Politics

Evangelical Pastor Matt Trewhella Defies Government Order to Close His Church

matt trewhella and family

Most Evangelical pastors have prudently shut down their churches due to the Coronavirus pandemic. While this blog features critiques of Evangelicalism and often ridicules the excesses found within Fundamentalist Christianity, I do want to thank these pastors for putting the health and welfare of their congregants and communities first. Even some of the churches who, at the start of the pandemic, refused to close their doors, have now caved to the reality that their continued obstinance was putting people’s lives at risk. Better late than never, but I am not inclined to forget the churches and pastors who put their politics and theology about the health of family, friends, and neighbors.

A handful of Evangelical pastors continue to hold church services despite government suggestions or orders that they refrain from doing so. One such man of God is Matt Trewhella, pastor of Mercy Street Christian Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I learned about Trewhella’s behavior from a blog post written by uber-Fundamentalist and anti-government extremist Susan-Anne White. I have written about Ms. White several times in recent years:

That White thinks Matt Trewhella is a “courageous” pastor should come as no surprise. White thinks that the Coronavirus pandemic is much ado about nothing; a government plot to meant to take away civil liberties. On March 11, 2020, White posted a link to an article that suggested the coronavirus was little more than “fake news.” It is clear, at least to me, that Trewhella and White are two peas in a pod; fellow conspiracy theorists who are watching the world burn while pretending there’s no fire.

Trewhella operates the Defy Tyrants website. Trewhella, father of eleven children, calls himself a missionary to the pre-born.

Trewhella’s church bio page states:

In addition to being pastor of Mercy Seat Christian Church (founded in 1989) in the Milwaukee, WI area, Pastor Trewhella is also founder of the pro-life organization Missionaries to the Preborn, author of the book The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates: A Proper Resistance to Tyranny and a Repudiation of Unlimited Obedience to Civil Government, and lectures frequently on righteous resistance and the lesser magistrate doctrine.

Pastor Trewhella has been a passionate leader and laborer within the body of Christ since his conversion at age 17 in the inner city of Detroit. His integrity and innovative leadership within the pro-life movement [and now within the abolitionist movement] have inspired a generation to “love their neighbor as themselves”.

Though much maligned in the liberal media for his effective pro-life work, Pastor Trewhella’s reputation as a man of principle and great courage shine brightly to a generation so desperately in need of godly leadership. He and his wife Clara live in the Milwaukee, WI area. They have eleven children.

While the governor of Wisconsin has wisely ordered all churches to close their doors, Trewhella refuses to abide by the order. Instead of meeting at their normal gathering place, the Zoofari Conference Center, Trewhella has moved his carnival act to his home. You can, if you dare, view Trewhella’s recent sermon on the COVID-19 virus below.

Video Link

Just today, the good pastor said on Facebook:

God’s Word speaks to all matters of life, including the matter of quarantining. The Lord speaks of this in His law in Leviticus 13. And when we look at the law of God we see one thing that comes through loud and clear – you do NOT quarantine the whole of society – rather you quarantine the sick.

There is also a process in God’s law to follow to determine who is sick. You do not abridge the rights and freedom of everyone and shut down the whole of society. In this we see the goodness and grace of God’s law. God’s law is more gracious and protects freedom more than man’s law. God’s law doesn’t destroy the economy and lives of others. God’s prescription was intended to protect society not only from the disease, but from economic hardship upon those who weren’t diseased. You don’t abridge every other person’s freedom – you quarantine the sick.

Perhaps it time for me to pray an atheist imprecatory prayer:

Dear Lord,

We live in a day and hour of extreme ignorance and stupidity. Countless Evangelical and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastors are putting the lives of their congregants, families, and neighbors at risk Lord, all because they hate the governments you have ordained (Romans 13) and think you are commanding them to keep the doors of their churches open.

Since it is evident that these so-called men of God are immune to reason, science, and common sense, Lord I ask that you inflict them with the COIVID-19 virus. Don’t kill them Lord, just make them wish they were dead. Please protect everyone around them from their Trumpian stupidity, Lord. No need for others to suffer due to their ignorance. May everyone see their affliction, Lord, as your judgment upon their lives. And when these monuments to ignorance recover Lord, may they testify to the world that they were wrong and that Lord Science and his Son Reason alone rule this earth.

To your name, I give all the glory,

Amen.

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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Quote of the Day: Evangelical Denial of Science Helps Fuel the Coronavirus Pandemic

katherine stewart

Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.

At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as “theories of unbelief,” hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States. Today, the hard core of climate deniers is concentrated among people who identify as religiously conservative Republicans. And some leaders of the Christian nationalist movement, like those allied with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has denounced environmental science as a “Cult of the Green Dragon,” cast environmentalism as an alternative — and false — theology.

This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis.

….

By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures.

….

