Evangelicalism

Jesus is the Only One That Matters

all about jesus

Repost from 2015. Extensively edited, rewritten, and corrected.

In a Gospel Coalition article titled Please Don’t Make My Funeral All About Me, Nancy Guthrie had this to say:

…We were an hour and fifteen minutes in to today’s funeral before anyone read from the scriptures, and further in until there was a prayer. Resurrection wasn’t mentioned until the benediction. There were too many funny stories to tell about the deceased, too many recollections, too many good things to say about the things he accomplished to speak of what Christ has accomplished on his behalf.

But then this wasn’t a funeral. It was a “Celebration of Life.” In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything. Christ and his saving benefits could not be made much of because death and its cruelties were largely ignored…

Guthrie, like many Evangelical Christians, believes that the only thing/person that matters in life is Jesus. He is the end all, the first and the last, the sum of our existence. Even in the most personal of moments, a funeral, Guthrie wants everything to be about Jesus. The person in the coffin is of no consequence. The life they lived mattered little, because without Jesus they had no life. Without Jesus, their life had no meaning or purpose.

Guthrie wallows in her depravity. She sees herself as a loathsome, vile worm, a putrid corpse of sin and defilement. That is, until Jesus regenerated her and gave her new life. From that moment forward, her life was not about her, but about Jesus. From the moment of her new birth to the moment she dies, she is a nobody. Only Jesus matters.

In Guthrie’s mind, the best funeral is one where the minister says, Joe Smith lived, knew Jesus, and died. Now let me tell you about Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the ugliness of sin and death. In other words, Guthrie wants the funeral to be like a church service, a passive event where Jesus is praised and everyone and everything else doesn’t matter.

This approach is dehumanizing and it robs the dead people of all that made them who and what they are. If they lived a full life, then they left behind countless memories and stories that certainly ought to be told. Why not celebrate the dead person’s life? Why not, one last time, remember them for what they said and did? Is this present life really that meaningless without Jesus? Is the Son of God such a Trumpian narcissist that he can’t bear to hear anyone’s name mentioned but his own?

Guthrie sees funerals as an opportunity to be reminded of our worthlessness and the awesomeness of Jesus. Any talk of the good works or the good life of the deceased is too humanistic, too worldly for her. Rather than making much of the deceased, she desires a service where the dead person is just a pretext to talk about the man of the hour: Jesus.

If the funeral service is really all about Jesus, perhaps it is proper to ask exactly what Jesus did for Guthrie’s friend whose ugly sickness slowly robbed them of everything? Did Jesus physically comfort and aid her friend?  Did he have the power to heal her friend? Did Jesus do so? Of course not — her friend died.

Suppose a friend of yours died in a car accident. Your friend could have been saved by a doctor who stopped to gawk at the accident. The doctor offered no aid and made no attempt to save your friend from death. He had to hurry home to help his wife find her car keys. Everyone in your town knows the doctor could have saved your friend’s life, yet he did nothing. Does anyone think that the doctor should be the guest of honor at your friend’s funeral? Of course not. How is this any different from praising a deity who sat idly by while Guthrie’s friend suffered and died? This deity had “all power” yet did nothing.

Guthrie betrays the fact that she is really just like us unwashed, uncircumcised, celebration-of-life, Philistines of the world when she writes “In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything.” Robbed her friend of everything? Wait a minute, I thought JESUS was E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G? Isn’t everything else about their life, even their suffering, just the minutia of life? Why bother to even mention the deceased? Are they not just a prop used to preach the gospel to those who came to the service thinking they were attending so-and-so’s celebration of life?

I was once like Guthrie. I saw funerals as an opportunity to preach the gospel, to witness to people who would not likely darken the doors of the church I pastored. While I did spend some time reflecting on the life of the deceased — that is if they were a Christian — my main focus was on preaching the gospel to the sinners seated before me. In one church, a dear, close friend of mine, a devoted follower of Jesus, died at the age of 40. His funeral was held at the church and for 40 minutes I hammered his Catholic and Methodist family with the Calvinistic gospel. I even told them that the deceased had specifically asked me to preach at his funeral, knowing that it likely would be the last time they would ever hear the gospel.

What did I accomplish? Nothing. I thoroughly offended my friend’s family, and from that day forward I was, to many of them, Pastor Son-of-a-bitch. In Guthrie’s eyes, I did the right thing. I exalted Jesus. I made the funeral about sin, death, and resurrection; about Jesus. But in the eyes of my friend’s family, I made their loved one’s life of little to no importance. The life their brother/uncle/father/friend lived, his good works, his commitment to his family and his job, none of these things really mattered. According to the Bible, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” Any good this man did was because of Jesus, and any bad he did was due to his sinful, carnal nature.

Simply put, Jesus ALWAYS gets top billing.  This is why I have, for the most part, stopped going to Evangelical funerals. Since the deceased is of no consequence, why should I subject myself to the prattle of a preacher as he tries to use guilt (sin) and fear (death) to coerce people, at a time when they are emotionally vulnerable, to become a Christian?

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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Nice-to-Your-Face Christians

fake friends

One day, a new family moves in next door to John and Sally. After they are all settled in, John and Sally walk over to their new neighbors’ home and introduce themselves. John and Sally are quite friendly to their new neighbors, Bruce and Polly. Every time John and Sally see their new neighbors they wave and shout out, Hi neighbor. Bruce and Polly begin to think that John and Sally are wonderful people. Such great people to have for neighbors, they say to themselves.

