While I have been able to shake off much of the psychological damage done to me by my Evangelical upbringing, Bible college training, and the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, several pernicious, frustrating problems remain: my inability to see myself as someone capable of doing good things and my inability to accept the praise of others.
This inability stems from Evangelical teachings on the nature of man, pride, and self-denial. I started out in life being told that I was a vile worm of a boy, who if left to his own devices, would turn out to be a sin-filled, lustful, degenerate man; that the only hope for me was to repent of my sins and accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior; that if I would do so Jesus would miraculously change me from a Hell-bound sinner to a Heaven-bound saint. Like most saved, sanctified, bought-by-the-blood, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost Christians, I spent most of my life trying to live according to the impossible teachings of the Bible and the church. No matter how “good” I was, there was always unmortified sin lying deep within my soul, ready to come to the surface if I but for one moment thought that I could live my life in my own strength.
I heard and preached that the Bible says, “without me [Jesus] ye can do nothing,” that in and of ourselves “dwelleth no good thing,” and that our ability to walk and breathe was dependent on God. Those who dared to go it alone were sure to find themselves shipwrecked on the rocky shore of sin and destruction.
Evangelicals are taught that any good they do is because of God, and that any bad they do is because of Satan and/or the flesh. This is why so many Christian athletes thank God for their athletic prowess, thinking that they never would have scored the winning touchdown or crossed the finish line first if it had not been for Jesus. Never mind all the training, practice, and single-minded devotion to their sport; all that is nothing when compared to what God does in and through them.
By the account of others, I was a pretty good public speaker as a preacher. I say “others” because I have never thought of myself as a very good speaker. When people would praise me over my sermons, I always felt uncomfortable, not wanting the praise that only belonged to Jesus. Of course, I now see things in a different light. You are damn right, Skippy. I did preach a lot of good sermons, even a few oratory gems. You know why? While my preacher friends were busy golfing with their buddies, I was diligently honing my craft. While I was a pretty good extemporaneous speaker, I rarely engaged in such preaching. Instead, I meticulously developed outlines for my sermons, making sure that they were not only engaging, but supported by the biblical text. Putting together a minimum of three sermons a week required a significant amount of time, time I gladly gave, believing that the people who called me preacher deserved to hear sermons that they would remember. Far too many preachers are lazy, giving little time to their most important task — teaching the Bible. I can’t tell you the number of sermons I’ve heard where the pastor just got up in the pulpit and winged it, thinking that nobody would notice or care. Well, I did. Maybe my thinking here is due to the fact that I’m a perfectionist and I am plagued with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). Regardless, I am of the opinion that if you are going to do something, do it well. So, as I look back at the things I did well in the ministry, I can see that I did so because I felt them to be important. It’s too bad that Jesus got all the credit.
I am a firm believer now in giving credit to whom credit is due. When the Gerencsers gathered together last Thanksgiving Day for dinner, I didn’t bow my head and thank the good Lord above for the food we were about to eat. Why? The Lord had nothing to do with it. My wife, Polly, did the work to earn the wages for which the food was purchased. She, along with our daughter and daughters-in-law, prepped and cooked the food. The only people deserving of my vittle praise are they, not God.
I am frequently given praise over something I’ve written or said. I often receive complimentary comments about my photography work. Deep down — wherever “deep down” is — I appreciate the kind words of others, but I often have feelings of guilt when I do so. I have similar feelings when I experience good things in my life; you know like coming into some money, being able to put on my shoes, finding that one of my children didn’t eat the last piece of pizza, or getting laid. When life is good, I far too often either think it won’t last or that I don’t deserve it. When “shit happens,” I tend to think it’s what I deserve. These screwed-up feelings about life trace squarely back to my immersion in Evangelicalism and its teachings. I suspect that I am not alone when it comes to thinking like this. Evangelicalism, especially if people embrace it totally, can and does cause great psychological harm. I hope readers will share in the comment section their own experiences with the Evangelical teachings I have mentioned in this post.
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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