You have contacted me several times in recent years via Facebook, hoping to reconnect with the man you once called Pastor. Shockingly, you found out that I am no longer a Christian; that I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God; that I proudly self-identify as an atheist and a humanist. I can only imagine how difficult and heartbreaking it was for you to read my blog for the first time. You are not the first former church member to feel this way. I am sure you hoped that you would find me faithfully serving Jesus, preaching the gospel, and winning souls to Christ. Instead, you found out that I have repudiated all that I once believed and preached.
We were Facebook friends for a short while, and then you unfriended me. I told you that I understood your decision to unfriend me. I know my story can be troubling and disconcerting to those who were once close to me. You sent me another friend request, yet before I could accept it, you thought better of friending me and deleted the request. Again, I understand. You have a hard time reconciling the Bruce who was your pastor in the 1980s, and the Bruce of today. Because your worldview requires you to frame and measure everything according to your interpretation of the Bible, you find it impossible to square my life today with that of thirty-plus years ago. From a theological perspective, the current Bruce Gerencser is a lost man headed for Hell, yet you remember a Bruce Gerencser who loved God and devoted his life to following after Jesus.
Set the religious stuff aside for a moment. Instead of attempting to see me through religious eyes, how about seeing me through human eyes? The kind, loving, compassionate, temperamental, flawed man who pastored Somerset Baptist Church decades ago still exists. The man you have such fond memories of is still alive and well — though physically in poor health. From a human perspective, I haven’t changed much. The character strengths and flaws I had as your pastor still exist today. Next month, I will turn sixty-four, and if there is one thing I have learned, it is this: humans rarely change. We are, character-wise, who we are. While my beliefs, politics, and worldview have dramatically changed over the years, my nature has not. Sure, age, sickness, and time have affected me, as they do all of us, but, for the most part, I am not much different today from who I was during the exciting days when Somerset Baptist was a thriving, growing church.
If you can ever look beyond your theological beliefs and see Bruce, the man, you will find out that the man you once loved and respected is right in front of you. Sadly, many Evangelicals cannot see people for who they are because their theological beliefs force them to define people according to what the Bible says instead of what they can see with their eyes. Your fellow Christians routinely savage me. I have been repeatedly told that I am evil and a follower of Satan. Evidently, what I believe, and not my behavior, determines what kind of man I am. The moment I said, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I went from a loving husband, father, and grandfather to a man who is worthy of scorn and derision; a man, some say, who is hiding a life of debauchery and licentiousness.
You have two choices set before you, Wendy. Either you can embrace and befriend the Bruce of 2021, or you can hang on to the memory of the 1987 Bruce. I would love to be friends with you in the here and now, but life is too short for me to worry about people who cannot see beyond my beliefs and are thus unable or unwilling to befriend me. Virtually all of my former Evangelical friends, parishioners, and ministerial colleagues, have been unable to remain friends with me post-Jesus. I understand why this is so. Fidelity to Jesus and the Bible was the glue that held our relationships together. Once I deconverted, that which bound us was gone. Rare are friendships that survive for a lifetime. Today, almost thirteen years after I attended church for the last time, I have two Evangelical friends. Everyone else has written me off or turned me into a sermon illustration, a warning of what happens when someone no longer believes the Bible is true.
Since you can’t seem to bring yourself to befriend me as I now am, you are left with your memories of the time we spent together in the rolling hills of Southeast Ohio. And that’s okay. I, too, have many fond memories of the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist Church. Nothing in the present can change the experiences of the past. If it helps you think better of me, then, by all means, cling to our shared memories, pushing from your mind thoughts of Atheist Bruce. If you ever want to be friends again, you know where to find me.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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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