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Why Ex-Christians Don’t Trust Evangelicals

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Evangelicals get upset when ex-Christians such as I question, deflect, or reject their “love” and “friendship.” Several years ago, on a post that is no longer available, the following discussion took place:

TW: @John & Erin, Hi. I also have a Pentecostal background (A/G to be exact), and was a youth pastor & worship pastor (not at the same time, youth for 13 years, worship for 10 years). I would very much love to talk to both of you and share experiences. I left the A/G at the end of 2011 (out 2 years now), and while I am still a believer, I completely denounced all of the BS nonsense that the A/G promotes, like speaking in tongues, faith healing, etc.

If you are both amenable to chatting further, Bruce (if he doesn’t mind doing this), can forward my email address to you both and you can contact me, just let him know. And Erin, I know exactly what you mean when you say you can still “speak in tongues on demand”, haha!

Erin: TW: I appreciate the offer and respect that you’ve left the AG, but because you are still a believer, I would want to know a little more what you’d like to “chat” about.  As a former-Christian-now-atheist, I’ve run into these “chats” a few times before that really only have one ulterior motive. I’m not assuming this is true of you, but I’d like to know more about what you’re thinking first. Thanks!

John: I am glad that you have managed to escape the Pentecostal movement.

You say that you are still ‘a believer’. Does this mean that you are a Fundamentalist or an Evangelical or have you moved to some form of non-Evangelical Christianity? If the latter, I am open to the idea of chatting with you further about the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements.

I have informed Bruce that he can pass my email address on to you and you can contact me. Even if you are some kind of open evangelical, I am willing to discuss the ‘tongues movement’ with you further.

What I am not open to is any subtle or direct attempt to try and reconvert me to Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism. If you do try to attempt this, I will close off further discussion. I consider both Fundamentalism and most of Evangelicalism to be religions of psychological, emotional and intellectual oppression and don’t wish to be sucked back into those camps, ever again.

So, if you are willing to stick to topics related to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements and their problems, I am open to further discussion with you.

Why are Erin and John so hesitant to correspond with TW? The answer is this: they have had many of these kinds of conversations already, and rarely, if ever, do they turn out well. Now, let me explain why they don’t turn out well.

Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God. They believe people must have a personal relationship with Jesus to go to Heaven when they die. Everyone who does not have a saving relationship with Jesus will go to Hell when they die. Evangelicals believe the Bible/God/Jesus has commanded them to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person, whether the latter wants to hear it or not. They believe all other Gods are false Gods, and all other religions are cults. In their minds, Jesus is THE WAY, not a way, THE TRUTH, not a truth, and THE LIFE, not a life. Simply put, it is Jesus or Hell; choose!

People such as Erin, John, and I know that Evangelicals have a deep-seated pathological need to evangelize. While they may say they just want to be friends or get to know us better, what they really want to do is win us back to Jesus. How could it be otherwise? If Evangelicals really believe the Bible is what they say it is, that Jesus really is the only way, truth, and life, and Hell awaits those who refuse to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, how can they not attempt to evangelize everyone they come in contact with? In fact, I would say if they DON’T evangelize, they are being disobedient to the clear teachings of the Bible (as read through the eyes of an Evangelical).

When Evangelicals want to be my friend, get to know me, correspond with me, etc. I immediately wonder what their real motive is. When I ask them about their motives, they almost always assure me their motives are pure, that they really just want to be my friends. However, after twelve years of having Evangelicals sincerely tell me they just want to be my friend, the truth is, in EVERY instance, over time, their true motive became known, and it wasn’t friendship. While I am sure there are Evangelicals who can be friends with ex-Christians without trying to evangelize them or win them back to Jesus, I just haven’t met any.

One man, a preacher and the brother-in-law of a dear friend of mine, friended me on Facebook a few years ago. While he was quite disturbed by my deconversion — having visited the church I pastored in West Unity — he told me he just wanted to be my friend. When his sister-in-law found out about it, she warned him to NOT try to evangelize me or be preachy. Our friendship didn’t last for two weeks. I wrote something on Facebook that infuriated him. He double-barrel blasted me with his Bible gun, told me I was a bad influence on people, and unfriended me (picture a toddler picking up his toys and stomping off to his room). He later told his sister-in-law and brother-in-law that they should avoid me and not be friends with me because I was a tool of Satan and a bad influence. Fortunately, they ignored his advice and they remain my friends to this day. (They are my only Evangelical friends.)

Another man, a local Evangelical preacher, tried a few years ago to befriend me. He and I corresponded a bit and he would comment from time to time on this blog (in one of its previous iterations). He friended me on Facebook and we began having more serious discussions in private. But, as with all such friendships, it quickly came to an end when he began having doubts about his call to the ministry and even his faith. My discussions with him were quite unsettling, so instead of honestly dealing with his questions and doubts, he determined I was the problem and unfriended me, stopped answering my emails, and stopped commenting on my blog.

Who can forget Evangelical Baptist preacher Marty? Marty was a regular reader of this blog and commented frequently. He had me questioning whether I was wrong about Evangelicals being able to be friends with someone like me. I thought maybe Marty was “the one!” Marty’s friendliness went on for several months until I began to notice an increased level of hostility in his comments. And sure enough, one day the shit hit the fan and Marty went full-bore Fundamentalist Baptist on me. He told me — well, told everyone since it was in a blog comment — that he knew the REAL reason I was not a Christian. When pressed to disclose this reason, he refused to do so. The discussions became more shrill, Marty became defensive and preachy, and eventually I had to ban Marty from commenting. In one of his last comments, Marty whined and complained about being persecuted by me and other atheists who responded to his comments.

I could share dozens of similar stories that illustrate why many ex-Christians rebuff attempts by Evangelicals to befriend them. Here are a few things I have learned from all of these failed pseudo-friendships:

  • Evangelicals are certain they are right and I am wrong
  • Evangelicals are certain there is some “secret” reason I am no longer a Christian
  • Evangelicals are certain I have been hurt or abused and that is why I am no longer a pastor or a Christian
  • Evangelicals are certain that they are the one who can bring me back into the fold, thus gaining a notch on their gospel gun for doing so
  • Evangelicals are certain my intellectual reasons for deconverting are a façade hiding the real reason(s) I am no longer a Christian.

In other words, they can never be my friend because they are unable to love me and accept me as I am. They love Jesus too much to leave me in my present state. I am like a beautiful woman who is constantly chased by suitors. As soon as a potential suitor comes sniffing around, she asks them, do really want to woo me, love me and marry me or, pardon the bluntness, do you just want to fuck me? Quite honestly, a lot of Evangelical zealots just want to spiritually fuck me. When I wake up in the morning, they will be gone, off to fuck other sinners for Jesus.

Perhaps today will be the day that an Evangelical befriends me, accepts me as I am, and loves me so much that he will let me go to Hell. I doubt it, but like my lack of belief in God, it is “possible” there really is an Evangelical somewhere who values personal relationships more than right beliefs. I just haven’t met one yet.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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16 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Geoff

    Living in the UK, right next door to a church in fact, I can honestly say I don’t know a single ‘evangelical’ person. Our cultures are so different, in this respect at least,yet I remain fascinated with this North American phenomenon.

  2. Avatar
    Erin

    Pretty much. I have found that even many of my longstanding (decades long) Christian friends, when they realize they can’t evangelize me, simply fade away. I understand…I used to be that person, and I get that they feel it goes against their mission NOT to evangelize someone. But, it still hurts.

    (That WAS a really weird conversation, by the way. )

    • Avatar
      Ahab

      I had many similar experiences. When it becomes clear that I’m not going to convert to their way of thinking, evangelical “friends” drop me like a hot potato.

  3. Avatar
    gimpi1

    This phenomenon was what drew me to your blog (3 versions ago) in the first place.

    I lost two very good friends when they converted to a IFB church. It was a real “invasion of the body-snatchers” conversion, they seemed to become totally different people overnight. I tried to salvage the friendship, but it was made clear to me that I was only “conversion-fodder” to them. Our years of friendship apparently meant nothing. They became mistrusting and hostile as it became apparent to them that I wasn’t going to follow them out on to the limb they had climbed onto. It was very hard for me to accept, but I finally had to write them off.

    I came looking for insights, while I was trying to salvage the relationship. As I came to accept its loss, your story of loss of friends and shunning by family-members over differences of opinion was helpful in adapting and understanding what had happened. I’ll always be grateful for your insights. Thank you, Bruce.

