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Living in the Land of God, Guns, and the GOP: Local Evangelical Car Repair Ad

god guns trump

We live in rural Northwest Ohio, fifty miles west of Toledo and forty-five miles east of Fort Wayne, Indiana. This is our home, even though we have lived in central Ohio, Southeast Ohio, Arizona, Michigan, California, and Texas. I was born in nearby Bryan, Ohio. My Hungarian grandparents owned a one-hundred-acre farm three miles north of my home. Since 2007, we have lived in the one-stoplight town of Ney, population 356. Over the years, I worked for two local churches, one in Montpelier, another in West Unity.

As a young man, I couldn’t wait to get away from rural Northwest Ohio with its flat land (an overpass is a hill) and social and cultural monoculture. Yet, time after time over the years, I returned to my home, finally making peace with its bland, boring, slow way of life. Now that pervasive health problems have boxed me in, I know I am “stuck,” with no other option than to live out my days in the land of God, Guns, and the GOP.

Lest I leave readers with the impression that I am just sitting around waiting to die, let me be clear, I love living in rural Northwest Ohio. I am a homegrown boy, intimately familiar with my surroundings. I love the watch-the-corn-grow rhythm of life. Yet, wanderlust is ever with me, calling me to waters and hills far beyond my home. I know I am living in the last home I will ever inhabit, so I have to content myself with road trips and vacations to other places. My six children and thirteen grandchildren live nearby, allowing me to be involved in their lives as much as I physically can. Yet, I can’t help but hope that my grandchildren will leave this place we call home and explore the world.

I am an atheist in a place where few people are. I have met fewer than ten locals over the past fourteen years who identify as atheists or agnostics (and some of them are still in the closet). I am sure there are more atheists around me, but the economic and social costs are such that atheists often keep their unbelief to themselves. Evangelicalism rules the roost, even at mainline churches. There are three hundred churches within thirty or so minutes from our home. Jesus is everywhere (yet nowhere because he’s dead) — literally. And the local culture reflects this. People assume you are a Christian. People assume you attend church. People assume you believe the Bible is the Word of God. People assume you believe God created everything. The pressure to conform to religious norms can be overwhelming. While I refuse to conform, I totally understand why some local atheists choose to play the “game” instead of being tarred and feathered as an unbeliever.

Let me give you a good example of how pervasive Evangelical Christianity is in rural Northwest Ohio. What follows is a front-page ad on the Defiance Crescent-News’ website for Auto Servant, a Christian car repair business in Defiance.

auto servant ad

Auto Servant has a Facebook page for its business. Here are some of the posts made on the page:

Christmas

Merry Christmas! From all of us at Auto Servant! We are so thankful for God our father to send His son Jesus Christ! And to lead us all with the Holy Spirit! We are so thankful for all our friends and family and customers! You are the best people in the world! We truly appreciate you all and all you do. For all your prayers and support! We are very grateful for you all! God bless you!

Thanksgiving

We are so thankful for God our father! Our Lord Jesus Christ! Our guidance Holy Spirit! Thank you Lord for all you have done for us and our families! You are the center of who we are! Thank you to all our wonderful family and employees. You are the best! Thank you to all of our wonderful customers and friends! We truly appreciate you all so much! God has put amazing people in our lives! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!!

Easter

Praise God- though the last few days- we were unsure/ now we know/ God has risen! Death has been defeated! Jesus you change everything! Chains fall- fear gone- Jesus you change everything!

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day! Thank you Lord for your sacrifice and for the sacrifice of all those who gave their lives for us! We pray for Your protection over the USA!

Easter

Celebrating the greatest comeback in HISTORY! God bless you all! Thank you Lord Jesus for sacrificing so much for us!

It’s clear from its newspaper ad and Facebook page that the owner of Auto Servant has a certain demographic in mind for its services — Christians. On one hand, this is a smart business model. Using words and imagery that says to local Christians: “Hey, I am part of the same tribe. Get your car fixed here,” is smart and likely profitable. Auto Servant is not the only local business that uses this model. Crosses, fish symbols, and Bible quotations are common. Go to these businesses and you will find Christian kitsch everywhere. Again, these things say to Christian customers: “Hey, I am one of you. Spend your money here.”

On the other hand, the United States is becoming increasingly non-religious. The fastest-growing religious demographic in the U.S. is the “nones” — those who self-identify as atheist, agnostic, or indifferent towards religion. People in this demographic are less likely to frequent businesses that use religion as a marketing tool (even if these businesses think they have a higher motive or purpose for doing so). As godless heathens, my wife and I deliberately avoid businesses that use Jesus to promote their stores. That’s why we don’t eat at Chik-fil-A or shop at Hobby Lobby. That’s why we don’t shop at some local businesses and would never take our car in for repair at Auto Servant. We simply won’t do business with stores that lead with the Cross.

We certainly frequent businesses owned by Christians. We have no problem with an owner’s personal religious beliefs as long she keeps her beliefs to herself. When we go to a business, we are there to fulfill our wants and needs. If we wanted to hear about Jesus, we would go to a church. Several years ago, an appliance repairman came to our home to fix our dryer. We knew he was a Christian, but he was known for providing excellent service, so we decided to have him repair our dryer. During the course of repairing our dryer, he took it upon himself — unprompted — to witness to us and invite us to his church. We said nothing. However, we will never do business with this man again.

We rarely shop locally these days. The reasons are many, but one reason is that we are tired of the constant Jesus-in-your-face business practices. Typically, we do most of our shopping in Fort Wayne, Toledo, or online. By doing so, we use our dollars as a protest to the practice of using Jesus/Christianity as a marketing tool. Will this choice of ours make any difference locally? Nope. And that doesn’t matter. This is a personal choice for us, one that reflects our values. A generation from now, I suspect local businesses will be less likely to parade Jesus and Christianity before potential customers. For now, Jesus is good for business.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    dale m.

    There is a saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do ….” Do you feel that you are in an alien country ? Do you feel that there are 2 separate Americas here ? Because I have experienced the same thing as you.

    Where I came from, the world was flat. A monotone gray culture of Jesus witchery. A town out in the prairies with a population of a few hundred. I was surprised to find it on a map of my country. But I love it. It is my birthplace. I want to go back and retire there. I have been all around the world yet, this atheist fits right in there somehow. Much of my outlook on life was forged there. It has always been my sanctuary. But the outside world is slowly moving in. Things are changing. It is not as intense as the U.S. though, but there is a gun culture here. No one thinks twice about it. It just is.

    In Canada here, fully 13% admire Donald Trump. In Alberta, my present home town, fully 26% are for Trump. Some here even went down to join the U.S. insurrectionists. A few from here were arrested in Washington. Good Riddance! There may yet be another wall built and that would be between Canada and the U.S.

  2. Avatar
    BJW

    I like it here (I live close to Bruce). I grew up in Dayton but I like the slower town pacing. But so many people here in rural Ohio have never really gone anywhere. I haven’t traveled much, but I’ve been in much of eastern and south US, visited Canada, and been out west. Bob and I lived in 5 different states during our marriage. So we do miss diversity and availability of a variety of things to do and see.

    There are narrow-minded people everywhere. When Bob and I married, we were living in the liberal state of Massachusetts. But less populated areas have the same problem: a lack of diversity, so people aren’t used to others who aren’t just like them.

    I think there are many more people here in rural Ohio who are indifferent to religion, but just keep their thoughts to themselves. So they may not feel they are agnostic or atheist, but just don’t give a damn. And evangelical Christianity is driving thoughtful young people out with its narrow-minded, judgmental smugness. Even religious and/or conservative young people are more open-minded than their elders. I just hope religion is vanquished as a political tool BEFORE the American empire falls to our White Christian Nationalist Party.

  3. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Funny story – yesterday my husband contacted our homeowner’s insurance agent regarding some water damage we have in the house. At the end of the call, the agent says to Mt husband is that the main thing to do is to trust in God. My quick-witted atheist husband relied “amen”. We had a good laugh over that! Good thing I wasn’t the one on the phone because based on my mood I may have blurted out that I am an atheist….

    One of my former teachers from fundamentalist Christian school passed away this weekend from covid. I am making certain assumptions about his vaccination status based on some of his political spocial media posts. At 60, he was gone too young. Anyway, he was a teacher and coach at a public school in middle Tennessee. Reading the news interview of the school’s principal regarding their loss reminded me again how much Christian dominance is taken for granted in the South. The public high school principal in his official capacity extolled the godliness and Christian character of the deceased. That would NOT happen where I live in NJ!

    • Avatar
      GeoffT

      Any company promoting themselves this way in the UK would be out of business very quickly. It’s not that there aren’t loads of religious people still here, but it’s much more low key, with most people never discussing it. A company that advertised this way would be seen as a bunch of cranks, best avoided.

  4. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I think that while Evangelicals and other religious people might tell themselves that they can bring us– heathens and others who don’t believe as they do– to their God, they must know, deep down, that the US, and most Western countries, are becoming less religious. So they’re trying harder to keep the fire burning, so to speak. That is why they will use their businesses or anything else to flaunt their religiosity.

    What really disturbs me is how some Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians conflate their faith with their national, racial and even gender identity. In other words, what they’re really expressing is their tribalism. And tribe members, almost by definition, cannot countenance anyone who isn’t part of their clan, especially if it is by choice.

  5. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    The town I stay in is a ” Trump town.” They held support rallies here. In Southern California,of all places. The town is surrounded by small cities with large gangs. Being ” Amity Village” is the City Fathers’ way of pushback. That said, the Northern part of this state is under hard- right rule, always has been. Southern culture is dominant. Trump will always be welcome there. You even see ” God, Guts,and Guns built this country” stickers on the rear bumpers of cars and trucks. Ney sounds like a good,peaceful place,in spite of the conservative outlook there. A safe home- base. Given everything going on right now, it’s a wise choice to live there,and not Cleveland or Cincinnati,for example. And you wouldn’t believe the murder rates for 2021 in the county. Los Angeles,that is.

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Bruce Gerencser