One day, John and Sally walk over to their new neighbors’ home to ask them a question. It is a very important question, one that could affect Bruce and Polly’s future. You see, John and Sally are members of First True Evangelical Church. First Evangelical is known for being a friendly church, a church that really cares for other people. John and Sally have been members of First Evangelical their entire lives. Their pastor, Bro. Certainty taught them that it is very important for them to witness to all their neighbors. After all, the Bible says, go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone, and “everyone” includes John and Sally’s new neighbors.

Bro. Certainty, the skilled marketer that he is, taught John and Sally what is commonly called friendship evangelism. Rather than telling Bruce and Polly that they are sinners, headed for Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus, John and Sally are encouraged to pretend-friend Bruce and Polly. Try to find a common interest, they are told. Be nice. Bake them a pie or do some other act of kindness. By doing these things, Bruce and Polly would be more receptive to the gospel, Bro. Certainty told them.

So this was the day that John and Sally put aside pretense and revealed what it was they really wanted from Bruce and Polly.

John: Hey, how ya doing today?

Bruce: Great, how about you? Isn’t this warm weather awesome?

John and Bruce trade pleasantries as Sally and Polly talk about flowers and gardens. After a few minutes . . .

John (clearing his throat): While we are here, I would like to talk to guys about something very important.

Bruce thinks to himself, great here comes the Amway pitch. I knew they were being TOO friendly.

John: Sally and I are members of First True Evangelical Church down on the corner of Truth and Infallibility. We have attended First Evangelical ever since we were little children. We think it is absolutely the best church in town. Our pastor, Bro. Certainty is so winsome, everyone LOVES him! We were wondering . . . next Sunday is Friendship Sunday . . . and since you guys are our new-found friends, we thought that you might be interested in visiting our church next Sunday.

Bruce thinks to himself, Fucking awesome. Our “friendly” neighbors are Bible thumpers.

Polly snickers to herself. Can’t wait to see how this turns out.

Bruce: John, Polly and I are not church-goers. We don’t believe in God.

John: But Bruce, surely you believe in some sort of God? Only an atheist says there is no God.

Bruce just looks at John . . . giving him THAT look.

John: Oh, I see you guys ARE a-t-h-e-i-s-t-s.

Bruce: Yes, we are. (Bruce refrains from giving a smart-ass response.)

For the next twenty minutes or so, John and Bruce argue back and forth about God, Christianity, sin, salvation, and atheism. When it becomes apparent to John that Bruce is one of those apostates who have committed the unpardonable sin that Bro. Certainty talks about . . .

John: Well I hope you will think about what I told you about Jesus. What if you are wrong? Wouldn’t it be better to believe in Jesus and then you wouldn’t have to worry about going to Hell when you die? Better safe than sorry, right?

Bruce, without uttering a word, mentally bangs his head on a wall.

Bruce: No thanks, John.

John: Ok, then. Well, let’s go Sally. If you ever change your mind, you know where we live.

Bruce thinks to himself, that will be a cold day in the Hell I don’t believe in.

Off John and Sally walk, sad that they were unable to reach their new neighbors with the way, truth, and life. Oh well, we told them, they say to each other.

A few days later, Bruce and Polly pass John and Sally on the street. They wave, but John and Sally avert their eyes and don’t wave back.

Polly: What’s that all about? I thought they were our friends?

In a post about the death of Fred Phelps, Andrew Hackman wrote

To me, the only difference between Fred Phelps and the average conservative Christian is delivery style. It is similar to Delores Umbridge and Voldemort in the Harry Potter story. Both stood against Harry. Both wanted him eliminated. Both hated him.

Voldemort’s hate blazed in his eyes. Delores hid hers behind soft tones, feigned concern, and a predator’s smile.

But both had similar plans for Harry.

I don’t believe there is an afterlife, but if I did I would hope that Phelps can now rest from the burden of his hostility, and that his wounds have been healed.

In the end, I preferred the bigotry Fred wore on his sleeve, to the slippery words of “love” offered by so many Christians who quietly share Fred’s heart.

Remember this the next time your Evangelical Christian neighbor or coworker tries to befriend you. What is their true agenda? Do you really want to be friends with someone who thinks you will tortured by God in Hell for eternity if you don’t believe exactly as they do? I know I don’t.

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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Who Determines What the Bible Says?

the bible says

Repost from 2015. Extensively edited, rewritten, and corrected.

Two thousand years.

Two thousand years of Jesus.

Almost from the beginning, Christians put their oral traditions, teachings, and beliefs into writing. The Bibles used by twenty-first-century Christians all trace their authority back through history to Christian writings dating from around 50 CE forward. The original writings, the first edition writings, do not exist and any claim of inspiration for the “original” writings is nothing more than wishful, fanciful thinking. Every claim ever made by the Christian church rests on text of the Bible and how the church has interpreted that text. I am aware of the fact that the Christian church has been influenced by Gnosticism for most of its 2,000 year history, but for the most part, Christianity is a text-based religion that places the text of the Bible above personal experiences and revelations. Even when personal experiences and revelations are given weight and authority, they are almost always expected to conform to what is found in the text of the Bible.

Most Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God. They believe the words of the Bible came from God or at least represent, in fallible human form, what God wants humankind to know about God, life, salvation, death, judgment, and the afterlife. Many Christians believe every word of the Bible is inspired by God, and some Christians even go so far as to say that a particular translation, the King James Version, is inspired by God. Christians who hold this extreme view believe that God has preserved his Word through time and that every word of the King James Bible is from the lips of God himself. And countless other Christians believe the text of the Bible is inerrant and infallible. Ponder that thought for a moment. Every word in a book thousands of years old is true, without error, and perfect in every way. To quote the Evangelical bumper sticker, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me.” Some Evangelicals say, “God said it, and that settles it for me. It doesn’t matter whether I believe it or not!”

Most Christians believe the Bible is truth. While they may not believe ALL the Bible is truth, every Christian, at some point or the other, says THIS is truth. A person who does not believe the Bible is truth is not a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word. There is a form of Christianity floating about these days that suggests a person can be a Christian and not believe the Bible.This kind of Christian says “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” He  embraces Jesus as his Savior and guide, but often has no connection with organized Christianity. However, even the “spiritual but not religious” Christian must, sooner or later, appeal to the Bible. Without the Bible they would have no knowledge of Jesus, the locus of their faith.

Other Christians are what I call cafeteria Christians. They pick and choose what they want to believe. Most cafeteria Christians believe in Jesus since they DO want their sins forgiven and they DO want to go to heaven when they die, but when it comes to the hard sayings of the Bible, the teachings that get in the way of the American dream and living the way they want to live, the cafeteria Christians dismiss such sayings and teachings as old, outdated relics of past that have no value or application today. Simply put, they want a Jesus divorced from anything else the Bible says. Cafeteria Christians become quite adept at explaining away anything in the Bible with which they disagree.

This brings me to the point of this post. Who determines what the Bible says? Who decides what this verse or that verse says? Who is the arbiter of truth? Who is the final authority?

Some Christians say GOD is the final authority. The Bible is God’s Word . . . THUS SAITH THE LORD! These well-meaning Christians think that the teachings of the Bible are clear and understandable, needing no explanation or interpretation. Why, then, do they go to church on Sunday and listen to a man tell them what he thinks the Bible says? Why do they read books and commentaries written by people telling them what they think the Bible says? If the Bible is a self-attesting, self-explanatory text, why all the middlemen?

Some Christians say the HOLY SPIRIT is the final authority. God gave New Testament Christians (Old Testament believers only got a part-time Holy Spirit who came and went at will) the Holy Spirit to be their teacher and guide. The Holy Spirit teaches them everything necessary for life and godliness. It is not hard to see the Gnostic influence in this kind of thinking. If there is ONE Holy Spirit who teaches and guides every Christian, why is there no consensus among believers on what Christians believe? Why does the Holy Spirit give contradictory instructions or lessons? Why are there so many Christian sects? Surely, if the Holy Spirit is on his game, every sect would believe the same thing and they would become ONE body with ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism.

Some Christians are what I call red-letter Christians. They give weight and authority to the “words” of Jesus in the gospels, the words that are in red in many modern translations. With great passion and commitment, they attempt to walk in the steps of Jesus (WWJD). Unfortunately, they rarely consider whether the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels are actually his words. Jesus didn’t write any of the books found in the Bible, which, in my opinion, is quite odd. Most Biblical scholars question who actually wrote the gospels, and many scholars have serious reservations over Matthew, Mark, Luke or John being the authors of the gospels that bear their name.  Since the gospels are, at best, stories passed down by those alive at the time of Christ and not put in written form until decades after the death of Jesus, the best a modern-day Christian can say about the gospels is that they are words written by an unknown person who recorded what a third, fourth, fifth or twentieth party told the writer Jesus said.

bible made me an atheistClaims that the Bible is some sort of inspired text require faith. There’s no evidence for the claim that the Bible is inspired outside of the text itself.  Either you believe the Bible is, to some degree or the other, supernatural truth or you don’t. I am an atheist today primarily because I no longer believe the Bible is truth. While it is certainly a book filled with entertaining and thought-provoking stories, it is not, in any way, a supernatural text. While it certainly contains maxims worthy of emulation, it also contains God-approved behaviors that we moderns now consider at odds with human and scientific progress.

Every Christian belief rests not on God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, but on the authority of a human being or a group of human beings. It is humans who decide what the Bible says. It is humans who decide what this or that verse means. Whether it is a denomination, the Pope, theologians, a pastor, or an individual Christian, it is a human who is the final authority. At best, the only thing a Christian can claim is THUS SAITH THE POPE, MY DENOMINATION, MY PASTOR, MY COLLEGE PROFESSORS, OR MYSELF! Any claim that it is God speaking or leading is a matter of faith, a matter that cannot be proved empirically. In other words, you are just going to have to take their word for it — or not.

Christians need to get off their Bible High-Horse and admit who the real final authority is. The fact that there are thousands of Christian sects shows very clearly that humans are the ones with the final say on what the Bible does and doesn’t say. It is humans who preach, write books, teach theology classes, blog, and debate. God may have said a particular something, and there is no way for us to know if she did, but it is humans who get the final say about what God actually said or what she meant to say. Every Christian statement of belief is an interpretation of the Bible. It is that person or group saying, this is what the Bible says. In other words, the person is saying I know what God said. (One of the purposes of this blog is to demonstrate that the Bible can be made to say almost anything.)

Can you name one Christian teaching that ALL Christians agree upon? Outside of the fact that Jesus was a real person, every other teaching of the so-called “faith once delivered to the saints” is disputed by some Christian sect or the other. If the Christian church was a married couple they would have long since been divorced for irreconcilable differences. Oh wait, that is exactly what has happened. The Christian church is hopelessly splintered into thousands of sects, each competing with the other for the title of God’s Truth Holder. Children in Evangelical Sunday schools learn to sing the B-I-B-L-E song. In light of what I have written above, the lyrics of the song should be changed:

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that MIGHT be the Book for me, I SOMETIMES stand alone on the WORDS OF MEN, the B-I-B-L-E. B-I-B-L-E!!

Until God shows up in person and says yes, I wrote this convoluted, contradictory book that makes me out to be a hateful, vindictive sadist, I am not going to believe the Bible is God’s Word. If a benevolent, loving God really wrote the Bible, do you think she would have written what Christians say she did? If God had control of the writing process, do you think she would have included her unsavory side? If God was involved in putting the Bible together, don’t you think she would have proofread it to made sure there were no mistakes and that the text was internally consistent?

Instead, Christians spend countless hours trying to harmonize (make it all fit) the text of the Bible. They put forth laughable explanations for the glaring errors found in the Bible. Well, you know Bruce, Jesus cleansed the Temple at the start of his ministry AND at the end of his ministry! Sure he did. I wonder if Christians know how foolish some of their harmonizing attempts sound to those on the outside of the church or to someone like myself, who has been on both sides of the fence? Of course, according to the Bible, the various harmonization schemes sound foolish because non-Christians don’t have the Holy Spirit inside of them teaching them how to make square pegs fit in round holes. And round and round the merry-go-round goes.

If Christians want to believe the Bible is some sort of truth, and worship God/Jesus/Holy Spirit based on what is written within its pages, I have no beef with them. If they want to believe the Bible and its teachings, who am I to say they can’t?  However, when they insist everyone acquiesce to their beliefs about the Bible and God, and that their peculiar belief system is the one true religion, then I have a problem. When Christians insist that the Bible and its teachings be taught to public school children or demand that their interpretation of the moral and ethical code taught in the Bible is applicable to everyone, they should expect pushback from people such as I. Since history gives us ample warning about what happens when any religion gains the power of the state, secularists like myself will continue to fight any attempt to enshrine Christianity as the official state religion.

Here’s what I am saying to Christians. Take the Bible, go to your houses of worship and believe and worship as you will. However, I expect you to keep your beliefs to yourself. If I don’t ask, you don’t tell. Stop all the theocratic, God-rule talk. Stop trying to turn the United States into a Christian nation. Stop demonizing everyone who disagrees with your beliefs. In other words, treat others with decency, love, and respect. Stop being a religious fanatic who thinks everyone should hear about your version of the Christian God and embrace your peculiar beliefs.

Do you think American Christians, especially conservative Catholics and Protestants, Mormons, and Evangelical Christians, can do what I mentioned above? Not a chance! They will continue to push, fight, and infiltrate until they have no more soldiers to fight with. They are like a disease that is only curable by death. The good news is that this brand of Christianity is slowly dying and, in time, long after you and I are dead, the American Jesus will have drawn its last breath. (Please see Why I Hate Jesus.)

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

When God Dies

god is dead

Repost from 2015. Extensively edited, rewritten, and corrected.

For those of us who spent a significant part of our lives in the Christian church, our eventual defection from Christianity was an important and traumatic event in our lives. People who are still devoted followers of Jesus grossly underestimate the travail people go through when they finally come to a place where they realize God is Dead.

For years we sang praises to God. We prayed and read God’s sacred Word.  We devoted our time, talent, and money to the advancement of God’s kingdom.

We were not nominal believers. When the doors of the church were open, we were there. For those of us who were pastors, everything was secondary to our devotion to the work of the ministry. With great gusto we sang, “Souls for Jesus is our battle cry. Soul for Jesus is our battle cry. We never will give in while souls are lost in sin. Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.”

When we sang songs like All to Jesus I Surrender, we meant it. No part of our lives was untouched by our zeal, love, and devotion to Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

When evangelists called for people to come forward to pray, we were the first people down front on our knees before God.

We counted the cost and Jesus was worth it. We were, in every way, true-blue, on-fire, Holy Ghost-filled, sanctified slaves of Jesus.

The Bible said that we were the Bride and Jesus was the Bridegroom. We were happily married to Jesus. He was our best friend, our confidante, and lover. No one compared to Jesus. He was the sum of our existence.

And then one day, perhaps years of days, we found ourselves separated or divorced from the God we had loved and served. Irreconcilable differences were the official cause of our divorce.

The journey . . . We spent so much time talking about our destination that we spent little time discussing our journey. Now, all we seem to talk about is the journey we are on.

The journey takes us away from all that is familiar. All the trappings of our life with God become more distant as we walk, perhaps run, farther and farther away.

For many of us, we eventually reached a place where, to our utter surprise, we found out that God is dead.

Few ponder this thought without shedding tears and lamenting the loss.

