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I Will Be Speaking at a Virtual Conference on Saturday, December 10th

secular summit 2022

This Saturday at 2:45 pm (EST), I will be speaking at a virtual conference titled Secular Summit 2022: When Reason Prevails. Sponsored by Secular AZ, the conference will include speeches by:

  • Dr. Carmen Celestini, a full-time lecturer at the University of Waterloo, in the department of Religious Studies and the Arts First program, and a Post Doctoral Fellow with the School of Religion at Queen’s University. Her research focuses on the overlapping belief systems of Christian Nationalism, conspiracy theories, and extremism, as well as the impact of these beliefs/ideologies on politics in North America.
  • Gloria Beth Amodeo, author of God’s Ex-Girlfriend: A Memoir About Loving and Leaving the Evangelical Jesus. Gloria converted to a conservative sect of evangelical Christianity in  college, then left the movement in her 20s. Today, she employs personal narrative and critical analysis to explore the “well-oiled missionary machine” she was a part of, as well as the vast implications it has on our current political landscape.
  • Stephanie Kemmerer, a freelance writer who specializes in conspiracy theory culture and extremism. She is a former conspiracy theorist and current advocate for recovery. Stephanie is a co-host for the podcast, ‘True Crimespiracy.” Her writings have appeared on AIPT Comics, Skeptical Inquirer, and Free Inquiry.
  • Nick Carmody, JD, MS Psych, a therapist with an amazing back story.  Nick has a private practice and also works with low-income children who have experienced trauma. In 2010, Nick experienced two life-changing Traumatic Brain Injuries; along with other intense personal experiences, this led him along an unconventional path to a career helping people who have similar lived experiences. He writes extensively on Twitter.
  • Lindsay Love, recipient of our 2022 **Secular Champion Award** and CUSD Board Member and ASBA Black Alliance President.
  • Luciano Gonzalez-Vega, a non-binary author, and public speaker who writes and talks about various issues related to history, humanism, and conflict. They are Puerto Rican, were raised in Honduras, Colombia, and Panama during times of civil unrest and strife, and have a master’s degree in Peace & Conflict Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. They are also an experienced humanist activist who has spoken at humanist conferences nationwide and appeared on television to discuss issues related to humanism in the United States. Find their writing at OnlySky and the Humanist.
  • Bruce Gerencser, who 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 read Bruce’s writing at The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.

This conference is open to the public. The conference is free, but you will need to register (name and email address) to attend, I hope some of you will be “sitting” in the audience as I give my speech, saying “amen” at the appropriate time. 🙂

Register for the conference here.

I Don’t Want to Die, I Just Want the Pain to Stop

pain to stop

Yet another visit to the doctor’s office, visit number twelve for the year — primary care doctor, dermatologist, cardiologist, podiatrist, neurosurgeon, general surgeon, and orthopedic doctor. No major surgeries this year, but I have had a benign tumor removed from my abdomen and a large cyst removed from my upper back (which is already coming back).

My main health problems remain the same: gastroparesis (an incurable stomach disease), fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, degenerative spine disease, and eight herniated discs in my spine and neck. I am also being treated for high blood pressure and diabetes. Both are well-managed. My latest A1c was 5.8. Diabetic readers know that anything below 7.0 is good. 5.8? Awesome.

Thanks to gastroparesis, I am chronically anemic and my B-12 levels are all over the place. I have blood work done every three months to monitor a host of issues. Gastroparesis has also affected my eyes. I was nearsighted for almost fifty years. I am now farsighted.

Taken together, these issues create a real challenge for me. Pain, of course, from head to toe, dominates my life. The pain is so severe that I have a hard time sleeping. I typically sleep in two-hour increments, readjusting my body so I can fall back asleep. Last night, I finally fell asleep at 5:30 am. I woke up five times during the night — hip pain, back pain, and peripheral nerve pain in my legs on this night. I woke up for the last time at 2:30 pm. Throw in a lack of bladder and bowel control, along with profuse — and I mean profuse — sweating, going to bed is a nightmare. Thanks to my therapist, I have come to accept that this is just how things are for me. Sure, I take narcotic pain medications, high-powered muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories, and sleep drugs. They help, but these drugs do not make all my pain go away, nor do they bring deep, peaceful sleep.

