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Category: Evangelicalism

My Life as a Street Preacher — Part One

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Bruce Gerencser, preaching on a Zanesville, Ohio street corner, September 7, 1990. This photograph was on the front page of the Zanesville Times-Recorder.

I was a street preacher in the 1980s and 1990s. Yes, one of those guys standing on a street corner, Bible raised high, preaching to anyone and everyone who passed by my corner. I often preached on the street several times a week. I preached at Ohio State University, on the Short North in Columbus, and at numerous local festivals, including the Holy Trinity Catholic Church Garden Party in Somerset, Ohio, the Perry County Fair, and the Moonshine Festival in New Straitsville. I preached on the streets of Ohio communities such as Bryan, Crooksville, New Lexington, Zanesville, Lancaster, and Newark. I also preached on street corners in Washington, DC, near the Mall. Sometimes I preached by myself, but most of the time congregants and Christian school children went with me. Their duty was to hold Bible verse signs and hand out gospel tracts. Every week, the students of Somerset Baptist Academy would load into a dilapidated green fifteen-passenger van and go with the man they called Preacher to reach sinners for Jesus. Their appearance on street corners during school hours (once a week) was disconcerting to one school superintendent. He telephoned me and let me know that the kids should be in school, not on street corners hustling for souls. I asked him if the students in his district had extra-curricular activities during school hours. Of course they did! So that put an end to his objection. A short time later, I stopped taking the younger school children with me out of concern that it looked bad. The older students still went along with me, as did several of the teachers.

Don Hardman, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist from Fishersville, Virginia, came to Somerset Baptist Church annually to hold what is called a protracted meeting. The meeting would start on a Sunday and last for fifteen days (18 services in all). The Hardman meetings were the highlight of the year. The congregation loved the Hardmans, as did Polly and I. Our youngest daughter, Laura, is named after Don’s wife. (Please read The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review and Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review.)

Don was a street preacher extraordinaire. I would go with him when he preached on the streets. I didn’t preach at first due to shyness and not wanting to give an inferior performance in front of my friend and mentor. Eventually, the Holy Ghost got a hold of me and I knew I had to start preaching, so I did. Now, the Holy Ghost, of course, didn’t really get a hold of me in any shape, fashion, or form. I did, however, feel a burden for reaching unsaved people and ministering to the homeless. I “felt” a calling to reach the dregs of society for Christ, not only through my preaching, but also through feeding and clothing them. I suspect that my experiences with poverty growing up played a big part in the empathy I had for homeless people.

Some of my readers might want to know what good was accomplished through street preaching. As far as souls being saved, it was a big bust. This didn’t concern me. I saw myself as more of a John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness. In 1739, John Wesley, a street preacher himself, wrote in his journal:

I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.

Much like Wesley, I viewed the world as my parish, and preaching on the streets was just my way of being a faithful witness to people who would likely never darken the doors of Somerset Baptist Church. I also believed, that by preaching on the streets, I would shame and embarrass preachers who contented themselves with being Sunday preachers, hirelings who cared little for the lost around them. I learned, however, that most preachers were either afraid to preach on the streets or didn’t care one bit for the spiritual condition of those outside the doors of their churches. Some preachers would compliment me for my zeal, but then say that they weren’t “called” to be street preachers. I reminded them that Jesus, Paul, John the Baptist, and the disciples were all street preachers. This fact did not sway them. I suspect the real issue was that street preaching would interfere with their golf game or their attendance at fellowships and conferences. Laziness, indolence, and indifference are quite common among pastors. Of course, now that I look back on the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I wish I had spent more time leisurely attending to my own wants and needs and those of my family instead of street preaching. These days, when I see a street preacher I make sure I share the good news with him — that there is no God, so let’s get a beer.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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The IFB Blood Cult: I’m Not Brainwashed, I’m Bloodwashed

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Several years ago, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) man left a comment on a blog post about his pastor and church — Tony Hutson and Middle Tennessee Baptist Church. (I responded to his comments and emails here.) Tony Hutson is the son of the late Curtis Hutson — a popular IFB conference speaker and editor of the Sword of the Lord. In 1990, Tony Hutson, sensing a call from the IFB God, went to the mission field to establish a new church. Where was this mission field, you ask?  Why, in deep, dark, church-less Murfreesboro, Tennessee — the land of more Baptists than you can count and home to IFB publishing house and newspaper, Sword of the LordAccording to Hutson’s church bio page, he is:

Rooted and grounded in the fundamentals of the faith and following the “old paths” in every aspect of his ministry, Bro. Tony has a soul winner’s heart and great vision.

….

He travels around the country preaching most Mondays and Tuesdays but is still available to his people and nearly always in the pulpit for regular services at Middle Tennessee Baptist Church. His preaching has been described as dynamic, exciting and convicting. His larger-than-life personality and tremendous sense of humor, combined with a sincere desire to serve the Lord and preach His Word without compromise, make Bro. Tony Hutson a preacher everyone should hear.

In other words, he is da bomb! He is physically and metaphorically bigger than life!

blood of jesus

The aforementioned commenter said in his comment that the people at Middle Tennessee Baptist were not brainwashed, they were bloodwashed. I would like to take up this cliché in the remainder of this post.

Independent Fundamentalist Baptists love talking about the blood, the precious blood, the miraculous blood, the sin-cleansing blood. Much like the Israelites in the Old Testament with their pagan-esque God-ordered blood sacrifices, Baptists revel in the bloody, violent sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Baptists LOVE Mel Gibson’s family movie, The Passion of the Christ — a porno/ snuff film. More than a few Baptist preachers whispered, the movie is even better than the book! (For the record, I have never seen the movie.)

Years ago, Fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur caused quite a controversy when he said that it was the DEATH of Jesus, not his blood, that provided atonement for human sin. Blood worshipers quickly denounced MacArthur, appealing to M.R. DeHaan’s classic forty-page book, The Chemistry of the Blood, as proof for the necessity of Jesus’s blood sacrifice

In chapter five of the book, DeHaan — a medical doctor and Fundamentalist preacher — had this to say about Jesus’s miraculous, powerful blood:

There is a Second and a more potent reason still. The blood was God’s only purchase price of redemption. When man sinned, something happened to his blood, for “the life . . . is in the blood.” Instead of incorruptible and, therefore, deathless blood, Adam’s blood corrupted through sin and became subject to death. To redeem this DEAD sinner, life must be again imparted. The only remedy for death is LIFE. This life is in the blood and so blood must be furnished which is sinless and incorruptible. Now none of Adam’s race could do this. For in “Adam all died.” “All have sinned and come short.” The angels could not furnish that blood for they are spirit beings and have neither flesh nor blood. There was only one, yes, ONLY ONE, who could furnish that blood, the virgin-born Son of God, with a human body, but sinless supernatural blood, inseminated by the Holy Ghost. In a previous message we showed scientifically that every drop of blood in an infant’s body is the contribution of the male parent, while the mother furnished all the flesh of that little body. Jesus’ body was of Mary; His blood was by the Holy Ghost. This sinless, supernatural blood was the only price of redemption God could accept, without violating the integrity of His holy nature. Death can only be banished by life. A blood transfusion must be performed and provided.

