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Buying What Evangelicals Are Selling

evangelism

Evangelicalism is a product that must be sold on the market of ideas. Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and garden-variety church members are the salespeople and the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world are the prospective customers. Within the Evangelical mall, there are all sorts of stores (churches), each selling their “unique” brand of the one true faith. Much like prostitutes advertising their wares in front of brothels, Evangelicals advertise why their store is the best one in town. It is up to the Philistines of the world to decide which, if any, Evangelical sect or church is for them.

In our consumer-oriented world, we know there is a big difference between product advertisement and the actual product itself. All of us, at one time or another, have bought a product based on its advertising claims, only to get it home and find out that the product does not deliver as advertised.

What does Evangelicalism advertise to the world? Salvation. Forgiveness of sins. Eternal life. Meaning. Purpose. Joy. Community. Most of all, Evangelicalism offers transformation. New life in Christ, old things are passed away and all things become new.

Evangelicalism creates a “need” by telling prospective customers that they are sinful, broken, and alienated from the company’s CEO. They also create a “solution” by selling the only product that will fix the “need” — salvation. Each store has its own version of salvation, but the goal is one and the same for all: salvation and new life in Christ.

If customers will buy what Evangelicals are selling, the advertising says that they will be granted a lifetime warranty that extends beyond the grave. Further, all sorts of promises are made as far as product performance is concerned. Yet, buried deep within the terms of service that says “your mileage may vary.” Extra costs and conditions apply: weekly church attendance, tithing, obedience to an ancient religious text, conformity to church standards, rules, and regulations, and giving your time, talent, and money to the church.

Most of the people who read this blog have bought what Evangelicals are selling, yet somewhere in the life of the product, we determined that it was not delivering as promised. Many of us returned the product to its seller, never to buy another one again. When asked by customer service why we returned the product, we told them about how God/Christianity/Church was not as advertised. We found that the product looked nice and people really admired it, but when put to use, it failed. Evangelical salespeople talked a great line, but when it came time for Jesus and the church to deliver, they failed miserably. Some of us went looking for different brands and models, sure that there was a better product out there for us if we just looked for it. Some of the rest of us decided that no “better” product was to be had, so we donated it to Goodwill or threw it in the trash.

Evangelical salespeople continue to pester us. When told of the problems we had with their product, we are told that we shopped at the wrong store, bought the wrong model, or didn’t follow the directions. The failure of the product is always our fault. If only we had bought the blue one instead of the yellow one or shopped at John Calvin’s instead of Jacob Arminius’ store, we would still be happy, satisfied customers. If only we had carefully read every word in the owner’s manual 666 times and spent hours each day pondering its words, we would still be Christians. If only we had fasted and prayed without ceasing. If only we had committed our whole hearts, souls, and minds to the one true CEO.

If only . . .

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear Evangelicals: Please Stop Saying You See People As Jesus Does

seeing like jesus

Most Evangelicals have a two-sided understanding of Jesus. There is the theological Jesus and the human Jesus. The theological Jesus is found on Sundays and in countless Christian books. While this Jesus often becomes the framework by which Evangelicals view the world, most often it is the human Jesus that determines attitudes and conduct. Let me explain this in the context of a statement often made by Evangelicals: dear Jesus, please help me see others as you do.

From a theological perspective, how does Jesus see others? Can we even answer this question? When it comes to theology, Jesus had very little to say. It is the Christian church, with its 2,000-year history, that has given us the theological Jesus. So perhaps the real question is how does the Arminian or Calvinistic Jesus see people? And now throw in countless other systematic theologies that have fueled internecine warfare among Christian sects over the past twenty centuries. Theologically then, how Jesus sees people depends upon the doctrinal beliefs of the person making the statement. I can tell you this, Calvinists see people very differently from the way Arminians do.

