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Dear God, Thank You For This Food, In Jesus’ Name, Amen

king cake

Most Evangelicals are taught that they should pray over their meals. The Bible commands Christians to thank God for everything, and that includes their food. I spent much of my life bowing my head and praying, either silently or out loud, before I ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Failures to pray were viewed as affronts to God, putting me in danger of choking on my food. So meal after meal I prayed, thanking God for the food I was about to eat. Even drive-thru food was prayed over, a quick mouthing of a few words of thanks for the Big Mac I was about to eat. I believed that not praying was a sin, a sign of ungratefulness. Whenever the subject of prayer came up in my sermons, I made sure to remind parents that they should be teaching their children to pray over EVERYTHING. In ALL things give thanks! Pray without ceasing! Much like an Aztec priest offering a prayer of thankfulness before sacrificing a virgin to his God, I would pray to my God, asking him to bless the food I was about to eat.

There were, of course, exceptions to this praying rule. Candy bars and pop bought at convenience stores required no prayers. Neither did ice cream at the local Dairy Queen or snacks after church. I look back on these exceptions now and see how hypocritical I was. Surely, Cheeto-eating should be prayed over just as one would pray over a five-course meal. Later in life, I would take to silently praying before meals eaten in public. I didn’t want to be associated with the Christians who made a spectacle of their praying, joining hands and praying in loud voices. My grandfather was one such pray-er.  Not only did he pray over the food, he also used his prayer to preach the gospel to all who were sitting nearby. In his mind, it was important to let everyone know that Christians were in the house.

As an atheist, I no longer utter a prayer of thanks to a dead deity before I eat. I am still every bit as thankful and grateful for the food I eat. I know that I live in a land of privilege and abundance. I choose, instead, to thank the cook for the food. She’s the one who, from store to plate, prepared the food, and she alone deserves the praise for the meal. If it were up to me, I would try to live on Dr. Pepper and king-sized Snickers bars. I am so thankful that Polly cannot only cook, but that she is very good at what she does. She’s always busy refining her craft, ever willing to try out new recipes.

I am a big believer in giving credit to whom credit is due. If someone does something for me, I thank them — no God needed. It is farmers, not the Christian God, who grow crops and feed animals so we can have food to eat. Yes, the sun shines and the rain falls, but if these things come from the hand of the Almighty, he sure is schizophrenic. Every year, the weather is different. One year it is too cold, other years it is too hot. Rarely does it rain exactly when crops need it. If there’s a God behind the weather, he sure is fucking with us. Perhaps, this God is like an abusive husband who gives his wife just enough money to keep her coming back to him for more. If God is all that Evangelicals say he is, surely he is able to control the weather so that that crops will optimally grow and eight billion people will have enough to eat. Instead, farmers battle the elements, hoping that their yields will be enough for them to make a profit. Countless people will go to bed tonight hungry. Many of them live in countries plagued by drought or floods. If the Big Kahuna really is a God of love, kindness, and compassion, perhaps he can make it possible for starving Africans to have sufficient food to eat. Many of these people are Christian, yet their plates are empty. What does this say about their God? Should they offer up a prayer of thanks to the Three-in-One, thanking them for the 200-calorie bowl of U.N. gruel they are about to eat?  I think not.

Jimmy Stewart, in the movie Shenandoah, said it best when he prayed:

Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.

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What are your experiences with praying before meals? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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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.

My Reflections on Fifteen Years of Blogging

blogging

I have now been blogging for fifteen years. Fifteen Years! Thousands of posts, tens of thousands of comments, and millions and millions of page views. I am humbled by the fact that people are still interested in my writing; that new people are still being added to the list of readers who regularly come to this site or access my writing via email or RSS.

Long-time readers know that I stopped blogging a few times over the years. They remember blogs with names such as Bruce Droppings and The Way Forward. In December 2014, I restarted this blog, using its current name, The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. I told myself, at the time, that this was my last attempt at blogging; that if I couldn’t emotionally handle the trolls, stalkers, and haters, I was done. Fortunately, thanks to weekly therapy, the addition of Carolyn as my editor, and the support of loyal readers, I have found the psychological wherewithal to handle miscreants such as Victor Justice, Revival Fires, Dr. David Tee, and countless others who try to harm me. Stricter comment policies and aggressive use of blocking software have lessened their reach, but, unfortunately, they continue to find ways to get at me. Victor Justice, in particular, has even gone so far as to make fake websites that attack Polly, my wife. (If you are an Internet security professional and have tools that could be used to find out his identity and stop his malicious, hateful attacks, I would appreciate your help. I have literally done all I can do on my end.)

I have increasingly used the emails and comments I receive from Evangelical zealots and apologists as fodder for posts. I find responding in this manner cathartic, especially when the person is a preacher. Imagine their surprise when they do a Google Search on their name or church and find out that this blog is listed first page right after their personal or church website. Karma’s a bitch. 🙂

Over the past couple of months, I have started rewriting and posting articles that were originally written in 2018. One reason for doing this is so stale posts will rank higher in Google. The higher the ranking, the more potential readers. Another reason is my declining health. Some days, I find it impossible to write new content. I am physically and mentally exhausted. Chronic, unrelenting pain will do that to me. Reworking a post requires minimal effort on my part and Carolyn’s. I hope long-time readers enjoy re-reading these posts and their comments.

I plan to continue writing new content as my health allows. Currently, my draft folder contains 1,134 potential posts, some dating back to 2015. I am also sitting on over 1,000 Black Collar Crime stories I have not posted! I have no hope of getting to all these drafts and stories, but I will do what I can.

I am currently a month behind in answering emails. I hope to get caught up over the next few weeks. I know that some people get upset with my lack of timely response, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Carolyn occasionally answers some of my emails, but many of them require a personal response from me. I answer every email I receive, but I cannot promise when you will receive that answer.

After Elon Musk reinstated Donald Trump, I deleted my Twitter account. I also decided to delete several other social media accounts. You can still find me on Facebook. If you send me a friend request and you use a pseudonym when commenting, please message me so I will know it is you when I receive your friend request. I am sitting on fifteen friend requests from people I don’t know. If I don’t know you or you are not friends with people I know, I won’t accept your request. Too many problems with trolls and hackers for it to be otherwise.

