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Satan Has Stolen My Heart and I Want It Back

satan commands it

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Warning! Snark Ahead!

What follows is my response to a comment left on the post  Quit Complaining, Your Suffering is Nothing Compared to What Jesus Faced and a comment posted on the Seeking His Kingdom blog.

satan stole mind

A Fundamentalist Christian using the Spaniardviii moniker thinks that Satan has taken my “heart” completely away from Christ: which is funny, of course, because the word “heart” in the Bible refers to the mind, and I can assure you my mind is still firmly attached to my decrepit body. And what’s this idea that I will regret my decision to reject the teachings of Christianity every time I close my eyes? I scientifically tested Spaniardviii’s hypothesis — closing my eyes one hundred times. I waited for regret to appear, but alas it never made a grand appearance. Not one time. I think I can safely conclude that Spaniardvii’s hypothesis is false.

According to Spaniardviii I have no “spiritual” insight. How could I, right? I am now an apostate. But, I wasn’t always an apostate. At one time, I was an on-fire, sold-out follower of Jesus. I was certainly “spiritual” for many, many years. People such as Spaniardviii will search in vain for any evidence to bolster their claim that I was never a True Christian®. Since real Christians never, ever walk away from Jesus, and I am now an atheist, it is evident that I was never a member of Club Jesus®.

Several years ago, I posted an email I received from an Evangelical who said I was living a hedonistic lifestyle. And now, here’s another commenter making a similar claim. According to Spaniardviii, I am living a “sinful” lifestyle. What is this sinful life I am living? I ask. I suspect, to most people, my lifestyle would be quite benign and boring. What is it in my way of living that suggests I am some sort of hedonistic sinner? Now, I might want to live such a life. But alas, want and ability are two different things. The Bible says, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. That’s me. I sure want to be a bad, bad, bad sinner, but my body won’t cooperate.

In another comment left on Seeking His Kingdom, Spaniardviii says:

Your [sic] welcome but I know for sure that he will delete it [his comment] but at least he will read it.

Wrong again, Spaniardviii.

According to Spaniardviii’s blog, Spiritual Minefield, his goal is to “help Christians avoid false doctrine.” It’s too late for me since God has most certainly given me over to a reprobate mind, but it might not be too late for some of you. Perhaps Spaniardviii can help get you on the right track — that track being, of course, the one that he is on. Amazing, yes? Every Christian thinks his track (belief) is the right one.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Christian God Kills Man and Leaves Three Girls Fatherless

god of love

Several years ago, a young father drowned after attempting to “save his three daughters from a rip current off the North Carolina coast.” According to several friends of the man, he was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ:

“Rick was just a loving father, you could see that when he was with his children, a loving husband, just a wonderful Christian man.”

Becky Mason

“Loved his family, loved pretty much anybody he was around and was not afraid to be concerned about people’s problems, or about their faith because he was a committed Christian man.”

Dr. Dean Baird

Atheists and Christians alike agree that this tragic story is heartbreaking. I can only imagine how I might feel if one of my children or grandchildren died in similar circumstances. This man, by all accounts, behaved heroically in his attempt to save his daughters from drowning. Yet, his bravery cost him his life.

I write about stories such as this because I think it is vitally important to point out to Christians that their God is not who they say he is. In the midst of great suffering and loss, Christians turn to faith to give them strength and hope. That is all well and good. Religion certainly offers something that atheism cannot: comfort. That Christians feel comforted in difficult times doesn’t, however, mean that their God is real.  It is people, not God, who comfort, encourage, and help those in need. Both atheists and Christians alike can and do comfort and help others — no God needed.

What I hope Christians will do, as they suffer pain, heartache, and loss, is ask the question, Where is God? In the story that is the focus of this post, the following questions beg for answers:

  • Why didn’t God miraculously save the three girls from the rip current?
  • Why didn’t God keep their father from drowning?
  • What possible reason could God give for killing the father and leaving the girls orphans?

Why is it when tragedies such as this happen, Christians turn to God, yet never ask him WHY? Conditioned by preaching that tells them God’s ways are not our ways and God has a purpose and a plan for everything, Christians rarely take the big step of reason and ask WHY? How is it possible to square the notion that God is loving and kind and always does what’s best for Christians with stories such as this?