Most often, when Evangelicals make statements such as seeing people the way Jesus would, their conclusions come from their understanding of the human Jesus they have shaped into their own image. While most Evangelicals will categorically reject such a claim, it is clear that among Evangelicals there are numerous, often contradictory, Jesuses. While their understanding of the human Jesus is certainly shaped by theological beliefs, Evangelicals generally believe in a Jesus who looks, acts, and thinks as they do. So when Evangelicals talk about seeing people as Jesus would, what they really mean is seeing people as they see them. Take a homeless man and put him in a room of Evangelicals and ask them their opinion of this downtrodden man. I guarantee you that you will get varied and conflicting answers. The Bible does not mention how Jesus viewed the homeless, so it is impossible for Evangelicals to see them as Jesus did. When Evangelicals look at the homeless, their thoughts are processed through their previous experiences and current beliefs concerning theology, politics, sociology, and economics. Having grown up poor, I view the homeless differently from those who were raised in affluent homes. Our upbringing deeply influences how we see the world. As a father, I know that how I trained my children and the things I exposed them to affected how they view the world. As they have gotten older, they have tested some of the things they were taught as children, discarding some of these teachings or reforming them and adding new observations of their own.

It is for these reasons that I wish Evangelicals would stop saying that they desire to see the world as Jesus did. If that really were the case, all Evangelicals would have to do is take a pair of Thomas Jefferson scissors to the gospels. Once all the peripheral noise is edited from the text, what would be left is a glimpse of how Jesus viewed the world. And I say a glimpse, because Jesus never wrote one word about how he viewed people. What we really have are written records of how the various authors of the Gospels thought Jesus viewed others. We have no way of knowing if what they have recorded is true. Was Jesus disrespectful to his mother as is recorded in the story about the wedding at Cana? Was Jesus indifferent towards much of the suffering that surrounded him? And what do we do with Jesus’ racial bias towards those who were not Jewish? How do we explain the fact that some of Jesus’ family thought he was crazy and wished that he would move down the road and quit embarrassing them? We certainly could filter these things through some sort of theological sieve that sanitizes these negative aspects of the human Jesus, but if the goal is to see people as the human Jesus saw them, then we must come to grips with the fact that he was far from perfect, that he was, in every way, quite human.

It is time for Evangelicals to put aside the notion that they can see other people as Jesus would see them. Jesus is dead, and he left no written record by which Christians can ascertain how he viewed the residents of first-century Palestine. And even if we could, I am not sure it would help us today. We live in the twenty-first century, not the first century. How we view the world today is very different from the way Jesus would have viewed it 2,000 years ago. One of the problems I have with Fundamentalists is that they want to judge present life by the standards of previous generations. Strict constitutionalists demand that the Constitution be interpreted according to the original intent. However, all that matters now is what the Constitution has come to mean. To a large degree it does not matter what our forefathers thought. We are governed by how the three branches of government currently interpret the Constitution. We can endlessly argue over whether the Second Amendment grants citizens the right to own firearms, when in fact the only issue is how the Second Amendment is applied today. All would agree that we no longer have well-regulated militias, so it is up to us as moderns to interpret the second amendment in the context of how we now live.

Instead of framing their cultural observations with theological jargon and talking of seeing thing as Jesus does, Evangelicals need to admit that they see people through the lenses of their own experiences and biases.  There is no value in trying to see people as Jesus did. That Jesus is dead. He has been replaced by countless reincarnations of the son of God. Instead of asking who is Jesus?, perhaps Evangelicals should ask themselves, who am I? When nonbelievers look at how Evangelicals live and what they say, they are not looking for some sort of historical Jesus. What unbelievers really want to see is who Evangelicals really are. Stories about a loving, compassionate, caring itinerant preacher carry little weight when compared to Evangelical behavior. What unbelievers see are actions: homophobia, racism, bigotry, sex scandals, churches and pastors accumulating vast wealth. Instead of concerning themselves with seeing people as Jesus did, Evangelicals should focus on changing how they are viewed by unbelievers. Doing so requires Evangelicals to bring a new Jesus to life, one that is divorced from the hatred and bigotry of the past forty years.

I am sure some Evangelical readers will object to this post and say that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Is he really? Is the Jesus preached at First Baptist Church on Sunday really the Jesus of first-century Jerusalem? Of course not. Whatever Jesus might have been in the early days of the common era, he is no longer that today. The Jesuses of today are very much like the people who claim he is their God. For many Evangelicals, Jesus is a personal savior, a personal God. He is a friend, lover, and confidant. For others, he is a thundering prophet who condemns homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, and a host of other perceived social ills. And for others still, Jesus is a new age guru or some sort of social worker. All nonbelievers have to do to determine which Jesus Evangelicals worship is to look at what they say and how they live. The Bible Jesus has long been dead. What’s left are countless Jesuses fashioned by human hands.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Learning to Say “No”

