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Dear Pastor Reeves, Let Me Explain to You Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself

Have you noticed that many of the churches refusing to close during the Coronavirus Pandemic are Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregations? Over the past week or so I have written about two such churches, First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio and the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. (Please see Local Church Continues to Meet on Sundays Despite the Coronavirus Pandemic and IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic.) Pastor John MacFarlane at First Baptist has since seen the light and all services at the church are now canceled. The Baptist Temple, pastored by Mark Falls, remains open, but some peripheral programs have been canceled and older congregants have been encouraged to stay home. My wife’s parents attend the Baptist Temple, and, fortunately, both of them stayed home on Sunday. Polly’s aunt, the wife of the late James Dennis, who has end-stage bone cancer and is on chemotherapy? She was front and center, praising Jesus.

Why is it that many IFB churches refuse to close their doors? First, IFB churches have a conspiratorial hatred for the government — especially if the government is controlled by Satan’s party, the Democrats. I plan to write more about this hatred later this week. Second, IFB churches tend to have members who are easily led astray by conspiracy theories. This is especially true now that Donald Trump is president. Third, most IFB churches are not flush with cash. If they don’t hold services, their cash flow will be seriously compromised. Fourth, many IFB pastors believe that the government has no right to tell them what to do. Some go so far as to oppose any sort of government regulation, including fire, safety, and building codes. Years ago, an Ohio IFB pastor took it upon himself to build a new building without permits. He believed he should be able to build the building any way he wanted, even if it meant he violated the law. His actions, of course, brought legal action, and his refusal to comply forced the state to raze his building. Fifth, closing church doors would be a repudiation of the belief that God always protects Christians, and no matter the circumstance, the people of God should be present and accounted for on Sundays. Sixth, IFB churches tend to be anti-science. Remember most IFB church members and pastors are Bible literalists, young-earth creationists, and believe the entire earth was covered with a flood a few thousand years ago. Holding such anti-scientific beliefs reflects poor reasoning skills. I am not saying that IFB church members are stupid. I am saying that their theological beliefs cripple their ability to rationally understand the world they live in. Their thinking is crippled by their insistence that the Bible is some sort of divine blueprint for life and it contains everything necessary for life and godliness.

The latest IFB church on my radar is the North Platte Baptist Church in North Platte, Nebraska. Last week, I wrote about the church and its pastor, William Reeves, using the Coronavirus Pandemic as a tool to evangelize people. (Please see North Platte Baptist Church Uses the Coronavirus Pandemic to Evangelize People.) North Platte has continued to run its buses and hold services despite the Coronavirus. Reeves, in classic IFB fashion, has stupidly and stubbornly held his ground. Reeves has received a lot of negative publicity — glad I could help — so much so that he has taken the church’s and his personal Twitter account private. (I was banned long ago from both of these accounts.)

One of Reeves’ last public tweets can be found in the header graphic of this post. Reeves said:

Having church doesn’t make you an enemy of the state or an enemy of people. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about your people or that you are not doing your part in curbing the spread of COVID-19 (with Facepalm emoji, as if what he is saying should be obvious to everyone).

Jesus said in Luke 10:27: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 13:9,10: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. In Galatians 5:14, Paul said, For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. And finally, James said in James 2:8, If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.

Evidently, these verses must not be in Pastor Reeves’ leather-bound King James Bible. Consider what Paul says in Galatians 5:14: all the laws of the Bible can be fulfilled in one word, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Holy shit, Batman! Can Pastor Reeves, along with Pastor McFarlane and Pastor Falls and a host of other IFB preachers, honestly say that their actions show that they are loving their neighbors as they would themselves? Of course not. Their actions are driven by one or more of the six things I mentioned above.

To Pastor Reeves I say, if you really loved your neighbors — who include your congregation and the children who ride your buses — would you continue to have mass gatherings? You KNOW that mass gatherings are a prime way to spread the Coronavirus. You KNOW that people NOT showing COVID-19 symptoms can actually be carriers. Everyone could “look” healthy on Sunday, yet some of them could be spreading the virus. IF you really loved your neighbors, you wouldn’t take this risk. You have a social and moral obligation to not only your church but the community at large. By being a weak link in the containment process, you and your church could be making people sick and killing them. What kind of person ignores these things, all for the sake of some sort of theological or political statement? Evidently, you, Pastor Reeves.

