Thank You For Reading The Life And Times of Bruce Gerencser. Your Support is Appreciated.

Dear Evangelical Church Leaders: It’s Time to Get Rid of Your Youth Pastors and Youth Departments

youth ministry

Evangelical church leaders — from garden variety Evangelicals to Southern Baptists, and from Charismatics to Independent Fundamentalist Baptists — are scrambling to contain the sexual abuse wildfire before it consumes everything. If it weren’t for the fact that countless children, teenagers, and adults have been psychologically and physically harmed, I would stand on the sidelines and wildly cheer as Evangelicalism is reduced to a pile of ashes. But there are victims to consider here, so I won’t stand — with a garden hose hooked to a gasoline delivery truck in hand — and watch the fire burn. My view of Evangelicalism is well known — especially the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist wing. I “pray” for Evangelicalism’s swift and painful death, and I would be happy to hold a pillow over its face as it draws its last breath. Alas, the current sexual abuse scandal is unlikely to make Evangelicals run from their churches. The deep emotional ties people have with their churches, pastors, beliefs, and practices make it unlikely that there will be a soon-coming mass exodus. If eighty-two percent of voting Evangelicals can vote for a vile man such a Donald Trump and still think they are “Christian,” it is highly unlikely that the followers of Jesus will abandon their churches over sex abuse scandals. I am not suggesting that Evangelicals don’t care about sexual abuse victims — many of them do — but most of them don’t care enough to abandon their churches. One need only look at the Roman Catholic Church to see that it takes more than clerics diddling children for Christians to desert their churches.

With that in mind, what can Evangelicals do to lessen the risk of their children/teenagers being sexually assaulted, raped, or otherwise taken advantage of by “called by God, Praise Jesus” men of God? One thing Evangelical churches can do is fire their youth pastors and dismantle their youth departments. When it comes to men raping, sexually molesting, or grooming teenagers for future sexual contact, one church position comes up over and over — youth pastor/youth leader. I have posted scores of news stories about youth pastors who have used their positions of authority and power to take sexual advantage of impressionable teenagers.

Decades ago, it was common for families to worship together on Sundays. Today, children and teenagers are often split from their families, attending a church services/programs structured for their age group. It is not uncommon for children/teenagers to not worship at all with their families. (And some parents love this because it means they don’t have to fight with their children over their poor behavior during church. Let the youth pastor or junior church leaders deal with their hellions.) “Adult” church is viewed by children/teenagers as boring. Who wants to listen to preaching and sing old-fashioned hymns, right? Churches, ever fearful of losing the next generation, develop programs that appeal to children/teenagers. Rock/hip-hop music, “relevant” sermonettes for Christianettes, games, and clowning around make for awesome church services.

Youth pastors focus on the felt needs of young congregants, often talking about the importance of keeping oneself sexually pure until marriage. Youth departments are populated with sexually aware 13-18-year-old youths. Often, their youth pastors/youth leaders are not much older than they. And therein lies the problem. Churches isolate teenagers from their parents and put them under the charge of men who are often still in their twenties or early thirties. Raging hormones are the norm, and it is not uncommon for teen girls (and boys) to become infatuated with their handsome, youthful youth pastors. This infatuation makes them easy targets for so-called men of God who want to use them for sexual gratification.

Teens will often tell their youth pastors secrets, including their struggles with remaining sexually pure. Remember, Evangelicals believe that premarital sex is sinful, and all forms of sexual activity before marriage, including masturbation, are forbidden by God. No matter how sexually “stirred up” teens might be, they are told by their youth pastors that God forbids them from seeking physical release through masturbation. Youths are told, thou shalt hold on until Jesus provides you with the right mate. Imagine “holding on” until you are in your mid-twenties or later without ever masturbating or having sex. Of course, as it was with teens in my generation, so it is today — the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Most Evangelical teens will masturbate and engage in some form of sexual intercourse before they marry. This SHOULD be viewed as normal, healthy behavior, but in Evangelical churches teens will be preached at over “giving in” to their fleshly desires. Deep down, church leaders know that it is unlikely that their teenagers will save themselves for marriage. After all, they didn’t.

Based on what I shared above, it is not hard to see that Evangelical churches are making it way too easy for predatory youth pastors/youth leaders to take sexual advantage of the churches’ teenagers. Youth pastors engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with their charges is common, and the only way to keep teenagers safe is for churches to fire their youth pastors and shutter their youth departments, returning teenagers to the safety of sitting with their parents on Sundays. In 2005, Polly and I, along with our three younger children, attended Pettisville Missionary Church in Pettisville, Ohio. Our two oldest sons also attended this church. One Sunday, after we had been attending for a month or so, the church’s youth pastor came up to me and asked if my youngest children would be interested in attending services geared to their age groups. While I was sure my children wanted to attend these services, I told the youth pastor that I believed families should worship together on the Lord’s Day. What I didn’t tell him was that I had no intention of letting my children out of my sight. Call me a cynic, if you wish, but the only way I knew to protect my children from sexual predators while at church was to make sure they sat with Polly and me during services. Overly protective? Maybe. But, by 2005 I was at the “better safe than sorry” place in my life. I knew of too many stories about children and teenagers being sexually molested while under the care of nursery workers, junior church leaders, youth pastors, and pastors. If that meant my children were the only youths sitting in the “adult” church service, so be it. I wasn’t aware of anything going on at Pettisville Missionary, but I was not willing to put my children in the care of people I didn’t know.

I had known some youth pastors (and senior pastors) who were way too friendly with their church’s teenagers. Innocent familiarity? Perhaps, but I knew that sometimes such familiarity led to inappropriate sexual conduct; that more than a few youth pastors lost their jobs over coming on to church teenagers or taking sexual advantage of them. Our children (and grandchildren) were/are the most precious thing in our lives, and I, for one, was unwilling to put them in harm’s way; even if that meant we were “different” from everyone else. Better to be different than have to explain to an adult son or daughter why I didn’t protect them. Yes, I know that it is impossible to protect our children from everything and everyone that might harm them, but surely we can agree that we ought not make it easy for sexual predators to have access to them. There was a time when I thought the cure to the “youth pastor problem” was to have youth leaders who were older adults. Now, however, after reading hundreds of news stories about older church leaders/pastors preying on children and taking sexual advantage of teenagers, I think that’s a bad idea too. For me, anyway, Evangelical churches are dangerous places, both psychologically and physically. If you, the reader, must continue attending the local Evangelical cult, please keep your children by your side. It is irresponsible to trust people just because they are pastors. As the recent spate of sex abuse scandals shows, many Evangelical churches are unable or unwilling to care for and protect children and teenagers. It is clear, at least to me, that it is time for youth pastors to get real jobs and for teens to return to their places in the family pew.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

The News Makes Me Think About Him

orthodox jewish boys

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Here in the United States, we have the same problems you find everywhere: drug abuse, domestic violence, you name it. One of our problems, though, is that we sweep it under the rug.

Such an admission would be unusually forthright, if not startlingly frank, in almost any place or time. But I recall it so clearly, more than two decades after I heard it, because of the person who uttered it.

He had hired me a week earlier—to work with children from some of the families he was talking about. It wouldn’t take long for me to realize that those problems, and others, had much to do with the very existence of that school.

The boys in that Orthodox yeshiva had been kicked out of other Orthodox yeshivas, almost invariably because of their behavior. I’d heeded the warnings of the man who hired me—the school’s head rabbi, whom I’ll call Halphen—about the “games” the boys might play. They played them, and I wasn’t surprised. (After all, I was a teenaged boy once!) I soon realized, however, that most of the boys would do no better in that school, in part because the main tool the school had for helping the boys was Halakhic law. More important, though, the boys—at least one, anyway—had problems even more serious than the ones Rabbi Halphen mentioned, and “the community,” as he liked to call it, was a cause.

Being a non-Jewish teacher (and a Catholic school alumnus) in an Orthodox yeshiva was, to say the least, an interesting experience. So was being a transgender woman—who was still living as a man—in an all-male environment. Of course, the boys didn’t know about my identity, though some thought I was gay. In any event, I was an outsider.

That meant the boys both looked down on, and even expressed hatred for me, but looked to me for what they couldn’t find from their rabbis and parents, or the other adults in their community. I think now of a dynamic James Baldwin described: whites who saw blacks as their inferiors went to those same blacks for love when no one else was watching them. When groups of boys were together, they mocked my goyishness, but when they encountered me one-on-one, they wanted to talk.

Naturally, they wanted to talk about wishes and dreams that were taboo in their community. One confessed his crush on a Puerto Rican girl. (As someone who’s dated Hispanics of all gender identities, and was married to one, I sympathized.) Others thought they might be gay or simply didn’t want the kind of family life their community proscribed for them: “You get married, start a business, have a bunch of kids, double your weight and get a heart attack,” as one boy mused. Still others wanted careers that weren’t part of the Orthodox menu. And there was the junior who wanted to know what I thought of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry.

One boy, though, haunts me to this day. I’ll call him Moishe. He seemed to circle around me for months before he finally asked whether we could talk during his lunch break. I agreed. Moishe expressed some of the usual complaints about the restrictiveness of his community. All along, I had a feeling he wanted to say something else, but not what he asked a few days later: Could I adopt him?

I explained that I couldn’t which, of course, he knew—but as I suspected, his question was a pretext to talk some more. Which we did, several more times over the weeks. Then, one sunny Spring afternoon, he came to me in tears. “I want to die!” he exclaimed.

“Have you talked to anybody else?”

He shook his head. “I can’t,” he sobbed. “They’ll never believe me.”

I knew that “they” meant any authority figure in his life: his parents, his other adult relatives, the rabbis in the school and the ones in his synagogue. Nor would anyone else in his synagogue. “They’re all in on it,” he cried.

My spine tingled. This was years before I talked about my own abuse, but I knew he wanted to talk about his. “Who?” I asked.

Moishe then told me about the rabbi in his synagogue who was always calling him in to help with one thing or another. My guess is that his parents thought the rabbi knew he was a “problem” child and they were grateful for the interest he showed. The rabbi took advantage of that trust and use the pretext of errands and chores to make contact with the boy. I am not talking merely about “face time;” I mean, literally, contact—in areas that should be touched only by medical professionals with gloved hands.

Although I would not talk about my own abuse, or name the priest who abused me, until many years later, I had an overwhelming, physically aching, sense of déjà vu. So many things I experienced felt the same way, as a Catholic school alumnus and transgender woman who was still living as a man, during the year I taught in that Orthodox yeshiva. And when I hear about sex abuse in the Catholic church or any other religious institution, I think of Moishe—and the words of Rabbi Halphen, who hired me to teach Moishe and other boys who were living with the issues that were being “swept under the rug.”

Quote of the Day: Is New Atheism Dead? By Steven Pinker

steven pinker

The entire concept of a “New Atheism movement” comes from defensive defenders of religion. I think of it not as a movement but as the overdue examination of an idea: Does a supernatural deity exist, and should our morality and politics be shaped by the belief that it does? For various reasons—the intrusion of theo-conservatism during the presidency of George W. Bush, the rise of militant Islam, an awareness of the psychological origins of supernatural beliefs, sheer coincidence—a quartet of books appeared within a span of two years, and pattern-spotters invented a “New Atheist Movement.” (I would not downplay coincidence as the explanation—random stochastic processes generate clusters of events by default.) Judged by degree of belief, the “new atheism” is not only not dead but it is winning: every survey has shown that religious belief is in steep decline, all over the world, and the drop off is particularly precipitous across the generations, as compared to just drifting with the zeitgeist or changing over the life cycle. This is reflected in laws and customs—homosexuality is being decriminalized in country after country, for example. These trends are masked in the public sphere by two forces pushing in the opposite direction: religious people have more babies, and religious communities turn out in elections and vote in lockstep for the more conservative candidate. If the “new atheist” message of Christopher Hitchens et al. was “Atheists should have more babies,” or “Atheists should form congregations and vote en masse for the same candidate,” then yes, it was an abject failure. But if it is “The evidence for a supernatural being is dubious, and the moral norms of legacy religions are often pernicious,” then it is carrying the day, or at least riding a global wave.

Steven Pinker, Why Evolution is True, Is New Atheism Really Dead?, February 15, 2019

Quote of the Day: Is New Atheism Dead? By Sam Harris

sam harris

I’ve always been skeptical about the utility of identifying as an “atheist,” because it rarely seems helpful to heap the false assumptions that surround this term upon one’s own head. For this reason, I’ve never been eager to wear the label “new atheist” either.

However, there was something genuinely new about the “new atheism.” The publication of our four books in quick succession moved the conversation about faith and reason out of rented banquet halls filled with septuagenarians and brought it to a mainstream (and much younger) audience. The new atheists also made distinctions that prior atheists tended to ignore: For instance, not all religions teach the same thing, and some are especially culpable for specific forms of human misery. We also put religious moderates on notice in a new way: These otherwise secular people who imagine themselves to be on such good terms with reason are actually abetting the forces of theocracy—because they insist that everyone’s faith in revelation must be respected, whatever the cost.

The new atheism has not disappeared. It has merely diffused into a wider conversation about facts and values. In the end, the new atheism was nothing more than the acknowledgement that there is single magisterium: the ever-expanding space illuminated by intellectual honesty.

Sam Harris, Why Evolution is True, Sam Harris Weighs In on “Is New Atheism Dead?” February 15, 2019

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Youth Pastor Rodney Harmon Convicted of Sex Abuse Crimes

rodney harmon jr

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.

Rodney Harmon, Jr., the former youth pastor at Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City, Maryland, was convicted last week on three counts of sexually abusing a minor. In January, ABC-47 reported:

According to charging documents obtained by 47 ABC Harmon allegedly preyed on at least 7 teenage boys from January of 2018 to July of 2018 through his work as a youth group leader for Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City.

With at least three victims Harmon promised the teenage boys they could make money for shooting videos of themselves masturbating if they sent them to him. However, none of the victims ever received payment.

One of the victims, only identified as Juvenile 2, seemed to be the most involved with Harmon. According to charging documents Hardmon sodomized him with an adult toy at least once and performed oral sex on the 15-year-old several times at Harmon’s House in the car to and from a mission trip and at a house the 15-year-old was dog sitting at.

A November 2018 news story at Lancaster Online reported:

Rodney O. Harmon Jr., 33, of Stockton, Maryland, was youth director for Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City, Maryland, when he accompanied a church group to the Colerain Township retreat center, where the alleged abuse happened, the Lancaster County District Attorney said.

The alleged victims, ages 14 and 15, were part of the Maryland church group that attended the retreat between Aug. 1 and 4.

State police filed 12 charged against Harmon, eight of which are felonies, including statutory sexual assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Harmon is awaiting arraignment on the charges.

Harmon is already in prison at the Worcester County Jail awaiting a hearing on charges there for making and distributing pornographic videos, and other sex acts involving four people, including three minors, according to charging documents.

Harmon has not yet been sentenced, but could face up to 70 years in prison.

Bayside Community Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Charging documents posted here.

SBC President J.D. Greear Gives Recommendations For Addressing Sexual Abuse Scandal

jd greear

J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, gave an address today to the Convention’s executive committee that set forth ten recommendations to address the current sexual abuse scandal. The Biblical Reporter summarized Greear’s recommendations as follows:

  •  A call to “repent for decades of inaction;”
  • The announcement of a series of 12 training videos called, “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused;”
  • The announcement that all six Southern Baptist seminaries, officers of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders and all Baptist state conventions have adopted three respective “Statement of Principles on Abuse” documents;
  • A call for Southern Baptist churches, associations, conventions and entities to take immediate action to review policies and procedures relating to abuse;
  • A call for the SBC Executive Committee to make background checks a minimum requirement for Southern Baptist committees and trustee boards;
  • A call for Southern Baptists to review local church ordination practices to ensure proper vetting;
  • A call for state conventions and LifeWay to identify questions related to abuse that can be added to the Annual Church Profile;The announcement of programming at the SBC annual meeting that will address abuse among Southern Baptists, including a time of lament and an event hosted by the ERLC;
  • The announcement that the Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group is evaluating the possibility of creating a database of offenders, but Greear acknowledged the development of such a resource is “complicated” and “will take time to evaluate;”
  • A statement that the study group “strongly believes” the governing documents of the SBC should be reviewed and amended regarding the definition of a cooperating church, so that churches demonstrating “wanton disregard for sexual abuse … are not in good fellowship with this convention.”

Greear said, “We need to regard any exposure, any shining of light on abuse, as our friend, even if it makes us ask some uncomfortable questions about ourselves, publicly. Our job is to love and serve people, especially those who have suffered abuse. Our job is not to protect our reputation.” Nice words. Let’s see if these words become actions. I have my doubts. I just looked at the SBC website. Not one mention of the sexual abuse scandal. So far, it is business as usual.

Enough? Smoke and mirrors? Same old shit, new day? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

The Problems With Evangelicalism Go Far Beyond Recent Sex Abuse Scandals

talking snakes

There’s this naïve notion floating around the Internet that if Evangelicals would just honestly deal with the current sex abuse scandal and make changes that protect children, all would be well within the Evangelical bubble. However, even if Evangelicals demonstrated through actions, and not words, that they really, really, really do care about sexual abuse and other sex crimes within their churches, the fact remains that their beliefs are still psychologically harmful and can, at times, lead to physical harm. Besides, I don’t think for a moment that Evangelicals will honestly and completely do something about clergy sexual misconduct. I suspect what will happen is that Evangelical pastors will put on sackcloth and ashes, wail prayers of repentance to the Ceiling God®, have staff members watch training videos and read a few books, preach a series of sermons on why preachers, deacons, Sunday school teachers, evangelists, missionaries, youth pastors, junior church teachers, and choir directors shouldn’t diddle children or fuck women who are not their wives, and then, believing they have done all they could do, go right back to their old ways. How can it be otherwise? As long as Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, they will remain joined at hip with all sorts of abhorrent anti-human, Bronze-age beliefs.

Evangelicals will still believe:

  • That all of us are born broken (sinners) and in need of fixing (salvation).
  • That atonement for our brokenness (sinfulness) requires blood sacrifice; particularly the blood of Jesus, the eternal son of the Protestant God.
  • That God will torture non-Evangelicals for eternity in a lake of fire after death; that this torture will require God fitting unbelievers with bodies that will withstand an eternal slow-roast on God’s spit.
  • That people who are non-Evangelicals solely due to who their parents are and where they were born will suffer endless torment for not believing in a Jesus they never heard of.
  • That someday soon, God will pour out his wrath and judgment on unbelievers; subjecting them to all sorts of pain and suffering. This same God will slaughter everyone on earth and then renovate the earth with fire.
  • That marriage is only between a man and a woman, and that the only permissible sex is within the bond of marriage, in the missionary position, and primarily for the propagation of the human race.
  • That husbands are the heads of their homes, and wives are to submit their authority; that God has ordained a certain structure for the family; that women are best suited for cleaning house, cooking meals, changing diapers, and spreading their legs whenever their husbands demand it.
  • That atheists, agnostics, humanists, liberals, and other non-Evangelicals are tools of Satan, used by him to deceive the masses.
  • That same-sex marriage, homosexuality, premarital sex, abortion, liberal politics, socialism, and a host of other social issues/practices are abominations to God.

Shall I go on? My problems with Evangelicalism are theological, social, and political. I can’t think of one good reason to recommend anyone attend an Evangelical church. If someone must hang on to their belief in the Christian God, there are kinder, gentler expressions of faith; places that believe in science, promote intellectual inquiry, and support pro-human programs. The best advice I can give to Evangelicals is to RUN!

Note

I am aware that the aforementioned statement of Evangelical beliefs does not apply fully to all Evangelicals; that some Evangelicals differ with others in finer points of doctrine and practice. If what I wrote above doesn’t apply to you, keep on moving. There are millions of people behind you that believe all of these things to the letter.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Why Southern Baptist and IFB Churches Will Never Fix Their Sex Abuse Problem

jd greear

J.D. Greear, current president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) said:

Having an SBC database places pastors in an investigative role that we do not have the expertise or objectivity to fill. Managing the database alone poses significant problems. In fact, pushing for any kind of ‘internal investigation’ from a church level has proven to be one of the main problems in cases of abuse within the church.

We best protect by leaving investigation to people qualified to fulfill that role. The most effective thing we can do right now is educate pastors about the problem and the resources to deal with it and hold them accountable for doing so. [Since this quote, Greear has been calling for training videos, but still no database.]

And therein lies the reason Southern Baptist, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), and other “independent” denominations/churches will NEVER fix their sex abuse problem. Greear SHOULD be calling for the immediate establishment of database that lists every pastor, deacon, Sunday school teacher, youth pastor, choir director, children’s church pastor, evangelist, and congregant who has been accused of, arrested for, convicted of, or imprisoned for a sex crime, using their position of authority to sexually manipulate a woman, or any other crime that makes them unfit to be a church leader (or a Christian, for that matter). Instead, he hides behind the notion that pastors/churches are unqualified to “investigate” such claims. And I agree. All allegations of sexual misconduct or criminal behavior should be immediately reported to law enforcement, and not to the pastor or other church leaders. This does not, however, negate the necessity of having a database. If someone has been accused of a crime, his or her name should go in the database — especially if he or she is accused of a sex crime. Then, if the accused decides to move on to a new church, at the very least the new congregation will know that person has been accused of criminal behavior. Leave it to the prospective new church to investigate past allegations — you know, by talking to leaders in the former church, law enforcement, doing a comprehensive background check and, the simplest of all things to do, DO A DAMN GOOGLE SEARCH ON THE PERSON! One the reasons I maintain the Black Collar Crimes series is to create a database of sorts of religious leaders who have been accused or found guilty of sex crimes, theft, and even murder. By publicizing these stories, I hope to keep cockroaches from scurrying away in the dark of night to new digs; that is if church leaders bother to search the internet.

Just because someone isn’t prosecuted doesn’t mean he or she is innocent. I can point to numerous preachers who were accused for decades of criminal behavior and even investigated by law enforcement, yet they escaped prosecution. What a database does is show conscientious church leaders that there may be a problem with this or that prospective pastor; that where there is smoke, there may be fire.

I realize that IFB churches and autonomous Evangelical churches might find it harder to have such a database. However, those churches are able to cooperate on all sorts of other issues, so appealing to their independent ecclesiology doesn’t fly with me. To preachers and church leaders I says this: doing nothing, and then blaming it on your theology, is an abdication of your responsibility to love, care, and protect your flock; especially the least of these — children. You owe it to your congregations to make sure there aren’t pedophiles, perverts, child molesters, and rapists in your midst. And you owe it to other churches to warn them when these same people move on to new hunting grounds.

The right path forward is clear, but I seriously doubt that SBC, IFB, and other Alphabet Denominations® will do much of anything to cleanse their temples of criminals. There are souls to save, empires to build, and ministries to protect, so there’s no time for “suffering the little children.” (Matthew 19:14)

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Southern Baptist Seth Dunn Says Female Pastors Are Just as Bad as Sex Offender Pastors

seth dunn

Seth Dunn is a Fundamentalist Southern Baptist [Dunn has since written me and said he is not a Southern Baptist] who believes it is his duty to right all theological wrongs. Dunn, a professor at Tennessee Temple University, [Dunn has since written me and said he is not a professor at TTU; that the school went out of business a few years ago] is one of the hands-on proctologists at the Pulpit & Pen website.

Daily, the fine men at Pulpit & Pen rage against the machine — the “machine” being non-Fundamentalist, non-Calvinistic Christianity. Recently, Dunn took to Twitter to express his outrage over churches who hire female pastors. Thinking he was being clever, Dunn tweeted:

seth dunn tweet

Dunn astoundingly believes that there is no difference theologically or morally between churches hiring female pastors and churches hiring sex offenders — rapists, perverts, sexual abusers, child molesters, and every other crime that might land you on the sex offenders list. Dunn rightly caught a lot of shit over his dumbassery, but he was not moved one whit from his viewpoint. He tweeted::

seth dunn tweet 2

You see, all that Dunn cares about is loving what God loves and hating what God hates, or at least his interpretation of what the Bible says God loves and hates. In other words, Dunn hates most of the human race; which makes sense since Dunn is a card-carrying member of Club Calvin — an exclusive club made up special people chosen by God to be saved. I don’t know Dunn, but even in my Fundamentalist days I would have said, Dude, you are an idiot!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Life Sucks — Sometimes

life sucks

In a few months I will draw my first social security check. My oldest son will turn forty in May, the same week my oldest granddaughter graduates from high school. Illusions of youthfulness no longer cover the reality that I am officially old, a curmudgeon whose best days are in the rear-view mirror. If I live to age seventy, six-sevenths of my life is gone, and if I live to eighty — not likely — three-fourths of my life has wafted away as steam rising from a radiator heater — the steam that used to entertain me fifty years ago as I stared out the school window, hoping for spring’s soon appearance. I am a pessimist by nature, choosing to see things as they are. My counselor and I were talking about people who love to point to spry, healthy, all-jacked-up-on-Mountain-Dew people in their eighties and nineties as examples of what any of us could attain if we would but do ___________ (fill in the blank with the latest, greatest health/fitness/lifestyle tip). While such people are well-intentioned, they are, in fact, delusional. The human race is a pyramid, with the Jack LaLannes of the world standing on the pinnacle. Most of us will not have such lives, and will, instead, face a variety of health problems as we age. And for some of us, our health problems will have begun long before we got old. In my case, I was fifteen.

At the age of forty, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and over the last two decades osteoarthritis has attacked my spine, neck, shoulders, hands, and feet. My orthopedic doctor says arthritis is like a wildfire spreading through my body. Throw in high blood pressure, diabetes, nerve pain, a torn meniscus, and a torn shoulder labrum, and, well, life sucks. Tonight, I photographed a local high school’s junior varsity and varsity basketball games. This required me to stand on my feet for an extended period of time. It was not long before the years-old ritual began: pain in my lower back, pain in my shoulders, pain in my feet — even with orthotics — culminating in burning numbness in my thighs and face. At half time, I sat down as I have done countless times before, rocking forward and back, relieving the pressure on L5 in my lower back. The pain subsides and the numbness dissipates, that is, until the buzzer sounds, telling me it is time to stand once again, camera in hand, ready to photograph young, athletic men who remind me of myself forty-five years ago.

I am sure some of you are thinking, if photographing the games cause so much pain, why do it? Simple. Yes, life sucks, but I have two choices. I can either rot away in my recliner watching M*A*S*H reruns, or I can force myself to get out of the house, knowing that the price of admission is pain. I choose the latter, having no desire to spend my days mindlessly watching TV. I take narcotic pain medications, NSAID’s, and muscle relaxers, hoping they reduce the pain enough that I can gut out whatever it is I want/need to do. This is not me whining or complaining. I don’t seek your sympathy. But I do have a point I want to make . . .

My wife, Polly, was, until last year, destined to be one of those eighty-somethings standing of the pinnacle of life. She rarely got sick, and the only time she was in the hospital was to give birth. Polly has worked at Sauder Woodworking for twenty years. Up until recently, she had never missed a day of work. Never, not one day. Polly expected to live a healthy life all the way to the finish line. Naive? Perhaps, but past experiences suggested she had “good health” genes. One early morning, however, everything changed. Polly woke up me up, saying her heart was racing. Sure enough her pulse rate and blood pressure were quite high. Off to the emergency room we went, and hours later it was determined Polly had AFib. Two months later, Polly started bleeding internally, requiring two outpatient surgical procedures. A month or two after that, Polly broke a molar. The dentist could not fix the tooth, so it had to be surgically removed. A few months after that, Polly had to have surgery for a deviated septum. By then, both of us were singing the LIFE SUCKS tune. Surely, better days lie ahead, we thought. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. In January, Polly began having severe bowel problems. This eventually landed her in the hospital. Numerous tests later, it was determined Polly has ulcerative colitis — a diagnosis that explains some of the problems she has had in recent years. Six days later, Polly left the hospital, her life changed forever. Life sucks.

And then, our water heater quit working. A small thing, to be sure, but I thought, doesn’t the shit ever stop flowing our way? I want to think that better days lie ahead, but I don’t know what tomorrow might bring. All I know to do is to endure, believing that there will be moments and days when life doesn’t suck. Sometimes you have to look really hard to find them, but they do exist. I remember a particularly painful day last summer when the family was over for dinner. Quite frankly, I just wanted to be left alone, but this event had been scheduled for a long time so I put on my weary fake smile and endured. But there came a moment when I was sitting in my lawn chair outside watching my younger grandchildren play. So full of life, filled with energy and silliness. I found myself, in that moment, enjoying life; a brief respite from pain and suffering. It was a reminder to me that, yes, life sucks, but there are the joys of life, the reasons for which you continue to get up, breathe deeply, and live.

Earlier this week, I attended band concerts for my fifth-grade grandson and my seventh-grade granddaughter. The fifth-grade concert was, well, good job, kids. Keep practicing! The seventh-grade concert, however, was phenomenal. My granddaughter plays in the jazz band, and I was quite impressed with their skill level. She has come a long way — talent-wise — in three years. I sat on the front row. This made me an easy target for thoughtless, careless people. Three times, people plowed into me. One teenager knocked my cane out of my hands. I wanted to scream, I am a big man! Can’t you people see me? I said nothing, choosing instead to endure their punishment. And it was worth it. Once the music began, I found myself in one of those “life is good” moments. I have the privilege of watching my grandchildren grow into teenagers and young adults. My dad died at age forty-nine and my mom committed suicide at age fifty-four. None of my children or grandchildren ever got to know my dad. He was dead by the time they were born. My oldest two sons remember my mom, but that’s it. I have often wondered what my mom would have thought of my redheaded daughters or my grandkids. Alas, heart disease and mental illness ended my parents’ lives on a “life sucks” note. I wish it could have been different. I wish my children and grandchildren had the opportunity to know my parents. But all the wishes in the world won’t bring them back from the dead. All I can do is try to keep their memories alive through stories and photographs.

Yes, life sucks, but I am grateful for those moments in time when it doesn’t. I am blessed to have a wonderful wife and family. And even though the pain is unrelenting, I continue to try to look for those times when I am reminded that life is good; that even in the midst of suffering, there are moments of joy. All I know to do to is get up each day and hope for the best. I don’t know what any one day might bring, but I remain hopeful that in the midst of stormy weather, the rain will cease and the sun will shine — that is until a meteor wipes me (and you) off the face of the earth. 🙂

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

The Roman Catholic Church, IFB Churches, and Southern Baptist Convention: Who’s Next?

mandatory reporting

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

The Roman Catholic Church sex-abuse scandals have been centuries in the making. They were first reported in the US media in 1985 but didn’t garner widespread attention until 2002, with the Boston Globe exposé. Since then, media coverage and public awareness of the church’s “dirty little secret” has snowballed, turning into an avalanche with the “Me-too” movement.

It doesn’t surprise me that it took so long for the problem to come to light. After all, decades would pass between the abuse I suffered and the day I finally talked about it. Many other people have similar stories. Also, as we have seen from the church’s own reports, individual parishes, not to mention dioceses and the Vatican itself, did everything they could to keep knowledge of wrongdoing “in the family,” if you will.

In this matter, church officials were like the proverbial Dutch boys with their fingers in a crumbling dike: They could hold back the tide of truth, but only for so long. Now the dam is breaking and the revelations are flooding in, not only from the Roman Catholic Church, but from other religious organizations.

The only thing that surprises me about recent reports of abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and other sects such as the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is that it took so long for them to come out, even though they’ve come just months after the Pennsylvania grand jury report. As a matter of fact, I am surprised that there haven’t yet been revelations of sexual abuse in other churches or religions.

Then again, it probably won’t be long before we learn about such things, because nearly all religions are built on hierarchical power structures. The most orthodox or fundamentalist, or the most institutionalized, have the most rigid hierarchies. All such power structures present ample opportunities for the powerful—who are usually, but not always, male and of at least some degree of privilege—to use sex as a means of controlling the less senior or more vulnerable members.

Naturally, such things can be said about a corporation or university, or the military or a gang, as well as a church. There are, however, two things that make religious institutions particularly fertile ground for sexual exploitation. One is that clergy members’ and other officials’ authority is amplified by their putative relationship with God, or whatever they call their supernatural authority. The other is that everyday worshipers, volunteers and other members of the church, synagogue or other house of worship tend to bring their vulnerabilities to the forefront to a greater degree than they would in a workplace, classroom or platoon. In other words, they are looking for acceptance they might not find in their communities or stability that might not exist in their families. Members of the clergy, whether by inclination or training, are very good at finding those vulnerabilities.

I am, of course, talking about my own experience. One of the reasons I became an altar boy (how odd it is for me to say that as a transgender woman!) is that I was looking for (and found) a circle of friends, or at least peers, that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Also, I was frankly looking for something that would keep me out of the house, away from an emotionally and mentally unsupportive family. I spent more time with the Fathers in black collars than with my biological male parent. That gave one of the Fathers his opportunities.

And those opportunities for a predatory cleric or authority figure to prey on a vulnerable child or lay person come, not only in the context of in-church activities such as being an altar boy or acolyte, but also in camps, retreats and other off-site gatherings. Even more exposed are those who are sequestered in a convent, seminary or other place where they are preparing for what they believe to be a life of service to God and humanity but which, too often, turns out to be a life of servitude to an institution. While such people may genuinely want to give of themselves to their fellow humans and give themselves over to God, they also see being or becoming a priest, nun, minister or even a deacon as their purpose, even their raison d’etre, to an even greater degree than people who are, or are training to be, accountants or lawyers or other professionals or tradespeople.

That is why, in the weeks and months ahead, I fully expect to hear more revelations of sexual abuse from other churches, and from religious entities outside of Christianity. I can’t say that such revelations will make me happy, but I can at least be satisfied that some victims will find some measure of justice, if not peace. Still, I can only wish that others could have had the opportunity I’ve had to name my abuse and abuser. It is for them, as much as for anyone else, that the truth about sexual exploitation in religious entities—wherever, whenever and however it was perpetrated, and by whom—must, and will, continue to come out. The only question is: Which church or religion will be exposed next?

Jesus Vacations

Recently, my wife received an email from a college student who worked for her one summer. This girl — an Evangelical Christian — wanted to let Polly know that she was raising $6,000 so she could go to a “secret” country and do illegal missionary work. The girl meant well, I am sure, but her email was a reminder to me of the Jesus Vacations® many Evangelicals take each summer to foreign lands to spread white American Christianity. Scores of Evangelicals take these trips each year, spending millions of dollars as Jesus tourists; convincing themselves that what meager, incidental work they do matters.

Why didn’t the girl’s church pay for her trip? If the goal is winning souls for Christ in a country that forbids such things, why not have the soulwinners or their churches pay for the trip? Instead, trip takers turn to people they know — family, friends, casual acquaintances, workmates — to cough up the money so they can take an unnecessary Jesus Vacation® to what they believe is the foreign mission field. Polly, of course, did not respond to the email, nor did she forward it others as the sender requested. In our Christian days, we didn’t support such wastes of energy and money, and as unbelievers we sure as Hell aren’t going to help American Evangelicals harass foreign non-Christians.

Jesus Vacations® are taken primarily by white middle-class Evangelicals. While certainly “some” good is accomplished; say, building housing, digging wells, and improving the welfare of people in poverty-stricken countries, the irony here is that many Evangelicals who minister to material needs while on their Jesus Vacations® won’t do the same in their own country. In their minds, Haitians are worthy of care, but poor blacks, whites, and Hispanics in impoverished areas in the deep south? Let them starve. Get a job! Mexicans on the American side of the border are criminals worthy of deportation, abusers of American goodness and largess. Mexicans south of the Rio Grande? Why, now they are a mission field; people worthy of missional attention from rich white Evangelicals.

After these Jesus-loving travelers return from their Jesus Vacations®, they will stand before their fellow congregants one Sunday and give a testimony of all the things they did for Jesus; of all the goodwill they spread to the poor; and, most of all, the number of people who prayed the sinner’s prayer and asked Jesus to save them. Charismatic vacationers will regale their churches with claims of miracles, yet will not provide evidence for their claims. Year after year, Evangelicals take Jesus Vacations®, never considering whether they are really doing anything meaningful or whether the money spent for travel and other expenses could have been put to better use.

Jesus Vacations® tend to support the false notion that poor people of color in other countries need affluent white American Christians to help them and deliver them from Satan. Why not, instead, send the money to Christians who live in these countries and let them spend it helping their fellow citizens? Wouldn’t doing so be more cost-effective? Instead of fifty college students coughing up $6,000 each for a Jesus Vacation® — $300,000 — wouldn’t it be far better to send it to people who know their country and communities, and what needs people might have? Bruce, surely you know we can’t trust poor blacks with white people’s money! They need us – “us” being affluent white Evangelicals — to manage how the monies are spent. USA! USA USA!  JESUS! JESUS! JESUS!

mission trip

Comic by Tom Tapp

Of course, sending the money to the field and forgoing Jesus Vacations® will never happen. You see Jesus Vacations® give the appearance of doing good in Jesus’ name. These trips are feel-good, Hallmark-like experiences. They allow trip takers to oh-so-humbly brag about how Jesus used them to materially help and evangelize poor people of color. Praise be to Jesus! Look what I, uh, I mean, Jesus, did! The humble-bragging extends to pastors and older congregants too. Look at what WE did for Jesus! Look at how we helped those poor, helpless Haitians (and ignored the poor people who live next door to the church)! As with most things Evangelical churches do, no one will ever question the value of taking Jesus Vacations®. No one will ever ask, WHY do we take these trips every year? Oh no, you don’t: thou shalt not question. Summers are for vacation Bible school (VBS), youth camp, and Jesus Vacations® (and here in Ohio a day trip to either King’s Island or Cedar Point). And so it goes, year after year . . .

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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