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.
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.
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.
Life is to be lived with God, his will, and eternity always in the foreground.
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:
Life is given to us by our parents.
This life is all we have. There is no life after death, no second chances, no do-overs. This is it.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 cleaveunto 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
Praying over meals
Having family devotions
What entertainments to participate in
What movies to watch
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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 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.
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.
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.
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, 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, 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.
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.
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, 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.
As many of you know, I see a secular counselor from time to time. More than once, he has challenged me over what he considers my naïveté about my fellow humans. For the longest time, I sincerely believed that if I just explained myself to people, they would at least understand where I am coming from. While they might not agree with me, they would at least understand my viewpoint. I now know that many people, especially Evangelical Christians, aren’t interested in understanding where I am coming from. They are not interested in my beliefs, explanations, or story. Armed with certainty, God living inside of them, and an inspired, infallible, inerrant text in the crooks of their elbows, they already know who and what I am. Nothing I say will change their opinion of me.
These kinds of people think they know the REAL reasons I left the ministry and left Christianity. They are certain they know exactly why I became an atheist. If my telling my story contradicts their conclusions, then I am lying, deceived, delusional, or a con-artist. Because their mind is already made up, anything that does not fit into the narrative they believe to be true is rejected out of hand. One commenter told me years ago, Bruce, I know you better than you know yourself. I think there are a lot of Evangelical Christians who think this way about me. They think their special relationship with God gives them an understanding of me that other people might not have. Most of these people have never met me and the only things they know about me are what they read on this blog. They are quite certain that they know me inside and out.
When I tell them I left Christianity primarily for intellectual reasons they don’t believe me. There must be some other reason, perhaps a “secret” reason why I am no longer a Christian. They cannot imagine how anyone, having all the training and experience I have, could ever intellectually reject Jesus Christ. They are like people who drive Fords. They love driving a Ford, and because they love driving a Ford, everyone else should too. They can’t imagine ever driving any other car but a Ford. When asked what kind of car their parents drove, they will proudly say, a Ford! It never dawns on them that perhaps the reason they drive a Ford is because their parents drove a Ford. They are convinced they drive a Ford because it is better than every other automobile make, even though they have never driven any other make of car but Ford.
Most of the atheists/agnostics I know were Christians before they became an atheist/agnostic. Many of them were serious, devoted followers of Jesus Christ. They attended church regularly, were active in the church, read and studied their Bible, prayed regularly, and financially contributed to the church. In every way they were true-blue Christians.
These atheists, like myself, reached a place where they began to have doubts questions about the Bible and Christianity. These doubts and questions led to more doubts and questions. They never intended to not be Christian, but as they read and studied they came to the conclusion that they could no longer believe the tenets of Christianity. They lost their faith in God, the Bible, and Christianity. Few people can understand the pain and heartache that they faced and continue to face as they walked away from that which was once most precious.
Many of my critics assume that I jumped from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism. They refuse to take a careful look at the path that led me to where I am today. It goes something like this:
Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christian
Evangelical Christian (Calvinistic)
I tried to find a natural stopping point as I slid down the slippery slope, but I couldn’t. No matter how much I tried to shut off my mind to the questions, they would continue to come to the forefront of my thinking and demand answers. It is the seeking of answers that finally led me to where I am today, and will lead me to where I will be tomorrow.
Many of those who refuse to accept my story at face value are sure that there is some other underlying motive for my unbelief. Brad, a commenter on a post I wrote about Steven Furtick, is an excellent example of this. Here is what he had to say:
I’m sorry to hear that you left the ministry and even more that you decided to leave Christ for a life of Atheism. I do agree with some of your comments about Furtick and his financial lifestyle.
I actually relate more with the approach of Francis Chan, as described in his book Crazy Love, which I’m assuming that you are probably familiar with. The reason I wanted to comment is because the bigger picture that you are missing is salvation. No matter if Furtick is making poor decisions regarding his finances, that does not change his salvation.
I’m concerned for you Bruce. I understand that I came on your website and read your blog, but as a Christian and believer in Christ, I feel like that someone needs to simply remind you of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and unfailing love. I wonder if you were hurt somehow in the church?
Why did you serve God for so many years and then decide to leave from the protection and shadow of his ‘wing’? If you were hurt in the church, I’m sorry for that. You can’t however, hold God accountable for something one of his crazy kids may have done! I had a bad experience at Wal-Mart one time, but I still go back and buy my groceries there!
