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Good Independent Baptist Boys Don’t Dance

christian dancing
Not even this kind of dancing was permitted in the IFB church

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In September 1971, I began my ninth grade year at Central Junior High School in Findlay, Ohio.  At home, my parents argued constantly, and seven months later they divorced. A few months after that, Mom married her first cousin — a recent Texas prison parolee — and Dad married a 19-year-old woman he met at the local dirt race track. She brought a toddler girl into our new “blended” family. 

Needless to say, life at home was anything but love, peace, and harmony. I hated my parents for getting divorced. I hated my Dad for marrying a girl who was only four years older than I.

I stayed away from home as much as I could. Dad was busy with his “new” family, so my siblings and I were left to our own devices. I spent a lot of time at the local YMCA. I didn’t have the money for a membership, so I learned the fine art of sneaking into the Y. The Y became my home away from home.

Dad started G and B Train Shop with Gary Zissler, a fellow deacon at the church. The store mainly sold Lionel, American Flyer, Marx, and HO trains. I worked at the store in the evenings. Dad paid me twenty-five cents an hour, minus the cost of the pop I drank. Since we rarely had pop at home, I became a pop-a-holic while at the train shop. I also spent a lot of money buying comic books at the next-door drug store. I quickly learned how to sort the till to fund my habits.

Our family attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Trinity was a large Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church pastored by Gene Milioni. Ron Johnson was the assistant pastor and Bruce Turner (please see Dear Bruce Turner) was the youth pastor.

After Pastor Milioni married my dad and his second wife, Dad and my siblings stopped going to church. I, however, immersed myself in the church, attending every time the doors were opened.

The church became my family. Most of my close friends attended Trinity, and the church provided me with everything I found lacking in my home life. Even though I am now an atheist, I will forever be grateful for the support and social connection the church provided for me.

In the fall of 1972, my tenth-grade year at Findlay High School, Al Lacy held a revival at Trinity Baptist. One night, I came under great conviction and I went down to the altar, confessed my sins, and asked Jesus to save me. A week later I was baptized, and not too long after that, I publicly confessed before the church that I believed God was calling me into the ministry. I was fifteen.

My life changed dramatically after I got saved. I started carrying my Bible to school, and I regularly witnessed to my non-Christian friends. My non-Christian friends, those I played sports with, thought I had lost my mind, and some of my Christian friends did too.

I have always been an all-in kind of person. I don’t do half-way very well, so when it came to being a Christian, I was 100% committed to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I took seriously what I heard the pastors preach. In my young mind, I saw the pastors as speaking for God. After all, everything they preached about came straight out of the Bible, God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word — KJV-1611.

Trinity was an IFB church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. The pastors preached against rock music, premarital sex, mixed swimming, going to movies, short skirts and pants on women, and long hair on men. Remember, it was the early 1970s, and mini-skirts and maxi-dresses were popular and men wore their hair long. The pastors at Trinity were anti-culture, believing the love and peace generation was destroying America.

Like a good Baptist boy, I tried to follow the rules to the letter. God (or the pastor) said it, I believed it, and that settled it for me. One sin the pastors were against was any kind of dancing. Not just some types of dancing, they were against ALL dancing.

I vividly remember ninth-grade year at Central Jr High. The Phys Ed teacher decided to teach square dancing. I was all for learning to square dance. This would be my only opportunity to touch the cheerleaders. Unfortunately, Pastor Milioni put an end to my carnal desires. He came to school and made a fuss about the square-dancing class. Next thing I know, I am being forced to sit with the fags (talking as we did in the 1970s — I do not use such language today) who refused to take Phys Ed. This was a punishment worse than death. Pastor Milioni would later come to my school to complain about the choir singing Jesus Christ Superstar. I had to quit choir.

Both my junior high and high school held dances, social events that everyone attended — well everyone but this good Baptist boy. I went through a period of time when I was really upset about all the rules and restrictions, so I would stay overnight with non-Christian friends so I could go to the dances with them. I did this numerous times. I don’t know if my parents ever caught on. If they did, they never said a word.

I came through the 1970s with my Baptisthood intact. I never smoked cigarettes, drank, or toked marijuana. I didn’t listen to rock music, I kept my hair cut short, and I successfully made it through high school as a virgin. Not that I didn’t want to have sex — I did — but I was afraid of what might happen if I did, and I didn’t think any of the church girls I dated were “willing.” I found out a few years ago, after talking to some of the girls I went to church with, that they were more “willing” than this naïve Baptist boy thought they were.

The first time I danced was at the wedding of one of my children. This was the first time for my wife too. My daughters-in-law cajoled us into dancing. Oh, what a sight we were. We may have been years away from our Fundamentalist youth, but it was quite evident that we didn’t know the first thing about dancing.

How about you? If you were raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home and attended public school, how did that affect your ability to be a normal student? Please share your experiences 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.

A Moment of Kindness Remembered for a Lifetime

kindness

It’s early spring in Northwest Ohio, the year is 1972.

A fourteen-year-old boy is playing with his Lionel trains in the basement of a rented house on Cherry St. in Findlay, Ohio.  He loves playing with the trains, a love picked up from working at his dad’s hobby store, G&B Trains.

The boy hears footsteps coming down the basement stairs. It’s his dad.

His dad says, I need to talk to you.

This is strange, the boy thought. Dad never talks to me about anything.

Your Mom and I don’t love each other anymore, says the boy’s dad, and we are getting a divorce.

And just like that, whatever shred of family the boy had was destroyed.

It wasn’t long before the divorce was final.

The boy is in ninth grade, and it is graduation time. His parents both want to come to his graduation but the boy says, I am not going to graduation, and that was that.

Tenth grade. High School. All the ninth graders from Central, Donnell, and Glenwood would join the older students at Findlay High School, making the school one of the largest in Ohio.

The boy’s friends would all be there, his school friends, his church friends, and the boys he played baseball and basketball with.

The boy’s dad remarried — a 19-year-old girl. She has a baby. In a few short years, the boy would be dating women the age of his dad’s new wife. She was never more than dad’s new wife to him. The boy had a mother, and he only needed one of those.

Fall turned to Winter, and then one early Spring day the boy’s dad says, we are moving to Arizona.

What? the boy thought. You can’t do this to me. All my friends are here. You promised, no more moving. Two and a half years, the longest the boy ever lived in one place, and now he has to move.

Upset, angry, bitter, and no one seemed to care.

On a Saturday in March, 1973 the auctioneer’s voice rings out, and everything but essentials are sold to strangers who came to gawk at household goods.  And with auction proceeds in hand, the Gerencsers pile into two cars and move to Tucson, Arizona. Later the finance company would track down the boy’s dad and repossess the cars. When the boy became a man, he then understood why he had to move so suddenly and quickly 1,900 miles from his home.

The boy, despite hating his dad for taking him away from his friends, is excited about the prospect of traveling across the country. So many things to see, so many new experiences to be had.

The first thing the boy does is find a new church to attend. Isn’t it amazing, the boy thought, right in our backyard is the Tucson Baptist Temple, a Baptist Bible Fellowship church! Just like the church in Findlay, this must be God working things out, the boy quietly hopes.

The Tucson Baptist Temple is a large church pastored by Louis Johnson, a preacher from Kentucky. The boy joins the church and starts attending youth group. But, try as he might he can’t make friends. It isn’t like his church home in Findlay where the boy had all kinds of friends, and even a few girl church friends. He feels very much alone.

With the move, the boy has to ride a city bus to his new school, Rincon High School. Right away he notices that some of the kids from the youth group attended Rincon, but they pretend they don’t know him. He feels quite alone.

Rincon has what is called open lunch. Every day the boy would go outside and sit on the grass and eat his lunch. One day, a beautiful Asian girl comes near the boy and sits down to eat her lunch. She is warm and friendly, and treats the boy like she has known him for years. And for the next ten weeks, on most days, she eats lunch with the boy from Ohio. Outside of the fat boy everyone made fun of who rode the bus, this would be the only friend the boy would make.

And then came summer, and the boy hopped a Greyhound bus and moved back to Ohio. With the help of his church and friends, the boy is able to go back to his old school, his old church, with his old friends. Life for the next year is grand, just as if he had never left.

Unfortunately, the boy would have to move to his mom’s home at the end of the school year. This move brought great unrest and turmoil to the boy’s life, but that is a story for another day.

The boy is an old man now, and as he watches a musician on a reality show, he sees a girl that brings to his mind a time long ago, when a beautiful young woman took the time to befriend a friendless boy from Ohio. It reminds him that moments of kindness are often remembered for a lifetime.

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.

Dear Family and Friends: Why I Can’t and Won’t Go to Church 

no church

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

To those who call me Bruce, Butch, Dad, or Grandpa:

In November 2008, Polly and I attended church for the last time. Since then, I have walked through the doors of a church three times, once for a baby baptism, and twice for a funeral. All three experiences left me angry and irritated.

The first service was a baby baptism at a local Catholic church. I thought, Bruce, ignore the bullshit, you are there to support your children. I was fine until the priest began exorcising the devil out of my granddaughter. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t. After the service, I made up my mind that I would never again attend such a service. No baptisms, no confirmations, no dedications, no nothing. Nada, zero, zip. All of my children and extended family know this. Polly is free to attend any or none of these services, but I can’t and I won’t.

The last two services were funerals. One was the funeral of my sexual predator uncle. The local Baptist preacher preached my uncle right into heaven. (I wrote about that here: Dear Pastor, Do You Believe in Hell.) The second service was for Polly’s fundamentalist uncle. Nice guy, but the service was all about Jesus, complete with a sermon and call to salvation. Again, I wanted to scream, but I reminded myself that I was there to support our family.

I’ve decided I can suck it up and endure the Jesus talk for the sake of family. I know there are a lot of funerals in our future, that is if the rapture doesn’t take place. I wish it would so there would be no Christians left to bother me. I’ll do my best to support my family in their hour of grief; however, anyone who tries to evangelize me does so at their own risk. I refuse to be bullied by sanctimonious Bible thumpers who think they are salvation dispensing machines.

