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Category: Evangelicalism

My Response to Dr. David Tee’s Comment About the Trauma in My Life

dr david tee

What follows is my response to a comment left by Dr. David Tee, whose real name is Derrick Thomas Thiessen, on the post titled Life with My Fundamentalist Baptist Grandparents, John and Ann Tieken. If you have not read this post, I encourage you to do so. That will give you the context necessary to understand Thiessen’s comment. My response is indented and italicized.

What a waste.

Right off the bat, Thiessen gets personal. He’s not talking about the post. He’s talking about me personally. I am a waste (useless). Thiessen has spent the past two years repeatedly making this claim with a variety of word choices. Regardless of the words he uses, Thiessen wants me to know that he views me as a useless, worthless human being. His goal in doing so is to cause psychological harm. Not to reach me, evangelize me, help me, but to ruin and destroy me. That he has been unable to so only fuels his continued assaults.

You do nothing but spread hatred towards people no one but you and your family have met. This is a travesty for several reasons.

The title of this blog is The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser: One Man’s Journey From Eternity to Here. This blog has always been autobiographical in nature; a place where I give a first-person account of my life. I am a writer and a storyteller, it’s what I do. People are free to love or hate my work. Thiessen, by his own volition, continues to read this site, even after promising never to do so again.

I have every right to tell my story, as I see it. Where my story intersects with other people, I am going to mention them by name, especially when they played an instrumental part in my life. I own every word I write. My grandparents, John and Ann Tieken materially affected my life, my mother’s life, my siblings’ lives, and Polly’s life. Fortunately, my children do not know or remember their great-grandparents. John and Ann caused horrific harm, and the only way I know to hold them accountable is to write about them. Scores of Evangelicals who attended church with John and Ann think they were wonderful people. And they were — to them. However, both of them had a dark, evil side, one that I know firsthand. All I know to do is tell my story. I will leave it to others to decide whether my words ring true. I know my words are truthful, but I can’t force people to see their truthiness. I suspect there are people who went to church with John and Ann who simply will not believe that I am telling the truth. There’s nothing I can do about that.

#1. it is only one side of the story

Yes, mine. This is an autobiographical blog. I write in the first person.

#2. the people you talk about can’t defend themselves

Correct, most of them are dead. Is Thiessen saying we can’t write about anyone who is dead? Would that include Jesus?

#3. the people you talk about do not know you are talking about them

Of course not, they are dead. My aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins know I am “talking” about them, and as of today, not one of them has objected to this post. I have heard that my Evangelical uncle wants to talk to me about the importance of “forgiveness,” but I suspect that discussion will never happen. I haven’t spoken to him in almost 20 years. Among Christian family members, my atheism is a family scandal no one wants to talk about. We can add atheism to rape, child molestation, violence, and psychological manipulation to the list of things we don’t talk about. How ”bout them Cowboys?

#4. it is full of look at me, I am a victim attitude.

Unlike Thiessen who uses plurals when speaking of himself, I write in the first person singular — you know, the way we were taught to write in school.

As far as me having a “victim attitude,” I am a victim. It took over a decade of counseling for me to finally admit that I was a victim; that I have had a lot of trauma in my life. I always thought that victim and trauma were words to describe others, not me. Finally admitting that these words apply to me has made a big difference in my life; allowing me to deal with some awful things that have happened in my life (some of which I have not shared with readers, or my wife for that matter).

It is just narcissism at its best. ‘Oh I am a victim, woe is me’ and all you are trying to do is glean sympathy from people. No one cares about ‘your story’ as it is textbook neurosis and only you are perfect in it.

Thiessen’s hostility is at a fever pitch now. His goal is to belittle and wound. He has failed on both counts.

Is writing about my life cathartic? Absolutely. Do I write to gain sympathy from others? No. Do I appreciate it when people express love and kindness toward me? Yes. I also find it gratifying that some people find my writing helpful, including people who have suffered trauma in their lives. When I write about chronic illness and chronic pain, people who are suffering find my words constructive. The same can be said for ex-Evangelicals and ex-Independent Fundamentalist Baptists. They value my insight, my insider knowledge, and my willingness to honestly talk about my life as a pastor. How are any of these wrong?

You are not helping anyone because you keep them in the same attitude you have hatred towards others and you never solve any problems. You just help people sin more.

Let me see if I can sum up what Thiessen is saying:

I am not helping anyone.

I never solve any problems.

I encourage people to hate people who harmed them.

I just help people sin.

Thiessen, of course, provides no evidence for his claims. I suspect he will search in vain for someone who would say I encouraged them to hate people who harmed them or I helped them “sin.”

As far as “solving problems,” It is not my job to solve anyone’s problems but my own. I am more than happy to help in any way I can, but each of us must solve our own problems or seek out professionals who can help us.

Thiessen loves to assert that I don’t “help” anyone. I will leave it to others to say whether I helped them. I do know that thousands of people read this blog, and I do know that people say I helped them, as evidenced by the countless emails and social media messages I have received over the years.

Thiessen operates a blog that virtually no one reads. Thiessen populates his site with my content and Ben Berwick’s content. He writes very little original content. Perhaps Thiessen would like to share how many people he has actually helped in the past year? How many emails has he received from readers asking for his help? Thiessen says God reads his blog, but the Big Kahuna has never left a comment or sent him an email. No, what’s going on here is envy and jealousy. Thiessen can’t for the life of him figure out why people love my writing, but don’t love his. He can’t figure out why people comment on my posts, but not his. Why does Bruce, the Atheist get all the attention and Derrick, the Fundamentalist gets none? Let me tell Thiessen why that is. Derrick, read your comments. Read your previous posts about me. Read the vicious, nasty emails you sent me. In your own words, you will see the reasons why people don’t like you. God doesn’t even like you, and he likes all sorts of assholes. Want to change that? Stop being a judgmental prick; an asshole; a hateful, mean-spirited person. In other words, Derrick, repent!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Dr. David Michael Ward Threatens Me with Annihilation

john piper annihilationism

Dr. David Michael Ward, an Evangelical Christian, messaged me on Facebook recently. I have no idea what Ward was responding to. While Ward appeals to authority, I could not verify any of the personal claims he made in his messages. The best I can tell is, outside of Facebook, he has no Internet presence; which is odd, considering his claims of advanced educational attainment and superior IQ.

What follows is our “conversation.” I will make a few concluding comments afterward. All spelling and grammar are in the original. My brief, pithy, somewhat snarky responses are indented and italicized.

There is no word in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek that can be translated as Hell. Hell was not created until th 700’s and that is about 300 years after the Bible books had been collected by the Catholic Church. Sheol is the Hebrew word for Grave and can be used in most verses that have Hell in them. Hades was the Greek word that meant the Grave. The word Lucifer is from the Latin Vulgate that had Lux Ferro meaning mover of light in Isaiah 14:12 .Jesus called him Satan and that is the devils name. I have a Doctorate in Theology and have been a preacher for 42 years. I lived in Ohio for a few years and had to teach several preachers the truth of Hell since they used the KJV and did not know the meaning of the word Hell or the root language. With my Doctorate in Theology and an IQ of 189 I have translated the Bible from the original language so that young people in the USAF could understand the scriptures more easily.

And your point is?

Well a person who teaches languages at a college who studies old languages might be able to understand the KJV an how it was mistranslated from the Latin Vulgate instead being translated from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek to achieve a correct translation without the word Hell and Lucifer so that people would have a clearer understanding of the Word of God. The Jewish nation knows nothing of the word Hell or Lucifer since those words are not in their section of the Bible. A Greek scholar helped to verify my translation and found only 3 verses that he felt needed a small clearing up of the verbage. I took his help and applied the correction and the rest as is told is history.

I’m an atheist, so it really doesn’t matter to me.

Well Jesus will state that He does not know you and the Angels will put you into the Gehenna Fire and you will be consumed body and soul. You will no longer have any meaning in the Universe.

Again, I’m an atheist. I don’t believe the central claims of Christianity are true.

Do you think it is okay to contact strangers on the Internet and threaten them with Hell-lite—annihilation?