no

I was the type of pastor who could never say no. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, numerous pastors extended invitations to me to preach at their churches. I never said no, even when doing so would cause economic hardship. Church members knew that they could always count on me to say yes to whatever they needed me to do, even if it was an inconvenience for me or my family. If someone needed a loan, I always gave it to them, even when I knew it was unlikely they would pay me back. Need someone to watch your six kids? Just ask Pastor Bruce and Polly– they will do it. Need transportation to the doctor’s office, work, or the hospital? The Pastor Bruce Taxi Company provided a ride, free of charge. Need tools to fix your car or do a home repair? Borrow Pastor Bruce’s tools, and then fail to return them. The stories are endless. I recognize by telling these stories that a few readers might think that I am trying to paint myself as some sort of super saint, but I think anyone who knows me well would testify to the fact that I have always had a hard time saying no. Several years ago, my mother-in-law chided me for being so willing to give things to others. Quickly realizing how her comment might be interpreted, she said, “I suppose there are worst habits to have.” Why is it that I have such a hard time saying no?

My mother taught me always to be polite and respectful. My father was a salesman and business owner, so he taught me to always give the customers what they wanted. Generally, politeness and respectfulness are good things. Polly and I both taught our children to never be cross or disrespectful towards others. Doing so has served them well as adults. There are times, though, when I wonder if being taught always to be polite and respectful keeps us from properly responding to people who are assholes. Assholes tend to be narcissistic bullies who love to attack people who go through life trying to be decent and kind. I have learned — rather late in life — that sometimes it is okay to be impolite or disrespectful. Some people do not deserve politeness or respect. Over the years, I allowed countless church members to bully and berate me. I could spend the next hour writing about members who stormed in my office to give me a piece of their mind — what little of it they had. They would rant and rave, attacking my preaching, leadership, family, and even how I dressed. One church member was upset over the way Polly crinkled up her nose at him (I kid you not). Most often, I would try to appease them, not wanting to lose church members. Looking back on it now, I wish I had been more willing to tell them to get the hell out of my office and out of the church. These kinds of members rarely stayed in the church for the long term. Sooner or later I did something that so offended them that they picked up their toys and moved on to a new religious playground. Through the grapevine, I would hear that they blamed me for them having to leave the church. Rarely do such people accept responsibility for their own behavior.

I think my view of Jesus also impeded my ability to say no. I saw Jesus as a kind, compassionate, lover of people. Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and compassionately helping those who crossed his path, Jesus seemed to have had a hard time with saying no too. Like Jesus, I was driven by the fact that there was a deadline that awaited me — death. Knowing that after death I would be judged by God for what I had done in this life, I feared that by saying no I might miss doing something that God wanted me to do. So, I never said no. Well, I never said no to anyone but Polly and our children. They heard the word no all the time. Church members and the demands of the ministry got the best of their husband and father, so when it came time for him to spend time with them or help them with their needs, he far too often said no. I will always regret not putting the needs of my family first. Perhaps this is why I rarely tell my grandchildren no. They have become my do-over of sorts, and they know it. Nana is harder to manipulate than I am, so when the grandkids really want something they come running to Grandpa.

I suspect that my inability to say no will always be with me. Having watched Polly suffer through decades-long economic deprivation, I am determined to make the rest of her life one of comfort. If she wants something, I do everything I can to make sure she gets it. Fortunately, Polly does not abuse my willingness to give her what she wants/needs/desires. I know that life is short and there is no eternal reward beyond the grave, so why not enjoy the fruits of our labor? I know that I will be dead sooner than later. Ecclesiastes says we should enjoy life and the fruits of our labor. Why? Because tomorrow we die. Certainly, we must live life within the parameters of our financial and physical abilities, but there is no award for waiting to live life until you are too old or too sick to enjoy it. I know there is coming a day when physically, I will likely be unable to walk or ride in a car. Knowing this motivates me to walk and ride while I can. I am grateful that I have a partner who is willing to drive me where I want to go and walk with me, even if it means pushing my big ass in a wheelchair.

