Evangelicalism

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Brian Couch Accused of Sex Crimes

brian couch

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 Couch, family pastor at Yorktown Church of the Nazarene in Yorktown, Indiana and a school nurse for Yorktown Community Schools, was arrested on the suspicion of ” 20 counts of child molesting, a Level 4 felony, eight counts of child molesting, a Level 1 felony, and one count of rape, a Level 3 felony.” (RTV-6) Couch is no longer employed by the church or school.

Couch’s Facebook page also lists him as a pastor at R.I.O.T Family Ministries — Righteous Invasion of Truth.

Yorktown Church of the Nazarene pastor Marty Ballard released the following statement:

The Yorktown Church of the Nazarene is crushed by the recent situation regarding one of our former ministers and church member. We pray for healing. We will cooperate with all legal authorities and continue to pray for our schools, our children, our community and our churches.

We condemn all inappropriate behavior or action that does not condone to legal authorities and the laws which God has given.

Jesus is Coming Soon, It Could be Today!

the rapture 3

For those of us who came of age in Evangelical churches in the late 1960s and 1970s, we remember countless sermons about the rapture, the coming second of Jesus, and the Great Tribulation. The classic Evangelical horror flick, A Thief in the Night, was released in 1972. Wikipedia explains the plot of A Thief in the Night this way:

A young woman named Patty Myer awakens one morning to a radio broadcast announcing the disappearance of millions around the world showing that the rapture has occurred. She finds that her family has disappeared and that she has been left behind. The United Nations sets up an emergency government system called the United Nations Imperium of Total Emergency (UNITE) and declare that those who do not receive The Mark of the Beast identifying them with UNITE will be arrested.

Several flashbacks occur to times in Patty’s life before the rapture has happened. The flashbacks also show her two friends and their different approaches to Christianity, one who considers Jesus Christ her Only Lord and Only Savior and the other, Diane, who does not take it seriously. Patty considers herself a Christian because she occasionally reads her Bible and goes to church regularly, where the pastor is really an unbeliever. She refuses to believe the warnings of her friends and family that she will go through The Great Tribulation if she does not accept Jesus Christ as her Only Lord and Only Savior. One morning, she awakens to find that her family and millions of others have suddenly disappeared.

Patty seems a strange breed of person who both refuses to trust Jesus Christ as her Only Lord and Only Savior and also refuses to take The Mark. Patty desperately tries to avoid the law and The Mark but is captured by UNITE. Patty escapes but, after a chase, is cornered by UNITE on a bridge and falls from the bridge to her death.

Patty then awakens, and the entire film’s plot is revealed to have been a dream. She is tremendously relieved; however, her relief is short-lived when the radio announces that millions of people have in fact disappeared. Horrified, Patty frantically searches for her family only to find them missing too. Traumatized and distraught, Patty realizes that The Rapture has indeed occurred, and she has been left behind. In the ensuing plot the questions are whether or not she will be caught, as she was in her dream, and whether or not she will choose to take The Mark to escape execution.

A Thief in the Night had a profound effect on scores of Evangelical Christians. Here was a movie showing in graphic detail what would happen when Jesus comes to earth and raptures away Christians. This movie, along with Estus Pirkle’s 1974 horror flick, The Burning Hell, really unsettled me emotionally and spiritually. Was I ready for the rapture? What if I wasn’t saved? These issues and others certainly played a part in my conversion at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio in the fall of 1973.  (Please see The Sounds of Fundamentalism: A Thief in the Night by Russell S. Doughten and  The Sounds of Fundamentalism: The Burning Hell by Estus Pirkle and Ron Ormond)

rapture

The 1970s featured prophecy-themed sermons from the books of Revelation and Daniel. In 1976, the Walking Bible, Evangelist Jack Van Impe came to Findlay to hold a city-wide crusade. Van Impe’s sermons were filled will warnings about the imminent return of Jesus and the Great Tribulation. I attended a Bob Harrington crusade (Please see Evangelist Bob Harrington: It’s Fun Being Saved) that featured several sermons about the soon return of Jesus. The widely-read Sword of the Lord ran regular articles and sermons about the pretribulational rapture of the church and the horrors of the soon-coming Tribulation.

Much of the evangelistic frenzy in the 1970s was driven by the belief that Jesus was preparing to come back soon — maybe today! Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, in particular, grew quickly, so much so that many of the largest churches in the United States were IFB congregations.

Of course, Jesus did not return in the 1970s. The 1980s saw Hal Lindsay’s book, The Late, Great Planet Earth, first published in 1970, which renewed Evangelical fervor with its prediction that the rapture would take place 40 years after the 1948 establishment of Israel as a nation. Lindsay’s book, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon, continued to stoke the fires of Evangelical zeal. (By 1990, The Late, Great Planet Earth had sold 28 million copies.) In 1988, Edgar Whisenant released a publication titled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988. (88 Reasons sold 4.5 million copies, and 300,000 free copies were mailed to pastors.) Whisenant predicted that the rapture would take place between September 11 and 13, 1988. Jesus, of course, was a no show in 1988 and has yet to make an appearance to this day.