….

This [modern blood banks] is not one millionth as wonderful as what God did nineteen centuries ago. Then there was one Man who gave ALL His sinless blood on the Cross of Calvary. There a BLOOD BANK was opened and into that bank went the blood of the Lord Jesus. It suits every type, avails for everyone and is free to all who submit to its “transfusion” by the Holy Spirit. All you need to do is apply for it by FAITH. We must add chemicals to the blood in our blood banks to preserve it, and then it eventually deteriorates just the same, but no preservatives need be added to His Precious blood, for it is INCORRUPTIBLE and sinless. Not one drop of that blood was lost or wasted. It is INCORRUPTIBLE.

“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with CORRUPTIBLE THINGS, as silver and gold. . . . But with the precious BLOOD of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” —1 Peter 1:18,19  That blood CANNOT PERISH I do not know where that blood is now but I suspect it is in heaven somewhere just as fresh and as potent as when it was shed nineteen hundred years ago. When I get to heaven I shall not be surprised to find a diamond studded, golden basin next to the throne with the very blood, the precious incorruptible blood which was shed at Calvary, and as we gaze upon it we will sing, “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood,” Revelation 1:5

Hallelujah for the Blood! Reader, do you know that blood is as fresh today as it ever was and will be. It cannot perish. There is a hymn which goes something like this, “Upon the Cross His blood was spilt, A ransom for our sins and guilt.”

One of the most oft-sung hymns in IFB churches is the song, Are You Washed in the Blood?

Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing pow’r?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Refrain:
Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
Oh, be washed in the blood of the Lamb!

Another classic from the Best Blood Hymns album is the song, There’s Power in the Blood:

Would you be free from your burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

Chorus:
There is power, power, wonder-working power,
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder-working power,
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide,
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow,
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

Would you do service for Jesus your King?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you live daily His praises to sing?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

there's power in the blood of jesus

In the mid-1970s, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in the 1950s by Tom Malone, the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac. Students were required to attend services at Emmanuel every time the doors were open. As was the church’s custom, a public invitation was given at the end of every service. Most IFB churches use the song Just As I Am for their invitation hymn. Emmanuel, however, used William Cowper’s eighteenth-century hymn, There is a Fountain Filled With Blood:

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away:
Wash all my sins away,
Wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed ones of God
Be saved, to sin no more:
Be saved, to sin no more,
Be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed ones of God,
Be saved to sin no more.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:
And shall be till I die,
And shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save:
I’ll sing Thy power to save,
I’ll sing Thy power to save;
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save.

Depending on the number of people responding to the invitation, the five verses of There is a Fountain Filled with Blood could be sung several times, leading to mass lethargy and sleepiness.

As you can see, the IFB church movement is a blood cult, as are many Christian sects. In their defense, the Bible does say in Hebrews 9:22, 26-28:

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

No blood, no remission of sin. No blood, no eternal life. No blood, no meaning, purpose, and direction in this life. The first church I worked in used the tagline, The Blood, the Book, and the Blessed Hope. Contemporary Christian artist Andre Crouch spoke of this powerful blood in his classic song, The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power:

The blood that Jesus shed for me,
Way back on Calvary;
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day,
It will never lose it’s power.

Chorus:
It reaches to the highest mountain,
It flows to the lowest valley;
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day,
It will never lose it’s power.

It soothes my doubts and calms my fears,
And it dries all my tears;
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day,
It will never lose it’s power.

So, when the aforementioned commenter says that the people at Middle Tennessee Baptist are not brainwashed, they are bloodwashed, my response is this: brainwashing — actually indoctrination and conditioning — is required before someone can accept bloodwashing. Children in IFB churches are taught from preschool forward that they are sinners who deserve God’s judgment and Hell; and that the only way to avoid Hell is to have the blood of Jesus applied to your life; and that the only way to Heaven and life eternal is through the blood of Jesus Christ. These children are frequently taught Bible stories about Old Testament blood sacrifices and the New Testament final blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. This training continues throughout their lives, even into adulthood. Is it any wonder, then, that IFB congregants believe, with nary a brain cell disturbed, that the forgiveness of sin, salvation, and eternal life all require blood sacrifice (and a miraculous raising of a dead person back to life)? This is all they have heard Sunday after Sunday their entire lives. Without the brainwashing, there would be no need for the bloodwashing. Apply rational, critical thinking skills, and the very notion of blood sacrifice fades into pages of history — a reminder of ancient cult beliefs.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Evangelical Pastor Brian Tome: God Knows What You Are Going Through, He Lost His Son

brian tome

Several years ago, I was listening to the Bill Cunningham show on WLW-700 on my way home from my doctor’s appointment. Cunningham had as his guest Brian Tome, pastor of Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cunningham and Tome were discussing the untimely deaths of children, young adults, and family members. Tome, evidently, was brought on the show to give advice on handling such deaths. What he did, instead, was spend the time throwing up cheap, worn-out Evangelical clichés. On one hand, Tome went out of his way to say, hey, I am just a regular guy who is looking for answers to questions concerning life and death. On the other hand, he was the typical preacher, ever ready to give an answer when he should have, instead, kept his damn mouth shut.

According to Christianity Today, Crossroads is the fastest-growing church in the United States with fourteen restaurants –uh, I mean locations – and thirty-eight thousand attendees. Crossroads is using the franchise model to build its brand:

Like about a third of US megachurches, Crossroads relies on technology and resources to support church growth beyond physical buildings. Leaders see Crossroads Anywhere—groups that gather in homes to view the weekend service together—as a crucial part of the church’s future.

At least 38 groups meet together for Crossroads Anywhere in far-flung cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, and Houston. The church spends over $100,000 a month to keep the app’s digital infrastructure running.

The Crossroads Anywhere app also acts as a data-driven feasibility study for possible new campuses. If more than 100 people are convening in a certain location, Crossroads evaluates if it should begin providing on-location resources in that region.

In January, the newest Crossroads campus opened in one of the outlying Cincinnati regions where the staff had seen growing interest—and 8,000 people showed up the first weekend.

To expand beyond the Midwest, Crossroads will rely upon technology to liberate where brick and mortar have limited. Consistent with a business startup mentality, Tome stated, “No matter how big one building is, it is still too small for the growth that God wants for his church.”

Jenn Sperry, whose team oversees media at Crossroads, said the staff had always sensed that the church was growing beyond regional borders. But starting last summer, Crossroads team members were asked to use new language when speaking of the church to communicate a more unlimited scope. Sperry’s department, for instance, has been recast as a “national team.”

Early on in the job, Sperry watched the speed of change going on, caught her breath, and asked her supervisor, “Is it always going to be this way?” At a church like Crossroads, the answer is almost always yes. The fast-paced environment shattered her expectations that working at a church could be boring.

“It’s invigorating and also frustrating to be in an environment of change all the time,” Tome acknowledged.

The rate of growth and change can also create trepidation and questions for church members. One longtime member who worships and serves at the original Crossroads campus in Oakley, a neighborhood of young professionals near the city center, heard whispers of concern after the national announcement was made.

“People hear this declaration of Crossroads becoming a national church, and they wonder, ‘What does that mean for us? Do we lose our identity?’ ” said Marie, who asked to only be identified by her first name. She had her own questions, too. “If God has placed this on the hearts of our leaders, then we must trust what God is doing.”

Where is all of this growth coming from? Are thousands of sinners finding salvation through the evangelistic efforts of the church? Of course not. Most new church growth comes from pilfering congregants from other churches. In Cincinnati, there are countless hamburger joints, each offering up its distinctive burgers. What happens when a new hamburger joint comes to town? People flock to the new place looking for something new and different. That’s what we do as capitalistic Americans. We want diversity and choice. Religious hucksters such as Tome tap into that “need” with their new, exciting churches. Tired of their own places of worship, people seek out new adventures and experiences. Off to Crossroads they go, leaving McDonald’s and Wendy’s to die.

A glimpse of Crossroads’ website reveals a sneaky Evangelical church that goes out of its way to position itself as not-one-of-those-churches. Crossroads advertises itself as a church for people who don’t like church; a church that doesn’t care what you believe; a church that is cool, relevant, and oh-so-hip; a church that has an awesome band. However, their beliefs are typical of Fundamentalist churches (see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?), despite how the church hides them at the bottom of a colander filled with word salad.

Here are two things that sum up, for me anyway, the essence of Crossroads’ beliefs and ministry methodology. These statements are found on a page titled, Seven Hills We Die On:

  • Crossroads is a place for people on every part of the spiritual journey, from those just investigating whether there is a God to those who have made following Christ the priority of their life. The Bible presents a dangerous message of life change. We don’t assume everyone believes, or even knows the Bible, but we do assume everyone who comes through our doors is open to exploring it. We believe the Bible is God’s inerrant truth and it’s the foundation of everything we do.
  • We don’t expect anyone who walks into Crossroads to be a committed Christ-follower, but we do expect everyone who is around our community for any length of time to be growing. We expect every person to be moving closer to reflecting the complete image of Christ in every area of life. This is a safe place for everyone. But safe doesn’t mean comfortable. The answers aren’t always comfortable. In fact, we often grow only when we are pushed out of our comfort zone.

All that talk about believing whatever ever you want? Well, that’s fine when you walk in the front door for the first time, but if you stick around, Tome and the over two hundred paid staff members do expect you to grow into their version of what it means to be a Christian. On the FAQ page, Crossroads answers the question, is this place a cult? Here’s their response:

Great question. After all, it’s full of people singing songs and drinking the same beloved liquid (in this case, great coffee). Plus, numerous guitars and people dressed comfortably. But seriously. No. Cults tell you what to believe, take away your freedoms and forbid you to leave. Here, you’re welcome no matter what you believe, and we want you to experience freedom (including the freedom to leave whenever you want). If that still isn’t enough for you, then the answer is “Fine, we’re a cult.” But we’re rubber and you’re glue.

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The church would have you believe that its pastors and teachers don’t tell people what to believe. R-i-g-h-t. Of course they do. That’s why Tome preaches on Sundays. Here’s truth! Believe, lest you perish in your sins and go to Hell. Why not admit this? Crossroads’ statement of faith claims that the Bible is inspired and inerrant. This is an objective — albeit false – “truth” claim. Could Joe Blow become involved in the teaching ministry at Crossroads and teach people that the Bible is just another book, and is not, as the church’s statement of faith states, a timeless book different from and superior to all the books ever written? Of course not. Tome and his church have all sorts of objective, non-negotiable beliefs. Why not lay all the cards on the table for visitors?  Why not tell them what the church really believes and what will be expected of them? Surely, Tome has nothing to hide, right?

Preachers like Tome are professional bullshitters. They cover their bullshit with a patina of religious words, but underneath it all, you will find generic Evangelical beliefs. Such men hide their true beliefs because they are offensive, and if their churches are going to continue to grow numerically and generate larger offerings, new people must not get a whiff of their bullshit until they have been thoroughly courted, fucked, and married.

I am not the only one who sees through Tome’s loving and accepting shtick. At one time, Crossroads was known for being welcoming to gays and lesbians. Remember, the church likely IS welcoming when people come through the front door. But, once embraced by the church and immersed in its teachings, attendees are expected to embrace the church’s beliefs and practices. In 2004, a gay man who was also a volunteer youth leader became engaged to another man. Once it became known that this man was engaged, according to City Beat, he was forced to resign. Here’s an excerpt from the City Beat article:

Leaders at Crossroads found out about Jones’ sexual orientation after a member of his Bible study group told others what Jones thought had been communicated in confidence. When leaders ousted him, Jones asked for a written explanation. They talked to him over the phone but refused his request for something in writing.

“I almost feel it’s because they’re afraid to have a written policy stating anything that would stop someone from coming in and giving them money,” Jones says.

As the church’s pastor, Tome says he can’t talk about the particulars of any dealings with individuals in his church. But he said Crossroads communicates openly and directly about the issue of homosexuality.

In a Sunday message last year, Tome addressed homosexuality in response to the many questions he’d received about the issue.

“You cannot say the Bible supports homosexuality,” he said. “It does not.”

Still, almost a year later, many homosexuals continue to attend the church.

“We would believe that homosexual sex is just as wrong as two people not married having sex,” Tome says.

He admits that he has looked at Internet pornography, which he considers just as wrong as homosexuality.

“(Homosexuals) should not be singled out as committing the capital ‘S’ sin here at the church,” he says.

There is a reason the church doesn’t want a written policy on homosexuality, according to Tome.

“The church in America, and might I also say Cincinnati, is pretty much irrelevant, and it’s because we make things like sexuality our rallying issue,” he says. “The church is not supposed to be God’s political weather vane.”

Gays ‘very confused’
The Bible speaks to particular sins in a manner that doesn’t require additional written doctrine, Tome says. He interprets passages such as 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 to clearly indicate that homosexuality, even within the confines of marriage, displeases God.

“Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God,” the passage says.

Jones, however, differs in his interpretation. He says the reference is to homosexuality associated with male prostitution, not to homosexuality within marriage.

Jones suspects that Crossroads isn’t just interested in what the Bible says. He thinks discrimination and stereotypes play a role.

When Crossroads let him go, he asked, “Is it because you want to protect the children from me?”

Jones says the response was, ” ‘We’re sorry you interpret it that way … We need to put the child first and err on the side of the child.’ I asked them, ‘What are you protecting them from?’ “

Jones is a doctoral candidate in child and adolescent psychology at Xavier University.

But Tome says Crossroads doesn’t advocate the false stereotype of homosexuals as pedophiles.

“We would not say that homosexuals are pedophiles,” he says. “We would not say that and we would not say homosexuals cannot be around kids in any way shape or form. That has not been the way we practice.”

Tome says an abstinent homosexual Christian who slips up sometimes but is trying to abstain is welcome to teach at the church, but that someone who believes homosexuality is not a sin would be asked to serve in some other role.

Sadly, way too many LGBTQ people get sucked into Evangelical churches by believing a particular church’s marketing slogans. And believe me, Tome sees himself as an entrepreneur, a seller of the greatest story ever told. LGBTQ people hear Tome and his church say, you are WELCOME here. Come as you are. Believe what you want. We won’t judge you. And these things might be true — for a time – but the longer LGBTQ people are in the church the more likely it is that they will face pressure to conform. And if they refuse? Why, they are free to leave. No harm, no foul, except to the LBGTQ people who thought that Tome and Crossroads really loved and accepted them as they are. Sorry folks, no matter how an Evangelical church markets itself, the Bible will have the final say.

Tome made several absurd statements during his time on Bill Cunningham’s show. First, Tome said, “We have to have an answer for pain and suffering.” Both my wife and I said, “why?” Why do we have to have an answer for pain and suffering? Is it not sufficient to say, shit happens? Tome is looking for answers where there are none. Tome and Cunningham, a vulgar, right-wing Catholic and political extremist, want to “see” God in the midst of pain and suffering. However, as many ex-Christians have found out, God is nowhere to be found.

Second, Tome said, “God knows what you are going through, he lost his son.” Polly and I both were shocked that the good pastor let this nonsense slip from his lips. How could God, the father, know what we are going through? He has never been human. He’s never experienced pain and suffering. According to orthodox Christianity, pain and suffering are the consequences of humanity’s fall into sin. God’s never sinned, Evangelicals say — though the Bible reveals a deity who has little regard for his own moral commands — so how is it possible for him to “know” pain and suffering?

Did God, the father, really lose his son? In what way was Jesus “lost?” According to the Bible, Jesus spent a long weekend in Hell preaching to sinners. I am sure his father knew exactly where he was. Oh, what great pain and suffering God faced when his son was on a forty-eight to seventy-two-hour vacation in Cancun! Is God’s “suffering” over the “loss” of his son comparable in any way to the pain and agony faced by countless humans, day in and day out? Of course not. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.)

The fact that pain and suffering exist in the world — both for humans and animals — suggests that God is not the kind of deity Evangelicals claim he is. Would an all-powerful God of love ignore pain and suffering when it was in his power to put an end to it? What better way to show your love, mercy, and kindness than to alleviate pain and suffering. Instead, God does nothing, suggesting that either he doesn’t care or he doesn’t exist. My money is on the latter.

Jesus, on the other hand, was very much a flesh-and-blood human being. Not a God, Jesus was the son of Mary and an unknown man. Jesus had the same wants, needs, passions, and desires, as the rest of us. Ask yourself, did Jesus masturbate? Is the Pope Catholic? Of course Jesus masturbated! He did all the things that were common to man. Why? Because he was human. Thus, when Jesus got himself crossways with the Roman government and the local Jewish community, he experienced great pain and suffering. Why? Because he was human. And then, when his body couldn’t take any more pounding, he died. Why? Because he was human.

Tome should immediately, without delay, put away the vacuous cliché, God knows what you are going through, he lost his son. Saying this makes light of human pain and suffering. It’s the equivalent of saying, Hey, suck it up. God suffered loss too when Jesus didn’t come home one weekend. He knows what you are going throughGod made it to the other side and you will too! 

Oh, how I wish I could “suffer” as Jesus supposedly did two thousand years ago. I would gladly trade a long weekend of pain and suffering for my current experiences with chronic pain and illness. I have met countless chronic pain sufferers over the years. I have also known people who have gone through great heartache and tragedy. In every way, the suffering faced by these people far eclipsed that of the man, the myth, the legend, Jesus Christ. Tome wants to believe that his God is an ever-present reality, a deity who understands — yet, does nothing for — their pain. Why bother with such a God?  Why waste your energy worshiping and serving a heartless, helpless God who cannot or will not do what supposedly is in his power to do? No thanks. I much prefer humanism’s view of pain and suffering; that such things are common to man; and all any of us can do is love and support one another.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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“I Don’t Hate the Skunk, I Hate Its Smell,” Evangelicals Say

tim-conway-god-hates-you
Tim Conway, Calvinistic Pastor in San Antonio, Texas

William “BJ” Volkert, a youth pastor at Bible Baptist Church in York, Pennsylvania, recently resigned from his position as a school board member for the Northeastern School District in Manchester.

Volkert told Baptist Press:

I said that sexuality should not have a place in our schools. Celebrate culture, ethnicity, etc., but leave sexual orientation out of the celebration of diversity as it is very sensitive in nature.

It was brought to my attention that if we educate students on the suicide rates of certain lifestyles, if we educate them on diseases that only come from certain activities, and if we introduce them to open biblical principles, that we as individuals of the board could be sued for violating legislation that had been passed. I cannot remove myself from the Bible. It is everything to me; it’s everything I stand on. I will, I believe by the grace of God, go the grave believing everything that it says.

….

Jesus Christ is the remedy to the public school situation we are in. I did not have liberty to say this as a member of the board.

….

With that in mind, I’ve been called many things. I’ve been called a male chauvinist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic and racist, just to name a few. I wanted to clear the air. I don’t hate any individual. I don’t hate any group of individuals. I don’t hate any way that people identify. … I just want to make that clear to the students, faculty and community, that I do not have one ounce of hate towards any people group, nor do I prefer any people group over the other.

Volkert is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian. He wants people to know that he doesn’t hate anyone or any group of people. He hates the “sin,” but not the “sinner.” This is his way of turning back criticisms from people who say he is a hateful bigot; a transphobe. “I don’t hate the faggot, err, I mean the LGBTQ person, I just hate their abominable, wicked, vile sexual behavior,” Evangelicals say.

I have long argued that you cannot separate a skunk from its smell. Skunks spray people and animals with a pungent, sulfur-smelling spray when threatened. I doubt that anyone who has been sprayed by a skunk or owned a dog who has been sprayed ever says “I hate the smell, but I sure do love the skunk.” No, the skunk and its smell are inseparable. So it is with Evangelicals such as Volkert. These followers of Jesus not only hate sin, but they also hate those who commit the sins. And that’s okay in God’s eyes. God hates sin and those who do it too:

  • God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. (Psalm 7:11)
  • The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth (Psalm 11:5)
  • Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows (Psalm 45:6,7)
  • Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy. These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, (Proverbs 6:15-17)
  • I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. (Amos 5:2)
  • And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD. (Zechariah 8:17)
  • I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. (Malachi 1:2,3)
  • As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. (Romans 9:13)
  • For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: (divorce) for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. (Malachi 2:16)
  • Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. (Revelation 2:5,6)

I wish Evangelicals would be honest and own their behavior. Instead, much like the rest of us, they want to be respected and well-thought-of by others. Their problem, of course, is that they are joined at the hip with the Bible and their peculiar theological/social beliefs. Their religion demands they condemn “sin.” So they do, as Volkert clearly did as a board member of a secular public school district. (By the way, Volkert’s children do not attend the district’s school. Instead, he sends his children to Bible Baptist Christian Academy in York. Volkert is an administrator at the school.)

I live in rural northwest Ohio. Evangelicalism and right-wing politics dominate the local landscape. The local newspaper regularly publishes letters to the editor from local Evangelicals who rail against behaviors they deem sinful. Typically their hemorrhoids are inflamed over abortion, Satanic Democrats, and anything LGBTQ. Increasingly, they show up at local school board meetings to protest Critical Race Theory (CRT), socialism, and books they think are “sinful.” Their hate for certain behaviors is palpable, yet these God-fearing folks bristle when accused of hating individuals or groups of people. They want everyone to believe that they really do love everyone. However, when asked if LGBTQ people can join their church or whether their high school daughter can date a lesbian, it becomes crystal clear that not only do they hate (some) sin, but they also hate (some) sinners. Not all sins, or all sinners, just those they personally find icky or offensive. One need only look at their response to transgender people or drag queens to see how much they really do hate some people.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Catch-All Bible Verses: I Will Set No Wicked Thing Before My Eyes

calvin and hobbes tv 2

Earlier, I wrote a post titled, Catch-All Bible Verses: Is the Human Body the Temple of the Christian God? Today I want to deal with another catch-all Bible verse, Psalm 101:3:

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Evangelical preachers love this catch-all verse because it allows them to demand of congregants abstinence from seeing and using things or having contact with people, churches, and ministries they deem “wicked.”  Whether something is wicked is determined by the pastor’s personal interpretations of the Bible, social, cultural, and religious experiences, and personal preferences. In other words, something is wicked because the pastor says it is, end of story. Since he is the man of God, the one chosen by Jesus to lead and teach the church, congregants are expected to believe and follow his “Biblical” pronouncements. If he says a certain behavior or inanimate item is wicked, then congregants are expected to nod their heads up and down and say, Amen brother, preach it!

Things labeled “wicked” are considered off-limits — Kryptonite to true Christians. Congregants, wanting to be obedient to God and his man, the pastor, bow — at least outwardly — to the subjective pronouncements of church leaders. Diversity of opinion and freedom are discouraged, if not outright forbidden. Congregants are expected to fall in line, obey, and follow Pastor Pied Piper. People who dare to think for themselves and publicly disagree with the man of God are told to either conform or leave. In some churches, non-conformity is viewed as rebellion against God’s established order. Erring congregants are brought before the church to be critiqued, judged, and disciplined. People are given two choices: excommunication or submission.

In 1994, I found myself, as the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, at odds with my fellow pastor, Pat Horner. (See I Am a Publican and a Heathen.) I disagreed with Horner — the founder of the church — on a number of issues, and due to the increasing hostility of our disagreements, I decided to resign from the church and move back to Ohio. Horner informed me that I couldn’t resign and that since the church decided whether I could be a member, it was up to them to decide whether or not I could resign. I, of course, refused to obey his pronouncements. I packed up my family and our meager belongings and returned to Ohio. As we were leaving, Horner had gathered congregants together for a disciplinary meeting. The subject? What to do about the Bruce Gerencser problem. I was deemed wicked and rebellious by Horner and his sycophants, and after the “facts” were presented, the church excommunicated their co-pastor. In their minds, my refusal to play by Horner’s rules was grounds for ex-communication. To this day, the church continues to consider me a heathen. My current atheistic beliefs and lifestyle are proof to them that excommunicating me was the right thing to do. Polly and our six children were not excommunicated. Horner and the church decided that my family was under my satanic control, and should not be held accountable for my “sins.”

My excommunication is a good example of a pastor determining what is “wicked” and then demanding that congregants not set that wicked thing before their eyes; the wicked thing being a flesh-and-blood human being. This catch-all verse can be used to label people, inanimate objects, and behaviors “wicked.” Pastors, then, are able to bend and mold congregants to their wishes; that is, unless they have a rebellious member such as Bruce Gerencser. Then, church discipline is used to cull the offender from the church and put the fear of God into the hearts of congregants.

The churches I pastored, with one exception, didn’t excommunicate rebellious church members. Instead, I was the gatekeeper. I determined who stayed and who had to go. If I determined through much prayer and fasting — just kidding, my determinations were based on my personal opinions, beliefs, and practices — that someone was no longer a good “fit,” I would encourage them to seek out a new church that would better meet their needs.

Over the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, I ran off a lot of good people whose only crime was that they disagreed with me on a matter of doctrine or practice. Instead of embracing differences of belief and practice, I demanded fealty to my beliefs, interpretations, and practices. For many years, I believed it was sinful to own and watch TV. In my mind, if there was ever a human invention that was wicked, it was the television. I am sure Polly and my children can remember our TV being unplugged and having a piece of paper taped over the screen that said, I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.

Several years ago, I wrote a post titled, The Preacher and His TV. Here’s some of what I had to say:

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it. How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps. What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.

….

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions? you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life: I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.

My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

calvin and hobbes tv

I replayed the aforementioned battle over TV numerous times in my life. The object of my righteous anger changed, but the end result was the same: that which I deemed wicked had to go, and if congregants really, really, really loved Jesus, they would agree with me and excise from their lives that which the man of God labeled sinful. The goal was holiness, so who wouldn’t want to be as pure and holy as possible? Congregants would try to conform to my pronouncements, but for the most part all this did was turn their lives into a game. Church members lived one way at church or in my presence and another way when away from the Holy Spirit — AKA the Preacher or Pastor Bruce. Little did they know that I did the same. Try as I might to live out the teachings of the Bible and to strictly govern my life according to my interpretations of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, I failed too; not because of a lack of desire or commitment; but because I set for myself and others an impossible standard. I was human, as were the people I pastored. Much like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, Evangelicals have wants, needs, and desires. They do what they do because they are human. No matter how much Evangelicals preach, pray, and deny their humanity, in time their “flesh” wins.

And that’s okay. Life is meant to be lived, not denied. Evangelicals love to say, only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. The humanist version, however, goes like this, only one life, twill soon be past, and then you’ll be dead. There’s no God, Jesus, church, or preacher to please. All that really matters is this present life. Love, laugh, and enjoy your brief existence on planet Earth. It’s the only one you’ll ever have. Each of us determines for ourselves how we want to live. As an atheist, I still have certain “wicked” things I won’t set before my eyes; you know, things such as women with size 20 bodies in size 10 spandex, fat men like me parading around in public with no shirt, and Fox News. That’s about it. 🙂 Each to his own, I say.