Ward is not the first person to contact me, suggesting they have — much like a hog rooting in the forest and finding an acorn — “discovered” the Biblical “truth” about Hell. To the man, they paint themselves as smarter than other Christians, people called on to spread the “good news” that non-Christians will NOT be tortured for eternity in a lake brimming with fire and brimstone by the God of the Bible. Instead, they will be tortured for a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or a few years and then be annihilated (turned into ash). Regardless, non-Christians in both schemes suffer.

While Ward paints himself as someone who has stumbled upon an acorn, annihilationism — a minority view — has been taught throughout Christian church history. Both the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in annihilationism. My first exposure to the doctrine came in the 1980s from reading Evangelical scholar John Stott. In 1988, Stott co-authored a book titled Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue. (Stott was viciously eviscerated for his view on eternal punishment. Some apologists even said that Stott wasn’t a “real” Christian. These Christians believed worshipping a violent deity was essential to true faith.)

Stott stated:

“Emotionally, I find the concept [of eternal torment] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain. But our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth and must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it. As a committed Evangelical, my question must be-and is-not what my heart tells me, but what does God’s word say? And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the Biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilationism, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture.” [pp. 314-15]

“The fire itself is termed ‘eternal’ and ‘unquenchable,’ but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed for ever, not tormented for ever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which ‘rises for ever and ever’ (Rev 14:11; cf. 19:3).” [p. 316]

John Stott disputes whether Matthew 25:46, “They will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life,” must be interpreted as meaning that the lost will suffer for all eternity. In his opinion, “that is to read into the text what is not necessarily there. What Jesus said is that both the life and the punishment would be eternal, but he did not in that passage define the nature of either. Because he elsewhere spoke of eternal life as a conscious enjoyment of God (John 17:3), it does not follow that eternal punishment must be a conscious experience of pain at the hand of God. On the contrary, although declaring both to be eternal, Jesus is contrasting the two destinies: the more unlike they are, the better.” [p. 317]

“It would be easier to hold together the awful reality of hell and the universal reign of God if hell means destruction and the impenitent are no more. I am hesitant to have written these things, partly because I have a great respect for longstanding tradition which claims to be a true interpretation of Scripture [eternal punishment in hell], and do not lightly set it aside, and partly because the unity of the worldwide Evangelical constituency has always meant much to me. . . . I do plead for frank dialogue among Evangelicals on the basis of Scripture. I also believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment.” [pp. 319-20]

While I found Stott’s position emotionally appealing, at the end of the day, I couldn’t reconcile it with the overall tenor of the Bible. I remain a firm believer to this day that the God of the Christian Bible will one day torture billions of unbelieving humans in a burning lake where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.

This is, of course, an intellectual exercise for me: what does the Bible really say? As an atheist, I don’t believe in the existence of the Christian God, Heaven, Hell, or an afterlife. I have no idea why Ward thought these things would interest me. Before we could even discuss what the Bible says about Hell, Ward would have to provide convincing evidence for the existence of his peculiar God and why anyone should accept that the Bible is in any way authoritative, let alone inspired, inerrant, and infallible. While I just have the IQ of a mere mortal, I did attend an Evangelical Bible college. I did spend fifty years in the Evangelical church. I also spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I am now sixty-five years old. I have spent years on both sides of the atheist-Christian divide. I am confident that I have heard EVERY argument an apologist might make for the existence of the triune God and the supernatural natural authority of the Protestant Christian Bible. I have weighed these arguments in the balance and found them wanting. I am confident that Ward will not provide any evidence that would cause me to repent of my heathen ways and return to Christianity. The sex, booze, drugs, and rock and roll are too much fun for me to ever return to Biblical Christianity. 🙂

I have no idea if Ward invested any time in reading my story. If he had, he would certainly know that my objection to the doctrine of eternal punishment is just one of many objections I have to the central claims of Christianity. Even if Ward’s claims could be rationally sustained, they wouldn’t make a difference for me. God is still, as Richard Dawkins says,

. . . arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

In 2016, I wrote a post titled Annihilationism: A Feel-Good Doctrine for Nice Christians. I said at the time:

As atheists, should we be appreciative of the fact that some Evangelicals think God will annihilate us some day, and not endlessly torture us? Ponder for a moment the fact that many annihilationists think God will — for a time — torture unbelievers before turning them into ash heaps. How is this really any better than eternal hellfire and damnation? The fact remains that the Christian God will reward or punish people based on their beliefs. Believe the right things and a home in Heaven awaits. Believe the wrong things and God will erase your name from the book of the living. I get it . . . many Evangelicals are tired of being viewed as mean and hateful, and liberal and progressive Christians are weary of being lumped together with Fundamentalists. However, the fact remains that annihilation is a form of punishment reserved for those who are members of the wrong religious club. This means that good people will be burnt to a crisp for no other reason than that their God was some other deity but Jesus. Forgive me if I don’t find such beliefs “comforting.”

Here’s the good news. Many Christians, having tried on annihilationism for a time, eventually realize that it is just endless-punishment-lite. Once annihilationism is abandoned, universalism awaits. All paths now lead to eternal bliss, so there is no need to evangelize or argue doctrine. Imagine a world without theocratic demands of fealty, arguments over theology, or threats of God’s judgment. Why, such a world would be Heaven on earth — a Heaven where even atheists are welcome.

Perhaps Ward is on a slippery slope that will eventually lead him to Universalism, or better yet atheism. We can only hope that this is the case.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Life with My Fundamentalist Baptist Grandparents, John and Ann Tieken

barbara tieken 1940s
My Mom, Barbara Tieken, 1940s

My mom was born in 1938 to John and Jeanette Tieken. John owned a farm in Missouri. He was also a pilot and an airplane mechanic. I don’t know much about my mom’s childhood, but three stories come to mind. (Please see John.)

Mom had a younger brother, Steve. Their dog had puppies that John didn’t want. Instead of giving them away, John forced his son to put them in a burlap bag, take them down to the creek, and drown them.

Mom told me towards the end of her life that John had repeatedly sexually molested her. (Look at the picture of my mom above. This is the little girl John molested.) When Mom confronted him about his crimes, John, now a Fundamentalist Baptist Christian, pleaded the blood of Christ over his SBC — sins before Christ. As you shall read later in this post, John did a lot of sinning post-Jesus too. John told my mom that “God had forgiven him and so should she!” No apology, no attempt to make amends. Just cheap, meaningless Christian cliches. This would be John’s approach throughout my life with him. Not one time did I ever hear him say he was sorry or wrong.

John was a violent drunk during my mom’s childhood. His wife Jeanette was an alcoholic too. (Grandma would later quit drinking cold turkey. I had a close relationship with her.) Their alcoholism created such dysfunction for my mom and her brother that a Missouri court took them out of their home and placed them with their grandparents.

John and Grandma divorced. John then married a woman named Margaret. They too would divorce. Mom had a close relationship with Margaret, corresponding with her for years. I remember reading several of her letters. John left Missouri in the 1950s/1960s and moved to Pontiac, Michigan (Waterford Township). He married a Fundamentalist Christian divorcee named Ann. She had a son named David who was a few years older than I.

Sometime in the 1960s, the alcoholic John Tieken was gloriously saved by Jesus at Sunnyvale Chapel — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation without the label. (Sunnyvale is now defunct.) My first memories of my grandparents come from this period of time. As I pondered what to write for this post, it dawned on me that I only have two good memories of my grandparents. That’s it. Try as I might, I can’t recollect any other good experiences with them. There are reasons for this as you shall see in a moment.

John may have been saved and alcohol-free, but he was still a violent man — at least to some family members. My siblings and I would stay with the Tiekens during the summer. One day, David, who was an avid high school baseball player and fisherman, was sitting at the dinner table with the rest of us. John said something to David and he smartly replied. John stood up from the table, and with a balled fist he struck David in the face, knocking him off his chair. I would also face his wrath one summer day. My younger brother and I were playing in the garage. We found an old Bell telephone, which I proceeded to take apart, doing what boys do. When John found out, he beat the living shit out of me; the worst beating I ever received besides the one my Dad’s farmer brother gave me for moving his beer. There would be many violent outbursts from John over the years, reminding me that Fundamentalism and violent temperaments don’t go well together.