It is fair to point out that the failings of the Trump administration in the current pandemic are at least as attributable to its economic ideology as they are to its religious inclinations. When the so-called private sector is supposed to have the answer to every problem, it’s hard to deal effectively with the very public problem of a pandemic and its economic consequences. But if you examine the political roots of the life-threatening belief in the privatization of everything, you’ll see that Christian nationalism played a major role in creating and promoting the economic foundations of America’s incompetent response to the pandemic.

For decades, Christian nationalist leaders have lined up with the anti-government, anti-tax agenda not just as a matter of politics but also as a matter of theology. Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council, one of the Christian right’s major activist groups, has gone so far as to cast food stamps and other forms of government assistance for essential services as contrary to the “biblical model.” Limited government, according to this line of thinking, is “godly government.”

When a strong centralized response is needed from the federal government, it doesn’t help to have an administration that has never believed in a federal government serving the public good. Ordinarily, the consequences of this kind of behavior don’t show up for some time. In the case of a pandemic, the consequences are too obvious to ignore.

— Katherine Stewart, The New York Times, The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals, March 27, 2020

The Bible Commands Christians to Stop Gathering During Coronavirus Pandemic

foot washing service at danielsville baptist church march 16 2020
Robert Burt, pastor of Danielsville Baptist Church, washing congregants feet. He likely is already infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Some Christians, mostly from the Evangelical, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) tribes, refuse to obey social gathering orders. Sometimes, as in Ohio, churches continue meeting because state governments have exempted them from gathering orders. (Please see Dear Governor DeWine, Why are Churches Exempt from the Group Gathering Ban?) Just last week, a Georgia Baptist preacher refused to shutter his church, held a foot-washing service, contracted the COVID-19 virus, is now in the ICU hooked to a ventilator.

Main Street News reports:

Danielsville Baptist Church posted the following statement on Facebook Monday: “Pastor (Robert) Burt has tested positive for COVID-19. Please pray for us all during this time of uncertainty. He is in Piedmont Athens in ICU and on a ventilator. Thank you for your prayers.”

The church also posted: “All people within the church have been contacted and know to self quarantine. We are sorry for the scare within the community. The preacher and his wife have not been out in the community in the last week. We ask for prayers for all of the community.”

….

In the meantime, 911 Director Brenan Baird said his office is working with Smith to trace those who may have been in contact with Pastor Burt. A March 16 post on the Danielsville Baptist Facebook page included two photos of Burt conducting a foot-washing service.

Danielsville Baptist has had what can be best described as a “come to Jesus” moment. Yesterday, the church posted on its Facebook page:

A reminder that God is in control and at work in a mighty way in the middle of this storm.

All activities at Danielsville Baptist are canceled .

No Sunday Morning services.

No Wednesday Night services

No clothes closet.

Please keep all the country in your prayers!!

I want to say to Danielsville Baptist and its pastor, you have reaped what you sowed. Galatians 6:7 says: Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. You ignored what health officials were telling you, and now COVID-19 is at your doorstep and no amount of praying and saying God is in control is going to keep you from getting infected. Pastor Burt ignorantly and arrogantly put his misguided faith and theology before reason, science, and common sense. Now he and his fellow Christians will pay the price.

Having said that, I do hope Pastor Burt recovers and others infected by his negligence recover too. I may despise the level of stupidity demonstrated by this church and its pastor, but I genuinely do not want to see any of them get sick and die.

Danielsville Baptist is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Today, the mayor of Danielsville, Michael Wideman, signed an executive order shutting down the town. The Athens Banner-Herald reports:

The pastor of a small Baptist church in downtown Danielsville has been hospitalized with the coronavirus and members of the church have been asked to self-quarantine, according to the church.

….

The city of Danielsville on Monday also issued an executive order signed by Mayor Michael Wideman that affects businesses and organizations citywide, including two other churches inside the city.

All restaurants, coffee shops and other places were food is served to the public are now limited to take-out, drive-through or delivery. Dining on the premises is prohibited.

Public gatherings of 10 people or more are also prohibited. All barbershops, hair salons and fitness training centers are limited to six people or less.

Danielsville, Georgia, population 560, is similar in size to the rural Ohio community I live in. Everyone knows each other. Virus exposure can quickly spread in such communities due to close human interaction at church, school, and local businesses. Danielsville or Ney, Ohio will likely never become epicenters of virus exposure like New York, but residents should love their neighbors as themselves — as Jesus commanded — and avoid contact with each other. That includes church. Refusing to do so is direct disobedience to the Word of God.

That’s right, after two weeks of fasting, praying, and deep, deep, I mean deep Bible study, I have found a verse that directly addresses the Coronavirus Pandemic, COVID-19 infection, and whether churches should listen to government health officials and cancel their services.

Here’s what I found in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God:

A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished. (Proverbs 22:3)

I love how the Contemporary English Version (CEV) translates this verse:

When you see trouble coming,
 don’t be stupid
 and walk right into it—
 be smart and hide. (Proverbs 22:3)

Surely, we all can agree that the Coronavirus is “trouble coming.” In fact, it has arrived in all fifty states. In New York, hundreds of people are dying. According to health experts, the United States is in the early days of the pandemic. Want to see what our future likely holds? Look to Italy. (Please see Lessons from Italy: Six Stages of Coronavirus.) The Bible says that anyone who sees the Coronavirus coming and walks right into it is “stupid.” Just today, our Stupid-in-Chief, Donald Trump, said that he hopes churches are PACKED on Easter. That’s right. Nineteen days from now, the President wants and expects churches to be filled with worshipers of the “risen” Jesus. Surely, people of reason and common sense see the absurdity and stupidity of such words. The President is tired of limiting gatherings. He’s got campaign rallies to attend (and make no mistake about it, thousands of people will show up if he holds rallies) and an election to win. Lacking any sense of empathy for the American people or the world at large, all Trump cares about is his image, hotels, and stock portfolio. By suggesting Christians pack their local churches on Easter Sunday, Trump is stupidly running into trouble. And when the virus continues unabated? Blame the Chinese or Barack Obama.

God, in the Holy Bible, commands Christians to be smart and hide from the Coronavirus. That’s right. God doesn’t say have faith and stand your ground. God doesn’t say to take authority over the virus and pretend it doesn’t exist or doesn’t affect you. GOD SAYS, BE SMART AND HIDE!

What’s the best way to hide from the Coronavirus? Stay home. Stay away from other people. Do everything you can to avoid contact with other people. It really is that simple.

And if you refuse to do so? God says you are stupid. ‘Nuff said, Amen? Can I get a witness?

Other Posts About Churches Refusing to Close Their Doors

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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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Bill Muehlenberg’s Ignorant View of Socialism

Massive shortages of basic food items and everyday necessities like toilet paper. Lengthy lines of irritable shoppers outside of shops – at least the ones that are still open. Heavy rationing and constant government meddling with how we live. I can be talking about one of two things here: life under the corona crisis, or business as usual in socialist countries.

We are now all coming to terms with government lockdowns, rationing, shortages, and panic buying. That is pretty much a new experience for most of us in the West. But for those doomed to live in socialist paradises, this is just what life is like on a daily basis – and it has been for decades now.

….

So if that is what you are keen on, then keep foolishly championing politicians in the West like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or Jeremy Corbyn. Keep denouncing capitalism while you enjoy all of its many benefits. Keep railing against the free market as you use its products to do so: smart phones, laptops, the internet, etc.

— Bill Muehlenberg, Culture Watch, If You Like the Corona Crisis, You’ll Love Communism, March 23, 2020

The Doctor We Need

C Everett Koop

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

I am an atheist and a Democrat. Even so, the public official I have most respected, for most of my adult life, was a conservative Christian — and a rock-ribbed Republican.

If you are around my age, you have an image of him with a bushy, mustacheless beard. You remember him wearing what looked like a Naval Admiral’s uniform, or a suit with a brightly-colored bow tie that served as a diacritical mark highlighting his facial hair.

Most important, though, you remember the way he acted while he was on the national (and, for a time, worldwide) stage. That behavior was completely consistent with his professional ethos as well as his personal values.

His name was Charles Everett Koop. Ronald Reagan, during his first year as President of the United States, nominated Dr. Koop as Surgeon General. Despite objections from feminists, LGBT people, and secularists, the Senate overwhelmingly confirmed his confirmation late in 1981. Charles Everett Koo His name was Charles Everett Koop. Ronald Reagan, during his first year as President of the United States, nominated Dr. Koop as Surgeon General. Despite objections from feminists, LGBT people, and secularists, the Senate overwhelmingly confirmed his confirmation late in 1981.

He would soon put their fears to rest. Although he personally opposed abortion because of his religious beliefs, he would not succumb to pressure from the Reagan administration to prepare a report stating that abortion is psychologically damaging to women. Ever the doctor (pediatric surgeon) and scientist, he said there simply wasn’t evidence to corroborate what the President wanted him to say. 

His stance seems even more consistent with his credo when you realize how active he was in championing the rights of the newborn. Although he was not personally involved with the case, he was motivated by the death of a six-day-old boy who was born with Down Syndrome and denied surgical treatment to correct his esophageal atresia and tracheoesophageal fistula. Before he became Surgeon General, he was, for more than three decades, the surgeon-in-chief at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, during which he saw increasing survival rates for babies with congenital maladies. During his last eight years, he never lost a full-term baby on whom he operated to correct esophageal atresia.