I am now forced to use mobility aids wherever I go: cane, wheelchair, walker, or motorized cart. Not that I get out of the house much these days. Come March, it will be three years since I have driven a car. On a typical month, I get out of the house 4-8 times a month, usually to go grocery shopping, to medical appointments, or out to eat with Polly. I am not well enough to do any of these things, but I can’t bear being cooped up 24-7. So I endure, much as I do when my rambunctious grandchildren come over to visit.

My declining muscle strength and balance have made walking an existential threat to my survival. Falls are increasing, some severe. If I had to put money on how I will die, I would put it on tripping and falling. I am careful, but it takes very little to find myself flat on my ass/back, swearing profusely. Readers may remember that last Christmas I fell into our tree, breaking several branches and damaging the train below the tree. We have an artificial tree this year. 🙂

There are days when I just want to put an end to it all. People who suffer from chronic illnesses and endure unrelenting pain often have thoughts about suicide. Well-meaning people tell me that they are praying for me, or that I need to “put mind over matter.” I love it when someone tells me, you know, there are people who are worse off than you. And this helps how, exactly? There will always be people who are sicker than I am or have more pain than I do. And there are countless people who are in good health, and their biggest pain is a zit on the end of their nose or a backache from too much headboard banging. Each of us lives in a contained world unto ourselves. My health problems and my pain are mine alone to bear. Just think of Jesus’ suffering, Bruce. He did it all for you, Christians tell me. What, a day or so of pain, a long weekend, and then a pain-free body? Jesus had it easy. I would trade places with him in a heartbeat. Let Jesus walk in my shoes for a while — not that he can, he’s dead. Conjuring up an imaginary suffering deity as a way to “encourage” those who are in real pain is not any more helpful than that same God spitting on dirt, making some mud, and using it to restore a blind man’s sight. Forget the theatrics. If Jesus is really the Great Physician, what’s he been up to for the past two thousand years? I know a lot of people who sure could use his help. His inattention makes me wonder if he is actually dead, and what’s really going on here is that the Christian church has been playing a con game for the past twenty centuries. Just keep praying. Jesus will heal you — someday.

suffering and pain

People with chronic pain have often suffered for years. Their lives are an endless repeating of the movie Groundhog Day. In my case, I have suffered chronic pain for twenty-five years. I worked my last full-time job in 2005. Their lives are an endless repeating of the movie Groundhog Day. I endure the day, collapse in bed, spending several hours getting to sleep, only to start the process all over again the next day. And pain is just one of the plethora of issues I must deal with every day. I am not complaining. I accept life as it is, doing what I can to lessen my suffering. I don’t expect my doctors to work miracles, nor do I anticipate waking up one day and finding myself miraculously healed. That’s not how things work in the real world. Thousands and thousands of prayers have been offered on my behalf, and I spent the better part of twenty years daily asking God for healing. As the mythical Christian God is wont to do, he remained silent.

When I write about suicide, people immediately worry that I am about to pull a David Foster Wallace. Not today, my friend, not today. All I am saying here is that chronic illness and pain drive people to ponder ending their lives. In fact, it is totally normal to have such thoughts. It’s not that I want to die — I don’t. I want to live. I want to watch more sunsets over Lake Michigan with the love of my life. I want to eat Polly’s food and enjoy her company. I want to hear Bethany laugh while watching a stupid movie. I want to go to stock car races and baseball games with my sons. I want share Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family. I want to watch my grandchildren come of age, go off to college, and perhaps have families of their own. I want to watch the trees, bushes, and plants Polly and I have planted grow to maturity, covering our yard with summer beauty and shade. I want to watch the raccoons, possums, squirrels, and feral cats as they stop by to eat and provide us with a bit of entertainment. (Recently watching a raccoon run off on his back feet with an old bagel in his front paws — priceless.) There are so many things I want to do, yet when my body is wracked with pain, all I can think is this: PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!

