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Category: Black Collar Crime

What Do Sexual Predators Look Like?

bob gray jacksonville florida preaching against elvis
IFB Pastor Bob Gray preaching against Elvis, 1956. Gray would later be accused of sexual misconduct. Gray was a serial pedophile.

Evangelicals tend to be submissive and trusting of their pastors, believing these men are specially chosen by God to teach them the Bible and lead them in paths of righteousness. Roman Catholics treat their priests similarly. When these pillars of moral virtue behave in ways not expected, Christians have a hard time believing that Pastor or Father __________ would ever sexually abuse children, take sexual advantage of teenagers, or manipulate congregants for sexual gratification. They just KNOW that their trusted leaders would never do such things, and even after these men of God are convicted and sentenced to prison, some Christians continue to believe that their pastors/priests are innocent.

Part of the problem is that pastors and priests don’t resemble what many people expect sexual predators to look like. The late Bob Gray pastored Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida for thirty-eight years. He was, by all accounts, a wonderful example of a Christian man who devotedly and resolutely followed after Jesus. Yet, when Gray died, he was scheduled to be tried on charges of sexually abusing twenty-two children. All told, Gray was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor for fifty years. His predatory ways can be traced all the way back to his days as a student preacher. Gray was, from the get-go, a rotten apple; yet, for many years, he was a revered man of God who pastored one of the largest church in the country. He didn’t “look” like a predator, and neither do most of the men who prey on naive, innocent, defenseless children, teens, and adults.

There are thousands of Bob Grays pastoring churches — from Catholic parishes to IFB congregations. Sometimes these predators spend their lives in one church, grooming entire generations to accept their predatory ways as normal. Other men move from church to church, ever on the prowl for new victims. Those who blindly trust their pastors risk being taken advantage of. Yes, most pastors are decent, thoughtful human beings, but enough of them are abusers that only the naïve among God’s people would blindly trust these men with their children and teenagers. Numerous times a week, Evangelical preachers, mainline pastors, and Catholic priests are arrested and charged with sex crimes. And so are deacons, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, youth ministers, Christian school teachers, and church volunteers. Churches are magnets for predators. These perverts know that Christians tend to be trusting of others — ignorantly believing claims of salvation and transformation. Even people who were convicted of sex crimes before they were “born again” are often trusted to be on their best behavior. After all, Jesus forgave them of their sins, shouldn’t Christians do the same? Evangelicals, in particular, love stories about “God” giving people second chances. Years ago, a pastor whom I know well told me that his church didn’t do background checks on workers because their past, no matter how heinous, was “under the blood.” In his mind, the precious blood of Jesus was some sort of magic potion that cured pedophiles and sexual predators.

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Several years ago, the Toledo Blade ran an editorial that asked the question, What do Predators Looks Like? Here’s what the article had to say (behind paywall):

A third Toledo pastor now stands accused as part of a sex-trafficking ring that abused teenage girls. And while the idea of clergy members colluding to exploit vulnerable girls shocks the community, it is worth remembering that human traffickers rarely look like villains out of central casting.

Federal prosecutors have alleged that the Rev. Kenneth Butler, 37, the self-proclaimed prophet affiliated with Kingdom Encounter Family Worship Center, is part of the same human-trafficking conspiracy that allegedly involved the Revs. Cordell Jenkins and Anthony Haynes. Those men were arrested in April and are behind bars awaiting trial on sex trafficking and child pornography charges.

To the community, these men appear to be honorable, religious leaders. Authorities say that appearance is a façade.

Experts say that sexual predators who target children will often seek trusted positions in the community that will allow them access to young people and give parents a false sense of security. They seek jobs as coaches or teachers, clergy or youth leaders.

Evil-doers in the movies often look evil. Evil-doers in real life often work hard to look harmless. They look ordinary. They look trustworthy. They do not look as if they were cast to play the part of a villain.

In recent years, society’s understanding of human trafficking has drastically changed to reflect the scope and prevalence of the problem. This is largely thanks to the work of pioneering researchers, one of the most prominent of whom is Celia Williamson of the University of Toledo.

The nation is only beginning to come to grips with the nature and extent of human trafficking. And it is another Ohioan who has been the leader on this issue in Congress — Rob Portman.

But none of this changes the depth of the damage trafficking can do to one life or one family. And the trafficker may be hidden in plain, respectable, sight.

The pastors referenced in this editorial are three respected Toledo pastors.