One deep, dark secret in my life comes from my childhood with the Tiekens. As I mentioned previously, my siblings and I would spend time in the summer with them, both by ourselves and with our mom. Ann would have my brother and I get in the bathtub to take a bath. While bathing, Ann would come in and show us how to “clean our genitals.” She “taught” us this lesson several times. It would take years for me to realize that she was sexually molesting us.

I did say that I had two good memories of John and Ann, so I will share them now. John, a pilot, and mechanic, was the co-owner of T&W (Tieken and Wyman) Engine Service at Pontiac (Michigan) Airport. My first fond memory of John was when he took me up in a twin-prop cargo plane he had just overhauled. Boy, was that fun (and terrifying).

tigers indians 1968

My other fond memory dates back to the summer of 1968, the year the Detroit Tigers won the world series. For my eleventh birthday, John took me to watch the Tigers play the Cleveland Indians. I remember John buying me a pennant. On this day, I felt close to my grandfather. Just a grandfather and his oldest grandson enjoying their favorite sport. Alas, this would be the first and last time we did anything together.

John and Ann were devout Fundamentalist Baptists. They attended church every time the doors were open. John became an in-your-face soulwinner — a bully for Jesus. No matter where he went, he felt it his duty to witness to people, often embarrassing family and friends. He was also a big proponent of loud prayers before meals at restaurants, letting everyone around us know that we were born-again Christians.

I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in the fall of 1976, as did my future wife, Polly Shope. Midwestern was located in Pontiac, Michigan so this put me in contact with John and Ann. Polly quickly learned, as I had long known, that the Tiekens were domineering and controlling. By the time we started our junior year of college, we had distanced ourselves from them.

I saw John and Ann maybe once a year — Christmas at my mom’s home — from 1979 to 1986. By then, I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio — a fast-growing IFB congregation that eventually reached a high attendance of 206.

John and Ann came to visit the church twice in the eleven years I was there. One Sunday, John thoroughly embarrassed me in front of the entire congregation. The building was packed. This was during the time when the church was growing rapidly. After I preached and gave an invitation, I asked if anyone had something to share. John did. He stood and told the entire congregation what was wrong with my sermon. I wanted to die (and murder him).

The last time John and Ann came to visit was in 1988. We were living in Junction City at the time. After church, we invited them over for dinner. John spent a good bit of time lecturing me about my car being dirty — the beater we used to deliver newspapers. According to John, having a dirty car was a bad testimony.

After dinner — oh, I remember it as if it were yesterday! — we were sitting in the living room and one of our young boys got too close to John. What did he do? He kicked him. I knew then and there that, regardless of his love for Jesus, he didn’t love our family, and he would always be a mean son-of-a-bitch.

From this time forward, we had little to no contact with the Tiekens. Sometime in the late 1990s — I was pastoring Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, at the time — Ann called me a few days before John’s seventy-fifth birthday and said she was having a party for him and expected our family to be there. When I explained that we couldn’t attend (it was on a church night and Polly had to work), Ann launched into a vitriolic tirade, telling me what a terrible grandson I was. Vicious and vindictive as always, Ann told me I had a terrible family.

Finally, after forty years, I had had enough. I told her that should have worried about the importance of family twenty years ago. I then told her that I was no longer interested in having any contact with them. And with that, I hung up the phone. I had finally learned to cut these toxic people out of my life — almost.

A few years later, I heard through the family grapevine that John was dying from colon cancer. I traveled three hours to Pontiac to visit him. Why? I don’t know. When I entered his hospital room, Ann wasn’t there — a small favor from God, I thought at the time. John was sedated and unable to communicate. I stood there for a few moments, with tears trickling down my face (as they are now). And then I walked away. He died a short time later. I did not attend his funeral. I knew it would be a masturbatory celebration of John, the Fundamentalist Baptist soulwinner. I had no appetite for yet another lie.

I never expected to see Ann again. When I said I wanted nothing to do with John and Ann, I meant it. They had caused so much pain in my life. I had no interest in my children knowing anything about them (and they don’t). In 2003, I began pastoring Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan — a Southern Baptist congregation. Unbeknownst to me, Ann had remarried and moved to Clare. She lived five minutes from our home in White Birch — a gated community outside of Farwell. What are the odds, right? Was God punishing me?

Ann attended a nearby Southern Baptist church. One Sunday, I looked out the church door while I was preaching and saw Ann sitting in the parking lot with her husband and David’s son. (David was murdered in Detriot in 1981, at the age of twenty-six.) After the service, I briefly talked to her. The next Sunday, Ann visited Victory Baptist, and after the service invited us over to dinner later in the week. I didn’t want to go, but I thought, what kind of Christian am I? Surely, I can forgive her and let the past be the past.

And so we went. Things went fairly well until Ann decided to let me know — as if it was a fact that everyone knew — that my dad was not really my father. I showed no reaction to this revelation, but it stunned me and cut me right to the quick. I knew my Mom was eighteen and pregnant when she married Dad, but I had never before heard what Ann was telling me. Why did she tell me this? What good could ever come of it? Two years ago, I took a DNA test, confirming that my father was actually a truck driver from Chicago. So Ann was right. But the fact remains that this was not hers to tell; that she did so to hurt me. I never saw Ann again. Last I heard, her husband died and she was in a nursing home.

Members at Victory Baptist were excited to find out that I was the oldest grandson of Gramma Clarke (her new married name) — a fine, kind, loving Christian woman if there ever was one, they told me. All I ever told them is that things are not always as they seem.

Years later, Ann did a Facebook search on my name and “found” me. She sent me a message that said:

What ? An athiest ?? Sorry Sorry Sorry !!!What happened ? How’s Polly & your family??

Nine years, and this is what she sent me. I sat down and wrote her a letter. You can read it here.

I wrote:

I don’t wish you any ill will. That said, I don’t want to have a relationship with you, especially a pretend Facebook friendship. Ooh Look! Bruce got reconnected with his estranged Grandmother. Isn’t God good!!

Not gonna happen. I have exactly zero interest in pursuing a relationship with you. It is too late.

My “good” memories of you and Grandpa are few and far between (and I haven’t even mentioned things that I am still, to this day, too embarrassed to mention). You really don’t know me and I don’t know you. And that’s okay.

Life is messy, Ann, and this is one mess in aisle three that no one can clean up. I have been told that I have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. This is perhaps a true assessment of me. I told Polly tonight that I am quite willing to forgive but it is hard to do when there is never an admission of guilt or the words I am sorry are never uttered. How can there be since the blood of Jesus wipes away every shitty thing a person has ever done? Talk about a get out of responsibility for sin card.

I am sure you will think I am just like my mother. I am.

You know what my last memory of my Mom is? After I tearfully and with a broken heart concluded my 54-year-old Mom’s graveside service, Grandpa Tieken took the “opportunity” to preach at us and tell us that Mom was in Heaven. Just days before she had put a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger. We all were reeling with grief and pain and Grandpa, in a classic Grandma-and-Grandpa-Tieken moment, decided to preach instead of love.

A comment by Amy B actually provoked me — in a good way — to write this post tonight:

I’m astonished (and impressed) that you feel no bitterness towards your grandfather. I hate his guts, and I never met the man!

I certainly have plenty of reasons to be bitter towards John and Ann (I refuse to call them Grandpa and Grandma). Not wanting to write a tome, this post is just a summary of the heartache and harm caused by John and Ann. I am sure some Christians might think that my unwillingness to forgive them is a sign of bitterness. That’s the problem with Christianity and its demands that we forgive people no matter what they do to us, Fake, syrupy “love” demands they “forgive” regardless of the pain and trauma caused by others.

