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A Decade Removed from Leaving Christianity, My Wife’s Mom Finally Asks Her if She Believes in God


Polly and I attended church for the last time in November, 2008. While I was quicker to embrace the atheist moniker than Polly, she intellectually, at least, didn’t believe in the existence of God. In recent years, she has been more open about her lack of belief, but even now she’s quite reserved when compared to her word-generating-machine husband. That said, we are both on the same page when it comes to the existence of the Christian God.

Polly’s father is a retired Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor. Dad graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in 1976 — the same year his daughter enrolled for classes. Dad and Mom moved south to Newark, Ohio where Dad became the poorly-paid assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. The Baptist Temple was pastored by Jim Dennis. Jim was married to my mother-in-law’s younger sister. Dad would later pastor a church in nearby Buckeye Lake. After this church closed, Dad and Mom returned to the Baptist Temple, the church they call home to this day,

Talking about things has never been Mom and Dad’s forte. When we left the ministry in 2005 and Christianity in 2008, Mom and Dad never said a word — NOT ONE WORD! (even after receiving Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners). That is, until today. As most of you know, Polly is having surgery tomorrow to remove bladder cancer and repair a fistula. An hour or so ago, Polly’s mom called her at work. This is the gist of their conversation:

Mom: I have never asked you before, but do you think like Bruce does?

Polly: What do you mean?

Mom: Well, like do you still believe in God?

Polly: No, Mom!

Mom: How can you not? You asked Jesus to save you when you were seven! [actually, it was at age five]

Polly: I’m fine, Mom.

Mom: Well, we pray for you and Bruce and the kids [all heathens, in her eyes, by the way], a lot!

End of discussion.

Polly texted me, “Sigh, OMG! How many years did she have to ask?”

Polly texted me later “Pretty sure she was more upset than me! If she didn’t want to know, she should have kept quiet! I told her I had excellent specialists taking care of me. I mean, seriously! What’s Jesus going to do for me?”

This is the first and only time Polly’s parents have asked about our loss of faith. They had a decade to ask, yet never, ever said a word outside of the constant reminders, “we are praying for you!” I suspect Mom felt led by the Holy Spirit to call her daughter. Knowing that Polly was having surgery, Mom wanted to make sure where her daughter stood with the Christian God. I am quite sure she didn’t expect to hear Polly say she didn’t believe in God. Mom and Dad and their former pastor, the late Jim Dennis, have always believed that I have a larger-than-life influence over Polly. There was a time that that was true, but those days are long gone — as in, twenty-five plus years gone. Polly is her own person, and able to make decisions for herself — including whether she believes in the existence of God.

Polly enters the hospital tomorrow trusting that skilled medical professionals will do their best to remove the cancer and fix the bladder side of the fistula. We are confident that they will succeed in this endeavor. Mom fears for Polly’s soul. All I want is for the love of my life to come home safe and sound.

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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  1. Avatar

    mom must not be using the exact right words, in the exact right orderr, at the exact right time, in the exact right place to the exact right god. because surely since the bible clearly says prayers are answered,

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    All good wishes for Polly to have skilled doctors, a complete removal of her cancer, closure of the fistula involved, and a boring, no-drama recovery. Take care of yourselves and each other. It’s a lot to get through, but you have a good family at your side.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    She has good medical care. She has her inner strength. And she has you, Bruce. What does she need with a God who kills innocent people?

    Much love to both of you.

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    I have a lot more faith in trained medical professionals than I do in the Christian god. Wishing Polly, you, and her medical team the best.

    I guess Polly’s mom is scared, and this is her version of the altar call, “If you were to die today, do you know where you’ll spend eternity?” It’s too bad that Polly’s mom’s religious beliefs have her so scared she can’t just call and tell Polly she loves her and hopes things go well.

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    The worst is that – pray Spaghetti it doesn’t happen – if something goes wrong, these kind of people wouldn’t then hesitate to say “See ? Now she rots in hell !” or other such horrible things… instead of comforting people.

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    Saw the other day a saying.

    On the fourth day, god created the sun.
    What day did he create skin cancer?

    Good luck to you and Polly…I’m sure your in good medical hands

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    May the surgeons rock, the anesthesiologist be absolutely at the top of their game, and the infectious bacteria be on vacation. 🙂

    Seriously, I have profound confidence in modern Western medicine. Looking forward to your post telling us that Polly’s surgery was successful and that she’s recovering nicely.

    Second, more on topic:
    My mother could never bring herself to ask what I believed after I deconverted. I think she knew, but actually hearing it would have been even more terrifying than suspecting it. Being Catholic, and not terribly up on her church’s theology, she probably wasn’t even worrying about the ultimate fate of my soul. She loved me and thoughts I was a good person, and good people simply didn’t go to Hell. We might hang in Purgatory for a long time, but eventually make it to heaven. (I honestly don’t know what the Catholic Church actually says, and don’t particularly care. Mom wasn’t interested in theology.)

    What worried my mother about me was the same thing she worried about with my dad. He was raised Lutheran, but stopped attending church as an young adult. I never got the impression that he was an unbeliever, merely that he wasn’t interested in religion. Mom was convinced that people who didn’t have a consistent religious practice, like Dad and myself, were refusing spiritual guidance that would make our lives much better. We were setting ourselves up for personal disaster. We were also being extremely selfish, because we had an obligation to pray for the people we loved, and we weren’t doing so. In her overly-anxious mind, it took a team of saints to get her through an average day, and we had just blown off all that help. It was mind-boggling to her.

    My mother-in-law figured out that Husband and I deconverted, though she seldom talks about it. She was raised as an Evangelical Christian, though she stopped attending church decades ago and her theology has become more liberal. She’s mentioned that she prays a lot. I’m sure she prays for our reconversion, but she doesn’t say so. She also doesn’t play any Christian passive-aggressive games about belief. We discuss things grounded in reality. My father-in-law refused to discuss religion at all, and I have no idea what he believed. He, too, was raised in an Evangelical environment, but by the time he reached adulthood he considered churchgoing a tool for meeting single women with good values. He married my mom-in-law and promptly stopped going to church for good.

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    Gene Stephens

    Possibly the single thing that most shocks me about my evangelical days was when I was by my 95-year-old father’s bedside as he took his last breaths. What few other family members I have were all thousands of miles away and couldn’t be there, so I was the only family member there. My family was nominally religious at best; evangelical Christianity was something I imposed on myself as a 13-year-old and persisted at for 40 years. And like a true evangelical, I felt it was my responsibility to get my parents saved, or else they would go to hell and it would be my fault. As my father took his tortured last breath, I didn’t express any love for him, I didn’t thank him for all he had done for me, I didn’t tell him that I would miss him. Instead, all I told him over and over was to reach out Jesus and reach out to Jesus, hoping it would result in a deathbed conversion. It appalls me now that I was so unloving at that moment when love would have been so welcome. Evangelical Christianity had taught me not to care for much of anything about my father or anybody else, except for the state of their souls. Sadly, this seems to be where Polly’s parents are in regards to their daughter.

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    Julie S.

    Best wishes for a successful surgery & an uncomplicated, speedy recovery, Polly. Wishing you lots of strength too, Bruce, as you hold her hand thru it all.

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    Brunetto Latini

    Not sure of the right words to use anymore, and I don’t believe in luck. But I hope everything turns out well for you.

    This reminded me of 2003, when my grandmother was in ICU and my new Free Will Baptist pastor — who had never met her — asked if I wanted him to visit her to be sure she knew Jesus. I was seriously pissed-off that he would suggest that the woman who taught me about Jesus might be headed to eternal torment. I politely told him no, that her own pastor was visiting her.

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    I would like to join the many heart felt wishes for the best possible outcome for your dear Polly. Our thoughts are with you.

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Bruce Gerencser