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Quote of the Day: The Cross is not Secular Says Ruth Bader Ginsburg

ruth bader ginsburg

An immense Latin cross stands on a traffic island at the center of a busy three-way intersection in Bladensburg, Md. “Monumental, clear, and bold” by day, the cross looms even larger illuminated against the night-time sky. Known as the Peace Cross, the monument was erected by private citizens in 1925 to honor local soldiers who lost their lives in World War I. “The town’s most prominent symbol” was rededicated in 1985 and is now said to honor “the sacrifices made in all wars,” by “all veterans.” Both the Peace Cross and the traffic island are owned and maintained by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, an agency of the state of Maryland.

Decades ago, this court recognized that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution demands governmental neutrality among religious faiths, and between religion and nonreligion. Numerous times since, the court has reaffirmed the Constitution’s commitment to neutrality. Today, the court erodes that neutrality commitment, diminishing precedent designed to preserve individual liberty and civic harmony in favor of a “presumption of constitutionality for longstanding monuments, symbols and practices.”

The Latin cross is the foremost symbol of the Christian faith, embodying the “central theological claim of Christianity: that the son of God died on the cross, that he rose from the dead, and that his death and resurrection offer the possibility of eternal life.” Precisely because the cross symbolizes these sectarian beliefs, it is a common marker for the graves of Christian soldiers. For the same reason, using the cross as a war memorial does not transform it into a secular symbol, as the courts of appeals have uniformly recognized.

Some of my colleagues suggest that the court’s new presumption extends to all governmental displays and practices, regardless of their age. ‘A more contemporary state effort’ to put up a religious display is ‘likely to prove divisive in a way that a longstanding, pre-existing monument would not.’” I read the court’s opinion to mean what it says: “Retaining established, religiously expressive monuments, symbols, and practices is quite different from erecting or adopting new ones,” and, consequently, only “longstanding monuments, symbols, and practices” enjoy “a presumption of constitutionality.”

Cross not suitable for other faiths

Just as a Star of David is not suitable to honor Christians who died serving their country, so a cross is not suitable to honor those of other faiths who died defending their nation. Soldiers of all faiths “are united by their love of country, but they are not united by the cross.” By maintaining the Peace Cross on a public highway, the commission elevates Christianity over other faiths, and religion over nonreligion. Memorializing the service of American soldiers is an “admirable and unquestionably secular” objective.

But the commission does not serve that objective by displaying a symbol that bears “a starkly sectarian message.” The First Amendment commands that the government “shall make no law” either “respecting an establishment of religion” or “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Adoption of these complementary provisions followed centuries of “turmoil, civil strife, and persecution, generated in large part by established sects determined to maintain their absolute political and religious supremacy.”

Mindful of that history, the fledgling Republic ratified the Establishment Clause, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, to “build a wall of separation between church and state.”

Government may not favor

The Establishment Clause essentially instructs: “The government may not favor one religion over another, or religion over irreligion.”

In cases challenging the government’s display of a religious symbol, the court has tested fidelity to the principle of neutrality by asking whether the display has the “effect of ‘endorsing’ religion.” The display fails this requirement if it objectively “conveys a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.” To make that determination, a court must consider “the pertinent facts and circumstances surrounding the symbol and its placement.”

As I see it, when a cross is displayed on public property, the government may be presumed to endorse its religious content. The venue is surely associated with the state; the symbol and its meaning are just as surely associated exclusively with Christianity.

To non-Christians, nearly 30 percent of the population of the United States, the state’s choice to display the cross on public buildings or spaces conveys a message of exclusion: It tells them they “are outsiders, not full members of the political community.”

“For nearly two millennia,” the Latin cross has been the “defining symbol” of Christianity, evoking the foundational claims of that faith. Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ was “a divine Savior” who “illuminated a path toward salvation and redemption.” Central to the religion are the beliefs that “the son of God,” Jesus Christ, “died on the cross,” that “he rose from the dead,” and that “his death and resurrection offer the possibility of eternal life.” “From its earliest times,” Christianity was known as “religio crucis — the religion of the cross.”

