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Category: Evangelicalism

Update: Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Steve Parker Sentenced to 54 Months in Prison for Drug Trafficking

pastor steve parker

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.

[Parker] confessed to leading a double life and having two houses where he kept his godly life and criminal behavior separate. The house in Tulalip is where he conducts his criminal behavior and has a girlfriend. . . At the second home, Parker lived with his wife and mother-in-law, along with approximately 14 other people living on the property.

In 2023, Steve Parker, the director of Nest Ministries and the founder and executive director of Omni-Manna Services, both located in Arlington, Washington was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine as well as fentanyl and methamphetamine. He was also charged with counterfeiting controlled substances, maintaining a vehicle for drug trafficking; money laundering, and conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine, fentanyl, and/or cocaine. All the charges are felonies.

The Christian Post reported:

Just over a year ago, as he was pictured on Facebook officiating a wedding, Washington pastor and grandfather Steve Parker was praised as an “amazing man of God.” Earlier this month, however, detectives in Skagit County arrested Parker, who allegedly had a stockpile of guns and drugs, after getting a tip that he was on his way to becoming “a high level drug dealer,” and his clean-cut family knew nothing about his double life.

On his Facebook page, Parker, 57, introduces himself as “a new convert, a soul in the midst of spiritual growth. A fish on the line.” He also lists himself as the director at NEST Ministries and founder and executive director of Omni-Manna Services, which is a supportive employment and housing service.

“We work within Snohomish County for those who have had troubled pasts, addictions, or just down on their luck. With the help of ProviderOne we are able to help find employment and low cost housing while counseling our clients through the process,” the Omni-Manna Services website says.

On Facebook, there are wholesome photos of Parker with family and friends and even a video of him belting out an inspiring rendition of Andrae Crouch’s “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power.”

In court records reviewed by The Christian Post, the Skagit County Interlocal Drug Enforcement Unit said they got a tip from sources in November 2022 that Parker had been distributing controlled substances in the counties of Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom.

“Information obtained from these sources is that Steve Parker has started to become a higher level drug dealer and that he possesses firearms, and deals fentanyl powder, fentanyl pills, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine,” an affidavit of probable cause explains. “Sources told detectives that Steve Parker is a pastor and that he has a business that helps people with addiction problems by assisting them with housing and jobs, although he deals drugs as well.”

On Jan. 19, as he drove his 2002 Subaru in Mount Vernon, police swooped down on Parker and found him with approximately two ounces of fentanyl powder and a loaded handgun. Deputies also noticed he had a live feed camera on his phone, and he turned it off as they were contacting him.

Acting later on a search warrant, detectives searched the Subaru and discovered more than 2.7 pounds of methamphetamine, some 2,000 counterfeit pills, another ounce of fentanyl powder and cocaine.

“Parker admitted the drugs were cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl. Detectives also located packaging material commonly used in the distribution of drugs along with drug scales,” the affidavit says. “Parker also admitted he knew fentanyl was a very dangerous drug, and he has provided Narcan to an overdose victim in the past.”

Parker further told police that he needed multiple drug suppliers because he sources were not consistent and “bragged about being a good drug dealer, saying he is good at business.”

He also confessed to leading a double life and having two houses where he kept his godly life and criminal behavior separate.

“The house in Tulalip is where he conducts his criminal behavior and has a girlfriend. During the search warrant, detectives located several firearms and discovered there were surveillance cameras both inside and outside the home,” court records note.

At the second home, Parker lived with his wife and mother-in-law, along with approximately 14 other people living on the property.

“Parker said they did not know about his criminal activities. That was confirmed by detectives while servicing a warrant at that home,” investigators note.

A total of 30 firearms were recovered from both homes.

Parker recently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to fifty-four months in prison.

The Herald reports:

The Rev. Steve Parker was in jail when he told his associates to help his girlfriend deliver the pizzas, according to phone recordings recounted in court documents.

He reportedly talked about getting a good price, telling them his girlfriend would deliver for $3 instead of $6 or $7.

As it turned out, “pizza” was a code to discuss his multi-county drug trafficking business, investigators determined.

Parker, 58, of Arlington, pleaded guilty last month to eight felony charges in Skagit County Superior Court: four for possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance, one for conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, one for money laundering, one for maintaining a vehicle or building for drug trafficking, and another for possession of a stolen firearm.

Judge Thomas Verge sentenced Parker this month to 4½ years in prison.

Parker was known in Arlington for helping those with substance abuse issues. What most people didn’t know is that he supplied his clients with the very drugs they were struggling to recover from across Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties, prosecutors alleged.

His family was unaware of his secret life, Parker reportedly told investigators.

Parker listed himself as an officer of Nest Ministries, a religious organization at 307 N. Olympic Ave., according to the charges. A reporter’s phone call to the ministry went to voicemail Wednesday.

State filings list “Rev Steve Parker” as the head of Omni-Mana, a service that “helps people who have had substance abuse or mental health issues fine employment.” Google lists the organization as temporarily closed.

In January, police arrested Parker in Mount Vernon while he was driving his 2002 Subaru. Investigators found 2 ounces of fentanyl, 2.7 pounds of methamphetamine, 2,000 counterfeit fentanyl pills and a handgun, charging papers say.

In an interview with investigators, Parker acknowledged resupplying his drugs three or four times a week from multiple suppliers. Text messages revealed he was also selling guns, according to court documents.

Primarily residing between Arlington and Darrington with his wife and mother-in-law, Parker conducted his drug business in a second home in Tulalip with a girlfriend, charges said. Jail calls between the two suggested the girlfriend continued delivering and selling drugs while he was behind bars, according to court documents.

Jail calls also revealed Parker let his clients live in the Tulalip house if they paid his girlfriend 50 “little friends” a week, meaning drugs, so she can “stay stable,” the charges say.

In his two houses, investigators found 30 guns, according to charging papers.

Drug dealing was a main source of income. He bragged to investigators that he was “good at business,” charges say. The money allowed him to purchase “high value” cars, like his 2011 Mercedes, registered under other people’s names.

Parker acknowledged knowing the dangers of fentanyl, telling investigators of a time he used Narcan to help someone overdosing. The counterfeit fentanyl pills he sold, masquerading to look like Oxycodone, have been linked to “numerous overdoses within Skagit County and have been a direct cause of several deaths,” prosecutors wrote.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Update: Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Willie Wilkerson Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Drug Trafficking

mission church dorchester

In 2017, Willie Wilkerson, pastor of Mission Church in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, was arrested yesterday on charges of drug trafficking and intent to distribute.

NECN reported:

A Boston pastor is facing charges after police say they recovered crack cocaine, prescription pills, and $20,000 worth of stolen items at his residence and at the church he owns.

Willie Wilkerson, a pastor of Mission Church at 266 Quincy St. in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood, was arrested Tuesday on charges of trafficking and intent to distribute Class B and Class C drugs.

A search warrant was issued for Wilkerson, his home, the church and a Victoria’s Kitchen food trailer he owns, police said. They found drugs hidden inside coffee makers and printers.

A family member said the church and food trailer were previously owned by Wilkerson’s mother and denied the allegations.

“That’s crazy. That’s a lie,” Ivette Mitchell, Wilkerson’s niece said. “God is going to clear Willie from everything and everybody.”

Investigators found crack cocaine, fentanyl, oxycodone, Klonopin, Suboxone, as well as cutting agents and packaging materials, according to the district attorney’s office.

Investigators also found more than $10,000 and a number of stolen items estimated to be worth about $20,000.

A judge at Roxbury Municipal Court ordered Wilkerson to be held without bail for 90 days as a result of violating his probation, and then held on $50,000 bail afterwards. It’s unclear if he has an attorney.

In 2020, Wilkerson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison.

The Suffolk County District Attorney reported:

A Dorchester man pleaded guilty yesterday to drug trafficking and other offenses he committed over a period of years, District Attorney Rachael Rollins said.

WILLIE WILKERSON, 62, pleaded guilty to two dockets during an appearance yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court.  In a 2017 case, he pleaded guilty to charges including trafficking in cocaine (over 18 grams, under 36 grams) and trafficking in oxycodone (over 18 grams, under 36 grams).  In a case that was indicted earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to charges including trafficking in cocaine (over 18 grams, under 36 grams) and unlawful possession of ammunition.

Judge Mary Ames sentenced Pastor Wilkerson to four to five years in state prison, followed by three years of probation.

During the course of a 2017 investigation, Boston Police officers received information that Pastor Wilkerson was selling drugs out of his home and the Quincy Street church where he served as a pastor.  Officers coordinated a series of undercover purchases of narcotics from Pastor Wilkerson in the weeks and months leading up to May 2, 2017.  On that date, officers executed warrants at Pastor Wilkerson’s home, the church, and a food truck on the church’s property.  Those search warrants resulted in the recovery of approximately 30 grams of cocaine, 45 oxycodone pills, 9 grams of fentanyl, 73 grams of Buprenorphine, and approximately 32 Clonozapam tablets and paraphernalia used to package drugs for sale.

At his arraignment on this case, a judge in the Dorchester Division of Boston Municipal Court set bail at $50,000.  The case was subsequently indicted.  When arraigned in Suffolk Superior Court on the indictment in July 2017, the Court set bail at $10,000 although the Commonwealth had requested $50,000.  Pastor Wilkerson posted the cash bail within one month.

While the defendant in the ensuing years was arraigned on several new offenses, the courts routinely revoked his bail for periods of sixty days and set additional cash bail.  The most recent bail revocation occurred in November 2020. 

 As Pastor Wilkerson continued to traffic in narcotics, authorities received community complaints about criminal activity in the area of his church.  On December 31, 2019, as the result of a multi-jurisdictional investigation, members of the Boston Police Department, Massachusetts State Police, and Boston FBI North Shore Gang Task Force executed search warrants at Pastor Wilkerson’s home, church, and on his person.  As a result, officers recovered 23 grams of crack cocaine, 45 methadone pills, 259 gabapentin tablets, 62 sildenafil pills, 14 rounds of .32 caliber ammunition, and paraphernalia used to package drugs for sale.

“These cases arose because community members used their voices and raised concerns about crime in the area of Pastor Wilkerson’s church. That this coward used his church to mask and hide his criminal behavior is awful. His actions inflicted harm on the community and the church congregation he was supposed to be serving. Now he has four to five years to think long and hard about his sins,” District Attorney Rollins said. “I’m grateful to the Boston Police Department for their attention to the community’s concerns, and to my staff for resolving this case in a manner that held Pastor Wilkerson accountable for the harm his actions inflicted.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Pastor Dean Smith Sentenced to 30 Years in Prison for Sex Crimes Against Minor Girls

pastor dean smith

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 2023, Dean Smith, pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in Lame Deer, Montana, was accused of sexually assaulting at least four girls aged twelve and younger on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Morning Star Baptist is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

The United States Attorney’s Office: District of Montana released the following statement:

A Lame Deer pastor appeared on a summons for arraignment today on sexual abuse charges alleged to have occurred on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.

Dean Alan Smith, 66, a pastor, pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with one count of aggravated sexual abuse, one count of abusive sexual contact and three counts of abusive sexual contact by force and of a child. If convicted of the most serious crime, Smith faces a maximum of life in prison, a $250,000 fine and not less than five years of supervised release.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan presided. Judge Cavan continued Smith’s release with conditions pending further proceedings.

An indictment, filed on Dec. 9, alleges that between 2017 and 2019 near Lame Deer, on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Smith knowingly caused a person, identified as Jane Doe 1, to engage in a sexual act by using force and that Smith knowing caused Jane Doe 1 to engage in sexual contact by using force. The indictment further alleges that between 2017 and 2019, Smith knowingly caused a person, identified as Jane Doe 2, who had not attained the age of 12, to engage in sexual contact by force. In addition, the indictment alleges that between 2019 and 2020, Smith knowingly caused persons, identified as Jane Doe 3 and Jane Doe 4, both who had not attained the age of 12, to engage in sexual contact by force.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the FBI.

Native Sun News Today added:

In January 3, 2023, Dean Alan Smith, pastor of over twenty years at the Morning Star Baptist Church in Lame Deer, Montana, pled not guilty to federal charges filed the month before.

According to local media, Smith, age 66 was charged with sexually abusing four girls on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation between 2017 and 2019. Questions remain if there are other victims, as Smith served as a pastor on the reservation for years. That branch of the Baptist Church once had a private school for elementary students on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

A local support group of Northern Cheyenne advocates is asking other possible victims to come forward under the guidance of tribal members Hadley Shoulderblade and Diane Spotted Elk. “We demand justice for the victims and are trying to build funds for compensation,” these leaders recently posted on Facebook.

The Morning Star Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Congregation, sits on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Executive Director of that congregation said they have been in contact with the local church.

“One member of the church has been very open about what they are dealing with. I have let them know we are here to help the girls who have made these claims find the way to healing themselves,” said Montana Baptist Convention Executive Director Barrett Duke.

“The harder area is not in our cities but in the rural areas,” Duke Said. “They think they know the person. They are a little slower, I think, to adopt some of the processes to identify potential predators.”

Tribal leaders told Smith he is no longer welcome on the Reservation.  The local Morning Star Church held a meeting to that same effect, issuing a public statement via Facebook: “The Church is a body of people, not to be judged by the actions of one. We will continue our mission, though now it will be harder.”

The United Ministerial Association of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation also met and demanded Pastor Smith’s resignation. “This is very unfortunate and not in keeping with our mission,” they told the Northern Cheyenne community in a written statement.

The U.S. Attorney’s office is prosecuting the case while Smith remains free on bond with conditions including his not being allowed around children. According to local sources, Smith has left the Reservation, his whereabouts not certain. If found guilty Smith could face life imprisonment, at $500,000 fine and registered as a life-long sexual offender.

According to a Facebook post by Josh Kolojeski:

I was the Site Director of the Northern Cheyenne Youthworks site in Lame Deer in 2016. In the final two weeks of the summer, three of my female staff members were informed by a member of the community that Dean Smith “took (a child’s) virginity,” and were advised by another member of the community to not be alone with Dean and to not let kids near him because he touches them.

I was off-site at a funeral for that day and that weekend, so my Area Director was there as the acting Site Director. The staff members verbally told him what they were told and reported it to the Boys and Girls Club that we were partnering with. When I returned to site on Sunday, they also reported it to me and I reported it again to my Area Director.

On one hand, we didn’t want to ruin Dean’s reputation if the information was simply unsubstantiated rumors. On the other hand, we wanted to make sure we were also reporting this information to people better equipped to investigate. In hindsight, we should have also reported it to the BIA, although we later learned that Dean had already been reported by someone in the community before our summer began. In order to promote a culture of safety, I told the staff members they didn’t have to attend his church for the final two Sunday’s of the summer, and I also went on the prayer walk that Dean led with the high school students each week, because the staff member that typically attended the prayer walk with Dean and the students was no longer comfortable doing it, understandably.

I also wanted to make sure full-time staff at Youthworks knew about the information that was reported to us so that they could ask more questions and re-evaluate whether or not to partner with Dean for 2017 and beyond. As I mentioned before, three members of the staff and I all reported the information to our Area Director, who was also the full-time Area Director for that site among others at the time. Additionally, I could be mistaken, but I’m 95% sure if you check my end of summer Site Director paperwork from 2016, you will see I made mention of Youthworks possibly reconsidering it’s relationship with Dean. In a section asking about anything that needed to be looked in on for future summers, I believe I said something along the lines of “three of my staff members heard rumors in the community about Pastor Dean that we reported to our Area Director, so Youthworks may want to look further into those rumors before partnering with him again in 2017.”

With that information, my questions are:

1. Did Youthworks take any action steps based on the reports made by the 2016 Site Staff?

2. If so, what action steps were taken and what information was considered when the decision was made to continue partnering with Dean in 2017, 2018, and 2019?

I understand that conducting a deep investigation is outside the purview of Youthworks, and I also know that the full-time staff that work and have worked at Youthworks are tremendous people and whatever was done or not done was obviously not out of malicious intent. But I’d also like to know what, if anything, informed Youthworks’ decision to keep sending staff and high school youth group students his way in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

I’d also like to add that one of the three aforementioned staff members has lived in or near Lame Deer since her summer with Youthworks. Another one of those staff members worked for Youthworks in Lame Deer again in 2017. They reported more information they learned to the 2016 Area Director, their 2017 Site Director, and their 2017 Area Director, who were all subsequently told that nothing could be done based off rumors. However, in July 16th, 2020, Youthworks posted a video of Pastor Dean talking about the Northern Cheyenne reservation. When two of the teammates saw this video, they emailed Youthworks and again reported the allegations that had been reported to them and told them that they were shocked to see the video of Dean being shared by Youthworks (I don’t know if it was also produced and created by Youthworks). In this case, Youthworks did respond directly to the two staff members, and the higher up’s had a. video call with the pair to discuss the allegations. Youthworks also deleted the video and contacted authorities, sounding the alarm either to the FBI directly or to an entity that ran it up the ladder to the point that it reached the FBI, and the former site staff was contacted by the FBI.

Perhaps an investigation was already ongoing, or perhaps Youthworks 2020 report to authorities sparked the investigation. In either case, that report from Youthworks to authorities would have been beneficial in 2016. If an investigation was already ongoing, law enforcement could have informed Youthworks that there was an active investigation and that it might be in their best interest to stop their partnership with Dean. If the report is what sparked the investigation, then the investigation could have been started four years earlier.

In those four years, Dean was allowed to continue to work with Youthworks staff and participants, continue to foster children (including, in 2017, four girls and one boy that spent a lot of time at our housing site and that the Youthworks staff in 2016 had really bonded with), and he was able to continue to run his Vacation Bible School.

I loved each of my four summers with Youthworks, and I don’t regret my experiences. Working with Youthworks truly had and still has a positive influence in my life and on my spiritual journey, and it matured me in positive ways. I also know that there was probably more I could have done during our final two weeks in Lame Deer as well. But I also think this statement leaves out key information of initial reports being made to Youthworks as early as 2016, and whether it was through miscommunication up the ladder or through disbelief, I think Youthworks dropped the ball in this instance.

Recently, Smith was found guilty and sentenced to thirty years in prison. He will likely die behind bars.

The Billings Gazette reports:

A former Lame Deer pastor was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in federal prison for molesting foster children under his care. 

Dean Alan Smith, 67, served as the head of Morning Start Baptist Church on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation for just over two decades until his indictment in U.S. District Court on multiple counts of sex abuse. The foster children staying at his home came from the reservation, and the testimony of three children whom he abused led to his conviction late last year.

….

Smith, who previously lived in Florida, came to Montana with his family in 2001. Although he attended church regularly before the move, Smith testified during his trial, he became the pastor at Morning Star Baptist Church despite having no seminary training. As pastor, he hosted prayer walks, family nights and sobriety programs at the church. He also allowed children on the reservation to stay at his home. Some were the friends of his children. Others came to his house when they had nowhere else to stay, according to court testimony.

….

In 2017, Smith and his wife became licensed foster parents. The process consisted of them undergoing a background check, Smith and his wife testified, and filing the required paperwork. Neither of them received training for foster care from state or tribal officials.

….

Starting when Smith became a foster parent in 2017, and over the next three years, he molested three girls who were staying at his home. As of Smith’s sentencing, all three were still under the age of 18. The girls became his foster children because social workers couldn’t find any other households on the reservation safe enough for them to stay, Smith testified during his trial.

The federal indictment against Smith came in December 2022 following an investigation on the part of the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Within a month of pleading not guilty to multiple sex crimes, the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council approved a measure to ban Smith from the reservation.

Smith’s trial spanned five days in December 2023. During which, three girls described their abuse in explicit detail. One of the survivors testified that when she was around 10 years old, she was lying on a couch at “Pastor Dean’s” to sleep when she got up to comfort another child who was having a nightmare. Both children got into bed with Smith, where he molested the 10-year-old.

Following closing arguments from federal prosecutors and attorneys representing Smith, the jury was deadlocked after several hours of deliberations. Judge Susan P. Watters, who presided over the trial, gave the deadlocked jury a recess that lasted from a Friday night to Monday morning. That Monday, the jury convicted Smith on counts of aggravated sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact by force and two counts of abusive sexual contact by force and of a child. He has remained in custody since.

“Even in the eyes of the verdict,” Assistant Federal Defender Evangelo Arvanetes said in court Wednesday, Smith maintained his innocence. Arvanetes, who represented Smith, argued for a five-year prison sentence. Smith loved and supported the Northern Cheyenne community Arvanetes said, as seen through his counseling and volunteer work on the reservation. Even a 20-year sentence in prison would likely mean a life sentence for the 67-year-old Smith, Arvanetes argued.

When given a chance to speak, Smith spent nearly 20 minutes listing his contributions to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, among them volunteering for the local fire department and providing counseling for men through his ministry. Smith also reiterated his innocence.

The question of Smith’s guilt, Judge Watters said before issuing her sentence, has already been answered. The jury heard from Smith and the three girls he abused, and ultimately determined their accounts were credible, she said.

“Your home was supposed to be a safe place for them,” Watters said. “They were extremely vulnerable girls. They were very young and they put their trust in you. And you violated that trust.”

Along with the 30-year sentence, Watters also required that Smith undergo sex offender treatment while in prison. Following his release, he will remain under federal supervision for the rest of his life.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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The Midwestern Baptist College Preacher Who Became an Atheist

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977
Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977, Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet, the only time we were allowed to be closer than six inches apart.

Originally posted in 2015, edited and expanded.

From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly also attended the college, as did her father and uncle before her. While not as large or as prestigious as institutions such as Bob Jones University, Hyles-Anderson College, Tennessee Temple, or Pensacola Christian College, Midwestern is known for turning out men who are church planters and fierce defenders of the Word of God. Started in 1953 by Dr. Tom Malone, Midwestern once had an enrollment of over 400 students. These days, the enrollment is less than a fifty, and in 2010 the college moved its location to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan.

At one time, Midwestern advertised itself as a character-building factory. Over the past seventy years, this factory has graduated hundreds of men and women, each devoted to the IFB faith. While some of the students who attended Midwestern no longer wear the Fundamentalist label, I do not know of one Midwestern attendee who is a liberal. As best I can tell, there is only one man who became a liberal, and that is yours truly. Certainly, many churches pastored by Midwestern-trained men are Evangelical and to the left of the Fundamentalism taught by the college, but none of them, as far as I know, are liberals theologically. Even more amazing, as far as atheism is concerned, I am the only person who attended Midwestern and entered the ministry as a Midwestern-trained preacher who is now an atheist.

i am special

I am soooo special.  From time to time, I see in the logs search strings such as “the Midwestern Baptist College preacher who became an atheist.” Google? This site is number one, the top of the page. Same with Bing.  Even when generically searching for “Midwestern Baptist College Pontiac” this site is listed twice on the first page, fifth and sixth, respectively. I am quite sure that the prominence of my writing in search engine results for Midwestern irritates the hell out of those who still profess fealty to the IFB religion and who still view the late Tom Malone as a demigod.

I am as rare as a real science exhibit at Ken “Hambo” Ham’s Creationist Museum. I am sure there are others who attended Midwestern who no longer believe, but I am the only person who has dared to poke his head above the proverbial ground and say so.

Are you a former Midwestern attendee or graduate who is no longer a Christian? I would love to hear from you. Please use the Contact Form to send me an email. Much like the search for extraterrestrial life, surely, somewhere there’s another former Midwestern student who no longer believes. I’m listening. . .

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Quote of the Day: Dear Evangelicals, I Believed You. Were You Lying?

wwjd

By Chris Kratzer

What the hell did you expect me to do?

You told me to love my neighbors, and to model the life of Jesus. To be kind and considerate, and to stand up for the bullied.

You told me to love people, consider others as more important than myself. “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.” We sang it together, pressing the volume pedal and leaning our hearts into the chorus.

You told me to love my enemies, to even do good to those who wish for bad things. You told me to never “hate” anyone and to always find ways to encourage people.

You told me it’s better to give than receive, to be last instead of first. You told me that money doesn’t bring happiness and can even lead to evil, but taking care of the needs of others brings great joy and life to the soul.

You told me that Jesus looks at what I do for the least-of-these as the true depth of my faith. You told me to focus on my own sin instead of trying to police it in others. You told me to be accepting and forgiving.

I paid attention.

I took every lesson.

And I did what you told me.

But now, you call me a libtard. A queer-lover. You call me “woke.” A backslider. You call me a heretic. A child of the devil. You call me a false prophet. A reprobate leading people to gates of hell. You call me soft. A snowflake. A socialist.

What the hell did you expect me to do?

You passed out the “WWJD” bracelets.

I took it to heart.

I thought you were serious, but apparently not.

We were once friends. But now, the lines have been drawn. You hate nearly all the people I love. You stand against nearly all the things I stand for. I’m trying to see a way forward, but it’s hard when I survey all the hurt, harm, and darkness that comes in the wake of your beliefs and presence.

What the hell did you expect me to do?

I believed it all the way.

I’m still believing it all the way.

Which leaves me wondering, what happened to you?

