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Leaving Christianity: Why I Was an Old Man Before I Deconverted

bruce gerencser august 2021
Bruce Gerencser, 2021

I am often asked why it took me so long to deconvert. Some people suggest that I must have really been stupid to have spent most of my life believing in a God that doesn’t exist. People who have always been atheists, in particular, have a hard time understanding how anyone could spend fifty years believing a book of fairy tales — the Bible — is real. Sometimes people can be downright cruel, suggesting that there must have been some sort of ulterior motive that kept me believing all those years. Money? Power? Prestige?

Most Evangelicals-turned-atheists deconvert in their twenties and thirties. Ministers, in particular, tend to deconvert when they are younger. Rare is the pastor who waits until he is in his fifties or sixties before he abandons the ministry and Christianity. Part of the reason for this is because older ministers have economic incentives to keep believing, or at least to give the pretense of believing. I know of several pastors who no longer believe, yet they are still doing through the motions of leading churches, preaching sermons, and ministering to the needs of parishioners. Their reasons for doing so are economic. Quitting the ministry would cause catastrophic economic and marital harm, so these unbelieving pastors continue to play the game.

Now to the question, why was I an old man before I deconverted? First, let me tell you that economics played no part in my commitment to Christianity. The most I ever made as a pastor was $26,000. I spent twenty-five years pastoring churches that paid poverty wages and provided no health insurance or benefits. I always made significantly more money working outside of the church — especially when I was managing restaurants. In retrospect, I wish I had made money more of a priority. I wish I had put my family’s welfare first. But I didn’t. I was quite willing to work for poverty wages. Why? I thought God had called me to the ministry and he alone was in charge of what churches paid me. I learned late in the game that churches are often sitting on large sums of money. These caches of money are often accumulated through paying their pastors welfare wages and providing no benefits.

I grew up in an ardent Fundamentalist home. My parents were hardcore right-wing Christians. They were also supporters of groups such as the John Birch Society. From the time I was a toddler until the age of fifty, I attended church several times a week. After my parents fell in with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, it was normal for me to attend church three times a week — plus Sunday school, youth meetings, revivals, mission conferences, youth rallies, youth events, church league sports, prayer meetings, visitation, soulwinning, preachers’ fellowships, music concerts, conferences, and bus calling. For many years, I attended 200-300 church services and events a year. While I had some social connections outside of the church, my best friends and girlfriends attended the same churches I did. The church was the social hub around which my life revolved.

By time I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College — an unaccredited IFB institution — I had spent my life deeply immersed in IFB beliefs, practices, and methodology. It was impossible, then, for me to turn out any other way. It would take me thirty more years before I admitted that what I once believed was a lie.

I was what people call a true believer®. True believers continue to believe until something catastrophic causes them to doubt. In my case, I became tired of the church grind. Weary of low wages, poverty, seven-day workweeks, endless conflicts, and a lack of personal satisfaction, I decided to leave the ministry and seek out a church where I could be a help without being its pastor. I left the ministry in 2005. Between 2005 and 2008 Polly and I visited churches in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Arizona, and California — seeking to find a church that took seriously the teaching of Christ. All told, we visited more than 125 churches. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We concluded, that regardless of the name on the door, Christian churches were pretty much all the same. Polly and I made a good-faith effort to find a Christianity that mattered. In the end, all we found was pettiness, arrogance, internecine warfare, and indifference. Less than 10% of the churches we visited even bothered to touch base with us after we visited. Half of those who did, came to our home to visit because we asked them to. If I had to sum up this period, I would say this: We found out that churches didn’t give a shit. And then one day, neither did we.

It was these experiences that cracked open the door of my mind. I guess I should thank these Christians for showing me the bankruptcy of modern, Western Christianity. Once I began to doubt whether the church that Jesus built in fact existed, I was then free to examine my beliefs more closely. This examination ultimately led me to renounce Christianity and embrace secularism, atheism, agnosticism, and humanism. I remain a work in progress.

While it certainly would have been better for me if I had deconverted in my twenties or thirties, I didn’t, so it is a waste of time for me to lament the past. One positive of my long, storied experience with Evangelical Christianity is that I know Evangelicalism and the IFB church movement inside and out. This is why many Evangelical pastors think I am a “dangerous” man and warn people to steer clear of my writing. I write not from ignorance, but from a lifetime spent loving and serving Jesus, pastoring churches, and winning souls. I know things, as an informant says on TV. I know where the bodies are buried. I know about what went on behind closed church, bedroom, and motel room doors. This knowledge of mine makes me dangerous. It is also the reason doubters are attracted to my writing. As they read, my words have a ring of truth. Here’s a guy who understands, they say, a man who has been where I am now.

I can’t do anything about the past. It is what it is. If my past experiences can keep people from following a similar path, then I am happy. If I can help those who are trying to extricate themselves from Evangelicalism’s cult-like hold, then I have accomplished what I set out to do. I know I will never reach those who cannot or will not see. But for those who have doubts or questions, I hope to be a small light at the end of a dark tunnel. By helping Evangelicals see the light of reason, I can help break the generational hold of Christian Fundamentalism. Atheism is not the goal; skepticism and reason are. Once people start thinking for themselves, Fundamentalism will lose its power and control. Every person extricated from Evangelicalism is one more nail in Fundamentalism’s coffin. As long as I am numbered among the living, I plan to keep on driving nails.

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.

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29 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Doug B

    You still have a pastor’s heart and want to help others. I think that is so awesome.

    While I am sympathetic to those caught up in the web of Christian fundamentalism, I’ve not much good to say about CF. Your experiences and insights are helpful. But I agree with what you say about true believers. Reason alone will not help those folks, only a crisis will cause a breakthrough. Very often even crisis will provoke a yo-yo effect, a back and forth between belief and unbelief.

    For my part, I don’t think reason and healthy doubt are barriers to spirituality. I think they are enhancements. Perhaps we would all be well served to be more humble about our worldview.

    Warm regards are sent your way. I very much enjoy reading your blog.

  2. Pingback:Theology-related quote for the day | Civil Commotion

  3. Avatar
    August Rode

    If this post is in any way a preview of what your book is going to contain, Bruce, then I have to say that I am certainly looking forward to reading it especially given that it’s largely about a lifestyle and a society that I know only tangentially. Keep on driving nails and spitting fire.

  4. Avatar
    Angiep

    The older I get (57 now), the more I look back on past hardships and bless those times. Those are the times that you find what you are made of, and they make you more real, more in touch with the travails of others and able to relate to them, more appreciative of the truly important things in life. Your time spent as a dedicated pastor (and even before that) is far from a waste. As you stated, it actually forged you into a person whose words have the power to help those who have nowhere else to turn, and to expose the lies and misconceptions that exist within the fundamentalist christian world. I think your blog will grow over time and your name will become well known. I doubt that is important to you, but it will help to spread your vitally important message, and to continue to help people. None of this would have been possible without your unique history.

  5. Avatar
    Scott

    OK Bruce .. I agree with you, am the same age. of different nationality, but there are questions…. what do you make of the Piper’s, Macarthurs, the new calvinists who are taking parts of USA Christianity by storm (we won’t mention that man Driscoll….).. what of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals etc etc. Isn’t the true ‘faith’ going to be restored by such men? and the Tom Wright’s?

    Just asking?

  6. Avatar
    Debbie pineda

    I can relate to everything you said. It took moving to west virginia to finally make me take a hard look at what was going on around me. It was exactly as you said, I was the odd one out even as a Christian trying to fulfill the words of Jesus in my life.No one else thought it was necessary to live that fanatical. Also, my son took a philosophy class in college and came home asking a question, actually the question that REALKY made me start searching for the answer. “Why did other demi-god saviours have the same story as Jesus, hundreds of years before him?” I am sorry to say I had not really heard much about it . I knew I had questioned why people who don’t believe in Christianity go to hell etc. but that sent me on a quest and once I read all I could about the history of all religions I could not go back to the one I now realized was man made just like all the others, in fact a replica of several put together. It is amazing that no one wants to hear these facts about the bible and Christianity, no matter how delicately you say it. I realized the freedom it brought from all the condemnation etc. My favorite saying now is “my heart cannot believe what my mind cannot understand”. I also understand your comments on being able to see both sides now and it does help when you try to talk with those who ask questions, I’ve learned not to just start conversations about it now with everyone. I appreciate and enjoy your site so much, it helps me feel like I am not alone.

  7. Avatar
    Rich Zebro

    I just read your piece here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/2017/04/leaving-christianity-old-man-deconverted/?ref_widget=trending&ref_blog=wildhunt&ref_post=what-does-the-growth-of-unitarian-universalism-mean

    What I find missing in the piece is experiencing the supernatural power of The Holy Spirit. Eyewitnessing the Power of God that goes beyond all natural laws and explanations. Just as dark matter and dark energy, undetectable and unmeasurable, can only be demonstrated by its impact on the natural world, God is constantly impacting our world, and in ways that defy explanation.
    .
    I see an author claiming to look for Jesus but looking in the wrong places – organized religion, where you won’t find the living and thriving Jesus.
    .
    And just to sum up the difference between organized religion and Jesus – organized religion killed Jesus.
    .
    If you went to the Pharisees and Sadducees to find Jesus, you would have NEVER found Jesus. And just as they existed in their days, there are plenty of “churches” that equally qualify as contemporary Pharisees and Sadducees. If the author can’t tell the difference, he may be truly lost.
    .
    And, sadly the arguments of atheists fall apart and yet they continue to cling to them.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Translation: I have found the real Jesus. Be like me and you to can know the real Jesus. I know I have the real Jesus because I say I have the real Jesus.

      Circular bullshit, Rich.

      I was saved though and by the power of the Spirit of God. I was filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. I was directed and moved by the Holy Spirit. I’ve experienced moves of the Holy Spirit. I have wept because I was overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit.
      Simply put, Rich, my Holy Spirit dick is bigger than your Holy Spirit dick. (And I can scientifically, psychologically, and sociologically explain the Holy Spirit and his machinations in my life and yours.)

      There is no Jesus/Holy Spirit/Christianity without organized religion — starting first with Judaism, through Jesus’ followers to the founder of Christianity, the Apostle Paul. I defy you to prove the existence of your religious faith apart from organized religion. Do not quote the Bible, since it is organized religion that gave you the Bible. Everything you puked forth in your comment came from the bowels of organized religion, and you delude yourself if you think otherwise.

      Those who truly see Jesus as a spiritual being, a universal sort of love and mercy, don’t throw about judgment and theological
      declarations as you have in your comment. You are every bit as Fundamentalist as the rankest of Evangelicals who attend sectarian churches.

      I stand ready to debate and discuss the reality of what you say is truth, Rich. Wade on in, big boy, but remember there are sharks in these waters.

      • Avatar
        Charity Burke

        As a former tongue talking, Charismatic two-stepping Christian turned atheist, I love your reply, Bruce! Shondi!

    • Avatar
      Trenton

      Any psychological textbook will inform you how faulty human memory is as well as how easy it is for your brain to trick you into believing what you want to believe. If you want to believe there is a giant sugar daddy up there in the sky intervening in your life, your brain will do the mental gymnastics to make that shit happen. So dont mention the supernatural because there is no empirical proof for it: however, there is empirical proof for you believing what you want to believe despite reality and evidence to the contrary of said beliefs.

      • Avatar
        Bruce Gerencser

        Coming to understand this was a big deal for us. We sat down and made a list of all the big prayers God had “answered” for us, and then we looked for human, naturalistic explanations for the answers. We concluded that the answered prayers for which there were no rational explanations could be counted on one hand. Five answered prayers in fifty years, and that’s assuming the Christian God answered them.

        We learned that just because we couldn’t explain something didn’t mean “God” did it. All it meant was that we didn’t know or have a suitable explanation. Polly and I decided we weren’t willing to worship and serve a deity that couldn’t be bothered to answer our sincere, passionate petitions. Of course, the reason this God never answered our prayers is because he couldn’t. ?

    • Avatar
      Geoff

      Rich finishes

      “And, sadly the arguments of atheists fall apart and yet they continue to cling to them.”

      Atheists abound because the evidence for God, Jesus, Zeus, or Allah is…I was going to say non-existent but I suppose I must say ‘slight’ because if some say there’s evidence then that’s evidence; sort of. In reality, the reason we invented the word ‘faith’ as it relates to religion is precisely because it can’t be defended via evidence. Indeed, is not the best definition of faith ‘belief without evidence’?

      There’s not even good evidence that there was ever historically a person called Jesus.

  8. Avatar
    Carmen

    Becky stole my comment. 🙂

    I so often read how you have helped so many individuals ‘see the light’ . . . you really deserve the title “Bruce Almighty”.

    Your dedication to the ’cause’ is remarkable, your story is sincere and believable, and your personal integrity is paramount. You’re just an A-one guy, Bruce, and everyone who reads here knows why.

    One thing, though. Can you take the ‘old man’ out of the title? (It suggests I’m an ‘old woman’) 🙂

  9. Avatar
    Brandr Rasmussen

    So happy to hear your story. I deconverted in my mid 40s and have spent the last 4 years rebuilding life with a new philosophy. It’s challenging, but well worth the struggle. Just being closer to reality as it is, is so refreshing.

  10. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    It’s never too late.

    My deconversion was a gradual process. I’d say that I finally realized I didn’t believe anymore when I was in my late 20s. And I began my gender affirmation (what we used to call “transition” or “change”) process in my mid-40s.

    I wish I could have lived more of my life as a woman and without burdening myself of the guilt and false beliefs that the Catholicism of my childhood and Evangelical Christianity of my early adulthood engendered. But I also learned important lessons from those experiences–and from having been an Army reservist, even though I am now anti–war and anti-gun.

    Integrity–comes through in your story, Bruce–and a sense of one’s self are as important as air and water, whenever one comes to them.

    It’s never too late.

  11. Avatar
    John Mccomb. Deacon John

    The sad and short answer to this question is this:

    The reason you “deconverted”. Is because you were likely never converted to begin with.

    God’s Word speaks of a great falling away during the last days. False believers will weed themselves out like this. Sad but true 😭😢.

    It is highly unlikely that someone could be in the Holy Spirit and the light of Jesus Christ then turn around and run into the demonic darkness known as atheism,anti-Christianity.

    Yes you preached you knew the Bible front and back but you obviously trusted in Bruce for salvation and not Jesus.

    This world is getting sicker and darker by the minute. ☹️

    Evil is being called good.
    Good is being called evil.

    “Woe unto you who call evil good and good evil that put light for darkness and darkness for light “ Isaiah 5:20.

    It’s a world where we have women who can’t watch some eat a steak without bawling their eyes out because it was once a baby cow.

    Or watch someone eat a BLT because it was once a baby pig.

    But WILL NOT SHED ONE TEAR when a baby human is ripped apart limb by limb in its mothers womb. 😡

    We have men who think cleaning a fish or skinning a deer is gross. But have no problem putting their mouths on another man’s butthole 🤢🤮.

    Because that’s “LOVE”

    First an abomination is ignored
    Then it is legalized
    Then those are called “Haters” they share the truth that it is an abomination!

    Atheism is one of Satan’s biggest strategies to keep the USA blind and away from the only one who can save them.

    JESUS CHRIST!

    “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world “ John 1:29

    Now listen up.

    Those who have ears let them hear!

    One day everyone ever conceived is going to stand before Jesus Christ and will acknowledge him as Lord and King.

    Children who died too young to make the decision to accept him or people not mentally make a decision to accept him are covered by his grace and will live eternally with him.

    (In case you are wondering or have snide mocking response SIN is the reason for children dying and disease most NOT ALL but most atheists support baby murder pre born infantcide so why would care anyway)

    Those who have consciously trusted him for forgiveness and eternal salvation will spend eternity with him rejoicing for their salvation! 🙂

    Those who have chosen to reject him will live eternally separated from him in hell in despair and regret for their decision. And it is no party!

    It will be torment and fear like you have never known before!

    Demonic torment, fire that never goes out, weeping, gnashing of teeth,gnawing your tongue in agony,screaming, a horrendous physical thirst for one uno drop of water! Also a desire for unsaved family to accept Jesus and not go to hell.

    And what is even sadder is that the lost and blind atheist thinks that is what soul winning evangelists want for them! NO! That’s ridiculous.

    That’s why we warn you. We DO NOT want any of you to perish in a Christless hell.

    And neither does he.

    The Holy Spirit is more powerful than the deceiver.

    Admit you have been deceived and you are a sinner.

    Believe sincerely that Jesus Christ died and rose again.

    Trust and accept him now.

    Pray,
    “LORD GOD I KNOW I AM A SINNER AND I CANNOT SAVE MYSELF I BELIEVE THAT JESUS CHRIST SUFFERED AND DIED AND ROSE AGAIN I TRUST AND ACCEPT HIM NOW PLEASE PULL ME FROM THE SEWERS OF ATHEISM INTO NEW LIFE WITH CHRIST IN JESUS NAME AMEN “

    • Avatar
      Karuna Gal

      Deacon John, you need to know that hell ain’t half bad. In fact, we godless heathen are planning a big party there! Great food (devilishly good, I’d say) plus some of the hottest company ever! You’re invited! Live large! Just bring your favorite dish to share, as long as it’s spicy (chilies 🌶 are welcomed.)

    • Avatar
      Sage

      John, the direct and short answer is fuck off.

      It is bigots like you who hate people like me for no other reason than we exist. You bellow mindlessly about evil, pointing fingers at anyone who is not in your select little group. You heap scorn on others and call it love. You call people disgusting names and try to pummel them into submission with guilt and fear, then claim you do it out of concern for them. You embrace leaders who, by your own words, are evil, but you claim they are used by god to help your self righteous, hate filled, self serving, power hungry religious club gain political power. You and your cohorts claim morality and ethics, then toss them aside if they get in the way of your lust for power and control. If all else fails, and people do not bow to your abusive demands, you try to legislate your particular lifestyle so everyone must live as you please.

      You are another in a long list of Christians that I find repulsive, and you reinforce my dislike of most christians. Because of people like you, I have to work very hard to keep from viewing all Christians as fake, hateful, disgusting, narrow minded, judgmental bigots. Fortunately a know a very few Christian’s who are caring people, which helps me keep my dislike of Christian’s focused on those who deserve it.

      As you said “those who have ears let them hear” (by the way,,thank you for being inclusive by using those and them). I have ears, and eyes, and many other senses, all of which see you as bigoted, abusive bully who uses god as an excuse for hateful intolerance.

  12. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Summary of Deacon John’s Screed, as interpreted by former fundamentalist evangelical turned atheist ObstacleChick

    1) Use of “no true Scotsman” fallacy

    2) Mocking vegetarianism and/or veganism with a seasoning of misogyny included for good measure

    3) Gratuitous abortion rant

    4) Anti-LGBTQ rant, with fixation on rim-jobs (hmmmm….is this Deacon John’s Favorite Porn?)

    5) Atheism = Satan

    6) Age of Accountability used to try to mask the horror of doctrine that children, toddlers, and infants should deserve hell due to Original Sin

    **(Bruce: is age of accountability found anywhere in the Bible? I haven’t found it)

    7) Another gratuitous abortion rant, with Blame the Bad Things on Humans Because SIN

    8) HELL – the Crown Jewel scare tactic in the evangelical’s arsenal – it’s the Humans’ Fault

    9) Monologue on the Glory of Eternal Torture aka Torture Porn for Your Tribe’s Enemies

    10) Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am Repeat This Magic Prayer Chant and Voila – Eternity in HEAVEN!!!!

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Bruce Gerencser