John MacFarlane is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — a church I attended in the 1960s and 1970s when Johnny was a little boy running around the church. First Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. I have written about MacFarlane in the past:
- Local IFB Pastor John MacFarlane’s Latest on “Reverse Racism” and “Miscegenation”
- Local IFB Pastor John MacFarlane Says Atheist Bruce Gerencser is a Vile Man, a Hater of God
- IFB Pastor John MacFarlane Threatens Liberal Politicians, Overturning Roe v. Wade was Just the Beginning
- IFB Pastor John MacFarlane Says Showing Skin in Public Reveals a Sinful Heart
- A Person Who Doesn’t Have Jesus Has Nothing, Says IFB Pastor John MacFarlane
- People Who Swear Have “Dirty Hearts” Says IFB Pastor John MacFarlane
- Christians Say the Darnedest Things: IFB Pastor John MacFarlane Says Atheists Are Gods
- Dear John MacFarlane, Pastor of First Baptist in Bryan, Ohio
- OMG Pastor MacFarlane, Did You Really Say There’s No Racism in Rural Northwest Ohio?
- Frankly, Pastor MacFarlane, I Just Don’t Give a Damn
- Bob Sexually Assaulted Three Generations of Women, Yet He Went to Heaven When He Died
- Local Church Continues to Meet on Sundays Despite the Coronavirus Pandemic
- The Making of a Fundamentalist: First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio — Part One
- The Making of a Fundamentalist: First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio — Part Two
Sadly, MacFarlane is a gift that keeps on giving. So deeply immersed in Baptist Fundamentalism and right-wing politics, the good pastor cannot comprehend, understand, or appreciate any other worldview or viewpoint but his own. So much so, that he doesn’t even try. Operating from a simplistic worldview — the Bible is TRUTH and Jesus is the answer to every problem — MacFarlane shows contempt for any other view but his own. As I have stated before, Fundamentalism breeds certainty, and certainty breeds arrogance. And MacFarlane is certainly that.
On August 30, 2022, MacFarlane wrote a post titled Grief Galore. What follows is an excerpt from McFarlane’s post (which is emboldened) and my lengthy response.
I wish that I could say that her [Angie Cartwright] life was changed by Jesus. However, nothing in her biographical story talks about anything remotely spiritual. Instead, she found others on social media her were hurting and she used her grief to start support groups that would help others through their pains and hurts. Getting people to open up and talk about their grief and feelings rather than burying them and covering them up with drugs and alcohol is cathartic.
MacFarlane’s “devotional” posts are formulaic. He takes a story from the “world” and makes a spiritual application. For this post, MacFarlane chose Angie Cartwright as his foil. Cartwright is the founder of National Grief Awareness Day, which is celebrated on August 30th each year. Cartwright suffered untold trauma in her life, including the suicide of her drug-addicted, alcoholic mom. MacFarlane goes to great lengths to catalog the sins of Cartwright and her mom, saying: “I wish that I could say that her life was changed by Jesus. However, nothing in her biographical story talks about anything remotely spiritual.” In other words, Cartwright is headed for Hell unless she believes in MacFarlane’s peculiar version of God. No matter how much good she does trying to help people who have experienced trauma, all that matters to MacFarlane is whether she mentally assents to a set of theological propositions and prays the IFB-approved sinner’s prayer. This is the world MacFarlane lives in, a world where everything is reduced to Jesus.
It’s evident, at least to me, that MacFarlane sees no value in support groups and talking about trauma. In his mind, Jesus and a few prooftexts are all people need. Imagine going to such a man (who has no professional training in counseling outside of what he was taught at Bible college) when going through difficulties in your life and being told, JESUS! JESUS! JESUS! Let’s pray.
First Baptist congregants have been treated this way long before MacFarlane became pastor. Before him, Jack Bennett pastored the church for fifty years. Jack was married to Creta, sister to two of my uncles, Paul and Ed Daugherty. Creta’s parents, Mom and Pop Daugherty started the church in the 1950s. As a teen and young adult, I attempted to talk to Jack about things that were going on in my life. His response to me was the same as MacFarlane. Jack made no effort to help me. Worse, when I was trying to determine what Bible college to attend, I went to Jack for advice. He refused to give me any, leaving me with the impression that he didn’t think I was preacher material. Every summer I would come home from Midwestern Baptist College to my mom’s home. While there, I typically worked two jobs. I faithfully attended church and weekly tithed. Other young preachers who came home for the summer were given opportunities to preach. Not me. It became clear to me that I wasn’t wanted; that I was being judged for who my mother was.
It was during my time at First Baptist that my uncle raped my mother; the same uncle whom, decades later, MacFarlane would preach into Heaven. Jack knew the trauma I had experienced in my life: my mother’s repeated suicides, constant moves, and horrific dysfunction. Yet, I faithfully showed up for church Sunday after Sunday. I loved Jesus and the Word of God. Jack could have offered me a helping hand, but he did nothing. The only people in the church who genuinely tried to help me were Marv and Louise Hartman. And even then, after Louise got wind of my deconversion in 2008, she sent me a scathing letter, saying I was under the influence of Satan. Her words deeply wounded me. Our four-decade friendship did not survive.
MacFarlane, who has never experienced life outside of the narrow confines of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christianity, evidently has no idea why Cartwright — if she indeed does — doesn’t believe in God. He’s seemingly unaware of the various arguments against the existence of God. I was asked yesterday to list the primary reasons I don’t believe in God. I replied: the problem of evil, the problem of suffering, and the hiddenness of God. People who have experienced trauma in their lives will often say that these things (and others) are reasons why they don’t believe in the existence of the Christian deity. MacFarlane pays no mind to these powerful arguments against the existence of God. Just “believe” and all will be well.
Many of the people I knew back in my First Baptist days are dead and gone or have moved away. That said, I do know a few people that currently attend the church. I can confidently say that MacFarlane’s “all you need is Jesus” prescription has miserably failed. The lives of the people he pastors (and perhaps his own) are just as messy as those of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the World.
I am glad that people have others to talk to when they are hurting. Friendship goes a long way in helping us find stability in rocky times. But, how much better would it be if a person was able to go to JESUS, their Lord and Savior, and cry out to Him in their time of need?
Saved and lost alike experience grief, whether it be by death from natural causes or terrible tragedy. The difference is that the lost have to emotionally manufacture hope and good feelings. Their grief is placated through talking, counseling, medications, addictions, and a host of other things.
While MacFarlane grudgingly admits talking to a “friend” can be helpful, he asserts it would be much better if everyone cried out to Jesus in their time of need. MacFarlane, of course, mentions nothing about seeking help from competent secular counselors. He doesn’t believe in such things. JESUS is the answer to every question, the solution to every problem.
Following MacFarlane’s dangerous, harmful advice, people cry out to Jesus, pleading and begging for help. And when Jesus does what he always does — nothing — then what? Pray harder? Read more Bible verses?
MacFarlane says that non-Christians “emotionally manufacture hope and good feelings; that they placate their grief through talking, counseling, medications, addictions, and a host of other things.” In what way are Christians any different? Don’t they use religious beliefs and practices to manufacture hope and good feelings? In 1843, Karl Marx wrote:
The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Isn’t this exactly what religion provides for people, including MacFarlane and the members of First Baptist Church? I subscribe to a utilitarian view of religion; that as long as people find value in beliefs, rituals, and practices, they will continue to worship their chosen deity. Once the cost outweighs the benefits, people will abandon religion and seek other beliefs that help them get through the grind of human existence.
Christians, including Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, are no different from the people they consign to the flames of Hell. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I counseled countless church members and people who didn’t attend one of the churches I pastored. Murder. Manslaughter. Incest. Sexual assault. Embezzlement. Theft. Domestic Violence. Child Abuse. Adultery, Fornication. Child Molestation. You name it, I heard it all. These people were good Christians; people who loved the Lord their God; people who faithfully attended church; people who tithed and gave offerings; people who daily read the Bible and prayed; people who tried to live according to the teachings of the Bible (as interpreted by their preacher). Yet, they had dark secrets, criminal secrets. And don’t get me started about preachers and their secrets or my own, for that matter. (Don’t read too much into that. I have been very open about my past, but I do withhold a few things that would be embarrassing to me and wife. None of us is an open book.) If Jesus is a cure-all, the end-all, the sum of everything, why are Christians so “sinful”?
People all around us are hurting and in pain. This is grief AWARENESS day. We need to be aware of the masses of people hurting and take them the comfort that Jesus offers.
It is true that people all around us are hurting and in pain — the “masses,” MacFarlane calls them. Instead of taking to them the “comfort that Jesus offers,” how about trying to offer real, tangible help? First Baptist is a well-to-do church with a couple hundred members. The church has the means to provide help to the “least of these.” They have the means to help the sick, lonely, crippled, hungry, hurting, and homeless. What do they do? Nothing. All they offer are empty religious platitudes. Believe! Pray! Trust! Rinse, wash, repeat. The church has no outreach into the community except through programs and ministries that are geared towards making fat sheep fatter. It’s all quite incestuous. And I am not suggesting that MacFarlane and First Baptist are special. They are not. Sadly, few Evangelical churches give a shit about the people Jesus cared about. In their minds, all people need is Jesus. Better to go to Heaven hungry than go to Hell on a full belly.
For any local preacher who is offended by my words, I ask that you provide two things: a list of community-focused ministries funded by your church and a copy of your church’s budget which reveals how much money actually goes towards ministering to the material needs of people outside of the church. I have been making this challenge to Evangelical churches since I started blogging in 2007. As of today, not one pastor responded. Why? Because each knows doing so will reveal how little his church does in the community; that his church is little more than a sheep pen for market-ready sheep.
Yes, people are hurting. Do something besides offering them a Jesus sandwich. People need REAL help. How about being the hands and feet of the Jesus you say you follow?
I am glad that Angie [Cartwright] was able to take her grief and use it to help others. But, more than anything, I hope that she has given her life to Jesus. That’s the source of real, genuine healing to all of our hurts.
MacFarlane compliments Cartwright for using her trauma to help others. I do the same. By telling my story, I give voice to countless other people who have had traumatic experiences in their lives — especially religious trauma. Readers know that I have first-hand experience with trauma. And for those who have corresponded with me privately, they know I listen. No platitudes. No easy, cheap solutions. Life is messy. Sometimes, the messes of our lives look like a hurricane went through them. When in the middle of such messes, the last thing we need is for someone to self-righteously tell us, “you know, if you just prayed to Jesus . . . .”
MacFarlane, one of the keepers of the Book of Life, subtly suggests that Cartwright is not a Christian, and as a result, she’s never experienced “true” healing. If only she had prayed to Jesus all would be well. In what way? What could Jesus have materially and physically done for her?
In a post titled, Dear Jesus, I wrote:
I was told by my pastors, Jesus, that you know and see everything. Just in case you were busy one day and missed what went on or were on vacation, let me share a few stories about what happened while we lived in Lima.
One night, Mom was upstairs, and I heard her screaming. She was having one of her “fits.” I decided to see if there was anything I could do to help her — that’s what the oldest child does. As I walked towards Mom’s bedroom, I saw her grabbing shoes and other things and violently throwing them down the hallway. This was the first time I remember being afraid . . .
One day, I got off the school bus and quickly ran to our home. I always had to be the first one in the door. As I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that Mom was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had slit her wrists. I quickly ran to the next-door neighbor’s house and asked her to help. She summoned an ambulance, and Mom’s life was saved.
Mom would try again, and again to kill herself: slitting her wrists, overdosing on medication, driving in front of a truck. At the age of fifty-four, she succeeded. One Sunday morning, Mom went into the bathroom, pointed a Ruger .357 at her heart, and pulled the trigger. She quickly slumped to the floor and was dead in minutes. Yet, she never stopped believing in you, Jesus. No matter what happened, Mom held on to her tribe’s God.
Halfway through my fifth-grade year, Mom and Dad moved to Farmer, Ohio. I attended Farmer Elementary School for the fifth and sixth grades. One day, I was home from school sick, and Mom’s brother-in-law stopped by. He didn’t know I was in my bedroom. After he left, Mom came to my room crying, saying, “I have been raped. I need you to call the police.” I was twelve. Do you remember this day, Jesus? Where were you? I thought you were all-powerful? Why didn’t you do anything?
From Farmer, we moved to Deshler, Ohio for my seventh-grade year of school. Then Mom and Dad moved us to Findlay, Ohio. By then, my parent’s marriage was in shambles. Dad never seemed to be home, and Mom continued to have wild, manic mood swings. Shortly before the end of ninth grade, Dad matter-of-factly informed me that they were getting a divorce. “We don’t love each other anymore,” Dad said. And with that, he turned and walked away, leaving me to wallow in my pain. That’s how Dad always treated me. I can’t remember a time when he embraced me or said, “I love you.” I would learn years later that “Dad” was not my biological father. I wonder, Jesus, was this why he kept me at arm’s length emotionally?
After moving to Findlay, Mom and Dad joined Trinity Baptist Church — a fast-growing IFB congregation pastored by Gene Millioni. After Mom and Dad divorced, they stopped attending church. Both of them quickly remarried. Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a baby, and Mom married her first cousin — a recent prison parolee. So much upheaval and turmoil, Jesus. Where were you when all of this was going on? I know, I know, you were there in spirit.
Mom and Dad may have stopped going to church, but I didn’t. By then, I had a lot of friends and started dating, so there was no way I would miss church. Besides, attending church got me away from home, a place where Dad’s new and improved wife made it clear I wasn’t welcome.
Jesus, you were my constant companion, my lover, friend, and confidante. I sure loved you, and I believed you loved me too. We were BFFs, right? Sometimes, I wondered if you really loved me as much as I loved you. Our love affair was virtual in nature. We never met face-to-face, but I believed in my heart of hearts you were the very reason for my existence. When I doubted this, I attributed my doubts to Satan or me not praying hard enough or reading the Bible enough. I never thought for one moment, Jesus, that you might be a figment of my imagination, a lie taught to me by my parents and pastors. I was a true believer. That is, until I wasn’t.
At age fifty, I finally realized, Jesus, that you were a myth, the main character of a 2,000-year-old fictional story. I finally concluded that all those times when I wondered where you were, were in fact, true. I couldn’t find you because you were dead. You had died almost 2,000 years before. The Bible told me about your death, but I really believed that you were resurrected from the dead. I feel so silly now. Dead people don’t come back to life. Your resurrection from the dead was just a campfire story, and I had foolishly believed it. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Everyone I knew believed the same story. All of us believed that the miracles attributed to you, Jesus, really happened; that you were a virgin-born God-man; that you ascended to Heaven to prepare a mansion for us to live in after we die.
It all seems so silly now, Jesus, but I really did believe in you. Fifty years, Jesus. The prime of my life, I gave to you, only to find out that you were a lie. Yet, here I am today, and you are still “with” me. My parents, pastors, and professors did a good job of indoctrinating me. You are very much “real” to me, even though you lie buried somewhere on a Judean hillside. Try as I might, I can’t get you out of my mind. I have come to accept that you will never leave me.
MacFarlane is a product of his environment, so while my words may be harsh, I do genuinely feel sorry for him and the people he pastors. I can’t magically make their suffering, trauma, and grief go away. And neither can MacFarlane. Life is hard, and then we die. All he offers his people are band-aids to put over their gaping, bleeding physical and psychological wounds. Thanks, preacher, church members say, as their wounds continue to drain their life. Isn’t Jesus grand? MacFarlane says, and after quoting the prescribed verses from the King James Bible, he bows his head and says, let’s pray. And with that, Jesus has “helped” the sick, hurting, and dying. With that kind of help available, doctors, psychologists, social workers, and counselors might as well quit their jobs. Aint Jesus “grand,” indeed.
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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My beliefs on religion are similar: if it helps someone cope, that’s great. If religion inspires people to go and help others, rock on. But churches seem to be similar, the money is going to pay the preacher and support staff, damn little is about actually helping people outside of that church.
My denomination had a van ministry in NYC. In retrospect, it really did very little. It went out and did enough to help to make everyone involved feel wonderful. Plus a little actual material support to people in need. Funnily enough, one force that seems to be dedicated to good are socially conscious Catholics, people like nuns and support staff who do real help. And those people tend to not focus their help on taking away abortions for women in need. So I respect them. (Funnily enough, I know this kind of Catholic and like them. Some are family members. Whereas I also know a Catholic family where the mom was a Trad Catholic, hard core anti-choice. Her family was not a happy family.)
Honest question here – do Christians like this really believe that all the billions of non Christians in the world are wandering around life without hope, direction, ambition or aim? Or do they not even think about it that deeply?
Funny, Bruce, that you should mention Marx. The sort of Christianity folks like MacFarlane espouse dovetails all but perfectly with the most naked form of American capitalism. Both tell you, in essence, that the answer to your problems is, basically, a dream or a fantasy, depending on how you look at it.
The answer to pain is, for MacFarlane and his ilk, putting one’s belief in someone who may not have existed–and, if he did, everything about him, from the way he was born to the way he came back to life after death, was impossible. How is it possible to attain healing, salvation or anything else by putting one’s faith and devoting one’s work to such illusions?
Likewise, American capitalism inculcates people with the notion that they will be more prosperous and happy if they believe in, and work toward, a future that, too often, is out of reach, no matter how much they work and save. While some people “start with nothing” and become wealthy, the vast majority of people end up in more or less the same socio-economic position in which they started. But, just as some people continue to believe that the reason why they’re grieving and in pain (whether physical, emotional or existential) is that they didn’t Jesus hard enough, some continue to believe that the reason why they’re working more and more for less and less is that they’re not working long or hard enough, or doing something else wrong.
I remember several years ago my aunt and uncle’s pastor weeping as he conducted my cousin’s funeral. My cousin took his own life. He had suffered from several mental illnesses for about 25 years. He was on several medications and saw several doctors and therapists. Several months before he died, he reached put to the pastor to talk. They talked, but the pastor couldn’t tell my cousin why God didn’t cure him. The pastor reached put to my cousin after that, but they couldn’t connect again for whatever reasons. This pastor wasn’t the type that would counsel someone away from professional treatment, so it wasn’t that scenario. Even though I was an atheist at the time, I felt for this pastor who really wanted to help but understood his limitations.