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Jim Elliff says, Avoid Bart Ehrman, He Could Cause You To Lose Your Faith!

bart ehrman

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Jim Elliff, the director of Christian Communicators Worldwide, thinks Christians should avoid Bart Ehrman because he could cause them to doubt or lose their faith.  For those of you who are not familiar with Evangelical-turned-agnostic New Testament theologian Bart Ehrman, his credentials are as follows:

Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He began his teaching career at Rutgers University, and joined the faculty in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC in 1988, where he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department.

Professor Ehrman completed his M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees at Princeton Seminary, where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude. An expert on the New Testament and the history of Early Christianity, has written or edited [over] thirty books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews. In addition to works of scholarship, Professor Ehrman has written several textbooks for undergraduate students and trade books for general audiences. Five of his books have been on the New York Times Bestseller list: Misquoting Jesus; God’s Problem; Jesus Interrupted; Forged; and How Jesus Became God. His books have been translated into twenty-seven languages.

His books include:

  • God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer
  • How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher From Galilee
  • Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
  • Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)
  • Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife
  • How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee
  • Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, & Invented Their Stories of the Savior
  • How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee
  • Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are
  • The Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew

Ehrman is a royal pain in the ass for Evangelical pastors and theologians. His books are well written and quite devastating to many of the tenets of Evangelicalism — especially Biblical inerrancy and infallibility. His books are accessible, making it easy for the average Joe-the-plumber reader to understand the history and nature of the Bible. In other words, Ehrman has successfully bridged the ivory tower/pew divide. I heartily recommend his books.

Years ago, Ehrman participated in a debate with Craig Evans at a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Midwestern is a Southern Baptist institution.  By all accounts, Ehrman decidedly won the debate.

Video Link

Speaking of this debate, Jim Elliff, a man I knew from my days as a Reformed Baptist, thinks debating Bart Ehrman is a bad idea. Here’s why:

First, because Ehrman is a false teacher and we are forbidden to give such men a forum to express their views.

The Bible doesn’t treat false teachers kindly. It is one thing to talk with a skeptic who is asking questions to know the truth, or who is confronting you in public, but it is quite another thing to invite and pay a false teacher to come to your turf in order to present his views in an open forum.

Inviting a false teacher to present his errant views in order to persuade students and the public is like allowing a gunman to shoot randomly out into an audience of military personnel because it is assumed the troops have body armor. For one thing, body armor cannot shield against all shots, and for another, there are many people attending who have no armor at all. At last week’s debate, for instance, there were many people from the public who were not even believers. Some young people also attended, and some seminary students who are not yet prepared for the effects of doubt-producing verbiage…

Second, because the minority position almost always gains some followers regardless who wins the debate.

When you have a sizable crowd it almost goes without saying that someone will be convinced of the false views of the false teacher. You may sense an overwhelming approval of the debate by many who love the give and take, but fail to take note of the quiet student or outsider to the seminary now stricken with doubt about the Scriptures. Ehrman’s presentation might be all that is needed to move him over the line…

Third, because debates are not always won on the basis of truth alone.

We don’t need to comment much here, because you understand how this works. Ehrman clearly won the debate by the account of several attending. He simply won it by his cleverness and expertise at debating. His opponent, the believer, was well able to defeat him with the truth, but missed his opportunities in several places, giving credence to the idea that he was a better writer and lecturer than debater. In fact, this is the second time Ehrman won a debate at the same seminary, but against a different Christian opponent. What does that do for our witness? Though I have no question in my mind that our position on the reliability of Scripture is the right one and can withstand Ehrman’s arguments soundly, our side was out-debated.

Fourth, because many of the listeners will not have the opportunity to sort out confusing aspects of the debate with professors or knowledgeable persons…

Fifth, because doubt is insidious.

One seminary student who has now graduated told me that he occasionally had huge doubts about Scripture and God. They were not there often, perhaps only for a few difficult days or weeks once every year or two, but they were so strong that he found himself almost smothered by them when they came. This was a leading student, chosen as one of the best preachers of the seminary. Doubt is insidious. Like a drop of ink added to gallons of water, it can ruin everything. It is the fly in the perfume. We are naïve to think that, being free from doubts ourselves, others do not deal with them regularly.

When a man like Ehrman speaks, doubt-producing statements may be forever lodged in people’s minds, causing trouble when least expected. It only takes a tiny amount of doubt for some people to be destroyed. A weak person might believe his doubts rather than believe his beliefs…..

