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Black Collar Crime: So Many Crimes, So Little Time Issue

arrested

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.

Daycare Director Allegedly Beats Child With Paint Stirrer

Shannon Jacobs, daycare director for Trinity Freewill Baptist Church and School in Greenville, North Carolina stands accused of beating a child with a paint stirrer. The school released the following statement:

As a ministry, when an allegation is made against an employee, our organization immediately removes that individual from any contact with children pending the outcome of the criminal matter, and we fully cooperate with parents, state officials, and law enforcement. We believe that if children are safe anywhere, they should be safe at church. As a matter of policy, Trinity reports all suspicions of potential child abuse to the authorities. We carefully interview and screen our employees and volunteers, and our leadership team works to maintain child protection policies based on best practices nationally and North Carolina State law. We believe that transparency, child safety, and accountability are essential for successful ministry, and we are fully committed to ministering to our students in a safe and responsible manner. As this matter involves the staff member administering a spanking, upon the advice of legal counsel and after prayerful deliberation, the Pastor and Deacon Board have decided to immediately discontinue any corporal discipline at the school and rely on other disciplinary measures for the students. Please understand that we have asked our staff to not discuss this matter while it is pending before the courts. This is our official statement.

Gary Bradley Allegedly Stole $20,000 From Mayfair Church of Christ’s Sunday Collections

Gary “Tripp” Bradley stands accused of stealing $20,000 from Mayfair Church of Christ in Huntsville, Alabama. Bradley is the grandson of a man who pastored Mayfair Church for more than thirty years.

Youth Pastor’s Computers Seized in Search for Child Pornography

An unnamed youth director in Prague, Oklahoma had his computers seized by Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents as part of a child pornography investigation. At this time, no charges have been filed.

First Baptist Church in Modesto, California Has a Sexual Abuse Problem

In February 2018, The Modesto Bee released a scathing report about pastor Brad Tebbutt sexually abusing several church teens in the 1980s. Last Saturday, The Bee published a story about megachurch (Highlands Church, Scottsdale, Arizona) pastor Les Hughey admitting he had sex with church teenagers in the 1970s. Both Tebbutt and Hughey were youth pastors at First Baptist Church (now CrossPoint Community Church) when they committed their crimes.

Hughey released the following statement:

Over 40 years ago, as a church intern in California, I sinned and harmed the most important relationships in my life. I was unfaithful to my God, my wife, and the ministry, and was rightly removed from that church. I engaged in consensual relations with fellow college-aged staff. With God’s help, my wife’s forgiveness, and discipline and counseling from church authority, I sincerely repented and we put our lives back in order. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to undo what happened, so I instead accept and live with the consequences, even now so many years later. My family and the authority over me at my church are aware of this history. I thank God for his forgiveness and grace.

Garth Stapley, a reporter for The Modesto Bee, writes:

Hughey’s statement to The Bee characterizes his infidelity as “consensual relations with fellow college-aged staff.”

They clearly were victims, two of the girls, now in their 50s, told The Bee.

“I was a good little girl and he was a powerful youth pastor,” said Tracy Epler, whose maiden name was Looney. “I knew I had to comply. And I knew it was wrong and I felt terrible but I didn’t know what to do about it.”

Epler, 59, now lives in San Luis Obispo County. Back then, she was a 17-year-old virgin, “very timid, quiet, very submissive,” she said, when Hughey, 23 and married two years, first had sexual relations with her. She felt alone, frightened and confused, and was terrified that anyone would find out, especially her parents, she said. “I was in an emotional prison that I didn’t know how to get out of,” she said.

“I always cried after (sex),” Epler said. “I cried afterwards in the bathroom because I’m cleaning myself and I don’t know what it is. (Crying) was my only release of being scared and sad and not knowing what was happening or why, and knowing it was terribly wrong. There was a huge sense of shame and guilt.”

Four women described Hughey as a handsome, charismatic young man in his mid-20s who made girls go weak in the knees and wowed huge worship crowds as he sang and played guitar. Ceres High School students felt particularly lucky that Hughey was in charge of activities at their campus, said Epler and Jane Berryhill, who ran programs with Hughey as Ceres High co-coordinator for First Baptist.

The four women, interviewed separately, all said Hughey and his wife would host youth staff meetings in their Modesto home to plan activities. As attendees left, his wife would go to bed and Hughey would encourage shoulder rubs with a remaining girl, all said.

“It was very subtle. It would become full back rubs, then closer to private parts,” said Berryhill, 62.

She would not let him fondle her, she said.

“The sexual involvement was a means to an end,” said another woman, now 59. “It was something I felt like I had to do to have (alone) time with him. I remember feeling used and guilty.”

She asked to remain anonymous because “I made peace with this long ago,” but granted a lengthy interview to corroborate the pattern cited by other victims.

A fourth woman said she engaged in full-body massages and was “ashamed and embarrassed” even though Hughey didn’t have sex with her. “The bulk of the responsibility falls on Les,” said the woman, asking not to be named. “He used his position and power to manipulate the vulnerable. I was a naive kid and he was a narcissistic ass.”

