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Dear Bruce, I Think You Are Still a Christian

Free at Last!

I’ve been blogging for thirteen years. Different iterations of this blog, with different names, but with one goal: “telling my story; recounting my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism.”

Thousands of posts, and tens of thousands of comments. When I started blogging in 2007, I was still a follower of Christ — a progressive, emergent (emerging) church Christian.

I was still going to church, still reading the Bible, still praying, and still trying to find a Christianity that mattered.

I never found it.

I did find that I was just an ass in the pew, an offering to be collected. I had talents and gifts that any church would benefit from, but I found that pastors were quite territorial and allowed no one to get near their throne.

Twelve years ago, after a tremendous amount of study, angst, and gut-wrenching heartache, I finally concluded that I was no longer a Christian. Try as I might, I couldn’t square what I knew about the Bible and the church with Christianity. As I tried to find a stopping place on the slippery slope of reason, I found there was none. Liberal Christianity, Unitarianism, Universalism, all provided a brief respite, but ultimately failed to stop my slide to atheism.

Atheism became the label that best described my belief about the Christian Gods, gods in general, and religion. Technically, I am agnostic on the God question, but in my day-to-day life I live with nary a thought about God, thus I call myself an atheist.

I have no need of God, a God, any God. I am an A-T-H-E-I-S-T.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I receive emails from Evangelical Christians who say they believe I am still a Christian; that deep down I still have a longing for God and faith.

Every time I receive such a letter, I think, “how can anyone read my writing and come to this conclusion?”

Just because I write about and critique Evangelicalism doesn’t mean that I am still a Christian. One man even suggested that the fact that I capitalize words such as God and Bible are proof that, deep in my heart-of-hearts, I am still a follower of Jesus. Or, to apply Occam’s razor, I capitalize these words out of habit. Which is more likely?

I recognize that if Christians read my old writing from my early blogging days, they might conclude I am still a club member or that I still really, really, really want to be a Christian. However, anyone who seriously invests time in reading my story from start to finish can only come to one conclusion: “Bruce Gerencser was once saved, and now he is lost.”

My goal is to keep telling my story; to keep exposing the hidden, dark secrets of Evangelical Christianity. I am grateful for the fact that I have far more reach today than I ever did in the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches. Sometimes, I feel physically and emotionally overwhelmed, but I remind myself that what I do matters.

I know my writing deeply resonates with many people, and it gives a voice to their thoughts and struggles. I also know my writing angers and infuriates many Evangelicals. They write and talk about me, preach sermons about me, mention my name at prayer meetings, send me nasty and hateful emails, and leave arrogant, self-righteous comments on this blog.

The latter are going to do what they do. I can’t stop them, nor do I want to, because their anger and indignation are reminders to me that, next to marrying Polly, the single best decision I ever made was the day I walked away from Christianity. They’ve tried bombing me with email spam, using bots to leave massive amounts of comment spam, spreading rumors and lies about my story, my mental fitness, my marriage, and children, and have even threatened to kill me . . . yet here I am.

The readers who matter the most to me are the lurkers in the shadows, laden with fear and doubt. They have questions that aren’t being answered by their pastors or churches. Their eyes have been opened to what is going on around them. Are they atheists in the making? Maybe, but I doubt it, and I don’t care. My goal is facilitation, not evangelization. If I can help wanderers as they journey on through life, that’s good enough for me.

Others who read this blog are post-Evangelical or post-Christian. They are trying to find purpose, meaning, and peace, sans God, Jesus, or religions. Now that their lives are no longer defined by their religious beliefs, they are left with the task of shaping new lives for themselves. It’s not easy, and I want to do what I can to provide a safe, friendly place for them to hang out. If telling my story helps them in some small way, I am grateful.

In the Biblesee Bruce, you just mentioned the Bible and this PROVES you are still a Christian — there’s the story of the Good Samaritan, a man who helps and cares for a man beaten and left for dead along the side of the road. Religion, especially Evangelical Christianity, beats people up, often leaving them for dead alongside the road we call life. I want to be like the Good Samaritan, lifting up those who’ve been beaten, robbed, raped, and scarred by religion. If I have a calling, this is it.

In many ways, I am a far better man today than I ever was when I was a member of God’s exclusive club. I no longer have to view life and others through the lens of the Bible and the teachings of Christianity. I am free to live life on my own terms, and embrace others as they are. That I have LGBTQ people who read this blog astounds me. Back in my Evangelical days, my life had no room for such people. Well, my life had no room for anyone who didn’t think, act, and believe as I did. As a Christian, I lived in a monoculture, a world devoid of diversity. Today, my life is filled with multifariousness. I am a much better man, husband, father, and grandfather, thanks to the people I have met through this blog.

So, to those who are convinced I am still a born-again Christian, I say: why would I ever want to go back to Egypt, to the land of leeks and onions, toil and bondage? Why would I want to return to a worldview governed by the ancient writings of fishermen and sheepherders? Like the proverbial horse that escaped his corral, I am free, and I have no intention of returning to the bondage and slavery called Christianity.

If some people can’t see and understand this, I am not sure what more I can do for them. They’ll just have to keep hoping that I will someday walk back into the church and say, with an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice, “I’m B-A-C-K.”

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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  1. Avatar
    Suzanne Titkemeyer

    It always amazes me when the Christian hordes insist that those of us that have divorced the church are secretly salivating to return to the fold again if just the right magic words were uttered….. as if!

    Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. It ain’t happening.

    Do you ever sit and think about how many horrible things you dodged by not being a Christian any longer? I was looking at my high school boyfriend’s Facebook today and screaming ‘Halleluah!’ because I dodged a hell of a bullet by not staying with him and marrying him after college. He ended up Liberty University and is now a big IFB supporter/Christian. Horrifying! I’m so so happy the way I am without regular church attendance now..

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      I think about it constantly, especially when I drive by a church on Sunday morning. I feel so thankful to be free!! And like you, I think about how my life would probably have turned out much differently if I had stayed in the church. For one, I would likely have become a quiverfull-er, because the idea was gaining traction at that time. That is so frightening.

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    Well, please allow me to be one Christian who says I believe you are an atheist. I am sorry that so many Christians go out of their way to be jerks toward you. Thank you for taking on the evil and cynicism found in certain Christian institutions. This makes you a tempting target for some, but it is brave and crucial work.

    Your story—your voice, really—is helping me through a hard time. I am grateful to you.

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    I agree with you, including the part of leaving faith being one of the best decisions ever made. That’s been my experience, too. I am happier, healthier, more whole, more loving, more accepting, and more excited about life. (But of course,if atheists are happy, that’s because we’re blind to satan’s influence, right?)

    People believe you are still a Christian because they are terrified that, if someone with as much experience in the faith as you have could fall away, then they could too. That’s the scariest thing ever. I’ve been on the edge of that precipice. S-C-A-R-Y.

    All you can do is what you’re doing…be a resource for the ones who fall away…or choose to jump like I did. 🙂

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    I appreciate your writing. Though I gave up on Christianity many years ago, it is learning about experiences like yours that have really made me comfortable in my atheist/humanist skin. While I don’t rage against the faith, I also no longer tiptoe around family and friends who are Christians. I’m no longer shy about objecting when they advocate bad ideas under cover of faith. This has made me much happier, but also enabled me to spread what I think are important messages about how we humans treat one another — and occasionally, I can make the faithbound think.

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    They are exhibiting some of the traits of a cult. Like the Eagle’s song “Hotel California” you can check out any time you want but you can never leave.

  6. Avatar
    Bruce Gerencser

    The letter writer wrote me again to let me know I had misunderstood him. I was even more disappointed when I found out he’s been reading my writing for two years. He seems like a decent man, perhaps we will chat again in the future.

    Here’s what I said to him in my last email:

    If you are saying I have been influenced by Christianity, that it informs some of my moral, ethical choices, you will get no argument from me. I have NEVER said otherwise. We are all a product of our culture, education, and tribe.

    But, your email implied much more than that, and that is what I took issue with.

    You need to understand that I get boatloads of emails from Evangelicals, including people who knew me when I was a pastor. Some of them desperately want to contstruct a fictious world where I am still a Christian. My latest post is my umpteenth attempt to put an end to such foolishness. Unfortunately for you, you carry the burden of those who came before you. If your intent was something other than this, you might try reframing your argument or question in such a way that it doesn’t suggest you think I am still a Christian. (In the stricter sense of the word)

    Feel free to write again.


    PS, using the Good Samaritan illustration is no different from using a Harry Potter illustration. You read too much into my usage. I am a religion writer, with a theological background. Such illustrations come natural to me, as would using a Harry Potter illustration if I had a Harry Potter degree/background. Since most of my readers come from an Evangelical background, my use of the Bible resonates with them. I am simply using the best available tool to do my work as a writer.

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      Any mythology can be a source of metaphors. They all have stories and are more or less known by an intended audience. I’ve always thought the polytheistic religions had more varied and useful stories because the gods have their own sphere of influence. Since the Christian Bible has some stories that are commonly known it doesn’t make one a Christian to employ them as allusions.
      It is interesting to me that the Good Samaritan story has lost its original context and the visceral reaction that the original audience would have is completely lost on modern man. A pastor could explain it until he is blue in the face. Well perhaps it could be retold as the “Good Atheist” that might give the modern Christian the proper visceral reaction.

      • Avatar
        Bruce Gerencser

        That you for succinctly making my point. I am quite comfortable with Christianity and the Bible. Even though I haven’t read the Bible in years, I can still quote hundreds of verses and recount the stories. I can also quote things my parents said and books I read from back when my parents were in the John Birch Society. I doubt using these quotes would make me a John Bircher. 🙂 Like most humans, I am the product of numerous influences. Many of these influences I now reject, but they are part of my story.

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        re: “…retold as the ‘Good Atheist’ …”

        as i’ve written before on bruce’s blog, i think it would be the ‘parable of the good gay muslim’ 😉

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    it is really amazing how people can ignore any evidence that doesn’t fit their world-view. (that includes not just religious views, but political views, etc.) i guess that’s why peace talks and marriage counselling require each side to explain the other sides view until the other side says “yes, you’ve correctly understood my view.” seems impossible or at least difficult for many people to do that.

    as for me, i think deep down, i’m really hindu, ’cause i sometimes say “holy cow!” 😉

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    When evangelicals accuse (is that the correct term?) you of still being a Christian, I think what they actually fear is losing their own faith. Their scriptures tell them they can KNOW they are saved. If you knew you were saved, then knew you were not, then it could happen to them too. And then they would fry for eternity in hell…..

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    5 yrs later and still wrestle with this question. most days my logic tells me that christianity is not true. then my indoctrination kicks in. but it is getting easier thanks to the posts and discussion on this blog. thanks for being willing to share your experiences. some i can relate to, and it helps so much. thanks for this blog.

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    wow! they appear not to be able to lose you. however, it’s not just you, it’s the tithe. and if you were to still be a believer , they would treat you as badly. you do get under their skin though.

  11. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I kind of think that one thing that gets under the skin of traditional Evangelicals is the huge amount of ” bones” there are now. Bones keep their faith personal and private, one-on- one, and have dumped organized American Christianity in the dumpster, and took their money and votes with them. You hear continually the lament of ” we’re losing our youth !” on radio,etc., Along with books containing ” strategies” to keep them from leaving. I never meant ‘bones’ above in that paragraph– autotypos again, sorry ! Just ‘ ones’.

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Bruce Gerencser