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, 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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Ooh, that’s a tough situation. I’ve been through it myself once or twice. Sadly, there’s no way for some people to reconcile who you are now with who you used to be. 🙁
I have dealt with this same problem before
This brought tears to my eyes. Not because it pains me that Wendy cannot accept you because your beliefs have changed, but because you also allowed her to cling to her pleasant memories rather face what for her is the painful present. In the face of her rejection, you gave compassionate consideration without condemnation. If that’s not following the Biblical admonishment to “turn the other cheek”, then I must not understand the concept at all.
Once again I am struck by how much more closely I see Christ in your behavior than in the words and actions of the Evangelicals who condemn you. I believe that it is true that one can best judge a person’s character by their fruits; actions speak louder than words. The fruits I find here are good, though sometimes as tart as a lemon rather than the sweet berry. The fruits I see from the Evangelicals are bitter with bile and hate, determined to keep the free gifts of God to all mankind limited to their own peculiar tribe and often only certain members of even that tribe (Calvinism). I have always believed and still believe that God sees a person’s heart, not the doctrine of the denomination of the church one belongs to. Yes, that means I believe a person might reach Heaven without ever hearing the name of Jesus or even if they have rejected Christianity outright. The Bible Evangelicals love to claim to follow tells me that it is not by the law (the Bible) that one is saved, but by grace and love. The same kind of grace and love you extended to Wendy in this letter.
Your fruits show you to be a good man, Bruce. One I would be proud to share a table with, even if all that I could put on that table might be a glass of cold water on a hot day or a cup of hot tea on a cold one. And I believe you to be the kind of person who would accept that seat and my humble offering of hospitality with kindness and gratitude, not once grumbling that I could not provide the kind of feast I feel you deserve. And you would do so in a manner that not only let me retain what little dignity I still possess, but in a way that would leave me feeling better, not worse, for the experience.
Thank you for allowing me to “know you” through this blog. I am a better person because of it.
“You have two choices set before you, Wendy. Either you can embrace and befriend the Bruce of 2017 or you can hang on to the memory of the 1987 Bruce.”
If she befriended you now, wouldn’t she see that as going against God’s Word and giving up her faith? Isn’t there a verse about what fellowship does darkness have with light? Isn’t she supposed to be a friend of God and not a friend of the world?
Wouldn’t choosing to befriend you make her feel guilt for going against her religion? So it seems to me that her choice-in her mind-would be choosing between God and you. I’d think she’d be somewhat torn between what to trust-her natural human feelings of wanting to accept you vs. what the Bible has told her God requires of her.
I think that many if not most evangelicals do indeed see it as a choice between God and a non-believing friend, and I think it truly says something about how very, very weak their faith is, despite all their insistence otherwise. I honestly believe that many of them fear that if they allow themselves to spend too much time around non-believers, they might actually start to see that non-believers aren’t the evil, hellbound creatures that their pastors, parents and others have told them they are, and many non-Christians are in fact (gasp!) good and nice people that they can like, even love!!! And if Mom, Dad, and Pastor were wrong about my atheist friend, well, then, what else are they wrong about….They start asking questions, and before you know it, their whole belief system crumbles like the house of cards it is.
I saw a version of this happen with one of my aunts. She was very fond of the organist at her church, and considered him a friend and a brother in Christ. Like many fundies, she also believed that LGBT people were evil sinners bound for hell. Then one day she showed up at church and her friend was not there. The pastor announced the organist had been fired, because he had been outed as a gay man. My aunt was devastated for her friend–and was rocked off of her foundation. She simply could not square the reality of her very good, kind, decent and devout friend with the stereotypes of evil, hedonistic gay people she had been fed by the church, and within months, not only had she left the church, she had renounced religion altogether, convinced she’d been fed nothing but lies her entire life.
That sort of deconversion in the face of reality is what fundies fear, and that is why they (and their leaders) insist on associating only with other believers, and trying to convert the rest of us. Their deep insecurity about their beliefs won’t allow anything else.
The loss of an imaginary friend is devastating, dark stuff. Seems inconsequential to those who have never been there but it is unbelievably low and blank and null. And for telling the truth, Christianity rewards by reaching out to you: When it finds you it beats the fucking shit out of you and leaves you for dead. Every once in awhile somebody wanders by to remind you how dead you are, how your attendance has dropped and how much you are in for it.
I can’t believe I put money in that offering plate.
Forgive yourself. First. Because you are worth it. Worth it. This has been one of my biggest challenges in my life after being weaned from the tit that said I was worthless without the sacrifice of Jesus. I know it sounds utterly ridiculous. But.
Use these meditations for relief 😉
Hey, I gotta add a little caveat. I know nothing of Wendy and my posts do not refer to her per-se or directly at all but Bruce’s response to her made me feel some memories of the loss of faith, the community and well, sort of sure-thing safety. It got my rumbles rolling. Wendy, no offense meant at all. I have no idea in the world why you would contact your old friend and it is not my business. Just one thing: If it was the result of prayer and a need to reach out to the lost, well, it ain’t gonna be pretty for you. Best wishes.
I loved this meditation (but I couldn’t help laughing along with it)! 😀
I had a very wise professor who changed my view of life, even if the class was a total wash for me (I suppose it did teach me not to pursue studio art, definitely a good thing.) He once described a “friend” as someone who didn’t threaten you. More philosopher than teacher his frustration led to the insight that it is impossible to teach someone something before they are ready to learn it. Both principles apply to Wendy (et al.).
What can be more threatening then this man that they placed on a pedestal now an atheist and a humanist? Is it contagious? could it happen to ME?! (And yes Pastors do have some awe power as you must know.)
The Wendys from your many flocks aren’t ready to learn what you now know. And while I wish Christians would grant Atheists the same courtesy that they are routinely given, it is a very human need to find people like yourself, people with the same outlook so you can relax and the threat of differences kindling or exploding into conflict removed from a relationship.
I’m so sorry that Wendy couldn’t see the person you’ve always been, instead of obsessing about your changed beliefs. I’m sure if you refused to be her friend because of her faith, she would regard that as persecution, but when she rejects an old friend because their beliefs, I very much doubt she sees herself as a bigot.
I’m glad you have friends and family that can take the place of those who simply can’t accept you as the person you are. You deserve them. You deserve good friends, a loving family,and happiness. Here’s hoping you get that.
This is reminding me of Fiddler on the Roof, and I’m feeling compassion for those who have a dilemma like this one. Maybe this lady will find a way to resolve it in her mind and become friends with Bruce while still holding onto her faith. I can see where the situation would cause much confusion in the mind. For example, I was taught that those who weren’t saved were miserable people without God. But, they didn’t look miserable to me-they just looked like regular people. Confusion.
There’s also the issue of being the subject of a public blog. How does that affect things?
I was warned about the power of Satan and how hanging out with the unsaved opens doors that I am not even aware of, doors for evil to steal in like cancer and destroy my salvation. People might be in every other way absolutely perfect but if they did do the IFB, the Devil, the Devil…
So what do you you do? Ask the preacher and be told the same thing again until you get it!
My brother tells me his latest Pentecostal church isn’t like that…. uhhuh. It would be the first I have ever seen that wasn’t. The whole point of the club is to separate and isolate, to bring people into the ‘light’.
Brian, on the lighter side, sort of along with your comment-I’m imagining Bruce sitting there in a red suit with horns saying, “I’m just the Bruce you’ve always loved.” lol
Seriously, one aspect is the shock of learning that the former Pastor Bruce is, in reality, just a flesh and blood man who can change his mind about things as time goes by. That unpleasant reality undermines the bedrock of fundamentalism. I mean, if you can’t depend on your pastor to remain steadfast, how is there hope for the rest of us?
One thought that I used to entertain is-how does the pastor act in his office day-to-day? What if he’s a jerk? I wonder if any church secretaries have ever written books? I think this would be unwelcome info to those in the pews who have a need for the pastor to be what they need him to be. Do they want to imagine him as a regular guy who snores, overeats, watches TV, etc? Of course not. That undermines your faith.
I hope that Wendy conquers her fear of misbehaving before her god and sends you another friend request, Bruce. A god who inspires fear in a believer over a matter so trivial as renewing an old friendship would give me pause about worshiping him/her/it/them, but fear is a hard thing to un-learn. I feel more than a little sorry for Wendy and those who share her beliefs.
Then…some evangelical circles hold Facebook to be sinful. Personally I just have the more honest opinion that Facebook is rubbish 🙂
And yet, they sing “Just As I Am”. Situational ethics, something they rail about, abounds.
I lost all my Christian friends when I deconverted. I guess the same would happen to ex-pastors. I had one friend of 11 years just totally dump me, she was angry at me about resisting Trump too. Bruce, you seem to have a lot of friends and have your large family, at least you don’t have an isolated life. Imagine being childless, I lost my family of origin for leaving the Catholic church, but they were abusive too and I went no contact. Later after my second deconversion I would lose far more friends. There’s people in town who won’t even talk to me.
Outside of my husband and online friends, I have no one. If I was not happily married who knows what would have become of me. Many of us who deconvert, don’t have families of our own or of origin. Going by one’s true beliefs often makes you lose people. Now I fear losing friends because I see dangers with the Covid vaccines [have my own real health worries] and while I believe Covid is real, it is being used for too many power and other agendas. I voted for Biden but I feel betrayed on that side too. Guess I don’t belong anywhere. The isolation of Covid is far more immense, for some of us who don’t have local friends or a close family. I and my husband are on my own. It can be heartbreaking to know Christian friends are the most fake friends there are. I hate what Christianity did to my life. For some the isolation of deconversion can be extreme. Nowadays it seems you have to conform to the utmost to have friends which seems to say something scary about our society. There’s a few free thinkers out there but they are rare.