Epler said sex with Hughey went on about monthly for two years, until she was 19 and studying at Modesto Junior College. She often wished it would end, she said.

“I didn’t want to come over, but he would always say, ‘I won’t hurt you, I promise; let’s just talk,’ and I fell for that every time. It was about obedience and submissiveness. You had to. It was being obedient to God.”

….

Bill Hybels, Pastor of Willow Creek Church, Faces New Accusations of Sexual Misconduct

Bill Hybels, who recently resigned as pastor of Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois, faces new allegations of sexual misconduct. Willow Creek’s board released the following statement:

Dear Willow Family,

We have been diligently praying and processing how to best respond to recent events. Last night, we had another productive and encouraging Elder Meeting. We are unified and seeking God’s direction on next steps, and we felt it was important to communicate with you.

This has been such a difficult time. Our church has been facing one of the most challenging seasons in our history. In the midst of this time, you have been responding with love, grace, and an openness to engage in dialogue. We are so proud of you. You are living the Gospel. We are also especially proud of the staff. Not only have you gracefully demonstrated strength, you have also joyfully assumed additional responsibilities due to an accelerated transition of leadership.

Over the last several weeks, we have been in a process of deep learning, seeking clarity, and building a path toward reconciliation. Even though Bill is no longer in his role, our work to resolve any shadow of doubt in the trustworthiness of Willow Creek Community Church and its Elders is not done.

With the benefit of hindsight, we see several aspects of our past work that we would have handled differently, and we have identified several areas of learning. Moving forward, we have a renewed commitment to engaging well, listening deeply, and further developing a culture of transparency and accountability.

As a board, we unanimously agree there are several areas where we could have served you better:

We have at times communicated without a posture of deep listening and understanding. We are sorry that at times our process appeared to diminish the deep compassion we have for all those involved in these matters. We will do better in the future.

Bill acknowledged that he placed himself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid. We agree, and now recognize that we didn’t hold him accountable to specific boundaries. We commit to strengthening the relationship of accountability with our church leaders in the future.

In hindsight, we wish we would have worked harder to collaborate with all parties that were impacted to bring clarity and reconciliation when accusations were first made. While attempts were made, we could have done more.

Additionally, we recognize that our board structure sometimes causes us to be slow in decision making. Our mandate as an elder board is to speak with a unified voice. Accordingly, we are not at liberty to release information publicly until we have everyone’s consent. As we continue to navigate this season, we are committed to providing regular updates to you that are transparent and informative.

Our desire is to serve you in the highest degree and humbly ask for your grace, patience, feedback, and prayer.

In the next 45 days we will intentionally pursue the following next steps:

We will fully support the new leadership team. We have great confidence in Heather and Steve and will further develop relationships with both leaders allowing for greater connectivity, transparency, and accountability.

We will examine allegations against Bill that have not been previously investigated by the Elder Board. We will respectfully reach out to each woman who has made an accusation, even if she has not brought her concerns directly to the Board. We commit that each woman willing to speak with us will be heard, and that we will respect her story. We commit that making steps toward understanding and toward restoring relationship will be our primary goals. We will seek wise counsel and work with experts, developing a collaborative process. We are identifying ways to ensure a safe environment for constructive dialogue tailored to each individual.

We will continue to methodically examine our church culture, enhancing policies and informal practices that support healthy and valuable working relationships between men and women. We will also examine our policies about how concerns are raised about senior leaders and make any necessary improvements.

We will review and modify Willow email retention policies to reflect the best practices of organizations that deal with sensitive data.

We will ensure that the Elders will be more available in person to answer questions and we commit to communicate as needed with the church.

We will walk alongside Bill in stewarding his season of reflection well and are committed to working together on appropriate next steps with him.

Finally, we commit to pray fervently for all involved. We humbly ask for your prayer and your grace as we move forward.

With you, we will continue to be focused on the mission of this church. We will continue to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength and mind.

Youth Pastor Ronald Starkey Found Guilty of Sexual Assault

Ronald Starkey, youth pastor at Perrin Baptist Church, was found guilty of sexually assaulting his then three-year-old adopted daughter. Starkey’s attorney asked for probation, but the court sentenced him, instead, to fifty years in prison.

Catholic Priest Kevin Wallin Sentenced to Sixty-Five Months for Drug Dealing

CT Post story

Baptist Pastor Joseph Marshall Charged With Assaulting a Police Officer

WEAR-TV report

Toledo Pastor and Family Found Guilty of Misdemeanors in Assault of Sunday School Teacher

Toledo Blade report

Black Collar Crime: District Attorney Says Evangelist Acton Bowen is a ‘Danger to Every Child in This Community’

acton bowen

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.