Where, oh where, do I begin?

There is no need for me to go through a lengthy refutation of Elliff’s post. His position is quite simple:

  • Bart Ehrman is a false teacher
  • Christians are not to listen to false teachers
  • False teachers like Ehrman cause Christians to doubt
  • Doubt causes people to lose their faith
  • Doubt must be avoided at all costs, so information that is contrary to the approved narrative must be avoided

Consider this. The doubting students that Elliff is so concerned about have gone to Evangelical (Southern Baptist) churches their entire lives and have at least four years of college education, most likely at Evangelical institutions. After a lifetime of training, four years of college, and after uncounted sermons and Sunday school lessons, the students still aren’t prepared to withstand hearing ONE debate featuring a non-Christian?

I have one word for this: pathetic.

Elliff lives in a world where the only truth is his truth– though he calls his truth “God’s” truth. Even though most everyone admits Ehrman handily won the debate, according to Elliff he won by deceptive means. Since there is only one version of the truth, Ehrman had to win by other means.

The money quote is this:

Ehrman clearly won the debate by the account of several attending. He simply won it by his cleverness and expertise at debating. His opponent, the believer, was well able to defeat him with the truth, but missed his opportunities in several places, giving credence to the idea that he was a better writer and lecturer than debater.

Elliff seems to have forgotten his Bible. If I remember right, the Holy Spirit indwells every follower of Jesus. When believers are called on to give a defense of their faith, the Holy Spirit gives the believers the words to say. Evidently, the Holy Spirit didn’t come through for Evans.

Elliff lives in an alternate universe where saying the Bible says _________ is the satisfactory answer to every question. It’s the equivalent of a child wanting to know why, and their mother telling them, because I said so. That’s the world Evangelicals like Jim Elliff live in. Any facts that don’t fit the approved orthodox narrative are rejected out of hand. Even when the facts are overwhelming, great lengths are taken to explain away the contrary evidence. Young-earth creationists such as Ken Ham and Kent Hovind (Dr. Dino) are perfect examples of this.

I left Christianity because I no longer believed the Christian narrative to be true. It was my desire to know the truth that ultimately resulted in my deconversion. If Christian seminary students, most of whom are studying for the ministry, cannot be confronted with contrary evidence for fear of losing their faith, I would suggest it is not a faith worth having.

Doubt should not be discouraged. Evangelicals should be encouraged to question, investigate, and test the beliefs which their pastors (and college professors) and churches say are true. A faith that will withstand the onslaught of the modern/postmodern world must be able to answer the questions the modern/postmodern world presents. Perhaps, that is the real issue. The Christian faith has run out of answers. All that is left is warmed-over dogma from years gone by, irrelevant and no longer satisfying for the needs of humanity.

It really is all about the Bible; on this point both skeptics and Evangelicals can agree.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Did You Know Atheists Are Sexual Deviants?

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I want to share with readers several emails I received from a Fundamentalist Christian named Matt Nye. Nye is of the opinion that people reject Christianity and become atheists because they are sexual deviants.  I hope you find his emails instructive. Pay particular attention to the fact that Nye tells me he is 21 years old and that he became a Christian after years as a porn-loving atheist/agnostic. My God, they must start watching porn quite young where he lives! Besides, since he was an atheist before he became a Christian, doesn’t this mean that he was a sexual deviant too?

One of Nye’s favorite preachers is Tim Conway, pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, Texas. I wonder if Nye is aware that I once was Conway’s pastor? Imagine, one of his favorite preachers had an unsaved, sexual deviant as his pastor. Gotta love the irony, right?

Based on several posts on his now-defunct blog, Matt Nye is a Calvinist. As a card-carrying member of the John Calvin Club, surely Nye knows that God has decreed and predestined me to be an arch-enemy of Christianity. And since I cannot overthrow the plan God chose for my life from before the foundation of the world, it’s God’s fault, not mine, that I’m a sexual deviant.

I hope you will also note in the one email that Nye asks me to watch one of convicted felon Kent Hovind’s seminars. Ken Hovind attended Midwestern Baptist College, the same college I attended in the 1970s. According to Wikipedia, in 2007, Hovind was “convicted of 58 federal counts, including 12 tax offenses, one count of obstructing federal agents, and 45 counts of structuring cash transactions” and sentenced to ten years in prison. In July 2015, Hovind was paroled. Now out of prison, Hovind, also known as Dr. Dino, has returned to his calling, preaching the gospel of young-earth creationism.

Here’s email number one:

Hi.

I noticed you said you left the Christian faith and are now an atheist. I have a question for you though. Before I ask you it, we have to define what a born-again Christian is. A born-again Christian is someone who knows the Lord, evidenced by 1 John 2:4.

So my question to you is this, did you know the Lord?

This presents a serious problem for you, because if…

A)… you say “Yes” then you are admitting there is a God and creator, but you walked away from him.

B)… you say “No”, then you are proving that you never were a Christian.

I don’t mean to sound condescending and I’m sure being a former pastor you know the scriptures more than a 21-year-old like myself, but according to 1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

You’ve had a false conversion my friend. I ask you to consider these things seriously because eternity is a long time to be wrong.

Email number two:

Hi Bruce.

To be honest, I don’t know you at all personally, as I am a nobody who stumbled across your site.

What I’m asking you to consider is this, were you truly “born-again”?

I was a false convert until the age of about 20 when the Lord opened my heart and saved me.

I’m willing I can describe your situation all those years. The “church” or “worship” part of Christianity is this “grit-your-teeth” sort of feeling. There’s also a sense deep within that you are rebelling against something. Like this energy within you that is fighting against something. I can assure you that “inner-rebellion” is completely gone. The only thing left is my sinful flesh which is dying little by little. Theology or preaching must have been your #1 thing while Jesus was just some accessory.

As I’ve said before, I don’t know you personally, but I assure you that the main reason people reject Christianity and become atheist is because of a sexual deviance. (Jude 1:18 “How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.”) Pornography is a big one. It was with me. I actually was atheistic/agnostic for some years and then intellectually became a Christian again, or “returned from a back-slidden state” thinking I was still saved. But when God saved me for REAL, he really revealed himself. Christianity isn’t a mental acknowledgement of the facts. Saying a sinner’s prayer and trusting in the prayer won’t do it.

Sir, I’ve had too many prayers answered to know that this isn’t just a coincidence. There really is a God. I plead with you, regardless of what you’ve heard about Kent Hovind. Watch one of his seminars and just think to yourself “Ok, there’s a chance I could be wrong, so I’ll be open minded” Eternity is too long to be wrong.

Email number three:

I’m amazed at how atheists can be so emotional over something they don’t believe in. I’m only spending my time to e-mail because I truly care about you, not to be condescending.

When you look at the Venus Fly Trap or any other Carnivorous plants, are you really going to believe that it was the result of a mutation? Here’s something striking, mutations have never been observed to introduce new information in the genome. Mutations can only scramble or duplicate existing information.

Check this page out.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivorous_plant

I made no attempt to engage Nye or answer his emails. After he emailed me the first time, I responded and told him I wasn’t interested in corresponding with him. I asked him to not write me again, but, in classic Evangelical fashion, he ignored my request and emailed me several more times. This kind of behavior is quite common among Evangelical zealots who feel duty-bound to share what “God” has laid upon their hearts. They have no respect for atheists, and seem only concerned with hearing themselves talk.

I suppose I should feel sorry for this young man. His head has been filled with foolishness that he thinks is “God.” He’s a youngster who pridefully and arrogantly thinks he knows the Bible and the mind of God so well that he can, with great certainty, pass judgment on my spiritual condition. Never mind that I have likely forgotten more Bible knowledge than Nye will ever know. All that matters to Nye is putting in a good word for Jesus. He’s told Bruce, the atheist the truth, and now that he has done his duty, he’s free to move on to other atheists who desperately need to hear that they are sexual deviants.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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.

Short Stories: Bruce, the Moral Crusader and the Massage Parlor

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000

After resigning from Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio in 1995, I rented the old library building in nearby West Unity and started Grace Baptist Church — later renamed Our Father’s House. I remained the pastor of this church for seven years.

While I became more ecumenical and progressive politically during this time, I remained a fire-breathing moral crusader. West Unity was the last dry (no alcohol sales) community in Ohio. When the American Legion, directly across the street from the church, put an initiative on the local ballot to allow alcohol sales, I decided to make it my personal mission to defeat the measure. I sent out letters to churches, wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers, and went door to door handing out flyers — all in the hope of soundly defeating the ballot issue. Teetotaling Evangelicals, including a handful of church members, rallied around my cause, and sure enough, the issue was defeated. What a great victory for Pastor Bruce and the true Christians who defeated Satan and his army of boozers. It didn’t take me long, however, to learn that I had won the battle but lost the war. In winning, I lost the respect of many people in the community — primarily non-Evangelicals. While Evangelical God-lovers praised my name, liberal Christians, local business owners, bankers, and the like were no longer friendly towards me.

In the late 1990s, a criminal concern out of Chicago opened a massage parlor 10 miles west of our church at Exit One on the Ohio Turnpike. This was the first adult oriented business to ever operate in Williams County. When I learned of its existence, I quickly set out to close it down. I rallied pastors and business owners to my cause, along with my usual shtick of writing letters to local newspapers. The Bryan Times refused to print my letter because I alleged, without evidence, that prostitution was indeed taking place at the business. Other newspapers published my letters.

I also wrote letters to local law enforcement, along with local and state politicians. I drew a clear line in the stand: close this business in the name of God and morality. Little did I know that I was involving myself in an issue that I knew nothing about. I wrongly assumed that law enforcement — namely the Williams County Sheriff’s Department — was sitting on its ass, doing nothing to remove this “vile” establishment from our County.

One day, the phone rang at the church. It was the Sheriff calling for the Bruce, the moral crusader. Boy, was he upset at me. He wanted me to know that I was ruining a joint sting operation between the Sheriff’s office and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. When I told the Sheriff that I had no intention of gumming up his operation, he calmed down a bit and politely asked to me end my crusade. And if I did so, I would be invited to the go with them when they raided the massage parlor.

Several weeks later, law enforcement gathered at a motel across the street from the parlor to prepare for the raid. There I was, a definite outsider, little more than someone who got a consolation prize for not fucking things up for them. The raid proved to be quite anti-climatic — pun intended. There were no customers in the massage parlor, just two well-worn Asian women in their late 40s. Seized in the raid were credit cards, condoms, cash, and food stamps. Yes, food stamps. Evidently, the massage parlor took food stamps as payment for services rendered. The parlor employees were later prosecuted on solicitation charges, but, if I remember correctly, served no jail time. This would be the last moral crusade for me. Lessons learned.

My opinions about adult businesses, sex workers, and “morality” changed dramatically over the next two decades. Bruce, the moral crusader died an ignoble death that day at Exit One on the Ohio Turnpike. Instead of focusing on the business itself, I began to think about the women and how the Chicago men they worked for likely coerced them and other women into working at the massage parlor. While I now support legal, consensual sex work, I still wonder about the women arrested during the raid. What kind of life did they have up to that point? What kind of life did they have after their arrests? Did I make life better for them? Or did I just make a bunch of white Evangelical Christians feel morally superior to these women? I suspect I know the answer to these questions.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Short Stories: The Adventures of a Detroit Delivery Truck Driver

bruce midwestern baptist college pontiac michigan 1978
Bruce Gerencser, Midwestern Baptist College, 1978

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac Michigan from 1976 to 1979. Midwestern, founded in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone, is an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. Midwestern’s unaccredited status meant that students did not have access to federal or state grant or loan programs. Most students worked a part-time or full-time job to pay for tuition. Dormitory students, of course, also had the added expense of room and board. While Midwestern had a rudimentary cafeteria that provided a light breakfast and lunch, dormitory students were not required to eat there. Most dorm residents ate a combination of fast food and boxed/canned food. The dormitory had a kitchen with a microwave and a few tables. Every afternoon and evening, weird wafting smells circulated through the dormitory as students tried to “cook” their meals. I still have fond memories of the time my fiancée, who is now my wife, decided to surprise me with a microwave-cooked meal of liver. Needless to say, the liver was inedible. Students who worked at local fast food restaurants would often bring home throw-aways to either eat or give to their friends. The dormitory did not have refrigerators, so in the wintertime, these throw-aways would often be stored — for days on end — outside the dorm in a snowbank. This crude form of refrigeration would allow students to “safely” eat three-day-old McDonald’s hamburgers. Ah, the good old days.

I worked a number of jobs while a student at Midwestern. One such job was working for Orchard Lake Cleaners — a now-closed commercial drycleaner and laundry. Each afternoon after classes I would load laundered uniforms, towels, and dust mops into a Ford F350 box delivery truck and make deliveries to Detroit homes and businesses. The man who operated the cleaners was an alcoholic. It was not uncommon for me to come back from my deliveries to find him passed out, head on desk, and a partially emptied bottle of booze nearby. More than once I had to wake him up so he could pay me my under-the-table wages for the week. As will become clear later in this story, this job proved to be quite exciting and dangerous.

Every day, I would load up the items for that day and head for Detroit to make deliveries. Some were made to homes, others to businesses. I’ve often wondered if there was more to my deliveries than just laundry. Some of the businesses I delivered to were in seedy parts of Detroit. One day, as I pulled in to a downtown business to make a delivery, I noticed a man and a woman having sex in the backseat of a car. Another time, at the same location, I walked in on some sort of shakedown. I knew that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, so I quickly shut the door and went back to the truck, leaving the order undelivered.

One day, I was driving down a Detroit city street on my way to my next delivery when a car turned on the one-way street and headed right toward me in the wrong direction. I successfully maneuvered the truck to avoid hitting the car head-on, but in doing so I clipped the mirrors off of several parked cars. I reported the accident to my boss, thinking that he would praise me for my astute driving skills. After all, I avoided an accident that would’ve likely totaled the truck. What I didn’t know is that there was no insurance on the truck. Needless to say, my boss was quite angry with me and wondered if perhaps he should get someone else to drive the truck.

Several days later, I was driving down one of Detroit’s many freeways and I noticed in the distance that several semi-trucks were parked along the berm. Before I could slow down, I heard and felt a large BAM! on the top of the truck cab. What the heck (Baptist for Hell)! I thought, as I quickly put on the brakes and pulled the truck to the berm. I got out of the truck and hopped up on the front bumper to see what had hit the truck. Not only was there a huge dent in the cab, there was also a gash in the exterior metal face of the box. As I surveyed the damage, a beat-up old car pulled in back of the truck and out jumped two white hippie-looking men. They asked me what happened, and then proceeded to tell me that they were undercover Detroit cops. They were working nearby when they noticed a group of teenagers throwing cement blocks from the overpass to the roadway below. The semi-trucks ahead of me had caught the blocks in the windshield, causing physical injury to one of the drivers. I was lucky that the block missed my windshield and hit the top of the cab instead. I am sure, at the time, that I thanked Jesus for watching out for me. Cue up Jesus Take the Wheel, right? I now know that I could have been seriously harmed or killed if the block had hit the windshield. Thrown a second sooner, the block would have smashed into the windshield. Who knows what might have happened next.

Returning to the safe confines of the Orchard Lake Cleaners parking lot, I went into the office and told my boss that my truck driving days were over. Better to mindlessly run a machine at a factory than dodge criminals and concrete blocks. Several years later, someone dropped a bowling ball off an interstate overpass, instantly killing a woman. One second, often the difference between life and death. One second, and the life of Bruce Gerencser might have ended at the age of 19 on a Detroit freeway.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce and Polly, My Final Wish is That You Come Back to the Lord

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

For Bruce and Polly Gerencser, 2020 has gushed into 2021, washing over virtually every aspect of our lives. Now that an adult is president, we are confident better days lie ahead. We watched the White House press briefing today. Oh my, what a refreshing difference from the insanity of the Trump years. Dr. Tony Fauci spoke about the Coronavirus Pandemic and how the Biden Administration plans to address a virus that will likely kill over 500,000 Americans by the first of March. So refreshing (and sobering), to say the least.

While it is nice to see a glimmer of hope here and there, I can’t help but be physically reminded that I am very sick and there seems to be no end in sight for my struggles. I saw a gastroenterologist yesterday, hoping that he might have some sort of magical cure. Alas, none is forthcoming. The bile reflux problem I am having is the direct result of having my gallbladder removed last August. Bile reflux is a known complication of the surgery — which was never explained to me by my surgeon — and all that can be done now is to treat and manage the symptoms: bowel pain, weight loss, lack of appetite, intermittent constipation/loose stools. Currently, I am on three medications. The doctor wanted to add one more drug, but the cost was so prohibitive I couldn’t fill the prescription. Our insurance doesn’t have a drug plan, per se (outside of life maintenance drugs). Thus, we have to pay the full cost for prescriptions until we reach our $3,400 deductible. Then we pay 80/20 until we reach our maximum out of pocket, $6,700. In 2020, our total medical costs were almost $10,000.

