Bruce, What was Your View on Homosexuality When You Were a Pastor?

god hates lgbtq people

I came of age in the early 1970s — an era when LGBTQ people were savaged if they dared to step out of their closets. The Stonewall riots, June 28-29, 1969, outraged my parents and their fellow Fundamentalist Christians. How dare the queers/faggots/sodomites/dykes/homos/perverts show their faces in public. How dare they demand to be treated as humans. Don’t they know that the Bible condemns sodomy? Why it even says that God has given homosexuals over to reprobate minds. My pastors and other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers deeply influenced what I believed about LGBTQ people. Supposedly, all sins were the same, but their preaching betrayed the fact that they believed homosexuality was a sin above all others. I can’t tell you the times I heard preachers rail against homosexuality, calling for the arrest, incarceration and, in some cases, execution of such “sinners.” LGBTQ people were widely considered child molesters. the worst of the worst.

In 1976, I packed up my meager belongings and headed off to train for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Nothing I heard in my classes or from the chapel pulpit changed my view of homosexuals. I lived in the college dormitory. I was shocked to learn that one of my teachers — a single man who lived in the dorm — was a homosexual. Not only that, several students who had effeminate tendencies were his roommates. Why didn’t the college do anything about this? I wondered at the time. As I now look back on the two years I spent in Midwestern’s dorm, I have concluded that there were more than a few gay men and lesbian women. Deeply closeted, these devoted followers of Jesus suffered all sorts of indignities at the hands of heterosexual Jesus-lovers. I wish I could say that my hands are clean, but they are not.

In the early 1980s — as I was busy pastoring IFB churches — I heard that a high school acquaintance of mine had died of AIDS. I remembered the “rumors” about him. His employment and close friendship with his deeply closeted gay boss troubled me, but I thought, “John seems ‘normal’ to me. He’s not a faggot.” John, not his real name, was indeed gay, and sadly, he was one of the early casualties of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This angered me, and along with several of my friends, we blamed his gay boss for his death. “He preyed on John and turned him to a queer,” we thought at the time.  I now know different. John was a gay man, not because of his boss, but because that’s who he was.

I entered the ministry a homophobe. I preached against homosexuality, labeling it as my pastors and professors had done: a heinous crime against human nature. My view of homosexuality was only reinforced by a pedophile homosexual man who started attending our church so he could prey on young boys. I was unaware of his predatory ways until a church member told me that the man was inviting church boys to spend the weekend with him out on his farm. I went nuts when I heard this, and in short order, I confronted the man and told him that I knew what he was and he was no longer welcome at our church. In retrospect, I should have called law enforcement. Instead, Pastor Bruce, the moral enforcer, took care of things.

In the late 1980s, I started a private, tuition-free school for the children of church members. Bruce, the moral enforcer, made sure that Biblical morality was taught to every student. It was bad enough that these children had to listen to my moralizing on Sundays, now they had to put up with it Monday through Friday too. Of course, I failed in my mission. Years later, I learned that some of the students were “fornicating.” I know, shock, right? Teenagers, with raging hormones, having sex! Here’s the kicker, out of fifteen students, today two of them are gay men and one woman is a lesbian. That means the twenty-percent of the study body was gay. WTF, Bruce, all that anti-homo preaching, and they STILL turned out gay! Since de-converting, I have had the privilege of reacquainting myself with several of these students. I apologized to them for what they heard me say about LGBTQ from the pulpit. My words were hurtful, yet they quietly suffered, knowing that the day was coming when they would escape the grip of Bruce, the moralizer.christians condemn gays

My view of LGBTQ people began to change in 1995. I was between pastorates, so I took a job with Charley’s Steakery as the general manager of their Zanesville, Ohio location. Located in Colony Square Mall, we offered mall employees free refills on their soft drinks. Several times a week, a gay man would come to the restaurant to get a free refill. The first time he handed me his cup, I panicked, thinking, I am going to get AIDS! For the first few times, after I refilled his cup, I would vigorously wash my hands after doing so. Had to wash off the cooties, I thought at the time. After a few weeks of this, I began being more comfortable around this man. He and I would chat about all sorts of things. I found out that he was quite “normal.” This, of course, messed with my view of the world.

While I am sure numerous LGBTQ people came through my life before I refilled this man’s drink cup, he was the first gay man I had really engaged in friendly, meaningful discussion. And it was at this point in my life that my view about homosexuality began to change. I didn’t stop being a homophobe overnight, but step by step over the next decade, I stumbled away from the homophobic rhetoric that had dominated my life for many years.

Today, I am loathed by local Evangelicals for my support of LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage. I am sure former congregants hear of my pro-gay views and they wonder what happened to hellfire and brimstone homophobe Pastor Bruce? All I can say is that a chance meeting at a fountain machine in a fast food restaurant between Bruce, the moralizer, and a gay man changed my life forever. And isn’t that how most moralizers become more temperate? When you personally know a gay person, it’s hard to condemn him to the fires of Hell. It’s easy to preach against homosexuality when everyone — as far as you know, anyway — is heterosexual. It’s when you have some skin in the game, when you actually know an LGBTQ person, that things change. Exposure to people different from you and cultures different from yours remains the best cure Fundamentalist Christianity.

How about you? Are you a former homophobe? What caused you to change your mind? Please share your thoughts 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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18 Comments

  1. Stephanie

    Of course, I am of the younger generation so people are more open about these things but I too grew up with a dim view of LBTQ people. Over my scant decade in the workforce and school I have met so many different types of people that it’s a complete non issue. In fact, just this week I shared a bathroom with a transgender individual and was not phased in the least. My only thought was “wow these bathrooms laws really are stupid.”

    Reply
  2. MJ Lisbeth

    Homophones are often in the closet themselves. I know: I was such a person. Moreover, I tried to live by the most rigid definitions of masculinity because I simply couldn’t deal with the woman I actually am.

    My homo- and trans-phobia cost me many years of my life. Worse, it may have cost a friend of mine her life: She cried out to me for love and help I didn’t give because giving them would have made me vulnerable and exposed.

    (I choose to remember her as the woman she knew she was even though she lived and died in the male identity assigned to her at birth.)

    Reply
  3. ObstacleChick

    Like you, Bruce, I was taught to be a homophobe by church. In the early 90s, I became friends with several gay men in college, one of whom came out while I knew him. They told us about their struggles, how some were even cut off from family. I realized they were just people who, like me, could not help who they were attracted to, but unlike me, they were punished for it.

    Also, a cousin who was my uncle’s best friend died of AIDS. My uncle and cousin, a few months apart in age, grew up as best friends and brothers. Eventually the cousin came out. His father disowned him, and he moved to California and eventually settled in Arizona. The last time I saw him was when I was about to graduate from high school, and he encouraged me to pursue whatever I wanted and not to feel stuck in Tennessee. The homophobic teaching left me confused because our cousin wasn’t the bad guy our religion taught – to me, he was an educated, kind, well-traveled man who owned a thriving business, someone to emulate.

    It hurts to see my brother teaching anti-LBGTQ ideas to his young sons. I fear for those boys as they start going through puberty. Honestly, I dont think my brother even knows a gay person. If he knew some people who are gay, maybe he would find out they are just people.

    Fundamentalist religions are abusive to so many people.

    Reply
  4. Brian Vanderlip

    Because evangelicalism of any ilk is specifically designed to harm self and others, natural human sexuality is a prime target. Lovemaking can approach the sublime in human existence and is driven by the evolutionary drive to procreate. It is an ideal target for the hateful people of the Lord, whether that Lord be Jesus or Mohamed or Fuming Frosty the Fucked Up Snowman.
    I have lived 67 years and have been a hater, a fearful believer, a gagging homo-repulsed Baptist. I survived and Christianity showed me just how hateful people can be, far more degraded than those who heft around no belief.
    THere is no defining line in sensuality: Sexuality is a fluid smorgasbord of feelings. Men who claim to be 100% hetero are just people who have denied aspects of sensuality that they have a hard time with… The same goes for the homosexual perspective. Many gay people engage in heterosexual relationships to feel safe in this world. My point is not that hiding or trying to be safe is wrong at all, just that sexuality is not as clear-cut, not as defined as many like to state. It is certainly nothing like any evangelical statement regarding sexuality, nothing at all and that is exactly why it is as it is in churches. They are designed to harm us, to ‘love’ us to death. They require that we begin our journey with Jesus by admitting we are shit and born harmed. Unfortunately, many of are indeed harmed from the womb onward and so we are infected with the viral illness called evangelical Christianity very very profoundly. Faggots make us gag. We KNOW the truth and the truth has set us free. Ask sick Stevie Anderson or his wife. Ask the local Bapist pastor or the Muslim cleric near you: No matter how much they smile and explain, they finally have to admit that the ‘love’ they tout has ‘standards’. God says.

    Reply
  5. Jen

    Growing up fundie I believed all the sick, twisted lies I was told about LGBTQs. Cruelty and hatred are endemic to that type of thinking. It’s scary I didn’t realize that until I left the church.

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  6. Goyo

    Former homophobe here…homosexuality was easy to explain as a Christian…it was WRONG!
    And, I’m ashamed to admit, I even went further and said that the Bible demanded the death penalty for the repulsive acts!
    What an idiot was I!
    When I finally realized that I was an atheist, one of the first things I did was come to an acceptance of homosexuality, and, as Brian says above, understood that there is no “normal “ in sexuality.

    Reply
  7. William

    I’m a former homophobe who, quite frankly, began to turn more empathic and understanding toward the “other” during my years at a Big 10 university where IFB preachers would frequently come to deliver their messages of hate and the wrath of God. It was while listening to their vile messages that it became obvious that these preachers really had no logic behind their message. Yes, I understood that homosexuals would not procreate, but I did not find that as a problem. Obviously, there were plenty of others who were procreating that I did not fear we’d run out of people! Their basis for calling it sinful was just that it was written in this book! That’s not a good reason. And ironically. it was through their messages of hate, that I became more respectful of people who were “different” than me.

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  8. Caroline

    My sister is Gay and has been married for 20+ years to my sister-in-law. They were married as soon as same-sex marriage became legal where they live. Their wedding was one of the most moving I have ever attended. They are happy, kind to others, and way more ‘Christian’ than any Christians I know (ironic because my sister-in-law is Jewish 🙂 )
    I knew my sister was different when I was a child (she’s 6 years older than me). When she came out at around the age of 35 the most accepting people in our family were the oldest women in my family (my mother and aunt). We were taught to accept people as they are and we were taught well. No offense to any men here, but I think men are more weirded out by homosexuality than women -maybe because of society’s bizarre expectations for what ‘manly’ is. Hatred is just fear, but that fear is also very dangerous especially in the times we are living in.

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  9. davey crockett

    I was one of those who quietly watched and listened to what was being done and said from the ibf preachers. It took at least 10 years or more. My own life and marriage was not doing well in this period too while trying to do what they said and make their interpretation of the Bible and life work. Funny that the biggest memory and help for us in that time was the Reader’s Digest. There was good feelings in their stories and hope for life in general. The IBF way was nothing more than doom and gloom day in and day out. And always the need to dot every i and cross every t lest the big guy above slap you with his backhand. Life did not get better with their ways. And if they cannot give good advice and instruction in a world one can see and touch and smell and experience, I became certain they could not be trusted with the heavenly side – much less this side of the veil. I vividly remember one sunday service the preacher actually called out and named a man in the congregation who had been deacon material. Art was a big hearted man who worked over an hour away in the city. A man who adopted 3 kids and worked very had at the job and home to give them all a good life. His offensive sin was that he was doing roofing work on numerous sundays. And the preacher just had to do something to keep his congregation clean and call out his ways. I couldn’t believe the gall and crass of that preacher, let alone the time and place and situation. This man Art loved his family and daily showed it. I slowly realized there was no respect for people as individuals and there was no good logic in the endless purging in the ibf way of seeing and thinking and living. I started to see the gays as people like myself and Art, struggling to do the same things as we were. And by then I understood how difficult life is to put and hold all the daily pieces together. I decided then that i was not going to be the one to rain on their parade. Period. The church be damned.

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  10. Caroline

    I have a legitimate question for anyone who wants to take a stab at it. I live near Boston and we are hearing nothing but news about the ‘Straight Pride Parade’ set to take place here on August 31. My gut reaction is that this is a white supremacist inspired event, but I’ve also noticed that none of the usual extreme (IMO) evangelical sites that I visit have said one thing about it. Are they just not up-to-date about this yet, or are they not choosing to align themselves so openly with the WS crowd? Thanks for any possible explanation/opinion.

    Reply
    1. William

      They’re looking for attention. My best advice is to try to ignore them. Per their website, they do try to claim America’s “Judeo-Chrisitan moral heritage”.
      www DOT superhappyfunamerica DOT com
      I’ve chosen to not type the URL as a clickable link. At their home page, you can click on the Our Team link at the top to see their photos and rolls. It is men only shown.

      Reply
  11. Brian Vanderlip

    Sounds like you are on-the-money, Caroline. A common complaint of everything-phobia is that they (the real American people) have been overlooked and victimized because everybody and their uncle get cared about but WHAT ABOUT THE POOR HETEROSEXUALS: Nobody cares about them and they are fast becoming the minority, for sure for sure.

    It is quite likely that the evangelicals will latch on to this sinking boat in order to remind us that we are fallen and have no hope in these last days without membership in their church, without knowing the heavenly father. That will be their message rather than some white power thing.
    The primary reason you are hearing about the parade is no doubt the advertising value inherent for the media. They love to stir things up for money. Real journalism is verboten in the major news outlets in America.
    And regarding the religious Right aligning with white supremecy, no way, not unless the WS puts Jesus first! Then anything goes. But the Crusades could never happen again, right? People would never align themselves behind a war-monger stupid rich man and use him to further their faith direction, would they???

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    1. Caroline

      I do think the Lori Alexander white supremacist followers will eventually start commenting on this, but by then she (a true numbskull) will have lost control of her nasty male commenters (again). She and her kind will only listen to what those smarter-than-any-woman-could–possibly-be men who pretend to idolize her and her cronies. Agreed about true journalism these days, but I think our proximity to the city is part of why we’re hearing so much. Sounds like a recipe for disaster if they police are not very strict. I was thinking about how that will be the weekend that many young people will be moving in to their dorms and apartments to start the school year at the many colleges there. I would hate to see them in their zeal confront the bunch of morons who will be marching. It would be great if everyone just ignored the shenanigans and let the angry little boys (and some girls I suppose) take a nice walk that day. Hopefully it will be raining heavily too. Thanks for your opinion 🙂

      Reply
  12. Hugh D. Young

    Very interesting article I found, written by a young MLK Jr! 🙂

    https://blog.chron.com/keepthefaith/2007/01/liberalism-vs-fundamentalism/

    Reply
    1. Caroline

      Thanks, Hugh. Great article.

      Reply
  13. Karen the rock whisperer

    Raised Catholic with the proper anti-LGBT theology, though Trans folks were hardly on the radar then. I didn’t know any gay people growing up, at least that I knew of. I suspect there were some. But as I got to my teen years and started thinking outside the theological box, I began to wonder. Media reports said most gay people insisted that their sexual orientation was not something they could control. I didn’t see any reason not to believe them. Finally I decided that while gay sex seemed awful to me, who loved who was not any of my business. (I’ve generally had a butt-out approach to other people’s lives.) Note that this was an intellectual conclusion, and didn’t make me comfortable around gay people.

    Husband and I were college classmates, and married upon graduation. He was raised fundie, and while he was letting go of Christianity, he was extremely homophobic. But we went out into the real world, and discovered gay colleagues. Nice people. Kind people. Helpful people, who would stay late to fix a bug so you could make progress on your own work the next morning. (We were engineers; he still is.)

    And so it took years, but eventually we independently came to the conclusion that other people’s sexual orientations and/or gender identities are no big deal. Everyone ought to love who they love, have the option of getting married and having kids by any method that works for them, and we can all be happy…

    …once that last software bug is fixed. 🙂

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  14. Becky

    My husband’s sister is a lesbian who married another woman. My husband and I were to rigid to accept the relationship. However, the love one woman had for another impacted on us and we realized we were wrong about them. I choose to believe that the love I could see trumped any possible negative Biblical interpretation. Which is when my beliefs in the Bible began to crumble. Now we have a lovely trans friend too.

    Reply
  15. Sherrymill

    God does not create mistakes. He loves us all…

    Reply

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