Well-meaning Christians earnestly implore us to trace back our steps to that place where we lost our first love. They tell us God will not chase us, but if we will only return home our marriage can be saved and all will be forgiven.

But it is too late.

For us, the God of Christianity is dead, and like all of the many ideas shaped by human hands, this God can’t be resurrected from the dead.

We lament what we have lost, but we are hopeful about what we have gained.

It took the death of God for us to realize that life, this life, is worth living.

We refuse to surrender one more moment of time to a God made by humans; a deaf, dumb, and blind God who only exists in the imaginations of men who can’t bear the thought of this life being all there is.

But what about the God that is not made by man?

For the atheist, such a God does not exist. All gods are human inventions.

For the agnostic, for the deist, God remains a possibility, but in practice, even this God shows little or no life.

So on we go down an uncertain, but exciting, road.

Who knows what the future may hold. With no holy book, preacher, or God to lead the way, we are left with a wide-open road littered with the potholes of uncertainty. Uncertainty may, at times, cause us to fear, but we are also excited about the possibilities uncertainty brings.

Some day, perhaps today, tomorrow, or twenty years from now, we will face the ugly, unwelcome specter of death. As the COVID-19 virus stalks the human race, death seem all too close and real for us all.

Will we go to the grave with as much certainty as a person who believes that a life of eternal bliss awaits all who love God?

Will we be tempted, as our breath grows labored, to offer a feeble prayer to the God who died?

Will our final moments be those of integrity and commitment to what we said we believed?

Will we prove in death that what we believed was good enough to live by and good enough to die by?

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

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Praise God for AR-15s!

nathan rager

The Sounds of Fundamentalism is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a Twitter video clip of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher Nathan Rager preaching at Independent Baptist Church of Tampa Bay in Tampa Bay Florida. Rager — a “real” man — loved the phrase, lily-livered liberals.

Video Link

Want to hear Pastor Rager’s view of the Coronavirus pandemic? You know you do. 🙂 He is definitely in favor of infecting as many people as possible. Get out there and go soulwinning, bless God! God is in control.

Video Link

Quote of the Day: Evangelical Denial of Science Helps Fuel the Coronavirus Pandemic

katherine stewart

Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.

At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as “theories of unbelief,” hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States. Today, the hard core of climate deniers is concentrated among people who identify as religiously conservative Republicans. And some leaders of the Christian nationalist movement, like those allied with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has denounced environmental science as a “Cult of the Green Dragon,” cast environmentalism as an alternative — and false — theology.

This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis.

….

By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures.

….

It is fair to point out that the failings of the Trump administration in the current pandemic are at least as attributable to its economic ideology as they are to its religious inclinations. When the so-called private sector is supposed to have the answer to every problem, it’s hard to deal effectively with the very public problem of a pandemic and its economic consequences. But if you examine the political roots of the life-threatening belief in the privatization of everything, you’ll see that Christian nationalism played a major role in creating and promoting the economic foundations of America’s incompetent response to the pandemic.

For decades, Christian nationalist leaders have lined up with the anti-government, anti-tax agenda not just as a matter of politics but also as a matter of theology. Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council, one of the Christian right’s major activist groups, has gone so far as to cast food stamps and other forms of government assistance for essential services as contrary to the “biblical model.” Limited government, according to this line of thinking, is “godly government.”

When a strong centralized response is needed from the federal government, it doesn’t help to have an administration that has never believed in a federal government serving the public good. Ordinarily, the consequences of this kind of behavior don’t show up for some time. In the case of a pandemic, the consequences are too obvious to ignore.

— Katherine Stewart, The New York Times, The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals, March 27, 2020

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Secularists, Atheists, and Liberals to Blame for Coronavirus Pandemic

There is only a small minority of individuals who are grossly disobedient to God.[Actually, we are a larger percentage than Evangelicals.] Unfortunately for the vast majority of faithful individuals in America, too many of the unfaithful have been allowed by the faithful to gain high positions of influence in our culture: high positions in our government, our educational system, our media and our entertainment industry. This is tragic, unfortunate, and costly.

What is a great encouragement to me, ministering here in our nation’s capital, is witnessing the groundswell of faithful individuals who have been voted into office. If my calculations are correct, and I believe they are, there are more believers in Congress and the executive branch now than at any other time in modern American history! at any other time in modern American history!

I think great days lie ahead for our country as more and more evangelicals rise in their influence – you godly public servants [like Baby Christian Donald Trump] – who are working so hard to deliver us from the consequential wrath we are undergoing as a nation due in large part to the misdirection of those [atheists, agnostics, secularists, humanists, pagans, liberals, progressives, non-Christians] who are rebuked by God’s forsaking wrath.

— Ralph Drollinger, Founder Capitol Ministries and Trump Spiritual Advisor, Deranged White House evangelical blames ‘faithless’ for COVID-19, March 26, 2020

Another Day, Another IFB Tract That Uses Fear of COVID-19 to Evangelize People

seeking a cure

Last week, I wrote about a tract published by North Platte Baptist Church and its pastor William Reeves that used fear to evangelize people. (Please see North Platte Baptist Church Uses the Coronavirus Pandemic to Evangelize People and Dear Pastor Reeves, Let Me Explain to You Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself.) Today, a reader shared with me a new COVID-19 tract written by Paul Chappell, pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church in Lancaster, California. Chappell is a well-known IFB pastor. He is also the president of West Coast Baptist College.

Titled Seeking a Cure, the tract states:

Hours before the world rolled into the new decade of 2020, a group of Chinese doctors worked tirelessly to understand the sickness they now found themselves treating. 

Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, noticed seven cases of an unusual virus, which he thought looked similar to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which had led to a worldwide epidemic in 2003. He was correct. What he did not know, however, was that this virus he had seen, while related to SARS (both are a coronavirus), was an entirely new virus, which would eventually be named COVID-19.

….

Meanwhile, the virus began to spread. On January 13, a case was reported in Thailand. On January 20, it showed up in South Korea. On January 21, it was discovered in the United States. By March 11, the World Health Organization officially declared it a pandemic. Now, the virus has infected every continent on the globe, except Antarctica. 

….

This, of course, is not the first pandemic that has swept our world. In fact, as our society searches for a cure for Covid-19, many have looked back to previous epidemics, such as the flu of 1918, to learn how practices such as social distancing can slow the virus’ spread. 

But even before 1918, or any of the other world-altering epidemics of the previous centuries, our entire world has been infected with a different kind of virus. This virus cannot be stopped by social distancing, for it is a spiritual disease — passed down to us from our planet’s first parents, Adam and Eve.

The Bible tells us . . . blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada

I recently read an article about a woman who lived to the age of 102, but had experienced what came to be known as the Spanish Influenza in 1918 at the age of 3. What saved her life—and undoubtedly the lives of others—was the white scarf tied to the family’s outside doorknob, alerting others that there was a quarantined patient inside. 

Even as a virus patient will only receive treatment if they acknowledge their condition, so we must acknowledge our need for Christ.  

Will you turn to Christ alone? Although Jesus already paid for our sin and offers us the gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Heaven, we must choose to receive his gift. We must stop trusting ourselves, our works, and our religions, and turn our full trust to Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sin. Health viruses will come and go, but in Christ you can have forgiveness and a home in Heaven that can never be taken away.

You can read the entire tract here.

It should not surprise me that preachers such as Chappell look for opportunities such as the Coronavirus Pandemic to preach their truncated fear-based gospel. I preached a similar gospel for many years. Put the fear of God, judgment, and Hell into people, and they will come running to Jesus. Or so the thinking goes, anyway. What I find shameful is how Chappell and others like him use a worldwide viral epidemic to promote their religion; that instead of focusing on helping people, they focus on saving them. That way, if people get infected with the COVID-19 virus and die, at least they were told the TRUTH before they died, right? Profiting from the fears of people is the worst of human behaviors. And believe me, Chappell wants to profit from the virus. Souls saved=new church members=increased offerings. Ding! Ding! Ding! Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

This kind of behavior by IFB preachers and their churches will never change. It’s part of their DNA. Without fear, IFB churches would empty out overnight. Without fear, Chappell’s congregants just might get snockered on Saturday nights, sleep in on Sundays, and, Loki forbid, church women might wear pants. Or better yet, they might seek out kinder, gentler expressions of Christianity; churches where love and kindness, not fear and judgment, permeate the air.

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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Coronavirus Pandemic: Why Churches Should Close Their Doors

mark palenske and his wife

In recent weeks, I have published a number of posts about Evangelical churches that refuse to close their doors over the Coronavirus Pandemic. Whatever their reasons for remaining open, the fact remains that these pastors and church leaders are risking infections and death by doing so. God is not going to save them from the COVID-19 virus. Far too many Evangelicals think that God will cause the virus to pass by their homes just as he did in Egypt long ago when the death angel claimed the firstborn child of every family. In their minds, they believe that faith, the blood of Jesus, and prayer, will provide them an inoculation against the virus. As countless Evangelicals are now finding out, such thinking is not only stupid and delusional, it is deadly.

Recently, Greers Ferry First Assembly of God in Greers Ferry, Arkansas held what was billed as a Kid’s Crusade. Whether this event was the infection point is unknown, but one thing is for certain: thirty-two church members, including the pastor and his wife, are infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Three days ago, Pastor Mark Palenske posted the following message on Facebook:

I know that some of you have wished for another update sooner than this, but sitting down at the computer is not my highest priority at this point. Dena and I are beginning to feel some improvement, but the pace of that improvement is much slower than we would like. Our primary symptom at this juncture is a lingering nausea that keeps us wanting stillness and very small amounts of food. We are 12 days beyond our initial symptoms at this point, so this is obviously not a short term situation. Thus far, we have 26 people connected to the church who have tested positive for Covid-19 and at least 16 more who have been tested and are waiting for results. Five of those 26 have been admitted to the hospital (including Dena, earlier in the week) and one more is being transported as I write. There was very little in my training for the ministry that covered the full measure of what our church family has dealt with in the past few weeks. The intensity of this virus has been underestimated by so many, and I continue to ask that each of you take it very seriously. An act of wisdom and restraint on your part can be the blessing that preserves the health of someone else. I have two goals for this afternoon’s post. The first is that many are collecting reasons to fear, and I think that is counterproductive to our current challenge. There are many reasons for concern and we are being given large amounts of information daily that demands we carefully sift through it. Fear erodes our willingness to work together, and it steals the confidence of our youngest generation. Our lifestyle has not seen such sudden shifts in our routines or the influx of uncertainty that it has seen in the previous days. Any builder will tell you that the strength of the building lies within its foundation. It’s not hard to construct something quickly, but it takes more time to construct something that will last and endure hardship. Our country has ventured into a fickle and shallow society recently. We have applauded self-expression and overvalued individual human talent. Our culture revels in recreation (something that is not bad, but can be over-prioritized) and entertainment. In the process, we forgot what we were made of. Our foundation was built with a cooperative spirit and has motivated generations before this one to make sacrifices for the good of the whole unit. There have always been people who see the life of their fellow man as worth their efforts. I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that we live in a sturdy place. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, right now than where I am. I trust my fellow citizens to rise up and meet this challenge. We are not invincible, but we learned centuries ago that faith outweighs fear. We learned that God, when given a place in our homes and in our lives, orders our steps. I read this morning…”Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)My second goal is to try and alter the current of our social media tendencies. We can give into some real human frailties when we leap to conclusions and seek to injure an unknown individual or when we allow our rage to express itself without self-discipline at its core. Facebook, does not have to be negative! It does not have to inflict its will on the suffering or its opinion on someone with a very different perspective. It can be an incredibly useful tool to encourage and uplift. Let me explain. I would much rather tell you of the superstars that have fought side-by-side with my congregation during this battle, than highlight the obstacles that stood in our way. Two local doctors have gone well beyond their normal duties. It was because they were relentless and diligent, that we discovered the scope of what we are dealing with. There is wisdom in building a relationship with a physician and this circumstance proves that truth all over again. The medical world has their hands full. I remember the two nurses who met us out in the parking lot the day that we were tested. Their world changed in a single moment and they stood tall to the challenge. Let’s be patient with them at this time. They are doing their best, not only to help us return to our lives and our families, but to help them return to theirs as well. Dena and I receive a daily phone call from the state’s Department of Health. Each morning a ray of sunshine asks us how we are doing. We spent hours on the phone together going over each detail of our story. Retracing every step and sharing more information than we could imagine. They took that information and scoured our community for more that might have been affected. Our daily phone call from them won’t last forever, but I thank God for their help in all of this. They are dealing with an unpleasant reality that is testing their training and protocols, and if you ask me, they are doing so admirably. Mistakes and overlooked facts are bound to happen with something of this magnitude, but no one works in a circle of perfection. Not me! Not you! But it’s compassion and character that guides us through the tough times. I would also like to thank my neighbors and my fellow Cleburne County citizens. Your phone calls and care packages have been a God-send. We have lived here for 13 years (almost to the day) and you have been a family that we have cherished greatly. Long before the reality of this virus, we knew that you would step up for the community and we were not wrong! Lastly to the church and our family (both literal and figurative), you have been fantastic! Love is not just an emotion. It’s a series of thoughtful actions. We have felt and trusted in your love and will continue to let that love lead us forward. To anyone that reads this (I know that it’s long), I have a challenge for you. Fill Facebook with the names and faces of the heroes of this season. Tell others about how they impacted your life. Encourage! Uplift! Refuse to voice the negative and share hope with each other!!!

I wish nothing but the best for Pastor Palenske and his infected church members. I don’t want to see anyone get sick, and I certainly don’t want to see anyone die. That said, it must be pointed out that Palenske paints himself as a helpless victim, one filled with all sorts of wisdom and insight post-infection. Where was that wisdom and insight BEFORE thirty-two people were infected with the COVID-19 virus? Why was Palenske still holding church services and Kids Crusades as if all was right in the world? At the very least, Palenske and other decision-makers have to own their own culpability in this debacle. If services had been canceled and people had practiced social distancing, it is likely that this outbreak could have been avoided.

Other Posts About Churches Refusing to Close Their Doors and the Coronavirus Pandemic in General

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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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.

How Religion Obscures Seeing People as They Are

Reposted from 2015, edited, updated, and revised

Six years ago, Polly and I drove to Southeast Ohio to pay our respects to a man who was once a vital part of the church I pastored in Somerset. The family asked me to conduct the funeral and I was delighted to do so. Surprisingly, they asked for a non-religious service. It had been twenty years since I had seen this family face to face. In recent years, I have reconnected with some of the children via Facebook. It was good to see them, the children now in their 30s and 40s, with children of their own.

As I pondered what to say, I couldn’t help but think about the eleven years I spent as their pastor. They knew me when I was a fire-breathing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher and school administrator, and they were at the church when I became a Calvinist. They remembered my preaching, the rules, and the standards. They remembered my commitment to the God and the Bible. I hope they also remembered my goodness and kindness. While those things certainly provided the backdrop for our reconnection, they were not the substance of what I said at the service. Why? Because the past, with all its religious and Biblical trappings, would obscure the man we were honoring. I most wanted to talk about him.

You see, he was a good man. He was a friend who would do anything for me, any time, day or night. When I needed help, he always made himself available. While he could be temperamental at times, most of the time he was a kind, compassionate man. But these traits were obscured and mattered little years ago. Instead of seeing the man, I tended to see the sin. Isn’t that what we were taught to do? Holiness and purity were the objective, without which no man shall see the Lord.

He and I were different in many ways. When it came to sin, I could always hide my sin better than he could. Over time, preachers get good at hiding their failures. After all, they are supposed to be shining examples of spiritual maturity and holiness. No one wants a preacher who is just like everyone else. People want a Moses, a Paul, or a Jesus, someone to inspire them and show them the way. So preachers lie, giving the appearance that they, if need be, could walk on water. Deep down they know, that like everyone else, if they walked on water, they would drown. Strip away the clerical façade, and what you see is a man no different from those sitting in the pews.

I remember the first time Greg came to church. He was wearing a shirt that said Zig-Zag; and no, he didn’t roll his own cigarettes. This is a perfect picture of the kind of man he was. He had little pretense; what you saw was what you got. So when he sinned, he didn’t hide it well. I remember one Sunday afternoon he went to the movies with his wife. They saw Born on the Fourth of July. Now, this was a big sin at our church. No movies, especially R-rated movies. I could tell that he was a little antsy at evening service, but he said nothing about the movie. The next day at school, one of his children mentioned that Mom and Dad had gone to see a movie. I asked them, WHAT movie? They confessed, with nary a thought that they had just gotten their Dad in trouble. Of course, the good pastor that I was, watching out for his soul, I called him and asked him to come to my office so we could talk. Nothing like getting called to the principal’s office, right?

Before he started coming to the church, he had been an avid listener of rock and roll music. Well, at Somerset Baptist Church we didn’t listen to THAT kind of music! One day he came to church all excited. He had found out that there was music called Christian rock. He had bought a cassette tape of a group by the name of Stryper. (He loved the song To Hell with the Devil.) I took one look at the pictures on the cassette box and I knew that Stryper was nothing more than a tool used by Satan to deceive Christians. I told him it was a bad idea for him to listen to such worldly music. I think he was deeply discouraged by my “Godly” opinion. He thought he had finally found something that was not only Christ-honoring but that also met his desire to listen to rock music. I, the arbiter of what was Christ-honoring, knew better.

There were a lot of these sinful moments, and as I look back on it, I can see how discouraging it must have been for him. Most of the things I called sin were not sin at all. But, because I thought they were, they kept me from seeing the man for who and what he really was. My religion obscured this man’s humanity, as all religions do to some degree or another, Instead of seeing the man, I saw him through the lens of the Bible and my interpretation of it. My sin list and my dogma got in the way of me seeing this man as a flawed and frail good man. Like his preacher, he wasn’t perfect.

We spent a lot of non-religious time together, and it is from those times I drew the stories I shared with his family. Great stories. Crazy stories. Funny stories. Stories that testified to the kind of man he was. Yes, I could have shared the “other” stories too, but to what end? As I told Polly at the time, if we live long enough, we all will have moments in our lives that are less than stellar. We all have those times where we went the wrong way or made a bad choice, where we hurt others and hurt ourselves. But these stories are not who we really are. They are the exceptions to the rule, the reminder that no one is perfect, including Jesus.

So on that Saturday I mourned the loss of a man I once knew, but I also rejoiced with his family as we shared stories about the good man that he was. This was my first time doing a funeral where there were no religious expectations. No preaching, no need to get a word in for Jesus; no evangelizing or making everything about the church. On that spring day, in the hills of Southeast Ohio, we celebrated the life of a man whom others loved dearly. While his body will molder in the ground, Greg will live on in the memories we have of him. In the end, this is all the living have.

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

Quote of the Day: Dear Evangelical Pastors, This is no Time for Civil Disobedience

james ellis iii

When municipalities began encouraging social distancing of at least six feet and capping attendance numbers for public gatherings, alongside other decisions of closure or limitation, many churches quickly turned to congregant-free video broadcasting of worship services or even drive-in-movie style worship in their parking lots. Other congregations – to the chagrin of many, both Christian and not – continued meeting in-person as scheduled, emphatic that they were simply going to trust God.

“My goodness gracious, if the people of God cannot display wisdom, resilience and calm, then who will?”

For me, the theological problem here is imagining that we are in some way doing God a favor when gathering face-to-face in Jesus’ name, as we normally do, for worship, Bible study and discipleship groups. Something is hugely awry when for the public good (which includes our congregations since they, too, work and live “in public”) and over a temporary period, postponing physical gatherings jars us so. It is as if we believe a mystical, magic medicine is produced through our corporate worship or that God isn’t the infinitely capable caretaker that Scripture attests, which renders, then, 10 or 11 o’clock Sunday mornings as the only time that heaven is open for business.

Frankly, it makes us, as Christians, look seriously out to lunch (to put it kindly). Believe me, I understand that cognitive dissonance during trying times is very real. We may feel like we are living in a movie because what is real still doesn’t feel that it should be. We can’t see the forest for the trees. I get it. But this is no time for civil disobedience, but rather for us to turn with confidence to the God we say we believe in.

— James Ellis III, Director of Student Ministries at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, Canada, Baptist News Global, March 25, 2020

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: IFB Preacher David Hyles Preaches Against Girls Wearing Pants

david hyles greatest men
Jack Hyles, David Hyles, Jim Krall, World’s Greatest Men

The Sounds of Fundamentalism is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a Twitter video clip of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher David Hyles explaining why his soon-to-be wife will only wear dresses. Keep in mind that Hyles, youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana at the time, was allegedly engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with church girls. Way to keep it real, Brother Dave! I am sure all your victims were wearing dresses.

Video Link

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