Life

How the Coronavirus has Affected Us

coronavirus
Cartoon by Phil Hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe, friends. 

Bruce

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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How Religion Obscures Seeing People as They Are

Reposted from 2015, edited, updated, and revised

Six years ago, Polly and I drove to Southeast Ohio to pay our respects to a man who was once a vital part of the church I pastored in Somerset. The family asked me to conduct the funeral and I was delighted to do so. Surprisingly, they asked for a non-religious service. It had been twenty years since I had seen this family face to face. In recent years, I have reconnected with some of the children via Facebook. It was good to see them, the children now in their 30s and 40s, with children of their own.

As I pondered what to say, I couldn’t help but think about the eleven years I spent as their pastor. They knew me when I was a fire-breathing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher and school administrator, and they were at the church when I became a Calvinist. They remembered my preaching, the rules, and the standards. They remembered my commitment to the God and the Bible. I hope they also remembered my goodness and kindness. While those things certainly provided the backdrop for our reconnection, they were not the substance of what I said at the service. Why? Because the past, with all its religious and Biblical trappings, would obscure the man we were honoring. I most wanted to talk about him.

You see, he was a good man. He was a friend who would do anything for me, any time, day or night. When I needed help, he always made himself available. While he could be temperamental at times, most of the time he was a kind, compassionate man. But these traits were obscured and mattered little years ago. Instead of seeing the man, I tended to see the sin. Isn’t that what we were taught to do? Holiness and purity were the objective, without which no man shall see the Lord.

He and I were different in many ways. When it came to sin, I could always hide my sin better than he could. Over time, preachers get good at hiding their failures. After all, they are supposed to be shining examples of spiritual maturity and holiness. No one wants a preacher who is just like everyone else. People want a Moses, a Paul, or a Jesus, someone to inspire them and show them the way. So preachers lie, giving the appearance that they, if need be, could walk on water. Deep down they know, that like everyone else, if they walked on water, they would drown. Strip away the clerical façade, and what you see is a man no different from those sitting in the pews.

I remember the first time Greg came to church. He was wearing a shirt that said Zig-Zag; and no, he didn’t roll his own cigarettes. This is a perfect picture of the kind of man he was. He had little pretense; what you saw was what you got. So when he sinned, he didn’t hide it well. I remember one Sunday afternoon he went to the movies with his wife. They saw Born on the Fourth of July. Now, this was a big sin at our church. No movies, especially R-rated movies. I could tell that he was a little antsy at evening service, but he said nothing about the movie. The next day at school, one of his children mentioned that Mom and Dad had gone to see a movie. I asked them, WHAT movie? They confessed, with nary a thought that they had just gotten their Dad in trouble. Of course, the good pastor that I was, watching out for his soul, I called him and asked him to come to my office so we could talk. Nothing like getting called to the principal’s office, right?

Before he started coming to the church, he had been an avid listener of rock and roll music. Well, at Somerset Baptist Church we didn’t listen to THAT kind of music! One day he came to church all excited. He had found out that there was music called Christian rock. He had bought a cassette tape of a group by the name of Stryper. (He loved the song To Hell with the Devil.) I took one look at the pictures on the cassette box and I knew that Stryper was nothing more than a tool used by Satan to deceive Christians. I told him it was a bad idea for him to listen to such worldly music. I think he was deeply discouraged by my “Godly” opinion. He thought he had finally found something that was not only Christ-honoring but that also met his desire to listen to rock music. I, the arbiter of what was Christ-honoring, knew better.

There were a lot of these sinful moments, and as I look back on it, I can see how discouraging it must have been for him. Most of the things I called sin were not sin at all. But, because I thought they were, they kept me from seeing the man for who and what he really was. My religion obscured this man’s humanity, as all religions do to some degree or another, Instead of seeing the man, I saw him through the lens of the Bible and my interpretation of it. My sin list and my dogma got in the way of me seeing this man as a flawed and frail good man. Like his preacher, he wasn’t perfect.

We spent a lot of non-religious time together, and it is from those times I drew the stories I shared with his family. Great stories. Crazy stories. Funny stories. Stories that testified to the kind of man he was. Yes, I could have shared the “other” stories too, but to what end? As I told Polly at the time, if we live long enough, we all will have moments in our lives that are less than stellar. We all have those times where we went the wrong way or made a bad choice, where we hurt others and hurt ourselves. But these stories are not who we really are. They are the exceptions to the rule, the reminder that no one is perfect, including Jesus.

So on that Saturday I mourned the loss of a man I once knew, but I also rejoiced with his family as we shared stories about the good man that he was. This was my first time doing a funeral where there were no religious expectations. No preaching, no need to get a word in for Jesus; no evangelizing or making everything about the church. On that spring day, in the hills of Southeast Ohio, we celebrated the life of a man whom others loved dearly. While his body will molder in the ground, Greg will live on in the memories we have of him. In the end, this is all the living have.

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Watch My Interview with Neil the 604 Atheist

neil the 604 atheist

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

Video Link

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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.

Lessons from Italy: Six Stages of Coronavirus

italy coronavirus

Guest post by Logan. Logan blogs at Life After 40.

A LOT of people are in denial right now. Here in the USA, we’re largely in “Stage 3” but some are still in “Stage 1” in their mind. The following comes from an Italian citizen. Italy is about two weeks ahead of us in terms of what’s to come. To make the person’s thread easier to read, here’s the content all together.

😎 STAGE 1: You know that coronavirus exists, and the first cases begin to appear in your country. Well, nothing to worry about, it’s just a bad flu! I’m not 75+ years old so what could possibly happen to me?

I’m safe, everybody is overreacting, what’s the need to go out with masks and stock toilet paper? I’m going to live my life as usual, there’s no need to freak out.

😐 STAGE 2: The number of cases begins to be significant. They declare “red zone” and quarantine one or two small cities where they found the first cases and a lot of people were infected (Feb 22nd). Well, that’s sad and somewhat worrisome but they’re taking care of it so nothing to panic about.

There are some deaths but they’re all old people, so the media is just creating panic for views, how shameful. People lead their life as usual . . .’m not going to stop going out and meeting my friends, am I? It’s not going to get me. Everybody’s fine here.

😕 STAGE 3: The number of cases is rapidly going up. They almost doubled in one day. There are more deaths. They declare red zones and quarantine the 4 regions where the majority of cases are registered (March 7). In Italy, 25% of the county is under quarantine.

Schools and universities are closed in these areas but bars, workplaces, restaurants and so on are still open. The decree gets released by some newspaper before it should . . .

. . .so around 10k people from the red zone escape from the area that same night to return to their homes in the rest of Italy (this will be important later). Most of the population of the remaining 75% of Italy still does what it always does.

They still don’t realize the seriousness of the situation. Everywhere you turn people advise to wash your hands and limit going out, large groups are forbidden, every 5 minutes on TV they remind you of these rules. But it still hasn’t settled in people’s minds.

😟 STAGE 4: The number of cases is heavily increasing. Schools and universities are closed everywhere for at least a month. It’s a national health emergency. Hospitals are at capacity, entire units are cleared to make space for coronavirus patients.

There aren’t enough doctors and nurses. They’re calling retired ones and those in their last 2 years of university. There are no shifts anymore, just work as much as you can. Of course, doctors and nurses are getting infected, spreading it to their families.

There are too many cases of pneumonia, too many people who need ICU and not enough places for everyone. At this point is like being at war: doctors have to choose who to treat based on their survival chance.

That means that the elderly and trauma/stroke patients can’t get treated because corona cases have priority. There are not enough resources for everybody so they have to be distributed for best outcome. I wish I was joking but it’s literally what has happened.

People have died because there wasn’t any more space. I have a doctor friend who called me devastated because he had to let 3 people die that day. Nurses crying because they see people dying and can’t do anything aside from offering some oxygen.

A friend’s relative died yesterday of the coronavirus because they couldn’t treat him. It’s chaos, the system is collapsing. Coronavirus and the crisis it’s provoking is all you hear about everywhere.

😢 STAGE 5: Remember the 10k idiot who ran from the red zone to the rest of Italy? Well, the entire country has to be declared under quarantine (March 9). The goal is to delay the spreading of the virus as much as possible.

People can go to work, go grocery shopping, go to the pharmacy, and all businesses are still open because otherwise, the economy would collapse (it already is), but you can’t move from your commune unless you have a valid reason.

Now there’s fear, you see a lot of people with masks and gloves around but there are still are people who think that they’re invincible, who go to restaurants in large groups, hang out with friends to drink and so on. Next step.

😨 STAGE 6: 2 days later, it’s announced that all (most) businesses are closed: Bars, restaurants, shopping centers, all kinds of shops etc. Everything except supermarkets and pharmacies. You can move around only if you have certification with you.

The certification is an official document where you declare your name, where you’re coming from, where you’re going and what for. There are a lot of police checkpoints. If you’re found outside without a valid reason you risk a fine up to €206 (roughly $230 US).

If you’re a known positive patient you risk from 1 to 12 years of jail for homicide. That’s what the situation is like now today as of March 12th. Keep in mind that it all happened in around 2 weeks . . . 5 DAYS FROM STAGE 3 TO TODAY.

The rest of the world apart from Italy, China and Korea is just now beginning to reach other stages, so let me tell you this: You have no idea what’s coming to get you. I know because 2 weeks ago I was the one who had no idea and thought it wasn’t bad.

But it is. And not because the virus alone is particularly dangerous or deadly, but for all the consequences it brings. It’s hard to see all these countries act like it’s not coming and not taking the precautions that are necessary for the well-being of its citizens while they still can. Please if you’re reading this try to act in your best interest.

This problem isn’t going to solve itself by ignoring it. Just wondering how many undiscovered cases there might be in America alone is scary, and they’re in for big, big trouble because of how their country is run.

Our government for once did a good job I must say. The actions taken were drastic but necessary, and this may be the only way to limit the spreading. It’s working in China so we hope it will work here too (it’s already working in some of the first red zones which were quarantined before everybody else).

They’re taking measures to protect us citizens such as probably suspending mortgage payments for next months, help for shop owners who were obligated to close and so on. I realize that these takes are really difficult, if not impossible, to take in some countries, and it’s really worrying to think about what it could mean in global scale. I wonder if this pandemic will be a turning point in our society. 

Lessons from Italy: 6 Stages of Coronavirus

1978: Grocery Shopping

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

In the fall of 1977, as a soon-to-be-married sophomore student at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac Michigan, I started working in the dairy department at nearby Felice’s Market. I worked forty hours a week while taking a full slate of classes at Midwestern. Throw in attending church three times a week, going on bus visitation on Saturdays, driving a church bus on Sundays, preaching on Sunday afternoons at a drug rehab facility in Detroit, and taking Polly out on a date once or twice every weekend, I was one busy young man. I thoroughly enjoyed my job at Felice’s. It didn’t pay well, but the working conditions were great, and the owners treated me well. They went far beyond what anyone could’ve expected: gave us a $200 wedding gift, helped arrange for us to buy a used automobile (1969 Pontiac Tempest), and hired me to do odd jobs around the grocery store so I could earn extra money. 

In the spring of 1978, in anticipation of our marriage, Polly and I rented an upstairs apartment several blocks away from Felice’s Market on Premont Street. The apartment had four rooms: living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. It was more than enough of a place for us and our meager belongings. The living room had new green and white carpet. One day I came home from work to find a large discolored spot on the carpet. I asked Polly what had happened. She replied, “I spilled tea on the carpet and I used bleach to get the stain out.” Ah, the lessons we learn when we are young.

In July 1978, Polly and I were married at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. Married in front of several hundred of our family members, church members, and friends, we had grand thoughts about the future. “A kiss for luck and we’re on our way,” we thought. We would quickly learn that life does not always go according to plan, and that there was a lot we didn’t know about each other. I often tell people that we married because we were mutually infatuated with each other. Over time, we grew to love one another, and finally like each other. Polly was nineteen and I was twenty-one when we married. I was the only boy she had dated and I came from a dysfunctional home, with a mother who was mentally ill. We had few real-life skills. We had no idea how to manage money, and that quickly led to financial problems. Six weeks after we were married, Polly informed me that she was pregnant. While we were certainly excited that little Jason was on the way, our plan was to wait until after we got out of college to have children.

One day, Polly said to me that she needed to go to the store and buy some groceries. I had no idea what domestic skills Polly did or didn’t have. I assumed her mother had taught her how to shop for groceries. I had been shopping for groceries since my early teen years. Mom would send me to the store with a list and food stamps and I would purchase what she needed. Before working for Felice’s, I had worked for several other grocery stores. I knew the art of grocery shopping inside and out. For Polly, however, going to the grocery store and buying groceries for not only herself, but her new husband, was something she had never done before.

Off to Felice’s she went. I thought that she would return home in about an hour. After several hours had passed and she had not returned home, I began to worry. There was plenty of crime in Pontiac to make anyone concerned when a loved one didn’t come home at the expected time. The previous year, a group of boys tried to assault me as I walked home from work. Another time, as I walked up the road near the college, a car pulled up beside me and stopped. A man rolled down the window on the passenger side, stuck a gun out of the window, cocked the hammer, and pointed it at me. Fortunately, he didn’t pull the trigger. After Polly and I were married, we woke up one morning to find a man who had been severely beaten lying in our front yard. Other students at Midwestern had their own stories about attacks and robberies. Collectively, these stories had me worried about whether something had happened to Polly.

I quickly drove to Felice’s Market, hoping that I would find Polly sitting there with a flat tire or some other mechanical problem. These were the days when we drove rust buckets and beaters, so mechanical breakdowns were a regular part of the ebb and flow of our lives. While I did not find Polly in a broken-down car, I did find her sitting in the parking lot crying her eyes out. She had gone into the store, started wandering from aisle to aisle, and quickly became overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. She left the store without buying anything, returned to the car, and that’s where I found her. Safe, but psychologically a wreck.

People often find it strange that I do most of the grocery shopping for our family. My doing so hails back to that moment in a grocery store parking lot over forty years ago. While Polly is now more than competent to go shopping, she still prefers if I do it. Usually, we shop together. That way, Polly will have the things that she wants and needs. Tonight, I went grocery shopping without her. She texted me a list, and I bought what was on that list. This way of doing things works for us.

I’ve often wondered why, exactly, Polly had a brief mental breakdown years ago. It seemed such an insignificant thing — grocery shopping. However, when you’re not taught to do something and your parents give you little latitude to make decisions on your own, I can easily see how being forced into making decisions might cause psychological trauma. I’ve never been afraid to make decisions, even stupid ones. Polly, on the other hand, found decision-making difficult. She was content to defer to others. What has changed for her in recent years is the fact that she went to the local community college on her own and got a degree. That was a big deal, a seismic event in her life. Polly also received a promotion at work. She is now a supervisor and is responsible for making a number of decisions on a daily basis. This has proved to be transformative for her, though she still has trouble deciding what to order at a fast food restaurant. 🙂

Lurking underneath this story is the bondage of Fundamentalism and the freedom found post-Christianity. Polly was a perfect little Fundamentalist girl. She played by the rules. Whatever her parents, teachers, and pastors told her to do, she did it without question. She didn’t have to make decisions. Her parents made them for her. No need to think, just do. While I certainly grew up in a similar fashion, my parents’ dysfunction and a healthy wild streak gave me opportunities to make decisions on my own. After we married, we were a good patriarchal family, and Polly had another decision-maker lording over her — me. Not only was I her husband, I was her pastor. Talk about an ugly two-headed monster. It was only when we walked away from Christianity in 2008 and Polly went to college in 2010, that things began to change for her. All of a sudden, she was free to walk her own path, make her own decisions, and even have her own money. Never underestimate the power of having your own money.

Fundamentalism harms everything it touches. I could share countless stories similar to the one I’ve shared today that show how Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christianity harmed us emotionally and psychologically. I’m not sure we will ever recover completely from the damage done by our religious past. I do know, however, that life is far better today, even with its pain, heartache, and suffering, than it was back in our “living for Jesus” days. We are free to live as we want to live, go where we want to go, and yes, buy whatever we want at the grocery store.

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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.

