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Category: Evangelicalism

Sin is What Sinners Do: A Few Thoughts on the Christian Concept of Sin

gluttony is a sin

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

(I use the word “sin” in this post because I think Christians who read this blog will better understand what I am talking about. Please see Let’s Talk About Sin, Guilt, and Human Behavior for a better explanation of my view on “sin.”)

Sin.

According to the Bible, sin is transgression of the law.

Let the debate begin:

Which law?

Old Testament?

New Testament?

Both?

Christianity teaches that sin separates us from God.

Sin is what sent Jesus to the cross.

We are all sinners.

Born that way.

We sin because we are sinners.

Sin will ultimately land us in Hell unless we trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.

Sin is the problem and Jesus is the solution.

Our hearts are black, but Jesus can make them white as snow through the blood he shed on the cross.

Without sin, I wonder: would Christianity exist?

For those of us who are not Christians, sin takes on a different meaning.

Since there is no God to offend and no God to give an account to, sin does not carry the force that it does with Christians.

The list of sins, according to the Bible, according to the pastor, and according to each Christian, is quite long.

Every person has his or her own sin list, and no two lists are the same.

As an unbeliever, my sin list is quite short.

And it gets shorter every day.

Since I reject the Bible as an objective standard of right and wrong, how do I determine my morals and ethics?

Do I need a God, religion, church, or pastor to tell me what my morals and ethics should be?

Do I need a supposedly supernatural text, the Bible, to tell me what my morals and ethics should be?

According to the Bible, the entirety of the law can be summed up in two commands:

  • Love God
  • Love your neighbor as yourself

My morals and ethics are based on the premise that I should love my neighbor as myself.

I should treat people like I would want to be treated.

I should not do things that would harm other people.

I should value my relationships with family and my fellow human beings to such a degree that I live in such a way that my actions cause them no harm.

God does not enter the picture. My only concern is the relationships I have with others. When I live in a selfish, unloving, unkind, unjust manner then I am “sinning” against my fellow human beings.

My sin does not bring the judgment of God, but it does hurt the relationships I have with others. My sin causes personal loss and pain.

If what I do does not hurt others, if it does not damage my relationships with others, then it is not “sin.”

This makes life much simpler for me.

I am still a “sinner,” but I am much less a “sinner” since I abandoned the Christian faith.

Losing God, the Bible, and the complex, never-ending sin list has allowed me to realize, for the first time in many, many years, that it is okay to be human.

After living a lifetime of denying who I am, I can now be free to be Bruce. I am still finding out who I really am.

So much of my life was labeled as sin. Every thought, every word, every deed, every day . . . sin.

I suspect I will always have a Christian sin hangover. A lifetime of being beaten over the head with an angry God, a dying Savior, and a divine rule book has left a lot of deep wounds and scars.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: What Kind of Worm Are We?

earth worm

Whenever I read about how we humans are as low as worms, I think of the enormous uber-destructive sandworms from the fictional universe of the Dune novels. Then I think about how my father, who grew a fantastic garden, prized ordinary garden worms for their work in aerating the soil. Humans can be both these things. Personally, I don’t mind being the latter: someone who lets life-giving air at the roots of others. I fail too often, but keep trying.

The problem with the Christian doctrine of the utter ghastliness of humans is that there’s no path for us to ever get better. We must have salvation through an external source (Jesus) and then the internal residence of external motivation to be better people (Holy Spirit). That is not a growth trajectory, that’s a form of possession. It’s a complete denial of the preciousness of the HUMAN spirit, and profoundly destructive.

— Karen the Rock Whisperer, comment on the post titled How God Reminds Us Every Day That We Are Little More Than Worms and Slugs.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Armchair Evangelical Psychologists

armchair psychology

When I started blogging in 2007, I made the decision to use my real name as I attempted to tell my story. I also decided that I would not protect the guilty. Since Evangelical churches, pastors, parachurch groups and the college I attended are a part of my storyline, I decided their names should be part of my story. Doing this has upset a lot of people, especially when a web search for their name, church, or group brings up my blog on the first page.

If you take time to search for websites mentioning my name, you will find sites with articles deconstructing my life. You will also find my name and articles mentioned on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Free Jinger, Reddit, and a number of public/private sites.

Since I write using my real name, and I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world, it is not hard to find a wealth of information, positive and negative. I knew when I started blogging that I would open myself up to intense scrutiny. I knew that people would lie about me, distort my story, and try to besmirch my character. This is the price I pay for being a public figure.

Those of you who have read this blog for years know I stopped blogging several times when the emotional and mental stress became too much. (That I have been blogging now for six years straight is nothing short of a miracle.) What changed? Thanks to me seeing a counselor on a regular basis, I have learned to handle the stress that comes from having a public blog that is widely read. This doesn’t mean that I plan on blogging until Jesus comes again, but I hope I have enough mental and emotional wherewithal to withstand the pressures that come my way. If anything puts an end to my writing career it will be chronic illness and unrelenting pain. Recent health circumstances have had me circling the proverbial blogging drain, but, so far, I have been able to find the stopper, keeping me from disappearing. No promises, but I live for another day.

Several years ago, a man by the name of Steve Ransom sent me an email that I shared with readers in a post titled Steve Ransom Lays Down a Challenge to Bruce and His Fellow Atheists. He purported to have a new argument that he was sure would set me back on the right path to God. All he really had was a deconstruction of my life, and how I had followed a false God. There was a time such a deconstruction would cause me mental and emotional angst. Not anymore.

When I started blogging, I thought if I just told my story people would understand, even if they disagreed with me. I thought if I just explained myself, that my critics would at least understand my viewpoint. I know, I know, quite naïve of me.

This subject came up one day during counseling. I expressed my dismay over Evangelicals not being willing to accept my explanation of my life. Who knows my life better than me, right? My counselor told me:

Bruce, you think they care what you think? They don’t give a shit about what you think.

And he is right. I know that those who tear into my life aren’t interested in anything I have to say. They have read a handful of posts, maybe even twenty-five or thirty, and they are now ready to render judgment, and render they do. It’s happened countless times over the years, and it will happen in future. Evangelicals can’t help themselves, so I let them have one opportunity to say whatever is on their mind. One comment, that’s it. Then it is time for them to move on.

There was a time when I engaged every Evangelical commenter. I thought if I just explained myself, they would understand. I now know better. Now that I know they don’t give a shit, neither do I.

Of particular note are Evangelical critics who think they have me figured out psychologically. Instead of accepting at face value my explanation for why I left the ministry and left Christianity, they delve into what they believe are the psychological reasons for my divorce from Jesus and my abandonment of the church. According to them, I abandoned all I loved and held dear because I was angry, bitter, jaded, hated God, ad infinitum. Instead of accepting at face value what I say about my Evangelical past, these critics, use a nit comb to go through my life, looking for the “real” reason I am an atheist today. 

I used to try to answer such people, but after years of doing so, I decided to leave them to their own devices. I know that nothing I say will change their minds, so why bother, right? Such people are not my target audience, so why give one moment of my time to them. I remain committed to helping those who have doubts about Christianity and those who have left the faith. They are my church, not those who sit in the back pews throwing horse shit at me as I share my life’s story.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: What Billy Graham Said About the Jews and Then Lied About It

billy graham 1951
Billy Graham, 1951

President Richard Nixon recorded Evangelical evangelist Billy Graham saying the following about Jews:

They’re [Jews] the ones putting out the pornographic stuff. The Jewish stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.

I go and I keep friends with Mr. Rosenthal (A.M. Rosenthal) at The New York Times and people of that sort, you know. And all — I mean, not all the Jews, but a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine, they swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I’m friendly with Israel. But they don’t know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country. And I have no power, no way to handle them, but I would stand up if under proper circumstances.

Graham lied about the quote, saying:

Those are not my words. I have never talked publicly or privately about the Jewish people, including conversations with President Nixon, except in the most positive terms. (May 1994)

After the Nixon/Watergate tapes were revealed, Graham was forced to confront his antisemitism. In 2002, Graham stated:

I don’t ever recall having those feelings about any group, especially the Jews, and I certainly do not have them now. My remarks did not reflect my love for the Jewish people. I humbly ask the Jewish community to reflect on my actions on behalf of Jews over the years that contradict my words in the Oval Office that day.

I, for one, tend to believe what people say the first time. Graham’s apology was a CYA moment. He knew that he would lose Evangelical support if his true feelings about Jews were known. Evangelicals love the Jews, even though their Bible says God plans to slaughter them during the Great Tribulation.

These quotes should put an end to post such as this one from Charisma, How Billy Graham Avoided Scandal His Entire Life. He didn’t, as this post makes abundantly clear.

Quotes from the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

How God Reminds Us Every Day That We Are Little More Than Worms and Slugs

original sin

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

— Issac Watts, Alas! and Did my Savior Bleed

Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good — above all, that we are better than someone else — I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. (Psalm 22:6)

How much less man, that is a worm? and the son of man, which is a worm? (Job 25:6)

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24)

Original sin

Vile

Wicked

Hater of God

Worthy of pain, suffering, death, and eternal torture

According to the Bible, we are the lowest of low, little more than dung beetles, slugs, or worms. Thanks to Adam and Eve eating fruit from a tree in the Garden of Eden, all human beings are born depraved sinners — haters of God worthy of having the judgment and wrath of God poured out on their heads. None of us can escape this condemnation. As soon as the egg unites with sperm in the womb of a woman, a new vile and repulsive sinner is created. We don’t become sinners, we are sinners. Or so says Christianity.

What better way to attract and keep congregants than to convince them that they are broken, helpless, hopeless sinners who need to be glued back together with Jesus Salvation Glue® that can only be found at First Baptist Church on Main Street, Anywhere, Ohio. And when the Jesus Salvation Glue® doesn’t last, and bits and pieces of one’s life start breaking off, congregants are told to go to confession or walk the sawdust trail to an old-fashioned altar and get a resupply of Jesus Salvation Glue®.

And the cost for this wonderful, sin-erasing Jesus glue? EVERYTHING. Your life, possessions, money, and family now belong to God. If it wasn’t for Jesus Salvation Glue®, the Christian would still be like Humpty Dumpty, a pile of brokenness at the bottom of the proverbial wall. Since Jesus paid the ultimate price for sin by dying on the cross and taking a three-day weekend in Hell, the least groveling sinners can do is obediently follow him until they die. If Christians do this, then Jesus will give them rooms in God’s Trump Hotel®– rooms they will rarely use since they will be spending most of their time praising and worshiping God and prostrating themselves before his throne. And even in Heaven, there will be a final judgment for every Christian, a time when God will comb through the minutia of the lives of Christians, reminding them of all the times they sinned and how lucky they are that God is allowing them to enter his Heaven.

In the first iteration of this post, I wrote:

After several weeks of rain, we’ve finally gotten a break and are able to work in the yard and garden. Weeds are growing prolifically, and I am certain I heard them laughing at Polly and me as we, with aching muscles and joints, reached down to pull them up from the ground. I was so fatigued and in pain today that I laid on the ground and crawled along the flower beds pulling weeds. As I was doing this, I contemplated the wonders of Christianity. This is sarcasm, by the way, for those who tend to literally interpret my prose.

These Bible verses came to mind:

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:17-19)

If you like to grow things, you know that weeds come with the territory. If you don’t pull them, they will take over, and soon your yard looks like a movie set for a post-apocalyptic thriller titled The Revenge of the Weeds. As you pull the weeds, just remember that weeds are a reminder from God that you are a vile worm, worthy of death. If you are a Christian, every weed you pull is a reminder of how vile you were before God saved you. Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t apply salvation like Roundup? One application and the weeds are dead. One application of Jesus and all sin is eradicated. Why wouldn’t God do this? Wouldn’t it make life more enjoyable, not only for Christians, but God? Surely God gets tired of Deacon Bob going to the altar every Sunday to confess his child porn habit, or tires of Preacher Billy confessing his fits of anger towards his wife and family. Wouldn’t it be better to cure Bob and Billy once and for all of their “sins?” Why is God unwilling or unable to do so?

To Christians I say this: Wouldn’t this be a good day to cast off the belief that you are a broken sinner in need of salvation and forgiveness?  Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for, scratch that, and then you’ll be dead.

Proverbs 27:1 says:

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

Good advice, but not for the reasons Christians think. This verse stresses to the Christian the importance of being saved, of having sins forgiven, and preparing to meet God face to face. As an atheist, I read this verse and it says to me that life is short. There is no promise of tomorrow and no one knows what might happen. So, live! Live each moment of every day as if it is your last, because someday, sooner than you think, it will be.

Let me leave you with the advice I give on the About page:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media?

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Billy Graham Was as Great as Moses

anne graham lotz

When he [Billy Graham] died, that was something very strategic from heaven’s point of view. I know that before the foundations of the world were laid, Feb. 21, 2018 was the date that God chose to take my father home. Why?

Moses was the great liberator. He brought millions of people out of bondage, slavery, got them to the edge of the promised land, and God took him to heaven.

My father was also a great liberator. He brought millions of people out of bondage to sin, and gets us to the edge of heaven, the edge of the promised land, and God has called him home. And could it be that God is going to bring Joshua [Jesus] into the promised land, lead us into heaven?”

I believe this is a shot across the bow of heaven, and I believe God is saying, ‘Wake up, church! Wake up, world! Wake up, Anne! Jesus is coming. Jesus is coming.

Jesus said that when the gospel is preached to the whole world as it is today in this service, as it is through churches, missionaries, ministries, Jesus said in Matthew 24:14, When the gospel is preached, then the end will come.

— Anne Graham Lotz, Daughter of Billy Graham, Quotes from a CHARISMA Article

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Gods Have Clay Feet: A Few Thoughts About Evangelical Pastors

pastors gods with feet of clay

The Evangelical Christian church has many gods. While Evangelicals will profess to worship the true and living God — the God of the Bible — often their true object of worship is human and not divine. Most Evangelical churches have a congregational form of church government. Some churches have adopted an elder rule form of government. Regardless of what form of government a church adopts, there can be no doubt about who really runs the church. The CEO, the boss man, the head honcho is the pastor — also known as the senior pastor, executive pastor, and prophet, priest and king.

The pastor is the hub upon which the wheel of the church turns. He (there are very few she’s) is the man who runs the show. He sets the course for the church. He is a modern-day Moses leading the church to the Promised Land. He is the visionary with a vision that the church is expected to follow. He is, after all, the man of God. He is divinely called by God, a call that cannot be explained with human words. He is the man of God, given a message by God, to speak to the people of God.

He is a man not to be trifled with. He has been anointed by God. He has been set apart by God to do the most important work in the world. His calling is higher than even that of the President of the United States. The congregation is reminded that the Bible says “touch not mine anointed.” They are also told the story about the Elisha, the mocking boys, and the bears:

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. (2 Kings 2:23, 24)

You have been warned, says God’s man. Say anything negative about the pastor and you run the risk of bears eating you; or cancer, heart attack, accident, or death.

The pastor is the Lone Ranger’s Tonto. He is the Green Hornet’s Bruce. He is Batman’s Robin. God and the pastor are joined at the hip. After all, the pastor has a divine calling; a calling that can’t be explained or revoked. In fact, the only way anyone knows for sure a pastor is God-called is because he says he is.

Most Evangelical churches are independent. Even those who belong to denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention are independent. Each church is a local, autonomous entity, accountable to no one but themselves. The Southern Baptist Convention has a HUGE sex abuse problem, yet little is done by the Convention because each church governs itself. The convention has no power over churches or pastors, or so they conveniently claim.

Since most Evangelical churches are independent, there are few, if any, standards or requirements for starting a church. Anyone can start a church. Anyone can claim to be a pastor. Anyone, Anyone, Anyone. In most states, there are no legal requirements for starting a church. The Federal government, by default, treats churches as exempt from taxation. By default, they receive most of the benefits of 501(c)(3) status without actually applying for it. Starting a church is a con artist’s dream. Just tune into a Christian TV channel for proof of this. There are no educational requirements; no ordination requirements. Anyone can become a pastor. It really is that easy. (Please see What is a Church According to the IRS) and You Can do It: How to Start an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church.)

In charismatic/Pentecostal circles, some pastors have added titles to their name. Not content to be called pastor, they demand that they be called bishop or apostle. Several apostles have set up shop right here in the county I live in. Once again, a man is an apostle or bishop because he says he is. God has imparted to the man a special anointing, a special dose of Holy G-h-o-s-t power that raises the man to a higher level in the church. Or so he says.

Now let me try to tie all this together. I am writing under the anointing right now, so it is hard to put this all together for you common folks. But I will try.

We have independent churches with independent pastors without any checks or balances. A man can start a church whenever and wherever. The church becomes his church, the religious equivalent of a corporation. The pastor is considered divinely called by God because he says he is. How dare anyone question GOD!

This type of religion flourishes in America. We are a people who applaud the entrepreneurial spirit. Starting a church is akin to starting a business. We worship personalities: entertainers, sports figures, preachers, playmate of the month, et al. We are a lazy people, content to let others think for us.

So what do we have? Churches operated by entrepreneurial pastors. These churches are often filled with people who love to worship personalities, and in this case the personality is the pastor. Content to let the pastor think for them, run the show, and speak to them on God’s behalf, many Christians have surrendered their autonomy for a seat at the feet of the most awesome, most handsome pastor in town. And man, does he have a hot wife!

The pastor, then, becomes a god. He is given so much control and power that it is almost impossible to unseat god when the church finds out the pastor has feet of clay. I said almost… Daily news reports of pastors committing crimes, seducing church members, sexually abusing children, and stealing money are too common to be just aberrations. I could write for hours about pastors I know who have scandalous pasts, yet they are still pastors. They just moved down the road and started a new church or they stood their ground and ran off their accusers. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.)

In the 1980s Jack Hyles, at the time pastor of the largest church in the United States, was accused of sexual improprieties with a married woman in his church. The evidence against him was overwhelming. Yet, he successfully withstood his accusers, and when he died two decades later he was still pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. The church that Jack built lost thousands of members, but he remained god until he went the way of all humans. (Please see The Legacy of Jack Hyles.)

Jack Hyles’ son David was also accused of sexual improprieties. He left First Baptist and moved on to another church in Texas — a church his father previously pastored. Not one word of his past peccadilloes was shared with the new church. David Hyles continued his sexual exploits and conquests. He had sex with women in the church and was only exposed after compromising photos were accidentally found by someone in the church.

After Jack Hyles died, his son-in-law, Jack Schaap became the Pastor CEO of  Hyles Industries. Like his father-in-law and brother-in-law, Schaap had a problem with fidelity. Schaap was accused of having sex with a church teenager. He was later convicted, and is now serving a twelve-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.

Aberration? Hardly. In many churches, the pastors have incredible power and control. They become gods. The pastor does the preaching, does the counseling, and is the chairman of the board. Everything goes through him. In some churches, the pastor even checks the tithing records to see who is giving and how much they are giving. One pastor I know well was told by the church treasurer that many of the Christian school teachers were not tithing. The next Sunday he publicly berated the teachers and told them that he was going to have their tithes taken out as a payroll deduction if they didn’t start tithing. Never mind the fact the church paid the teachers poverty wages, and if they tithed, they would be well BELOW the poverty line. I know this to be true because my wife worked for the school in the 1980s (this was back in the day when the church paid male teachers more than female teachers).

One pastor here in northwest Ohio decided one Sunday to preach against the evils of attending the prom. When it came time to preach, he instructed the ushers to lock the sanctuary doors so no one could leave. Everyone was going to hear what he had to say. This same pastor had the deacons secretly follow church members to see what they were up to. Young couples considering having children were encouraged (required?) to counsel with the pastor first before engaging in procreation.

Another pastor in Columbus, Ohio had a portrait of him and his wife hung over the water fountain in the church foyer. He joked “that way every time someone gets a drink they have to bow to me.” Funny? Not when you consider the horrific mental and emotional damage caused by these megalomaniacs.

Children who grow up in Evangelical churches are conditioned to accept that the pastor is the final authority. Even in matters of faith, the Bible is not the final authority, the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible is. The church believes whatever the pastor says the church believes. If he started the church, he likely wrote the church’s doctrinal statement, constitution, and bylaws. He determines what is truth and what is error. Remember he is God-called; God speaks through him. End of discussion.

It should come as no surprise, then, that some men aspire to be pastors for reasons other than serving others. It’s the perfect job. No one to answer to but God, and he seems to never have anything to say. Conscientious, faithful men do wonderful work, loving and serving the church; however, far too many men are corrupted by the power they are given. Some men have ulterior motives, and the pastorate becomes a safe place to hide. I know of men who had irregularities in their past and the pastorate allowed them to keep from being held accountable for their past deeds.

One pastor in Columbus had no social security number. He had not filed an income tax return in years. His church paid him in cash. When the IRS changed reporting requirements, requiring evangelists and special speakers to be given 1099s if paid over a certain amount, some churches began giving evangelists and special speakers (pastors) cash offerings. Many a pastor has received a brown-bag offering. Evangelical preachers have incredible, and quite legal, ways to avoid paying income tax. Some incorporate as a charity or a ministry. The ministry has a “board” that is made up of the pastor’s family or friends. By incorporating, they avail themselves of the tax benefits that corporations receive. Pastors buy cars, trucks, travel trailers, and houses and put them in the church’s name. They receive a tax-free housing allowance. Many pastors have little taxable income, even though they live quite comfortably. It is a great gig if you can get it.

One day, the inevitable happens. The pastor — the god — falls from his exalted throne. Over time, people become disillusioned with the pastor. They take issue with his preaching, his vision, his wife, his children, his theology, his suit, his hairstyle, his entertainments, etc. People tire of pastors just like they do the other gods they worship. Perhaps he commits a grievous sin. He has an affair, steals money from the church, or embraces a teaching that the power brokers in the church consider heresy; heresy being anything they disagree with.

All of a sudden, the church remembers that IT has power. Members recall they can take down their god and vote him out of the church. And so they do . . . The god may fight to keep his power, to keep his throne, but most often he negotiates a settlement package, the conditions of surrender, and moves on to another church. The church promises to never let another pastor have the power that he had.

But then a new god comes to the church. A new vision, a new inside track with God. He is a wonderful preacher. His wife and kids are adorable. He is given the reins of the church and once again a pastor is restored to the throne. And so it goes . . .

In no way do I wish to disparage good men and women who conscientiously serve their churches; people who sacrifice and work selflessly day in day out. But they, most of all, should know that what I write is true. The American Evangelical church is overrun with power-hungry, ambitious men who have an eye on their own kingdom and not God’s. They are the god of the church, not the God they preach about. Sadly it seems, in many cases, this is exactly what the church wants.

While I no longer believe in the Christian God, I did spend 50 years in the church. For many of those years, I was on the inside, knowing its secrets, knowing who did what and where the bodies are buried. I know whereof I speak.  I know what I have seen and what I have done myself in the name of God. I know too much and I have seen too much for it to be anecdotal or coincidental.

I am not sure I have any answers. We can’t look to the structured denominational churches for answers.  They too have their own power-hungry gods. They too have scandals, as is clear for all to see with the scandal-ridden Catholic church. It is hard not to at least question whether the Christian church is hopelessly corrupt. Regardless of the good men and women who serve selflessly, perhaps the church is irreparably broken.

Some people, realizing this, start new movements, but, over time, they most often become just like what they opposed and despised. They organize, men gain power, and over time there are new gods to worship. Perhaps the best we can hope for is individuals who take the ethical and moral teachings of Christ seriously and live accordingly. They steer clear of organized religion. They seek no place of power or authority. They seek only to love God and love their neighbor.

I am convinced that Jesus, real or not, has been lost in the mire and corruption of the modern Christian church. I have little confidence that he can be found. He has been swallowed by a Leviathan called Christianity, and if Jesus appeared today, he would most likely be nailed to a cross by those who say they worship him.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Short Stories: The Missing Hammer

hammer

From 1983-1994, I pastored the Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. After meeting for two years in several rented buildings in Somerset, we purchased an abandoned, brick United Methodist Church five miles east of town. Cost? $5,000.

The sanctuary was built in 1831, and a flat roof annex was built in the 1960s. Both buildings were in horrible states of disrepair. I spent the next ten years repairing and remodeling the buildings, as did some church members and my three oldest sons. Rarely did a week go by when we weren’t working on one of the buildings. Keep in mind, I had ZERO construction skills, so I was learning on the job — everything from plumbing to electrical work to tarring a flat roof to framing walls.

In 1989, I purchased a broken-down 12’x60′ mobile home for my family and me to live in. I parked it 50 feet from the church sanctuary. Think about that for a moment: 720 square feet for a family of eight. I had to do all sorts of building projects to make the mobile home fit for us to live in. Again, I had to learn on the job, as did my sons.

At the time, we had a Sears credit card. When I needed tools — and it seemed I always needed tools — I bought Sears’ Craftsman tools. One such purchase was the hammer pictured above. I loved this hammer. Well-balanced, perfect for my use.

One day, my favorite hammer disappeared. I looked and looked and looked for the hammer, without success. I was fairly certain that one of my sons had “borrowed” the hammer and left it “somewhere.” Of course, no one confessed to the crime. I ended up having to buy a new hammer.

Years later, on a crisp fall day, my sons and several church boys were raking leaves along the back fence of the cemetery. As was typical back in the day, the boys burned the leaves. One of my sons decided to help the fire along with gasoline. This quickly turned the leaves into a raging fire, burning all the leaves along the fence line. Fortunately, the fire didn’t jump to our neighbors farm field.

After the fire died down and was extinguished, guess what showed up? My hammer — surprisingly unscathed by the fire. “Someone” had left my hammer in the weeds along the fence line, and there it lay until the fire.

I still use this hammer, and I am always reminded of the fire when I do. I suspect after I am dead and gone that my oldest sons will battle over who gets the hammer. Such memories . . . And maybe, just maybe someone will confess to leaving the hammer in the weeds.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.