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Local IFB Pastor John MacFarlane Says Atheist Bruce Gerencser is a Vile Man, a Hater of God

first baptist church bryan ohio

John MacFarlane is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. First Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. I’ve known John since he was seven years old. I attended First Baptist in the 1960s and 1970s. Its pastor at the time was Jack Bennett. Jack’s wife, Creta Daugherty, was the sister of two of my uncles, Paul and Ed.

John writes a daily blog devotional for his church. Typical Fundamentalist stuff, but, on occasion, John will say something that gets my attention or angers me:

John probably wishes I would stop paying attention to him. 🙂 Do better, John, do better.

Yesterday, John wrote a “devotional” titled Problems on the 50-Yard Line, detailing his support for football coach Joe Kennedy. Kennedy, you may remember, is the coach who held prayer meetings after games at the fifty-yard line. Kennedy was asked by school officials to stop doing so. He refused and was subsequently fired. Kennedy sued, and the case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The “evil” Freedom From Religion Foundation — whom I support — had this to say about Kennedy’s case:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, joined by a coalition of secular organizations, has filed a compelling amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of a praying football coach who has achieved national notoriety. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had last year ruled in favor of Washington’s Bremerton School District, which did not renew Coach Joe Kennedy’s contract after he defied reasonable requests to stop praying with students on the 50-yard line right after games. Kennedy had been singled out for praise by then-President Trump, including in a speech from the Oval Office on Religious Freedom Day, and has been a darling of Christian nationalist organizations and extremist members of Congress. 

Joining FFRF on the brief are other national organizations that represent nonreligious Americans, including the Center For Inquiry, the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America.

The Supreme Court mystifyingly agreed to hear the case, which FFRF is arguing is moot, mandating that the court dismiss the case. After losing in the district court, Kennedy sold his home in Washington and moved approximately 2,800 miles to Pensacola, Fla., FFRF explains. Kennedy and his wife are no longer employed in Washington. The assistant football coach position at Bremerton High School is a year-round commitment that pays just $5,304. These changed circumstances are problematic for Kennedy because a Florida resident cannot sue a Washington school district over its policies. 

“Under the court’s precedents, the case is moot,” states the brief. “This is reinforced by the principle that a plaintiff who removes himself from the threat of allegedly unconstitutional policies has mooted his claims for prospective relief.” 

After documenting many instances in which atheist and non-Christian plaintiffs have faced procedural hurdles when seeking judicial relief, FFRF asserts that the Supreme Court must apply jurisdictional doctrines uniformly, otherwise it manipulates its jurisdiction in order to benefit preferred litigants.

“If the court asserts it has jurisdiction to decide such cases, it must apply its jurisdiction uniformly to all litigants, and not only to cases involving preferred litigants,” says the brief. “A review of the court’s cases involving religion highlights the need for the court to adopt an even-handed approach to jurisdiction.”

And if the court is inclined to review the merits of this case, it must take into account the harm caused to students who are nonreligious or who are religious minorities when coaches instigate prayer, FFRF stresses. The unique features of the coach-student relationship coerce students to participate in coach-led prayers. This type of religious activity, as FFRF demonstrates with many cogent examples, has harmed students in numerous respects, including by marginalizing nonreligious students and making them susceptible to attacks from other students and members of the community. 

Plus, school athletic teams foster an atmosphere of both communal activity among players and also allegiance to the coach. These features, combined with the social pressures exerted when an authority figure engages in religious practices, coerce non-Christian students to participate in Christian prayers. 

Coach Kennedy’s religious activity on the 50-yard line was a team activity. He intended to continue to pray with students on the field, as was his prior practice. Kennedy’s post-game prayers were anything but private. They were intended to be team prayers, FFRF emphasizes. This is problematic for students who would otherwise choose not to participate. 

Because this case is moot, the Supreme Court should dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, FFRF concludes. Alternatively, as “it is improper and a gross violation of freedom of conscience to coerce or even encourage student athletes to pray in order to play,” FFRF urges the high court to affirm the ruling of the 9th Circuit against Coach Kennedy.

FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott is the lead drafter and counsel of record for the brief.

In his “devotional,” John had this to say about FFRF, atheists, agnostics, and, in his words, haters of God and religion:

Throughout the USA, we have seen religious freedoms erode as a small faction of atheists, agnostics, and haters of God and religion rear their vile heads. Even in Washington, a group of preachers and priests joined with the Freedom From Religion crowd to voice opposition to Kennedy. One of those voices was the “Right Reverend Douglas Avilesbernal, executive minister of the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches, which includes Bremerton.”

John is a Trumpist and a white Christian Nationalist. He believes the United States is a Christian nation. Thus, he has no problem with the Kennedys of the world violating the separation of church and state or the establishment clause. If Joe Kennedy was a Muslim, John would be outraged. But, he’s not, so Kennedy trampling all over the separation of church and state is fine, by him. Go, Jesus, Go!

jesus football

John is befuddled by pastors who voiced opposition to Kennedy. I am sure he doubts their “salvation.” However, these ministers rightly understand that we cannot have freedom of (and from) religion without there being a strict, inviolable wall of separation between religion and government. John, seemingly, is fine with mixing church and state as long as it is his religion that is given preferential treatment.

I want John to know that when he goes on rants as mentioned above, I take his words personally. When you attack FFRF, atheists, and agnostics, you are attacking me. You are attacking my family, friends, and neighbors. You are attacking my wife and some of my children and grandchildren. Do better, John, do better. Try acting like a Christian. Jesus said in Luke 6:27-28:

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

How many atheists and agnostics have you loved today, John?


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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    Yeah. He seems to be typical. Years ago, in fact, about 25 years ago, he visited me at my home because my son rode the church bus. One visit and done. I doubt he loves anyone except for the people who are with him. That let’s us out, Bruce.

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    Warning to both Pastor John MacFarlane and Bruce Gerencser! Incoming sarcasm and snark alert! A smarter person than Pastor John MacFarlane would have done several things differently over the last 15 or more years. In pastor John MacFarlane’s case, he should not write so may letters to the editor to the local paper. Also when it came to doing the the funeral for “Bob” the sexual predator brother of Creta Bennett and brother-in-law of John Bennett, A wiser person than Pastor John MacFarlane would have passed up on the job of Conducting “Bob’s” funeral and suggested that the nearest Catholic Church conduct the funeral. Pastor MacFarlane could then offer some helpful sermon notes and reasons for the Catholic priest about why he would not be conducting the funeral. Pastor MacFarlane could tell the Catholic priest ” I really don’t understand your false religion all that well, but I think you should do the funeral for this reprobate instead of me. I don’t want to give any more reasons for the local atheist to have a bad opinion of me and I have heard some not very positive things about “Bob”. In your homily, you could say that “Bob’ might make it to Heaven, But only after ” Bob’s” soul does several hundred years of charbroiling in Purgatory first.” Of course that only applies to people with just the stain of venial sins on their soul. If the person still has the stain of Mortal sin on their soul their headed straight to Hell at least according to Roman Catholic Theology. I’m just going by my not all that impressive knowledge of Roman Catholic Theology.

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      Karuna Gal

      Brocken, you really do have solid knowledge of Catholic afterlife doctrine, you really do! Therefore we old former Catholics will award you a key chain with a slightly scratched St. Christopher medal attached. St. Chris is no longer considered a saint, but at least you will find the key chain useful.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Dear Lord, Thy will be done: Let us win!

    Seriously, I want to scream whenever I hear folks like Kennedy or John MacFarlane whine, “They’re coming for our religious freedom.” They either have a tenuous relationship with the English language or are dishonest. What they want isn’t the freedom to worship—or not—as one sees fit. Rather, they want the freedom to impose their beliefs and practices on everyone else.

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      Yes, they confuse their religious bigotry, which is used to control others, with religious freedom. The threat they are feeling is not about losing religious rights, but is instead about losing power and control.

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    The gracious part of me wants to chalk up the exhortations of “we need prayer in (insert your favorite public institution)” or “it’s our Cinstitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion to be allowed to pray in (insert your favorite public institution)” to lack of exposure to diverse populations. For example, most of my relatives in the outskirts of Nashville had probably never knowingly met someone who wasn’t sine stripe of Christian. My mom did, as she worked in a university biochemistry department, though I honestly think she still assumed the staff were almost totally at least somewhat Christian (except for maybe the Japanese professors and post-docs). Christian hegemony is a huge thing in many (if not most) parts of the US. I still had a heck of a time explaining to my mom that where I moved in NJ, you could not assume that most people were Christians – at the least, many were Jewish, not to mention the Hindus, Jainists, Muslims, and a growing number of nonreligious people. Therefore, having mandatory prayers would require that every single religion, as well as nonreligion, be identified each school year, and a volunteer or volunteers recruited to deliver said prayers. It can be quite the undertaking. My mom’s response? “Well, we wouldn’t have to go through all that here.” Meaning, everyone is a Christian anyway, and if they aren’t, tough noogies. Christian hegemony, Christian privilege.

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Bruce Gerencser