Menu Close

One of My Biggest Regrets


My recent interaction with a man who was a teenager and married young adult in two churches I pastored, raised a regret that I have long had about my ministerial career and its deleterious effect on people who called me “Preacher” or “Pastor Bruce.” (Please see Dear Terry — Part One and Dear Terry — Part Two.) Thousands of people sat under my preaching at one time or the other. Hundreds of others were active congregants with whom I had closer relationships. And a handful of people — not many — were friends.

For many years, I was a hardcore, hellfire and brimstone, pulpit-pounding, King James-waving Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. While my theology and practice moderated over time, I was still quite conservative theologically and politically. It wasn’t until late in my ministerial career that I made a decided leftward turn towards the social gospel and liberal politics.

My regret comes from the influence I had over people during my IFB/conservative days; how my preaching and teaching deeply formed and instructed church members; how my preaching and teaching caused incalculable psychological harm (and led to physical harm and abuse when parents put into practice my instruction on discipline). Many of the people I once pastored are either no longer Christians or have moved on to gentler, kinder expressions of faith. I am glad that they have progressed and matured, even if I disagree with their sincerely held beliefs. I am not an antitheist. I don’t hate God or Christianity, in general. I am friends with people who are Christians. On Monday, I had lunch with a man who pastors an Evangelical church in Bryan, Ohio. We had a wonderful time. On Sunday, I will have dinner with three friends of mine: a former Lutheran pastor, a United Church of Christ pastor, and a Buddhist. We have been meeting together for years. We eat, drink, and talk about all sorts of things — including religion. I am quite comfortable having discussions with religious people as long as they don’t view me as their “enemy” or some sort of target for evangelization. I have no interest in having discussions with Bible-thumpers or Evangelical zealots. If such people want to interact with me, they can do so through my blog. Beware, the blog dog bites. 🙂

dog bites

Some former congregants such as Terry haven’t moved a lick belief-wise over the years. Terry is attending a church that has beliefs similar to the churches he attended when I was his pastor. His worldview has evolved very little, if at all. I know other former church members who have similarly “progressed.” Oh, they might have made changes to peripheral social beliefs on dress, alcohol, or entertainment, but their core beliefs are similar or identical to what they were when I was their pastor. I feel bad about this, even though I know, as my therapist frequently reminds me, that their belief choices are not my fault or my responsibility. I understand this from an intellectual perspective, BUT, it is hard for me to not lament that I didn’t teach them better; that I didn’t expose them to the depth and breadth of Christian faith and theology; that I didn’t encourage them to think skeptically and rationally. I know that I couldn’t do these things because I didn’t know any better myself. I was a product of a lifetime of religious conditioning and indoctrination. That said, I have never been able to shake the regret I have over my IFB past. I am sure some of you understand exactly what I am talking about.

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.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.


  1. Avatar
    John S.

    Bruce- as someone who has a lot of regrets, I totally understand where you are coming from.
    I watched “Blade Runner 2049” recently, a sequel to the classic “Blade Runner” movie of the 1980’s. In the sequel we meet a woman who manufactures “memories” for the replicants (genetically engineered humans). When asked why she is the best at what she does, she responds that her memories aren’t just facts but also include emotions. She remarks, “we remember with our feelings”.
    We do indeed. I have fond memories of the Assembly of God Church I attended as a youth, but not because of the actual religion. I attended Royal Rangers (basically Pentecostal Boy Scouts), and feel in love with camping, the woods, rural areas. Whenever I smell a wood fire I’m taken back. My memories of the apocalyptic emotional religious services are another matter. I was never abused in church- that was actually happening among my public school peers, hence my retreat to a church, where I felt safe.
    Looking back, I wish I would have played sports, and interacted more with my high school peers, dated, etc. I didn’t become “worldly” until I went to college, then I wanted everything all at once.
    I ultimately became Catholic. I wish I had “found” this earlier, but before this I spent several years practicing Zen Buddhism. But looking back, this part of my life introduced me to introspective meditation, and also a religious tradition other than what I was raised with. I still apply a lot of the principles I learned during that part of my life to where I’m at today.
    Looking back, there were many moments where I felt I had finally “found the Way”, only to discover that there was more on the road ahead. My
    memories of each of these different parts of my life are shaped by the emotions I was feeling at the time. I also am shaped by the times I did or said something inappropriate and stupid, and trust me there are a lot of these memories as well. Like most people who are bullied as a child, I at times became the bully to others. That is a constant source of shame and despair for me.
    Nothing can change the facts of the past. But I do think we can change our emotional understanding of our past, and we do that by first making peace with who we were when and then resolve to do better (I know, I know- “works based salvation!”).
    I said before and will say again- your life and journey means a great deal to all of us who read and post on the page. Even the Terrys, the “Dr” Tees and the Revival Liars benefit in some way by your life’s work on the page. I personally believe you have helped countless people deal with both religious trauma but also perhaps their own thoughts on both religion and non-religion, as well as their attitudes towards those who do not share their belief.
    So hang in there! The obstacle is path, the journey is the destination!

  2. Avatar

    “I know that I couldn’t do these things because I didn’t know any better myself. I was a product of a lifetime of religious conditioning and indoctrination. That said, I have never been able to shake the regret I have over my IFB past. ”

    I know exactly what you are talking about. It is hard to shake the regrets. How different my life would have been had I known in college what I know now. But how could it ever have been different?

    Imagine if we were to rewind the world back to 1976. You and I would both be in college with the exact same knowledge we had then. Now start going through your life and thinking about every situation you went through. If your life was rerun, and at every moment the exact same thoughts were available in your mind as you decided, you would make the exact same decisions. How could it be otherwise?

    Having made decisions that hurt other people does not make us bad people. That is simply what our brains and bodies did based on the input that was available. Had we had different input, sure, we would have been different.

    There was software running in our brains trying to do good. But if the only information available to those brains led to the neurons in our brains firing in a certain pattern, that is simply our brains trying to do good based on the limited information we had. Garbage-in-garbage-out.

    You had something different. You lived with people that were hurting and you felt their pain. And you wanted to do what you could to relieve that pain. And you listened to people. And slowly it dawned on you that the canned messages you were taught to give were not helping. And that was all that was needed for that little spark of good to take over.

    Rather than regretting the past, we can have joy as we look in the mirror and see ourselves: good people that always wanted to be good. When given the opportunity and proper understanding of the world, things changed.

  3. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce—I don’t believe people who say they have no regrets and I don’t trust those who tell us not to have regrets.

    That said, I think John and Merle are giving good advice. All we can do is use whatever lessons we’ve learned and light our minds with the good memories, if there are any.

  4. Avatar
    Ted M Gossard

    I appreciate what you say from my perspective. But the fact that you make no bones about where you stand now and do that as a good human being surely speaks volumes, a sound some don’t want to hear. Of course, there would have been the next Bible thumping man to take you place. There was something different in you at the time, and now that is evident (I was thinking about that Bible passage or maybe passages where God sees something good in someone or another and spares them so fate).

    I was always an odd ball from what I can remember and still am (lol). I never quite fit in. I asked too many questions. Perhaps it was a Mennonite upbringing which unfortunately had an evangelical veneer but was not steeped in so-called Biblical preaching and teaching. I do feel at home in the place were now in. We question everything, period. But then you have to take some stand. Whatever Jesus is really all about, it’s surely not to be a good Christian. If religion helps one to be a good person, okay. But too often it really gets in the way. Of course, the parable of the good Samaritan which is at the heart of Jesus’s teaching and the actual point of Scripture and the best in religions including Christianity. But if religion doesn’t help one to be a good person, then one should get rid of it. As Bonhoeffer, shaking his head over the Christianity was thinking about in his later years: a religionless Christianity. But the story of Jesus’s coming and the best in Judaism, Islam, or anything else, atheism included should be about becoming a better human being.

    I’m sorry about the length of this. I DEFINITELY have serious regrets in my lifetime. Yes, wish I could undo too. But accumulated wisdom matters. That’s what we receive from you, Bruce. Thanks!

  5. Avatar

    That said, I have never been able to shake the regret I have over my IFB past. I am sure some of you understand exactly what I am talking about.

    It’s okay, Bruce. You were only doing what you thought was right at the time. To paraphrase one of the few useful quotes from a Charismatic / Pentecostal teacher, “It’s not a shame to have a demon. The shame is never get rid of it AFTER you’ve detected it.”

    At least you finally realized your folly and turned around. The majority of religious addicts don’t have the guts to use their minds and get out of their religious jails.

  6. Avatar

    Bruce, several commenters have made thoughtful, wonderful comments about your regret. I’d like to add that I respect you immensely for examining yourself as a person, your beliefs, and making changes where you saw evidence leading to a better way. That takes TREMENDOUS work and lots of pain. I admire you for that. I also admire that you truly do care about people and always have. Your care of people ledyoy to ministry (as well as your desire to lead others, to teach, to instruct). While ine coukd argue that you chose evangelicalism, you were a child at the time with difficulties at home, and a church’s members provided you the stability and care that you desperately needed at the time. It’s no wonder that you would continue your path in that vein. You had little to no opportunity to explore outside that evangelical bubble – at least, no other option presented itself to you at the time. Is evangelicalism harmful? Absolutely. Did you participate in that? Unfortunately, yes. However, unlike many, you did seek to improve yourself, and fortunately your journey included the hard choices you made to follow evidence that countered what you had learned and taught in evangelicalism. As the caring person you are, of course you have regrets over the harm you perpetuated in an abusive system. But, do give yourself credit where it’s due. Again, I admire and respect the person you are now. ❤️ You’ve helped countless strangers on the internet during their journeys, myself included.

  7. Avatar

    Regrets are OK Bruce. It’s nothing to be ashamed of to want to be better and do better. It is a noble emotion. My Father often said he regretted for about a minute and got over it, ( or words to that effect). His ability to shrug off worry and regret enabled him to be happy in spite of his difficult life but also kept him from correcting his mistakes or mending his ways. Worry and regret are burdensome emotions but I prefer them over a selfish, callous, lack of caring which burdens others.

  8. Avatar

    One of my biggest regrets that I still have today, is when I was teaching Training Union, and we were studying cults.
    The Masons came up, and I taught a lesson that “of course, the Masons are a cult, because they blah, blah…”I don’t even remember what I said now.
    Anyway, one of my friends that was in the class told me several weeks later, that because of my lesson, he had decided to leave the masons, and his entire family, (who were generational masons), were mad at him, and it was causing family problems.
    I told him to “be strong in the lord”…it didn’t help, and his family came close to disowning him all because of me!
    I wish I could go back and undo that for sure!

  9. Avatar
    Bobbi Shaffer

    I’ve always said “faith is a journey, and everyone has their own path. Having no faith is a path also and there is nothing wrong with that.” JMO, I believe Jesus was more concerned about how we live on earth, than what we will do in the afterlife.

  10. Avatar
    amy b

    In order to have no regrets, either you have to do everything right every minute of every day of your life, or else you have to have no conscience. Everyone who lives to adulthood has regrets. I certainly do!

  11. Avatar
    Richard Portman

    You did the best you knew how. I think you sincerely wanted to help people. I also have regrets. Apology accepted . You didn’t get frozen and you kept an open heart and mind. I am proud of you and your journey, thank you for talking about it.

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away! If You Are a First Time Commenter, Please Read the Comment Policy Located at the Top of the Page.

Discover more from The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Bruce Gerencser