In my heart of hearts (whatever the hell that means) I still want to start a podcast. I have the equipment and content ideas I need to make it happen. I even have a hosting contract set up for the podcast. What I don’t seem to have is the physical strength I need to make this project a reality. Writing will always be my priority, but I do think having a podcast will widen my reach and help more people (or piss more people off depending on your perspective). I plan to make a final decision on this soon.

As I read through the comments on old posts, I am saddened by the fact that people who used to comment no longer do. Several readers have died. Others needed what I offered for a time and then moved on. I understand that that is the nature of blogging. People come and go. Just the other day someone commented who hadn’t done so in years. I was delighted to see that they were still numbered among the living. I know there will always be readers who love me until they don’t; they love a certain aspect of my writing, but don’t like another. Some people love my exposes on Evangelicalism, but hate my politics. I have learned over the years that I can’t be all things to all men. All I know to do is keep sharing what is on my mind at any given point in time. It is up to you the reader to decide if what I write is worthy of your support.

Some of you have been reading my writing for years. A few of you go all the way back to 2007. I want to thank you for your continued love and support. You have become “family” to me. As someone who rarely gets out of the house these days, I rely on my interaction with people on this blog and social media to keep me “connected” with the outside world. Thank you for all you add to my life.

How long have you been a reader? What brought you to this blog the first time? Is there anything you wish I would do differently or do more/less of? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Saved by Reason,

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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.

Evangelical Man Upset That I Didn’t Show Reverence and Respect for the Bible

bible made me an atheist

Several years ago, I had a brief comment section discussion with an Evangelical man about the Bible. I posed some questions to him that I thought would challenge his beliefs, but instead of answering them, he replied:

The words you use to speak about the Bible are far away from ‘adult level’ as you demand /expect in your blog policy from others.

I will not respond to your statements anymore. Not that there is not enough things to address but I will not communicate on such a demeaning language level and rather use my time differently.

What did I say that proved so offensive to this believer? Here’s what transpired (all grammatical errors in the original text):

Ronny: While it seems on the surface you are doing a good job defeating christianity, when one knows enough Bible it becomes evident that you are not right. Lets just say for example that ‘Christians live like the rest of us’. Which so called Christians did you get to know? Yes Christians sin acc. to 1 John. But they sin less and less as they grow in their faith. A REAL Christian IS different from the world. Those that you describe fall into the category of Mt 7. There is more to respond to you but my tram arrives in one minute so I say goodbye.

Bruce: The neat thing about the Bible is that it can be used to prove virtually anything. Actually 1 John says that those who sin are of the devil. Are Christians, then, of the devil?

The definition of who is a REAL Christian varies from sect to sect, church to church, and believer to believer. What makes you right and other Christians wrong? Why should anyone accept your peculiar interpretation over that of anyone else?

My observations about Christianity are both specific and general. I was a pastor for twenty-five years. I pastored a lot of people and knew many of their secrets. I stand by my observations.

Thank you for commenting.

Ronny: I am a bit surprised that you let me comment actually. I thought because I mentioned scripture that my response would have been deleted because of your policy. But how can we talk about christianity and not use bible verses acc. your policy…

Anyhow there is much to comment but if I e.g. take your statement that those people are of the devil – you have to look at the greek. And isnt poio/prasso speaking of a habitual lifestyle? And even if I am wrong here because I am not the biggest scholar, we ought to always take the full counsel of God and not one verse.

And I understand that you got to know many professing Christians, my point is that ‘many will say to me Lord Lord’ Mt7, and ‘broad is the way’ – people who profess Jesus but look like the world (James…) dont posess faith. And it saddens me that Gods name is put down because of such people. The fruit of the Spirit IS, yes, and it is seen in people like Paul, Jesus, John, and people of our day as well if you not just look for any professing people but Christians who do not play a game but take God and faith seriously.

I hope people who read this will not judge Christinity acc. to the majority of Christians who only are believers by name and not lifestyle.

Bruce: So let me see if I understand your argument:

1. We need to understand Biblical Greek to properly interpret the Bible; that the indwelling of the Spirit is not — contrary to what the Bible says — sufficient to teach and guide believers in truth.

2. The verses in question cannot mean what I say they do because they contradict your interpretation of other verses and don’t fit in your theological box.

3. And even if the verses mean what I say they do, they are talking about habitual sin, not one-off or infrequent sins. At what point does behavior become habitual? Using your logic, if a man only murders one person, that’s okay since it’s not “habitual.” Of course, the Bible says no murderers will inherit the kingdom of God. The Bible says the same about adulterers. Thus, anyone who divorces and remarries and anyone who lustfully looks at a woman won’t inherit the kingdom of God. The Bible is a real bitch, Ronny. By all means, dance your way out of the plain/rational interpretations and conclusions of the aforementioned verses.

4. You are a true Christian. The people I knew — numbering in the thousands weren’t true Christians. How convenient.

Do you sin? How often do you sin? How many sins does a habit make? The Bible says, be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Are you perfect?

As with all Christians, you have taken the Bible and shaped it into proof of the veracity of your beliefs and lifestyle. You are a true Christian. Why? Because your peculiar interpretation of the Bible says you are. Again, how convenient.

Here’s what I know. I took my faith seriously. I spent much of my life trying to live according to the teachings of the Bible. I was, in every way, a committed follower of Jesus. I was, at the same time, a sinner, yea, even a habitual sinner. The fruit of the Spirit was my goal, one that I never met. I’ve known countless dedicated followers of Jesus. They too strived to live according to the teachings of the Bible. Yet, they failed to measure up to the fruit of the Spirit standard. All these people, according to you, were false believers. Again, how convenient.

Bruce: The policy about Bible verses is the result of Evangelicals beating people over the heads with the Bible or suggesting that the people who frequent this blog haven’t read the Bible or don’t “understand” its teachings. Such behaviors are offensive, so I don’t allow them.

Evangelicals wrongly believe that the Bible is coherent in its presentation of theology and history. The Bible is, in fact, contradictory, often incoherent, and a source of endless debate. If the Bible is God’s Word, he must have been drunk or high when he wrote it.

