Local

“We Accept Anyone No Matter What,” Local Evangelical Says

pastor kyle brownlee

I live in rural northwest Ohio, an area dominated by Evangelical Christianity. Even local mainline churches tend to skew to the right theologically and socially. The last church I attended before leaving Christianity was a United Methodist church. This church’s pastor was every bit as Evangelical as I was back in the day. I know of only one church that openly accepts LGBTQ people into their membership — St. John United Church of Christ in Defiance. (Please see Open and Affirming: St John United Church of Christ, Defiance, Ohio.)

Living in such a religious monoculture can be difficult for someone such as I. I love country living, so I have learned to adapt to my environment, even when I want to, at times, cuss, scream, and bang my hang on the wall. All of my children and grandchildren live within twenty minutes of my home. Every time I write a letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, I pause for a moment to contemplate how my words might affect my progeny. I don’t want to cause them harm, yet, at the same time, I can’t and won’t be silent. If I don’t speak up for atheism, reason, and liberal politics, who will? For several years, it seemed like I was the atheist lone ranger, alone in my challenges to local Evangelicalism. Recent years have brought a handful of new voices to the editorial page of the Crescent-News. Not all of them are unbelievers, but we do share a common view of Evangelical Christianity and its negative, harmful influence on our local communities.

Today’s post is another opportunity to challenge the local Evangelical status-quo. Several days ago, I was checking out a local Facebook group and I came upon a discussion about starting a countywide youth group. The woman who suggested this surely had good intentions: let’s all work together for the common good. Several people suggested that there was no need for such a group. “We have the YMCA, and several churches have established youth groups,” they said. One person mentioned Xperience Church in Defiance. “Are they accepting of LGBTQ youth?” one commenter asked. A member of Xperience Church replied, “We accept anyone no matter what.”

Xperience Church is the latest in a long string of local cool hipster Evangelical churches. Xperience currently meets at the YMCA, but rapid attendance growth has them spending in excess of $1 million to move to new digs at the Defiance Mall — a facility that will seat 825 people.  The following video features Experience Church pastor Kyle Brownlee giving his “vision” for the future. Please try to listen to two or three minutes, if you dare. After that, you may need a barf bag.

Video Link

After listening to Brownlee’s “vision,” you know what I wanted to do? Run! The Evangelicals are Coming! The Evangelicals are Coming! Run for Your Life!

Imagine for a moment, that you are a member of Xperience Church, and week after week you listen to Brownlee’s peppy, inspiring sermons. Imagine hearing over and over Brownlee’s “vision” for Defiance and the surrounding communities. You might come to the conclusion that Xperience Church really does “accept anyone no matter what.” However, as I will show below, Xperience Church — beneath all the loud music and relational sermons — is, belief-wise, a garden variety Evangelical church; not any different from dozens of other churches in rural northwest Ohio. (Xperience Church is affiliated with the Association of Relational Churches.)

Brownlee and Xperience Church believe, and I quote:

We believe that the Bible is God’s Word. It is accurate, authoritative and applicable to our everyday lives.

We believe in one eternal God who is the Creator of all things. He exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. He is totally loving and completely holy. We believe that sin has separated each of us from God and His purpose for our lives.

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ as both God and man is the only One who can reconcile us to God. He lived a sinless and exemplary life, died on the cross in our place, and rose again to prove His victory and empower us for life.

We believe that in order to receive forgiveness and the ‘new birth’ we must repent of our sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and submit to His will for our lives. We believe that in order to live the holy and fruitful lives that God intends for us, we need to be baptized in water and be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to use spiritual gifts.

We believe in the power and significance of the church and the necessity of believers to meet regularly together for fellowship, prayer and growing in our faith.

We believe that God has individually equipped us so that we can successfully achieve His purpose for our lives which is to worship God, fulfill our role in the church and serve the community in which we live.

We believe that God wants to heal, set us free, and transform us so that we can live healthy and blessed lives in order to help others more effectively.

We believe that our eternal destination of either Heaven or Hell is determined by our response to the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back again as He promised.

The church’s Our Values page states:

We will be authentic in order to reach people who don’t know Christ.
To reach people no one is reaching, we’ll have to be real with where we’ve been and what God’s done to transform us. We’re not a group of perfect people, we are a group of people being perfected.

….

We believe the local church is the hope of the world.
We believe church is amazing. The church is God’s rescue plan for humanity and a place to introduce them to Jesus. Around here, we have a heart for building God’s House.

Having read these official statements of belief and philosophy, does anyone really think that Xperience Church would “accept anyone no matter what?” Of course not. This is nothing more than classic Evangelical subterfuge. (Please see Just Remember, Evangelicals Always Have an Agenda and The Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals.) Yes, anyone is welcome to walk in the doors of Xperience Church and attend their services. Whosoever will, let them come, right? However, is Xperience Church really “accepting of LGBTQ youth?”  Again, sure, as long as you don’t think about the question too hard. I am sure local LGBTQ students are welcome to attend the monthly youth meeting and weekly Sunday services. However, are the same students free to date other same-sex students? Are they free to speak openly and positively about their sexuality? If I attended Xperience Church, would I be permitted to preach the gospel of humanism and pass out Bart Ehrman’s books? Knowing what you know about Evangelical social beliefs, does anyone think Xperience Church truly has an open-door, live-as-you-want, be-true-to-self, policy? Of course not.

What the church member should have said is this: “we accept anyone no matter what, but thanks to Jesus and his awesome redeeming grace, we expect that unbelievers will be saved and become dutiful members of Xperience Church. We expect that the “anyones” will be transformed by the power of the Holy Ghost; that their addictions, perversions, and sins will be washed away by the mighty blood of Jesus Christ.” In other words, “yes, you are free to visit Xperience Church, but we will not leave you alone until you see things our, oops, I mean God’s way!”

I know people who attend Xperience Church, including family members, so I am not suggesting the church and its hipster pastor are evil. I have no doubt that they have good intentions. However, it is evident, at least to me, that Xperience Church is NOT open and accepting in the same way as St. John United Church of Christ.

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches. I understand Brownlee’s “vision” quite well. Been there, done that, thinking that God had tasked me alone to reach local sinners with the gospel. There are over 300 Christian churches in rural northwest Ohio. Did Defiance really need another church? Of course not. But, Brownlee and his wife believe God speaks to them. (Please see Do Evangelical Christians “Know” the Mind of God? Hearing the Still Small Voice of the Evangelical God, Hearing the “Voice of God.) The Brownlees are certain that big things await them as God uses Xperience Church to advance and expand the Kingdom of God. Never mind the fact that the bulk of Xperience church members have been pilfered from other churches. (Please see IFB Church Planting and How Church Planters Convinces Themselves Their Churches are “Special”, The Elevate City Church Con Job, and What Should I Do? There’s No Church in My Town that Teaches the “Truth”.) Sure, Xperience Church is adding new converts to their numbers, but everyone in Defiance is already a Christian — just ask them — so most of their numerical increase comes from transfer growth. (Please see Most Evangelicals Don’t Choose to Become Christians.)

Look, I don’t care what people do on Sundays. If people want to spend their Sunday mornings worshipping a mythical deity, fine. However, when it comes to going after unbelievers whom Evangelicals deem sick, broken, sinful, and in need of fixing, you can expect me to object. I am more than happy to share the same terra firma as worshippers of Jesus. All I ask is that they keep their beliefs to themselves. Now who is being delusional, right? Confrontational Evangelism is part of Evangelicalism’s DNA. Brownlee makes that clear in his “vision” video. When you believe your family, friends, and neighbors are vile enemies of God in need of salvation, it stands to reason you would do whatever is necessary to reach these lost heathens for Jesus. What remains to be seen is whether Brownlee and his church will stay “on-fire” for Jesus once they move into their new building. Or will Xperience Church, in time, become just like every other institutionalized, incestuous Evangelical church. My money is on the latter. ‘Tis the nature of Evangelical churches. Time and reality take the wind out the best of “vision” statements. Once local churches have been raided and sinful locals harassed until they get saved, what’s left for “cool” churches to do? I mean, isn’t church really all about who has the best worship band or the best preacher? What will happen when Xperience Church and its pastors become boring? Why, God will lead yet another church planter to static, dying Defiance County to establish a new church.

Just what we need, another hamburger joint.

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.

An Example of Our Broken, Costly Healthcare System

healthcare system

Last January, my wife was admitted to the hospital and later diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. In July, she was told she had bladder cancer and a fistula that had created a path between the colon and bladder (resulting in feces in the urine). A urologist and colorectal doctor planned to do surgery sometime in August. On August 1, I rushed Polly to the emergency room. Her catheter had come out — more precisely, blown out — and she was, to put it bluntly, shitting all over herself and the floor. After six days at the Community Hospital and Wellness Center (Bryan Hospital), the surgeons decided Polly’s surgery would have to be done at Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Late on August 6, Polly was transferred by Williams County EMS — the only ambulance service in the county —  to Parkview. Polly would later have successful bladder and colon surgery. All told, she spent eighteen days in the hospital. Total cost for the January and August hospitalizations? $200,000. And that’s what our insurance paid, not what the various service providers billed. The sheer amount of the billings and various providers is mind-boggling, even to a man who spent most of his adult life handling church and secular business finances.

Our annual insurance deductible is $3,400. Our maximum out of pocket is $6,750. On top of that, we pay $84 a week for family medical coverage. Polly’s employer pays another $19,000 a year to provide our family insurance.  This means that we personally paid $11,118 this year for medical expenses. Add what Polly’s employer pays to this amount, and our total medical costs exceed $30,000. And, all praise be to the God of American Capitalism, this starts all over again come January 1. Well, with one change: our insurance premiums go up again, as they have most years over the past two decades! (Some years, premiums remained the same, and deductible and out of pocket maximums were increased. Over the past two decades, our deductible has increased 1,000% and our family maximum out of pocket has increased over 500%)

Polly’s surgeries were a success. Last Friday, she had a colonoscopy to determine whether her colectomy could be reversed. The surgeon reported that her colon was free of inflammation and that the colectomy could be reversed. Surgery is planned for March 2020. The bladder cancer? The pathologist made a “mistake.” Polly doesn’t have cancer. The pathologist’s negligence caused untold grief for us. His error triggered a hospital-level tumor board review. The urologist who resected Polly’s bladder sent tissue samples to the University of Michigan for examination. The samples were cancer-free.

Polly having surgery in March 2020 means, of course, that we will have to meet our annual insurance deductible and maximum out of pocket again. This means that, once again, we will spend $11,118 for medical costs. Of course, this has been the norm more years than not for us over the past decade. The only difference this year is that it is Polly’s medical bills, and not mine, that are running up the tab.

And, that’s not all . . . (think of Billy Mays doing a late-night OxiClean infomercial).

We have almost $3,000 of medical bills that the insurance company didn’t pay. I spent several hours on the phone today, trying to figure out why these bills weren’t paid. Right now, my emotions run the range of going postal and weeping, wondering when we will get out from under the weight of medical costs. The EMS bill balance of $965 is ours to pay (the total billed amount for transport was almost $1,900). Polly’s transport was medically necessary and Williams County EMS was the only provider in the county. What were we to do, right? I asked both the hospitalist and nurse to make sure that the transport was covered by our insurance. They assured me that it was. And it was, with one big fuck you. Williams County EMS accepts our insurance, BUT they do not accept insurance adjustments and assignments. Polly’s insurance company paid what Medicare customarily pays, leaving us with a substantial balance. I am also dealing with pathology and radiology bills that were rejected by the insurance company due to incomplete paperwork, lack of reports, etc. Trying to find someone who could actually “fix” these problems for me proved futile. It’s up to me to contact the various players and make sure proper documents are submitted to the insurance company.

The American healthcare system is broken. And it will remain this way until our government leaders are willing to overhaul the system and take the profit out of medical care.  As long as insurance companies and large “non-profit” health care providers are in the driver’s seat, we shouldn’t expect change. In the meantime, all I know to do is send out monthly checks of $25, $50, and $100 to service providers as payment for our outstanding balances. One provider, Parkview Hospital and Physicians Group, refuses to accept payments for more than a twelve-month period. Owe them $2,400? Your monthly minimum payment is $200. Yes, they offer bill reduction if you are poor, but unfortunately, we are just over income line they use to determine eligibility. Our local hospital, thankfully, did provide us a partial bill reduction (and was, overall, substantially cheaper than Parkview). They also don’t demand exorbitant monthly payments. We have been paying them $100 a month for, it seems, forever.

I know our story is not any different from those of other Americans facing serious medical problems. We are held captive by a system that prioritizes profit over care; a system that is almost impossible to navigate. Until government leaders put the healthcare needs of their constituents first, we shouldn’t expect things to change. While the Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction, Congress, along with the Federal Courts, are going out of their way to burn “Obamacare” to the ground. President Trump and Republicans promised Americans awesome health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is invalidated. I can safely say that no such “awesomeness” is forthcoming. For the Gerencsers, 2020 will be yet another year of mounting healthcare costs; just as it will be for millions of Americans. We are all dying, one medical bill at a time.

On October 2, 2019, Michael Hicks. professor of economics and the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, wrote an editorial in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette castigating Parkview and other Indiana Hospitals for their excessive medical care costs. (We live in rural northwest Ohio. Toledo and Fort Wayne are our “big” cities, 40 miles or so in either direction.) Here’s what Hicks had to say:

Several weeks ago, a concerned citizen sent me a financial summary of Indiana’s not-for-profit hospitals. He asked that I look into the issue of excessive profits by these systems.

I was skeptical that the issue would be relevant. Profits are critical to an economy; they serve as a guide to pricing and investment decisions and reward the men and women who create value. The demonization of profits is a sure sign of unformed thought. Moreover, not-for-profit hospitals have explicitly chosen to forgo profits as part of their operations, so I doubted the financial summary would reveal anything important.

I was mistaken.

What I discovered will deeply anger every Hoosier and should embarrass most hospital administrators and board members. I also expect it to cause significant changes to state policy with respect to these hospitals. This is likely to change the way we tax them, regulate their competitors and enforce antitrust laws. It will surely lead to civil litigation involving billions of dollars of excess profits.

It turns out the not-for-profit hospital industry and its network of clinics is the single most profitable industry in Indiana. These profits are so large that, when accumulated, they account for roughly 9% of the state’s total economy. As of 2017, this industry had accrued more than $27 billion – yes, billion. Yet, the not-for-profit industry in Indiana pays virtually no taxes and invests almost none of those profits locally. That money is invested in Wall Street, not Main Street.

