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Evangelicals Ask, “What Should We Do About Bruce?”

what happened to you

It has been seventeen years since I last pastored a church. While I had many opportunities to pastor again in the years before my deconversion, I was no longer willing to go through the dog-and-pony show required to get a new gig. I was unwilling to put my family through any more new church experiences. I came to see that I sold my services too cheaply. I allowed churches to take advantage of the Gerencser family. Churches were quite willing to keep us in the poor house for the sake of the kingdom of God and the churches’ checkbook balances. I also came to the conclusion that many churches deserve to die, and, quite frankly, many of the churches that contacted me about becoming their pastor didn’t deserve the dedication and effort I would give them.

Long before I made an intellectual decision about the truthfulness of the Bible and Christianity, I lost faith in the church and the work of the ministry. I am now an atheist because I no longer believe Christianity’s central claims to be true, but in 2003 I still loved Jesus but I didn’t love his church. I lost heart for that which I had spent most of my adult life doing. As is the case for many atheists, especially those who were once devoted followers of Jesus, my intellectual journey out of Christianity began with a crisis of faith.

I was a good pastor, a hard-working man who rarely took a day off. I always put the church first. The church bills always got paid before I did.  I worked seven days a week for poverty wages, with no benefits or insurance. Not one of the churches I pastored ever offered any form of benefit package or insurance. One church even expected me to pay special speakers out of my own pocket. After all, I wasn’t working on that Sunday, the speaker was.

Granted, I willingly lived this way. No one forced me to do so. I want to be clear, lest anyone should say I’m whining or bitter. I CHOSE to live this way. While I think some of the churches I pastored were indifferent or callous toward the needs of their pastor and his family, I could have decided to leave the ministry and take a secular job. I didn’t because I felt a sense of divine calling, and if suffering and doing without were a part of fulfilling that calling, so be it.

People I once pastored or were friends with continue to be shocked when they find out that I not only have left the ministry, but I am also an atheist.  Some people are so shocked that they can’t even talk to me about it. Several former parishioners have told me that they find my deconversion quite unsettling to their own faith, so they stay away from me.

Often, these people turn to religiously praying for me. One church, after its pastor heard that I had left the faith, held regular prayer meetings on my behalf. They stormed the portals of Heaven for the sake of my soul, all to no avail. Other people resort to sending me letters, emails, books, tracts, etc. Somehow, they naïvely think that they or some author is going to tell me something that I’ve never heard before. Solomon was right when he said, There’s nothing new under the sun. I can’t imagine what a Christian could say or show me that would cause me to say, Wow! I’ve never seen that before. Jesus, I’m sorry for my unbelief. Please save me, amen. It’s not going to happen.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a discussion that those involved thought was private (a friend of mine emailed me about the discussion. I signed up for the forum where it was taking place using a fake name). The discussion centered upon, as one man put it, What should we do about Bruce?

No one had yet put forth an answer to his question, but having had lots of experience with people trying to figure out what to do with me, I thought I would venture a few answers of my own.

  • By all means, gossip about me and question my salvation, ministry, and life. Just do what Jesus would do.
  • By all means, write cryptic blog posts about me in the hope of making yourself feel better about my defection from the faith. Nothing like straightening out a heretic to make oneself feel better.
  • By all means, send me religious books. They sell well on eBay.
  • By all means, pray night and day for me. Keep begging God to bring me back into the fold. I know how important this is to you. If I remain an apostate, it calls into question your faith. After all, you were saved under and baptized by a God-called preacher who may have NEVER been saved. This is kind of like having Judas for your pastor.
  • By all means, mention me in your sermons. I know how much a good illustration can spice up a sermon.
  • By all means, keep doing all these things, forever reminding me of some of the reasons I left the ministry and ultimately abandoned Christianity.

I am convinced that most Evangelicals cannot truly be friends with someone such as myself. The urge to evangelize, witness, convert, call to repentance and straighten out is just too great. Evangelicals are like a teenage boy browsing the pages of Hustler magazine. The urge to masturbate is too great for the boy to refrain. So it is with God’s chosen ones. They have a pathological need to fix what they perceive is wrong with me, regardless of the fact that I am fine, not needing repair.

Their world has no place for people like me. It has no place for those who are not just like them. Their world is a narrow, homogeneous place, neatly divided into saved and lost. While Evangelicals will make forays into the world to evangelize, to do necessary secular business, and to earn a living, once their work is complete, they retire to the safe, Jesus-protected confines of their homes and churches. They dare not linger in Sodom lest they be tainted by sin and worldliness.

Fortunately, the world has made inroads into their homes. The Internet, with its websites and blogs, gives them a front-row seat to the world. Those who once knew me will type “Bruce Gerencser” in a search box and hit enter (which people do multiple times a day). And once they do, they are one click away from this blog. Their search began with the thought, I wonder what happened to Bruce?  It’s not long, then, before their thoughts turn to LOOK AT WHAT HAPPENED TO BRUCE!!!

These Bruce-sleuths continue to read, and thanks to the server logs, I know what they have read. I now know that they are aware of what has happened to the man they once called pastor, preacher, or friend. What will they do now?

Pray? Call me to repentance? Call me out on their blogs? Leave a comment on this blog? Try to evangelize me or win me back to Jesus? Think of what a prize I would be: an Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist reclaimed for the glory of God. In fact, I bet I could make a lot of money with a shtick like that.

It’s been twelve years now since I said to the world that I was no longer a Christian. Millions of Christians (according to page views) have read my writing, and some of them have tried to reclaim me for Jesus. While their attempts certainly provide me with writing opportunities, their efforts have miserably failed. Perhaps Evangelicals need to change their approach. Forget trying to evangelize me or show me the error of my way. Instead, listen carefully to my story. Attempt to understand and learn. I still have much to offer the Christian church, as do many of my fellow apostates. We’re still preaching and maybe, just maybe, we’ve got something to say.

15 Comments

  1. Robert

    Better yet – why not start a Sermon writing business? Seeing as how many preachers don’t write their own I bet you could make a few sheckles writing sermons and selling them 😉

  2. Shy1

    Hi Bruce, I appreciate reading about your thoughts & experience. I was wondering if the issues you wrote about on your Why I Hate Jesus page were things that you had always struggled with or if they hit you suddenly at a certain point?

    Sorry that your Christian friends have not known “what to do with you.” How about just being your friend.

  3. Shy1

    Bruce, I’m sorry for what you’ve been through at the hands of “the church.”

    Your honesty is refreshing to me. I have grappled with the same thoughts you’ve expressed, and many more, since I’ve been a Christian. For the most part, these are not things that one can talk about freely with other believers, because…. WEAKER BROTHER.

  4. MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, I actually cry whenever I read about how the church used you. As best as I can tell, all large heirarchical institutions–whether they are nations, armed forces, corporations, churches or, unfortunately, nonprofit organizations that are doing good work (or at least have beautiful mission statements) do that to their best people. As someone I know said about her former workplace: “They chew you up for thirty years. Then they spit you out and say, ‘You really didn’t taste that good.”

    One thing really jumped out at me: “One church even expected me to pay special speakers out of my own pocket. After all, I wasn’t working on that Sunday, the speaker was.” Ironic, isn’t it, that an organization ostensibly devoted to the teachings of the person (whether or not he actually existed) who delivered the Sermon on the Mount can act like the most penny-pinching robber-baron anarchocapitalist.

  5. BJW

    The good news is that people come to your blog who end up leaving fundamentalist Christianity. I remember one dude who came and argued, and came back a couple years or so later to explain he’d actually read Bart Ehrman and was no longer a fundie. Reading your blog changed my viewpoint from a form of liberal Christianity, to outside Christianity. Actually lost one friend after I told her I was no longer a Christian. More recently, I finally had it with my Trump-loving, probably Qanon (didn’t ask!) friend who claimed we could be friends even though she thought I voted to have her exterminated. If I still believed I was a Christian, I’d just keep putting up with the bullshit.

  6. apostatedaughter

    Good work. I am convinced that pushing back whenever those of us who have left are provided small opportunities matters more than we realize. Ultimately it is erosion by a thousand (or more) tiny cuts that finally breaches the clamp on the brain. Anytime I can add one more of those tiny cuts to those around me who are still mired in dogma is a small victory. There is always one person listening quietly who is farther down the road of doubt than we realize. It is, in the end, what rescued me.

  7. mary

    great post. thanks for posting this again. i so identify with being used and abused by churches. dad always moved us at his own expense, sold things to pay the church bills etc. then we’d move on quickly. i have trust and social issues to this day due to the instability. created a more stable life for myself and my kids, but i still resent this toxic religion. trying to hang onto liberal progressive xtianity, but i know it’s bullshit. just getting ready to dump it all is hard. thanks for writing. it helps so many of us;

  8. Sage

    Wow, Bruce, you really would have a great testimony if you went were brainwa..er..saved again. I can see it now…

    My father experienced the same financial struggles early in his ministry, although by the time I arrived on the scene, he was older and his denomination placed him in larger churches who paid a livable salary and provided decent housing. But I remember going to other churches in the same denomination, very small, where pastors worked one or more jobs to have an income they could live on. I never understood why they remained there, or why the churches treated them as they did.

    Preachers have to put up with a lot of crap, and I saw all of it. People constantly asked me if I was called to be a minister, to follow my father. My immediate though was “hell no, a job where you are placed on a pedestal, but paid as little as possible, and have to deal with all this crap??” but, being a proper preachers kid, I would say “no, God has other plans for me to follow.”

  9. Obstaclechick

    It’s interesting how some pastors (and Christian school teachers) live in virtual poverty slaving away for Jesus while a select few learned how to game the system and live in huge homes like kings.

    What are we going to do with you, Bruce? I guess we will just keep reading as you continue to expose fundamentalist Christianity for the toxic and abusive system it is!

  10. Barbara L. Jackson

    But Barbara, you were never a TRUE BELIEVER, you worked for the State of Colorado instead of a REAL tech company. You are not a true believer in TECH and CAPITALISM, and that they would save the world.

    You got group health insurance, and sick leave and vacation time and took it, a real believer that technology and capitalism would never do the things you did!!

    Your employer kept you after you got epilepsy and you thought you had a RIGHT to a job. A real techie would never do THAT, they would accept that they would have to leave when their current contract ends. A REAL tech company would no more keep a person with a disability like that than they would hire someone in their forties tor a REAL tech job.

    You got Carpal Tunnel (wrist around nerves swell making fingers feel numb and or hurt and sting in sleep waking you up) often caused by typing and mousing all day.. You used worker”s compensation insurance to try to get some help.

    You got a RETIREMENT after working from your employer for 30 years, How could you have ever done that. You should have believed you could be Steve Jobs, or left without wimping at the age of 40.

    Thank you
    Barbara L. Jackson

  11. Yulya Sevelova

    So, Bruce, these people are STILL asking what should they do about you. I have an idea for them. Your blog doesn’t harm anyone, in any way. If a person was going to leave Christianity, it was because of what they were subjected to before even going online, that pushed them towards losing the faith to begin with. Most would find this blog after making up their mind beforehand ! So, for these malcontents throwing shade and imprecatory prayers and thoughts at you– this is my suggestion to THEM –how about simply leaving you in peace……how hard is that ? Most people who were abused are rarely validated. Just ignored, discounted and criticized anyway. This is a safe space, and having nothing of value to say, they ought to just shut up and back off,and leave it at that….

  12. Yulya Sevelova

    So, Bruce, these people are STILL asking what should they do about you. I have an idea for them. Your blog doesn’t harm anyone, in any way. If a person was going to leave Christianity, it was because of what they were subjected to before even going online, that pushed them towards losing the faith to begin with. Most would find this blog after making up their mind beforehand ! It’s not their right, or job, to ” do something about you.” So, for these malcontents throwing shade and imprecatory prayers and thoughts at you– this is my suggestion to THEM –how about simply leaving you in peace……how hard is that ? Most people who were abused are rarely validated. Just ignored, discounted and criticized anyway. This is a safe space, and having nothing of value to say, they ought to just shut up and back off,and leave it at that….

  13. Caroline

    Someone on another site I enjoy posted her opinion that Fundamentalists are like organisms that refuse to adapt to change and which will eventually die out because they can’t or won’t evolve. I thought it was a great analogy and probably a large part of the reason that the number of Christians is dropping precipitously in this country. What an exhausting life these self-righteous creatures must lead.

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Bruce Gerencser