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What Surprised Me the Most When I Left Christianity

leaving christianity

It’s been almost sixteen years since I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. Not long after, I sent out my infamous letter, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners, to several hundred family members, friends, former church members, and colleagues in the ministry. For a time, I self-identified as an agnostic, but after months of “explaining” what I meant by the term, I decided to call myself an atheist. Strictly speaking, I am an agnostic atheist.

I naively believed that letter recipients would “understand” my deconversion; that they would appreciate hearing my story straight from my mouth, and not third and fourth hand as the Evangelical/IFB rumor mill raged. Boy, was I wrong. To the person, every one of them abandoned me, and many of them personally attacked me in letters, emails, and sermons. One former church member asked me to “explain,” but after I kindly and gently did so, she told me she could no longer be friends with me or talk to me. Another dear friend told me that he found my deconversion too unsettling to continue to be my friend. I saw nothing in their treatment of me that suggested they understood Jesus’ teachings on how to treat your “enemies” or how they should treat people in general. Their responses gave me a bird’s-eye view of how Evangelicals treat people who dare to leave their club. No kindness. No love. No compassion. No respect. Just judgment and condemnation.

Sixteen years later, I have only had one person walk back their words — a lifelong friend who said I was demon-possessed. That’s it. As for the rest of them, their words and behavior were un-Christian, to say the least. You would think that the Holy Spirit might have convinced them of their sins and called on them to apologize for their awful words. No apologies have been forthcoming. I concluded, then, that my former friends, family members, and parishioners believed that the teachings of Christ didn’t apply to them when it came to dealing with an Evangelical preacher-turned-atheist.

As a result, I lost my entire social network. Fifty years of relationships went up in smoke, and it is doubtful I will ever regain an atheist/agnostic/humanist version of what I lost. I paid a heavy price for daring to deconvert. I was penalized for being honest. Sixteen years on, Evangelicals continue to shit on my doorstep. I can’t remember the last time I received a polite, thoughtful, kind comment or email from an Evangelical Christian. Why is that?

I will never understand why people responded to me the way they did. I learned that my relationships were conditioned of me believing the right things. Even though we had lots of other things in common, all that mattered was shared religious beliefs. Once I said I no longer believed, I became their enemy. Yet, they treated me differently than they treated unsaved family, friends, and neighbors. I suspect they believe that I have committed the unpardonable sin or crossed the line of no return. How they could possibly know this is unknown. Evidently, I am no longer worthy of saving. 🙂

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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        Yulya Sevelova

        Beware of anyone who calls themselves ” Bro So- So.”. That’s always a red flag ! Those goofy little titles, you know.

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      Evangelicals’ faith is threatened by real, sure-’nuff Christians who realize they’ve been duped, and they say, “You just never were saved.” It’s the “no true Scotsman” argument.

      Faith healers have a similar escape hatch. When someone isn’t healed, they say, “It wasn’t my fault. Everybody knows that I have the gift of healing. So the problem is with you. You just didn’t have enough faith.”

      Slippery, slimy, fancy footwork.

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      Yulya Sevelova

      Bro- since you never met Bruce yourself, and don’t know him personally, how would you ever know this is true ?? People backslide all the time, and that’s mentioned in the New Testament, no one should have to remind you about that ! Given how the people behaved in general, as well as after Bruce sent out his correspondence regarding his departure, they for the most part acted like crazy people. Christianity gets lots of bad press, because so many people who claim that description act like they are mentally ill,and unpleasant in general. I really believe it has to so with the American perspective. There are few things American that are actually done right !

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    Ben Berwick

    Is it me, or is it that the more devout and pious a believer is, the shitter their behaviour tends to be? I’ve encountered with not only with Christians, but with followers of other religions too. I dare say you’ve encountered it more often, and what it’s worth, I am deeply sorry that your former friends made religious beliefs a condition of worth.

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    Elaine W

    Fckm, Bruce. Fckm all.
    Know what? Maybe there is a heaven. I’m inclined to believe that it has something to do with freedom, heightened wisdom and knowledge. So, suppose I’m right, and these folks end up there. What would they do? No clouds, no harps, no streets of gold, no entity to worship for eternity. It would blow their little minds. And if I were to witness it, I would just laugh and laugh…

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      Elaine you reminded of an old country/gospel song called “Rusty Old Halo” about undeserving “pious” folk when they die. The premise being any Heaven awaiting them won’t be the good first class Heaven.
      “A rusty old halo a skinny white cloud, some second hand wings full of patches ….. a robe that’s so wooly it scratches”

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    Rand Valentine

    That is so sad, Bruce. You have sought the truth all your life, with passion and intelligence, and lived by your understandings, wholeheartedly sharing what you glean. What standard is higher than that? Your relatives should appreciate the absolute honesty of your journey, how many people do what you have done? Diogenes would have put down his lamp, having met you. We your readers know this very well, and I thank you once again for the lively, witty, and sincere way you are in the world. You have many friends here, and as another friend of mine wryly says, Friends are God’s apology for family.

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    It’s really sad how the people who were close to you treated you, just because you were honest a d said you no longer believed a particular set of beliefs. You didn’t change as a person, but your beliefs did change. You changed “tribes”, and your former tribe members couldn’t handle that. They felt rejected, I suppose. And given the fact that our firmer tribe taught that outsiders were NOT to be trusted nor welcomed without the intention to join the tribe, it’s no wonder their rejection was final. However, their ugly responses to you were NOT ones I remembered being condoned – we were told to try to win over outsiders. In any case, their reactions are totally on THEM, not on you.

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      Nice try, Elliot. You are permanently banned from this site. I have blocked this IP address too. Let me be clear, you will never, never, not one time, be permitted to comment on this site.

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    Jeff Bishop

    Hi Bruce.
    I really appreciate your site and your sharing you and your familys journey. This particular topic must be painful for you in the extreme. It is a bit shocking that your previous community has completely abandoned you. My condolences.

    Human nature can be quite ugly, especially when one decides to leave a “tribe” or “pack”.

    There are aspects to the cult of religon(s) / christianity that secularists should rcognize:

    1) Belonging to a community with shared beliefs.
    2) The incredibly powerful concept of “prayer, witnessing, and professing with ones mouth”.
    3) The power associated with a collective (church) influencing a local community.
    4) Finally and to use religous language, the almost “demonic influence” that church leaders, especially
    the pastors, wield over adherents.

    Personally speaking, my family were what many Christians would refer to as “Carnal” Christians. In other words not
    walking around in a daze waiting for the return of Jesus every second. In other words we did not take it very seriously.

    Regrettably, I thought “church” in all it’s many varied forms and iterations was generally a “force for good” and a place to learn “morality”.

    That was until I went to the University of Florida and attended classes, as a history major.

    Imagine my “shock” when I learned things like:

    The Catholic Church and later the Protestant Church and it’s oppression over EVERYBODY.
    let me count the ways:

    Chruch dictating what is in and what is out of the bible. (See Bart Ehrman for an explaination)
    Church not allowing the dissimination of the “bible” to adherents (in the early years)
    Church selling “passes” into heaven for money.
    Church burning adherents to Science at the stake.
    The “Crusades”
    The murder of millions of indiginous peoples in the Americas. Spanish saving souls? LOL sure, while they are
    digging up Gold and Silver for “Jesus”.
    Church telling us the earth is 6,000 years old.
    Church and the Nazi’s.
    Church and the pedophile “priests club” – See Boston, MA and the district attorneys report in several states
    relating to those fine pedophiles stalking the pews in dozens of states. (it ain’t just Catholics).
    And now we have Christian Nationalism, driven by church leaders to support Trump and MAGA. How ANYBODY can identify this movement as being good moral people following Gods will is …………LUNACY, IMO.

    Anyway, I’m glad that your are now a source of real and TRUE information regarding what the “Church” really is.

    Thank you

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    Ted M. Gossard

    What Rand Valentine said.

    When I left Evangelicalism for an expression of faith within an LGBTQ affirming church for marriage and ministry, one prominent person in that world who said they completely trusted my judgment no longer acknowledged my presence. And a strain with others. But some were alright. But I realize I’m no longer a part of that group in which I was not at home with for a long time anyhow.

    If we just acknowledge people’s humanity, then everyone can come to find their part in the whole of life, of all. I don’t think the point of Jesus is to make people Christian, certainly not in most of what we’ve seen in history. But human, that’s the point. Instead it’s too much about religion in contrast to the Samaritan who was simply a neighbor loving another neighbor.

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    Neil Rickert

    “Their responses gave me a bird’s-eye view of how Evangelicals treat people who dare to leave their club. No kindness. No love. No compassion. No respect. Just judgment and condemnation.”

    This is why I left. I could see the hypocrisy.

    At first, I thought I was just leaving the church, and would remain an unchurched Christian. But having distanced myself from the church, I began to see more and more problems with Christian beliefs.

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    It’s too bad you were surprised. It would have been nice going in knowing what you’d lose. Friendships often are based on mutual interests. Leaving the Club also comes with the fear that your unbelief could be contagious. The group think that allows irrational beliefs like religion don’t work well when there are examples of other beliefs. You could be a role model for children who might see the less trodden path.

    It’s too bad that online friendships don’t have the same gravis as in person friendships. Because the extent and saturation of your blog dwarfs the Christian club pals you lost in the reckoning.

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    The DutchGuy

    Bruce, I know it’s northwest Ohio and it’s boring. Back in the day, we entertained ourselves by doing that on people’s porches. I expected some enlightenment over the decades that I’ve been (thankfully) gone. But NOOO! I suggest a doorbell camera to capture these evildoers in the act. You could post the pictures here. On second thought that might attract notoriety seekers. So nevermind.

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