He would also call attention to the AIDS epidemic when the President would not utter the word “AIDS” in public. Liberal and LGBT groups criticized him for highlighting the dangers of sexual intercourse in general, and gay sex in particular, for spreading the disease. But he was also excoriated by religious conservatives and others for recommending mandatory sex education, beginning in the third grade.

Finally, he put his scientific knowledge ahead of the wishes of his boss when he called for stronger warnings against tobacco use. He infuriated some of the largest donors to the Republican Party—namely, cigarette makers—by issuing a report saying that nicotine has addictive qualities similar to those of heroin and cocaine, and should be treated as such.

After he left public life, he started a website that published articles that turned out to be little more than advertisements. Still, he deserves credit for his fealty to empirical evidence over the agenda of an administration, or even his own religious beliefs.

It seems that a Dr. Koop for this generation, if you will, has emerged. Like Koop, he is a physician and scientist. He, too, became a national public official during the Reagan Administration. He is also is resisting, quite publicly, a President and administration who deny science at every turn. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci became the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 1984. He has remained in that position under six Presidents, turning down several offers to lead the NIAID’s parent organization, the National Institutes of Health. During his tenure, Fauci has been at the forefront of efforts to deal with HIV, SARS, Ebola and other contagious diseases. In 2003, the Institute for Scientific Information stated that during the previous two decades, Fauci was “the 13th-most cited scientists among the 2.5 to 3 million authors in all disciplines throughout the world who published articles in scientific journals.”

His current boss denied the threat of the coronavirus until a couple of days ago. Even after Donald Trump finally acknowledged the severity of the pandemic and the need to take unprecedented actions against it (and the economic disruptions it’s causing), he continued to blame the Chinese for it. And members of his administration insist that, while public gatherings and physical contact of other kinds have been banned in various cities and countries, church-goers won’t get sick by attending worship services, and that communion wafers and shared wine cups won’t transmit the virus.

Dr. Fauci, in another parallel with Dr. Koop, refutes those, and other, follies—and articulates his dire but accurate warnings—in clear, unambiguous language. The main difference, I believe, between the two men’s situations is that while most of the pressure on Koop came from “behind the scenes,” Fauci must make himself heard when his boss is an overbearing bully who is always trying to talk over him. Fortunately for us, Dr. Fauci, it seems, has been heard, loud and clear. 

So here is another case of history repeating itself: Drs. Koop and Fauci had to fight against religious superstition and plain-and-simple bigotry in the hope that empirical evidence would guide public policy. Unfortunately, if history teaches us anything, it’s that every public health crisis will need a Dr. Koop or a Dr. Fauci, whatever his or her ecumenical or political affiliations, to prevail against religious bigotry and political partisanship. People who were caught in earlier epidemics like the Black Death, unfortunately, did not have anyone like either of them.

Lessons from Italy: Six Stages of Coronavirus

italy coronavirus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from Italy: 6 Stages of Coronavirus

IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic

newark baptist temple heath ohio

Mark Falls is the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. The Baptist Temple, as it is commonly called, is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. The church also operates the Licking County Christian Academy. My wife’s uncle, the late James Dennis, pastored the Baptist Temple for over forty years. Polly and I attended the church for a short time in the 1980s. Polly’s dad moved his wife and two teen daughters to Newark in 1976 so he could become the church’s assistant pastor. Dad left the Baptist Temple in 1981 to start a new IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. Polly and I joined him there, helping to build the church until we left in 1983 and moved to Somerset, Ohio to start a new church.

Polly’s parents have lived in Newark for forty-five years. Both are in their 80s, in poor health, and depending on the day, knocking on death’s door. After closing the church in Buckeye Lake, Polly’s parents returned to the Baptist Temple, and remain faithful tithing members to this day.

By way of a disclaimer, readers should know that my wife and I have an adversarial and complicated relationship with the Baptist Temple. While we have many fond memories of our time at the church, we also bad memories that have left deep, lasting scars. That’s why when we briefly returned to the Newark area in 2005, we joined the Fallsburg Baptist Church, pastored by my best friend at the time Keith Troyer, and not the Baptist Temple. Art Ball, a missionary associated with the Baptist Temple, emailed me at the time, wondering why we weren’t planning to attend the Baptist Temple. Art made it clear that from his perspective the Baptist Temple was the only church in town! I refrained from sharing our backstory with him. I told Art that family history is complicated and there were a lot of things he didn’t know. He did not inquire further.

After James “Jim” Dennis retired, Mark Falls, a graduate of uber-fundamentalist Pensacola Christian College and Seminary, became pastor. While I appreciate many of the peripheral changes Falls has made to the church, he is, at heart, a Christian Fundamentalist. I have not met Falls personally, nor do I intend to do so. The only time Polly and I plan to darken to doors of the Baptist Temple is for funerals and weddings. Polly was last at the Baptist Temple for her uncle’s funeral (I was too sick to attend). I have not attended anything at the Baptist Temple since the 1990s. Along with Polly’s parents, we have a number of other relatives who either attend the Baptist Temple or are closely affiliated with the church. While we are, thus, symbiotically connected to the church, we certainly do not consider the Baptist Temple and its pastor our friends. I plan this year, health willing, to write a series of posts about our experiences at the Baptist Temple and with its former pastor, James Dennis. It’s a story that needs to be told, but for obvious reasons, I have been hesitant to tell it. As long as COVID-19 doesn’t get me, you can count on reading “The Baptist Temple” series in the coming months.

Polly calls her mother every Sunday at 10:00 PM. It is a ritual Polly’s mom looks forward too, and one that I remind Polly is very important, even if she doesn’t see that importance now. My mom committed suicide at age 54. Dad died of a stroke at age 49. Whatever my relationship may have been with my parents, I sure wish I could pick the phone up and call them, just to hear their voice and to tell them that I love them. There will come a day, sooner rather than later, that next call we get from Newark will be from one of our nephews telling us mom or dad is dead. We are prepared for such an eventuality, but I am of the opinion that it is important to keep in contact with our elderly parents. I don’t want Polly to regret not talking to her parents. I don’t want her sitting home on a Sunday evening wishing she could hear their voices one more time. The past fifteen years have certainly strained the relationship we have with Polly’s parents. Our leaving the ministry and Christianity is something Polly’s parents can not/will not understand. How is it possible that we are now unbelievers; atheists who have no interest in God, Jesus, the Bible, or church? While mom reminds us that she prays for our family every day, we have yet to have an honest discussion with Polly’s parents about why we no longer believe. And frankly, I doubt we will ever have this discussion. We are fine with that. Our concern is for their quality of life, and it is this issue that brings me to the subject of this post.

pastor mark falls
Mark Falls and his wife, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple

Last Saturday, March 14, Pastor Falls posted a live video to the Baptist Temple’s Facebook page detailing how he and the church would be handling the Coronavirus pandemic. I made an audio copy of the video which is posted below. Please forgive the lack of technical quality, but you should be able to hear my introduction and Falls’ words just fine. The audio clip is a little over six minutes long. I hope you will listen to it.

Audio recording of Mark Falls, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple, explaining the church’s plan for the Coronavirus pandemic

I have been listening to IFB preachers speak for most of my life. From the 1960s, when Tim LaHaye was my pastor, until today, I have heard countless sermons and preached thousands of sermons myself. I know firsthand the lingo, what I call preacher-speak. I also know how IFB preachers manipulate congregants with their words to achieve a desired objective. That psychological manipulation was on showroom display in Pastor Falls’ Facebook video. While I have no doubt that Falls will vehemently object to me characterizing his words as manipulative, the fact remains, through the use of Bible verses, appeals to distrust of government, and challenges to the depth of the faith of people who might stay home, Falls makes it clear that he expects people to be presented and accounted for the next day.

Falls begins his video by appealing to the distrust congregants have of government. While Falls praises Ohio governor Mike DeWine for exempting houses of worship from his “no social gathering” order, he also makes it clear that if DeWine ordered churches to close their doors that he would view this order as the state ordering churches to not obey God.

In Acts 5:29, Peter and the other Apostles said: We ought to obey God rather than men. Over the years I heard countless sermons and preached sermons on Acts 5:29. Christians are duty-bound to obey God, and not men (government), IFB preachers say. If the government asks churches/Christians to do anything that runs contrary to their interpretation of the Protestant Bible, they are expected to disobey. This thinking runs deep in the lifeblood of the Baptist Temple. Years ago, the Baptist Temple operated an unlicensed daycare called Temple Tots. Polly worked there for several years until she was summarily fired for not being a member of the church (we were living in Buckeye Lake at the time, helping Polly’s father start a church). The State of Ohio determined that ALL daycares had to be licensed by the state. The Baptist Temple appealed to Acts 5:29, and refused to be licensed. This, of course, put them in breach of the law, creating several years of back-and-forth litigation. The State finally won the battle, and rather than accept state licensure, the Baptist Temple closed its daycare. The Baptist Temple has other conflicts with government over the years, fueled by their insistence that the State had no to right to meddle in their business.

Falls then appeals to the mother of all guilt-inducing verses in the Bible, 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.

This verse is used to remind congregants that GOD expects them to be in church every time the doors are open. And if you aren’t at the church’s Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night services, you’d better be so sick you can’t drag your sorry, backslidden ass to church. Real Christians cough, man up, and go to church. God will bless you if you do! Or so the thinking goes, anyway. I preached countless sermons so sick that I could have passed out at any moment. It took mononucleosis to knock me out of the pulpit for the first time (1991). Bless God, I was going to be there every time the doors where open. I planned to die with my boots on.

Of course, I passed this mentality on to the people I pastored. They genuinely feared God (or Pastor Bruce) would get them if they didn’t show up for churches. I routinely excoriated people who skipped church services. Lazy. Backslidden. Why, they might not even be saved! What kind of person chooses the lake, reunion, or their wedding anniversary over attending church and listening to my wonderful, Bible-based, Spirit-filled sermons?

It is clear, at least to me, that Falls expected church members to be at church unless they were really, really, really, I mean r-e-a-l-l-y sick. Falls did say that if people had Coronavirus symptoms that it was okay for them to miss church. Thanks, preacher. I wonder if the good pastor realized that this virus can be and is passed on by people not exhibiting ANY symptoms; that there could be Coronavirus Marys and Marks walking in the midst of the congregation infecting everyone they come in contact with?

Falls plants in the mind of congregants that he has serious doubts about what government is telling us about the Coronavirus. I didn’t realize Falls was a scientist, an epidemiologist, or an infectious disease expert. He is, however, an avid supporter of President Donald Trump, so that might help to explain things a bit. While Trump has now had a come to Jesus moment when it comes to COVID-19, I am sure he still believes that a lot of what experts are saying is “fake” news, attempts by the media, liberals, China, and non-Christians to destroy his presidency and foil his reelection. I doubt that Pastor Falls believes the media is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the Coronavirus Pandemic. By planting that seed in the minds of church members, he is affirming their conspiratorial doubts too.

Finally, Falls reminds church members that their God is still on the throne. This is his way of saying, “Look, Jesus, the Great Physician, has everything under control. There’s no need to fear a silly little virus. God will protect us, and if some us come down with COVID-19, well, that means it was God’s will. Live or die, it’s all in God’s hand. Now, get your ass down to 81 Licking View Drive and listen to some old-fashioned IFB preaching and singing!

Here’s why all this matters to me, and matters to my wife. Polly’s parents were in attendance Sunday night. Both of them have serious health problems. Mom has congestive heart failure. Her cardiologist told her to prepare to meet her maker. She is quite proud, however, of the fact that she has beaten the doctor’s time-of-death estimations. We are glad that she is still among the living too. That said, we hope that she doesn’t check out any time soon. We have our own health concerns to worry about, so we would like to think that everyone at their church, especially their pastor, has their best interests at heart. Unfortunately, as the story I am about to share with you will show, Pastor Falls does not care about what is best for them.

I told Polly that perhaps Falls should call each elderly/sick congregant and encourage them to stay home. Let them know that God understands. In IFB churches, pastors wield a tremendous amount of control and power. Falls could use these things for good, but, instead, he’s more concerned with making a stand against intrusive government intervention. He’s more concerned with preaching up faith and making sure people obey the Bible than he is caring for their physical welfare.

After the service, Falls greeted Polly’s mom and, I kid you not, shook her hand. He did question the wisdom of doing so, but likely at my mother-in-law’s insistence, Falls went ahead and shook her hand. As I listened to Mom recounting this story to Polly, I wanted to scream. How can you be so stupid? How can you be so reckless? How can you be so indifferent to the health and welfare of others? That goes for Pastor Falls AND my mother-in-law.

It remains to be seen how the Coronavirus pandemic shakes out. I do know this. If we all follow the example of Pastor Falls and the Newark Baptist Temple, there will be no controlling or mitigating this pandemic. Falls has a duty and obligation to care for his flock. He has failed to do so. He cannot know whether he himself has been exposed to the virus, or anyone else in attendance, for that matter. Instead, he has let his theology and politics dictate what he deems proper care. He’s young, so he has little risk of dying from COVID-19. Polly’s parents? They are at the front of the death line, and it’s a shame that their pastor is indifferent towards their frail condition. They have given more than half of their lives to the Baptist Temple. They deserve better.

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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What the Coronavirus Pandemic Tells Us About the Efficacy of Prayer

coronavirus psalm 91:10

Unless you are Jeremiah Johnson living in an abandoned bus in remote Alaska without access to electricity, cellphone service, and internet access, you have likely heard that the world is being ravaged by the COVID-19 virus. Here in the Buckeye State, Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine banned gatherings of people — inexplicably exempting houses of worship — and ordered the shutdown of all food establishments. I suspect Governor DeWine is not yet done with attempts to mitigate the Coronavirus.

While Ohio is in the early stages of the Coronavirus outbreak, other states, cities, and countries are facing alarming increases in cases and deaths. Medical workers are overwhelmed, supplies are running low, and hospitals lack available beds and respirators to treat seriously ill patients — with and without infection from the Coronavirus. My wife was scheduled to have major bowel surgery on March 24. After talking it over with me, Polly decided to postpone her surgery until late June. Yes, that means three more months with a colostomy bag, but it beats being exposed to the virus while in a medically compromised state. I have canceled all of my doctor’s appointments, save one. Since I am on the “this shit will kill you if you catch it” list, I am homebound for the duration. Yesterday, I heard from one long-time reader of this blog who is infected with Covid-19. His mother could also be infected. Here in the United States, we are in the early stages of the spread of the virus. Things will get worse before they get better; and they WILL, in time, get better. Whether all of us come out on the other side of this medically and financially whole, or even among the living, for that matter, is unknown. All any of us can do is listen to what experts are telling us and act accordingly.

Last Friday, President Donald Trump called for a National Day of Prayer on Sunday, March 15. That day has now passed, and, as expected, millions of Christians praying to their version of the Christian God did exactly nothing. Granted, I am sure some of the faithful felt better after beseeching the big man upstairs to ameliorate those affected by the Coronavirus. I suspect that scores of Evangelicals prayed to Jesus, asking him to turn back this attempt by China and the Democrats to crash Trump’s awesome economy and run him out of office. Yet, outside of the cathartic psychological effects felt from praying, what, exactly, changed after the Nothing Fails Like Prayer National Day of Christian Piety? Nothing, absolutely nothing. “Bruce, you can’t know that,” I am sure some Evangelicals might say. “God works behind the scenes in mysterious ways!” Sorry, but this line of bullshit no longer works for me, and I suspect it no longer works for millions of other people, including many Christians. It’s time for the Evangelical God to come out of the shadows and reveal himself. It’s time for him/her/it to make an appearance at hospitals and nursing homes and do some real “saving.” And dammit, it is time for Jesus to make sure there’s toilet paper in every American home. Just remember, the family that shits together stays together.

I am not attacking individual Christians for praying. You do whatever it takes to get you through this crisis. However, don’t expect rational people who put their faith in science to give any credence to claims that your God has the power to do anything about the Coronavirus pandemic. If 2,000 years of Christian church history has taught us anything, it has taught us that when epidemics, plagues, wars, and natural disasters show their faces, the God of Christianity remains firmly ensconced in the fictional pages of the Bible. He is but a character in a movie that’s been playing on an endless loop for thousands of years. We alone remain the only hope for a better tomorrow. We alone have the opportunity, knowledge, and power to hopefully limit the consequences of the COVID-19 virus. I remain hopeful that the world is up to the task and that better days lie ahead.

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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Quote of the Day: Judge James Dannenberg Calls Out Chief Justice John Roberts

Dear Chief Justice Roberts:

I hereby resign my membership in the Supreme Court Bar.

This was not an easy decision. I have been a member of the Supreme Court Bar since 1972, far longer than you have, and appeared before the Court, both in person and on briefs, on several occasions as Deputy and First Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii before being appointed as a Hawaii District Court judge in 1986. I have a high regard for the work of the Federal Judiciary and taught the Federal Courts course at the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s. This due regard spanned the tenures of Chief Justices Warren, Burger, and Rehnquist before your appointment and confirmation in 2005. I have not always agreed with the Court’s decisions, but until recently I have generally seen them as products of mainstream legal reasoning, whether liberal or conservative. The legal conservatism I have respected– that of, for example, Justice Lewis Powell, Alexander Bickel or Paul Bator– at a minimum enshrined the idea of stare decisis and eschewed the idea of radical change in legal doctrine for political ends.

I can no longer say that with any confidence. You are doing far more— and far worse– than “calling balls and strikes.” You are allowing the Court to become an “errand boy” for an administration that has little respect for the rule of law.

The Court, under your leadership and with your votes, has wantonly flouted established precedent. Your “conservative” majority has cynically undermined basic freedoms by hypocritically weaponizing others. The ideas of free speech and religious liberty have been transmogrified to allow officially sanctioned bigotry and discrimination, as well as to elevate the grossest forms of political bribery beyond the ability of the federal government or states to rationally regulate it. More than a score of decisions during your tenure have overturned established precedents—some more than forty years old– and you voted with the majority in most. There is nothing “conservative” about this trend. This is radical “legal activism” at its worst.

Without trying to write a law review article, I believe that the Court majority, under your leadership, has become little more than a result-oriented extension of the right wing of the Republican Party, as vetted by the Federalist Society. Yes, politics has always been a factor in the Court’s history, but not to today’s extent. Even routine rules of statutory construction get subverted or ignored to achieve transparently political goals. The rationales of “textualism” and “originalism” are mere fig leaves masking right wing political goals; sheer casuistry.

Your public pronouncements suggest that you seem concerned about the legitimacy of the Court in today’s polarized environment. We all should be. Yet your actions, despite a few bromides about objectivity, say otherwise.

It is clear to me that your Court is willfully hurtling back to the cruel days of Lochner and even Plessy. The only constitutional freedoms ultimately recognized may soon be limited to those useful to wealthy, Republican, White, straight, Christian, and armed males— and the corporations they control. This is wrong. Period. This is not America.

I predict that your legacy will ultimately be as diminished as that of Chief Justice Melville Fuller, who presided over both Plessy and Lochner. It still could become that of his revered fellow Justice John Harlan the elder, an honest conservative, but I doubt that it will. Feel free to prove me wrong.

The Supreme Court of the United States is respected when it wields authority and not mere power. As has often been said, you are infallible because you are final, but not the other way around.

I no longer have respect for you or your majority, and I have little hope for change. I can’t vote you out of office because you have life tenure, but I can withdraw whatever insignificant support my Bar membership might seem to provide.

Please remove my name from the rolls.

With deepest regret,

James Dannenberg

Former Judge Resigns From the Supreme Court Bar, March 14, 2020

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, 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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Quote of the Day: The Futility of Religion in the Midst of a Pandemic

Cartoon by Lalo Alcaraz

Wash your hands or say a prayer? Social distancing or Sunday mass? Cancel public events or give out coronavirus communion wafers to the credulous?

Many believers face these choices as the coronavirus spreads. There is no religious response to the pandemic, unless we count abandoning religious rules in favor of science and medicine. Faced with these choices, most people accept that religion is pointless, at best, and harmful, at worst. Most are making decisions that appear to be motivated by science and medicine, not scripture and sacred doctrine. 

And this is different. 

Think about American responses to mass shootings or drought or oil spills or wildfires. Thoughts and prayers. Prayer vigils. More god. As horrific as some of these tragedies are, our response to preventing repeats, especially for mass shootings, is little different than the immediate response: Get on your knees and pray.

….

We’re not in the aftermath of a catastrophe or thinking about the best way to prevent some hypothetical tragedy — we are in the middle of an outbreak, a pandemic. In the wake of tragedy, we at FFRF often get complaints about government officials using government power to push people to religion or prayer. This may simply be a misguided attempt to assuage societal sorrow or it may be a deliberate attempt to prey on the unfortunate. Both are plausible, neither is permissible. But what is interesting is that, so far, we are not seeing that as a response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. In fact, while FFRF reliably gets state-church complaints after a front-page tragedy, we’ve had none about responses to the coronavirus. 

So far, we’ve had no reports of teachers telling kids “this is in God’s hands” or that the virus “is God’s wrath” (which some clergy are now preaching). So far, we’ve had no complaints about coaches or principals telling students to pray to end the outbreak. Not even local government officials touting the efficacy of thoughts and prayers as a response, at least not yet.

….

In perhaps the most telling response, even churches are getting in on the science. Catholic churches are draining holy water and shuttering after infected priests passed out slices of their savior’s flesh. Catholic schools are closing. Not just mainline churches but fringe churches are also shutting down. Even — and this is the most telling of all and a glorious admission —  faith-healing congregations are halting programming. Just three months ago, Bethel Church in Northern California promised to raise 2-year-old Olive from the dead. Now, it’s refusing to visit hospitals to pray for and prey on the sick.

There are, of course, exceptions to the general observation that people are abandoning harmful and ineffective religious regulations in favor of science and medicine. But the clingers seem to be at the higher, more removed, and dare we say, privileged, levels. The Christian Nationalist Trump administration and its political appointees have bungled the response, suffocated information that might reflect poorly on the White House, and have sought to tout their religion and prayers. But they appear to be the exception to the rule. Vice President Mike Pence is all about the prayer, as we documented last week. As is the pope, who has encouraged priests to visit those infected with the coronavirus and give them communion. Francis won’t be putting his fingers in mouths laden with coronavirus, his lackeys will, and then they’ll move on to another mouth and another. This, in the country with one of the worst outbreaks. Then there’s Joel Osteen, the greedy and shortsighted megapreacher who can’t go two or three weeks without passing the collection plate, even to save the lives of a few of his sheep. 

One wannabe Osteen, a right-wing preacher named Jonathan Shuttlesworth, posted a video in which he said churches that heed medical guidance and close are “sissies” and “pansies,” with “no balls” who “got neutered somewhere along the line.” 

But in between his sips of Acqua Panna, this Patagonia-clad preacher stumbled on the truth when he asked of the basins bereft of holy water: “How holy is the water then? That should be a sign to you that your whole religion’s a fraud. Any faith that doesn’t work in real life is a fake faith. Totally fake.” Even without this refreshing admission, Osteen, Trump, Pence and the pope were already proving the point: Religion has nothing to offer in the face of a pandemic. Instead, we must rely on science and medicine. Wash your hands, work from home, avoid travel and large crowds, don’t hoard supplies: Flatten the curve.

Andrew Seidel, Attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, March 12, 2020

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