If these drugs don’t work as expected, then the next step is having a procedure where the doctor injects the pylori sphincter muscle in the stomach with Botox, paralyzing the muscle. This treatment typically lasts 3-4 months. When the doctor was explaining this procedure to me, I couldn’t help but make a joke about getting Botox injections for the wrinkles on my face. When I want to cry, I try to look for a joke — somewhere, anywhere — to take my mind off my afflictions. Some days, nothing stems the flow of tears. To use a worn-out cliche, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

And if that was not enough to deal with, Polly’s 85-year-old mom had a heart attack on Tuesday and was rushed to the hospital. You might remember, Polly’s dad suddenly died several months ago. We also found out that Mom has stage three/four kidney failure — something she has known for a year but ignored because she “felt” fine. Mom has had congestive heart failure for years, and while in the hospital this time, the doctor put in a stent. This made a big difference for Mom, but the long-term prospects for her don’t look good.

Polly called her mom just before she went in for her heart catheterization procedure. Mom, short of breath and having difficulty speaking, told her only daughter, “my wish for you is that you come back to the Lord.” I suspect Mom knows the end is near and she wants to be sure she makes her dying wish known to us. Polly thanked her mom, changed the subject, and told her that she loved her. This is the second time in twelve years that Mom has said anything to Polly (or me) about our loss of faith. Outside of telling us that she is praying for us, our unbelief has remained THE elephant in the room. We have not had one meaningful discussion with Polly’s mom (or dad when he was alive) about why we left the ministry and later walked away from Christianity.

We certainly want Mom to have her every need met as she nears the end of her life. We have no desire to cause her unnecessary pain or disappointment. However, her wish is one we cannot fulfill. Had she taken the time to understand why we deconverted, she would have known that mere wishing will not bring us back to the faith. If only wishing would change our lives, right? In a humorous moment last night, I told Polly, “I wish for strippers and millions of dollars!” We both had a good laugh, not at Mom, but the idea that wishing can make anything happen.

Mom is a lifelong Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). Her late husband was an IFB preacher for many years. I pastored several IFB churches, and Polly was right there beside me every step of the way. I am sure Mom sincerely thinks that if we would just return to those days, that all would be well. She could die happy, knowing that we would someday join her in the IFB version of Valhalla. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen — ever.

As much as we want Mom to leave this mortal life with a smile on her face, we can’t dismiss our beliefs and come back to Jesus just to make her (and other family members) happy. As with many atheists and agnostics, the only thing that will possibly change our minds is evidence; evidence for the existence of the Bible God; evidence that the central claims of Christianity are true; evidence that Jesus is who Evangelicals claim he is. We cannot and will not just “faith-it until we make it.”

I fear that after Mom dies, we will face one last effort by IFB family members and Mom’s pastor to reel us in for Jesus. “Don’t you want to join your mom in Heaven?” “Don’t you want the family circle to be unbroken?” Maybe we will hear one last warning about God’s judgment and the Lake of Fire or Pascal’s Wager will be trotted out for the 10,000th time. None of these tactics will work. As confirmed as IFB family are in their beliefs, so are we in our unbelief. Trying to guilt us into believing will not work.

As Polly and I prepared for bed last night, I told her of my concerns about settling Mom’s affairs after she is gone. It’s going to be a mess, but as the only daughter, it falls on Polly to take care of everything. We live almost 4 hours from Mom’s home, so, in the midst of a pandemic, we will have to risk our health to take care of everything from the funeral to paying bills to clearing out her apartment. This is certainly not something that we are looking forward to. But, when you are an only child, the burden is yours. And as the dutiful child she has always been, my dear wife will take care of things.

I reminded Polly that once all these things are done, we will get in our car and drive home, never to return to Newark, Ohio — a place of so much heartache. We will lament Mom’s passing, but seeing Newark in the rear view mirror? We will rejoice, knowing that we no longer have to deal with a church and (some) IFB believers who have caused us harm. I am sure it will be a sad, but liberating, moment.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Tears as the Work Begins

joe biden inauguration
joe biden inauguration

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Sometimes I cry at the end of a bike ride. The tears might trickle from a well of joy: The ride was particularly delightful because I’d climbed a mountain or covered a long distance, or the bike or my body felt particularly good. Or I may simply have ridden through an interesting place or on a beautiful day. Other times, though, the cry is cathartic: During my ride, I might have been working something out in my mind or letting out some kind of frustration.

Yesterday I shed tears of release. They felt, somewhat, like the ones that have rolled down my cheeks after a ride that works out my psyche as well as my body: salty as a tide but cleansing like the rain.  

But I hadn’t ridden. I had planned to get out on my bike, but instead I listened to the speeches and performances during of the presidential inauguration. I wasn’t expecting much: even before Trump campaigned for the presidency, I was rather cynical when it came to political candidates’ or office holders’ words. Even their most absurd claims or outrageous lies no longer enraged me: They all seemed part of their stock in trade. Never was I moved–as some claimed to be by “Ask not what your country” (I was about two years old when JFK made that speech!) –or by anything an office-seeker or -holder said on the stump.

Yesterday, though, I couldn’t help but weep while listening to Joe Biden’s inaugural speech. He doesn’t have the oratorical skills of JFK or Obama, and his words, while important and wise, weren’t as stirring as those of Amanda Gorman, the young poet who followed him. In hearing him, though, I knew this: I’d survived. We had survived. Those tears, the tension leaving my body, were the same as what I’d felt after the most traumatic events of my life–or, more precisely, the moment when I’d processed them, whether through finally talking or writing about them, or going on a ride.  

In fact, I can pinpoint two other occasions when my tears felt like the ones I shed yesterday, and when I felt the same kind of taut energy leaving my shoulders: when I talked and wrote honestly, for the first time, about my gender identity and when I first revealed my experience of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.

Only my cat witnessed my catharsis yesterday. She gave me the best cuddle any pet has ever given me, and I thought she would hold yet another of my secrets. Other humans, I thought, might find my response to yesterday’s events was melodramatic. This morning, however, I described my experience to a friend I encountered on my way back from the store. “I’m not surprised,” she assured me. “Other people are saying they feel as if an abusive relationship is ending.” After what seemed like an interminable pause, she continued, “So do I. But the real work is about to begin.”

I know exactly what she means. Telling someone, for the first time, how I really experience my body and the world, and about those encounters with a priest in the parish where I was an altar boy, were starting points that led to years of unraveling, undoing and rebuilding: processes that continue to this day, through my writing, developing mutually supportive relationships—and cycling, of course.

I am going for a ride later today. Although I will pedal along familiar streets and roads, the path ahead is just beginning—and, as best as I can tell, won’t end. All I can do is to keep going, Yesterday, Joe Biden and Amanda Gorman told us that not only is it what we must do; it is all we can do. All I know is that tears—whether cathartic or joyful—and tension will be released. They are the signals that we have survived and therefore have no choice but to move forward.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Bruce, I Was an Atheist Like You Before I Found Jesus

adam savage quote

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Over the years, countless Evangelical Christians have told me, “Bruce, I was an atheist like you before I found Jesus.” Typically, my pithy answer is this: “No, you weren’t.”

Usually, this line is used by Evangelical apologists trying to get me to see that they “understand” where I am on the God issue. However, when pressed, they usually reveal that they were not as atheistic as they claimed to be, or they wrongly believed that not being a Christian means you are an atheist. Each of us was born into this world without any religious belief or moral framework. No one is born a Christian. This is the clear teaching of the Bible and every Christian denomination. To become a Christian, a person must commit to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. One must embrace the Christian gospel and profess a desire to follow Jesus. This profession of faith is different from sect to sect. Some require a person to be baptized, while others require the person be confirmed or make a public profession of faith.

These rituals do not take place in a religious vacuüm. The United States is predominantly Christian, so it should come as no surprise that most Americans embrace the Christianity of their family and culture. Religion is inherently tribal, as can clearly be shown by looking at what the dominant religion is in a particular place. There are historical, geographical, and sociological reasons why, in a certain locale, most people are a certain flavor of Christianity (or a different religion altogether). For example, most Christians in the South are Evangelical and Baptist, while here in the North, Methodists and mainline sects have a greater foothold. Even at the local level, we see dominate sects, such as in nearby Archbold, Ohio where the Mennonite sect has numerous churches, or parts of rural northwest Ohio where Lutheran churches dominate the religious landscape.

The atheist-turned-Evangelical-Christian and I began life the same way, but our stories are very different from there. Like the Evangelical apologist, I too became a follower of Jesus Christ. For almost 50 years I was a devoted follower of the Lord, but at the age of 50, I left Christianity and embraced atheism and humanism. This was an open, honest, and sincere intellectual choice of mine, unlike many people who are Christians because they grew up in the Christian faith, and not because of any intellectual choice of theirs.

Most Evangelicals who say they once were atheists never made honest intellectual choices to become atheists. They were non-believers by default, and at some point in their lives, they decided to become followers of Jesus Christ, or their parents decided for them. They took off their non-believer clothing and put on the robes of Jesus Christ’s righteousness. One day they were unbelievers, and the next day they were Christians. This is not how the process worked for most of the atheists I know.

Many atheists were at one time, like me, devoted followers of Jesus. Our deconversions weren’t a matter of taking off the righteousness of Christ and putting on shirts with a scarlet A. Most of us spent months and years reading and studying before we concluded that the claims of Christianity are false and the Christian God is fiction. For some atheists, due to family and social pressures, they spent decades in the atheist closet, unwilling or unable to declare their godlessness.

While I can point to a definite place and time — on the last Sunday of November in 2008 — when I dared to say out loud I no longer believe, I spent years getting to that point. My journey took me from the strict Fundamentalism of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement through Calvinism and generic Evangelicalism to emergent Christianity and liberalism, and on to universalism, agnosticism, and atheism. Every step along this path was laden with emotional and mental anguish. The hardest decision I’ve ever made came at the moment when I was willing to say that I no longer believed. Making this decision meant I was saying that my previous life as a Christian was based on a lie.

So, I say this to Evangelicals who say they once were atheists: Yes, you may have been an unbeliever, but you were not an atheist like me. Until you can show me that you have done your homework, then I am going to assume that you were what I call a default atheist. If you are going to comment on my blog and claim you were an atheist before you became a Christian, then it is fair for me to ask you to demonstrate how and why you became an atheist. It is not enough for you to say that you didn’t believe in God and then you became a Christian. ALL of us didn’t believe in God at one time. That’s the normal human condition, according to the Bible.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Playing In Traffic: Don’t Worry, God Will Protect Us

the big c

If the Evangelical Christian teaching on the sovereignty of God and God’s personal, direct intervention in our lives is taken seriously, it often results in Christians acting foolishly and irresponsibly. It often leads to fatalism. The thinking goes something like this: God is in control. Nothing happens that is not part of God’s purpose and plan for our lives. Christians live fearlessly, knowing that God is controlling and directing their lives. All they need to do is surrender their will to his, dying to self (cue the song I Surrender All). God promises Christians he will never leave them or forsake them. He promises to be a friend that sticks closer than a brother. He promises, promises, promises . . .

Back in the real world, Christians fail, get sick, have accidents, lose their jobs, get divorced, file bankruptcy, and die just like the rest of us. Despite the promises of God, their lives are no different from the lives of godless atheists. They “think” their lives are different, but any cursory examination proves otherwise.

A scene in an episode of the Showtime hit The Big C illustrates how Christians often deceive themselves. The Big C is a comedy/drama about a woman — Cathy (Laura Linney) — who has terminal cancer. Her son Adam (Gabriel Basso) has turned to Christianity as his mom continues to struggle with the reality that she is dying. The Christianity the show portrays is a mix of Lutheranism, Emergent church, and Evangelicalism. Adam starts attending a Bible study where he meets a girl. She is “saving” herself until she is married, so she only will have anal sex with Adam. In her world, anal sex and oral sex are not really “sex.”

One evening, Adam is out with his girlfriend and they come to the curb of a busy, traffic-filled street:

Girlfriend: (starts praying) God help me to help Adam. Let him know your love and protection like I do. Let him give over his life to your loving hands.

GirlfriendOkay, RUN! (and grabbing Adam’s hand they begin to run across the street dodging cars)

AdamOh shit!

Adam: (Upon safely reaching the other side of the street) I can’t believe we did that, we could have died.

GirlfriendBut, we didn’t because God protected us. Just like he protects all of his children.

This is EXACTLY the way many Evangelical Christians think.

Never mind that if this same scenario was played out again, it is likely they would have been killed. Perhaps they escaped death a second time. All that would mean is that they were lucky the first two times. They might run out of luck the next time they try to cross the road. And if Adam and his girlfriend were hit by a car and killed? Christians have an out for that too. It was their “time” to die. God called their number, end of story! To God be the glory.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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