I know, I know, the next words out of your mouth are going to be something like this: I DO love my neighbors, so much so that I am going to keep the doors of North Platte Baptist Church open so unsaved people can ride our buses, come to church, hear the gospel, and be saved! That way if COVID-19 chokes the life out of them, leaving their spouses widows and their children orphans, at least they will go to Heaven. Praise the Lord Jesus Christ!

Their salvation can wait a few weeks. All that matters right now is the safety and health of others. I encourage you, Pastor Reeves, to swallow your theology and politics and show love to your community by closing the doors of North Platte Baptist and suspending all group activities until health experts give the all-clear. How you respond will show if you really do take the words of Jesus seriously.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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    Interestingly, most of the fundamentalists from my past are staying home and posting invites to their online streaming church of choice. I guess it is because some of our circle became doctors and nurses, and some have severe health issues and are posting a lot about their own fears. I am just glad that they are taking things seriously.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    I just “attended” a Facebook livestreamed “town hall” by my federal congresscritter. I actually like him, a rare thing for me to say about a politician. He’s the best rep we’ve ever had for connecting regularly with his constituents, and has been holding realspace town halls, once a month, all over the district. He emphasized over and over again the importance of sheltering in place, and social distancing. He also said quite a bit about what he thinks Congress should do to support citizens who’ve lost their jobs in this crisis, but that isn’t germane to this post.

    He spent over half an hour answering FB comments on the livestream, and of course there were tons more that he couldn’t get to, but he seemed to be choosing ones that were repeated often with different phrasing. But he often came back to shelter in place, social distancing, we must support people financially so they have the financial cushion to obey the shelter-in-place order. Our district has been under shelter-in-place for a week now, one of the first areas of the country to do so. People who live paycheck to paycheck are hurting. Our rep insists that government must help them. Shelter in place, social distancing, or there will be absolute hell to pay.

    Which leads me to support for churches. I’m an atheist; I even oppose the tax breaks that churches get. If you can’t afford to gather in an expensive church, well, take after the early Christians and gather in homes. If suspending services destroys your revenue stream, what benefit really are you providing your members that you couldn’t provide with some other system that requires far less money? You wouldn’t be able to save as many souls, you say? Well, national surveys taken the past few years suggest you’re not doing a very good job of that anyhow. Maybe you need to re-think your approach. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, a favorite church hymn proclaimed “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Maybe you could try some of that, and love people by encouraging them to stay at home right now.

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    Unfortunately, as with the stubborn Spring breakers, some people will never listen or do the right thing. I saw a Twitter account whose profile said “I trust my neighbors with more freedom than I trust a government with more power.” Libertarian Trump supporter, of course. And this is the philosophy that will kill us all.
    (Personally, I don’t trust my neighbors with anything.)

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    If churches do close, I bet they are going to want back tithes from their congregants, and if they get a 1000 dollar check from the govt, they will expect a percentage of that too

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    The churches I am affiliated with have both gone online and I personally think that is the best decision. I do not agree with any of these Chrisian churches, whatever their reasoning is, to continue to meet at this time.

    But I have to wonder if you are willing to criticize the Muslims as much as the Christians? I ask because, unless I missed it, you have said nothing about their actions, which seem to be quite a step above the Christian’s in general, at least with their number of participants.

    None of Us Have a Fear of Corona’: The Faithful at an Outbreak’s Center
    A gathering of 16,000 at a Malaysian mosque became the pandemic’s largest known vector in Southeast Asia, spreading the coronavirus to half a dozen countries.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      Really? I mean R-E-A-L-L-Y? Yes, I fear Muslims will come after me, cut my head off, and enslave my children. sigh Or, maybe, just maybe, the focus of this blog is EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY — not Islam, Buddhism, or people named Bob. I’ve been blogging for almost 13 years. My focus has always been on Evangelical Christianity. And that ain’t going to change. Want to write about Islam? Start a blog. I focus on what I know. My expertise lies with American Christianity/Evangelicalism/Independent Fundamentalist Baptists. As I told you before, don’t like my writing, move on. I am sure you’ll find plenty of blogs that are critical of Islam. If the fact that I don’t makes you think that I am afraid to do so or just have it out for Christians, I don’t know what to tell you.

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    Hey, I was just asking a question. It seemed you were pretty bent on curbing the Covid 19 and because I thought that was your feeling I asked about the Muslims. So I am now clear that it isn’t about slowing/stopping the spread of this virus, as it more about criticism of the Christians.

    I’m not sure why you keep telling me not to read your blogs if I don’t like them or move on? I believe that I have been respectful and abide by your censorship rules because this is Your Blog. I know many of your Bloggers post things that just support your position, but I am the type that likes to ask questions and dig deeper. You come across as almost offended when I do that. Please don’t fall back on the that I don’t know what I am talking about or not educated enough to comment because that would just be a cop out.

    I do have to wonder because you have changed from being a preacher of the Gospel to a preacher of atheism if you used the same manipulating tactics with your former congregations (cause you and I both know how that works) when they questioned you as you seem to be doing now with me, because you do not seem to like people questioning the positions you take. At least that’s how you seem to be coming across to me every time I comment.

    (don’t like my writing, move on, stop reading then if it bothers me so much. Reminds me of the I am called of God and if you don’t listen to me then leave and then you will be out of the will of God) Just my morning sense of humor Bruce.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      Yes, I am the God of this blog, and I really exist. You are not asking questions or digging deeper. Honest, sincere, thoughtful questions are always welcome. Accusatory, judgmental questions/statements are not. Dig deeper, Bob, and ask yourself what “So I am now clear that it isn’t about slowing/stopping the spread of this virus, as it more about criticism of the Christians” sounds like to a fair-minded reader. I’ve never had a problem with questions from readers, even Christians. I do, however, limit my interaction with Christians. Experience has taught me most Christian commenters will, in time,turn into judgmental pricks. Some even start out that way — thus the one comment rule. My blog, my rules. Much like your mythical God, right?

      If you can’t see and understand how your comments come across, I don’t know what to tell you. You make so many assumptions about me — none of which are supported by my writing. Because I don’t write about Muslims, according to you, I don’t really care about churches spreading COVID-19 and I have it out for Christians. Nothing I’ve written supports such an assertion. I told you WHY I write about Christianity/Evangelicalism/Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, yet you didn’t hear a word I said. I can only assume you are being deliberately obtuse or cannot or will not accept what I say at face value.

      Got questions? Ask them. Just leave off analyzing my motives.

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        You do realize that if we were having a face to face conversation, there would automatically be a going a back and forth of words, that is how conversations work. The fact that this is a blog, things will have to go back and forth because it is very limited compared to verbal.

        You say I assume about you, but yet you throw it back at me that, “I can only assume you are being deliberately obtuse”

        Furthermore for the most part I did not say you meant this or that. What I said was, this is how you seem to be coming across to me because of anything I post. I will say that I will not deliberately be disrespectful to you, but I sure don’t have an issue of telling you what I think, whether you like it or not.

        If your way of controlling things is limiting questions, then you can block me because you are the one in control here in this tiny little section on the vast universe.

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          Bruce Gerencser

          Thank you for admitting my omnipotence.

          Questions and honest differences are always welcome. Your comments have exhibited neither. Christians are given one opportunity to say what’s on their minds. You have been given seven. Seems more than fair to me. Blogs are a poor medium for judging motives. That’s why I ask commenters not to do it. All I ask is that readers take my writing at face value. Genuinely disagree or don’t understand? Fine. Ask more questions. But that’s not what you are doing in your false assertion about Muslims and casting aspersions on why I write as I do.

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      ... Zoe ~

      Bob: “So I am now clear that it isn’t about slowing/stopping the spread of this virus, as it more about criticism of the Christians.”

      Zoe: Oh come one Bob. Good grief. He writes his story from his vantage point and to suggest he does’t care about the spread of the coronavirus is ridiculous and insulting on your part.

      Bob: ” I know many of your Bloggers post things that just support your position, but I am the type that likes to ask questions and dig deeper.”

      Zoe: Bruce, your readership just comes across as your cheerleaders. I’ll bet they aren’t even the type that have done any sort of deep thinking or have really asked questions on a deeper scale.

      Bob: “I do have to wonder because you have changed from being a preacher of the Gospel to a preacher of atheism if you used the same manipulating tactics with your former congregations (cause you and I both know how that works) when they questioned you as you seem to be doing now with me, because you do not seem to like people questioning the positions you take. At least that’s how you seem to be coming across to me every time I comment.”

      Zoe: Insulting again Bob. Stop analyzing Bruce. Stop assuming you “know” the in’s and out’s of Bruce.

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        Bruce Gerencser

        Thank you, Zoe. I’ve had plenty of disagreements with long-time readers over the years. You are one of my closest on-line friends — not that I have many other friends except the on-line variety. We’ve known each what, over a decade? We haven’t always agreed, and you’ve helped me over the years become a more thoughtful, nuanced writer. I give readers such as yourself space to challenge my motives and assertions because they know me. When long-time readers object or question something I’ve written, I tend to to pause, ponder,and pay attention. You are a friend yes, but a cheerleader? Hardly ? The regular readers of this blog range from Evangelicals to Progressive Christians to agnostics and atheists. Hardly a monoculture. ?

        And here’s the thing with Bob’s latest questions/comments/assertions on this post. They aren’t even on point. Instead, he made my motives (and character) the point. All praise be to Allah.

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          ... Zoe ~

          At least 10 years Bruce and maybe a bit longer. 🙂 I was four years ahead of you in the journey out I believe. I started reading your blog while you were somewhere on the slide. I didn’t trust pastors or former pastors with a ten foot pole.

          Then one day you apologized in one of your blog posts to those you had hurt while being a pastor and I found myself out here in internet land crying. I believe I commented and said that I had never imagined a pastor would ever apologize for being wrong &/or doing wrong. Your apologies opened the door for me in the area of recovery and healing for me. As you may remember, I too struggled with the harm I’d done within my family and from my years in youth ministry.

          Your apology was personal for me though we had never known one another. I saw a former pastor as a human being that could admit wrong, could apologize and could come alongside others who were hurting and abused. In telling your story I saw honesty and integrity. I also saw brokeness. And all three of those things I could relate too.

          To suggest that you don’t care about the spread of coronavirus is beyond the pail.

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            Brian Vanderlip

            Zoe, Very well, no, beautifully expressed… I have a similar feeling when reading the Bruce Almighty, that he was a royal shite-head for years and not only survived it but has dedicated his efforts now to being honest and forthright about it all. For those of us who have seen the Bible-monster eat our relatives and never spit out even their bones, it is healing and a balm for me to read the ex-preacher’s words. I fantasize that some of the nieces and nephews, the youngsters in the extended family, will stumble through this blog and be encouraged. Who knows? Maybe even a cousin!

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        Zoe, I am reading and replying with questions to understand what Bruce is saying. He made it sound like with the Covid 19, that people need to take responsibility or it could even be considered criminal for meeting together and infecting others. Well if you are going to call it criminal for one group, why not for any group?Therefore this was more a statement of Preference vs his True Conviction on this pandemic. His vantage point or not, his Christian targets are very easy to go after. Anyone can do that, believer or not.

        As for his agreeing bloggers not going deep, that is not what I was insinuating. They do go deep, but they do not question Bruce, they just seem to always support his views.

        If you have have church history, then you know exactly what I am saying with the manipulating tactics.

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          Oh dear, it seems to be using a mix of whataboutery and sealioning. Maybe try burning it with fire? I’m just not sure if that’ll be enough. Direct application of sunlight, perhaps?

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          Brian Vanderlip

          You are dull, Bob. Sorry but it is plain as day. The Gawd-Almighty Gerencser was saying that any dud group is criminal and yours is not exempt, you heavy weight on this sunny afternoon! Go walking and keep silent.

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Bruce Gerencser