However, they do charge Hoosiers a premium to access health care.

Earlier this year, a Rand Corporation study found that hospitals in Indiana were charging among the highest prices in the nation. While the hospital association has been fighting this excellent study, it is surely correct. I am confident the Rand study is right because I mapped these hospitals and compared the Rand price data with the lack of competition in each health care market.

In places where there is little competition, such as Fort Wayne, consumers pay more than twice the cost for a typical medical treatment as they do in places with the most competition. This is how these hospitals accrued excess profits that are roughly 12 times larger than the entire state of Indiana’s Rainy Day Fund.

This windfall of profits has happened fairly recently. In 1998, the typical Hoosier spent $330 less than the average American for health care. We now pay $819 more per person than does the average American. The only factor that can explain this is growing monopoly power among our not-for-profit hospitals.

If you are not shocked by this, nothing can shock you. In a typical post-recession year, these excess profits were so large that they shaved almost 30% off economic growth in the state. Let me highlight some particularly egregious examples.

Parkview Hospital is the most blatant example. In one recent year, Parkview Hospital in Wabash earned a 48% profit rate. By comparison, Walmart, which also has a store in Wabash, had a profit rate of 3.12% that year. Parkview Hospital’s profit absorbed a full 4.1% of the county’s gross domestic product.

Using data from a ProPublica investigative website, I found IU Ball Memorial Hospital enjoyed a lavish 23.8% profit in that year. This was more than $100 million, or a full 2.5% of the county’s GDP. Despite this, the president of Ball Memorial recently begged the city of Muncie to subsidize new luxury apartments so his doctors could live downtown.

That subsidy will cost Muncie Community Schools more than $2 million, which just so happens to be about two days of profits at the not-for-profit IU Ball Memorial Hospital.

There are literally dozens of other outrageous examples reflecting an appalling lack of governance at not-for-profit hospitals.

To be fair, there are a few hospitals that choose not to participate in this plunder of their patients and communities. These good actors, along with the not-for-profit community as a whole, are hapless victims of this outrageous monopolization of health care in our state. I feel especially sorry for the faith-based community which will surely be linked unfairly to some of these institutions. They should be among the first to call for legislative intervention and governance change in these hospitals.

Local governments are also victims. The most profitable industry in our state pays no property tax and no income tax, but overcharges schools, and city and county governments for health care. There is almost certainly a tax reckoning coming for not-for-profit hospitals, which will add much to the coffers of local government.

Maybe the only good news in all of this is that this situation is a plaintiff attorney’s dreamscape. There is a $27 billion settlement pool alongside the most abundant evidence of anti-competitive behavior I have ever seen. If you lead a school, business or municipal government that has paid health care expenses in Indiana, find a good trial lawyer, or better yet a class-action specialist.

This news about Indiana is now attracting national attention as an example of a health care system run amok. This is the most shocking thing I have seen in more than two decades of public policy research.

Monopoly pricing at hospitals is likely a contributor to our state’s nearly 10-place decline in health rankings over the past two decades.

The most similar modern phenomenon I have witnessed is the effect of strip-mining on many Appalachian communities.

To place this in historical context, the profit rates at Indiana’s not-for-profit hospitals are larger than anything the Gilded Age robber barons were able to secure. In this observation is a final lesson.

In the process of vetting this study with several colleagues, I shared it with one lifetime Republican and veteran of two GOP administrations. His response was simply that this is the single best argument for Warren/Sanders-style health care reform he had ever seen. He is not wrong, and that alone should prompt quick legislative, regulatory and legal action.

Hicks’ editorial, along with my plight, demonstrate some of the greatest reasons for a major overhaul of our nation’s healthcare system. But let us not hold our collective breaths waiting for that to happen. It seems the health of constituents is not a priority in Congress.

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.

Cecil Community Church: Mass Marketing Jesus

tell the world about Jesus

Warning! Truckloads of snark and blasphemy ahead! Read at your own risk. Easily offended Evangelicals will likely fly into fits of rage, so to avoid having to repent over your angry outbursts, I suggest you avoid this post. You have been warned. Don’t whine and complain later.

Several months ago, I received in the mail Evangelical propaganda from Cecil Community Church in Cecil, Ohio. Cecil, population 188, is a twenty-minute drive from Ney, the home of the infamous atheist Bruce Gerencser. The mail I received was a part of a mass marketing campaign by Cecil Community and its pastor Michael Mohr to evangelize lost sinners. Secondarily, of course, the goal of this campaign is to scarf up Christians who are looking for a new church home. Remember, the goal is always the same: more asses in the pews = more money in the offering plates.

Cecil Community used a mass marketing program from Cross America in Kokomo, Indiana. Their goal is to “send a cross and path to salvation to every home in America.” So far, over 1.3 million crosses have made it into the mailboxes of unsuspecting targets for evangelization. Crystal Sanburn, the executive director of Cross America, is the wife of Dick Sanburn, Executive Pastor of Operations at Crossroads Community Church in Kokomo.

Are you ready, dear heathens, to be saved? Follow along as I unpack the agitprop from Cecil Community and Cross America.

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A prayed-over piece of mail. Wow!  And not only that, these prayer warriors are praying for me right now. By name? I doubt it. At best, these pray-ers are using generic “Dear Lord bless all the missionaries” prayers, and not praying the phonebook. Telling me that that they are praying for me specifically is a tad dishonest and disingenuous. I bet after reading this post, they will be praying for me by name. Time to ask God to rain Holy, Righteous Judgment® down on 345 E Main St, Ney, Ohio.

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“You might be asking why you received this,” the back of the mailer says.  Nope, not really. I have been around the Evangelical propaganda tree a time or two. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I used all sorts of gimmicks to evangelize “lost” people and entice them and wandering sheep to attend my church. Why, I used contests, giveaways, and all sorts of nonsense to attract people to my church — and it worked. I would love to know what the hit rate is for these mailers. Something tells me the rate is around expectations for spam — pitifully low. Here’s a suggestion. How about knocking on every door and asking if you can be of help to them, no strings attached; you know, let America see Jesus in your works of charity?

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Now that is one weak, shallow presentation of the Christian gospel. Want to go to Heaven? Pray this prayer. Super! Did that forty-seven years ago, and just to be on the safe side, I prayed this prayer again! I am good to go, right Pastor Mohr; right Crystal Sanburn? What about repentance? Do I have to give up my sinful ways? What is it in this process that saves me and guarantees me a home in Heaven? How can I be sure that a room is reserved for me in Trump’s Heavenly Hotel®? So many questions. Do I need to go to church on Sundays? Will the fine folks at Cecil Community Church pick me up for church every Sunday? What lengths will you go to disciple me? And don’t suggest I join your online church. Please, is that what Paul meant when he said in Hebrews 10:25:

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

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I prayed the prayer, so that means my life has changed forever! How come nothing has changed? Oh, I see, I have to really, really, really believe. What does that mean exactly? If nothing changes, that means you haven’t believed hard enough. In other words, what Cecil Community Church and Cross America are preaching is works salvation. Evidently, there is some sort of Believe Spectrum®, and you have to hit the right level to win the grand prize — Heaven.

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The mailer included an aluminum cross with Romans 10:9 stamped on the front of it. The cross even has a hole at the top so believers can put in on a chain and wear it or turn it into an earring. Of course, it could also be used with a nipple or genital piercing. Talk about putting Jesus where the action is.

I wonder, were these crosses manufactured in America? If not, how much were the foreign workers paid to make these cheap-ass popcan crosses?

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Finally, the mailer included a business card for Cecil Community Church and its pastor Dr. Michael Mohr. I was somewhat surprised that Mohr has an earned doctorate. Most Evangelical pastors sporting doctorates earned them through unaccredited Bible colleges, online, through a correspondence school, or are granted a doctorate for supporting the granting institution. The Bible college I attended, Midwestern Baptist College, gave out fake doctorates annually to men who played kissy-face with college president, Dr. Tom Malone. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor)

I found it interesting that, here in 2019, Cecil Community Church conducts a large mail outreach, yet they don’t have a website. What’s with churches not having websites?  The church does have a Facebook page. Its page says the following about Pastor Mohr:

Michael Mohr has his Master of Divinity and Doctorate from Asbury Theological Seminary and has been ordained with the Evangelical Church Alliance, International since 2003 [ecainternational.org]. With the ECA, Dr. Mohr has given ordination addresses, served on Ordination Councils in Canada and the USA and conducted ordination services. He has preached and conducted special services in churches in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

Previously, Dr. Mohr served as Pastor of Truth Deliverance Ministries & Truth Builders based out of Galion, Ohio. Michael Mohr returned to Northwest Ohio in 2018 and is a Spangler #9 Candy Cane Cook and Pastor of Cecil Community Church. In Defiance County, Michael had been active in 4-H and Scouts. He served as both President of the 4-H Junior Leadership Club and Junior Fairboard & was 4-H King. He served as a 4-H Camp Counselor and 4-H Day Camp Director. He served on the Extension Personnel Committee. He was a delegate to National 4-H Club Congress. And he served on the Ohio 4-H Foundation Board of Trustees. In Ney, Ohio, Michael earned Eagle Scout and was a Vigil Honor member of Order of Arrow. He was Senior Patrol leader of the Northwest Ohio group going to the National Scout Jamboree at Fort AP Hill. He graduated from Fairview High School.

Dr. Mohr equips and empowers others to be baptized practicing followers of Jesus. He says, “Follow Jesus and Be the Church” “Helping people grow close to Jesus gives me joy.” “God has used me often to do His miracles today. I have seen many healings and use Truth to set people free from bondage.”

A quick perusal of Mohr’s personal Facebook page reveals that he is a Trump supporter, anti-gun control, anti-abortion, anti-socialism, anti-Muslim, anti-Gang of Four, and pretty much hates everything about liberalism and the Democratic Party. In other words, he is a good fit for rural Northwest Ohio. Of course, he was born and raised in the white, Republican, Evangelical monoculture of Defiance County. He is, in every way, a product of his environment. I get it. I was raised in the same culture; the difference being is that I saw the light and got help. One need not keep thinking this way. Amen? Amen!

Look, I do not doubt that Pastor Mohr and the folks at Cecil Community Church are good people; that they love their families, work hard, and want a better tomorrow. That said, their worldview is diametrically opposed to mine, and that of most of the readers of this blog. While their stated goal is to entice me into believing their peculiar version of the Christian gospel, their greater objective is to attach me to their Borg hive. Sorry, but that ain’t gonna happen. Been there done that, no thanks.

Were you enticed to pray the sinner’s prayer after seeing this mailer? If not, why not? Surely, you want to go to Heaven when you die, and not spend eternity in Hell with Stephen Hawkings, Christopher Hitchens, Steve Gupton — man, I still miss him — and Bruce Gerencser, right? Or, maybe you are like me. If there is a Heaven and Hell, Hell seems a far more interesting place to be. At least there will be more than one book in the library.

Please leave your thoughts in the comment section. If you got saved, please share your testimony of faith with readers.

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.

Letter to the Editor: Does President Trump Really Care About “Religious Freedom?”

letter to the editor

Letter sent to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News on September 25, 2019

Dear Editor,

President Donald Trump knows he has no hope of winning the 2020 election without white Evangelical Christians. In 2016, eighty-two percent of voting white Evangelicals cast their votes for Trump. For the President to win the upcoming general election, his conservative Christian base must come out in force. While some of Trump’s moral faux pas have caused base erosion, for the most part, Evangelicals continue to stand by their man.

Why do Evangelicals continue to support President Trump? I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. There was a time when Evangelical churches and pastors took resolute stands on moral virtue and ethics — especially for elected leaders. I remember my outrage over President Clinton’s sexual misbehavior and lying while in office. From the pulpit and in letters to the editors of local newspapers, I demanded his immediate removal from office. Twenty years later? Evangelicals now turn a blind eye to the behavior of a president who paid off porn stars, allegedly sexually assaulted women, possibly committed treason, and doesn’t go a day without factually and materially lying to the American people. What changed?

In the 1970s, Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich birthed the Moral Majority. This small, innocuous group morphed into Hydra — a multi-headed monster. Gaining critical mass in the 1990s, these groups forsook their moral underpinnings, choosing instead to imbibe the sewage water of raw political power. All that matters now is keeping control, outlawing abortion, shoving LGBTQ people back in the closet, and establishing a Christian theocracy. Evangelicals even go so far as to paint themselves as a persecuted religious minority. One need only listen to Trump’s recent incoherent “religious freedom” speech at the United Nations to know he has heard his Evangelical base loud and clear.

While it is undoubtedly true that religious persecution happens in many places — including North Korea and Saudi Arabia — Trump blocking the immigration of the primarily Muslim Rohingya people reveals that his recent “religious freedom” speeches are little more than reminders to Evangelicals that he has their back. I entered the ministry in the 1970s. I didn’t know of a preacher who didn’t believe in the separation of church and state. Today? Scores of Evangelicals deny this wall even exists. For this reason, people who genuinely value religious freedom for all — including unbelievers and non-Christians — must fight the religious right’s attempt to redefine “religious freedom.”

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

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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Pastor Perry Porter Outraged Over Gay Man Giving A Presentation at Local Library

fear the gay agenda

Monday, September 23, Montpelier, Ohio native Cory Calvin will be giving a presentation at the Defiance Public Library about his “coming out journey” and success as an entrepreneur. Calvin remained a closeted gay man during his formative years in rural northwest Ohio. After graduation from high school, Calvin moved away, ultimately landing in New York City. It was there that Calvin “first had the opportunity to begin outwardly discovering my sexuality and learning who I truly was.” His goal in life is to help others be their “authentic self.”

Calvin describes himself as a “global trekker, family guy, infamous uncle, best friend, meditator, aspiring yogi, hopeful romantic.” And, he’s gay. And it is the gay part of his story that has local Christian Fundamentalists readying a pyre for Calvin when he shows his wicked LGBTQ face at the local library. One such homo-hater is Pastor Perry Porter. Now, Porter will vehemently object to being called a hater, but his words leave no doubt as to what he thinks and feels about Calvin and his ilk.

Porter posted the following on the North West Ohio Christians for God Facebook page — 1,200 followers:

pastor-perry-porter

(Porter is the administrator of the page, as is Wendell Blackburn, pastor of True Believers Fellowship in Holgate. I was unable to find a church listing for Pastor Porter.)

According to Porter’s “loving” post, Calvin disgusts him. Porter, in other comments, presents himself as an I-love-LGBTQ-people-enough-to-tell-them-the-truth kind of Christian:

I hope you guys think I hate gay people cause I don’t. I pray for gay people. God said it’s unnatural for a man to lay [sic] with man and woman with woman. God is love. But he’s also a God if [sic] Wrath.

Countless such “lovers” have frequented this website over the years. As their comments have shown, their “love” is anything but. Bigots and haters, the lot of them, scurry around the Internet looking for people who live in ways that “offend” them or who believe things they disagree with. So it is with Porter. He doesn’t know Cory Calvin, but that doesn’t matter. He’s G-A-Y, end of discussion. For Porter, LGBTQ people are disgusting.

Evidently, Porter sent Calvin some sort of message informing him that he is headed for HELL unless he stops his evil gay ways. Porter’s words from the Evangelical God were ignored. Should Porter be surprised that his attack was disregarded? Of course not. He knew beforehand that he would be told to shove his “loving” words where the sun doesn’t shine. This is all about Porter taking a stand for his peculiar version of Jesus, not about “reaching” Calvin. Calvin seems happy and satisfied presently, so why would he ever want to embrace the oppressive, anti-human beliefs and practices of Pastor Porter?

Porter believes Calvin and his supporters are “uneducated.” Uneducated about what, exactly? Porter isn’t preaching anything that LGBTQ people haven’t heard countless times before. Fear and ignorance are what Porter is trying to sell, and fortunately, some local Christians ain’t buying. Several people challenged Porter, and here’s how he responded:

I don’t know if you know this, but I am a pastor. And I’ve been called names, Ridiculed because of my beliefs. the Bible says to hate the sin not the sinner and nowhere in this place have I said I hate anybody. I’m just trying to put out the word that God hates gay lifestyle. he says it’s an abomination to him I’m teaching the word obviously. maybe I love those people more than their so-called friends because their friends seem to think well go ahead it’s OK do your own thing. you might as well tell them to go to hell. I judge no one. Every time people hear something from a Christian we are judging. God judged Sodom and Gomorrah when there were people where men wanted to be with men and the women wanted to be with women. and as the story goes when the two angels came to Lot’s house the men were trying to beat down the door and said send out those men so we can know them will know them means the same thing as when Joseph had not known Mary in an intimate way until after Jesus was born.

Porter’s bigotry and hatred are nothing new in rural northwest Ohio. Right-wing religious beliefs and politics rule the roost. For many local Evangelicals and conservative Catholics, Making America Great Again means pushing LGBTQ people back into their respective closets where they belong. “How dare these queers/faggots/homos/sodmites show their faces in public, expect to be treated with respect, and have the same civil rights as white heterosexual Christians!” many locals believe. Oh, most of them will never utter such words publicly, but in the privacy of their homes, clubs, and houses of worship, their anti-LGBTQ views are on display for all to see. Pastor Porter, zealot that he is, just said out loud what many local followers of the heterosexual Jesus believe.

As I read the various comments, I noticed something: it was primarily older people who were anti-LGBTQ. Younger to middle-aged adults were far more likely to support Cory Calvin and other LGBTQ people. The hope for a better, kinder tomorrow lies in the natural death of Porter and his ilk. While it is possible for Baby Boomers and the Great Generation to change their minds about human sexuality — I know I did — most of them will go to their graves holding on to anti-human beliefs taught to them by their parents. Once these generations are slowly culled from the human herd, younger, more inclusive people will have greater opportunities to truly Make America Great Again. My six children and twelve, soon to be thirteen, grandchildren have a golden opportunity to bring fundamental changes to our culture; changes that will lead to acceptance of people for who and what they are — no strings attached. That is, if they survive the Hell of global warming that’s being unleashed upon them due to the ignorance and inaction of older generations. That’s a subject best left for another day.

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.

Typical Example of Racism in Rural Northwest Ohio

 

trump im not a racist

Please see Does Racism Exist in Rural Northwest Ohio? and Ignoring Any History Before White People)

Yesterday, I posted an excellent guest post by my editor, Grammar Gramma. I appreciate her willingness to respond to a drive-by reader’s racist comment on The Curse of Cain: Why Blacks Have Dark Skin.

Racism is in the air thanks to Donald Trump. What was once said in secret behind closed doors is now publicly vomited on social media, blogs, and news sites. I live in an overwhelmingly white area. Confederate flag-waving knuckle-draggers are common, as are make Make America White Again® Trump supporters. In 2016, Trump overwhelmingly won in the Ohio counties of Williams, Defiance, Henry, and Fulton — rural northwest Ohio. Blacks make up less than one percent of the population, Hispanics/Latinos, seven percent. The Hispanic/Latino population is a reflection of the fact that farmers once used large numbers of migrant workers to pick crops. Some migrants who made the trek from Mexico to Ohio stayed after completing their work. They quietly go about their lives, increasingly worried that ICE might show up at their doors, destroying everything they have built and worked for. As a teenager, I knew a number of people who were in the United States “illegally.” To the person, they were productive members of society.

Rural northwest Ohio is my home, even though politically, religiously, and socially I have little in common with most locals. I have been surrounded by overtly racist people most of my life, including in the churches I pastored in this area. If you think Jesus is an antidote for racism, think again. Some of the most racist people I know, both here in rural northwest Ohio and in my extended family, love the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the man, the myth, the legend, Jesus H. Christ. As a pastor, I did what I could to combat racist attitudes and behaviors. Sometimes, it was just small rebukes, such as when one congregant would talk about “colored” people. I would respond, “what “color” were they, exactly?” “Oh preacher, you know.” “No, I don’t, tell me.” Or when one woman would incessantly talk about all those lazy “blacks” on welfare who won’t work for a living. I told her several times, “You do know most of the people who are on welfare and receive food stamps are white, right?” Sadly, my soft admonishments did little to correct deep-seated multi-generational racism.

Recently, a young woman (Erin) who attended a nearby church I pastored for seven years, engaged in an overtly racist discussion with a friend of hers (Tobias) from South Africa:

racism 1

racism 2racism 3

racism 4

These comments reveal that racism is often passed on from parents to children, and until someone in the family tree sees the light, racist beliefs and practices will continue to flourish in my part of rural northwest Ohio. If you met this young woman, you would think that she is a wonderful person — and she is. But in her heart lie bigotry and hate, both birthed and  nurtured by her parents, friends, church, and community.

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.

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.

Ignoring Any History Before White People

iroquois people

This post could also be titled, The Myths We Tell Our Children. The other day, I attended a sporting event for one of my granddaughters. As I was sitting there, a grandmother was explaining to her young grandson the history of The Great Black Swamp, and in particular Stryker, Ohio. Grandma breathlessly explained how the French “settled” the Stryker area. In her mind, local history began and ended with white people. Sadly, this view of history is all too common, especially in white monocultures such as rural northwest Ohio.

As Grandma regaled her grandson with stories of early French settlers, I snickered, thinking, Native Americans sure would find this history interesting. You see, long before white Europeans arrived on the scene, IroquoisWyandotHopewell, and Ottawa people roamed the forests, swamps, and waterways of northwest Ohio. While it is certainly true that the French established and platted the town of Stryker, that doesn’t mean that they were the first people to walk/inhabit the land. They weren’t. Sitting along the banks of the Tiffin River, Stryker developed into a prominent railroad town in the early years of the twentieth century. It is not a stretch of the imagination, however, to say that it is likely Native Americans paddled the waters of the Tiffin and camped near Stryker long before European interlopers claimed the land for their own.

Grandma’s history lesson should have, at the very least, included a mention of the people groups who lived in rural northwest Ohio centuries before the establishment of any of the communities local citizens now call home. Granted, Native Americans tended to be nomadic and didn’t leave permanent marks on the land, but that doesn’t mean they never traversed the land and waterways. They did, and children need to told this lest they develop uninformed, errant views of their “place” in our history.

Polly and I love to take day trips, driving the back roads and off beaten paths of rural northwest Ohio, northeast Indiana, and southern Michigan. As we drive along rivers and creeks, I try to envision how the land might have looked before white Europeans drained the swamps and cleared the land. This part of the United States was covered with vast forests, and home to a plethora of wildlife. It doesn’t take much imagination — at least for me — to have visions of Native Americans walking forested paths or river pathways as they hunted or moved from community to community.

In 1917, Nevin Winter wrote a book titled: The History of Northwest Ohio: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress and Development from the First European Exploration of the Maumee and Sandusky Valleys and Adjacent Shores of Lake Erie, down to the Present Time. This title aptly describes how most denizens of northwest Ohio view their history. Unfortunately, it is a narrative that tells the truth as far as it goes but leaves out crucial stories and details that paint a fuller picture of who it was that first called these lands home.

The progressive path towards inclusiveness begins with a proper understanding of American and world history. As long as American children are taught a white, eurocentric view of the world, we can expect racism and bigotry to continue — particularly here in rural northwest Ohio. Children become adults, and pass on these half-truths to their children, perpetuating the lie that the Americas were an unihabited land ripe for the picking; that native people really didn’t want the land.

My editor mentioned a good book on this subject, Howard Zinn’s seminal work, A People’s History of the United States.

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.

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 Plan to Vote YES on Ohio Issue 1

vote yes on ohio issue 1

Letter submitted to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News on October 28, 2018

Dear Editor,

Local law enforcement, judges, and politicians have all come out against Issue 1 — the state ballot initiative that would reduce many drug crimes to misdemeanors and favor treatment over incarceration. The goal is to end the destructive warehousing of addicts in county and state prisons.

The main objection seems to be that if Issue 1 passes, drug users, knowing they will not face jail if arrested, will use opioids and other addictive drugs with impunity. If these people can’t be threatened by the powers that be with jail time, the thinking goes, they will have no reason to stop using drugs. Isn’t this already what is happening?

The costly, ineffective “war on drugs” has been fought most of my adult life — without success. Perhaps it is time to admit arresting and incarcerating non-violent drug offenders has not stemmed the tide of abuse. Instead, this war has left ruined lives in its wake. If the goal is to help addicts become productive members of society, we must move to treatment-first methodology. Issue 1 moves Ohio in that direction.

I spent several years in the 1970s volunteering at a drug rehabilitation facility. As a pastor, I came in contact with countless people who had substance abuse issues. In my dealings with these hurting people, I can’t think of one instance where incarceration (the stick) was preferable to treatment (the carrot).

The prison industrial complex opposes Issue 1 because it will cost them money. I would think it would be desirable and good for our society if we drastically reduced county and state prison populations and expenditures. The money saved could then be used to provide rehabilitative services, including drug treatment. It is shameful that the United States has the highest per capita incarceration rates in the world; that we put a premium on retribution and punishment instead of making people whole. The number one reason people ending up in prison? Drugs.

What I’ve noticed in current local discussions about Issue 1, and past discussions about medical marijuana and the opioid crisis, is the unwillingness by many to truly see and empathize with the people materially affected by these things. Why is this?

I propose we use the Bible parable of The Good Samaritan as our example of how to treat drug addicts. Love, compassion, a helping hand, and material support is what is needed, not punitive jail sentences.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

Text of Issue 1

 

Seeing the Christian God Where None Exists

god of the gaps

If there is a Christian apologetics argument that irritates the heaven out of me, it is the God of the gaps argument. Can’t explain something? God. Have something happen in your life for which there seems to be no rational explanation? God. Any place you have unanswered questions, you will find Evangelicals suggesting “God did it.”

Earlier this year, two Patrick Henry High School students, ages fourteen and seventeen, were killed in a tragic automobile accident. The Defiance Crescent-News reported at the time:

Two Henry County brothers were killed Wednesday morning when their vehicle became submerged in a Wood County creek just west of here.

Killed were Xavier Wensink, 17, and his passenger, Aidan Wensink, 14, both of Deshler. They were students at Patrick Henry Local Schools.

According to the Wood County Sheriff’s Office, at 11:20 a.m., a call was received concerning a vehicle completely submerged upside down in a creek on Sand Ridge Road, just west of Custar Road. Dispatched to the scene were deputies from the Wood County Sheriff’s Office and Weston Fire/EMS.

Grand Rapids Fire Department was dispatched to assist, as well as the Toledo Fire Department’s dive team. Rescue personnel discovered that the vehicle, a 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, was occupied by the two teenagers.

I wept when I read of their deaths. So young, so much of life ahead of them, but in an instant the bright lights of their lives were snuffed out. Their deaths, of course, left their family and fellow classmates struggling to make sense of it all. God’s name was thrown around. Everyone was reminded of the “fact” that God is in control and he allows (or causes) tragedies to teach us to snuggle up close to him and trust that he is working out everything according to his purpose and plan. How about, don’t kill the fucking kids, God! That’s seems to be the right thing to do. You are the sovereign of the universe. Flex your pinky finger and stop the accident from happening. Nothing is too hard for God, right?

The oldest boy, who would have graduated in 2019, played varsity football. His jersey number was 28. Remember that number. It plays an essential part in the story that follows. Patrick Henry lost its first few games, and then one Friday night they scored 28 points and won the contest. They have in subsequent weeks won three more games, scoring 28 points each time. It’s a miracle, right?

The Defiance Crescent-News had a feature write-up yesterday about the 28 “miracle.” Here’s some of what the reporter had to say (behind a paywall):

Since Inselmann took over at his alma mater in 1991, the Patriots had given their frontman victories with 28 points on the scoreboard eight times going into this season. Never before in Inselmann’s tenure had PH won more than one game in a season with 28 tallies in a game, with the triumphs coming in: ‘91, ‘98, ‘00, ‘03, ‘05, ‘09, ‘13 and ‘14.

Fast-forward to the present day, where a glimpse at this season’s results shows four of the Patriots’ five triumphs coming with the squad lighting up 28 points on the scoreboards. Beginning with the Delta victory, that stat includes three in a row over the Panthers, Archbold and Swanton, with a huge 28-13 triumph over Bryan last week keeping PH undefeated in the league.

The significance?

Xavier Wensink’s jersey number is 28. The meaning?

“I really do believe that our team believes that Xavier is with us, and he is watching,” Inselmann insisted. “I don’t call that coincidence. I just think that the good Lord’s watching over us with Xavier, and the kids believe it.

How the season ends is anybody’s guess at the moment, as PH still has to contend with NWOAL rival Wauseon (3-5, 3-2 NWOAL) before hosting what should be an epic season-ending showdown with Henry County hammer Liberty Center (8-0, 5-0 NWOAL, No. 4 D-V).

But regardless of how it all shakes out, the 2018 Patrick Henry Patriots will forever be remembered as the team that didn’t quit, bringing together a school, program and community that, more than anything, needed something to believe in.

“As long as we keep getting better every week, believing in each other, becoming closer and closer as a team, only God knows where we’re gonna go,” concluded Healy.

As you can see, “God” features prominently in this “miracle.” Look, I get it. People want to make sense of a senseless accident. In the midst of their grief there appears a statistical oddity. This must be “God” sending everyone a message that number 28 is tearing up the turf on the heavenly football field. Or this is a sign that the dead boy is alive and well in Heaven, watching over his teammates.

I find it hard to criticize such nonsense. I certainly don’t want to cause anyone more heartache, but high school coaches and teachers and news reporters owe it the community at large to tell the truth. Suggesting that God is so tuned in to what is happening on earth that he takes time to “fix” the scores of football games is absurd. I wonder if the players on the losing teams had some sort of tragedy or loss in their lives too? Why, then, did God choose to give the W to Patrick Henry, but not them? Such arguments cheapen faith.

But, Bruce, four games with winning 28 point scores! What do you make of that? It’s a coincidence. Life is filled with such oddities. When they happen, we should say, hmm, that’s interesting. What we shouldn’t do attribute them to the Christian God. Just because something strange and out of the ordinary happens doesn’t mean God did it.

Patrick Henry’s football season will soon come to a close. The school will move on to its winter sports, but left behind will be family and friends who are still grieving their loss. Perhaps, in the still of night, they will sense God’s presence. If that’s what gets them through the night, fine by me. I suspect, however, that more than a few people will, as they toss to and fro on their beds, say, WHY? And to this question, Christians offer up religious platitudes and appeals to faith. However, from my seat in the atheist pew, it seems to me that God’s silence is deafening. Perhaps the reason this is so is because there is no God, and we humans are left to ourselves to figure out the reasons young lives are ended all too 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.

I Killed the Kittens With a Hammer, Says a Local Evangelical Farmer

feral cats in barn-008

Barn cats at my Son and Daughter-in-law’s Farm

As Polly and I wrapped up our 25-year tour of duty pastoring churches, we began looking for a church home. I had pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio from 1997 to 2002, and after leaving the church, we attended — for a short time — an Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA) church in Butler, Indiana. The congregation was not, itself, much to write home about, but we dearly loved the pastor and his family. After attending for a few months, we decided that we would join the church, only to find out that we couldn’t do so because we weren’t Dispensational and Premillennial. That’s right, we couldn’t join because of our eschatology. Such is the fracturing nature of Christian Fundamentalism. We soon left, looking for friendlier confines. The pastor and his wife — by now friends — were, as we were, disappointed. We felt, at the time, that we couldn’t in good conscience attend a church that wouldn’t accept as members. The church later closed its doors and the pastor and his family moved on to a new ministry. I can find no record of him online after 2008.

While I could tell many stories about our time at this church (good, bad, and funny), one stands out above all others. One Sunday morning we were sitting around a table in the fellowship hall swapping stories. Somehow, the subject of cats came up. Now, I am a cat lover. We have always had at least one cat, and have had as many as three. Currently, we are down to one: a fat, lazy yellow ten-year-old cat named Joe Meower. We regularly feed the neighborhood’s feral cats, hopefully providing them a bit of respite from the cruelty inflicted upon them by thoughtless humans.

As we talked about cats, an aged farmer decided to share a story about his barn cats. One of his cats had recently given birth to a litter of kittens. I thought, how nice this man is to take care of these feral cats and their offspring. I quickly learned, however, this man was anything but nice. Not that he was peculiar. Lots of Jesus-loving, God-fearing locals are quite cruel to animals. Some of the most cruel people I know are the local Amish. I asked the man how the kittens were doing. Oh, he chuckled, I killed them. I got a hammer out and smacked each one of them in the head! I quickly felt my face becoming flush as rage filled my mind. I thought, you could have given the kittens away, or better yet, you could have had your female barn cats spayed. Instead, his cruel hands picked up a hammer and he beat them to death.

I quickly exited the fellowship hall, fearing that I was going to have a “Bruce moment.” My rage passed, but I have not forgotten that people who speak of the love of God can often be cruel and violent; that God commanding them to have dominion over the earth means that they can indiscriminately kill. In an anthropocentric world, man rules the roost. All other life only has the value given to it by its overlords. This is why this farmer could, as if he was telling a story about his grandchildren, share his murderous rampage with his fellow church members.

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.

An Atheist in the Land of Jesus: Living a Compartmentalized Life

compartments

I live in rural northwest Ohio. I have spent most of my life living in rural communities. I am, in every way, a country boy; that is, in every way except my politics and religious beliefs. It is a well-known fact that it’s rural people who put Donald Trump in the White House and delivered solid Republican majorities to Congress and state legislatures. Here in Ohio, virtually every major state office is occupied by right-wing, pro-life, anti-same-sex-marriage, white Christians. Go to the major cities and college communities and you will find progressive/liberal/Democratic/socialist political beliefs. Drive ten miles outside of town, and everything quickly turns from red to blue. Here in Defiance County, almost three out of four voters vote Republican, and in the last presidential election, Donald Trump won by a sixty-four percent to twenty-nine percent margin. (Seventy-three percent of registered voters voted in the 2016 election.)

Religiously, Evangelical (and conservative Catholic/Lutheran/Methodist) Christianity rules the roost. In the four-county area where I live, there are roughly 140 thousand people and 400 Christian churches. Christian belief and practice colors every aspect of local life. It is assumed that everyone is Christian. Over the past decade, I have witnessed countless church-state violations. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) could spend months here dealing with schools and other government agencies that don’t have a clue about the First Amendment, the establishment clause, or the separation of church and state. It’s not that local leaders deliberately set out to violate the law. It’s just that giving Christianity preferential treatment is very much part of the ebb and flow of life around here. It is just how it is.

hicksville high school christian materials

Let me give an example. Recently, nearby Hicksville High School gave its 2018 graduates bags of Evangelical literature and DVDs. Here’s what FFRF had to say on the matter:

A concerned student reported that during Hicksville High School’s commencement practice on May 30, a guidance counselor handed every graduating student a package that contained Christian materials. The package included a copy of “Evolution vs. God,” an anti-evolution film created by Christian evangelist Ray Comfort, “Rich in Christ: A Dead Dog at the King’s Table,” a religious tract titled “Are you a Good Person,” and a religious pamphlet that “explains the plan of salvation in easy-to-understand terms” called “Life’s Most Important Question.” FFRF’s complainant reports that this package was put together by a science teacher at the school.

This package included a letter titled “Hicksville High School Class of 2018,” which reads:

Congratulations 2018 Graduate!

As you look ahead to your future with excitement and great anticipation, may you also come to discover God’s very best for your life. God loves you so very much that He sent His Son Jesus to earth to die for your sins so that you may have a personal relationship with God, and be assured of an eternal home in Heaven.

Rich in Christ is filled with hope and encouragement for you. It contains dozens of wonderful promises from the Bible, that God wants you to understand and claim as your very own. May you find God’s richest blessings as you follow His leading and His blueprint for true success. Enjoy your riches!

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”  II Corinthians 8:9

The letter indicates that a number of local individuals and businesses, including Hicksville Exempted Village School Superintendent Keith Countryman and his wife, sponsored the gift package.

“It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a public school may not advance, prefer, or promote religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to Countryman. “As a public school, Hicksville High School cannot promote Christian religious doctrine by distributing proselytizing materials to students as part of graduation rehearsal, a school function. This violates the principle that ‘the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.

The school district has an obligation under the law to make certain that “subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion,” to again quote the U.S. Supreme Court. When faculty use school time to proselytize to students, whether it be through distribution of literature or through religious statements, they are taking religion out of the private sphere and violating parental trust.

Religion is a divisive force in public schools, FFRF emphasizes. When a school distributes sectarian religious literature to its students it entangles itself with those religious messages. As well as alienating non-Christian students, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school, these practices estrange the 24 percent of Americans, including 38 percent of young adults, who identify as nonreligious. prri.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/PRRI-Religion-Report.pdf

“It is a violation of the duties and responsibilities of public school staff to proselytize students,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Imagine the uproar if a staff member was propagating atheism or Islam.”

Gaylor calls the school officials’ actions “bizarre,” saying that it is particularly concerning that a science teacher had a hand in distributing anti-evolution propaganda to graduating seniors and that the superintendent sponsored the unconstitutional distribution.

FFRF insists that to avoid constitutional violations, any future graduation “gifts” distributed by Hicksville Exempted Village School staff as part of a school function not contain religious materials.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 33,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 800 members and a chapter in Ohio. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

According to the latest issue of Freethought Today, the Hicksville school district agreed to stop distributing sectarian religious materials to its students. Did the school administrators deliberately ignore the law, choosing, instead, to evangelistically promote Christianity? Of course not. They just did what has always been done. It is assumed that everyone is Christian.

I am an atheist and a humanist. I am a political liberal who aligns himself with the Democratic Socialist party. I generally vote Democratic, but many local Democrats, thanks to their religious beliefs, skew to the right. This is especially true for those who are forty-five and older. Even local mainline Christian churches — which are historically liberal — tend to be conservative politically and socially. True liberals such as myself are as rare the ivory-billed woodpecker. We exist, but there aren’t many of us. We tend to lurk in the shadows, pining for the day when progressive values prevail. The good news is that younger locals are far more liberal than their parents and grandparents. I see a better day ahead, but in the short-term, people such as myself must bite our lips, hold our tongues, and silently swear.

Last month, Polly and I attended a tractor pull at the Fulton County fairgrounds. The event was sponsored by the National Tractor Pullers Association. Events such as this one are gaudy displays of American exceptionalism, nationalism, and conservative Christianity. Imagine sitting through nine minutes of masturbation to the Christian God and the American flag. First, the crowd was asked to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Second, the PA announcer read a four-minute monologue set to music about the greatness of America and its military, reminding everyone that REAL PATRIOTS stand and honor the flag. Then it was time to sing the Star Spangled Banner. And last, but not least, the preacher/announcer prayed a sectarian prayer in the name of Jesus, amen.

By the time all this nonsense was over, I was ready to scream. My son asked me, Dad, why do you subject yourself to this stuff? I replied, because I love watching tractor pulls. I endure the religious/nationalist nonsense because I know what waits on the other side of the Amen.

I willingly choose to live in rural Northwest Ohio. Twelve years ago, Polly and I returned to this part of the state so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. We do not regret doing so. We love the slowness of small town life, and when we want to experience big city life, Toledo and Fort Wayne are but an hour away. Applebee’s is considered “fine” dining around here. When we want to enjoy a meal at an upscale restaurant, we drive to Fort Wayne or Findlay. In every way, we have a good life. That said, choosing to live in a place where Jesus and the GOP are joined at the hip requires us to practice the fine art of compartmentalization.

I own a photography business: Defiance County Photo. I shoot many of the local high school’s sporting events. I don’t advertise my politics or lack of religious beliefs. It is hard enough to make a few meager bucks off my photography work without limiting my business opportunities by being an in-your-face atheist and socialist. I don’t hide my beliefs, but I don’t talk about them either. Recently, I had a job interview where the business owner tried three times to goad me into a religious discussion. He really, really, really wanted to share his “testimony” with me, but every time he mentioned God/Jesus/faith, I said nothing. That was my way of telling him, I AIN’T INTERESTED! Polly has a similar problem at work. She’s a pro at ignoring attempts to drag her into discussions about this or that Christian belief.

I have one compartment that contains my business. I am sure some locals know I am an unbeliever and a political liberal. I suspect these facts cost me business. As an atheist, I want to live and conduct my business in such a way that Christians around me will be perplexed by my good works. I know doing so confuses some of them, as they have been told by their preachers that atheists are Satan worshipers, baby killers, and lovers of sin. Much like Jesus commands Christians to live, I want people to see that you can live a good, meaningful life without God or the Bible. I want to “let my little light shine!”

I have another compartment that contains Bruce Gerencser, the father and grandfather. I attend a number of school events every year. Ten of our twelve grandchildren attend three different local school districts. Many of them play summer sports, and several of them play junior high and high school sports. I always have my camera with me, shooting this or that event or game. Thanks to my white beard, ruddy complexion, and portly build, I look like Santa Claus. The school mates of my younger grandchildren wonder if I am the “real” Santa. Of course I am! I enjoy playing the role.

In this compartment, it’s all about family. I don’t talk about politics or religion. When people extol the virtues of the Tyrant King, I outwardly smile and say nothing. Why? I don’t want my politics or godlessness to negatively affect my grandchildren. Believe me, I would love to be a fire-breathing atheist. I would love to eviscerate those who blindly and ignorantly support our Toddler-in-chief. However, for the sake of my family, I say nothing.

Finally, I have a compartment where I am a vocal, outspoken atheist, humanist, and Democratic socialist. This blog is home to my writings on religion and politics. Few locals read my writing, though I suspect more than a few have done a Google search on my name and have come across this blog. I make no apologies for the subject matter of my writing. It is here that I can be open and honest. If locals stumble across this site and are offended, that’s their problem. This is my “ministry,” so to speak. The Bible spoke of Jesus not being able to do mighty works among his own people because of their unbelief. I understand Jesus’ plight; the difference being, of course, that I can’t do many mighty works among my own people because of their religious and political beliefs. I am, in every way, a stranger in a land I dearly love. That’s not to say that there are not other atheists or socialists around here. There are, but due to family and employment concerns, they, too, keep a low profile. From time to time I will receive emails from local heathens thanking me for my writing. They often say they wish they could be an out-of-the-closet atheist such as myself. Fear keeps them in the closet. Maybe someday we will be more in number, but for now, we choose to keep our heads down, knowing that being a vocal atheist would be social and career suicide. It’s not fair, but I learned long ago that little in life is.

Do you live in rural America? Please share your experiences in the comment section. Are you forced to compartmentalize your life? How do you balance your unbelief with societal and familial norms?

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.

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