Newark. My God, the Gerencsers curse, drink beer, wear pants, attend public schools, and watch mature-rated TV. Worse yet, several of those Gerencser boys have been divorced. That’s what happens when you leave the one true faith.

It is evident, at least to Polly and me, that Mom and Dad — mainly Mom, Dad said very little — treated our family very different from that of their IFB/Evangelical family. We came to accept that this is just how it is. I know that Mom never wanted me to marry Polly, that she blames me for every bad thing that has happened in our lives. I have helped Mom and Dad numerous times over the years — personal matters I am not comfortable sharing. And when things didn’t turn out as expected? I was blamed.

You would think that things would have gotten better after Polly defied her Mom and married me anyway; that the good life we have made over the past forty-two years would merit a bit of praise or recognition that we have done well. Instead, I am the man who ruined Polly’s life. This was made crystal clear, yet again, when Polly was talking to her Mom about WHY we couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t attend ANY group gatherings, including the funeral. Mom replied, “well, if Bruce didn’t come to the funeral, you could come, right?” Polly retorted, “absolutely not.”

The running belief in Polly’s patriarchal IFB family is that she is a lemming, a follower; that I am the head of the home and she only does what I tell her to do; that she doesn’t think for herself; that she doesn’t make her own decisions. That “may” have been true thirty or so years ago, back in the days when I was an Evangelical preacher, but those days are long gone.

Yes, I am an outspoken, strong-willed, passionate man, but these character traits should not be translated into me dominating and controlling Polly’s life. These days, our marriage is quite egalitarian — look the word up Fundamentalist family members who are reading this post. Sure, we still have somewhat of a “traditional” marriage –whatever the Hell that means. We are children of the 1950s. However, Polly is her own person. After we left Christianity, Polly went back to college and got a degree. She has been a supervisor at work for years. She is, in every way, a modern woman who still dotes on her husband and children. She’s quiet and unassuming, but don’t think for a moment that she doesn’t have her own opinions. I didn’t force her to leave Christianity, she left of her own accord. In fact, Polly is more hostile towards Evangelical Christianity than I am. Learning about how she viewed our years in the ministry and her role as the pastor’s wife, has been a real eyeopener for me. Her perspective is very different from that of a man who was beloved by congregants and the center of attention.

Fifteen years ago, Polly had a frank discussion with her mom — one of few such discussions. There had been a huge blow-up at our home on Thanksgiving Day. Afterward, Mom called and told me that I needed “help,” that they always knew I was “different,” and that they always “accepted” me. Polly told her mom, “don’t force me to choose between you and Bruce. If you do, I will choose Bruce. I will always choose Bruce.” This blow-up greatly improved our relationship with Mom and Dad. Mom realized she had crossed a line that she better never cross again. Sadly, Dad’s death has reopened ugly wounds, and pushed our relationship up to that invisible line once again. It would be so easy to walk away. We won’t, of course, because we deeply love Polly’s mom.

I told my son that the hold the Newark Baptist Temple has over Polly and I will soon be broken. One death down, and one to go. We will, of course, honor Polly’s Mom’s last wishes, settle the estate if Polly is still the executor by then, and then wash our hands of Baptist Temple. It will be a glorious day when we no longer have to concern ourselves with the Baptist Temple. While, in different times, I would love to share my feelings about my father-in-law at the funeral, I suspect my words are unwanted. You see, I actually knew the man. We worked together, both at the church we started and doing construction projects. Man, do I have a lot of funny stories to tell, stories that would horrify our Fundamentalist family. Dad and I had open, frank discussions about life, about marriage, about his days on the railroad, his tenure as assistant pastor at the Baptist Temple. I shall not tell these stories. They are not mine to tell. These stories go to the grave with Cecil “Lee” Shope, a man I dearly loved and will miss the remaining days of my life.

Dad’s Obituary:

A funeral service for Rev. Cecil “Lee” Shope, 84, of Newark, will be held at 10:00 a.m. Saturday at Newark Baptist Temple, with Pastor Mark Falls officiating.  Burial will follow at Wilson Cemetery.  Family will receive friends from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the church, 81 Licking View Dr., Heath, Ohio 43056.

Lee passed away November 8, 2020, at Licking Memorial Hospital.  He was born September 21, 1936, in Sebewaing, MI, to the late George Washington and Luisa (DeLawder) Shope.  

Lee was an Army National Guard veteran, and a member of Newark Baptist Temple.  He loved his family, enjoyed reading the Bible, crossword puzzles, woodworking, sharing the gospel, nursing home ministry, and pastored Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Bonnie Elenora (Robinson) Shope, whom he married on September 1, 1957; daughter, Pauline (Bruce) Gerencser of Ney, OH; son-in-law, James Hughes of St. Louisville; sister, Dorothy Heider; grandchildren, Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah, Cyle, Christopher, and Adam; and 22 great-grandchildren.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his daughter, Katherine Hughes, and brothers, Earl, Elmer, and Frank, and sister Bertha Dorsch. 

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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