Since March 2017, I have published over 900 stories detailing clerical criminal — most often sexual — misconduct.  The total number of criminal preachers is much higher, of course, since some arrests don’t make the news and many predators aren’t caught. Some critics, thinking I have an ax to grind, say that the only reason I highlight these stories is that I hate God/Jesus/Christianity and I want to embarrass the Church. Emails from such people are laden with Bible verses or personal attacks, both meant to silence me. What I find interesting is that these people rarely mention the victims, and when they do, they often attack them, suggesting that the sex was consensual or, as in the case of convicted felon Pastor Jack Schaap, the teenage victim was the one who seduced the adult offender. I suspect people attack me because to do otherwise would expose their culpability in allowing sexual predators to prey on church congregants in plain sight.

People of authority, be they pastors, doctors, lawyers, counselors, or teachers, are often privy to intimate details about the lives of those they serve. This access to the darkest, deepest, most vulnerable parts of our lives makes us easy targets for “servant” predators. In the 1960s, my Evangelical grandfather suggested that my mother see a Christian therapist in Lima, Ohio. According to my grandfather, this psychiatrist was a committed follower of Jesus; a man who would deliver my mom from her psychological demons. Why Mom trusted her father I will never know. After all, when she was a child, he repeatedly sexually molested her. But, trust him she did, and this doctor proceeded to get Mom hooked on powerful narcotic/psychotropic drugs. This Evangelical servant of the Lord, once his female patients were addicted, demanded they provide him sexual favors in trade for the drugs. My mom complied with his demands. Is it any surprise, then, that my mom repeatedly tried to kill herself?

We will never totally put an end to sexual abuse. There will always be men (and, to a lesser degree, women) who sexually take advantage of others. When caught, these perverts should be punished, and anyone who enables their behavior should be punished too. Those whose lives were marred and ruined by sexual abuse deserve compassion and care — not blame and guilt. For churches, in particular, fundamental changes must be made to how pastors and church workers are vetted. As things now stand, Christian sects and churches are viewed as enablers and protectors of “men of God” who sexually abuse and take advantage of congregants. Church leaders whine and complain about being unfairly tarred with a broad brush, but the fact remains is that many sects/churches/pastors remain deliberately deaf, blind, and dumb when it comes to sexual abuse. Until the matter is taken seriously, church leaders might as well get used to being tarred. The damage caused by predator preachers is such that I simply don’t have the time to listen to or worry about hurting the feelings of “offended” church leaders. (Please read How Should Churches Handle Allegations of Abuse?) When my email inbox is filled with mail from abuse victims, it’s hard to give any attention to butt-hurt preachers who think their reputation and the “testimonies” of their churches are being hurt by sexual abuse allegations. All I have to say is this: do better.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Jerome Milton and His Son Accused of Defrauding Elderly Church Couple

pastor jerome milton

Jerome Rocky Milton, pastor of Open Door Bible Church in Tyler, Texas, and his son, Jerome Anthony Milton, stand accused of stealing over $30,000 from an elderly church couple through credit card withdrawals.

CBS-19 reports:

A Tyler pastor was accused of taking money from an elderly couple and also opened bank accounts without consent from his previous church to pay personal bills, police documents show. 

Jerome Milton, 65, of Tyler, was charged Saturday with two counts of credit or debit card abuse against the elderly and one count of property theft between $2,500 and $30,000. He remained Friday in the Smith County Jail since his arrest on bonds totaling $550,000. 

Milton is the reverend for Open Door Bible Church in Tyler, and according to the arrest affidavit, Milton was helping take care of an elderly couple at church and had the power of attorney and finances for them.

Another CBS-19 report adds:

The son of a Tyler pastor who is accused of stealing over $30,000 from an elderly couple through credit card withdrawals has been indicted on a similar charge. 

A grand jury handed down an indictment for Jerome Anthony Milton, who is the son of Rev. Jerome Rocky Milton, on a credit or debit card abuse against the elderly charge on March 31.

Rev. Milton, 66, of Tyler, was indicted Dec. 9 on a charge of property theft between $30,000 and $150,000 (against an elderly individual), according to judicial records. 

Police documents show Rev. Milton unlawfully took $30,881.70 from an elderly married couple through multiple check withdrawals from their bank account and ATM transactions. He is then accused of using the funds for his own benefit, such as car payments and hotel rooms in Brownwood.

According to the March 31 indictment, over a seven-month period, the younger Milton fraudulently benefited from using the same elderly couple’s debit cards.

An arrest affidavit stated that Rev. Milton served as the reverend at Open Door Bible Church in Tyler at the time of his arrest, and he was caring for the elderly married couple from his church. He had the power of attorney and finances for the couple.

The woman has impaired memory, while her husband is completely bedridden due to an injury, the affidavit said.

In the affidavit regarding Rev. Milton’s arrest, the document stated that Jerome Anthony Milton was seen making ATM withdrawals from the elderly man’s bank account. 

Rev. Milton told police his son would make withdrawals for him because the elderly man liked to keep cash in his wallet. The elder Milton couldn’t provide a reason why the man, who was bedridden, needed so much cash, the document explained.

October 2021 Black Collar Crime post about Jerome Milton.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

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.

Black Collar Crime: United Methodist Youth Pastor Christopher Reyes Accused of Sending Sexually Explicit Photos to Underage Girl

christopher reyes

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Christopher Reyes, a youth pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church in Marco Island, Florida, stands accused of sending sexually explicit photos to an underage girl.

The Marco Eagle reports:

A former youth pastor at a Marco Island church faces charges involving a three-year period where he asked for nude photos involving a girl.

Police arrested Christopher Jaime Reyes, 26, a youth pastor at Wesley Methodist Church of Marco Island, following an investigation that found he exchanged photos of a sexual nature with an underage victim.

According to police, Reyes solicited nude photographs of the victim and sent her explicit photos of himself. Reyes is also accused of attempting to meet the juvenile on several occasions.

….

He faces charges of “transmission of material harmful to minors by electronic device or equipment” and “soliciting a child for unlawful sexual conduct using computer services or devices.”

Reyes was employed at the church from 2016-2021.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

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.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Pastor Robert Fenton Accused of Sexually Abusing Church Teen

pastor robert fenton

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Robert Fenton, a former youth pastor at Abide in the Vine Church in Owego, New York, stands accused of sexually abusing a church teenager in the 1990s.

WHTM-27 reports:

A former youth pastor from Bradford County has been accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl over 20 years ago during a church-approved “betrothal,” according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General.

Robert Fenton, 52, is being charged with sexually abusing and assaulting a 14-year-old girl from 1996 to 1998 in Bradford County, when he was 26 years old. According to the announcement from the AG’s office, Fenton allegedly claimed that “God wanted the victim to be his spouse” because of a vision he had. The AG further explained that Fenton allegedly got approval from leaders at Abide in the Vine Church to “betroth” the girl to him “with an understanding that no sexual activity would occur.”

The alleged victim, now over 40 years old, first told police about the abuse in 2019, according to the criminal complaint released with the announcement. After the “betrothal,” the victim said Fenton allegedly convinced her parents to take her out of public school so he could visit her at home. Fenton allegedly touched the girl’s genitals and made her touch him.

In 1998, the victim said she and Fenton got engaged, at which point he allegedly made her perform oral sex on him, the affidavit said.

After the wedding was called off because Fenton reportedly got pancreatitis, the relationship ended around August-September 1998. Fenton then allegedly told the girl that she ruined his ministry before moving to Australia. The AG’s Office said that Fenton is a paster at a church in Queensland, Australia.

Once the AG’s office took over the investigation in July 2021, officers interviewed friends of the victim, congregation members, and her parents. Her parents reportedly explained that they were aware of and agreed to Fenton’s betrothal. They also said that the church elders at one point set up a 6-month “no contact” period, during which Fenton and the girl could only write letters. However, the parents claimed that Fenton would “push the boundaries”.

The pastor of the church was reportedly unsupportive of the relationship when Fenton first explained his vision. However, the pastor’s son told the AG’s office that the girl’s family and Fenton pressured the pastor and likened the relationship to Mary and Joseph, with Mary being much younger. The pastor’s son said that his father didn’t know the relationship was sexual.

….

Fenton has been charged with Indecent Assault of a Person under 16, Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse with a Person Under 16, Aggravated Indecent Assault, Corruption of Minors, and Statutory Sexual Assault. The AG said his office will work with the U.S. State Department and Department of Justice to try to extradite Fenton from Australia.

“The defendant used his power and authority in his religious community to lie, manipulate and regularly abuse a young girl in his community. I promised we would hold anyone who was abusing children accountable – and Robert Fenton is no exception,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “Survivors experience a lifetime of anguish and trauma trying to overcome the impact of abuse. I want survivors to know – we believe you, and we will not let predators get away with the sexual assault of children.”

The website for Pennsylvania’s Attorney General states:

Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced the charges against former youth pastor Robert Fenton for regularly assaulting a 14-year-old member of his religious community from 1996 to 1998.

Fenton, 52, is believed to be associated with a church in the Queensland area of Australia as a pastor. A letter has been dispatched to the church notifying them of the charges. The Office of Attorney General will seek his extradition in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Justice. He was charged with statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault and related charges. His alleged victim, now in her 40s, reported to the Pennsylvania State Police that the defendant began sexually abusing her when she was approximately 14 years old and Fenton was 26.

“The defendant used his power and authority in his religious community to lie, manipulate and regularly abuse a young girl in his community. I promised we would hold anyone who was abusing children accountable – and Robert Fenton is no exception,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “Survivors experience a lifetime of anguish and trauma trying to overcome the impact of abuse. I want survivors to know – we believe you, and we will not let predators get away with the sexual assault of children.”

