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Bruce, did you ever meet any truly lovely fundamentalists/evangelicals…besides yourself? That is, people that loved their fellow man and actually tried to follow that directive to care about the sinners, and not to just preach and be power mad?
I have been exposed to the best and worst that Evangelicalism has to offer. Do I know thoughtful, decent, kind Evangelical preachers? Sure. That said, to a person they believe that God will punish all non-Christians in the Lake of Fire after they die. Few of them are able (or willing) to form friendships outside of their club. And all too often, what friendships they do have with unbelievers have an ulterior motive: salvation of sinners. Rare is the Evangelical who can befriend someone and let them go to Hell in peace. They exist, but I haven’t met one lately.
If I used how Evangelical preachers have treated me since I left Christianity in 2008 as the measure by which to judge, I would conclude they are an irredeemable lot of judgmental assholes. One need only read emails from them I have published over the years to see that there are a lot of arrogant, nasty Jesus-loving men pastoring Evangelical churches — especially Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. That said, I am sure there are preachers who self-identify as Evangelicals who are thoughtful and kind people. I just haven’t met any lately.
Unfortunately, Trumpism and Christian nationalism have infected a large swath of Evangelical churches, interjecting coarseness and nastiness into the public square. Whatever goodwill Evangelicals once had, it is now gone. They are now one of the most hated sects in America. (Please see Letter to the Editor: Evangelicalism is One of the Most Hated Religious Sects in America, And They Only Have Themselves to Blame.)
Becky wants to believe that I was a “lovely” Evangelical — thanks — but I must be honest: my preaching was inherently harmful. I was a separatist who divided the world up into us vs. them categories: saved vs. lost. I taught church members to separate themselves from the “world,” and I practiced the same. While I treated my neighbors and strangers with kindness and respect, my Evangelical theology was always lurking in the shadows.
Growing up in poverty and having a parent with mental health problems certainly affected how I viewed others. I spent most of my years in the ministry helping the poor, homeless, and marginalized. I was sympathetic to their plight. That said, my Evangelical theology was never far from me. I cannot overestimate how my theological beliefs materially and deeply affected my thinking.
I have a poor view of myself. I have spent the past decade trying to regain a sense of self-worth. My counselor told me that I was not as bad a person as I thought I was. I know his statement is true, but I still struggle with seeing myself as a good person. Evangelicalism will do that to you. All I know to do is to try to be a better person today than I was yesterday.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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