I’ve decided that I will walk through the door of a church for two events: funerals and weddings. That’s it. I don’t do church, and the sooner family, friends, and local Christian zealots understand this the better. If the event doesn’t say funeral or wedding, I ain’t going. I can’t and I won’t. If this causes someone to be angry, upset, or irritated, there is nothing I can do about it. That’s their problem.

You see, twelve years ago I said to my family, “you are free.” (Please see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.) Be who and what you want to be. Be/stay a Christian, choose another religion or philosophical system, or choose nothing at all. With freedom comes choice. It seems the religious love their choice. They find great benefit, purpose, and meaning, through their particular religion. That’s great. If it makes them happy, then I am happy. But, shouldn’t I be afforded the same freedom and happiness? Why shouldn’t my wife and I have the freedom to NOT participate in church services, rituals, and the like?

Suppose I worship the Cat God Purr. Once a year, all the Purrites get together at my house for a very special service. Part of our ritual is the sacrifice of a female cat. Much like the Israelites in the Bible with their blood sacrifices to Jehovah, we offer up a cat as our sacrifice to Purr. Afterward, we roast the cat and eat it, and in doing so we are taking into our body and soul the blood and body of Cat God Purr.

Now imagine me inviting my Christian family to the service. I let them know when the service is and how important it is to me for them to be there. I also let them know that I would like them to partake of the roasted cat so they too could have inside of them the blood and body of the Cat God Purr. Can you imagine how they would respond?

First, in their eyes Purr is a false God. Second, the cat roasting ritual is barbaric and offensive. While I may invite them to the service, I would certainly understand if they didn’t come. Why? Because my God is not their God and I respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe. 

It seems if people are atheists, they are not afforded the same decency and respect. Did Polly and I become lesser persons, parents, or grandparents the moment we stopped believing? Does our relationship with family and friends hinge on us sitting our ass in a pew for ten minutes or an hour? Frankly, I refuse to let any particular circumstance harm a relationship. If someone asks me to go to a church service or a ritual and I say no and they never ask me again, it’s no big deal. However, once someone knows that I do NOT attend such services and they continue to ask me anyway, this tells me that they do not respect me.

I spent 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years in the ministry. I’ve had enough church to last me ten lifetimes. The best way for the religious and the nonreligious to get along is for both sides to compartmentalize their beliefs. I don’t talk about religion/atheism/humanism with my Christian family and friends unless they ask. If they ask, I will gladly give my opinion or share my viewpoint. I am not going to invite them to hear Sam Harris speak, nor am I going to give them Bart Ehrman’s books. If they ask or want to know, that’s different, but if they don’t then I choose to focus on the other things we have in common and leave religion/atheism in the closet. Christian family and friends need to do the same. If I ask, then by all means tell me. If not, let’s focus on the things we have in common. Life is too short to have conflict over religion.

I subscribe to the when-in-Rome-Do-as-the-Romans-Do rule. When I am at a Christian’s home and they offer up a prayer to their deity, I respectfully bow my head. It’s their home and they are free to do what they want. Yes, I have an opinion about God and prayer, but their home is not the place to share it. The same goes for my home. We are not religious, we are not Christian. We don’t pray over our meals, nor do we give the gods one thought before we eat. While we do allow Polly’s dad to pray over the meal when he is here, that is out of respect for him. No big deal, just one more prayer hitting the ceiling. Thousands are already embedded in the paint, what’s one more?

When Christians come to my home, they shouldn’t expect me to change how I live or how I talk. I shouldn’t have to change the music I am listening to, change the TV channel, or remove books from the bookshelf. This is our home, and anyone, even family, who walks through the door is a guest. And the same goes for the Christian’s home. If I visit there, I don’t expect them to do anything different from what they normally do. I respect their space, their freedom.

Freedom is supposed to be a two-way street. Unfortunately, for many Christians it is a one-way street called Their Way. They want the freedom to worship their God and practice their faith, but they don’t want to grant others the same freedom. Of course, I know why. They think they have the truth and Polly and I are on a false path that leads to judgment, hell, and eternal punishment. They don’t want us to continue driving on the highway that leads to perdition. But, here’s the thing . . . we don’t think we are on the highway to hell. Since we don’t believe there is a God, it naturally follows that we don’t believe in hell, judgment, heaven, or eternity. It’s up to us to determine what road we want to travel, and for Polly and me, we are quite happy to drive on the road named Reason.

Let me conclude this post with a personal thought about church services in general and why I can’t and won’t attend them.  First, I know the Bible inside and out. I have a theological education, an education that began at a Bible college and continued through the 25 years I spent pastoring churches. So, when I hear preachers and priests preach, I can spot the bullshit from a mile away. I also have little tolerance for preachers who lack the requisite skills necessary to craft a good sermon and deliver it. In my opinion, there’s lots of anemic, pathetic preaching these days. Second, I find many of the rituals offensive. Casting the devil out an infant? Washing away sin with water? Services that are all show and no substance? Vows that are uttered and become lies before the service is over?  Wine and wafers turning into real blood and flesh? Magic wand rituals and practices that pretend to make the past go away and make the present brand new? Preachers, pastors, bishops, and priests touching a person and conferring some sort of divine power? All of these things are offensive to me. They are reminders to me of the bankruptcy of religion and why I want nothing to do with it.

I know that I can’t force people to accept me as I am, but I can choose how and when I interact with them. Years ago, I was listening to Dr. Laura and a grandmother called up complaining about her daughter-in-law. Dr. Laura told her to quit her bitching. If she didn’t, she risked not being able to see her grandchildren. That was good advice and I remembered it years later when my fundamentalist step-grandmother called me. I wrote about this in the post Dear Ann:

. . . For his seventy-fifth birthday you had a party for Grandpa. You called a few days before the party and told me that if I was any kind of grandson at all that my family and I would be at the party. Never mind Polly would have to take off work. Never mind the party was on a night we had church. All that mattered to you was that we showed up to give Grandpa’s birthday party an air of respectability.

I remember what came next like it was yesterday. The true Ann rose to the surface and you preceded to tell me what a terrible grandson I was and how terrible my family was. You were vicious and vindictive.

Finally, after forty years, I had had enough. I told you that you should have worried about the importance of family twenty years ago. I then told you that I was no longer interested in having any contact with you or Grandpa. Like my mother, I decided to get off the Tieken drama train…

That’s what can happen when we push, badger, and cajole. I am an atheist, not a Christian, and will likely remain so until I die. My family and friends need to come to terms with this, and if they don’t, then it’s on them if they ruin our relationship.

When our children married, we vowed that we would NEVER be meddling parents/grandparents. If we offer our opinion on something, we do it once. That’s it. Unless someone asks, we don’t say another word. Every person in my family has the right to live freely and authentically. Yes, they make decisions that I think are foolish, but it’s their life and they are free to live it any way they want. Whether it is Polly’s parents, our children, our daughters-in-law, or our grandchildren, we don’t meddle in their lives. We want them to be happy. If they are happy, then we are happy.

All that I want is the freedom to live my life authentically. Surely, that’s not too much to ask.

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.

Is it Okay for an Evangelical Christian to Marry an Unbeliever?

unequally yoked together

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

The Bible is clear on this subject. The inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God that millions of Evangelicals SAY they believe says:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)

2 Corinthians 6:14-17 is not an ambiguous or hard-to-interpret passage of Scripture. It means exactly what it says. Believers (Christians, followers of Jesus) should not be unequally yoked (joined) together with unbelievers. The Bible describes marriage this way: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

One would think that bought-by-the-blood, Bible-believing Evangelicals would, because of their love for Jesus, obey what God has commanded. God calls on every single Christian to be just like Tim Tebow: a virgin until the day they marry a fellow believer of the OPPOSITE sex.

But, in another, all-too-typical, example of the fact that Evangelicals only believe the Bible when it fits their lifestyle and ignore it or explain it away when it doesn’t, the Christian Partner for Life website (website is no longer active) gives this advice:

Finding your husband or wife can be quite a process.  Often, whether through school or elsewhere, we meet people in our lives who are not committed Christians.  A common question that we receive is: “Is it OK to date someone who is not committed to Christianity?”  While many advisors and ministers that we encounter have said definitively “NO,” we think it is important to have a more secular view of the situation.  If you have a great connection with someone, and they would potentially want to explore raising your future family with predetermined beliefs, we see no reason to object . . .

We believe that marrying a non-Christian or a non-practicing Christian is not a definitive “no” answer, as is commonly taught.  Would you rather stay single or marry a loving and wonderful person who is agnostic of Christian beliefs?  If this future partner is devoted to you and has a great moral compass, we think the possibility of marriage should very much exist.  If a relationship is based upon love, trust and mutual respect, there is a good chance that a marriage will succeed, regardless of religion.

The caveat to this question becomes whether your future spouse is willing to raise a family the way that you would like to.  Would your future spouse be open to raising your children as committed Christians?  If so, we think that a relationship could work . . .

In other words, ignore the Bible.

The Bible says that nonbelievers are dead in trespasses and sin. Unbelievers are at variance with God, vain in their imaginations, and haters of God. Unbelievers are really bad people, After all, their father is the devil himself.

Yet, John at Christian Partner for Life says: “If this future partner is devoted to you and has a great moral compass” then perhaps it would be okay to marry them. How can unbelievers have a great moral compass? According to the Bible, they can’t.

Here’s what I think . . . unbelievers are hotter . . . and baby, when it comes to chasing after hotness, let the Bible be damned darned.

All silliness aside, John’s post at Christian Partner for Life is just another reminder that Evangelicals, for all their bluster about the Bible being truth, really don’t believe it.

Now for MY marriage advice for unbelievers.

Actually, the Bible gives some pretty good advice here. In most circumstances, it would be unwise for an unbeliever to marry an Evangelical. Unless the believer is willing to live as an unbeliever, then it is probably not a good idea to marry someone who doesn’t believe in or worship God. I can hear the howling now Evangelicals everywhere are screaming, HOW DARE YOU EXPECT A BELIEVER TO DENY THEIR FAITH AND LIVE AS AN UNBELIEVER!! I bet it seemed okay to most Evangelicals when John proposed the very same thing when he suggested making sure the unbeliever would be willing to raise future children as believers. Evangelicals seem to always expect OTHERS to compromise so they can be true to their beliefs, but they rarely seem to be able to compromise their beliefs for the sake of others. The message is clear: my beliefs matter, yours don’t.