I am slowly beginning to recognize that it is in my best interest — psychologically and physically — to say no. I now have five grandchildren who are playing competitive sports. I have no doubt that someday eight or nine of them could easily be involved in school activities that I would like to attend. If I had my way, I would attend every one of their games. I thoroughly enjoy watching them play. But, I know that I cannot attend each and every game, especially in the COVID era. If I did so, I would be so physically worn out that I would not be able to do anything else. So, I have to say no when my heart says yes. It is the same with birthday parties and other family gatherings. I ALWAYS want to spend time with my family. We are very close and I want to spend as much time as possible with them, knowing that there is coming a day when all I will be is a memory in their minds and a photograph hanging on the wall. But, I also know that I cannot do everything, and there are times for the sake of my health that I have to say no. Polly’s mom is in declining health. While we have made several trips to Newark — a seven-hour round-trip — I feel guilty over not going to visit her more often. These trips are physically excruciating, and by the time we get home I often feel like I met Mike Tyson in an alley fight and lost. As much as I want to visit Mom every weekend, as we did years ago, I know I can’t. This is perhaps the best example of my physical limitations forcing me to say no.

Bit by bit I am learning that is okay to tell people no. It is not narcissistic to put self first. I am the only one who knows what it feels like to walk in my skin. Outwardly, I look like a typical overweight old man, one who certainly should not need to park in handicapped spaces. But inwardly, virtually every joint and muscle in my body hurts. Some days the pain medications work well, other days they don’t. These days no usually means I can’t. To quote the Bible, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Do you have a hard time saying no? Are you a people pleaser? Please share your experiences in the comments section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Non-Christians Can’t Understand the Bible but They Should Read It Anyway

natural man doesnt understand the things of god

Evangelical number one says to an unbeliever, you need to read the Bible. Within its pages you will find the good news of the gospel. Through this message, you will find the forgiveness of sins and life eternal — that is, if God decrees it to be so and you haven’t committed the unpardonable sin.

Evangelical number two says to an unbeliever, the natural (non-Christian) people cannot understand the things of God (the Bible) because they are spiritually discerned. Since non-Christians are dead in trespasses and sins and the Holy Spirit does not live inside them, they cannot understand the Bible. Unless God gives non-Christians ears to hear and eyes to see, they are unable to discern and comprehend the only supernatural book ever written, the Protestant Christian Bible.

Confused? How about I let Leslie, a Fundamentalist Christian blogger, explain this to all of us unregenerate, unsaved enemies of God:

Have you ever tried to talk to someone about the Gospel, just to have them declare that the Bible is simply another book? Where do you go with this?
….
But the question (and answer) that impacted me most was this one: What do you do when an unbeliever says the Bible is just like any other book and full of errors and contradictions?

This does seem to be a very relevant question in this day and age, does it not? The authority of scripture has been so undermined that few people believe the Bible to be the very Word of God anymore.

Dr. John) MacArthur gave a two-part answer to this question that I found incredibly encouraging. I am conveying his general thoughts (not his word for word answer) and then sharing some of my thoughts about what he said.

First, we need to stop expecting them to believe the Bible is the Word of God. Of course, they don’t. And Scripture tells us that they can’t until God unveils their eyes and shines His light on their hearts.

You may be thinking– Wait! You mean it’s not up to us to shine the light on to their hearts?

We can present it. We can share it. We can try to persuade them. But only God can give the light of His knowledge to a searching heart.
….
Unbelievers can’t understand until God opens their eyes. It’s impossible.

Secondly, if someone is challenging us about the Bible, he suggested that we ask them one simple question: Have you read the Bible?

If they say no, then suggest to them that this is a very strong statement to make about a book they’ve never read. If they decide to do their own study at that point, then let the Bible speak for itself.

Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

Hebrews 4:12  confirms this: For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The Bible will speak for itself to the unregenerate, seeking heart. God may use us to help someone to find salvation but He doesn’t need us.

According to Leslie, non-Christians cannot understand the Bible. No matter how much they read the Good Book, unless God gives them understanding, its meaning will remain beyond their ability to comprehend and understand. Yet, Leslie gives a completely different answer (to be fair, she is parroting Fundamentalist John MacArthur) when saying how Christians should handle non-Christians who say the Bible is filled with contradictions. Have you read the Bible? she suggests saying to atheists and unbelievers. Leslie assumes most non-Christians haven’t read the Bible, not knowing that many unbelievers know the Bible quite well and have likely read and studied it more than most Evangelicals. That doesn’t matter of course. Why? Remember, non-Christians have no capacity to understand the Bible. But wait, didn’t Leslie say they should read it? Now you are catching on . . . around and around the mulberry bush we go.

What Leslie, John MacArthur, and a cast of millions believe is that to understand the Bible non-Christians need some sort of Gnostic superpower. Without this supernatural ability to see and understand what the words of the Bible mean, it becomes just another book gathering dust on the bookshelf. So what about people such as myself, Robert M. Price, Dan Barker, John Loftus, and Bart Ehrman? All of us spent years reading and studying the Bible, allowing God to teach us the “real” meanings of its words. Yet, now that we no longer believe, does this mean that POOF! — all our knowledge has disappeared? I wonder if Evangelicals understand how ludicrous and silly it sounds when they suggest that non-Christians can’t understand the Bible. The Bible — truth be told — is not that complicated. Having read it from cover to cover numerous times, I know what it says. After studying it for thousands of hours and preaching over 4,000 sermons, I think I can safely say I know the Bible (from an Evangelical perspective). I think I am more than ready to test out of this class and move on to hard books such as George R.R. Martin’s Games of Thrones.

Leslie quotes Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Based on this verse, Leslie concludes that the Bible has some sort of magic power, a living book that is able to divine human thought and intent. I wonder, is this just for Christians? I just went to the bookshelf and retrieved my trusty Cambridge, leather-bound King James Version of the Holy Bible. After removing several inches of dust, I held my Bible on the side of my head and waited for it speak. Tell me, oh Bible, what am I thinking? What are my intentions? I waited and waited, yet nothing happened. Hmm . . . I wonder, am I doing it wrong? Then it dawned on me . . . Leslie is misinterpreting the Bible. Up from the recesses of my sin-addled mind came the memory of how this verse is often misinterpreted by Evangelical parishioners and pastors alike.

Hebrews 4:13 says (remember context, context, context):

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

You see, the word of God is a HE, a HE that sees all things. This word of God is not the Bible, it is likely JESUS (see John 1). It is Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) who discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. The Bible? It is a book that is no different from any other book. Written by numerous men — many of them unknown — over hundreds of years, the Bible is a compilation of religious, historical, and poetic writings. It is not, in any way, some sort of magical book that contains messages that can only be unlocked by those who have the special Evangelical decoder ring. Containing sixty-six books, the Bible is littered with contradictions and internal inconsistencies. All the Evangelical parlor tricks in the world can’t harmonize its words. Numerous Gods, numerous salvation plans, and numerous contradictory interpretations await those who dare to read its pages. Evangelicals such as Leslie will deny what I have written, oblivious to the true nature of the Biblical text. Filled with faith, God’s chosen ones thumb their noses at academics who dare suggest that the Bible is not what Evangelicals claim it is. In the aforementioned quote, Leslie told her readers to ask those who say the Bible has contradictions if they have ever read it. Yes, Leslie, we have. Perhaps the real question is whether Leslie has read any books by authors such as Bart Ehrman, Robert M. Price, or John Loftus, or a host of other non-believing scholars. These men were all, at one time, Evangelicals. Now they are atheists. I wonder if Leslie has studied the history of Christianity or how the Bible came to be? My money is on Leslie — if she has done any study at all — not having read any books by authors outside of the narrow Fundamentalist constraints of the Evangelical box.

Often, when Evangelicals say they have studied these issues, what they really mean is that they have read apologetic books written by Evangelical authors. Warned of the dangers that await those who read authors such as Bart Ehrman, Evangelicals only read books that are on the Approved Evangelical Authors list. And here’s what many non-Christians don’t know. Most Evangelicals NEVER read theologically oriented books. In fact, most of them rarely read the Bible. How then do Evangelicals come to know what they believe? Simple. Every Sunday at 11:00 AM they report to Bible Knowledge Class 101, also known as Sunday Morning worship. While Evangelicals are encouraged to bring their Bibles to church so they can follow along as their pastors teach them the Bible, once the service is over, these Bibles will be returned to storage, only to retrieved the following Sunday. When Evangelicals are asked about what THEY believe, most often what they reply with is what their pastor believes. He is the arbiter and purveyor of what is true. And like lambs to the slaughter, church members follow along. Yet, according to Leslie, these illiterate Evangelicals know more about the Bible than Evangelicals-turned-atheists who spent a lifetime parsing the Greek and divining every word of its text. Only in the Christian church does this kind of thinking exist. Imagine someone saying that only a person who lived at Hogwarts could “really” understand the Harry Potter books. Why non-Hogwarts-living Potterite readers would laugh at such a thought. As with all literature, anyone willing to read and study the Bible can understand its teachings.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Living in the Land of God, Guns, and the GOP: Local Evangelical Car Repair Ad