(Please read Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Evangelist Acton Bowen Arrested on Child Sex Charges and Black Collar Crime: Why Did Young Boys Need to be Protected from Evangelist Acton Bowen? and Black Collar Crime: Evangelist Acton Bowen Accused of Additional Sex Crimes for further information about Acton Bowen.)

Law enforcement has broadened its investigation of Evangelical evangelist Acton Bowen, saying that it is likely that there are other victims in multiple jurisdictions. AL.com reports:

Evangelist Acton Bowen, currently facing sex abuse charges in connection with five teenage boys in two counties, is being investigated in three other jurisdictions.

That’s according to an Etowah County prosecutor, who said in court today that additional charges could come against Bowen as early as this week. Deputy District Attorney Carol Griffith, arguing why Bowen’s $500,000 bail should not be reduced or changed, said Bowen is being investigated by the FBI and in Orange Beach, as well as in Florida and Colorado.

“The true extent of these crimes is not yet known,” Griffith said. “Under the guise of leading children to the Lord, he was abusing them and leaving them more lost than ever before.”

District Attorney Jody Willoughby was even more forceful in arguing before Presiding District Judge David Kimberley.

“Acton Bowen is a danger to every child in this community,” he said. “The only place he remains not a danger is in the Etowah County Detention Center.”

….

 

 

Songs of Sacrilege: Everything is Made to Last by Ciaran Lavery

ciaran lavery

This is the one hundred seventy-fifth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Songs of Sacrilege is Everything is Made to Last by Ciaran Lavery.

Video Link

Lyrics

Woke up in the afternoon again
Where you been? Where you been?
We go waltzing through the past
Everything is made to last
Maybe Jesus knows my name
I can’t be sure, I can’t be sure
I sin like an every day man
Nothing ever goes to plan

[Chorus]
Ooh-ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh-ooh
Living outside, living fast
‘Cause people wanna be alive and a part of the dream
It all lights up to a God they’ve seen
But I wanna be alive and a part of the dream
Ooh-oh-oh
Ooh-oh-oh

Night crawls through my window again
Let it in, I let it in
Not sure if this feeling’s gonna pass
So leave me where the shadows cast
Wonder if there’ll be a change
In everything, with everything
We sin everyday because we can
I’m afraid of what I am

Lori Alexander Says Beating Children is God’s Approved Way of Controlling Children

spanking with beltRecently, Christian Fundamentalist Lori Alexander took to her blog to promote beating children as God’s approved way of controlling children.  In particular, Alexander objects to Dr. Spock’s no-violence approach to effectively raising children into responsible adults. Alexander will have none of that. Beat your kids, she says. God demands that parents use a rod on the backside of rebellious children. Not beating your children means you love them more than you love God; that you are more concerned with their welfare than you are being obedient to the violent tribal deity of the Bible.

Here’s some of what Alexander had to say:

Dr. Spock: “[Physical punishment] certainly plays a role in our acceptance of violence. If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.” (p. 173)

Lori Alexander: This is in direct contradiction to what God tells us in His Word. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15) “Oh, but the rod isn’t a physical instrument,” people will tell me. Really? Please study all of the verses that mention the rod and you will see that this isn’t true. How does God discipline us? Is He only positive and encouraging? No! “For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6). Chasten means “to correct by punishment; to punish; to inflict pain of reclaiming an offender; as, to chasten a son with a rod.” Scourge means “to afflict for sins or faults, and with the purpose of correction.” Who are we to think we know better than God? No, God doesn’t mean that we should physically abuse our children in any way. [actually, he does] We use the rod of correction as a tool to make them obey and this teaches them self-discipline which benefits them for life. Many things in God’s Word have been taken to extremes and have caused harm for people. This is not God’s way. His way ends in peace and goodness not in evil and harm.

Spock: “My other reasons for advising against physical punishment are, in brief, that it teaches children that might makes right, that it encourages some children to be bullies, and most fundamentally, that to the degree that it results in good behavior it’s because of the fear of pain. I have a strong belief that the best reason for behaving well is that you like people, want to get along with them, want them to like you.” (p. 173)

Alexander: On the contrary, pain and fear are great motivators for good as I shared in the above verse about how God disciplines us. My children were all spanked when they sinned against us or others and none of them were bullies or got into physical fights with others. They were kind to others, respected authority, and were a joy to raise. A one year old can’t comprehend “liking people” as much as they can quickly comprehend a small amount of pain that is swiftly administered for disobedience.

Spock: “I don’t think physical punishment is necessary or particularly effective.” (p. 215)

Alexander: It sure has been for centuries before you wrote your book, Dr. Spock. Children were much better behaved than they are now. God’s ways will always trumps man’s ways.

Spock: “All schools should be friendly, creative places like the best I’ve seen. We should wean ourselves away from physical punishment.” (p. 33)

Alexander: When I went to elementary school, the principal had a wooden paddle in his office and he used it! Children were well-behaved for the most part. There was nothing going on like there is in the schools today. A swat on the back side is a quick, effective method against disobedience.

