The telling of my deconversion story brings all sorts of responses from Evangelical Christians. Some of my critics comb through my life with a head-lice comb, hoping to find something that invalidates my past life as a pastor. If they can find doctrinal error or heresy, this allows them to declare that I was a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, someone who never was a True Christian®. These interlocutors bring me before the tribunal of their peculiar beliefs, asking questions meant to suss out my true spiritual nature. If they can determine that I was never saved, it allows them to dismiss my life out of hand. People wanting to discredit me in this manner almost always find sufficient evidence to warrant them saying, Bruce Gerencser was never a Christian. (Please see Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser.)
Other Evangelical Christians, unable to square my past devotion to Jesus with their once-saved-always-saved soteriology, critically examine my life inside and out, looking for signs of trauma. I often get emails from Evangelicals apologizing for whatever psychological harm was caused to me by churches and other Christians. They wrongly think that I am not a Christian today because of some hurt in my past; that I left the ministry and Christianity because of hurtful things done to me by mean-spirited Christians. These “loving” critics — armchair psychologists — view me as they would an abused puppy. I pee all over the carpets of my life because someone or a group of someones repeatedly beat me with a rolled-up Columbus Dispatch. My deconversion is the result, then, of the harm caused to me by these unloving, unkind Christians; and that what I really need is to find a church congregation that will scoop up my broken spirit and sweetly love me back to Jesus. Ack! Gag me with a spoon!
Early on, I framed my loss of faith in purely intellectual terms. I knew that admitting that there was an emotional component to my deconversion would give people cause to say that the only reason I wasn’t a Christian is that I got my feelings hurt. I wanted people to see me as an intellectual who weighed the claims of Christianity and found them wanting. And of course, that’s exactly what I did. The primary reason I am an atheist today is because I came to believe that Christianity was false; that God, Jesus, and the Bible were not what Christian preachers and apologists claimed they were. (The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) Once the Bible lost its authority and hold over me, I was free to rationally and skeptically examine, analyze, and judge its teachings. I owe much to Dr. Bart Ehrman for showing me that what I had been taught about the Bible and what I had preached for decades was a lie. Once the Bible was rendered human and errant, the slide down the slippery slope of unbelief was quick, leading to a sixty-six-car pile-up at the bottom of the hill. Try as I might to find solace in Christian liberalism or Christian Universalism, I found these way stations intellectually lacking. In the end, agnosticism and atheism were the only labels that honestly and adequately explained my beliefs or lack thereof.
Today, I can look back over the past two decades and I can see that there was certainly emotional harm caused to me by fellow Christians, colleagues in the ministry, and Evangelical family members. The twenty-five years I spent in the ministry brought me in contact with numerous Jesus-loving abusers and sociopaths. By the time I left the ministry in 2005 — three years before I divorced Jesus — I was burned out. I was tired of having to deal with hateful, mean-spirited, self-centered church members. I was more than tired of church business meetings and board meetings that were little more than bloody, violent boxing matches sandwiched between invocations and benedictions. By the time I reached the end of my career, all I wanted to do was show up on Sundays and preach and then go home. The ministry had extracted a tremendous amount of emotional capital from me, a debt that has taken almost a decade of secular counseling to recover from. That said, I am not an oft-beaten puppy cowering in the corner of life. I embrace and own the past damage caused by Christianity, and I, with weeping and lamentations, bemoan the psychological harm I caused to my family and church congregants.
Today, I now know that the reasons I am not a Christian are legion. To focus on the psychological aspects of my loss of faith alone paints an incomplete picture. For those determined to view me as an abused puppy, all I can do is try to explain through my writing how and why I left my marriage to Jesus and became an atheist. It’s my story after all. Who better to tell it than I, right?
Are you an Evangelical-turned-atheist? Do you have former Christian friends and family members who attempt to psychoanalyze your deconversion? Please share your experiences in the comment section.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.
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The one friend from my evangelical past I trusted to tell about my atheism apologized for the abuse of evangelicalism. She left evangelicalism for progressive Christianity, but she couldn’t handle the intellectual reasons I left, preferring the concept that I left because of the abuse. I guess that she just can’t understand that part. At least she doesn’t try to convince me to return.
I don’t speak to those in my Evangelical past. When I tell people that I am questioning the existence of God and that I may be an atheist, they express disbelief or try to talk me out of it. They say things like, “oh, you don’t really believe that. You’re like me, you believe in a supreme being, you just can’t find a good church to go to” or “you can’t believe there’s just nothing out there!” I know better than anyone what I believe and what I am. And as a matter of fact, I absolutely can believe there is nothing out there. I have to tread carefully out here in rural small-town Alabama, so I tell only a select few about my evolving deconversion. Mostly family and a very few trusted friends. I just wish they’d believe me when I tell them!
That’s a rough situation to be in. I’m glad you have a few people you can be honest with, at least.
I guess it all depends. Was the abused puppy also gay? Was it using the welfare system (GET A JOB, PUPPY!)? Did it speak up about gun control? If so, we know Evangelicals wouldn’t care about the abused puppy at all.
Well, shucks… I make no apology for speaking of the abuse inherent in evangelical belief. I don’t give a flip if believers want to hurt themselves further by denying my honesty about how Christianity harmed and still harms me. It took most of my family and was and still is used to harm children with lies and deceit about fantasy fathers and sick ideas about the evil of human heart.
Are there intellectual reasons that abound to support turning from being a Jeebers Jesus-lover toward non-belief: The list is almost endless, yes but it matters not to the saved because they could care less about logic and common sense. They have given themselves over to the biggest scam of my life, evangelical faith. When a soldier falters in boot camp, that poor sucker is abused even more than previously, to make it, to become a dehumanized killing machine for the American Way. Evangelicals want to get at Bruce in the same fashion, to torture him till he gives in and goes stupid again, shuts the fuck up and carries a black book around (the only book worth reading!)… If kicking him doesn’t work then they can beg and whimper and carry on into eternity with their ‘love’.
My blood family has gone on telling themselves whatever they like about my non-belief or my lukewarmness or they just include me as if I am an infant who needs to be dragged around. Nobody is really curious about me because they are not curious people anymore. They have a used car to sell and by Jeeeezus, they won’t every stop looking for a way to make me buy in… The last while though, since mom and dad died, there is a breaking dawn silence that is glory to me, a deep quiet.
Bruce, I would absolutely love to hear some of your behind-the-scenes stories, bloody boxing matches and all. I ask this because I was young and naive and believed the church leadership consisted of goodhearted, kind people who provided an example of Jesus’ teachings. It would help to round out my perception of those times to know what went on behind closed doors. For example, a good friend of mine who worked as the church secretary was fired because the pastor had a personality clash with her. She was not even given an adequate explanation as to her termination. The church board had to meet and cast their verbal vote, including another man who was also her friend, and who wept because he felt so pressured into it. My friend ended up moving away and living with her dad, so I was doubly hurt by their treatment of her. That experience was a huge eye-opener for me, hastening my trip down the path of deconversion.
An acquaintaince of my family (about ten years older than me) tries her best to ‘save’ me every single time I see her. She thinks she’s subtle, but this type is never subtle. I like her as a person and respect what she believes, but she CANNOT understand my utter disinterest in the Bible, Jesus, etc. She once said this about my disinterest in reading the Bible with her or attending her church, “You mean you believe that humans came from monkeys?” How can you have a logical conversation with someone like this? You can’t. So I’m just polite and feel sorry for her lack of awareness of the rest of us.