You see, that’s what healthy people don’t understand. It’s not that people such as myself want to die, we just want the pain to stop. Oh, how I yearn for a day — just one day — of waking up in the morning pain-free. Some of you reading this post know what I am talking about. You understand longing for a day without pain, yet you know such hope doth fantasies make. For the present, we live between the one certain cure — death — and a life of finding meaning and purpose. For me personally, writing, family, and hoping the Cincinnati Reds will, one more time in my lifetime, win the World Series, are some of things that give me meaning and purpose. When I devote my energies to those things. thoughts of suicide diminish. That said, suicidal thoughts will never, ever go away, and I have, through anguish and tears, thought on more than one occasion this year, ENOUGH! But today I say to myself, LIVE. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? For now, I focus on the things that matter, hoping they continue to provide reasons for living.

I know the goodness in you will urge you to try to encourage me in the comment section, or with a text or an email. There’s no need, friends. This is just me talking out loud and being brutally honest about life. I may die today, but it will not be by my own hands. My sister has a project she needs her wise, aged, technologically savvy smart-ass of a brother to take care of (she reads my blog, so I just had to say that).  I can’t leave her in the lurch. And besides, the Bengals are likely headed for the playoffs. Maybe, just maybe this will be the year the Bungles become world champions.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

So, You Love Those Bears More Than You Love Jesus?

teddy angels

My former life as a Christian can best be described as passionate, committed, and devoted, yet at the same time be described as wild, chaotic, and ever-moving. Years ago, I read a passage in one of Thomas Merton’s books wherein he talked about how people often judged him based on his past and not on where he was presently. As a devoted follower of Jesus, I often experienced similar judgment. I was an ever-moving target, and people bent on judging me often did so based on the past and not where I was at the time. This happens even today. Evangelical critics will focus on a particular point on the timeline of my life and use my beliefs, practices, and experiences at that point in time to render judgment. This, of course, totally misrepresents my journey and leads to faulty conclusions. In particular, critics will focus on what they consider the AHA! point in my résumé; for example, I was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. They think they have me right where they want me; however, I reply, yes, but I wasn’t always an IFB pastor. I left the IFB church and moved on to Calvinism, generic Evangelicalism, and then progressive Christianity. Always restless and moving — that best describes my life, even to this day.

I always envied Christians who were steady eddies; people whose Christian lives never changed or moved. Of course, I couldn’t understand such staid living. Weren’t we to always challenge ourselves with the teachings of the Bible and be sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Ghost? Weren’t we supposed to follow the promptings and directions of God’s Spirit? Why did it seem that God was ALWAYS leading me to take up my cross and follow him or sell all that I have and give it to the poor, but he never seemed to be leading my colleagues in the ministry to do the same? Why was I willing to do without to advance the kingdom of God, yet most of the Christians I knew weren’t willing to do the same? I often wondered why I seemed to be on a spiritual wavelength different from that of most Christians, including men who labored in God’s vineyard.

I believed, for many years, that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, and that its words were to be read, meditated over, and obeyed. The Bible wasn’t a book of suggestions. Yes, it was a book that spoke of God’s grace, but it also had hundreds of laws, commands, and precepts Christians were commanded by God to follow. I never viewed these commands as optional. The Bible — at least to me — was clear: Do THIS and thou shalt live. Obedience led to life eternal, and disobedience led to God’s chastisement or Hell. Passage after passage in the Bible talked about the importance of following Jesus’ steps and keeping his commandments. Solomon, in the twelfth chapter of Ecclesiastes, summed up the whole duty of man this way: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. Jesus himself summed up the laws of God this way in Matthew 22:36-40:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

These verses described my heart’s desire: love God with all my heart, soul, and mind and love my neighbor as myself. I thought, at the time, these verses are in every Christian’s Bible, yet why do so few Christians take them seriously? By the way, I STILL wonder about this to this day. Most Christians live lives indistinguishable from those of atheists, agnostics, humanists, pagans, and the adherents of religions deemed false by Evangelicals. Outside of what they do between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and noon on Sundays, there’s very little difference between saints and sinners.

When it came to material things, Jesus said:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:21)

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)

These words come from a passage of Scripture (Matthew 5-7) commonly called The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gathered his disciples on a mountainside and taught them what it meant to be his followers; what would be required of them if they were to follow the Lamb of God whithersoever he goeth. I believed then, and still do, that Christianity and the world would be better served if the followers of Jesus actually read and practiced the teachings found in Christ’s hillside sermon.