By the time the 1990s arrived, rapture-mania had pretty well died out. Oh, Evangelical pastors and evangelists still preached eschatological themed sermons, but the fervor that drove churches previously was gone. While preachers still preach about the imminent return of Jesus, such sermons no longer motivate congregants to busily win souls before Jesus comes again and it is too late.

Officially, most Evangelicals believe in the pretribulational rapture of the church. However, if you let their works testify to what they really believe, it is evident that Evangelicals no longer believe that Gabriel is fixing to blow his trumpet and Jesus is returning in the clouds to catch away his chosen ones. TV preachers such as con artist Jim Bakker continue to preach up the could-be-tomorrow rapture, but tomorrow never comes and their bank accounts continue to grow.

the rapture 2

Evangelicals have traded a soon-coming Lord for megachurches, fancy AV systems, praise bands, relational preaching and, most importantly, political power. Evangelicals seem far more concerned with expanding their kingdoms on earth than they do evangelizing the lost and building the kingdom to come. I don’t know of one Evangelical preacher, church leader, or congregant, for that matter, who lives as if Jesus could split the eastern sky today. I told Polly last night that Evangelicals sure do talk and sing a lot about Heaven, but none of them seem to be in much hurry to get there. The vast majority of Evangelicals not only are indifferent about their own souls, but they also couldn’t care less about the souls of their unsaved, heathen neighbors. Evangelicalism has become that which it stood against decades ago — institutionalized. It has become little more than cultural religion. The only reason any of us should give a thought about Evangelicalism is that it continues to have a dangerous anti-human hold on the Republican Party. Unbelievers now outnumber Evangelicals in the United States, but we have nowhere near the political and cultural power Evangelicals have.

Evangelicals can continue to preach up the soon return of Jesus, but it’s evident to anyone who is paying attention that they no longer believe what they are preaching. In fact, I suspect many Evangelicals hope Jesus isn’t in any hurry to destroy the world with fire. Deep down, most Evangelicals wonder if they really want to trade the good life of the here and now for an eternity of prostrating themselves before a narcissistic God.

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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Black Collar Crime: Civil Suit Against Temple Baptist Church in Kokomo, Indiana Dismissed

pastor mike holloway

Please read previous posts on this scandal: Black Collar Crime: Woman Claims Evangelical Pastor Mike Holloway Knew She Had Been Sexually Abused and Did Nothing, Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Mike Holloway Denies He Knew Anything About Woman’s Sex Abuse Claim, Black Collar Crime: Another Victim Comes Forward in Temple Baptist Church of Kokomo Sex Abuse Scandal, Black Collar Crime: The Temple Baptist Church of Kokomo Sex Abuse Scandal Continues, Black Collar Crime: Alleged Victim Count Up to Ten in Temple Baptist Church of Kokomo Sexual Abuse Scandal, Black Collar Crime: The Cover-up Continues at Temple Baptist Church in Kokomo, Indiana and Black Collar Crime: Jane Doe Files Civil Suit Against Temple Baptist Church and Pastor Mike Holloway.

In 2017, a civil lawsuit was filed against Temple Baptist Church in Kokomo, Indiana, alleging the church and its pastor, Mike Holloway, covered up sexual abuse. Last month, Cass County Superior Court II, Judge Richard Maughmer ruled in favor of the church, saying the suit fell outside the bounds of the statute of limitations and that evidence being submitted by the alleged victime was inadmissible.

The Herald Bulletin reports:

In an effort to eliminate future legal fees and end any doubt of innocence regarding what it refers to as unsubstantiated allegations, Temple Baptist Church in Kokomo has entered into a “nuisance” settlement with a former member.

That woman claimed church officials did not take proper action when they discovered allegations of sexual abuse against her that took place nearly 30 years ago.

During a hearing on the civil case last month in Cass County Superior Court II, Judge Richard Maughmer actually ruled in favor of Temple Baptist, stating there was an absence of evidence to support the woman’s allegations, a church press release stated.

The nuisance agreement — which essentially means the plaintiff won’t be able to take the church back to court for this matter in the future — came as a result of a recommendation by the church’s insurance company, a Temple Baptist press release stated.

According to the release, Temple Baptist’s insurance company is set to pay the woman $7,500 for attorney fees and related expenses, and any remaining balance will be paid to the woman’s creditors as she filed for bankruptcy prior to filing the civil lawsuit.

“We intended to see the process through and continue defending what was being said about our church,” Temple Baptist Pastor Dr. Mike Holloway said in the release. “After much deliberation, we eventually decided to accept our insurer’s decision, which allows us to return to a singular focus of reaching our community for Christ and continuing to spread the Gospel around the world.”

….

“As a church in operation for more than 50 years, we understand some people disagree with our beliefs, and we accept that detractors will sometimes provide information critical of our church and those beliefs,” Holloway noted in the release.

“However, the campaign far exceeded all decency in an attempt to ruin the lives of innocent people and the testimony of the church. … I am grateful for the steadfastness of our church members and supporters during this time. Let us continue to show sympathy to those involved, while being grateful that our church has been vindicated.”

We will likely never know for certain what happened at Temple Baptist Church. I will leave it to readers to decide if the church and its pastor aren’t as “innocent” as they say they are. I am of the opinion that something smells in this sordid story. What, exactly, remains unknown. Yes, sometimes people make false allegations. Is this a case of a vindictive woman going after an IFB church and its pastor? I don’t think so. That said, the Superior Court has ruled and the woman has agreed to a financial settlement. This effectively puts an end to this story.

Christian Explanations for Why Bad Things Happen

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Life is filled with good and bad experiences. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. None of us is exempt from the travails of life. Live long enough and you will face some sort of adversity in your life. Recently, my wife, Polly, spent 18 days in the hospital. This ordeal was the most stressful thing we have faced in forty-one years of marriage. I suspect it will not be the last trial we face before we die.

Christians, of course, are not exempt from bad things. “Life” happens to one and all, even if Jesus is your friend, lover, and physician. Faith does not exempt anyone from facing pain, suffering, and loss. Now, Christians will say that Jesus helps them through the bad times of life, but I found as a pastor that what helped people through adversity was not Jesus, but having a pastor and friends who cared about them. Remove Jesus from the equation, and you will find that atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers have the same need for human love and compassion. One need not believe in Jesus to love and care for others.

Go to the local Evangelical church on Sunday and you will hear songs, testimonies, and sermons extolling the awesomeness of Jesus. Jesus, according Evangelicals, is the bestest e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Yet, come Monday, the Jesus-fix is in the rearview mirror and the realities of life lie ahead. Evangelicals love to say Jesus is their co-pilot or sing Jesus take the Wheel with Carrie Underwood, but truth be told, their day-to-day lives reveal a far different story; that life can be and is hard, and that bad things can and do happen. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. As a pastor who deeply cared for his flock, I traveled hand-in-hand with countless congregants as they walked through the “valley of the shadow of death.” (Psalm 23) I witnessed untold suffering, sorrow, and grief. I stood by weeping family members as they disconnected their loved ones from life support. I stood by the bedsides of the dying, knowing that they would soon be no more. I conducted the funerals of children and seniors alike. I helped congregants move to new homes after losing theirs through bankruptcy or foreclosure. Through it all, I promised them that Jesus was a friend that would stick by them no matter what; that he was closer to them than their flesh and blood family. I will admit that, at times, these words seemed superficial and hollow.

Christians who say their life is different from or superior to that of unbelievers are not being honest. Whatever faith may impart to believers, one thing is for certain: shit happens — both to Christians and unbelievers.

When asked to explain WHY bad things happen in their lives, Christians give several different reasons or explanations.

All Things Work Together for Good

The Bible says in Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

As a pastor, I explained Romans 8:28 this way: To those who are called according to God’s purpose and love him, everything turns out for good. Not everything is good, but everything works out for good. God throws good and bad things into the bag of life, and when everything shakes out, the end result is for our good. God loves us, has a purpose and plan for our lives, and only wants what is best for us. Or so I thought at the time.

God has a Purpose and Plan for Our Lives

Jeremiah 29:11 says, For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. In Hebrews 13:5, God promises to never leave or forsake Christians. As a teen, I was encouraged to choose a “life” verse from the Bible; a verse that would be the governing principle of my life. I chose Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

The aforementioned verses and others say to Christians that God has a perfect plan for their lives; that everything that happens to them is according to his divine purpose for them. While it may seem that God is either AWOL or not working in Christians’ best interests, they are reminded by preachers and teachers that God is behind the scenes making sure everything works out as planned. God knows everything, sees everything, and is present everywhere, so Christians can rest easy — the triune God is on duty 24/7.

Above all, Christians are told to not question God’s plan. The Apostle Paul made this clear in his treatise about divine election. Romans 9:20 says:

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

Simply put, God can do whatever he wants, end of story. God says his plan for you, dear Christian, is perfect. How dare you question his sanity. Just keep on believing until reason and common sense depart and faith takes their place. Once faith rules your life, well anything is possible. Is this not exactly what the Bible says in Mark 10:27, with God all things are possible, and John 15:5, without me ye can do nothing?

God’s Ways are not Our Ways

The Bible says in Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

When God’s purpose and plan seem to be out of sorts with expectations and reason, Christians are reminded by their pastors that God’s thoughts are not their thoughts, and his ways are not their ways; that his ways and thoughts are higher than theirs. In other words, when everything in your life is telling you that God doesn’t know what the Heaven he is doing, just remember God doesn’t think or work as humans do. Come on, dude, he’s God, the ULTIMATE party planner.