My heart aches for those grieving over the loss of their loved ones and friends. I vividly remember the day our home phone rang and on the other end was someone telling us that Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident. (Please see If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All.) Polly and I were still Christians at the time, and I can still “feel” the emotions of the moment as Christians tried to make sense of a senseless death. Some people prayed, while others quoted Bible verses. Many of us wept, while others put on a strong face, not wanting to appear weak. And yet, not one of us dared to say to God, WHY? The reason for this, of course, is that asking WHY is viewed as having a lack of faith, a ploy by Satan to draw Christians away from Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith. Christians must always believe that God is good all the time, never doing anything that is not for their betterment.

Here’s what I know: the day Christians dare to ask WHY? is the day they have taken their first steps away from Christianity. Reality tells us that believing there is a personal God who loves and cares for us and always does what is in our best interest is a lie. A well-intentioned lie, perhaps, but a lie nonetheless.

The only rational explanation for life on planet earth is that shit happens. Life has its wonderful moments, but it also has moments that leave us reeling, suffering great heartache and loss. While we should do what we can to maximize the wonderful moments and minimize the bad shit that happens, the fact is things are going to happen that take us by surprise, often leaving tragedy, heartache, and loss in their wake. This is life. We can either embrace life as it is or we can run to deaf, blind, and dumb gods when life turns ugly. For me, I choose to embrace reality, knowing that just around the corner I could find myself neck-deep in shit.

The Bible says in Proverbs 27:1, Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. The Bible also says in James 4:14, Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. These verses aptly describe how all of us should view life. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. This could be the last blog post I ever write. Pain, suffering, loss, and death lurk in the shadows, ever ready to pounce when given the opportunity. This is why it is important for us to embrace each and every day as if it might be our last. This is hard to do. We humans are optimistic, thinking that the sun will rise in the morning and another day will be ours. However, as this story aptly illustrates, there is coming a day when each of us will meet our end. No matter how sure we are about the future, all that we really have is today.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Blaming God . . .

blame god

An Evangelical preacher, whom I will no longer name, nor will I link to his site, continues to rage against Bruce Almighty. My wife, Polly, asked me last night, “does he ever write his own material”? I replied, “not very often.” It seems the best he can do is take my work and deconstruct it with deep analysis such as: you are wrong, you are a quitter, God is always right, the Bible is always right, atheists are liars, and scientists are deceiving the masses. Sometimes he does the same with the writing of my friend Ben Berwick, and, on occasion, as with a recent grammar error-ridden post about Hemant Mehta, the writing of other atheists. This “follower” of Jesus — a man denies or ignores the behavior rules found in the New Testament or thinks they don’t apply to his treatment of atheists — has been banned from numerous Christian and atheist websites. Yet, he refuses to accept responsibility for his boorish behavior. His bannings are always, according to him, the result of his “truth-telling” or taking a stand on the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Protestant Christian Bible. Simply put, in his mind, his peculiar version of God is right, the Bible is right, and his interpretation of an allegedly supernatural religious text is right. Just a typical Fundamentalist Christian, right? This man delusionally believes that if everyone believed as he does, all would be well.

Yesterday, he decided to use my post Where is the God Who Created the Brain-eating Amoeba? as a reason to personally attack me, saying that I “blame” the Christian God for everything “bad” that happens in world and in my own life. This is, of course, a bald-faced lie.

First, I am an atheist. I don’t believe deities exist. Not the Christian God, not the Muslim God, not the Jewish God, nor any of the deities of the religions of the world. Thus, it would be absurd for me to “blame” God for something that happens in my life or the lives of others. If I get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and step on a Matchbox car, what happens? Do I look to the heavens and shake my fist, saying, “I hate you, God!” Of course not. I blame my grandson for leaving the car in the walkway or I blame myself for not making sure all the toys were put away before I went to bed. On a more serious note, I have a dear unvaccinated friend who died from COVID-19 several weeks ago. Do I blame “God” for her death? Of course not. I blame her ignorance. I blame her willingness to buy into conspiracy theories. I blame Donald Trump. I blame Fox News, NewsMax, and OAN. I blame those who convinced her that the COVID vaccine would kill her. But God? Child, please.

So, let me be clear, I DON’T BLAME GOD FOR ANYTHING, and anyone who suggests otherwise is either ignorant of my position or deliberately lying.

