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Category: Atheism

Ten Things I Regret Not Doing as an Evangelical Christian Parent

life is a one time offer

My wife, Polly, and I will celebrate forty-four years of blissful, happy, serene, uneventful — wait for a minute while I get a hysterically laughing Polly off the floor — marriage. 🙂 Life has blessed us with six children, ages twenty-nine to forty-three — damn they are getting old — and thirteen grandchildren, ages two to twenty-one. And I must not forget our son-in-law and daughters-in-law. Without them there would be no grandchildren, and, though we don’t say it enough, we love and appreciate them. On balance we have lived a good life, blessed in every way.

Yet, as a slowly dying, frail sixty-five-year-old man with fibromyalgia, gastroparesis, osteoarthritis, and chronic, unrelenting pain, I can’t help but reflect on my life. My new counselor has told me that I have a good sense of self-awareness. This, of course, can lead to me thinking too much about the past and my culpability in things that did or didn’t happen in the lives of my wife and children. I’ve been faulted for dwelling too much on the past, but this is who I am. Besides, I wouldn’t have much to write about if I let the past be the past. The important thing for me is that I don’t live in the past. I use the past as a teaching tool, as a way to measure progress in my life; as a reminder of what not to do. Being a committed, devoted Fundamentalist follower of Jesus Christ, a man with a slavish devotion to the literal teachings of the Bible resulted in me making choices and decisions I now regret.

While not everything on the list below is religion-related, many of them are. For the nominal, cultural Christian, their faith doesn’t make much difference in their lives. However, for those of us who were saved, sanctified, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost believers; people who immersed themselves in the Bible, a book they believed was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God; people who governed their thoughts, words, and deeds by the Bible and the leading of the Holy Spirit; people who devoted themselves to the work of the church and the ministry; people who gave thousands and thousands of dollars to their churches and other ministries; people who witnessed to and evangelized unbelievers; people who separated themselves from the world; people who homeschooled their children or sent them to private Christian schools; people who put God/Jesus/church/ministry above their families, friends, and job — their faith and its attendant beliefs and practices made an incalculable mark on their lives. And now that we are no longer believers or have moved on to less demanding expressions of faith, it’s hard not to look back on our lives without regret. In my case, I spent fifty years of my life in the Christian church, and half of those years pastoring churches full-time. It’s hard not to conclude, then, that I spent much of my life devoted to a lie, sacrificing my wife and children for an imaginary deity.

Ten Things I Regret

  1. I regret not teaching my children to swim. We spent very little time at places where our children could swim and I had no time due to my commitment to Jesus and the church to take them to swimming lessons.
  2. I regret not letting my children play organized sports. There was one hard, fast rule in the Gerencser household: the church always, and I mean ALWAYS, came first. Since practice and game schedules conflicted with the church calendar, there was no discussion to be had: no sports for the Gerencser children. Why play baseball when you can go soulwinning and street preaching with your preacher father, right? While I played baseball and basketball in school, I didn’t afford my children that same opportunity.
  3. I regret not taking my family on vacations. The only “vacations” the Gerencsers took were trips to events or churches where I was preaching.
  4. I regret not taking off time from toiling in God’s vineyard to enjoy nature with my children. We lived in a lot of beautiful, wildlife-filled places, yet I was too busy to take the time to enjoy what was right in front of me. Hell was hot, death was certain, and Jesus was coming soon! Who had time for trees, flowers, hills, rivers, mule deer, and bobcats? Souls needed saving and Jesus was fixing to split the Eastern Sky as he returned to earth to judge the living and dead.
  5. I regret using disciplinary methods with my three older children that I now think are child abuse. While I moved away from such disciplinary practices later in life, there’s no other way to view the whippings and beatings my older sons received as anything other than ritual, Bible-inspired, Jesus-approved child abuse. I would not blame my oldest sons if they hated me and wanted nothing to do with me. That they still come around and we have good relationships is a testimony of love and forgiveness.
  6. I regret using my children as unpaid laborers for the churches I pastored. My children spent countless hours working with their father on church projects. While they learned many skills that they still use today, I can’t help but regret viewing my children as construction workers janitors, and groundskeepers. They were never given a choice. Preacher Dad said ______________. End of discussion.
  7. I regret not letting my kids be kids. Certainly, my sons and daughters did plenty of kid stuff — especially when I wasn’t around — but they lived in a glass house where appearance and perception were everything. God, church members, and the “lost” were always watching, I told my children, so we must always be kind and polite — even to assholes — and on our best behavior.
  8. I regret not exposing my children to a secular worldview. Instead, I built a bubble around them, protecting my children from the big, bad, evil world. While they have recovered nicely from the Fundamentalist indoctrination and conditioning of their youth, I can’t help but think these things harmed them as young adults.
  9. I regret not telling my children I loved them. I blame this directly on growing up in a dysfunctional home where my mom or dad rarely, if ever, expressed love for me. While I am a lot better with this now, I still could do even better. When I first embraced my youngest daughter and told her that I loved her, she had a shocked look on her face that said, “are you dying”? I can’t emphasize this enough: emotional distance between parents and children is often generational. I know it was for me. I look at my grandparents and parents and I clearly see this distance. They passed this on to their children. The only thing I know to do is to recognize this and do better.
  10. I regret being a hypocrite. As a pastor, to church members and the world, I was a pillar of morality and virtue, a man who always had his life under control; a man who rarely expressed anger. Behind closed doors, I could be a different man, far more temperamental, more easily provoked to anger. Oh, the stories that could be told to illustrate this point. I hope to get some of my children (and Polly) to come on my podcast and talk about these things someday.) Today, I want to focus on why I was this way. I was a loving, kind, generous man, especially towards church members and unbelievers. Yet, when it came to my family, I could, at times, be unloving, unkind, and lacking in generosity. Granted, I’ve come to this opinion thanks to hindsight. At the time, I thought I was just being a good Christian husband and father. Why was I this way? My version of Christianity demanded that I deny self, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. In doing so, I lost all sense of self. Thus, when I was behind closed doors, pent-up frustrations would come out, often in anger. If I had had a healthy view of self, I suspect things would have been different. I know that TV (which I deemed sinful) wouldn’t have gone flying out the front door. 🙂

The past is the past. There are no do-overs. At best, we get second chances to right the wrongs of the past or at least model and show that we have learned from the bad things we did previously. I know that’s the case for me. I see my grandchildren as an opportunity to do things differently, and I hope in the latter years of my life to forge better relationships with Polly and my children.

Does this mean that I was a bad man, unfit to pastor churches? I am sure some will come to that conclusion — thus finding yet another reason to dismiss my story out of hand — but I see myself as a broken, flawed man, someone deeply affected and scarred by his upbringing and immersion in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christianity. It would take me five decades before I realized how much harm IFB (and later Calvinistic) beliefs and practices had caused me, harm I passed on to Polly and our children (and Polly had her own dysfunction to deal with). I see that growing up with a mentally ill mother who tried to kill herself numerous times, constantly living in new houses and attending new schools, being sexually abused as a boy, and being left to fend for myself during the most formative years of my life, extracted a horrific price from me. Sure, I survived, but not without lasting scars. All I know to do is make an uneasy peace with the past and try to do better. I will leave it to those I love to decide if I have successfully done so. If not, I will keep trying. What else can any of us do?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Words Matter

words

When you say homosexuality is an abomination . . . you are saying your gay son and neighbor are abominable.

When you say all non-Christians will go to Hell when they die . . . you are saying your non-Christian mother, son, and neighbor will be tortured by God in the flames of the Hell for eternity.

When you say abortion is evil, sick, and murder . . . you are saying those who are pro-choice are evil, sick murderers.

When you say Christians are idiots . . . you are saying your Christian mother and grandfather are idiots.

When you say people on welfare are lazy, good for nothing bums . . . you are saying your out-of-work cousin with cancer is a lazy, good for nothing bum.

When you say atheism is immoral . . . you are saying that your atheist daughter and cousin are immoral.

You can’t divorce your words from their implications.

Words matter.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Quote of the Day: Listening to Those Who Have Left the Faith by Rick Pidcock

rick pidcock

One of the ways evangelicals have processed a growing awareness of religious abuse has been through starting conferences. The Exiles in Babylon Conference offered many helpful insights to racial trauma but continued to advance narratives that have caused sexual trauma in the church. The Restore 2022 Conference brought complementarians like Karen Swallow Prior and egalitarians like Scot McKnight together to discuss topics such as where God is during abuse, healing from religious trauma, and how churches enable abuse. Their goal was to address these issues within the framework of “restoring faith in God and the church.”

….

But too often with these conferences, there are underlying theological assumptions that fuel power dynamics that do not get questioned to the degree that they should. And when your stated goal is to restore faith in the church, you have theological territory to protect and are invested in a certain outcome that people who have been traumatized by the church may not be ready for or interested in.

Many people are having enough and deciding to leave evangelical churches while mourning the loss of their communities and hoping to discover a healthier experience of Christianity.

But many are leaving Christianity altogether.

Because conservative evangelical media outlets such as The Gospel Coalition continue to bloviate about those who are either deconstructing or deconverting, one has to wonder: Are conservative evangelicals at all willing to sit quietly and listen to those who have left?

And are progressive evangelicals any healthier at silent listening?

Imagine a space for processing such religion-fueled trauma that is led by formerly religious people for formerly religious people. Would it be possible for religious people to sit in silence and learn from atheists and agnostics about how their religion has caused deep trauma, consider how the formerly religious are healing, and learn from their insights in order to heal themselves?

Or must Christians always be leading and talking?

….

Theology by definition is concerned about the ultimate questions in life: questions about whether there is a God, why there is something rather than nothing, the purpose of life, our relationship with ourselves and everyone around us, and what happens after death.

As children, we long for the love and affirmation of our parents. And yet, we’re afraid of how big the world is and how insufficient our understanding of it feels.

In some ways, we’re asking, “Are we OK? And are we safe?”

….

[Janice] Selbie told BNG: “People embrace religions because they were born into them or turned to them during times of transition and vulnerability. Religion promises certainty, security, order and community. People remain religious for those very reasons, as well as fear of hell.”

For the formerly religious to walk away from their certainty, security, order and community can be one of the most vulnerable decisions anyone ever makes. “Divorcing religion means loss of family, community, support and identity. It is too hard for many even to consider,” Selbie said.

To walk away from the certainty of heaven is to embrace the possibility of hell. To walk away from the theology of your family is to embrace the disapproval that you spent years trying to avoid. To walk away from the support of your church community is to embrace the possibility of nobody being there for you when you face a life-threatening illness or when you simply want to hang out with familiar friends.

Deconstruction and deconversion can be like Pinocchio leaving the identity-forming, punishment threatening world of Pleasure Island and moving toward Monstro the whale — the ultimate danger everyone around you fears — for the sake of being present with who you’re learning to love, namely yourself and your neighbors.

But abusive theology preys on our mental, social, spiritual and sexual longings and infuses within us an identity that we’re fundamentally a problem and that we’re forever going to be punished.

Darrel Ray, founder and president of Recovering From Religion, explained during his session, “It’s like you can’t utter the word ‘sex’ without the word ‘sin’ coming out within the same sentence in almost any religious environment, especially if it’s conservative or fundamentalist. … The ideology itself plays a role in the trauma you experience.”

Of course, many kinder, gentler evangelicals might object, thinking that somehow you can hold to theologies that form negative self-identities and that celebrate justice through violence without being abusive, or suggesting that Christians are much kinder than in centuries past. To that defense, Ray asserts: “We may not be lopping people’s heads off. But I’m telling you, I’ve met plenty of Baptists who have been traumatized by the ideology of their Baptist faith and their church because there’s nowhere for a child to escape if they’re in that church and they’re constantly being told the outside is dangerous.”

In a recent podcast episode, author and former megachurch pastor Rob Bell said: “The water, if you’re a fish, is so difficult to see. The reason it’s so difficult to see is because everyone around you is swimming in it. There’s no observance of it because it’s the thing everybody’s immersed in. It’s too close to see.”

Formerly religious people have had the experience of swimming in the water that religious people exist in, yet currently have the perspective from standing on the beach.

According to [Janice] Selbie, it is not merely enough for Christians to redefine the water they’re swimming in to a more progressive understanding. She believes true perspective and the fullest healing comes when people leave the water altogether.

“I think even progressive Christians are still ‘drinking the Kool-Aid.’ I don’t typically invite still-religious people to speak at CORT because I think continued affiliation with the Bible is unhealthy when it comes to the LGBTQ community, safety of children and women’s rights.”

Progressive Christians tend to object. “In public and private, I receive angry input from ‘progressive’ Christians for not inviting them to speak at CORT. I won’t risk further traumatizing attendees by doing so, although I do still have Christian family. I do not think it’s possible for evangelicals or other religiously entrenched people to be trauma sensitive with regard to religious trauma, although they vehemently disagree.”

While Selbie would admit that not even all her conference speakers would agree with her belief in the necessity of leaving the water altogether, her assertion that religion encourages “fantasy over reality and often creates massive division (in family and nation) and trauma (individual and collective)” has been demonstrably true.

Atheists and agnostics who spend significant time invested in the church are especially positioned to bring clarity to how theology fosters abuse because they know the theology, they’ve experienced the power dynamics involved, and because they are free to question every facet of Christian theology and power.

— Rick Pidcock, Baptist News Global, What I Learned Listening to Others Who Have Left the Faith, May 25, 2022

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

In Light of Eternity . . .

living in light of eternity

“The surest thing in the world is not death and taxes, it’s death and eternity. Yet, we’re so unconcerned.”

“This life is a dressing room for eternity – THAT’S ALL IT IS!”

“Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for?”

“The surest thing in the world is not death and taxes, it’s death and eternity. Yet, we’re so unconcerned. What are you going to do when you get to eternity, if you can’t stick in an hour with God down here?”

Leonard Ravenhill, 20th Century Evangelical Revivalist

On Sunday, my wife, Polly, and I, along with our oldest daughter, went to Defiance to buy supplies for upcoming home improvement projects. Afterward, we ate lunch at Sweetwater Chophouse and then drove out to Independence Dam to watch the eagles. From there, we drove along the north side of the Maumee River, crossed the river, and then drove along the south side of the river back to Defiance. We then stopped at Lowe’s to buy an electrical cord for the new freezer we would have delivered on Tuesday. Polly also bought some flower bulbs.

As we returned to our automobile, the following discussion took place:

Polly: Are you ready to go home, old man?

Bruce: I didn’t even want to get out of bed today. (I’ve had a string of bad days, I mean really, really, really bad days.)

Polly: But look at all you did today!

Bruce: In light of eternity . . .

Polly: Pfft, laugh . . .

Bruce: laugh . . .

I am sure some readers are trying to figure out what was so funny about what I said, “in light of eternity.” Those who were raised in Evangelical churches and were pastors, evangelists, missionaries, college professors, youth pastors, youth leaders, and devout, committed church members see the humor in what I said. You see, our Sunday jaunt was of no consequence. Just a short road trip to get Bruce out of the house; a nice meal with family. There was nothing that happened that had eternal import. Just another moment in time with the love of my life and my daughter.

Back in our Evangelical days, we were driven to live our lives “in light of eternity.” We devoted our lives to the ministry; to winning souls; to teaching and building up the people of God; to homeschooling our children, preparing them to be warriors for Jesus. We had little time for the mundane things of life. We would go to dirt track races in the summer and take road trips on occasion, but the rest of our time was spent with our shoulders to the plow, working the fields of the world for God. We had no time for date nights or vacations. How could we? “Life is short, Hell is real, and death is certain,” we told ourselves. “Work for the night is coming when no man can work” and “prepare to meet the Lord thy God,” the Bible told us, words that motivated us to devotedly and selflessly work day and night for Jesus.

I was particularly taken with the Apostle Paul’s devotion to the gospel. He lived for the “sake of the gospel.” I thought it was my duty and obligation to do the same. That’s why I lived in beautiful southeast Ohio and never saw the sites. That’s why I lived in San Antonio and never visited the Alamo or walked the River Walk. Oh, I preached in front of the Alamo and stood above the River Walk raining words from the Bible down upon people’s heads, but no leisurely visits with family or friends. And that’s why I lived in Arizona and never saw the Grand Canyon. How could I bother with such trivial things when souls were dying and Jesus was coming soon. Even on the rare occasions we took “vacations,” we never took a vacation just for the sake of relaxation. In the 1980s, we took a trip to Cape Cod/Boston. Sure, we visited a few sites, but I was there to preach. We took numerous trips so I could preach at a church or conference. We saw wonderful scenery and sites along the way, but our goal was always the same: to preach the gospel and challenge the saints.

Hopefully, that explains to readers why we laughed when I said, “in light of eternity.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Dear Frank, Is Bruce Backslidden or Was He Never Saved To Begin With?

rick
Rick, 1996, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

Several years ago, I received a Facebook notification about approving something Rick, a friend of mine, wanted to post to my wall. Rick is a long-time friend, former parishioner, and frequent reader of this blog. What’s interesting about his request is that he meant his message to be a private one sent to a friend of his by the name of Frank. The reason I got the notification is that he inadvertently tagged me. Here’s the message Rick sent to Frank — also a man I have known for many years.message to frank

Don’t be put off by Rick’s poor language skills. Several years ago, Rick had a major stroke. This affected his ability to write sentences. Best I can tell, the stroke has not affected his ability to study and read the Bible, nor has it affected his ability to read religious materials.

I met Rick in the late 1990s. At the time, I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Rick, a Calvinist, was looking for a Calvinistic church to attend and someone recommended that he check out Somerset Baptist. Rick joined the church, happy in knowing that he had found a man who was conversant in the doctrines of grace (the five points of Calvinism). For the next five years, I would drive two times a week — thirty miles round trip — to New Lexington to pick Rick up for church.

rick and frank (2)
Frank and Rick, 1993, Somerset Baptist Church, Sunday Dinner

One Sunday night, while on our way to the church, Rick was waxing eloquently about double predestination and whether children who die in infancy and developmentally disabled people are automatically a part of the elect — those whom God, from before the foundation of the world, has chosen to save. I told Rick, with a slight irritation in my voice, that Calvinistic Baptist great Charles Spurgeon believed such people were numbered among the elect. Rick, not the sharpest tool in the shed when it came to social cues, continued to defend God having the absolute right to eternally torture anyone, including infants and developmentally disabled people, in the Lake of Fire. I could feel anger welling. I thought to myself, has Rick forgotten that I have a developmentally disabled two-year-old daughter with Down syndrome? Doesn’t he care how hurtful his words are? I slammed on the brakes and told Rick to get out of the car. He could walk to church, I told him. I quickly cooled down, telling him, I didn’t want to hear another word from him about whether infants and developmentally disabled people are elect. Rick complied, moving on to other hot button Calvinistic issues.

Let me share another Rick memory, one that I think readers will find funny. Rick worked third shift at a residential home for the developmentally disabled — Mount Aloysius. Unsurprisingly, Rick was quite tired by the time he arrived for Sunday morning church. Try as he might to stay awake, Rick would often fall asleep. Rick snored, so the entire congregation knew when Rick was sleeping. Sunday after Sunday I watched Rick fight sleep, his head bobbing back and forth during my hour-long sermons. One Sunday, Rick bobbed his head back and then forward just as he did Sunday after Sunday. This time, however, Rick’s head traveled forward farther than he intended, smacking the pew in front of him. I stopped preaching and went to Rick to make sure he was okay. Fortunately, the only thing harmed was his pride. After the service, I told Rick that perhaps he should skip the Sunday morning service when he worked the night before. That way he could be rested and mentally fresh for the Sunday evening service. By the way, this was the only time in twenty-five years of pastoring churches that I told someone, please don’t come to church.

I haven’t been Rick’s pastor for over twenty-seven years, and the last time I saw him was in 1996 when he and Frank drove to West Unity, Ohio to attend services at a new church I had planted. Since then, I have traded a few emails with Rick, but nothing of substance.

rick and bruce
Rick, Bruce, Greg, and boy, 1993 , Somerset Baptist Church, Sunday Dinner

Rick’s message is a reminder to me that people still talk about my deconversion. People who knew me well — as Rick and Frank once did — are still trying to square the pastor they once knew with the atheist named Bruce Gerencser. In Rick’s case, he wonders if am just backslidden, or is it possible that I never was saved. I am sure Rick prefers the backslidden explanation. I am sure trying to wrap his mind around the possibility of me never being saved is too much for him to emotionally and intellectually handle. If I was never saved, this means that Rick was taught for five years by an unsaved pastor, a man he heard expositionally preach hundreds of times; preaching that he believed was empowered by the Holy Spirit. I am sure he remembers the countless hours we spent after church talking theology. I am sure he remembers my love, kindness, and compassion, and my willingness to, week after week, drive to New Lexington and pick him up so he could attend church. I am sure he asks himself, how is it possible that the Bruce I knew was never a true Christian.

The easy out for Rick is for him to embrace Arminianism with its belief that saved people can and do fall from grace. Doing so would mean that I once was saved, but now I am not. Of course, Rick’s Calvinism keeps him from believing I have lost my salvation, so he is forced to psychologically torture himself with thoughts about whether I am backslidden or was never a Christian to start with.

I wish Rick nothing but the best. I hope he will, in time, come to terms with my current godless state. I chose to be exactly where I am today. Or did I? Perhaps all of this has been decreed by God, and the person ultimately responsible for my lost condition is the divine puppet master, John Calvin’s God.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

What Possible Motive Would I Have for Falsely Claiming to be an Atheist?

easy believism

On occasion, an Evangelical commenter will suggest that deep down in my heart of hearts I KNOW that I am still a Christian; that my claiming to be an agnostic/atheist is a ruse or some sort of misdirection meant to lead people away from finding out the truth about what and who I really am. Such a conclusion is derived from reading my writing through blood-of-Jesus-colored glasses, seeing faith where there is none. Several years ago, one commenter even went so far as to suggest that my capitalization of words such as Bible, Heaven, and Hell, was proof that I am, despite my protestations, still a Christian. Taking this approach, of course, allows once-saved-always-saved Baptists to square my past with the present. Once saved by the miracle-working power of Jesus, no matter what I say or do, I cannot be separated from the love of God. No matter how hard I try to divorce myself from God or run from his presence, I remain eternally married to Jesus. Jesus is the epitome of the abusive husband in a no-divorce state. The only way to be free of Jesus is to kill him. I wonder . . . is it possible to kill Jesus twice? 🙂

Most thinking people will recognize that the aforementioned argument is absurd and makes a mockery of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Salvation is reduced to intellectual assent to a set of propositional facts about the nature of God, the human condition, the need of redemption, the threat of judgment, and the promise of eternal life. If someone, as I did when a fifteen-year-old boy, sincerely believes these facts, then he or she is instantly and eternally saved. After being instantaneously saved, it matters not how the saved sinner lives. He SHOULD desire to live right. Indwelt by the Holy Spirit, those born from above SHOULD desire to attend church, pray, read the Bible, and follow the commands and precepts of God. But if they don’t, they are still saved, no matter what! In other words, a Christian could renounce Jesus, reject the teachings of the Bible, embrace atheism, and live a life of debauchery; it matters not, he is still saved. Supposedly, such a life would bring God’s judgment and chastisement, but if it doesn’t, the Christian is still saved. Several Christians have suggested my health problems are God’s chastisement of me for my rebellion against him. The problem with this line of argument is that my health problems started years and decades before I divorced myself my Jesus. What was God up to then?

If I am still, way down in the depths of my imaginary soul, a Christian, why would I claim to be an agnostic/atheist now? Point to one good thing that comes from me professing to be an atheist. I live in rural Northwest Ohio. The Evangelical Jesus is on public display everywhere I look. In the Williams/Defiance/Fulton/Henry County area, three hundred churches dot the landscape. Almost all of them skew to the right theologically and politically. I am not only an atheist, I am also a pacifist and a Democratic Socialist. I am everything most people in the quad-county area are not. Being an outspoken atheist has resulted in social ostracization. While I have in recent years tried to pick my battles more carefully, I am still labeled by Christian zealots as an immoral tool of Satan. I continue to despise the preferential treatment given to Christianity and I deplore attempts to promote theocratic thinking and scientific ignorance. I have concluded that locals can live with my godlessness as long as I don’t shove it in their faces. Of course, there is this little problem called The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. Anyone who bothers to do a search on my name — I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world — will quickly find out my views about God, Christianity, the Bible, Evangelicalism, Trump, right-wing politics, asphalt auto racing, and the designated hitter. I am not hiding my lack of belief as much as I am being more careful in choosing when, where, and how I want to take a stand against God and his anointed ones.

eternal security

It seems to me that it would an easier path for me if I said I was a Christian and lived as most local Christians do — as practical atheists, espousing a cultural Christianity that is trotted out for holidays, weddings, funerals, and periodic outbursts of self-righteousness over perceived secular attacks on the baby Jesus. I would, in effect, live as if God doesn’t exist. Such living is hypocrisy at its best — saying one is a Christian, yet living as if God is a myth. Surely, if people say they are Christians, shouldn’t they make a good faith effort to live according to teachings of the Bible? Shouldn’t their lives reflect their beliefs?

I can’t think of one rational reason for me to still be a Christian, yet claim to be an atheist. Being a Christian, even in name only, is a path of ease, one that requires nothing from me. Atheism, on the other hand, brings social and cultural criticism, ostracism, and attack. I do my best to be an example of a good atheist, someone who lives according to the humanistic ideal. I try to let my good works show the kind of man, husband, father, and grandfather I am. I want local Christians to know that people can be unbelievers and still live moral and ethical lives. Most of all, I want my life to be a glaring contradiction when how I live is compared to presuppositions and stereotypes about atheists. A Christianity worth having is evidenced not by beliefs, but by how a follower of Jesus lives. So it is with atheists. How we live our day-to-day lives is vitally important. People are watching us, trying to figure out what kind of people we really are. I want to be the best atheist in town, one who loves his fellow man and, when needed, lends his care and support to those in need. Surely, atheists and Christians alike should desire what is best not only for their progeny, but also for their friends and neighbors.

If you can come up with a reason for someone to still be a Christian, yet claim to be an atheist, please share it in the comment section below.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Do Christian Apologists Really “Love” Atheists and Other Non-Christians?

i love you

Spend enough time in the trenches battling Evangelical apologists and you will more than likely be told by one or more of your combatants, I love you. Over the past fifteen years, I have had countless Christians say they loved me. Sometimes, such pronouncements irritate me. A particularly obnoxious Evangelical told me that he “loved” me, to which I replied, sorry, I am not gay. The man in question missed my dripping sarcasm and thought I was making some sort of homophobic slur. What I wanted this zealot to see is that I didn’t buy the notion that he “loved” me. In fact, based on my understanding of love, none of the Christian Romeos who have professed their love to me actually do.

Evangelicals are taught from an early age that God commands them to love everyone; that demonstrating this love is evidence that they are children of God; that the two great commandments are to love God with all your heart, soul, and might and love your fellow man. Why is it then, that some of the nastiest, most hateful people on earth are Evangelicals? Long-time readers of this blog have witnessed numerous Evangelicals spew venomous bile in their comments about something I have written. Yet, these preachers of hate can turn right around and say, Bruce, I love you, often adding, and God does too).

Many Evangelical apologists believe that telling people the “truth” — truth being their interpretation of a Bronze Age religious text — is an act of “love.” When confronted with their hateful, bombastic words, Evangelicals will often respond, I am just telling you what God says! In other words, God is to blame for their words, not themselves. What a cop-out, right? This allows Evangelicals to rail against LGBTQ people, adulterers, fornicators, abortionists, liberals, Catholics, and atheists without being held accountable for their words. All these zealots are saying is, THUS SAITH THE LORD!

People raised in Evangelical churches likely remember being told by their pastors that Christians are to speak the truth in love. This idea is found in Ephesians 4:15: But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. However, when taken in context, this verse teaches that Christian pastors and evangelists are to speak the truth in love to the CHURCH, not the world at large. Context is a bitch, eh?

Evangelical apologists who use hate and bigotry to preach their warped gospel of “love” do great damage to their cause when behaving in ways that cause non-Christians to feel hurt and shame. Of course, these zealots think that feeling “guilty” after being preached at is a sure sign of Holy Ghost conviction. I sat in countless church services growing up where a “man of God” stomped, spit, and thundered as he savaged and abused the congregation for whatever behavior(s) he deemed an affront to the thrice-holy God. A preacher skilled at manipulating human emotions can cause congregants to suffer emotional stress; that, come invitation time, will result in much weeping and wailing at the church altar. And then at the next preacher’s meeting, pastors will share stories about how God used their sermons to bring conviction and repentance. No, what brought conviction and repentance was skillful manipulation of human emotions.

True love is not found in words. Countless men have told women they “loved” them just so they could have sex with them. Women suffer and endure physical abuse because their abusers apologize and say, I love you. The Bible says that the Christian God is a God of love. However, his behavior suggests otherwise; that God is, in fact, a mean, violent, sadistic son-of-a-bitch. There’s nothing in the Bible that remotely suggests that God is a loving deity. What about God demonstrating his love to us in the atoning death of Jesus? Sorry, but even here, God comes off as a bad person. According to Evangelicals, God, the Father violently and viciously punished Jesus, his Son, on a Roman cross. The father’s torture of his son led to his death. Why did the Father do this to his Son? Not because of anything he did. Oh no, God rained physical terror down upon Jesus because of what other people did — namely the human race. What kind of father acts this way toward his innocent progeny? Love? Not a chance. The death of Jesus and his father’s culpability in his death is better suited for an American Horror Story series or an episode of Criminal Minds.

The Bible does contain a wonderful passage that illustrates true love. I Corinthians 13:1:8,13 says:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.Charity never faileth . . . And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

When is the last time you have seen this kind of love coming from Evangelicals — especially those who roam the Internet and social media seeking opportunities to attack and condemn unbelievers? Not often, if ever.

Many Evangelicals believe that they have a duty to tell sinners (anyone who doesn’t believe as they do) the “truth.” It matters not whether they were given permission to do so. Sinners need to hear the gospel even if they don’t want to. These soulwinners likely have been told by their pastors that if they don’t witness to sinners when given the opportunity and these sinners die and go to Hell, God will hold them accountable for the sinners going to Hell. Ezekiel 33:8,9 says:

 When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

The majority of Evangelicals never share their faith, never witness, never preach the gospel to sinners. They might invite those sinners to church so their preacher can evangelize them, but outside of that, most Evangelicals keep the world’s greatest story to themselves (and we should be very glad that they do). The remaining few believe God has commanded them to preach the truth in love. Unbelievers, like it or not, will have to endure being harassed, cajoled, and shit upon by people who “love” them.

I spent fifty years in the Christian church. Twenty-five of those years were spent “loving” people as detailed in this post. This warped idea of love caused me to view unsaved family members, friends, and neighbors as prospects for Heaven. I wasn’t interested in them as individuals. All that mattered were their souls. If I determined they were unsaved, I attempted to evangelize them — either verbally or by giving them literature/tracts. Holidays with unsaved family were opportunities to witness to my heathen relatives. Several times a year, I would have evangelists come and preach to the churches I pastored. The evangelists and I, along with zealous congregants, would make a concerted effort to knock on doors and witness to the lost. I would ask church members to submit the names and addresses of people they believed needed salvation. We would then go visit these sinners and attempt to evangelize them. Having their names ahead of time gave us an in, much like a vacuüm salesman who knocks on your door and say, Hello Mrs. Jones. My name is Clarence. Betty Jones, your sister-in-law, gave me your name and asked me to stop by and share with you the dirt-cleaning power of the Rainbow vacuüm cleaner. May I come in and share the good news of clean carpets? Most people aren’t interested in getting “saved” (or buying a vacuüm cleaner), but once their friend or family member’s name is mentioned, they feel obligated to listen to the sales pitch. (There is a close connection between door-to-door sales methods and the techniques used by many Evangelicals to evangelize unbelievers.)

love 1 corinthians 13

During the deconversion process, I realized that I had a warped understanding of love. I had to learn to love people without conditions or expectations. Evangelicals can often be busybodies, sticking their noses where they don’t belong. Believing that the Bible is some sort of divine blueprint or owner’s manual will do that to a person. Having marital problems? Let Evangelical Sally “share” with you what the Bible says about marriage. Having financial problems? Let Evangelical George “share” with you God’s plan for economic prosperity. Whatever problem people are facing, Evangelicals have a Bible proof text meant to address their “need.” Behaving this way is seen as “love,” but it is anything but.

Polly and I decided fifteen or so years ago that when our children became adults and later married that we would not “lovingly” meddle in their lives. We love our children enough to let them live their lives on their own terms. Do they make stupid decisions? Absolutely. Do we have opinions about the choices they make? Sure. But, as long as they are not doing something that causes physical harm, we leave them alone. And we expect the same from them. I am sure our children have opinions about decisions Polly and I have made. Because of the love we have for one another, we recognize personal boundaries and don’t cross them. Now, if one of my children asks for our opinion or advice, then we will give it. If not, mouths are zipped.

In the same manner as we treat our children, Polly and I treat our neighbors, friends, and coworkers. We love these people as they are, expecting nothing in return. We love them because they matter to us and we want them to have happy, prosperous lives. Again, this doesn’t mean we agree with everything they say or do.

One other thing I have learned post-Jesus is that I don’t have to love everyone. That’s right, not everyone is worthy of my love. In fact, there are a few people I despise and hate — here’s looking at you, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Margorie Taylor Greene. Generally, I try to treat people with respect and I expect the same in return. Those who don’t respect me for who I am are quickly erased from my iPad contact app. I couldn’t do that as a pastor. Frankly, I had to “love” more than a few asshole church members. I find it refreshing to shower my love on those deserving of it. Life is too short to spend time trying to love those who hate and despise who and what I am. Does this make me a bad person, an unloving man? I don’t think so. I have great capacity to love others — even people with whom I disagree. The people closest to me know that I am polite and respectful to everyone I come in contact with. It’s not in my nature to be mean or hateful. That said, I won’t go out of my way to love people who have misused and abused me or my family.

I have met numerous good people over the years through this blog. For those I have known for years, I have come to love them. Six years ago, a woman named Carolyn sent me an email that said, I love your writing, but your grammar needs some help! At first, I was offended, but then I realized she was right. From that point to today, virtually everything I have written for this site has been edited by her. We have become friends. We likely will never meet one another face to face, but yet we are friends and have a love for one another as good friends do. All of us, I suppose, have people we have met on the Internet/social media who have become friends we dearly love. Isn’t that awesome? I can love people all across the globe without ever meeting them in the flesh.

Have you experienced the Evangelical “love” mentioned in this post? Did you have to relearn what it means to love after you deconverted?  Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser