The Preacher and His TV

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In the 1960s, when I was a child, my Dad would drop my siblings and me off at the Bryan Theater so we could watch the 25-cent Saturday afternoon matinee. But somewhere in my primary school years, going to movies became unacceptable. From that point forward, outside of attending a drive-in movie one time at age 18, I didn’t go to a movie theater again until I was in my late 30s.  As a Christian, I believed that going to or renting movies was supporting Hollywood, an institution that I considered a den of iniquity.

In the late 1990s, having become more “liberal” in my thinking, I decided it was time for the Gerencser family to go to a movie. When I told Polly that we were all going to the drive-in to see a movie, she was appalled. She literally thought that God was going to strike us dead. Well here we are, all these years later, still among the living.  Evidently, God didn’t seem to care about us going to the drive-in. By the way, the first hardcore, violent, nudity laden movie we saw was George of the Jungle! The Second? Air Bud.

I grew up in a home that always had a television. My Mom told me one time that American Bandstand was my babysitter. The first memory I have about television is watching the Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember my Dad coming home with what I later in life called the “poor man’s color TV.” It was a colored, plastic sheet that Dad taped to the TV screen. The top of the sheet was blue and the bottom was green. Supposedly, the screen was meant to simulate sky and grass. Dad wasn’t impressed and we quickly went back to watching black and white TV. The Gerencser family didn’t own a color television until sometime in the 1970s.

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it.  How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps.  What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.

calvin and hobbes tv

In the early 1990s, I would, from time to time, rent a television from a local rent-to-own business. Two times come to mind: the World Series and the 1991 Gulf War. Outside of that, my oldest three children grew up in a television-free home. They were teenagers: 18, 16, and 13, before they watched TV (except for watching Saturday cartoons when they were little). Well, this isn’t entirely true. When they visited their grandparents, they were permitted to watch TV (even though I wasn’t happy about them doing so). Like Amish children, they were mesmerized by Disney movies and cartoons.

After our family attended their first movie, I decided I would buy a television, setting in motion seven years of what any competent psychologist would call bizarre behavior. While what I am about to share will sound hilarious to those who never spent any time in Christian Fundamentalism, at the time, there was nothing humorous about my actions.

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions?, you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life:

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.

My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

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Where was Polly in all of this, you ask? She was the dutiful, submissive wife who believe her God-called, on-fire, sold-out Christian pastor of a husband knew best. Polly rarely watched TV, so having one didn’t matter to her. I was the one who “needed” to watch TV. As I now psychoanalyze this period of my life, I think watching TV was my way of being normal. Serving a sin-hating God and preaching to others a rigorous morality meant that I had to live a Christ-honoring, sin-free life. Again, in light of the atoning work of Jesus on my behalf, I thought that forsaking the pleasure of the “world” was but a small price to pay for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Yet, I wanted to be like everyone else, so I would come home after a long day of studying for my sermons and visiting church members, and leave God sitting on the front porch. Watching TV was my way of unwinding after work days which were often 12 hours long. While I still was selective about what I watched, my attempts to avoid “sinful” viewing rarely kept me from watching whatever I wanted to watch, especially after the children went to bed. Over time, my guilt levels would increase, ultimately leading to the behaviors outlined in this post.

In 2006, 18 months before I deconverted, I finally put an end to my battle with the television. I decided, God be damned, I was going to own a TV and watch whatever I wanted to watch. From that point forward, we have owned a TV. While I have continued to buy televisions, my purchases are driven by resolution, refresh rate, and screen size, and not the thought that God was doing to strike me dead for seeing a naked woman on TV. (We now own two televisions: a 43 inch and 32 inch LED Vizio TV.)

Several years ago, as we were watching an episode of True Blood, I turned to Polly and said, who would of thought that we would be sitting here watching bloody, naked vampires having sex?  We laughed together, both grateful that the preacher had finally been delivered from the demon of TV.

Note

List of article and videos about the sin of watching hellivision and going to the movies. This list was compiled by a devoted follower of the late Jack Hyles.

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10 Comments

  1. Candip

    Ahh I remember those days… TV in, TV out, TV in closet and only brought to the living area for “special movie” occasions with my kids. It’s enough to drive any family insane…

    Reply
  2. Steve

    “bloody, naked vampires having sex?”

    That’s HOT!!!

    Reply
  3. Kenneth

    This post reminds me of how my faith was most of the time when I was a theist and my sorry attempt to rid sin from my life. Well, that battle was lost long ago needless to say and it is indeed a battle in vain. Anyway, your TV habits can be seen as a sort of reflection of the Christian life. You battle the sin in anguish, fail, go to church, rinse and repeat–a pattern I’m sure all of us ex-theists are familiar with. It got tiring after a while, so imagine the delight when theism finally went out the window for good.