Grace is brave. Be brave.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Why People Have a Hard Time Leaving the IFB Church Movement

ifb

Several years ago, I was interviewed by Eric Skwarczynski for his Preacher Boys Podcast. Eric is a Christian, formerly a part of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I had a delightful time talking with Eric, sharing my story, and giving my opinion about the health and future of the IFB church movement.

Video Link

Preacher Boys has a private Facebook group made up of people who profess to have left the IFB church movement. I say “profess” because some members are still very much IFB in their thinking and beliefs. I liken them to people who convince themselves that they are living in a brand-new home when in fact all they have done is painted the house a different color. A discussion about homosexuality revealed that some in the group are still hanging on to the IFB way of thinking, even if they think they are free from Fundamentalism’s harm.

Christian Fundamentalism is psychologically harmful, as countless posts on this site have shown. While it is certainly true that some people can escape without being harmed, most people who spend any length of time in an IFB church find themselves wrestling with all sorts of psychological and emotional baggage. Simply put, swimming in the sewer called the IFB church movement will fuck you up.

Why is it so hard for people to leave IFB churches?

For many IFB congregants, the churches they are members of are the only churches they have ever known. Their entire lives have revolved around their churches. From shared beliefs and practices to close social connections, IFB churches become the equivalent of family. In fact, many IFB preachers promote the idea that the church family is superior to flesh and blood family. Congregants buy into this thinking, often shunning their “unsaved” or non-IFB families. Several years ago, my wife and I tried to get her late parents to move to our area so we could care for them. Moving made perfect sense in every way, yet Polly’s parents said no. Why? Their IFB church, the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. They couldn’t bring themselves to leave their church family. Being told this crushed Polly — their only living child. In her mind, her parents loved their church family more than they did her.

IFB church members are taught that their pastor is the purveyor of truth — a God-called preacher of the gospel. Certainty of belief is the lifeblood of IFB churches. Congregants are warned that other churches are liberal or heretical. Want the truth? Only OUR church has it! Imagine spending a lifetime having that kind of thinking pumped into your mind. Disaffected church members want to leave, but they can’t, out of fear that they will become liberals or heretics; or out of fear that if they leave, God will judge and chastise them.

Despite the family and truth barriers to leaving, many IFB congregants do, in fact, leave their churches, seeking out a new church that will better meet their needs. IFB churches have a significant amount of membership churn. Many congregations turn over their membership every five to ten years. For example, I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio and First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio for years. Today, I know very few people in these churches. Granted, many of the people I knew years ago are now dead, but I find it astounding how little continuity there’s been between generations. In 1994, I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas — a Sovereign Grace IFB church. Fast forward to today. The church posted a photo of its congregation on its website. I was surprised by how few people I knew and how much smaller the congregation was today. I calculated that I knew less than 10 percent of the people in the photo.

People can and do move on from IFB churches. However, as some of the discussions on the Preacher Boys Facebook group made clear, moving on doesn’t necessarily mean leaving IFB thinking, belief, and practice behind. I see this very thing played out in the lives of Christians (and pastors) who were my classmates at Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. As far as I know, I am the only outspoken atheist who attended Midwestern. The rest of my classmates are either still preaching the IFB way, truth, and life or have moved on to what I call IFB-adjacent churches.

I have one former friend who thinks that he is an enlightened Christian. He proudly claims, “I am no longer a Fundamentalist.” The justification for his claim? His wife wears pants, they drink alcohol, and use Bibles other than the KJV. In every other way, his beliefs and social positions are IFB. Over the years, I have had countless Evangelical commenters chide me for throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. In their minds, I should be like them: enlightened Evangelicals who have jettisoned many of the IFB church movement’s social Fundamentalist practices. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) However, when I poke and prod their beliefs a bit, I almost always find IFB thinking lurking below.

IFB thinking is hard to escape. It’s a disease that infects every aspect of your life. Truly abandoning and forsaking the IFB church movement takes work — lots of it. For many of us ex-IFB church members (and pastors), it took years of therapy to truly break the bondage Fundamentalism had on our lives. And even then, deep scars remain.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Short Stories: The Green Station Wagon

beater station wagon
$200 beater. Polly HATED this car.

In July of 1983, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher Bruce Gerencser, his wife, Polly, and their two young boys, aged four and two, moved from Buckeye Lake, Ohio to Somerset to start a new IFB church. I would remain pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until we moved to San Antonio, Texas in March 1994 so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf. 

Over the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist, we owned all sorts of automobiles — most of them cheap beaters or cars given to us by congregants. Every one of these cars has a story to tell. (Please see I Did It For You Jesus — Crank Windows and Vinyl Floor Mats.) One such car is the green Ford station wagon in the picture above.

John Nelson, a congregant who lived down the hill from the church with his wife and four sons (who later would attend our Christian academy), was what you would call a “wheeler and dealer.” John has been running a perpetual yard sale for decades. His father owned a junkyard in nearby Saltillo. Over the years, I bought or traded for cars from John. One such car was the green station wagon. If I remember right, I traded John a Chevy Caprice I had purchased from another church family for the station wagon. Polly hated this car the most of the 50+ cars I/we have owned over the years. I mean really, really, really hated the car. My three oldest sons hated the car too. Let me explain.

The station wagon was a huge car — common of the “boats” manufactured in the 1970s. Personally, I loved big cars — the bigger the better. Polly, however, did not. Not that what she liked or disliked mattered. I was officially in charge of all things auto-related — from purchases to repairs to sales. Polly oh-so-fondly remembers days when I left the house with one car, only to return home later that day with a different one. She never, ever said a word, but I have to think that she more than once thought the Baptist equivalent of “what the fuck” when I drove up with a new rolling wreck.

As you can see from the photo, the station wagon had an ugly green paint job. The car had been repainted by hand by a previous owner. Its paint really made the car stand out in a parking lot, much to the embarrassment of my family. 

Typically, I looked at potential automobiles from one of two perspectives: looks and mechanical soundness. This car looked awful, but it was mechanically sound. I drove it all over southeast Ohio (and West Virginia on road trips) until I got bored with the car and traded it for something different.

Polly hated taking the car anywhere. At the time, she thought that the station wagon was a rolling advertisement for our poverty; not the kind of car a preacher’s wife should be forced to drive. Ever the trooper, she said nothing. 

While Polly disliked driving the car, it was our sons who couldn’t stand the sight of the station wagon. At the time, our two oldest sons were enrolled at Licking County Christian Academy in Heath, Ohio. A ministry of the Newark Baptist Temple — an IFB church pastored by the late Jim Dennis (Polly’s uncle) — LCCA was a non-accredited school populated primarily with children from middle-class and affluent Christian families. The Gerencser children were among the poorest students to attend the school. 

LCCA was thirty miles from our home. A Bible church near our home, Maranatha Bible Church, then pastored by Bob Shaw, bussed children to LCCA every day, but my request to let our children ride their bus was denied. I suspected then, and still do today, that the church and its pastor didn’t want our poor munchkins intermingling with theirs. So, we dutifully drove 60 miles a day to Heath to drop off and pick up our children from school. Later, a girl in our church started attending LCCA. We would take the children to LCCA in the morning, and her father would pick them up after school on his way home from work. He, too, drove a junker. 

My sons have told me that they were embarrassed to see me pull up in the school parking lot driving the green station wagon. Other parents drove new or late-model automobiles. Not their preacher dad. Character building? Perhaps. I know this much. Neither of them drives their children to and from school with autos that look anything like the station wagon. Not going to happen. And these days, we drive a 2020 Ford Edge. No clunkers to be found in our driveway. If I came home with such a car today, I suspect the top of my head would be sporting an indentation left from a Lodge cast iron skillet. Polly is definitely no longer passive when it comes to making car-buying decisions.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Trying to Help an Evangelical Pastor See the Light

jesus teaching

Originally posted in 2020.

Several weeks ago, a young Southern Baptist preacher contacted me via direct message. Since then, we have had several thoughtful, polite discussions. I am of the opinion that he genuinely wants to understand my story. And I want to do all I can to help him see the light.

Yesterday, Pastor J sent me the following message:

Bruce, if okay, I would like to continue our conversation. What in your life at age 15 compelled you to be saved, baptized, and begin preaching?

I replied:

Conviction of the Holy Spirit and calling by God.

Here’s some of the relevant discussion that followed:

J: Respectfully, may I ask — those same things do not compel you now?

Bruce: No. I now understand such things are psychological, environmental, and cultural in nature.

J: So what you deemed as “conviction of the Holy Spirit” and “calling by God” then, you deem as perhaps a religious delusion now?

Bruce: Religious belief is psychological in nature, driven by cultural, societal, and tribal norms. How we were raised, where we lived, and the expectations of family, friends, and community deeply affect and influence what we believe. Why do most Americans (74%) self-describe as Christian? Why do most Indonesians self-identify as Muslim (87%)? The answer is found by studying religion from a sociological perspective. Whether God exists, matters not. What matters is external influences.

J: I don’t disagree to an extent that we are influenced by those around us and where we live affects how we believe. The statistics you provided intrigue me. I’d be interested how they collect that data. I’ve never been polled personally, or known anyone who was polled. I do think it’s somewhat preposterous to suggest countless people, across thousands of years, have merely gone into a psychological delusion in believing in the God of Christianity, when He doesn’t exist (in the minds of some), and you were somehow duped by your own mind for some 25 years before you had an epiphany.

Bruce: Do you believe Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians?

J: I believe anyone who is regenerated by the Spirit of God, repents of their sins, and places their trust in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross is a Christian. Most denominations differ on secondary matters, but hold to the core beliefs of the gospel — the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

Bruce: Please answer my question. Your dodge is telling. Do you believe practicing Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians? I don’t know of one IFB church/pastor who believes such people are Christians. Are they not cultists who believe in and worship a false Jesus?

J: To be honest, I don’t know all the ins/outs of their religious beliefs. I know more about the Baptist, and Methodist denominations and “charismatic” types like the Church of God, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, etc. With that being said, what specific tenets of their faiths are you asking if I agree or disagree with? I am in the SBC, but came up Missionary Baptist, which differs slightly from IFB.

Bruce: My point is tens of millions of people follow the false Jesuses of these sects. The same could be said for one billion Roman Catholics. This fact directly contradicts your claim that it is preposterous to think Christians are believing in and following a mythical being. If Mormons/JWs/Catholics are following false/mythical Jesuses, why can the same not be said about Evangelicals? (Other than you pleading that your Jesus/God is the “right” one.) The number of people believing something proves nothing.

J: Great point. One way I know Mormonism differs is that one particular individual, Joseph Smith, claimed he received a special vision/revelation from God and that’s how the Book of Mormon was developed. I think you would agree that the same cannot be said of the Bible. 1,600 years, 40 authors, and one central message of Jesus Christ. That the Bible is divinely inspired is not questionable in my opinion. I know many will say that some books were left out (apocrypha) and they do have historical value, but I believe the Bible to be the true words of God and without error.

Bruce: You missed or cannot see my point. The only difference between Mormonism and Christianity is time. What about Islam or Catholicism? Both are ancient Abrahamic religions, each with their own religious texts. Why should I consider them “false” yet consider Christianity true?

J: Christianity is distinctly different from the other religions. Salvation is based, not on anything meritorious on our part, but simply in placing faith in Christ to obtain eternal life. Islam believes that Jesus was a prophet, nothing more. The fact is, when comparing Christianity to the other major religions like Islam and Buddhism, neither of the latter can stack up to the former. There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. No traces of Jesus’ physical remains are there or have been found. Shrines have been set up for the bones of Mohammed and Buddha. Detractors must explain the empty tomb. Christianity hinges on the truth of the gospel — the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Eyewitnesses were so convinced that Jesus rose from the dead that they went about preaching the gospel and lived and died championing this cause. Either Jesus Christ’s claims are all fabricated and everyone was deceived by this masterful con artist, or He is exactly as He says He is — God Incarnate, the only Savior of the world, and will come again to judge the world in righteousness.

Bruce: Except, it’s not, and that’s my point.

J: We must respectfully disagree sir.

As readers can readily see, Pastor J is steeped in Evangelical dogma and talking points. He wrongly thinks that my facts are just opinions; that statements of faith are empirical facts. Once you reach a point in a discussion where one party thinks facts and evidence is “opinion,” it’s impossible to move forward. I appreciate J’s genial tone — a rare character trait among Evangelical preachers — but I do hope that he will think about what I said: that he will ponder and wrestle with the truthfulness of my claims. I’m not trying to convert Pastor J to the one true religion of atheism. My goal is to get him to critically think about the things he believes and the arguments he makes for his peculiar religion.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce, What Would You Do If One of Your Grandchildren Got Saved and Became an Evangelical Preacher?

i have a question

A reader recently asked:

Mr Gerencser,

I have a question not to be offensive either.

if one of your children or grandchildren accepted Christ and were called to preach what would you say ? how would you react?

In December 2008, my partner, Polly, and I asked our children and their spouses to come over so we could talk to them about some significant changes that were taking place in our lives. Until this time, Polly and I had been devout Christians, having spent twenty-five years pastoring churches. Our children had traveled from church to church with us, having heard every one of the 4,000+ sermons I preached. Our three older sons, in particular, had been deeply immersed in their father’s ministerial work, spending countless hours attending church services and doing everything from construction work to cleaning buildings to cutting wood to fuel furnaces. They were their father’s gophers, rarely far from his side as work was done on church buildings and outdoor property. Such is the life of preacher’s kids.

Our children knew that Mom and Dad were going through some changes in their lives. I had left the ministry in 2005. In 2004, I pastored my last church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Clare, Michigan. Polly and I had spent the ensuing four years moving from Arizona to Michigan to five communities in Ohio (Stryker, Newark, Bryan, Alvordton, and Ney), seeking a place and church to call home. I call these our “wandering years.” As our political and religious beliefs moved markedly leftward, our social beliefs began to change too. “Sins” I once preached against and for which the children were once punished, were no longer sins; or at the very least, they were no longer behaviors we paid attention to.

Polly and I had spent months talking about our religious beliefs, experiences, and practices. We read numerous books that challenged our theological beliefs, leaving us with many doubts and questions. Eventually, we concluded that we no longer believed that the central claims of Christianity were true. While this process was agonizingly painful, we knew we were on the right path. This path eventually led to us deciding that we were no longer Christians, in the classic meaning of the word. On the last Sunday in November 2008, we attended a service at the Ney United Methodist Church. When we walked out of the church doors for the last time, we knew our lives would never be the same. It would be almost sixteen years before we would attend church again — April 7, 2024, to hear our United Church of Christ pastor friend preach his last sermon before retirement.

We gathered our children and their spouses together to let them know that we were no longer Christians; and that we would no longer attend church. I made it clear to them that I was no longer the patriarch of the family; that I would no longer dictate to them what they should or shouldn’t believe; that they were free to believe whatever they wanted. Polly and I wanted them to know that they were free to make their own decisions; to come to their own conclusions about God and Christianity.

Our children said very little. I suspect they were shocked by what we told them, having only known their parents as a pastor and a preacher’s wife. I was, for the most part, the only pastor they ever had. Our children, by this time, were 29, 27, 24, 18, 16, and 14. Our oldest sons were married/divorced, while the three youngest were still homeschooled and lived at home. Today, none of our children attend an Evangelical church. One of our sons and his family attend a Catholic church, and another son flirts with church from time to time. The other four do not attend church and would not identify as Christians.

In one generation, the Evangelical curse has been broken. For that, Polly and I are grateful. If any of our children want to attend church or self-identify as a Christian, we are fine with it. But, what if they attended an Evangelical church? Their choice, end of discussion. I would say the same regardless of what religious beliefs they had.

Most people who get saved and are called to preach were raised in Evangelical churches. Their salvation and call are predicated on years and decades of indoctrination and conditioning. Polly and I have sixteen grandchildren, ages four to twenty-three. Outside of our Catholic grandchildren, none of them attends church. Without exposure to Evangelical indoctrination and conditioning, it is highly unlikely any of them will get saved or called to preach. Such things are foreign to them. Saved from what? Who would want to be a preacher? Besides, thirteen of our grandchildren are girls, so they are not permitted to be preachers (though they sure do a hell of a lot of preaching). 🙂

My grandchildren know nothing of Pastor Bruce Gerencser. To them, I am a Grandpa, a disabled old man who loves them, jokes with them, harasses them, annoys them with philosophical questions, buys them books about religion and science, and supports them in all of their endeavors. Polly is Nana, a woman who indulges them when they say “I am hungry” or need help with a recipe or sewing project. We see our grandchildren regularly, and, by all accounts, are close to them. I have had countless discussions about science, religion, and philosophy with my older grandchildren. They know they can ask me anything, as long as they understand that I will answer them and they might not like what they hear. They also know that Grandpa is an expert when it comes to discussions about the Bible and Christianity, so if they want to discuss such things they better be prepared for a serious discussion. That said, if one of my grandchildren decides to become a Christian or enter the ministry, I would respect their wishes and support them. I would do my darnedest to steer them towards kinder, gentler forms of Christian faith, but at the end of the day, I am going to love and support them as they are.

Today, we watched the eclipse at my oldest son’s home in Defiance. We had a delightful time as we watched such an amazing solar event. My oldest grandson, who is almost sixteen, is a non-Christian. He is a science geek. He plans to take advanced physics and chemistry this fall. He is a voracious reader, devouring science fiction and non-fiction alike. He is quite the skeptic, showing no tolerance for woo or conspiracy theories. It would not surprise me if he became a world-renowned scientist someday — or a professional chess player. 🙂

My grandson and I, along with his father, talked about all sorts of things science- and religion-related. I am pleased with how well both of them have a grasp on science — much farther ahead than I was at their respective ages. Knowing that skepticism, secularism, and science are antidotes to the Evangelical virus, it is unlikely that either of them would get saved or become a preacher. I am confident that I can say the same thing for the rest of my grandchildren. And if I am wrong, and one of them professes faith in Jesus and becomes a preacher? I will respect them for who and what they are, The choice, as always, is theirs. Unlike the way Evangelicals treated me and Polly when we deconverted, we will never abandon our grandchildren or distance ourselves from them. One of them getting saved might be a phase he or she is going through, so we wouldn’t want to do anything to harm our relationship, knowing that, in time, they might come to see that Christianity is not what it claims to be. That said, I am not naive. If one of our grandchildren got saved in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church and became an IFB preacher, that could cause problems depending on whether they pushed their beliefs as such believers often do. And if that happened? I would tell them, “Each to their own. As a family, we respect each other’s religious beliefs and don’t try to evangelize each other or demand that everyone live by one set of beliefs.”

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Luck, Fate, or Providence?

god is in control

As an Evangelical Christian, I believed that God was the sovereign ruler of the universe. I believed God held my life in the palms of his hands. I believed God controlled every aspect of my life, and that life and death were determined by God alone. I believed I wouldn’t die one moment before it was my time to go; that God penciled a death date next to the name of every person ever born. I believed that God had a purpose and plan for my life. I thought this way for almost 50 years.

I have faced numerous circumstances where I could have easily been killed. Accidents, stupid mistakes, exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals, bad decisions by myself or others, serious sickness, and being at the wrong place at the wrong time . . . I could have and should have died long before today.

But here I am, and until 2008, I gave the Christian God all the credit for my continued existence. God wasn’t finished with me, I told myself, wiping my brow after surviving yet another near brush with death. As disease and pain continued to ravage my body, I lived with the calm assurance that God still had plans for me. In some ways, this is a great way to live. No worries . . . God’s on the job and nothing will happen unless God wills it.  The Apostle Paul had the same view:

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39

I willingly subjected myself to a life of poverty because I thought if God wanted me to have more money or a better house and car, he would give them to me. When I began to have health problems in the early 1990s, I saw them as a test from God. God wanted to make me more holy or stronger. God wanted to root out the deep and secret sins that no one but him could see. And no matter how painful the process was, I knew that God loved me and was in charge of everything.

God’s providence: the belief that God knows what’s best for us and doesn’t give us more than we can bear, is actually fatalism. While Christians convince themselves that they are free moral agents, their belief system says differently. Proverbs 16:9 states:

A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.

Proverbs 20:24 states:

Man’s goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?

Consider these verses:

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalm 115:3

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20

That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Isaiah 40:23

This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Zechariah 4:6

O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. II Chronicles 20:6

Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. I Chronicles 29:11-12

I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Job 42:2

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Isaiah 46:9-10

Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?  Romans 9:21

Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? Lamentations 3:37

Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places. Psalm 135:6

But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. Job 23:13

See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. Deuteronomy 32:39

For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back? Isaiah 14:27

The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: Isaiah 14:24

These verses are but a small sampling of the Bible verses that declare that God is the boss. He is in control of everything. Of course, this opens up a huge problem for Christians. If God is in control of everything, if nothing happens that God does not decree, purpose, and plan, what about sin and evil? At this point, most Christians run from their beliefs, denying that God has anything to do with evil and sin. However, the Bible says:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. Isaiah 45:7

That’s right, the Bible says God creates evil. No matter how Christians might object, if they believe in a God who is in control, then they must also believe that he is culpable for evil and sin. Dance any theological or philosophical jig one might, there is no escaping God being the creator of evil. But, but, but . . . no buts. Either God is the CEO of the universe or he’s not. Either he is the first cause, the beginning, and the end, or he is not. Either he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, or he is not.

Believing this way had a profound effect on my life. Instead of realizing that much of what happens in a person’s life is due to good or bad luck, I saw God behind every action, event, and circumstance. Like King David, I said:

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. Psalm 139:11-12

God was omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. For those not schooled in the omnis, God was all-powerful, all-knowing, and present everywhere.

In 2008, God lost control of my life as I began to reclaim it along with the personal responsibility that came with it. No more trusting God’s providence or letting go and letting God. No more puppet strings or “trusting” God to work out everything in my life according to his purpose and plan. As I began to reorient my life according to fact and reason, I was forced to reinvestigate past claims of miracles, moments when God reached down and supernaturally kept me from harm or death. I concluded that every God sighting in my life but one could be explained through natural means. All the supposed answered prayers were really Bruce or some other Christian answering the prayer.

None of us knows how our life will be beyond the next breath. For all I know, this could be the last blog post I write. The Bible is right when it says:

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Proverbs 27:1

No one knows what tomorrow will be like. We can plan for the future, but we have no promise that things will work out for us. Life is a crapshoot. Live to your 60s and you will realize you are lucky to have made it to old age. The best any of us can do is make responsible decisions based on reason and probabilities and hope things work out for us.

Several years ago, Polly and I took a road trip to Ottoville, Fort Jennings, and Delphos. Like most of our trips, I took my camera equipment with me. As we were wandering around Delphos, we stumbled upon a lock from the era of the Miami and Erie canal. Getting down to the lock was a bit treacherous for me. I wanted to get as close as possible, so I gingerly walked down the concrete abutment to the lock. I didn’t fall, slip, or trip. Lucky me, I thought.

After ten minutes or so, I was ready to return to the car. I had two paths I could take. I could retrace my steps or make a big step and little jump to ground level, Polly said she would give me a hand, so I chose the latter. Polly reached down, took my hand, and began to help me up. And then, our world went crazy. Polly couldn’t pull me up completely, and I violently fell forward, knocking both of us to the ground. If my weight had been balanced slightly the other way, I would have no doubt gone careening down the concrete abutment into the canal. The fall would have likely killed me.

The good news? My cameras escaped damage, though one body had a slight scrape. The hood on the lens kept it from being smashed. Polly ended up with bruised knees and I suffered a twisted ankle and hip and a nasty, bloody contusion on my left leg. 

I know I was lucky. I should have retraced my steps. This was the safe and prudent choice. However, Polly was standing right there and she said she would help. Why not, right? She helps me out of the recliner and car all the time. What neither of us counted on was how difficult it was to pull up a 350-pound man. When Polly pulls me out of the car or the recliner, I help her. This time? I was a dead weight and I almost literally became so.

Lesson learned.

Several years ago, as we were eating lunch, our daughter with Down Syndrome began choking. Due to her disability, she has a thick tongue and can easily choke. This day was different. For the first time, she couldn’t clear her throat. Polly administered the Heimlich maneuver three times before the food was dislodged. I was one second away from calling 911.

This scary circumstance reminded us that we need to pay careful attention to how our daughter eats her food. I talked to her about chewing her food, taking small bites, and not eating hurriedly. She was scared, we were scared, but we all lived to face another day. Our daughter could just as easily have died on our living room floor. Living in the rural area we do, we know that sometimes it is impossible to get quick emergency help. We were lucky, and we know it.

Every brush with death should cause us to reflect on why it happened. Were we culpable? Could we have made a better or different decision? Sometimes, shit happens.

Living is a dangerous proposition. Smart is the person who understands this and acts accordingly. Thinking that God has the whole world in his hands only leads to delusion and discouragement. God isn’t coming to save the day. In 2015, a German airline pilot flew a plane into the ground, killing everyone on board. I am sure, mixed in with the screams, were pleas to God to stop the plane from hitting the ground. Prayer lost out to physics and everyone died.

How about you? How do you live your life? How do you determine risk? Have you ever escaped death after making a decision that should have ended your life? If you once believed in the sovereignty of God, how does a world without a God affect your decision-making process? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser