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An Ex-Pastor’s Dilemma

bruce gerencser 1983
Bruce Gerencser, age 25, Ordination 1983, Emmanuel Baptist Church Buckeye Lake, Ohio

Contrary to what some of my critics say, I have no great need to convert others to what they derisively call the atheist religion. I’m quite content to live and let live. I fully recognize that many people find great value in believing in God and the afterlife. I even understand the deep emotional need such beliefs meet. Who am I to rob someone of anything that gives their life deeper meaning and purpose? It doesn’t matter whether their belief is true or if I think their belief is true. All that matters is that THEY think their belief is true and I have no pressing need to deliver people from their fantasies, delusions, or irrational beliefs.

As much as I think that I am a rational person driven by evidence and knowledge, I know I can, like any other human being, be led astray by false or misguided beliefs. No human being is a god when it comes to rational thinking. We all can and do fall off the wagon of rational thinking. As long as a religious person does not try to convert me,  I am inclined to leave them well enough alone. I suspect if the Christian religion was a private, pietistic religion practiced quietly behind the closed doors of homes and houses of worship, I would have little to blog about. Since it is anything but these things, I have plenty to blog about and I am inclined to push back at those who believe their beliefs should be the required beliefs for all, whether believed voluntarily or under threat of law.

For twenty-five years I was pastor to hundreds of people in churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I was their friend, counselor, and confidant. I married the young and buried the old. A few times, I buried the young and married the old. I led to them to faith in Christ. I baptized them. They looked to me to give them certainty and hope and a message from God that he loved them and cared for them.  Through every phase of life, I was there for them. That’s the life of a pastor. I cared for them, loved them, and even to this day I want only what is best for them. And this puts me in a real spot, what I call An Ex-Pastor’s Dilemma.

I pastored my last church in 2003. In 2005 I left the ministry and 3 years later I left the Christian faith. By late 2009, I was self-identifying as an atheist. I am not a person that is hard to find. I have a unique last name. I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world. (ain’t I special)  My Google, Facebook, Twitter, and email contact information is readily available via any search engine. I guess what I am saying here is this; I am not an ex-Pastor in hiding. I am not trying to forget a past life and make a new life for myself. It’s not the simple.

Here’s my dilemma…

Former parishioners and Christian friends often try to touch base with me . They haven’t found this blog yet or read any of the other things I have written that are posted on the internet, so they assume I am still a pastor. A middle-aged woman, a woman I first met when she was a troubled teen, contacted me to let me know what a wonderful difference God was making in her life. She just knew I would want to know that FINALLY God was using her to help other people. Quite frankly, I AM glad God is using her to help other people. I am glad God has made her life better. I remember the tough time she had growing up, the great sorrows and difficulties she faced.

I didn’t respond to her inquiry. I didn’t want to open the door to her being discouraged or disillusioned. It is one thing if she stumbles upon this blog. If she dares to search a bit she will find the truth, but I would rather she come to it on her own and not by me telling her. I am not being a coward. Those who know me know I don’t play the coward’s part very well. But, at the same time, I still have a pastor’s heart. I don’t want to see people hurt. Maybe she will never find out I am an atheist. Maybe she will live a good life, thinking that Pastor Gerencser is proud of her. Such a small deception is one I will gladly commit if someone like her finds peace and purpose as a result of it.

It is one thing if an ex-parishioner or Christian friend comes after me like a hungry lion chasing a bleeding deer. Those who find out about my defection from Christianity and become angry, combative, defensive, and argumentative will find that I am quite willing to meet them in the middle of the road and do battle. If I am forced to do so, I will speak my mind and pointedly share what I believe. (or don’t believe) However, for those who are only looking for the man who loved them and nurtured them in the faith, I am not inclined to hurt them or cause them to despair.


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    Being brought up as a believer and someone saved and baptised, when I left Christianity I left understanding what a leap it was… over the years (in my sixties now) I have had the fortune to live through many changes of heart and mind and I have come to know enough that I should never think that life is my way or the highway. I know that we are change and that we can and will perhaps decide against some stance that seems perfectly obvious and true for our lives now. This is what makes me different as an atheist who once believed in Jesus. I am content to allow you space to be who you are and I do not wish to convert you to my way of thinking, though I will discuss it at length sometimes if somebody wants to do so. If you want to believe in what I believe is imaginary, then I will not stand in your way.
    If only Christians could be as giving as Atheists in this way, there would be far less barking but Christians are told to get out there and chase people down… In the old testament, God ordered fathers to sacrifice their own sons to prove their love of the Big Cheese. It is very sad to me now, to see the legacy live on…
    Why are atheists often so much more supportive than Christians?

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    Bruce, it’s too bad you will never get the much deserved credit for helping all those people through the years. “To God be the glory”, they say.

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    You’re truly a compassionate and decent person.
    How can you be an atheist?
    Don’t they fry cats and poke small children with forks?

    I am not a loud atheist. Much of my family is completely unaware that I’ve become a godless heathen. I choose to keep my mouth shut rather than hurt my mom.

    And I don’t fry cats. Don’t ask me about children. 😉

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    That’s a heck of a dilemma – It would seem (to me) that no response is bordering on “rude” in a way – which I’m sure plays as part of your dilemma being the honorable/honest man that you are. At the same time it may be fair/prudent to let past/dead relationships remain “dead” and buried, as it were (all figurative references, of course).

    Not that you’re asking for an answer, as I know you’re a sensitive and intelligent man, but, were it me, I “might” be inclined to respond with a positive message of encouragement to maintain and prosper on the former parishioner’s current path while gently, yet cryptically relating that you are no longer a pastor and are not affiliated with the church/organization for personal and health reasons – that you are effectively a retired private citizen … yet you wish nothing but the best for this persons success and growth in the future and that you hope he/she gains strength, joy and respect by selflessly “paying it forward” to others in his/her community.

    Just a thought/idea – feel free to disregard if it doesn’t “fit” the situation/scenario – I won’t be offended – You’re a good man Bruce, you’ll “know” what’s right for you 🙂

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    MJ Lisbeth

    I confess that I came across this post because it is under “related” to my most recent guest post. One of these days, I’ll start at the beginning of this blog and follow it to the present!

    For now, I’ll just say this post confirms what I’ve thought about you, Bruce: You have integrity and sensitivity.

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