Spock: “Recently I visited a small private school . . . with the idea of asking children . . . what advice to parents they’d like me to incorporate in the forthcoming revision of Baby and Child Care. In a thoughtful mood, the class was unanimous that parents should not hit their children. . . One child added that if you’re crying and your parent tells you to stop and then hits you when you don’t stop, it only makes you cry more.” (p. 229-233)

Alexander: And asking children how they should be disciplined is a wise thing? If he asked adults how they would like their government to run, I’m sure some immature adults would say that they shouldn’t be put in prison for abusing drugs, driving drunk, and getting tickets for speeding and running red lights. Children do NOT know best how they should be raised. Why not interview parents of adult children who are now upstanding citizens and ask how they raised their children instead?

Spock: “I hope American parents can outgrow the conviction . . . that physical punishment is necessary to bring up well-behaved children. . . There are parts of the world where it has never occurred to any adult to strike a child. I have known personally or professionally dozens of families in which the parents never lifted a hand–or otherwise punished or humiliated their children–and yet the children were ideally cooperative and polite. Children are eager to be ever more grown up and responsible.” (p. 13)

Alexander: Yes, I am sure parents can raise good children without ever spanking them but it takes a lot more time, energy, and effort and to tell you the truth, I haven’t seen many who are successful at it. In order for spankings to work, a parent must be consistent, firm, and loving. It doesn’t work without these three key ingredients. [In other words, busy parents beat their children so they will have time to do other important things such as reading the Bible and going to church.]

Spock: “There are several reasons to avoid physical punishment. It teaches children that the larger, stronger person has the power to get his way, whether or not he is in the right. Some spanked children then feel quite justified in beating up on smaller ones. The American tradition of spanking may be one reason there is much more violence in our country than in any other comparable nation.”

Alexander: No, it teaches children that they must obey and respect the authority in their lives, whether they be parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, and government which is a good thing. My children never beat up on the smaller ones. If they did, they would have been spanked and would have never done it again!

The patriarchy lives on, and the children cry.

The Bible Says Obey Those Who Have the Rule Over You

hebrews-13-17

Have you ever wondered why many Evangelicals blindly believe and submit to whatever their pastors utter from the pulpit? During the last Presidential election, Donald Trump said “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Candidate Trump is now President Trump, so reasonable people can conclude that tens of millions of Americans, including eighty-two percent of white Evangelical voters, weren’t bothered by his committing-murder comment. Think of all the offal that has fallen from the man’s lips, yet millions of Republicans still think he is a Christian or, at the very least, a man God is using to restore Fundamentalist Christianity to its rightful throne.

These Trump voters are more often than not the same people who bow in reverence to self-appointed men of God; men who say they are called by God to preach and lead churches — yet their calling comes not from a deity, but from their own wants, needs, desires, and that of the churches they pastor. Skeptics wonder why these people don’t see though the con and think for themselves. All any of us needs to do is listen to what these preachers are saying to conclude that they are spouting harmful nonsense. Yet, otherwise intelligent people check their minds at the church door and give themselves over to men who will purportedly teach them truth and provide a blueprint for living. No need to think, just believe. No need to wrestle with questions and doubts, just have faith. Belief and faith, not just in the Christian God and the Protestant Bible, but also the words of pastors and evangelists who are given almost absolute power over congregants.

Evangelical churches are generally pastored by one man. This is especially true in Southern Baptist and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. Some churches have a plurality of pastors (elders), but I have found that despite this plurality, there is always one man who has the final say. Most Evangelical churches have a congregational form of government. This means that the church membership has the final say on how the church is run, including who their pastor will be. The thinking goes, then, that if congregants want a new pastor, all they have to do is vote him out of office. However, rarely is getting rid of a pastor so simple, especially in churches that aren’t part of a denomination. If a church is a member of a particular denomination, the congregants can, if need be, call on denominational leaders to help remove a pastor from office. In independent churches, the congregation has the final say; that is, if the church hasn’t ceded its control to a board of elders or, as is the case in many megachurches, an outside board of directors (much like the corporations such church are patterned after).

Churches have governing documents, one of which is a constitution. The constitution details who is a voting member and how/when votes can be called. If a church wants to dismiss its pastor, it must follow the process detailed in its constitution. Many constitutions state that removing a pastor requires a two-thirds or three-fourths vote of the membership. This high standard makes it hard for congregations to fire their pastor. Even worse, pastors — if they are at a particular church for a long time — will attract loyal church members who will oppose attempts to remove him. The longer a man pastors a church, the harder it is to get rid of him. Over time, he becomes the hub around which everything turns. The pastor is viewed as God’s mouthpiece;  a man called by God to pastor that particular church. Is it any surprise then, that long-tenured pastors tend to become authoritarians?

Baptist pastors, in particular, are fond of talking about pastoral authority — the power by which they control the church. Bruce, I thought Evangelicals were people of the Book; that the Bible was sole rule for faith and practice? It is, and the Bible does indeed grant pastors authoritarian control over their churches.

The Bible says:

And he [God] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11,12)

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. (Romans 13:1)

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:7, 17)

I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth. (1 Corinthians 16:15, 16)

And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12,13)

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be ….One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Timothy 3:1,2,4,5)

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:17-19)

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; (1 Peter 5:1.2)

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

(And yes, I realize these verses can be interpreted many different ways. But this is my sermon, so I decide what these verses mean!)

These verses and others have been interpreted to mean that God-called pastors have rule over the churches they pastor. Church members are obligated to submit to their pastor’s authority. Not doing so is considered rebellion and could bring judgment from God or excommunication. Most often, rebellious congregants are shown the door and told to find a church that meet their “needs.” It is not uncommon to find Evangelical churches that have high membership churn rates. Members who become tired of eating McDonald’s quarter-pounders leave and hit the drive-thru at Wendy’s. And on and on it goes. I pastored people who had been members of numerous churches before they came to one of the churches I pastored. These church-hoppers rarely stay for long. Initially, they will find their new churches to be delightful, but given enough time, they will find faults with their pastors and move on to greener pastures. The one thing that church hoppers never do is consider that they might be the problem. They place blame on the pastor or the congregation, often couching their objections in theological verbiage, but more often than not, they are difficult people or they easily bore.

Most Evangelical churches are a mix of new and old members. The longer someone stays in the church, the more they become conditioned to their pastor’s preaching, teaching, and leadership. This conditioning allows pastors to gain authority over congregants that in any other setting would be considered cultic. When you are taught their entire lives that the man standing behind the pulpit is called by God to deliver divine messages to them, it should come as no surprise that, bit by bit, they surrender their will and critical thinking skills. In time, pastors amass great power and control, and once this happens these leaders can and do muddle the minds of their charges, rendering them powerless to resist.

Worse, many Evangelicals want to be told what to believe and how to live their day-to-day lives. They come to church on Sundays to be inspired and taught the ways of God. This is why, when Evangelicals are quizzed about their beliefs, more often than not they either can’t give an answer or they simply regurgitate the beliefs of their pastor. As a pastor, I was often asked, what does your church believe? I would respond, I don’t know what the church believes. This is what I believe, and it is these beliefs that are the foundation of my preaching and teaching. Most congregants are not going to spend significant time studying the Bible. This does not make them bad Christians. The truth is, pastors have the freedom and luxury to read and study the Bible. Church members have full-time jobs, families, and countless responsibilities that limit the amount time they can devote to theological learning. Thus, most Evangelicals have a theology they have borrowed from their pastors. They know what their pastor knows, and unfortunately many Evangelical pastors are poorly educated. When a man believes God speaks through him, why should he study? When he believes that God puts His words in the pastor’s mouth and all he has to do is speak them, why bother with the words of mere humans? And if members dare to think for themselves and challenge something their pastor has said, they can expect to reminded that Pastor So-and So has authority over what is taught and members are expected to believe as he does or leave.

Church aisles are littered with the bodies of those who dared to challenge the man of God’s authority. Their deaths are their own fault. Don’t they remember their pastor quoting 1 Chronicles 16:22:  Saying, Touch not mine anointed [Hebrew for pastor], and do my prophets [Hebrew for pastor] no harm? Surely, they have heard the Bible story about some children who mocked the prophet Elisha?  2 Kings 2:23, 24 says:

And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

Mess with the man of God, rebellious church members, and God might send bears to eat you alive, just like he did to the children who mocked Elisha. Simply put, mess with the pastor and he will have God fuck you up!

Is it any wonder that many people need therapy and counseling after extricating themselves from Evangelical churches? Those of us who spent most of our lives under the thumbs of authoritarian religious figures often spend years regaining a sense of self-worth. What’s worse for someone such as myself is that I not only was victimized by my pastors and teachers, I was also a victimizer. I taught and practiced what my pastors and professors taught me. I passed on to a new generation the dysfunction of my generation. The only good news in this sordid story, at least for me, is that I got off the crazy train and abandoned the damaging religious nonsense that controlled my mind for almost fifty years. Better late than never, I suppose, but I still lament the fact that I lovingly and sincerely caused untold harm to my family and the churches I pastored. By owning my past, I am in a better position to help people avoid a similar path. While I grudgingly and doubtfully admit that some religious expressions are less harmful than others, I can’t help but think that until the world reaches a place where it no longer has a need for deities, religion will continue to cause harm. This is especially true of Evangelical Christianity. It will be a good day when Fundamentalist Christianity draws its last breath. I will long be dead, but perhaps one of my grandchildren will have the privilege to hold a pillow over the Evangelical God’s face as it struggles to breathe. Good riddance, I say.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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Christians Aren’t as “Discerning” as They Think They Are

spiderman

Christians love to think that they have — thanks to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit — some sort of supernatural discernment power that allows them to ferret out the true spiritual condition of everyone with whom they come in contact. Evangelicals, in particular, believe they have some sort of God-given radar that locks on unknown believers and lets them know that they are fellow believers. This radar is a spiritual paternity test of sorts, letting Evangelicals know when one of their family is in the vicinity. I heard countless preachers say that the “spirits” of two or more believers recognize each other when they come in contact with each other.  Woo hoo! God’s children are in the house, baby!