As I told you previously, the Bible can be used to prove almost anything. For example, I assume you have a Trinitarian view of God. I can take Genesis 1-3 and show that God is not a triune being, that there are, instead, multiple Gods. The awesome thing about no longer being a Christian is that I no longer need to make the Bible fit a certain theological box. I can read the Bible and come to different conclusions than most Evangelicals. What if my interpretation is right? What if the Bible teaches polytheism, not monotheism?

Ronny: The words you use to speak about the Bible are far away from ‘adult level’ as you demand /expect in your blog policy from others.I will not respond to your statements anymore. Not that there is not enough things to address but I will not communicate on such a demeaning language level and rather use my time differently.

So, what did I say that was so offensive? I suppose the line, the Bible is a real bitch might be beyond the pale to some Evangelicals, but there’s nothing in my responses that were the least bit offensive. Perhaps Ronny didn’t like me suggesting that maybe God was high or drunk when he wrote the Bible (the Bible does say with God ALL things are possible). All I did was give my perspective and ask him questions. What seems far more likely to me is that Ronny couldn’t answer my questions, so he found something to be offended over, and this allowed him — in his mind — to justify ignoring and dismissing my questions.

This leads me, then, to this question: is the Bible worthy of reverence and respect? The short answer is “no.” Why should the Bible be treated differently from other books? Evangelicals have all sorts of rules about the Bible. Some Christians believe it’s a sin to write in the Bible, while other believers make copious notes and underline. In IFB churches, it was not uncommon for children and teenagers to have big-name preachers autograph their Bibles.  My pastor encouraged members to seek out the autographs of men “greatly used by God.” He also told us to record in the front of our Bibles the date, time, and place where we were saved. This way, we would never forget when it was that we were born again.

Some Christians believe it is wrong to put anything on top of the Bible. I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio in the 1970s. Teenagers were encouraged to carry their Bibles to school; not under your books, but right on top so everyone could see it. I was one of a handful of a students who displayed my religion for all to see. One day, an acquaintance of mine took my Bible and started a hot potato game with it. Around and around my Bible went, until my classmates finally tired of tossing my Bible around. After a few weeks, I decided to leave my Bible at home. While I was still quite vocal about my beliefs, I didn’t like the attention carrying my Bible brought.

Regardless of what rules they might hold to, most Evangelical revere and respect the Bible. This makes sense, I suppose, when you consider that Evangelicals believe the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible book written by the Christian God. In their minds, the Bible is different from all the other books ever written. It’s a supernatural book written by a supernatural God. Thus, to say anything negative about the Bible is considered offensive.

However, I don’t believe the Bible is a supernatural text. It is, at best, a collection of ancient writings. Its words may at one time have had great significance, but they no longer do today. While the Bible remains a top seller, it is also a book that most people never or rarely read.  Evangelicals base so much of their life on what their pastor says the Bible says, yet few of them have read it from cover to cover. How can someone be a Christian, a Bible-believer, and not completely read through the Bible at least once? If the Bible is so damn important, why do Christians treat it like a museum piece; something to be looked at but not read?

Ronny is not the first person to feign offense as a way to avoid my questions. I know how Evangelicals think about the Bible. I am conversant in all things Evangelical. So, I can quickly distill what it is commenters such as Ronny are trying to say. The Bible remains a book that can be used to prove almost any belief. That’s why there are thousands of Christian sects and thousands of Evangelical churches. Each denomination and church believes that they have the truth, and any “truth” that contradicts theirs is false.

My objective is to point out that their certainty is grounded in arrogance and not facts, and that there are competing and contradictory narratives in the Bible. Within its pages, readers will find multiple Gods and multiple plans of salvation. The Bible is a wonderful book, especially for buffet Christians. Eat what you want, ignore the rest. And all the people of God said, AMEN!

Want to know more about the history and nature of the Bible? I recommend reading one or more books written by best-selling author Dr. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar at the University of North Carolina.

Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says about the End (Release date March 21, 2023)

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Journeys to Heaven and Hell: Tours of the Afterlife in the Early Christian Tradition

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God: the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

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.

The Fruit of the Spirit “Is” or Why Christianity is a Dead Fruit Tree

I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Evangelical church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I have met thousands of Christians in my lifetime. Even now, fourteen years removed from the last time I attended a Christian church, I continue to meet Christians and interact with them on this blog, through email, and on social media. My exposure to the personal lives of hundreds of Christians allows me to draw some conclusions about Christianity. I include myself and my family in the sample set. My conclusion is this: For all their talk about being Spirit-filled, it seems that Christians are anything but.

According to the Bible, all Christians have the Holy Spirit living inside of them. The Holy Spirit is their teacher and guide. He teaches them everything that pertains to life and godliness. Why is it then that most Christians live lives contrary to the basic, foundational teachings of the New Testament? WWJD, what would Jesus do, is rarely seen among Christians. Christians are commanded to follow the Lamb (Jesus) wherever he goes. How many times have Christians heard their pastor say we need to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, yet any casual observer can see that most Christians seem to walk wherever the hell they want. If Jesus wants to follow along, that’s okay, but if not, fine, because the mall has some great sales going on.

The passage at the top of this post says, “the fruit of the Spirit is.” The fruit of the Spirit is the evidence, the proof that a person is a Christian. Notice that it says IS. This is a very important word. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Greek Dictionary, the word IS in this verse is “third person singular present indicative.” Simply put, the fruit of the Spirit is not some lofty objective to hope for or aspire to; it is the proof, the evidence that a person is a Christian. Since the Holy Spirit lives inside every Christian, shouldn’t it be readily evident in the lives of EVERY Christian? The lives of Christians should evidence the fruit of the Spirit every moment of every day. With such a great power as the Christian God living inside them, surely this should not be a difficult way of life to maintain, right? After all, according to the Bible, he that is in the Christian (the Holy Spirit) is greater than he that is in the world (Satan).

hypocritical christian

However, when we critically look at how Christians live their lives, what do we find? We find that Christians are not much different from the uncircumcised, unwashed Philistines of the world whom they judge and condemn to Hell.  It is chic these days for Christians to admit that they are just sinners saved by grace or that they are a work in progress. A popular bumper sticker says, Don’t judge me, God isn’t finished with me yet. However, such statements are directly contrary to what Galatians 5:22, 23 says.

The Bible is very clear…every Christian should evidence the following each and every day of his or her life:

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • long-suffering
  • gentleness
  • goodness
  • faith
  • meekness
  • temperance

A wonderful list of admirable character traits, to be sure. Every one of us would do well to strive to live lives that demonstrate these traits. However, we know, even on our best days, we fail miserably in demonstrating these character traits. We are, after all, human. We recognize that all of us have flaws and weaknesses that can and do affect the relationships we have with others. I don’t know of any non-Christians who think they are perfect or a beacon of morality and virtue. While many non-Christians certainly evidence the fruit of the Spirit, none would be so foolish to say that they perfectly do so.

Christians aren’t given the luxury of claiming they are human. Remember, the fruit of the spirit IS. There is no place in the Christian life for anything less than perfect obedience to the Christian God. After all, Christians have EVERYTHING they need to live a life of perfection. Surely God did not leave them lacking in any way, right?

Within Christianity we find many reactions to what I have written above:

  • Some Christians believe in perfection. They are entirely sanctified and cannot and do not sin.
  • Some Christians think there are two classes of Christians: ordinary everyday Christians and Spirit-filled Christians. Most Christians are the former and very few become the latter.
  • Some Christians think every Christian has two natures, the Spirit and the flesh, and these two natures continually battle against each other. Which nature you feed the most is the one who wins the battle. Christians are classified as either Spirit-filled or carnal/fleshly.
  • Some Christians think they are saved by grace and how they live doesn’t matter. While they certainly think a believer should evidence the fruit of the Spirit, if they don’t they are still Christian. Their ticket to Heaven is punched, their fire insurance is paid up, and a home in God’s Motel 6 awaits them no matter how they live their lives.
  • Some Christians think that God gives a special anointing of the Spirit to some people. All the TV preachers have this anointing (along with the ability to extract large sums of money from the bank accounts of gullible Christians) Some sects call this being baptized with the Holy Spirit, while others call it a second definite work of grace.
  • Some Christians believe in progressive sanctification. They believe that the Christian life is a long process where sin is progressively dealt with and forsaken. It is a wash, rinse, and repeat kind of process.

All of these reactions, except the first one, reject the clear teaching and meaning of Galatians 5:22,23. Again, the fruit of the spirit IS! Of course, the first reaction is ludicrous. There is no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t sin. The evidence of this is everywhere we look. Here’s a dirty little secret that many Christians don’t want non-Christians to know: for all their talk about God, Jesus, and Spirit-filled living, they live just like the rest of us. While they may be experts at putting on the good Christian act, underneath the façade, they are no different from Atheists, Humanists, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, Shintoists, Pagans, or Satanists. Try as they might, they still live lives that are an admixture of good and bad behavior.

All I am trying to do is knock Christians off their high horses and get them to see that they are not, in any way, different from the rest of us. I am trying to get them to see how offensive it is when they try to force their moral code on others when they themselves can’t even keep it. Even with God living inside of them, they “sin” just like everyone else. Christianity would be better served if Christians presented their moral code as one code among many, worth aspiring to and not as a “God says, Do this or else.” Not many atheists are going to disagree with Christians about the value of the character traits listed in Galatians 5:22,23. The world would be a far better place if we all tried to evidence these character traits (and others) in our lives.

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.

My Life as a Street Preacher — Part Three

somerset baptist church mt perry ohio street preaching schedule
Announcement Board at the back of Somerset Baptist Church, July 1990

My primary focus as a street preacher was to loudly preach the gospel so that passersby could clearly hear me and ponder my words. Doing so, required me to ascertain that I preached from a spot that used nearby buildings to amplify my voice. Making sure that vehicle noise didn’t drown out my voice was also important. The goal was to be clearly heard one block away from where I was preaching. Some men didn’t have a voice suited for street preaching. My voice, on the other hand, had tonal qualities that allowed it to carry and to be easily heard farther down the street. My mentor, Don Hardman, also had a voice that carried.

Preaching six to eight times a week, over time, took its toll on my voice. I, at one time, had a nice tenor voice. For many years, I led the music in the churches I pastored, and Polly and I would, on occasion, sing special numbers. Our three oldest sons not-so-fondly remember being roped into singing Jesus is Coming Soon with their mom and dad. (These sons later started playing guitar and bass, and became quite proficient musicians.) While I will still belt out this or that tune, my frequent preaching gave my voice a roughness from which I have not recovered to this day.

Publicly standing on a street corner with Bible held high, preaching to passersby, I naturally attracted a lot of attention. Previously, I mentioned my interaction with law enforcement and business owners. I also had opportunities to interact with several news reporters. A reporter for the Newark Advocate wrote a story about my street preaching and my use of Christian school students to hold signs and hand out gospel tracts. As I reflect on the quotes that were in the article from Somerset Baptist Academy students, I find myself thinking these children sounded an awful lot like the children of Westboro Baptist Church and the Phelps clan. My notoriety as a Fundamentalist street preacher and pastor also gave me opportunities to share my views in Zanesville Times Recorder. I wrote frequent letters to the editor, decrying the very sins and behaviors cultural warriors decry today. My letters attracted a lot of attention — so much so that editor of the Times Recorder asked me to write a regular column for the paper’s editorial page.

Of course, not all Christians were thrilled about my street preaching. They thought of my street preaching was vulgar speech, unworthy of the name Christian. More than a few “followers” of Jesus were embarrassed by my preaching. I reminded them that Jesus, Paul, Peter, John the Baptist, and other followers of Jesus were street preachers. Some of the most revered names in American Christianity were street preachers (open-air, public) too: John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, D.L. Moody, and George Whitfield, to name a few. British preachers such as William Booth and Charles Spurgeon were also street preachers. The question, then, for me, was why every pastor wasn’t a street preacher? Not one of my colleagues in the ministry joined me on the streets. They preferred the safety and the security of preaching to the choir to the wildness and unpredictability of the streets. Some of these men of God attempted to use the “I’m not called” copout, but I reminded them that Jesus commanded us to take the gospel to the whole world, and staying comfortably inside the four walls of the church, safely evangelizing the few unsaved people who wandered in, was not what Jesus had in mind. Truth be told, I think some of my fellow pastors were embarrassed by my street preaching. One year, I spent an evening preaching to the crowd attending the Bryan Jubilee in Bryan, Ohio. A pastor whom I knew well was also at the Jubilee, but he spent the night pretending he didn’t know me. I thought, at the time, Peter denied Jesus too.

jimmy hood charity rescue mission columbus ohio
Jimmy Hood, Charity Rescue Mission, Columbus, Ohio

While my preaching was loud, direct, and filled with Bible verses, I did not attack people or call them names. I preached a simple version of the gospel, reminding people that hell was real, death was sure, and only Jesus saved. Other street preachers were not as respectful as I was. Some men loved calling names and arguing with people. One Saturday, I was preaching near the City Center Mall in Columbus, Ohio with the late Jimmy Hood and a group of men from his church. While we were preaching, several Mormon missionaries engaged some of the men in discussion. Soon, the discussion became heated, with the Baptists vehemently arguing with the Mormons. The missionaries politely excused themselves from the discussion and walked away. The Baptists jeered and shouted repeatedly, there goes the MORONS! Their caustic behavior angered me to such a degree that I told the men who were with me that we were heading for home; that I wasn’t going to be a part of any group that treated others as Jimmy Hood’s men treated the Mormons.

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I briefly was friends with the late Jed Smock, the infamous college campus preacher. Jed had a small church in Columbus, and he asked me to preach for him, which I did. I later observed Jed street preaching, and after doing so I concluded that I wanted nothing to do with him. Jed loved to call names and berate people. On several occasions, Jed got his ass kicked for calling college women whores. Jed and I may have shared a commonality of having been street preachers, but our methodologies were very different. Jed’s approach was to attack and warn, whereas I took a friendlier approach, desiring to engage people in thoughtful discussion. Our end goal desire was the same: to evangelize the lost. Jed’s wife Cindy continues to preach at numerous college campuses. Her shtick hasn’t changed. (The Smocks, by the way, believe in sinless perfection. That’s right, they don’t sin. According to them, they haven’t sinned in years.)

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Sometimes, my street sermons led to conversations long after I finished preaching. Let me conclude this post with a story I think readers will find entertaining.

One spring day, I was preaching on a street corner in downtown Zanesville with Polly and our children. Pulling up to the traffic light near my corner with his window down was a young man I knew from seeing him race dirt track cars at Midway Speedway in Crooksville, Ohio. I knew I had less than two minutes to preach to him, so I quickly tailored my message to the man, reminding him that race car drivers needed Jesus too, and hell awaited them if they did not repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. The man had a shocked look on his face. How does that preacher know I am a race car driver? Several weeks later, I ran into him at a car show and he let me know that I had scared the living shit out of him. I chuckled a bit, and then I told him that I was a regular patron of Midway Speedway, and that I had seen him race many times. The man laughed, and then we spent a few minutes talking about racing. I am sure diehard street preachers will say that I should have pressed the man on his need of Christ, but I decided, instead, to be an ordinary, decent human being. By this time, my Calvinistic theology had affected my approach to street preaching and calmed some of the angst I had over humanity needing salvation.

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.

Another Failed Facebook Interaction with a Liberal Christian

I don’t know why I keep trying. What follows is a discussion I had on a friend’s Facebook page today with a local liberal Christian — a mainline Lutheran. The focus of the discussion is a meme I posted to my page, which my friend shared on his page.

sovereignty of God

Christian: What an awful perspective. God is love and that is what Jesus preached. There are some things in the Old Testament that are questionable. Life and everything is how you choose to take it and live it. I choose love and happiness not the negative aspects. Those who do not believe don’t believe in God or Jesus so non of this(what the Bible says) matters to them. One does not have to believe to be a good person.

Christian: That is Old Testament. He gave us Jesus so our sins will be forgiven. We experience pain and suffering as a result of this world. I teared up the other night at my brother’s concert because of the wonderful message. ✌🏼❤️

Christian: He also gives us free will-big mistake on some people’s part!! I myself, have not made some good decisions and have suffered physically but I have turned to God to help me through these. He never promised that we will not suffer. I also don’t understand why some people suffer much more than I have and why He hasn’t stopped it. I am with you there!! Also some people take being a ‘Christian’ to a level that God never intended. It doesn’t make them any better than someone else!

Bruce: Well, it matters to the degree that their religion materially affects me. Evangelicals, in particular, don’t seem to want to live and let live. They are Heaven bent on shoving their religion down my throat and evangelizing my grandchildren (Lifewise Academy) who attend public schools. The primary Christian sect behind the 1/6 Insurrection? Evangelicalism.

Bruce: I didn’t read the comments you objected to, but you did make theological claims about the nature of God, the sovereignty of God, and Freewill. While I understand you are just stating your opinions, you did posit that your peculiar brand/flavor of religion is superior to others. Surely it is fair for someone to question/challenge your hermeneutics — in a friendly way, of course. Now if your intent was just to give a testimonial . . . that’s different.

For record, I was part of the Evangelical church for fifty years; a Bible college trained pastor for twenty-five years. I am now an atheist (and a liberal, politically.)

Christian: I did not post that my peculiar? brand/flavor of religion is superior to others. That is a lie. You are far from your biblical roots. Also politics and religion should not mix-that statement is irrelevant. You had better review your hermeneutics and learn how to be a better truthful,respectful person. You have fallen off the boat and are unfortunately have drowned in your hatefulness instead of the love of God. Yes, I am shaking-I don’t deal well with people like you.

Christian: I agree with your statement about evangelicals. I was in no way shoving my religion down someone’s throat. I was just stating what I have learned as a lifetime Lutheran. I can understand why you left that particular ‘kind’ of church.

Bruce: Wow.

You said:

“What an awful perspective. God is love and that is what Jesus preached. There are some things in the Old Testament that are questionable. Life and everything is how you choose to take it and live it. I choose love and happiness not the negative aspects. Those who do not believe don’t believe in God or Jesus so non of this(what the Bible says) matters to them. One does not have to believe to be a good person.”

This is a theological statement. You objected to the meme by positing that your religion of “love” (which you showed none of in your response to me) is better/superior/Christ-like.

You don’t know me, yet you think it’s okay to personally attack me. Let me share with you what the Bible says about such behavior:

“Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.” Proverbs 18:13

Bruce: You don’t know anything about me, yet you have jumped to all sorts of conclusions.

The reasons for my deconversion are many. I would be more than happy to share them with you.

You seem to confuse directness with hatefulness. I am the former, not the latter. Ask around. I doubt you will find anyone who says I’m “hateful.” Life is too short to hate.

Bruce: Virtually every Abrahamic religion believes in the sovereignty of God — God is in control. If humans can thwart the will and actions of God, he is not in control.

The Bible has much to say about God’s absolute rule and authority, right down to who he does and doesn’t “save.” Man doesn’t have free will in a soteriological sense. We “choose,” but only because God chose (election, predestination) us first. Even science today questions whether humans have “free will” — in the colloquial sense of the word. Most people think they have naked free will/libertarian free will. It “seems” right. I suspect, however, it’s not.

Christian: Yes love is better than hate. Then why do you say hateful things to me? Love IS Christlike. Truth is better than you telling lies about me by saying things I didn’t say. (Or misinterpret what I said)Calling someone stupid and rude is worthy of turning you into the Facebook police. I am done with your hate and negativity. Deconversion (Do you think it makes you superior by using big words?)

Bruce: sigh. I didn’t say anything hateful to you. I’m sorry that you can’t see that.

Bruce: deconversion: The loss of faith in a given religion and return to a previously held religion or non-religion (typically atheism, agnosticism, or rationalism).

Christian: I know what deconversion is.

Christian: I am also sorry that you did not take in ALL that I wrote either. I agree with you about leaving the ‘church’ that you left-Baptist- evangelical,I believe?(And also we share the same political views.) All I was doing is sharing what I think and follow. It always seems to turn nasty when people talk about their faith and it doesn’t have to be that way. Why can’t we just talk and be decent human beings? I do not quote the Bible or get philosophical. I know what I believe (and do question some things in the Bible). I use what brings me peace. I am highly educated but I think it is offensive when people pull out the big words or quote from the Bible. I would love to hear why you left organized religion but I wouldn’t want it to turn into a debate. I have had my beliefs for 74 years and will go to my grave with them. I am at peace in my life and wouldn’t like it any other way. I hope you too have found peace(I said that to another atheist friend of mine and she didn’t like it).

Bruce: When you share your beliefs/opinions/ruminations on social media, you should expect people to respond. ‘Tis the nature of the medium.

Christian: Yes, I read everything and why should I care what you were before. I was just saying I agree and can see why you left the evangelical church. You are the one who seems to jump to conclusions!! I try to say something nice and you turn it around-there lies the problem with our colliding personalities!!! Randy is a terrific person but I no longer will comment on his religious/ non religious posts.

Bruce: This has nothing to do with colliding personalities. I do agree that Randy is a terrific person — 98.9% of the time.

You have made several wrong assumptions about the trajectory of my life. My beliefs — theological, political, social — evolved over the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. Just because I once was an Evangelical doesn’t mean I always was one.

Bruce: Words have meanings. Deconversion and its cousin deconstruction are not “big” words. They (generally) accurately describe the process of loss of faith. You seem to think, without evidence, that I used the word “deconversion” so I could be “superior.” I used the word because it best describes the process of loss of faith.

Sigh, right? (Please see Why I Use the Word “Sigh”.) My goal was to meaningfully interact with this woman, hoping to share with her my perspective on the meme and Evangelical Christianity. I could have went after her incoherent theological beliefs, but I chose not to. For whatever reason, she made it personal. In her mind, I was being “hateful” towards her. My words were so offensive that they should be reported to Facebook! Worse, she attacked my character, suggesting that I was trying to be the smartest guy in the room by using big words. By the time our discussion concluded, I wondered who the Hell she was talking to. It sure wasn’t me. 🙂

As readers know, I am more than capable of eviscerating people with words. I can be snarky, but generally, I try to be respectful, knowing that lurkers are reading my posts/comments. While most of my interactions are with Evangelical Christians, I do, on occasion, cross swords with liberal/mainline Christians, I find discussions with them to be quite frustrating, much like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. As the aforementioned Christian showed, she has spent 7 decades picking and choosing what she wants to believe. All Christians are cafeteria believers, but liberal believers have turned it into a fine art. In their minds, the Bible is a book of suggestions. The OT God is different from the NT God. They focus on the LOVE of God, ignoring his judgment, wrath, and holiness. In other words, they do what all Christians do: shape and mold a God in their own image.

And that’s fine. I much prefer liberal Christianity when it comes to good works and the mark it makes on the world. Evangelicalism is harmful, both psychologically and physically. It destroys lives, harming children and adults alike. I have been blogging for almost sixteen years. There’s never been a time when someone left a comment on this site that said “liberal Christianity ruined my life.” I am good friends with several liberal Christians. I love the fact that we can talk about anything. That’s not the case with Evangelicals. Why? Liberal Christians have few theological hills they are willing to die on. Evangelicals, on the other hand, see every molehill as Mount Everest.

During the deconversion process, I tried to embrace liberal Christianity. I desperately wanted to hang on to “God.” Unfortunately, I found liberal Christianity to be intellectually unsatisfying. I found myself saying, “why bother”? What I was left with was a social club of sorts, with wonderful, thoughtful people as members. This was not enough for me, especially during football season. 🙂 While I genuinely love and respect my mainline Christian friends, I cannot intellectually embrace their beliefs. I love their good works, but not their theology.

In early 2008, Polly and I and our three youngest children attended Grace Episcopal Church in Defiance. Grace is a dying congregation of mostly elderly people. The music was atrocious, and on Sundays when the priest wasn’t there, the lay sermons were droning monuments to incoherence. We loved the priest and found the congregation to be friendly toward our family (though no attempt was made to assimilate us into the congregation). On our first Sunday there, one of the matrons of the church said to us “Welcome. You can believe anything you want here.” In this particular church, the Bible and theology were irrelevant.

In the fall of 2008, we attended Ney United Methodist Church for a few months. We loved the pastor and his family. The music was more lively than the unsingable high church music at Grace, but no attempt was made to embrace us as a part of the membership. The pastor (who is an Evangelical), Ron Adkins and I got along famously. We had numerous conversations about Evangelicalism and theology. However, by this time it was too late. Fourteen years ago this coming Sunday, we walked out of the doors of the church never to return. A letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent News I wrote two years after we left the church caused a problem for Ron. He decided to publicly respond to me, ending our relationship. (Please see Evangelical Pastor Ron Adkins and THE Agnostic.) Evidently, my letter caused a stir in the membership, so he felt obligated to respond to me. Ron no longer pastors the church. For a time Ron was associated with the Free Methodist denomination. Presently, he pastors the Urbana Church of Christ in Christian Union in Urbana, Ohio. (I pastored a Christian Union church in Alvordton, Ohio in 1995.)

Polly and I attended other liberal/mainline churches as we attempted to find a church home. What we typically found was awful music, barely tolerable preaching, and nice people who took no interest in trying to engage us at any meaningful level outside of shaking our hands. Of course, we found these same things in Evangelical churches too, although Evangelical music tends to be more inspiring and singable. While our politics, social beliefs, and pacifism better aligned with the liberal/mainline churches we visited, we found their lack of passion and interest off-putting. In the end, both of us came to the conclusion that we had no interest in trying to breathe life into corpses.

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.

How My Political and Social Beliefs Evolved Over the Years

john birch society

A letter writer asked:

Were you always socially liberal and progressive “on the inside” or did that develop after deconverting? For example, were you always pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, and pro-transgender, and every time you read a bible verse got triggered, or did your social and political beliefs genuinely differ between being a Christian and being an atheist?

These are great questions. I believe the letter writer is asking if I always had liberal/progressive political and social beliefs or did these beliefs develop over time? I believe he is also asking if my political and social beliefs were different as a Christian from the beliefs I now have as an atheist? The best way to answer these questions is to share a condensed version of my life story.

In the early 1960s, my Dad packed up his family and moved from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego, California in search of riches and prosperity. While in California, my parents were saved at Scott Memorial Baptist Church, a Fundamentalist Baptist congregation pastored by Tim LaHaye. As members of Scott Memorial, Mom and Dad joined the right-wing, uber-nationalist John Birch Society. Mom, in particular, immersed herself in right-wing political ideology. She campaigned for Barry Goldwater, and would later actively support the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon and George Wallace.

As was common for people of their generation, my parents were racists. They believed Martin Luther King, Jr. was a despicable man, a Communist. Mom was an avid writer of letters to the editors of the newspapers wherever we happened to be living at the time. She considered Lieutenant William Calley — the man responsible for the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War — to be a war hero. She also thought that the unarmed Kent State students gunned down by Ohio National Guard soldiers got exactly what they deserved.

It should come as no surprise then, that their oldest son — yours truly — embraced their religious and political views. From the time I was in kindergarten until I entered college at age nineteen, I lived in a right-wing, Fundamentalist monoculture. The churches I attended growing up only reinforced the political and social beliefs taught to me by my parents.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution founded in the 1950s by Tom Malone. While I don’t remember any “political” preaching, Biblical moral beliefs were frequently mentioned in classes and during chapel. I heard nothing that would challenge the political and social beliefs taught to me by my parents and pastors. While at Midwestern, I met a beautiful dark-haired woman who would later become my wife. She had similar political and social beliefs, so from that perspective we were a perfect match.

All told, I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. For many of these years, I was a flag-waving, homophobic, theocratic pro-lifer who believed Democrats, liberals, progressives, Catholics, mainline Christians, and a cast of thousands were tools used by Satan to attack and destroy Christian America. Over time, I theologically moved away from the IFB church movement and embraced Fundamentalist Calvinism. While my theology was evolving, my political and social beliefs remained the same — that is, until 1990.

In late 1990, American tanks, aircraft, and soldiers invaded Iraq, causing tens of thousands of civilian deaths. I was appalled by the universal support Evangelicals gave to the Gulf War. I remember asking congregants if it bothered them that thousands of men, women, and children were slaughtered in their name. Not one of my colleagues in the ministry opposed the Gulf War. None of them seemed troubled by the bloodshed and carnage. Try as I might to see the Gulf War through the eyes of the Just War Theory, I couldn’t do so. It was at this point in life that I became a pacifist. I didn’t preach pacifism from the pulpit, but I did challenge church members to think “Biblically” about war and violence — “Biblically” meaning viewing the Gulf War and other wars through the eyes of Jesus and his teachings.

From this point forward, my political beliefs began to evolve. By the time of the Y2K scare, I had distanced myself from groups such as Focus on the Family, the Moral Majority, and the American Family Association. I thought, at the time, that these groups had become political hacks, shills for the Republican Party. In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. He would be the last Republican I voted for. In 2004, I voted for John Kerry; 2008 and 2012 I voted for Barack Obama; 2016 I voted for Hillary Clinton, though I was a big Bernie Sanders supporter. in 2020, I voted for Joe Biden, but only because he wasn’t Trump.

In 2005, I left the ministry, and in 2008 I left Christianity. At that time, my political and social beliefs were far removed from when I entered the ministry decades before. I began as a right-wing Republican and I left the ministry as a progressive. Embracing atheism, humanism, rationalism, and science has allowed me to challenge and rethink my beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, same-sex-marriage, LGBTQ people, sex, marriage, birth control, capital punishment, labor unions, environmentalism, and a host of other hot-button issues. As long as I was in the Evangelical bubble, these things remained unchallenged. Once the Bible lost its authority and control over me, I was then free to change my beliefs.

The Bruce Gerencser of 1983 would not recognize the Bruce Gerencser of today. A man who was a member of one of the churches I pastored in the 1980s and remained a friend of mine until 2009, told me that I had changed teams. And he’s right. My change of beliefs has been so radical that this man told me he could no longer be friends with me. Why? He found my atheism and political beliefs to be too unsettling.

I understand how the trajectory of my life, with its changing religious, political, and social beliefs, troubles people. I try to put myself in their shoes as they attempt to reconcile the Pastor Bruce they once knew with the atheist blogger I am today. How can these things be? former congregants, friends, and colleagues in the ministry want to know. How is it possible that Bruce Gerencser, one of the truest Christians they ever knew, is now an atheist? Some people think there’s some secret I am sitting on, some untold reason for my deconversion. No matter how much time I invest in explaining myself, many people still can’t wrap their minds around my current godlessness and liberal political beliefs. I’ve concluded that there is nothing I can do for them as long as they remain firmly ensconced in the Evangelical bubble.

My political and social beliefs are driven by the humanist ideal; that we humans should work together for the common good; that every person deserves peace, health, happiness, and economic security. I support political and social beliefs that promote these things and oppose those that don’t. I certainly haven’t arrived. My beliefs continue to evolve.

For readers not familiar with humanism, let me conclude this post with the Humanist Manifesto. Atheism doesn’t provide me with a moral foundation. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods. It is humanism that provides me the foundation upon which to build my life:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

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.

My Life as a Street Preacher — Part Two

bruce gerencser street preaching crooksville ohio
Bruce Gerencser, street preaching, Crooksville, Ohio — with his son Jaime.

The First Amendment grants U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike freedom of speech and freedom of religion. These two freedoms are very close to the heart of men who preach on the streets. There is no freer piece of property than a public sidewalk. As long as a street preacher isn’t hindering people walking on the sidewalk or crossing the street, he is free to say pretty much anything to people passing by. Unfortunately, many local business owners and police officers are not well versed in what the law does and does not permit when it comes to street preaching. Many business owners wrongly think that if an obnoxious street preacher – an excessive redundancy if there ever was one — is standing in front of their store preaching or handing out tracts, a quick call to the police will remove the annoyance. However, the street preacher is exercising his First Amendment rights on a public sidewalk, and this means his actions are protected by law.

Sometimes, street preachers get in trouble with the law over evangelizing on private property, or preaching in public places that don’t allow preaching or politicking. For example, street preaching is banned near monuments such as the Lincoln and Washington Memorials. Another forbidden venue is Ohio county fairs. Fairs? Aren’t they public events? No. The various county governments rent/lease the fairgrounds to county agricultural boards. This means, technically, that the fairgrounds become private property for the duration of the fair. The same can be said for many street fairs. Years ago, I entered the Perry County Fairgrounds to preach and hand out tracts to fair-goers. I wasn’t there ten minutes before a fair official and two sheriff deputies told me I had to leave. I told them I wouldn’t be leaving. The fairground is public property, I said. Not wanting to make a scene and arrest me, the officers left me alone. I did what Jesus had “called” me to do and then headed home. Several months later, I received a personal letter from the Ohio Attorney General informing me that the fairgrounds were private, not public property, and that any further preaching or handing out of literature on my part would result in my arrest. The next year, I stood outside the fairground entrance and, with Bible held high, preached the gospel. I was watched closely by fair officials and law enforcement, but we had no further conflict.

In the late 1980s, I would take a group of men from the church to help me evangelize at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church Garden Party in Somerset, Ohio. The Garden Party was an annual fundraiser for Holy Trinity featuring food, beer, and gambling. The beer and gambling, according to the IFB preacher Bruce Gerencser, were sins against God, so what better way to let those hell-bound Catholics know the truth than by loudly preaching at them. I would stand across the street — about sixty feet away — from the venue, and from there everyone at the Garden Party could hear my sermon. The men I brought along with me either held Bible verse signs or walked the sidewalks handing out Fellowship Tract League tracts.

One year, two sheriff deputies came up to me and said, Sheriff Dixon says you have to stop doing this and go home. I replied, tell Dan I plan to keep on preaching. If he wants to arrest me, go ahead. Imagine what that will look like on the front page of the Times-Recorder. The officers left and spent the rest of the evening glaring at me from across the street. Later that night, the church’s priest came over to talk to me, asking if I thought I was accomplishing anything by preaching at people. I gave him my spiel about being a God-called preacher, and that I was following in the steps of Jesus, Paul, and the disciples. He smiled, and then said, have a nice evening. As he turned to walk away, he said, By the way, I want to thank you for your stand against abortion. 

Several days after the Garden Party, I had a sit-down with Sheriff Dixon at his office. I made it very clear to him that I intended to continue preaching on Perry County street corners, and that no matter how much his officers harassed me, I was going to continue doing God’s work. Dan, himself, was quite opinionated and bullheaded, so we came to an agreement about my street preaching, with each of us clearly understanding the parameters of what was legal and illegal behavior. (I visited county prisoners on a weekly basis, so Dan knew me in a larger context than just street preaching.)

Over the decade I spent preaching on the streets of southeast Ohio, I had numerous run-ins with law enforcement. I was resolute about going to jail if necessary. No one was going to stop me from preaching the gospel. One weeknight, as I was preaching in front of the Crooksville, Ohio post office, a police car stopped in front me and the officer told me that I had to IMMEDIATELY stop what I was doing. The business owner across the street, the officer said, called to complain, so you have to stop. I looked at him and replied, “No.” NO? the officer responded. “We’ll see about that!” He hopped back into his car and hauled ass down the street. Ten minutes later, the officer returned, got out of his car, and with bowed head and mumbled words, said, the police chief says I have to let you do this. Just do me a favor, don’t be here after dark. I can’t protect you if you are. I replied I won’t be. I’m not stupid (though my behavior suggested otherwise).

Street preachers are, to the man, arrogant assholes who have no regard for others. But, they have a constitutional right to be Assholes for Jesus®. Don Hardman taught me from the get-go that I had to be prepared to go to jail if need be; that many law enforcement officers were ignorant of the law and might wrongly arrest me for preaching on the street. The good news was that there were Christian lawyers who would make sure I was released from jail as soon as possible; that no one had been successfully prosecuted for street preaching. Much like Paul and Peter, I expected to be arrested one day for preaching the gospel. There’s no greater feather in the cap of a street preacher than to be arrested for preaching or handing out tracts. Want to make a name for yourself in the street preaching fraternity? Get arrested and spend time in jail for proclaiming the gospel.

Being questioned or harassed by law enforcement was a sign, at least to me, that I was doing exactly what God want me to do; that if God wanted me to suffer for his name’s sake, so be it. I was already something of a local celebrity, so getting thrown in the pokey would only have increased my celebrity status. Little did I know at the time that, sure I was a celebrity, but locals thought I was a fool. That’s okay too, right? The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 4:10, We are fools for Christ’s sake. Praise Jesus!

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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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Bruce Gerencser