Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners

bruce and polly gerencser 2008

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Summer 2008

What follows is the letter I sent in April, 2009 to my family, friends and former parishioners. This letter came after Polly and I attended church  on the Sunday before Thanksgiving  in 2008. I am republishing it here so it is part of the historical narrative of my life. I know many of you have read this before but I hope you will read it again. As I reread this, I am reminded that what I wrote here is still, almost seven years later, the motivating factor of my life.  The rough, sharp edges are gone, but I remain a man in love with his wife and family and a seeker of truth.

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you has an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and decisions I made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually every fiber of my being.

I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the church was my life would be an understatement.  As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress, and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known this for a long time, but now everyone will know.

The church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies have led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. Particularly, I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is.

I have no time to invest in the blame game. I am where I am today for any number of reasons and I must embrace where I am and move forward.

In moving forward, I have stopped attending church. I have not attended a church service since November of 2008. I have no interest of desire in attending any church on a regular basis. This does not mean I will never attend a church service again, but it does mean, for NOW, I have no intention of attending church services.

I pastored for the last time in 2003. Almost six years have passed by. I have no intentions of ever pastoring again. When people ask me about this I tell them I am retired. With the health problems that I have it is quite easy to make an excuse for not pastoring, but the fact is I don’t want to pastor.

People continue to ask me “what do you believe?” Rather than inquiring about how my life is, the quality of that life, etc., they reduce my life to what I believe. Life becomes nothing more than a set of religious constructs. A good life becomes believing the right things.

I can tell you this…I believe God is…and that is the sum of my confession of faith.

A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.

I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones. I am a committed progressive, liberal Democrat, with the emphasis being on the progressive and liberal. My evolving views on women, abortion, homosexuality, war, socialism, social justice, and the environment have led me to the progressive, liberal viewpoint.

I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, She is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye opener.

Polly is free to be whomever and whatever she wishes. If she wants to start attending the local Fundamentalist Baptist church she is free to do so, and even has my blessing. For now, she doesn’t.  She may never believe as I believe, but in my new way of thinking that is OK. I really don’t care what others think. Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you living a good, productive life? Do you enjoy life? Yes, to these questions is good enough for me.

I have six children, three of whom are out on their own. For many years I was the spiritual patriarch of the family. Everyone looked to me for the answers. I feel somewhat burdened over my children. I feel as if I have left them out on their own with no protection. But, I know they have good minds and can think and reason for themselves. Whatever they decide about God, religion, politics, or American League baseball is fine with me.

All I ask of my wife and children is that they allow me the freedom to be myself, that they allow me to journey on in peace and love. Of course, I still love a rousing discussion about religion, the Bible, politics, etc. I want my family to know that they can talk to me about these things, and anything else for that matter, any time they wish.

Opinions are welcome. Debate is good. All done? Let’s go to the tavern and have a round on me. Life is about the journey, and I want my wife and children to be a part of my journey and I want to be a part of theirs.

One of the reasons for writing this letter is to put an end to the rumors and gossip about me. Did you know Bruce is/or is not_____________? Did you know Bruce believes____________? Did you know Bruce is a universalist, agnostic, atheist, liberal ___________?

For you who have been friends or former parishioners I apologize to you if my change has unsettled you, or has caused you to question your own faith. That was never my intent.

The question is, what now?

Family and friends are not sure what to do with me.

I am still Bruce. I am still married. I am still your father, father in-law, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and son-in-law. I would expect you to love me as I am and treat me with respect.

  • Here is what I don’t want from you:
  • Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?
  • Constant reminders that you are praying for me. Please don’t think of me as unkind, but I don’t care that you are praying for me. I find no comfort, solace or strength from your prayers. Be my friend if you can, pray if you must, but leave the prayers in the closet. As long as God gets your prayer message, that will be sufficient.
  • Please don’t send me books, tracts, or magazines. You are wasting your time and money.
  • Invitations to attend your Church. The answer is NO. Please don’t ask. I used to attend Church for the sake of family but no longer. It is hypocritical for me to perform a religious act of worship just for the sake of family. I know how to find a Church if I am so inclined, after all I have visited more than 125 churches since 2003.
  • Offers of a church to pastor. It is not the lack of a church to pastor that has led me to where I am. If I would lie about what I believe, I could be pastoring again in a matter of weeks. I am not interested in ever pastoring a church again.
  • Threats about judgment and hell. I don’t believe in either, so your threats have no impact on me .
  • Phone calls. If you are my friend you know I don’t like talking on the phone. I have no interest in having a phone discussion about my religious or political views.

Here is what I do want from you:

I want you to unconditionally love me where I am and how I am.

That’s it.

Now I realize some (many) of you won’t be able to do that. My friendship, my familial relationship with you is cemented with the glue of Evangelical orthodoxy. Remove the Bible, God, and fidelity to a certain set of beliefs and there is no basis for a continued relationship.

I understand that. I want you to know I have appreciated and enjoyed our friendship over the years. I understand that you can not be my friend any more. I even understand you may have to publicly denounce me and warn others to stay away from me for fear of me contaminating them with my heresy. Do what you must. We had some wonderful times together and I will always remember those good times.

You are free from me if that is your wish.

I shall continue to journey on. I can’t stop. I must not stop.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Bruce

slightly edited for grammar 021616

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20 Comments

  1. Byroniac

    I love this letter! I do have a question, though. You said that you believe God is, and that is the sum of your confession of faith, at the time you wrote this letter. Were you still theistic at the time? Personally, I’m struggling a bit with this. I want to be theistic, but can’t believe in the gods of any organized religion, and have strong doubts of any sort of a personal God. I don’t feel comfortable with the label atheist, though I’d happily subscribe to it in certain contexts: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc. Anyways, I could not have written this letter so well. It’s great, and much more gracious than required, and yet I have a sneaky feeling that it still wasn’t appreciated by all.

    Reply
    1. Tige Gibson

      Why do you “want to be theistic”, and what does “theistic” mean to you by itself without referring to what it isn’t?

      Do you feel the word “atheist” is an invective?

      Reply
      1. Byroniac

        I am not sure what you mean by, “to you by itself without referring to what it isn’t”. I guess wanting to be theistic is one of those subjective emotional things, which you either feel or you do not. I think I would like for a benevolent God of some kind to exist, but statistics alone argues against that being much of a possibility. I think for me it goes to a search for meaning and wanting the Universe and my own life to have some ultimate meaning of some kind. I do not feel that “atheist” is always an invective, though sometimes it can be used that way. For now, I shy away from the term because its definition expresses more confidence than I actually feel, unless the context is one of the many gods of organized religion.

        Reply
    2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I was theistic at the time, most likely a universalist. A few months later I started calling myself an agnostic.

      Reply
  2. Aram McLean

    Nicely said, Bruce.

    Reply
  3. e

    Wow, I love how you included a do and don’t list of how you want people to treat you.

    I just kinda stopped talking to everyone.

    Might have been easier to tell them point blank that all I want is to be loved and treated with respect. Then they could either be nice or get out of my life and I wouldn’t have so many awkward holidays.

    Reply
  4. bigmike

    I quit getting your daily letter because it was too difficult to read. I think the font was too small or too light. Content was great.

    ‘cerely,

    Milan Illich

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I edited the body type size. Please resubscribe and let me know what you think.

      Bruce

      Reply
      1. mil

        much more readable.

        Reply
  5. Jane

    Dear Bruce,

    First let me say I’ve enjoyed reading your blog (I found it by searching for: “Evangelicalism is bankrupt”), and I do respect your journey and believe that all will turn out well for you.

    I identify as a Christian, but I’ve got one foot out the door of Evangelicalism. By the middle of this year, both feet will be out.

    I agree with a lot of what you wrote about American Jesus. He drives me crazy too.

    I believe in God, but not the Evangelical demand to be Bible-worshippers, to insist on single-point conversion, to obey people with PhD’s in theology, to care about everything said by celebrity pastors, and to focus on respectability and morality.

    Contemplative prayer has loosened Evangelicalism’s grip on my life. For me, politics, church, religion, analyzing someone’s eternal destiny, and other rules have simply drifted away as having very little interest to me.

    It’s not that I’ve gone from being a Republican to something else; it’s more than I simply don’t think any of this stuff is important.

    I guess you can call me a “Done,” although I believe I’m trading public Christianity for the real thing: a deeper relationship with God. I don’t care much about the externals.

    My divorce and life as a single mother taught me that God feels more vibrant, close, and powerful at the far edges of Christianity. I benefited greatly from being part of that out-group.

    Anyway, forgive this rambling, but know I found good stuff on your blog and I wish you the best.

    You seem like an intelligent and sensible man, and I have confidence in your journey. Blessings to you and your loved ones.

    Best, Jane

    Reply
  6. John Arthur

    Hi Jane,

    Contemplative prayer and focused meditation on compassion, healing-mercy and loving kindness can be a wonderful mechanism for escaping the theological and ethical rigidities as well as the control that much of evangelicalism exerts on its members.

    I hope that, indeed, you will have both feet out of evangelicalism soon. Meditation is liberating and makes us more tolerant of others views and lifestyles than evangelicalism usually does. May peace, mercy and kindness follow you all the days of your life.

    Shalom,

    John Arthur

    Reply
  7. Jane

    Thanks, John. I agree.

    Reply
  8. Brian

    Just had a cursory read through your local response pages and holy smoke, you do live in lah-lah land. Reading there is like going to a Baptist buffet, members only (but we love the hell out of you demons!) Smothering love, save me.

    Reply
  9. Dave Kinsella

    “I shall continue to journey on. I can’t stop. I must not stop.”

    Love that. I say the same thing so often.

    Reply
  10. April

    I am still trying to articulate my feels regarding organizated religion, Baptist in particular. As you stated in one of your pieces “I am Baptist” because I was raised to be one. I have many problems and issues with its seclusive teachings

    (I was taught the Pope or Jews or any other religious denomination is not going to heaven because they are not Baptist. Being a baptist is the only way to heaven. But also once you are “saved” you can never be unsaved. So the Columbine shooters can get to heaven if they were saved at 5, but the Pope can’t? Makes no sense to me.)

    One example of my issue with religion, i.e. Baptist, is that you even have to write this letter, knowing that you will be shune by friends and family! So much for love thy neighbor as thy self. And turn the other cheek.

    Thank you for this blog, thank you for helping me articulate what I have been feeling for a long time.

    Reply
  11. Kristyn

    Hi Bruce,

    Thanks for sharing your journey as you have. I am curious, what exactly caused you to stop believing the Bible, and all that you had studied of Christianity? Was there scientific data that changed your mind about these things, or just all of the hypocrisy and pain that the various forms of so-call Christianity caused?

    Kristyn

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Hi Kristyn,

      Please check out the WHY page https://brucegerencser.net/why/

      After doing so, if you have any questions please email me or leave a comment and I will gladly answer them.

      Bruce

      Reply
  12. Mark

    Bruce,

    Sometimes ministry in the Fundamental Baptist and some Evangelical denominations can be extremely demanding. Especially the many roles that you have fulfilled over the many years! All this work, on top of work can “cloud out” what Jesus means to the church and Who Jesus is. All the church is left with then, is religion and ritual. I am guessing that you have experienced this first hand.

    Just know that Jesus the Christ does love you Bruce. I hope that you can agree with this once again

    Mark.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      You read the WHY post, so I’m sure you know that what you desire for me is never going to happen. Once the myth is exposed, there is no going back. I would NEVER trade the life I know have for the garlic and leeks of Egypt.

      Reply
  13. Steff

    I wrote my “I no longer believe” letter too. I am 28 and converted at age 20. I was a Hebrew roots fundamentalist and it was entire world. It took a lot of study and emotional pain to leave. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Reply

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