Thirteen Things I’ve Learned in Old Age

gravity

Hair grows everywhere except where I want it to.

Metamucil is my friend.

Gravity is a bitch.

I didn’t screw my kids up after all.

Grandchildren are the best reason for getting up in the morning.

I don’t know as much as I thought I did.

I have few true friends.

The obituaries make for good reading.

Marriage is nothing like what I thought it would be, but far more than I could ever have hoped for.

Shit happens.

No one escapes death.

Every day above ground is a gift.

I hate arbitrary lists.

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Recent Photos of Our Youngest Grandchildren

I am rarely the subject of photographs due to the fact that I’m always the man behind the camera. The first picture is of yours truly with our twelfth grandchild. We are hanging out in my office. The second picture is of our latest grandchild. Born several weeks ago, he has beautiful red hair. Hopefully, it stays that way.

Bruce, What Were the Psychological Aspects of Your Loss of Faith?

no regrets

Recently, a friend of mine asked me about the psychological aspects of my loss of faith. He rightly noted that most of my writing about my deconversion focuses on the intellectual aspects of the process. I told him that talking about the psychological/emotional aspects of my life, both as a Christian and an atheist, gives my critics easy targets to attack. My story befuddles, aggravates, and confuses many Evangelical zealots. If they can find a flaw or weakness in me personally, it makes it that much easier to discredit me or dismiss my story out of hand. Over the past thirteen years, I have been savaged by Evangelical apologists who want nothing more than to deconstruct my life or dismantle my story. Talking about subjective psychological or emotional issues gives them ammunition to not only marginalize me, but also grind me under their Fundamentalist boot heels. That said, I know it is important for me to tell all of my story. If I truly want people to understand my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism, I must talk about the psychological aspects of my deconversion.

As I look back over my life, there are several things that stand out from a psychological/emotional perspective.

First, I struggled with why it seemed that God never materially blessed me. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how many days a week I labored in God’s vineyard, it never seemed that my pay was commensurate with my labor. My colleagues in the ministry all seemed to be doing better financially than I was, and all of them worked fewer hours than I did. Many of them seemed quite passive, rarely going out of their way to advance the kingdom of Christ. They, in my estimation, were placeholders. I, on the other hand, worked, worked, worked, pushed, pushed, pushed, rarely stopping to smell the roses. I sincerely believed the Hell was hot, souls were dying, and Jesus was coming back soon. These beliefs, and others, warped my view of the world. I thought, “better to burn out than rust out.” And so, year after year, I ran the race set before me, with little money to show for it.

It was not until the early 2000s that I realized that I was a lone sprinter, running as fast as I could to finish a race no one else was running. Everywhere I looked, I saw congregants and ministerial colleagues buying houses and land, driving nice cars, taking vacations, and funding their retirement accounts. I thought, “it’s evident God doesn’t reward voluntary poverty or simplicity, so I might as well enjoy the good life like everyone else is.” And so I fundamentally changed how I viewed money and material things. Instead of being the last in line when the church paid its bills, I insisted they pay me first. Polly went out and got a job, and bit by bit we crawled out the financial pit I had dug for us.

I learned that God didn’t care one way or another. Of course, the reason for this is that he didn’t exist. I was waiting for a “dead” Jesus to bless me, and that was never going to happen.

Second, in a similar vein, I struggled with why God seemed disinterested in healing me. My health began to decline in the mid-90s, and no matter what came my way physically, it seemed that God just wanted me to endure it. No matter how much or how long I prayed for healing, God was silent. Oh, I would convince myself that he was “helping” me, but deep down I knew that my prayers weren’t reaching the throne room of Heaven, and most likely were just bouncing off the ceiling.  As I looked at the suffering of other believers, I noticed that God seemed to be ignoring them too. I thought, “isn’t Jesus the Great Physician?” Why does it seem he is always on vacation?

These two issues deeply weighed on me emotionally. I was a committed, devoted, sold-out follower of Jesus, yet it seemed that God didn’t care one way or another. In fact, it seemed that the harder I worked, the worse things got economically and physically. Of course, the reason for this is that I was chasing an imaginary God. I was devoted to a being that did not exist.

While my deconversion was primarily fueled by my re-investigation of the claims of Christianity and the Bible, emotional struggles over money and health problems certainly played a part. It took seeing a secular counselor to help me understand how all these things were intertwined in my life. Untangling my life hasn’t been easy. The wounds left behind by the years I spent in the ministry run deep, affecting me psychologically to this day. In November 2008, I walked out the back door of the church, never to return. I knew that I was no longer a Christian. What I didn’t know is how to best live my life going forward.  As an Evangelical, I believed and practiced the JOY acronym:

  • Jesus First
  • Others Second
  • Yourself Last (or You Don’t Matter)

As an atheist and a humanist, I came to understand that taking care of self had to come first; that I had to care for myself psychologically. I also learned that it is okay to enjoy life; that it is okay to spend money for no other reason than you want to; that it is okay to enjoy material things. Further, I learned that my family mattered to me more than anything. I thought they did when I was a Christian, but an honest accounting of my life revealed that Jesus, the ministry, church members, unsaved people, and just about everyone else came before my family. I regret spending much of my life more devoted to God and others than my wife and children. As an atheist, I now have my mind focused on the things and people who matter. I have learned that it is okay to tell people NO; that I don’t always have to help others; that I don’t have to always please others.

I have spent the past ten years re-making my life. Better? Worse? I will leave it to others to make such judgments. I do know that I am far happier today than I was as a pastor. I am not sure that this post will satisfy those looking for the psychological reasons I deconverted. I know I run the risk of having critics say that I left Christianity because I was bitter over my economic status and God’s indifference towards my health problems. Perhaps, but at the end of the day, the reason I am an atheist is that I no longer believed the central claims of Christianity were true. I may have been angry, bitter, jaded, or pissed off, but these alone were not enough to drive me from the household of faith.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Bruce, Were You Ever a “Real” Christian?

real christian

One of the common lines of attack Evangelical critics use against me is what is commonly called the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.  Rational Wiki explains the “No True Scotsman” fallacy:

The No True Scotsman (NTS) fallacy is a logical fallacy that occurs when a debater defends the generalization of a group by excluding counter-examples from it. For example, it is common to argue that “all members of [my religion] are fundamentally good”, and then to abandon all bad individuals as “not true [my-religion]-people”.

….

NTS can be thought of as a form of inverted cherry picking, where instead of selecting favourable examples, one rejects unfavourable ones. The NTS fallacy paves the path to other logical fallacies, such as letting the “best” member of a group represent it. Thanks to these remarkable qualities, the NTS fallacy is a vital tool in the promotion of denialism.

Simply put, “no matter what you say Bruce, you never were a REAL Christian.”

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. At the age of fifteen, I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Coming under the Holy Spirit’s conviction, I went forward during the invitation, knelt at the altar, repented of my sins, and asked Jesus to save me. Several weeks later, I went forward again and professed publicly to the church that I believed that God was calling me to preach. From that time forward — until I walked away from Christianity in November 2008 — my heart and mind were set on worshipping, serving, and following Jesus. I committed myself to daily prayer and reading and studying the Bible. At the age of nineteen, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. While at Midwestern, I met and dated the beautiful daughter of a Baptist preacher. We later married, had six children, and invested our lives in building churches, helping others, and evangelizing the lost. Simply put, we loved Jesus, and whatever the Holy Spirit led us to do, we did it — even if it cost us socially or economically.

That’s not to say that we were perfect Christians. We weren’t. Speaking for myself, I was temperamental, prone to mood swings that ranged from palpable excitement to brooding darkness. I now know that I was dealing with undiagnosed depression; that what I really needed was competent professional help. It took me more than a decade to see someone once I realized I needed help. Why so long? I grew up in a home with a mother who had serious mental health problems. (Please see Barbara.) I knew the shame that came from having a loved one who was viewed by others as “nuts” or “crazy.” I certainly wasn’t my mother — as my counselor has frequently reminded me — but I didn’t want my wife and children to have to bear the stigma of having a husband/parent who had mental problems. It was enough that they had to bear the brunt of my mood swings behind closed doors. I didn’t want them to bear that burden in public.

I am sure an Evangelical zealot or two is itching to ask, “Bruce, did you ever “sin” against God?” Silly boy, of course I did. I daily sinned in thought, word, and deed; sins of omission and sins of commission. Let me ask you the same question, “did you ever sin against God?” That’s what I thought. Of course you have. Whatever failures I had in my life, and they were many, doesn’t negate the fact that I loved Jesus (and the church) with my all my heart, soul, and mind. I spent the prime years of my life — ruining my health in the process — laboring day and night in God’s vineyard. I chose a life of poverty so I could provide the churches I pastored with a full-time preacher. There’s not one former congregant who can say of me that I didn’t give my all to the church; to preaching the gospel to sinners and teaching the saints the Word of God. Critics will search in vain for anyone who knew me at the time that would say of me, “Bruce was not a real Christian.” Several years ago, a woman who knows me quite well, told a family member, “if Butch (my family nickname) wasn’t a Christian, no one is!” And that’s my testimony too. There’s nothing in my story, when taken as a whole, that remotely suggests that I wasn’t a real Christian.

What happens, of course, is that my Evangelical critics skim over the book of my life, choosing instead to just read the last chapter; the chapter where Bruce, the Evangelical pastor is now Bruce, the atheist; the chapter where Bruce rejects, criticizes, and stands against everything he once believed; the chapter where it is clear to Bruce’s critics that he is a reprobate and apostate. After reading the last chapter, my critics conclude, “Bruce, you never were a real Christian.” Once critics come to this ill-informed conclusion, it is impossible to change their minds (and I no longer try to do so).

The biggest problem my critics face is their theology. Most Evangelicals, particularly Baptists, believe that once a person is saved, his salvation cannot be lost. Once adopted into the family of God and married to Jesus, you are forever a member of the Christian family. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 8:31-39:

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jesus himself said in John 10:27-29:

 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

Did my long years as a Christian show that I was a sheep who had heard the voice of Jesus and followed him? Of course they did. If that is true, and it is, then based on the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, I was a born-from-above child of God who had been granted eternal life by God himself.

Many of my critics can’t bear to admit that I was ever a “real” Christian. They can’t bear to think of spending eternity in Heaven with me, an avowed atheist. So they take a lice comb to the hair of my life, looking for anything in my beliefs, practices, or conduct that reveals that I was not, according to their standard, a real Christian. Their minds are made up: I was a fake Christian. I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Never mind that the evidence of my lived life suggests otherwise. Instead of admitting the obvious, these keepers of the Book of Life strain at the gnat and swallow a camel finding ways to “prove” I wasn’t a real Christian.

On one hand, I agree with them. It is absurd to think that I am now a Christian, and that Heaven awaits me after I died. There’s nothing in my present life that remotely suggests that I am a follower of Jesus. A few critics, unable to square their theology with the sum of my life, take a different approach. According to them, I am still a Christian, and there’s nothing I can say or do to change that fact. This line of argument is equally absurd.

It is not up to me to help my critics make their theology fit the narrative of my life. All I know is this: I once was a Christian, and now I am not. I think of my life this way: At the age of fifteen, I married Jesus. We had thirty-five years of blissful marriage. However, at the age of fifty, I divorced Jesus, and fell in love with rationalism and freedom. When asked about my marriage to Jesus, I say, “all in all, we had a good life together.” There are times when I wistfully look at my marriage to Jesus and yearn for the “good old days.” Stupid thoughts, to be sure, knowing that humans tend to sanitize their past, ignoring or blocking out the bad things that happened. Sure, Jesus and I had a good life together, but he’s no match for my current lover. I could never go back to the leeks, onions, and bondage of Egypt, having tasted and enjoyed the wonder and freedom of the Promised Land.

Some readers, particularly lifelong atheists, often ask, “why does this matter to you, Bruce? The Christian God is a myth. Christianity is built on a foundation of lies. There’s no judgment, no Heaven, no Hell. Your life as a Christian was built on a fairytale!” As a godless heathen, I certainly agree with these sentiments. However, I WAS a devoted Christian for many years. I WAS a committed, sacrificial pastor for decades. It’s impossible to honestly and faithfully tell my story without sharing the fifty years I spent in the Christian church. Years ago, I had a social worker offer me some advice on how to write an effective résumé. She thought that my religious education and ministerial job history were turnoffs or red flags to many prospective employers. She suggested leaving these things off my résumé. I replied, “so what do you want me to do with the huge holes in my work history? Should I just put I was in prison for twenty-five years?” She was not amused.

My past is part of who I am. I can’t and won’t ignore the “Christian years” to make my story more palatable. Nor can I ignore the chapters that are presently being written. Are not all of us the sum of our experiences? Why is it we have no problem when someone says, “I was married and now I am divorced. Several months ago, I met someone who might be the right person for me.” That’s my life. I was married to Jesus, divorced him, and eleven years ago I met someone new; someone who has become just the right person for me. All I ask from Christians is that they accept my story at face value; that they allow me to tell my story honestly and openly without attempting to deconstruct my life. When Christians comment on this blog, I accept their claims of faith without question. Even when they promote bad theology or say contradictory things, I allow them to tell their stories on their own terms. If I have learned anything over the years it is this: there are millions of Christianities and millions of Jesuses. No two Christians believe the same things or worship Jesus in exactly the same way. To discern who is and isn’t a “real” Christian is an impossible task. Who am I to say to a follower of Jesus: you are NOT a real Christian. All of us bring unique books to story time. Mine just so happens to be one of devotion to Jesus and loss of faith. Regardless of what my critics say about my past, I know what I know. After all, who knows my life better than I do? And so it is with you.

Last week, I had a Christian contact me, asking for advice on how to set up a blog and how to rank well with search engines such as Google and Bing. I gave him some general advice. The first thing I told him is this: “I encourage everyone, Christian or not, to tell their story. Blogging is an excellent way to do so.” I am convinced that the best way to help others is by telling our stories. Sure, there’s a time and place for polemical writing; attacks on the text and teachings of the Bible. I am certainly more than willing to take an axe to the roots of Christianity and the Bible. However, I have learned, as a public speaker and a writer, that the most effective way to reach people is by telling my story. As such, this blog will always remain “one man with a story to tell.”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

1979: The Gremlin

1970s-amc-gremlin

On a hot July day in 1978, before friends and family at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, a naive nineteen-year-old girl and a similarly clueless twenty-one-year-old boy tied the knot, and with a kiss for luck, they were on their way. Little did they know how quickly their lives would change. After a week-long honeymoon at the French Lick Hotel in Indiana, Polly and I made our way north to our new apartment in Pontiac, Michigan. We were looking forward to our junior year of classes at Midwestern Baptist College. Shortly before the first day of classes, Polly said, “I think I’m pregnant.” We had been married six weeks.

When it came to the birds and the bees, we knew the basics, but birth control? We didn’t have a clue. Needless to say, the method we chose to use did not work, most likely due to operator error. Both of us enrolled in classes just as we had planned. However, Polly began having severe bouts of morning sickness. She dropped all of her classes, but two. By January, the machine shop I worked for laid me off. And just like that, six months into marriage, we were plunged into a financial crisis. Neither of us had any idea about how to handle money. I thought it best to withdraw from college too, but the dean of men counseled me to stay in school and “trust that God would provide.” A month later, God still hadn’t provided, so I dropped out of school and prepared to move us to Bryan, the place of my birth. We lived with my sister and her husband for a few weeks until I found employment and suitable housing.

Come late May, Polly’s water broke and I rushed her to the local hospital. It would be two days before our son was born. Polly had what can only be described as marathon labor. Neither of us knew anything about childbirth — no classes back then. We literally were, so to speak, learning on the job. Well, truth be told, Polly was doing all the learning. I was a scared-shitless bystander, sure that my bride was going to die at any moment. Neither of us had parents nearby, so we were on our own.

As Polly moved into the second day of labor, Dr. Sharrock, a pediatrician/obstetrician, told us that it was going to be a while before Polly gave birth.  He said, “I have to pick up a few things at Carroll-Ames (a local hardware/appliance/five and dime store), and then I will be back.”  I told Polly, “look, since nothing is happening, there’s a car I’ve been looking at that I would like to buy. I will be right back, I promise.” Off I went to a small used car lot on the north side of Bryan to see if the car I wanted was still available. I had already arranged for financing, so all I had to do is decide for sure which car I wanted to buy, sign the papers, and return to the hospital. All told, I was gone for about an hour.

I decided to buy a ‘70-something AMC Gremlin. Cool, right?  It had a six-cylinder motor and a three-speed manual transmission. By this time, I was the assistant pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church and was working a first shift job in the shipping department at pneumatic tool maker, Aro Corporation. We needed two cars. Our other car was a white 1967 Chevrolet Impala with red interior. The Impala had a 327-cubic-inch motor with solid lifters. It hammered like a diesel and burned lots of oil. I was looking forward to having a “nice” car. If I remember correctly, I paid $1,200 for the Gremlin.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of our first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents. Polly is six-weeks pregnant.

With the papers signed and the cardboard temporary license plate attached to the back of the car, I pulled the Gremlin out of the car lot and drove south on Main Street towards the hospital. Life was good. Here I had a “new” car, a beautiful wife, and soon I would be a father. I drove under the railroad tracks and stopped at the first traffic light. The light changed, and just as I moved into the intersection, an elderly man drove through the light and attempted to turn right. Unfortunately, my “new” car was in the way, and the man tore the right-front fender completely off the Gremlin. “How can this be happening?” I thought, at the time. “Polly hasn’t even seen this car, and I have already wrecked it!” This accident would become a metaphor for many of the things we have experienced over the past forty-one years of marriage.

After the police report was filed, I drove the fenderless Gremlin to the hospital. I thought, “what in the world am I going to tell Polly?” When I got to Polly’s room, I panicked as I saw her hooked to all sorts of monitors. I thought, “oh, my God, she’s dying!” In my absence, Dr. Sharrock had decided to induce labor. It was game on. Polly was NOT dying, but she sure sounded and felt as if she were. Several hours later, our son Jason was born. The doctors had to use forceps, so Jason came into this world with what can best be described as a conehead. A pretty baby he was not. Polly, of course, disagreed with me. “What a BEAUTIFUL baby!” Polly would go on to have five more beauties.

Several days later, I picked up Polly and Jason from the hospital with the Gremlin and drove them to our apartment duplex on Hamilton Street. In October of that year, we packed our belongings into the Impala and Gremlin and moved 4 hours south to Newark, Ohio. We would remain in central and southeast Ohio for fifteen years.

Dozens of cars would be bought and sold in our lives over the next 40 years, but none of them has a story quite like the Gremlin.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Is Jesus the Only Reason Christians Succeed in Life?

god gives us all things

Evangelicals are taught that without Jesus their lives are “nothing.” Jesus said to his followers in John 15:5: I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. The Apostle Paul testified in Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. The negative inference is this: as Christians, without the strength Jesus gives us, we can do nothing. Speaking to a group of unbelievers, Paul said this about the Christian God: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; (Acts 17:28)

Tonight, LSU plays Clemson in the college football title game. Regardless of who wins, players and coaches will praise the Christian God for their victory; believing that without God, they could have never accomplished what they did on the field.

Yesterday, I read a blog post written by Kristen Welch titled, It’s Because of Jesus. Here’s what Welch had to say:

There’s only one reason we’re still together,” I told my husband quietly as we were cleaning up the kitchen after dinner one night.

He stopped loading the dishwasher and looked at me, “What?”

“There’s only one reason we are still married and our home is semi-functional,” I said louder, over our kids arguing about what to watch on TV.

“And happy?” He said sarcastically with a laugh. “Honey, what are you talking about?”

I reminded him of the week of bad news we’d heard in our circle of community. There were just too many announcements of friends our age divorcing, and destructive behavior from their defiant kids and one too many defeated leaders in the same kind of work as us, throwing in the towel.

“There’s nothing really different from us than from this family or that one. There’s only one reason it’s not us divorcing, dealing with wayward kids or dropping out of the non-profit world.”

I had his full attention.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. The answer made me want to weep right there in the kitchen.

“It’s Jesus. He’s the only reason,” I said softly and handed him another plate to load.

We were quiet for a moment–chewing on the truth hanging in the air between us. We have had plenty of reasons over the years to give up on each other; to call it quits on Biblical parenting, to find jobs that were easier. More than once, it would have been easier to just walk away than stay and fight.

But we didn’t survive those seasons because we made good choices or because we were good people. And it’s important to acknowledge that our sacrifices, self-denial and sad attempts to hold it all together–didn’t somehow work.

No, we are defying the odds because of Jesus. Simply. Profoundly. Because of Jesus. And we both knew it.

According to Welch, the ONLY reason for their successful marriage is Jesus. Not their good choices, just Jesus. Not their sacrifices, self-denial, or attempts to hold their marriage together, just Jesus.

Welch’s post is a good reminder of the effectiveness of Evangelical indoctrination. Starting when Evangelicals are children, and continuing Sunday after Sunday through adulthood, they are reminded by their pastors and teachers of their worthlessness without Jesus. Worse yet, Evangelical preachers tell their congregants that Jesus is the only thing keeping them from a life of debauchery. Why, without Jesus, a life filled with booze, drugs, sexual immorality, divorce, and voting Democrat awaits them. Jesus, supposedly, is a prophylactic against the “world.” He alone keeps Christians from contracting STDs — Secular Transmitted Diseases.

If there’s one Evangelical doctrine I despise, it is this one. My wife and I wallowed in the pit of helplessness most of our lives. Daily we pleaded for Jesus to give us strength and guidance. We prayed that every decision we made was according to his perfect plan and will. (Romans 12:1-2) When the pit turned into a shit-filled, overflowing septic tank, we blamed ourselves for ignoring the leadership and direction of the Holy Spirit. “Wait a minute, Bruce. I thought the Bible said that Christians couldn’t do anything without Jesus. Why are you to blame when things turn out bad?” Ah, Good question, Obi-Wan Kenobi. If God is the sovereign Lord over all and controls everything, how can anything happen that is not according to his purpose, plan, and will? If it is in Jesus that humans have their strength, movement, and being, is he not culpable when things end up a disaster? Either God/Jesus is who Evangelicals say he is, or he’s not. God is either omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, or he’s not.  Evangelicals say that God is the Creator of the universe and holds the earth in the palm of his hand. Yet, science and just paying attention tells us that these claims are false. Either God is a shitty project manager, has given his workers control over his projects, or he doesn’t exist. My money is on the latter.

I do a lot of sports photography. Right now, it’s basketball season. I typically attend three or four high school basketball games a week. I have shot games at almost every school in rural northwest Ohio. I’ve seen good, bad, and average players and teams. Having played basketball myself into my early thirties, I have a good eye for spotting not only exceptional talent but also deficiencies — defensive, offensive, ball-handling, shooting. I am particularly interested in how players handle adversity; say, when their opposition puts on a full-court press or puts a pesky, physical defender on them the whole night. Anyone can make shots or free throws when shooting around before the game. It’s when the game is on the line when the mettle of a player is revealed.

When players succeed, is their success due to the most awesome three-point shooter ever, Jesus? I mean, can anyone slam dunk the basketball better than God? Ugh. Their success comes not from their faith in the triune God, but from a combination of genetics, drive, practice, and natural talent. Players who excel at a given sport do so because they work day and night at becoming the best player possible. A player need not have Welch’s Jesus to succeed. If a player wants to praise Jesus, fine. But, make no mistake about it, it’s their hard work and effort that made them into a successful athlete.

Welch, oh-so-humbly, believes that the only reason she and her husband are still married today is because of Jesus. I have no idea what kind of marriage the Welches have, but this I know: their marriage’s success rests on their shoulders, and theirs alone. Countless Evangelical couples who love and follow Jesus just as much as the Welches do end up divorced. Why is that? Perhaps the truth about marriage is that it really is a crap-shoot; perhaps successfully living with one person for years, having children together, and facing suffering and loss together is due, not to Jesus, but to luck. Yes, luck. How else do we explain two couples with similar marital resumes, one married for decades, another divorced?

Polly and I have been married for going on forty-two years. We started dating when we were seventeen and nineteen. Here we are, all these years later, still blissfully and happily married. We should write a book, right? Maybe we could title the book: Seven Steps to Keep from Murdering Your Spouse. That’s right. You see, Polly and I both know that we are lucky to still be married. Both of us can point to circumstances that could have destroyed our marriage. Was it Jesus that kept us from divorce? Of course not. If anything, we are fortunate we didn’t divorce because of Jesus. Polly would likely say that Jesus and I carried on an illicit affair for decades. It got so bad that Jesus even slept in our bed — a threesome. (Please see It’s Time to Tell the Truth: I Had an Affair)

The list of marital pressure points is endless, from health problems to children to loss of faith. Polly and I know we are lucky to still be married, and happily so. Sure, we took the vows we made seriously. We genuinely love and like one another. However, lots of “loving” couples end up divorced. Where Welch sees Jesus, I see a plethora of things that keep married couples together. I know of one couple who was married for over sixty years. Wow, they must have really loved one another, right? Nope. The husband was a violent, skirt-chasing rapist. The wife endured because she planned on outliving her wretched husband so she would get all the money. She succeeded, by the way, only to end up in a nursing home with dementia. Too bad she will never remember how she outlasted that asshole husband of hers.

Some marriages last because of children. I suspect we all know couples who stay married for the sake of their children. Why is it some couples divorce after twenty or twenty-five years of marriage? Often, they waited until the children were out of the house before they decided to call it quits.

What I am saying is this: the success or failure of a marriage rests on numerous factors. To suggest, as Welch does, that having a successful marriage and steering clear of divorce court is solely due to Jesus is, at the very least, lazy thinking. When asked to make a list of the reasons for their successful marriages, the Welches and other Evangelical couples write one big word: JESUS. I want to believe that Welch knows better; that deep down in her heart of hearts she knows that she is still married today because of hard work and a healthy dose of luck.

Sometimes, marriages fail. How many Christians do you know who are in miserable marriages, helplessly waiting for Jesus to come through for them? Instead of cutting bait and admitting that they married the wrong person or no longer love their spouse, Evangelicals will suffer in silence, believing that doing so is what Jesus, the Awesome One, wants of them. On my About page I answer the question, If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be? Here’s what I wrote:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Forget whom “Jesus” says matters or what the Bible says, the only ones who matter are those whom you and you alone think matter. Life is too short to spend it trying to shore up a house built on a rotting foundation. You are not a “nothing,” and any preacher or religion that tells you differently is out to cause you harm. My advice? Run. Seek out people and relationships who value you as a person; people who see your work and effort; and yes, people who see how lucky you are.

Were you taught that without Jesus you were “nothing?” How did this affect you as an adult? Your marriage? Your relationships with your children? If you have been married for a number of years, to what do you attribute the success of your marriage? Please share your wisdom in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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