I am in no way trying to paint myself as once having been a perfect Christian. As this story will later show, I ended up living a life no different from most Christians. I was far from perfect, daily breaking the commands of Christ in thought, word, and deed. That said, I couldn’t help but notice the difference between how I lived my life and how most other Christians lived theirs.

In the late 1990s, I felt convicted over what I perceived was my materialism and that of my family. Hell was hot, souls were lost, and people were dying, and I believed God wanted me to do more to reach the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Thanks to my oldest two sons, who were living at home at the time and paying rent, along with Polly working at a local manufacturing concern, and me drawing a modest salary from the church, the Gerencser family was starting to take on the look of a typical middle-class midwestern Evangelical family. There were four cars in the drive, a TV in the living room and master bedroom, a computer in the office, and newer furniture in the living room. Polly and I were able to take our first vacation since the 1980s — without the children. We had money to go out on dates, buy clothing/shoes, and enjoy a bit of the American dream. But, thanks to Jesus and his teachings, I became increasingly uncomfortable with our way of living. I thought, how can we live this way when there are billions of people in the world who don’t know Jesus? What kind of example was I to the church and other Christians? These questions and others began eating at me, and soon I believed that God want me (us) to embrace simplicity and frugality, giving our excess money to the church, missionaries, and other groups who were engaged in building churches, evangelizing the lost, and ministering to the poor. I began selling off things I thought I didn’t need: firearms, hundreds of books, electronic equipment, and an extensive collection of political memorabilia from the 1960s and 1970s given to me by my political junkie mother (letters from notable politicians and campaign buttons/literature.) I dutifully and happily sold these goods and gave them to the Lord’s work. I was gladly willing to do without for the sake of the gospel. Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last, went the Evangelical mantra.

One night, I gathered up all the things I had collected over the years from the various churches I pastored, including sermon notes and tapes, and set them on fire in the backyard. In my mind, this was me setting fire to the past and telling God I was ready to be used by him in any way he saw fit. I sure wish I had these things today!

Little did I know that this time, my wife wasn’t willing to join me in suffering for Jesus.

polly gerencser late 1990s
Polly Gerencser, late 1990s, carrying water from the creek to flush the toilets. An ice storm had knocked out the power.

Polly loves collectible bears. As our finances improved, I started buying Polly Teddy Angel bears for her birthday, our wedding anniversary, and other special days. As my great sell-off continued, I noticed Polly wasn’t joining me in giving a burnt offer to God. We had a few “discussions” — Greek for Bruce talking and Polly listening — about her unwillingness to forsake all and follow Jesus. I specifically mentioned her bears. One day, after yet another round of eBay listings and nothing given to the cause by Polly, I said to her, “So, you love those bears more than you love Jesus?” “No, I really do love Jesus,” Polly replied. “It’s just that some of these bears have sentimental value.”  I asked, “what bears, then, don’t have sentimental value?” One by one, I picked up the bears and asked, “This one? This one?” I learned that almost every bear had a story: “Mom gave this to me for my birthday, you gave this to me for Valentine’s Day, you gave this to me with a letter that told me you loved me.” In what would be one of the greatest regrets of my married life, I badgered Polly — in Jesus’s name, of course — into selling many of her bears, regaling her with stories about what would be accomplished with the money gained from their sale. With tears in her eyes, Polly gathered up half of her bears and gave them to me to sell. I remember saying, “see that wasn’t so hard!”

Brutal, I know, but if I am going to tell my story honestly and openly, I must tell it warts and all. Quite honestly, I am embarrassed to even write this post. All I can visualize is the love of my life crying over giving up her bears. She had few things to call her own (as did I) in our married life, yet here I was asking (demanding) that she give up reminders of some of the happy times in her life. Gifts were few and far in between for both of us. We didn’t buy each other Christmas gifts, so, for Polly, all the gifts she had from me were bears, Fenton glass, and other collectibles. They were small tokens of love, yet each carried great meaning for Polly. I grossly underestimated how much these things meant to her. At the time, I saw her attachment to these things as a sign of love for the world; an unwillingness to forsake all and follow Jesus.