god guns trump

We live in rural Northwest Ohio, fifty miles west of Toledo and forty-five miles east of Fort Wayne, Indiana. This is our home, even though we have lived in central Ohio, Southeast Ohio, Arizona, Michigan, California, and Texas. I was born in nearby Bryan, Ohio. My Hungarian grandparents owned a one-hundred-acre farm three miles north of my home. Since 2007, we have lived in the one-stoplight town of Ney, population 356. Over the years, I worked for two local churches, one in Montpelier, another in West Unity.

As a young man, I couldn’t wait to get away from rural Northwest Ohio with its flat land (an overpass is a hill) and social and cultural monoculture. Yet, time after time over the years, I returned to my home, finally making peace with its bland, boring, slow way of life. Now that pervasive health problems have boxed me in, I know I am “stuck,” with no other option than to live out my days in the land of God, Guns, and the GOP.

Lest I leave readers with the impression that I am just sitting around waiting to die, let me be clear, I love living in rural Northwest Ohio. I am a homegrown boy, intimately familiar with my surroundings. I love the watch-the-corn-grow rhythm of life. Yet, wanderlust is ever with me, calling me to waters and hills far beyond my home. I know I am living in the last home I will ever inhabit, so I have to content myself with road trips and vacations to other places. My six children and thirteen grandchildren live nearby, allowing me to be involved in their lives as much as I physically can. Yet, I can’t help but hope that my grandchildren will leave this place we call home and explore the world.

I am an atheist in a place where few people are. I have met fewer than ten locals over the past fourteen years who identify as atheists or agnostics (and some of them are still in the closet). I am sure there are more atheists around me, but the economic and social costs are such that atheists often keep their unbelief to themselves. Evangelicalism rules the roost, even at mainline churches. There are three hundred churches within thirty or so minutes from our home. Jesus is everywhere (yet nowhere because he’s dead) — literally. And the local culture reflects this. People assume you are a Christian. People assume you attend church. People assume you believe the Bible is the Word of God. People assume you believe God created everything. The pressure to conform to religious norms can be overwhelming. While I refuse to conform, I totally understand why some local atheists choose to play the “game” instead of being tarred and feathered as an unbeliever.

Let me give you a good example of how pervasive Evangelical Christianity is in rural Northwest Ohio. What follows is a front-page ad on the Defiance Crescent-News’ website for Auto Servant, a Christian car repair business in Defiance.

auto servant ad

Auto Servant has a Facebook page for its business. Here are some of the posts made on the page:

Christmas

Merry Christmas! From all of us at Auto Servant! We are so thankful for God our father to send His son Jesus Christ! And to lead us all with the Holy Spirit! We are so thankful for all our friends and family and customers! You are the best people in the world! We truly appreciate you all and all you do. For all your prayers and support! We are very grateful for you all! God bless you!

Thanksgiving

We are so thankful for God our father! Our Lord Jesus Christ! Our guidance Holy Spirit! Thank you Lord for all you have done for us and our families! You are the center of who we are! Thank you to all our wonderful family and employees. You are the best! Thank you to all of our wonderful customers and friends! We truly appreciate you all so much! God has put amazing people in our lives! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!!

Easter

Praise God- though the last few days- we were unsure/ now we know/ God has risen! Death has been defeated! Jesus you change everything! Chains fall- fear gone- Jesus you change everything!

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day! Thank you Lord for your sacrifice and for the sacrifice of all those who gave their lives for us! We pray for Your protection over the USA!

Easter

Celebrating the greatest comeback in HISTORY! God bless you all! Thank you Lord Jesus for sacrificing so much for us!

It’s clear from its newspaper ad and Facebook page that the owner of Auto Servant has a certain demographic in mind for its services — Christians. On one hand, this is a smart business model. Using words and imagery that says to local Christians: “Hey, I am part of the same tribe. Get your car fixed here,” is smart and likely profitable. Auto Servant is not the only local business that uses this model. Crosses, fish symbols, and Bible quotations are common. Go to these businesses and you will find Christian kitsch everywhere. Again, these things say to Christian customers: “Hey, I am one of you. Spend your money here.”

On the other hand, the United States is becoming increasingly non-religious. The fastest-growing religious demographic in the U.S. is the “nones” — those who self-identify as atheist, agnostic, or indifferent towards religion. People in this demographic are less likely to frequent businesses that use religion as a marketing tool (even if these businesses think they have a higher motive or purpose for doing so). As godless heathens, my wife and I deliberately avoid businesses that use Jesus to promote their stores. That’s why we don’t eat at Chik-fil-A or shop at Hobby Lobby. That’s why we don’t shop at some local businesses and would never take our car in for repair at Auto Servant. We simply won’t do business with stores that lead with the Cross.

We certainly frequent businesses owned by Christians. We have no problem with an owner’s personal religious beliefs as long she keeps her beliefs to herself. When we go to a business, we are there to fulfill our wants and needs. If we wanted to hear about Jesus, we would go to a church. Several years ago, an appliance repairman came to our home to fix our dryer. We knew he was a Christian, but he was known for providing excellent service, so we decided to have him repair our dryer. During the course of repairing our dryer, he took it upon himself — unprompted — to witness to us and invite us to his church. We said nothing. However, we will never do business with this man again.

We rarely shop locally these days. The reasons are many, but one reason is that we are tired of the constant Jesus-in-your-face business practices. Typically, we do most of our shopping in Fort Wayne, Toledo, or online. By doing so, we use our dollars as a protest to the practice of using Jesus/Christianity as a marketing tool. Will this choice of ours make any difference locally? Nope. And that doesn’t matter. This is a personal choice for us, one that reflects our values. A generation from now, I suspect local businesses will be less likely to parade Jesus and Christianity before potential customers. For now, Jesus is good for business.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Evangelical Pastor Blames Watching Westerns for His “Hanging” Comment on Facebook

im sorry

In response to a woman’s Facebook post about items being stolen from her home, Mark Guy, pastor of Independent Community Church in Millry, Alabama, said:

Need to go back to the old days and start hanging again, crime will stop when they see people rot off rope in every town.

Community outrage was swift, forcing the good pastor to “apologize.” Here’s his apology (which is no longer available on Facebook):

It has been blown way out of proportion. I was watching a western at the time of the post. In the old days they hung people for stealing. I read her post and made the comment, had not one thing to do with race. Might not should have but I did.

In other words, John Wayne made him do it. 🙂

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Codie Malesker Sentenced to Jail Time for Mail Fraud

pastor codie malesker

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.

Last Friday, Codie Malesker, pastor of Faith Community Tabernacle (Our Church Is A Oneness Apostolic Church That Believes In The Plan Of Salvation As Outlined In Acts 2:38. Love, Laughter, Singing, Fellowship, Worship And Serving God!!!) in Hastings, Nebraska, was sentenced to five years of probation and 15 weekends in jail for committing mail fraud.

ABC-8 reports:

United States Attorney Jan Sharp announced the sentencing of 47-year-old Codie D. Malesker to five years of probation on Friday. United States District Judge John M. Gerrand sentenced Malesker to spend 15 weekends in jail and ordered him to pay $63,443.77 in restitution as part of the probation.

Malesker worked as an insurance agent with Midwest Regional Agency, operated Malesker Agency, LLC and served as a pastor and board member at Faith Community Tabernacle. Malesker was also a partner with Shaun Peck Family Construciton, LLC and managed finances for the company.

In this position, Malesker had access to the company’s bank account, checks and debit cards and an Intuit account. During a four-year period, Malesker issued policies to himself, his insurance agency and Faith Community Tabernacle. Malesker would then make fraudulent claims against those policies and would divert the proceeds to his accounts.

During the time period, Malesker caused an actual loss of $76,296.48 as a result of the fraud. According to a press release, Malesker filed a theft loss claim against his Continental Western Insurance Group reporting $31,648.77 of premium cash and personal property being stolen from Malesker Agency Office.

To support the claim, Malesker submitted fake receipts and bank records. The fraud worked and Continental Western Insurance Group mailed Malesker two claim checks totalling $31,648.77.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser