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Short Stories: Grandpa is an Atheist

bruce gerencser not afraid of hell

My wife, Polly, and I have thirteen grandchildren, ages two to twenty-two. Over the next three years, ten of our grandchildren will be in junior high, high school, and college. One of the first things our older grandchildren do in school is type my name in Google. And what do they find? This blog. And perhaps for the first time, they learn that Grandpa is an atheist.

Out of respect for my children, I don’t talk about religion with my grandchildren. If asked, I will briefly answer their questions, but I wait until they are in high school before I have in-depth discussions with them about religion and politics. I typically shape my answers according to their age and the religious beliefs of their parents; how open their parents are to me sharing my story. The older they get, the more questions they have. Sometimes, I resort to buying them books for their birthdays or Christmas.

Last Saturday, we watched son #2’s three children, ages 12, 10, and 8. We had a delightful time. The girls talked my ears off, especially Emma, the twelve-year-old. Emma excitedly let me know that she had found my blog and that she knew I was an atheist. (I let her parents know she was reading my blog at school.) Emma is one smart cookie, top-of-the-class, a straight-A student who wants to be a large animal veterinarian someday. She loves to talk, as does her Grandpa, so we get along famously.

Emma didn’t ask me any questions about atheism. I did tell her Nana was an atheist too. However, she did share with me her own experiences in the Catholic church. (She definitely thinks her priest is b-o-r-i-ng.) 🙂 I found it fascinating to listen to her explain her view of the world. And make no mistake about it, kids her age have a worldview. Emma is a voracious reader, as are most of my grandchildren. Their parents are quite liberal when it comes to what they are allowed to read (as Polly and I were, surprisingly, with our children). The broader their reading experiences, the broader their worldview.

I told Emma about one of her older cousins being asked by her teacher if she was related to me. (The teacher had read a letter I had written to the local newspaper.) Sadly, my children have experienced this at the local community college and their places of employment. Dad is a public figure with a peculiar last name. People will naturally make the connection. I told my children they are free to disown me, but so far none of them has done so. As my grandchildren get older, they will face the same scrutiny.

After telling Emma this story, I was delighted to hear her say “I am proud of my Grandpa.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Did You Know I am a Traitor, Communist, Marxist, a Danger to America, and an Awful Writer Too?

adam stockford facebook

Last month, I wrote a post titled MAGA Mayor Adam Stockford Says Hillsdale, Michigan is a “Traditional Values” Community. Stockford is the mayor of Hillsdale, Michigan. Over the weekend, Stockford posted my article on his Facebook page. Of course, his MAGA-loving followers were quick to go for my jugular. One such neck-slitter was a retired soldier named Ronald Cook.

Cook made no attempt to interact with what I wrote, choosing instead to hurl invectives my way. I gave his comment and private messages the gravitas they so richly deserved. Enjoy! 🙂

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Here are several other comments left by Stockford’s devotees.

other adam stockford comment
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All told, 90 people from Hillsdale read my post. Only three of them read more than one page. Not one of them clicked on the ABOUT page or the WHY? page. In fact, some of them couldn’t bear to finish reading my article. Yet, by reading one post about Adam Stockford and Hillsdale College, people such as Cook concluded I am a traitor, communist, Marxist, anti-American anti-Christ. And I am a bitter, piss-poor writer too. Let me give these fine folks a bit of the Bible: Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. (Proverbs 18:13)

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

How IFB Beliefs and Practices Ruin Family Relationships

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

Millions of atheists, agnostics, pagans, and non-Christians have wonderful relationships with their Christian families. Unfortunately, this is not the case for unbelievers who have Evangelical families, especially those affiliated with churches on the extreme right of the Evangelical spectrum. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement — the religion of choice for my wife and I for many years — is one such extremist sect. Why do so many former IFB Christians have so many problems with their IFB parents, siblings, and extended families?

The IFB church movement — a broad collection of thousands of independent churches — is by nature separatist, exclusionary, and anti-cultural. (This thinking can be found in the Southern Baptist Convention and other Evangelical sects too.) IFB preachers tell their congregants that it is “us against the world.” Everything is neatly put in two categories: saved or lost, Heaven or Hell, godly or ungodly, worldly or wicked. Either you are part of the “in” group, or you are not. Their relationship with you depends on what group you are in.

IFB Christians are Bible literalists. In their minds, the Bible is not only inspired (breathed out by God), but it is also inerrant (without error) and infallible (true in all that it says). This thinking cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained, but millions of Fundamentalist Christians believe otherwise. Thus, when IFB believers read the Bible — and they do, far more than most Christians — they believe every word, including the words “thee” and “and” are true, straight from the mouth of God. Granted, IFB Christians don’t always practice what they preach, but when confronting sinful, wicked, evil, worldly non-Christian family members, they will expect them to submit to and obey the Bible’s inerrant, infallible edicts.

IFB Christians live in a black-and-white world without shades of gray or nuance. In their minds, there is only one way to see things: God’s divine plan as revealed in the Bible. All other worldviews and philosophies are false, even Satanic. That’s why IFB believers are at the forefront of the culture wars. They used to withdraw from the world, but thanks to successes in the political realm, Trumpism, and theocratic tendencies, IFB believers are quite militaristic in the public square.

While there is some theological and social diversity within the IFB bubble, generally people are expected to all believe and practice the same things. The IFB church movement is a monoculture where unapproved beliefs, practices, books, and interactions with the “world” are roundly condemned. Church members who can’t or won’t follow the yellow brick road are considered backslidden or carnal (worldly) Christians. Typically, such people will, over time, move on to other churches that are more accepting of theological and social diversity.

IFB Christians are encouraged by their pastors to treat their churches as their families. In fact, many pastors tell their congregants that their church “family” is their real family. Most IFB churches are hives of activity, often having services, ministries, and programs five days a week. These things, of course, are meant to reinforce the notion that the church is just one big, happy family. Families are encouraged to fellowship with fellow church families outside of the church. Friendships with unsaved people are frowned upon, if not outright condemned.

Many IFB parents either send their children to a private Christian school (often operated by their church) or homeschool them. After graduation, IFB children are expected to either get married or attend a Christian college. Many of these institutions are unaccredited, often providing inferior education. I recently perused the website of an IFB college that a family member is attending so she can be a school teacher. The college requires all students to earn a minimum of sixty hours in Bible. That means my family member, who is training to be a teacher, will only have sixty-eight hours of teaching-related training (the equivalent of an associate arts (AA) degree). Of course, upon graduation, she will only be able to work for unaccredited IFB schools. In other words, her degree will be worthless outside of the IFB bubble (though she will likely graduate with a preacher boy on her arm and have a baby two years later).

As long as everyone believes and practices the same things, all is well. Fellowship: a bunch of fellows in a boat all rowing in the same direction. This perfectly describes the IFB church movement. What mucks family relationships up is when a family member either jumps out of the boat or starts rowing in a different direction. This causes immediate conflict, often leading to hostilities and estrangement.

My wife, Polly, and I were raised in IFB churches. In the fall of 1976, we both enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — a militant IFB institution. Polly’s father and uncle were IFB preachers, both graduates of Midwestern. Her grandfather was a lay Fundamentalist preacher with the United Baptists. Everything described in this post fits her family to a T. While my family was also IFB in my younger years, by the time I was 15, my parents had divorced and remarried and stopped attending church. I continued alone in the IFB church, seeing the church as my “real” family.

After Polly and I Ieft Midwestern in February 1979, I started working for and pastoring IFB churches. I spent the next decade pastoring IFB churches in Montpelier, Buckeye Lake, and Somerset (all in Ohio). By the late 1980s, thanks to the Jack Hyles/David Hyles scandal and changing soteriological and eschatological beliefs, I stopped self-identifying as IFB. That said, my theological beliefs were still quite conservative and many of the social strictures from my IFB years remained. We remained in fellowship with Polly’s IFB family until we left the ministry in 2005 and left Christianity altogether in 2008. For a few years, we maintained a strained relationship with Polly’s IFB family. We were able to maintain cordial relationships at family holiday gatherings. Then everything fell apart.

In 2020, I wrote:

With my parents being dead, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Polly’s parents. This abruptly changed in 2010. I left the ministry in 2005 and we abandoned Christianity in November 2008. In early 2009, I sent out my family-shattering letter, Dear Family Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter fundamentally changed our relationship with Polly’s IFB family.

Christmas of 2009 was best remembered by a huge elephant in the middle of the room; that elephant being Polly and me and the letter I sent the family. No one said anything, but the tension was quite noticeable.

2010 found us, just like every year since 1978, at Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. This would be the last Christmas we would spend with Polly’s parents and her extended family. We decided to blend into the background, and besides short pleasantries, no one talked to us. Not that they didn’t want to. We found out later from one of our children that Polly’s uncle wanted to confront me about our defection from Christianity. Polly Mom’s put a kibosh on that, telling her brother-in-law that she had already lost one daughter and she was not going to lose another. (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005. Please see If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All.)

I appreciate Polly’s mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family (and a bully). I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people, and I couldn’t ask for better in-laws.

Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and throughout the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism behind it made for an uncomfortable evening.

Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephews had bought on the cheap at Big Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, “to go poo-poo on” — poo-poo being the Fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life with James Dennis.)

On our way home the next day, I told Polly that I couldn’t do it anymore and she said neither could she. We decided to stop going to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. We do try to see her parents during the holiday season, but we no longer attend the family gathering on Christmas Eve. Making this decision saddened us, but we knew we had to make it. (By the way, our children still attend the Christmas Eve gathering.)

It has been over a decade since we attended a family gathering. We do travel to Newark the week of Christmas and spend the day with Polly’s mom (her father is dead). While in Newark, we may see several of our nephews while at Polly’s mom’s home. Outside of that, we have no contact with our IFB family. We are Facebook friends with one of Polly’s cousins and nephews, but the rest of the family either refuses to respond to friend requests or has no interest in talking to us. We are godless outsiders, not part of the “in” group.

IFB Christians have little capacity to bend or compromise. That’s certainly the case for Polly’s family. As long as we remain atheists, humanists, and Democrats, we will be ostracized and shunned. Oh, they talk (gossip) about us and pray for us and use us as sermon illustrations, but love us for who and what we are? Never. As a result, many of our great-nephews, great-nieces, and second cousins have no idea who we are. One of our great-nieces got upset over something I had written about a family member on Facebook. “HOW DARE YOU! I DON’T KNOW YOU! YOU ARE A STRANGER!” I replied, “Actually, I am married to your dad’s first cousin. Your dad was in our wedding.” You see, we have been written out of the family’s storyline. The only way these children will ever know anything about us is if they do a Google search.

Polly and I would love to have meaningful relationships with our IFB family. Unfortunately, Fundamentalist religious beliefs and practices make that impossible. We lament these lost relationships, but time is too short for us to spend much time trying to have relationships with people who cannot or will not love us as we are. Polly and I can and will compartmentalize our religious, political, and social beliefs so we can have relationships with IFB family members. We spent six hours earlier this week with Polly’s IFB mother and family. (Please see “I Don’t Know What You Are,” My IFB Mother-in-Law Says.) I (we) didn’t say shit, fuck, or goddammit one time. 🙂 Yet, Polly’s mom had to stop all of us from eating our pizza so a prayer could be offered up to Jesus. No compromise for Polly and Bruce. And that’s fine. We tend to follow the rule, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” We stopped eating so our food could be Jesus-blessed. Jesus didn’t make or cook the pizza, nor did he earn the money to pay for it. But, IFB Christians are duty-bound to thank Jesus for everything (except ice cream at Dairy Queen). When Polly’s parents came to our home for Thanksgiving, I would have Dad pray a prayer before we ate — the only prayer ever uttered in our home except when Polly screams out “Oh God!” 🙂 Why do I do this? I wanted Mom and Dad to feel at home. Unfortunately, that’s a one-way street. When at that their home, we are expected to behave and conform. That’s the essence of IFB Christianity: obedience and conformity.

Mom is dying. When is unknown, but based on how she looks, we expect her death will be sooner, and not later. We will greatly miss her. However, we won’t miss her IFB beliefs and practices. We won’t miss being “othered.” We won’t miss being treated as outsiders, or worse yet, as complete strangers. We won’t miss being judged for how we talk, dress, or act.

One thing is for certain: Religious Fundamentalism kills everything it touches. For Polly and me, IFB Christianity killed the relationships we would love to have with our family. And once dead, there’s no way to resuscitate them.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

“I Don’t Know What You Are,” My IFB Mother-in-Law Says

godless atheist

Yesterday, Polly and I drove to Newark, Ohio to visit Polly’s mom. She is now living with our nephew and his wife. Mom is dying. Could be soon, or could be months from now, but, regardless, the proverbial plane circling the airport is getting ready to land. Polly and I are responsible for settling Mom’s estate. She refuses to write a will, so it is important for us, legally, to settle her estate as much as possible before she dies. We had fourteen frank end-of-life questions to ask Mom. We were delighted when she answered them without a fuss. I suspect that she has resigned herself to the fact that she is dying. She doesn’t plan to seek extraordinary care. Our advice was for her to arrange for hospice. Mom is in a lot of pain, but she refuses to ask for narcotic pain medications. The blame for her unwillingness to accept pain reliefs rests solely on her Fundamentalist religious beliefs: that suffering has value and is part of God’s plan for her life. Hopefully, a hospice nurse will convince her to take the medications.

Mom is eighty-seven years old. She’s been a Fundamentalist Christian her entire life — first as a Nazarene, and then as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). Mom has attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio for the past forty-six years. Polly’s father was the church’s assistant pastor for five years (1976-1981) before striking out on his own. (Dad and I started a church together in Buckeye Lake.) Polly’s uncle, the late Jim Dennis, pastored the church for fifty years. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) The church is currently pastored by Mark Falls. (Please see An IFB Funeral: Fundamentalist Christianity Poisons Everything.) Mom’s entire life has been shaped, formed, and controlled by IFB beliefs and practices. At this point in life, she is who she is. She is going to the grave happily praising the IFB God. We accept that there’s nothing we can say or do that will soften her view of us, our heathen children, and our godless grandchildren (even though some of our children believe in God, just not the IFB God).

Polly and I have known each other for forty-six years. Mom didn’t want us to get married, and went out of her way to upend our marriage plans. Five months before our wedding date in 1978, Mom told Polly that she could not marry me. This, of course, enraged us. We talked about eloping. Instead, Polly, for the first time, stood up to her mother and told her that we were getting married with or without her blessing. Bluff called, the wedding went on as planned.

Over the past five decades, we have had numerous conflicts with Mom. Never Dad, just Mom. You see, she was the head of the home. She ruled the proverbial roost. My quiet, passive father-in-law never stood up to her. I do remember several passive-aggressive moments where Dad did exactly what she told him he couldn’t do, but most often he just bowed to her wishes.

I dearly love my mother-in-law. I will sorely miss her when she is gone, though I suspect she can’t say the same about me. Mom wrongly thinks that I control Polly; that she doesn’t think for herself or make her own decisions; that Polly is still a Christian, and she will return to Jesus once Satan is out of her life. None of these things, of course, is true. We left Christianity in November 2008. Fourteen years later, Mom has yet to have a meaningful discussion with us about why we deconverted. She has talked about us to her pastor and other family members. She’s asked her church to pray for us. She repeatedly tells us verbally or in written messages on cards that she is praying for us. We have come to accept that this is just the way it is. Her religion demands she respond this way. There’s no possible scenario where she can love and respect us as we are.

One of our biggest fears is that her pastor will preach AT us during the funeral or church members will accost us, saying “Bonnie told me she hopes to see you in Heaven some day. Wouldn’t you like to be saved today?” We are so concerned that this could happen that we are considering skipping the funeral or sitting at the back of church so we can leave immediately after the service. I am not convinced that if Mom’s pastor mentions atheism by name that I can control my emotions. I hate to ruin the funeral by standing up in the service and telling Mom’s pastor to go fuck himself. Doing so would be epic, righteous, and awesome, but I must think of others too. So, our goal is to go out of the way to avoid interaction and conflict with God’s chosen ones.

We spent six hours in Newark. All told it was a physically taxing fourteen hour day, leaving me with excruciating pain and emotional brokenness. We had a delightful time talking to Mom, our nephew and niece, and their two children. It was a perfect day for five hours and fifty-five minutes. Unfortunately, the last five minutes ruined the stay, reminding us of how much we despise the IFB church movement, the Newark Baptist Temple, and its pastor.

Two years ago, Mom sent me a long, detailed list of demands she expected to be met for her funeral. (She did the same for Dad.) I briefly glanced at her demands and put them in an envelope for safekeeping. Several days ago, I got the paper out and read it carefully. What quickly became clear to me is that my family would have no part in the funeral service. Instead, Mom’s “real family” would be in charge of and take care of everything. Only people associated with the Baptist Temple will play a part in her funeral. Of course, we are used to being treated this way, going back long before our atheist days. Mom treats our children differently from the way she treats her grandchildren, nieces, and nephews who live in Newark. You see, they are all IFB Christians. In Mom’s eyes, we are godless heathens or the wrong type of Christians. While we are used to being treated this way, it still hurts to be “othered.” And now our grandchildren are picking up on this. “Why does Mamaw give them birthday/Christmas gifts and doesn’t do the same for us?” one of my grandchildren recently asked. Mom graciously shares the wealth with her “family” in Newark. Our grandchildren got a singular gift from their Mamaw last Christmas — a Christmas ornament to “remember” her by. Special events for Mom’s real family are memorialized with gifts, including money. (One grandchild recently received $100 for graduation.) Our grandchildren don’t receive such gifts. Worse, because Polly and I have step-grandchildren, Mom refuses to acknowledge they are her great-grandchildren. She seems to believe that blood is all that matters. Thus, she accepts as her great-grandchildren her grandson’s children with three different women, but not our “step” granddaughters. (For the record, we do not use the “step” label.) Mom has caused untold harm by “othering” some of our grandchildren.

Back to Mom’s funeral demands. Mom isn’t a deep-thinker or a list maker. Yet, the funeral demands are detailed, typed out, and presented in a way a preacher would make his sermon. Do you get where I am headed here? I suspect Mom’s pastor compiled the list of funeral demands. And that’s fine, but don’t think for a moment that Polly and I don’t see what is going on here

As we were leaving Newark, the following “discussion” took place. Please note that this is a conversation Mom wanted to have with me. Not her daughter, me.

Mom: I want _______ (nephew) and ________ (niece) to handle my funeral.

Bruce (puzzled): Do you think I’m going do something you wouldn’t like?

Mom (looking pained): Well, you know . . .

Bruce (even more puzzled): No, I don’t know . . .

Mom (forced to say what she meant): Well, you know, I don’t know what you are.

(Ah, our atheism, MY atheism is the problem, but Mom refuses to use the A word.)

Bruce: I’ve been your son-in-law for forty-four years. I will always respect your wishes. You gave us a paper outlining your funeral. We will do exactly what you want done.

Mom: Oh, okay.

Bruce: But I’m more than happy to let ________ and _______ handle the funeral.

And we will. Polly and I want nothing to do with the funeral. It would have been nice if several of our children were given an opportunity to participate, but that’s not going to happen, so we will accept that.

Mom’s funeral is the final strand binding us to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and the Newark Baptist Temple. When we drive out of Newark for the last time, we will look in the rear-view mirror and defiantly wave goodbye with our middle finger. So much pain, trauma, and abuse. So many bad memories (and yes, some good memories too). The scars will remain, but praise Loki, the curse will be broken.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Three Questions About the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church Movement

good question

Last week, I received an email from a reader named JT, asking me three questions about the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. My responses are below.

How come many Americans haven’t heard of the Independent Fundamental Baptist church movement?

Most Americans don’t understand that there are flavors of Baptist Christianity, everything from liberal to hardcore Fundamentalist. The IFB church movement is on the far right of the Baptist spectrum. People are often surprised to learn that millions of people attend IFB churches; that at one time, many of the largest churches in the United States were IFB congregations.

The IFB church movement has fallen on hard times. While there are still IFB megachurches, most IFB churches are in numeric decline. IFB colleges are in decline too. Many of them have closed their doors in recent years. Why? As Americans have become more progressive/liberal, IFB churches have dug their heels in, claiming that they are the holders and defenders of old-fashioned Christianity — old-fashioned meaning the 1950s. Racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, and anti-intellectualism plague the movement, as does conspiratorial thinking, Trumpism, and Qanon ideology. Scores of IFB church members participated in the 1/6/21 insurrection. Despite these things, millions of people attend IFB churches (and IFB adjacent sects such as the Bible church movement and the Southern Baptist Convention). Virtually every community in the United States has an IFB church. That people don’t know that these Baptist churches are IFB reflects how indifferent Christians have become to denominationalism (and yes, in the loosest sense of the word, the IFB church movement is a sect/denomination)

Do ex-IFB church members get shunned by church members, pastors, evangelists, and IFB families?

The short answer is yes. IFB churches are exclusionary and anti-culture. While they might grudgingly admit that non-IFB Christians are True Christians, in practice they believe they alone preach the faith once delivered to the saints. That’s why a community can have numerous churches, yet an IFB church planter with come to their town and will start a church. Why, there’s no Bible-believing church in town, the IFB church planter says. I know I believed this when I planted churches in Somerset, Buckeye Lake, and West Unity — all in Ohio. These churches were surrounded by other Bible-believing, Bible-preaching churches, but they weren’t IFB.

Personally, my wife, Polly, and I have been shunned by IFB family members. Polly’s late father was an IFB pastor, as was her late uncle. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) She also has cousins who are IFB preachers, evangelists, and missionaries. Polly’s extended family has largely shunned us. Only one of them is friends with us on Facebook.

Polly’s mom is dying. She has cancer, congestive heart failure, and kidney failure. I would be surprised if she makes it to Christmas. We are planning to drive to Newark, Ohio tomorrow to visit with her and help her, kicking and screaming, get her house in order. We are somewhat estranged from Polly’s mom, but since Polly is the last surviving close relative, it is up to her to make sure everything is taken care of after her mom dies. Of course, there will be a church funeral at the Newark Baptist Temple to contend with. Ugh.

Two years ago, Mom sent us her funeral demands. We gave it a cursory glance, at the time. We know we will have to endure being preached at by her pastor. The funeral service will be all about Jesus, as most IFB funeral services are. Yesterday, I got Mom’s funeral demands out and gave them a careful reading. What stood out was the fact that the Gerencser family — her only living daughter’s family — will have NO part in the funeral service. Mom’s demands were quite detailed. Only IFB family members will have a part in the church and graveside services. It’s hard not to conclude that Mom is punishing her oldest grandchildren for her daughter’s and son-in-law’s unbelief. We will, of course, abide by her wishes, knowing that this will be the last sentence written in our IFB story. I told Polly that when we drive away from Newark some day after her mom’s funeral, I plan to look in the rearview mirror and give a middle-finger salute.

We wish it could be different with Polly’s family. However, their theological beliefs keep them from loving as we are. As long as we are atheists, we will be evangelization targets — not family members, not friends.

Do Independent Fundamentalists Baptists know that they are indoctrinated in a cult?

I was a guest on Clint Heacock’s podcast today and we talked about this very subject. Religious sects, by definition, are cults. (Please see Questions: Bruce, Is the IFB Church Movement a Cult?) However, not all cults are equal. IFB churches cause psychological (and physical) harm. They are not, in any way, benign. That said, IFB church members don’t think they are part of a cult. In their minds, cults are sects such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Charismatics, and others. Why don’t they see that the IFB is a cult too? When you are in the IFB bubble, everything makes perfect, rational sense. The beliefs and practices are “Biblical.” I never thought I was in a cult. I never doubted that my beliefs were right. When you are conditioned and indoctrinated in certain beliefs and practices, it is impossible for you to see your sect’s weaknesses and contradictions. This is especially the case in the IFB church movement. Congregants isolate themselves from “lost” people; from the “world.” Their churches become their families; the hub around which their lives revolve.

I hope I have adequately answered JT’s questions.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Two Questions About the IFB Church Movement

good question

Several days ago, a reader sent me two questions about the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement.

What is an evangelist in the IFB church and what is their role?

Generally, an evangelist is a traveling preacher who goes from church to church holding revival meetings. The goal is to “revive” (bring back to life) church members and evangelize the lost. Evangelists are given love offerings and honorariums and paid expenses for their services.

Most IFB churches believe evangelists are an office in or a gift to the church, much like pastors and deacons. While the Bible does mention evangelists, my understanding is that they were what IFB churches call missionaries/church planters today. There is nothing in the Bible about paid traveling preachers. (Please see Evangelists: The Hired Guns of the IFB Church Movement.)

Over the past fifty years, many IFB churches have lost their appetite for revival meetings. As a young pastor, I typically scheduled two Sunday-through-Friday revival meetings every year. For a number of years, evangelist Don Hardman (please see Book Review: The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman and Book Review: Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman) held three-Sundays, fifteen-day protracted meetings at the church I pastored in southeast Ohio. These days, IFB revival meetings are often only three or four days long. Church members are no longer willing to come to church night after night for a week.

Did you ever meet anyone in the IFB church that still remained friends with you even though you left the movement?

The short answer to this question is no. When I left the IFB church movement in the late 1980s, moving on to Evangelical Calvinism (though still quite Fundamentalist), I maintained many of my connections with IFB pastors, missionaries, and evangelists. Privately, my colleagues in the ministry worried that I was going “liberal.” By the time I left the ministry in 2005, only a handful of IFB-era friendships remained.

In 2008, I left Christianity. I sent out a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners to several hundred people, including my colleagues in the ministry. In this letter, I explained why I was no longer a Christian. I did not call myself an atheist at this time.

My remaining IFB friends labeled me an apostate and an enemy of the faith. My best friend told me that I was mentally ill and a tool of Satan. This sentiment would be repeated by other friends and former parishioners. Prayer meetings were held to pray on my behalf and sermons were preached denouncing me by name. I became a cautionary tale, an illustration of what happens when someone strays from “true Christianity.” Rumors were floated that I had some sort of secret sin in my life. How else could they explain my defection from Christianity?

I am well-known in some corners of the IFB world. I am viewed as a hater of God; an enemy of the one true faith. I, of course, view the IFB church movement as a cult, a dangerous religious sect that causes untold psychological (and physical) harm. I have received countless nasty, hateful blog comments, emails, and social media messages from IFB Christians (yes, I think they are Christians). I suspect that they see me as some sort of existential threat to their religion. And I am, to the degree that my story rings true for many Christians. Numerous people say that my writing played an instrumental part in their deconversion or, remaining Christian, their abandonment of Evangelicalism. Most of these people came out of IFB and Southern Baptist churches.

I hope I have adequately answered these questions.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Evangelical Apologist Dismisses Atheists by Saying, “I’ve Read the Last Chapter of the Bible — We Win!”

god wins
god wins

Several weeks ago, I watched a YouTube video of an Evangelical apologist dismissing arguments atheists make against Christianity. He said Christians shouldn’t bother answering atheist objections. Why? “I read the last chapter of the Bible, and we [Christians] win!”

First, this apologist provided no evidence for why we should believe anything the Bible says. He claims the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, but what evidence does he offer up for his claims? None. He’s a presuppostionalist, so he thinks he has no obligation to defend his claims. In his mind, the Bible says it is God’s Word — end of discussion. Atheists KNOW this to be true. They just suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Or so apologists say, anyway.

Second, the book of Revelation — the last book of the Bible — is a widely disputed book among Christians. Church fathers debated whether it should even be part of the canon of Scripture. Many Christians believe that Revelation is allegorical history, fulfilled centuries ago. Evangelicals tend to read Revelation literally. Thus they see the book as a chronology of human history, much of which has not yet been fulfilled. Evangelicals really do believe that the events recorded in Revelation will literally come to pass, and soon (even though their lived lives suggest otherwise).

Third, when this apologist says “we win” what does he mean? He means that God has slaughtered everyone on the face of the earth. He means that ninety percent or more of the humans who have ever lived on the face of the earth will be suffering endless torture in the Lake of Fire. Saying “we win” is his way of laughing in the faces of all those who challenged his Fundamentalist beliefs. “Ha! Ha! Ha! motherfuckers, I was right. Bring me a stick and some marshmallows.”

If this apologist really believed what Revelation says about the future of his unsaved family, neighbors, and friends, along with billions of non-Christians, he would spend every waking hour pleading with sinners to get saved. Instead, he spends his time making YouTube videos and arguing with atheists.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser