Evangelicalism

Questions: How do You Deal with Evangelical Family and Friends?

i have a question

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Jen asks:

How do you deal with Fundamentalist/Evangelical family and friends? I’m surrounded by them. Now that I’m an evil Liberal, I’m not taken seriously. When I do speak up, they use silencing techniques. I haven’t been outside the fold for very long, so I have a knee-jerk reaction to their control tactics (I hate them). I’m hoping we can find a way to have a peaceful relationship, but everything is so one-sided. It’s their way or else. I think part of the issue is that I was always the silent submissive one. Now that I can think for myself and speak up, they don’t know how to handle it.

Jen, a self-described “evil liberal,” is having trouble getting along with Evangelical family and friends. I am sure scores of readers understand Jen’s predicament. She wants to get along with her Evangelical friends and family, but she’s having difficulty doing so due to their incessant need to dominate and control things. She suspects that her outspokenness after being silent and submissive in the past is perhaps part of the problem. Her family and friends don’t know what to do with the “new” Jen.

jumping man

Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist. If you have not read the post, Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? I encourage you to do so. Many “enlightened” Evangelicals hate being called Fundamentalists. They will stomp and scream, objecting to being lumped together with the Steven Andersons, Fred Phelps, and Franklin Grahams of the world. Imagine a toddler jumping up and down, screaming, I’M NOT A CHILD. That’s many “offended” Evangelicals. As my previously mentioned post makes clear, true Evangelicals are theological and social Fundamentalists. If it walks, talks, and acts like a Fundamentalist, it is a Fundamentalist. Part of the problem is the far left of the Evangelical tent is inhabited by Christians who are not theologically or socially Evangelicals, yet they claim the Evangelical label. These Evangelicals are actually liberal or progressive Christians, but, for some reason, perhaps familiarity or family connections, they refuse to abandon Evangelicalism.

Jen’s family and friends sound like they are typical Evangelicals, so I am going to assume that their beliefs are Fundamentalist. What do we know about Fundamentalists? First, Fundamentalists believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Second, Fundamentalists tend to interpret the Bible literally. Third, Fundamentalists have a black and white view of the world. And fourth, Fundamentalists crave certainty. These four things breed arrogance and often lead to the boorish behavior Jen describes in her comment. Fundamentalists aren’t interested in seeking truth. In their minds, they have already found it. Fundamentalists think their beliefs are one and the same with the mind of God. How can they not think this way? God, the Holy Spirit, lives inside of them and is their teacher and guide. Armed with an authoritative, infallible book, Fundamentalists are certain they know the answers to every question. Doubt this premise? Ask yourself when is the last time you have heard a Fundamentalist say, “I don’t know,” or “that’s an interesting question, let me think on it and get back with you.” Never, right?

Certainty stunts or retards intellectual growth. That’s why many Evangelical preachers haven’t changed their beliefs in years, if ever. One of my favorite U2 songs is “I Still Haven’t Found What I am Looking For.

Video Link

Evangelicals typically don’t say they haven’t found what they are looking for. Instead, they believe they hit the knowledge jackpot when Jesus reached into their wicked, sinful lives and saved them, imparting to them new life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  At that moment, all things became new, including their knowledge and understanding of, well, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

Imagine, if you will, a room of Evangelicals having a discussion about any of current social hot button issues. They are in agreement, say on abortion or same-sex marriage. God has spoken, end of discussion. Thus saith the Lord, right? Into the room walks liberal Jen, the Jen everyone has been praying for; praying that she will see the “light.” Jen thinks that her Evangelical family and friends might appreciate her view on the subject being discussed. So, she shares her progressive viewpoint, and just like that, the oxygen is sucked out of the room. The looks on the faces of her family and friends tell her all she needs to know: “I have spoken out of turn. How dare I share a different opinion. How dare I suggest that there are other ways to look at issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage.” “What’s next,” they think. “Is unsaved Jen going to tell us that LGBTQ people are fine just as they are?” God forbid, right?

And therein lies the problem when it comes to trying to get along with Evangelical family and friends — especially when there is a herd of them. Dissenting opinions or “unbiblical” speech is NEVER welcome. Everyone is expected to kowtow and conform to Evangelical truth. So what are the Jens of the world to do?

First, Jen can shut up and refrain from entering discussions. She can continue to be a quiet, submissive wallflower. No one should have to do so, but countless non-Evangelicals, not wanting to have conflict, choose this path.

Second, Jen can say, “dammit, I have just as much right to speak my mind as anyone else! I am NOT going to be silent!” While I admire such resolve, such an approach is not without danger. I have corresponded with numerous ex-Evangelicals who were ostracized or banished the moment they dared to pet the proverbial cat the wrong way. Readers might find, Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist helpful. In this post, I detail the dangers of speaking your mind. Just remember, once you open your mouth and say _________________, you no longer control what happens next. I know former Christians who spend the holidays at home alone because they have been excommunicated over their heretical, liberal beliefs.

Let me share a personal story:

With my parents being dead, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Polly’s parents. This abruptly changed in 2010. I left the ministry in 2003 and abandoned Christianity in November 2008. In early 2009, I sent out my family-shattering letter, Dear Family Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter radically changed our relationship with Polly’s Fundamentalist family.

Christmas of 2009 was best remembered by a huge elephant in the middle of the room, that elephant being Polly and me and the letter I sent the family. No one said anything, but the tension was quite noticeable.

2010 found us, just like every year since 1978, at Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. This would be the last Christmas we would spend with Polly’s parents and her extended family. We decided to blend into the background, and besides short pleasantries, no one talked to us. Not that they didn’t want to. We found out later from one of our children that Polly’s uncle wanted to confront me about our defection from Christianity. Polly Mom’s put a kibosh on that, telling her brother-in-law that she had already lost one daughter and she was not going to lose another. (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005.)

I appreciate Polly’s Mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family. I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people and I couldn’t ask for better in-laws.

Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and through the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats, and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism made for an uncomfortable evening.

Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephew’s had bought on the cheap at Big Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, to go poo-poo on, poo-poo being the Fundamentalist word for shit.  This was the last straw for us.

On our way home the next day, I told Polly that I couldn’t do it anymore and she said neither could she. So, we decided to stop going to Polly’s parents’ home for Christmas Eve. We do try to see Polly’s parents during the holiday, but we no longer attend the family gathering on Christmas Eve. Making this decision saddened us, but we knew we had to make it. (BTW, our children still attend the Christmas Eve gathering.)

After Polly and I deconverted in 2008, we decided to take the “seen, but not heard” approach when around her family. Everyone knew we had left Christianity, yet that fact did not get in the way of their assaults on our beliefs and politics. Ever been around people who were making a “point” without addressing you directly? That was family holidays for us. After a while, we got tired of being pummeled; tired of being treated as problems that needed fixed. We loved being around Polly’s family — food, fun, and fellowship, right? Well, that ended the moment we dared to step outside of the confines of approved family beliefs.

You see, that’s what Fundamentalist certainty does. Polly and I were forced to forge a new path and start new family traditions. Sure, we miss the “good old days,” but life moves on. Polly’s family — those who are still among the living, anyway — remain staunch Fundamentalists. It is unlikely that they will change their minds any time soon. Yes, Polly and I changed our minds, and many of you did too, but we are the exceptions to the rule. Once Fundamentalism takes root, it is almost impossible to change your ways. When you are totally invested in being “right,” admitting you might be wrong is damn near impossible.

Jen is in a difficult spot, and I can’t and won’t tell her what to do. She has to survey the land, so to speak, and determine what she can live with. It is unlikely her Evangelical family will change, so she has to weigh what comprises, if any, she is willing to make. Is she willing to be silent, submissive Jen? If not, can she live with the conflict that is sure to follow? Is she willing to risk losing the relationships she has with family and friends? Choosing the latter will most certainly cost her — painfully so.

Are you an ex-Evangelical? How to handle your relationships with Evangelical family and friends? Please share your sage advice in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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How to Deal with Christian Well-Wishers

i am praying for you

Saint Christopher Hitchens died eight years ago (December 15, 2011). As many of you do, I miss Hitchens’ quick wit and acerbic tongue. While I disagreed with Hitch politically, we had much in common when it came to our critiques of Evangelical Christianity. I had a deep love, respect, and admiration for the man.

Several months after Hitchens’ death from esophageal cancer, his last book was released. Titled Mortality, the book was an introspective look at human mortality — in particular his own. I heartily recommend this book to everyone, Christian or not. Hitchens wrote:

  • The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of ‘acceptance,’ hasn’t so far had much application to my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been ‘in denial’ for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by the gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read — if not indeed to write — the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity.
  • To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
  • Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.
  • It’s normally agreed that the question ‘How are you?’ doesn’t put you on your oath to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like, ‘A bit early to say.’ (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, ‘I seem to have cancer today.’) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of ‘life’ when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite; the equally nasty double-cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose . . . It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body.
  • The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct god how to put them right.
  • However, one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound . . . In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.
  • Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down.
  • So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.

Live long enough, and your thoughts will increasingly turn towards your own morality. I am sixty-two and in fragile health. I am facing yet another health challenge, one that, frankly, worries me. I will have a CT scan next week, and then see the surgeon the week after for the results. I don’t want to make something out of possibly nothing, so I will refrain from talking much about this until the doctor says, you have ________________. Besides, my wife’s health problems this year are enough to worry me without adding more to my already full plate.

When Polly landed in the hospital in January, had major abdominal surgery in August, and was off work for two months, I was confronted with her fragility too. I thought, she could die!? No, no, no, that’s not how it’s supposed to happen! I am the sicko. I am first in line when it comes to dying. Funny how “life” doesn’t give a shit about what we think or want. “Life” just happens, regardless of our objections and protestations. “Life” ain’t fair, and not everything is unicorns, rainbows, and puppies. Live long enough, and the circumstances of life are going to deal you a lousy hand — with or without Jesus. All any of us can do is endure and hope for a better tomorrow.

Being an unbeliever, and having Christian friends, neighbors, and workmates often puts you in a difficult place when hard times come your way. You certainly want empathy and support from those closest to you, but when those people are Christians, their help is often couched in religious verbiage. It’s hard enough when you are feeling well to deal with Jesusy platitudes, but when you are sick, in pain, or dying, the last thing you want to hear is religious drivel.

A September 2010 Associated Press story shared Hitchens’ view on such things:

Stricken with cancer and fragile from chemotherapy, author and outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens sits in an armchair before an audience and waits for the only question that can come first at such a time.

“How’s your health?” asks Larry Taunton [who later wrote a fraudulent book about Hitchens that alleged Hitch might have become a Christian], a friend who heads an Alabama-based group dedicated to defending Christianity.

“Well, I’m dying, since you asked, but so are you. I’m only doing it more rapidly,” replies Hitchens, his grin faint and his voice weak and raspy. Only wisps of his dark hair remain; clothes hang on his frame.

….

For some of his critics, it might be satisfying to see a man who has made a career of skewering organized religion switch sides near the end of his life and pray silently for help fighting a ravaging disease.

He has an opportunity: Monday has been informally proclaimed “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day.”

Christopher Hitchens won’t be bowing his head, even on a day set aside just for him.

“I shall not be participating,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

….

Taunton is devoutly Christian yet has developed a fast friendship with Hitchens, who appeared at a similar debate sponsored by the organization last year. Taunton is among those praying for Hitchens, and Hitchens takes no offense.

The way the English-born Hitchens sees it, the people praying for him break down into three basic groups: those who seem genuinely glad he’s suffering and dying from cancer; those who want him to become a believer in their religious faith; and those who are asking God to heal him.

Hitchens has no use for that first group. “‘To hell with you’ is the response to the ones who pray for me to go to hell,” Hitchens told AP.

He’s ruling out the idea of a deathbed change of heart: “‘Thanks but no thanks’ is the reply to those who want me to convert and recognize a divinity or deity.”

It’s that third group — people who are asking God for Hitchens’ healing — that causes Hitchens to choose his words even more carefully than normal. Are those prayers OK? Are they helpful?

“I say it’s fine by me, I think of it as a nice gesture. And it may well make them feel better, which is a good thing in itself,” says Hitchens.

But prayers for his healing don’t make him feel better.

“Well, not any more than very large numbers of very kind, thoughtful letters from nonbelievers, some of whom know me, some of whom don’t, asking me to know that they are on my side,” Hitchens said. “That cheers me up, yes.”

Hitchens doesn’t know exactly how “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day” began, other than that it’s one of those things that appears on the Internet and goes viral. He declined an invitation to appear at a rabbi’s prayer service in Washington that day, and he doesn’t see any point in the exercise.

“I’m perfectly sure that there is nothing to be gained from it in point of my health, but perhaps I shouldn’t even say that. If it would do something for my morale possibly it would do something for my health. We all know that morale is an element in recovery,” he said. “But incantations, I don’t think, have any effect on the material world.”

Every time I mention a personal health problem, I can count on receiving blog comments and social media messages saying this or that Christian is praying for me. My standard response is to either ignore their comments or politely say “thank you.” In saying “thank you,” I am not, in any way, validating their beliefs or the existence of the Christian God. All I am doing is saying that I appreciate their thoughtfulness. Having spent most of my life in the Christian church, I know that people often say “I’m praying for you” when they don’t know what else to say or do. If it’s a one-off, I’m fine with their “praying for you” comment. It’s when they repeatedly tell me that they are praying for me that annoys me. There’s no need to keep reminding me that you are praying for me — if you are. Often, “praying for you” becomes an easy way to do nothing, much like “thoughts and prayers” every time there is another mass shooting.

Instead of doing the least you can do — praying — how about putting feet and hands to your prayers and meaningfully doing something for the sick, hurting, and dying? I am as guilty as the next person when I use social media emoticons or “thinking of you” comments to express my concern for someone. It is so easy to click LIKE and then move on to a funny cat video. For both the religious and the godless, instead of empty words, perhaps we should think about what we can do to help others. How can I make a difference in my friend’s, neighbor’s, or workmate’s life?

To Christians who might read this post, I ask you to pause for a moment before you say to an atheist, agnostic, or unbeliever, “I’m praying for you.” Ask yourself: why am I saying these words? What help will my words be to others? Is there something else I can do instead of uttering a religious cliché? Does this person already know I am praying for them? Do I really need to remind them that I am doing so?

Look, it’s not easy confronting the mortality of our families, friends, and neighbors. Rarely does a week go by when I don’t read a newspaper obituary about someone I knew. Someday, it will be someone else reading my death notice. Not only are Polly and I battling serious health problems, we also have to deal with older family members who are dropping like flies. Just this week, we found out one of Polly’s aunts has only a few months to live. Her husband died a year or so ago. Polly’s mom has been at death’s door for months. Her father was recently admitted to the hospital for an infection and is now in a nursing home for the umpteenth time. He is sliding, ever-so-slowly, into dementia. The last time we visited Mom and Dad, he spoke all of a dozen or so words to us. It’s hard to believe that this feeble old man at age sixty-five was working in a factory and doing construction work on the side. I can say the same for myself. It seems like yesterday, I was a strong, viral man, one who hunted, played competitive sports, and did all his own auto and home repairs. Last weekend, I hired three of my grandchildren to rake our yard. I quietly wept as I thought, yet another thing I can no longer do.

Instead of saying to me, “I’m praying for you,” perhaps both of us would be better served if you said nothing. Instead of empty religious clichés, how about a look that says, “I understand” or a gentle hug that reflects our shared humanity. Or better yet, how about sharing a meal or hoisting a drink in honor of our friendship? Last Sunday, Polly and I had dinner at Taco’s Nacho’s with Dave and Newana Echler. Dave and I have been friends for over fifty years. For several years, I was their pastor. We have each helplessly watched as the other battles life-threatening illnesses. Every time we get together I wonder, will this be the last time we see each other?

The Echler’s are Christians. Newana is a Nazarene preacher’s daughter. They were heartbroken when Polly and I left Christianity. Yet, our friendship has survived. How? Because we chose to set religion and atheism aside, and, instead, focus on the things we have in common: good food, love of backroad travel, and family. We have so much shared history, I would hate to lose them as friends. As we left the restaurant, I reminded myself of how blessed I was to have the Echlers as friends. I am sure they privately pray for me, and while I can’t do the same for them, rarely does a day go by that I don’t think of them and wonder how they are doing. Every time we part company, we briefly embrace and say, “I love you.”  Love. Is this not what really matters? It was Dave who drove to Fort Wayne on the day of Polly’s surgery to be with me. It was Dave who pressed $300 in my hand, knowing that we were going through difficult times financially. It seems to me that instead of saying, “I’m praying for you,” what Christians and heathens alike need are tangible, thoughtful expressions of kindness and love.

What say ye, dear readers? Please leave your pithy, erudite thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Christopher Hitchens is in Hell

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Originally published in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

According to those who KNOW the mind of God (Please see Do Evangelical Christians “Know” the Mind of God?) and KNOW the names written in the Book of Life, when Christopher Hitchens died on December 15, 2011, he went straight to Hell to be tortured day and night by the Evangelical God for refusing to admit said God exists and for rejecting the salvation proffered by Jesus Christ. (The irony here is that all four Evangelicals mentioned in this post are Calvinists, men who believe no one can “choose” to be saved.)

Al Mohler, Fundamentalist president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had this to say:

al mohler tweet christopher hitchens

Rick Warren, Fundamentalist pastor of Saddleback Church pontificated thus:

rick warren tweet about christopher hitchens

Doug Wilson, Fundamentalist pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho said:

We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever.

And finally, Chris Hohnholz, a writer for the Defending Contending blog (link no longer active), took the pious approach and said that Hitchens lived his life as a hater of God, but since no human can know the true spiritual state of any person, he couldn’t say whether Hitchens is in Hell:

The question that stands before us today of course, is where is Christopher Hitchens today. According to Mr. Hitchens, he simply ceased to exist, nothing more. But for the Christian, we know that we exist for eternity once this mortal body ceases functioning. There are only two possibilities as to where, Heaven or Hell. As Mr. Hitchens was created by God, and was bound to God’s laws, as we all are, he can only be in one of those two places. At first, it may seem quite easy to figure it out. He denied God, spoke vehemently against the Christian faith, and was often hateful and vitriolic in his speech regarding it. Considering that he made the statement there would be no deathbed conversion, it would be a simple thing to declare God sent him to hell. However, the truth is, we simply do not, and cannot know.

It is clear that Mr. Hitchens made a career of hating the very idea of God. But it is also clear that he was a common sinner just like the rest of us. He had a conscience, he was aware of right and wrong. He, like the rest of us, committed acts that were in violation of that conscience. We know that our consciences are God’s laws written upon our hearts. When we violate our conscience, we are violating God’s laws. Additionally, Mr. Hitchens debated with many Christians, he had heard the gospel presentation many times. There is little question that by the time of his death, Mr. Hitchens knew what God required of him. It is that time just prior to his death that we cannot know about. Is it at least possible, that as he faced those last moments, knowing death was coming that he considered those sins he committed, that he contemplated the gospel he had denied so many times, that he just might have repented and trusted Christ. If we are intellectually honest, we must say that it is possible. And since we cannot know, we hope that is what happened. We hope that we will find Mr. Hitchens in Heaven one day, for we do not wish the wrath of God on any man.

But we must also be honest say that he may not have repented. It is entirely possible that Mr. Hitchens held on to his rejection of God all the way into death. If so, Mr. Hitchens now stands before God in judgment for his sins. And not just for his atheism. As said before, our consciences are merely God’s law written on our hearts. When any man or woman breaks those laws, through lying, stealing, coveting, lusting, or blaspheming, they have sinned against a holy and righteous God. It is not just because he was an atheist that Mr. Hitchens may have stood condemned, it is because, as we all are, he was a sinner against the God who created him. And if that indeed is what occurred, even we Christians must mourn his death, for we do not wish Hell on any man. But we also rejoice that God is glorified, because His justice is perfect.

So what does that mean for the Christian? First, let us not run around proclaiming we know where Christopher Hitchens is, only God knows that. Let us share with people the truth, that if he repented and trusted Christ (which is our hope), he is in Heaven. But if he remained in his sins, he was condemned (as we all deserve). Let us not rejoice that another atheist voice is silent, that presents us as unkind and unloving. But let us not ignore that what he taught was blasphemous. As we engage in conversation with others on this, let us remember that, whatever Mr. Hitchens fate was, all of us face the same date with death.

This “sounds” nice, but don’t be deceived. I have heard these words many, many times, and they are words uttered by people who don’t want to look bad before the world so they refrain from saying in public what they proclaim every week in the pulpit or behind closed doors.

There is NOTHING, I repeat NOTHING, in the life of Christopher Hitchens that remotely suggests he is now with God and the angels. He is in Hell and Hohnholz knows it! I wish Evangelicals like Chris Hohnholz would at least own the abominable, horrendous doctrine of eternal punishment they preach.

The Dead Logic blog (link no longer active) pretty well sums up my feelings about people such as Mohler, Warren,Wilson and Hohnholz:

I feel even more sadness for those who are so blinded by religious prejudice that they see the death of Hitchens as an opportunity to peddle their religious wares. I’ve already expressed what I think about Albert Mohler’s recent comment on Twitter. Turns out that “purpose-driven” Rick Warren is just as classy as Mohler. Warren had his own douchebag moment on Twitter when he wrote: “Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.” Yes, Rick, use a man’s death as a tool in your propaganda machine. If Warren truly “loved” Hitch, he would be honoring his memory instead of disgracing Hitchens for the sake of “the Truth” with a capital T.

How did Christopher Hitchens spend the final days of his life? Ian McEwan of the New York Times wrote:

The place where Christopher Hitchens spent his last few weeks was hardly bookish, but he made it his own. Close to downtown Houston is the Medical Center, a cluster of high-rises like La Défense of Paris, or London’s City, a financial district of a sort, where the common currency is illness…..

….. While I was with him another celebration took place in far away London, with Stephen Fry as host in the Festival Hall to reflect on the life and times of Christopher Hitchens. We helped him out of bed and into a chair and set my laptop in front of him. Alexander delved into the Internet with special passwords to get us linked to the event. He also plugged in his own portable stereo speakers. We had the sound connection well before the vision and what we heard was astounding, and for Christopher, uplifting. It was the noise of 2,000 voices small-talking before the event. Then we had a view from the stage of the audience, packed into their rows.

They all looked so young. I would have guessed that nearly all of them would have opposed Christopher strongly over Iraq. But here they were, and in cinemas all over the country, turning out for him. Christopher grinned and raised a thin arm in salute. Close family and friends may be in the room with you, but dying is lonely, the confinement is total. He could see for himself that the life outside this small room had not forgotten him. For a moment, pace Larkin, it was by way of the Internet that the world stretched a hand toward him.

The next morning, at Christopher’s request, Alexander and I set up a desk for him under a window. We helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop. Talking and dozing were all very well, but Christopher had only a few days to produce 3,000 words on Ian Ker’s biography of Chesterton.

Whenever people talk of Christopher’s journalism, I will always think of this moment.

Consider the mix. Constant pain, weak as a kitten, morphine dragging him down, then the tangle of Reformation theology and politics, Chesterton’s romantic, imagined England suffused with the kind of Catholicism that mediated his brush with fascism and his taste for paradox, which Christopher wanted to debunk. At intervals, Christopher’s head would droop, his eyes close, then with superhuman effort he would drag himself awake to type another line. His long memory served him well, for he didn’t have the usual books on hand for this kind of thing. When it’s available, read the review. His unworldly fluency never deserted him, his commitment was passionate, and he never deserted his trade. He was the consummate writer, the brilliant friend. In Walter Pater’s famous phrase, he burned “with this hard gem-like flame.” Right to the end.

Christopher Hitchens is greatly missed. I always appreciated his sharp tongue and pointed critique of religion. He made the religious fuss, fume, and squirm as he attacked their beliefs and practices.

Someday, I will die. I have thought a lot about this, and while I am no Christopher Hitchens I can only imagine how my demise will play out in the blogosphere and in the pulpit. According to my critics, when death comes to take me, I will be cast in Hell with the Devil and Christopher Hitchens. A special Hell, punishment, and torture await me because I was once a believer and an Evangelical pastor.

I’ve spent the last twelve years being threatened with Hell and God’s judgment, and if I have a choice between Heaven with Mohler, Warren, Wilson and Hohnholz and Hell with Hitchens, Steven Hawking, my dear friend Steve Gupton and a cast of people I greatly admire, give me Hitch and Hell every time.

The world is richer because a man named Christopher Hitchens lived among us. While his body rots in the grave, his words remain. May his words continue to inspire people to consider a life and world without religious ignorance and oppression. There can be a better tomorrow without God.

Let me conclude this post with a few quotes from Hitch’s last published work Mortality:

  • The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of ‘acceptance,’ hasn’t so far had much application to my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been ‘in denial’ for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by the gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read — if not indeed to write — the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity.
  • To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
  • Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.
  • It’s normally agreed that the question ‘How are you?’ doesn’t put you on your oath to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like, ‘A bit early to say.’ (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, ‘I seem to have cancer today.’) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of ‘life’ when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite; the equally nasty double-cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose . . . It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body.
  • The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct god how to put them right.
  • However, one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound . . . In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.
  • Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down.
  • So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.

From the last page of Mortality:

“From Alan Lightman’s intricate 1993 novel Einstein’s Dreams; set in Berne in 1905:

With infinite life comes an infinite list of relatives. Grandparents never die, nor do great-grandparents, great-aunts…and so on, back through the generations, all alive and offering advice. Sons never escape from the shadows of their fathers. Nor do daughters of their mothers. No one ever comes into his own…Such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free.”

You can buy Mortality here
About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Cannibalism, How New Evangelical Churches Grow

cool church

Originally posted in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

If where you live is anything like northwest Ohio, new Evangelical churches are sprouting up like weeds in a gravel parking lot. You know — the weeds that keep returning no matter how much Roundup you spray on them. Here in Defiance County, they have spiffy new names, hiding the fact that they are generic, mostly-Baptist, churches. They present themselves as fresh, new, exciting places to worship God, complete with a relational pastor and the best damn worship band in town (props to the Ohio State marching band). One local new church called itself Fresh Life. Two years later, “Fresh Life” turned into same old shit, different building, and the pastor felt called to go somewhere else.

Here in Defiance County, Ohio, there is zero need for new churches. We already have more than one hundred churches for 37,000 people. The population is aging and in decline, and almost everyone professes to be a Christian. God, guns, and Republican politics are on display everywhere one looks. Out-of-the-closet atheists are few, and even traditionally liberal churches tend to be conservative. Why, then, is there a plethora of new Evangelical churches?

I’ll give the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement credit for one thing: their churches are initially and primarily built on evangelism. Granted, they think everyone who doesn’t believe as they do is non-Christian and headed for hell, but they do make a concerted effort to evangelize the “unchurched.”

I was taught in Bible college that the best way to start a church was to find the meanest, baddest man in town and win him to Jesus. If this man became a Christian and started living for Jesus, it would be the best possible advertisement for the church. Here in Defiance County, I am not the meanest, baddest man in town, but I am considered the resident atheist who hates God and Christianity. I would think that pastors would be lining up at my door trying to win the preacher-turned-atheist to Jesus. In the twelve years my wife and I have lived in the shadow of five Evangelical churches, not one preacher has knocked on our door. Why is that?

