What follows is a record of several emails I traded with Greg, a former church member at Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio, over the past three years. I was Greg’s pastor for several years. He was quite active in our church, teaching Sunday school, going out on visitation, and occasionally filling the pulpit. As you will note from the emails, Greg and I had some social interaction outside of the church. There is lots to this story, but for Greg’s sake and that of his wife and children, I will just stick to responding to his latest email to me.
Some spelling and grammar corrected.
In March 2017, Greg wrote:
Yesterday I was reading some about Jack Hyles and saw an article (s) by you and have done some reading by you.
I hear you have had some bad health. Hope your health is improving and hope your family is doing well. I imagine if you and I went and played basketball, we better play half-court, and slow tempo. And with my arthritis, I don’t move too well.
Nowadays, my best game is chess, which I play on the internet, against people from all over the world.
I had to have colon cancer surgery back in June 2013. I am doing well now and take Essiac now that I know about it. It has healed many people of cancer.
Planning on going to Athens tomorrow to see some regional basketball games.
Well, It was good to hear from you.
Well in closing, take care and tell your family I say hello.
In April 2017, I responded:
Good to hear from you. Boy, it has been a long time, hasn’t it? You have gotten old. ? I turn 60 in June. It’s been 23 years since I pastored the Somerset church, almost 34 years since we started the church. Time marches on.
Sorry to hear you had cancer, but I am glad you have recovered. Getting old is not what it is cracked up to be. My health struggles are many, but I try to live each day to its fullest. I know I will die sooner, and not later, so I need to do what I can while I am still among the living.
Our family is doing well. Polly and I will soon celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary. Our six children live within 20 minutes of our home. We have 11 grandchildren — 10 girls, one boy. Polly works for Sauder Woodworking. She is a manager there, as is Jason.
Nice to hear you are still going to tournament games. I attended several district and regional games this year. My oldest granddaughter plays on the Stryker High School JV team (volleyball too). I have a cousin who plays for nearby Swanton High School. I got to see a lot of girls’ basketball games this year. Several grandchildren are playing baseball/softball this summer, so I will be busy attending games.
Write when you can. I would love to hear more about how things are with you. If you are on Facebook, I would love to connect with you there. Just send me a friend request.
Have a great week.
In August 2018, Greg wrote:
How are you and Polly and the children doing? Fine, I hope.
How has your health been?
What are your children doing nowadays and do they live near you?
My wife ****** is doing ok, she has some trouble with diabetes, and has to put up with me. ( That’s a challenge)
My oldest daughter ****** is 27 now. She is living in Greenville Ohio, and working at the Whirlpool plant there. She makes decent money there and lives with some guy there, who is like 6’9″ or so. Man if I could have had that height when I use to play basketball.
Now my favorite sport to play is chess, on the internet.
My youngest daughter ***** is 25 and is still single, and living at Cambridge. She does home health care.
Back in February this year, after living going on eighteen years, near New Concord, ***** and I had to move because of our landlord selling the property.
We now live in a senior apartment in Cambridge, which we like. There are some benefits to being old.
I don’t know for sure if you cheer for any specific professional team, but I have seen you with Bengals apparel on. Have you or are you a Browns fan? With that new quarterback that WE have from Oklahoma, we are ready for great things NOW, AS IN NOW.
Bruce, you are, and will always be my friend. Yes nowadays there would be a lot of differences we would have, but you are still my friend and always will be. Even if you don’t like the Cowboys and Yankees.
In closing, I just have one church, not Bible question for you. Where can a man that is KJV, post-tribulational, amillennial, non-eternal torment believer, non-Calvinistic, who wants to preach, and is married to a lady who was married once before find a church that would let him preach, and where he would be in one accord?
And that man would be me. And in all of my searching, talking about trying to find a needle in a haystack, even if you could locate the haystack.
May you and your family have a wonderful rest of the year.
In October 2018, I responded:
It was a delight to hear from you. Thank you for updating me on the coming and goings of you and your family.