This phase of my life would pass, never to return. I finally realized that I was standing alone on this matter, and that every other Christian I knew was busy pursuing houses, lands, cars, and material wealth. I realized while still a Christian that I had been a fool; that I had sacrificed my health and financial security, and to what end? Hell was still hot, souls were still lost, and people were dying. Bible verses that spoke of laying up treasure in heaven no longer satiated my spiritual desires. I wanted the lives other people had, as did Polly and our children. I became, I suppose, just another preacher who loved Jesus, but also loved the good life.

I left the ministry in 2005, and left Christianity in 2008. Since decoupling from Christianity, I have had a lot of time to reflect on the religious and psychological forces that led me to a life of servitude, self-denial, and poverty; that led me to demand that my wife and children follow in my steps. Had I been single, the only harm caused would been to self, but as a married man with six children, I harmed those I loved and cared for the most. There are not enough lifetimes left for me to apologize for the harm I caused to Polly and our children. I now know that I spent much of my life serving a myth; and that my sacrifices and voluntary poverty accomplished almost nothing. I say almost, because I know the money and material goods I gave to the poor, sick, hungry, and homeless helped them, so my giving had some effect, but all in all, my life of devotion to Jesus was “a waste of time, money, and talent” — to use the line oft recited by Baptist preachers when trying to goad congregants into doing more for Jesus. I pissed away tens of thousands of dollars, and even more when not-taken salary is added in. As with all past misdeeds, there’s nothing I can do to undo them. The past is the past. All I can do is learn from past mistakes, pass what I have learned on to others, and spend what life I have left living one hell of a hedonistic, sinful life — that’s sarcasm, by the way, for the Evangelical dullards who happen upon this post.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Begging God to Save Unsaved Family, Friends, and Africans

make it so number one

According to most Evangelicals, God is in the soul-saving business. He really, really, really wants to save sinners from their sins. 2 Peter 3:9 says:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Evangelicals explain this verse this way:

  • God promises to save sinners and he keeps his promises, unlike mere humans who make lots of promises but never keep them.
  • God is longsuffering towards broken, vile sinners — that’s us, by the way.
  • God doesn’t want anyone to perish (die in their sins).
  • God desires everyone to repent of their sins.

Of course, the question that rises to the top is this: if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent — all-powerful, all-knowing, present everywhere — and the Sovereign of the universe, the Creator of all things, why does God’s wish for the salvation of all men go unfulfilled? If God is able to save the meanest, baddest sinners in the world, why is it then that the overwhelming majority of the human race, past, present, and future, will die without being saved, and go to Hell? Why is it, if God is who Evangelicals say he is, that the majority of people who claim to be “saved” can’t be bothered to get out of bed on Sunday morning so they can attend church? These same people don’t read or study the Bible, nor do they pray on a daily basis. Why is that?

Evangelical zealots will respond by saying that just because someone says he is a Christian doesn’t mean he really is. These zealots consider themselves True Christians®, whereas most Christians are people who profess to know Jesus, but live lives no different from those of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. They are professors and not possessors; they have head knowledge, not heart knowledge. Wait a minute, I thought salvation was by grace, and not works? Well, True Christians® say, it is, but _________________ (fill in blank with theological jig dancing).

As I have shown, as soon as Evangelicals try to explain their peculiar interpretations of verses such as 2 Peter 3:9, all sorts of questions arise. You ought to hear Calvinists explain this verse; how God “desires” salvation for all men, but not really. It’s hard to say with a straight face that God really, really, really wants to save sinners while at the same time saying that God, before the world began, played a game of cosmic eenie-meenie-miney-mo, choosing to save some people (the elect, the chosen ones) and not others. Calvinists give all sorts of philosophical and theological reasons for God’s split personality, but in the end, it is clear: if you die and go to Hell, it is because God didn’t choose you.

praying for the lost

Have you ever wondered, if God really, really, really wants to save sinners, why does he make it so hard for them to be saved? Most of the people born into this world will end up living in countries where Christianity is not the dominate religion. And we know empirically that people tend to choose the dominate religion of their country and/or their parents as their own. Why do most Americans claim to be Christians? Simple. The United States is a nation that is predominantly Christian. So it is for Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc.

I am a Star Trek fan. Anyone who has watched Star Trek: The Next Generation has heard Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) say to Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), “Make it so, number one.” And what Captain Picard orders, Riker makes happen. Shouldn’t it be that way with God? If God really, really, really wants sinners to be saved, can’t he just say, “Make it so, number three (the Holy Spirit)?” If God is this all-powerful, all-consuming deity, why do most people in non-Christian countries live and die believing in and worshiping the gods of other religions? Why can’t God “make it so?”

If you have attended a midweek prayer (gossip) meeting at a Baptist church, you know the importance of begging God and pleading with him to save lost family members, neighbors, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, liberal Christians, atheists, and anyone else who is deemed headed for Hell. This is one strange ritual that, even in my Christian days, left me a bit perplexed. On the one hand, Evangelicals preach that Jesus really, really, really wants to save everyone (Calvinists wink and say, just kidding). But on the other hand, Evangelical preachers tell congregants that they need to storm the throne room in Heaven with their intercessory prayers on behalf of the lost. Mention them by name, preachers say, leaving the question, what, the omniscient God doesn’t know their name already? Of course, some Evangelicals do take a shorthand approach to the matter, saying: Dear Jesus, bless the missionaries and save the lost, in Jesus’ name, Amen. Meet you at Dairy Queen, Bro. Bob! I remember one church member telling me she only prayed over her food once a day. No need to pray more than once a day, she said, God knows what I am going to eat. At the time, I was a pray-over-every-meal kind of Christian — except ice cream after church (no prayer needed). I told congregants a sure way to choke when eating was to eat food that had not been prayed over.

So it was with sinners. I encouraged church members to pray for lost people — every day, and during every church service, especially the midweek prayer meeting. I was taught by the pastors of my youth that if I would just pray, pray, and pray for sinners, God would one day gloriously save them from their sins. This, of course, proved to be a fanciful distortion of reality. Much like prayers for healing, most prayers for the salvation of the lost went unanswered. If God really, really, really wants to save sinners from their sins, why are so few intercessory prayers answered? I listened to Godly, old church matrons pray and weep for their lost husbands/children for decades without success. Their heathen loved ones lived, died, and split Hell wide open — to use the vernacular of Baptist preachers. Thousands of prayers have been prayed on my behalf since I publicly divorced myself from Jesus, yet I remain as lost as lost can be. Why is that?

As a Christian, I wondered why God didn’t honor the prayers of the faithful. What, was God sitting on his throne in Heaven, playing one little, two little, three little sinners, putting a mark in the prayer ledger every time a prayer was uttered for a sinner? How many marks does a saved soul make?  Evidently, it’s more than a few thousand, or even tens of thousands. If God isn’t willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance — not you LGBTQ people, you have committed the unpardonable sin — why doesn’t God save sinners without all the requisite begging and pleading?

1 John 5:14. 15 says:

And this is the confidence that we [Christians] have in him [God], that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

Is it God’s will for sinners to be saved? 2 Peter 3:9 says it is. When Christians pray for lost loved ones and friends, are those prayers — which are according to the will of God — prayers that God hears? And if God truly does answer every prayer he “hears,” why, then, do most prayed-for sinners go through life without ever being saved — even on their deathbeds? This all seems so confusing to me. How about you?

Of course, there is an answer to this confusion. Let’s apply Occam’s razor, asking, what is the shortest, most likely answer to these questions? There is no God. There are no sinners that need saving. See how easy that was? Now, let’s head for Dairy Queen!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

A Flat Tire and the Existence of God

existence of god

While attending our family’s Fourth of July picnic, son number three — a certified mechanic — noticed that one of our car tires had a nail in its sidewall. IN THE SIDEWALL? Yes, in the sidewall. Not right at where the sidewall meets the tread either. This nail was embedded halfway between the tread and rim. I spent more time than I should have pondering how a nail ended up in the tire’s sidewall. On the tread? Sure. But, the sidewall? I concluded that it was likely someone vandalized the tire. I texted my son, thanking him for getting a new tire for us, and telling him that I believed someone vandalized the tire. He replied:

No problem. I’ll do what I can do when I can do it.  Yeah, seems a li’l fishy to me. I mean it’s possible, but highly unlikely LOL.

I replied, that’s what I say about God “Yeah, seems a li’l fishy to me. I mean it’s possible, but highly unlikely LOL.”

We both laughed.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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Escaping the Closet: Secret Unbelief While Living in an IFB Home

monster in the closet

Over the years, I have had numerous Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) teenagers and young adults contact me. A handful of them wanted to evangelize me, but the rest of them wanted advice. Many of these letter writers were the children of IFB pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and church leaders. What these young people wanted was advice on what to do about their increasing doubts and unbelief. There they were, the children of devoted Fundamentalists, yet they had serious doubts about Christianity in general, and IFB beliefs in particular. Some of these letter writers told me they were atheists or agnostics. Most of them wanted to know whether they should “share” their beliefs with their parents, pastors, siblings, or friends. Raised in an environment that values zealotry, these doubting Thomases thought that, at the very least, people would appreciate their openness and willingness to speak honestly about their doubts and struggles. I told them that I thought it was a bad idea to tell anyone about their loss of faith. While I know that hard-core atheists will likely object to me silencing their coming out, I hope in the remainder of this post to explain why these closeted unbelieving young people should, for now, keep quiet.

I grew up in the IFB church movement. I am, by all accounts, an expert on its doctrines, practices, and culture. I attended an IFB college, worked as an assistant pastor in two IFB churches, and planted a new IFB church which I pastored for eleven years. My wife’s late father was a retired IFB pastor, and Polly’s late uncle, Jim Dennis, was an IFB pastor for more than fifty years. Polly has cousins who are IFB pastors, an evangelist, and a missionary. I’ve spent the last fifteen writing about Evangelicalism in general, and have focused a good bit of my attention on the IFB church movement. I spend several hours every day reading Evangelical and IFB blogs, websites, and news sites. From time to time, I even listen to sermons. While some might say that I am appealing to authority here, in the case of the IFB church movement, I know what I’m talking about. Having been both a congregant and a pastor, I have a well-rounded understanding of IFB churches. Many IFB preachers despise the work that I do because I dare to share the movement’s secrets. As a mobster-turned-snitch might say, I know where the bodies are buried.

IFB pastors, churches, and educational institutions do not value doubt, skepticism, or intellectual inquiry. The goal, instead, is obedience and conformity. What is fellowship? IFB pastors ask. It’s fellows in a boat rowing in the same direction. Dare to disagree with the pastor or oppose his teachings, and you will quickly find yourself thrown overboard. While a certain level of doubt is acceptable — as long as it is within the four sides of the IFB box — doubters are expected to resolve their questions by reading and studying the Bible. But what happens when you stop believing that the Bible is the word of God; when you stop believing that Jesus is a virgin-born, miracle-working, resurrected-from-the-dead Savior? What happens when you find IFB moral standards and personal behavior regulations a millstone around your neck? What happens when you want to experience the things teenagers and young adults in the “world” experience? What if you want to smoke a joint, drink a beer, have sex, or dress the way people outside of the church dress? What if you want to listen to secular music or enjoy the entertainments of the “world?” What if you just want to be yourself? What if you want be an out-of-the-closet gay or attend a public high school or college? What if you want to date the Catholic boy next door or skip church so you can play sports or attend a rock concert? While all of these behaviors and questions might seem silly to people outside of the IFB church movement, people raised in Fundamentalism know what can happen if you refuse to play by the rules and toe the line. Some readers of this blog were shipped off to IFB group homes when they were teenagers in the hope that their rebellion — a favorite IFB word — would be cured. Once imprisoned in these indoctrination camps, they were psychologically and physically abused. Some of them were sexually assaulted and raped. What was their crime? Rebellion, which the Bible says is as the sin of witchcraft. Once “cured” they were expected to return home and do what they were told.

During my time in the IFB church movement, I saw teenagers assaulted and beaten for refusing to obey. In one church, I had a family come to me and tell me that they were considering cutting off all the hair from the head of their rebellious teenage daughter. Appealing to the Bible, this couple believed that cutting off her hair would teach her a lesson. Fortunately, I was able to persuade them not to do this. And I am hardly without fault. As I look back over how we disciplined our children — or better put how “I” disciplined our children — the only conclusion I can come to is that I, at times, physically abused my three older boys. Fortunately, I saw the error of my ways when it came to my three younger children, and I abandoned corporal punishment as a way to extract compliance and obedience. While I can say that I was only modeling what I experienced in my own life and saw in the lives of men I admired, the fact remains that I used violence as a means of discipline. I know that corporal punishment is still common in IFB homes. I also know that it is not beyond many IFB parents to use draconian methods to drive the devil from the hearts of their children. I’ve spent countless hours reading the stories of adults who were savaged by their IFB parents as children and teenagers. These parents believed they were just following the Bible when they harshly attempted to drive rebellion out of the hearts of their children. And they were. The Bible is clear on the matter. Parents who love their children should righteously and frequently use the rod of correction, driving rebellion and disobedience from their hearts.

It is knowing all of these things that causes me to advise doubting IFB teenagers and young adults to keep their unbelief to themselves. Bide your time. Play the game. Fake it until you make it — “make it” being out of the house and on your own. It’s not hard to fake belief. Anyone can do it. I suspect that most IFB churches have congregants who are just playing the game; that they are attending church, with Bible in hand, praying when asked, and doing all the things good Christians are supposed to do, without believing a word of it. Some IFB pastors think that they can spot frauds from a mile away, but I know better. Truth be told, some of those frauds are their own children and spouses. Yes, I’ve even heard from pastor’s wives who are secret unbelievers.

I can only imagine how difficult it must be to be an unbeliever in a sea of Fundamentalist faith. But, due to the serious and real risks involved in publicly announcing unbelief (or that one is gay), I strongly advise that doubting IFB teenagers and young adults keep their lack of faith to themselves. Go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, and play the game. You can do it. In the meantime, seek out people who can privately encourage and support you. Those who have written me over the years know that my email inbox is always open. I encourage them to not only read my writing, but also to read the stories of other people who have left Christianity. But even here, they must be careful. IFB parents can be quite controlling. I remember my youngest daughter being a pen pal with another pastor’s daughter. I never read my daughter’s letters, but her pen pal’s mother read every one of my daughter’s letters before giving them to her daughter. She also read every letter her daughter wrote to mine before it was sent. After word got out that Pastor Gerencser and his family were no longer attending church, the letter-writing stopped. I wish I could say that the IFB teens and young adults who write me should go to their parents for support and understanding. The problem is that I doubt whether their parents would be okay with their unbelief. How could they? Allowing an unbelieving child in your home, especially if you are a pastor, is a sign that you do not have your children under control. Remember, IFB churches thrive on conformity, obedience, and control. Imagine what would happen if IFB parents let their children think for themselves. Why, in their minds, rebellion, heresy, and sin would abound.

I know the advice I’m giving here is hard to take, but I do have the best interests of these teenagers and young adults at heart. I wouldn’t want to tell them to be out and proud, knowing that doing so could cause them great harm. I know that when you are fifteen, time moves oh, so slowly, but if these doubters will just play the game, before they know it they will be graduating from high school and will then be free to tell the world they are not believers. And shouting it from the mountaintops will certainly cause continued stress and conflict, but it’s on IFB parents and churches to deal with the fact that they had unbelievers in their midst; that an increasing number of teenagers and young adults are no longer buying what preachers are selling; that what these unbelieving young adults want most of all is acceptance for who they are, and the freedom to think for themselves and to follow the path wherever it leads.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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I See That Hand

raised hands

Originally written in 2018

I’m lying in bed on my right side, with my left arm and hand extended straight up, hoping to relieve some of the pain in my arm. (I would later learn that herniated discs in my upper spine were causing the arm pain.)

Polly walks in and says, “I see that hand!”

(Polly’s mom is having surgery on Thursday and she’s driving to Newark to care for her mom for a day or two.)

I reply, sarcastically, “you should go to your mom’s on Wednesday so you can go to church with her.”

(Polly’s mom attends an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church where the pastor asks non-Christians to raise their hand if they would like prayer. To each raised hand he replies, “I see that hand.”)

With all the might of a scorned Baptist preacher’s daughter, Polly says, “HELL NO!”

I reply, “actually you should be saying HELL YES! If you don’t want to be saved you are saying YES to HELL!”

Polly laughs and says, “uh, huh, once saved, always saved!”

I reply, “that’s right….”

And we both have a hearty laugh, safe in knowing that no matter how much we mock God or deny his existence, we still get to go to Heaven when we die. Sweet, right?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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