Family

Questions for Polly

polly 2015-002

Polly 2015

Two years ago, I asked readers to submit questions they would like Polly to answer. What follows are her answers. If you would like to ask new questions or follow-up questions, please leave them in the comment section.

Becky asked, What was the biggest influence on you leaving the church?

The biggest influence for me personally was the church people themselves. After Bruce left the ministry, we started looking for a church to attend.  Always so happy to see someone new come in the doors, but that is where it ended. At one church, Thornhill Baptist Church in Hudson, Michigan,  we were once referred to as “fresh meat”!  Seriously! We were rarely visited after we attended a new church and no one seemed to care if we showed back up. Eventually, all the churches seemed the same, different names, but not really different. We reached a point where we said, why bother?

Annie asked, What do you feel has been the BIGGEST change in your life since you two left the prison?

I think sleeping in on Sundays would be number one. Then, maybe, my wardrobe! Bruce forgets how many times on our 35th wedding anniversary trip I wore a dress…everyday. So, I do have a few dresses. You never know when someone dies and you have to attend their funeral. Definitely no shorts though, I inherited my grandmother’s varicose veins…ugh!

April asked, Did you ever have questions or doubts of your own as to the veracity of the religion you were being raised in and living BEFORE your husband Bruce did?

I always was told that doubting was of the devil so I never was much of a doubting person.  I was raised in church and believed everything that was taught. I was a sincere follower of Jesus.  In college, someone once brought up Calvinism. I wanted to know more about that because it made sense to me, and this challenged my beliefs a bit, but I quickly dispensed with the question and never thought about it again.  Much later, when Bruce started down his path and loss of faith, I desperately held on to my preacher’s wife identity. I couldn’t be anything else, could I? But, when the picture is clear in front of you, you can’t deny it any longer! I am now all those lovely things Bruce has told you all before!

NeverAgainV asked, Do you have a specific moment of event that happened (an epiphany) that was defining for you with realizing that maybe your religion could be wrong? If so, how did you deal with it?

I had no “aha” moment. It just was. It was truly a journey of discovery over time. I am a little slow and deliberate, unlike Bruce who is decisive and spur of the moment, so when I finally decided I was done, I was done. It was like being lied to all your life and deciding (finally) that I was DONE!

Paula asked, did you harbor secret ambitions as a young girl/woman that you felt the adults around you would not support?

There were no secret ambitions, I wanted to be a mommy when I grew up. I was the ultimate good girl. Doing as I was told and believing what I was told to believe.

Paula asked,  Did you wish you could dress and groom yourself differently than what was allowed?

I remember wearing pants until I was about 12. We were allowed to wear them to play out in the snow, but nowhere else. In the 12th grade (1975) , I had to buy a pair so I could go horseback riding with some classmates (all girls). Then, there were no more pants until we were back in Ohio and I was working at Sauder Woodworking once again (2005). I remember Bruce buying me some capri’s when we were in Arizona in 2004. I felt so sinful putting them on. The rest is history!

Paula asked, Did you secretly believe in birth control?

Birth control? What was that? I had the obligatory sex-education in school (I attended a Christian school) , but it was no big deal. It wasn’t until Bruce and I were engaged that we read “The Act of Marriage” by Tim LaHaye. That was truly scary and embarrassing!

My mother, a fundamentalist Baptist pastor’s wife,  on the night before Bruce and I got married, took me to her room and told me about what her aunts told her on the night before she got married. It wasn’t enjoyable, it could be painful, and to just endure it. We could make the most of it if we wanted. My sister, who was 3 years younger than me, had it all figured out by then. (I was 19 and she was 16)

polly 2014

Polly 2014

Lydia asked, What has Bruce written that you disagree with?

Hmm, I don’t know if there has ever been anything that he has written that I have disagreed with him. We usually disagree (fight?) about stupid stuff that doesn’t matter. When it comes to cultural issues and social issues like abortion and homosexuality, I am liberal/progressive.

IFBfree asked, Since you have left the IFB church…How has that affected your relationships with family members that are still involved in the IFB? Are you an atheist also?

Since we have left the church and Bruce sent  a letter to the family about us longer believing, my relationship with believing family members has been stiff, to say the least. It is like the elephant in the room, a very large elephant in a very small room. My relationship with my believing parents is good, but we never talk about “it”. Since my sister died in a motorcycle accident in 2005, I am the “only” daughter now. They don’t want to “lose” me, therefore we don’t even come close to discussing “it”. To the rest of the family, I am just a sad by-product of Bruce’s influence. They have felt from the beginning of our marriage that I have been brainwashed by Bruce and only do what he tells me to do.

No, I am not an atheist. I consider myself a humanist. It fits my personality!

Tammy asked, What do you love to do when its all and only about you?

After reading your paragraph, before the question, I would say we are kindred spirits! I am a pleaser. I am always waiting on other people. My three daughters-in-law think their husbands are spoiled. Maybe they are! When Bruce writes about trying to get me to make my own decision, that is totally true! I am either indecisive or double think myself. What is best for everyone, not just myself! Anyways, when I am rarely alone, I have a book in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. And other times, you can find me in the kitchen. I love to cook and bake (for others). I would also like to make a living  doing what I love the best, but I wouldn’t make enough money to support us.

Monica asked, Hi Polly, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences of no longer having to live in the shadows of a preacher husband in the way of having your own identity and your freedom to think for yourself.

I believe it took about a year for me to finally come to terms with losing my preacher’s wife status and identity. I truly didn’t know anything else. Now that I am “just” Bruce’s wife, there occasionally is still a small shadow of my former identity.  The freedom to think for myself is the hardest part. I can do it at work because I have employees under me, and the decisions are all company based. But at home I am still taking baby steps, sometimes two steps forward and one step back. For instance, if I know, in advance, what restaurant we are going to, I try to make my menu choice before I get there. That way, the waiter/waitress doesn’t have to return half a dozen times. Or if we are in line at McDonald’s, the cars aren’t lined up ten deep.

Carmen asked, What was going on in your head and your heart when Bruce started voicing his misgivings? Were you shocked? relieved? worried about your relationship?

I remember the first time that Bruce actually said out loud that he didn’t think there was a God. I was shocked! Surely, he didn’t mean it! What will become of us? We talked about it a lot back in those days. At first, I thought he would come back around. Then, I came to see that what he was saying made a lot of sense and I thought “where IS god”? If there was a god, wouldn’t he send us a sign that he was real? Helloooooo? Our relationship is so much better because we now have a lot in common and are both free to be different from the other.

Sgl asked, in a post on Halloween…were there other areas that you thought Bruce was crazy? in particular, things that directly affected your life or the kid’s life? Were there any issues that you would have put your foot down on? Did I think Bruce was a crazy?

No, back then I thought everyone else was crazy for not believing the same as we did. Did I ever question his decisions? Sure, I mentally questioned , but never verbally! Bruce was the head of the home and he was also my pastor.  I was a good passive and submissive wife who didn’t question his decisions! That passivity never helped my “bad habit” of rolling my eyes! I tried not to roll them, it was a sign of disrespect, seriously! So, no, I would never have put down my foot on decisions that Bruce made. Even now, I tend to defer to him. Old habits die-hard!

Sgl asked, did you ever try to influence Bruce’s opinions subtly? (eg: drop hints, cook his favorite meals when he did what you suggested, not tell him something, etc.)

I suppose that not speaking up would be one way to tell him I disapproved of something. As to the rest? NEVER! Now he says I use sex and food to influence him!

polly 2013

Polly 2013

Kerry asked, what do you regret most about how you raised your children? And do you have any advice for those of us that have deconverted who still have adult children in the church?

I think what I regret the most would have to be dragging my children through all of the muck of Christianity and fundamentalism. They never had a choice while growing up. I never had a choice while growing up. We were told how to act and what to believe. The children are all grown adults now. We get the occasional comment from one of their supervisors that they have a great work ethic, so there is one plus! Whatever they want to believe  is okay, as long as they know why they believe what they do. I am totally a live and let live. We love them no matter what decisions they make!

Silver asked, I was wondering what the best and worst things are for you in particular in leaving the faith. I can think of many good aspects of it, but what has been the best of them? What do you miss (if anything)?

The best thing about leaving the faith is finally being able to see that everyone is human and that Christianity does not make a person any better than anyone else. The worst thing would have to be the judgementalism and harsh criticism from family and friends (now former friends).  If I miss anything, it would have to be the fellowship we had with the church members. Bruce liked to plan potlucks, of which he ate very little of unless it was mine, and outings for the adults, usually at some nice restaurant,

Lynn asked, Did you have any rules for Bruce, as far as how he could use you or the children in his sermons? And did you ever have any “words” about such things?

I would never have given Bruce rules to preach by. Bruce and I discussed this question before I answered it.  I don’t think Bruce ever used us as “bad” illustrations. Sure, he would mention us, but I don’t remember anything negatively. Sometimes his personal illustrations embarrassed me because I don’t like being pointed out, for good or bad. We never had “words” about his sermons. They were given to him by “God”, so who was I to say otherwise? It is certainly strange-looking back and wondering how we ever came away from all of our religious training, and not be totally insane.

Zoe asked, What is your favorite color? (Something easy…)

Thank you, thank you! My favorite color is blue! Ask anybody. When it comes time to paint a room, Bruce will say, “as long as it’s not blue”! We have one blue room, our bedroom; a dark blue, not quite navy. It will be navy the next time I paint. The trim is a very pale blue. I love waking up in that room! Bruce’s favorite color is blue too.

Texas Born & Bred asked, Why do women convert to super-conservative faiths that are obviously degrading to women?

Hmmm! I know Bruce has written about this not too long ago, but my excuse is, I was born and raised this way. (did that sound a little Lady Gaga-ish?)  I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know I had a choice. I was never exposed to any other way or religion! I knew ours was the right religion and the others were wrong because my parents, pastors, college professors, and husband said they were.  I was taught that the woman’s place was in the home, barefoot and pregnant, constantly cooking. (that was mostly tongue in cheek) I honestly don’t know why any women would willingly choose such degradation.

Guest asked, Are you a closet Christian?

How to put this nicely…??? Hell No! Although, my parents probably wish it were so!

35th anniversary trip July 2013

Polly 2013

Guest asked, What specifically drove you from Christianity?

I know I have answered something like this before, but one reason was the insincerity of people in the church. Another reason was that churches, no matter the name above the door, were the same. I have met a few people (I can count on one hand, maybe two if I think hard about it) that I would consider true Christians. Then, there was the things I read and the discussions that Bruce and I had. It wasn’t one specific thing but an accumulation of things or reasons that eventually led me out of Christianity.

Barbara

barbara tieken 1940s

My Mom, Barbara Tieken, 1940s

Born in rural Missouri to parents who were drunks and constantly fought

Barbara suffered the indignity and shame of being molested by her father

A heinous act he never acknowledged or apologized for

When he became a Christian his past was under the blood

God may have forgiven him

But she never did

barbara and steve tieken 1940s

Barbara and Steve Tieken 1940s

She was a beautiful child who grew up to be an attractive woman

A woman who attracted the attention of men

At seventeen she found herself pregnant

At the age of eighteen she married

Did she marry the father of her baby?

There are doubts

barbara gerencser 1956

Barbara Gerencser, 1956

She found her husband to unreliable, never able to keep the bills paid

He moved her from house to house, town to town, and state to state

Along the way she birthed another boy and then a girl

She loved to read and was passionate about politics

She wrote letters to the newspaper, a staunch defender of right-wing Conservatism

She campaigned for Barry Goldwater and George Wallace

Like so many white, rural Americans of her time, she was a racist

She loved to cook

When her oldest son started playing baseball she came to his games

Her son’s father couldn’t be bothered

When she was thirty-one, her brother-in-law raped her

Her oldest son was home sick from school when it happened

So much trauma

Is it any wonder she had mental problems?

Psychiatrists

Pills

Mental hospitals

Attempted suicides

Rage

Depression

Slit wrists, the kitchen floor, a pool of blood, her oldest son found her

Yet, she lived

Over time, her body collapsed, rendering her an invalid

barbara gerencser 1957

Barbara Gerencser, 1957, Holding her newborn son Bruce (Butch)

By then, her oldest son was a preacher

She was proud of him

He was not proud of her

She was an embarrassment, a pill junkie, she just needed to get right with God

Four marriages

Numerous men in and out of her life

Yet, she never lost her mental acuity or thirst for knowledge

She watched the news day and night, ever ready to rage against those she disagreed with

She told her oldest son she wanted him to do her funeral and she wanted everyone to sing the Star Spangled Banner and say the Pledge of Allegiance

barbara tieken 1950s

Barbara Tieken, 1950s

Over time, her oldest son came to accept her as she was

He would come to Columbus and take her shopping or to the doctor

She didn’t like his driving

Her phone was often disconnected

Her latest husband, just like everyone before him, couldn’t keep the bills paid

The oldest son’s father died from surgery complications at age forty-nine

Her oldest son had to call the police to give her a message since her phone was disconnected

Awhile later, in a pouring rain, she called from a phone booth

They talked and wept together

And then she moved to Quincy, Michigan, six hours away

Her oldest son only saw her a few times after the move

They talked on the phone every month or so and wrote to one another

After church one Sunday, her oldest son answered the phone at his house

His aunt was on the other end of the phone

He heard what he never hoped he would hear

His mom was dead

She had turned a Ruger .357 on herself, pulled the trigger, and ripped a hole in her heart

In a moment, her heart stopped and the life drained from her body

Her oldest son wonders why, but at the same time he knows the answer

The graveside service was an exercise in profound, excruciating grief and denial

The preacher son could barely speak

There would be no singing of the Star Spangled Banner or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance

Even in death she was ignored and denied

Her father spoke of Jesus

Her son saw only a father who molested his daughter and scarred his mother

She was fifty-four when she died

Her son misses her

Oh how he wishes for a do-over

To tell her, I love you

To proudly show off his grandchildren

But all he is left with is emptiness, pain, and regret

And memories

barbara gerencser 1978

Mom and Bruce, Rochester, Indiana, 1978

011516

He’s My Grandfather, Can’t You Tell?

karah and bruce gerencser 2015

Karah and Bruce Gerencser 2015

Most parents and grandparents go through periods of time when they wonder if their children/grandchildren like/love them. I know I’ve had moments where I’ve wondered if ___________ child or grandchild knew I even existed. Children go through phases ranging from clingy I need you to who are you?  As a young parent, I was certain my two oldest boys wanted nothing to do with me. Same goes for several of my granddaughters. I intellectually know that this is all part of their development, but who doesn’t want to feel needed and liked, right?

Thanks to being all jacked up on Lyrica and narcotics, I’ve been able to attend some of my grandchildren’s sporting events. I am easy to spot, the big man who looks like Santa Claus, the man who always wears a hat and suspenders and walks with a cool hand carved cane. That, and always having a monopod and camera with him.

On Wednesday, I attended my 8-year-old granddaughter Karah’s softball game. During the home half of one of the innings, I shuffled over to the Stryker dugout so I could take some photographs. As I aimed my camera towards the girls in the dugout, one of Karah’s teammates said. Who’s grandfather are you? I thought, here’s THAT moment. Will she own me? Without even pausing to think, Karah replied, He’s MY grandfather! And then she added, can’t you tell?  She seemed quite indignant that it was not evident to everyone that I was her grandfather.

These are the small moments that make your day, even when you are in tremendous pain.

Here’s some of the photographs I’ve shot in recent weeks.

karah gerencser softball 2015 (2)

karah gerencser softball 2015 (1)

karah gerencser softball 2015 (5)

karah gerencser softball 2015 (4)

karah gerencser softball 2015 (3)

karah gerencser softball 2015 (8)

karah gerencser softball 2015 (7)

karah gerencser softball 2015 (6)

The Mighty Maple and Pine Tree

house 2014

House 2014

Sometime in the latter part of the 19th century, someone built a small farmhouse on the edge of the small, bustling community of Williamstown. In time, Williamstown became Ney and these farmers planted a maple tree and pine tree in their front yard, near the dirt road local residents used to travel  between the communities of Defiance, Bryan, Farmer, Sherwood, Williams Center, and Mark Center. Over time, these tree grew and by 2015 they became two of the largest trees in Ney.

pine tree 2012

Pine tree 2012

The pine tree, eight feet in diameter at its base, towers above the south side of the farmhouse, providing shade for the new family who lives there. Throughout the year, the pine tree drops cones that litter the ground and plug the gutters.  The tree seems healthy, year after year producing buds that turn into cones. Its fallen cones and needles require frequent removal to the compost pile, but the shade provided by this majestic tree makes this work of little importance.

The maple tree, now seven feet in diameter, sits to the west of the pine tree, near the edge  of US Hwy 15. Its vast branches provide plenty of shade on a warm Ohio summer day, and every morning the songbirds sit in its branches serenading anyone who takes time to listen.   Every year, save one, since the new owners have lived in the farmhouse, the maple tree has thrown its seeds to the wind, plugging gutters and taking root in the gravel parking lot around its base. And every year, its seeds find out-of-the-way spots to take up root, hoping the new owners will let it live.

The maple tree is not as healthy as the pine tree. Its age is evident, and every thunderstorm drops a dead branch from its vast expanse. Towering twenty feet above the peak of the farmhouse, the maple tree has seen ten or so decades come and go. People in the farmhouse have lived, moved, and died, and its current residents expect the mighty maple tree will outlive them too.

house 2013

House 2013

Five years ago, knowing that someday the inevitable will happen and the maple tree will die, the new owners of the farmhouse planted a new maple tree, just like the unknown owners did a century ago. This wisp of a tree, now twelve feet tall and seven inches in diameter, will one day tower over the northeast corner of the property. That is, if the future owners of the farmhouse see beyond the present and let it plug their gutters too. The current farmhouse dwellers think like this: enjoy the present by planting bushes and flowers, but don’t forget the children of children of children.  Plant trees that future generations will admire and enjoy. They will be a living reminder to all who dare to pay attention; that a man and woman and their mentally handicapped daughter cared about the world they lived in.

maple tree 2014

Like the maple tree, someday, sooner than later, the man and woman in the farmhouse, will die. Like the maple tree, there’s a rot growing slowly inside of them. It will one day consume them, returning them to the earth from whence they came.

Focusing on What Really Matters

focus on what matters

As a Christian, I viewed life this way:

  1. Life is given to us by God.
  2. Life is a preparatory time for life after death.
  3. Troubles, trials, and adversity will certainly come our way but these things are part of God plan for us. He is testing us, trying us, and developing a longing in us for Heaven.
  4. While pleasure and happiness have their place in the human experience, it is far more important to know the joy of the Lord, and if need be deny oneself pleasure and happiness for the sake of God’s Kingdom and the eternal reward that awaits those who run the race God has set before them.
  5. While there is nothing wrong with material things, they do have the power to corrupt and distract us from that which really matters. As the Westminster Catechism says : What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
  6. Life is to be lived with God, his will, and eternity always in the foreground.
  7. Death is a promotion from this life to the next. While we will leave our loved ones behind for a time, we know that if they are followers of Jesus we will see them again in Heaven.

As an atheist, I view life this way:

  1. Life is given to us by our parents.
  2. This life is all we have. There is no life after death, no second chances, no do-overs. This is it.
  3. Troubles, trials, and adversity will certainly come our way. These things happen to most everyone, and it is the price we pay for being among the living.  Sometimes these things happen due to our bad choices or rash, foolish decisions. However, many things befall us simply due to luck. Wrong place. Wrong time. Wrong circumstance. Bad genetics.
  4. Pleasure and happiness are to be sought after since this life is all we have. In seeking pleasure and happiness, we should consider how seeking these things affects others,  but we should not allow others to stand in the way of our pursuit of pleasure and happiness. Life is too short to allow others to dictate the parameters by which we live our lives.
  5. We should seek after those things which give our life meaning and purpose. While there is a place in the human experience for living for the sake of others, this should not be at the expense of our own meaning and purpose. While narcissism is not a trait most humans value, neither is living a life that belongs to everyone but the person living it.
  6. Since life is defined by the space between birth and death, it is important for us to live each day to its fullest. Every day we live means we are one day closer to death. While death may provide a release from pain and sickness, it is bittersweet. Bittersweet because we are leaving behind those things which mattered to us. Above all, we are leaving behind those we love.

A year or so ago, I watched the final show of the acclaimed HBO series Six Feet Under. (created by True Blood creator, Alan Ball)  The show is about the Fisher Family and their funeral home business. For five seasons viewers are taken on a journey with the Fisher family and death. I found Six Feet Under to be one of the best dramas I have ever viewed. In the final show the writers tried to tie together all the loose ends. A few episodes back Nate Fisher had a brain aneurism and died at age 40. He left a wife, two children, and a complicated life. The last several shows focused on Nate, his contradictory life, and its effect on everyone his life touched.

The last few moments of the show were the most powerful moments I have ever experienced while watching TV. I wept as the show moved through the lives of all the Fisher family as they aged and one by one died. All of them dead. No one escaped. While it would be easy to say “how sad”, I found it to a reminder of how important it is to value and cherish the life we have. We spend so much time doing things that are meaningless or add nothing to our life. I know it is very easy to get sucked into normalcy, to just go with the flow. We tell ourselves, Tomorrow. Perhaps a Bible verse is appropriate here:

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

Perhaps each of us need to ask ourselves:

  • Am I happy?
  • What is it I want to do with my life?
  • What brings me pleasure and happiness?
  • What do I want to do that I have not yet done?

What are your answers telling you? What are your thoughts on what I have shared here?

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

unequally yoked together

The Bible is clear on this subject. The Bible, the infallible, inspired 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 together with unbelievers. The Bible describes marriage as “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:27)

One would think 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 like Tim Tebow, a virgin until the day they marry a fellow believer of the OPPOSITE sex.

But, in another, all to 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 in sin. Unbelievers are at variance with God, vain in their imaginations and haters of God. Unbelievers are 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 OK to marry them. How can an unbeliever 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 unwise to marry. 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 OK  to most Evangelicals when John suggested 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 like:

  • Baptizing or dedicating the 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 an Evangelical 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 little ditty, 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, 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 one of THOSE kind of guys. I played sports year-round for the first ten years of our marriage. Age, knee problems, and a busy church ended my sports playing career. Polly made a good faith effort to enter into my world. For a long times. her ignorance 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 OK. But, the bedrock of our marriage of almost 37 years is the values, beliefs, and likes we hold in common.  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 the other end of the equation, 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 if you are not careful 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 comment section.

One Bump and Bang Too Many

potholes

A week and a half ago, Polly and I took a road trip south, ending up in Delphos, Ohio. In a post titled Luck, Fate, or Providence, I mentioned an event that took place while I was taking some photographs of an old canal:

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

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

The good news? My cameras escaped damage, though one of them does have a slight scrape. The hood on the lens kept it from being smashed. Polly ended up with bruised knees and I ended up with a twisted ankle and hip and a nasty, bloody contusion on my left leg. It is still oozing slightly today.

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

Yesterday, I had Polly take me to Urgent Care in Bryan. My left leg is swollen, an inch bigger circumference wise than my right leg. The contusion is weeping fluid and has become infected. I am white, the wound is red and yellow, and I am trying to keep it from turning black. (shout out to the Evangelical song, Jesus loves the Little Children, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight) I am taking an antibiotic. The doctor swabbed the wound and sent it to the lab. The lab will do a culture to determine what is causing the infection. If warranted, the doctor said he will change the antibiotic, but he thinks the one he prescribed should do the trick. This is the same leg, BTW,  that I had a foot problem with last fall.

Last Sunday, Polly drove us to Cincinnati, Ohio to attend the Cincinnati Reds-St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. We had a great time. There’s nothing like experiencing a live baseball game. When the stands are full, as they were on Sunday, the stadium comes to life. The cheers and the groans ripple loudly through the crowd, as Reds fans live and die with their team. In many ways, I find the live baseball experience to be a lot like a revival service. There’s that “feeling” in the air that resonates deeply with me.

That said, we have come to the conclusion that I can no longer take trips hours away from home. Driving to Cincinnati and back meant we were on the road for almost 8 hours. Whether we took the interstate or a state highway, the roads, thanks to a hard cold winter and a lack of infrastructure upkeep, pummeled my body. Mile after mile the roads bumped and banged my body, so much so that even double doses of pain medication couldn’t stop the pain.

As much as I want to cheer the Reds on in person, I know I can no longer do so. My body has issued its decree, cross this line and I will make you pay. As I have said many times before, a time would come that I was no longer willing to pay the price of admission, no longer willing to suffer the brutality of long trips. That time is now.  I hate that it has come to this, but it is what it is.

Now this doesn’t mean that I can take shorter trips to places like Toledo, Fort Wayne, Magee Marsh, or Marblehead. An hour or two from home, along back roads at a slow speed, I can still do. There’s a minor league baseball team in Fort Wayne and Toledo, so I can still enjoy the live game experience. There’s plenty for us to see and do within a few hours of our home. There’s plenty of sites and out-of-the-way places to photograph. Instead of lamenting what I can’t do, I choose to focus on what I can do. This is me adapting to my environment. Shout out, Charles Darwin.

2015 Ford Escape

My chauffeur driving our 2015 Ford Escape. What’s real interesting is the gravel pit in the background. I sure wanted to climb down there and take some photographs.

We recently bought a new car, a 2015 Ford Escape. We made this purchase because I was having difficulty getting in and out of our 2013 Ford Fusion. The Escape sits up higher and has greater head and leg room, allowing me to sit comfortably, even when I have to twist my body to lessen the pain. We are quite pleased with the car. Actually it is an SUV, but we call it car.  Health problems have robbed me of my ability to drive any distance but a short one. This is another thing I’ve had to adapt to. For decades, I did most of the driving and now I must rely on Polly to chauffeur me wherever I want to do. Again, it is what it is.

The nasty injury detailed at the start of this post has proved to be a wake up call for Polly and I. I no longer can afford to push the envelope, risking injury. Since I am diabetic, any type of wound is a concern. I pastored several people who lost their legs due to a cut or wound that morphed into an abscess drugs and doctors could not cure. Despite all our miracle-working drugs, there are viruses and bacteria that can and do kill us. I must take better care of myself, not putting myself in circumstances that could cause physical injury. When I walk with a cane, I tend to ignore my limitations. When using a wheelchair, it is obvious that I can no longer pretend to be Superman. While I refuse to give up, I must face reality and adjust my life accordingly.

The good news is that Polly will still be by my side. We’re in this together until death do us part. Her love and care make the pain and suffering bearable.

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

no church

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. Anyone that 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 a 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, eight years ago I said to my family, you are free. 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. Like the Israelites in the Bible, 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 Cat God Purr. Can you imagine how they would respond?

First, in their eyes Cat Purr God 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. I would never want to offend them.

It seems if one is an atheist, they are not afforded the same decency and respect. Did Polly and I become less of a person, parent, or grandparent 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 one 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 to hell. 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 I, 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 I suspect I will 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 daughter-in-laws, 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.

Family Driven Faith Part Two

bruce and polly gerencser 2008

Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2008

This article was first published in 2011 on No Longer Quivering Corrected, revised, and updated

As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I taught parishioners that the the Bible clearly defined the roles of men (husbands), women (wives), and children. (a hierarchy) The Bible is clear: the husband is the head of the home and the wife is commanded to submit to the authority and rule of her husband. Like the pastor in the church, the husband is the final authority in the home. It matters not if he is worthy of such responsibility. A husband is disobedient to God if he refuses to be the head of the home. The wife, if she refuses to submit to her husband’s authority, is a Jezebel and risks the judgment of God.

I taught women that God’s highest calling for them was marriage, having children, and keeping the home. I discouraged women from going to college. After all why waste money going to college if you are going to be busy having children and keeping the home.

I taught men that God’s highest calling is for them to be a leader. Men are called by God to lead the church, the home,and the government. The strength or weakness of any nation, culture, church, or home depends on whether men are fulfilling their divine calling to lead.

Children are at the bottom of the hierarchical system. They are under the authority of God, the Bible, the pastor, their father, and their mother. Children have one divine calling in life, obey!

This kind of hierarchical family structure has been a part of American society since the day the Pilgrims stepped ashore on the eastern coast of America. Over time, due to social, political, and economic pressure, the hierarchical family structure has weakened. As women gained the right to vote, began working outside of the home, and began using birth control, they realized they could live without being under the control and authority of a man. Modern American women are free to pursue their own life path, free to live lives independent of men. When women marry, they are no longer considered the help meet. They are equal partners in the marriage. Their values, beliefs, and opinions matter.

However, in the IFB church movement women still live in the 18th century. Bound by commands and teachings from an antiquated book, they live lives strangely and sadly out of touch with the modern world. Every aspect of family life is controlled by what the Bible teaches. Better put, their life is controlled  by what an authoritarian pastor and authoritarian husband/father say the Bible teaches.

I have no objection to a woman willingly choosing to live and participate in a hierarchical family structure. If an Amish woman wants to live as the Amish do, then I have no reason or right to object. It  is, however, difficult to determine if they willingly choose. Is it a free choice when there are no other options?

For my family and I, moving away from a hierarchical family structure was difficult. We had to relearn how to live. We had to examine sincerely held beliefs and determine if they still were applicable to the new way we wanted to live our lives. I realized that I had lorded over my family. I had dominated and controlled their lives, all in the name of Jesus. By doing so, I had robbed them of the ability to live their lives independently of my control. Every decision had to have my stamp of approval. Nothing escaped my purview. After all, God had commanded me to be the head of the home. Someday, I would give an account to God for how I managed the affairs of my family. I took the threat of judgment seriously.

The biggest problem we faced was that since I was the one who always made the final decision my children and wife lacked the skills necessary to make good decisions. My children quickly adapted to their new-found freedom, shouting a Martin Luther King Jr-like FREE, FREE AT LAST. However, my wife did not fare so well.

Raised in a fundamentalist home, her father an IFB pastor, Polly had spent her entire life under the thumb of someone else. She rarely had to make a decision because there was always someone else making decisions for her. To say our new-found freedom was difficult for Polly would be a gross underestimation. Suddenly, she was forced to make decisions on her own. For a time, she panicked when faced with making a decision on her own. Simple decisions, like what to order at the fast food drive-thru or whether or not to put gas in the car, were monumental decisions for her.(1)

Over time, Polly’s decision making skills improved. Several years ago, she was promoted to a supervisory position at local manufacturing concern. (2) One night, she came home from work all upset. She told me that she had made a decision about something and several people were now upset at her. I laughed and  told her, rule number one about making decisions. You will likely piss someone off. (3)

polly gerencser graduation 2012

Polly Gerencser, Graduating from Northwest State Community College, Archbold, Ohio

In 2010, Polly returned to college. She struggled at first, and it took quite a bit of willpower for me not to bail her out. Over time, she adapted to using the computer (she was computer illiterate) and doing the various things necessary to be a good college student. In 2012, Polly  graduated with an Associates of Arts degree from Northwest State Community College. I wept as I saw her walk down the aisle on graduation day. Her graduation was a reminder of how far both of us have come. (Polly actually has 5 years of college credit. Unfortunately, 3 of those years were spent at an unaccredited Bible college)

Polly was over 40 years old before she wore her first pair of pants. Same goes for going to the movie theater, drinking alcohol, cutting her hair short, reading a non-Christian romance novel, etc, etc, etc. As many people know, the IFB movement is all about what a Christian CAN’T do. Some of these choices were fearful choices, God lurking in the shadows of the mind, ready to punish her for making“sinful” choices.”

With change comes new life. In many ways, we have been “born again.” In 2005, I left the pastorate and we began a slow, painful process of examining our Christian beliefs. For many years, my family believed what I believed, went to church when I went to church, and obeyed any and every command I gave, complete with proof texts from the Bible . Now it is different.

I told my wife and six children that I was setting them free. I am no longer the spiritual head of the home or the patriarch of the family.  They are free to be whatever they want to be. I sincerely mean this. If they want to be Wiccan,Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, or atheist, I am fine with it. The bottom line is this: I want them to be happy. If they are happy, I am happy.

This last decision has caused quite a bit of controversy and conflict. Freed from my control, my entire family quickly abandoned the Evangelical church. I am now an atheist, Polly is an agnostic, and our children, for the most part do not attend church. (4) Religion is still a big topic of discussion in our family and I still like a rousing debate or discussion about religion, politics, or sports. The difference now is that there is no test of fidelity. No, “did you guys go to church today?” No, “what was the sermon about?” 

Our family remains a work in progress. As my wife continues to learn to make decisions, I have to learn not to make decisions. I am learning to shut up and allow them to make choices for themselves, even when I think their choices are ill-advised. I have a new rule I live by: If I think someone is making a bad decision on an important issue, I will voice my opinion, but that is the end of it. I stay out of my children’s business. They are responsible adults and I support whatever decision they make, even if I disagree with it.

We are far from a finished product. Polly still freezes at the drive-thru and I still know what I want before we pull into the restaurant. We still have the same peculiar character traits we’ve always had. You know,those things that annoy and bug the hell out of you. The difference now is that we have learned to embrace each other’s peculiarities, knowing that these are what make us unique individuals. (5)

It is good to be free.

(1) Even today she freezes at the drive-thru. We joke about it now, but her freezing hails from a day when I ordered everything.

(2) One of the first steps of freedom for Polly was getting a job, a job that she has held since 1997.

(3) I was well suited for the hierarchical family system and the pastorate. I am not afraid to make decisions. Snap decisions come easy for me. It felt very natural to me to make all the decisions. However, in the home, like at work, one person making all the decisions stunts the growth of others and when they are put into a position where they must make a decision they are often unable to.

(4) I am hesitant to label my children’s current beliefs. Two of my children attend the Catholic church with their wives. The rest of them, for the most part, do not attend church. I would not classify them as atheists or even agnostics. They are indifferent and still figuring out what they believe. It is exciting to watch, even if the IFB part of our extended family thinks we are committing spiritual suicide.

(5) I have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and Polly is happy with clutter. Ours is a match made in hell. For many years, my OCPD dominated everything. I have had to learn that while I have every right to want things perfectly ordered, everything in its place, Polly also has the right not to want things perfectly ordered, everything in it place. We each have personal spaces where we are free to practice our peculiar habits and traits. We know to stay out of each others “stuff”. In the common spaces, we try to find a happy medium, though I must admit I have a hard time doing this.  The clutter has decreased significantly since our last two children moved out 15 months ago.

It’s Time to End the Death Penalty in Ohio

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, submitted on March 18, 2015

Dear Editor,

It’s time for Ohio legislators to put an end to the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 2003, 20 Ohio inmates have been removed from death row “through exonerations, clemency, or sentence reductions because of intellectual disabilities.” In December 2014, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer testified before  the House Criminal Justice Committee. Justice Pfeifer stated “The death penalty in Ohio has become what I call a death lottery…It’s very difficult to conclude that the death penalty, as it exists today, is anything but a bad gamble. That’s really not how a criminal justice system should work.”

Currently, Ohio legislators are working on bills that would prohibit the execution of those with severe mental illness, create an indigent defense fund, require crime labs and coroners to be certified, and prohibit the execution of anyone convicted solely on the testimony of jail house snitch. While these are great steps in the right direction, it is time for Ohio to altogether abolish the death penalty.

As Justice Pfeifer rightly noted, the death penalty has become a death lottery. Those of means have the ability to hire competent defense attorneys, often resulting in the death penalty being taken off the table. The poor, who can’t afford to hire an attorney, must rely on proper representation from a public defender. In many rural areas, the poor are often assigned an attorney with little capital case experience. While many public defenders do a great job defending indigent clients, there are times when they are not up to the task, lacking the necessary skill and time to adequately defend their client.

When a person’s life hangs in the balance, they deserve competent, aggressive representation. Attorneys who defend an indigent client are paid a pathetic fee and must often wait for months or years to be reimbursed by the state. If we are going to continue to use execution as the means to punish those convicted of a capital crime, then it is morally imperative that we make sure that those facing death have the same access to attorneys, expert witnesses, and crime labs, regardless of their ability to pay.

Currently, 140 men and 1 woman are awaiting execution in Ohio. Due to controversy over the drugs used  in lethal injections, it is unlikely that there will be any executions until 2016. I would encourage Ohio legislators to use this time to find a way to bring an end to executions.

Killing someone because they committed a crime is rooted in the barbaric eye for an eye justice of the Old Testament. While many Christian sects now oppose the death penalty, Evangelicals and conservative Christians continue to demand death for those convicted of a capital crime. I ask, what happened to following in the footsteps of Jesus? Would Jesus, the Prince of Peace, approve of a criminal system that disproportionately punishes the poor and people of color? If Evangelicals, who overwhelmingly vote Republican, would get behind abolishing the death penalty, we can end this abhorrent practice.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

What Happened to the Churches I Pastored?

Several weeks ago, someone contacted me and asked:

“Regarding the churches you pastored and started, do they still exist today or have they changed their names ? I could not find any of the church’s personal websites. Sorry if you feel I wasn’t trying hard enough. I don’t know what I missed as there are hundreds of ‘google’ links.”

When I get questions like this, I have to consider, what is the person’s motive for asking this question? Do they really want to know or are they part of a small group of tin hat Christians who think that my story is a lie. Yes, even after blogging for seven years, there are those who doubt that I am telling the truth. They question if I pastored when and where I said I did. One man told anyone who would listen that he knew someone that lived where I did at the time I lived there and they didn’t know who I was. This was PROOF, at least to this reason challenged Christian, that I was lying.

My gut told me that the aforementioned letter writer was just curious or nosy, so I decided to answer his question. He also asked a question about my mother’s suicide, a question I did not answer. While I gave him a brief rundown of the churches I pastored and what happened to them, I thought I would turn my email into a blog post.

bruce and polly gerencser 1976

Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976. Polly in the first person in the first row from the left. Bruce is in the third row, eighth person from the left.

So, let’s get some facts out of the way:

  • I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • I was baptized at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • I was called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • I  preached my first sermon for the Trinity Baptist Church high school youth group in 1972 at the age of fifteen. Bruce Turner helped me prepare the sermon. The text I preached from was 2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
  • In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. I met my wife at Midwestern. We married in July of 1978. In February 1979, unemployed and Polly six months pregnant, we dropped out of college and moved to Bryan, Ohio.

Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, Ohio

In March of 1979, Jay Stuckey, pastor of the church, asked me become the bus pastor. My responsibility was to build up the bus ministry which consisted of one bus. On average, the bus brought in 15 or so riders. I went to work aggressively canvassing Montpelier in search of new bus riders. Several church members helped me with this task. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, the bus attendance was 88.  The head of junior church met me in the church parking lot and asked me what  he was supposed to do with all the children. I told him, that’s your problem. I just bring ’em in.

Several months later, the church bought another bus. On the first Sunday in October, the church had a record attendance of 500. The Sunday morning service was held at the Williams County Fairgrounds. We had dinner on the grounds, a quartet provided  special music, and Ron English from the Sword of the Lord was the guest speaker. Tom Malone was scheduled to be the speaker, but, at the last moment, he cancelled on us. Bus attendance was around 150.

The church started an expansion program to accommodate the growing crowds,  The next week after our big Sunday, I resigned as bus pastor and Polly and I packed up our household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio. Pastor Stuckey left the church a few years later. The church hired a pastor who was a fundamentalist on steroids. Attendance began to decline, he left, and another man became pastor. About a decade after I left the church, it closed its doors, unable to meet its mortgage payment. The Montpelier First Church of the Nazarene bought the building and continue to use it to this day.

emmanuel baptist church 1983

Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination, 1983

Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio

In January of 1981, my father-in-law and I started Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake,  one of the poorest communities in Ohio. I was the assistant pastor, primarily responsible for the church youth group. The church quickly grew with most of the growth coming from the burgeoning youth group. I was ordained in April of 1983, several months before Polly and I moved 20 miles south to start a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, Somerset Baptist Church.

In the early 1990’s, the church closed its doors.

somerset baptist church 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio

In July of 1983, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were 16 people in attendance. The church met in several rented buildings until it bought an abandoned Methodist church building in 1985 for $5,000. The building was built in 1831.

Over the years, church attendance rapidly grew, ebbed, and then declined after we could no longer afford to operate the bus ministry. In 1989, we started a tuition free Christian school for the children of the church. Most of the church members were quite poor, as was Perry county as a whole. Unemployment was high, and what good paying jobs there were disappeared when the mines began to lay off workers and close.

In February 1994, I resigned from the church and prepared to move to San Antonio, Texas to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Because I was a co-signer on the church mortgage and no one was willing to assume this responsibility, the church voted to close its doors. There were 54 people in attendance for our last service.

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner

Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas

In March 1994, I began working as the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church, a Sovereign Grace (Calvinistic) Baptist church. My fellow pastor, Pat Horner, had started the church in the 1980’s. The church ran about 150-200 in attendance.(I am uncertain as to the exact number since attendance records were not kept) Horner and I alternated preaching, with me doing most of the preaching on Sunday night. While I was there, I helped the church start a Christian school and plant two churches, one in Stockdale, the other in Floresville. I also helped the church start a street preaching ministry and nursing home ministry.

This post is not the place  to detail the various reasons why I left the church seven months later. Please read Taking off the Sheep Clothes, the Musings of a Wolf and Jose Maldonado Say I Never was a Christian for a fuller explanation about why I left.

Several years after I left, Horner left the church. The church is currently pastored by Kyle White. You can peruse the church’s website here. I do not think Horner is pastoring anywhere.

Olive Branch Christian Union Church, Fayette, Ohio

In March 1995, a few weeks before my grandmother died, I assumed the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette Ohio, a rural church 23 miles northeast of where I now live. Olive Branch was a dying, inward grown church in need of CPR. Over the course of the next few months, I set about getting the church on the right track. The church was over 125 years old. I had never pastored an old, established church, but how hard could it be, right? Seven months later, I resigned from the church. Despite the best attendance numbers in decades, the church was increasingly upset with my brash, bull-headed style. It all came to a head one Sunday when one of the elders found out I had moved a table from the platform to storage. He confronted me just before Sunday morning service, demanding that I put the table back. I looked at him, said NO, and walked away. Three weeks later, I resigned, and Polly and I moved our mobile home off church property to a lot 1/2 mile north of the church. We sold the trailer in 2007 to the brother of a friends of ours.

Joe Redmond took over the church after I left. He remains the pastor to this day. The church does not have a website. The church is located at the corner of Williams County Rd P and US Hwy 127.

polly gerencser late 1990's

Polly Gerencser late 1990’s, none of this would have been possible without her.

Grace Baptist Church/Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

In September 1995, two weeks after I had resigned from Olive Branch, I started a new Sovereign Grace Baptist church in nearby West Unity, Ohio. The church was called Grace Baptist Church. I would remain pastor of this church until July of 2002.

We bought the old West Unity library building to use as our meeting place. None of the families from Olive Branch came with me when I left the church, but over time three families left Olive Branch and joined Grace Baptist.  In the late 1990’s we had a church conflict over contemporary music and spiritual gifts. Five families left the church. A few weeks later, we changed the name of the church to Our Father’s House, a nondenominational church.

It was during this time that I began to have serious health problems. In July 2002, for a variety of reasons, I resigned from the church. The church body decided that they didn’t want to continue on as a church, so they voted to close the doors and sell the building.

If I had to pick one church that had the nicest, most loving people, it would be this church. After the five families left, things were quite peaceful. This is the only church where Polly and I have the same opinion about the church. Great people, a pleasure to be around

Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan

In March of 2003, I assumed the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church, a small, dying Southern Baptist church in Clare, Michigan.

There is little good I can say about this church. I worked my ass off, the church body, for the most part, was quite passive, and in October of 2003, I resigned from the church.  I never should have become the pastor of this church. It needed to die a quick death. I don’t mean to say that the people were bad people, for the most part they were typical Southern Baptists. Good people, intrenched in the ways of the past, and unable to their way clear to the future. The church and I were a wrong fit.

After we left, so did a few other families, moving on to nearby Southern Baptist churches. A year or two later, the church closed its door.

From October of 2003 to April 2005, I had numerous opportunities to pastor churches or start new works. In the end, Polly and I decided we no longer wanted to be in the ministry. All told, we spent 25 years in the ministry.