Sometimes, people who say that I am blaming God for ____________ don’t understand my writing style and methodology. My writing daily attracts a significant number of Evangelical and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist readers. Knowing who my readers are helps me tailor my writing in such a way that will be amenable to them. I want them to “hear” what I have to say, so I write using verbiage they are comfortable with and understand. I am conversant in all things Evangelical, and I use this knowledge to effectively reach my target audience: those who have questions/doubts about Christianity or who have left Christianity. Thus, many people find my writing encouraging and helpful. My writing says to them: here’s a guy who understands where I am coming from. Here’s a man who speaks my language.

When I wrote the aforementioned post, Where is the God Who Created the Brain-eating Amoeba?, I was writing from the Evangelical perspective. I want Evangelicals to “think” about their beliefs, about their God. I want them to carefully examine what is going on in their lives and in the lives of the people around them. I want to challenge their “Biblical” beliefs about God and suffering. Most of all, I want them to try to square the suffering and heartache in their lives with their theology. I want them to look beyond the pat answers or quoted Bible verses, and see that maybe, just maybe, their deity is not worthy of their praise, worship, and devotion.

I hope this clears up the false accusations leveled against me by the Evangelical preacher mentioned above. Let me be crystal clear, I DON’T BLAME GOD FOR ANYTHING.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Red Collar Scandal: Evangelical Pastor Tavner Smith Accused of Having Affair With Female Church Employee

pastor tavner smith

The Red Collar Scandal Series relies on public news stories for its content. If you read a story about an Evangelical preacher who can’t keep his pants zipped up, please send it to Bruce Gerencser.

Tavner Smith, pastor of Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, stands accused of having an affair with a female church employee.

Smith’s bio states:

Pastor Tavner is dedicated to encouraging people to live to their fullest potential. Above anything else, he desires to lead others to know God for Who He really is: a Father Who loves us right where we are and Who has an amazing plan and purpose for our lives.

Pastor Tavner worked as the Student Pastor of a church in Greenville, SC, and traveled around the U.S. as a youth evangelist. In 2008, he became the Executive Student Pastor at Redemption World Outreach Center (now Redemption) in Greenville, SC.

There, he became the understudy to Pastor Ron Carpenter Jr., who remains Pastor Tavner’s mentor today. During his time at Redemption, Pastor Tavner founded Unite Ministries, which focused on bringing churches together throughout the state of South Carolina.  God developed Unite into one of the largest monthly youth services in The United States at the time: it served over 3,000 students—from all walks of life and denominations—who gathered together for the sole purpose of putting their differences aside and lifting up Jesus’ name.

In 2012, Pastor Tavner moved to Chattanooga, TN, because of his radical obedience to God’s plan, and started a move of God through Venue Church.

The Daily Mail reports:

A Tennessee megachurch pastor was discovered half-naked with a married co-worker by stunned worshippers – only to claim that they’d innocently been cooking chili, and had stripped down after accidentally spilling it. 

Last November, volunteers at the Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, paid a surprise visit to Pastor Tavner Smith at his house – but discovered the pastor wearing only his boxers, with a married church employee in a towel. 

The unnamed woman was married to another worker at Venue Church. Video circulating online is said to show the blonde woman – seen only from the rear – looking cozy with Smith, who divorced his wife last year, at a local restaurant. 

Speaking of the chili incident, an unnamed worshipper told the Daily Beast: ‘I don’t think none of us was that dumb. If she dropped chili on her clothes, why are you in your boxers? Was y’all like, throwing chili at each other?’

Rumors of the pastor’s alleged affair had been swirling for months. One former church member told the Daily beast she had given Smith the benefit of the doubt for quite awhile.

….

As the rumors began to circulate, some church members began asking questions. One church member said she spoke to the the pastor and the church employee who was allegedly having an affair with, and they both denied having an affair.

But something still felt off, she said. Then she received a video from another church member. It showed smith and the female employee sitting together for a bit when it appears they go in for a kiss. 

‘At that point we were just kind of like, ‘OK that’s the physical evidence,’ the former attendee told the Daily Beast. ‘That was the moment that we were like, ‘That’s what we needed. 

….

Smith called a meeting to address the video, which had circulated online. He refused to answer questions directly and denied any affair took place.

….

Rumors began circulating about an alleged affair and in 2021 Smith and his wife filed for divorce. The split was finalized Dec. 22, the same day the Chattanooga Free Press reported that eight Venue employees had quit.  

The pastor made his announced on Instagram that he would be taking a ‘sabbatical’ in order to ‘fill up, spend time with God, and get some counseling.’  

The Daily Beast added:

And former staffers, members, and volunteers told The Daily Beast they are still struggling to come to terms with the maelstrom that left one of the country’s fastest-growing mega churches in shambles.

“Everyone used to say, ‘Venue is a cult, Venue is a cult,’ and I was like, ‘No, it’s not,’” the volunteer who witnessed the chili incident told The Daily Beast. “And now as I look back I’m like, ‘I don’t think I was in a Godly place.’”

To hear Pastor Smith tell it, he came to Chattanooga by divine intervention. In 2012, as a lowly student pastor at Ron Carpenter’s massive Greenville, South Carolina, megachurch, Smith says he was called by God to move his wife and kids to Tennessee and start a church of his own, in the hollowed-out building of an old Sam’s Club. He claims he was once banned from the mall for recruiting there eight hours a day, and that he recruited hundreds of new members by dropping 50,000 eggs from a helicopter on Easter Sunday. (The egg drop, of course, was God’s idea.) By 2015, Venue was on Outreach Magazine’s list of fastest-growing churches in the country; by 2020, it had campuses in two states and pulled in nearly 2,000 people on a given Sunday.

The services at Venue are standard megachurch fare, where sermons are preceded by rock shows complete with strobe lights and fog machines, and the preaching is heavy on “prosperity gospel”—the idea that donating to the church will increase your own financial fortunes. When Smith takes the stage—usually in a hoodie or a trendy button-down and ripped jeans—he is greeted with a standing ovation. When he makes a joke or preaches something especially meaningful, he is met with a chorus of amens. (At least one volunteer said they were encouraged to respond audibly to Smith’s sermons so the crowd would, too.)

The sermons are heavy on Smith’s personal life, usually consisting of tales of how he overcame insurmountable odds and how you can do it, too, if you accept Jesus Christ as your savior—and donate 10 percent of your income to Venue. In one sermon, Smith insisted that whenever he speaks, “heaven moves” and “angels pay attention.” In another, he claimed God created time zones in order to space out people’s prayers.

“People [in Chattanooga] say, ‘Don’t drink the orange KoolAid,’” one former volunteer said, referring to the vibrant color of Venue’s logo. “They really say that.”

Smith’s sermons also lean heavily on recruitment. Many of them feature stories of him haranguing strangers—a sad young waitress, the real estate agent who sold him the church—into joining the congregation. (They always say yes; they usually cry.) Before Christmas last year, he told his flock to do whatever they could do to pack people into the pews, including leaving baked goods on neighbors’ doorsteps. “If you’ve invited people 72 times and they’ve all but cussed you out and told you to leave them alone,” he instructed, “one more time, invite them to Christmas at Venue Church.”

Once the neighbors got to Venue, there was another message waiting for them: Donate, donate, donate. Attendees said Smith preached over and over about tithing, or the practice of giving a portion of your income to the church every week. Many churches address tithing as a suggestion, but attendees said Smith treated it like an obligation.

“They kept on saying, ‘Bring your friend, bring your friend, bring your friend,’” said the former volunteer, who said she donated up to $300 a week to the church as a high schooler. “And then you get there and it’s like, ‘Oh gosh, he’s preaching on tithing again.’”

The message appears to have worked. Financial records for the church itself are unavailable, but property records show the building alone is worth $4.9 million. A child support worksheet in Smith’s divorce proceedings lists his monthly income as $16,666. According to other divorce records, Smith and his ex-wife owned three houses in and around Chattanooga worth $981,330 combined, and maintained a real estate investment account worth $20,000.

Colt Helton, a church volunteer of more than seven years, said Smith flaunted his growing wealth over the years through designer duds and new cars. After a while, Helton said, he stopped recognizing the church he had joined. “The whole church kinda turned into this kinda shoe and jersey fetish,” he remarked.

But it was the beginning of the pandemic when things really started to change. In early 2020, the usually clean-shaven Smith started growing out his hair and beard, getting new tattoos and piercing his ears. The most noticeable change was how much time he started spending with a certain female employee. Starting that year, one former volunteer said, Smith and the employee seemed “conjoined at the hip.” One volunteer said she saw them having frequent one-on-ones in his office, another she noticed them posting effusive comments on each other’s social media. Rumors began circulating that the two appeared to be having an affair.

The chatter was troubling, but Smith and Venue had accrued a lot of goodwill. Almost everyone who spoke to The Daily Beast credited Venue with turning their life around somehow; by reintroducing them to God or saving their marriage or giving them a community. Volunteers and employees went through strenuous courses and signed strict pledges that bound them together; they were rewarded with seats at the front of the church and beautiful team retreats in the woods. At the beginning, at least, Smith spent quality time with attendees and counseled them through their issues, even giving one couple gift cards so they could take themselves out on date night. “It was super-personable, I felt like people really cared about me,” said one woman who started volunteering with the church in 2016. “Honestly, I kind of did feel like it was God speaking to me at certain points in my life.”

Slowly, however, members started noticing a trickle of long-time staff members leaving the church. First was a campus pastor who’d come from South Carolina, one former volunteer recalled. Then—according to multiple former members—a number of full-time staff exited at the end of 2020. Smith and the female employee continued to spend the bulk of their time at church together, while Smith’s wife became increasingly scarce. But whenever anyone confronted the two about the rumors, they denied anything was going on. “It was almost like we were smacked in the face with a pie and then it was just getting all smothered in,” one longtime volunteer said. “Like, lemme make sure I get that pie allll over your face.”

In January 2021, Smith announced to the congregation what many staff and volunteers already suspected: He and his wife were splitting for good. He said the board had asked him to take a break from preaching and attend six weeks of counseling. But two weeks later, according to multiple former attendees, he was back at the pulpit, claiming God had told him to return.

….

Smith and his wife filed for divorce in May of last year; the split was finalized Dec. 22, the same day the Chattanooga Free Press reported that eight Venue employees had quit. Reports vary on exactly how many staffers remained, but the result was the same: In-person services in Chattanooga were briefly suspended, and the Georgia campus was shuttered entirely. On Instagram, Smith announced that he would be taking a “sabbatical” in order to “fill up, spend time with God, and get some counseling.” He said he would return in February.

Tavner Smith has yet to publicly admit to an affair, but the divorce documents make his ex-wife’s position clear. On her side of the paperwork, she plainly lists the reasons for the split as “adultery.” On a proposed parenting plan, she suggests that the female employee not be permitted around the children at any time, including during church services. (This part did not make it into the finalized parenting plan.) She also requests records of all payments to the woman from Venue Church in 2020 and 2021, as well as records of any of her credit card statements paid off by the church during that time. The employee’s husband filed for divorce this month; his proposed parenting plan suggests none of their children be allowed to attend Venue Church.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Can Calvinists Know They Are Saved?

saved or lost

I spent a great deal of time around Calvinists and though they preached security they never possessed it. They claimed “faith” but were not secure in it. One moment they are saved/the elect. The next moment, meh, not so sure.

— Zoe

Calvinists believe that human salvation is predetermined by God from before the foundation of the world. Calvinists posit God in eternity past predestined some humans to salvation, leaving everyone else as they are, dead in trespasses and sin. Some Calvinists believe in double predestination. God actively chooses who will be saved and does the same for those who won’t. Those God chooses to save must persevere in the faith until death. Some Calvinists don’t like the term “perseverance of the saints,” thinking it makes salvation a “work,” so they use the phrase “preservation of the saints” instead.

I was a Calvinistic Baptist pastor for years. I associated with Reformed Baptist and Sovereign Grace Baptist pastors and churches. For several years, I published the Sovereign Grace Reporter and operated the CHARIS Tape Library. My library was filled with books written by Calvinistic authors. I even read John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion — a set of books widely quoted in Calvinistic circles, but rarely read. All told, I pastored three Calvinistic churches, including Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. (Please see the series I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part One.) I am partially responsible for giving to the world Tim Conway and Craig Musselman pastors of Grace Community Church in San Antonio. Conway (and Musselman) was a member of Community Baptist while I was there. He and his wife Ruby helped me plant Calvinistic churches in Stockdale and Floresville, Texas.

I say these things because this post will likely attract the attention of Calvinistic apologists. They will likely challenge whether I truly “understand” Calvinism. If I use the wrong word or be imprecise in any way and Calvinistic apologists will see that as “proof” I wasn’t a “real” Calvinist. So, if you are a Calvinistic apologist, please forward the test questions to me so I can answer them, proving that I am indeed a circumcised five-point Calvinist.

While Calvinists prattle on endlessly about salvation by grace, a closer examination of how the doctrines of grace work themselves out in the lives of Calvinistic church members reveals a works-based salvation scheme. In once-saved-always saved (sometimes called one point Calvinism) Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, sinners are:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8,9)

Once a person is saved, there is nothing he or she can do to lose their salvation. That’s why many IFB preachers believe I am still a Christian. No matter what I say about God, Jesus, Christianity, or the Bible, I am forever a born-again Christian. At age fifteen, I prayed the sinner’s prayer, and that, in their minds, sealed my eternal destiny.

Calvinists, of course, repudiate and despise once-saved-always-saved soteriology. According to their theology, salvation is conditional. Those who are truly saved must persevere until the bitter to enter Heaven after death. And even then, they could be unsaved and land in Hell. You see, some Calvinists can think they are “saved,” but they are not. They are temporary Christians, people under the common grace of God, but not his special, discriminate grace. In other words, God lets some Calvinists go through life thinking they are Christians, only to tell them when they draw their last breath, ha! the joke is on you. I never chose you, and now you will burn in the Lake of Fire for e-t-e-r-n-i-t-y. What an awesome deity, right?

For these reasons, and others, Calvinists have a lot of angst over the state of their souls. Am I truly saved? Am I one of the elect? Calvinists are implored to make their calling and election sure. They are encouraged to plumb the depths of their hearts, searching for anything that might be leading them astray. Calvinists spend inordinate amounts of time carefully examining what they believe and why. And even after doing so, they might still go to Hell in the end because they aren’t one of the elect. Is it any wonder that many Calvinists doubt their salvation and stress out over whether they are truly “in the faith”?

What Zoe stated above is very much my experience pastoring Calvinistic church members. Sincere, thoughtful congregants would seek me out after church or make an appointment to see me so I could give them spiritual counsel about the state of their souls. While I couldn’t tell anyone if they were one of the elect, I could encourage them to avail themselves of the means of grace. Much like once-saved-always-saved IFB preachers, I would encourage congregants to: attend church unless providentially hindered, read and study the Bible, pray without ceasing, fast, partake of communion, and any anything else that would bring spiritual challenge, correction, and strength. I encouraged people, and I quote, “to put themselves in the way of God.” Yet, despite doing all of these things, I had church members who still doubted their salvation. These people were, in every way, committed followers of Jesus. They were the backbone of the churches I pastored.

I have no doubt that my preaching helped encourage doubt among naturally introspective people. To this day, I struggle with a lack of self-esteem. Why? A lifetime of perverse introspection; an inability to accept myself as I am. Even though I am now an atheist, Calvinism, with its obsessive introspection, made a deep, lasting mark on my psyche. Now, instead of wondering whether I was one of the elect, I struggle with believing I am a good person. Decades of self-denial and daily inventories of my life robbed me of any sense of worth. Just because I am an atheist doesn’t mean the psychological harm caused by Calvinism has gone away. That’s what therapy is for.

Were you a Calvinist? Did you have doubts about your salvation? Did you wonder if you were truly one of the elect? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Tim Rude Accused of Criminal Mischief

pastor tim rude

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Timothy “Tim” Rude, pastor emeritus at Walnut Creek Church in Windsor Heights, Iowa, stands accused of criminal mischief. Walnut Creek is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

In what can only be described as a “bizarre” story, KCCI-8 reports:

A metro church leader is charged with criminal mischief after allegedly driving his son and his son’s friends around Des Moines as they pounded down people’s front doors.

Pastor Timothy Rude was the founder of the Walnut Creek Church in Windsor back in 1987. Now, he’s charged in a series of bizarre crimes.

“It was about 10:30 at night. We were watching TV and suddenly heard a kicking and a bang on our door,” Craig Hurd of Des Moines said.

Hurd and his wife got the scare of their lives last month. A group of kids kicked in their front screen door, broke the glass and damaged the wood entry door. Later, they returned to the house and threw rocks at the window. The Hurds chased down the getaway car and got the plate number. That led police to Timothy Rude, Pastor Emeritus at Walnut Creek Church. He’s now charged with several counts of criminal mischief.

“It sounds like it’s connected to some ridiculous TikTok challenge and he was actually driving his kid and some other kids around as they did this,” Des Moines Police Sgt. Parizek said.

The TikTok videos show kids kicking doors to match the music of the Kesha song “Die Young.” It’s called the “heartbeat challenge.”

