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Short Stories: Bruce, the Moral Crusader and the Massage Parlor

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000

After resigning from Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio in 1995, I rented the old library building in nearby West Unity and started Grace Baptist Church — later renamed Our Father’s House. I remained the pastor of this church for seven years.

While I became more ecumenical and progressive politically during this time, I remained a fire-breathing moral crusader. West Unity was the last dry (no alcohol sales) community in Ohio. When the American Legion, directly across the street from the church, put an initiative on the local ballot to allow alcohol sales, I decided to make it my personal mission to defeat the measure. I sent out letters to churches, wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers, and went door to door handing out flyers — all in the hope of soundly defeating the ballot issue. Teetotaling Evangelicals, including a handful of church members, rallied around my cause, and sure enough, the issue was defeated. What a great victory for Pastor Bruce and the true Christians who defeated Satan and his army of boozers. It didn’t take me long, however, to learn that I had won the battle but lost the war. In winning, I lost the respect of many people in the community — primarily non-Evangelicals. While Evangelical God-lovers praised my name, liberal Christians, local business owners, bankers, and the like were no longer friendly towards me.

In the late 1990s, a criminal concern out of Chicago opened a massage parlor 10 miles west of our church at Exit One on the Ohio Turnpike. This was the first adult oriented business to ever operate in Williams County. When I learned of its existence, I quickly set out to close it down. I rallied pastors and business owners to my cause, along with my usual shtick of writing letters to local newspapers. The Bryan Times refused to print my letter because I alleged, without evidence, that prostitution was indeed taking place at the business. Other newspapers published my letters.

I also wrote letters to local law enforcement, along with local and state politicians. I drew a clear line in the stand: close this business in the name of God and morality. Little did I know that I was involving myself in an issue that I knew nothing about. I wrongly assumed that law enforcement — namely the Williams County Sheriff’s Department — was sitting on its ass, doing nothing to remove this “vile” establishment from our County.

One day, the phone rang at the church. It was the Sheriff calling for the Bruce, the moral crusader. Boy, was he upset at me. He wanted me to know that I was ruining a joint sting operation between the Sheriff’s office and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. When I told the Sheriff that I had no intention of gumming up his operation, he calmed down a bit and politely asked to me end my crusade. And if I did so, I would be invited to the go with them when they raided the massage parlor.

Several weeks later, law enforcement gathered at a motel across the street from the parlor to prepare for the raid. There I was, a definite outsider, little more than someone who got a consolation prize for not fucking things up for them. The raid proved to be quite anti-climatic — pun intended. There were no customers in the massage parlor, just two well-worn Asian women in their late 40s. Seized in the raid were credit cards, condoms, cash, and food stamps. Yes, food stamps. Evidently, the massage parlor took food stamps as payment for services rendered. The parlor employees were later prosecuted on solicitation charges, but, if I remember correctly, served no jail time. This would be the last moral crusade for me. Lessons learned.

My opinions about adult businesses, sex workers, and “morality” changed dramatically over the next two decades. Bruce, the moral crusader died an ignoble death that day at Exit One on the Ohio Turnpike. Instead of focusing on the business itself, I began to think about the women and how the Chicago men they worked for likely coerced them and other women into working at the massage parlor. While I now support legal, consensual sex work, I still wonder about the women arrested during the raid. What kind of life did they have up to that point? What kind of life did they have after their arrests? Did I make life better for them? Or did I just make a bunch of white Evangelical Christians feel morally superior to these women? I suspect I know the answer to these questions.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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
    Yulya Sevelova

    I found this post rather comical, yet sad. Cops use these massage parlors for sex also,ha-ha😁. In California, immigrant women are forced into such ” work” to pay off their smugglers, as they are in debt to them. It’s not something they want to do. Human trafficking is a major problem here. As for Detroit, Motown– it’s in Wayne County. Not surprised you encountered danger there. My former roommate is from a suburb( ghetto) just South of Detroit. I had a chance to experience the culture while visiting his relatives years ago.

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    Oh boy, Bruce the zealot getting into things he didn’t know.

    If sex work were legalized, there would be more protections for the workers. Prudish religious people just don’t care about that.

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    This is quite common with police, tolerate crime so they can ensnare as many as possible in a “sting” operation. Quite baffling really, wouldn’t they rather have a Bruce the zealot just run them out of town? Less cop paperwork, if nothing else. Reminds me of the time when my grandmother burned the neighbor’s marijuana plants (that were planted on HER property). Cops were annoyed, they were going to do a big bust. I’m not sure why they wanted to wait, maybe they wanted really good buds if you get my drift.
    Interesting story about winning the battle but losing the war. Alcohol is a big money maker for restaurants. I suppose the whole liquor license business probably keeps them in check more than the ramblings of the local church nut. And of course the net result of having a dry county is you people will dine in the next county.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    I don’t know much about economics, but I understand a thing or two about supply and demand. If there is a demand for something, someone will try to supply it, whether or not it’s legal (Think Prohibition and the War on Drugs.) . So, I think sex work should be treated as a profession: The workers would be licensed and at least get some modicum of protection.

    Besides, when sex work is illegal and some grandstanding official sends in the cops to “clean up” the red-light district, what happens? The workers just move elsewhere.

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    When it comes to your efforts to combat the sale of alcohol in that one small Ohio town, I’m going to relate some things that might indicate the opposition to alcohol by many Evangelical/Fundamentalist Protestant Christians as well as some things in regards to the deaths of young people. Off and on I would go as a visitor to some Fundamentalist Baptist Church’s evening services. This church is in Central Illinois and at that time it was pastored by someone who used you as a warning against apostasy. I did not know it at the time that I went there one evening in March of 2004 but the church was undergoing a tragedy. This is why I’m not the names of the people concerned. Some young married woman involved in the music program of that church had recently given birth to her first child but there were complications from childbirth with both the mother and baby boy. The mother was critically ill and not expected to survive. She died a few days after the Sunday evening service. The pastor was talking about her impending death and at one point during the service he said something to the general effect of asking God why he wasn’t striking the alcoholic or pervert with death instead of her. As far as I know her baby boy survived. About a little over three months later some man fell off a pontoon boat into a lake while extremely drunk and he drowned despite efforts of the boat’s operator to rescue him. The area that the drowning fatality occurred was located only a few miles to the north of that church. The man wasn’t wearing a life jacket when he fell overboard. It seems the pastor of that church did not have to wait that long for some alcoholic man of about the same age as the deceased music teacher to die.

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    again with the memories. dad was pastor of the only fundamentalist church in a very small town in the 70s. he put up a big stink about the school hiring a gay teacher. he tried to get the other clergy in town involved, and they told him to mind his own business as gays were people too. he wound up being the only person in town to show up to protest and came home discouraged. shortly after he said god was leading him to move. wonder why?? glad the internet is exposing this garbage for what is it. i agree with the other poster that if sex work were legalized and regulated, conditions/disease would be better for all. we all need to get over ourselves and quit trying to legislate morality/sex.

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Bruce Gerencser