Over the past twelve years, I have received countless emails from Evangelicals wanting me to share with them my salvation testimony. Some of these interlocutors sincerely want to understand my past and how it is I became an atheist. Others are looking for discrepancies or errors — from their theological perspective, anyway — in my testimony. Finding these glosses allows them to dismiss my story out of hand, saying, Bruce, you never were a Christian. I used to take great offense when Evangelical zealots dismissed my past life of love, faith, and devotion to Jesus, but I no longer do so. I now realize that many Evangelicals must neuter my story lest it force them to consider and answer uncomfortable questions about their own lives and theology. It’s far easier to just dismiss me out of hand, saying that I never was a Christian; that I was deceived, a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or any of the other epithets Evangelicals throw my way. I have never said to a Christian, I don’t believe your testimony of saving faith. I accept what they tell me at face value. You say you are a Christian; that Jesus is your Lord and Savior? Who am I to doubt your story? Unfortunately, many Evangelicals don’t seem similarly inclined when it comes to my story or those of other Evangelicals-turned-atheists.
What follows my Baptist salvation testimony. Instead of writing out my testimony every time some asks me for it, I will now send them to this post.
I was raised in the Evangelical church. My parents were saved in the early 1960s at Scott Memorial Baptist Church (now Shadow Mountain Community Church) in El Cajon, California, pastored at the time by Tim LaHaye. From that time forward, the Gerencser family attended Evangelical churches — mostly Bible Southern Baptist, or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations.
In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced after 15 years of marriage. Both of my parents remarried several months later. While my parents and their new spouses, along with my brother and sister, stopped attending church, I continued to attend Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. In the fall of 1972, a high-powered IFB evangelist named Al Lacy came to Trinity to hold a week-long revival meeting. One night, as I sat in the meeting with my friends, I felt deep conviction over my sins while the evangelist preached. I tried to push aside the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart, but when the evangelist gave the invitation, I knew that I needed to go forward. I knew that I was a wretched sinner in need of salvation. (Romans 3) I knew that I was headed for Hell and that Jesus, the resurrected son of God, was the only person who could save me from my sin. I knelt at the altar and asked Jesus to forgive me of my sin and save me. I put my faith and trust in Jesus, that he alone was my Lord and Savior. (That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. Romans 10:9-11)
I got up from the altar a changed person. I had no doubt that I was a new creation, old things had passed away, and all things had become new. (Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The next Sunday, I was baptized, and several weeks later I stood before the church and declared that I believed God was calling me to preach. For the next thirty-five years, I lived a life committed to following after Jesus and the teachings of the Bible. While I failed many times as a Christian, there was never a time where I doubted that Jesus was my Lord and Savior. I loved him with all my heart, soul, and mind, and my heart burned with the desire to preach and teach the Word of God, evangelize the lost, and help Christians mature in their faith. No one doubted that I was a Christian. Not my Christian family; not my Christian friends; not my colleagues in the ministry; not the people who lovingly called me preacher. I was, in every way, a devoted Christian husband, father, and pastor. As all Christians do, I sinned in thought, word, and deed, but when I did, I confessed my sin to the Lord and asked for his forgiveness. (If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) And then I got up from my knees and strived to make my calling and election sure. (Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. (2 Peter 1:10)
This is my testimony.
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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Bruce, I don’t doubt your testimony one bit. You were 100% committed to your faith and to your deity, even to the point of making a profession of it. (And I can’t believe I can still recite those verses – my Christian school teachers would be pleased that they stuck while they would be displeased that I became an atheist).
Hi Bruce and folks. Just for the record, we United Methodists think Christian Fundamentalist and Conservative Evangelical testimonies are worthless bullshit. No United Methodist has ever asked for my fundie-style testimony, and I have never seen any United Methodist give a fundie-style testimony—at least not in my presence. However, I do have some familiarity with the concept as a result of being tortured for three years in a highly conservative Southern Baptist Church. I have written about it on my blog at https://faith17983.wordpress.com/ Here is the text on my “Blog Policy” page:
(12) No Christian fundamentalist, conservative evangelical, or conservative Roman Catholic faith testimonies are allowed on this blog. Many years ago, I was a member of a highly conservative Southern Baptist Convention megachurch. Church member hostesses at home-based weekend parties loved to suddenly put party guests on the spot by ordering them to form a big circle and then demanding that each person give their personal testimony to the group about what Jesus had done for their life.
In my honest opinion, putting party guests on the spot like that is just plain rude. No Christian hostess should ever treat a party guest like a stunt-performing seal at Seaworld. It is an invasion of personal spiritual boundaries. It puts nonChristian guests in an embarrassing position, and it hurts the feelings of any Christian guests who may not have a miraculous testimony to offer (for whatever reason). Many authentic Christians never experience a true miracle in their lives. This is why it is so hard to be declared a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.
As my response to such rude, impolite, and unloving requests from fundie hostesses, I have developed a personal testimony that I keep in my wallet to read slowly to the circled group on such unfortunate occasions. Fundie hostesses ask for such testimonies for three reasons:
(A) It allows them to gather background gossip dirt on new church members.
(B) They expect everyone to have a super-miraculous, confidence-building Jesus story.
(C) The hostess has seen other fundie hostesses do it—and thinks such torture is fun for everyone. I can assure you it is not.
My faith testimony addresses all three points and sends a crystal clear message to the hostess about how rude and invasive such requests are. You may read my testimony here:
“Once upon a time, I was addicted to crack, heroin, alcohol, ecstasy, and seven other dangerous drugs—and cigarettes. I was schizophrenic, bipolar, and stark raving mad. I was also blind in both eyes—and all my arms and legs had been amputated at the trunk of my body. Everyone in my family died on the same day—even the uncles, aunts, and cousins—leaving me totally alone in the world. I had no friends in the world, and even though I had health insurance, my doctor would not even see me. Then it happened in the twinkling of an eye one August night in the sweat-soaked tent revival down at Possum Holler Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Church. Because of the fiery preaching, I was shot through with fear of God, accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior like a bawling baby, and escaped from the eternal fires of Hell. In that very moment, the Spirit of the Lord seized me, and instantly, all of my drug addictions ceased, my mental illnesses melted away, the scales fell from my eyes, all four limbs reappeared on my body, all of my relatives came back to life again—and I got a doctor’s appointment. I grabbed both poles of the battery in God’s Silver Thunderbird, and I felt the power of the Lord surging through my body!!! Praise the Lord!!!! Praise the Lord!!! Praise the Lord!!!”
This is precisely the kind of weird, worn out, sappy personal faith testimony Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals love to hear. For many years, their ignorant preachers have convinced them that every nonfundie household in the United States is a raging hotbed of runaway sin (e.g., drug addiction, wife beating, incest, physical child abuse, sexual child abuse, etc.). None of this nefarious behavior ever occurs in fundie households……….uh…….right (LOL). Faith in Jesus fixes it all instantly!!!! These fundies are wrong about the overall sin burden in American households in general, and they are also wrong about Jesus fixing everything instantly. However, if they long for a sappy faith testimony, why not give them one? Just be sure to end it with an honest admission that it is a fun testimony you created. Otherwise, some of them will be stupid enough to believe your testimony.
Lest someone might be offended by that last sentence, I shall never forget the thirty-ish woman (and her husband) in my Sunday school class who believed prostitution was first invented in the 1960s…………………………….and “Then they told us to run over there!!!”
“Then they told us the secret of life was to run over there and live a life constantly high on drugs. That didn’t work out. Then they told us the secret to life was to run over there and join a hippie commune. When that didn’t work, then they told us to run over there and have all the free sex we could get with any 100 people who were willing. They said that was the secret to a happy and successful life. [Several other similar tries were recounted.] Then they told us to run over to this here Southern Baptist Convention church. They said that was the secret to a successful and happy life—and so here we are!!!”
I had no idea that anyone could be that GDF stupid—but apparently those two were—and they were well off middle class people—nice clothes—-educated in their professions—but somehow totally unable to make any sort of wise decision about truly important things in life. How do people get that way?
Is there really that big of a difference between the conservative Baptist and the conservative Methodist? I know a fair number of Methodists who have date/time/place testimonies of salvation or who wistfully remember the day when they were confirmed. I get it, you despise Fundamentalism, and so do I. But, virtually every Christian sect that I know of has some sort of salvation/conversion ritual — even the Catholics. What makes one worse than the other? Don’t all of them trade on the notion that humans are inherently sinful and in need of saving/redemption?
I don’t know Bruce. I was never a conservative Methodist. Yes, there are announcements of confirmation class completions and sprinkle baptisms. However, and I think this is the key point, it has not been my personal experience that they are “fetishized,” highly memorialized, or turned into big-time, heart-felt personal drama that lasts a life-time—like your first fuck—and then gets turned into a testimony. Besides, fundie testimonies (the ones with which I am familiar) are all about what Jesus did for a person AFTER they were saved. You know:
“I sent Mike Murdoch a $35 seed, and the very next day Jesus gave me a new job that soon turned into $5,000,000.”
“I was in a car with people who were drinking whisky to celebrate my high school graduation. However, I was not drinking anything but Coca-Cola. We had a horrifying wreck—and I was the only person in the car who survived it—so it must have been Jesus watching over me because I was faithful.”
Stuff like that.
But now that you mention it, there is a small UMC down the road in Oliver Springs, Tennessee, that is most likely a more highly conservative UMC, judging by what they put on their sign out in front. I will check it out one morning and report back.