Life

40 Years Later: A Kiss for Luck and We’re on Our Way

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

It was a hot July day in 1978 when Polly and I stood before family and friends at the Newark Baptist Temple and pledged our troth one to one another. We were two naive — in every way — Baptist youths, nineteen and twenty-one. We believed that God had divinely brought us together. We met for the first time in late August 1976, days before our first classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I planned to be a pastor and Polly set her sights on finding herself a preacher-boy to marry.

We were a mismatched couple; Polly was quiet, reserved, and backward, whereas I was talkative, outgoing, and precocious. Our early dates were a whole lot of me talking and Polly listening. After dating for six months — dating meaning double-dates to college-approved restaurants and no physical contact  (See Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule) — I asked Polly to marry me. She said yes, and I gave her a 1/4 carat diamond ring I had purchased at Sears for $225. Little did we know what life would bring our way. Our plans were simple: get married, have two children, move to a town where I would pastor a church the rest of our lives, and live in quaint home with a white picket fence. What could go wrong, right?

Our first reality check came when Polly’s mom informed us that we couldn’t get married; that she and her Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor-husband would not give us their blessing. My parents divorced in the early 1970s, and Polly’s mom believed divorce was hereditary. After several months of stewing over their disapproval, Polly called her mom and told her that we were going to get married anyway, with or without their approval. This was the first time Polly stood up to her parents. Realizing that they had no power to stop us from marrying, Polly’s parent’s relented and set their minds on preparing for their daughter’s soon-to-come July wedding.

Our wedding was typical of the day, but there were several things that stand out even today. My best man and groomsmen were friends of mine from college. We had rented our tuxedos in Pontiac, bringing them with us to Newark, Ohio for the wedding. Thinking the rental company had properly sized our tuxes, we didn’t try them on before the day of the wedding, Imagine our surprise, then, to find out one of the groomsmen’s pants were too small. Panic set in, but Polly’s mom quickly took care of things by letting out the seat of the pants. All is well, we thought. Come time for the wedding, the preacher (the late James Dennis, Polly’s uncle), my groomsmen, and I walked up basement stairs to the front on the church auditorium. As we were walking up the stairs, the emergency-tailored pants ripped from stem to stern. All any of us could to was laugh, and laugh we did. My friend would stand the whole time with legs and butt cheeks clenched together during the ceremony, hoping that no one would see his airy pants. Fortunately, no one saw the tear, though I do wonder if some people wondered why he was walking through the church with his legs to tightly closed together.

Polly’s uncle volunteered to photograph our wedding. We said, sure. Art purchased new lighting equipment for our wedding. As the wedding processional began, I saw this panicked look on Art’s face. His new equipment was not working! Unfortunately, as a result, we have no live photographs of our wedding. We do have posed photos that were taken after the wedding.

The soloist for our wedding was a college friend of ours. He sang two songs, The Wedding Song by Peter, Paul and Mary:

He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts
Rest assured this troubadour is acting on His part.
The union of your spirits, here, has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is Love. There is Love.

A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home
And they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.
As it was in the beginning is now and ‘til the end
Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again.
And there is Love. There is Love.

Well then what’s to be the reason for becoming man and wife?
Is it Love that brings you here or Love that brings you life?
And if loving is the answer, then who’s the giving for?
Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before?
Oh there’s Love, there is Love.

Oh the marriage of your spirits here has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is Love. There is Love.

and We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters:

We’ve only just begun to live
White lace and promises
A kiss for luck and we’re on our way
We’ve only begun

Before the rising sun, we fly
So many roads to choose
We’ll start out walking and learn to run
And yes, we’ve just begun

Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watching the signs along the way
Talkin’ it over, just the two of us
Workin’ together day to day, together

And when the evening comes, we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
And yes, we’ve just begun

Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watching the signs along the way
Talkin’ it over, just the two of us
Workin’ together day to day, together

And when the evening comes, we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
And yes, we’ve just begun

Little did we know, that “secular” music was not permitted for weddings at the Baptist Temple. Afterward, we learned that, thanks to us, all wedding music had to be pre-approved. Forty years later, our “sin” still affects couples wanting to be married at the Baptist Temple. Sorry ’bout that!

After our wedding, we headed to Springfield, Ohio where we would spend our first night together as husband and wife. Neither of us had any experience sexually. Our entire sex education came from things I overheard in high school locker rooms, Polly’s mom giving her a two-minute PSA, and both of us reading The Act of Marriage, by Fundamentalist Baptist Tim LaHaye. Somehow, we figured out.

bruce polly gerencser wedding 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, July 1978, with Bruce’s mom and dad

We spent two nights at the French Lick Hotel in French Lick, Indiana. Afterward, we drove to Rochester, Indiana to visit my mom and then over to Bryan, Ohio to visit my sister and her family. We spent the night at the Exit Two Motel. The room was hot, infested with mosquitoes, and we spent the night listening to clanking pipes. Come morning, we returned to Pontiac, Michigan to begin our junior year of college.

We rented a four-room upstairs apartment in Waterford Township, a short drive from Midwestern. I returned to my job at Felice’s Market and Polly continued to clean the homes of several people, including the condo of a Jewish rabbi and his family. Six weeks after our wedding, Polly informed me that she was pregnant. Pregnant? How can that be? I thought. We are using birth control. Children should never play with fireworks, and so it is with naïve Baptist youths with sex. We knew we wanted to wait to have children, but our inexperience with birth control charted a different course for us. In late May 1979, our son was born, six weeks before our first wedding anniversary. By then, I had been laid off from work, we dropped out of college, and returned to Northwest Ohio — the last place I ever wanted to come back to.

Yesterday, Polly and I celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary. We spent the afternoon and evening in Findlay, Ohio, sitting along the banks of the Blanchard River, photographing squirrels, and talking about life. So much water has coursed under proverbial bridge of our married life. At times, slow-moving streams, at other times floods threatening to overrun the banks, destroying all that stood in their way. Yet, we survived. Six children in ten years. Always living life on the edge of financial ruin. Bankruptcy. Twenty-five years of pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Countless houses and automobiles. A near-death health crisis. Surgeries. Heart problems. Chronic illness, unrelenting pain, and disability. The birth of a daughter with Down Syndrome. The loss of faith and starting over. Any of these things could have brought ruin, yet we endured.

We are not special or gifted in any way. There’s no formula or magic. We know that that we are lucky to have made it this far. Yet, made it we have. As we drove home from Findlay in a car that cost more than our first twenty cars combined, I opened Spotify on my iPhone and started streaming The Carpenters to our car’s entertainment system. My how things have changed. We are a long ways away from when we first listened to these songs on WJR and CKLW, yet their lyrics touch a deep place in our hearts, bringing tears and longing. We started out forty years ago with We’ve Only Just Begun, and in many ways that’s still the case. While most of our life together is in the rear-view mirror, there are still new horizons ahead. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, with a kiss for luck, we’ll make it to the end.

I love you, Polly.

I See That Hand

raised hands

I’m lying in bed on my right side, with my left arm and hand extended straight up, hoping to relieve some pain in my arm.

Polly walks in and says, “I see that hand!”

(Polly’s mom is having surgery on Thursday and she’s driving to Newark to care for her mom a day or two.)

I replied, sarcastically, “you should go to your mom’s on Wednesday so you can go to church with her.”

(Polly’s mom attends an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church where the pastor asks non-Christians to raise their hand if they would like prayer. To each raised hand he replies, “I see that hand.”)

With all might of a scorned Baptist preacher’s daughter, Polly said, “HELL NO!”

I replied, “actually you should be saying HELL YES! If you don’t want to be saved you are saying YES to HELL!”

Polly laughs and says, “un huh, once saved, always saved!”

I replied, “that’s right….”

And we both had a hearty laugh, safe in knowing that no matter how much we mock God or deny his existence, we still get to go to Heaven when we die. Sweet, right?

Questions: Bruce, If You Had It to Do All Over Again, Is There Anything You Would Do Differently?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Tony asked, “When looking back at the events when you revealed to your family and friends your loss of faith would you change any of the way you navigated that? If so, what and why?”

Come November, it will ten years since I left Christianity; ten years since I attended a public worship service; ten years since I prayed; ten years since I studied the Bible; ten years since I abandoned that which had been the hub, the center, the focus of my life.

In April 2009, I sent a letter to family, friends, and former parishioners. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you has an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and decisions I made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually every fiber of my being.

I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the church was my life would be an understatement.  As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress, and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known this for a long time, but now everyone will know.

The church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies has led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. Particularly, I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is.

I have no time to invest in the blame game. I am where I am today for any number of reasons and I must embrace where I am and move forward.

In moving forward, I have stopped attending church. I have not attended a church service since November of 2008. I have no interest of desire in attending any church on a regular basis. This does not mean I will never attend a church service again, but it does mean, for NOW, I have no intention of attending church services.

I pastored for the last time in 2003. Almost six years have passed by. I have no intentions of ever pastoring again. When people ask me about this, I tell them I am retired. With the health problems that I have, it is quite easy to make an excuse for not pastoring, but the fact is I don’t want to pastor.

People continue to ask me “what do you believe?” Rather than inquiring about how my life is, the quality of that life, etc., they reduce my life to what I believe. Life becomes nothing more than a set of religious constructs. A good life becomes believing the right things.

I can tell you this…I believe God is…and that is the sum of my confession of faith.

A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.

I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones. I am a committed progressive, liberal Democrat, with the emphasis being on the progressive and liberal. My evolving views on women, abortion, homosexuality, war, socialism, social justice, and the environment have led me to the progressive, liberal viewpoint.

I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, she is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye opener.

Polly is free to be whomever and whatever she wishes. If she wants to start attending the local Fundamentalist Baptist church she is free to do so, and even has my blessing. For now, she doesn’t.  She may never believe as I believe, but in my new way of thinking that is OK. I really don’t care what others think. Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you living a good, productive life? Do you enjoy life? “Yes,” to these questions is good enough for me.

I have six children, three of whom are out on their own. For many years I was the spiritual patriarch of the family. Everyone looked to me for the answers. I feel somewhat burdened over my children. I feel as if I have left them out on their own with no protection. But, I know they have good minds and can think and reason for themselves. Whatever they decide about God, religion, politics, or American League baseball is fine with me.

All I ask of my wife and children is that they allow me the freedom to be myself, that they allow me to journey on in peace and love. Of course, I still love a rousing discussion about religion, the Bible, politics, etc. I want my family to know that they can talk to me about these things, and anything else for that matter, any time they wish.

Opinions are welcome. Debate is good. All done? Let’s go to the tavern and have a round on me. Life is about the journey, and I want my wife and children to be a part of my journey and I want to be a part of theirs.

One of the reasons for writing this letter is to put an end to the rumors and gossip about me. Did you know Bruce is/or is not_____________? Did you know Bruce believes____________? Did you know Bruce is a universalist, agnostic, atheist, liberal ___________?

For you who have been friends or former parishioners, I apologize to you if my change has unsettled you, or has caused you to question your own faith. That was never my intent.

The question is, what now?

Family and friends are not sure what to do with me.

I am still Bruce. I am still married. I am still your father, father in-law, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and son-in-law. I would expect you to love me as I am and treat me with respect.

  • Here is what I don’t want from you:
  • Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?
  • Constant reminders that you are praying for me. Please don’t think of me as unkind, but I don’t care that you are praying for me. I find no comfort, solace or strength from your prayers. Be my friend if you can, pray if you must, but leave the prayers in the closet. As long as God gets your prayer message, that will be sufficient.
  • Please don’t send me books, tracts, or magazines. You are wasting your time and money.
  • Invitations to attend your Church. The answer is NO. Please don’t ask. I used to attend Church for the sake of family but no longer. It is hypocritical for me to perform a religious act of worship just for the sake of family. I know how to find a Church if I am so inclined, after all I have visited more than 125 churches since 2003.
  • Offers of a church to pastor. It is not the lack of a church to pastor that has led me to where I am. If I would lie about what I believe, I could be pastoring again in a matter of weeks. I am not interested in ever pastoring a church again.
  • Threats about judgment and hell. I don’t believe in either, so your threats have no impact on me.
  • Phone calls. If you are my friend you know I don’t like talking on the phone. I have no interest in having a phone discussion about my religious or political views.

Here is what I do want from you:

I want you to unconditionally love me where I am and how I am.

That’s it.

Now I realize some (many) of you won’t be able to do that. My friendship, my familial relationship with you is cemented with the glue of Evangelical orthodoxy. Remove the Bible, God, and fidelity to a certain set of beliefs and there is no basis for a continued relationship.

I understand that. I want you to know I have appreciated and enjoyed our friendship over the years. I understand that you can not be my friend any more. I even understand you may have to publicly denounce me and warn others to stay away from me for fear of me contaminating them with my heresy. Do what you must. We had some wonderful times together and I will always remember those good times.

You are free from me if that is your wish.

I shall continue to journey on. I can’t stop. I must not stop.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Bruce

As you can see, when I wrote this letter I was still hanging on to the hope that there was a deistic God of some sort. By the fall of 2009, I had abandoned any pretense of belief and I embraced the atheist moniker. I hope readers today can sense my rawness and pain as I wrote those words a decade ago.

Writing this letter was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. I knew that my letter would cause some controversy, but I naively believed that the Christians in my life would understand and appreciate me being honest about where I was in life. The fallout was immediate. I received numerous angry, judgmental emails and letters. No one was interested in understanding my point of view. Instead, people told me I was under the control of Satan and I needed to immediately repent. A handful of people couldn’t wrap their minds around my new life, so they said I was mentally ill and needed help. One woman wrote and told me that my problem was that I was reading too many books. She advised me to only read the Bible, believing that if I did so all would be well and Pastor Bruce would return to the faith.

A close pastor friend of mine drove three plus hours from southern Ohio to pay me a visit. Afterwards, I wrote him a letter:

Dear Friend,

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a 100.00 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a 100.00 bill in the offering plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and me a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I being a Calvinist.

One day you came to place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become (whether I view it as good or bad).

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced, I had no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace.

Do you know what troubled me the most? You didn’t shake my hand as you left. For 26 years we shook hands as we came and went. The significance of this is overwhelming. You can no longer give me the right hand of fellowship because we no longer have a common Christian faith.

Over the course of three hours you constantly reminded me of the what I used to preach, what I used to believe. I must tell you forthrightly that that Bruce is dead. He no longer exists, but in the memory of a distant past. Whatever good may have been done I am grateful, but I bear the scars and memories of much evil done in the name of Jesus. Whatever my intentions, I must bear the responsibility for what I did through my preaching, ministry style, etc.

You seem to think that if I just got back in the ministry everything would be fine. Evidently, I can not make you understand that the ministry is the problem. Even if I had any desire to re-enter the ministry, where would I go? What sect would take someone with such beliefs as mine? I ask you to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a pastor again. Does not the Bible teach that if a man desires the office of a bishop (pastor) he desires a good work? I have no desire for such an office. Whatever desire I had died in the rubble of my 25 plus year ministry.

We talked about many things didn’t we? But I wonder if you really heard me?

I told you my view on abortion, Barack Obama, the Bible, and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ.

You told me that a Christian couldn’t hold such views. According to your worldview that is indeed true. I have stopped using the Christian label. I am content to be a seeker of truth, a man on a quest for answers. I now know I never will have all the answers. I am now content to live in the shadows of ambiguity and the unknown.

What I do know tells me life does not begin at conception, that Barack Obama is a far better President than George Bush, that the Bible is not inerrant or inspired, and that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven (if there is a Heaven at all).

This does not mean that I deny the historicity of Jesus or that I believe there is no God. I am an agnostic. While I reject the God of my past, it remains uncertain that I will reject God altogether. Perhaps…

In recent years you have told me that my incessant reading of books is the foundation of the problems I now face. Yes, I read a lot. Reading is a joy I revel in. I read quickly and I usually comprehend things quite easily (though I am finding science to be a much bigger challenge). Far from being the cause of my demise, books have opened up a world to me that I never knew existed. Reading has allowed me to see life in all its shades and complexities. I can no more stop reading than I can stop eating. The passion for knowledge and truth remain strong in my being. In fact, it is stronger now than it ever was in my days at Somerset Baptist Church.

I was also troubled by your suggestion that I not share my beliefs with anyone. You told me my beliefs could cause others to lose their faith! Is the Christian faith so tenuous that one man can cause others to lose their faith? Surely, the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than Bruce (even if I am Bruce Almighty).

I am aware of the fact that my apostasy has troubled some people. If Bruce can walk away from the faith…how can any of us stand? I have no answer for this line of thinking. I am but one man…shall I live in denial of what I believe? Shall I say nothing when I am asked of the hope that lies within me? Christians are implored to share their faith at all times. Are agnostics and atheists not allowed to have the same freedom?

I suspect the time has come that we part as friends. The glue that held us together is gone. We no longer have a common foundation for a mutual relationship. I can accept you as you are, but I know you can’t do the same for me. I MUST be reclaimed. I must be prayed for. The bloodhound of heaven must be unleashed on my soul.

Knowing all this, it is better for us to part company. I have many fond memories of the years we spent together. Let’s mutually remember the good times of the past and each continue down the path we have chosen.

Rarer than an ivory-billed woodpecker is a friendship that lasts a lifetime. 26 years is a good run.

Thanks for the memories.

Bruce

I saw my former friend a couple of years ago at the funeral of an ex-parishioner. The family had asked me to conduct the funeral. We traded pleasantries and went our separate ways. Whatever friendship we once had was gone.

Polly’s family — which included, at the time, three Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers, an IFB missionary, and an IFB evangelist — said nothing to me, but I heard all sorts of negative stuff through the family grapevine. One of the aforementioned preachers did contact me via email. We had an honest, friendly discussion; that is, until the family patriarch told him to stop talking to me. He, of course, complied. Polly’s parents (her dad is a retired IFB pastor) took the “we are praying for you” approach. To this day, her parents have never talked to us about why we left Christianity. I do know they have, in the past, read my blog.

I am often asked about how my children responded to my deconversion. Keep in mind that I was a pastor their entire lives. They spent thousands of hours in church. They also had a firsthand look at the ugly underbelly of Evangelical Christianity. Over the years, I have had varying degrees of discussion with my children about why I left Christianity. For a time, some of them were confused. Imagine your dad being a pastor your entire life, and then one day he says, “I am no longer a Christian!” For a time, some of my children didn’t know what to do with their new-found freedom. I was criticized for “cutting my children free.” I was told that this was cruel; that I should have provided them support and guidance. Perhaps. At the time, I wanted them to have the same freedom I had; the freedom to walk the path of life without Dad saying, “this is the path, walk this way.” I leave it to my children to tell their own stories. I can say this: none of them is Evangelical. And for this I am grateful. The curse has been broken.

What about Polly? As with my children, I can’t and won’t speak for Polly. She has a story to tell, and perhaps she will one day tell it. I can say that Polly and I walked together out the back door of the church, and neither of us believes in God. Our primary difference, of course, is that I am an outspoken Evangelical-turned-atheist, whereas Polly — consistent with her quiet, reserved nature — prefers to quietly live her life, keeping her thoughts about God and religion to herself.

Knowing all that I have written above (and countless other experiences I haven’t shared), if I had it to do all over again, would I do anything differently? I have often pondered this question. Was it wise to send everyone a letter? Should I have started blogging about my loss of faith? Should I have named names and used my real name in my writing?  I certainly can argue that I should have done none of those things; that by doing them I turned myself into a target; that by doing them I quickly and irrevocably destroyed numerous personal relationships. Would it have been better for me to die by a thousand cuts, or was it better to cut my jugular vein and get it over with?

The answer lies in the kind of person I am. I have always believed in being open and honest. I have never been good with keeping secrets. I love to talk; to share my story; to share my beliefs and opinions. In this regard, Polly and I are quite different from each other. I have always been outgoing and talkative, a perfect match for a vocation as a preacher. Leaving Christianity took me away from all I held dear, but I remained the same man I always was. This is why my counselor tells me that I am still a preacher; still a pastor. The only thing that’s changed is the message. I suspect he is right, and that’s why, if I had to do it all over again, I would have still written a letter to family, friends, and former parishioners. I would, however, have made a better effort at explaining myself to my children and extended family. I am not sure doing so would have made any difference, but it might have lessened some of the family stress and disconnect.

For readers inclined to follow in my steps, please read Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist. Don’t underestimate what might happen when you say to Christian family and friends, I am an atheist. Once you utter those words, you no longer control what happens next. In my case, I lost all of my friends save one. People I had been friends with for twenty and thirty years — gone.

Being a pastor was how I made a living. One thing I have learned is that being an atheist, disabled, and fifty to sixty years old renders one unemployable (I have had a few job offers over the past decade, but the physical demands of the jobs made employment impossible). Two years ago, I started a photography business. This has provided a little bit of income, for which I am grateful. Come June 2019, I will start receiving social security. This will hopefully alleviate some of the financial difficulties we’ve faced in recent years. I mention these things because I did not consider how being a very public atheist (and socialist) in a rural white Christian area would affect my ability to make a living. In recent years, I have met several local atheists who, for business and professional reasons, keep their godlessness to themselves. I don’t blame them for doing so. It is at this point alone that I pause and consider whether my chosen path out of Christianity was wise. Would things have been better for me had I kept my “light” to myself? Maybe. All I know is this: there are no do-overs in life, and all any of us can do is walk the path before us. I intend to keep telling my story until I run out of things to say. And people who know me are laughing, saying, “like that’s going to happen anytime soon!”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Does the IFB Church Movement Promote Ritual Child Abuse?

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

I stands for Independent

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

F stands for Fundamentalist (or Fundamental)

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

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

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

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

B stands for Baptist

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

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

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

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

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

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

spanking with belt

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

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

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

These practices are, without a doubt, child abuse. Of course, IFB parents don’t see themselves as child abusers. How can it be abusive to follow the teachings of the Bible? they ask. Pastors will point not only to the Bible as justification for ritual child abuse, they will also point to history, saying that back in the days when America was great parents weren’t afraid to beat their children. These preachers point to the decline of Western Civilization and say that one of the reasons for the decline is a lack of rigorous, through discipline of children.

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Why I Hate Talking on the Telephone

talking on the telephonePeople who know me well think of me as a conundrum of sorts; a mixture of behaviors that don’t normally fit together. For example, I was a preacher for twenty-five years. I preached thousands of sermons to thousands of people. You would think, then, that I love crowds. Actually, I don’t. I prefer small groups of people, and I usually try to blend in instead of being the life of the party. I would much rather spend a quiet evening with the love of my life than attend a concert or sporting event where I feel as if I am sardine. Some of my children love Black Friday and other people-crammed shopping events. Not me. I am quite temperamental, and repeatedly being assaulted while shopping usually ends with me having homicidal thoughts. Amazon, then, was created for someone just like me. I can sit in my recliner wearing shorts and a robe, and shop to my heart’s content. No muss, no fuss; no bumps, no thumps. Click, click, click, done; all without having to resort to using mindfulness techniques to calm myself down.

I love the privacy my home affords me. Friends and family know that I do not like unannounced visitors. Want to stop by? Make an appointment. My children know that I don’t like them stopping in as they are passing through town. By all means, mow the grass, rake the leaves, or shovel the walks. Just don’t knock on the door. I see most of my children and grandchildren weekly, but it is always at pre-planned events such as parties or ballgames. Rarely does a week go by that at least one of them isn’t at our home to visit and eat their mother’s cooking. Again, these lunch or dinner appointments are scheduled ahead of time. It’s not that I can’t do things spontaneously, I can. However, I much prefer living life by the calendar. I am a big Google Calendar fan. Every upcoming appointment, party, and event has an entry. This year, I have been photographing sporting events for the local high school. The first thing I do when the game schedules are announced is add them to my calendar. The same goes for my grandchildren’s school events and games. Want to know where Bruce/Dad/Grandpa is on a particular day? Check his calendar.

This brings me to the telephone. I HATE talking on the telephone. I have to use the phone for business, but for anything else I use email or other internet-based tools. Over the past decade, countless readers of this blog have asked if they could call me. Unlike yours truly, they prefer to communicate via phone. I always decline. The greatest invention of the internet era is text messaging. It’s perfect for someone with my aversion to talking on the phone. Tell me what you want and I will then answer in as few words as possible. I will, on occasion, engage in longer discussions via text with close friends of mine, but I prefer short and sweet; yes or no; on time or late; Moose Tracks or Neapolitan, to War and Peace-sized text conversations.

My hatred for talking on the phone finds its nexus in my preaching days. Long before email and texting, there were rotary (and later push button) dial telephones. For a pastor, having a phone meant that he was on-call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There were days when I would be gone until late in the evening, only to arrive home and be greeted with numerous phone calls I had to return. Rarely were these calls of any great importance. Most calls were from congregants who either wanted advice or just wanted someone to talk to. I preferred they make an appointment to see me at the office, but, hey, I’m sure the preacher won’t mind if I call him at 10:00 P.M. after he has worked a twelve-hour day, is how many church members thought of the matter.

As thoughtful pastors are wont to do, I chose to put the wants and needs of congregants before my own. No matter how tired I was or what I had planned, if Sister Billy Jo or Brother Billy Bob called, I accepted their calls and politely listened to whatever it was they had to say. Some of these conversations would go on for an hour or more, and on more than one occasion my wife had to nudge me because I was starting to fall asleep.

You might be wondering, Bruce, why didn’t you just tell them you had to go? Good question. The short answer is that I never could bring myself to inconvenience people or make them feel as if they were a bother. I had colleagues in the ministry who refused to accept calls at home from church members. I had other pastor friends who had no problem with cutting off long-winded callers, even going so far as lie if need be to get them off the phone. Unfortunately, I never could do so. Thus, decades of listening to droning phone calls have developed into a hatred for telephone conversation (and I suspect my desire to be left alone stems from the constant stream of church members stopping by my home and office unannounced so they could share with me their latest greatest burden, complaint, or prayer request).

If I had to trace all of this back to its source, I imagine the blame would lie at the feet of my obsessive-compulsive personality. Obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) plays a prominent part in the day-to-day rhythm of my life. I desire and crave order. I like to be in control. My children heard me say to them countless times growing up: everything has a place. Forty years of marriage and a hell of a lot of marital squabbles have taught me that not everyone can or wants to live their lives as I do. I had to learn that it is okay for people to be different from me; that it is okay for people to be disordered and cluttery; that it is okay for people to fly by the seat of their pants. I also had to learn that it is okay for me to be the way I am as long as I don’t demand others conform to my way of life.  My relationships with family and friends are much better now that I have stopped trying to straighten everyone’s crooked pictures. All of us are who we are. For me, that means not liking to talk on the telephone. If I didn’t need a telephone for my business and medical emergencies, I wouldn’t have one. Send me a text or an email, if you must, but please don’t call; that is, unless you want to give me a large sum of cash.  Why, for money I’ll do almost anything, including talking on the phone.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Was Fundamentalist Pastor Bruce Gerencser Mentally Ill?

bruce gerencser 1991

Bruce Gerencser, 1991, Somerset Baptist Academy. Surely everyone can see from this picture that I was a real Christian.

Telling my story often leads people to surmise that they only way someone could believe and behave as I did was to be mentally ill; that nobody in his right mind would live as I did; that only a crazy person would stand on a street corner and preach at passersby; that only a lunatic would sacrifice his life and that of his family to a non-existent God. Dismissing these things with the wave of a Freudian hand is far too easy, and it allows non-Christians to avoid thinking about how their own behavior might be deemed mental illness by those who do not have their beliefs. For example, countless people believe that essential oils can cure all sorts of diseases, as can chiropractic care. Evangelists from the First Church of Essential Oils and First Subluxation Church of the Spine use blogs, social media, newspapers, and face-to-face encounters to preach their gospel, hoping to convert people to their respective religions. The same could be said about homeopathy, iridology, acupuncture, and herbal cancer cures. Consider also that many political systems of thought, much like Christian Fundamentalists, demand fidelity, purity, and obedience. And we must not forget the God-above-all-Gods, American sports — particularly football and basketball. Spend some time around people whose lives revolve around this or that sports team, and it’s hard not to conclude that these people are delusional members of a cult. Yet, all of these beliefs and behaviors EXCEPT Christian Fundamentalism are considered “normal.” Why is that?

It is not helpful to lazily attach the “mentally ill” label to all Christian Fundamentalists. Now, that’s not to say that some Christian Fundamentalists aren’t mentally ill — they are. What troubles me is when non-Fundamentalists look at Evangelical beliefs and practices and conclude that only insane people would believe and live that way. This is a patently false conclusion. We must either conclude that all humans — yes you — have, to some degree or the other, a mental imbalance, or there are other explanations for why all of us believe and practice the things we do. I would posit that we humans are complex creatures, and our ways of life are shaped, molded, and controlled by our genetics, parents, childhood, environment, economic status, physical health, social strata, and a host of other exposures and variations. Thus, when someone reads one or more of my blog posts — say, posts such as My Life as a Street Preacher, I Did It For You Jesus: Crank Windows and Vinyl Floor Mats, and How the IFB Church Turned My Wife Into a Martyr — without thoughtfully and humbly considering the variables mentioned above, they will not come to a reasoned conclusion.

Part of the problem is that each of us has our own definition of “normal,” and we use that definition as the standard by which we judge the beliefs and practices of others. We rarely ask who it was (God?) that made us the “normal” police or why our standard of normality should be the inerrant, infallible rule (get my point now?) by which we determine whether someone is mentally ill or has a “screw loose.” Atheists love to say “each to his own,” except for religion, of course. Fundamentalists, in particular, have heaped upon their heads by atheists judgment and derision, without atheists making any attempt to understand. No need, many atheists say. Fundamentalists are delusional nut jobs — end of story.

Much of my writing focuses on my past life as a Fundamentalist Christian, especially the twenty-five years I spent pastoring Evangelical churches. I have willingly and openly chosen to be honest about my past, including my beliefs and behaviors. In doing so, I hope my story brings encouragement and understanding, and that doubting Christians or ex-Evangelicals might see that there is life after Jesus. What I don’t want my writing to be is exercises for non-Christians, ex-Christians, liberal Christians, or atheists to practice armchair psychology. Psychoanalyzing me — past and present — is best left to my counselor. Whether I was, in the past, mentally ill is impossible to know. I’m more inclined to think that my past is a reflection of someone who sincerely and resolutely believed certain things, little different from the countless other beliefs embraced by humans.

I have suffered with depression most of my adult life. The reasons for my struggle are many. Certainly, religion plays a part, but I would never say that the blame for my depression rests with Christianity alone. Again, I am a complex being, and the “whys” of my life are many. I left Christianity ten years ago. I pastored my last church fifteen years ago. Yet, here I am long removed from God, Jesus, the church, and all of trappings of Christianity and I still battle depression. Why is that? If Christianity is the root of psychological difficulties, one would think that I would have regained mental health once I was freed from my marriage to Jesus. However, that hasn’t proved to be the case. I have learned that depression can affect believer and unbeliever alike.

I hope readers will see my writing as an opportunity to understand, and not judge. When the day comes that I feel that that is no longer the case, I will have written my last blog post.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

I Did It For You Jesus — Crank Windows and Vinyl Floor Mats

1984 chevrolet cavalier

1984 Chevrolet Cavalier

In the late 1980s, while I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I purchased a 1984 Chevy Cavalier for $2,900. It had 19,000 miles on the odometer. The car was spartan in every way: crank windows, vinyl mats, AM/FM radio, and no air conditioning. I used the car for my ministerial travels, and we also used it to deliver newspapers for the Zanesville Times-Recorder and the Newark Advocate. If this car could be resurrected from the junk yard, it would have stories to tell about Bruce and Polly Gerencser zipping up and down the hills of Licking, Muskingum, and Perry Counties delivering newspapers. All told, we put 160,000 miles on the car without any major mechanical failures. Tires, brakes, and tune-ups, were all the car required.

If the car could talk it would certainly speak of being abused:

  • Polly hit a mailbox, denting the hood and cracking the windshield.
  • Polly hit some geese, damaging the air dam.
  • Bruce hit a concrete block that had been thrown in the road.
  • Bruce hit a black Labrador retriever, causing damage to the front of the car.
  • Bruce hit a deer, causing damage to the bumper and radiator.
  • A tree limb fell on the car, further damaging the hood.
  • A woman drove into the back of the car while it was parked alongside the road in Corning, Ohio. We found out later that this accident broke the rear frame member.

By the time we were finished with the car, it looked like it had recently been used in a demolition derby. We carried personal liability insurance on the car — no collision — so no repairs were performed after these accidents. We certainly extracted every bit of life we could out of the car. It went to the happy wrecking yard in the sky knowing that it faithfully served Jesus and the Gerencser family.

Our Chevy Cavalier is a perfect illustration of our life in the ministry. Unlike Catholics, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers don’t take a vow of poverty. That said, the eleven years I spent as pastor of Somerset Baptist can be best described as the “poverty years.”  I put God, the ministry, and the church before my wife and children. We did without so the church could make ends meet, thinking that God would someday reward us for our voluntary poverty.

Pastoring Somerset Baptist was a seven-day a week job. I was always on call, with rarely a day off. And as a workaholic, I liked it that way. During the late 1980s, for example, I was preaching on the street two days a week, teaching Sunday school, preaching twice on Sunday and once on Thursday. On Wednesdays, I would preach at the local nursing home. On Saturdays, I would help visit the homes of bus riders and try to round up new riders. I also helped start a multi-church youth fellowship. We had monthly activities for church teens. And then there were revival meetings, special services, Bible conferences, watch night services, pastors’ conferences, and the like. Throw in visiting church members in their homes and when they were hospitalized, and virtually every waking hour of my day was consumed by the work of the ministry.  And lest I forget, we also took in foster children, many of whom were teenagers placed in our home by the court. I believed, then, I could “reach” these children and transform their lives through the gospel and regular church attendance. I was, in retrospect, quite naïve.

But, wait, there’s more! — I am starting to sound like a Billy May commercial. In 1989, I started a tuition-free private Christian school for church children. I was the school’s administrator. I also taught a few classes. Polly taught the elementary age children. Many of these children have fond memories of Mrs. Gerencser teaching them to read. Students have no such memories of me, the stern taskmaster they called Preacher.

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2

Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

For the last five years at Somerset Baptist, we were up at 6:00 AM and rarely went to bed before midnight. When I started the church in 1983, we had two children, ages two and four. Eleven years later, we had six children, ages fifteen, thirteen, ten, five, three, and one. Our home was patriarchal in every way. Polly cared for our home — a dilapidated 12×60 trailer — cooked meals, and changed thousands of diapers; and not the disposable kind either. Polly used God-approved cloth diapers with all six children. She also breast-fed all of them.

Why did Bruce and Polly live this way? The short answer is that we believed that living a life of faith on the edge poverty was how Jesus wanted us to live. After all, Jesus didn’t even have a home or a bed, so who were we to complain?  If God wanted us to have more in life, he would give it to us, we thought. Much like the Apostle Paul, we learned to be content in whatever state we were in — rich or poor, it mattered not.

I left Somerset Baptist Church in 1994. I am now a physically broken down old man. The health problems I now face were birthed during my days at Somerset Baptist. There’s no doubt, had I put my family first and prioritized my personal well-being above that of the church, that we would be better off financially and I would be in much better health. As it was, I spent years eating on the run or downing junk food while I was out on visitation. I know we surely must have sat down to eat as family, but I can’t remember doing so. Of course, I can’t remember us having sex either, and our children are proof that we at least had sex six times. All I know is that I was busy, rarely stopping for a breath, and so was Polly. It’s a wonder that our marriage survived the eleven years we spent at Somerset Baptist. It did, I suppose, because we believed that the way we were living was God’s script for our marriage and family. We look back on it now and just shake our heads.

I am sure some readers might read this post and not believe I am telling the truth. Who would voluntarily live this way? Who would voluntarily sacrifice their economic well-being, health, and family? A workaholic madly in love with Jesus, that’s who. A man who believed that whatever he suffered in this life was nothing compared to what Jesus suffered on the cross. A man who believed that someday in Heaven, God was going to say him, well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord. I viewed life as an endurance race, and it was my duty and obligation to keep running for Jesus until he called me home. No one can ever say of Bruce and Polly that they didn’t give their all — all to Jesus I surrender, all to him I humbly give.

beater station wagon

$200 beater. Polly HATED this car. What’s not to like, right?

Of course, my devotion to God, the church, and the ministry was a waste of time and money. One of the biggest regrets I have is that I wasted the prime of my life in service to a non-existent God. While certainly I helped many people along the way, I could have done the same work as a social worker and retired with a great pension. Instead, all I got was a gold star for being an obedient slave. I am not bitter, nor is Polly. We have many fond memories of the time we spent at Somerset Baptist Church. But, both of us would certainly say that we would never, ever want to live that way again. We loved the people and the scenery, but the God? No thanks. We feel at this juncture in life as if we have been delivered from bondage. We are now free to live as we wish to live, with no strings attached. And, there’s not a dilapidated Chevrolet Cavalier sitting in our driveway. No sir, we have electric windows, electric seats, air-conditioning, and the greatest invention of all time for a back ravaged by osteoarthritis — heated seats. We may be going to hell when we die, but me and misses sure plan on enjoying life until we do.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Learning to Live With Chronic Pain When You Know It’s Never Going Away

suck it up garfield

The war against chronic pain sufferers continues unabated as they face being collateral damage in the government’s attempt to combat the opioid crisis. Numerous restrictions — almost all of them unnecessary or harmful — have been enacted in the hope that they will stem the illegal use of narcotic drugs. Unfortunately, the only result of these restrictions is make it harder for chronic pain sufferers to get the medications they need. Just this past weekend, my Hydrocodone fill date fell on Easter Sunday. Thanks to new regulations, the prescription cannot be refilled sooner than one day before it was last filled (and within a fourteen-day window from the may fill date written on the script. In years past, I would have several weeks of Hydrocodone in reserve, just in case I didn’t get the prescription filled in a timely fashion. Not anymore; not filling the prescription on its fill date could leave me without medication. Fortunately, Meijer’s pharmacy was open for a short time on Easter and I was able to refill my prescription.

Last month, I took the script for my Tramadol prescription to the pharmacy to be filled, just to find out that the doctor had written the wrong date on the script — beyond the fourteen-day refill window. The pharmacy refused to call my doctor, telling me that I would have to get a new script. I was unaware that Tramadol was being treated the same way as Hydrocodone. Had I known this, I would have paid closer attention to the date on the script. Fortunately, I had enough Tramadol to last me until my upcoming doctor’s appointment.

Today, I read an article on The Outline titled, Is Chronic Pain Something More People Should Accept?  The article states:

Research dating back more than a decade suggests  that people with chronic pain may be able to improve their quality of life if they stop trying to avoid or get rid of their pain and instead learn to live as well as they can as the pain persists, a concept referred to in clinical settings as pain acceptance. Some psychologists and psychiatrists believe that pain acceptance might even help counteract opioid abuse in the United States, a problem so severe that it has contributed to a decline in American life expectancy. The idea that pain acceptance might serve as an effective alternative to opioids is an emerging area of research and not something that has been definitively established. As the idea attracts attention in the world of pain management and in the media, it has also generated controversy.

An estimated five to eight million Americans take opioids to manage long-term chronic pain, and the number of people in the U.S. who have died from overdosing on opioids — a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers like oxycodone and illicit substances like heroin — has risen dramatically in recent years. In 2016, prescription opioids were involved in roughly 40 percent of opioid overdose deaths, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There are plenty of people who don’t become addicted to prescription opioids, but taking them involves serious risks, from adverse side effects to the potential for dependence. A backlash against the drugs, from state laws limiting access to federal guidelines warning of their risks, has sent doctors searching for alternative treatments. In the midst of the crisis, some pain and addiction researchers are interested in determining whether pain acceptance could help people cut back on opioids.

Several studies have raised the possibility that people who are less accepting of pain may be more likely to become dependent on painkillers. A 2015 article in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that people who were better able to live with pain without attempting to reduce or avoid it had less severe problems with opioids. The study reported that pain intensity itself was not significantly associated with the severity of problematic opioid use. That led the authors to conclude that the extent to which a person accepts and adapts to pain, or doesn’t, may be “more important as a risk factor for the misuse of prescription opioids or heroin than is the actual severity of pain.”

In September 2017, an article in the Clinical Journal of Pain found that people who were more accepting of chronic pain used less pain medication, including opioids, regardless of the severity of their pain. “We think that’s a good indicator that increasing pain acceptance in people with chronic pain might reduce their reliance on pain medication,” said Dr. Anna Kratz, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan who helped carry out the study. “They might turn less to medications on a day-to-day basis if they have more pain acceptance.”

….

It may not be surprising that people with chronic pain don’t necessarily like the idea of accepting it. When researchers at the University of New Brunswick asked women with chronic pain from arthritis and fibromyalgia what they thought about pain acceptance, many had a negative reaction. Most of the women associated acceptance with “giving up or giving in to their pain,” the researchers wrote in the journal Pain Research and Management in 2008. But many of the women had learned to live with their pain in a way that roughly aligned with the concept of pain acceptance: They were determined to live as well as they could despite their conditions. Rather than describing that as acceptance, the women preferred to use words like “embracing,” “coming to terms with” or “dealing” with their pain.

There’s no one way that people learn to accept and live with chronic pain. What works for one person might not work for another. But some individuals participate in a form of therapy called acceptance and commitment therapy — commonly referred to as ACT. Developed in the 1980s and 1990s, acceptance and commitment therapy emerged out of the tradition of cognitive behavioral therapy. In contrast to traditional cognitive therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy asks people to accept thoughts, feelings, memories, and bodily sensations that are beyond their control, rather than attempt to change or get rid of them. The therapy then encourages people with chronic pain to take part in activities that add value and meaning to their lives, even as pain persists.

….

In other words, people with unrelenting chronic pain just need to suck it up and embrace the fact that their pain is never, ever going away. The false assumption here is that chronic pain sufferers are not already doing this. They are, and reaching out to a broader pool of pain sufferers would have revealed this to the article’s author, Clare Foran. While a tip of the hat is given to the idea that the goal should be pain elimination, the gist of the article is the importance of chronic pain sufferers doing their part to combat the opioid crisis. Again, it is people who are on pain management regimens that are being singled out and expected to forgo needed pain meds, not because this would be better for them, but in doing so they give the appearance that something concrete is being done about the opioid crisis.

Most of the chronic pain sufferers I know are already “living” with their pain.” They have been sucking it up for so long that they have concave chests. Here’s a grossly under-reported fact: narcotic drugs, when taken as prescribed, do NOT take pain away. What these drugs are meant to do is level out what are called pain spikes. When this occurs, chronic pain suffers achieve a certain quality of life, often allowing them to work and do other things they would not be able to do without taking narcotic prescription drugs. Without taking them, life is unbearable, leading to depression and, at times, suicide.

I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 1997. Since then, my health has deteriorated ever-so-slowly. As I have aged, osteoarthritis has spread from joint to joint, and today it’s found in my spine, shoulders, neck, hands, knees, and feet — pretty much everywhere. And then there’s a neurological problem that causes burning pain in my thighs, face, and lower back. There’s not a day or an hour that goes by where I don’t feel pain somewhere from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. I take narcotics, then, so I can have some semblance of a life. Without these drugs (and others), I would not be able to write, shoot photographs, or attend my grandchildren’s sporting events. It’s the drugs that level off the pain highs so I can do these things, even though I know there is a price to pay for doing so. You see, all narcotics do is mask (reduce) pain. The underlying diseases are there, and, in my case, they are exacerbated when I do anything more than lie in bed and wish I could die. I know that doing physically active things aggravates my joints, nerve endings, and muscles. I ignore this outcome because taking photographs, going out on the town with my girlfriend, or attending a sixth-grade softball game are more important to me. I want to do these things, knowing that by doing so I will pay what I call “the price of admission.” The days after attending such events are, on a pain scale of 1 to 10, off the charts. All I can do is pray to Zeus, curl up in my recliner, and cry my way to a better day. On these kind of days, narcotics do not give the advertised relief. They help, but not enough to allow me to do much of anything. I have to wait until pain levels reach “normal” levels.

Earlier this year, I agreed to take photographs for the local high school’s spring sporting events. I did the same for winter sports. The difference between shooting a basketball game and photographing a softball game is that for the former, I can sit, but for baseball and softball games I must stand  And standing for longer than fifteen minutes is a big problem for me. If you have ever seen me walking though one of the local stores you’ve likely noticed that I am often hunched over the shopping cart (pride keeps me from using a battery-powered scooter). After about fifteen minutes of walking, my thighs and face turn numb and begin to burn. Hunching over the cart, brings some relief. In 2007, when this problem first appeared, I had an extensive neurological workup — $20k worth of tests. Doctors thought, at the time, that I had Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The tests came back negative or inconclusive. I have had three brain scans since then, but still no definitive signs of MS. So, for now, I live with the effects of an unnamed affliction (not that naming it would make a difference). Personally, I think the numbness and burning is related to my lower back and a narrow disc space I have had for twenty-five years.

Standing, of course, is impossible to avoid if I want to be a photographer, grandfather, or a living, breathing human being. So, I stand, and when the numbness and burning pain screams in my ears, I put a mental stick in my mouth, bite down, and bear it. I’ve done this countless times over the years, knowing that if I do this or that the pain — narcotics or not – is going to come in waves with no possible relief, save death. I wonder if the twenty-eight-year-old Clare Foran has ever experienced pain such as this? I doubt it. Had she experienced it, I suspect she wouldn’t have been so quick to preach the gospel of suck-it-up.

I wrote the above to say this: I have been “sucking it up” for two decades. I have made peace with the fact that my pain problem will be with me until I die. And I am fine with that. I am quite stoic about life. It is what it is. I accept that life for me means living with chronic pain and illness. There are no cures on the horizons; no magic drugs that will make life’s boo-boos go away. All that I ask is that the government and so-called experts quit fucking around with my pain management regimen. I am not an addict. I don’t abuse the narcotics I take, nor do I use illegal drugs. Am I drug dependent? Sure. How could I not be after a decade of taking narcotics. But dependency is not the problem, addiction is. I am dependent on blood pressure drugs too. Should I just suck it up and live with high blood pressure? Of course not. These drugs have likely added years to my life, as has taking narcotics. Without pain medication, I would have long ago put an end to my suffering. With the drugs, I am able to carve out a decent life for myself, not without pain, but with pain that is, on most days, manageable. I don’t expect doctors to fix what can’t be fixed. All I ask of them is that they do what they can to improve my quality of life. And for now, quality of life requires narcotics, along with anti-inflammatory drugs.

For those who say, just suck it up, I say, walk in my shoes and then we will talk. Until then, talk to the hand. Until you have experienced and lived with long-term, unrelenting pain, there’s really no frame of reference for you to understand how it is for chronic pain sufferers. And I hope you never have to experience such a life. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. I don’t want pity, and I sure as hell don’t want lectures about what’s “best” for me (as a pharmacist and an optometrist once tried to do). I have a primary care doctor whom I trust to do what is best for me. I also have specialists I can see, if needed. I am in good hands, even if there are days when I can hardly bear to have those hands touch me. I will soon be sixty-one-years old. I know most of my life is now in the rear-view mirror. All I want now is to live what life I have left to its fullest, hoping that I see the Cincinnati Reds win the World Series before I die. Well, that and see my grandchildren graduate from college. I can then go to the happy hunting grounds in peace.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Absurdity of the Billy Graham-Mike Pence Rule

jesus alone with a woman

Jesus, alone with a woman, violating the Billy Graham-Mike Pence Rule. Shame on you, Jesus! I am surprised you escaped with your virginity intact.

Embedded deep into the thinking of Evangelical pastors is the notion that women to whom they are not married are dangerous creatures who must be kept at a distance, lest they tempt men of God to commit sexual sin. As a young ministerial student, I was taught that there were Jezebels in every church, and that I must never, ever allow myself to be alone with any woman who was not my wife. According to my professors and chapel speakers, there would always be women lurking in the shadows of the steeple, ready and willing to “steal” my sexual purity. Men, including pastors, were, by nature, weak-kneed, visually stimulated horn dogs. Allow the doors of your office or study to be shut with you and a woman alone, and, why, anything could happen! This kind of thinking, of course, teaches men a warped view of women and human sexuality. While I agree that humans are sexual beings — a trait necessary for our species’ propagation — it does not follow that every time two people of the opposite sex are alone with each other, sexual intercourse is a real and distinct possibility. Common sense tells us otherwise.

This view of women and human sexuality found its nexus with Fundamentalist Baptist evangelist Billy Graham. Graham had three rules he lived by when it came to women who were not his wife. Graham would not travel alone with a woman, meet alone with a woman, or eat alone with a woman. These rules, over time, were called “The Billy Graham Rules.” While Graham was viewed as a liberal by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers, his three rules were taught and preached in IFB churches and colleges alike. Simply put, stay away from women who aren’t your wife. Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!  Abstain from the very appearance of evil, the Bible says. Eating a meal with a woman who is not your wife, offering her a ride in your car, or counseling her alone with the door closed, all give forth the appearance of evil. I knew of some pastors who wouldn’t even counsel female church members out of fear that their ministry could be compromised.

Most non-Evangelicals had never heard of the “Billy Graham Rule” until Vice President Mike Pence let it be known that he, too, avoided being alone with any woman who was not his wife. Moderns were astounded by the Vice President’s Puritanical view of women, but to my ears his words were what I had heard over and over again as an Evangelical pastor.

Recently, John Ellis wrote a post for PJ Media extolling the virtue of the “Billy Graham-Mike Pence Rule.” In a post titled, Can Men and Women be Friends? Ellis wrote:

After reading that mega-pastor Bill Hybels has been accused of sexual misconduct, I commented to some friends that we (Christian men) need to be extra diligent in what we say and do around women. I said that because I believe that it’s imperative that Christian men protect themselves and the women around them while serving women. Unfortunately, that’s an increasingly difficult tightrope to walk in today’s climate, to the point that it’s appropriate to wonder if men and women can be friends.

….

Most people within conservative Christianity get that. Most would shake their heads in suspicion if it were discovered that I frequently hung out alone with a female pal, just the two of us shooting the breeze. But the claim that men and women can’t be friends brings with it the charge of patriarchalism from some of the same people who believe it unwise for a married man to hang out alone with a woman who is not his wife (or vice versa).

Often, the disconnect in conversations like this one comes down to how terms are defined. I contend that men cannot be friends with women in the way that “friend” is defined when I’m speaking of my buddies. However, Christian men can and should count Christian women as their sisters in Christ.

….

Sadly, desire for personal purity in the pursuit of holiness often brings with it the accusation of patriarchalism. Vice President Mike Pence was assigned that pejorative after it was revealed that he doesn’t dine alone with women not named Karen Pence. The vice president was accused of creating an environment that makes it harder for women to succeed.

However, as Pence continued to suffer the slings and arrows of those who despise his desire to interact with women “in all purity,” the #MeToo movement was created, as powerful men began to be exposed as sexual predators. Sadly, even in the face of the expanding #MeToo movement, many of Pence’s critics still fail to see the wisdom of the vice president’s personal standards of interaction around women.

….

Serving our sisters in Christ in all purity requires acknowledging the truth that because of sin the issue of sex will always be within reach when it comes to members of the opposite sex. Once again, that’s why most conservative Christians would look askance at me going on an overnight fishing trip alone with a woman who was not my wife. But even beyond obvious examples of overnight trips, men need to be careful about how they interact with women in our day to day lives.

Among other things, Bill Hybels has been accused of giving “lingering hugs.” It’s a good thing that I’m an introvert and don’t like being touched or touching people. If I were a “hugger,” I can’t imagine how I would defend myself against an accusation of a lingering hug.

And that’s not to defend Hybels or to claim that women who are made to feel uncomfortable by the actions of men are wrong for speaking up and defending themselves. My point is that it is incredibly difficult to know exactly how a word, a look, or a touch, even if meant innocently, will be taken.

Because men often view women as little more than objects of pleasure and take advantage of them, many of our sisters in Christ have been deeply hurt in the past. What we as their brothers in Christ say or do can have the unintended consequence of being perceived within the context of past abuse. Among other things, loving our sisters in Christ demands that we be careful not to cause more hurt and harm.

On a lesser scale, it’s also important that Christian men guard ourselves. Since it is easy for our motivations to be incorrectly assumed, we need to make sure that we are acting above reproach around our sisters in Christ.

….

According to Ellis, all men should live according to “Billy Graham-Mike Pence Rule.” I say all, and not just married men, because Ellis, who describes himself as a conservative Christian, likely believes that it is a sin for unmarrieds to have sex. Thus, not only should married men abstain from being alone with women who are not their wives, so should unmarried men. Women, for married and unmarried men alike, are the problem. If married men want to keep themselves morally pure, then they must never, ever put themselves in positions where they are alone with women. For married men, the wife of their youth awaits, legs spread wide, ready and willing to satisfy their sexual needs. Unmarried men have no such fire extinguisher awaiting them — the Apostle Paul said it is better to marry than to burn — yet they, too, are implored to avoid being alone with the opposite sex. So what are these young men to do? Many of them, if they marry at all, do not marry until their late twenties. This means that they must wrestle with unsatisfied raging hormones for twelve to fifteen years. And remember, masturbation — lustful self-gratification that leads to homosexuality — is verboten too. (Please read Good Baptist Boys Don’t Masturbate, Oh Yes, They Do!)

This kind of thinking breeds immature, juvenile men; men who are weak; men who are not in control of their sexuality; men who see women primarily as objects of sexual gratification. Ellis, Graham, and Pence would likely object to my characterization of their beliefs, but it seems clear, at least to me, that women are treated as dangerous, seductive beings who must be avoided lest being alone with them leads to intercourse on office and study floors. This kind of thinking objectifies women, turning them into chattel used for male sexual gratification. Since the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God condemns all sexual behavior except married heterosexual vaginal intercourse, (preferably in the missionary position, and primarily for human propagation), any relationship or circumstance that could, even remotely, lead to moral compromise must be resolutely avoided. (A separate discussion is whether consensual adult sex with someone other than your wife or sex between unmarrieds is necessarily “wrong.”)

As I have stated time and again on this blog, Evangelical men need to grow up and own their sexuality. If they can’t control themselves when around physically and sexually attract women, the fault is theirs. Plenty of men are around women publicly and privately, yet they, somehow, keep themselves from having sex with them. These men have learned how to control their thoughts and behaviors. I have viewed countless women whom I have found attractive. My wife and I, now that we no longer concern ourselves with thoughts of God, judgment, and hell, are free to say to the other, that’s an attractive man/woman. Both of us have found it interesting the type of people the other is attracted to. Men I thought Polly would consider hot often elicit a meh from her — she really likes gay guys. Similarly, the kind of woman Polly thinks I would be attracted to often elicits a shrug from me. It’s liberating to be able to express my thoughts, interests, and desires without worrying that it could lead to adultery — a sin, according to the B-i-b-l-e, that lands offenders in the Lake of Fire.

Polly is around other men at work, yet I don’t worry that she might stray. It would be crazy for her to do so, having a stud muffin like me at home. As a photographer, I am often up close and personal with women, yet my wife doesn’t fret over this. She knows that for Bruce, Polly is his one and only. Now, this doesn’t mean that neither of us has ever been tempted to break our marital vows. We have, but we value our lives with each other and our family far more than we do three minutes and twenty seconds of pleasure. For us, it’s a matter of what’s important to us. There are going to be times when we are alone with people of the opposite sex. That’s life. If someone is flirtatious or even comes on to one of us, we expect the other to exercise maturity and wisdom and handle things appropriately. During the Christmas season, my Santa Claus alter-ego often has women who are quite friendly towards him. I have had more than a few women, young and old, want to get up close and personal and have a photo taken with Santa. In my mind, it’s all fun and games. I’ve found, now that I am in my sixties and have a white beard, that women, in general, are more friendly towards me. I suspect it is my grandfatherly look that says to them I am safe. Certainly looks can be deceiving, but in this case, the only fear anyone should have of this Santa Claus is him getting stuck coming down the chimney.

Men need in their lives women who are not their wives. Men NEED female friends, even the buddy type of friends Ellis says men cannot have. I was well into my late forties before I had female friends. I spent most of my adult life living according to the “Billy Graham-Mike Pence Rule.” Not perfectly, of course. In one church, I picked up a woman for services every Sunday for a decade. She was twenty years older than I, and due to a severe vision problem, she couldn’t drive. One couple who left the church in a huff let it be known that they thought this woman and I were having an affair. We both laughed when we heard this. I gave this couple, in my mind anyway, a “go freak yourselves.”  Several years later, I learned that the male of this couple had repeatedly sexually violated his daughter when she was young. I have no doubt that his wife knew that it was going on too. Yet, they were “concerned” over me driving a woman to church. Child, please.

It took me leaving the ministry and Christianity to realize the value and importance of having female friends. Over the past decade or so, I have been privileged to befriend a number of women. Having them in my life has forced me to change my view of the opposite sex. Evangelicalism is inherently patriarchal and misogynistic — let the screaming and whining begin. Thus, I had a warped, deficient view of women for many years. Much like my views of LGBTQ people, my beliefs about women were largely shaped by what Evangelical men and the women-are-property Bible said about them. Divorcing Jesus — we were in a same-sex marriage — and throwing aside the authority of the Bible allowed me to take a fresh look at my relationships with women. This blog and social media have brought into my life a cornucopia of women, along with LGBTQ people too. My editor is a woman. I doubt, had I been an Evangelical blogger, that our relationship would have worked. Now, not only have my grammar and style improved, but her input has helped me mature as a person. Other women have challenged some of things I have written, asking me to consider their perspective. I remember one woman taking issue with my use of the word pussy. I used the word to imply weakness. However, to women, my use of this word said, women are weak. Once this was pointed out to me, I stopped using it – well, except in the privacy of my bedroom, that is.

And my wife? She loves the new and improved Bruce Gerencser, the man who now views her as an equal, as a partner, as someone whose opinions and ideas have value. Most of all she loves the fact that this man of hers has gone from being the head of the home to being her friend. Not only are we lovers and confidants, we are best friends. We trust each other, each believing that the other will honor, even when alone with the opposite sex, the commitment we made forty years ago. No fling is worth what we have built together over the past five decades. Why in the world would I want to trade the best cooking in the world for a romp in the sack with someone I don’t really know? Polly makes the most awesome sloppy joes I have ever eaten. Better than sex — oh yes they are! Since she tried this new recipe out the first time a few weeks ago, I’ve asked her to make it again several times. Heaven? Oh, my Gawd, it’s on my plate, thank you very much. If given the choice between an illicit relationship and Polly’s sloppy joes, I know which one I am taking. Well, that and the fact that she now does all her cooking with cast iron pans. I can only imagine (to rip off the title of the latest Evangelical porno to hit the big screen) what one of the pans would do to the side of my head.

I hope both men and women will share their thoughts and experiences in the comment section. Are women really as dangerous as Graham, Pence, and Ellis say they are? Comment away!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

seneca

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.

You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire.

There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living.“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today… The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.

People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.

Even though you seize the day, it still will flee; therefore, you must vie with time’s swiftness in the speed of using it, and, as from a torrent that rushes by and will not always flow, you must drink quickly.

It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.

The part of life we really live is small. For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time.

— Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

You can purchase On the Shortness of Life here.

Bruce, If God Isn’t Real, Who is to Blame for Your Life as a Pastor?

never question god

My recent post titled Dear Jesus, I Want a Refund has really made a mark and is getting a lot of attention. As I pondered what I had written, I thought about what questions people might ask me. This post is an attempt to answer one of the questions that came to mind: Bruce, If God Isn’t Real, Who is to Blame for Your Life as a Pastor?

The Dear Jesus post is written from the perspective that Jesus is God, and that he is alive and well somewhere in the Christian God’s heaven. Now, I don’t believe that to be true, but I wrote the post from that perspective because it allowed me to share with readers the emotional struggles I have faced coming to terms with how I lived my life as a devout, committed pastor. Dear Jesus allows readers to see my struggles and perhaps, in doing so, it might help them to understand their own battles with the past.

Let me be clear, I am an atheist. Anyone suggesting otherwise has failed to understand my story. If you happen to be one such doubting Thomas, I would love to know what in my journey leads you to conclude that I am not what I claim to be. Over the years, countless Evangelicals have attempted to cast doubt, suggesting that I am still a Christian; that deep down in my heart of hearts I still believe; that my writing reveals that I still yearn for a relationship with Jesus. None of these things, of course, is true. Who knows me better than yours truly? So, when I say I am an atheist, I am telling the truth. There’s no ulterior motive here, neither is there a yearning for the good old days when me are J.C. were best buds. These days, the only bud I want grows on a leafy green plant.

Ultimately, I am to blame for the decisions I made during my years as a Christian and as an Evangelical pastor. All of us are responsible for the choices we make. The issue then, is what influenced my decision-making? Why did I make these decisions? God, of course, had nothing to do with it — he doesn’t exist. Yet, for fifty years I believed God was speaking to me, directing my life, and leading me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. If God wasn’t speaking to me, who or what were the voices I heard? If it wasn’t God impressing on my mind certain Bible verses or decisions, who was?

I grew up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) home. I was raised by parents who believed, at least outwardly, that the Christian deity was the one true God and the Bible was his revealed will for mankind. The Gerencser family attended church every time the doors were open. This stopped for the rest of my family when my parents divorced. I was fifteen at the time. Unlike my family, I continued on in the faith, attending church every time the doors were open. I believed every word in the Bible was the words of God. I believed in a God who was personally and intimately involved in my life. My parents may have forsaken the way, but I was determined to stay the course. Church friends from my high school days will tell you that I was a true-blue believer, as will my heathen friends whom I attempted to evangelize.

From my preschool years forward, my mind was bombarded with sermons and Sunday school lessons. By the time I was eighteen, I had heard almost four thousand Evangelicals sermons and lessons. Those whom I listened to had several motivations. First, they wanted to lead me to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Second, they wanted to teach me the way, truth, and life found within the pages of the King James Bible. Third, they wanted to indoctrinate me in the one true faith. Week after week and year after year, these promoters of what they believed was the old-time religion assaulted my mind with Biblical “truth.” They wanted to make sure that I was steadfast in the faith, and that when I entered the “world” my faith would stand; and it did until I was fifty years old.

At the age of fifteen, I believed God spoke to me, saying that he wanted me to be a preacher. At the age of nineteen, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was known as a première IFB preacher training school (and it was cheaper than many other IFB schools). While there, I met a pretty dark-haired girl who believed God had spoken to her too. God wanted Polly to be a pastor’s wife. Both of us had minds open wide for whatever it was these great men of God were going to teach us. And for three years, our minds were pummeled with preaching and teaching that only reinforced the beliefs we entered college with.

This is not to say that I was blind to the contradictions that surrounded me; not textual contradictions, but failures of preachers and teachers to practice what they preached. During my three years at Midwestern I noticed that there was a do as I say, not as I do mentality. Girls weren’t allowed to wear slacks, but the college president’s wife and daughters were allowed to do so as long as they were away from the college. The president’s youngest daughter was permitted to single-date, while the rest of the single students were required to double-date. Dating students were not allowed to physically touch each other; that is, unless they were in one of the college’s Shakespearean productions. Then touching, kissing, and even cursing was permitted. Students were not permitted to listen to secular music, yet at the annual Valentine’s banquet, secular songs such as I’m on the Top of the World by the Carpenters were performed by college students. Silly stuff, right? But there were serious contractions too. One of the teachers was a homosexual. He lived in the dorm and often had students as his “roommates.” Homosexuality was considered a sin above all sins, yet the college administration turned a blind eye to this man’s “sin.”

During my sophomore year, a huge scandal broke out. The college basketball coach and drama department chair had an affair with the wife of the college dean. The matter was quietly and discreetly handled, with the offenders being dismissed from their jobs. Not one word was said to the student body. Gossip and complaining (griping) were swiftly and severely punished. After three years at Midwestern — having experienced and seen behaviors that were contrary to the company line — you would think that I would have had doubts about Christianity. Sadly, I didn’t. I developed a people are people approach to moral and ethical failures. The Devil and the flesh were the problems, not God and the Bible.

I left Midwestern in the spring of 1979 with a pregnant wife in tow. My faith was stronger than ever, and I was ready to make my mark as a God-called, spirit-filled preacher of the gospel. Over the course of the next four decades, my beliefs and practices would change, but my commitment to God endured. While I considered myself a progressive when I left the ministry in 2005, I still believed the basic tenets of Christianity were true.

When I look back over my life, the only conclusion I can come to when attempting to understand why I made certain decisions is that I had been deeply and thoroughly indoctrinated by Evangelical preachers and teachers. Even as a pastor, I continued to immerse myself in books that validated my beliefs. I attended conferences and special meetings that only reinforced my beliefs. Worse yet, I took my beliefs and passed them on to thousands of other people; people who saw me as a man of God; people who believed my sermons and teachings were straight from God; people who wanted someone to stand between them and God and tell them what to believe and how to live. That the churches I pastored prospered (until they didn’t) was evidence of God’s blessing. This was especially true during the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Southeast Ohio.

The question then, based on how I was raised and what I was taught in the churches I attended and as a college student, how could I have turned out any other way? If I were to psychoanalyze myself, I suspect I would conclude that the church became stand-in for my parents after my mom and dad divorced. I would also likely conclude that Evangelicalism fed my perfectionist, OCPD tendencies. I had a deep-seated need to be right. I also had a need to be wanted, loved, and respected. The ministry gave me all these things.

So yes, the decisions I made as an Evangelical pastor were mine, but they were not made in a vacuüm. The only way to understand how and why I made the decisions I did, including the ones the harmed me personally and my family, is to view them from a sociological or environmental perspective. The sum of my experiences affected how and why I made certain decisions. The decisions were mine, of course, but now you know why I made these choices (ignoring here, for now, discussions about whether any of us has free will).

My Christian faith rested on a Bible foundation. I believed the Bible was a supernatural book written by a supernatural God.  The Bible was God’s roadmap or blueprint for my life and the lives of my wife and children. It was only when I learned that the Bible was not what Evangelicals claim it is that my Christian house came tumbling to the ground. Once I understood that the Bible was written by fallible, errant men, and that it was not in any way inspired, inerrant, or infallible, I was then free, for the first time, to seriously and thoroughly investigate the claims of Christianity. And when I did, I found out that the emperor had no clothes, and that the wizard behind the screen was self, not God. Understanding this ripped my life to shreds, forcing me to rebuild it from the ground up. Every former belief and presupposition was investigated and tossed aside. At the age of fifty, I was forced (or better put, had the opportunity) to build my life anew. I am blessed to have my wife and children walking along with me as I find my way through this wild, woolly world. My writing is my way of helping those who may be where I once was or who have recently exited the cult. I am not an expert or an authority, but I am one man who knows that it is possible to live a wonderful, abundant, satisfying life post-Jesus. I hope, by telling my story, that people will see that a good life is possible without all the religious baggage. And sleeping in on Sundays? Priceless….

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

There Are So Many Gays in the Olympics Now

gay olympians

My wife and her mother talk via telephone every Sunday evening around 9:00 PM. One recent topic of discussion was the Winter Olympics. Polly and her Mom both shared what events they liked watching. Polly’s mom, a devout Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian, shared one observation that left Polly and me laughing when she told me what her mom had said. There sure are a lot of gays in the Olympics now, Mom said, with, I am sure, a shaking of her head a low sounding, umm hmm — the sound she makes when something or someone doesn’t meet her approval.

Polly said nothing. She could have, of course, told her mom that there have always been gay athletes in the Olympics. Gays, gays, gays, everywhere gays, but for most of Mom’s life, they quietly hid in dark closets, so she didn’t see them. Out of sight, out of mind. Now that closet doors have been flung open, Fundamentalists are forced to see and engage people who are considered by them to be abominable reprobates. I have no doubt that Fundamentalists wish that gays would stop flaunting their sexuality — you know like heterosexuals flaunt theirs.

Mom’s youngest brother died of a viral heart disease at age fifty-one. Art was a wonderful man, a pacifist who refused to carry a gun during the Vietnam War. He was a telecommunications operator. Art lived in Michigan, hours away from his Fundamentalist family. When he traveled to Ohio to visit on holidays, he would attend church with the family at the Newark Baptist Temple. I never heard Art talk about God, Jesus, the Bible, or Christianity. He supposedly made a profession of faith as a boy, but I doubt that Art attended church other than when he was visiting his Fundamentalist family. After Art died, it was left to his two preacher’s-wife sisters to settle his estate and take care of his personal property. There were things “found” at his apartment that still can’t be talked about to this day. I’ve thought, over the years, surely everyone knew Art was gay. The first time I met Art was Thanksgiving 1976. I knew immediately that Art was “different” from the rest of us fine upstanding Christians. It’s too bad he died so young. I suspect he would have found today’s societal openness towards gays liberating. I would love to have had an opportunity to talk to him about life as a gay man in a Fundamentalist Baptist family.

I don’t fault my mother-in-law for being homophobic. She was raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home where human sexuality was defined by the Bible. Gay people were disgusting, vile cretins in need of old-fashioned Baptist salvation. Getting saved turned sinners into saints, homosexuals into heterosexuals. This is how I was raised too. From my elementary school years forward, I heard pastors, youth directors, and Sunday school teachers say that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah over the sin of ho-mo-sex-u-al-ity (shout the word loudly, enunciating each syllable while pounding on the pulpit). Gay people were viewed as sexual predators. No child was safe when near homosexuals. Church was considered a safe haven because there supposedly weren’t any gays in IFB churches.

I didn’t personally know a gay person until high school. I knew a lot of people who were called queers and faggots, but these slurs were often hurled towards boys who refused to participate in gym or who acted in ways deemed unmanly. They may or may not have been gay. In ninth grade, my gym teacher decided to teach us how to square dance. My pastor got wind of this and made a fuss. Dancing? In school? This resulted in me sitting on the sidelines while everyone else, save two other boys, learned to do-si-do and swing their partner round and round. The other two boys? Yeah….the two “queers” who refused to participate in gym. I was thoroughly embarrassed by having to sit with these boys. (Please read Good Baptist Boys Don’t Dance.)

I am sure my mother-in-law, along with her fellow Christians, is upset and alarmed over how out-in-the-open gay people are these days. Why, there’s even gays kissing on TV! Umm hmm. What Fundamentalists fail to understand is that there have always been gay people. Religious oppression kept them from openly expressing their sexuality. Now, LGBTQ people are out of the closet and openly living their lives as they see fit. Their openness scares the Jesus right out of Fundamentalists. They genuinely believe that homosexuality is a sin above all sins, and that societies which endorse and support such behavior will be judged and destroyed by God. This is why Fundamentalists opposed same-sex marriage and continue to threaten boycotts of companies that support the “gay agenda” or the “gay lifestyle.”  The problem now, of course, is that anti-gay Fundamentalists make up a small and shrinking percentage of Americans and tend to live in southern or rural communities. They no longer have the political power necessary to turn back the Sodomite horde. As the United States becomes more inclusive and tolerant, Fundamentalists are forced to admit that Christianity no longer rules the roost; that even some Evangelicals now think it is okay for people to be gay; that come the next Olympics there will be gay athletes. Umm  hmm…..

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.