  4. Avatar
    BJW

    Yeah. I had a friend that I thought could handle me no longer being a Christian. I was wrong, that was the end of the friendship. At least she’s Catholic and not a fundie, and was not interested in converting me, just shunning me.

  5. Avatar
    dispennett

    I think, just looking at it from an objective standpoint, most of us want others to hold our own views regarding what we feel are the most essential things in life. Thus, even an athest who is trying to help Christians who are converting out of their religion have an “ulterior motive” in the sense that they think the person will be better off without Christianity, and are trying to help them make that leap. By the same token, most Christians believe that atheists/unbelievers will be a LOT better off as Christians, thus it’s dang well near impossible for a Christian to separate love for a dear friend/family member with wanting them to convert. Of course, there are pragmatic concerns that Christians and others ignore (e.g. that proselytizing a die-hard atheist who has thought out his position is liable to be a waste of time), but I think many Christians do not consider this.

    Penn Jillette has an interesting video in which he talks about a Christian who came to one of his magic shows and stayed after so that he could see him. The man gave Penn a Bible. Even though Penn is a die-hard atheist who thinks the Bible is rubbish, he spoke of his deep respect for that man, because he cared enough for Penn to have at least tried to convert him.

    I could be wrong, Bruce, but I’m guessing that even though you don’t seek out unwilling Christians to try to deconvert them, you would at least be happy if all or most of them did deconvert. And obviously Christians have strong reasons for wanting to convert you. But I wouldn’t view a person’s trying to convert me as an act of not truly wanting to be my friend. When I was in Iraq, at least one Muslim made at least mild attempts to convert me. From his point of view, he was trying to do a good thing by doing this, and I realized that.

    I think it might help to frame the question differently, or at least more clearly, because it’s not clear exactly from the post what you are wanting from a Christian friend. For one, friends don’t necessarily always “love me and accept me as I am.” And in a certain sense, I don’t always want my friends to always do this. If I’m being selfish, obnoxious, or just a plain jerk, I want them to call me out on it. But I don’t want to be too nitpicky with words; perhaps you meant something different by that phrase than how I’m using it, perhaps in a broader sense, you meant that you just don’t want to hear the same gospel or apologetic presentation for the umpteenth time because you find it tiresome and disrespectful. I think that even if Christians don’t agree with you on that, they can at least try to understand the exasperation that you feel. Would it be fair to say that, in order for a Christian to form a lasting friendship with you, a sort of truce would have to be agreed on, something like the following:

    “If you would like to remain friends with me, please promise that you will not attempt to bring up your religious faith as a way to proselytize or bring me back to the faith, and I will promise to abstain from attacking or demeaning your faith.”

    In this way, the Christian abstains from evangelization for reasons both personal and pragmatic (out of respect for your not wanting him/her to do this, and because such attempts at evangelization would almost certainly be futile), and the atheist likewise abstains for proselytizing, without either of them denying their own beliefs by doing so.

    • Avatar
      Karen the rock whisperer

      Dude, you are missing the point by a light-year. None of us have relationships where we’re all on the same page about everything. Most functioning adults, including Bruce, already understand this. We manage those relationships so that we respectfully disagree, and don’t engage around the topic.

      Bruce is not talking about people who are willing to behave this way. He is specifically talking about Friendship Evangelism. Befriend Bruce, share beer time on his porch, talk about the sports teams you both love, get his guard down, and shove Jesus at him. If he’s not buying? Disappear, and don’t so much as say ‘hi’ if you cross paths in the grocery store.

      Bruce is saying he has never met that theoretical Evangelical Christian in the above scenario (never mind the details) who will shrug, drop the Jesus talk, go back to swapping sports stories, and be willing to make this pleasant event (without Jesus talk) a repeating thing. Not one. Now, I don’t encounter too many Fundagelical Christians in my own circle, so I honestly don’t know if this is a universal trait. However, I’m quite willing to take Bruce’s word for it.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I think, just looking at it from an objective standpoint, most of us want others to hold our own views regarding what we feel are the most essential things in life. Thus, even an atheist who is trying to help Christians who are converting out of their religion have an “ulterior motive” in the sense that they think the person will be better off without Christianity and are trying to help them make that leap.

      Actually, I really don’t care if anyone leaves Christianity or becomes an atheist. I have no evangelical impulse for trying to convert people. I do think that Evangelicalism is inherently Fundamentalist and psychologically harmful, so any move away from Evangelicalism is a good one. But whether they become atheists? I really don’t care one way or the other.

      I could be wrong, Bruce, but I’m guessing that even though you don’t seek out unwilling Christians to try to deconvert them, you would at least be happy if all or most of them did deconvert.

      Nope. I really don’t care. I know you find that hard to believe, but ask any Christian who has ever corresponded with me. I have never evangelized them or tried to get them to come to the light.

      I think it might help to frame the question differently, or at least more clearly, because it’s not clear exactly from the post what you are wanting from a Christian friend.

      I don’t want Christian friends. Evangelicals who try to befriend me do so despite me asking them not to do so. I have zero interest in being friends with Evangelicals. And the reason is simple. I am convinced, based on 12 years of interaction with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Evangelicals, that Evangelicals are unable to be friends for friendship’s sake. I had scores of Evangelical friends before I deconverted. Every one of them, save two, walked away from me. Why? I no longer had the same beliefs as they did. Their abandonment revealed that they were unable to just be friends with me — no religious strings attached. And that’s fine.

      Would it be fair to say that, in order for a Christian to form a lasting friendship with you, a sort of truce would have to be agreed on, something like the following:

      “If you would like to remain friends with me, please promise that you will not attempt to bring up your religious faith as a way to proselytize or bring me back to the faith, and I will promise to abstain from attacking or demeaning your faith.”

      In this way, the Christian abstains from evangelization for reasons both personal and pragmatic (out of respect for your not wanting him/her to do this, and because such attempts at evangelization would almost certainly be futile), and the atheist likewise abstains for proselytizing, without either of them denying their own beliefs by doing so.

      Yes, that is what I expect. I know one Evangelical man I have been friends with for almost 55 years. We talk about the things we have in common, choosing not to talk about religion. This works well for us. Want to be my friend? Then you are going to have to let me go to Hell in peace. I know all I need to know about Christianity. If I ever decide to return to the garlic and leeks of Egypt, I won’t need anyone’s help to do so.

      I concur with everything Karen said in her comment.

      • Avatar
        dispennett

        Thanks for your response to my comment, Bruce. Looking back at your post, I do see that I missed a bit of the nuance in what you were saying. It would definitely be beyond frustrating to have such attempted “friendships” that are too ephemeral to be substantive.

  6. Avatar
    missimontana

    True friends accept you as you are, they don’t constantly try to change you. It doesn’t matter if they think it’s for your own good or if it’s a requirement of their faith. Friendship is not about making others identical to yourself. Friendship is about loving and supporting others, even when they make different choices than you would make.

  7. Avatar
    Sarah

    I’m a Christian but there is no purpose in metaphorically hitting someone over the head with a Bible or the things that they are doing that even they think they shouldn’t be doing. For instance my friend who kept living with the man who left her at the altar a few days before the wedding. Apparently I was one of the few friends who wasn’t lecturing her about that. Most people, definitely including me, don’t take well to lectures.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      Hello Sarah, You mention your friend who was sharing her life with a guy and then, it sounds, they decided to get married. A few days before the ceremony, he backed out and the reason he backed out is known to your friend. She knew the reason and decided to hang in there with him. You imply that he did something wrong but if he was acting honestly and had reservations, then he acted as a man and stood with his feelings. He did not leave her at the altar and I feel that it borders on being mean to say so. Why is it not okay for people to do their own thing in relationships? Why do you make it sound like this man is a scoundrel?
      Yeah, you didn’t lecture her but you sure judged him and maybe her too? You do not offer alot of information regarding this example you use, so please allow me to err in understanding if that is what I am doing. As I see it, your belief is based in harming yourself and others and this appears to be an example to me of just that…
      I know this is criticism but I offer it as a chance to understand one another. It is not a lecture!

  8. Avatar
    Sarah

    She is the one who brought up how others brought it up to her and judged her. She really wanted to get out but couldn’t seem to. I just told her she could talk any time about it if she wanted to and left it at that.

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