Evangelicals love the Bible. They rarely read it or practice its teachings, but they do love it. They call themselves people of the book. Baptist churches use the line The Blood, The Book, The Blessed Hope to describe their beliefs.
Evangelicals believe the Bible is an inerrant, infallible book inspired (and preserved) supernaturally by God. Many Evangelicals think the Bible is also a science, archeology, and history textbook. Other Evangelicals think it is a sex manual, the blueprint for life, the keys to successful living. In their mind, the Bible is the end all. It contains everything a person needs to know about life.
The Bible is a #1 bestseller that most everyone in America owns but hasn’t read. Countless Evangelical Bibles gather dust on the coffee table, only to be brushed off come Sunday. Some Evangelicals store their Bible in the back window of their car, in the trunk, or under the front seat. This way they will know where it is when they pull into the church parking lot on Sunday.
The Evangelical theme song is:
Yes, that’s the book for me
I stand alone on the Word of God
BIBLE (Shouted real loud so God hears them)
Evangelicals, with their devotion, love, and worship of the Bible, assume that everyone else has the same devotion, love, and worship of the Bible. They also assume that everyone accepts their presuppositions about the Bible; that the Bible is an inerrant, infallible book inspired supernaturally by God. They cannot fathom anyone viewing the Bible any other way. Sin, unbelief, liberalism, or apostasy are the causes for not believing as they do, or so say the Evangelicals.
One tactic Evangelicals use with non-believers, atheists and agnostics, is quoting the Bible. Since they believe the Bible has magical power, they think if they quote the Bible that it will have a powerful effect on the person they are quoting it to. A recent post by Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, illustrates this kind of thinking:
A new atheist billboard now appears along the interstate in Riverside, California. These billboards feature a beautiful sunrise over a mountain scene and say, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone,” and then give a web address. This board is just one version of many similar boards from other atheist organizations in different parts of the country. Rather than comment on these boards, I thought I would just let Scripture do the talking.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18–23)
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)
This is the message that these atheists need to hear and believe!
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16–18)
Ham has a Bible message for people like me:
I am a fool
I am ungodly
I am unrighteous
I suppress the truth
I am unthankful
I have a darkened heart
Ham’s solution for such a debauched life is for me to believe these words are true and repent of my sins and trust Jesus as my Lord and Savior. He thinks if he writes or says the magic words that somehow, some way, they will transform my life.
Here’s what Ham doesn’t understand. I don’t accept his presuppositions about the Bible. It is just a book, no different from any other book sitting on my bookshelves. It has no magical power. In fact, when I hear or read Evangelicals quoting the Bible, my ears often go deaf and eyes go dark. If anything, it cause medical problems.
If Evangelicals want to challenge my worldview and beliefs, they are going to have to come up with something better than the Bible. Saying “God says,” “thus saith the Lord,” “in Genesis 1:1 the Bible says,” etc., have no power over me. Such quoting is little more than a parlor trick used to amaze the ignorant and I am too old for such childish tricks.
I am not saying the Bible has NO value. It does, and many people find the Bible to be a book of wisdom and spirituality. Such people are light years away from Evangelicals.
What follows is a brief excerpt of a story about Jonathan Nichols. Jonathan grew up in the Newark Baptist Temple, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church (IFB) pastored, until recently, by my wife’s uncle, James Dennis. The Pastor (Jamie) Overton in this story is married to my wife’s cousin. He and his family are now missionaries. Polly’s parents have attended this church since the late 1970s. The Christian school in this story is the Licking County Christian Academy in Heath, Ohio. It is owned and operated by the Newark Baptist Temple.
The following story is excerpted from Part One and Part Two of Jonathan’s story:
My story is going to be slightly different than the others featured on this blog because I actually never attended Bob Jones University. However, before you stop reading, you should know that I would be finishing up my freshman year at BJU had I not been outed in high school, expelled, and ultimately forced to leave home. My parents are both BJU alumni, and the principal of my Christian school in Ohio was a BJU-pusher. In fact, while I was growing up, BJU was presented as the only viable choice of college by my family and a few teachers. Because of that, my story isn’t too different from the others here, I just went through the same things earlier, before I actually went to college.
I grew up in Newark, Ohio and attended an independent fundamental Baptist church since I was born. That church was more conservative than Bob Jones, and my parents were more conservative than the church. My mom, the church pianist and school music teacher, was forever busy taking the “sensual” triplets out of songs like “Some Trust in Chariots” and campaigning against songs like “As The Deer” and “Bow the Knee.” As you can probably deduce from that, practically no modern music was allowed in our household either. I grew up on classical music and only classical music and quickly learned that there was no such thing as likes and dislikes when it came to music. There was just good and bad. You are to listen to good music and not to listen to bad music. What music you “like” has nothing to do with anything.
That mentality was carried into every area of life.
I suppose being the music teacher’s son allowed me to be a little gay boy without thinking anything of it or being called out about it. I was totally into music and art and pretty things, and nothing was weird. I would play with scarves without feeling odd. Well, without feeling too odd. I knew that none of the other guys my age were playing with scarves. Fortunately, I didn’t think about it too much.
Ok, so I can’t really credit my discretion for keeping me in the closet for eighteen years… Like I said, I played with scarves and wasn’t careful about making it known that I was a musician and not like those “other” guys. The atmosphere was so anti-gay that no one even bothered to think that there could be a gay kid growing up there, regardless of how obvious I made it. Besides, I was still a kid. I didn’t even know what it meant to be gay. Heck, I didn’t even know that it meant anything besides “happy.” So in the minds of the church and my parents, there was no way I could have chosen to be gay yet. And since being gay is a choice, that meant that I was a good, straight little boy. Just like God intended. Right? Totally….
….wanted so much to be able to be honest with someone that I was actually in contact with. I hinted to my closest friend that my friendship with Ryan wasn’t just a friendship. She was, naturally for someone in our atmosphere, worried for me. So, despite her promises that she would trust me to do what I felt was right, she went to my youth pastor for help. He promptly told the senior pastor, who is superintendent of the school. The next day, I was called into Pastor Dennis’s office for questioning. Pastor Overton was also in the room, sitting to my left with a legal pad and a pen, taking notes. Dennis tried to start off nice enough, but it was obvious that they found out. I decided that a clean breast of the issue would be best, and went into my research on the matter, hoping at least to get an opposing rebuttal and at best to convince them. How naive I was. . . I don’t remember much of that conversation, but one thing rings vividly in my mind. I mentioned that the Greek word malakoi in I Cor. 6:9 was never elsewhere, in the whole of Greek literary writings, translated “effeminate.” It carried a whole different connotation. His response? He turned around, pulled his Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance off the shelf, looked up the word, and pointed to the definition. He never for one second imagined that Dr. James Strong was not infallible and that his concordance was not holy writ. In those several hours, my pastor beat me down. Hard. I was totally conquered, save in one regard. I would not tell him who I was “dating.” I did not see that it was my place to get someone else, especially someone I loved, in trouble like this. Dennis found out anyways. He had me break up with Ryan. I cried all night…
You’ve been baptized and you are a member in good standing of a Christian church.
For years, everything was fine between you and God.
But now, suddenly, you have questions and doubts.
Maybe something happened in your life to cause you to question your faith.
Maybe you’re having trouble accepting some of the teachings of the Bible.
Maybe you’ve come to see that Christianity is not all it is cracked up to be.
Maybe you have read a book by an author such as Bart Ehrman and now you have questions.
So, now what?
Going to your pastor or a fellow church member won’t help you. They will tell you to pray, trust God, or resist the temptation of Satan. I suspect you have tried all these things and yet you still have doubts.
Christians are taught not to doubt. Just believe. Just have faith. Only in Evangelical Christianity is the natural human experience of doubt considered a bad thing.
Doubt means you have questions. Doubt means something doesn’t make sense to you. Doubt means that the answers of the past no longer answer the questions of the present.
First, it is OK to doubt. Anyone who tells you otherwise has something to hide or has an agenda. Your pastor wants to keep you as a church member and he knows that the exit door of the church swings out on the hinges of doubt. This is why he tells you to trust God, pray, read your Bible, attend church more, and confess any sin in your life. You know these “solutions” will do nothing to assuage your doubt. Why can’t your pastor see this?
Second, the only way to find answers for your doubts is to be willing to read and study. You must be willing to work hard. If you really want to know, the answers can be found.
Third, be honest. I mean completely honest. Don’t lie to yourself. Be willing to meet the truth in the middle of the road. Engage every bit of new information and weigh it carefully. Don’t move forward until you really understand the new information.
Fourth, you must be willing to follow the path wherever it leads. Are you willing to lose your faith if that is where the path leads? Are you willing to leave the church you are a part of if that is where the path leads?
Fifth, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. This journey of yours is singular. It is a lonely walk that you must take by yourself. No one can guide you, direct you, or tell you which way to go. You alone must chart your course. Remember, the journey is more important than the destination.
Sixth, don’t be in a hurry. Take your time. You have your whole life ahead of you.
Seventh, be careful whom you share your doubts with. Evangelical Christians are known to turn on those who don’t think like they do. They think their God demands conformity and obedience, and as a doubter they will have “doubts” about you.
It doesn’t matter where your journey takes you. Maybe you will stay right where you are, but I doubt it. It is likely that your doubts are telling you something about where you are now. Staying where you are is not an option IF you are really serious about finding answers to your doubts.
Not all people can embrace their doubts. They fear losing their faith. They fear the judgment of God. They fear hell. They fear disappointing their family and friends. Ask yourself: should fear be a motivator for doing anything?
Here is what I know from my own experience; you will always have doubts. Having questions is how we mature and grow. As we seek answers to the doubts we have, we develop a better understanding of self and the world we live in. Pity the person who never doubts, who never seeks answers to questions. Ignorance is not bliss, and understanding self and the world we live in is key to living a happy, productive life.
I am here to help you, no strings attached, I don’t want your money, life, or soul. I have no desire to convert you to atheism. In fact, I am quite certain that most people will not end up where I am. It is not about you being like anyone else. It is your life, your journey, and I hope you will walk on in openness and honesty.
Recently, I received a Facebook message from a Canadian seminary student by the name of Matt. I assume he is an Evangelical. Here’s some of what he had to say:
You don’t know me. I am a seminary student at a school in Canada. One of my professors passed around your article entitled “Know it all Evangelicals” and asked the class to post a response in the class forum.
As I considered my response, I felt that if I wanted to take the assignment seriously I should also post my response in the comments on your article…
…If you are not interested in this I completely understand and will bother you no more. I wish you all the best as you battle through your health issues. Thanks for considering my request.
Here’s the comment Matt posted to the class forum page:
Thanks for a thought provoking article. I’ll admit that my first reaction was indignation and the inner protest that while this may refer to most Christians, it certainly doesn’t refer to me, don’t lump me in with everyone else.
I suspect that just about any Christian reading the article would feel similarly at least initially. Perhaps others would jump on the bandwagon and say, “Yeah, that is the problem with the church, they are so arrogant and they know nothing.” as though they themselves are somehow apart from and therefore better than the church.
Then I tried to think more about what you are really saying. It seems that the main problem that you outline in the article is the arrogance Christians tend to have based on their knowledge which in reality often amounts mostly to ignorance. I wonder if I really can be lumped into that category.
Perhaps in your years as a pastor you had the experience of having kids from your church go off to Bible College and then come back after a year armed with a new knowledge and a great zeal to correct the areas where you were in error in your leadership. The reality is that I was one of those kids. I recall as a Bible School student zealously inserting myself into a church conflict in the church where I grew up.
I made sure to point out to the pastor the areas where he was wrong and clearly warned him of the dangers of his behaviour. He was a man who was struggling in life, he had a teenage daughter causing a great deal of grief in his home and a church in turmoil around him and I am sure that in my great wisdom and discernment I caused far more harm than good. I look back on that incident with no small regret and hope that I have learned something since then.
Now, years later I find myself with a role of leadership and influence within the church and your article is a challenge to me. I can ask myself, “How can I be an influence for good in the church? Can I challenge the young people around me to get into their Bible, to study the scriptures and to think about what they are reading?” I think I can. The reality is that if the scriptures are true (and I believe that they are) they are worth studying and knowing. If they are truly a way to know God then this is what I should devote my life to learning and I want to influence the next generation of the church to change the reputation that we have of being arrogant and ignorant.
Thanks for your challenge.
While I cannot find the post Matt references, I do remember what I wrote. I focused on the arrogance of many Evangelicals when it comes to them thinking they know everything. In truth, most Evangelicals know very little about theology, the Bible, the history of the Christian sect, and the transmission of the text they claim is divine. Even among preachers, the lack of knowledge is astounding.
I think Bart Ehrman’s books should be required reading in the Evangelical church (and even more so in Evangelical Bible colleges and seminaries). Evangelicals should know where their Bible and beliefs came from and how much these beliefs have changed over the centuries. They should know that many of the claims they make for the Bible are not only laughable but ignorant. If they are going to say that the Bible says ____________, then they should learn to defend and explain their assertions. In the process of learning how to defend themselves, they should expose themselves to authors and scholars outside of their sect, men such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, NT Wright, and even secular, non-Christian writers of the ilk of Bart Ehrman and Robert M Price.
I take the Bible seriously and those who say they believe it should do the same. I hope, in the advice Matt gives to his future church people, that he will encourage them to read outside the rut of their peculiar sect. Any belief worth having will stand examination and critique. Now, if it is really all about faith, then future Evangelical preachers such as Matt need to make that clear. They need to state that their beliefs are faith-based and not evidence based. This we believe, then becomes an article of faith, a shared faith, that may have some facts attached to it, but such facts are not required.
I want to thank Matt for his comment. I always appreciate it when an Evangelical makes an attempt to engage me on a thoughtful, professional, and intellectual level. His kind message to me is a reminder that my writing is often discussed far beyond the pages of this blog.
I have had countless Evangelicals attempt to disparage and discredit Bart Ehrman. When I ask them which of his books they have read, they often state they have read NONE of them. As with the Bible and theology, their knowledge is based on what someone else has told them.
