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Category: Evangelicalism

Christians Don’t Have the Corner on Selflessness

Here’s a graphic one of my son’s sent me from his Facebook news feed:

selflessness

As they read this, countless atheists hit their heads on tables and mutter, really, this old canard? Let me kill this thinking in one, swift easy statement: if selflessness is consistent with Evangelical Christianity, why are so many Christians selfish? Bam! Shut the door!

People who post things like this have the IQ of a walnut. Rather than THINK, they post. No thinking Christian would EVER claim that selflessness is the domain of Christianity alone. All the Christian has to do is think about all the selfless non-Christians who have helped them over the years and all the selfish Christians who haven’t.

If the question is can the morality taught in the Bible lead to a life of selflessness? then the answer is yes. But, the same could be said for humanism and other ethical and religious systems of belief. Christianity has no corner on the selflessness market. If anything, American Evangelical behavior often reveals a crass indifference to the plight and suffering of others.

Many Evangelicals wrongly think that atheism is a moral and ethical system of thought. It’s not. Atheism is, and will always remain, the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. That’s it. If I tell someone I am an atheist, that tells them nothing about my morals or ethics. The fact that I think evolution best explains the natural world says nothing about my morality or ethics either. Evolution is a statement of fact. There are Christians who are evolutionists. A conundrum: Christian=selfless Evolutionist=selfishness. Yet, there are “evolutionists” who are selfless worshipers of the Christian deity. Just another two-cent reason why the whole “Christians are selfless” argument is groundless.

As a humanist, I live my life according to the principles of humanism. These principles are succinctly stated in the Humanist Manifesto III:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

As I try to live by the humanist ideal, I am ever aware of how far from that ideal I am. I would never say to anyone that unless they become a humanist they have no capacity for selflessness. Humans are social creatures who thrive in interdependent relationships. Rare is the person who wants solitude and loneliness. Thousands of people read this blog because they want the sense of community and connections that come from doing so. Facebook is a hit because we desire to connect with like-minded people. We want to belong. As part of a tribe or group, we help those we have a connection with. If I had a serious medical need and required $10,000 to save my life, I know that a mere mention of this by my fellow bloggers and Facebook friends would result in the need being met. Why would people who have never met me face to face selflessly help me? It is our humanness and the bond we have with one another that drives us to help others. Are we always selfless? Of course not. All of us, Christian or not, can be selfish assholes, thinking only of what’s best for ourselves. But, more often than not, atheists, humanists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, pagans, or Buddhists, when called upon, will selflessly help others.

Years ago, I was at Sam’s Club checking out, and in the line next to me was an Asian young man trying to buy some stuff for his mom’s restaurant. The cashier wouldn’t let him make a purchase because he was using his mom’s membership card. The man spoke with broken English and was thoroughly embarrassed by how the cashier was treating him. I left my line and went over to the cashier and gave her a piece of my mind. And then I told her to put his stuff on my card and he could pay me for it. Now she was the one thoroughly embarrassed, having been called out for her ill-treatment of the Asian man. She quickly corrected course and took care of the man’s order. As he left, he looked at me and said “thanks.” I said, “no problem.” Did I do what I did because I was a Christian? Of course not. I have no tolerance for those who berate and belittle others. In other words, I don’t like assholes, and that’s why I came to the man’s defense.

When I come in contact with others, I do my best to be kind and considerate. Several years ago, I had a meltdown at the local Meijer customer service desk. The young woman running the desk didn’t help me as I thought she should in the time I had allotted for her to do so. I told her, forget it, and walked away.  Everything was fine until I swiftly turned around and went back to the desk and shouted, and you don’t give a SHIT, do you? Polly helplessly stood by while I made a public spectacle of myself. She didn’t say a word, but by the time we were halfway home, I realized that I had acted like a first-class asshole. As soon as I got home I called the customer service desk and talked to the young woman who had been the subject of my anger. I apologized for my behavior. Several times she told me, “that’s okay.” I told her, “no it’s not. No one should treat someone like I treated you.” The next time I was at the store she let me know that she appreciated my apology.  She told me that she had never had a customer apologize for treating her like shit.

You see, I am a saint and a sinner. I can act selflessly and I can act selfishly. No one has the selfless market cornered. Take the drowning story in the graphic above.  Does any Christian REALLY believe that an atheist would idly sit by and so nothing while someone drowns? I am a disabled. Anyone who sees me knows I have problems getting around. I have had more than a few people extend kindness and courtesy to me as I try to navigate a store, stadium, or restaurant. Yes, I have met a few selfish people who wouldn’t offer me help if my life depended on it, but they are the exception to the rule. Even when I complain about how people often ignore someone in a wheelchair, I don’t think they are being selfish as much as lacking in instruction about people with disabilities.