Christians wear crosses, not as an ecumenical symbol, but to proclaim their adherence to Christianity. An exclusively Christian symbol, the Latin cross is not emblematic of any other faith.

The principal symbol of Christianity around the world should not loom over public thoroughfares, suggesting official recognition of that religion’s paramountcy.

The commission’s “attempts to secularize what is unquestionably a sacred symbol defy credibility and disserve people of faith.” The asserted commemorative meaning of the cross rests on — and is inseparable from — its Christian meaning: “the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the redeeming benefits of his passion and death,” specifically, “the salvation of man.” Because of its sacred meaning, the Latin cross has been used to mark Christian deaths since at least the fourth century. The cross on a grave “says that a Christian is buried here,” and “commemorates that person’s death by evoking a conception of salvation and eternal life reserved for Christians.”

As a commemorative symbol, the Latin cross simply “makes no sense apart from the crucifixion, the resurrection, and Christianity’s promise of eternal life.” The cross affirms that, thanks to the soldier’s embrace of Christianity, he will be rewarded with eternal life. “To say that the cross honors the Christian war dead does not identify a secular meaning of the cross; it merely identifies a common application of the religious meaning.” Scarcely “a universal symbol of sacrifice,” the cross is “the symbol of one particular sacrifice.”

Every court of appeals to confront the question has held that “making a . . . Latin cross a war memorial does not make the cross secular,” it “makes the war memorial sectarian.” The Peace Cross is no exception. That was evident from the start. At the dedication ceremony, the keynote speaker analogized the sacrifice of the honored soldiers to that of Jesus Christ, calling the Peace Cross “symbolic of Calvary,” where Jesus was crucified. Local reporters variously described the monument as “a mammoth cross, a likeness of the Cross of Calvary, as described in the bible,” “a monster Calvary cross,” and “a huge sacrifice cross.”

The character of the monument has not changed with the passage of time.

Not a universal symbol

Reiterating its argument that the Latin cross is a “universal symbol” of World War I sacrifice, the commission states that “40 World War I monuments . . . built in the United States . . . bear the shape of a cross.” This figure includes memorials that merely “incorporate” a cross. Moreover, the 40 monuments compose only 4 percent of the “948 outdoor sculptures commemorating the First World War.” The court lists just seven freestanding cross memorials, less than 1 percent of the total number of monuments to World War I in the United States. Cross memorials, in short, are outliers. The overwhelming majority of World War I memorials contain no Latin cross. In fact, the “most popular and enduring memorial of the post-World War I decade” was “the mass-produced Spirit of the American Doughboy statue.” That statue, depicting a U.S. infantryman, “met with widespread approval throughout American communities.”

The Peace Cross, as plaintiffs’ expert historian observed, was an “aberration . . . even in the era in which it was built and dedicated.” Like cities and towns across the country, the United States military comprehended the importance of “paying equal respect to all members of the Armed Forces who perished in the service of our country,” and therefore avoided incorporating the Latin cross into memorials. The construction of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is illustrative. When a proposal to place a cross on the Tomb was advanced, the Jewish Welfare Board objected; no cross appears on the Tomb. In sum, “there is simply ‘no evidence . . . that the cross has been widely embraced by’ — or even applied to — ‘non-Christians as a secular symbol of death’ or of sacrifice in military service” in World War I or otherwise.

The Establishment Clause, which preserves the integrity of both church and state, guarantees that “however . . . individuals worship, they will count as full and equal American citizens.”

“If the aim of the Establishment Clause is genuinely to uncouple government from church,” the clause does “not permit . . . a display of the character” of Bladensburg’s Peace Cross.

— This is an edited and condensed version of the dissent, written by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in the Bladensburg cross case

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Jesus is NOT a Religion

jesus hawkins texasJesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say Superman welcomes you to town.

— Mayor Will Rogers, Hawkins, Texas

Freedom From Religion Foundation News Release

Texas city has at long last removed a “Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins” sign that the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected to years ago.

Back in 2015, the state/church watchdog twice wrote to the city of Hawkins about the blatantly Christian sign on city property after receiving local complaints.

“The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover noted. “The Supreme Court has been clear that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”

The city of Hawkins violated this neutrality with a prominent governmental sign that proclaimed “Jesus Welcomes You” and endorsed belief in the pre-eminent figure of Christianity, FFRF pointed out. It sent a clear message to those with Christian beliefs that they’re favored community insiders and an equally clear message to those who believe differently that they’re not.

Then Hawkins-Mayor Will Rogers, the creative mind behind the sign, which he commissioned public school students to build, defended it with media statements such as “Jesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. He’s in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism” and “If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything, then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say ‘Superman welcomes you to town.’”

Fortunately, better sense prevailed in the rest of the city administration, and it heeded FFRF’s advice, albeit after many twists and turns.

The City Council voted to remove the sign after FFRF’s second letter, but then events headed in a strange direction after the mayor got into a long tussle with the city. He sued eight city officials and a bunch of other residents for supposedly resisting his attempts to root out corruption. Rogers settled the lawsuit but narrowly lost his re-election bid, with the sign playing a major role in the campaign.

Meanwhile, a group of supporters of the sign claimed that it was on private property, while the city contended that it had an easement to build a road on the land and, therefore, it was city-owned. The land turned out to be on the property of a funeral home that wanted nothing to do with the controversy, but then an entity called “Jesus Christ Open Altar Church, LLC” brought a lawsuit against the city after claiming to have bought the land from the funeral home. FFRF waited and watched while the lawsuit was underway. Finally, the city won that lawsuit on appeal and recently removed the sign.

FFRF is breathing a sigh of relief at this overdue victory for the U.S. Constitution — and for the rights of minority believers and nonbelievers in the community.

“We believe in justice for the good people of this country — even justice that is long delayed,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Finally, the city of Hawkins is in compliance with the law of the land — and has stopped sending a divisive and exclusionary message.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit founded in 1978, has over 31,000 nonreligious members and several chapters around the country, including more than 1,300 members and a chapter in Texas.

 

Update on Polly

polly gerencser 2015

After 18 days in the hospital, Polly came home from on Sunday. Currently, she has a colostomy bag. Her surgeon believes that the colectomy can be reversed in three months, provided the bowel heals properly. We remain hopeful that this will be the case. Polly will be off work for 4-6 weeks.

Thank you for your love, encouragement, and financial support. It means the world to us.

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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Teacher Austin Greenway Charged with Sexual Abuse

austin greenway

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.

Austin Greenway, a teacher at North Valley Early Learning Center in Margaret, Alabama, was charged earlier this week with sexually abusing a 9-year-old child. The Center is a ministry of North Valley Church in Odenville, Alabama.

AL.com reports:

In June, the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office Investigators were contacted by the Margaret Police Department to look into allegations of sexual abuse of a 9-year-old child at North Valley Early Learning Center in Margaret. The center is a ministry of North Valley Church.

The suspect, Austin Blake Greenway, had been employed at North Valley as a teacher for the past two years. After an extensive investigation, the case was presented to a St. Clair County grand jury, resulting in an indictment for sexual abuse of a child under 12 years old, and school employee engaged in a sex act with a student under the age of 19.

Greenway was released on a $50,000 bond.

Does the Holy Spirit Fart?

https://schoolofthespirit.tv/

According to Jennifer LeClaire, Charismatic prophetess extraordinaire, Christians have the ability to “smell” in the spirit.  LeClaire, a huckster always looking for another way to make a buck, is peddling a course titled “Smelling in the Spirit.” Costing $59, the class aims to:

From the fragrance of God to the fragrance of demons and beyond, we do have the ability to smell in the spirit. Many don’t undertand this aspect of the gift of discerning of Spirits. Jennifer LeClaire teachers [sic] you in the School of the Seers.

According to LeClaire, God has a fragrance, and so do demons. This got me wondering about the Holy Spirit’s smell. What if the Holy Spirit farted? How would LeClaire and other sniffers “discern” God’s message from the gaseous mixture of Taco Bell gorditas and burritos emanating from their asses? Surely, this is a very important question, don’t you think?

If you are a Christian, the next time you are in church or in a crowded elevator and you smell a fart — maybe your own — just remember you might be smelling the Holy Spirit.  If you are an atheist, it’s not the Holy Spirit you are smelling, it’s Lucifer or one of his demons. What a minute, Bruce, are you saying Holy Spirit and Lucifer farts smell the same? Yep! Consider the ramifications of that thought, if you dare!

Please share your smelly thoughts about LeClaire’s “Smelling in the Spirit” class in the comment section.

Bruce, Did You Listen to Recordings of Your Own Sermons?

bruce gerencser 2002

Bruce Gerencser, 2002

I preached my first sermon at age fifteen, and my last sermon shortly before my forty-eighth birthday. (Please see Ten Years Since I Preached My Last Sermon) All told, I preached almost 5,000 sermons. For many years, I preached two sermons on Sundays, taught Sunday school, and preached again on Thursday nights. Throw in preaching revivals, conferences, youth rallies, special meetings, along with preaching at local nursing homes, and I think you could say I preached a sermon or two in my lifetime. For many years, I also preached on the street. (Please see the Street Preaching series.) If I was anything, I was a preaching machine. My favorite part of the ministry was standing before people and preaching the Word of God. (Please see Preaching: The Ruminations of a Former Evangelical Pastor Part One and Preaching: The Ruminations of a Former Evangelical Pastor Part Two.)

Rarely did a Sunday go by that I didn’t ask Polly, “How was my sermon today?” She always said words such as fine, great, or awesome. She swears my sermons were really that good, but I never preached a sermon that I thought was perfect. And I remember to this day several sermons that were downright awful. One sermon in particular — from the book of Habakkuk — was so bad that I stopped half way through it and said, “this sermon makes no sense. Let’s pray!”

Many of my sermons were recorded on cassette tape. These recordings were duplicated using tape duplication machines and distributed free of charge to whomever wanted them. For many years, the church I pastored operated a tape ministry — Charis Tape Library. Each week, tapes of my sermons and those of other preachers were duplicated and mailed across the country. Before my sermons were duplicated, I listened to them, making sure that what I said was doctrinally correct and that I didn’t say anything which might prove to be embarrassing. I loved using personal illustrations, and on more than a few occasions, I said things that in retrospect might be misconstrued or misunderstood. Those tape recordings were erased using a large, powerful magnet.

I firmly believed then, and still do, that sermons ought to be well-crafted and delivered in such a way that they change the hearts and minds of listeners. There’s nothing worse than a poorly crafted sermon dispassionately delivered. (Please see Should a Christian Preacher Turned Atheist Stop Using His Public Speaking Skills?) I heard countless aimless, forgettable sermons preached by men who had no business behind the pulpit. I listened to hundreds of my own sermons, listening for bad speech patterns or poor use of the English language. On many occasions, I said to Polly, “I can’t believe I said that!” As someone with OCPD (obsessive-compulsive personality disorder), I always had perfection as the goal. I never reach that mark, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I like to think that my preaching showed growth and maturity over the years.

I am sure many of my taped sermons are buried in the back of the closets of former congregants. Alas, I personally don’t have any of them. Several years ago, I wrote a short post titled, The Night I Set My Life on Fire. It best describes what happened to my sermon tapes:

Family and close friends know that I can be temperamental and impetuous. I am quick to make decisions, and doing so has, for the most part, served me well. There are those times, though, when making snap decisions has resulted in me doing things that I later regret. The story that follows is one such instance.

I have not written much about my time as pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I plan to devote a chapter in my book to this church. After resigning from Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio, I took the Bruce Gerencser Traveling Preacher Show five miles south to West Unity, a small community south of the Ohio Turnpike, and started a church. I spent seven years pastoring Our Father’s House. We bought the old West Unity library and began holding services in September of 1995. At its inception, the church was called Grace Baptist Church. After conflict over the use of praise and worship music and non-cessationism (the belief that charismatic spiritual gifts are valid today) resulted in five families leaving the church, we decided to rename the church Our Father’s House. By this time, I had theologically made a move to the left. I wanted the church’s name to reflect our belief that sectarianism was contrary to the teachings of Jesus. After the name change, we had the front door lettered with “The Church Where the Only Label That Matters is Christian.”