Did you grow up in a church where Psalm 103:1 was used to label things, people, and behavior wicked? Did your pastor demand congregants live according to his moralistic pronouncements? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Catch-All Bible Verses: Is the Human Body the Temple of the Christian God?

fat preacher

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers love to preach on “sin.” Thanks to their extra-Biblical rules and personal interpretations of the Bible, these preachers often have long lists of behaviors that are deemed “sinful.” No two preachers have the same sin list. Many IFB preachers believe it is a sin for women to wear pants, while other preachers believe it is okay as long as the pants aren’t form-fitting. The same could be said about whether it is a sin for men to have long hair, mustaches, or beards. Here’s one thing I know: take any behavior humans practice and it is likely you will find an IFB preacher somewhere who believes that behavior is a horrific sin against his version of the Christian God. (See An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook.)

IFB preachers are big on having “proof” for their beliefs. I attended and pastored IFB churches well into my late 30s, and I said and heard preachers say countless times, The BIBLE says or GOD says . . . These anti-sin crusaders are adept at molesting the Bible, grooming it so it will comply with their every authoritarian, controlling wish. Being raised in such an abusive environment conditions people in such a way that they believe the abuse is normal; that whatever the preacher says is true, straight from the mouth of God.

Take Ephesians 4:27; six little words that IFB preachers turn into rants against a plethora of behaviors they deem sinful. The verse says, neither give place to the devil. In other words, don’t let the Devil gain access, influence, or control your life. Seems pretty straightforward advice for people who believe there’s a Devil and hosts of demons walking to and fro on the earth, seeking whom they may devour — as the Bible says in I Peter 5:8. Unfortunately, however, many IFB preachers use this verse as a jumping off point, launching themselves into slobbery shouts against behaviors they deem to be “giving place to the devil.” Years ago, I heard a notable preacher at a pastor’s conference in Columbus, Ohio, preach on Ephesians 4:27. He made no attempt to exegete the text, nor did he pay any attention to its context. He had a truckload of axes he needed to grind, so after reading these six little words, he launched into a forty-minute sermon that labeled numerous human behavior sinful, including attending the wrong college, using the wrong Bible, or fellowshipping with the “wrong” preachers. As was the custom at such meetings, the preacher of the hour received countless AMENS and YOU PREACH IT, BROTHER! Never mind the fact that his sermon was thirty seconds of Bible and thirty-nine minutes thirty seconds of bullshit and personal opinion.

Another six-word verse used in the aforementioned way is 1 Thessalonians 5:22. Abstain from all appearance of evil, the inspired, inerrant King James Bible says. These kinds of verses are what I call a catch-all verses, verses meant to cover bad behaviors not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. I played high school basketball. My coaches taught me to avoid doing things during games that looked like fouls. If it looks like a foul, it is a foul, I was told. One of the most irritating moments in a game is to be called for a foul you didn’t commit. I may not have committed the foul, but in the eyes of the official it looked like I did, and that’s all that mattered (I much preferred the no blood, no foul rule of summer playground games). The six words of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 are the IFB version of if it looks like a sin, it is a sin.

For many years — eleven, to be exact — I picked up an older woman at her home and drove her to church. She was legally blind, and was twenty years older than I. She was not in the least attractive — at least to me, anyway. For the five years our church operated a Christian school, I would pick up this woman so she could watch our children while Polly and I taught classes. She was a wonderful, delightful woman who would do anything for us. Tragically, she was tragically killed a few years back in an automobile accident.

One of the resident Pharisees in the church took issue with me picking up this woman for church. She and her husband even floated a rumor that suggested this woman and I were having an affair. The legs of this rumor were 1 Thessalonians 5:22 — abstain from all appearance of evil. In the minds of accusers, the mere fact that a woman who was not my wife was riding in my car was sufficient grounds to accuse me of impropriety. This type of slander happened several times during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I had many faults, but having affairs was not one of them.

I refused to let such people turn my good works into “sins.” I knew that no matter what I did, someone might consider a certain behavior of mine sinful. Some colleagues of mine were so paranoid about giving the appearance of evil that they, for example, wouldn’t go a movie theater to see a G-rated kid’s movie because the theater also played R-rated movies. And if they happened to be seen by a church member coming out of the theater, why, that person might think they were watching one of the R-rated movies. This same logic applied to renting movies. I knew pastors who wouldn’t frequent a video store lest someone see them and think they were renting movies other than Bambi or Five Mile Creek. One former friend of mine, to this day, won’t eat in restaurants that serve alcohol. Why? Abstain from all appearance of evil. This same man would buy groceries at stores that sold booze and buy gasoline at convenience stores that sold beer and Hustler, but he refused to enter a restaurant that served the devil’s brew. This man loved to eat, especially meat, but because he was so worried about giving the appearance of evil that the best steak he ever ate was a gristle-filled, packing-grade, beat-all-to-shit piece of meat at Ponderosa — or as we in our home called the place, a-pound-a-grossa.

Another pertinent passage is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

According to many IFB preachers, 1 Corinthians 6:19,20 teaches that the bodies of Christians are temples in which God, the Holy Ghost lives. Non-Christians, of course, are empty temples in need of filling. This is another one of those verses that is used as a catch-all. Every IFB preacher has his own list of behaviors that he believes pollute the temple of God. The two biggies? Alcohol and tobacco.

There’s a trend in Evangelical circles for believers to trim the sharp edges of their social prohibitions. Drinking alcohol and smoking are two “sins” that have now been, in the eyes of some Evangelicals (especially Calvinists), deemed okay for Christians to do. Over the years, I have received numerous emails from Evangelicals wanting to impress me with their “worldliness.” These sinners want me to know that they are NOT like the Evangelicals I write about, that they have the freedom to drink an occasional glass of wine and smoke a stogie. In their minds, these behaviors only become sin when done to excess — with excess never being clearly defined. Evidently, one man’s excess is another man’s let’s party liberty. Jesse Morrell, an open-air (street preaching) missionary, released a two-minute YouTube video about cigar-smoking Calvinists (which is no longer available). Morrell will have none of this. In his mind, any form of smoking is s-i-n, an affront to his God. Every time someone takes a puff on a cigar, he is polluting God’s temple and aggravating the Holy Spirit’s asthma.

Growing up in the IFB church movement, I heard a lot of sermons about not polluting the temple of God. Believing that God lived inside — oh where, oh where does he live? and surely there’s a sex joke that needs telling about God being inside you — of everyone who was born again, preachers would preach thunderous sermons against drinking alcohol, smoking, or taking illegal drugs. I heard several preachers who even questioned taking prescription drugs, calling on sanctified followers of Jesus to ask themselves, do I really need to take these pills? I knew people who suffered from severe pain because they refused to take doctor-prescribed pain medications. Fearing addiction, polluting the temple of God, or wanting to show that they could valiantly suffer, these Christians chose to have bodies wracked with pain rather than risk God getting high. (Please see Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, Dinosaurs, and the Sin of Smoking.)

What I found ironic is that many IFB preachers are overweight. Some of them were as obese as I now am. These overweight, out-of-shape consumers of way too many fried chicken legs and slices of cherry pie would, using 1 Corinthians 6:19,20, rail against drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes — smoking won’t send you to Hell, but it sure will make you smell like you have already been there — while at the same time never mentioning overeating. My explanation of this fact back in my preaching days was simple: virtually every human behavior was a sin, so overeating was the one sin Baptists could indulge in without feeling guilty. IFB congregations love their chicken dinners, potlucks, fellowship meals, and numerous other food-focused events. Bless God, beer and Marlboros have never touched their lips, but fat-laden, high-calorie food? Bring me another plate, Sister Maybelle. It’s time to feed the Holy Spirit!

All that this shows, of course, is that the Bible can be used to “prove” anything is a “sin,” and once something has been deemed sinful, IFB preachers feel it their duty to regulate and control human behavior, making sure church members toe the line. Never mind the fact that most of the “sins” IFB preachers preach against are not mentioned in the Bible, or that some of the behaviors now deemed sinful were practiced by none other than Jesus himself two thousand years ago. Yes siree, Bob, Jesus drank alcoholic wine. I bet the man, the myth, and the legend even over-indulged a time or two, or fifty. It’s a Biblical and historical fact, yet some IFB preachers will go to great lengths to prove that Jesus drank Welch’s grape juice, and not fermented wine. The Bible speaks of Jesus hanging out with sinners, but he brought a juice box so he didn’t have to drink Boone’s Farm, right? Such is the logic found in many IFB churches.

It is said that Baptist Fundamentalism is no fun and all mental. Sadly, this line accurately describes what goes on in many IFB churches. Imagine being immersed in such a culture your entire life, and then one day waking up and realizing you were in a cult. That describes my wife and me. Polly was in her forties before she ever wore pants. We lived in Yuma, Arizona, at the time. One day, we were at Target and I suggested to Polly that she buy a pair of capri pants. Why, you would have thought I had asked her to strip and run naked through the store! After a bit of mental strong-arming, I convinced Polly to “sin.” No lightning from Heaven, no being struck dead by the Evangelical God. Polly survived, and now it’s to the point where I say, it would sure be nice to see you in a dress every once in a while. 🙂

Polly and I faced many such conflicts once we began moving away from Fundamentalism. The list of things we first started doing in our forties and fifties is long: drinking alcohol, watching R-rated movies, going to the movies, listening to secular music, and expanding our sexual practices, to name a few. Every “sin” abandoned brought first a sense of guilt, and then relief. For Polly and me, we are, in many ways, experiencing for the first time things that normal people experienced as teenagers or young adults. Our only regret is that we waited this long to enjoy life. Well, that and wishing we had young bodies to enjoy the carnal “sins” of our late-in-life teenage years. 🙂

This post has now passed the two-thousand-word mark, so it’s time for me to stop circling the runway and land this plane. Please share in the comment section your own experiences growing up in IFB/Evangelical churches. What were “sins” back in the day that you now heartily and lustily commit?

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Why Do I Need an Explanation for the Beginning of the Universe?

why

Science tells us how our universe came into being. This is a pretty well established scientific fact. What is unknown is what happened before the Big Bang. Scientists posit various theories to answer this question, but, so far, the safest answer is “we don’t know.” Into this unknown step Evangelical Christians holding their inspired, inerrant, and infallible Bibles high, saying GOD DID IT! These followers of Jesus provide no evidence for this claim outside of failed philosophical arguments and quotations from the Christian Bible.

Recently, an Evangelical writer (whom I don’t have a link for) stated that the most important issue facing all of us is finding a satisfactory explanation for the beginning of the universe. I thought, at the time, really? I mean, really? I don’t know about you, but I rarely, if ever, think about the beginning of the universe. It’s just not on my radar. In fact, I simply don’t care.

My mind is filled with thoughts of Polly, our children, and their families, and how I am going to live out the last days of my life. I worry about our finances and how we are going to live after Polly retires in 2023. My declining health is never far from my mind. Just today, I had another extensive blood test done. My doctor and I are in the weeds now, looking for an explanation for some troubling symptoms I have. I will have the results in a few days. If everything is “normal,” then what? It is evident that I am not “normal,” so what is causing these symptoms?

When I am feeling up to it, my thoughts turn to my writing, politics, and sports. When I can get out of the house — which is not often, typically once or twice a week — I ask Polly to take me for a drive. Anywhere, it matters not. After my blood draw this afternoon, Polly took me for a ride northeast out of Bryan to West Unity, south to Lockport, over to Stryker where our youngest daughter lives, through Evansport, and then home. Not one time did my mind turn to the beginning of the universe. I thought about the church I pastored in West Unity and the furniture store which is closing there, owned by a former church member. As we drove through Evansport, I thought about the feral cats that used to roam the streets in droves. They are all gone, now. What happened to them? Polly and I chattered back and forth about the weather and the corn that stood in fields, ready to be harvested. It’s deer season in Ohio. Deer are running for their lives, hoping to not end up in a hunter’s freezer. We came upon a herd of deer along a gravel road south of West Unity, not far from where our oldest children once worked picking eggs. We stopped and watched them for a bit. As we neared Ney, we talked about painted houses, new homes, and junk-filled properties. Just two old people talking about nothing, but talking about everything, a ritual played out countless times over the past forty-six years.

Polly pulled into our driveway, turning the car around so she will be able to pull out on the highway in front of our home and go to work an hour later. Polly and Bethany quickly went into the house. There was Polly’s weak bladder to address, and sirloin steak to fry, complete with steamed broccoli. I stayed behind, sitting in the car with the door partially opened, breathing in the crisp, cold winter air. I pondered my existence, wondering how many more winter days lie ahead for me. Not one thought entered my mind about the beginning of the universe or the end of my existence.

I choose to embrace the present. I have no time (or energy) to think about philosophical or existential questions. I am not criticizing people who do, but I am at a place in life where all that matters to me is the here and now, not finding a satisfactory explanation for the beginning of the universe.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Short Stories: The Worst Mother’s Day Ever

mothers day

Mother’s Day is a special time at Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. It’s the one Sunday out of the year when the whole service is dedicated to women. Churches often give gifts to mothers in attendance, especially flowers. My favorite gift for church women on Mother’s Day was carnations. During this oh-so-special service, men and children are reminded of how they should love their mothers and praise Jesus for giving them such a wonderful, godly presence in their lives. And then comes the annual sermon for women from Proverbs 31:

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.  The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.  She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.

Passing mention will also be made to other Bible verses that have been used to keep women in their place — barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen — for two thousand years. Throw in a couple of verses about women submitting to their husbands and male-only leadership, and the sermon is complete; and whatever joy the $1 carnation brought into their lives is muted by the Biblical reminders of their true status before God and man.

As a pastor, I saw Mother’s Day as an evangelization opportunity. I encouraged church members to invite their mothers to church, especially unsaved mothers. I promised them that if they would do all they could to get their mothers in church on Mother’s Day, I would do my best to share the gospel with them in between my points on Godly womanhood. Sometimes, I would plan a mother-daughter banquet the day before Mother’s Day. I would have the men of the church prepare a fancy meal for those in attendance. Feeding large numbers of mothers and their daughters afforded me the opportunity to put my restaurant skills to use. I became the general of the kitchen, making sure that everything was cooked according to plan. After the meal, a guest speaker would remind the mothers and daughters in attendance of their duties before God and man. It was the only day on the church calendar when church women would be afforded the opportunity to hear a female speaker (not a preacher, not a preacher, not a preacher, DAMMITA SPEAKER!)

One Mother’s Day — I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio, at the time — I decided I would recognize all the mothers in attendance. Numerous women stood as I asked mothers to stand so we could honor them with applause and $1 carnations. I then asked those who were standing to say how long they had been married and how many children they had. I planned to give special gifts to the oldest mother, the youngest mother, the mother with the most children, and the mother who had been married the longest. It took all of about thirty seconds for me to realize that I had made a horrible mistake.

Here’s what happened . . .

Sister Iris, how many children did you have and how long were you married, I asked? I was never married, but I have three children. (Imagine what my IFB face looked like the moment she uttered these words.) Sister Delorse? I am not married, I’m divorced, and I have two children. (Iris and Delorse were blood sisters.) At that moment, I wanted to commit hari-kari. I thought, I need to hurry this along, knowing that there were other unwed mothers and divorcees ahead in Bruce’s nightmare of a conga line.

Finally, the repudiation of all my preaching against premarital sex and divorce was complete, and all that was left for me to do was preach my sermon, give a brief invitation, utter a benediction, and usher my family and me the hell out of Dodge. Needless to say, I never asked women again to share how long they were married and how many children they had. Polly and I laugh about this now, but it was not funny at the time. My moralizing had been exposed, and the only feeble argument I could make was that all their sinning took place before they were saved. Praise Jesus, none of them had sexual intercourse post-Jesus, or so I told myself anyway. I would later come to the realization that, despite all my sermons against sexual sin, congregants were still, in the privacy of their bedrooms, car back seats, and motel rooms, having sex with people to whom they aren’t married to. I would later pastor an unmarried woman who wanted to have a baby without marrying a man. She paid a neighbor man to sleep with her so she could get pregnant. She succeeded. Unfortunately, she bore a child with a serious birth defect — a sure sign to many of God’s disfavor.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Evangelical Christians Aren’t as “Discerning” as They Think They Are

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Evangelical Christians love to think that they have — thanks to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit — some sort of supernatural discernment power that allows them to ferret out the true spiritual condition of everyone with whom they come in contact. Evangelicals, in particular, believe they have some sort of God-given radar that locks on unknown believers and lets them know that they are fellow believers. This radar is a spiritual paternity test of sorts, letting Evangelicals know when one of their family is in the vicinity. I heard countless preachers say that the “spirits” of two or more believers recognize each other when they come in contact with each other. Woo hoo! God’s children are in the house, baby!

Several years ago, a Christian who commented about unbelieving clergy still pastoring churches illustrated this point:

I also can’t help but think that living and walking out a lie every day is going to eventually take a psychological/emotional toll on anyone. I think it would also work against the pastor really being vulnerable or drawing close to his/her congregation for fear of letting something slip. Eventually people who are closer to the pastor will be able to discern that something just isn’t quite right here.

According to this Christian, she gets Spiderman-like tingly feelings that would let her know if a pastor is faking it. The idea behind her feelings is the notion that Christians can know a pastor well enough that any lying or dishonesty would peg their lie-meter, exposing the hypocrite for all to see. The problem with this thinking is that in real life that’s not how it works. Lying and deception are all too common, and even the most aware among us can be deceived. Believing that there is some sort of spiritual power that gives you laser-like discernment has no grounding in reality. Countless churches — from Liberal Christian to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) — have passionate, devoted teachers and preachers of the Word of God who are, without question, unbelievers. Some of them I know personally. A few unbelieving pastors have been using fake-it-’til-you-make-it (to retirement) for years. These men genuinely love their congregations, even though they think the Christian God is a work of fiction.

I hate to break it to Christians, but there is no such thing as a spirit of discernment. The reason, of course, is that we humans don’t have a spirit/soul. We are flesh and blood. Certainly, we develop psychological skills that allow us to read people, and we often have gut feelings about them. That Spiderman-like tingly feeling we have is the result of evolution and environmental/social conditioning, and not some sort of divine gift given only to Christians. In fact, the belief that God gives you discernment skills tends to lessen your ability to see things as they are. Why? Because Evangelicals, in particular, develop complex ways of dealing with human behavior. Evangelicals talk of sin, forgiveness, and grace. They speak of accountability partners and allowing the Holy Spirit to perform its perfect work. Instead of seeing things as they are, Evangelicals allow theological nonsense to cloud their judgment.

This is why it’s no surprise that Evangelical churches have sexual abuse scandals, clergy misconduct, and all sorts of bad behavior that is washed away by the blood of Jesus and forgiven by the prayer-answering God. Instead of seeing that the youth pastor is way too friendly with several of his charges, loving, blind Christians see this behavior as him “ministering” to these girls. And when his “ministry” turns to rape, sexual assault, and other sex crimes, what then? As long as the predator still says he’s a Christian, forgiveness awaits. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.)

Evolution-driven discernment cares not one whit for the offender’s religious inclinations. What matters is that an older man, a man with authority, took advantage of those he was supposed to love, care for, and respect. What mattered to him was his dick, not their welfare. The youth pastor, then, should never be permitted to be around youths again. Yet, as sure as the sun rises in the East, the youth pastor, once he pays for his crimes, will be forgiven and given another opportunity to serve God. Why, some of his fellow Christians will testify on his behalf during his sentencing hearing, showering the judge with stories of how awesome the youth pastor is. There’s no divine discernment going on here. Just ignorance and a refusal to see things as they are.

It is time for Christians to stop pretending they have some special power that allows them to see things non-believers can’t see. It’s 2022. Time to put the intellect to work, making rational, thoughtful decisions. Unless Christians are willing to do so, they can expect to be hoodwinked and taken advantage of. Just remember, it’s discerning Evangelicals who put Donald Trump, the “Christian,” in the White House, voted for him again in 2020, and continue to rabidly support him to this day. Need I say more?

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser