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Pastor Luke Nagy, A Theological Anthropologist

adam sin aliens

Luke Nagy is the transitional pastor of First Brethren Church in Bryan, Ohio. I don’t know Nagy personally. Based on me stalking Nagy on Facebook, I’ve concluded that Nagy is a 36-year old white Evangelical, currently studying for a master’s degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. He skews to the right politically, opposes the Black Lives Matter movement, and thinks Doug Wilson and John Piper are wonderful. Need I say more? Suffice it to say, he’s no fan of liberal/progressive politics or Christianity. Not a shocker, I suppose. This is rural northwest Ohio, the land of the Evangelical God, guns, and right-wing Republican politics. A month ago, I wrote MSNBC host Chris Hayes, detailing the political climate in Defiance County (which can be said of all of rural northwest Ohio). Here’s what I wrote:

I am a regular viewer of your show. In tonight’s episode, you mentioned protests in “Trump Country.” I live in rural northwest Ohio — Defiance County, population 37k. Rural northwest Ohio is white, Christian, and Republican. I’m a liberal Democrat and an atheist. (I was born here, lived here most of my life, and pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years before my deconversion 12 years ago.) I often feel like a vampire, only going out at night when I can be safe from attacks by Jesus-loving Trump supporters. 


In 2016, Trump won Defiance by almost  70%-30%.  Every local and state office is held by Republicans. It’s so bad here that many races don’t even have a Democratic opponent. Depressing. That said, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by local protests against racism and police brutality. Most of the white protesters are young adults. I’ve long argued that progress in rural northwest Ohio requires two things: the death of my racist, bigoted generation and the mobilization of younger adults.

….

Be well, Chris. Keep up the good work.

Nagy is a homegrown boy, so it’s no surprise that his politics and theology reflect the status quo for the flatland of rural northwest Ohio. As a 63-year-old curmudgeon, I have learned to live with the fact that, compared to my overdressed neighbors, I am a naked guy standing on the corner of Main and High in Bryan.

I am a subscriber to the Bryan Times, a local newspaper published five days a week. The Times, surprisingly, is quite progressive when it comes to editorial content. I used to subscribe to the Defiance Crescent-News, but stopped after it reduced its news coverage to three days a week. I also became increasingly irritated by the paper’s right-wing, libertarian editorial/news slant. Its editorial page featured a cornucopia of local right-wing Christian nutjobs and syndicated writers. I simply could no longer bear reading the page. Its editorial content was better suited for the bottom of a birdcage than my newspaper rack.

The Times features a pastor’s column every Thursday on the church page. Yes, my preamble above has a fucking point, in case you are wondering where I am headed with this post. Some weeks, the columns are tolerable, even for the village atheist. Other weeks, Evangelical pastors use the column to preach Christian Fundamentalism and their peculiar version of the gospel. This week, Pastor Luke Nagy was the featured writer (behind a paywall).

Nagy’s column was titled An Anthropologists Dream. In the article, Nagy described himself as a theological anthropologist. I initially thought, WTF! Theological anthropologist? Actually, it really is a thing. Leave it to Christian apologists to bastardize a secular field of science. And yes, I know theological anthropology traces its history back to the writings Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine. That said, I spent 50 years in the Christian church and pastored Evangelical churches for 25 of those years. I have never heard of theological anthropology until today. Something tells me that theological anthropology is about as scientific and legitimate as creationism; a pile of Evangelical horse shit covered with a thin layer sciency-sounding words.

According to Nagy, theological anthropology is the “study of ‘man’ both as individuals and as a species, and primarily with respect to God.” Nagy adds:

Anthropologists try to answer a lot of questions and to do this Christian anthropologists begin with two unshakably certain data points.

First: humans are made in the image of God.

Second: Humans are sinful in every aspect of their personality and being.

No science here. All I see is presuppositional apologetics. In Nagy’s mind, these two Bible truths — data points, my ass — are unshakably certain. For Evangelicals, these “truths” might be certain, but for those of us, Christian or not, who reject such nonsense, these “truths” are nothing more than naked theological assertions. Believe them if you will, but their grounding is found in the Bible, not science or human rationality.

Nagy goes on to say that we humans are “unchangeably sinful and bad.” He then concludes his column with this:

The flower children thought that rampant godlessness, drugs, and casual sex would bring in the Age of Aquarius — were living in the Age of Apollyon [Satan]. As a pastor-theologian who focuses on anthropology, the daily news is making a much more profound proof of the perversity of people than I ever could. It’s an anthropologist’s dream. Too bad it’s a nightmare.

trump holding bible

Ah yes, blame baby boomers for the alleged moral decline of America. Our supposed godlessness, drug use, and casual fucking led to what Nagy calls the Age of Apollyon [Satan]. Is there no end to blaming baby boomers for the ills of society? I actually visited Nagy’s church a decade or so ago. I seem to remember seeing a lot of old folks. Are these not the same Christian locals who overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in 2016? Are these not the same people who turn a blind eye to the president’s perverse behavior and mockery of Biblical Christianity? “Hey, he’s anti-abortion and cuddles up to our mythical persecution, so we ignore his racism, bigotry, misogyny, immorality, and criminal behavior. Did you see the Bible picture? Awesome, right?”

Nagy desperately wants to find a boogieman to blame for what he perceives is the moral decline of Western civilization — especially the United States. Instead of looking in his own back yard, he blames secularists, non-Christians, unregenerate sinners, liberals, progressives, Democrats, socialists, Obama, et al. You know, the standard Evangelical blame list. Blame anyone and everyone rather than looking in the mirror. One need only read the Black Collar Crime Series to know that Evangelicals are every bit as perverse as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

As an atheist and a humanist, I reject the notion that we humans are created in the image of the Bible God and that we are inherently “sinful.” Sin is nothing more than a theological construct used by the purveyors of religion to control people. Promise Heaven, threaten Hell, and billions of people will — at least outwardly — deny self and natural, healthy human behavior. Sure, humans can do bad things, and when they do restitution should be required. However, many of the human behaviors deemed “sinful” by Nagy and other Evangelicals are anything but.

What “sins” are Evangelicals obsessed with? Mainly sexual “sins.” You know, things consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes, motel rooms, or back seats. The very “sins,” by the way, Evangelicals engage in too, albeit with a lot more guilt.

Science satisfactorily explains to us the human condition — no theological anthropologists needed. Who is it that is desperately trying to roll back the social progress of the past seventy years? Who is it that views the 1950s as the good old days? You know, the time before the free love and the rock-and-roll generation; the days when women were barefoot, pregnant housewives, homosexuals stayed in the closet, and birth control was illegal; the days before the Civil Rights Act, Gun Control Act, and the EPA; the days when there was law and order and everyone, especially Blacks, knew their place. Evangelical Christians, Mormons, and conservative Catholics, that’s who. Who is it that opposes same-sex marriage, LGBTQ rights, and a host of other civil and social justice issues? Who is it that screams ALL LIVES MATTER and says that systemic racism and police brutality are myths? And who is it that demands the establishment of a Christian theocracy, prayer and Bible reading in public schools, and the toppling of the establishment clause and the separation of church and state? Evangelicals Christians, Mormons, and conservative Catholics. (And yes, I am deliberately painting with a Bruce’s Wide Ass Brush®.)

At every turn, those standing in the way of social progress and science are Evangelical Christians, Mormons, and conservative Catholics. These are primarily the same people who gave us Donald Trump and a federal government dominated by anti-science Republicans. One need only to pay attention to the Trump administration’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic to see how deeply anti-science Christianity has infected the federal and many state governments.

Here’s hoping that the next revolution to sweep the United States is the age of science and intellectual inquiry. It’s time for us to relegate the Bible to the dustbin of human history. Progress remains impossible as long as we believe, as Nagy states, that “humans are made in the image of God and are sinful in every aspect of their personality and being.” When I look into the beautiful eyes of my thirteen grandchildren, I don’t see God and depravity. Instead, I see the wonders of biology and the prospect of a better tomorrow.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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American Individualism Will Kill Us All

1970-nova-ss

Son #3 invited me to a car show tonight in nearby Bryan. I enjoy attending car shows, especially if they have lots of classic/muscle cars. Such cars remind me of the automobiles I owned in the 1970s and 1980s. My favorite car remains the 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS I owned in 1975-76. Lots of raw horsepower, a chick magnet.

I was hesitant about attending the show due to concerns over potential exposure to COVID-19. I decided social distancing and wearing a mask would keep me safe, especially since the event was being held outdoors around the Williams County Courthouse.

According to my finely tuned Baptist preacher crowd counting skills, there were about 200 or so people at the car show. Would you like to guess how many people were concerned with social distancing or were wearing masks? Social distancing? No one bothered. And masks? Five people wore masks: Me and Bethany, a couple selling kettle corn, and a man in a wheel chair. That’s it. Roughly 2.5 percent of the attendees were wearing masks.

Yesterday, I had what I call a Bruce’s Git-r-done Day. I turned 63 today, and I still lack moderation and balance in my life. Hey, the house is on fire! Charge, with an empty squirt gun, and put the fire out! Try as I might to slow down, I find it impossible to do so.

I decided to go to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Bryan to renew my driver’s license. Afterward, I stopped by Bill’s Locker Room to order an embroidered red apron. The BMV was busy, with everyone lined up outside waiting to be waited upon. Out of the 20 or so peopled queued up, four of them were wearing masks. And Bill’s Locker Room? There was a sign on the front door that stressed the importance of wearing masks. Want to know how many employees and customers were wearing masks? One — me. That’s it.

I stopped home to eat lunch with Polly before she headed off to work. I was quite fatigued, but I decided to push myself and drive to Defiance to pick up my prescriptions at Meijer, run our car through the new car wash next door to Kohl’s, and stop by Menard’s to buy two bags of sand.

Roughly 20% of people in Meijer were wearing masks. Menard’s? Everyone was wearing masks. Why? Menard’s requires its customers to wear masks. Damn commies, the lot of them. How dare they tell free-born Americans what they can or can’t do.

The sand, of course, was out in the yard, which I only figured out after traipsing through half the store. As I was headed towards the checkout, I was hit of wave of lightheadedness and fatigued. You’ve pushed yourself too far now, dumb ass.

I managed to check out, crawled into the seat of our Ford Edge, turned the air on high, and sat in Menard’s parking lot for ten or so minutes, hoping to catch a bit of wind in my sail. I finally felt well enough to drive home. I told myself, “this was a really stupid idea.”

II checked my blood pressure and blood sugar level. My glucose level was 62. I took my evening medication, downed a Dr. Pepper, and ate a sandwich. Man, was I tired! I turned the TV on to watch All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC. Halfway through the show, I fell asleep. An hour later, I woke up, and my was body was screaming from head to toe in pain. The pain was so bad that I ran a hot bath and sat in the tub for a half-hour, hoping the pain would abate (and it did).

Around 1:00 a.m. or so, I started trading messages with a woman who was a teen in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church I pastored in southeast Ohio in the 1980s. We had a delightful conversation.

Polly arrived home from work at 2:30 a.m. I told her I was really feeling weak, and my eyesight was blurry. I thought, I’d better check my blood sugar level. What the fuck, it is 40! As any diabetic knows, a 40 reading means its time to head for the emergency room. Not me. I’m Bruce Gerencser, a real American. I can do all things through Bruce!

I started to stand up, only to find that I couldn’t do so. I told Polly, I’m in big trouble. Get me a Dr. Pepper. I chugged it down, no change on my glucose level. WTF! Polly, now quite concerned said, do you want a glass of orange juice? Yes, right away, I replied. 90 minutes later, my blood sugar level rebounded to a whopping 50. It took until 7:00 a.m. for my glucose level to reach 72.

As I reflect on the lack of social distancing and mask wearing by locals andAs I reflect on the lack of social distancing and mask-wearing by locals and my unwillingness to balance my life, I have concluded that American individualism will be the death of us all. While I can smugly and self-righteously chastise locals for not caring about their neighbors, am I really any better? Don’t I owe it to Polly, my children, and my grandchildren to prudently manage my health? It’s one thing for me to push myself a bit, but it’s another thing to run headlong into a brick wall, thinking that I am impervious to harm. I am not.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Two Local Evangelical Churches Clueless About “Black Lives Matter”

Rural northwest Ohio is white, conservative Christian, and Republican. It is home to scores of bigots and racists. While the city of Defiance has a sizeable black (and Hispanic) population, most black Christians attend predominately black churches. Segregation — whether culturally enforced or willingly chosen — is alive and well in Defiance and the larger rural area.

I have been pleasantly surprised to see protests rise-up in Defiance. One group seems to be quite Evangelical in nature. Their protests have more of a praise-and-worship vibe. One local mainline pastor — yes, local pastors still speak to me — told me that he could do without the altar call vibe of this group. Another protest group seems focused on the issue of race, without the Jesus vibe. Why is it that local Evangelicals can’t check Jesus at the door and focus on the issues that matter to local people of color and those of us who presently support their battle against racism and police brutality?

Last Sunday, the latter group held a small protest surrounding the Defiance County courthouse. I stopped to shoot a few photographs. Here’s one of them:

black-lives-matter-protester-defiance-ohio

Two blocks away is The Gathering Place, an Evangelical church pastored by Steve Buttermore. The church is known for putting stupid, inane, downright ignorant clichés on its billboards. Well, stupid, inane, and downright ignorant clichés to people of reason, anyway. I am sure more than a few local Evangelicals love what The Gathering Place puts on their billboards.

Here’s what The Gathering Place had on their billboards:

the-gathering-place-defiance-ohio-2

Talk about tone deaf and clueless. Imagine how much better this church might have been received if its billboards said Black Lives Matter. I suspect that such a bold statement would have been met within the church with outrage from some whites. So, let’s go with a riff on “All Lives Matter” — a racist trope.

Today, I was in Bryan for a medical procedure. While driving home, I stopped to photograph the front of Dad’s Place — an Evangelical congregation pastored by Christopher Avell. Avell used to comment on this site, hoping to win me back to Jesus. He, of course, failed.

dads-place-bryan-ohio-(1)
dads-place-bryan-ohio-(2)

“Lost Souls Matter.” Yet another riff off of the racist “all lives matter” line.

I have no doubt that pastors Buttermore and Avell will object to my characterizations of their signs. However, we live in moment when what we say and do matters. These churches have, at the very least, shown that they are not paying attention.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Why it is Impossible to Have Meaningful Discussions with Evangelical Trump Supporters

trump holding bible

Recently, a friend of mine asked her Trump-supporting friends on Facebook to defend the violent clearing of protesters so the President — Bible in hand — could have a photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. My friend sincerely wanted to understand the thinking behind such support. (Please see Donald Trump’s Bible.)

Here’s the first response she received:

You’re assuming what you are seeing is the real story. Watch the documentary at outofshadows.org, research the 6 men that own 95% of the media outlets and explore their political alignments and NWO [New World Order] connections.

As Christians, we all know there is an enemy and he/they have a plan to create a New World Order/One World Government. It’s easy to spot who wants this simply look for their speeches. George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, George Bush, Obama. They’ve all given speeches about the NWO. As Christians we serve God almighty, but do not be mistaken, the enemy has his servants as well in very powerful places. (Ephesians 6:12)

These riots have nothing to do with George Floyd. They have everything to do with Election 2020. If you believe otherwise, I’m sorry.

For 4 years, we’ve experienced Fake Russia Collusion, Impeachment for nothing, a Wuhan Biolab created coronavirus, and now Antifa riots all before the next election. It’s time for everyone to wake up.

What are we to do with such comments? How do you even begin to reach people who think like this? Or have they committed an unpardonable sin of sorts? This man is white, educated, and rich, so not your typical hillbilly with a sixth-grade education and a meth habit. How is it possible for someone to go so far down the proverbial rabbit hole that he loses all sense of reason?

Quite frankly, this kind of thinking scares the shit out me. Is it beyond the pale for these “patriots” to seek a “second amendment remedy,” especially if their demigod Donald Trump is not reelected? Will these Christians accept any electoral outcome except a Trump victory? What happens if Sleepy Joe — Trump’s pet name for Joe Biden — wins and the Democrats control both houses of Congress? Democrats will, most certainly, make swift work of undoing some of the damage inflicted by Trump and his lackeys. How will Evangelicals respond to these reversals?

Typically, I don’t talk politics on my personal Facebook account. In recent days, I have become so enraged over what I am seeing on the nightly news that I decided to make a couple posts about what was going on.

troops on the steps of lincoln memorial

Here’s what I wrote:

Never thought I’d see the day when a U.S. President would use active military personnel to wage war against the American people.

and

Military troops on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This should sicken every thinking American. We see this in China and other dictatorships, not America.

My friends whom I have met through this blog generally supported my statements. Birds of a feather flock together, right? I was, however, quickly reminded of the fact that most of my friends don’t live in white rural northwest Ohio. Several local residents decided to respond to my posts. That they do so is quite strange since they never comment on anything of mine except the photographs I post from local high school sporting events. It became clear, to me anyway, that my posts hit a nerve. How dare I disparage their man with facts.

Here’s what one young 100% Trumper said:

Are you kidding me! Have you seen the city’s? [sic] It’s called LAW AND ORDER! Pretty crazy to see a Presidential candidate say he was going to DISARM America. You are worried about a President doing what he’s supposed to do, only because his name is Donald Trump. Shame on you!

I responded:

Not only do I watch the news, I grew up in the 1960s. I’ve seen a lot of history. Trump is a self-aggrandizing narcissist who only cares about his reelection. The only shame here is his behavior. You might want to educate yourself about the use of military troops on US soil. It is FORBIDDEN by law, except in dire circumstances— say, the Civil War. Trump did what he did in D.C. because Washington is not a state. It is the responsibility of the Park Rangers and D.C. police to protect government property. And even here, the militarization of the police is troubling. They’ve become soldiers instead of peacekeepers. Trump finally got his military parade. Too bad he trashed the law, Christianity, and the American people to get it.

I received no further comment from this man, save a link to a Federalist article. No discussion on the merits of my comment about the legality of Trump’s actions. Nada, zip, nothing.

This shouldn’t surprise me. I have spent most of my life living in rural Ohio — both in southeast and northwest Ohio. I know that politically I am viewed as a strange duck, a black duckling in the midst of white ducks. The same goes for my lack of religious faith. I love living in the sticks, but I am increasingly depressed by the intractable ignorance I see around me. I don’t want to come off sounding like a know-it-all liberal elitist, but damn, can’t anyone see what Trump is doing to our republic?

While campaigning for presient in 2016, Trump gleefully stated: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” I thought, at the time, that statements such as this one would surely derail Trump’s campaign. Four years later, I must admit Trump was right. When it comes to his Evangelical base — especially those who live in rural states — Trump seems to be coated with Teflon. Nothing sticks to him. Not his lies. Not his policies that harm rural voters. Not his callous indifference towards the death of over 105,000 American from COVID-19. As long as Trump gives the appearance of being Christian and pro-life, Evangelicals are going to vote for him.

Waiting for Evangelicals to have some sort of come-to-reason moment is a waste of time. It ain’t going to happen. And that, my friends, is downright depressing.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Does Racism Exist in Rural Northwest Ohio?

etch a sketch
The Etch-a-Sketch is made by Ohio Art, a Bryan, Ohio company. Once manufactured in Bryan, it is now made overseas.

I used to be a member of the Growing Up in Bryan, Ohio Facebook group. The group is made up of people who live/lived in Bryan, Ohio. Recently, the subject of racism was brought up and this provoked a lively discussion about the state of race relations in Bryan. This got me to thinking: does racism still exist in rural northwest Ohio and Bryan? Have we reached a place where we live in a post-racial era, even here in homogenous rural Ohio? Before I answer this question, I want to spend some time talking about demographics and my own experiences as a resident of rural northwest Ohio.

My father grew up on a hundred-acre farm three miles south of Bryan and attended Ney High School. My mother moved to Bryan as a teenager. Both of them worked for local Bryan businesses such as K&R Cleaners, The Hub, Carroll Ames, and Bryan Trucking. My father was part of a close-knit ethnic Hungarian group that settled in the Bryan area in the 1920s and 1930s. My parents considered Bryan home, and in 1957 it became my home. My brother and sister were also born in Bryan.

Even though I have spent most of my life living in other places, Bryan is home to me. Try as I might to flee the topographically boring flatlands of rural northwest Ohio, I consider Bryan my home. Over the years, I’ve lived in California, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and southeast Ohio. I’ve also lived in or near the northwest Ohio communities of Farmer, Deshler, Harrod, Alvordton, Mt. Blanchard, and Findlay. Currently, I live in Ney, a one-stoplight, two-bars village six miles south of Bryan.

Bryan was settled in 1840 and is the seat of Williams County. In 1950, the population was 6,365 people. In 2010, the population was 8,545 people. Bryan saw a 12.9% population growth between 1970 and 1980 and 5.9% growth between 1980 and 1990. Since 1990, the population has grown 8.2%.

According to the 2010 US Census:

  • 94.3% (8,056) of Bryan residents are white
  • .6% (47) Black
  • .9% (73) Asian
  • .2% (14) Native American
  • .1% (5) Pacific Islander
  • 2.0% (170) Mixed Race
  • 5.1% (436) Hispanic or Latino

Statistics are taken from the 2010 US Census Report

The Bryan of today is more racially diverse than at any time in its 175-year history. While this is good news, the reason for the diversity is non-white medical professionals moving to Bryan to work for the local hospital and medical group and white-collar professionals moving here to work for local companies. This diversity is primarily driven by economics.

The Bryan of my youth was 100% white. I was five years old before I saw a black person for the first time — a porter at the Chicago train station. As a teenager, I was told by one proud and ignorant Bryanite that Bryan was 100% white and proud of it. According to him, back in the day, any black caught in town after dark was run out of town. I suspect his attitude was quite common.

In the 1970s, I attended high school in Findlay, Ohio, a community 75 miles southeast of Bryan. The 1970 population of Findlay was 35,800 people. Like Bryan, Findlay was as white as white could be. There were two black students who attended Findlay High School, and they were brother and sister. Today, .3% (886) of Findlay residents are black.

In the mid-1970s, I attended First Baptist Church in Bryan. I can still remember the day that a woman who once attended the church and moved away, returned home with her new black husband. Oh, the racist gossip that ran wild through the church: why, what was she thinkin . . . marrying a black man! Think of the children! It was not long before she and her husband moved on to another church.

It was not until I moved to Pontiac, Michigan to attend Midwestern Baptist College that I came into close contact with blacks. Freshman year, one of my roommates was a black man from Philadelphia. The college was connected with nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Emmanuel ran numerous bus routes into Pontiac and Detroit, busing in thousands of blacks. Most of the children from Detroit attended B Sunday school. The B was the designation given for the afternoon Sunday school. It was not long before I figured out that the B stood for black. When an overtly racist man became the bus pastor, one of the first things he did was stop running the buses to Detroit. We were told this was due to budget restraints, but many of us thought the real reason was race.

The college and church were located in a bad part of Pontiac. (Some might argue, is there a good part of Pontiac?) The projects were nearby and the area east of the college was decidedly black. My experiences with the local black community, with its rundown housing and rampant crime, helped to reinforce the racist stereotypes I had been taught by my parents. It didn’t help that gangs of black youth repeatedly broke into the dormitory and ransacked the place while everyone was at church. A few years back, the college relocated to an overwhelmingly white community.

My parents, typical of their generation, were racists. It is impossible to paint the picture any other way. Whether their racism was from their own upbringing or their membership in the John Birch Society, they made no apology for their fundamentalist Christian-driven racism. They had a special hatred for Martin Luther King, Jr. My mother thought King got exactly what he deserved when he was assassinated in 1968. Like it or not, this is my heritage.

In the 1980s, Polly and I lived in southeast Ohio. For a number of years, we were foster parents. One of the children we cared for was black. We had made arrangements to rent a house outside of Somerset, Ohio — where I was pastoring at the time — from a retired school teacher. When we looked at the house, we did not have our foster child with us. Several days before we supposed to move in, the matronly pillar of the community called and said that she decided to not rent the house. We found out later that she told people that she was not going to have a “nigger” living in her house.

We moved to New Lexington, Ohio, and enrolled our foster child in the local public school, thinking little about how hard it might be for her to be the only black kid in the school. Needless to say, she was subjected to daily racial taunts. One day, the principal called us and said our foster child had created a disturbance in class. One of her classmates had called her a “nigger” and she threw her book at her taunter and stormed out of class.

I was quite upset at her behavior. Having never walked in her shoes, I had no way of knowing what it was like to be singled out and taunted for the color of my skin. I gave her the stern Pastor Gerencser lecture, reminding her that she was accountable for behavior and that she couldn’t respond this way every time someone called her a “nigger.” While my words had a ring of truth to them, they were quite insensitive and showed that I didn’t have a clue about how difficult it was for her as a young black woman.

In the mid-1980s, the church I pastored had a black missionary come and present his work. I took the missionary on a tour of the area and we stopped at the Somerset Snack Bar for lunch. The Snack Bar was where locals hung out, and it was always a busy hive of storytelling, gossip, and news. The Snack Bar was quite noisy when we walked in the door, but as patrons glanced up to see who was coming in, the noise quickly dissipated. I later learned that several of the locals were upset over the Baptist preacher bringing a “nigger” into the Snack Bar.

In 1995, I moved back home to northwest Ohio, pastoring a church in Alvordton for a short time, and then pastoring a church in West Unity for seven years. Polly and I have lived in this area now for 23 years. This is our home. Our 6 children and 13 grandchildren all live within 20 minutes of our home.

It was during my time as pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity that I began to address my own latent racism and the racism that percolated under the surface of the local community. As my politics began to move to the left, my preaching took on a social gospel flavor, and this included preaching on racism.

When a church member would talk about “colored” people, I would ask them, so what color were they? Oh, you know what I mean, preacher! Yes, I do. So, how is the color of their skin germane to the story you are telling? I did the same when members talked about “those” people — “those” meaning blacks, Mexicans, or people perceived to be welfare bums.

What made things difficult was that we had a black man attending the church. He was a racist’s dream — the perfect stereotype. He was on welfare, didn’t work, lived in Section 8 housing, had an illegitimate child, and spent most of his waking hours trying to figure out how to keep from working. The church financially helped him several times, and we brought him groceries on numerous occasions. One time he called and told me he needed groceries. I told him that I would have someone bring them over to him later that day. He then told me, preacher, I’m a meat and potato man, so I don’t want no canned food. Bring me some meat. He’s still waiting for those groceries to be delivered.

As I read the comments on the Growing Up in Bryan, Ohio Facebook group (the post is no longer available), I noticed that there was an age divide. Older people such as I thought Bryan was still, to some degree, racist, while younger people were less inclined to think Bryanites were racist, or they thought local racists were a few bad apples. I think that this reflects the fact that race relations are markedly “better” now in this area.

The reasons are many:

  • Older generations, those raised in the days of race riots, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jim Crow are dying off.
  • Local residents are treated by doctors who are not white. My wife’s gynecologist is a dark-skinned Muslim.
  • Interracial couples now live in the area.
  • Migrants workers, once a part of the ebb and flow of the farming season, are now primarily permanent residents.
  • Younger adults and teenagers no longer think race is a big deal.
  • Music, television, and the Internet have brought the world to our doorstep, allowing us to experience other cultures.
  • Sports, in which the majority of athletes in the three major professional sports — football, basketball, and baseball — are non-white. Cable and satellite TV broadcast thousands of college and professional games featuring non-white players.

Exposure breeds tolerance. Bigoted attitudes about gays and same-sex marriage are on prominent display in rural northwest Ohio. These attitudes remind me of how things once were when it came to race. Time and exposure to people who are different from us can’t help but change how we view things like race and sexual orientation. My children are quite accepting and tolerant of others, and I hope that these attitudes will be passed on to my grandchildren. We are closer today than we ever have been to Martin Luther King’s hope of “a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

We haven’t arrived. Latent, institutional racism must continue to be challenged. Recent protests and riots across the United States reveal that we have a long, long, long way to go before we reach King’s hope and dream. Unfortunately, there are those who use race and fear to stoke distrust and hate of those who are different. We must forcefully marginalize (and vote out of office) those who want to return America to the 1950s. We must also be willing to judge our own attitudes about race. We enlightened liberals gleefully look at the extreme right and we see racism and bigotry in all its glory. Yet, if we are honest, such things exist in our own backyard. None of us can rest until we have achieved a post-racial world. We have much work to do.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Local “Patriot” Attacks Elderly Woman at Meijer

Last week, I wrote a post about my experiences shopping at the local Meijer store. (Please see Living in the Land of Jesus, Guns, and Republicans: I Went Shopping at Meijer Today.) Several days later, a twenty-six-year-old Christian woman who describes herself as an anti-mask “patriot” took to social media to express her outrage towards an elderly mask-wearing woman who dared to “touch” her shopping cart while shopping at Meijer.

outrage at defiance meijer (2)

After receiving universal condemnation from locals, this “patriot” wrote:

outrage at defiance meijer (1)

In typical “patriot” fashion, the woman deleted her posts. She didn’t apologize or say she overreacted. Nope, she just deleted the posts and pretended that it never happened. This post is my way of memorializing her act of ignorance and stupidity.

I question, at times, the punitive nature of social media, but I have come to see that the only way to deal with some people is to publicly shame them — the equivalent of being put in stocks on the public square. I am appreciative of locals who stood up to this bully and who also defended the elderly woman. I can be quite critical of the denizens of rural northwest Ohio — rightly so — but in this instance locals responded appropriately to this self-described American “patriot.”

And what, exactly, do mask-wearing and social distancing have to do with patriotism? There seems to be this notion among rural, white, right-wing Trump supporters that all of their beliefs and stands are patriotic in nature. We saw this thinking on full display ninety miles from here when militia members and Ever-Trumpers armed themselves with assault rifles and took over the Michigan statehouse. They called themselves “patriots,” when, in fact, they were bullies and thugs.

Personally, I am not a fan of the word patriotism. Its use and meaning have been co-opted by Trump and the Republican party, and to a lesser degree the Democrats. Let’s debate the issues without our discussions devolving into social media frenzies, the equivalent of two chimpanzees throwing shit at each other.

You would think that the Coronavirus pandemic would bring Americans together, rallying us around a common cause. Unfortunately, thanks to President Trump’s bombastic, ignorant speeches, press conferences, and tweets, a sizeable percentage of adult Americans believe that the pandemic is all about depriving Trump of his birthright, persecuting Christians, and turning the United States into a socialist state.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Living in the Land of Jesus, Guns, and Republicans: I Went Shopping at Meijer Today

meijer-covid-19

This post contains cursing. If you are easily offended by such language, I suggest you read something else.

Earlier today, we drove to nearby Defiance, Ohio to do some shopping at Meijer. I wondered exactly how locals would be acting now that Governor Mike DeWine has loosened or removed many of the restrictions that keep Ohioans sequestered at home. I say “wondered,” when, in fact, I knew exactly what I would see.

I live in the land of Jesus, Guns, and Republicans. And not just any Jesus. Sure, there are liberal and progressive Christians around here, but, for the most part, those who worship the dead Son of God are Evangelicals. Even those who attend mainline churches tend to skew to the right religiously. Atheists? Why, we are so rare that locals don’t even think we exist.

There are hundreds of churches in the quad-county area. I live in a community of 356 or so people. Within a few miles of my home there are three Church of God congregations, a Catholic church, a Methodist church, and two non-denominational churches. That’s why locals who haven’t read my writing assume I am a worshiper of Jesus. Several years ago, a woman engaged my daughter Bethany — who has Down syndrome — in a discussion about music at a high school basketball game. The woman asked, “so what kind of music do you like?” Bethany quickly gave her top five list of country bands. Then the woman said, “you like Christian music too, right?” Bethany said nothing. Much like her mother, she hates Christian music. I looked at the woman, gave her my fake smile, and said, “oh, we listen to all sorts of music.” And without missing a beat, I said, “should be a good game tonight.”

This woman, a devout follower of the Evangelical Jesus, had no place in her worldview for people who didn’t listen to Christian music. Imagine what her response might have been had I said, “We are atheists. We don’t listen to shitty Christian music.” Of course, I am too polite to do so.

I assume that local Christians have at least have been taught what is commonly called the TWO GREAT COMMANDMENTS:

  • Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thy heart, soul, and might (mind)
  • Thou shalt love your neighbor as thyself

I say “assume,” because, based on what I saw while shopping today, it is evident that local Christians have forgotten about loving their neighbors. I personally know several local progressive/liberal pastors. I know these men of God take seriously the Coronavirus pandemic and what can be done to lessen the spread of COVID-19. I do wonder, however, what local right-wing pastors are conveying to their congregants about the current pandemic. I suspect, not much.

I am sure someone is going to ask, “what does Evangelical Christianity have to do with what you experienced today?” Everything. You see, Evangelical theology breeds right-wing Republican/Libertarian political beliefs. All those old people who watch Faux News every night? They live here in Defiance, Williams, Henry, and Fulton counties. They have birthed children and have grandchildren who, having experienced little else but the white Evangelical monoculture of rural northwest Ohio, walk in their right-wing parents’/grandparents’ shoes. Want to know who to blame for the presidency of Donald Trump? Look no farther than rural northwest Ohio. Almost seven out of ten voting locals voted for Trump. Beliefs have consequences. Not only do Republicans control EVERY local/state/federal office, but their Jesus-infused political beliefs also infect every aspect of local life. And local Republicans are not the centrist Republicans I remember from back in the days when Jim Rhodes was governor and Howard Metzenbaum, John Glenn, and George Voinovich represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate. Thanks to the racist Tea Party rebellion against “Kenyan-born” Barack Obama, local Republicans have moved to the right, embracing immoral Libertarian politics. Many of these same people are militia-friendly gun owners who supported the recent armed takeover of the Michigan state house.

I can’t help but notice their memes and posts on social media decrying liberals, atheists, and virtually every action taken by the government to keep them safe during this pandemic. No conspiracy is too extreme for them. Bill Gates, as a modern-day Josef Mengele? The Chinese government behind the Wuhan virus? 5G causes COVID-19? Vaccines, the mark of the beast? I have seen every one of these crazy conspiracies touted on local Facebook pages. Good Christian people want the country opened up NOW! If doing so kills the neighbors they are supposed to love, so be it. All that matters to them is their “rights.” Ironically, most of the locals demanding freedom to do whatever they want, are anti-abortion, opposed to same-sex marriage, and oppose teaching evolution in public school science classes. Evidently, “freedom” only applies when their way of life is interrupted or impeded. I so wanted to ask these Libertarian dick-waggers, “do you mind if I strip off my clothes and stand on the sidewalk in front of your house while your children play in the yard?” Freedom, baby! It’s tyranny to restrict me in any way! Don’t like it? Stay in your house. Such is the absurdity of immoral, anarchist Libertarianism.

Yesterday, I heard a newscaster say that sixty-eight percent of people wear masks to protect themselves and others from exposure to the Coronavirus. I said to the TV — a common thing for me to do these days — where? Austin? Seattle? Not here, that’s for sure. Since March 7, I have gone to the store (hardware and grocery) six or so times. I have done my best to avoid mouth breathers, ordering online from Walmart, Amazon, Target, Chief Supermarket, Menards, Wayfair, CVS, New Egg, B&H, and several small companies when I can instead of going to brick-and-mortar stores. (You should see the mountain of cardboard we’ve accumulated in our garage.) Today’s trip was unavoidable. I know that every time we go to the store we risk infection, but it’s impossible for us to become hermits — even though such a life is appealing. All we know to do is limit exposure as much as we can, hoping the COVID-19 virus doesn’t track us down and kill us.

Today, roughly thirty percent or so of shoppers were wearing face masks. At Meijer, employees are required to wear masks, and every worker kept the letter of the law. I saw numerous employees, including one manager, with their masks pulled below their noses. I wanted to say, “you do know you breathe in and out of your nose, expelling whatever into the air?” I get it, wearing masks is uncomfortable and restricts breathing. To that I say, “tough shit.” Life is hard, period, right now, and we all have to adapt. Stop your whining.

As far as my fellow citizens were concerned, most of them were not wearing masks, and neither were they the least bit concerned about social distancing. (And to those who were wearing masks and trying to stay the fuck away from each other? Thank you, for loving your neighbor as yourself.) I saw numerous groups of mainly older people closely huddled together shooting the breeze. I wanted to go up to them and say, “are you guys idiots? You do know that you are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and dying, right?” Something tells me that doing so would have been a waste of time. Trump, Hannity, Ingraham, and their favorite TV preachers told them all the need to know about the Wuhan virus, end of discussion. Got any hydroxychloroquine or bleach?

What made things worse is that Meijer management decided to have its workers stock shelves on a Friday at 4:00 PM. Managers get from employees what they demand, so it seemed clear to me that managers were not that interested in making sure workers properly wear masks and practice social distancing. It’s impossible to stay six feet away from people if there are stockers and carts in the middle of aisles. The dairy aisle was the worst. Two women were stocking the coolers. They had THREE stock carts, plus a cardboard cart in the middle of the aisle, blocking traffic from both directions. I wanted to scream. Yes, I am angry, pissed off, and irritated. I am oh-so-tired of such carelessness and indifference.

Two things stood out during our shopping foray at Meijer. First, there were two morbidly obese seniors driving motorized carts through the store. They were together. Neither of them was wearing masks. One woman had a tank of oxygen perched on her basket in case she needed it. I thought, “talk about clueless. Death on wheels coming my way!” Second, there was a man in his early thirties with his significant other and several children. No mask, no surprise. He was a burly manly man. Real men don’t wear sissy masks. As I watched from a distance, the man sneezed, with gusto, not once, not twice, but three times. Three massive bursts of particles into the air. He made no effort to hold his sneeze or direct it into his arm or a cloth. Nope, this man just expelled his sneezes into the air. I am at a place in life where I consider such behavior criminal, no different than an HIV positive man having unprotected sex with someone. This man could have COVID-19 and not know it. Sure, he’s young, but young people DO die from this virus, and at the very least he could be an asymptomatic carrier. Whatever he was, he most certainly was an inconsiderate asshole.

I could write a lot more about our trip to Meijer today, but I will leave my raging storytelling here. I know that someone is sure to say, “Bruce, you should stay home! Sick? Aged? Not my problem. You need to quarantine, not me.” Fine. Are you going to make sure we have sufficient income to live? Are you going to make sure we have access to food, safely delivered to our home? Are you going to make sure we have medical care, including the delivery of our medications? “Of course not, Bruce! Freedom, baby! I get to live, and you, well sorry, but you don’t. Can’t worry about a ‘few’ old people dying.”

And come Sunday, these people who raised holy hell over supposed “death panels” a few years ago, will go to church, professing their love for Jesus and their fellow man. Disconnected from their words will be the reality of their behavior. Don’t tell me how much you love Jesus and your neighbor, show me. People who really love their neighbors will do everything they can to make sure the sick, elderly, and vulnerable are protected and cared for. That you refuse to wear a mask tells me that the only person you care about is self. I thought Jesus told his followers to deny themselves, to put God and others first? All I saw today was unmitigated selfishness.

I am an atheist, yet I live according to the grand truth that I should love my neighbor as myself. It matters to me if my neighbors, along with their families, get sick or die. The least I can do for them is wear a mask, wash my hands, and stay six-feet away. And to locals who only value their personal freedom and scream TYRANNY when asked to wear a mask? I say, “fuck you.”

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Dear Governor DeWine, Why are Churches Exempt from the Group Gathering Ban?

Sign on our Front Door

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued an order closing schools and banning community and social gatherings of more than 100 people in a single room. Exempt from this order are houses of worship. Why should churches be exempt? Are church members and clerics less likely to contract or pass on the coronavirus? Why should churches be permitted to play by a different set of rules? Evidently, worshipping the sacrosanct First Amendment trumps the physical welfare of all Ohioans. Perhaps Governor DeWine has read the story out of South Korea; the one showing that the members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus are responsible for 60 percent of South Korea’s coronavirus infections? Churches can easily become hotbeds for infections. 

Surely, Governor DeWine doesn’t think that churches will do the right thing and cancel their programs and services for the next three or four weeks. If so, the Governor might want to pay attention to social media, especially the accounts of Ohio Evangelicals and Trump supporters. I have read scores of social media posts that say the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax; one meant to take down King Trump and his administration. Others suggest that God is sovereign and in control, and Christians need not worry about catching the virus. Never mind the fact that most churches, especially in rural northwest Ohio, have an inordinate number of members who are over the age of 60 and in poor health. Should it really be left to Jesus or the power of prayer to “protect” these people from infection and possible death? I think not. As Vice President Mike Pence quickly learned, prayer is no match for COVID-19.

Some local Evangelicals decided to show they flunked fourth-grade math. According to recently published statistics — and I know the stats on the virus are fluid right now — .1 percent of people die from the flu and 1.0 percent of people die from the coronavirus. How DARE news agencies print hysterical headlines saying that coronavirus is ten times more lethal than the flu, one local genius opined! Well, dumbass, do the math! And even worse, for people who are over sixty and have health problems, the death rate is 8-10 percent. As the sign and the top of this post shows, my wife and I are taking this pandemic seriously. Not panicking, but certainly doing all we can do keep ourselves out of harm’s way. Churches and their leaders must not be given the option of staying open or closing. If all Ohio schools, colleges, and athletic events are closed for the next three weeks, churches should be required to do the same. I would like to think that churches would act responsibly, but when a large segment of our population thinks that “prayer” can cure the virus, we can’t expect them to do the right thing. Irrationality always wins over civic and personal responsibility. This is not about atheism vs. religion. The issue is one of moral and civic responsibility. You know, loving your neighbor as yourself. Do the right thing, pastors, and tell your congregants to stay home until Ohio health officials give the all clear.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Local Christian Woman Blasts Evil Democrats for “Persecuting” President Trump

libtardRecently, a woman wrote a letter to the editor of the West Bend News — a weekly publication. In the letter, the woman quotes Psalm 58:1-11 — implying that Democrats are wicked, evil liars and snakes —  and then proceeds to rail against the Democrats for their slights against one President Donald J. Trump, also known as the Orange Menace.

Here’s the non-Bible part of her letter:

God has the last word, that’s why Donald Trump is in office. Put protection around the President. No weapons against the President Donald Trump will prosper. In Jesus’ name thank you Lord. Protect the security guards that lay their lives down for the President. A divided house won’t stand. You’re trying to get dirt on the president and wasting tax payers’ money (why) maybe you should look in your closet. If you’re without sin you can cast the first stone. Democrats are using the hatred act against our President Donald J. Trump. God’s still on the throne, “Avenges is mine,” said the Lord (not yours).

I am hesitant to say much about this letter due to the fact that its writer is almost 80 years old and a lifelong Republican. On the other hand, her letter is a perfect example of the Christian-Republican union that is prominent among older residents of rural northwest Ohio and northeast Indiana. In 2016, Donald Trump easily won the counties surrounding my home in Ney. Come November he will carry these counties again, likely by a higher margin than he did in 2016. The same will happen with the elections of local and state Republican candidates. Democratic candidates, if they run at all, will likely be thrashed, leaving them to wonder why they bothered running at all. When over seventy percent of locals vote Republican, it is impossible for Democrats to win elections. Locals of The Great Generation and Baby Boomers overwhelmingly vote Republican. While the future rests with younger residents, many of them are indifferent to politics, don’t vote, and those who are politically active find that local Democratic party officials are often clueless about the issues affecting younger Americans. I don’t know of one local active Democratic outreach to younger voters. Sadly, the people running local Democratic offices are generally in their 50s and up.

The aforementioned letter writer doesn’t say anything that I don’t hear locals say at ballgames, restaurants, or other public places, or write in letters to the editors of local papers or post on social media. I shoot upwards of a hundred local basketball/baseball/football games, volleyball matches, and track meets every year. I am retired, so I do this as a way to give back to our local school district and provide student-athletes and their families with quality photographs. Keeps me busy, allows me to meet new people, and takes my mind off the unrelenting chronic pain I battle each and every day. Doing so, however, exposes me to far more Trumpist Christian bullshit than I care to see or hear.

As I mentioned above, most locals vote Republican. Those I meet in public often “assume” that I am part of the Trump tribe. This is especially true on social media. I can count on two hands local Democrats I have met. And those who are as liberal as I am? One is the loneliest number, Three Dog Night sang in 1969, and I find that to be true when it comes to locals who line up with me politically. I’ve learned to accept that I am a vampire-like outlier. Even among Democrats, my view on abortion is a minority viewpoint. This is due, of course, to the pervasiveness of conservative Christianity. The overwhelming majority of the letters to the editors of the Defiance Crescent-News over the past decade advocating pro-choice positions were written by yours truly. I love living in rural Ohio, but politically I find it impossible to feel at home.

If locals want to read my pointed viewpoint on American politics, Donald Trump, the culture war, and Evangelical Christianity, they have to go to this blog, Twitter, or my Facebook page. On my personal Facebook wall, I am decidedly a-political and a-religious. Many of my Facebook friends are not so inclined, especially local Republicans I am “friends” with. Trump worship is common, and libtards and evil commie socialists — also known as Bruce “Santa Claus” Gerencser — are routinely savaged, abused, and slandered. I have no doubt that many of these people think the West Bend News letter writer is spot on with her God- and Bible-inspired attack of her Democratic neighbors and the Party in general (though I am sure many of them would wince at her atrocious grammar).

Later this week, I will plant in my front yard campaign signs for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg. I am hoping one of the three will be the Democratic candidate for president. I hope one of the other two will be the chosen candidate’s vice president. In 2016, you may remember, I prominently displayed my support for Sanders. I only knew of a handful of other locals who were willing to show their support for Bernie. To do so is socially and economically risky. My sign “disappeared” before the election. It was, best to my knowledge, stolen by a Trump supporter who could no longer stand looking at my sign as he or she drove by my house. Here’s a screenshot of a discussion Trump supporters had about my Bernie sign in February 2016:

stealing bernie sanders sign

(Please see The First Bernie Sanders Sighting in Defiance County, Ohio, Encouraged by a Young Bernie Sanders Supporter, and Local Residents Threaten to Steal or Destroy Our Bernie Sanders Sign.)

I decided not to file a theft report, but this time around, if my signs come up missing, I plan to file a police report. Or beat the shit out of the thief with my cane. 🙂

Such is life in rural northwest Ohio. There’s much I love about the place of my birth, home to my parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren. When we returned to this area and bought a home in 2007, we decided that there would be no more moves in our future. There are days, however, when I am so discouraged over the local and national political climate and the shenanigans of the most unfit man to ever sit in the Oval Office, that I want to move to a remote area and live off the grid. President Trump and his supporters have literally worn me out emotionally. The constant lies, distortions, and mixing of church and state makes me sick. Just today, Trump released his budget. More money for the military, Trump’s anti-Mexicans wall, and severe cuts to social programs and regulatory agencies. No surprises. Trump and the Republican Party will not rest until they destroy every vestige of FDR’s New Deal and the social progress the United States has made since the Great Depression. What’s a thoughtful liberal to do? Vote. What else can I do, but cast my votes for people who, at the very least, promise to stem the tide of the Republican/immoral capitalistic/theocratic Christian horde? I know my vote locally is little more than pissing in the face of a hurricane. There’s no chance for local Democratic candidates to win elections. I’m not being pessimistic or fatalistic. It’s just the facts of life here in northwest Ohio. I do, however, believe that on the state and federal level, my vote can make a difference. Will Democrats unseat President Pussy-Grabber in November? Maybe. My greater hope is for Democrats to retake the Senate and strengthen their hold on the House of Representatives. If Democrats fail on every front, I am headed to the wilderness with a bottle of whiskey in each hand and a backpack of weed. I feel as if liberal/progressive Democrats have one last opportunity to turn back and repair the social and economic damage done to our Republic by Trump, Republicans, and spineless, money-grubbing corporate Democrats. (And even if they succeed, the damage done to our judicial system by Trump will take decades to undo.)

In 2008, Barack Obama called for hope and change. In 2016, Bernie Sanders called for a revolution. What will be our rallying cry for 2020?

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.

Fraternal Organizations Don’t Want Unbelievers as Members

god

The United States is becoming increasingly non-Christian. Countless stories have been written about the rise of the NONES — people who have no religious affiliation. Add to this number atheists, agnostics, humanists, practitioners of earth-based religions, and people generally indifferent towards religion, and it seems, at least numerically, that the United States is well on its way to a secular or non-Christian majority. Worse yet for religionists is the fact that many people who claim to “believe” rarely attend church. Take the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. On any given Sunday, over half of Southern Baptists are somewhere other than the churches they call home. And Roman Catholics? Most American Catholics attend mass occasionally, often only on major religious holidays. It seems, at least to me, that there is little difference between Christians and atheists these days. Both are sitting home on Sundays, and both pay little attention to matters of faith.

Last week, I had some thoughts about joining a local fraternal organization. There are three main fraternal organizations in rural northwest Ohio: the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (Defiance Lodge #147), Loyal Order of Moose (Bryan Lodge 1064 and Defiance Lodge 2094), and the Fraternal Order of Eagles (Defiance FOE Aerie 372). I know people who belong to each of these groups. My grandmother, the late Jeanette Rausch, was a member of the Bryan Moose for decades. As a child, she would take me and my siblings to holiday events at the Moose. All I remember about these events is that I came away with lots of candy. Well, that and Grandma spending a lot of time at the bar.

Not knowing how one becomes a member of one of these fraternal organizations, I consulted God — also known as Google — to see what was required to become a member. I quickly learned that atheists, agnostics, and humanists are not eligible to become members. That’s right, in a day of increasing religious indifference and secularism, the Moose, Elks, and Eagles require members to believe in God.

elks lodge

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks website states the following requirements for prospective new members:

The Order is a non-political, non-sectarian and strictly American fraternity. Proposal for membership in the Order is only by invitation of a member in good standing. To be accepted as a member, one must be an American citizen, believe in God, be of good moral character and be at least 21 years old.

moose lodge

According to reference.com, to become a member of The Loyal Order of Moose you must meet the following requirements:

To qualify for membership in the Moose Lodge, a registered member must sponsor you. In addition, you must meet the basic requirements and some background qualifications provided in the membership charter.

To qualify for membership, you must be at least 21 years old and be of unquestionable moral conduct. Regardless of religious denomination, you must profess belief in a supreme being. After expulsion from one lodge, you must be granted a special dispensation to join another; otherwise, you do not qualify.

The Moose Lodge denies membership for individuals who are members of subversive groups or terrorist organizations. In addition, you do not qualify if you are a sex offender or a felon.

fraternal order of eagles

And finally, to become a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a prospect must meet the following membership requirements:

To be eligible for membership in the Fraternal Order of Eagles, you must be a citizen of the United States or Canada over the age of 18 who believes in God.

You must be sponsored by two members of a Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie or Auxiliary. The Eagle member who proposes you for membership must obtain a membership application from the Aerie or Auxiliary secretary. Fill out the application for membership and submit the completed application to the Aerie or Auxiliary secretary.

Your application will be read at a regular Aerie/Auxiliary meeting and you will be interviewed by the local membership committee. After the interview is concluded, the committee will report to the Aerie/Auxiliary concerning their recommendation of your membership.

When the vote is concluded, you will be notified and asked to present yourself for the Fraternal Order of Eagles Initiation Ritual. The Ritual is a set of rules by which Eagles are to conduct themselves not only in the confines of the Aerie, but in life in general. It’s one of the most outstanding models for living a good and useful life. It was designed to teach candidates for membership the highest standards of human conduct expected of us. (From the Medina, Ohio FOE website)

I suspect these fraternal organizations need new members, especially younger members. I also suspect waiving the “belief in God’ requirement would offend older Christian members, but doing so might be the only way to attract younger prospective members. Paying attention to changing demographics is crucial if membership groups — be they fraternal organizations, service clubs, or churches — expect to thrive in the twenty-first century. An unwillingness to adapt to societal change is a sure path to decline and death. The answer is not for atheists/agnostics/humanists to start their own fraternal groups. We need less fragmentation, not more. The Moose, Elks, and Eagles need to rethink who it is they want for members. While I can’t confess belief in God, I can say that I am a moral, ethical man. Surely, that should be enough for any of us to share a beer or join together to help our local communities.

Are you a member of a fraternal organization? Are you an atheist or a non-Christian? Were you aware that fraternal groups require members to believe in God? Please share your thoughts and experiences 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.

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

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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.

Letter to the Editor: Ohio Representative Craig Riedel Supports Extreme Anti-Abortion Legislation — HB413

craig-riedel-quote-on-abortion

The following letter was recently submitted by me to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News.

Dear Editor,

Supposedly, Republican Craig Riedel represents the interests of all his constituents in the 82nd District. However, it seems clear, at least to me, that the only people Riedel is interested in representing are people who hew to his right-wing political and religious beliefs. Riedel continues to trample the line between church and state, repeatedly supporting legislation that forces his religious beliefs on others. (Please see Should Every Effort be Made to Preserve Human Life?)

I get it. Riedel is adamantly anti-abortion. However, many of his constituents, including some of his fellow Republicans, do not support his extreme views. Take Ohio House Bill 413, legislation supported by Riedel. This bill, if enacted, effectively outlaws abortion in Ohio. Further, HB413 criminalizes abortion, both for the physician and the patient. HB413 adds terms such as abortion murder and aggravated abortion murder to Ohio law. If convicted, Ohioans could face life in prison.

Not only does HB413 effectively outlaw and criminalize abortion, it makes no exception in cases of rape and incest. That’s right. Riedel has no problem with forcing women to carry fetuses to term, even if they have been raped. Worse yet, Riedel supports requiring physicians to reimplant fertilized eggs from ectopic pregnancies. Never mind, that such a procedure is medically impossible and could lead to women bleeding to death. All that matters is that the fertilized egg be spared at all costs. It seems, then, that not only is Riedel anti-abortion, he is also anti-science.

I am left wondering what happened to the Ohio of my youth. There was a time when our political parties worked for the common good of the people of Ohio. Today, right-wing extremism rules the roost in Columbus. How can Ohioans ever find common ground on issues such as abortion as long as men such as Craig Riedel demand pregnant women be kept hostage by his peculiar religious views? And make no mistake about it, Evangelicals and other conservative Christians are the ones driving women to resort to back-alley abortions. Using an incremental approach, right-wing Republicans have enacted a plethora of legislation meant to roll back Ohio to pre-Roe v. Wade days.

Is it really in the best interest of Ohio women to outlaw and criminalize abortion? I think not. While I support legislation that regulates abortion post-viability, I can think of no rational reason to ban access to morning-after drugs and procedures that end unwanted pregnancies. The only thing standing in the way is religion.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

Other posts about Rep. Craig Riedel

HB565: Ohio Republicans Take ‘Abortion is Murder’ to its Logical Conclusion

Children Should be Taught Facts, not Religious Beliefs, in Ohio Public School Classrooms

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.