Our six children all live within 20 minutes of our home. We have twelve grandchildren — ages three months to seventeen. We see them often. Now that the NFL season is in full swing, some of the boys are here almost every Sunday to watch the Bengals with me. Polly cooks a nice meal and we sit around and yell at the TV.
Browns fans, eternal sufferers to be sure. Nice to see them win a couple of games. I think Mayfield is the man for them going forward.
Health-wise, things remain the same for me. I am slowly losing functionality and strength. I do what I can, but I have resigned myself to the fact that I can no longer do many of the things I once did with ease. Fortunately, my children are quite helpful. Polly was in the hospital twice this year: once for a heart problem and once for a bleeding problem. We are getting old, falling apart. That said, we celebrated forty years of marriage this year, and next week we will celebrate Polly’s sixtieth birthday (I am two years older than she).
I hope you will keep in touch. If you have some family photos, I would love to see them.
Have a good weekend.
Up to this point, you will likely have noticed that Greg considers me a friend, and that he, much like he did when I was his pastor, has exacting theological beliefs. You will also note that I did not respond to his theologically oriented questions. I am no longer his pastor, and neither am I a Christian. When contacted by people from my ministerial past, I make sure they understand that I am quite happy to correspond with them and even renew our friendship, but I am not interested in arguing with them about theology or atheism. Over the course of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I had a handful of relationships that transcended the pastor-congregant connection. Greg was one such person. At the time, I considered him a friend, even though he left the church several times over a doctrinal differences with me. In particular, Greg objected to my Calvinism.
After my response to Greg in October 2018, I did not hear from him again until yesterday:
Dear Bruce, in the past after hearing about how you left the ministry, etc., I never responded with preaching or anything like that.
I just wrote to you as a friend, which I still am.
But after reading some more, let me talk some.
I don’t know if you will listen, seeing it seems like you want to talk, but maybe not listen to anything you don’t want to hear.
I guess you always win when you don’t let the other team have the ball.
Does that mean that you are the player and REFEREE?
It is easy to say that God loves Tim Tebow more than a Ethiopian when your a Calvinist or Robot (no difference).
Tell me, did John Calvin make you one of the non-elect. Or were you with Job, trying to give God advice during the creation?
Tell me, if you don’t believe that Jesus exists, why do you hate Him?
But The Lord Jesus does exist, and you will now your knee to Him.
WOW, just imagine if you are wrong?
AND YOU ARE!!
How shall we escape, if we neglect, so great salvation?
Having not heard from you for almost seventeen months, I was surprised to receive an email from you. I was even more surprised (and saddened) to see that you decided in this email to take an adversarial, preachy, judgmental approach to me. What changed? Couldn’t we just be friends, revel in our past experiences, and share the things we have in common — family, sports, and memories from southeast Ohio? Instead, you decided to be Greg, the Fundamentalist Baptist preacher. What did you hope to accomplish by taking this approach with me? You say you still consider me a friend, but I find little friendliness in your words.
You mention reading more of my blog, but as I looked at the site server logs, I found that you only read two posts: Why I Hate Jesus and Dear Evangelical. Let me suggest it might be helpful for your understanding of my journey to read the posts listed on the WHY? page. Instead of looking for and focusing on doctrinal deviancy, try to enter into my story, and hopefully this will help you understand why I am an atheist today. I don’t expect you to join the ranks of the godless, but at the very least I expect you to make a good faith effort to understand my past and present life (as I have understood yours through our conversations and counseling sessions).
I have been blogging for over twelve years now. On this iteration of my blog, I have written over 3,600 posts. If you are willing to do your homework, you will likely find most, if not all, of your questions answered somewhere in my writing. It’s not that I don’t want to hear what people have to say, but when it comes to Evangelicals (and I know you may object to me calling you an Evangelical) such as yourself, I have heard the same stuff over, and over, and over again. No new evidence; no new arguments; same shit, new day. And it is for this reason, I wrote the Dear Evangelical post. Ask yourself, did you say anything in your email to me that I likely haven’t heard countless times before? Why would I need to hear it yet again?
I originally responded to you because I hoped we could have some semblance of a friendship outside of our differences about God, Jesus, and the Bible. Silly me, to think that an Evangelical can set his dogma aside for the sake of maintaining or nurturing a friendship. For people such as yourself to be friends with me, they must be willing to let me go to Hell in peace. They must agree not to preach at me or attempt to sneak apologetical arguments into discussions. And I will do the same. I am quite happy to set aside my atheism and humanist beliefs and, instead, focus on the things we have in common. Sadly, I have yet to have a former congregant, friend, or colleague in the ministry do that. Eventually, they always bring things back around to the BLOOD, the BOOK, and the BLESSED HOPE.
As an atheist, Greg, I have no truck with arguments from the Bible. Threats, imprecations, passive-aggressive attacks — none of them are effective in reaching me. Consider me, from your theological perspective, an apostate or reprobate. I don’t think the Christian God exists, and that includes Jesus. I do believe that Jesus, the man, lived and died 2,000 years ago, but Jesus, the son of God, the miracle-worker, the savior of the world (or the elect)? That God-man does not exist. So telling me that I am WRONG and one day I WILL bow my knee to Jesus has no effect on me. Surely, you are aware of how much I know about Christianity and the Bible. Do you really think that bald assertions typed in caps will somehow magically change my mind? You know me better than that, Greg. Not going to happen . . .
If your intent is to continue to preach to me and attempt to evangelize me, please don’t. I am more than willing to continue to be friends with you, sans religion. If you can keep Jesus out of the relationship, I am confident we can find plenty of things to share and talk about. If not, let this be our last correspondence. Let’s bury our relationship here, letting the good times we spent together cover our gravestones.
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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Having had to be operated myself for colon cancer last year I was interested by Greg’s reference to Essiac, and his suggestion that it cures cancer. I haven’t heard of it before so I’ve checked it out. It appears that there is no scientific data to support its claims, and the suggestion that it cures cancer is fallacious, though it’s possible that there are some ancillary health benefits. This is typical of the thinking that sits alongside evangelical belief.
As I was reading, I kept thinking, “No, Greg, don’t do it, please don’t! Oh damn, you did it.”
That’s a shame.
Goddamn that escalated quickly from Greg’s side. One almost thinks he must’ve been drunk when he wrote that last email. Then again of course he was: ‘Drunk in the Spirit’.
Since deconverting, I’ve realised how automatic it was for me to have to ‘witness’ everywhere and to everyone. I understand your friend’s inability to stop evangelising…it just runs in your veins to do so. I notice how free I feel that I can now go to a gardening and a craft club without twisting myself in knots inside hoping for an opportunity to ‘witness,’ to drop an ad for my church’s services or special events into the pleasant conversation around me. Fundies just can’t, they are so deeply programmed, brainwashed to spread the word….cos, when you get to our age, Bruce, we might pop our clogs this very night and our ‘friend’ would be overwhelmed with guilt that he hadn’t told us about the hell we are headed for.
I’m sorry that happened to you, Bruce. I remember talking on Facebook with an old friend, and how he changed when I finally directly said I’d left that church. Instead of wishing to continue to talk on Facebook, he backed away real quick. At least he didn’t drop me completely but still. And the other friend who got offended when I posted about the Big Bang theory? He stated it didn’t happen and I told him there was more evidence of it than with Creation (or the Flood). He stopped talking to me much then.
rat own! ??
Greg says that he is “a non-eternal torment believer”. Yet, why does he threaten you by quoting “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation”? If he doesn’t believe in hell as eternal punishment what does he think that you can’t escape from, unless you have Jesus? Does he believe in hell for a period of time? If so, why would any loving person even put people in hell for any period of time ? Hell for any period of time is barbaric torture. It is utterly cruel.
Sorry about that. That’s really unfortunate. Hope this story has a happy ending