Again, when Christians have doubts about what God is up to, they are encouraged to faith-it until they make-it. Since God is perfect in all his ways, he can never be at fault if your life turns to shit or you find yourself sitting in a pile of ashes scraping pus from sores as Job did.

What I am Facing is a Test From God

According to Christian preachers of every denomination, sometimes God brings adversity into the lives of believers because he is testing them. Read the book of Job. God turned Satan loose on Job, a righteous man, to see what kind of faith he had; whether he would break under pain, suffering, and loss. Thus, when Christians face Job-like adversity, the first question they should ask themselves is this: is God testing me?

What I am Facing is a Trial Meant to Make Me Stronger

Isaiah 41:10 says:

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness

James 1:2-4 says:

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

According to the Bible, God brings trials into the lives of Christians to make them spiritually stronger; to increase their faith; to toughen up their metaphorical hide. So, when bad things happen, Christians should ask themselves, is this a test or is this a trial God has brought in my life to make me stronger?

What I am Facing is Chastisement from God

The Bible says in Hebrews 12:6-8:

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Sometimes, God uses bad things to chastise (punish) Christians for sin in their lives. In fact, a life without punishment is a sure sign that someone is NOT a Christian. God, the Father, punishes and corrects those whom he loves. Just as our earthly fathers beat us when we disobeyed, so does our Heavenly Father.

Proverbs 3:12 says: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

So, when bad things happen, Christians should ask themselves, is this a test, a trial God has brought in my life to make me stronger, or is God chastising me? In other words, which cup is the coin under?

These six statements pretty well cover every explanation Christians use to explain the bad things in their lives. I have yet to hear a Christian say, when asked about the adversity he or she is facing, Hell if I know, shit happens! God’s honor and name must be defended at all costs lest people believe that he is a psychopath who finds pleasure in inflicting pain, suffering, and abuse on fallible, frail humans. Just remember, God created everything and is the sovereign Lord over all, but when things turn to shit, he’s not to blame. Don’t try this at home!

Now, when bad things happen to unbelievers, the explanation is far different. God is trying to get our attention. Bad things happening in our lives are warning signs from God. Warning! Judgment and Hell await unless you, without delay, repent of your sins and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I was somewhat surprised that a Christian zealot didn’t email me and say that Polly’s latest hospitalization was God warning me (us) that I was on a dangerous path that leads to hellfire and damnation. Of course, such a warning would have the opposite effect on me. Giving the love of my life bladder cancer and ulcerative colitis so I will love you? Not going to happen asshole!

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: Atheists are Hostile to Reason

When engaging your typical internet village atheist, the Christian apologist seldom encounters rational discussion. To use a common expression, I have found that these professing atheists are control freaks. Not only do they insist that their worldview is superior to ours because atheism, they are hostile to our presentations of reason.

Atheists and other anti-creationists attempt to justify their worldviews and morality by attacking God and simultaneously saying they “lack belief” in his existence and creation. Evidence for his existence is rejected based on their materialistic presuppositions, not because of flaws in our logic or the evidence. The use of presuppositional apologetics is something that really puts burrs under their saddles because we give critiques of their worldviews, expose flaws in their epistemology, point out logical fallacies, and especially because we stand on the authority of God’s Word. 

— Piltdown Superman, Biblical Creation and Evangelism, Confronting Atheistic Worldviews, August 21, 2019

Quote of the Day: The Cross is not Secular Says Ruth Bader Ginsburg

ruth bader ginsburg

An immense Latin cross stands on a traffic island at the center of a busy three-way intersection in Bladensburg, Md. “Monumental, clear, and bold” by day, the cross looms even larger illuminated against the night-time sky. Known as the Peace Cross, the monument was erected by private citizens in 1925 to honor local soldiers who lost their lives in World War I. “The town’s most prominent symbol” was rededicated in 1985 and is now said to honor “the sacrifices made in all wars,” by “all veterans.” Both the Peace Cross and the traffic island are owned and maintained by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, an agency of the state of Maryland.

Decades ago, this court recognized that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution demands governmental neutrality among religious faiths, and between religion and nonreligion. Numerous times since, the court has reaffirmed the Constitution’s commitment to neutrality. Today, the court erodes that neutrality commitment, diminishing precedent designed to preserve individual liberty and civic harmony in favor of a “presumption of constitutionality for longstanding monuments, symbols and practices.”

The Latin cross is the foremost symbol of the Christian faith, embodying the “central theological claim of Christianity: that the son of God died on the cross, that he rose from the dead, and that his death and resurrection offer the possibility of eternal life.” Precisely because the cross symbolizes these sectarian beliefs, it is a common marker for the graves of Christian soldiers. For the same reason, using the cross as a war memorial does not transform it into a secular symbol, as the courts of appeals have uniformly recognized.

Some of my colleagues suggest that the court’s new presumption extends to all governmental displays and practices, regardless of their age. ‘A more contemporary state effort’ to put up a religious display is ‘likely to prove divisive in a way that a longstanding, pre-existing monument would not.’” I read the court’s opinion to mean what it says: “Retaining established, religiously expressive monuments, symbols, and practices is quite different from erecting or adopting new ones,” and, consequently, only “longstanding monuments, symbols, and practices” enjoy “a presumption of constitutionality.”

Cross not suitable for other faiths

Just as a Star of David is not suitable to honor Christians who died serving their country, so a cross is not suitable to honor those of other faiths who died defending their nation. Soldiers of all faiths “are united by their love of country, but they are not united by the cross.” By maintaining the Peace Cross on a public highway, the commission elevates Christianity over other faiths, and religion over nonreligion. Memorializing the service of American soldiers is an “admirable and unquestionably secular” objective.

But the commission does not serve that objective by displaying a symbol that bears “a starkly sectarian message.” The First Amendment commands that the government “shall make no law” either “respecting an establishment of religion” or “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Adoption of these complementary provisions followed centuries of “turmoil, civil strife, and persecution, generated in large part by established sects determined to maintain their absolute political and religious supremacy.”

Mindful of that history, the fledgling Republic ratified the Establishment Clause, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, to “build a wall of separation between church and state.”

Government may not favor

The Establishment Clause essentially instructs: “The government may not favor one religion over another, or religion over irreligion.”

In cases challenging the government’s display of a religious symbol, the court has tested fidelity to the principle of neutrality by asking whether the display has the “effect of ‘endorsing’ religion.” The display fails this requirement if it objectively “conveys a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.” To make that determination, a court must consider “the pertinent facts and circumstances surrounding the symbol and its placement.”

As I see it, when a cross is displayed on public property, the government may be presumed to endorse its religious content. The venue is surely associated with the state; the symbol and its meaning are just as surely associated exclusively with Christianity.

To non-Christians, nearly 30 percent of the population of the United States, the state’s choice to display the cross on public buildings or spaces conveys a message of exclusion: It tells them they “are outsiders, not full members of the political community.”

“For nearly two millennia,” the Latin cross has been the “defining symbol” of Christianity, evoking the foundational claims of that faith. Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ was “a divine Savior” who “illuminated a path toward salvation and redemption.” Central to the religion are the beliefs that “the son of God,” Jesus Christ, “died on the cross,” that “he rose from the dead,” and that “his death and resurrection offer the possibility of eternal life.” “From its earliest times,” Christianity was known as “religio crucis — the religion of the cross.”

Christians wear crosses, not as an ecumenical symbol, but to proclaim their adherence to Christianity. An exclusively Christian symbol, the Latin cross is not emblematic of any other faith.

The principal symbol of Christianity around the world should not loom over public thoroughfares, suggesting official recognition of that religion’s paramountcy.

The commission’s “attempts to secularize what is unquestionably a sacred symbol defy credibility and disserve people of faith.” The asserted commemorative meaning of the cross rests on — and is inseparable from — its Christian meaning: “the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the redeeming benefits of his passion and death,” specifically, “the salvation of man.” Because of its sacred meaning, the Latin cross has been used to mark Christian deaths since at least the fourth century. The cross on a grave “says that a Christian is buried here,” and “commemorates that person’s death by evoking a conception of salvation and eternal life reserved for Christians.”

As a commemorative symbol, the Latin cross simply “makes no sense apart from the crucifixion, the resurrection, and Christianity’s promise of eternal life.” The cross affirms that, thanks to the soldier’s embrace of Christianity, he will be rewarded with eternal life. “To say that the cross honors the Christian war dead does not identify a secular meaning of the cross; it merely identifies a common application of the religious meaning.” Scarcely “a universal symbol of sacrifice,” the cross is “the symbol of one particular sacrifice.”

Every court of appeals to confront the question has held that “making a . . . Latin cross a war memorial does not make the cross secular,” it “makes the war memorial sectarian.” The Peace Cross is no exception. That was evident from the start. At the dedication ceremony, the keynote speaker analogized the sacrifice of the honored soldiers to that of Jesus Christ, calling the Peace Cross “symbolic of Calvary,” where Jesus was crucified. Local reporters variously described the monument as “a mammoth cross, a likeness of the Cross of Calvary, as described in the bible,” “a monster Calvary cross,” and “a huge sacrifice cross.”

The character of the monument has not changed with the passage of time.

Not a universal symbol

Reiterating its argument that the Latin cross is a “universal symbol” of World War I sacrifice, the commission states that “40 World War I monuments . . . built in the United States . . . bear the shape of a cross.” This figure includes memorials that merely “incorporate” a cross. Moreover, the 40 monuments compose only 4 percent of the “948 outdoor sculptures commemorating the First World War.” The court lists just seven freestanding cross memorials, less than 1 percent of the total number of monuments to World War I in the United States. Cross memorials, in short, are outliers. The overwhelming majority of World War I memorials contain no Latin cross. In fact, the “most popular and enduring memorial of the post-World War I decade” was “the mass-produced Spirit of the American Doughboy statue.” That statue, depicting a U.S. infantryman, “met with widespread approval throughout American communities.”

The Peace Cross, as plaintiffs’ expert historian observed, was an “aberration . . . even in the era in which it was built and dedicated.” Like cities and towns across the country, the United States military comprehended the importance of “paying equal respect to all members of the Armed Forces who perished in the service of our country,” and therefore avoided incorporating the Latin cross into memorials. The construction of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is illustrative. When a proposal to place a cross on the Tomb was advanced, the Jewish Welfare Board objected; no cross appears on the Tomb. In sum, “there is simply ‘no evidence . . . that the cross has been widely embraced by’ — or even applied to — ‘non-Christians as a secular symbol of death’ or of sacrifice in military service” in World War I or otherwise.

The Establishment Clause, which preserves the integrity of both church and state, guarantees that “however . . . individuals worship, they will count as full and equal American citizens.”

“If the aim of the Establishment Clause is genuinely to uncouple government from church,” the clause does “not permit . . . a display of the character” of Bladensburg’s Peace Cross.

— This is an edited and condensed version of the dissent, written by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in the Bladensburg cross case

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Jesus is NOT a Religion

jesus hawkins texasJesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say Superman welcomes you to town.

— Mayor Will Rogers, Hawkins, Texas

Freedom From Religion Foundation News Release

Texas city has at long last removed a “Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins” sign that the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected to years ago.

Back in 2015, the state/church watchdog twice wrote to the city of Hawkins about the blatantly Christian sign on city property after receiving local complaints.

“The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover noted. “The Supreme Court has been clear that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”

The city of Hawkins violated this neutrality with a prominent governmental sign that proclaimed “Jesus Welcomes You” and endorsed belief in the pre-eminent figure of Christianity, FFRF pointed out. It sent a clear message to those with Christian beliefs that they’re favored community insiders and an equally clear message to those who believe differently that they’re not.

Then Hawkins-Mayor Will Rogers, the creative mind behind the sign, which he commissioned public school students to build, defended it with media statements such as “Jesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. He’s in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism” and “If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything, then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say ‘Superman welcomes you to town.’”

Fortunately, better sense prevailed in the rest of the city administration, and it heeded FFRF’s advice, albeit after many twists and turns.

The City Council voted to remove the sign after FFRF’s second letter, but then events headed in a strange direction after the mayor got into a long tussle with the city. He sued eight city officials and a bunch of other residents for supposedly resisting his attempts to root out corruption. Rogers settled the lawsuit but narrowly lost his re-election bid, with the sign playing a major role in the campaign.

Meanwhile, a group of supporters of the sign claimed that it was on private property, while the city contended that it had an easement to build a road on the land and, therefore, it was city-owned. The land turned out to be on the property of a funeral home that wanted nothing to do with the controversy, but then an entity called “Jesus Christ Open Altar Church, LLC” brought a lawsuit against the city after claiming to have bought the land from the funeral home. FFRF waited and watched while the lawsuit was underway. Finally, the city won that lawsuit on appeal and recently removed the sign.

FFRF is breathing a sigh of relief at this overdue victory for the U.S. Constitution — and for the rights of minority believers and nonbelievers in the community.

“We believe in justice for the good people of this country — even justice that is long delayed,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Finally, the city of Hawkins is in compliance with the law of the land — and has stopped sending a divisive and exclusionary message.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit founded in 1978, has over 31,000 nonreligious members and several chapters around the country, including more than 1,300 members and a chapter in Texas.

 

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Teacher Austin Greenway Charged with Sexual Abuse

austin greenway

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.

Austin Greenway, a teacher at North Valley Early Learning Center in Margaret, Alabama, was charged earlier this week with sexually abusing a 9-year-old child. The Center is a ministry of North Valley Church in Odenville, Alabama.

AL.com reports:

In June, the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office Investigators were contacted by the Margaret Police Department to look into allegations of sexual abuse of a 9-year-old child at North Valley Early Learning Center in Margaret. The center is a ministry of North Valley Church.

The suspect, Austin Blake Greenway, had been employed at North Valley as a teacher for the past two years. After an extensive investigation, the case was presented to a St. Clair County grand jury, resulting in an indictment for sexual abuse of a child under 12 years old, and school employee engaged in a sex act with a student under the age of 19.

Greenway was released on a $50,000 bond.

Does the Holy Spirit Fart?

https://schoolofthespirit.tv/

According to Jennifer LeClaire, Charismatic prophetess extraordinaire, Christians have the ability to “smell” in the spirit.  LeClaire, a huckster always looking for another way to make a buck, is peddling a course titled “Smelling in the Spirit.” Costing $59, the class aims to:

From the fragrance of God to the fragrance of demons and beyond, we do have the ability to smell in the spirit. Many don’t undertand this aspect of the gift of discerning of Spirits. Jennifer LeClaire teachers [sic] you in the School of the Seers.

According to LeClaire, God has a fragrance, and so do demons. This got me wondering about the Holy Spirit’s smell. What if the Holy Spirit farted? How would LeClaire and other sniffers “discern” God’s message from the gaseous mixture of Taco Bell gorditas and burritos emanating from their asses? Surely, this is a very important question, don’t you think?

If you are a Christian, the next time you are in church or in a crowded elevator and you smell a fart — maybe your own — just remember you might be smelling the Holy Spirit.  If you are an atheist, it’s not the Holy Spirit you are smelling, it’s Lucifer or one of his demons. What a minute, Bruce, are you saying Holy Spirit and Lucifer farts smell the same? Yep! Consider the ramifications of that thought, if you dare!

Please share your smelly thoughts about LeClaire’s “Smelling in the Spirit” class in the comment section.

Bruce, Did You Listen to Recordings of Your Own Sermons?

bruce gerencser 2002

Bruce Gerencser, 2002

I preached my first sermon at age fifteen, and my last sermon shortly before my forty-eighth birthday. (Please see Ten Years Since I Preached My Last Sermon) All told, I preached almost 5,000 sermons. For many years, I preached two sermons on Sundays, taught Sunday school, and preached again on Thursday nights. Throw in preaching revivals, conferences, youth rallies, special meetings, along with preaching at local nursing homes, and I think you could say I preached a sermon or two in my lifetime. For many years, I also preached on the street. (Please see the Street Preaching series.) If I was anything, I was a preaching machine. My favorite part of the ministry was standing before people and preaching the Word of God. (Please see Preaching: The Ruminations of a Former Evangelical Pastor Part One and Preaching: The Ruminations of a Former Evangelical Pastor Part Two.)

Rarely did a Sunday go by that I didn’t ask Polly, “How was my sermon today?” She always said words such as fine, great, or awesome. She swears my sermons were really that good, but I never preached a sermon that I thought was perfect. And I remember to this day several sermons that were downright awful. One sermon in particular — from the book of Habakkuk — was so bad that I stopped half way through it and said, “this sermon makes no sense. Let’s pray!”

Many of my sermons were recorded on cassette tape. These recordings were duplicated using tape duplication machines and distributed free of charge to whomever wanted them. For many years, the church I pastored operated a tape ministry — Charis Tape Library. Each week, tapes of my sermons and those of other preachers were duplicated and mailed across the country. Before my sermons were duplicated, I listened to them, making sure that what I said was doctrinally correct and that I didn’t say anything which might prove to be embarrassing. I loved using personal illustrations, and on more than a few occasions, I said things that in retrospect might be misconstrued or misunderstood. Those tape recordings were erased using a large, powerful magnet.

I firmly believed then, and still do, that sermons ought to be well-crafted and delivered in such a way that they change the hearts and minds of listeners. There’s nothing worse than a poorly crafted sermon dispassionately delivered. (Please see Should a Christian Preacher Turned Atheist Stop Using His Public Speaking Skills?) I heard countless aimless, forgettable sermons preached by men who had no business behind the pulpit. I listened to hundreds of my own sermons, listening for bad speech patterns or poor use of the English language. On many occasions, I said to Polly, “I can’t believe I said that!” As someone with OCPD (obsessive-compulsive personality disorder), I always had perfection as the goal. I never reach that mark, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I like to think that my preaching showed growth and maturity over the years.

I am sure many of my taped sermons are buried in the back of the closets of former congregants. Alas, I personally don’t have any of them. Several years ago, I wrote a short post titled, The Night I Set My Life on Fire. It best describes what happened to my sermon tapes:

Family and close friends know that I can be temperamental and impetuous. I am quick to make decisions, and doing so has, for the most part, served me well. There are those times, though, when making snap decisions has resulted in me doing things that I later regret. The story that follows is one such instance.

I have not written much about my time as pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I plan to devote a chapter in my book to this church. After resigning from Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio, I took the Bruce Gerencser Traveling Preacher Show five miles south to West Unity, a small community south of the Ohio Turnpike, and started a church. I spent seven years pastoring Our Father’s House. We bought the old West Unity library and began holding services in September of 1995. At its inception, the church was called Grace Baptist Church. After conflict over the use of praise and worship music and non-cessationism (the belief that charismatic spiritual gifts are valid today) resulted in five families leaving the church, we decided to rename the church Our Father’s House. By this time, I had theologically made a move to the left. I wanted the church’s name to reflect our belief that sectarianism was contrary to the teachings of Jesus. After the name change, we had the front door lettered with “The Church Where the Only Label That Matters is Christian.”

During the last three years of my time at Our Father’s House, I became increasingly disenchanted with Evangelical Christianity. Deeply influenced by authors such as Thomas Merton, Wendell Berry, and John Howard Yoder, I embraced pacifism and changed my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. I now know that the seeds of my unbelief were planted during this period of time.

One night, after a long, depressing self-reflection on Evangelicalism and my part in harming others in the name of God, I gathered up all the ministry mementos I had collected over the years, piled them in the yard, doused them with gasoline, and set them on fire. In a few minutes, 20 years of sermons notes, recorded sermons, letters, and church advertisements went up in smoke. At the time, I found the consuming fire to be quite cathartic. This was my way of breaking with my past. Little did I know that 8 years later I would torch the rest of my ministerial and Christian past and embrace atheism.

Today, I sure wish I still had the things I turned into a pile of ashes in the backyard. I have no doubt my sermon notes and recorded messages would provide information and context about the decades I spent as an Evangelical pastor.

I know several former congregants and colleagues in the ministry read this site. If you happen to have any of my sermon tapes that you haven’t taped over with Metallica songs, I would love to have them.

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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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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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists and Secular Humanists are Religious Too

Everyone is religious. Christians are religious. Hindus are religious. Muslims are religious. And believe it or not, atheists are also religious, as are secular humanists and others. Everyone has a set of beliefs and values that they live their life by. If a person does not believe in and worship the one true God, then they will find another god.

Often that god is self – or some cause that people devote their lives to, or some belief that they commit themselves to. They will give themselves over to some ultimate explanation of life, some moral cause, or some purpose greater than themselves.

Such belief systems, philosophies, or worldviews serve “to interpret the universe for them, to guide their moral decisions, to give meaning and purpose to life, and all the other functions normally associated with religion” as Nancy Pearcey puts it. Thus there is such a thing as secular religions.

In the West today we find countless people who have rejected Christianity but have not stopped being religious. They have simply substituted other gods for the God of the Bible. They still want their life to have meaning and purpose. They still have a sense of making atonement of some kind for their various failings and shortcomings. They still have guilt feelings that they seek to deal with.

Thus they will often find substitute religious causes to join. These groups have secular versions of biblical themes such as some sort of beginning, a fall, sin, redemption, and eschatology. These counterfeit religions give these folks a sense of meaning and fulfillment. That is because they are in fact made in the image of God, and if it is not the true God that they worship and follow, then they will make up their own.

One of the big god-substitutes of today is the green religion. Many people who have rejected more traditional religion have embraced environmentalism as their big picture belief system. It gives them a sense of belonging and purpose, and it assuages their guilt.

— Bill Muehlenberg, Culture Watch, Green Religion, August 21, 2019

The Existence of God: Daring to Look Behind the Curtain

god-curtain

Recently, Andrew Hackman said, “Once you see behind the god curtain, there is no point in offering me a “better” god.” Andrew’s words got me thinking about the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz; of how Dorothy and her compatriots traveled to the Emerald City to see the great Wizard of Oz. Rumor had it that the Wizard of Oz had great powers, and who better to give the Scarecrow a brain, the Tin Woodman a heart, the Cowardly Lion courage, and magically return Dorothy to Kansas? The Wizard agreed to grant their wishes if they brought him the broomstick belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West.

Upon achieving the quest, Dorothy and her friends return to the Emerald City, thinking that the Wizard will happily and quickly grant their wishes. Instead, he stalls, hoping they will give up and go away. As they persisted, Toto, the dog, pulled back a curtain to reveal that the great Wizard of Oz was actually a “middle-aged man operating machinery and speaking into a microphone.”

So it for those of us who have pulled back the God curtain, only to find out that “God” was a fabrication of the human mind; that the God we loved, worshiped, and adored was nothing more than a feeble, frail man using magical words and religious texts to convince us of his existence. The God behind the curtain used all sorts of tricks to get us to accept that he was real; that he was the supreme ruler of the universe; that he was the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the one true God. But once we saw the human behind the curtain, it was impossible for us to unsee. We had three choices: pretend that we didn’t see what was behind the curtain, ignore what we had seen, or admit that the deity we had devoted our lives to was no God at all. For those of us who are atheists and agnostics, we chose number three — there is no God.

wizard of oz

It’s been a decade now since I pulled back the God curtain and found that Christian God (and all other extant Gods) was a fake, a fraud, a human invention. Since that time, countless Evangelicals, Catholics, and Muslims have attempted to evangelize me, saying that I had been worshiping a false God, and that if I would just believe in and follow their peculiar version of God, all my wishes would be granted.

Their remonstrations have fallen on deaf ears. Why? Let me quote my buddy Andrew again, “Once you see behind the god curtain, there is no point in offering me a “better” god.” You see, once you know the truth, there’s no going back. Once you realize the psychological, sociological, and geographical nature of belief in God, the idea that God is “real” falls flat on its face. Christian zealots continue to try to convince me that their flavor of Christianity is “truth,” but I know better. You see, I have pulled back the curtain, and I know that God looks and acts a lot like Bruce Gerencser and seven billion other human beings.

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.