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The J-O-Y Acronym

joy acronymn

Yesterday, my partner, Polly, and I attended granddaughter number two’s graduation from Defiance High School. What a wonderful day! It seems like yesterday she was a preschooler running around our backyard, and today she’s a high school graduate and enrolled at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio to study business. Count me as one proud grandfather. Granddaughter number three graduated from Toledo Whitmer High School last week. She’s headed off to Ohio State University in the fall to study medicine (psychiatry). I couldn’t be prouder. In three generations, the Gerencser family has gone from me being the first person to attend college to our grandchildren excelling in their studies and going off to college. Over the next five years, five more of our grandchildren will graduate. Most of them, I suspect, will go on to college (not that this is their only path in life). With all my health problems, I feared I wouldn’t see any of my grandchildren graduate, so I am grateful to science and luck that I have been able to do so.

We live in an area dominated by conservative Christianity and Republican politics. It is common to observe and experience the separation of church and state being trampled underfoot, as was the case when John Schlicher, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church (an insecure site lacking HTTPS) in Defiance, gave a sermonette to the graduates, school staff, and those gathered to celebrate their family member’s graduation.

Schlicher assumed several things: either everyone was already a Christian or some of those in attendance needed to hear the truth about Jesus. I suspect he assumed both, thinking unsaved attendees such as my family needed to hear about the J-O-Y found in the dead Jesus.

If you were raised in Evangelicalism as Polly and I were, you have heard the J-O-Y acronym countless time: Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last. After spending fifty years as an Evangelical and twenty-five of those years as a pastor, I concluded that the J-O-Y acronym actually meant: Jesus first, Others second, You don’t matter.

For Evangelicals, Jesus is the end-all, the sum of all existence. A full, happy, productive life begins and ends with him. Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last, the ditty goes. This, of course, is patently untrue. Unbelievers, atheists, agnostics, pagans, and other non-Christians have done a plethora of life-transcending things — all without acknowledging or believing in Jesus. I know for myself that I choose to give credit to whom credit is due. When Polly cooks fine meal, who should I credit? Jesus, or the person who actually made the meal? When a doctor successfully treats me, who should I praise? Jesus, or the doctor who actually did my surgery or developed a successful course of treatment? I will gladly give Jesus credit for whatever he has done for me, but after a careful, painful examination of my life as a Christian, I concluded that the Son of God had nothing to do with my life. I searched in vain to find one answer to prayer that can ONLY be attributed to Jesus. And if you say that you KNOW Jesus answered your prayers or performed a miracle for you, I want to see empirical evidence for your claim before I believe you. Just saying “Jesus answered my prayer” doesn’t make it so.

After graduation, I had a short conversation with my oldest grandson. He just turned sixteen and got his driver’s license. Now there’s a reason to believe in the power of prayer! 🙂 My grandson, a skeptic in the making and a science geek, found Pastor Schlicher’s sermonette irritating. Evangelicals will say his irritation was Holy Ghost conviction, but it is more likely that my grandson found the pastor’s sermonette offensive and irrational.

We talked about the J-O-Y acronym for a bit, and then I shared with them that the acronym should actually be YO — yourself first, and others second. A proper understanding of life begins with a healthy understanding of “self.” Evangelicalism, of course, teaches the opposite: deny self, deny the flesh. Instead of promoting self-esteem, Evangelical preachers tell believers and unbelievers alike that they are broken, sinful people; that without Jesus their lives are meaningless, lacking purpose and direction. Even Christians are told that without Jesus they are no better off than unbelievers; that Jesus stands between them and the pit of Hell (the foundation of substitutionary atonement).

“Others” are certainly important, and I hope my grandchildren will not only have a healthy view of self, but also compassion for others. Focusing on self alone can and does lead to narcissism, but one can have love and compassion for others without Jesus. Jesus is not a prerequisite for being a good person. I don’t need Jesus/God/Christianity to treat others as I would want to be treated. We need to look no further than how Evangelicals often treat others. Where is Jesus in their behavior? By far, the nastiest people I have ever met were card-carrying followers of Jesus. Such hypocrisy is common, one of the primary reasons some people deconvert.

YO — the acroymn for skeptics, humanists, atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers. I like it! 🙂

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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4 Comments

    • Avatar
      Matilda

      Yes, I used to think about that airline instruction when fundy. The J-O-Y principle ran deeply through our veins and it seemed to contradict what we knew was The Correct And Biblical Order. Then I ditched the ‘J’ and found myself almost naturally putting the ‘Y’ first in many situations. It was so liberating. As a teacher of small kids, I used to say when they squabbled ‘Be kind’ and my small g/kids know it as one of granny’s mantras now. But within myself, I say ‘Be kind – to yourself – as well as to others.’ Again, so liberating to be able to do that with no burden of guilt, and I suggest, a healthier mental framework than when ‘J’ came first, last and everything in between.

  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Raised Catholic, I’d never heard about the JOY acronym, only that good Christians follow the teachings of Jesus in how to engage with the world. That meant caring about others, and doing one’s best to be kind, generous, and charitable. My parents were masters of charity disguised as other exchanges, so that the person(s) receiving the charity wasn’t/weren’t put on the spot of having to be grateful for it in a way that made them feel less-than for needing it. Using charitable giving as an evangelizing tool was unheard-of.

    (In my very liberal, US West Coast church in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Bible teachings that portray Yahweh as a petty, vengeful monster, or support being a Jerk for Jesus, were just elided over. At Mass, there was one passage read from the Old Testament, another from the New Testament (chosen to support the theme of the sermon), and then the priest would give a sermon about some practical aspect of being kind, generous, and charitable. In my Catholic school religion classes in grades 1-12, I was never encouraged to actually read the Bible. The liberal nuns who taught in my schools were far more interested in ensuring that I would understand the practicalities of loving my neighbors than evangelizing them. I have no idea what prevails in the Catholic churches and schools of today.)

    BUT. I was a girl, and my mother’s conservative upbringing established that just being female made me less-than. The reason for my existence was to serve others. I must meet my mother’s needs, my family’s needs, the needs of anyone they deemed appropriate. I must do well in school and behave well at all times to make them proud of me. On the other hand, it was inappropriate for me to ever be proud of my own achievements. By the time I hit college, I was thoroughly indoctrinated, an indoctrination that undoubtedly contributed to my clinical depression, and one that I’ve spent my life trying to escape. Especially with my most recent therapist, I’m making progress. I’m 64. That’s a lot of years to suffer from a profound sense of low self-esteem.

    JOY and OY are psychologically disabling. I can do YO, and still be kind, generous, and charitable…not because Jesus effectively commanded those things, but because he was really onto something about how to make the world an objectively better place by being that way.

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Congratulations on your grandkids graduating and heading to university! I hope they have great experiences! It’s such a wonderful time, being exposed to people from various backgrounds, new ideas, and a variety of subjects.

    I’d have been annoyed by the JOY “sermon” too. Likely, that was a public school where Christians flouted their privilege? Ugh.

    I got annoyed at my son’s college graduation a couple of weeks ago. He attended a private secular university in NC. There was a separate interfaith baccalaureate service for those who chose to attend. Totally appropriate as it wasn’t foisted onto the rest of us. We did not attend. Imagine my surprise when they started the graduation with a prayer! My 24-year-old daughter blurted out, “What the hell??!!” pretty loudly. I’m working on my letter to the university to point out how this prayer excludes and others the secular members of the university community.

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