Police say it got out of hand in this case. They say Rude admitted he drove his son around the west side 24 times during four nights last month. Damage at the Hurd home, and an apartment building on Kingman Boulevard, along with other homes adds up to thousands of dollars.

“I think that’s the one thing that none of us have an answer for. We are all shaking our heads because parents we are supposed to be giving our kids guidance and pointing them in the right direction. Not necessarily driving the getaway vehicle while they’re committing crimes,” Parizek said.

The Walnut Creek Church released a statement that says Rude suffered a brain aneurysm in 2016 and that he moved to emeritus status. Earlier this month, he resigned after the church was notified of his criminal charges. Victims of the heartbeat challenge say it’s not just fun and games.

“Doing that in the middle of the night is not the best. And especially in a country that has weapons readily available that never going to end safely for someone right?” Hurd said.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor John Wood and His Family Guilty of Stealing Over $500,000 From Church

ashton stombres

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

The family that steals together, stays together . . . in prison.

John Wood, pastor of Eastside Church of Christ in Stockton, California, his son James Wood, his daughter Elizabeth Stombres, along with her husband Ashton Stombres, stole over $500,000 from the church. All of the convicted thieves were church board members. Both John and James Wood pleaded guilty to grand theft charges, Elizabeth Stombres pleaded guilty to conspiracy, grand theft, and aggravated white-collar crime charges, and Ashton Stombres was found guilty last Friday of conspiracy, grand theft, and aggravated white-collar crime enhancement.

ABC-10 reports:

A Stockton man was found guilty on Friday, Jan. 21 of pocketing more than $500,000 in assets from the Eastside Church of Christ in Stockton.

The church was suffering from financial distress, according to the San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office and its Board of Trustees voted to sell church assets.

District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said 22-year-old Ashton Stombres conspired with three other board members to pocket the profits rather than turn them back over to the church.

Stombres was found guilty on Friday of conspiracy, grand theft and aggravated white-collar crime enhancement for causing a loss of $500,000 or more.

The three other board members include John Wood, the pastor of Eastside Church of Christ, his son James Wood, and daughter Elizabeth Stombres — wife of Ashton Stombres.

Both John and James Wood pled guilty to grand theft charges, while Elizabeth Stombres pled guilty to conspiracy, grand theft and aggravated white-collar crime charges.

The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office released the following statement:

Today, District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar announced defendant Ashton Stombres, 22, was found guilty of conspiracy and grand theft charges, with an aggravated white-collar crime enhancement for causing a loss of $500,000 or more.

“Thank you to the White Collar Crime Division, Deputy District Attorney Todd Turner for his thorough prosecution of the four defendants, and to Sheriff’s Office Deputies and Detectives for their investigative work on this case,” said District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar. “My office aggressively prosecutes those who to commit harm to our community, whether in physical, emotional, or financial capacity.”

According to the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, Ashton Stombres, with codefendants Elizabeth Stombres, John Wood, and James Wood, embezzled funds from the Eastside Church of Christ of Stockton. John Wood, the pastor of Eastside Church of Christ of Stockton, his son James Wood, and daughter Elizabeth Stombres sat on the Board of Trustees for the Church. During that time, the Eastside Church of Christ of Stockton was in financial distress and the Board voted liquidate assets to save the parish. Once the building sold, however, the defendants unlawfully kept the funds for themselves.

John Wood and James Wood pled to grand theft charges, while Elizabeth Stombres pled to grand theft, conspiracy, and the aggravated white-collar crime charges. Ashton Stombres was found guilty today and will return to court before the Honorable Judge Patrick Smalling for sentencing in the near future.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Larry Rayford Arrested on Rape Charges

pastor larry rayford

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

People shouldn’t believe everything that they hear. There are three sides to every story. That’s his side, the accusers’ side, and God’s side. God is the ultimate judge — the one who is going to bring everything out.

— Tiana Rayford, wife of accused rapist Pastor Larry Rayford

Larry Rayford, pastor of The Ship Ministries in Clarksville, Tennessee, stands accused of raping two teenagers, ages fifteen and thirteen at the time of the alleged rapes.

Clarksville Now reports:

Pastor Larry J. Rayford Jr., 43, was booked into Montgomery County Jail today on four counts of rape and four counts of statutory rape, in addition to a worthless check charge.

One victim was 15 and the other was 13 at the time of the incidents in August 2020, according to court records obtained by Clarksville Now.

When reached for comment, the pastor’s wife, Tiana Rayford, said the allegations are false.

“People shouldn’t believe everything that they hear,” she said. “There are three sides to every story. That’s his side, the accusers’ side and God’s side. God is the ultimate judge – the one who is going to bring everything out.”

In August 2021, a year after the alleged incidents and following a criminal investigation, Rayford was indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury on two counts of rape and two counts of statutory rape with each teenager.

In late November, Rayford left Clarksville for Holland, Michigan, where several family members had died, and he was needed to help with their funerals, Tiana Rayford told Clarksville Now. While there, his aunt became seriously ill, and he stayed to take care of her temporarily, she said.

Michigan State Police said today that over the Christmas break, authorities developed a potential location for Rayford’s whereabouts. Officers in Michigan worked with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office to track Rayford down, and on Dec. 22, he was arrested in Holland, Michigan, with assistance from a K-9 unit.

Rayford is affiliated with The Ship Ministries at 108 Kraft St. As of Jan. 25, Rayford was still listed on the church’s website as “Overseer/Senior Pastor: Pastor Larry Polo Rayford ​​​​​​​Jr.”

Tiana Rayford said the ministry still exists, but they have stopped operations until the case is over, and she asked for everyone’s prayers as they go through this situation.

….

Rayford has prior criminal charges in Davidson County. In 2007, he was convicted of domestic assault. In 2016, he was charged with child abuse. That case was retired.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Where is the God Who Created the Brain-eating Amoeba?

lauren seitz
Lauren Seitz

Several years ago, Lauren Seitz, 18, traveled with her church youth group to North Carolina to sing at churches and nursing homes. Seitz, a member of Church of the Messiah United Methodist Church in Westerville, Ohio’s youth music ministry team, planned to attend nearby Denison University in the fall. Instead, thanks to Seitz contracting primary amoebic meningoencephalitis — an infection caused by a rare “brain-eating” amoeba, Seitz’s parents are forced to bury their daughter. I can only imagine the heartache such a loss must cause. No parent ever wants to face the death of their child. My heart aches for Seitz’s parents, sister, and extended family.

When I read stories such as this one, I ask myself, where is God? In Lauren Seitz’s case, I ask, where is the Creator God who created the brain-eating amoeba that cost Seitz her life?  While I have no doubt that Seitz’s parents, family, and fellow church members will find great comfort from the countless religious platitudes that will be uttered, I hope they will dare to ask hard questions about God’s culpability in Seitz’s death. If the Christian God exists and is the Creator, he created the amoeba that caused the infection that killed Lauren Seitz. This same God is supposedly the supreme sovereign over everything, yet he allowed a rare “brain-eating” amoeba to enter Seitz’s brain and kill her. Surely, it is a fair question to ask WHY? What could possibly be gained from snuffing out the life of Lauren Seitz, or any other child for that matter?

All the standard answers will be given:

  • We must never question God.
  • God’s ways are not our ways.
  • God plans to use this death to test and try Seitz’s parents, family members, or fellow church members.
  • All things work together for good.

These and other shallow, meaningless answers will be brought forth, all meant to exonerate God from culpability in the death of Lauren Seitz.

If Christians dare to push beyond these empty answers, daring to shake an angry, questioning fist at God, perhaps the silence they hear will tell them all they need to know about their God. The Christian God, according to the Bible, does not owe anyone an answer. When the Apostle Paul dealt with this issue in the book of Romans, he stated, who are you to question God. He is the creator and he can do whatever the fuck he wants to do. Okay, Paul didn’t say fuck, but his message is clear, God is the Creator. He does not owe us an explanation for what he does. He is the Almighty, and we are but cretins who will soon be turned into worm food or dust.

But perhaps God’s silence tells us something else. Perhaps this God is a figment of the imagination, a relic of days when humans had no explanations for what happened in their lives. We now know better. Scientists can tell us exactly what killed Lauren Seitz and why. What we are then left with is the fact that life can be cruel, causing untold suffering, heartache, and death. For Seitz, she inhaled water that allowed an amoeba a quick pathway to her brain. Wrong place, wrong time — a wonderful, thoughtful young woman dies. Heartless, I know my words here are harsh, but they reflect life as it is, not as Christians, by faith, hope it will be.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser