What I Lost and Gained When I Divorced Jesus

freedomI grew up in the Evangelical church. Saved at age 15 and called to preach a few weeks later, every aspect of my life was dominated by the teachings of God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word — the Bible. In the fall of 1976, at the age of 19, I packed up my worldly belongings and drove north to enroll in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I soon meet a beautiful dark-haired girl who would become my wife. This coming July we will celebrate forty-one years of wedded bliss.

In the spring of 1979, we packed up our meager household goods and moved to Bryan, Ohio — the city of my birth. Thus began my ministerial career, a career that would take me to seven churches in three states. In 2005, I left the ministry, and three years later I filed for divorced from Jesus. Our divorce was final in November 2008. Since that time, I have not darkened the doors of a Christian church, save for funerals and weddings.

I was fifty years old when I walked away from Christianity. Few men with as much time invested in their ministerial careers as I had walk away from the church/Jesus. I know several pastors who no longer believe in the Christian God, yet are still actively serving churches. They have too much invested in their careers to quit now. They hope to quietly make it to retirement age without anyone discovering their unbelief. In my case, I was never good at playing the game, so when I reached the place where I no longer believed the central tenets of Christianity, I walked away. (Please see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.)

Choosing to walk away from Christianity cost me greatly. I lost most of my friends, and all of my colleagues in the ministry. I was brutally savaged by men I once considered friends. I received nasty emails from former congregants, and several pastors took to their pulpits to preach against Bruce, the Evangelical pastor-turned-atheist. (Please see Jose Maldonado Says I Never Was a Christian and Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser.) Everything I accomplished in the ministry was called into question. A man whom I considered my closest friend accused me of destroying my family. One colleague even came to my home, hoping that he could get me to reconsider my loss of faith. (Please see Dear Friend.)

I had always known that Evangelicals tended to shoot their wounded and eat their own, so it should have come as no surprise to me when I was brutally attacked, labeled an apostate, and branded a Bible-denying hater of God. The wounds of those who once called me friend caused great pain and heartache. I have not, a decade later, recovered from the loss of these friendships. I know, of course, that fidelity to certain beliefs was the glue that held our relationships together, but I am still, to this day, surprised at how quickly my friends turned against me. While I have certainly made a few new friends, none of these relationships measures up to the ones I once had with fellow pastors. I currently live in the land of God, Guns, and Republicans. Atheists, agnostics, and humanists are far and few between, and many of them, out of economic and social necessity, hide in the shadows of their communities. Most of my friends are of the digital kind. I am grateful for having such friends, but I yearn for the kind of friendships I had as a pastor.

Imagine rebooting your life at age 50. Not an easy task, to be sure. Leaving Christianity forced me to rethink every aspect of my life; from my relationship with Polly and our children to my moral and ethical standards. This, of course, wasn’t easy. I had been religiously indoctrinated for most of my adult life. You don’t just flip a switch and think differently after deconverting. It is a long, arduous process, one filled with emotional pain and contradiction. It’s nigh impossible to completely wash from your mind decades and decades of Evangelical indoctrination. Even today, I still have moments when I have what I call “Evangelical hangovers”; moments when my thoughts do not align with my humanistic beliefs. The journey is never complete or without challenge.

While it would be easy for me to focus totally on my losses post-Jesus, that would paint an inaccurate portrait of my life. Yes, I wish I had more friends, but I am willing to go it alone, if necessary, to maintain intellectual integrity. You see, Christianity demanded that I bow and worship its God; that I follow its holy book; that I obey its teachings and standards. Once I was freed from the authoritarian rule of the Bible, I was free to chart my own course. And this is the one thing atheism gave to me: FREEDOM. I no longer fear God’s judgment or Hell. I am free to follow my path wherever it leads. For Evangelicals, life is all about the destination, whereas for atheists, life is all about the journey. Evangelicals focus on eternity, viewing this present life as preparation for life to come. Atheists, however, believe this life is the only one we will ever have. There’s no afterlife, no second chances; this is it! (Please see the series From Evangelicalism to Atheism.)

For Evangelicals, life is scripted by God. The Bible is a roadmap of sorts, a blueprint for how people are to live. As a humanist, I see a wild, woolly world before me. Who knows where I’ll end up! Who knows what tomorrow might bring. Each morning, I get up and do what I can to make the most of the day. No worries about parsing my life through the strictures of the Bible. No worries about God judging or chastising me. Thanks to Loki, I am free!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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7 Comments

  1. Becky Wiren

    It is hard to be liberal and non-Christian here. I lost a friend of years when I confessed I was no longer a Christian. I guess that friendship wasn’t as real to her as it was to me.

    Reply
  2. ObstacleChick

    Religion makes things complicated. I live in a diverse area with friends and coworkers from a wide variety of backgrounds. Yet some of the people I trust initially had a hard time with my atheist label. I have explained to them what my beliefs are and my journey, so they aren’t as bothered now, but the first reaction was not what I expected. I only told one trusted friend from my evangelical past – she is a progressive Christian with a wide variety of friends. She was saddened that the Christianity she loves abused me (and others as well). My zealot fundamentalist brother knows I think but we can’t openly acknowledge my atheism because then he would probably have to make the tough choice to excommunicate me from his family due to my demonic influence. I am not brave enough to risk a complete break, so I handle religious talk with him with kid gloves. His wife doesn’t share his level of zeal.

    It’s likely that my kids are going to end up settling in the South, and my husband and I plan to leave NJ in a few years. I don’t think I could handle moving to the South again though. I love the diversity where I live, but winter stinks. I don’t want to live in a place where evangelical Christianity dominates.

    Reply
  3. Caroline

    I spent Sunday with two Muslim friends who arrived with their young children in this country from a war-torn Middle Eastern country about eight years ago. They spent 2.5 years waiting to get here and lived as refugees before they were allowed to come. They are still learning the ropes and the language. Their first landing spot in this country was a deeply Southern state. They were badly treated and their impression of the region: “People are angry there.” That statement fascinated me. I live in a very liberal region where evangelical christians are few and far between and somewhat of an oddity. I tried to explain the history of the Civil War (maybe they’re still angry that the southern states lost?), the Bible Belt legacy, etc. to these new immigrants. I’m now wondering what role extreme Christianity plays in the impression the people gave my friends of being ‘angry’. Fortunately this very kind Muslim family who want only to fit in, work hard, and keep their children safe are living in a more hospitable climate (except for the weather… 🙂
    So sorry you’ve lost so many friends and family over religious beliefs. It’s a bizarre thing for me to imagine.

    Caroline

    Reply
  4. Julie S.

    My problem, coming from an IFB background like Bruce, is that I don’t know HOW to normally make friends, even as a 46 year old woman. My family was so steeped in the IFB that our friends just kind of made themselves as I grew up in the church & a joke of a Christian school. My parents chose my friends for me. Then later, my first husband, who was a controlling IFB fanatic, also chose who we were friends with. Consequently, when I later left the religious scene/church (a whole long complicated story in & of itself), I was a broken, shattered person, scarred mentally & socially from a lifetime of spiritual control & abuse. I continue to be distrustful of people because I have been hurt by so many people who I “thought” were my friends. Not to mention continually hearing for years & years how bad I was due to being a vile sinner who never did anything good. Because of all this, I still don’t know how to relate to people well & worry about never measuring up to what a “normal” friend should be. I tend to then be a loner & guard myself & build a wall of protection around myself because I figure I could never be the type of friend anyone would want to have. Social situations make me extremely uncomfortable.

    The IFB ruined me. Their brainwashing caused the people in my life (especially my mother) to treat me in ways that were abnormal & abusive, and taught me to have no self-confidence or self-worth. The effects of their control & abuse are long lasting, and I am sure I will battle this til my dying day.

    Reply
  5. Caroline

    Julie,

    I don’t know anyone in your situation, but it’s so sad to hear about how you were raised. Religious abuse is not different than any other kind.
    Are there support groups for people who have suffered this kind of thing as children? I’m sure you’re a wonderful person with a lot to offer. The IFB crowd sound particularly awful, and I really can’t imagine how hard it must have been to leave it behind.
    I’m sorry that was your reality as a child.

    Caroline

    Reply
  6. MJ Lisbeth

    Julie,

    The fact that you could write of your suffering shows that you have courage and intelligence. You deserve so much better than you’ve experienced, and I hope you find people who can both empathise with, and appreciate, you.

    As for the people who treated you the way they did: It must really suck to be them!

    Reply
  7. MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce–You have integrity. That’s more than can be said for most of the people who abandoned you.

    Reply

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