In the 1970s, the charismatics came to this area and began pillaging local established churches. Overnight, churches lost membership and income. In the 1980s and 1990s, these new churches experienced meteoric membership and income growth. Today, these same churches are in decline as their members move on to the latest, greatest churches in town. You see, it’s not about Jesus, worship, or even doctrine. It’s all about getting the best show for the dollar.  Entertainment-driven Evangelicals want to be pampered and have their “felt” needs met. Fail to do this and they will leave, complaining that they are not being fed or God is leading them elsewhere. If you want to study religiously-driven narcissism, just stop by one of these new Matt Chandler, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Ed Young, Andy Stanley, Perry Noble, Tim Keller wanna-be churches. Services are consumer-driven buffets for fat Christians who are only interested in having their “felt” needs met.

Where do most of the members of these types of churches come from? Other local churches. Overwhelmingly, their growth is transfer growth. One new church in Defiance has multiple services filled with people who used to attend other local congregations. Church leaders think they are being blessed by God, but what they are really doing is cannibalizing other churches. I am sure there are a few new converts, but, for the most part, the growth is driven by people changing pews.

And here’s the thing . . . a decade or so from now, another new, glitzy, we-have-the-most-awesome-hip-preacher-in-town church will come to town and Christians will leave the old-new church for the new-new one. I have watched this happen time and again, like the rising and setting of the sun. Evangelicalism is driven not by devotion to God, concern for the lost, or care for the sick and hungry, but by a narcissistic need to be relevant. This is why they spend enormous amounts of money on buildings, staff, technology, and feed-lot fattening programs for Christians.

What’s really happening is that wandering Evangelicals are changing which club they belong to. And that’s fine as long as Evangelicals are willing to admit “why” they are doing so. However, they aren’t willing to acknowledge that their new hippity-hoppity church is just their old church with a bigger sound system, better drum player, more charismatic worship leader, better coffee, and a preacher who can really “speak” to them.

I watch from afar, amused at their self-absorbed attempts to be relevant in a culture that increasingly has no interest in what they are selling. Much the same as when a town becomes saturated with fast-food restaurants and they begin trying to steal each other’s customers, new Evangelical churches come to areas already saturated with Jesus and steal members from other churches. It’s fun to watch. May the best band win.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

“We Accept Anyone No Matter What,” Local Evangelical Says

pastor kyle brownlee

I live in rural northwest Ohio, an area dominated by Evangelical Christianity. Even local mainline churches tend to skew to the right theologically and socially. The last church I attended before leaving Christianity was a United Methodist church. This church’s pastor was every bit as Evangelical as I was back in the day. I know of only one church that openly accepts LGBTQ people into their membership — St. John United Church of Christ in Defiance. (Please see Open and Affirming: St John United Church of Christ, Defiance, Ohio.)

Living in such a religious monoculture can be difficult for someone such as I. I love country living, so I have learned to adapt to my environment, even when I want to, at times, cuss, scream, and bang my hang on the wall. All of my children and grandchildren live within twenty minutes of my home. Every time I write a letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, I pause for a moment to contemplate how my words might affect my progeny. I don’t want to cause them harm, yet, at the same time, I can’t and won’t be silent. If I don’t speak up for atheism, reason, and liberal politics, who will? For several years, it seemed like I was the atheist lone ranger, alone in my challenges to local Evangelicalism. Recent years have brought a handful of new voices to the editorial page of the Crescent-News. Not all of them are unbelievers, but we do share a common view of Evangelical Christianity and its negative, harmful influence on our local communities.

Today’s post is another opportunity to challenge the local Evangelical status-quo. Several days ago, I was checking out a local Facebook group and I came upon a discussion about starting a countywide youth group. The woman who suggested this surely had good intentions: let’s all work together for the common good. Several people suggested that there was no need for such a group. “We have the YMCA, and several churches have established youth groups,” they said. One person mentioned Xperience Church in Defiance. “Are they accepting of LGBTQ youth?” one commenter asked. A member of Xperience Church replied, “We accept anyone no matter what.”

Xperience Church is the latest in a long string of local cool hipster Evangelical churches. Xperience currently meets at the YMCA, but rapid attendance growth has them spending in excess of $1 million to move to new digs at the Defiance Mall — a facility that will seat 825 people.  The following video features Experience Church pastor Kyle Brownlee giving his “vision” for the future. Please try to listen to two or three minutes, if you dare. After that, you may need a barf bag.

Video Link

After listening to Brownlee’s “vision,” you know what I wanted to do? Run! The Evangelicals are Coming! The Evangelicals are Coming! Run for Your Life!

Imagine for a moment, that you are a member of Xperience Church, and week after week you listen to Brownlee’s peppy, inspiring sermons. Imagine hearing over and over Brownlee’s “vision” for Defiance and the surrounding communities. You might come to the conclusion that Xperience Church really does “accept anyone no matter what.” However, as I will show below, Xperience Church — beneath all the loud music and relational sermons — is, belief-wise, a garden variety Evangelical church; not any different from dozens of other churches in rural northwest Ohio. (Xperience Church is affiliated with the Association of Relational Churches.)

Brownlee and Xperience Church believe, and I quote:

We believe that the Bible is God’s Word. It is accurate, authoritative and applicable to our everyday lives.

We believe in one eternal God who is the Creator of all things. He exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. He is totally loving and completely holy. We believe that sin has separated each of us from God and His purpose for our lives.

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ as both God and man is the only One who can reconcile us to God. He lived a sinless and exemplary life, died on the cross in our place, and rose again to prove His victory and empower us for life.

We believe that in order to receive forgiveness and the ‘new birth’ we must repent of our sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and submit to His will for our lives. We believe that in order to live the holy and fruitful lives that God intends for us, we need to be baptized in water and be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to use spiritual gifts.

We believe in the power and significance of the church and the necessity of believers to meet regularly together for fellowship, prayer and growing in our faith.

We believe that God has individually equipped us so that we can successfully achieve His purpose for our lives which is to worship God, fulfill our role in the church and serve the community in which we live.

We believe that God wants to heal, set us free, and transform us so that we can live healthy and blessed lives in order to help others more effectively.

We believe that our eternal destination of either Heaven or Hell is determined by our response to the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back again as He promised.

The church’s Our Values page states:

We will be authentic in order to reach people who don’t know Christ.
To reach people no one is reaching, we’ll have to be real with where we’ve been and what God’s done to transform us. We’re not a group of perfect people, we are a group of people being perfected.

….

We believe the local church is the hope of the world.
We believe church is amazing. The church is God’s rescue plan for humanity and a place to introduce them to Jesus. Around here, we have a heart for building God’s House.

Having read these official statements of belief and philosophy, does anyone really think that Xperience Church would “accept anyone no matter what?” Of course not. This is nothing more than classic Evangelical subterfuge. (Please see Just Remember, Evangelicals Always Have an Agenda and The Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals.) Yes, anyone is welcome to walk in the doors of Xperience Church and attend their services. Whosoever will, let them come, right? However, is Xperience Church really “accepting of LGBTQ youth?”  Again, sure, as long as you don’t think about the question too hard. I am sure local LGBTQ students are welcome to attend the monthly youth meeting and weekly Sunday services. However, are the same students free to date other same-sex students? Are they free to speak openly and positively about their sexuality? If I attended Xperience Church, would I be permitted to preach the gospel of humanism and pass out Bart Ehrman’s books? Knowing what you know about Evangelical social beliefs, does anyone think Xperience Church truly has an open-door, live-as-you-want, be-true-to-self, policy? Of course not.

What the church member should have said is this: “we accept anyone no matter what, but thanks to Jesus and his awesome redeeming grace, we expect that unbelievers will be saved and become dutiful members of Xperience Church. We expect that the “anyones” will be transformed by the power of the Holy Ghost; that their addictions, perversions, and sins will be washed away by the mighty blood of Jesus Christ.” In other words, “yes, you are free to visit Xperience Church, but we will not leave you alone until you see things our, oops, I mean God’s way!”

I know people who attend Xperience Church, including family members, so I am not suggesting the church and its hipster pastor are evil. I have no doubt that they have good intentions. However, it is evident, at least to me, that Xperience Church is NOT open and accepting in the same way as St. John United Church of Christ.

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches. I understand Brownlee’s “vision” quite well. Been there, done that, thinking that God had tasked me alone to reach local sinners with the gospel. There are over 300 Christian churches in rural northwest Ohio. Did Defiance really need another church? Of course not. But, Brownlee and his wife believe God speaks to them. (Please see Do Evangelical Christians “Know” the Mind of God? Hearing the Still Small Voice of the Evangelical God, Hearing the “Voice of God.) The Brownlees are certain that big things await them as God uses Xperience Church to advance and expand the Kingdom of God. Never mind the fact that the bulk of Xperience church members have been pilfered from other churches. (Please see IFB Church Planting and How Church Planters Convinces Themselves Their Churches are “Special”, The Elevate City Church Con Job, and What Should I Do? There’s No Church in My Town that Teaches the “Truth”.) Sure, Xperience Church is adding new converts to their numbers, but everyone in Defiance is already a Christian — just ask them — so most of their numerical increase comes from transfer growth. (Please see Most Evangelicals Don’t Choose to Become Christians.)

Look, I don’t care what people do on Sundays. If people want to spend their Sunday mornings worshipping a mythical deity, fine. However, when it comes to going after unbelievers whom Evangelicals deem sick, broken, sinful, and in need of fixing, you can expect me to object. I am more than happy to share the same terra firma as worshippers of Jesus. All I ask is that they keep their beliefs to themselves. Now who is being delusional, right? Confrontational Evangelism is part of Evangelicalism’s DNA. Brownlee makes that clear in his “vision” video. When you believe your family, friends, and neighbors are vile enemies of God in need of salvation, it stands to reason you would do whatever is necessary to reach these lost heathens for Jesus. What remains to be seen is whether Brownlee and his church will stay “on-fire” for Jesus once they move into their new building. Or will Xperience Church, in time, become just like every other institutionalized, incestuous Evangelical church. My money is on the latter. ‘Tis the nature of Evangelical churches. Time and reality take the wind out the best of “vision” statements. Once local churches have been raided and sinful locals harassed until they get saved, what’s left for “cool” churches to do? I mean, isn’t church really all about who has the best worship band or the best preacher? What will happen when Xperience Church and its pastors become boring? Why, God will lead yet another church planter to static, dying Defiance County to establish a new church.

Just what we need, another hamburger joint.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Devout IFB Christian Struggles with Understanding my Story

somerset baptist church 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

What follows is a discussion I had today with a devout Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian.  As you will see, Jack (not his real name) genuinely had a hard time wrapping his mind around my story. Schooled in IFB soteriology, Jack cannot fathom someone being saved, and then lost. In his mind, that’s impossible. Yet, here I am. 🙂

Jack: Hey Bruce, I just read a little about your life and your description of how IFB preachers are treated like Demigods. I was saved in 1981 and God changed my life and Christ is my Saviour. I went to Hyles Anderson College for a little bit. I’m back with the Lord. The Lord seems to have restored me and I’m happier and have more peace and am winning souls consistently. Are you saying that none of this is real to you anymore? What about God, and Heaven and Hell and Judgement? I’m just asking I’m not trying to argue. I’m curious about your response.

Bruce: I’m an atheist, so no, I don’t think there is a God, Heaven, Hell, judgment, etc. You might find these posts helpful:

https://brucegerencser.net/why/

Jack: Are you familiar with Dr. Jack Hyles?

Bruce: Yes, I’ve written extensively about Hyles and his son.

Jack: So what about getting saved, you never believed in that?

Bruce: Yes, I was saved, and now I’m not.

Jack: You really believe you were saved? How can you lose your salvation when the Lord comes into your heart?

Bruce: Don’t let your theology get in the way of reality. Countless people faithfully follow Jesus for years and then deconvert.

Jack: You don’t believe in being born again, and the Lord coming into your heart, and you becoming a new creature?

Bruce: Of course I did, but now I don’t.

Jack: So you don’t think that really happens?

Bruce: I “believe” it happened. All religious experiences are psychological in nature. We can believe all sorts of things that aren’t true or convince ourselves that certain experiences were real.

Jack: I believe the Lord really did come into my heart; there has been an internal change that cannot be denied! IT IS REAL! My desires changed, and my outlook, and I’m in the Light now, I see things differently! By faith!

Bruce: It’s “real” because you think it is. You want, need it to be real, so it is. And that’s fine.

Jack: You don’t think peace and comfort and joy and God’s love is real. I experience it!

Bruce: You “experience” what you believe those things to be. Again, all religious experiences are psychological in nature. Devout believers in other religions have similar “experiences.”

Usually, when an IFB Christian contacts me, I roll up my sleeves and ready myself for a bloody fight. Either that or I just say fuck off and turn on Sports Center. I sensed that Jack really wanted to understand my story, so I decided to briefly engage him in a discussion. I thought, “maybe, just maybe, I can get Jack to look beyond his narrow Fundamentalist theology.” I am not sure I accomplished that, but I hope that I planted a few seeds of doubt that might germinate and cause Jack to rethink his worldview. Not every online discussion has to end in hostility and conflict. I am content to put in a good word for reason, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry and move on.

Trained by the late Jack Hyles and his acolytes at First Baptist Church in Hammond and Hyles-Anderson College, Jack believes that once a person prays the sinner’s prayer and asks Jesus into his heart, he is a Christian; and once saved, always saved. In Jack’s mind, there’s nothing I can say or do to separate myself from God (Romans 8:35-39). Because I prayed the sinner’s prayer at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, at the age of fifteen, I am forever a child of God, and Heaven awaits me after I die. No matter what I have said or done in the intervening forty-seven years, nothing can undo what took place one fall night years ago. I could become a Muslim, commit mass murder, or sexually molest children — it matters not — once saved, always saved.

IFB Christians such as Jack are left with two possibilities after reading my story:

  • I never was a Christian
  • I am a backslidden Christian

The first possibility is absurd. There’s nothing in my past that suggests that I was anything but a devoted, committed, sincere follower of Jesus. The fact that I am now an atheist does not magically erase my past (or the knowledge I have about Christianity and the Bible). The only honest explanation for my past is this: I once was a Christian, and now I am not.

The second possibility is equally absurd. There is nothing in my present life that remotely suggests that I am a Christian. Anyone who reads my blog surely knows that I am not, in any way, a Christian. Not an Evangelical; not an IFB Christian; not a liberal Christian; not a progressive Christian; not a Christian humanist; not a Christian universalist; not a Christian, period. I am a card-carrying atheist, a member in good standing of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

When someone tells me that they are a Christian, I accept their “testimony” at face value. Jack says he has been an IFB Christian for thirty-eight years. I believe him. It’s his storyline. Who better to tell his story than Jack? I just wish that Christians would do the same for Evangelicals-turned-atheists. “But Bruce,” Christians say, “the Bible says yada yada yada yada.” What the Bible purportedly says is not my problem. I get it. Jack can’t square my story with his peculiar theology. Countless Evangelicals have the same problem when they read my story. Again, that’s not my problem. I know what I know. Ask anyone who knew me when I was a Christian: Was Bruce a “real” follower of Jesus; a True Christian®? To a person, they will say, absolutely! Either I deceived my wife, children, in-laws, extended family, friends, college roommates, professors, ministerial colleagues, and congregants, or I really was a Christian. What’s more likely? Trust me, I am not a very good liar. Me not having been a Christian is akin to the moon landing being a hoax.

Stories such as mine will continue to cause cognitive dissonance for IFB Christians such as Jack. All I can hope for is that by reading my story, they will have doubts and questions that will lead to further investigation and inquiry. Fundamentalist Christians can and do change. I once believed as Jack did, and so did many of the readers of this blog. Yet, we are now unbelievers. Deconversion is a slow, agonizing, painful process. Some people cannot bear the questions and doubts, so they retreat into the safety of the house of faith. Others, however, are willing to suffer through the process, believing that truth and freedom await them on the other side. There’s a gospel song that says, we’ve come this far by faith, we can’t turn back now. For people such as myself, we’ve come this far by reason, we can’t turn back now.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Teacher Brian Reed Accused of Sex Crimes

brian reed old plank christian academy

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.

Brian Reed, a teacher at Old Plank Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, was arrested last week and charged with lewd molestation, soliciting a minor via computer, and transmission of harmful materials to a minor. The alleged crimes occured in 2017 and 2018.

The school is a ministry of Old Plank Baptist Church — a Southern Baptist institution. Reed was fired a year ago after these allegations first came to light.

Channel 4-JAX reports:

According to a JSO arrest report, Reed is accused of initiating several video chats with the girl [age 13] in which he showed her he was masturbating. Reed also made lewd suggestions to the girl and asked her for nude photos via Facebook messenger, according to the report. He sent her a photo of himself with his private parts exposed, according to the report. Investigators noted in the report the photo appeared to be taken at the school where Reed worked.

Reed, 36, is also accused of groping the teen inside a locked gym at the school, according to JSO.

Old Plank Road Baptist Church pastor Larry McGinley issued the following statement (PDF file):

To The Old Plank Ministries Family And The Community,

The ministries of Old Plank Road Baptist Church are deeply saddened by the circumstances surrounding Brian Reed.

We are deeply concerned for the well-being, recovery and safety of the victim and her family.  We are in prayer for this precious family that the Lord will bring healing and help in this very difficult time.

We are praying for wisdom for the authorities that are handling this case.  From the moment this situation was brought to our attention, immediate and appropriate actions were taken by the ministries of Old Plank.  Utmost care and discretion have been practiced to protect the victim, her family, the students in our ministries, and the family of the accused. The ministries of Old Plank have and are currently fully cooperating with the agencies involved in this investigation.

Thank you and may God bless you.

Sincerely,

Larry McGinley, Pastor

Old Plank  Road Baptist Church

 

The IFB Church: Visiting Preachers and Evangelists Treated Like Demigods

phil kidd 2Originally published in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

The now-defunct Stuff Fundies Like posted a list written by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist Phil Kidd detailing how a church should take care of a visiting speaker or evangelist. While those not raised in the IFB church movement likely are astounded at the list, I can assure you that Kidd’s ten points are standard operating procedure in IFB circles. Special speakers, Bible conference speakers, and evangelists are routinely treated like demigods. They are fawned over like movie stars are when drooling, wild-eyed fans come in contact with them. Fans of movie stars will stand in long lines hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite actor. If they are lucky, they might even get the opportunity to get an autograph. So it is in the IFB churches. It is not uncommon to see fawning church members seek out big-name preachers and have them sign their Bibles. Teenagers are encouraged to have these larger-than-life men sign their Bibles so they will remember years later that they heard so-and-so preach — a giant of the faith, a man mightily used of God.

Over the years, I heard countless speaker introductions that left the congregation with the impression that Jesus himself was the speaker for the night. These men are treated like royalty, given preferential treatment during their brief engagement at the local IFB church, college, or conference. During their stay, they will be given gifts, fed food fit for a king, and when they have finished preaching their super-duper, candy-stick sermons (those that are preached over and over), they will be rewarded with a large honorarium, sometimes totaling thousands of dollars.

As with public speaking bureaus, the IFB church movement has a contingent of preachers who travel the country speaking at conferences, college chapel services, and revivals. Some of these men are pastors who treat their special speaking gigs as an opportunity to make extra money. Some of these men make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year “humbly” speaking about the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. It’s been rumored that some of these men are millionaires as a result of their “sacrifice” for Christ.

I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Over the course of fifty years in the Christian church, I heard numerous Bible conference speakers, special speakers, and evangelists. I could spend the next week writing about my experiences with the IFB luminaries of my day. While I met men I considered faithful, thoughtful, and humble servants, I also met a fair number of men who were arrogant, full-of-themselves, shysters who were in it for power, prestige, and money. I will leave it to readers to determine what category I think Phil Kidd fits in.

While this post focuses on the IFB church movement, Evangelicalism, in general, has a similar problem. Traveling mega-church pastors and parachurch leaders are often treated like the best thing since Jesus turned water into wine. Often attracting crowds of thousands, these men and women make a financial killing through fees, honorariums, book and video sales, and the sale of Jesus Junk®. When confronted by the seeming vulgarity of their profiting off the ministry, these chosen ones remind their critics that it is God “blessing” them and that the laborer is worthy of his hire. After all, secular speakers make tens of thousands of dollars from giving speeches, why shouldn’t they be allowed to rake in the cash too?

Fine, but let’s quit pretending that these traveling preachers are doing the work of God. They’re not. What they’re really doing is using the gullibility of Christians and the pretext of preaching the Bible to pad their bank accounts, increase their retirement funds, and collect the trappings of an affluent lifestyle.

Over the years, I had more than a few occasions to talk to notable IFB preachers about coming to speak at one of the churches I pastored. I was astounded by some of their demands. Instead of being humble servants of God, many of these men expected to be treated like they were royalty. They often demanded thousands of dollars in speaking fees (honorariums), along with travel and housing expenses. They expected to be fed well and have their every need met while they were “sacrificially” preaching the word of God at our church. Rare was the man who was willing to come for a love offering, trusting God to meet his every need. And even when they were willing to come for a love offering, giving them a poor love offering was a way to make sure that they would never accept an invitation to preach at your church again.

ifb preacher phil kidd

IFB Preacher Phil Kidd

There was one man, however, who left me with a good example of how a traveling preacher should conduct himself. His name was Henry Mahan, then the pastor of 13th Street Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky. Mahan came to preach a two-night Bible conference for me when I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio. This was during my early days as a Calvinistic Baptist pastor. Mahan was a well-known luminary in Calvinistic Baptist circles, and I was delighted that he was willing to come speak at our church.

When Mahan arrived, he made it clear to me that he wanted no honorarium and no expense money. He told me that he would pay all of his own expenses. In fact, he paid the check every time he and I went out to eat. His reasoning? The church he pastored paid him more than enough money, and a man in his church provided him with a new Lincoln Continental every two years. He had no need for more money. I was astounded when he told me this, and when I insisted that he take an honorarium from the church, he made it very clear that he would not speak for our church if he was required to accept the money. Needless to say, in the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I never had another preacher tell me this.

As a preacher of the gospel, I never was comfortable telling a church or pastor that I had to have X amount of money before I would come preach. I felt it my duty and obligation to preach every time I was asked. In fact, I never turned down an invitation to preach. Did I have some churches and preachers take advantage of my willingness to preach on the cheap? I’m sure that happened, but I determined at the beginning of my ministry that I would never allow money to dictate whether I would preach for someone else. There were times that preaching revival for a small church cost me more money in travel expenses than the church gave me in the love offering. While I knew that some churches were notoriously cheap, I never let that stand in the way of an opportunity to preach. (And, in retrospect, I wish I had worried a bit more about money.)

I should also note that tax fraud is quite common among traveling preachers. Driven by greed and hatred for the government, expenses paid by the church are often not recorded, and I had several preachers tell me that they preferred their offering in cash. In THIS God we trust, right?  One man told me preferred gold, but cash was okay too. Churches are required to give special speakers and evangelists a 1099 form for income tax purposes, so paying God’s chosen ones in cash means no 1099, no taxable income. I gave one such man more than $1,000 in a brown paper bag. I know for a fact that he “humbly” bragged about stiffing the government. Yes, the Bible says to render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, but it doesn’t say how much, right?

Do you have a story to share about your experience with a special speaker or evangelist? Please share your story in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Evangelists: The Hired Guns of the IFB Church Movement

hired gun

I grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, attended an IFB college, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and pastored IFB churches for a decade. In the late 1980s, thanks to the Jack Hyles scandal and my exposure to Calvinism, I left the IFB church movement. As a writer, I have made it my mission to inform readers about the inner workings of IFB churches and institutions. My wife’s father is a retired IFB pastor, and her extended family includes IFB pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and their wives. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) My IFB roots run deep (our family attended Tim LaHaye’s church, Scott Memorial Baptist Church, in the 1960s), and just because I am no longer a believer doesn’t mean that I can no longer speak authoritatively about the movement. While the IFB church movement has evolved over the years, its core principles remain the same. The older generation of IFB preachers is dying off, but, unfortunately, their children and grandchildren are following in their steps. Polly’s IFB cousins are now in their forties and fifties. Their oldest children are now college age. So far, the colleges of choice have been IFB institutions — offering up another innocent generation to the “cause.”

I wrote the brief biography above in the hope of warding off IFB zealots who think I am too far removed from the movement to have anything of value to say. I will leave it to readers to decide if my words ring true. The IFB church movement tends to slowly evolve and change. This means that while there have been peripheral changes since my IFB days, their core beliefs and practices remain the same. Don’t confuse these superficial changes with transformative change. The IFB church movement remains a dangerous, cultic group that causes untold heartache and psychological damage.

Now to the subject of this post: IFB evangelists.

I came of age at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. The church held several revivals, youth revival, and conferences a year. Typically, the revivals started on a Sunday and went through Friday or started on a Monday and concluded on Sunday. High-powered evangelists were brought in to preach these meetings. Their goal was always the same: evangelize the lost and revive the saved.

As an IFB pastor, I followed in the footsteps of my pastors. Typically, the churches I pastored had two revivals a year. For a number of years, Don Hardman would come to our church and hold what is called a protracted meeting. For fifteen days — including three Sundays — Hardman would preach to saint and sinner alike. Countless church members attended all eighteen services. Nearby IFB churches would bring busloads or carloads of people to hear Hardman’s often hour-plus-long sermons. Souls would be saved and scores of Christians would come forward during the invitations, kneel at the altar, and get right with God. Throw in nightly special music and fellowship dinners, and it should not come as a surprise that these meetings were the highlight of the church calendar. For his efforts, Hardman walked away with $1,000-$1,500 cash in a brown paper bag. I will leave it to you to decide if he claimed this income on his tax return.

Over the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, numerous evangelists preached for me. Notice I said, “preached for me.” As pastor, I was the gatekeeper. I controlled who preached from the pulpit. Evangelists were hired guns, men who came to minister and stir up the church and then ride off into the night. Evangelists were, in effect, traveling preachers who went from church to church preaching canned sermons. Rare was the evangelist who preached new sermons at every church. These “men of God” had certain sermons that “worked,” and as long as these messages were effective, they continued to use them. Seasoned evangelists developed a pool of sermons to preach from. One evangelist, Phil Shuler — a frequent speaker at the Newark Baptist Temple, pastored at the time by Polly’s uncle — had recordings of his sermons. Each night, before the service, Shuler would refresh his memory by playing the tape of that night’s sermon. No need to study, just throw in a few relevant illustrations and regurgitate what had been said before. This practice is common on the IFB conference circuit too.

As hired guns, evangelists are expected to “help” the pastors they are preaching for. Sometimes, evangelists will sanctimoniously ask pastors, “Brother, is there anything I can pray for this week?” Such evangelists are trying to give the air of being directed by God in their preaching, but as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, those “prayer requests” would find their way into their sermons. Some evangelists just plain ask, “Brother, is there anything you need me to address this week?” Every pastor, myself included, had a list of grievances he would love to have addressed by an outside party. Evangelist after evangelist quizzed me about the state of the churches I pastored, and sometime during the week, my answers would show up in their sermons. Unwary congregants took such targeted preaching as a sign God was “speaking” to them. Little did they know that their pastor was the man pulling the strings behind the scenes.

The goal, of course, was to evangelize the lost and revive the church. Revivals were a way of energizing — for a time — complacent, lazy, indifferent church members. I watched hundreds and hundreds of congregants weep crocodile tears and sling snot as they got right with God. For a time, these lovers of Jesus would walk the straight and narrow, but, in the end, they usually reverted to the norm — as we all do. And just as they got settled in, it was time for another revival! Thus it went, spring after spring, fall after fall, year in and year out.

elmer gantry

Let me be clear, many of the evangelists I knew were sincere, honest men of God. (And let me also be clear, some of them were the IFB version of Elmer Gantry.) I don’t doubt for a moment that these men believed that God was calling them to be evangelists. That said, it’s hard not to see the work of evangelists and revival meetings as manipulative tools used by pastors to gain certain objectives. What better way to stir up your church than to bring in a smooth-talking, high-powered evangelist to preach? Congregants get tired of listening to the same voice week after week. The evangelist is a new and different voice, so people are more likely to pay attention. Smart, and oh-so-godly, is the pastor who uses this to his advantage. The goal is to win the lost and revitalize the congregation. What’s the harm in a little manipulation, right?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals

bait and switch

Originally published in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

On a previous iteration of this blog, a fundamentalist Christian by the name of Harold commented on The Jonathan Nichols Story: Growing up Gay in the IFB Church post. That post is an excerpt from Jonathan’s story about being raised in the Newark Baptist Temple, the church pastored for forty-six years by my wife’s uncle Jim Dennis, and how the church and its pastor responded to him when he said he was gay. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) Harold left this comment:

Jonathan, I am a Baptist who views on homosexuality being sin have never changed. I can say however that my views of homosexuals have changed from judgmental condemnation to compassion. You can Google C.S. Lewis views on homosexuals which are compassionate. I think anyone can be delivered from homosexual sin (pornography, masturbation, the actual sex act) and same sex attraction can be overcome but I think for many it is a battle and perhaps a life long battle although I’m not sure about it being life long. For a compassionate view of homosexuality I would recommend to anyone: Christian, gay, family of one who is gay, a book titled” Love Into Light” by Peter Hubbard. Also for anyone wanting free from homosexuality I recommend http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com

Harold wanted to present himself as a compassionate, loving Christian, but I wasn’t going to let him get by with his subterfuge, so I left this comment:

I know you mean well, but cut the bullshit. Bottom line, no homosexual will inherit the kingdom of God, right? Unless they repent of their sodomy they will be tortured by God in the lake of fire for all eternity, right? Quit hiding behind claims of love and compassion. Jonathan is fine how he is. He is free to love who he wants, and have consensual sex with who he wants. Why should you have these freedoms but not Jonathan? Answer, the Bible says…right?

Subterfuge. This word accurately describes the evangelistic methods used by many Evangelicals. Subterfuge is defined as: Something intended to misrepresent the true nature of an activity.

Evangelicals rarely tell non-Christians what their true motives are. They come bearing gifts, speaking of love and compassion, but their real goal is to convert sinners, baptize them, and make them tithing members of whatever Evangelical church they represent. I’ve come to the conclusion that most Evangelicals are incapable of loving for love’s sake and having compassion for others without having an unstated agenda.

A few years ago, an Evangelical wrote a post about his church going from door to door handing out flower pots. He said they just wanted to show the community that they loved them. I asked, did the flowerpots have the name of the church on them, and did you give them literature from the church? Of course they did. The goal, then, wasn’t showing the community they loved them; it was advertising their church in hopes that people would come to it.

Evangelicals are experts at subterfuge, and it is important to force them to declare their true intentions. In my comment to Harold, I also wrote

Harold, what is your end game here? Put in a good word for Jesus? Evangelize? Preach the truth?

When Evangelicals want to befriend you, help you, or to get all cozy with you, you need to consider what their real motive is for doing so. In an article on The Gospel Coalition website, Jeff Cavanaugh wrote:

Yet churches still have a tremendous evangelistic opportunity in the people who live near the church building. After all, these neighbors walk and drive past the church building every day. They may wonder about what goes on when the church gathers. For non-Christians who don’t know any believers personally, the church down the street may be the biggest reminder of Christianity they see on a regular basis.

So how can a church be faithful in evangelizing the neighborhood when the members don’t live there? Some evangelical traditions have made a practice of “visitation,” knocking on doors and trying to engage people in spiritual conversations. Sometimes this effort bears good gospel fruit, though cultural changes in recent decades have made this more difficult as many North Americans have become suspicious of strangers at the front door.

I serve my local church as deacon of community outreach, and our strategy for reaching the neighborhood around us is mainly one of long-term, patient faithfulness. Our goal is to build relationships with our neighbors that, over time, will make it easier for us to have spiritual conversations with them. These relationships also make our neighbors more willing to attend services and other events aimed specifically at engaging unbelievers with the gospel.

The basic principle behind this strategy is simple, and it’s one any church can follow: engage your neighbors by taking an interest in what they care about. Building common ground is easy when you participate side-by-side in community organizations, service projects, family events, block parties, yard sales, and the like. Common interests are one of the most powerful tools for building friendships that can enable spiritual conversations to take place.

My church is located in a historic urban neighborhood that has a well-defined identity, and many of our neighbors have common interests. Neighborhood associations are popular and prominent in the life of the community, and events like street fairs, art shows, music festivals, park cleanups, and community yard sales are common. We engage our neighbors by having church members volunteer for these events, host booths, and attend neighborhood association meetings. We also invite the community to a couple of evangelistic events at Christmas: a service of lessons and carols with a brief evangelistic sermon, and a sing-along production of Handel’s Messiah…

. . . If your church is in a lower-income area, your neighbors’ biggest concerns are likely to be some of their most basic needs: food, shelter, jobs, transportation, education. Your members might help meet some of these needs, and thereby gain neighbors’ trust and attention, through soup kitchens, clothes closets, literacy programs, and such..

My father pastors a church in Ohio in a middle-class suburb with a lot of families, and many of these neighbors’ lives revolve around their kids. So the church hosts some events throughout the year that provide activities for the kids and expose neighbors to the gospel. The church puts on a vacation Bible school every summer. They host a big Easter egg hunt for the kids of the neighborhood, and someone tells the resurrection story with a clear gospel presentation for the whole crowd…

Here’s the money quote:

The basic principle behind this strategy is simple, and it’s one any church can follow: engage your neighbors by taking an interest in what they care about. Building common ground is easy when you participate side-by-side in community organizations, service projects, family events, block parties, yard sales, and the like. Common interests are one of the most powerful tools for building friendships that can enable spiritual conversations to take place.

On one hand, there is nothing wrong with having common interests with your neighbors. But, as Cavanaugh makes clear, the REAL reason for Evangelicals to have these common interests is so they can witness to their neighbors. Again, this is subterfuge.

I know the neighbors who live on both sides of me. Several summers ago, I sat on my one neighbor’s porch and he and I talked for an hour. We talked about family, our gardens, our health, and psychology (he is a retired psychologist). In the summer, I often talked to my other neighbor, an elderly gent, about woodworking, fishing, and gardening. Every so often, he would let me know he saw his “educated” neighbor’s letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News — that’s me by the way — and we will talk about it for a few minutes. We’d laugh and say, see ya later. Sadly, he had a stroke and I haven’t seen him in over a year.

As a good neighbor, I have no agenda. I don’t want anything from my neighbors. I care about them, and I worry when I don’t see them for a while. Both of my neighbors are good people as they are. I have no desire to win them over to my cause or to convert them to atheism. They are part of my community, and I want to be friends with them. I have other neighbors in front and in back of our house. While I don’t know them as well, I try to be friendly and talk to them when I see them. Again, no agenda.

Evangelicals can’t do this. They see every person as a sinner in need of salvation. Every person they come in contact with is a prospect for heaven, a potential church member. Remember this the next time an Evangelical wants to be your friend or wants to be a part of your group. Perhaps, the first question to ask is this: what do you REALLY want or why are you REALLY here?

Remember, Evangelicals are also taught that the world is evil, and that they are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. (2 Corinthians 6:14) They are taught that they must stand apart from the world, its sins, its philosophies, and its inhabitants. They are like the neighbor who only comes into my backyard to steal my watermelons. He is not interested in me, he is only interested in watermelon. The watermelon in the Evangelical world is another sinner saved, baptized, and made a tithing member of a Bible-believing church.

Beware of watermelon thieves.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Paula White Demonizes Democrats and Non-Christians

donald trump and paula white

Paula White recently became Pastor-in-Chief for President Donald Trump. Thrice-married White is a political hack who seems to have no problem with Trump’s immoral, ungodly, criminal behavior. Instead of being a prophet, White shows herself to be a whore for Trump. White is just another in a long line of Evangelical preachers who have sold their souls for bowls of pottage.

A cadre of Evangelical preachers have started a politically motivated prayer ministry. Called One Voice Prayer Movement, these “preying” preachers hope to carry Trump to victory in 2020. White is the chairwoman of One Voice.

On Tuesday, One Voice held its first prayer conference call. What follows is an excerpt from White’s prayer. (All words in brackets added by Bruce.)

Lord, we ask you to deliver our president from any snare, any trap, any setup of the enemy, according to Ephesians 6:12. Any persons, entities [Democrats] that are aligned against the president will be exposed and dealt with and overturned by the superior blood of Jesus.

We know, according to Your Word, that we can clearly call out every strongman [Democrats], whether it’s the spirit of Leviathan, a spirit of Jezebel, Abaddon, whether it’s the spirit of Belial, we come against the strongmen [Democrats], especially Jezebel, that which would operate in sorcery and witchcraft, that which would operate in hidden things, veiled things, that which would operate in deception. We come against it according to Your Word.

… As we’re dealing with those spirits [Democrats], God, we thank You that the blood of Jesus is superior. So any persons, entities [Democrats] that are aligned against President Trump, the will of God, against the mantle that he would carry, against him as president, that it would be exposed and dealt with and overturned in Jesus’ name.

— Paula White, Charisma News, Paula White Cain Intercedes Against ‘Jezebel,’ ‘Leviathan,’ ‘Sorcery’ Attacking Trump, November 7, 2019

Allen Domelle Whines About How IFB Preachers are Treated Today

Allen Domelle is the pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church in Bethany, Oklahoma. A staunch defender of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, Domelle is also the editor of the Old Paths Journal. Last week, Domelle published an article titled, Treatment of the Man of God. Domelle offered four ways church members should never treat their pastors:

  • Never treat the man of God with disdain
  • Never demand of the man of God
  • Never distance yourself from the man of God
  • Never treat the man of God irreverently

In IFB churches, the pastor is called the “man of God.” While Domelle says “the man of God is nothing of himself,” he makes it clear that the man of God’s “position” is what makes him important. Most IFB congregations are pastored by one man. He is considered the head honcho, boss, and ruler over all. Jesus might get top billing, but IFB preachers are the star of the show, the hub around which the church turns. I know of one man who pastored his church for over forty years. He not only preached, but he also wrote the checks, kept the books, looked at the tithing records to see who was contributing, and ruled over every aspect of church life. When congregants were asked where they attended church, it was not uncommon for them to say, “I attend Pastor _______’s church.” This should not come as a surprise. In IFB churches, pastors often stay at one church for years. The longer the man stays at the church, the more autocratic control he has.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an IFB institution. Pastors-in-training were encouraged to go to a community, start a church, and stay for a lifetime. Countless Midwestern graduates did just that. In fact, some men stay until they retire or die, often handing the church off to a son. The patriarchy lives on in IFB churches.

Millions of people attend churches on Sundays that are pastored and controlled by one man. When congregants look towards the man in the pulpit, they see a man above all men; God’s man; a man chosen by God to be their guide and ruler. (The phrase “man of God” is used seventy-two times in the King James Bible.) IFB preachers turn to the following verses (and others) to justify their authoritarian rule:

  • Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation . . . Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:7,17)
  • Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17)

Some IFB churches have a plurality of elders (pastors). Supposedly, having multiple “men of God” stymies authoritarian rule. However, a closer examination of such churches reveals that while there may be more than one pastor, there’s one, and only one, head pastor. Fundamentalist John MacArthur pastors a megachurch in California. The church is governed by an elder board. But make no mistake about it, Grace Community Church is John MacArthur’s church. He alone has the final say. I have yet to see an Evangelical church that has an elder board that didn’t have one man that ruled the roost above all others.

In IFB circles, along with Evangelicalism in general, congregants revere their pastors. This should not shock anyone. When you are taught from an early age that the man in the pulpit is God’s messenger; that he is chosen, directed, and anointed by God; is it a surprise that church members idolize their pastor? As a student at Midwestern, I heard more than one chapel speaker say that a pastor becoming president of the United States would be a step down. I was taught that what America needed was more “men of God” called to preach the gospel and stand against Satan. I left college in 1979 believing that God had put his stamp of approval on my life; that this “calling” I had received from God was irrevocable. (The Bible says in Romans 11:29: For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.)

Let me bring this rabbit trail back around to Domelle’s post. As is common among IFB preachers, Domelle yearns for the good old days — the 1950s. (Please see Pastor Bob Gray Sr. Pines for the 1950s) He pines for a day when “men of God were revered and honored. It wasn’t that those men were sinless, but it was the position they held that demanded the respect of every person, and was expected from every person.”

Let’s briefly look at Domelle’s four ways congregants should not treat the “man of God.”

Never treat the man of God with disdain

Just because the man of God preaches against your sins doesn’t make him a bad man. The disrespect of men of God on social media is atrocious. People feel like they can say hateful and disrespectful things to the man of God because they feel that they have the forum and the “right” to criticize him. Always remember that how you treat men of God is a revelation of your respect of God.

Domelle believes it is always wrong to criticize the “man of God.”  How you treat the “man of God” reveals the level of respect you have for God. Disrespect your pastor, and you disrespect God. Is it any wonder IFB church members fear criticizing their pastor? Mess with the preacher, and you are messing with God.

Never demand of the man of God

To demand of the man of God is to put yourself in God’s place because it is God’s position to deal with the man of God. Sometimes it is not what you are saying that is wrong, but it is how you are saying it to the man of God that is wrong. Your tone towards God’s man does matter to God; you should always be respectful instead of demanding.

According to Domelle, congregants should never demand anything from their pastor. If congregants think the “man of God” is lacking in some way, it is up to God, not them, to straighten him out. Hear rumors that Pastor Billy is fucking his secretary? Take the matter to God and let him take care of it. Scandals are often shoved under the proverbial rug. If God wants things to be different, he will take care of the matter. Sadly, God rarely takes care of anything, resulting in the rug turning into a mountain of dirty laundry. Decades of misconduct are swept under the rug, with congregants believing that God will make things right. As the Black Collar Crime Series makes clear, if church members don’t act no one will.

Domelle believes that congregants should always be respectful to their pastor, regardless of whether such respect is earned. The “man of God” deserves respect no matter what. Again, Domelle invokes God’s name when he says “your tone towards God’s man does matter to God.” Be careful, God is listening to how you talk to your pastor. Use a disrespectful tone and God just might chastise you.

Never distance yourself from the man of God

People who distance themselves from God’s man find themselves missing the heart of the man of God, and they also miss seeing the miracles of God up close. One of the biggest reasons I have found that people follow the man of God from afar is because they don’t want him to find out what they are doing.

In IFB churches, pastors are often considered God’s bloodhounds. Supposedly, they have a nose for sin — well a nose for every sin but their own. According to Domelle, people distance themselves from the “man of God” because they fear he will discover their sin. Wait a minute, Bruce, I thought people’s sins were between them and God. Maybe, but pastors of IFB churches are the equivalent of the Pope. They are Christ’s representatives on earth, given the duty and responsibility to suss out the sinful behavior of congregants.

The “man of God” oversees the lives of church members, both at church and home. His eyes are ever watching for “sin.” What is “sin” you ask? Why, whatever the man of God says it is. His interpretation of the Bible is the standard by which all things are judged. Interpreting the Bible differently is viewed as rebellion against not only God, but the “man of God.” One pastor I knew well told me, “how can a man of God rule over his church unless he rules over EVERYTHING?” His question reveals the fact that authoritarianism breeds absolutism. The pastor is absolutely right all the time. Why? Because he is the “man of God.” Is it any wonder that some people consider the IFB church movement a cult?

Never treat the man of God irreverently

In 2 Kings 2:23-25, some boys thought it was funny to call Elisha a bald man, but God showed that He would not tolerate irreverence towards His servant. Always treat the man of God with respect. Never call him by his first name, but always address him according to his position. Never talk bad about the man of God, because you place yourself against God when you choose to speak irreverently about His servant.

The proper way to treat God’s man is to have a reverential fear of him and follow him closely as he follows God. You should have a fear of God’s man, and you should treat him with dignity and respect; he is God’s man.

Virtually every article or sermon on pastoral authority will include 1 Chronicles 16:22: Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm and 2 Kings 2:23-25:

And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.

Simply put, don’t mess with the “man of God” lest bears kill you and eat your body for dinner. Longtime IFB church members have likely heard these verses many, many times. What better way to keep congregants in line than to warn them that God will kill them if they dare speak poorly of or oppose the “man of God.” Domelle states, “Never talk bad about the man of God, because you place yourself against God when you choose to speak irreverently about His servant.” In fact, according to Domelle, you shouldn’t even call the “man of God” by his first name! That’s right. Doing so is disrespectful. I have heard several IFB preachers say that they demand church members call them Pastor _________ (last name). Some of these preachers have Dr. in front of their names (please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) and expect church members to address them as Dr. ____________ (last name). Never mind the fact that IFB doctorates are almost always honorary or earned through diploma mills. If the “man of God” has a doctorate, people are expected to reverently address him as such.

Domelle tells his readers that they should “fear” the “man of God.” Why? Bears. Woods. Dinner. No one should be astonished, then, that IFB church members fear their pastor. He is the “man of God” and is to be respected at all times. If God and his man are as tight as Domelle alleges, I’d be fearful too. When you believe the preacher has a direct line to God, it makes sense to keep your mouth shut and obey his edicts. Either that or run as fast as you can out the back door of the church never to return. If you are heaven-bent on going to church, there are kinder, gentler expressions of faith than those found in IFB churches. Don’t waste another moment being psychologically traumatized by a man who confuses his place in life with God’s. (Not that I believe in God, I don’t. But some readers of this post do, and my advice to them is to seek out a pastor that doesn’t have a God complex, and will treat them with dignity and respect.)

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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