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From Evangelicalism to Atheism: Twelve Years Later — Part Five

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Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

I am often asked questions about my life post-Jesus: questions about children, marriage, and the effect of my unbelief on my relationships with family and friends. I am also questioned about my worldview, morality, and politics, along with my view of religion and Evangelicalism. Simply put, people want to know: how different is my life today from the way it was twelve years ago when I admitted to myself and the world that I was no longer a Christian?

I can safely say that leaving the ministry and leaving Christianity has affected every aspect of my life. How could it have been otherwise? I was in the Christian church for fifty years, and for twenty-five of those years, I pastored Evangelical churches. I married Polly in July 1978. We planned to graduate college, go to a community and start a church, live in a white two-story farmhouse with a white picket fence, have two children — a boy named Jason and a girl named Bethany, and live happily ever after. Boy, was that a fantasy.

I pastored seven churches in three states. We lived in Pontiac, Bryan (twice), Montpelier, Newark (twice), New Lexington (twice), Glenford (twice), Frazeysburg, Fayette (twice), Clare, Stryker, Yuma, and Ney. All told, we lived in more than 20 houses. Two children became six, and now we have thirteen grandchildren.

I left the ministry in 2005, and in November 2008, Polly and I joined hands together as we walked away from Christianity, never to return. At that moment, we burned our lives to the ground and began rebuilding them again. This process continues to this day.

While I am comfortable with the atheist moniker, Polly self-describes as an agnostic, even though her life is every bit as godless as mine. Our children have their own stories to tell, and I will leave it to them to share their journeys. None of them is an Evangelical. One son, however, seems to be moving towards Evangelicalism, having embraced Trumpism, white supremacy, and is a gun-toting militia member. The rest of my children are politically liberal/progressive, so I am sure they disagree with their father on many of the finer points of political discourse. My children, much like their father, remain an ongoing renovation project.

All of my Christian friends and colleagues in the ministry have cut ties with me, save two people. I literally lost hundreds of friends, ministerial colleagues, and acquaintances over the past twelve years. Some quietly slipped away, while others took flamethrowers to my life as they walked out the door. Awful, ugly, nasty things have been said about me by those I once considered dear friends.

Walking away entails walking towards something else. I treaded water for a time, trying to figure out exactly what life post-Jesus might look like. Today, I am comfortable in my atheist skin, proud to be numbered among the godless heathen of this world. My worldview and morality continue to evolve. When asked what I “believe,” I reply, I am a (secular) humanist. It is the humanist ideal that gives me a moral and ethical foundation for my life. After fifty years of having the Bible as my guide, it has been a challenge to rebuild the foundation of my life. At first, it seemed impossible to do, but with time, and lots of reading and thinking, I now see the scaffolding of life rising up, providing the structure by which I can live my day-to-day life.

Polly and I recently celebrated forty-two years of marriage. That young Baptist preacher and his bride are long gone, and in their place has grown a relationship that rests on love and mutual respect. While we continue to deal with patriarchal hangovers — I want to be the boss and Polly is all too happy to let me — I can say that our marriage is rock solid. Not perfect, and we still have occasional (about nothing) fights, but we don’t, to quote the Bible, let the sun go down on our wrath. We are in no way an example of a model marriage. We are just two people who happen to love each other, and really, really, really like each other too (and anyone who has been married a long time knows how important “like” is).

And that is the rest of my (our) story, for now. Each day, Loki-willing, provides us new opportunities to grow and mature; to be better people than we were the day before.  And that’s our goal.

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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Series Navigation<< From Evangelicalism to Atheism — Part Four

14 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Sam

    Bruce, have any of the people you used to preach to, who are now also non believers, said your preaching hurt them in someway? Or have you felt the need to make amends with anyone now you realise how much damage your old beliefs could cause someone?

  2. Avatar
    limey

    I like Sam’s question. I’m interested to hear if you’ve had any communication with people you’ve been responsible for as a Pastor but who also no longer believe.

    I do have a question of my own though, have you noticed any ways in which your outlook or personality has changed as a result of leaving the faith and if so, what would you say is the most significant change?

  3. Avatar
    Rebecca

    After you publicly announced your atheism how many other pastors have confided to you that they also no longer believe in Christianity but continue in the pulpit? Do you think a significant percentage of preachers do not believe what they teach? Do you think a significant percentage of church attendees secretly do not believe in the validity of Christianity?

  4. Avatar
    anotherami

    What parallels do you see in what you do with this blog and your former role as pastor in the churches you led? I am often struck by the level of tending to people’s needs that is to be found here; both from you and those who post here, either in guest posts or in the comments. Coming from a Quaker background, I strongly related to the concept that all were called to “minister to the least of the these”, to take care of the needs of those around us when we could. Do you still see yourself as a sort minister (minister meaning one who tends to people’s needs, not in a religious/sectarian sense)?

    And thank you for challenging my beliefs, forcing me to clarify my understanding of what exactly I do believe, and helping me see how the fundamentalist beliefs I was exposed to as I hit puberty caused deep and lasting damage I still struggle with 4 decades later. It has been healing.

  5. Avatar
    Melody

    Hey Bruce,

    I wonder how you decide on morals/ethics? Do you adhere to any principles or philosophies? Like humanism, absurdism or something like that? Or the golden rule? Or do you take each decision individually?

    I find this a hard question myself. On the one hand I would like to have a sort of guiding principle/system/rules or what not: something already in place yet on the other hand I also like the freedom to think for myself and decide each case separately. The latter does have the drawback of not having a sort of foundation to base your arguments on, it could be more haphazard/cherry picking.

    This has been and is a difficult one for me and I wonder how you solved that puzzle or if you have solved it?

  6. Avatar
    Pam

    How did you balance out your beliefs and lifestyle regarding what is right and wrong? Things that were forbidden simply because of scripture now have no authority.

    And how did you recover from the loss of belief in being loved by your creator, making you valued just for being you? Purposes of life, meaning you’re here and all that.

    How did you stay healthy socially when leaving your church behind? Did you stay isolated or find a new social circle?

    How did you make peace with all those years your focus and motivation came from false beliefs?

    I am dealing with all this right now. Sorry for so many questions.

  7. Avatar
    Brian

    It is one thing, one clear and focussed act, to leave belief behind by walking out the Baptist door and making a public statement but the style of leaving often reflects the style of belief being left behind. Fundamentalist evangelical bullies are shockingly unaware of the harm they vigorously do to innocence, to open hearts, to people who might be hurting from normal human experience. As an extremist preacher, you took to the streets to share (inflict) your message on strangers. Your interpretation of ‘go out and preach the gospel’ was that of a psychological thug beating the shit out of Americans on the corner sidewalk and from your pulpit. Nowadays, as an agnostic/atheist for the most part, you impress me as a more gentle man, somebody who has seen much and considered it all quite seriously and over a good deal of time. My question is, How do you explain the love you are able to share now, the ability to share your heart and listen to others without condemnation and eternal damnations? Do you draw your strength from the freedom from belief, belief-relief, or? And what do you do to deal with nonbelievers who are such ugly human beings, the horrible atheist men who emphatically reject any social conscience and say that atheism has nothing to do with social action for good in the world, those who clearly demean women, for instance and need to dominate others? Christians find these reptiles and use them as examples to ‘prove’ that atheism is poison in much the same way atheists use a sick biped who claims to be a true Christian, (i.e. Steven Anderson ) to show the bankruptcy of Christianity. How do you navigate these extremes?

    • Avatar
      anotherami

      Great questions Brian. I was thinking along the same lines, but your detailed questions are much better than my very broad one. I hope Bruce’s chooses to address at least some of them, though he could likely make a whole post on each one that I would eagerly read. I look at Bruce and I look at Anderson. I see Jesus in Bruce and see hate in Anderson. It is confounding to me, as someone who still believes in the Indefinable Something.

  8. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    “An ongoing renovation project” – that’s how I feel about myself too.

    Thank you for sharing your story. It must have been really difficult to lose your friends when you changed – I suppose that’s inevitable in some cases, particularly in evangelicalism where there are defined rules for beliefs and behaviors with strict admonitions not to associate with those who differ. Traveling that road with your life partner helped I am sure.

  9. Avatar
    clubschadenfreude

    “None of them is an Evangelical. One son, however, seems to be moving towards Evangelicalism, having embraced Trumpism, white supremacy, and is a gun-toting militia member. ”

    damn, what a shame to have a family member decide to be a nazi. My empathy to you.

  10. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I second that emotion. All the more, given what’s going on in the country– just heard on the radio that Trump leaves the hospital tomorrow. Who really has COVID and gets discharged from the hospital that early ??

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