Bethany (my 25-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome) and I religiously watch the hit TV show Grimm. Along with Captain America, Rascal Flatts, and Sleepy Hollow, Bethany loves Grimm. She is quite intense when she watches the show and can easily recite to anyone who asks (or doesn’t ask) the Grimm storyline, complete with character descriptions.
One of the problems Bethany has is that she has a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction. As we were watching Grimm last week, Bethany asked, they are all real, right? I snickered a bit, and then told her, no, they are not real. They come from a storybook.
Later in the week, I was watching a crime procedural show and one of the characters explained how it is possible for a large number of people to testify to a certain event happening. The detective said:
People make things up and it is told over and over. Eventually it becomes common knowledge.
And then I thought to myself, just like the stories in the Bible.
I can just imagine an Evangelical preacher reading this post and doing this while screaming:
THE BIBLE IS DIFFERENT!!! In what way is the Bible different? Think on this question before trying to defend the Bible as a historically accurate, factual book. Do we have any more evidence for the Jesus of the Bible than we do the fictional creatures in Grimm? While there may have been a man named Jesus that lived and died in Palestine during the period recorded in the gospels, is there any evidence for a Jesus that was the miracle-working, divine, son of God?
Just because people say something is so doesn’t mean it is factual or true. An Evangelical preacher is simply following the path described by the detective. He is repeating a story that has been told over, and over, and over again. And as with the telephone game, the Jesus story of the 21st century is wildly different from the Jesus story of the first, second, twelfth, or fifteenth century.
Evangelicals embarrass themselves when they assert without knowledge that what they believe is exactly the same as what the early New Testament church believed. What is their evidence for this claim? Why the passed-down story of Jesus, passed down from Christian to Christian, sect to sect.
I am an avid reader of Smithsonian Magazine. Every month I learn something I didn’t know before. In the January 2015 issue, I learned from an article about Martin Luther King, Jr. that “King and his demonstrators were driven out of Selma by the police on “Bloody Sunday.” I also learned that the Watt Riots took place in 1967.
Imagine for a moment that I am telling my children about my life growing up in the 1960’s. Imagine me saying to them, I remember seeing the Watts Riots on TV in 1967. My children would accept this as a fact because they know I was born in 1957, so I was alive during the race riots of the 1960s. Perhaps, they would pass this on to their children, a story of how life was when Gramps was a kid. Think on this for a moment.
The February 2015 edition of Smithsonian came a few days ago. In the Discussion section was a correction. King was not in Selma on Bloody Sunday. He arrive two days later. The Watts Riots? They took place in 1965, not 1967.
Now ponder how the stories of the Bible came into being and why people repeat them and believe them today.
This is the third installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.
I know you smoke, I know you drink that brew I just can’t abide a sinner like you You know, God can’t either, that’s why I know it to be true That Jesus loves me, but he can’t stand you
I’m goin’ straight to heaven, boys, when I die ‘Cause I’ve crossed every T and I’ve dotted every I Why, my preacher tells me that I’m God’s kind of guy That’s why Jesus loves me…..but you’re gonna fry
God loves all His children, by gum That don’t mean He won’t incinerate some Can’t you feel those hot flames lickin’ you? Woo-ooo-ooo-oo
I’m raisin’ my kids in a righteous way So don’t you be bringin’ your kids over to my house to play Why, yours will grow up stoned, left-leaning, and gay I know – Jesus told me on the phone today
Jesus loves me, this I know And he told me where you’re gonna go There’s lots of room for your kind – down below Wo-wo-wo-o
Jesus loves me, he loves me real good I know he does because he called me up on the phone today and told me how much he loves me He said, “Son, I loooooove you” He speaks English pretty well, considering it’s a second language for him You can talk to him too, you know, I’ve got a 900-number in Tulsa that you can call him at – I do it all the time He’ll be glad to hear from you, I talk to him every day
Evangelicals get upset when ex-Christians such as I question, deflect, or reject their “love” and “friendship.” Several years ago, on a post that is no longer available, the following discussion took place:
TW: @John & Erin, Hi. I also have a Pentecostal background (A/G to be exact), and was a youth pastor & worship pastor (not at the same time, youth for 13 years, worship for 10 years). I would very much love to talk to both of you and share experiences. I left the A/G at the end of 2011 (out 2 years now), and while I am still a believer, I completely denounced all of the BS nonsense that the A/G promotes, like speaking in tongues, faith healing, etc.
If you are both amenable to chatting further, Bruce (if he doesn’t mind doing this), can forward my email address to you both and you can contact me, just let him know. And Erin, I know exactly what you mean when you say you can still “speak in tongues on demand”, haha!
Erin: TW: I appreciate the offer, and respect that you’ve left the AG, but because you are still a believer, I would want to know a little more what you’d like to “chat” about. As a former-christian-now-atheist, I’ve run into these “chats” a few times before that really only have one ulterior motive. I’m not assuming this is true of you, but I’d like to know more what you’re thinking first. Thanks!
John: I am glad that you have managed to escape the Pentecostal movement.
You say that you are still ‘a believer’. Does this mean that you are a Fundamentalist or an Evangelical or have you moved to some form of non-Evangelical Christianity? If the latter, I am open to the idea of chatting with you further about the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements.
I have informed Bruce that he can pass me email address onto you and you can contact me. Even if you are some kind of open evangelical, I am willing to discuss the ‘tongues movement’ with you further.
What I am not open to is any subtle or direct attempt to try and reconvert me to Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism. If you do try to attempt this, I will close off further discussion. I consider both Fundamentalism and most of Evangelicalism to be religions of psychological, emotional and intellectual oppression and don’t wish to be sucked back into those camps, ever again.
So, if you are willing to stick to topics related to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements and their problems, i am open to further discussion with you.
Why are Erin and John so hesitant to correspond with TW? The answer is this: they have had many of these kind of conversations already, and rarely, if ever, do they turn out well. Now let me explain why they don’t turn out well.
Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God. They believe people must have a personal relationship with Jesus to go to heaven when they die. Everyone who does not have a personal relationship with Jesus will go to hell when they die. Evangelicals believe the Bible/God/Jesus has commanded them to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person whether the latter want to hear it or not. They believe all other Gods are false Gods and all other religions are false religions. In their minds, Jesus is THE WAY, not a way, THE TRUTH, not a truth, and THE LIFE, not a life. Simply put, it is Jesus or hell, choose!
People like Erin, John, and i know that Evangelicals have a pathological need to evangelize. While they may say they just want to be friends or get to know us better, what they really want to do is win us back to Jesus. How could it be otherwise? If Evangelicals really believe the Bible is what they say it is, that Jesus really is the only way, truth, and life, and hell awaits those who refuse to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, how can they not attempt to evangelize everyone they come in contact with? In fact, I would say if they DON’T evangelize they are being disobedient to the clear teachings of the Bible (as read through the eyes of an Evangelical).
When Evangelicals want to be my friend, get to know me, correspond with me, etc. I immediately wonder what their real motive is. When I ask them about their motive, they almost always assure me their motive is pure, that they really just want to be my friend. However, after eight years of having Evangelicals sincerely tell me they just want to be my friend, the truth is, in EVERY instance, over time, their true motive became known. While I am sure there are Evangelicals who can be friends with an ex-Christian without trying to evangelize them or win them back to Jesus, I just haven’t met any.
One man, a preacher and the brother-in-law of a dear friend of mine, friended me on Facebook a few years ago. While he was quite disturbed by my deconversion, he told me he just wanted to be my friend. When his sister-in-law found out about it, she warned him to NOT try to evangelize me or be preachy. Our friendship didn’t last two weeks. I wrote something that infuriated him, he double-barrel blasted me with the Bible gun, told me I was a bad influence on people, and unfriended me (picture a toddler picking up his toys and stomping off to his room). He later told his sister-in-law and brother-in-law that they should avoid me and not be friends with me because I was a tool of Satan and a bad influence. Fortunately, they ignored his advice and they remain my friends. (They are my only Evangelical friends)
Another man, a local Evangelical preacher, tried a few years ago to befriend me. He and I corresponded a bit and he would comment from time to time on this blog (in one of its previous iterations). He friended me on Facebook and we began having more serious discussions in private. But, as with all such friendships, it quickly came to an end when he began having doubts about his call to the ministry and even his faith. My discussions with him were quite unsettling, so instead of honestly dealing with the questions and doubts, he determined I was the problem and unfriended me, stopped answering my emails, and stopped commenting on my blog.
Who can forget Evangelical Baptist preacher Marty? Marty was a regular reader of this blog and commented frequently. He had me questioning whether I was wrong about Evangelicals being able to be friends with someone like me. I thought maybe Marty was “the one!” Marty’s friendliness went on for several months until I began to notice an increased level of hostility in his comments. And sure enough, one day the shit hit the fan and Marty went full-bore fundamentalist on me. He told me, well told everyone since it was in a blog comment, that he knew the REAL reason I was not a Christian. When pressed to disclose this reason, he refused to do so. The discussions became more shrill, Marty became defensive and preachy, and eventually I had to ban Marty from commenting. In one of his last comments, Marty whined and complained about being persecuted by me and other atheists who responded to his comments.
I could share dozens of similar stories that illustrate why many ex-Christians rebuff attempts by Evangelicals to befriend them. Here are a few things I have learned from all of these failed pseudo-friendships:
Evangelicals are certain they are right and I am wrong
Evangelicals are certain there is some “secret” reason I am no longer a Christian
Evangelicals are certain I have been hurt or abused and that is why I am no longer a pastor or a Christian
Evangelicals are certain that they are the one who can bring me back into the fold, thus gaining a notch on their gospel gun for doing so
Evangelicals are certain my intellectual reasons for deconverting are a façade hiding the real reason(s) I am no longer a Christian.
In other words, they can never be my friend because they are unable to love me and accept me as I am. They love Jesus too much to leave me in my present state. I am like a beautiful woman who is constantly chased by suitors. As soon as a potential suitor comes sniffing around she asks them, do really want to woo me, love me and marry me or, pardon the bluntness, do you just want to fuck me? Quite honestly, a lot of Evangelical zealots just want to spiritually fuck me. When I wake up in the morning, they will be gone, off to fuck other sinners for Jesus.
Perhaps today will be the day that an Evangelical befriends me, accepts me as I am, and loves me so much that he will let me go to hell. I doubt it, but like my lack of belief in God, it is “possible” there really is an Evangelical somewhere who values personal relationships more than right beliefs. I just haven’t met one yet.
Well intentioned Christians read this blog and come to the conclusion that what I lack is love from compassionate, caring Christians.
They assume that there is no love in fundamentalist Christianity. They assume fundamentalist Christianity is all hate and law, and no grace.
Their assumption is quite wrong. I met many loving people in the fundamentalist church. Their love may have been conditioned on my fidelity to their brand of truth, but they loved me nonetheless (and I loved them too).
My wife’s parents are fundamentalist Christians, yet they love me still.
So a lack love is not the problem.
I tend to distrust people who tell me upfront how loving they are. Such people are similar to a car dealer who tells you how honest he is or a doctor who tells you how proficient he is. Why do these people NEED to tell me this?
Often, those loving Christians prove to be anything but loving.
Many people think my defection from the Christian faith was an emotional decision. Certainly there was an emotional component, but my decision was primarily and ultimately an intellectual one.
The compassionate, caring Christians want me to try their flavor of ice cream. Their flavor is different. It’s not like all those other flavors.
After all, THEY are special and they want me to be special too.
So, let me ask the compassionate, caring Christian a few questions.
Can I deny the Bible is the Word of God and still be a part of your church?
Can I question if God even exists and still be a part of your church?
Can I deny the trinity and still be a part of your church?
Can I tell everyone at church that hell is a medieval fable and still be a part of your church?
Can I pass out books at church by Bart Ehrman and Richard Dawkins and still be a part of your church?
Can I espouse universalist beliefs and still be a part of your church?
Can I openly affirm pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-drug, pro-prostitution views and still be a part of your church?
The compassionate, caring Christians want to convince me that their church is different, that it is special.
Here in Defiance County, I am considered the resident atheist. Every month or so, I write a letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News challenging the dominant Evangelicalism culture found in rural NW Ohio. My letters usually bring down the wrath of local Evangelicals on my head. Most responses are little more than sermonizing and Bible quoting. Worse yet, I find it amazing how many of the responders have a faulty understanding of basic Christian theology and hermeneutics.
In recent years, several other atheists/agnostics have joined me in poking the Evangelical Christian bear. There was one, then two, and now three. Why that makes a godless Trinity. Who knows what the future may hold? Perhaps, we are in the early days of a godless revival.
While my letters to the editor cause much consternation among local Evangelicals and Tea Party members, they are not my intended target. Yeah, it’s fun watching them get all riled up, but that’s not the reason I write the letters.
In November of 2008, I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church and have not darkened the door of a Christian church since. This coming September, it will be 12 years since I pastored a church.
Over the past seven years, I have started and stopped blogging numerous times. This online exposure has allowed me to come in contact with local residents who are secretly an atheist or an agnostic. They fear loss of job, loss of financial stability, and social condemnation, so they stay in the closet. This blog and private email contact with me provides a safe haven for the godless who live near me.
They are the reason I write letters to the editor. My letters are my way of saying you are not alone. I hope that my letters give them strength and courage, and when the time is right, perhaps they too can join the small band of local, vocal atheists.
Not only do local Evangelical zealots respond to my letters, they also send me email, snail mail, and stop by my house. Ney, Ohio has a population of 354 people. Defiance County has an estimated 2012 population of 38,677. There has been zero population growth in the last 35 years. There is only one city in the County, Defiance, with an estimated 2012 population of 16,838. There are three villages in the County, Hicksville, population 3,581, Ney, population 354, and Sherwood, population 827. There is also 12 unincorporated communities. My point in stating the County demographics is to emphasize that Defiance County is rural, quite small, and everyone knows your business. (and if they don’t they make it up) This is why it is easy for local Evangelicals to find out my address. Those of you who live in big cities can easily blend into the fabric of the metropolis, but I can’t do that. I knew the moment I said in public, I am an atheist, that the news would spread far and wide.