The underlying issue is that many Christians, particularly Evangelicals, believe that morality comes from God, and that without God a person cannot act morally and ethically. When challenged with examples of godless people who act morally and ethically, Christians often attack the motive for the godless person’s good behavior. The atheist is acting selflessly because they have an ulterior motive, they say. How can they know this? Can we really know the motives of others? Besides, isn’t the moral and ethical behavior of the Christian predicated on gaining a divine payoff, a mansion in Heaven, and eternal life? Who’s the selfish person now?

As a humanist, I am deeply interested in seeing my progeny thrive. Because I love them and desire their company, I try to protect them from injury and harm. Because I desire to live in peace and harmony, I do my best to be a selfless member of the human race and the community I live in.  I don’t need the threat of Hell and judgment or the promise of heaven and eternal life to motivate me to act according to the humanist ideal. My country, community, tribe, and family are important to me, and because they are I act accordingly. Why is it that so many Evangelicals fail to understand this? Why do they arrogantly think that morality, ethics, and selflessness are the domain of their religion alone? Why are they deliberately blind to overwhelming evidence that suggests that all people have within themselves the power to act morally, ethically, and selflessly?

Perhaps it is selfishness that drives their blindness? Imagine what would happen if people realized that living a moral, ethical, and selfless life does not require Christianity. Once the threat of Hell and the promise of Heaven is removed from the equation, people are less likely to join up with Fundamentalist religious sects. Instead of looking for the one road that leads to Heaven, they could choose one of the many roads that lead to a virtuous, well-lived life. Imagine people doing good and acting selflessly because it is the right thing to do, not because they fear God or covetously desire a divine payoff after death.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Why Evangelical Christians Believe the Bible is the Words of God

bible word of god

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgement or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgement, feel perfectly assured—as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it—that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our judgement, but we subject our intellect and judgement to it as too transcendent for us to estimate.  (John Calvin)

I wish Evangelicals would be honest about this instead of trying to “prove” the Bible is true, reliable, accurate, scientifically correct, historically precise, etc., etc., etc.

Evangelicals believe the Bible is the words of God because the Holy Spirit tells them it is. The Bible is truth because God tells them it is. Their belief is a matter of faith. If it is not, then they are guilty of using circular reasoning; the Bible is truth because the Bible says the Bible is truth.

Evangelicals embarrass themselves and their religion when they attempt to “prove” that the Bible is truth. One either accepts the claims of the Bible as truth or they don’t. It has always been about faith.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:1-6)

I am an atheist today because I do not have the requisite faith necessary to believe that the Bible is a supernatural book written by a supernatural God. I do not have the requisite faith necessary to believe that the Bible is in any way truth or God’s message to humankind. While I can competently discuss, argue, and debate the intellectual reasons why I think the Bible is the errant, fallible work of men, the reason I am not a Christian is because I am unwilling to set reason and rationality aside to accept, by faith, that the Bible is an authoritative text straight from the mouth of Jehovah.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Rick Iglesias Sentenced to Nine Years in Prison for Sexual Assault

pastor rick iglesias

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

In July 2019, Rick Diego Iglesias, the former senior pastor of Pleasant Valley Church in Winona, Minnesota, was charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual assault, including heightened charges because the good pastor held a position of authority over the victim.

The Winona Post reported at the time:

In late July, Winona Police Department investigators interviewed the alleged victim, who reported that he or she was repeatedly abused and raped over roughly three years, from 2010 to 2012, according to the criminal complaint.

Iglesias served as the senior pastor at Winona’s Pleasant Valley Church from 1994 to 2014 and more recently worked as a pastor in Mars, Penn. In a statement, Pleasant Valley Church Senior Pastor Chad Ellenburg called the news “devastating.” He wrote, “We are heartbroken for [Iglesias’] wife, Nancy, and son, Brennan, as we cannot imagine the pain and devastation they are experiencing at this time. We are also hurting for the victim, but thankful that they had the courage to come forward. We are praying for them as well as anyone who might be affected here at Pleasant Valley or in this community.”

“We are also deeply grieved that our former pastor, by his actions and deception, failed to faithfully represent Jesus Christ and his Gospel,” Ellenburg continued. “We have done, and will continue to do, everything we can to fully cooperate with the authorities. We will also continue to support and pray for the family, the victim, and those who will carry the responsibility of pursuing justice in this situation.”

In 2007, Iglesias was interviewed by Trevin Wax for a The Gospel Coalition article. TGC has removed the article from their site, but I was able to find a cached copy of the interview. Here’s an excerpt:

I began by asking Rick about his spiritual background and his call to ministry. Rick grew up in a family environment that took seriously the commands of God. Though his family was Roman Catholic, Rick believes his early family life equipped him for future service in the way that “God was honored, prayer was valued, the church was central and service to others was modeled.” Rick’s religious upbringing shaped his values and experiences.

Rick came to saving faith in Christ during his freshman year in college through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. During those years in college, Rick was discipled by other Christians and through his experiences he received a “greater vision for God’s purpose in the world and my part in that.”

As he began participating in local church ministry and foreign mission trips, Rick began to sense the Lord speaking to him about a calling to full-time ministry. To clarify this call, Rick spent extended times in the Word seeking to discern God’s call on his life. “I recall spending a weekend away during my senior year in college with a pastor friend, and as he prayed over me, he prayed a simple prayer, but one that the Lord used at that point in my life: ‘Rick, be like Jesus! Have compassion on the troubled, helpless crowds that have no Shepherd! Be ashamed to die until you have won a major victory for the unreached of the world.’” God used the encouragement and support of godly men around Rick to clarify his calling. “I’ve always believed that you need a specific call not to be in ministry. God calls us to change the world. I believe He called me through circumstances, the Word, people in my life, and an inner peace that continues to this day,” he says boldly. Though Rick understood that God had called him to the ministry, he had some doubts as to how that would all take place. He served full-time at a church for seven years in a college ministry before going to seminary. His journey to seminary was a leap of faith, for he had no money, time, or desire to devote four years to study. Yet, the Lord spoke through his Word and through the generosity of faithful Christians supplied all his financial needs while in seminary.

“Every time that God has spoken and I have tried to respond with obedience, He has more than met me where I needed Him to be,” he testifies.

Rick has never faced any doubts about being in full-time ministry, although rough leadership meetings or discouraging emails occasionally threaten to steal his focus. During the tough moments of ministry, Rick is sustained by the transformation he sees taking place in his people’s lives. “We have front row seats to the life-transforming acts of God!” he says. Being in ministry is a privilege.

When asked about the necessary character traits that Scripture demands of church leaders, Rick mentions two that encompass many others: a passion for God and a compassion for people. “If you have a passion for God, you will be honest and faithful, and you will love the Word, live out your faith, and develop a whole host of traits that God calls us to exhibit as we walk with Him. If you have compassion for people, you will be compassionate and patient, passionate toward the lost, and a whole host of other traits that we need to model in our relationships with people.” The rubric of “loving God” and “loving people” comes from Jesus himself. Therefore, Rick believes that our character traits will come from this perspective.

Rick’s personal struggle is maintaining an “all-consuming passion for God” every day. Though he prays and spends time in the Word, he finds that a burning passion for God’s presence often eludes him. Rick’s goal is to “be connected to Jesus each and every day, to walk so closely that I hear his heartbeat for the lost, for the least, for the lonely, for those that he places in my path.” Keeping that desire at the forefront of his spiritual life is his deepest struggle.

Rick mentions several ways he protects himself from temptation. He meets with two pastor friends every week for accountability. “I have been meeting with these pastors for over 12 years now, so we are transparent and free to share some of the ugliest aspects of our lives,” he says. He also has safeguards on the computer to ensure that internet pornography does not become a snare. He carries a small card in his wallet that lists all the blessings that come from his ministry and what would happen if he were to fall. “Remember – temptation is an opportunity to do good!” he says.

When asked about temptations that plague other ministers, he lists off character flaws and actions such as selfishness, pride, being an overbearing authority figure, compromising integrity, lack of sexual purity, and lacking balance between ministry and family.

…..

Iglesias resigned from Pleasant Valley Church in 2014. The Winona Post reported at the time:

Although he seems too humble to admit it, Rick Iglesias is the kind of man who cannot walk into a room without a few people rushing over to greet him with a strong handshake or an enthusiastic hug. Iglesias’ magnetism can be attributed to many things, from his friendly demeanor to his ever-present grin, but for many, it is his service as lead pastor of Pleasant Valley Church (PVC) for 20 years that stands out above all. “Our focus is to have a real, strong community presence,” Iglesias said. “[We try to have a] positive impact on the community in many ways.”

After resigning from his position this past fall, Iglesias is still very much active in the Winona community, evidenced from his time spent at Winona Senior High School (WSHS) talking to Spanish classes, as well as the abundance of people who make an effort to stop and thank him for his service over the years. His continued community involvement is not surprising; Iglesias and his wife Nancy have called Winona and PVC home since moving to Southeast Minnesota from suburban Chicago in October of 1994. For the past 20 years they have built a life together that includes their son, Brennan, a senior at WSHS, so it will be a bittersweet moment when Iglesias and his family move sometime after Brennan’s graduation in the spring. “When my wife and I came to Winona, we wanted to get involved in the community,” Iglesias explained. “We want to give back to Winona as much as we can.”

Over his tenure as lead pastor Iglesias has helped to shape the lives of people across many demographics, but he admitted to holding a special affinity toward young adults in the community, including college students and those with young families. “We have really strong ministries with youth,” he explained. “We try to make Christianity practical and accessible.” Prior to arriving in Winona, Iglesias worked at a college ministry, and was surprised at the lack of involvement between the church and Winona State University, Saint Mary’s University and Minnesota State College–Southeast Technical. “Here’s a town with three colleges and frankly, there was not a lot going on,” Iglesias remembered thinking. “We need to focus on the next generation.” In the coming years Iglesias, along with fellow PVC administrators and members, focused on how to involve the younger population of Winona, and started initiatives such as ministries aimed at middle school, high school and college students, Monday night contemporary service, and classes to help with money management and other life skills. “I’ve had college students come up to me and tell me ‘PVC has made all the difference [in] my college experience,’” Iglesias said. “There is no success without successors.”

….

In July 2021, Iglesias pleaded guilty to criminal sexual misconduct.

The Winona Post reported at the time:

Former Winona pastor Rick Diego Iglesias pled guilty today to repeatedly sexually abusing a child under 16, but whether he will be sentenced to prison time remains to be seen.

Iglesias, the 66-year-old former pastor of Pleasant Valley Church, was charged in 2019 with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct after the victim told Winona Police Department investigators they were repeatedly abused from 2010 to 2012. A witness, Iglesias’ former boss at a Pennsylvania church, testified that Iglesias admitted to the crimes. Iglesias was charged with the highest-level sex crimes under Minnesota law because, prosecutors initially alleged, he held “a position of authority” over the victim and the victim was under 16. He pled not guilty earlier this year.

Under a plea deal announced today, the Winona County Attorney’s Office dropped the three original, first-degree charges, and Iglesias pled guilty to a lower but still serious charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Iglesias admitted he held a “significant relationship” over the victim beyond just being a pastor, and that the victim was under 16 at the time. Iglesias admitted to multiple instances of sexually abusing the minor over an extended period of time.

“Your reason for [pleading guilty] is primarily that you don’t want to put the victim through the trauma of having a trial, is that correct?” defense attorney Kurt Knuesel asked his client. “Yes,” Iglesias testified.

The plea deal leaves Iglesias’ sentence to be determined. The maximum sentence is 25 years in prison, and Leahy said the presumptive sentence in this case would be 7.5-15 years in prison. The three charges that were dropped carried penalties of up to 30 years each.

Knuesel hopes to persuade the court to sentence Iglesias to probation alone, with a stayed sentence hanging over his head if he violates probation. Prosecutor Christina Galewski said she’ll seek prison time.

Yesterday, he was sentenced to nine years in prison.

The Winona Post reports:

A two-year-long criminal case came to an emotional end on Wednesday as Judge Mary Leahy sentenced former Winona pastor Rick Diego Iglesias, 66, to nine years in prison for the crime of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. He pleaded guilty earlier this summer to abusing a child under 16, over whom he had a position of authority, many times between 2010 and 2012. The Winona Police Department and Winona County Attorney’s Office first brought charges in September 2019 after the victim came forward.

Earlier this summer, Leahy kept open the option of probation without prison time, and at Wednesday’s sentencing hearing mental health professionals testified that Iglesias was at low risk of reoffending. However, representing the victim’s wishes, Assistant County Attorney Christina Galewski pushed for the nine-year sentence Leahy ultimately agreed to.

Leahy said Iglesias’ position as a well-respected pastor “provided a mask” that partly enabled his abuse to go unnoticed and his crime hurt the community as well as the victim. She stressed the gravity of his offense. “It didn’t happen just once or twice, but many times over a period of time,” she said. Leahy continued, “You held a position of trust, and you violated that trust.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce Gerencser