Generally, it is a bad idea for an unbeliever to marry an Evangelical, especially if their prospective marriage partner’s family is Evangelical too. If you marry anyway, you are sure to have conflict over issues such as:

  • Baptizing or dedicating your children
  • Attending church
  • Tithing
  • Praying over meals
  • Having family devotions
  • Cursing
  • What entertainments to participate in
  • What movies to watch
  • Sex

You will also likely subject yourself to a life of “I am praying for you” and subtle attempts to win you to Jesus.

It is almost impossible for Evangelicals to NOT talk about their faith — nor should they be expected to. This is why the Bible actually gives sound advice about an unequal yoke.

Contrary to the aphorism opposites attract, successful marriages are usually built on the things that the husband and wife have in common. While my wife and I are very different people, we do have many things in common. We cultivate our common values and beliefs, and with things we differ on, we leave each other free to pursue those things.

Over time, the things a couple differs on can become something both like or agree upon. When Polly and I married she was a sports atheist. I was a jock. I mean, I was one of THOSE kinds of guys. I played sports year-round for the first ten years of our marriage. Age, knee problems, and a busy ministerial life ended my sports playing career. Polly made a good faith effort to enter into my world. For a long time, her ignorance of sports was quite amusing, but bit by bit she became conversant in sports-talk. I did not reciprocate. I still do not know how to sew or put the toilet seat down.

We still have a lot of things that we do not hold in common, and that’s okay. But, the bedrock of our marriage of almost forty-two years is the values, beliefs, and likes we share. I believe it would be very hard for an Evangelical and an unbeliever to find common ground to build a successful marriage. It’s not impossible, but it is hard.

On this issue, I am much more of a Bible believer than John at Christian Partner for Life. Granted, I see the principle taught in Scripture from an atheist perspective these days, but it still is good advice. When it comes to the foundational issues of life and the philosophies we live by, having a common mind is always best. Certainly, compromise is possible, but willingly chucking your beliefs (whatever they might be) for love will usually leave you disappointed, and it may land you in divorce court.

If you are in an unequally yoked marriage or relationship, how do you make it work? Please leave 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.

No Need to Wear a Face Mask: When it’s My Time to Die, I’m Ready to Go

chick tract death

Like clockwork, my wife calls her mother every Sunday evening at 10:00 PM. They typically talk for an hour. Last Sunday, Polly asked her mom whether she was wearing a face mask when she went out in public. Mom replied, “no, I don’t need to wear a mask.” When Polly, out of concern for her eighty-four-year-old mother’s health and that of her father, told her mom, “look, you need to get a mask and wear it whenever you go out of the house.” Mom replied, “when it’s my time to die, I’m ready to go.” Polly angrily retorted, “and no one will be able to come to your funeral.” Mom smugly replied, “oh well, I won’t care. I’ll be dead.” And that was that . . .

It would be easy to dismiss Mom’s careless, reckless, stupid behavior as that of an old woman in poor health. However, there’s a deeper issue that I believe is driving her dismissal of common sense: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology and practice. Mom is the wife of a retired IFB pastor. She and Dad have attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, on and off, since May 1976. You might remember me writing about their church several weeks ago. (Please see IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic and Understanding the Pastors Who Refuse to Close Their Churches During the Coronavirus Pandemic.) As of today, the Newark Baptist Temple is still holding in-person worship services on Sunday mornings! One person intimately connected to the Baptist Temple told me, “Mark Falls is an idiot.” To that I say, amen. Pastor Falls continues to put theology and politics before the health and welfare of his congregation and that of the local community. Here’s a Facebook video of the Easter service at the Baptist Temple:

Here’s a Facebook video of their most recent Sunday service.

As you can see, the pastor and his congregation seem unconcerned about COVID-19. No social distancing to speak of, no masks, or gloves. The good news is that Mom and Dad haven’t been back to church since I publicly called attention to their pastor’s abhorrent behavior. It’s also evident, based on building acoustics, that attendance is a fraction of what it typically is. (I find it interesting the cameraman never pans the crowd.) Fortunately, some church members have more common sense than their pastor and other church leaders.

Setting Falls’ anti-government ideology and IFB theology aside, why does he insist on putting his parishioners at risk?

As Pastor Falls was preparing to pray at the start of last Sunday’s service, he stated:

Amen. What a privilege to be at the Newark Baptist Temple this morning. We’re so glad to see each of you here, and we are thrilled to know that many are watching us at home as well. Isn’t it great to be able to sing I’m Saved, I’m Delivered? The greatest crisis in your entire life was your sin crisis. Because you are going to have to stand before God someday. And if the Lord can save us from that he can save us from anything.

And there is it is: “if the Lord can save us from that [sin], the Lord can save us from anything.” No need to concern yourself with the Coronavirus. The Lord, if he so wills, can and will deliver you from the virus. Jesus can do what doctors and scientists can’t do. He’s the great physician! No worries. . . . Hardened into this thinking is nascent fatalism. Oh, Falls and other Fundamentalists will deny that they are preaching fatalism, but it’s clear from their sermons, prayers, and actions, fatalism is exactly what they are preaching. In this instance, they are no different from Islamic imams who say, “Allah’s will be done.”

Now let me bring this post back around to what Polly’s mom said about not wearing a mask: “No, I don’t need to wear a mask. When it’s my time to die, I’m ready to go.” Her comment drips with the fatalism taught to her by the pastors of the Baptist Temple, both the late Jim Dennis and now Mark Falls.

Where does this fatalism come from? As with most beliefs within the IFB church movement, their fatalism rests on their peculiar interpretation of the Protestant Bible. An overarching teaching that infuses fatalism into everything IFB churches say and do is the belief that the Christian God is the sovereign Lord of all creation; that he holds the world in the palm of his hand; that nothing happens apart from God’s purpose, plan, and will. Thus, no need to worry. Jesus is on the job! Amen? Amen!

death

What is it that causes Polly’s mom to be so fatalistic about dying; so much so that she is willing to put not only her own health at risk, but that of her husband? I suspect that her fatalism can be traced back to Hebrews 9:27:

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment

Here’s how this verse is typically interpreted in IFB circles. God is the giver and taker of life. When we are born, we come into the world with an expiration date; a death date. This date is fixed by God, and known only to him. No one dies before their appointed time. God knows the exact moment each of us is going to die. Not only that, he knows exactly how we are going to die. Thus, in Mom’s eyes, Jesus is on the job, and COVID-19 ain’t going to kill her unless God says so. And if God says so, there’s nothing she or anyone else can do about it.

Because of Mom’s intransigent fatalism, it is unlikely that we will ever see Polly’s parents again face to face. We are not willing to risk infection, all because of her stubborn unwillingness to take basic health and safety precautions. We expect to one day hear the phone ring, and at the other end someone will be telling us one or both of them are dead. Will it be COVID-19 that kills them? I don’t know. Both of them have serious health problems. A virus such as COVID-19 would make easy work of them. We wish they would at least take basic safety precautions, but they won’t. I suspect that a month from now they will join their church family after church down at the local Olive Garden for lunch. “See, we all survived! Glory and praise to Jesus!” And three or four weeks later? Some of them may learn that their God is not in control; that their God is no match for COVID-19, influenza, or any of the other countless bacteria and viruses trying to kill us. Biology and science trump religion every time. Too bad the people who most need to hear this will be dead.

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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And Just Like That

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977
Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

It’s late August in 1976 and I have just walked through the doors of the Midwestern Baptist College dormitory.

A few days later, a seventeen-year-old girl from Bay City, Michigan, a preacher’s daughter,  walked through the same doors.

A few weeks later, we went out on our first date.

It wasn’t long before we were in love; well, we thought it was love, anyway.

I knew she was the one.

I proposed, she said yes, her parents said no, we said we are going to get married anyway, and so we did on a hot July day in 1978 at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio.

Pontiac, Michigan, Bryan, Ohio (twice), Montpelier, Ohio, Newark, Ohio (twice), Buckeye Lake, Ohio, New Lexington, Ohio (twice), Glenford, Ohio, Somerset, Ohio, Junction City, Ohio, Mt. Perry, Ohio, Elmendorf, Texas, Frazeysburg, Ohio, Alvordton, Ohio (twice), Clare, Michigan, Stryker, Ohio, Yuma, Arizona, and Ney, Ohio . . . all the communities Polly and I have lived in over the past forty-one years.

Jason was born in Bryan, Nathan was born in Newark, Jaime was born in Zanesville, Bethany was born in Newark, and Laura and Josiah were born in Zanesville. Just yesterday, they were cute, cuddly newborns, and now they are 40, 38, 35, 30, 28, and 26.

Where did the time go? Polly and I ask ourselves.

Now we have thirteen grandchildren.

My Mom and Dad are long gone and Polly’s parents are in their 80s, in failing health.

I am no longer in the ministry and Polly and I have left the faith.

Never would we have considered such a thing possible.

Yet, here we are.

For decades, Polly was a stay-at-home mom, but now the roles are reversed.

We started married life full of vim and vigor, strong in body. Now my body is broken and Polly faces serious, life-threatening health problems of her own.

Our children are all out on their own, own their own homes, and are productively employed. Just like that . . .there are the two of us . . .and Bethany. Dear, dear Bethany.

Our life has had one constant: change.

Time marches on and stops for no one. A cliche? Perhaps, but nonetheless true.

Most of life is now in the rear-view mirror.

We peer dimily into the future, knowing that death lurks in the shadows.

If I died today, I will die happy.

Happy that I have seen my children grow up into fine adults.

Happy that I have spent lots of time with thirteen wonderful grandchildren.

Happy that I own my home and that I have lived a gratifying life of love with Polly.

If I had to sum up my life I would say, it has been good.

I am often asked, if I had to do it all over again would I ____________________?

I can’t answer this question.

Life is what it is, and playing the what-if game holds no value for me.

I know this one thing . . .

If I could marry one woman in the world . . .

it would be Polly.

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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How the Coronavirus has Affected Us

coronavirus
Cartoon by Phil Hands

Everyone has a Coronavirus Pandemic story to tell. I hope you and yours are surviving and doing what you can to maintain your sanity during this time of unprecedented social and economic upheaval. I do think about the readers of this blog. I worry about their health, finances, and families. I wonder if I am focusing too much on the pandemic, and not enough of positive, happy stories. I don’t want to further depress people or add to their stress levels, yet I suspect that most readers want me to continue to open, honest, and matter of fact. In other words, my house might be on fire and my wheelchair is out for repairs, but I am going to do what I can to maintain some sort of normalcy.

A number of readers have asked how things are going for me and my family. I appreciate everyone’s kind, thoughtful comments, and emails. Rather than send out form letters or take on the laborious task of responding individually, I thought I would answer the various inquiries I have received in this post. After this, I won’t mention our personal plight until things change for us in a significant way. All of us have our own burdens to bear right now, so there’s no need for me to endlessly talk about my own.

First, let me mention Polly. She was scheduled to have bowel reconnection surgery at the end of March. That surgery has been postponed until at least the end of June. Which is fine. Polly can get along okay as she is, colostomy bag and all. Not what she wanted, but she understands why her surgery had to be canceled.

Polly was laid off from her job — a first in our marriage. Initially, her employer thought it would be a brief furlough; now the talk is that her layoff may last into late April or early May. On Monday, Polly tried to file for Ohio unemployment online. The state’s website crashed during the process, leaving her application incomplete. This has led to an infuriating comedy of errors. The bottom line is this: Polly has to call the Ohio Jobs and Family Services to “fix” her application. Much like resisting assimilation into the Borg, reaching someone at the state office has proven futile. We call four to six times a day, without success. Please try again later. 

Second, our children are either working from home, on drastically reduced hours, or laid off. We are quite close, so it has been difficult to not see most of them. Our youngest daughter has stopped by several times with here munchkins, and our oldest son briefly stopped in two days ago with his oldest daughter. We stayed in the back yard for the duration. To say that we miss our children and grandchildren would be a gross understatement.

Third, we had been saving money to cover Polly’s month off work for her surgery. We are now repurposing that money to pay our current living expenses. This, of course, will lead to difficulties for us when Polly does have her surgery in late June. We have enough money on hand to pay all our living expenses for two months. By then, we should receive the stimulus check and somebody, anybody, will pick up the damn phone at the unemployment office, allowing Polly to successfully complete her unemployment application.

Six weeks ago, we bought a new car. Awesome, wonderful car. However, it’s not a good time to be purchasing a new car. We can’t unring the proverbial bell, so all we know to do is move forward. I made the first payment yesterday. We will worry about the next one when it’s due.

Fourth, food-wise we are in good shape. We always have three to four weeks of food on hand, so we didn’t need to make a run to the store lest we run out. We have gone to the grocery twice in the past three weeks. We are good to go, even if we may not necessarily have everything we want. Growing up poor and spending much of our married life on the bottom of the economic scale, taught us how to make do. We are survivors. Polly is a wizard when it comes to making groceries stretch. 

Fifth, our biggest concern is what will happen insurance-wise if Polly’s layoff continues long-term. Right now, her employer is paying all the premium costs; however, I suspect there will come a time when they will no longer be able to do so. The company she works for employs 2,000 people, but they are a private, family-owned business. Their ability to absorb long-term financial losses is limited. The company was already under financial stress before the pandemic, so I do worry about their future. The owners are wonderful people. I know they will do everything they can to keep the business running and their employees working.

Finally, my health pretty much remains the same. Chronic pain and debility are ever with me. As most readers know, I have a massive cyst between my breast and shoulder. I have had this cyst drained twice over the past four months. Unfortunately, it keeps coming back and will continue to grow until it is drained again. It really needs to be drained now, but the risk is just too great. I don’t plan on going anywhere near a hospital unless it is an emergency. Not draining the cyst has several risks. First, as it grows, it presses on nerves in my shoulder, cutting off feeling to my arm. Second, the cyst could hinder blood flow in a nearby artery. This, the radiologist told me, could cause a stroke. So many decisions. For now, I do nothing. 

Stay safe, friends. 

Bruce

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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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Watch My Interview with Neil the 604 Atheist

neil the 604 atheist

Last week, I was interviewed by Neil on the Neil the 604 Atheist Podcast. I had a delightful time talking with Neil, sharing my story, and talking about Evangelicalism in general. The interview, over an hour long, is the first video podcast I have done. I hope you will take the time to watch it and let me know what you think.

Video Link

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.

Contentment

contentment“Bruce, your problem is that you lack contentment.” I was stunned when my counselor told me this. I have been seeing him for years. I am beginning to wonder if it is time for a change. His words seemed sharp and judgmental. I felt as if he was ignoring me as a person and making a character judgment instead. Two weeks later, I am still talking about whether this judgment was correct. Polly would say, I’m sure, “Bruce, you are discontented over contentment.” :) Maybe.

Last week, I wrote a post titled, Living with Unrelenting Chronic Pain: Just Another Day in Paradise. I intended to write about contentment then, but the post, as is often the case, went in a different direction from that which I had intended. As that Spirit moves, right? It’s impossible to determine if I am content without first understanding the primary issues that drive my life: chronic illness, chronic pain, loss of career, loss of faith, OCPD, past emotional trauma. Pulling a singular event out of my life and rendering judgment based on it is sure to lead to a faulty conclusion. Think of all the clichés we use about understanding people: walk a mile in their shoes, see things through their eyes, judge not, lest you be judged. If we truly want to understand someone, we must take the time to see, listen, and observe — not something we do much of these days. We live in the social media era, a time when instant judgments are the norm. As a writer, I find it frustrating when people read a post or two and then sit in judgment of my life. In 2,000 or fewer words, I have, supposedly, told them all they need to know about Bruce Gerencser. Of course, I have done no such thing. Want to really get to know me? Sit down, pull up a chair, and let’s break bread and talk. Truly understanding someone requires time, commitment, and effort. I have been married for forty-one years. It took years for Polly and me to really get to know each other. And even today, I wonder, do I really know all there is to know about my lover and friend? I doubt it.

Contentment. What does the word even mean? Happy? Satisfied? Complacent? How do I determine if I am content? Do I even want to be content? Is contentment a desirable human trait? What would the world look like if everyone were content? The Apostle Paul wrote spoke of contentment several times:

  • I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
  • But godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6)
  • And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. (1 Timothy 6:8)
  • Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)

“Bruce, you are an atheist. What the Bible says is irrelevant.” Tell my mind that. These verses were pounded into my head by my pastors and Sunday school teachers, and then, as a pastor, I pounded them into the heads of congregants. Just because you say, “I’m an atheist,” doesn’t mean that decades of training and indoctrination magically disappear. I spent most of my adult life trying to be the model of a “contented” Christian. Try as I might, I came up short.

My father was the epitome of “contentment.” Dad lived by the maxim que sera sera (whatever will be, will be). He was passive and indifferent towards virtually everything. Dad and I were never close. It’s not that we had a bad relationship; it’s just that he treated his relationship with me the way he treated everything else.

I was much more like my mom. Passionate. Contrary. Opinionated. Everything mattered. It comes as no surprise that I am a perfectionist; that I struggle with Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder; that I have high (and often unreasonable) expectations not only for myself, but for others. Ask my children about what they “fondly” call the Gerencser Work Ethic. Oh, the stories they could share. I am sure a few of you are thinking, “are you not admitting here that you are discontent?” Maybe, but I am not convinced that it’s as simple as that — as I shared with my counselor.

You see, I have always been a restless person. Does this mean that I am discontent? Or, perhaps, I am someone who needs a steady diet of new experiences. I bore easily. In my younger years, this resulted in me working a number of different jobs. My resume is quite diverse. The same could be said of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I loved starting new churches. However, over time, these new churches would become old churches, and when that happened, I was ready to move on. I pastored a church in West Unity, Ohio for seven years. Awesome people. Not a problem in the world. Yet, I resigned and moved on. Why? I was bored. I was tired of the same routine Sunday after Sunday. It wasn’t the fault of people the people I pastored. I was the one with a restless spirit. I was the one looking for matches and gasoline so I could start a new fire.

dogs and contentmentMy counselor asked me if he could wave a magic wand over me and instantly make me content, would I want him to do so? I quickly replied, “absolutely not.” I told him that instant contentment would rob me of my passion and drive. “What kind of writer would I be without restlessness and passion?” I asked. He replied, “ah yes, that which drives creatives.” If being content requires me to surrender my passion and drive, no thanks. I am not interested. Now, I can certainly see where I would be better off if I, at times, let go and let Loki. I have never been good at “be still and know that I am God.” I like being busy. I enjoy “doing.” One of the frustrating problems I face with having fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis is that I can no longer do the things I want to do. My “spirit” is willing, but my “flesh” is weak. Does this lead to discontentment? Maybe, but I am more inclined to think that the inability to do what I want leads to frustration and anger, not discontentment.

I’ll leave it to others to determine if I am content. I will leave it to the people who look at me and “read” my face, thinking my lack of a smile is a sure sign of discontentment; as if there couldn’t be any other explanation for my facial expressions — you know, such as chronic, unrelenting pain. Would it settle the contentment question if I tell people that I am generally happy; that I enjoy writing, shooting photographs, and spending time with my children and grandchildren?  I doubt it. Much like my counselor, people seize on anecdotal stories as evidence for their judgments of my life. I told my counselor about a recent visit to a new upscale pizza place in Defiance. I told him that the waitstaff left a lot to be desired, and our pizzas were burnt on the bottom (the restaurant uses a brick pizza oven). I told our server the pizzas were burnt. The manager gave us a 50 percent discount on our bill. My counselor seized on this story as a good example of my discontentment. Never mind the fact that I rarely complain about the quality of restaurant food. I just don’t do it. I am willing to give a place a pass, having managed restaurants myself. I know how things can get messed up. That said, I always wanted to know when an order didn’t meet customer expectations. No, customers are not always right. Some of them are idiots and assholes. But I couldn’t make things right if complaints never reach my ears.

Am I content? Probably not, but I sure as hell don’t want the kind of contentment preached by the Apostle Paul, modeled by my father, and suggested by my counselor. No thanks . . . I’ll take happiness with a slice of restlessness, and garnished with passion every time.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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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Bruce Gerencser