I reject this kind of thinking. I don’t owe anyone forgiveness, though I have asked for forgiveness and forgiven others countless times. In the name of God and in accordance with the teachings of the Bible, John and Ann showed nothing but contempt for me, my mother, and my younger siblings. We never measured up. They used money and gifts to manipulate us, demanding that we conform to their exacting Biblical standard. Imagine my surprise years later when I learned that Ann was a Valium addict. Even she couldn’t measure up.

John and Ann were big fans of Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles seminars. Year after year, John would badger me about attending the Detroit seminar, saying he would pay for it. I always said no, thinking that I could see no discernable difference IBLP made in their lives, so why should I bother?

I am now sixty-five years old. What am I to make of the terrible wound John and Ann left on my life? Some family members, mainly my uncle Dave’s family and my mom’s younger brother, Steve, view John and Ann differently from the way in which I do. Were their experiences so much different from mine? I don’t know. It seems more likely to me that Evangelical Christianity, with its dysfunctional teachings about love and forgiveness, keeps them from honestly giving an account of their experiences with John and Ann Tieken. The blood of Jesus continues to cover up trauma that caused untold heartache and harm.

I don’t blame them for doing so, but that’s not the approach I take. Instead, I value responsibility, accountability, repentance, and restitution. John and Ann wanted forgiveness without these things, and I am not going to give it to them. That I write about my life with John and Ann Tieken infuriates some people in my extended family. They want me to leave the deep, dark secrets of the past buried in the sea of God’s forgetfulness. How do we learn to do differently if we don’t tell our stories? I want my children to better understand me as a man. What better way to do that than tell my story — painful warts, and all? I want my grandchildren to know me as I am, not as a caricature or a facade. These experiences have made me into the man I am today. When people confide in me, speaking of the trauma they experienced in their lives, I understand. I am a deeply marred and wounded man, but I survived. That’s the key. I SURVIVED! I wish Mom were alive today so we could toast our survival together. Instead, the most important person in my life, save Polly, is dead, having killed herself at age 54. When I think of John and Ann Tieken, I can’t help but lay much of the blame for her suicide at their feet. They could have loved Barbara and her children, but they chose not to (or loved them in a warped Evangelical way). They could have helped by giving of their time and money, as Jesus would have done. Instead, they judged and berated us for not measuring up, withholding material help because we weren’t doing things the right way. Mom’s life was a mess. John and Ann could have lent a hand, loving her as they were commanded to do so in the Bible. Instead, they micro-judged every part of her life, raining judgment on her head, and when I got older they did the same with me, my wife, and our children. Is it any wonder that I wanted nothing to do with them; that when John died I felt nothing; that when I hear of Ann’s demise, I will likely feel the same? Whatever feelings I might have had for John and Ann Tieken died two decades ago. They are little more than a chapter in my autobiography now — that is except for the ugly marks they left on my life. These deep wounds will never go away. All I know to do is keep telling my story, and when I feel John and Ann closing in, call my therapist and say, let’s talk.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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: Carolyn

bruce gerencser eighth grade
Summer of my eighth-grade year, with my mom and a friend (that’s a Rambler in the background)

I was a young child in the 1960s when I first realized my mother was different; that her wild mood swings were not “normal.” By the late 1960s, I knew Mom was mentally ill. Mom was a wonderful person: bright, witty, and passionate. She was also “crazy.” Her irrational fits of rage were legendary, as were her long bouts of deep, dark depression. By the time I reached fifth grade, mom had tried to kill herself thrice in one year. The first time, she swallowed a bunch of pills and had to be rushed to the hospital in Lima to have her stomach pumped. The next time, she pulled the car she driving into the path of a truck. The older woman who lived next door to us was with her, Fortunately, both of them survived. The third time, Mom slit her wrists. Imagine being an eleven-year-old boy and coming home to find your mom lying on the floor in a pool of blood. No matter how much I try, I cannot push that memory out of my mind. Mom survived, but she would try again and again before finally succeeding. She was fifty-four.

Mom sought help for her sickness. Her father, who sexually molested her as a child, recommended that she see a “Christian” psychiatrist in Lima. He was a sexual predator. Dr. Milke was his name, I believe. Mom would go to her scheduled appointment at Milke’s office. While there, he would give her “injections” that were meant to “help” her. Instead, Mom became addicted to the narcotics in the injections. While impaired, Milke would sexually assault her. He later lost his license to practice medicine.

Mom had two lengthy stays at the Toledo State Mental Hospital. She received electroshock therapy (now called Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)) treatments while there. I remember visiting her several times. She bore no resemblance to my mother. She was docile and zombie-like. Imagine trying to process as a twelve-year-old boy what has happened to your mother. Back then, children were expected to be seen and not heard. Dad never said one word to me about Mom’s sickness, leaving it to me to figure out what was going on. I grew up quickly.

During one of her confinements at the hospital, Mom met a woman named Carolyn. They quickly became good friends. After both of them were released, they stayed in touch. On occasion, Mom would drive to Toledo and visit Carolyn. I had the opportunity to meet her. They also wrote one another and sent each other cards for their birthdays and special occasions.

One spring, shortly before Easter, Mom received a beautiful card from Carolyn. In the card, Carolyn thanked Mom for befriending her. She also told Mom that life was too much for her, that she was done. Carolyn finished by saying, “Barbara, by the time you receive this, I will be dead.” This card was Carolyn’s suicide note. And sure enough, Carolyn put a shotgun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.

In 1992, Mom would take a Ruger .357 revolver, point it towards her heart, and pull the trigger. In a few moments, she was dead. In Mom’s meager belongings, I found Carolyn’s card. I kept it for a number of years. I even used it as a sermon illustration, but only once. I felt dirty afterward. I had violated the relationship Mom had with Carolyn, turning Carolyn’s death into a prop. The things preachers will do to make a “point.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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My Interview with Jonathan Pearce, A Tippling Philosopher

podcast

Earlier this week, I was delighted to do a live interview with Jonathan Pearce, A Tippling Philosopher. We had a wide-ranging two-hour discussion. If you were unable to watch it live, please watch our discussion on YouTube.

Video Link

Let me know what you think. If you are so inclined, please click LIKE on YouTube and leave a comment. Your support is greatly appreciated.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Does the IFB Church Movement Promote Ritual Child Abuse?

dennis the menance being spanked

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a collection of loosely affiliated independent churches. (See Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps.) There are thousands of such churches in the United States and many foreign countries. What exactly is an IFB church? you ask. While IFB churches and pastors have varied peripheral beliefs, foundationally IFB churches, colleges, evangelists, missionaries, and pastors believe:

I stands for Independent

The local, visible church is an independent body of believers who are not associated or affiliated with any denomination. The pastor answers only to God, and to a lesser degree, the church. The church answers to no one but God. Most IFB churches oppose any form of government involvement or intrusion into its affairs (though, in recent years, thanks to their support of the culture war, some IFB preachers no longer believe in a strict separation of church and state). While some IFB churches have deacon boards or elders, almost all of them have a congregational form of government.

F stands for Fundamentalist (or Fundamental)

The independent church is fundamentalist in its doctrine and practice. IFB churches are social and theological fundamentalists. (See Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Fundamentalists adhere to an external code of social conduct. (See An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rule Book.) Often this code of conduct is called “church standards.” The Bible — or should I say the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible — is the rule by which church members are expected to live. IFB churches spend a significant amount of time preaching and teaching about how God and his spokesman, the pastor, expect people to live.

IFB churches are also theological fundamentalists. They adhere to a certain and specific theological standard, a standard by which all other Christians and denominations are judged. Every IFB pastor and church believe things such as:

  • The inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible
  • The sinfulness, depravity of man
  • The deity of Christ
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • The blood atonement of Christ for man’s sin
  • The resurrection of Christ from the dead
  • The second coming of Christ
  • Separation from the world
  • Salvation from sin by and through Christ alone
  • Personal responsibility to share the gospel with sinners
  • Heaven and hell as literal places
  • Hierarchical authority (God, Jesus, church, pastor, husband, wife)
  • Autonomy and independence of the local church

I am sure there are other doctrines that could be added to this list, but the list above is a concise statement of ALL things an IFB church and pastor must believe to be considered an IFB church.

B stands for Baptist

IFB churches are Baptist churches adhering to the ecclesiology and theology mentioned above. Some IFB churches are Landmark Baptists or Baptist Briders. They believe the Baptist church is the true Christian church and all other churches are false churches. John the Baptist baptized Jesus, which made him a Baptist, and the first churches established by the Baptist apostles were Baptist churches. Churches like this go to great lengths to prove their Baptist lineage dates all the way back to John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles. (See The Trail of Blood by J.M. Carroll)

Other IFB churches and pastors believe that Baptist ecclesiology and theology are what the Bible clearly teaches. They grudgingly admit that other denominations “might” be Christian too, but they are quick to say why be a part of a bastardized form of Christianity when you can have the real deal?

What binds IFB churches together is their literalistic interpretation of the Protestant Bible, a book they believe is inspired, infallible, and inerrant. Thus, when it comes to training and raising children, IFB Christians look not to the “world,” but to the Bible. They are fond of saying, God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me! IFB pastors have a commitment to literalism and inerrancy that forces them to defend anything and everything the Bible says. In their minds, the Bible is God speaking to man. While humans wrote the Bible, they did so under the direction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It was human hands that wrote the words, but it was God who determined what those words would be. Thus, whatever the Bible says about marriage, children, and discipline is viewed as a direct order from God. There is one way and one way only to raise and train children, and that is God’s way. Want to see what happens when people ignore God’s instructions? Just look at the “world,” preachers say. Look at how the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world raise their childrenWant to keep your children on the straight and narrow? Want them to grow up fearing God and keeping his commandments? Practice and obey whatever the Bible says about training children!

So when I ask the question, Does the IFB Church Movement Promote Ritual Child Abuse? the short answer is yes. Their theological beliefs and interpretive practices demand parents ritually abuse their children. The Bible says:

  • He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. (Proverbs 13:24)
  • Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. (Proverbs 23:13,14)
  • Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)
  • The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. (Proverbs 29:15)
  • Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul. (Proverbs 29:17)
  • Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. (Proverbs 19:18)
  • And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
  • My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. (Proverbs 3:11,12)
  • A fool despiseth his father’s instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent. (Proverbs 15:5)
  • A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. (Proverbs 26:3)
  • The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly. (Proverbs 20:30)
  • If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
  • Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. (Ephesians 6:1-3)
  • Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. (Colossians 3:20)

It is clear from these verses, and others, that God commands parents to beat their children if they are rebellious or disobedient. To say otherwise is to disagree with God.

spanking with belt

In the IFB church movement — which is complementarian and patriarchal — children are expected to obey their parents at all times. Why? So they “may live long on the earth” and be “well pleasing unto the Lord.” IFB parents genuinely love their children. This is why many parents either send their children to private Christian schools or homeschool them. They take their parental responsibilities seriously. Not only do they want their children to be saved, but they also want them to grow up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” — serving the Christian God all the days of their lives. IFB parents believe God made the following promise to them: Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6) The question, then, is what methods should be used by parents to ensure that their children will be Christians all the days of their lives? The aforementioned Bible verses tell them all they need to know about how to reach this goal.

IFB parents believe that their children are born sinners, little hellions who are at variance with God. According to the Bible, children, by nature, are rebellious. 1 Samuel 15:23a says, For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. The goal, then, is to drive rebellion and stubbornness from the hearts of their children. God says that the way to do this is with the rod of correction. Not time outs; not grounding; not taking their toys away; not any of the other unbiblical disciplinary methods used by the “world.” God commands parents to beat their children with a rod. No, I won’t use the word spank. When a parent picks up a dowel rod, belt, toilet fill tube, brush, paddle, switch, electric cord, or, as the Gerencser children “fondly” remember, John R. Rice’s book, Home: Courtship, Marriage and Children: A Bible Manual of 22 Chapters on the Christian Home, and hits his child with it, it’s a beating, not a spanking. The goal of such physical violence is to drive rebellion and disobedience from the heart of the child.

Many IFB parents begin beating their children while they are still infants. Psalm 58:3 says, The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Infants are at odds with God from birth. They are liars. Just because they cry doesn’t mean they need tending to. If they are fed and dry, then their cries are viewed as the infant’s way of demanding his or her own way. What should a godly parent do? Beat their child into submission — just as God does with rebellious Christian adults. The goal is to break the child’s will. A willful child will not obey his parents or God, so it is crucial that parents thrash their children every time they rebel against the commands of God or disobey their parents.

These practices are, without a doubt, child abuse. Let me give you a recent example of this that was posted on Lori Alexander’s private discussion group — a haven for practitioners of ritual child abuse.

ritual child abuse
ritual child abuse 2

Of course, IFB parents don’t see themselves as child abusers. How can it be abusive to follow the teachings of the Bible? they ask. Pastors will point not only to the Bible as justification for ritual child abuse, but they will also point to history, saying that back in the good old days when America was great, parents weren’t afraid to beat their children. These preachers point to the decline of Western Civilization and say that one of the reasons for the decline is a lack of rigorous, through discipline of children.

I am sixty-five years old. I came of age in the IFB church. My parents, thankfully, did not beat me very often, but I knew countless children who were methodically beaten by their parents virtually every time they disobeyed their parents or failed to measure up to a certain standard. One dear friend of mine — a pastor’s son — was mercilessly whipped by his father if his grades weren’t up to expectations. I witnessed one of these beatings (my friend was in eighth grade at the time). It was violently brutal, yet the punisher believed he was doing what was best for his son. My friend’s grades, by the way, never improved.

I am sure someone is going to ask if I beat my own children and if I considered this discipline to be child abuse. Yep, the violent beatings my three oldest sons received were, in every way, without exception, ritual child abuse. I have apologized to them numerous times for how I disciplined them. They know, of course, that I did so because I thought that’s what God and the Bible required of me. They also know that I beat them out of some warped sense of “love.” The good news is that my three younger children were spared the rod. I came to see, while they were still young, that beating them, regardless of the reason, was child abuse. Unfortunately, I must bear the burden of my actions, not only as a parent, but as a pastor. I taught countless church members that it was their solemn duty to use the rod of correction on the back sides of their rebellious children. All I can do, at this point, is honestly write about my past life, including how I ritually abused my three older boys.

Were you raised in an IFB family? How were you disciplined? What did your pastor and church teach about training children?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Cowboy Bob Sorensen Says I am Dishonest and an Angry Bigot, All Because I Quoted Him

atheists are idiots

Cowboy Bob Sorensen is An Evangelical Christian who despises atheists; not just atheism, but atheists themselves. Two weeks ago, I featured Cowboy Bob in the Christians Say the Darnedest Things Series. This series quotes Evangelicals without any commentary from me. Welp, Cowboy Bob took offense at me quoting him.

Here’s what he had to say:

My previous article on this weblog was a retooled post from Fakebook that examined alleged logic and morality from certain misotheists. It prompted reactions. One was built on complete dishonesty, including putting words in my mouth. I saw that he was just another angry bigot who was justifying his rebellion against Almighty God, and not worth my time. (I reckon he sent about ten visits here with his link.) If you go there, note that he doesn’t exactly enforce the comments policy for his sycophants.

A second reaction was written by an acolyte of the first writer. His comments on this weblog were the same old boilerplate rhetoric. When I stopped responding and allowing his disingenuous comments, he wrote his own post.

Cowboy Bob thinks I was dishonest. In what way? All I did was quote him. Don’t like being quoted? Stop saying inflammatory, hateful shit. I’ve been reading Cowboy Bob’s blog for several years. His hatred for atheists is legendary.

Cowboy Bob also thinks by me quoting him that I’m “justifying” my rebellion towards his peculiar version of the Christian God. This one is a head scratcher for me. Maybe, he means my blog as a whole. Regardless, I am just one man with a story to tell. I’m not in the justifying business. That’s Cowboy Bob’s schtick — justifying the Bible and its abhorrent teachings. Jesus, Cowboy Bob, you are a member of a blood cult. You are the one that has a lot of justifying to do.

Cowboy Bob also took issue with something my friend Ben Berwick wrote in a post titled The Creation Cowboy. (I didn’t even know Ben wrote this post until today.) I’ll leave it to Ben to defend himself. Calling Ben an acolyte of mine is hilarious. Ben’s not even an atheist. We became acquainted though being targets of fake Dr. David Tee, whose real name is Derrick Thomas Thiessen. That’s it. That we’ve become friends is awesome. But acolyte? Child, please. I don’t have followers. I have readers, some of whom are friends and acquaintances. Cowboy Bob is the one who belongs to a cult. He and Thiessen should get together. Both are rabid Bible-thumping creationists.

For the record, here’s the comment Cowboy Bob left on Ben’s post. You be the judge of his character. I know what I think. 🙂

To show the brilliance of The Mighty Atheist™, you begin with an ad hominem, using cowboy as a pejorative. This is followed by a hasty generalization about my knowledge of atheists based on just onearticle. I’ve got some bad news for you, Sunshine, I’ve been writing about atheists, theology, and other things for somewhere around fifteen years. That means I won’t fall for tricks. So, have fun with your argument from silence and other logical fallacies in your vindictive, petty post. Mayhaps when your frontal lobes develop and you can have a rational discussion, I’ll let you comment on my posts again, mmmkay?

Evidently, Cowboy Bob didn’t like the comments readers left on my post. I went back and read the comments. I didn’t see anything that violated the comment policy. Are regular readers and commenters given greater latitude, comment-wise? Yep. Everyone can have a bad day. However, Evangelicals often come in commenting with both barrels blazing. I make no apologies for cutting such people off after one or two comments. My house, my rules. Don’t like it, start your own blog.

Finally, Cowboy Bob thinks it is beneath him to respond to me; not that there’s anything for him to respond to since all I did was quote him. He implies, based on referrals from this site, that no one reads this blog. He fails to consider that my quote was sufficient to fairly represent him, so there’s no reason for readers to click the link to his site. I am certain, based on the server logs, that a wee bit more than ten people read Cowboy Bob’s quote. 🙂

Cowboy Bob’s goal is to discredit and demean. I’m confident that fair minded readers will see right through his subterfuge — all ten of you anyway. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Evangelical-Turned-Atheist Bruce Gerencser Responds to a God-Fearing, Bible-Believing Christian From Michigan

peanut gallery

Earlier today, an Evangelical Christian named Richard left the following comment on the post titled Is it Possible to Reform the IFB Church Movement? Richard’s words are emboldened. All spelling and grammar are in the original.

Bruce, as a God fearing bible believing Christian in Michigan in the same areas you left… I want to thank you for your honesty and for being instructional to me.

Richard wants me and the readers of this blog to know that he is a God-fearing, Bible-believing Christian who lives near Pontiac, Michigan. Based on the buzz words he used, I think it is safe for me to conclude that he is a Fundamentalist.

You are an unabashed Apostate that has embraced his decision. I had left the Church and on was on the path of becoming an apostate myself when God intervened. One thing that always bothered me since then is WHY I was on the path of becoming an Apostate, and also how someone as yourself could become an apostate. You were an Enigma that contradicted my IFB upbringings of “Once Saved always saved”. It was the Bible and God’s word that showed me my error (or incomplete understanding)… 1John 2:19. and also Tares and Wheat describes your condition.

Richard recognizes that I am an unabashed apostate. Of course, I wear many other labels: agnostic atheist, humanist, socialist, pacifist, liberal, progressive, and circumcised Gentile. Richard, however, wants to focus on my apostasy; my denial of central claims of Christianity.

At one time, Richard considered people such as myself to be enigmas, people who didn’t fit in his narrow, defined theological box. However, God has since shown him the light, and now he’s arrived on this blog to set me straight.

Richard believes that I John 2:19 describes my life:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

The Message puts it this way:

They left us, but they were never really with us. If they had been, they would have stuck it out with us, loyal to the end. In leaving, they showed their true colors, showed they never did belong.

Wow, no Christian has never, never told me this before! OMG, I never was a Christian. Sigh. (Please see Why I Use the Word “Sigh.”) I have no idea how much of my writing Richard has read, but whatever he has read, he has concluded from it that I was never a Christian. Nothing in my story suggests that Richard is right, but why let facts get in the way of a strawman?

Your are (now) no more a mystery to me than is Judas who worked Directly with Jesus. If Judas could be an apostate, certainly someone as yourself who was fed a tainted perspective of Christianity from a dysfunctional family and controlling hypocritical “religious” leaders is possible! But both cases are the same… “They were never with us”.

Notice how Richard frames my life: I was fed a “tainted perspective of Christianity from a dysfunctional family and controlling, hypocritical religious leaders.” Richard provides no evidence for his claims. Using a nit comb, he found a few lice in my story and concluded that I am no different from Judas who betrayed Jesus. Instead of taking the time to comprehensively read my writing and interact with me personally, Richard has judged my life and found it wanting. Nothing I can say at this point will change his mind, so I won’t try, except to say, Richard, go fuck yourself.

You don’t offend me, you only prove God’s word to me to be true. You offer comfort to fellow apostates, but you also offer validation of God’s word to true believers, even if that is not your intent.

I am glad I can be of help. You also provide validation to me and the readers of this blog; that you are a judgmental asshole.

You might not know this, Richard, but many of my readers are Christians. Not your brand of Christian, but Christians nonetheless. I suppose you will consign them to the Lake of Fire too.

Bruce, consider this… If I am wrong and self deluded and you are right, I suffer no damage after I die. If I am self deceived, I still count the Peace I attribute to Jesus and Gods Grace as doing far more good in my life than what I was without it and pass onto oblivion in ignorant bliss. But If the Bible is right, if God is real, it is not the same for you. You will hear those terrible words.. “depart from me, I never knew. you” as you pass on into eternity in outer darkness where the only question left is, will you be a wailer or a gnasher…

Richard attempts to use Pascal’s Wager and miserably fails. Evidently, he wants me to pretend to be a Christian; to fake it until I make it. Richard provides no evidence for his claims, yet he just expects me to believe. Fine, I believe. Praise Jesus, I’m headed for Heaven when I die. Boy, that was easy.

Richard presupposes that his peculiar brand of Christianity is true; that it will be his God that will be on the throne of Heaven when he arrives someday. What if he is wrong? What if he gets to Heaven and finds Allah on the throne or Buddha? Better yet, what if he arrives in Heaven and finds out that atheism was the one true religion; believing in Jesus sends a person straight to Hell (also called Mar-a-Lago)?

As is common with Fundamentalists, Richard lacks curiosity. (Please see Curiosity, A Missing Evangelical Trait.) He fails to consider his own atheism or the fact that his being wrong could have real-world consequences. Richard thinks that living according to his interpretations of the Bible is preferable, even if God doesn’t exist. This is patently untrue. The Bible is inherently anti-human. Richard Dawkins was right when he described the Old Testament God this way:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

This is the God Richard wants me to worship.

The New Testament God is no better. One need only ponder God offering his son as a blood sacrifice for the behavior of others and the violence he will rain down upon the earth as recorded in the book of Revelation to see that this God is unworthy of worship too.

Richard, if you are reading this, you worship an evil God. Even if he was real, and he’s not, I wouldn’t worship him.

That brings me no Joy I don’t want that for you. I believe you were made in God’s image and loved by God so much that he Died for you before you denied him. I don’t want you to end up separated from God for eternity, but it’s not up to me. You can equally find both high profile apologetics that have made arguments defending the bible and also die hard Apostates breaking apart the bible to fit their narrative… But God is the ultimate author of our (your) faith.

And I know every argument. There’s nothing new under the sun, and that includes apologetical arguments. If Richard has read my writing, he knows that I reject the central claims of Christianity. I have weighed them in the balance and found them wanting. If zealots such as Richard want to win me back to Jesus, they are going to have to come up with better evidence and arguments. Until then, I cannot and will not believe. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.)

Richard says that God is the author of faith; that if I ever receive saving faith, it will come from God. Fine. Why, then, did Richard bother to comment on this site? Why did he bother to judge my life? Surely, God knows where I live. He knows my email address and cellphone number. God can give me faith any time he wants. It’s up to him, so I’m waiting. I won’t, however, hold my breath.

Bruce, I love you and I don’t want you to die in your sin.

No, you don’t love me. You don’t even know me. Stop with the syrupy, cheap Evangelical “love.” My love is reserved for my wife, my children, their spouses, my grandchildren, my friends, and the Cincinnati Reds and Cincinnati Bengals. I love good food, traveling, and writing. I even love many of the people who frequent this blog, including my editor. But you, Richard? I don’t know you. I know nothing about you. You may be a lovable person, but based on your comment above, you are not someone I am interested in loving. Instead, I pity you. You live in a closed-off world, a world walled off from all the wonderful atheists, humanists, pagans, Buddhists, Muslims, Unitarians, liberal Christians, and LGBTQ people, to name a few, in the world. All you see is up or down, in or out, saved or lost, Heaven or Hell. My world is much broader than that; a wild, woolly, wonderful — and yes, dangerous — world.

Let me give you a piece of advice, Richard; advice I have given to thousands and thousands of people over the years:

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.

Be well, Richard.

Saved by Reason,

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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IFB Pastor John MacFarlane Says Non-Christians Manufacture Hope and Good Feelings — True Christians Don’t

hopeless without jesus

John MacFarlane is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — a church I attended in the 1960s and 1970s when Johnny was a little boy running around the church. First Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. I have written about MacFarlane in the past:

Sadly, MacFarlane is a gift that keeps on giving. So deeply immersed in Baptist Fundamentalism and right-wing politics, the good pastor cannot comprehend, understand, or appreciate any other worldview or viewpoint but his own. So much so, that he doesn’t even try. Operating from a simplistic worldview — the Bible is TRUTH and Jesus is the answer to every problem — MacFarlane shows contempt for any other view but his own. As I have stated before, Fundamentalism breeds certainty, and certainty breeds arrogance. And MacFarlane is certainly that.

On August 30, 2022, MacFarlane wrote a post titled Grief Galore. What follows is an excerpt from McFarlane’s post (which is emboldened) and my lengthy response.

I wish that I could say that her [Angie Cartwright] life was changed by Jesus. However, nothing in her biographical story talks about anything remotely spiritual. Instead, she found others on social media her were hurting and she used her grief to start support groups that would help others through their pains and hurts. Getting people to open up and talk about their grief and feelings rather than burying them and covering them up with drugs and alcohol is cathartic.

MacFarlane’s “devotional” posts are formulaic. He takes a story from the “world” and makes a spiritual application. For this post, MacFarlane chose Angie Cartwright as his foil. Cartwright is the founder of National Grief Awareness Day, which is celebrated on August 30th each year. Cartwright suffered untold trauma in her life, including the suicide of her drug-addicted, alcoholic mom. MacFarlane goes to great lengths to catalog the sins of Cartwright and her mom, saying: “I wish that I could say that her life was changed by Jesus.  However, nothing in her biographical story talks about anything remotely spiritual.” In other words, Cartwright is headed for Hell unless she believes in MacFarlane’s peculiar version of God. No matter how much good she does trying to help people who have experienced trauma, all that matters to MacFarlane is whether she mentally assents to a set of theological propositions and prays the IFB-approved sinner’s prayer. This is the world MacFarlane lives in, a world where everything is reduced to Jesus.

It’s evident, at least to me, that MacFarlane sees no value in support groups and talking about trauma. In his mind, Jesus and a few prooftexts are all people need. Imagine going to such a man (who has no professional training in counseling outside of what he was taught at Bible college) when going through difficulties in your life and being told, JESUS! JESUS! JESUS! Let’s pray.

First Baptist congregants have been treated this way long before MacFarlane became pastor. Before him, Jack Bennett pastored the church for fifty years. Jack was married to Creta, sister to two of my uncles, Paul and Ed Daugherty. Creta’s parents, Mom and Pop Daugherty started the church in the 1950s. As a teen and young adult, I attempted to talk to Jack about things that were going on in my life. His response to me was the same as MacFarlane. Jack made no effort to help me. Worse, when I was trying to determine what Bible college to attend, I went to Jack for advice. He refused to give me any, leaving me with the impression that he didn’t think I was preacher material. Every summer I would come home from Midwestern Baptist College to my mom’s home. While there, I typically worked two jobs. I faithfully attended church and weekly tithed. Other young preachers who came home for the summer were given opportunities to preach. Not me. It became clear to me that I wasn’t wanted; that I was being judged for who my mother was.

It was during my time at First Baptist that my uncle raped my mother; the same uncle whom, decades later, MacFarlane would preach into Heaven. Jack knew the trauma I had experienced in my life: my mother’s repeated suicides, constant moves, and horrific dysfunction. Yet, I faithfully showed up for church Sunday after Sunday. I loved Jesus and the Word of God. Jack could have offered me a helping hand, but he did nothing. The only people in the church who genuinely tried to help me were Marv and Louise Hartman. And even then, after Louise got wind of my deconversion in 2008, she sent me a scathing letter, saying I was under the influence of Satan. Her words deeply wounded me. Our four-decade friendship did not survive.

MacFarlane, who has never experienced life outside of the narrow confines of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christianity, evidently has no idea why Cartwright — if she indeed does — doesn’t believe in God. He’s seemingly unaware of the various arguments against the existence of God. I was asked yesterday to list the primary reasons I don’t believe in God. I replied: the problem of evil, the problem of suffering, and the hiddenness of God. People who have experienced trauma in their lives will often say that these things (and others) are reasons why they don’t believe in the existence of the Christian deity. MacFarlane pays no mind to these powerful arguments against the existence of God. Just “believe” and all will be well.

Many of the people I knew back in my First Baptist days are dead and gone or have moved away. That said, I do know a few people that currently attend the church. I can confidently say that MacFarlane’s “all you need is Jesus” prescription has miserably failed. The lives of the people he pastors (and perhaps his own) are just as messy as those of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the World.

I am glad that people have others to talk to when they are hurting. Friendship goes a long way in helping us find stability in rocky times. But, how much better would it be if a person was able to go to JESUS, their Lord and Savior, and cry out to Him in their time of need?

….

Saved and lost alike experience grief, whether it be by death from natural causes or terrible tragedy. The difference is that the lost have to emotionally manufacture hope and good feelings. Their grief is placated through talking, counseling, medications, addictions, and a host of other things.

While MacFarlane grudgingly admits talking to a “friend” can be helpful, he asserts it would be much better if everyone cried out to Jesus in their time of need. MacFarlane, of course, mentions nothing about seeking help from competent secular counselors. He doesn’t believe in such things. JESUS is the answer to every question, the solution to every problem.

Following MacFarlane’s dangerous, harmful advice, people cry out to Jesus, pleading and begging for help. And when Jesus does what he always does — nothing — then what? Pray harder? Read more Bible verses?

MacFarlane says that non-Christians “emotionally manufacture hope and good feelings; that they placate their grief through talking, counseling, medications, addictions, and a host of other things.” In what way are Christians any different? Don’t they use religious beliefs and practices to manufacture hope and good feelings? In 1843, Karl Marx wrote:

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Isn’t this exactly what religion provides for people, including MacFarlane and the members of First Baptist Church? I subscribe to a utilitarian view of religion; that as long as people find value in beliefs, rituals, and practices, they will continue to worship their chosen deity. Once the cost outweighs the benefits, people will abandon religion and seek other beliefs that help them get through the grind of human existence.