In July 2021, the Office of Attorney General in partnership with state police began investigating the case following a referral by the Bradford County District Attorney’s Office. Investigators learned that Fenton was a youth pastor in Bradford County and declared that God wanted the victim to be his spouse. He sought and received the approval of church leaders to “betroth” the victim to him with an understanding that no sexual activity would occur. However, between 1996 and 1998 the victim sustained frequent sexual abuse by Fenton.

Between July 2021 and February 2022, investigators interviewed multiple former church officials and associates of Fenton and the victim. These interviews corroborated the victim’s allegations, stating that they recalled then 26-year-old Fenton was in a “relationship” with the victim and understood them to be “betrothed” with the blessing of their religious community. The victim came forward to law enforcement after leaving the religious community and seeking counseling for the trauma inflicted by Fenton’s abuse.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

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.

The Americans: Who Knows What Goes On With the Good Pastor?

pastor tim
Paige and Pastor Tim

Scene from the FX television show, The Americans.

Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip (Matthew Rhys) are lying in bed talking about their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) secretly reading her pastor’s (Kelly AuCoin) diary.

Elizabeth: I told her it was crazy and dangerous and she could never do it again

Strange look on Phillip’s face

Elizabeth: What?  If there was something on him with a parishioner…

Phillip: Elizabeth…

Elizabeth: No, No, I know, but it’s interesting right?  Who knows what goes on with the good pastor.

Who knows, right? There is a myth perpetuated by churches and pastors alike that pastors are morally and ethically superior beings — men who rise above the fray; men untainted by the world; men given to prayer and studying the Bible; men who have the most important job in the world. Christians don’t come to this belief in a vacuüm. After all, this is how the Bible describes the qualifications of men who divinely called by God to be pastors/bishops/elders:

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)  Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (I Timothy 3)

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;  But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. (Titus 1)

The Apostle Paul, writing to two of his protegés, penned both of these passages of Scripture. Paul makes it clear in I Timothy that what he is writing is the standard all pastors must follow — they MUST be these things. Pastors often preach from both of the passages, detailing the high and lofty qualifications men such as themselves must meet in order to ever-so-humbly lead churches. Of course, no pastor, living or dead — the Apostle Paul, Timothy, and Titus included — has ever met these qualifications.

As a pastor, I struggled with these verses, knowing what they said, yet also knowing what kind of man I really was and what kind of men my colleagues in the ministry really were. How could I be a pastor, I thought, and not live according to the standards set forth by God? I had God, the Holy Spirit, living inside of me, and I had the inspired, inerrant, infallible King James Bible. Surely, with the Holy Spirit leading and teaching me and the words of the living God never far from my reach, I should have been able to live according to Paul’s (God’s) dictates in Titus and I Timothy. Try as I might, there was never a day in my ministerial career when I hit a home run. On many a day, I failed miserably in my quest to be what God demanded I be.

Not measuring up caused me quite a bit of angst and depression. I was able to assuage these thoughts by making sure that I spent time in prayer before entering the pulpit. This way, all my sins were forgiven, and I was, at that moment, the man of God Paul said I must be. This approach was what I now call the Baptist version of Catholic confession.

I am sure my admission here will cause some Christians to say, See! Bruce was never qualified to be a pastor. He never should have been preaching. However, these Pharisaical zealots fail to see that no pastor meets the standards set forth in the Bible. That they think some men do is the real problem.

Why do many Christians think their pastors are better than everyone else; that their pastors are pillars of virtue and morality? One reason is that far too many Christians are blind and naïve when it comes to pastors. They see what they want to see, needing to believe that they are being taught and led by men called of God — men who are bright and shining examples of what Christians should be. What these sincere followers of Jesus fail to see is that pastors, early in their ministries, learn that a certain lifestyle is expected of them. Pastors learn to conform to expectations — outwardly, at least.  Pastor Bruce and Sister Polly may have been having a shouting match on their way to church, but praise God, once they opened the doors of the church, they had on their Oh how I love Jesus smiles and were ready to serve the people gathered together to hear Wonderful Sermon #3,666.

Most pastors, of course, will never admit what I have written above. Their jobs depend on them playing The Game; on them being first place entrants in the dog and pony show. Years ago, towards the end of my career as a pastor, I said in a sermon that I understood what it meant to be lustful — that I as their pastor had lusted after women who were not my wife. This was an honest admission, one that every pastor could make if he but dared to do so. After the service, a church member came up to me and let me know that he found my admission depressing; that he came to church to be inspired, and that he expected his pastor to live a life of v-i-c-t-o-r-y. In other words, this person wanted me to fake it, pretending to be something I was not.

If the Black Collar Crime series has taught readers anything, it has taught them that pastors are no different from other Christians — and no different from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. The question, who knows what goes on with the good pastor? can be answered thusly: no one knows. Not his ministerial colleagues; not his parents; not his wife; not the deacon board; not denominational leaders. No one knows everything about him, not even the person he sleeps beside night after night.

I am not, in any way, saying pastors aren’t good people. Many of them are, but they are not what many Christians think they are. At best, they are fleshly men who have demanding, stressful jobs. At worst, they are lazy good-for-nothings who have found a way to loaf and get paid for it. Pastors can and do sin, the difference being that they are often skilled at hiding their sins. If congregants only knew what went on behind the closed doors of studies and manses, I suspect many would lose their faith. And it is for this reason pastors continue to play The Game. Christians need someone to look up to, someone who is a shining example of godliness. I am convinced that Christianity would be better served if pastors just admitted that they are humans; that they have no magical spiritual powers; that they aren’t special in any way. Can’t do that, though. Churches might get the idea that they no longer need professional clergy; that they and their communities might be better served with laymen who lived and worked locally and preached on Sundays. Why, what would pastors ever do if they had to be like the rest of us?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

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.

Wash, Rinse, Dry and Repeat: What Happens When Jesus Doesn’t Fix What Ails You

blood of jesus

Jesus told his disciples in John 15:5, without me, ye can do nothing, and in Matthew 19:26, Jesus said with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. The Apostle Paul told Athenian idolaters that one true God was he who gives to all men not only life and breath, but all things (Acts 17). In his New Testament writings, Paul, the founder of Christianity, advances the notion that God is the sovereign of the universe and that everything that happens is according to his purpose and plan. Paul cautions Christians about trying to live life in their own strength, that doing so will end in failure. He wrote in Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. The negative inference is clear, I can’t do anything without Christ, echoing Jesus’s words in John 15, without me, ye can do nothing.

Evangelicals believe that humans are inherently broken, born with a sin nature, and at variance with the Christian God. According to Evangelicals, everyone, from fertilized eggs in the womb to infants and from children to centenarians, is predisposed to sin — sin being the transgression of the law of God in thought, word, and deed. Countless human behaviors, especially those of a sexual nature, are, according to the Bible — an ancient religious text supposedly written by the Christian God — violations of God’s law. Unbelievers — people who have not asked Jesus to save them from their sins — are told that God hates sin and those who do it, and the only way to gain God’s favor is to prostrate oneself before the thrice-holy God and confess that you are a worthless worm deserving of eternal punishment in Hell; that the only person who can save you from your sin is Jesus. If you humble yourself before God, begging him for deliverance from your sin, God will forgive you of your sins (but only if you are one of the elect, according to Calvinists). Once you have sufficiently humbled yourself before God and he has saved you, God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, takes up residence in your “heart.”

Once people have been saved, they are instructed to rely on God to lead and direct their lives. Their “sin natures” haven’t been eradicated, so Christians must rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them through a world bent on destroying them. Evangelicals are frequently reminded by their pastors about the importance of studying the Bible, tithing, praying, tithing, and faithfully attending church. Yet, despite all of these things, Evangelicals continue to sin, often at levels equaling or exceeding that of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

Even those who are called men of God — people who supposedly have a close relationship with God — are not immune from sinning. These preachers of righteousness and holiness often commit the very sins they thunder against each and every Lord’s Day. And as the Black Collar Crime series reveals, preachers can and do rape, steal, molest children, and murder. While defenders of all things Evangelical will say that while such reports are disturbing, most pastors don’t do such things; certainly they would be right, but what is never addressed is the how and why these things happen. If God is who Evangelicals say he is and the Holy Spirit lives inside every believer, why is there so much sinning going on among Christians and their leaders? Why does rarely a day go by without one or more Evangelical preachers appearing in the news for some sort of sexual crime? And these are just the ones caught with their pants down!

Evangelicals practice what I call wash, rinse, dry, and repeat. These followers of Jesus are commanded to daily confess their sins. I John 1:8-10 states:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Weekly, daily, and hourly Evangelicals plead with their sin-forgiving God to wash their “hearts” clean. Without any proof besides feelings of relief or words found in an ancient religious text, Evangelicals believe that sincere prayers of repentance are met with God’s forgiveness. With their sins forgiven, Evangelicals return to a world awash in sin, promising God that they will not succumb to temptation and the snares of Satan. Yet, moments or hours later, Evangelicals find themselves yet again in need of confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness from God. It is for this reason that Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) luminary John R. Rice encouraged Christians to “keep [their] sin lists short.” Rice suggested that when Christians become aware they have sinned they should immediately stop and confess the sin and seek forgiveness. Since Evangelicals sin in thought, word, and deed, following Rice’s admonition would require them to continuously pray. If only the Bible had something to say about this. Oh wait, it does! 1 Thessalonians 5:17 states, praying without ceasing.

Several years ago, a person I know well was arrested for DUI and sentenced to ninety days in jail as a repeat offender. This man has had numerous arrests for a variety of crimes. Father to numerous children with several women, this man has spent much of his life battling drug addiction. Having had and lost countless well-paying jobs and having ruined his relationship with his family, his life, a tragedy to behold, is a screaming example of the failure of Jesus to fix what ails the human race.

This man was raised in an Evangelical home, attended a private Christian school, and was surrounded by extended family who were preachers of the gospel. His parents lived what is best described as up-and-down lives, in and out of church as they dealt with familial, marital, and employment problems. Counseled by pastors to GET RIGHT WITH GOD, they would return to the church, often coming to the church altar to confess their sin and renew their commitment to Christ. And for months or years their renewed devotion would give the appearance of a family happily in love with Jesus. And then, as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, Satan and the lusts of the flesh — according to their pastors — would trip them up, causing them to fall headlong into sin. Often they would remain in the pigsty of sin for months or years before one of God’s men convinced them to return to church to do business with God. This endless cycle of sin, confess, repent, forsake, repeat was played out dozens of times over the years, leading to untold psychological and physical harm.

blood of jesus

The drug-addict son, following what has been modeled to him by his family, has run from Evangelical church to Evangelical church, hoping to find the forgiveness of sins and victory over his many addictions. At these churches, he is met at the door by preachers who promise him that Jesus can fix whatever ails him. GET RIGHT WITH GOD, he is told, by Evangelical family and strangers alike. If he will just confess his sins and seek forgiveness, Jesus will swoop in and give him victory over crack, PCP, meth, alcohol, and his love of sexual immorality. His devoutly Evangelical grandparents continue to pray, encouraging their sinful grandson to get back in church so he can get the help he needs.

This rolling train wreck has been going on for over a decade, with no end in sight. Those closest to him continue to encourage him to cast all his cares on Jesus, telling him that if he will do so, Christ will give him victory over his addictions. No one dares to suggest — I am not within his circle of influence — that Jesus and his deliverance peddlers are the problem; that Evangelical beliefs concerning human nature, sin, and forgiveness are actually hurting this man, not helping him; that the best thing he could do is get as far away as possible from Christian family members and preachers who are trying to “help” him; that the church and Jesus are in a codependent relationship with him, and are in no position to offering lasting help.

Those of us raised in the Evangelical church know well the wash, rinse, dry, and repeat way of living. Frequently reminded of our sins by preachers, evangelists, Evangelical writers, and the Bible, we spent countless hours confessing our sins and seeking God’s forgiveness. The churches we attended would call for special meetings where revivalist preachers would come in and stomp on our feet with old-fashioned hellfire and brimstone preaching. Countless time was spent on our knees crying out to God, pleading for forgiveness and deliverance from sins of commission and omission. Sufficiently revived, off we would go, ready to slay our adversary Satan, tearing down strongholds by and through the mighty power of God.

Over time, worldly complacency would set in, and we would need yet another reviving, another impartation of God’s mighty Spirit. Is it any wonder that many Christians weary of the sin, confess, repent, forsake, repeat process and give up or practice the time-honored Evangelical spiritual discipline of “fake it until you make it”? Spend enough time in Evangelicalism and you will learn expected behaviors, complete with a language code to be used to give the appearance of living life as a Jesus-loving, Satan-hating, sin-forsaking Christian. The Apostle Paul himself approved of this approach when he told the Church at Thessalonica to, abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

It is evident, at least to me, that Evangelicalism stands in the way of people truly dealing with and overcoming negative behaviors. Over its long history, the Christian church has used fear of judgment and punishment to keep people dependent on God for the forgiveness of behaviors deemed sinful by the church. Over time, the sin lists changed, but one fact remains: Evangelicals cannot find victory over sin in their own strength, and only God can forgive and deliver them. Failure to seek forgiveness results in God chastising (punishing) them for their sin. Want to avoid the punishment of the BDSM-loving God? Evangelicals are told to prostrate themselves before God and beg for forgiveness.

Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to tell God to take a hike. What has he done for them anyway? Instead of granting them victory over sin, he keeps them dependent on him, often allowing temptations that cause them to fail. What we would think of a person who left meth on the nightstand of his guest room while his recovering drug addict friend was staying with him. Yet, this is exactly what God does. He tempts and tries, and even causes people to fail. Why? Because he wants Christians to love him more and seek his forgiveness. In other words, he is the abusive husband who beats his wife so she will love him more. As is often the case in matters of domestic abuse, removal from the immediate circumstance and divorce is often warranted. Perhaps Evangelicals need to tell God See ya later and turn their attention to finding lasting solutions to issues such as drug addiction. Not only is Jesus not the solution, but he is also the problem. As long as Evangelicals refuse to see this, they will remain trapped in a constant state of wash, rinse, dry, and repeat.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Major Foster Used Bible Verses to Pressure Women Into Having Sex with Him

pastor major foster

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Major Foster, pastor of Philadelphia Pentecostal Holiness Church (no web presence) in Ellendale, Delaware, stands accused of using Bible verses to pressure church women into having sex with him.

The News Tribune reports:

A pastor is accused of a “years-long pattern of abuse” by using religious scripture to pressure female churchgoers into having sex with him in Delaware, law enforcement officials say. Major Foster, of Lincoln, is facing additional charges after a grand jury indicted him for unlawful sexual contact in November. Officials are calling for any additional potential victims to come forward, according to the Delaware Department of Justice. The alleged abuse occurred between 2013 and 2020 while Foster was a pastor at the Philadelphia Pentecostal Holiness Church in Ellendale.

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He’s also accused of making inappropriate comments and instigating “prolonged hugs during which he made inappropriate sexual contact with his victims,” the release said. The November indictment provided to McClatchy News identified three women Foster is accused of having sexual contact with while “he knew the contact was offensive to the person or occurred without their consent,” it said.

A victim’s husband once confronted Foster, who then pushed him in response, according to prosecutors. He was charged with offensive touching. The church’s Facebook page identified Foster as a bishop and shared videos of him preaching in 2019. The page’s most recent post was in November 2020. “We have reason to believe that Foster’s alleged years-long pattern of abuse includes as yet unreported, additional instances,” state Attorney General Kathy Jennings said in a statement. “We ask that any additional victims or witnesses with information come forward. We will be there to support you.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Updated: Black Collar Crime: Former Evangelical Pastor Ronnie Hyde Sentenced to Life in Prison for 1994 Murder

ronnie hyde

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In 2017, Action News Jacksonville reported:

Ronnie Hyde, 60, was arrested Tuesday in the 1994 murder of 16-year-old Fred Laster and the FBI began searching his Jacksonville Beach home, as well as a property of his on Jacksonville’s Eastside.

….

For more than two decades, Laster was known as “John Doe” to investigators looking into his death. His dismembered body was recovered behind a dumpster on Highway 441 near Interstate 10 on June 5, 1994.

In a related story, Action News reported:

A Duval County judge denied bond on Wednesday for Ronnie Hyde, 60, who has been charged in the death and dismemberment of Nassau County teen Fred Laster.

Twenty-three years after the killing, the suspect in the case faced a judge for the first time.

Hyde was wearing a red jumpsuit which indicates a high risk inmate. He will likely hire an attorney of his own.

Andrew Sturm was at the hearing to support him. He said Hyde is his friend and counselor.

“We recommended him to my mom and my nephew who he sees and he’s done nothing but great in my life,” said Sturm.

Sturm said he met Hyde through Crosswater Community Church.

According to Sturm, Hyde counseled his 13-year-old nephew and while he doesn’t suspect Hyde harmed him, he said he still called the FBI after learning of his arrest.

“Per my nephew’s own words, no one put words in my nephew’s mouth, Ron never did anything at all inappropriate, Ron never touched him at all,” said Sturm.

In court, Hyde tried speaking with the judge but the judge stopped him saying it was not the time to speak about his case.

Sturm said this is not the Hyde he knows.

“Ron is an extremely intelligent person, very much a loner he likes to play his guitar. He would play at county festivals and stuff like that,” said Sturm.

The Florida Times-Union added:

Authorities credited advancements in technology, increased exposure from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the assignment of a fresh detective to the cold case unit with the recent break in the case.

“All it takes is that one spark of information that can lead to an arrest,” Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter said.

Local FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles Spencer asked the public for help as the case continues, saying Hyde traveled abroad, was “a named subject in a previous child exploitation case” and had access to numerous children over the years.

Hyde, who lists his employment as a licensed mental health counselor at Crosswater Community Church in Nocatee, previously worked as a youth pastor at Strength for Living Church in Jacksonville where he first met Laster’s family.

Rev. Jack Millwood of Hyde’s current church issued a statement: “We are working and cooperating fully with the FBI in their investigation of Ron Hyde. I am personally not aware of any victims of Ron Hyde that involve anyone associated with Crosswater. If any person or persons has any information regarding potential victims of Ron Hyde, please contact the local FBI office.”

A neighbor watching the flurry of law enforcement activity at Hyde’s Jacksonville Beach home said there was something about the place always made her uneasy as did Hyde.

“It was always a house we skipped when we went trick-or-treating,” the neighbor said.

A similar search took place throughout the day at a second home on Thelma Street in Jacksonville. Spencer said agents will continue an extensive search of the homes, but would not disclose what exactly investigators are looking for.

“The search could take several days and no stone will be left unturned, I can assure you of that,” Spencer said, asking residents for patience during the process.

Hunter said investigators met with Laster’s family in November 2015 to collect his siblings’ DNA samples, building a profile that they could possibly match with the DNA taken from the torso found in 1994. Three months later, lab tests confirmed the remains and Laster’s family members were related.

A match still left the case unsolved. A second DNA profile recovered from a flannel shirt found near the torso in 1994 had no match in a law enforcement database. But last April, investigators sifted through trash cans outside Hyde’s home and retrieved nasal swabs containing DNA that was also matched to the flannel shirt.

“I am extremely proud of the detectives who worked on this extremely difficult case,” Hunter said. “… It has allowed the family to have some closure.”

The sheriff demurred when asked whether there was a sexual nature to the case. Still, court records show Laster’s sister told authorities she and her brother had spent the night at Hyde’s home a year before he went missing and that she woke up to find Hyde nude and trying to quietly wake her brother.

Laster’s siblings said they confronted Hyde numerous times over the years, and each time he seemed to provide a different version of events regarding Laster’s disappearance. In one breath Hyde told the siblings he had dropped Laster off near Pecan Park, in another breath he said it was in the Oceanway area and in another still he said he’d taken Laster to their grandmother’s house in Nassau County.

Eventually, Lasters’ siblings gave up trying to get answers from Hyde. They said they last spoke to him in 2003.

You can read a February 28, 2018, Florida Times-Union report about Hyde’s case here.

Today, Hyde was sentenced to life in prison.

The Florida Times-Union reports:

A Duval County jury took a little more than three hours to find former Jacksonville Beach youth pastor Ronnie Leon Hyde guilty of killing and dismembering a 16-year-old Yulee boy in 1994.

Following a tearful victim impact statement from Travis Laster, whose brother Fred Laster’s remains were found in Columbia County behind a gas station dumpster, Hyde was sentenced to life in prison.

Hyde, 65, stood motionless as Judge Tatiana Salvador read the sentence just after 3:30 p.m., his attorney Ann Finnell at his side. The verdict came after four days of witness and evidence presentations to the jury, wrapping with Hyde testifying in his own defense.

Standing at a courtroom podium, not looking at Hyde, Travis Laster said his entire family all lost someone who “was loved dearly.” And since no one knew the remains were his until a 2016 DNA test, his grandmother died never knowing what happened to her grandson, his brother said.

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When Hyde addressed the court in his own defense Thursday and again when he was questioned by the prosecutor the next day, he denied having done anything to the boy who he knew and spent a lot of time with.

He said the teen was upset over a dispute with his sister when he last saw him and he had bailed out of Hyde’s car on U.S. 17 in Nassau County and disappeared.

…..

Laster’s torso was found on June 5, 1994, behind a Lake City dumpster and missing the head, legs and hands, police said. Evidence was collected but his identification wasn’t unknown for years.

In 2014 the case was advertised on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website and prompted Laster’s twin sister to contact staff saying it could be him. More DNA samples were obtained and submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which compared results to the evidence found at the 1994 scene.

That led to his identification in 2016 and eventually to Hyde, believed to be the last person to see Laster whom he met in the mid-1980s and formed a relationship with the Laster family, according to the investigation.

A search warrant at Hyde’s Jacksonville Beach home uncovered more evidence and led to his arrest in 2017. He was charged with first-degree murder, plus 25 child-pornography possession counts that will be processed separately in court.

A motive was never clear.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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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.

Black Collar Crime: Charlie Hedrick Read Bible Verses to Victim Before Assaulting Her

charlie hedrick

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Charlie Hedrick, a Christian man who hails from Rowan County, North Carolina, stands accused of sexually assaulting a six-year-old girl.

WBTV-3 reports:

Charlie Jerry Hedrick was arrested on Wednesday in the 5100 block of Woodleaf Road, according to the report. Hedrick has been charged with first degree sexual offense involving a victim under the age of 13, and taking indecent liberties with children. Both are felony counts.

The investigation in February after Rowan County deputies received a report that Hedrick had sexually abused a 6-year-old girl during 2015. The victim, who was known to Hedrick and who is now 12 years old, was able to tell investigators that he would he would bring the girl to his home on Sundays after church, read scripture from the Bible to her and then molest her.

According to the report, the abuse occurred several times during that year, then stopped as the child became older.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

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