I will pray for you and believe that you will come back to Christ. I am a licensed therapist (Masters in Counseling) and an ordained minister and I own a private practice and work with hurting people everyday. My experience is that hurt people, hurt people! I think there is a possibility that you are hurt and bitter. Maybe not. I do know that you are confused because you left God’s calling for your life! Peter Pan, you have forgotten how to fly! Don’t worry, God still loves you more than you could ever imagine. Prodigal son, when are you going to return to your Father?
Brad thinks there is an underlying reason for why I am no longer in the ministry and no longer a Christian. He made no effort to read anything else I wrote but the Steven Furtick post, and based on that post he read he “intuited” that I must be hurt.
I want to conclude this post by dealing with the notion that the reason I deconverted was due to some underlying emotional issue. For the longest time, I refused to see my deconversion as anything other than an intellectual pursuit. I knew that admitting that I was angry, jaded, cynical, or hurt would allow critics to dismiss everything else I wrote. All that would matter to them is that I left Christianity for some other reason than an intellectual one.
This coming September, it will been thirteen years since I pastored a church and seven years since I walked away from Christianity. As I continue to analyze and understand why I no longer believe, I now know the reasons are many. While the intellectual reasons are certainly the main reason I no longer believe in God, I now know that there was/is an emotional component to my deconversion.
Was I hurt in some way? No. There was no crisis event that led me to renounce my faith. There were five years between pastoring my last church and my loss of faith. During this five-year period, I had numerous opportunities to pastor. I could have started a new church, and as late as 2007, Polly and I had discussions about starting a church. I even contacted the Quaker/Friends denomination about starting a church in the Defiance, Ohio area. Until the last Sunday in November 2008, when I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, I still thought of myself as a Christian pastor. I knew I was hanging on by a thin thread, but I still thought I could intellectually make it work. In the end, I couldn’t. No one hurt me, no church so injured me that I had no other choice but to leave Christianity. If anything, my deconversion was more like a married couple who loved each other dearly but couldn’t stand to be around each other. My lifelong marriage to Christianity ended, not only for intellectual reasons, but because I could no longer stand to be around American Christianity.
Anger came after I deconverted. For the longest time, I was angry at myself for wasting so much of my life in the ministry. I was angry over how the ministry hurt my wife and children and how my preaching hurt other people. I was angry over what Evangelical Christianity was doing to America. But, most of all, I was angry at Evangelical Christians who refused to take me at face value and who refused to allow me to authentically tell my story.
While I can still get angry at belligerent, self-righteous, arrogant, cement-headed Christians, most of the time I just sigh and shake my head as they deconstruct my life or let me know that they know the REAL reason(s) I am not in the ministry or why I am no longer a Christian. I now know that I cannot make the blind see or the deaf hear. While I can readily accept their confession of faith in Jesus Christ at face value, they cannot grant me the same respect. I suspect this is because of who I am.
I am not just a generic, run-of-the-mill Christian turned atheist. I am not someone who was raised in the church and then when I became an adult, rejected the faith of my parents. I am a man who spent fifty years in the Christian church. I am a man who started preaching when he was fifteen. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Even among the apostate pastors who are prominent today, I have more time on the job than most. Many pastors who deconvert do so after five or ten years in the ministry. Rare is the man who spends fifty years in the Evangelical church and walks away from it all. I think this is the real reason many of my most vocal critics try to reduce me to dog shit on the bottom of their shoes. I wonder if they, deep down, fear that if someone such as I can lose my faith, that it is possible they can too? Perhaps when the doubts and questions they say they never have come to the surface in the still of the night, those doubts and questions have my face. Perhaps they are like a few former parishioners who cannot talk to me anymore because they find my deconversion so unsettling? They wonder, how can this be? How can Pastor Bruce be an atheist? He led me to Christ, he baptized me, he taught me the Bible, he loved me, cared for me, and prayed for me. If Bruce is an atheist, is the faith of anyone safe?
Somerset Baptist Church Auditorium after Remodel, 1992
In July of 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. In 1985, we bought a Methodist church building near Mt Perry, Ohio for $5,000.00. The church, built in 1831 and one of the oldest Methodist buildings in Ohio, would be the church home until Polly and I moved away in 1994.
During the 11 years I was pastor, hundreds of church members came and went and we hauled thousands of kids to church on one of our four buses. For 5 years, we operated a private Christian school, open only to the children of the church. It was tuition-free.
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1983
Today, I uploaded over a hundred pictures from our time at Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset/Mt Perry, Ohio. I made the album public so readers of this blog could view them. You can see them here.
This was the church where I came of age as a pastor. In 1983, I was a hardcore, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor. When I moved away in 1994 to co-pastor Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, I was a committed Calvinistic, Reformed Baptist pastor. I went through tremendous intellectual and social transformation during these 11 years.
As I scanned the pictures, my mind was flooded with wonderful memories of the shared experiences I had with the church family. Yes, there were bad times, stupid times, dumb ass times. Yes, I was a fundamentalist and that brought all kinds of baggage with it. But, as I looked at the pictures, I didn’t think about beliefs. My thoughts were of the wonderful times we had. Yes, fundamentalism mentally and emotionally hurt and scarred me, but that does not mean there are no good memories. There are lots of them. In fact, the vast majority of the memories I have are good ones. Sometimes, when people deconvert they often become so fixated on the negative that happened that they forget the good times. I know I did.
Bruce Gerencser, 1991, Somerset Baptist Academy
I also shed some tears. There were a handful of people in the pictures who are now dead. Cancer, heart attacks, and car accidents claimed their lives and all I have left of them is the pictures and our shared memories.
After I posted the pictures to Facebook, I heard from a number of people who were once part of the church. Most of the people I heard from were children when I was at Somerset Baptist Church. They are now middle-aged with families of their own. Their parents, like me, are old and gray. It was nice to hear from them.
I decided to upload to Facebook all of the old pictures I have. They aren’t very good – the best a $20.00 camera could offer. In fact, they are down-right terrible. But, infused into the photos are memories, and it is those memories that matter. In the coming weeks, I will find out if the lesion on my pancreas is cancer. If it is, I know the prognosis is, “it sucks to be me.” I am OK with that, not that I have any choice in the matter. I wanted to upload these pictures while I could. Even without the current health problems I have, I know that I am on the shorter end of life. The sun is long in the western sky and I thought it best to share the photos while I could.
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985
I feel old today, as a man who has lived a long life. But, I also feel blessed to have lived a good life, a life marked by contradiction, conflict, grief, and change, along with happiness, joy, and goodness. It is the sum of my life.
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s
I wrote the following to inform those who don’t know me about my past and present life. While this is in no way the sum of my life, it should help to answer some of the questions readers might have. I try to be open and honest. If you have a personal question you would like me to answer, please send me an email or leave your question in the comment section.
Rural NW Ohio, the village of Ney. One stoplight, one gas station, one pizza place/bar, and one restaurant/bar. We have lived here since 2007.
Do you own your own home?
What color is your hair?
Well it used to be bright red, some say orange. These days, it is a faded, dull red, mostly white. (see picture above)
How tall are you?
How much do you weigh?
I currently weigh 365 pounds. I weighed 160 pounds at age 18, 180 pounds the day I got married, and 225 pounds five years after I married. I am twice the man I was on my wedding day.
Which hand are you?
Left, 100% left.
What color are your eyes?
They range from gray to sparkling blue. Polly says my eye color is determined by my mood.
What is your body shape?
I have short legs (29 inch inseam) and a long body. One man told me I was built like a fire plug.
What’s wrong with you?
How much time do you have? I have suffered with depression most of my life. I have Fibromyalgia, diagnosed in 1997. Since 2007, I have had non-specific neurological problems that affect my ability to stand and walk. I live with daily, unrelenting pain. I walk with a cane and often have to use a wheelchair.
What sports teams do you root for?
Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Louisville Bats, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Toledo Mud Hens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Ohio State football and basketball.
I am also a dirt track racing fan.
Did you play sports?
Yes, I played Little League and City League baseball and City League basketball. I played one year of junior high football.
I was usually good enough to make the team, but I tended to be on the far end of the bench (except for City League basketball, where I was a starter).
Should Pete Rose be in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame?
What do you like to do for fun or to relax?
Go anywhere with Polly.
Attend a sporting event with my sons.
Read non-fiction books.
Take a walk in the woods, or a walk anywhere with the love of my life by my side. These days, it is usually Polly pushing me in a wheelchair when we take walks.
What are your hobbies?
I am a serious amateur photographer. I use Sony, Tamron, and Sigma equipment.
I have extensive computer/Windows software knowledge. I build my own computers.
I also like to garden and work in the yard when I am able.
When did you buy your first computer?
1992, a V-Tech 286.
Who are your favorite authors?
Thomas Merton, Henry David Thoreau, Bart Ehrman, and Wendell Berry, along with countless other authors who have helped me along the way.
What is your favorite comic?
What foods do you like?
Do you drink alcohol?
Yes, I like wine and spirits. I am not a beer drinker.
What are your favorite restaurants?
Mad Anthony’s in Fort Wayne and Auburn, Indiana, Red Lobster, and Texas Roadhouse.
For dessert, I like Eric’s Ice Cream in Defiance, Ohio and Dietsch Brothers Ice Cream in Findlay, Ohio.
What is your favorite ice cream?
Rocky Road and Mint Chocolate Chip.
What is your favorite candies?
Double dipped chocolate malted milk balls from Dietsch’s, Clark, Zero, Zagnut, Snickers, and Milky Way candy bars, and Goetz’s Carmel Creams.
What communities have you lived in?
Over the past 58 years, I have lived in:
Ohio: Bryan (numerous times), Ney (twice), Farmer, Deshler, Harrod, Findlay, Mount Blanchard, Alvordton (twice), Newark (twice), Buckeye Lake, New Lexington (twice), Junction City, Mount Perry, Glenford, and Somerset.
California: San Diego and Chula Vista.
Arizona: Tucson, Sierra Vista, Hereford, and Yuma.
Michigan: Pontiac and Clare.
How many houses have you lived in?
16 houses by age 21 and 18 more houses since Polly and I have been married.
How many cars have you owned?
Over 60. The cheapest cost $25.00, the most expensive cost $29,000.00.
What car do you currently own?
2015 Ford Escape.
What was your favorite car?
The 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS I owned in the 1970s.
What was your least favorite car?
Any of the cars I owned that were made by American Motors.
Besides pastoring, what jobs have you worked?
Janitor, gas station attendant, short order cook, newspaper motor route, life insurance salesman, sweeper salesman, restaurant general manager, network manager, durable medical equipment supply office manager, dairy department manager, grocery stock clerk, workfare/court offender program manager, litter control manager/officer, building code enforcement officer, grant manager, real estate updater for auditor’s office, farm worker, mechanic, cable box repairman, shipping and receiving, turret lathe operator, and numerous general laborer jobs in factories.
What was your favorite job?
Restaurant general manager.
What is your favorite color?
What are your politics?
Liberal, progressive, socialist.
Are you an atheist?
Are you a humanist?
What is your worldview?
I am agnostic on the God question. I cannot know for certain if a god of some sort exists, but I think it is highly improbable. It is possible that a deity of some sort might someday reveal herself to us, but I highly doubt it. I am convinced that all of the deities in the human panoply of gods are the creation of humans.
I live my day-to-day life as an atheist. Thoughts of God never enter my mind unless I am writing an article for this website.
I try to live my life according to the humanist ideals spelled out in the various humanist manifestos.
Do you fear going to hell?
No more than I fear Mickey Mouse breaking into my house and stealing my TV.
In other words, since heaven, hell, and the devil are the fictions of humans, I don’t fear hell.
How many churches have you visited/preached at in your lifetime?
What can you tell me about your wife?
We met at Bible college. Polly is a pastor’s daughter. She is my lover and best friend. She is an awesome cook, a great seamstress, and she never lets me have all the covers.
What can you tell me about your kids?
Well, there are six of them, four sons and two daughters. Four of them are married and have children of their own. One of them is going through a divorce. Five of them are gainfully employed. Our oldest daughter has Down Syndrome.
Are your children Christian?
You’ll have to ask them. None of them is Evangelical and all of them have left the faith of their youth.
Do you have any siblings?
Yes, a brother and sister. They both live in Arizona (Chandler and Tombstone).
Are your parents still living?
No. My father died at the age of 49 from a stroke and my Mom committed suicide at the age of 54.
What kind of music do you like to listen to?
I like every style of music except rap, old-style country, and opera.
Who are your favorite artists?
Matt Nathanson, Eliza Gilkyson, Darius Rucker, Theory of a Deadman, Staind, Seether, Lucinda Williams, The Carpenters, Collective Soul, Sugarland.
What is your favorite movie?
Mosquito Coast and Hell in the Pacific.
If you could live any place in the world where would you live?
Anywhere near water as long as Polly is with me and my children live 20 minutes away.
Why do you blog?
I have a story to tell and blogging is my way of telling it.
Why do you stop blogging from time to time?
Depression and health problems.
Have you made a lot of money blogging?
Yes, millions of dollars. So much money that I don’t know what to do with it.
Serious answer? Last year, blog donations totaled about $2000. I don’t write to make money. I write because I want and need to.
Are you writing a book?
Yes, I started it a dozen times and I hope to have it done before I die. I signed a book contract last December. I hope to have it completed by the end of summer.
What’s most important to you?
What’s least important to you?
The approbation of others.
What is your favorite season?
If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?
You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.
Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.
Warning! What follows is not suitable for children or fundamentalist Christians.
If you have not read the serious version of Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Bruce Gerencser, please read it here.
I have noticed in the search logs that people are looking for information (more likely dirt) on Bruce Gerencser. They are entering search strings such as Bruce Gerencser, Bruce Gerencser sermons, Bruce Gerencser bio, etc. Many times they misspell my name, spelling Gerencser: Gerenscer, Gerenser, or Gerencer.
In order to facilitate their search for the Kim Kardashian lowdown on my life, I thought I would write two posts, a serious one and this one.
Where can I listen to your old sermons?
There are no online sermons of me preaching. For many years, all of my sermons were taped. I am sure there are tapes of my sermons gathering dust in former parishioner’s closets.
All told, I preached over 4,000 sermons.
What is your shoe size?
What clothes do you wear most of the time?
I wear blue jeans and tee shirts 99% of the time.
I still have a tie I bought in 1976. I haven’t worn a tie in almost ten years.
I don’t wear shorts in public and I have not taken my shirt off in public in over 30 years. I know all the babes in Ney are just waiting for me to go strutting down the street with no shirt. I am sure they will think, what a stud. Or maybe they will call 911.
I always wear a hat in public. Usually I wear a Reds or Bengals hat. In the winter, I wear wool fedoras.
What kind of underwear do you wear?
Currently, plaid boxers.
What is your…?
Don’t even ask. I am told that it is big enough. But, the person telling me this has only seen one flesh and blood man naked. Compared to what I have seen, uh, well somewhere on the internet, I doubt I will become a porn star any time soon.
Are you on Social Security?
No. Thanks to listening to well-off, hate-the-government preachers, I opted out of Social Security when I was 24 (seemed like a good, money-saving idea at the time). By the time I realized those preachers were full of shit and opted back in, it was too late. While I cannot draw Social Security Disability, I will be able to draw Social Security based on my secular work in July 2019.
Do you have animals?
Yes, I currently have a dog that somehow stayed behind when my youngest daughter moved out. I also have a cat. Polly tolerates and sometimes loves the animals. Thanks to my mother, I am a hopeless animal lover.
Do you kill spiders?
Never. It’s the Buddhist in me.
Are you afraid of snakes?
I do wish the snakes that stand in fundamentalist pulpits Sunday after Sunday would climb into a hole never to be seen again. Dare we hope?
What kind of temperament do you have?
Why, just ask my family. I am quiet, meek, passive, and never get angry. Okay, I might be lying just a wee bit.
Back in the real world, I am temperamental and have a wry sense of humor. I can quickly become angry, but my anger rapidly dissipates. I don’t hold grudges and I am quick to forgive.
My humor has gotten more risqué post-Jesus. I blame this on my children.
Do you have any identifying marks?
I am circumcised. That sure as hell had to hurt. I don’t remember it, but it sure left a scar.
I have a scar on my nose from skin cancer surgery, a scar on my left hand from carpal tunnel surgery, and a scar on my hip from cancer surgery.
I have a scar on my leg from being bit by a dog when I was 11.
I have short legs, a long body, and no butt. I have spent most of my life pulling up my pants and tucking in my shirt. I wear suspenders lest locals someday open their newspaper and read Local Atheist Moons Christians at Meijer.
What was your greatest sports achievement?
As a 12-year-old, I won third place in the Deshler Punt, Pass and Kick contest. There were four kids in my age group.
Are you allergic to anything?
Bees and Republicans.
If you had to concoct one meal, what would be in it?
The Whopper from Burger King, French fries from McDonald’s, onion rings from Sonic, washed down with a super-sized Pepsi. And then, for dessert, a banana split from Eric’s Ice Cream.
Man, I wish I could eat this meal right now. Sounds like a dying man’s last wish.
Do you swear?
Have you ever killed anyone?
Just myself, one fast food and junk food meal at a time.
Have you ever looked at pornography?
Really, you are asking this? I am a guy. Next question.
Have you ever committed adultery?
Yes. Jesus said if I look at a woman in lust I have committed adultery with her in my heart. I must admit I have an adulterous heart. My wife now says we are in an open marriage, so I can look but not touch. Touching will bring the death penalty.
Do you have any irrational fears?
One — flying on an airplane. I did it once and it ain’t happening again, ever! If my brother or sister in Arizona dies before me, they better keep them on ice until I get there. I will be taking the bus or Polly will be driving me. No planes. The good news is that I will likely die before they do, so I don’t have to worry about flying again.
Have you ever committed a crime?
Felony or misdemeanor?
I shoplifted clothing as a teenager, mainly Levi jeans. My Dad thought Rink’s Bargain City, also known as Bargain Shitty, and Twin Fair were fine clothing stores.
Years ago, I stiffed the IRS by not claiming cash gifts from parishioners as income. This is a common practice among clergy.
A teenage friend of mine and I stole his father’s 1955 Chevrolet and turfed a bunch of lawns. We made the newspaper the next day.
As a teenager I pelted cars with apples, water balloons, and snowballs. I now threaten to beat the shit out of kids who do the same to me.
I have had more traffic tickets than I can count, but none since 1985.
In 2014, I found $27 in a school parking lot. I thanked the Sky God for his blessing and put it in my pocket. I did look to see if anyone was nearby to whom the money might belong. My eyesight was pretty bad. After the game, I used the money to buy dinner.
What are your favorite sodas?
Pepsi, Suncrest Cream Soda, Jones Cream Soda, Big Red, and Faygo Rock and Rye.
I refuse to drink diet pop. Diet pop is like taking Vicodin without the Hydrocodone. Why bother?
What are seven things you hate?
Any team from Ann Arbor, Michigan that is playing Ohio State.
The Saint Louis Cardinals.
Fundamentalism, wherever it is found.
Rude, self-absorbed people.
Any fart but my own.
What is your favorite practical joke?
I put brown shoe polish on toilet paper and then came out of the bathroom screaming at my kids about who left the shitty toilet paper in the bathroom. Much to their horror, I proceeded to put the toilet paper in my mouth.
Have you ever used illegal drugs?
Never, but I sure would like a joint. I think it would help with my pain. Anyone from Colorado coming this way? Please, don’t send me pot in the mail. Front door deliveries only.
Have you ever had an affair?
Only with God, Jesus, and the church. They sure turned out to be lousy lovers.
What’s the oldest thing in your house?
You mean beside me and Polly?
Old photos of family are the treasure I hold on to. I have the baseball glove I bought at the age of 14 from JC Penny. I also have a knife my Dad gave me 47 years ago.
What are your favorite homemade desserts?
Vanilla pudding with vanilla wafers and meringue on top, but only if it is made exactly like my mom made it. Polly has finally perfected the recipe, so she no longer has to hear me say, “this ain’t like Mom’s.”
Oatmeal, raisin, and chocolate chip cookies.
Any cake my mother-in-law-makes.
Oreos — they are homemade, right?
What things do you refuse to get rid of?
I’ve had the same metal desk and file cabinet in my office for 33 years. They were made in the 1950s, back when Americans made stuff.
What was the first car you owned?
My first car was a 1960 Mercury Comet. I let an unlicensed friend of mine drive it one day and he lost control of it. The car hit a ditch bank and flipped over several times. He ended up in the back with the seat on top of him and I ended up with my head sticking out of where the windshield used to be. The car was totaled. I paid $200 for the car. To hear my friend tell it, we were going 100 mph when he lost control. The car had a six cylinder 144 CID motor, with a top speed of 68 mph. He was actually doing about 40 mph when he lost control.
What magazines do you read?
I now subscribe to Apple’s $9.99 a month magazine service. I read the magazines on my iPad Pro.
I also read magazines when I use the toilet. If no magazine is available, I read the ingredients on whatever is nearby. Always learning.
If you could sit anywhere with Polly where would it be?
Okay Bruce, they want a romantic answer. The fifty yard line at the Super Bowl is not what they are looking for.
On the banks of the Blanchard River, Riverside Park, Findlay, Ohio.
The eastern shore of Lake Michigan when the sun is setting.
What are your toilet habits?
I put the seat up when I pee and I don’t put it back down — that is IF I make it to the toilet before my bladder screams PEE! I have no ability to keep from urinating. So, when it is time to go, it is really time to go, like n-o-w.
I don’t care which way the toilet paper roll dispenses the paper.
Do you have a reoccurring dream?
Yes, and it involves Pamela Anderson. Enough said.
I hope you have had some fun with this post. I have no doubt this will not satisfy those looking to get some dirt on me or discover who the r-e-a-l Bruce Gerencser is. Who knows, maybe they will find out I am really a cross-dressing, vegan, University of Michigan-loving man. After all, the lies told about a person always make for better news than the truth.