Recently, a Christian who commented about unbelieving clergy still pastoring churches illustrated this point:

I also can’t help but think that living and walking out a lie every day is going to eventually take a psychological/emotional toll on anyone. I think it would also work against the pastor really being vulnerable or drawing close to his/her congregation for fear of letting something slip. Eventually people who are closer to the pastor will be able to discern that something just isn’t quite right here.

According to this Christian, she gets Spiderman-like tingly feelings that would let her know if a pastor is faking it. The idea behind her feelings is the notion that Christians can know a pastor well enough that any lying or dishonesty would peg their lie-meter, exposing the hypocrite for all to see. The problem with this thinking is that in real life that’s not how it works. Lying and deception are all too common, and even the most aware among us can be deceived. Believing that there is some sort of spiritual power that gives you laser-like discernment has no grounding in reality. Countless churches — from Liberal Christian to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist — have passionate, devoted teachers and preachers of the Word of God who are, without question, unbelievers. Some of them I know personally. A few unbelieving pastors have been using fake-it-’til-you-make-it (to retirement) for years. These men genuinely love their congregations, even though they think the Christian God is a work of fiction.

I hate to break it to Christians, but there is no such thing as a spirit of discernment. The reason, of course, is that we humans don’t have a spirit/soul. We are flesh and blood. Certainly, we develop certain psychological skills that allow us to read people, and we often have gut feelings about people. That Spiderman-like tingly feeling we have is the result of evolution and environmental/social conditioning, and not some of sort of divine gift given only to Christians. In fact, the belief that God gives you discernment skills tends to lessen your ability to see things as they are. Why? Because Evangelicals, in particular, develop complex ways of dealing with human behavior. Evangelicals talk of sin, forgiveness, and grace. They speak of accountability partners and allowing the Holy Spirit to perform its perfect work. Instead of seeing things as they are, Evangelicals allow theological nonsense to cloud their judgment.

This is why it’s no surprise that Evangelical churches have sexual abuse scandals, clergy misconduct, and all sorts of bad behavior that is washed away by the blood of Jesus and forgiven by the prayer-answering God. Instead of seeing that the youth pastor is way too friendly with several of his charges, loving, blind Christians see this behavior as him “ministering” to these girls. And when his “ministry” turns to rape, sexual assault, and other sex crimes, what then? As long as the predator still says he’s a Christian, forgiveness awaits.

Evolution-driven discernment cares not one whit for the offender’s religious inclinations. What matters is that an older man, a man with authority, took advantage of those he was supposed to love, care for, and respect. What mattered to him was his dick, not their welfare. The youth pastor, then, should never be permitted to be around youths again. Yet, as sure as the sun rises in the East, the youth pastor, once he pays for his crimes, will be forgiven and given another opportunity to serve God.  Why, some of his fellow Christians will testify on his behalf during his sentencing hearing, showering the judge with stories of how awesome the youth pastor is. There’s no divine discernment going on here. Just ignorance and a refusal to see things as they are.

It is time for Christians to stop pretending that they have some sort of special power that allows them to see things non-believers can’t see. It’s 2018. Time to put the intellect to work, making rational, thoughtful decisions. Unless Christians are willing to do so, they can expect to hoodwinked and taken advantage of. Just remember, it’s discerning Evangelicals who put Donald Trump, the Christian in the White House. Need I say more?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Songs of Sacrilege: Goodbye, for Now by Derek Webb

derek webb

This is the one hundred seventy-fourth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Songs of Sacrilege is Goodbye, for Now by Derek Webb. Webb, formerly part of Contemporary Christian Music group Caedmon’s Call, is now an unbeliever.

Video Link

Lyrics

the reason it’s been so long since we talked
i’m not ready to show up and feel nothing
i don’t even feel sad anymore
i’m just always looking for your replacement

i still believe in love
like i believe in just war
i think it’s possible
but maybe just not anymore

so i say goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
so i say goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now

so i’m back in the corner of this bar
just studying a glass and these faces
i’ve been looking for the one i lost
and for eternity in the wrong places

so either you aren’t real
or i am just not chosen
maybe i’ll never know
either way, my heart is broken

as i say goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
as i say goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now

so you left me here to document the slow unraveling
of a man who burned the house down
where he kept everything
excommunication never made much sense to me
like abandonment to demonstrate how you’ll never leave
and yet you say

and i say goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
oh, i say goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now

Songs of Sacrilege: Chasing Empty Mangers by Derek Webb

derek webb

This is the one hundred seventy-third installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Songs of Sacrilege is Chasing Empty Mangers by Derek Webb. Webb, formerly part of Contemporary Christian Music group Caedmon’s Call, is now an unbeliever.

Video Link

Lyrics

the tiny christmas tree
the empty stockings hanging
the house devoid of chaos and life
while daddy’s getting drunk
the peanuts kids are dancing
there’s no star atop the tree tonight
’cause i’m taking what you give
the baby god returning
bringing peace to every house but mine

so another man takes the fall
just for doing all he could
in light of what you dreamed up
for your glory and another man’s good

oh god, what have i done
without your great permission
knowing fully of the end at the start
like a dirty goddamn trick
i either sin as i resist you
or i do it as i’m doing my part
so all my empathy
to judas and the devil
they were yours as much in light as in the dark

so another man takes the fall
just for doing all he could
in light of what you dreamed up
for your glory and another man’s good

so tonight i’ll watch the skies
for a sleigh and saint appearing
like a great star running out of space
on this drunken christmas eve
i gotta say that feels as likely
as any one of you three showing your face
so a toast to all my friends
who are lost and beat and bleeding
still chasing empty mangers out of faith

 

Why It’s Hard for Evangelicals to Change Their Beliefs

goodbye hello

Have you ever wondered why so few Evangelicals walk away from the faith? Have you ever wondered why many Evangelicals leave one toxic, harmful church, only to join another pestiferous church that continues the damage and harm of the previous church? Have you ever wondered why, no matter how much evidence skeptics and atheists provide to the contrary, Evangelicals will still hang on to the belief the Bible is a supernatural book written by a supernatural God; and that no matter how many Bart Ehrman book recommendations former believers make to them, Evangelicals will still cling to Jesus, the old rugged cross, and the empty tomb?

Nellie Smith, a writer for Religion Dispatches and a former Evangelical, recently wrote about why it is almost impossible to argue Evangelicals out of their faith:

And here’s the thing: it was the dissolution of a world. People who didn’t grow up in the American evangelical bubble often don’t realize what they’re demanding when they ask an evangelical to accept a fact that is contradicted by their church’s interpretation of the Bible. To those bought in—excepting, perhaps, that small demographic of Christians who identify as evangelical and are truly progressive—evangelicalism is not a collection of facts. It is an entire reality, based not on logic but on a web of ideas, all of which must be wholeheartedly accepted for any of it to work. It is complete unto itself, self-contained, self-justifying, self-sustaining. It’s your community, your life, your entire way of thinking, and your gauge for what is true in the world. Evangelicalism feels so right from the inside.

And, for an evangelical, there are no small doubts: growing up in many evangelical churches means to be told, repeatedly, that the devil will always seek a foothold, and once you give him one you’re well on the road to hell, to losing your faith, to destroying your witness. That’s scary stuff. To begin to doubt evangelicalism is not simply a mental exercise. For many like me, it’s to feel a void opening, the earth dropping out from beneath you. It’s to face the prospect of invalidating your entire existence.

So know this when you talk to an evangelical: in attempting to persuade them to your point of view—even on a topic that seems minor to you—you’re not asking for them to change their mind, you’re asking them to punch a hole in the fabric of their reality, to begin the process of destroying their world. And, as anyone who has had the experience knows, world-destroying is not fun. It is, frankly, terrifying.

That’s not to say that realities can’t change. Mine did. But few individuals can be argued out of an entire worldview. Realities shift when ideas bloom and ideas are slow and patient, creeping in through unguarded portals and establishing themselves without much fanfare. However well-intentioned you are, bludgeoning people with fact after argument after fact will only entrench them in their position and reinforce a perception of being persecuted by the world.

As Smith said, realities can and do change, but change is hard and the older people become the harder it is for them to abandon their faith.

Many of the readers of this blog were once devoted followers of Jesus, members of sin-hating, Bible-believing, soul-saving Evangelical churches. More than a few of you were once pastors, elders, deacons, evangelists, missionaries, Christian college professors, or Christian school teachers, yet there came a time when you renounced your faith and walked away from Jesus and the church. While scores of church-going Evangelicals deconvert in their teens and twenties, by the time people reach their forties and fifties, it is less likely that they will abandon their faith. I have corresponded with numerous unbelievers in their forties and fifties who still attend church every Sunday. In some instances, these unbelievers are still in the ministry. They no longer believe the Christian narrative, yet they give the appearance that they are tight with Jesus. Why do these faux-saints believe one thing, but say another? I know of several Evangelical churches that are currently pastored by unbelievers. How can these men, week after week, lie and pretend?

Years ago, the secular counselor I see told me that someone walking away from not only Christianity, but their life’s vocation, at the age of fifty is almost unheard of. Why is that? What makes it almost impossible for older Evangelicals to make a one-hundred-eighty degree turn and walk out of the church, never to return?

Imagine, for a moment, how much of my life I invested in Evangelical Christianity. Imagine how many thousands of hours I spent in worship, devotion, and service for the Christian God. Imagine spending thousands of hours studying the Bible and reading Christian tomes. Imagine preaching thousands of sermons and leading numerous souls to Christ. Imagine a life consumed by the things of God. For most of my adult life, I tried my best to follow the teaching of Christ and to lead others to do the same. Yet, almost a decade ago, I abandoned everything I held dear and started what essentially amounted to a new life sans Jesus, the church, and the ministry. Why would anyone blow up his life as I did?

I know that my story is an outlier, that most fifty-year-old preachers stay the course until Jesus takes them home to glory. Most older doubting Thomases bury their doubts and motor on, giving the appearance that they are still one of the faithful. Why? Why not proclaim your unbelief far and wide as I did with a letter titled, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners?

Smith, as I and other former Evangelicals do, views Evangelicalism as a self-contained bubble:

It is an entire reality, based not on logic but on a web of ideas, all of which must be wholeheartedly accepted for any of it to work. It is complete unto itself, self-contained, self-justifying, self-sustaining. It’s your community, your life, your entire way of thinking, and your gauge for what is true in the world. Evangelicalism feels so right from the inside.

Everything makes perfect sense when you are in the bubble. Attacks from the outside are viewed as Satan’s attempt to destroy your faith. I spent almost fifty years in this bubble. My life had design, structure, and order. My calling gave my life purpose and meaning. All of my friends and many family members lived in this bubble too. I was married to a woman who was a lifelong bubble-dweller. Together, we brought six children into the world, and the only life they knew was within the bubble. Life, from a holistic point of view, was grand, exactly as God wanted it to be. And yet, one day, after days, weeks, and months of anguish and heartache, I walked out of the bubble and said, I no longer believe. A short time later, my wife left the bubble too. Over time, our children made their own peace with the past, with each of them going their own way. The good news is that none of them are Evangelicals. The curse has been broken.

In a matter of months, I lost almost everything I held dear: my career, my ministerial connections, and my purpose and direction. Most of all, I lost friendships decades in the making. The losses I suffered were great, and even today I lament all that was lost; not because I want back that which was lost, but because there’s now a huge hole in my life that was once filled by God, Jesus, the church, and the ministry. At my age, I don’t know if I will ever fill this hole. Perhaps the best I can do is shovel in some backfill and construct a bridge that carries me to the other side.

The next time you find yourself frustrated by an Evangelical who refuses to see the “light,” just remember what you are asking him or her to give up. Consider, for a moment, the great price he (or she) will pay if his doubts or loss of faith are publicized. I know what divorcing Jesus cost me, and I would never say to anyone, follow in my steps. While I am convinced that Christianity cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained, I understand why people hang on despite their doubts or loss of faith. Ask yourself, are you willing to lose everything you hold dear? I know I am fortunate in that my wife deconverted when I did and that my children accepted and embraced my abandonment of Christianity. I have corresponded with numerous ex-Evangelicals who lost their marriages and families when they deconverted. When their spouses were asked to choose between them and Jesus, they chose the latter. I know of children who have abandoned an unbelieving mother or father, choosing instead to follow after Jesus. And the same can be said of children who abandon their family’s faith, only to then find themselves excommunicated from their parents’ homes. Evangelicals love to talk about the high cost of being a Christian, but the same can be said for those of us who were once saved and now we are lost.

How old were you when you left Christianity? Did you find it hard to leave the bubble? If your family is still believers, how is your relationship with them? If you had to do it all over again, would you have still left the faith? Or would you have “played the game,” choosing instead to hang on to family and societal connections? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Black Collar Crime: Unnamed Anglican Priest Prayed for Forgiveness as He Raped Teenager

sexual assault

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.

ABC News (Australia) reports that an unnamed Anglican priest has been accused of repeatedly raping a teen girl in the 1980s. While raping the girl, the priest allegedly asked God to forgive him. Here’s an excerpt from the victim’s court testimony:

The court heard the priest told her to pray hard for her dog and stare at the altar, before allegedly pulling her on to his lap.

She told the court he then said: “It’s not like you haven’t done this before” before raping her.

“I thought if I stayed really still it would be over soon. So I stayed really still.”

The court heard the priest muttered “please God forgive me” repeatedly during the alleged sexual assault.

If true, this priest is one sick puppy. I am not familiar with Australian law. Perhaps a reader who lives in Australia can explain why the priest was not named in the news report.

Black Collar Crime: Pastor Masimba Chirayi Accused of Murdering Woman, Thinking She was a Vampire

arrested

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.

Masimba Chirayi, a pastor with the Jowane Masowe Chishanu sect in Zimbabwe, stands accused of murdering church member Wendy Thinnamay Masuka. Over the weekend, while baptizing Masuka in a nearby river, Chirayi drowned the woman, thinking she was a “vampire possessed by demons.” According to New ZImbabwe, Chirayi thought Masuska was going to kill people, so he held her under water until he overpowered her (Greek for she stopped breathing).

Chirayi’s bail has been set at $50.

Unfamiliar with the Jowane Masowe Chishanu sect? You can find more information here and here.