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Bruce, You Ruined Your Children When You Walked Away From Jesus

Oldest Three Boys with Oldest Daughter, Front pew Somerset Baptist Church, Circa 1990

My wife and I have six adult children and sixteen grandchildren. Our children are gainfully employed and we have good, close relationships with all of them. Our children were raised as PK’s — preacher’s kids. Growing up as the children of the pastor wasn’t easy. Both congregants and their father held them to a higher standard than that of other children. My children knew that their behavior would directly reflect on me — warranted or not. As a result, my children were generally respectful, polite, and well-behaved. I have often wondered if they liked this life that was chosen for them. None of them has said one way or the other, but I do wonder if they would have preferred a “normal” childhood (however “normal” is defined).  Perhaps, one of these days my daughter or one of my sons will write a guest post for this site, sharing their thoughts about what it was like growing up as the children of Rev. Bruce Gerencser, a devout Evangelical pastor. Or maybe, just maybe, my children prefer to let their childhoods lie buried in the past, never to be resurrected again. Their stories are theirs alone to tell. The same goes for Polly.

After my wife and I divorced Jesus, I heard from former colleagues in the ministry and parishioners who had a message for me from Jesus: YOU ARE RUINING YOUR FAMILY, BRUCE! Polly was never blamed for anything. Always Miss Perfect! 🙂 I was the head of the home, I was told, so I was responsible for how their lives turned out. It’s been eleven years since we attended church for the last time. Our children, at the time, were aged 15, 17, 19, 24, 27, and 29.  All of them were old enough to decide for themselves when it when came to God, Christianity, the Bible, attending church, etc. Yet, according to my critics, it’s my fault for their loss of faith. Granted, Mom and Dad not going to church, Dad not preaching, and Jesus/Bible/church not being the focus of discussion 24/7 certainly confused them. I have been accused of turning my children over to the wolves by just cutting them loose after I deconverted; that I owed it to them to steer them in the “right” direction, even if I didn’t want to head that way myself. Here’s the thing: my children were old enough to think for themselves. Steering them in the right direction meant giving them the freedom to be whomever and whatever they wanted to be — no strings attached. Some of my children were already at the back door of the church, ready to push it open and walk away. All my deconversion did was give them freedom — you’re free, cheezy bread, you’re free!

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Fundamentalist family members believe that if I had just kept serving Jesus and preaching the Word, all of my children would still be attending Evangelical churches, would still be worshiping Jesus, and would still be part of the machinations of church life. I couldn’t help but feel my late Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) mother-in-law’s disappointment when she quietly shook her head over our “worldliness” and that of our children. How worldly are we? Why, we drink alcohol and cuss. That’s about it. Well that, and watch MAX. Yes, two of my sons have gone through divorces, but am I to blame for their failed marriages? I think not. Sure, our family is more boisterous now that Jesus isn’t the center of attention, but we are not degenerates. On December 16, our family will gather at our home for Christmas — twenty-seven, in all.  We will all cram into our 12’x18′ living room to watch the opening of gifts. Someone will suggest, as they always do, that the windows need to be opened and we need to build on an addition to our home. Jokes will follow, and Dad will abused by his sons. One thing is for certain, crammed as the room shall indeed be, it will be filled with love. The focus will be on family, not religion. “But, Bruce, JESUS is the reason for the Season!” Really? No, he’s not, not even in Evangelical homes. Oh sure, there will be prayers and Jesus talk, but once those things are dispensed with, it’s on to fun, food, and fellowship. The Gerencser family just so happens to enjoy the fun, food, and fellowship, sans Jesus. Several of our children will attend mass over the Christmas season, but for the most part they will focus their time and energy on their families. You see, whatever they think of me leaving the ministry and my subsequent loss of faith, they understand that what really matters is family. And if I can be faulted for teaching my children (and grandchildren) anything it is this: family matters.

Youngest Children, Defiance, Ohio, Circa Late 1990s, Early 2000s.

When the substance of this life is boiled away and you are on your deathbed, what will matter the most to you? Your money? Your car? Your home? Your looks? Your material possessions? I doubt it. I know, for me at least, that what matters is Polly and our family. These people make up the sum of my life. I labor under no illusions. I will never be remembered for being a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. I know when I die that I will, over time, be forgotten by most of the people with whom I have crossed paths. I will become little more than a historical footnote. Perhaps this blog will live on after I die. It, like everything in life, will eventually fade away. Everything in life is transitory, but a vapor, the Bible says, that appears for a moment and vanishes away. I remember sitting in school classrooms on cold winter days, aimlessly watching the steam from boiler radiators rise and dissipate. That’s life. When Polly, our children, and our grandchildren share their favorite Bruce/Dad/Grandpa stories at my lakeside memorial, I hope they will have good things to say about me, and a few ribald, silly things too. In that moment, they will learn that all we have is our memories. Treasure them, for they too, over time, will fade away.

As for former colleagues in the ministry, former church members, and Evangelical family members who continue to paint me as Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa — a man who ruined his family — all I can say is “talk to the hand.” Well, I “could” say a lot more than that — I love the F word these days — but why bother? It’s too late in the game for me to worry about catcalls from the stands; to worry about arrogant, judgmental Christians who cannot or will not see how blessed the Gerencser family really is without Jesus.

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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    Ah, the old “Stay in a bad relationship for the sake of the kids” argument, with Christianity instead of a marriage. Better a dad who’s a liar and a hypocrite than one who is true to his values. Because all that matters is the talk and not the walk, right?

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    I agree that family is what it’s all about. And friends. If you have at least one of those, be grateful. Not everyone has these things.❤️

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    MJ Lisbeth

    In her later years, my mother apologized for her mistakes in raising me and my siblings. “Well, that’s what they were, mistakes,”’I said.

    “Yeah, but…”

    She talked about the things she wished she’d done differently: She would have married and birthed me and my siblings later, gotten more education and, she added, “better understood what parenting is.”

    That she could say such things is more of a testament to her than any of her mistakes. I don’t mean to be condescending when I say that as a very young mother and wife, she didn’t know any better: about the only preparation she had for those roles was having grown up a “good” Catholic girls in the years just after World War II.

    If there’s anything I would tell her now, it is this: While she made mistakes, almost all of the real harm done to me during my childhood was done by other adults whom we trusted. And some of them were arrogant , even smug, with the belief they were doing right by their god.

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      Our Mom apologized to us too. But we had to cut her some slack. After living in a hellacious twenty year marriage with our tyrannical, rageaholic dad, she finally divorced him. Afterward, she needed acceptance from someone, somewhere. So she turned to the Charismatic / Pentecostal maniacs who received her with open arms. After almost losing her mind with Dad, it was what she needed, so we couldn’t fault her much.

      But I did tell her, “Mom what was medicine for you was poison for us kids.” That’s when she apologized.

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    My adult daughter told me this week that she appreciates that we raised her and her brother nonreligious. She now lives in Nashville where evangelical Christianity is assumed. She used to ask me how she should respond to religious talk, and now she is capable of navigating in a nonoffensive manner. My aunt and uncle are liberal Christians, but recently my uncle tried to convince my daughter she should be Christian using Pascal’s Wager. She wasn’t familiar with that argument, but recognized it as being faulty. Yet she also recognized that my uncle loves her and wants what he thinks is good for her. We haven’t had a chance to discuss it in person yet, but I expect my uncle to mention my nonreligious status when I see him at Christmas. See, my daughter forgot that I didn’t want her to mention my atheism to my aunt and uncle, but she told them that the 4 of us were nonreligious (I don’t think she used the A word but possibly). In any case, we’ll have a good conversation about it – they’re pretty open to discussions. They know that like my mom and grandma before me, I read a lot and have a lot of knowledge about Christianity.

    Some members of my family would think I have ruined my kids and paved their path to hell. In the early days of my deconstruction, the idea that I may be doing that exact thing tormented me. Now I am glad I got through that and have 2 offspring who don’t suffer religious abuse and baggage like I did.

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    Bruce said, “All my deconversion did was give them (my kids) freedom.”

    Yep. City dogs run out the door because their owners don’t let them run free. But country dogs stay on the front porch because they are allowed freedom.

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    Bruce has a beautiful family. i can just imagine the Christmas gathering. Turn down the thermostat. All those folks will warm the house. I wondered what the Gerencsers did for Exmas. You know: Christ-Mass and all that. I used to hang with an informal atheist group and some were a bit anal retentive about the holiday, preferring to celebrate some Pagan holiday winter solstice I think. . Those tended to be the same folks who were evangelistic about atheism., never missing a chance to proselytize. The tradition of Christmas like Thanksgiving day can be enjoyed without religious stuff and it’s a fine time to get together to honor family and friendship, and, of course, to drink some eggnog and be merry.

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