Christians, including Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, are no different from the people they consign to the flames of Hell. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I counseled countless church members and people who didn’t attend one of the churches I pastored. Murder. Manslaughter. Incest. Sexual assault. Embezzlement. Theft. Domestic Violence. Child Abuse. Adultery, Fornication. Child Molestation. You name it, I heard it all. These people were good Christians; people who loved the Lord their God; people who faithfully attended church; people who tithed and gave offerings; people who daily read the Bible and prayed; people who tried to live according to the teachings of the Bible (as interpreted by their preacher). Yet, they had dark secrets, criminal secrets. And don’t get me started about preachers and their secrets or my own, for that matter. (Don’t read too much into that. I have been very open about my past, but I do withhold a few things that would be embarrassing to me and wife. None of us is an open book.) If Jesus is a cure-all, the end-all, the sum of everything, why are Christians so “sinful”?

People all around us are hurting and in pain. This is grief AWARENESS day. We need to be aware of the masses of people hurting and take them the comfort that Jesus offers.

It is true that people all around us are hurting and in pain — the “masses,” MacFarlane calls them. Instead of taking to them the “comfort that Jesus offers,” how about trying to offer real, tangible help? First Baptist is a well-to-do church with a couple hundred members. The church has the means to provide help to the “least of these.” They have the means to help the sick, lonely, crippled, hungry, hurting, and homeless. What do they do? Nothing. All they offer are empty religious platitudes. Believe! Pray! Trust! Rinse, wash, repeat. The church has no outreach into the community except through programs and ministries that are geared towards making fat sheep fatter. It’s all quite incestuous. And I am not suggesting that MacFarlane and First Baptist are special. They are not. Sadly, few Evangelical churches give a shit about the people Jesus cared about. In their minds, all people need is Jesus. Better to go to Heaven hungry than go to Hell on a full belly.

For any local preacher who is offended by my words, I ask that you provide two things: a list of community-focused ministries funded by your church and a copy of your church’s budget which reveals how much money actually goes towards ministering to the material needs of people outside of the church. I have been making this challenge to Evangelical churches since I started blogging in 2007. As of today, not one pastor responded. Why? Because each knows doing so will reveal how little his church does in the community; that his church is little more than a sheep pen for market-ready sheep.

Yes, people are hurting. Do something besides offering them a Jesus sandwich. People need REAL help. How about being the hands and feet of the Jesus you say you follow?

I am glad that Angie [Cartwright] was able to take her grief and use it to help others. But, more than anything, I hope that she has given her life to Jesus. That’s the source of real, genuine healing to all of our hurts.

MacFarlane compliments Cartwright for using her trauma to help others. I do the same. By telling my story, I give voice to countless other people who have had traumatic experiences in their lives — especially religious trauma. Readers know that I have first-hand experience with trauma. And for those who have corresponded with me privately, they know I listen. No platitudes. No easy, cheap solutions. Life is messy. Sometimes, the messes of our lives look like a hurricane went through them. When in the middle of such messes, the last thing we need is for someone to self-righteously tell us, “you know, if you just prayed to Jesus . . . .”

MacFarlane, one of the keepers of the Book of Life, subtly suggests that Cartwright is not a Christian, and as a result, she’s never experienced “true” healing. If only she had prayed to Jesus all would be well. In what way? What could Jesus have materially and physically done for her?

In a post titled, Dear Jesus, I wrote:

I was told by my pastors, Jesus, that you know and see everything. Just in case you were busy one day and missed what went on or were on vacation, let me share a few stories about what happened while we lived in Lima.

One night, Mom was upstairs, and I heard her screaming. She was having one of her “fits.” I decided to see if there was anything I could do to help her — that’s what the oldest child does. As I walked towards Mom’s bedroom, I saw her grabbing shoes and other things and violently throwing them down the hallway. This was the first time I remember being afraid . . .

One day, I got off the school bus and quickly ran to our home. I always had to be the first one in the door. As I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that Mom was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had slit her wrists. I quickly ran to the next-door neighbor’s house and asked her to help. She summoned an ambulance, and Mom’s life was saved.

Mom would try again, and again to kill herself: slitting her wrists, overdosing on medication, driving in front of a truck. At the age of fifty-four, she succeeded. One Sunday morning, Mom went into the bathroom, pointed a Ruger .357 at her heart, and pulled the trigger. She quickly slumped to the floor and was dead in minutes. Yet, she never stopped believing in you, Jesus. No matter what happened, Mom held on to her tribe’s God.

Halfway through my fifth-grade year, Mom and Dad moved to Farmer, Ohio. I attended Farmer Elementary School for the fifth and sixth grades. One day, I was home from school sick, and Mom’s brother-in-law stopped by. He didn’t know I was in my bedroom. After he left, Mom came to my room crying, saying, “I have been raped. I need you to call the police.” I was twelve. Do you remember this day, Jesus? Where were you? I thought you were all-powerful? Why didn’t you do anything?

From Farmer, we moved to  Deshler, Ohio for my seventh-grade year of school. Then Mom and Dad moved us to Findlay, Ohio. By then, my parent’s marriage was in shambles. Dad never seemed to be home, and Mom continued to have wild, manic mood swings. Shortly before the end of ninth grade, Dad matter-of-factly informed me that they were getting a divorce. “We don’t love each other anymore,” Dad said. And with that, he turned and walked away, leaving me to wallow in my pain. That’s how Dad always treated me. I can’t remember a time when he embraced me or said, “I love you.” I would learn years later that “Dad” was not my biological father. I wonder, Jesus, was this why he kept me at arm’s length emotionally?

After moving to Findlay, Mom and Dad joined Trinity Baptist Church — a fast-growing IFB congregation pastored by Gene Millioni. After Mom and Dad divorced, they stopped attending church. Both of them quickly remarried. Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a baby, and Mom married her first cousin — a recent prison parolee. So much upheaval and turmoil, Jesus. Where were you when all of this was going on? I know, I know, you were there in spirit.

Mom and Dad may have stopped going to church, but I didn’t. By then, I had a lot of friends and started dating, so there was no way I would miss church. Besides, attending church got me away from home, a place where Dad’s new and improved wife made it clear I wasn’t welcome.

….

Jesus, you were my constant companion, my lover, friend, and confidante. I sure loved you, and I believed you loved me too. We were BFFs, right?  Sometimes, I wondered if you really loved me as much as I loved you. Our love affair was virtual in nature. We never met face-to-face, but I believed in my heart of hearts you were the very reason for my existence. When I doubted this, I attributed my doubts to Satan or me not praying hard enough or reading the Bible enough. I never thought for one moment, Jesus, that you might be a figment of my imagination, a lie taught to me by my parents and pastors. I was a true believer. That is, until I wasn’t.

At age fifty, I finally realized, Jesus, that you were a myth, the main character of a 2,000-year-old fictional story. I finally concluded that all those times when I wondered where you were, were in fact, true. I couldn’t find you because you were dead. You had died almost 2,000 years before. The Bible told me about your death, but I really believed that you were resurrected from the dead. I feel so silly now. Dead people don’t come back to life. Your resurrection from the dead was just a campfire story, and I had foolishly believed it. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Everyone I knew believed the same story. All of us believed that the miracles attributed to you, Jesus, really happened; that you were a virgin-born God-man; that you ascended to Heaven to prepare a mansion for us to live in after we die.

It all seems so silly now, Jesus, but I really did believe in you. Fifty years, Jesus. The prime of my life, I gave to you, only to find out that you were a lie. Yet, here I am today, and you are still “with” me. My parents, pastors, and professors did a good job of indoctrinating me. You are very much “real” to me, even though you lie buried somewhere on a Judean hillside. Try as I might, I can’t get you out of my mind. I have come to accept that you will never leave me.

MacFarlane is a product of his environment, so while my words may be harsh, I do genuinely feel sorry for him and the people he pastors. I can’t magically make their suffering, trauma, and grief go away. And neither can MacFarlane. Life is hard, and then we die. All he offers his people are band-aids to put over their gaping, bleeding physical and psychological wounds. Thanks, preacher, church members say, as their wounds continue to drain their life. Isn’t Jesus grand? MacFarlane says, and after quoting the prescribed verses from the King James Bible, he bows his head and says, let’s pray. And with that, Jesus has “helped” the sick, hurting, and dying. With that kind of help available, doctors, psychologists, social workers, and counselors might as well quit their jobs. Aint Jesus “grand,” indeed.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser