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An Ex-Pastor’s Dilemma

bruce gerencser 1983
Bruce Gerencser, age 25, Ordination 1983, Emmanuel Baptist Church Buckeye Lake, Ohio

Contrary to what some of my critics say, I have no great need to convert others to what they derisively call the atheist religion. I’m quite content to live and let live. I fully recognize that many people find great value in believing in God and the afterlife. I even understand the deep emotional need such beliefs meet. Who am I to rob someone of anything that gives their life deeper meaning and purpose? It doesn’t matter whether their beliefs are true. All that matters is that THEY think their beliefs are true, and I have no pressing need to deliver people from their fantasies, delusions, or irrational beliefs.

As much as I think that I am a rational person driven by evidence and knowledge, I know I can, like any other human being, be led astray by false or misguided beliefs. No human being is a god when it comes to rational thinking. We all can and do, at times, fall off the wagon of rational thought. As long as religious people don’t try to convert me, I am inclined to leave them well enough alone. I suspect if the Christian religion were a private, pietistic religion, practiced quietly behind the closed doors of homes and houses of worship, I would have little to write about. Since it is anything but, I am inclined to push back at those who think their beliefs should be required for all, whether believed voluntarily or under threat of law.

For twenty-five years, I was pastor to hundreds of people in churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I was their friend, counselor, and confidant. I married the young and buried the old. A few times, I buried the young and married the old. I led them to faith in Christ. I baptized them. They looked to me to give them certainty and hope, and a message from God that said he loved and cared for them. Through every phase of life, I was there for them. That’s the life of a pastor. I cared for them, loved them, and even to this day I want only what is best for them. And this puts me in a real spot, what I call An Ex-Pastor’s Dilemma.

I pastored my last church in 2003. In 2005, I left the ministry, and 3 years later I left Christianity. By late 2009, I was self-identifying as an atheist. I am not a person who is hard to find. I have a unique last name. I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world (ain’t I special?!).  My Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blog email contact information are readily available via any search engine. I guess what I am saying here is this; I am not an ex-pastor in hiding. I am not trying to forget a past life and make a new life for myself. It’s not that simple.

Here’s my dilemma . . .

Former parishioners and Christian friends often try to touch base with me. They haven’t found this blog yet or read any of the other things I have written that are posted on the Internet, so they assume I am still a pastor. A middle-aged woman, a woman I first met when she was a troubled teen, contacted me to let me know what a wonderful difference God was making in her life. She just knew I would want to know that FINALLY God was using her to help other people. Quite frankly, I AM glad God is using her to help other people. I am glad God has made her life better. I remember the tough time she had growing up, the great sorrows and difficulties she faced.

I didn’t respond to her inquiry. I didn’t want to open the door to her being discouraged or disillusioned. It is one thing if she stumbles upon this blog. If she dares to search a bit, she will find the truth, but I would rather she come to it on her own and rather than me telling her. I am not being a coward. Those who know me know I don’t play the coward’s part very well. But, at the same time, I still have a pastor’s heart. I don’t want to see people hurt. Maybe she will never find out I am an atheist. Maybe she will live a good life, thinking that Pastor Gerencser is proud of her. Such a small deception is one I will gladly commit if someone such as she finds peace and purpose as a result.

It is one thing if an ex-parishioner or Christian friend comes after me like a hungry lion chasing a bleeding deer. Those who find out about my defection from Christianity and become angry, combative, defensive, and argumentative will find that I am quite willing to meet them in the middle of the road and do battle. If I am forced to do so, I will speak my mind and pointedly share what I believe (or don’t believe). However, for those who are only looking for the man who loved them and nurtured them in the faith, I am not inclined to hurt them or cause them to despair. It was never my intent to hurt anyone intentionally, both as a pastor, and now as a preacher of the one true God, Loki. (Please see Dear Wendy, Dear Friend, and Dear Greg.)

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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  1. Avatar

    Being brought up as a believer and someone saved and baptised, when I left Christianity I left understanding what a leap it was… over the years (in my sixties now) I have had the fortune to live through many changes of heart and mind and I have come to know enough that I should never think that life is my way or the highway. I know that we are change and that we can and will perhaps decide against some stance that seems perfectly obvious and true for our lives now. This is what makes me different as an atheist who once believed in Jesus. I am content to allow you space to be who you are and I do not wish to convert you to my way of thinking, though I will discuss it at length sometimes if somebody wants to do so. If you want to believe in what I believe is imaginary, then I will not stand in your way.
    If only Christians could be as giving as Atheists in this way, there would be far less barking but Christians are told to get out there and chase people down… In the old testament, God ordered fathers to sacrifice their own sons to prove their love of the Big Cheese. It is very sad to me now, to see the legacy live on…
    Why are atheists often so much more supportive than Christians?

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    Bruce, it’s too bad you will never get the much deserved credit for helping all those people through the years. “To God be the glory”, they say.

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    You’re truly a compassionate and decent person.
    How can you be an atheist?
    Don’t they fry cats and poke small children with forks?

    I am not a loud atheist. Much of my family is completely unaware that I’ve become a godless heathen. I choose to keep my mouth shut rather than hurt my mom.

    And I don’t fry cats. Don’t ask me about children. 😉

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    That’s a heck of a dilemma – It would seem (to me) that no response is bordering on “rude” in a way – which I’m sure plays as part of your dilemma being the honorable/honest man that you are. At the same time it may be fair/prudent to let past/dead relationships remain “dead” and buried, as it were (all figurative references, of course).

    Not that you’re asking for an answer, as I know you’re a sensitive and intelligent man, but, were it me, I “might” be inclined to respond with a positive message of encouragement to maintain and prosper on the former parishioner’s current path while gently, yet cryptically relating that you are no longer a pastor and are not affiliated with the church/organization for personal and health reasons – that you are effectively a retired private citizen … yet you wish nothing but the best for this persons success and growth in the future and that you hope he/she gains strength, joy and respect by selflessly “paying it forward” to others in his/her community.

    Just a thought/idea – feel free to disregard if it doesn’t “fit” the situation/scenario – I won’t be offended – You’re a good man Bruce, you’ll “know” what’s right for you 🙂

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    MJ Lisbeth

    I confess that I came across this post because it is under “related” to my most recent guest post. One of these days, I’ll start at the beginning of this blog and follow it to the present!

    For now, I’ll just say this post confirms what I’ve thought about you, Bruce: You have integrity and sensitivity.

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    I appreciate these ideas, Bruce. I like a lot of what some atheists say, when they talk about church-state separation or emphasize humanist ideas. But when an atheist starts talking religious points but dressed up as natural law blah blah blah, well, not interested. Funnily enough, there are Republican atheists even though the GOP is given over to Dominionist. I’d be happier if it went by its true designation, the (mostly) White Christian Nationalist Party.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Upon reading Robert’s comment I found myself wondering if a curt, positive response to the former parishoner might be the best route, not a long and involved one, just a kind of “Great, go for it!” kinda thing…. but then I thought it best to just let it go as you did because the note was sent to the pastor for a reason and not just giggles for Jesus. We do not connect with outher human beings for no reason. As you no longer giggle correctly, you are not the pastor for this job and therefore, rightly, I suspect, leave it be… and as a good-hearted fella, wish her well in thought.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    I enjoyed this post a lot. I’m aware most pastors aren’t that invested in the flock, except where money and power are concerned. I speak from experience, sadly. I was in dangerous situations, no attempt to save us ever crossed their minds. We were told to stay put and suck it up. There’s just never been these types of pastors– like this post here- in decades of church culture. I don’t miss it at all, after what we went through. I changed a lot. Christianity taught me restraint in how I deal with goes. Without years of such conditioning I’d be very dangerous when angered. I’m not the vocal type, so by the time I showed irritation it would be too late. Not good for me, but good for those troublemakers I was told to forgive.

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