During the last three years of my time at Our Father’s House, I became increasingly disenchanted with Evangelical Christianity. Deeply influenced by authors such as Thomas Merton, Wendell Berry, and John Howard Yoder, I embraced pacifism and changed my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. I now know that the seeds of my unbelief were planted during this period of time.

One night, after a long, depressing self-reflection on Evangelicalism and my part in harming others in the name of God, I gathered up all the ministry mementos I had collected over the years, piled them in the yard, doused them with gasoline, and set them on fire. In a few minutes, 20 years of sermons notes, recorded sermons, letters, and church advertisements went up in smoke. At the time, I found the consuming fire to be quite cathartic. This was my way of breaking with my past. Little did I know that 8 years later I would torch the rest of my ministerial and Christian past and embrace atheism.

Today, I sure wish I still had the things I turned into a pile of ashes in the backyard. I have no doubt my sermon notes and recorded messages would provide information and context about the decades I spent as an Evangelical pastor.

I know several former congregants and colleagues in the ministry read this site. If you happen to have any of my sermon tapes that you haven’t taped over with Metallica songs, I would love to have them.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists and Secular Humanists are Religious Too

Everyone is religious. Christians are religious. Hindus are religious. Muslims are religious. And believe it or not, atheists are also religious, as are secular humanists and others. Everyone has a set of beliefs and values that they live their life by. If a person does not believe in and worship the one true God, then they will find another god.

Often that god is self – or some cause that people devote their lives to, or some belief that they commit themselves to. They will give themselves over to some ultimate explanation of life, some moral cause, or some purpose greater than themselves.

Such belief systems, philosophies, or worldviews serve “to interpret the universe for them, to guide their moral decisions, to give meaning and purpose to life, and all the other functions normally associated with religion” as Nancy Pearcey puts it. Thus there is such a thing as secular religions.

In the West today we find countless people who have rejected Christianity but have not stopped being religious. They have simply substituted other gods for the God of the Bible. They still want their life to have meaning and purpose. They still have a sense of making atonement of some kind for their various failings and shortcomings. They still have guilt feelings that they seek to deal with.

Thus they will often find substitute religious causes to join. These groups have secular versions of biblical themes such as some sort of beginning, a fall, sin, redemption, and eschatology. These counterfeit religions give these folks a sense of meaning and fulfillment. That is because they are in fact made in the image of God, and if it is not the true God that they worship and follow, then they will make up their own.

One of the big god-substitutes of today is the green religion. Many people who have rejected more traditional religion have embraced environmentalism as their big picture belief system. It gives them a sense of belonging and purpose, and it assuages their guilt.

— Bill Muehlenberg, Culture Watch, Green Religion, August 21, 2019

The Existence of God: Daring to Look Behind the Curtain

god-curtain

Recently, Andrew Hackman said, “Once you see behind the god curtain, there is no point in offering me a “better” god.” Andrew’s words got me thinking about the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz; of how Dorothy and her compatriots traveled to the Emerald City to see the great Wizard of Oz. Rumor had it that the Wizard of Oz had great powers, and who better to give the Scarecrow a brain, the Tin Woodman a heart, the Cowardly Lion courage, and magically return Dorothy to Kansas? The Wizard agreed to grant their wishes if they brought him the broomstick belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West.

Upon achieving the quest, Dorothy and her friends return to the Emerald City, thinking that the Wizard will happily and quickly grant their wishes. Instead, he stalls, hoping they will give up and go away. As they persisted, Toto, the dog, pulled back a curtain to reveal that the great Wizard of Oz was actually a “middle-aged man operating machinery and speaking into a microphone.”

So it for those of us who have pulled back the God curtain, only to find out that “God” was a fabrication of the human mind; that the God we loved, worshiped, and adored was nothing more than a feeble, frail man using magical words and religious texts to convince us of his existence. The God behind the curtain used all sorts of tricks to get us to accept that he was real; that he was the supreme ruler of the universe; that he was the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the one true God. But once we saw the human behind the curtain, it was impossible for us to unsee. We had three choices: pretend that we didn’t see what was behind the curtain, ignore what we had seen, or admit that the deity we had devoted our lives to was no God at all. For those of us who are atheists and agnostics, we chose number three — there is no God.

wizard of oz

It’s been a decade now since I pulled back the God curtain and found that Christian God (and all other extant Gods) was a fake, a fraud, a human invention. Since that time, countless Evangelicals, Catholics, and Muslims have attempted to evangelize me, saying that I had been worshiping a false God, and that if I would just believe in and follow their peculiar version of God, all my wishes would be granted.

Their remonstrations have fallen on deaf ears. Why? Let me quote my buddy Andrew again, “Once you see behind the god curtain, there is no point in offering me a “better” god.” You see, once you know the truth, there’s no going back. Once you realize the psychological, sociological, and geographical nature of belief in God, the idea that God is “real” falls flat on its face. Christian zealots continue to try to convince me that their flavor of Christianity is “truth,” but I know better. You see, I have pulled back the curtain, and I know that God looks and acts a lot like Bruce Gerencser and seven billion other human beings.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Pastor Shannon Coutouzis Charged with Sexual Contact with a Child

shannon coutouzis

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.

Shannon Coutouzis, a youth pastor and administraive assistant at The Crossing Church of the Nazarene in Houston, Texas, stands accused of having sexual contact with a 15-year-old boy. According to KHOU-11, Coutouszis’ bond has been set at $25,000.

Coutouzis’ church bio page states:

I was saved at the young age of four.  Ever since then, I remember having a conscious thought of doing right and wrong and living to glorify God. Then, when I got into the youth group, I began to learn the concept of having my own personal relationship with Christ. I learned about having a devotional and prayer life.  I grew a lot during this time. My teenage years were extremely influential. Through ministry and leadership opportunities, God revealed to me a love for His Church and a desire to teach teenagers how to live lives holy and pleasing to God.

When it comes to my call, it has been a gradual series of events. The first happening was probably when I was required to read The Cross and the Switchblade for a class in high school. This book was very powerful! David Wilkerson’s ministry to the gangs of New York touched me deeply. As I read about these things, I sensed God calling me to some sort of ministry.  After this experience and a few mission trips, I had affirmation of my call to ministry. Although I was not sure what aspect of ministry, I was prepared to do whatever God called me to do. So, I chose Biblical Studies. My desire is to be a help behind the scenes while teaching God’s Word. I will teach His Word by example and by using the knowledge and skills I have gained throughout my education. My passion for church work and knowing God’s Word has grown and I make every effort to further God’s Kingdom.

I believe Coutouzis’ father, Steve, is the pastor of The Crossing Church of the Nazarene.

No further details are available at this time. When they do become available, I will update this post.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Bret Welty Charged with Sexual Abuse

bret welty

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.

Bret Welty was formerly a sound tech at Calvary Chapel in Boise, a pastor at Common Ground Biker Church in Meridian, and currently the pastor of Hard Rock Revival Church (a home church) in Boise, and the operator of Sound Harvest (all in Idaho) — a business that set up audio equipment for churches and events. (According to Linkedin, Sound Harvest is owned by Michelle Welty.) Welty also sold real estate.

Hard Rock Revival Church describes themselves this way:

We are a new church with old roots!  Doing our best to recapture and revitalize Jesus’ mission here in Boise.  We have started off as a home based church and plan to grow as the Lord ads [sic] to us and we would love to serve you and your family.  Our Pastors Bret and Kelly Welty have served as ministers and Worship Leaders for over 30 years and worship is a center point here at Hard Rock Revival.  So is connecting people with Jesus and God’s word!  We endeavor to give our utmost towards raising up God’s people to be active, healthy, and loving people who want to make a difference in this crazy world.

Earlier this month, Welty was charged with “sexual abuse of a minor younger than 16 years old, and lewd conduct with a minor younger than 16 years old.”

The Idaho Press reports:

One of the members of his congregation was a 15-year-old girl who was having family troubles and living with anxiety. The family felt it might help her to spend a weekend at the Welty household, where Welty lived with his wife, 15-year-old son, and 24-year-old stepdaughter. She was at the home Aug. 9.

Police and prosecutors say that night Welty entered her room and touched her inappropriately. He continued to touch her for between 30 minutes and an hour, until he was interrupted by his wife, Fouts explained in court.

“The defendant confessed to his conduct,” Fouts said. “He stated that he’d struggled with such behavior before, although not with victims of this age, this young age.”

Fouts asked Magistrate Judge Michael Lojek to set Welty’s bail at $350,000. Smith asked for far less.

“He’s been a pillar of…various churches that he was ministering at, and I would just ask the court to set bond at $25,000,” Smith said.

Lojek set Welty’s bond at $250,000. He also ordered Welty stop ministering, until given permission from the court “so as to protect any other…vulnerable potential victims he may come into contact with in that capacity.”

Lojek said he considered the nature of the relationship between Welty and the girl. It was unique, given that he was her pastor, and the pastor for the rest of her family. He issued two no contact orders in the case, barring Welty from having contact with the girl, as well as with her father.

Matthew Fouts, of the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office, stated “The defendant confessed to his conduct. He stated that he’d struggled with such behavior before, although not with victims of this age, this young age.” This tells me that there is likely more to this story than has been reported. I suspect there are more victims.

Bret Welty is also a muscian. His bio page states:

Bret Welty is a blues rock singer, songwriter, and guitar player with an inspired approach to blending the soul of blues with a variety of musical genres. Bret has been playing in bands for over 25 years, in a variety of roles.

Born in California and raised on a variety of music, Bret spent his formative high school years split evenly between Oregon and later California, where he was exposed to blues and rock. “The first time I heard guitar and blues put together, I was hooked,” Bret explains. As a young man, Bret tried his hand at 11 instruments before settling on the guitar. He received his first real guitar at age 15, and by the summer he had saved up enough money to buy his first electric guitar. Within 6 months, he was in his first band, and his love of performing live grew from there. Bret studied jazz in college, and has worked as a guitar teacher and faith music leader.

A true musician in every sense of the word, Bret plays drums, bass, lead guitar and mandolin. He has played all over the Northwest at both intimate and large venues, including state fairs and music festivals. Bret has played shows with Daryl Mansfield and has performed with Dennis Agajanian in concert.

Bret will release his album in 2014 “Unlimited Edition” a collection of rock and blues originals, is due to be released August 23rd 2014. It features a song dedicated to wounded service men and women whohave been hurt in the service of our country.  Coves of Bill Withers and the Marshal Tucker band can be found on this release.

Blues is at the heart of Bret’s music, but listeners will also enjoy elements of jazz, rock, funk, Latin, R&B, southern rock, and country. His albums feature original song writing and topics that listeners can easily identify with: love lost, hard times, triumph, freedom, and patriotism.

If Atheism Leads to Hedonism, So Does Calvinism

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Evangelicals-turned-atheists are often accused of deconverting because of a secret desire to sin, to live wickedly. I have had countless Evangelical apologists accuse me of hiding the real reason I left Christianity: some sort of “secret” sin. Supposedly, atheists are hedonists — pagan pleasure seekers. While it is certainly true that my sin list got a lot smaller post-Jesus, I suspect my life measures up quite well against the lives of Christians who ignorantly believe that atheists are morally inferior to followers of Jesus. Sure, atheism freed me from guilt over many of the behaviors I at one time considered “sin.” I no longer feign holy outrage when I see naked women or gay romance on TV.  I no longer have to beat myself up when I’m less of a man than I could be. I am quite self-aware, and usually don’t have a problem recognizing when I have been an ass or caused harm to someone else. When I understand that I have failed in some way, I don’t pray, seeking a mythical God’s forgiveness. Instead, I do what I can to apologize and, if necessary, make restitution. I then do my best to not repeat said behavior. As all humans do, I fail every day. That said, knowing what I know about Christians, I am confident that my way of life and morals compare favorably to that of saved, sanctified, bought-by-the blood, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost Evangelicals. And I can say the same about most of the atheists I know. We are not hedonists, nor do we lurk in the shadows waiting for opportunities to rape, murder, molest children, or root for the New York Yankees. Quite frankly, most atheists — myself included — live uninteresting lives. I may joke about being a stripper named Santa, but my real life is quite banal.

If atheism leads to hedonism, then Christianity — especially Calvinism — does too.  Recently, I published a guest post titled The Cruel Message of Calvinism. Jean left the following comment:

I have often wondered–if you actually believe in predestination, what is keeping you from unbridled hedonism, if that appeals to you? After all, if you’re saved, you’re saved; and if you’re damned, there’s nothing you can do about it, anyway. Nothing you can do will help anyone else, in the long run, either. Why live a life of rugged virtue, if it isn’t going to gain you anything at all?

The doctrine of predestination (and election) teaches that God, before the world began, chose who would and wouldn’t be saved. The only people who will be saved are those chosen, drawn, and called by God.  Even Arminians, to some degree or the other, believe human salvation is predetermined by God. It is God alone who saves. In other words, the salvation game is rigged. Since salvation can never rest on human merit and good works, it is up to the Christian God, through the merit and work of Jesus, the son of God, on Calvary’s cross, to save sinners from their sins. Further, God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He is the sovereign of the universe, and everything that happens is according to his purpose, plan, and decrees. Nothing happens unless God wills it or allows it to happen.

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As you can see, both Christianity and atheism can lead to hedonism. Evangelicals will argue that the Holy Spirit lives inside of them, and is their teacher and guide. Supposedly, having God living inside of you inoculates you from “sin.”  However, as causal observation of Evangelicals and stories such as those found in the Black Collar Crime Series tell us, the Holy Spirit is really bad at his job. Go read comments by Jim on the post Church of Christ Preacher Al Shannon Says Women Who Dress Immodestly Risk Rape by Lustful Men. (Also see Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Al Shannon Says Modern Women Wear the Attire of Harlots) Jim says he is a Bible-believing Christian. Ask yourself, does his behavior reflect the belief that God, the Holy Spirit is his teacher and guide? Supposedly, the Holy Spirit gives believers the words to say when witnessing. If that’s true, based on Jim’s comments, the Holy Spirit is an arrogant bully and troll. (And if Jimbo dares to object to my characterization of his boorish behavior, I can quote a dozen Bible verses that condemn his behavior.)

The only difference between atheists and Christians is that Christians wallow in helplessness before their imaginary deity, seeking his/her forgiveness. Atheists cut out the middleman — God — and seek the forgiveness of those they have hurt, promising to do better the next time.

Are you an atheist? Do you desire to live a hedonistic life? How is your life different post-Jesus? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Dan Broxterman Charged with Rape

Dan Broxterman, the former pastor of FUN CHURCH (now closed)  in Hamilton, Ohio, was indicted recently on ten counts of rape. One alleged victim was under the age of thirteen. Local 12-News reports:

A Butler County grand jury indicted Dan Broxterman, 56, on Aug. 8. According to the indictment, the rapes occurred from 2014 through July 2019. Broxterman was a pastor and the lead singer of a tribute band. He also faces charges of gross sexual imposition and disseminating matter harmful to juveniles.

Tammy Mercer attended one of Broxterman’s churches from 2010 until 2013. She believes many people were fooled by him. But, she said she became suspicious after learning he was ordained by paying $50 online. She also said she found out he was allowing teenagers to sleep over at the church and engage in sexual activity.

According to Local 12-News, Broxterman served time for gross sexual imposition in 1990 and 1994.

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Broxterman previously pastored Tree of Life Church (now closed) in Hamilton, Ohio. A church listing website had this to say about Tree of Life and its pastor:

We have church in the Hamilton Family Fun Center and always have a reason to laugh. Pastor Dan makes sure of that! The kids love us because of our 222 CLUB. The music is powerful and energetic. Come worship with us! Turning Hamilton Downside Up From The Outside In!

“Kids love us”, and our pastor loves kids too. He’s a pedophile who pays close attention to church children.  Praise Jesus!

According to Linkedin, Broxterman is the business development manager for Ohio Valley Insurance and Financial Group in Fairfield, Ohio. I suspect he is not doing much “developing” since he is sitting in jail with a $1 million bond.

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Broxterman is the lead singer for PUSH — a DIO tribute band.  Broxterman’s Twitter account mentions he is the lead singer for a called Holy Diver.