    Reply
  4. Karen the rock whisperer

    The post made me chuckle. I find most of what’s on TV so vapid that I seldom watch it. The rest is often too graphic for me nowadays; a really good thriller of a TV series can mess with my dreams for several nights running. I’m an avid reader, and I don’t shy away from graphic stuff in print, but forcing my mind to create the images puts a filter on the real nightmare-worthy stuff.

    So, not a TV-watcher here, for personal, secular reasons.

    Reply
  5. Brian

    Wow.I don’t know how to respond to this. I am so sorry that you have had to struggle with this in such a manner, thanks be to the miserable Father of Judgement and Misery. I am so sorry that you endured such pain with TV. Extreme religion poisons everything human so people can be overcome and owned. Pass the offering plate. I hope you spend some time just calmly, deeply breathing and being free of all the harm done to you. Jeebus. I am so sorry, Bruce. (We don’t have cable where we are but rent seasons of dvds of the shows we get an interest in… I never had to go toe to toe with God about TV, just about acceptable content! Thank-you for sharing this…. it matters a lot to be said in public. It becomes clear to people who had no idea at all of how fucked it all is, the whole evangelical, spiritual rape.

    Reply
  6. Melody

    Very familiar 🙂

    I was raised pretty much without tv, which meant we (my brother and I) were completely mesmerized when visiting friends or family who did have a television. When he was about 12, my brother saw a number of them at a church (not ours) garage sale and ran home to beg our parents if he could buy one. I joined in the begging, of course :), and since my mum sort of liked the idea too, we were able to finally persuade dad with the argument that he could watch the news every day that way (instead of only on Sundays when we visited my grandparents).

    My brother ran back and found that his friends (who didn’t have to ask their parents) had bought all the good ones, i.e. color and large screens, so our first tv was an old black/white with a very small screen, lol. The number of channels was quite limited but it still felt like a huge treasure 🙂 We were definitely under its evil spell for quite a while and great that was too!

    I still love visiting the cinema but have mixed memories of my first trip. My dad had basically made me feel guilty about going: saying that we all had to live with our consciences 🙁 So I enjoyed the film, but also felt bad about enjoying it. The same happened the first few times I visited a bar, even without drinking any alcohol. The idea that Jesus would come back and find me there was pretty frightening and made me feel rather anxious. Fortunately, that all changed in time 🙂

    Even my dad has visited the cinema a few times, for evil movies such as Sherlock Holmes or naturefilms 🙂

    Reply
  7. Jada

    I can hardly believe we had a TV, but my dad did have to watch the Cowboys during football season. 😉

    We used to have a TV armoire so that when anyone came over I could close it and act like we really didn’t watch it much. We now have a 60-inch flat screen and we looooove it. I’m no longer ‘ashamed’ for anyone to know that yeah, dammit, I really love good, mostly cable, shows. It’s a ‘smart’ TV, so we can do Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc. I have a list of favorites, and the first two on my list – both shows that just broke my heart – are Battlestar Galactica and Breaking Bad. And I don’t care who knows it. 😉

    Reply
    1. Brian

      Breaking Bad, yes! Six Feet Under too! One of the great things about not watching TV now is that you can grab whole series or whole seasons of shows and go on a spree with them without commercial interruption! Our little screen is only 32″ but I still remember the console black and white that we got about 1960 or so. We could watch Bonanza and a few other things. I think my dad actually got it because Billy Graham was being televised in Crusade!

      Reply
  8. Kathleen

    I’ve spent the last 20 years catching up on movies and series I wasn’t allowed to watch as a kid. Recently I went and looked up the movie Ice Castles, because my mother not only would not allow me to see it, but forbade anyone from talking about it in front of me. I’m not sure what was so awful about it because it looks like one of those inspirational stories she usually liked… I never really figured out all the rules, but they lasted past the time we left the church, until Raiders of the Lost Ark came out, when my dad told my mother that I, age 10, could handle a PG movie, and took me to see it. It was AWESOME and I wanted to be an archaeologist for the next few years LOL.

    Reply
  9. Ben Masters

    Hello, Bruce– my name is Ben Masters from Fountain Inn, SC. I was simply wanting to ask you a question about what you just said about television and pastors being against it (you yourself said you were when you were a pastor, IINM): did you ever listen to a televangelist preaching against television?

    IIRC, I have listened to several, the foremost being Donnie Swaggart, and when I listened to him, I wondered, why is he preaching against television on television? He says “don’t watch television,” but what are we doing when we’re watching him preaching against television? Bingo– we’re watching television. To me, that is very hypocrisy (YMMV), because if he doesn’t like people watching television, then why is he a televangelist who has a lot of people seeing him every Sunday? I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing that people like him think they’re using it for the greater good of the Gospel, but all those other people are using it for Satan.

    Reply

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