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Bruce, Did You Return All the Money You Took From Churches When You Became an Atheist?

bruce and the money

Recently, a man named Bradley Brown left the above comment on YouTube. Brown wants to know if I returned the money I earned pastoring churches when I became an atheist. Evidently, Brown’s Bible doesn’t include the verse that says a “laborer is worthy of his honor” and that a pastor/elder is worthy of “double honor” (pay).

I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. All told, I averaged less than $10,000 a year as a pastor. Two churches paid me no money, one church paid me $26,000 and provided housing, and the rest of the churches I pastored paid roughly $8,000-10,000 a year. Total that up and I made around $250,000 as a pastor.

Not one church provided health benefits or any other benefits. We relied on Medicaid or paid cash for our medical care. We only went to the doctor if it was an emergency. Our children went years between doctor’s visits.

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2
Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720-square-foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

Only one church provided us housing. The rest of the time, we lived in rentals or two mobile homes we purchased. For five years, our family of eight lived in 12’x60′ mobile home — 720 square feet. Most years we drove cars that cost a few hundred dollars. We did buy a new Plymouth Horizon in 1984 for $6,000, putting 102,000 miles on it in two years. We also bought a spartan low-mileage 80s Chevy Cavalier for $2,900. We junked it at 176,000 miles.

plymouth horizon

Every church I pastored had my full attention, as I worked full-time even when I was paid paltry wages. In addition, I worked secular jobs to provide for my family. Every dime I ever made, I earned. So, to answer Bradley Brown, no I am not going to return the money I EARNED pastoring churches.


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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  1. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I am now a pacifist (most of the time, anyway). Should I return the money I earned as an Army Reservist? The tuition the Army paid?

    Oh, and I am a woman., Should I give up everything I gained–including the lessons I learned– while living as a man and boy?

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    I’m so sorry you have to deal w/ so many willfully ignorant people like “Brad”. He doesn’t have a clue. I am a skeptic/Atheist…maybe an Agnostic, I certainly do not believe in the bible as dogma or infallible… or it’s horrible deity. That said, I think you were one of the good preachers/pastor while you were in it Bruce. You were SINCERE…tried to live the life…that is SO much more than a hell of a lot of pastors today!! Your naysayers just cannot handle that someone so devoted actually saw chinks in the armor of religion and dared to question, which of course leads down the slippery slope of….THINKING!! Like really doing some critical thinking and THAT, they cannot tolerate.

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      Karuna Gal

      April, I second what you say about Bruce — the consistent sincerity and honesty in the way he has lived his whole life. Even to the point of poverty and distress. There aren’t many people who do something this heroic. 🙂

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        Yes, absolutely! Bruce was one of the few who sincerely tried to live the life, be a servant to his flock & live the best according to the bible. I see so many preachers who you just know, they are in it for the $$$ and power they get from being called the “man of god” Very sad times ….I wish people would wake up. 🙁

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    Jesus used parables, and I will as well. A fortune teller sincerely believes she has a gift of divination. Over the years she develops an extensive clientele. At some point she figures out that she is not only fooling her clients, she is also fooling herself. (Maybe she watched the original “Cosmos” with Carl Sagan OR NOVA: Secrets of the Psychics) Does she owe the people she served a refund? First off the clientele still believe in it, she divined the fortunes to the best of her ability. People came back, again and again. She also used that money for living expenses. The money has already been appropriated to sustain the psychic, so a refund is absurd.
    Second question (doesn’t apply to Bruce “Gerwenkser”) What if she had a psychic pension? The answer is yes, she should still get her pension as it is also a living expense. You squirrel away money for the future (which she totally saw).

  4. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Bradley, you will not fathom this so please don’t bother trying: I am not saying it for you but feel free to read it if you like…
    There is no wage that can adequately remunerate a man who has the wisdom to live in hardship for a cause he believes in to the very marrow of his being. And further, to admit openly, fully, that he must continue in honesty and the fullness of being by turning from what he no longer believes.
    No weekly wage is enough to pay that man for what he freely gives to others. Bradley, perhaps this man I speak of is the first and last you will ever have the the great fortune to have witnessed. It is tragic that you could win a fortune like this and not even claim it.

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    This is precisely why “Christians” are viewed in a bad light and they just don’t seem to get it. Talking out both sides of their mouths, “Jesus loves you, but you never deserved to be compensated for giving up your life”. I really expect nothing less from any of them anymore. Mean-spirited, hateful, angry and resentful, self-righteous, pompous…

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    What, you weren’t supposed to get paid for doing a job? This guy obviously just wanted to crap out his point without attaching rational thought to it.

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    Hey Bradley, you should probably return every paycheck you ever earned to your employer. That or go after the televangelists and prosperity gospel preachers, the Jerry Falwell Jr’s and franklin grahams of the world who clearly enjoy the power influence and money they have received. Jesus and paul clearly had something to say about riches on earth.

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    DavidTees DoseofTruth

    Wow, what a flashback. I used to own a Plymouth Horizon myself. I loved that car.

    (Waits while our mutual friend ponders whether there’s a database of everyone who has ever owned a Plymouth Horizon that he could hack into.)

    Incidentally, our mutual friend’s meltdown continues. He’s switched from “what someone is saying is a pack of lies” to “what someone is saying is irrelevant because I’m under God’s grace.”

    Wait until he learns about how the statute of limitations for felonies works in his former state of residence, because to paraphrase Ulysses Everett McGill … being redeemed “isn’t the issue. Even if that did put you square with the Lord, the state’s a little more hard-nosed.” Like when punishing perjury, for example.

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    This guy needs to aim his deep understanding of the world on Kenneth “jet planes” Copeland. If he so concerned about the pittance that Bruce earned when he dedicated his life to religion, Copeland’s obsession about owning multi-million dollar jet planes should be his next target. Brown has blinders that prevent him from only seeing what should outrage anyone who is concerned about greed. As usual Christians like him never will understand why we see preachers with mansions and planes as hideous, greedy hypocrites.

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Bruce Gerencser