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The Failure of My Homophobic Preaching

homosexuality a sin

I came of age as an Evangelical pastor during the eleven years I spent at Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. I was young, brash, full of energy, and convinced that God was going to use me to build a large country church. And sure enough, thanks to aggressive evangelism, the bus ministry, and congregational splits among several nearby Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, Somerset Baptist grew to over two hundred people.

For many of the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist, I preached topical/textual sermons. In the late 1980s, I moved away from such preaching and began taking an expositional approach to my sermons. Textual/topical preaching fit well with my IFB ideology. Want to preach against a particular sin? Find proof texts that validate your viewpoint and build them into a sermon. Homosexuality was one such sin that got a lot of attention from me. I was loud and forceful in my preaching, leaving no doubt as to what I — er, I mean God — believed about sodomites and the sin of sodomy.

I was quite certain that if there were any closeted homosexuals in the congregations, my preaching would drive the gay right out of them. I never, of course, used the word gay to describe homosexuals. There is nothing GAY about the homosexual lifestyle, I told congregants, many of whom showered my homophobia with AMENS!  The children and teens of the church, in particular, faced the wrath of Pastor Bruce as he railed against sexual sin. I felt duty-bound to protect their virginity, warning them that physical contact with the opposite sex was the gateway to fornication. The Bible says in I Corinthians 7:1, I hollered from the pulpit, It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Girls were warned that no girl ever got pregnant without holding hands with a boy first. Want to stay pure until your wedding day? I asked. Don’t let a boy touch you! And just to make sure that teenagers put my preaching into practice, I instituted a no-touching rule in our Christian school and I asked their parents to not let their daughters get in cars with boys.

My preaching against homosexuality was meant as a preventative. I was certain that there were NO homosexuals among the faithful. From time to time, we had lesbians or gay men ride one of our buses, and I made sure they knew the “truth” about their vile lifestyle. There was one particular area where we picked up bus riders that was known for its immorality, especially incest. On more than one occasion, several women came to church with their children who had been fathered by their brothers. This inbreeding led to all sorts of physical maladies, including developmental disability (also known as retardation back in the day). No matter how fiery my sermons were, my edicts against their fornication pretty much went over their heads.

In 1989, I became a born-again Calvinist. Church attendance was declining. Those who had left other IFB churches returned home, taking their tithes and offerings with them. This caused severe financial difficulties, forcing us to stop running four bus routes. At this juncture in my ministry, I felt “led” of God to start a tuition-free Christian school for the church’s children. Our highest enrollment was fifteen students.

Fast forward to today. Through social media and private email, I have been in contact with a handful of the school’s students. I have apologized to them for my harsh preaching, especially my rants against homosexuality. Why this sin in particular? Three out of the fifteen students are now gay. That’s right, twenty percent of the student body came out of the closet as adults, proving that all the anti-gay preaching in the world, complete with Bible verses, won’t change who and what people are.

Evangelical preachers continue to rail against what they deem sexual sin. Few people forsake their nature. Instead, they learn to hide who they really are. In the case of teenagers, they bide their time until they can leave home. Once free of their parents’ fundamentalism, they embrace their true sexual nature. Some of them lose their faith, while others find ways to reconcile the Bible’s anti-LGBTQ stance with who and what they are. I do know this: the three people I mentioned in the post have turned into loving, caring adults. It’s too bad they had to spend years being beaten over their heads with the Bible by their pastor and parents. That any of them wants to have a relationship with me is a testimony to their kindness and character. I wouldn’t blame any of them if they spit in my face and told me to go to hell.

Were you raised in a church where your preacher railed against fornication in general and homosexuality in particular? How did things turn out people once they became adults? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

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    I can’t refer back to religious homophobia, as I don’t think it’s something UK churches, in the main, like even to talk about. To a large extent, I think it’s something they leave to secular society to resolve, though no doubt they privately deplore it.

    For me growing up it was something that was very much ignored, and a hostile environment existed for gays, to the extent that I can only now look back and realise that many school colleagues who were regarded as a ‘bit strange’ were just gay. I’m ashamed because we used to joke about ‘homos’, or casually discuss cases of ‘gay bashing’ (I may be remembering this wrong, as I’m not sure the word gay was used when I was at school). It must have been incredibly hard on those people who actually were gay, being made to suffer in silence simply because of the way they are made.

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    My Southern Baptist church and fundamentalist evangelical Christian school were unequivocally anti-gay. Everyone knew that homosexuality was a big sin, a lifestyle choice, an abomination. We all suspected that certain students were gay, and sure enough, once they were able to move away they came out. I haven’t asked them but I suspect they are non-religious. I can’t imagine how angry and confused they must have felt growing up being told they were an abomination in addition to all the regular sin nature nonsense.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    I think the intense Christian focus on sexual sin is a continuing reaction to the first-world sexual revolution. The notion that, gasp, people will not behave like the Cleaver parents in “Leave It To Beaver” has been discovered and railed against over and over… The congregation must get something positive out of this dead-horse-beating, though.

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    maura a hart

    the priests and nuns went crazy about impure thoughts but noone knew what they were, no patent leather shoes, and hats in churchs and beating on children and priests raping altar boys, but who knew from gay?

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    As a woman in the Pentecostal movement, we were constantly told that we would not find a good husband if we had sex before marriage. Our value was our virginity. I still lived with my now husband before marriage, but we hid this carefully. I did not enjoy my relationship early on as much as I could have due to this stress. Now we teach our kids not to have sex because of pressure, but because they are ready for the real responsibilities and consequences of sex. We teach from a standpoint of avoiding disease and unintended pregnancy,and respecting their partner. Not pretending like sex will never happen.

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    My Catholic family were anti-sex in every form when I was growing up. Being gay was a particular target. Now that we are all older, some of them have mellowed. My Grandmother voted Yes in the marriage equality survey held here in Australia, despite being a lifelong Catholic.

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    Weirdly, though asexual I may be, the calls to avoid sexual immorality made me feel broken more then anything. Abstaining from sex was supposed to be some huge challange that everyone struggled with… but for me it never was.
    I alternated between being convinced religious leaders were making a problem out of nothing by being so vocal about it (because the only appeal I could see other people’s naked bodies having was the allure of the forbidden) and thinking that I was clearly broken for not understanding.

    The worst part was the time a priest came to speak to my class about vocations. (I went to a Catholic school in junior high). I became convinced my lack of such ‘budding feelings’ was a sign god wanted me to be a nun or a sister, and I absolutely hated the thought! It’s a good thing I decided to accept my distaste and wait for other more positive signs (rather then a lack of something), as I managed to become an atheist in college. As lovely, and liberal leaning, as all the Benedictine nuns at my undergrad college were, I wouldn’t be happy with a religious life.

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Bruce Gerencser