What adds to my fame is that I pastored a church in nearby West Unity for seven years. I was born five miles from where I now live. My grandparents owned a farm on the Defiance-Williams County line. I have aunts, uncles, and cousins, scattered here and there. My surname, Gerencser, is Hungarian and quite unique. If you run into someone in this area with the Gerencser name, we are related.
Being related can, at times, pose a problem for my wife and children. Polly, two of my sons, and one of my daughters work at the same place. It is a huge factory with around 2,000 employees. My two other sons work for local businesses that put them in frequent contact with the public. When one of my letters hits the editorial page, it is not uncommon for them to hear about it from someone they work with. I told all of them years ago that they do not have to defend me. In fact, they are free to disown me. So far, I am still their Dad.
More times than I can count, my children have had to answer the question, are you related to the guy who writes in the newspaper? Even at the local community college where all of my children but one took classes, professors and students would ask if they were related to me. Usually the inquisitor is an Evangelical or a Catholic who objects to something I wrote. Every once in a while, someone actually voices their approval or agreement with what I wrote. Such praise is rare, but I’ll take it.
One aspect of my fundamentalist past has helped me in my current role as the resident atheist. As a fundamentalist preacher, I had an unflinching commitment to what I considered truth. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Bible, I wouldn’t bend, bow, or move. So it is today. I don’t back down. Now, I am not spoiling for a fight, but if an Evangelical says put your dukes up, I am inclined to do so.
There have been a few occasions where one local zealot has deliberately lied about me in a letter to the editor. Others have cast doubt upon my claim of being a pastor for 25 years. In their mind, they can’t comprehend some like me walking away from Jesus. Since they lack the ability to accept my story at face value, they try to impugn my character, suggesting that there is some “secret” reason I left the ministry and left Christianity. Several have questioned my ethics and morality.
The Defiance Crescent-News is a right-wing, libertarian leaning newspaper owned by Dix Communications. Letters to the Editor are supposed to be about the issues of the day. Slandering someone is usually not permitted. Evidently, if that “someone” is an atheist, it is OK if someone like Daniel Gray or Richard Mastin lie about me. I am not talking about a difference of opinion here. I am talking about slander and lies.
On July 7, 2013, Gray wrote:
Bruce Gerencser should use facts in his letters. His latest rant is so full of errors as to make his point completely obtuse. Here are a few examples…
…The fact that Gerencser can marry anyone is laughable. He received his claimed ministerial credentials by professing a faith in a deity and swearing to follow that religions teachings. So unless he does so, then his authority to marry anyone under the same is null and void. Anyone he marries could actually find that they are not and never have been married. And last, the only way to change our Constitution is by a constitutional amendment…
…History and facts yet again destroy the views of Gerencser. He should be used to that by now.
Here’s my response to Gray:
This letter is my brief response to Daniel Gray’s recent letter to the editor.
Gray continues to paint me as a liar, a deceiver, immoral, and an all-round bad person. Gray does not know me personally, so I am not sure how he comes to the conclusions he does about me. I have never made one of my letters personal, yet Daniel Gray and a few other letter writers think it is okay to attack my character and suggest that I am not a good person.
As a public figure, I know I must endure such attacks, but I wish my critics would focus on the issues rather than the person. If they would like to have a public discussion on these issues, I am quite willing to participate in any public forum they put together.
On July 21, 2013, I wrote another letter:
For the third time Gray suggests that I am not legally able to marry people and that anyone married by me is in danger of having their marriage invalidated. Gray seems to not understand the legal requirements for being licensed to marry people in Ohio. I meet all the statutory requirements and I am duly licensed to marry people in Ohio. Anyone can verify this by doing a ministerial license search on the Ohio Secretary of state’s website.
On August 25 , 2013, fellow shit stirrer Willy Pack, came to my defense:
…Our secular government guarantees all of its citizens freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Fundamentalists, however, have made many clumsy attempts aimed at silencing Mr. Gerencser through intimidation and denigration.
Can anyone doubt that if they had the power of past ages, they would summon him before the court of the Inquisition? They all seem to be vying for the position of head inquisitor. What would be his crime other than not sharing their beliefs and daring to say so publicly? Are they really that intolerant of others’ beliefs or just afraid their beliefs cannot stand up to a little scrutiny?
With all of the different religions, denominations and sects on this planet, one thing is for certain: We are all going to hell according to somebody’s religion.
Let me conclude this post with several other letters to the editor that offended Christians have written about me.
September 14, 2014, Gary Grant wrote:
This letter is a response to Bruce Gerencser. The first question is why he is so hateful toward Christians and their belief in the God of the Bible.
I first read his article in the Sunday, Sept. 7 opinion page. It really gets frustrating to read his responses to Christians. His arrogance toward the word of God is nothing short of sheer stupidity. He acts like he knows more about God than God Himself.
Is Gerencser an atheist? If God’s word is just a joke and only stupid idiots believe it, why is Gerencser so interested in destroying it? What is he afraid of? Indeed, he should be afraid because if he dies without Christ in his life, he is in for a major shock. Why is he taking such a huge gamble with his life? I’ve been a Christian for over 40 years and don’t regret one second of it.
As far as creationism in schools, what’s the problem? I let people see both sides. Did Gerencser evolve from a monkey? What does he believe? How did we get here? There has to be a divine creator, to believe otherwise is to empty your brain of any rational intelligence.
Gerencser should turn his life over to Him before it’s too late. He could be a modern-day Apostle Paul.
May 1 ,2013, Richard Mastin wrote:
I’s true I don’t know Bruce Gerencser. His own words explain as I never could. Bruce wrote that “I object to any attempt to codify the teachings and commands of the Bible into the laws of the United States.”
Doesn’t he know that our system of life, government, laws and three branches was designed based on the Bible?
He objects to Christians trying to make biblical morality the law of the land. It’s been unwritten and in some instances written law until atheists and liberals started outlawing God in the 1960s.
Separation of church and state didn’t exist until 1947 when the atheistic ACLU and a supreme court justice, with approval of our Democrat-controlled House, Senate and presidency forced it on us. We’re losing our foundation. Government-controlled medicine is forced today.
The rights of church and state were always flexible and tolerant of the other until liberal domination in recent years. Bruce isn’t for tolerance. He wants organizations like the Christian-backed Boy Scouts to be forced to lower their moral standards to accept homosexual leaders.
Bruce wants to put the fox in the henhouse. He cares for the rights of gay persons, but not of those whose moral values lie with biblical teaching. He would destroy thousands to attain this and be happy about it. It would destroy the Scout oath.
He wrote: “I live by the precept of not doing harm to others, but be respectful of them.” Facts prove homosexual behavior is destructive to families, especially youth, and yet Bruce wants laws placing homosexuals in the their midst, hurting and destroying many. Hypocrite and disrespect come to mind.
I don’t consider any person moral who attempts to destroy Boy Scout high moral values. Bruce calls the Bible antiquated and irrelevant. Being an ex-pastor he knows God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their immoral homosexuality. If you or he think God won’t bring judgment on us, you’re wrong. This is about destroying the Boy Scouts, not equal protection for gays. His immoral atheistic ideals will bring national suicide.
The further we drift from Christianity and moral values the closer national death comes. We must stand strong behind the Boy Scouts. If homosexual leaders are permitted, the Cub Scouts, Brownies, Girl Scouts, 4-H, Campus Life and all other youth organizations will be forced to accept this immoral lifestyle and America will die.
Death is knocking on America’s door. America is like a 100-year-old barely holding onto life. If Bruce’s immoral desires don’t kill us, government’s anti-God attitude and subsidized medicine will. We must return to God now; tomorrow will be too late.
March 3, 2013, Daniel Gray wrote:
I wonder what reality Bruce Gerencser is in as it obviously isn’t where the rest of us are.
First, no one can be called a “bigot” if they are against homosexuality. Every dictionary and encyclopedia classifies bigotry as as having a bias or hatred against a group or person because of their religion-race-creed or disability, it says nothing about homosexuality; as such it is a lifestyle.
You cannot be bigoted against a lifestyle no matter how much Gerencser wishes as there is no medical nor scientific proof that homosexuality is genetic or people were “born that way”. As such, it isn’t genetic by all available present scientific and medical standards; that leaves it to be a lifestyle. Thus Gerencser’s left-wing wishes are just childish schoolyard name calling. I expected better…
…Gerencser had better hope his wish does not come true as a person of the same religious denomination he claims to have received his pastoral license from could turn him into the ruling body and send clippings of his letters. That ruling body could very well vacate his pastoral license for not following the teachings of the denomination he claims to have been part of, thus making his ability to marry anyone void. There is precedent for this. He could then apply for a justice of the peace license, but I don’t think they give them out anymore.
So, in the future may I strongly suggest to Gerencser that he start checking his facts before going off on yet another repeated tirade, especially since he has been proved incorrect on every letter he has sent so far.
January 6, 2013, Kenny Barnes wrote:
I am responding to a Jan. 2 letter to ther editor provided by Mr. Bruce Gerencser.
I am amazed that any lucid person would present an argument concerning a person or an entity that doesn’t exist! How can anyone claim to be an atheist under those circumstances? One would have to consider himself a super-intellectual, disregarding his surroundings or be as Psalm 14:1 quotes, ” A fool says in his heart, there is no God.”
I can’t answer that question. It does seem quite hypocritical to me however, that Mr. Gerencser would mention the “proclamation of angels.” Who declared the birth of Jesus still applicable today? We Christians, (born-again ) consider that babe in the manger to be God come in the flesh.
Lastly, Mr. Gerencser alludes to premarital sex among Christians. He seems to have lost all regard to pre-marital sex among ethnic groups. Babies born out of wedlock reach an astounding 73 percent.
Yet Mr. Gerencser considers his personal morality and ethics to be judged by his spouse, his children, his grandchildren, friends and neighbors. I don’t question them at all. I would suggest that he take his family and friends on a one week trip to the beautiful city of San Francisco, eat at some of the city’s finest restaurants and explain how our country is maturing, when at the tables next to them, people are dining completely nude. That’s progress isn’t it?
December 19, 2012 Gary Luderman wrote:
I am responding to an article in the Dec. 12 issue of The Crescent-News by Mr. Bruce Gerencser titled, “GOP is now an ‘extremist party.'”
The title piqued my interest enough that I took time to read the entire article. I take no pleasure whatsoever in stating that I found the letter rather intellectually vacuous. (Wait a minute, saying that didn’t make me feel that badly at all.)
First of all, this was not really a letter against the GOP as it was against Christian morality. Anyway, it appears that Mr. Gerencser does not believe in any moral standards — at least not those of the Christian faith. Not only that, but I gather from the tone of his letter that he feels intellectually and morally superior to people that do. Well, then let me ask two questions:
1. If Gerencser doesn’t like God’s rules, then whose rules are we to use? His?
2. Doesn’t Gerencser have any rules or standards at all? Is there nothing that anyone can do that he would not approve of or try to stop? Think about it, if there is just one thing that he doesn’t approve (for example, Christian values), then he is just as bad as GOP Christians. If not, then who is he to set any rules or have any opinions at all? Again, if there is no God, then who makes up the rules?
But there is a much larger issue. His philosophy not only affects you and yours, it is affecting and destroying the heart of our nation. If there are no rules or standards, then no one is free and no one is safe.
Is everybody and everything to be constantly changed and believed by the latest and largest lobby group that arises? Would you like to set up a committee to make moral decisions according to the latest polls?
Mr. Gerencser’s beliefs and thought processes have been around since almost the beginning of mankind. He presents nothing new, modern or enlightened. All he is doing is what mankind has always done — not liking God’s rules, therefore thinking that God is wrong and mankind is right. He takes the place of God and is hell-bent on making God into his own image. As a Republican, I will pray for him.
June 17, 2012, Maggie Spangler wrote:
Mr. Gerencser is trying to undermine the historical importance the Bible played in the building of our country’s government by villainizing it and by stating; “that the moral code of conduct of a particular religion has no business being codified into law within a secular state”.
What is the Bible? It’s a book, an inanimate object. Mr. Gerencser states that; “The Bible has been used in the past to justify all kinds of vile behavior.” The Bible itself is not responsible for any of the reprehensible acts that have been committed throughout history and have been justified by misquoting the Bible. It is the person behind the act that is responsible; not just for committing them but also for using the Bible in a lie to further their own agenda. No one will inherit the kingdom of God, if the Bible is to be taken literally…
…We the United States of America are not a secular state, but a constitutional republic. Our Founding Fathers created our government based upon the Constitution which was based upon three separate documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta and the Bible. Because of this our government is controlled by the Constitution. That is why it is called a, “living, breathing document”. We have been a Christian nation from the very beginning and many of us still are. Because our Constitution was based upon the Bible, that our government is based upon the Bible and the only way to change that is to change the Constitution. Hence, the fight we have been having over the last several decades.
Mr. Gerencser also stated that, “Our legal system should reflect what is best for the American people. How best to live as a pluralistic people in a secular state.”
Do you know what the second sentence in his quote means? Pluralism is the theory that a multitude of groups should govern the United States, not the people as a whole. These groups or organizations include trade unions, civil rights activists, environmentalists and business or financial lobbyists.
…A secular state remains neutral in matters of religion and treats all its citizens equal regardless of religion. Our Founding Fathers did not want our fledgling country to be sucked back into what they had just left where your religious stance could get you killed, and they wanted God to be the father of our nation. It all comes down to one thing: Do you believe in God?…
January 16, 2011, Larry Tonjes wrote:
In reply to Bruce Gerencser’s letter of Dec. 19 that this is a Christian nation, my belief as a “theocrat” is that no matter how determined any human wants to be, including Bruce Gerencser, to run away from God, it can’t be done.
The word “theocracy” is defined as “rule by divine authority.” Yes, America has had “war, torture, homophobia (not defined in the dictionary), amoral capitalism, economic collapse, the destruction of the working class and punitive political policies that punish and hurt the poor” as Gerencser mentions, but name me a nation that hasn’t had these problems.
According to the Bible and science, these problems are products of the human condition. In the insurance industry this used to be called “inherent vice,” meaning that everything in this world has an inherited flaw because it is of this world, a flawed world filled with flawed humans and flawed material to work with. The flawed problems mentioned have been endured through every type of government known to man, including Islam, communism, socialism, Judaism, Hinduism, Taoism, Shintoism, democracy. Bruce Gerencser is looking for a scapegoat because Christianity hasn’t solved all our nation’s problems, so he is looking to the current progressive movement for salvation…
August 25, 2010 Bob Palczewski wrote:
I cannot help but wonder what would make someone who has read the Bible (assuming the entire Bible from cover to cover), attended a Christian college (attending a Christian college does not make one a Christian) and been an evangelical pastor change his mind and become an agnostic humanist.
Richard Dawkins in his book, The God Delusion, contains a chapter entitled “The Poverty of Agnosticism.”
Dawkins is a renowned atheist, and you are probably wondering why I quote an atheist to make a point. In the said chapter he discusses many points concerning agnosticism but I would like to point out two items of interest. First he observes there is an “agnostic spectrum,” varying degrees of agnosticism, ranging from one — “I believe in God but have a lot of questions concerning his existence” — to seven — “I do not believe in God, period.”
Second, he also mentions two types of agnosticism — a temporary agnosticism in practice and a permanent agnosticism in principle. I wonder where Mr. Gerencser stands.
If he was once enlightened and has fallen as far as agnosticism, then there is still hope. The next step is apostasy on which the Bible is very clear. If he has sincerely studied the Scriptures then he knows what I am referring to (Hebrews 6). If not, then he should, perhaps, rethink his position. And, yes, I know his position on the inerrancy of scripture. However, the Bible is as relevant today as it was then.
August 17, 2010, R.L. Wellman wrote:
This is in reply to Bruce Gerencser’s letter on Aug. 8. There is only one thing he wrote that I can agree with — that is you only have 500 words or less to respond to a letter that is full of untruths and assumptions.
Not everyone believes in God or the Bible. This is where the problem arises. Every other religion in the world talks about how their God or ways are the only way that’s right. Agnostics, from the Greek word agnostos means, “to not know,” and agnostic is one who admits, “I don’t know.”
There is only one true God. This is the Being who made each and everyone of us in his likeness and gave us a mind and will of our own. This is the same God who inspired the prophets of old to write the Bible, His Word. The Bible may not be a supernatural book, but it is His Word. The last book was written 1,900 years ago and is still as relevant today as when it was written….
With a humanistic worldview that focuses on the here and now, you don’t have to be good. You can do anything you want, take anything you want, because when you die that’s it. Bruce assumes Christians have no life, no joy, not living and loving. He said they trudge through a wicked world in search of heaven or eternal reward. If this is what he did, no wonder he became agnostic.
God means different things to different people. No two Christians have all the same rules to follow. That’s one reason different views exist. I don’t know about you, but I would rather not live in a world that doesn’t believe in God. It would be everyone for themselves, anything goes. If it feels good, do it. You can look and see what is happening in the United States today and it doesn’t take long to figure out we are headed away from God and in the wrong direction….
August 17, 2010, Daniel Gray wrote:
…But my other question would be while Gerencser claims to have been a pastor for 25 years and since being an agnostic is one step above being an atheist, as both of them deny the existence of a deity according to every encyclopedia and dictionary out there, is Gerencser now freely admitting that he was living a lie and that his whole life before becoming agnostic was a fraud?
And, if he was a pastor, then what about all the people he was supposed to lead? Is he now admitting that he deceived them as well? And, why bother becoming a pastor in the first place if you were just going to turn your back on your chosen religion, especially one that he has never mentioned? Something about his claim just does not sound correct…
October 14, 2009,Daniel Gray wrote:
…Gerencser himself then states “it would be easy to dismiss the right-wing fringe as tinfoil hat-wearing poorly educated kooks.” Why ask for civil discourse and then insult the same people? He claims to be a pastor, then freely admits he is a socialist? You cannot be both as this is like oil and water — they don’t mix. I find it very disturbing that a pastor would play fast and loose with the truth just to try and score political points….
March 4, 2009, Deb Joseph wrote:
This is in response to Mr. Gerencser’s letter to the editor on abortion. Wow! Sir, you are way off the mark when it comes to pro-life. This is what is wrong with the direction of this country. You cannot compromise murder. The commandment is “Thou Shall Not Kill.” It’s quite straight forward. The Bible does not say “Thou shall not kill, unless it is in the first few weeks of a pregnancy”. If, sir, you are a true Christian, you believe that there is one God Almighty, Creator of All. You also agree that God is capable of anything. So you would have to conclude that if God intended a pregnancy to last in only the final 30 weeks, it would be so. The final weeks are only possible with the first few. This completes God’s cycle. This is how He has said it will be. This is how He has designed it. By no means am I being your judge…
… Mr. Gerencser, you can call yourself a Democrat or a Republican, but with views like yours on abortion, you are a far cry from a Christian…
As far as my credentials are concerned:
Bruce Gerencser Ordination, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio April 2, 1983
Bruce Gerencser, Ohio License to Marry, May 2,1983
Bruce Gerencser, Universal Life Ordination, March 15, 2011
Bruce Gerencser, Ohio License to Marry, March 22, 2011
Here is what you need to do to start a Christian school in Ohio.
Start a church
Start a Christian school as a ministry, an extension of the church
I kid you not, that’s it.
No rules, no regulations. No curriculum requirements. No teacher requirements. No notification requirements.
The Ohio homeschooling rules are more extensive than the rules for a non-chartered religious school.
Does this mean all non-chartered Christian schools are educationally deficient? Of course not, BUT many are.
Many Ohio non-chartered Christian schools are owned and operated by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. The schools are viewed as an oasis away from the world, from the evil influences of humanists, secularists, atheists, socialists, Catholics, Southern Baptists, and communists.
By the way, about the first step: start a church? Starting a church is as easy as saying “we are a church” and you are the pastor. According to state and federal law, a church is tax exempt because it is a church. Many people wrongly assume a church must file for 501(c)(3) status to be tax exempt. 501(c)3) status is NOT required for tax exemption. It does confer a few extra benefits, like being allowed to send mail as a non-profit, but it is not needed for a church to be tax-exempt.
As many of you know, I have long been an advocate for those abused at Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) teen group homes. These homes, some of which are still in existence, routinely used violence to force teenagers into submission. Some of the residents were sexually violated. Where was the state, you ask? Sitting on the sidelines, often ignoring the cries of those who were beaten, abused, sexually molested, and raped.
One such home was the New Bethany Home for Girls, owned and operated by IFB preacher Mack Ford. Ford was a protégé of famed abuser Lester Roloff. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has published numerous articles about New Bethany. If you aren’t familiar with this story, I encourage you read The Long Road: To the Gates of New Bethany and Back. (Link no longer active. To find New Bethany stories, do a search for them on the NOLA website.)
Over the years, the victims of Mack Ford and the staff at New Bethany have tried to bring their abusers to justice. Unfortunately, Ford wears a Teflon suit and nothing seems to stick to him. Two weeks ago, a grand jury declined to charge 82-year-old Mack Ford.
A grand jury has declined to indict a man accused of raping girls who were under his care at a notorious religious boarding school in north Louisiana decades earlier.
Mack W. Ford, 82, of Arcadia, was the target of what law enforcement officials describe as a year-long investigation into reports he molested young residents at his now-shuttered New Bethany Home for Girls.
A written statement released Tuesday (Jan. 6) by Bienville Parish District Attorney Jonathan Stewart, said “the grand jury was given research and information regarding the statute of limitations with regard to each alleged act and, after deliberation, returned a no true bill.” A no true bill represents a grand jury’s decision not to indict.
Three women who lived at the home in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s traveled from three states to testify before a grand jury Dec. 18 about their experiences with Ford. Other witnesses testified Oct. 15 and Dec. 29, according to state officials.
The women said their grand jury testimony was the closest they felt they had come to achieving justice for the crimes they said were committed against them as young girls in the place Ford once described as “a mission project to the incorrigible, unwanted rejects.” But after a Louisiana State Police investigator notified them by phone Monday evening that Ford would not face charges, the former residents sounded variously dazed, outraged and despondent.
“If he had been indicted for just one thing, it would have been justice for so many people,” said Simone Jones, a 47-year-old police dispatcher in Kansas who told police that Ford raped her in 1982 or 1983. “Why does this man continue to walk free?”
The grand jury convened almost exactly a year after Jones and other former residents journeyed to Bienville Parish to support Jennifer Halter, an ailing woman from Las Vegas, as she fulfilled a dying wish to report Ford, who she said began molesting her shortly after she arrived at the school in 1988 until her 1990 departure. Their trip was documented in an April NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune series that chronicled decades of abuse allegations at the home for which no one was ever prosecuted.
Ford, who still resides at the former New Bethany compound at 120 Hiser Road, has declined to comment about the allegations against him. He could not be reached by phone Tuesday morning, nor could Jesse Lewis Knighten, a nephew who court records show assumed power of attorney for Ford in January 2013.
Halter and Jones said that Mike Epps, an investigator with Louisiana State Police, told them Monday evening that the grand jury decided that the crimes they described were not prosecutable under current law.
“The reason given in the short-term was not that the grand jury didn’t believe us. It was because of the statutes,” Jones said.
Jones told police she was 14 when Ford approached her while she was doing chores, asked her if she was “a pure lady,” unbuttoned his overalls and then forced her to perform oral sex.
Jones said that Epps explained to her Monday that though current law considers oral sexual intercourse to rise to the level of “forcible rape” in some circumstances, at the time she said she was victimized in the early 1980s, the law only considered it “oral sexual battery.” Forcible rape has no statute of limitations, while sexual battery does.
“They let us down again,” Halter said. “I can’t understand why it’s OK for these people to do what they do and walk away like nothing was done wrong. It’s like laughing in our face all over again. What is justice? When is enough enough?”
Halter told police that Ford was chief among her abusers during her time at the home. In interviews with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, she described repeated abuse, including frequent sexual contact by Ford during choir trips he chaperoned to churches in nearby towns and states — information she said she also reported to police in 2013.
Louisiana State Police Capt. Doug Cain said Epps would not be able to discuss the investigation or the grand jury’s decision. “We have to respect the court’s decision,” Cain said.
Former residents who were aware of the latest police investigation, recalled decades of abuse allegations recorded by state social workers and local police that never materialized in criminal charges.
“This has gone on for years,” said Tara Cummings, a resident at the home from 1982 to 1983. She said that if the statute of limitations was an issue, the state attorney should not have convened a grand jury to begin with…
…Ford created New Bethany Home for Girls 44 years ago on a plot of land 50 miles east of Shreveport, on more than six acres he bought for $30,000 from a 60-year-old widow, according to court records. The site had served as a penal farm and later a nursing home before he turned it into a home for what he called “wayward” girls.
New Bethany was affiliated with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. Residents were subject to strict rules, harsh punishment and maintained restricted access to the outside world, according to interviews, news reports and legal documents.
“We are reaching out as a mission project to the incorrigible, unwanted rejects,” Ford told attorneys in a 1997 court deposition. “Destitute, lonely, prostitutes, drug addicts … These kids haven’t been loved and they haven’t had a chance in life.”
Ford was a high school dropout-turned-tire-salesman who said he was inspired to open the school during a retreat in Arkansas. There, he once said in a court deposition, he met two little blonde 12-year-old girls who had been impregnated by their father and was inspired to help such troubled children.
Until its closure in 2001, the school took in hundreds of children and young women from across the state and country.
To some who heard of New Bethany’s mission and others who encountered the school through its traveling girls’ choir it appeared a worthy charitable cause. But records, interviews, news reports and other documents show residents also went to extraordinary lengths to escape the home.
Stories of physical and mental abuse plagued New Bethany for almost as long as it was open, documents and news stories show. Girls who ran away from the school described brutal paddlings and harsh physical punishment. They were rarely allowed to call home and when they did, their calls were monitored, according to accounts.
Runaways often scaled the tall chain-link fence, crawling over the inward facing barbed wire at the top, and ran through dense woods to find someone who might believe them.
State and local officials escorted girls from the property during several raids. But the home was repeatedly allowed to reopen and reenroll children.
Ford became known for his resistance to outside interference. He filed federal civil rights lawsuits twice after state officials from child protective services and the state fire marshal sought to inspect the facility or question children and staff about their complaints of abuse. A federal judge in 1992 dismissed a lawsuit in which Ford asked the government to keep officials from interfering in New Bethany operations. Seven years later, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision determining there was no evidence that state officials were plotting to shut down New Bethany, as Ford complained…
…Joanna Wright, 54, of Houston, sounded tired when she spoke about the grand jury decision this week.
Wright, a preacher’s daughter, arrived at the home in the mid-1970s at age 14, excited for an experience outside what she describes as her insular, fundamentalist upbringing. But she said Ford soon began molesting her and, in 1977, forcibly raped her on the New Bethany compound.
Wright said news of the non-indictment left her feeling numb. She said she had told authorities about what happened to her on several occasions — she said she told a social worker about it in 1993 and spoke to a district attorney in 1998 — and nothing ever came of it.
But in July 2013, haunted and frustrated by her experience and the experiences of those she knows, Wright reached out to Jump, the assistant district attorney in Bienville Parish, and told her she was ready to make a police report in person.
On July 11, 2013, Jump wrote back:
“We are a long way from being able to arrest him. I have to sift through this stuff and talk to someone who was raped at the home and is willing to testify to that fact. And then determine if I can win the case. I don’t think it would be good for anyone [sic] of the victims to go through with what it would take to convict him if we can’t convict him. I will do my best and anything within my power to see that justice is done. But unfortunately justice for some of the victims will not be served on this earth. He will have to answer to God.”
I am personal friends with a handful of the women who were incarcerated at New Bethany. I know from talking to them that their time at Ford’s group home left horrible, deep scars. Some of the survivors have decided to put together a YouTube video about Mack Ford and New Bethany Home for Girls.