Menu Close

Category: Questions

Questions: Bruce, Was it Hard to Change Authoritarian Thought Patterns?

questions

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

Emma asked, “Bruce, How hard was it to change the authoritarian thought patterns that you had as a pastor? Did they affect your family? How have your relationships with your family changed since you became an atheist?”

Authoritarianism is found throughout the Evangelical community. The farther right one moves on the Evangelical spectrum, the more authoritarian churches and pastors become. For a number of years, I was a part of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. In this Evangelical subset, authoritarianism is foundational, both in church and family structures. Much is made of pastoral authority. The pastor or the elders are the governing leaders of churches who control the day-to-day operations, including hiring and firing staff, disciplining church members, and controlling the various activities and programs. Congregants rarely have much to say regarding the operation of the church except when it comes to large expenditures or the hiring and firing of their pastors. Many Evangelical churches are patriarchal, meaning they believe that there is a God-ordained structure and order for the family. Husbands are to be the heads of their homes, and wives are to submit to their leadership. Couple pastoral authority with complementarian patriarchal authority, and what you end up with is a religious culture dominated and controlled by men; a religious culture that marginalizes women; a religious culture that promotes psychological and physical violence towards women and children; a religious culture that can be cultic in belief and practice.

I grew up in authoritarian Baptist churches, attended an authoritarian Baptist college, and was surrounded with people who modeled to me an authoritarian way of life. It should come as no surprise, then, that I was an authoritarian husband, father, and pastor. I did what I was taught to do, and I was in my 40s before I realized how much damage authoritarian thinking had done to my wife, my children, and me personally. I’ve spent the past decade trying to undo the damage I caused. I have learned that it’s hard, at times impossible, to unring a bell. All I can do now is model a better way of life, an inclusive, egalitarian way of living. This does not mean that I no longer have authoritarian tendencies. I do, and I suspect I will continue to battle with authoritarianism all the days of my life. The same can be said of any belief system in which a person is immersed for a number of years. It’s hard to break free, and almost impossible to clear one’s mind of all the damaging beliefs of the past. All I know to do is strive to be better today than I was yesterday.

Being married to an authoritarian pastor and growing up in an authoritarian home deeply affected my wife and children. While our lives have greatly changed since I deconverted, the scars of the past remain. All I can say to my wife and children is this: I’m sorry. That’s all that I can say to anyone who came under my influence as an Evangelical pastor. Since Polly and I left Christianity in 2008, we have embarked on rebuilding our lives according to the humanistic ideal. The goal is to treat each other as equals, mutually respecting the thoughts, beliefs, and spaces of the other. This hasn’t been easy. Both of us can, on occasion, revert to our former ways. I like being the boss, and Polly often likes not having to be responsible for making decisions. When you’ve spent thirty years of married life living a certain way, it’s hard to all of a sudden change course — hard, but not impossible.

My children grew up with a man who is not only their father, but also their pastor. They received a double dose of authoritarianism. As the head of the home and as their pastor I ruled their lives. Now, some readers might think that the Gerencser home was a bad place to live, when in fact we were quite happy. Remember, we were living out what had been modeled to us by others. We did what we had been taught to do and what we had seen others do with their families. Within the bubble, life was enjoyable and satisfying. While I cannot speak for Polly or my children, I can say, generally speaking, that life overall was good. My children are quite fond of telling stories about growing up in a pastor’s home. Most of their stories are amusing and fun, but some of them are dark and dreadful. With authoritarianism comes strict discipline, and as the primary disciplinarian in our home, I did not spare the rod. I took seriously the Biblical commands about child rearing and discipline. As I’ve mentioned before, I now see that such discipline was abusive. I now know that violence is never the answer, be it in the Middle East or in my home.

I frequently talk to my counselor about my authoritarian past. I find our discussions to be quite enlightening as we delve into the reasons why I was drawn to authoritarianism and why my wife and I still fall into authoritarian patterns post-Jesus. I naïvely thought that once we the deconverted, our lifestyle would naturally become egalitarian, with Polly and me equally sharing decision-making responsibilities. There have been times when I told my counselor that I was frustrated with Polly’s unwillingness to make decisions. He told me that demanding she make decisions was authoritarian, and that to truly be free and equal she must have the right to not make decisions. At the heart of authoritarianism is the telling of others what to do. If I want Polly (and my children) to truly be free, that I must allow them the space to determine for themselves how they will make decisions. This complicates things, of course, because there are countless decisions that must be made each day. In our authoritarian days, life was simple. I made the decisions, end of story. Now, I still make a lot of decisions, but I must be cognizant of the fact that I do not have the right to, without permission, make decisions that materially affect Polly.

My counselor suggested to me that perhaps part of Polly’s freedom is her desire for me to make certain decisions; that she doesn’t want to make certain decisions; and that me forcing her to make these decisions is authoritarian. Polly’s personality is very different from mine. I’ve never had a problem being a decision-maker. It should come as no surprise that most of the secular jobs I worked over the years were management level jobs. I like being the boss. Polly, on the other hand, prefers not to make decisions. Do I have the right to force her to behave as I do? Of course not. That said, when it comes to matters that materially only affect Polly, I refuse to make decisions for her. For example, Polly gets her hair cut every six to eight weeks. She will often say to me, I need to get my hair cut. In saying this, she is asking for my approval and permission. I usually tell her that I am not her father, and that she is free to get her hair cut when, where, and how she wants. I remind her that she does not need my permission to get her hair cut. This scenario is played out time and again in the ebb and flow of our home. Much like her husband, she remains a work in progress.

Polly has worked for a local manufacturing concern for twenty years. She is now a supervisor in her department, responsible for a small group of employees on second and third shift. The transformation of her into a competent, assertive, outspoken boss has been nothing short of amazing. My role in all of this has been that of a sounding board. Polly knows that I have a lot of managerial experience, so when she faces certain employee-related issues for the first time, she will ask me for advice. Polly has had to learn that being a boss means she is going to make decisions that upset people. I often remind her of my favorite Colin Powell quote, “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.” Being more assertive at work has spilled over into our marriage. Polly’s assertiveness at work has helped her decision-making at home. She is now much more of an active participant when important decisions need to be made. She often brings a different viewpoint to discussions, and this helps to temper and challenge my thinking. The biggest difference between our authoritarian past and now is that discussions begin with, “What do you think about _______?” Instead of, “We are going to do _________.”

We still have moments when our personalities clash. A good example of this is ordering food at a fast-food drive-thru. I know what I want before we get in line. Not Polly. She hems and haws over her order, increasing my blood pressure exponentially, especially when she orders the same thing she always orders. While I find such moments irritating — “make a damn decision, will ya?’ — once the food arrives all is well. After we finish eating, we do come to common agreement on one thing: why do we keep eating this shit?

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Questions: Bruce, Have You Heard of The Clergy Project?

questions

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

Konnie asked, “Bruce, have you heard of The Clergy Project?”

I am quite familiar with The Clergy Project. My writing is occasionally posted on Rational Doubt: With Voices From The Clergy Project. This blog is listed on the Resources page for The Project.  Established in 2011, The Clergy Project exists to provide help and support to men and women who are unbelieving clergy. Many of these clerics are still active pastoring congregations or involved in other church-related work. The Clergy Project provides a safe, secure place for unbelieving pastors to talk with fellow unbelieving clergy — both those who are still pastoring and those who have successfully exited the ministry.

I deconverted in 2008, and from the start was an out-of-the-closet ex-Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist. When The Clergy Project was ramping up, I was asked to help with interviewing prospective members. I have also sent a number of unbelieving clergy to The Project. While I am still a member of the Project, due to time constraints, I am not involved in its day-to-day machinations. I fully support their work.

Konnie also asked, “Bruce do you listen to any atheist podcasts or read atheist blogs?”

I listen to very few podcasts. I simply do not have the time to do so. On occasion, I will listen to the Freethought Radio podcast. I do follow and read more than one hundred agnostic/atheist/humanist blogs. I also follow and read more than two hundred Christian/Evangelical blogs. Of course, I do not read every post on every site. I use an RSS reader to organize and read the blogs I follow. Several times a day, I scroll through the post titles and read those which sound interesting. This allows me to keep up with what is going on in both the atheist and Evangelical communities.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Questions: Bruce, What Were Your Views on Catholicism?

questions

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

ObstacleChick asked, “As an Evangelical Protestant pastor, what were your views on Catholicism?”

First, for many years I wouldn’t have labeled myself a Protestant. I was a Baptist, part of the True Church®. Protestants are people who came out of Roman Catholicism. As a Baptist I never came out of anything. I was a part of the church founded by Jesus. Thank you, very much!

Of course, this belief of mine had no historical foundation. None, nada, zip. However, I grew up in churches and attended a college that promoted Landmarkism; a type of Baptist ecclesiology that said the Baptists were true Christians; that the first century churches were Baptist churches. (See Baptizing E.T., Mork, Alf, and Worf: Alien Baptism and The ONE True Church of Jesus Christ) Keep in mind that the college I attended did NOT teach Christian church history. The Bible was viewed as the church’s history. Want to know what a New Testament church is? Read the book of Acts. It was when I embraced Calvinism that I learned that the history of the Baptist church traces not back to Jesus, but to seventeenth century English separatists. Jesus wasn’t a Baptist, and neither was John THE Baptist or any of the apostles. They were, to a man, Jews.

An honest reading of history forced me to conclude that the Christian church — in the main — was birthed out of Judaism and grew into what we now call Roman Catholicism. Now, knowing this didn’t make me sympathetic towards Catholics. Not in the least. I saw the Catholic Church as a Christian sect gone astray; a sect that stopped preaching the gospel and practicing the one truth faith. For many years, I frequently harangued Catholics from the pulpit, denouncing their works-based plan of salvation, idol worship, and worship of Mary. I believed Catholics were unsaved and in need of good old-fashioned Baptist new birth.

For eleven years, I pastored a Baptist church in the Southeast Ohio community of Somerset. Somerset had TWO large Catholic churches, one of which was the oldest Catholic church in Ohio. Here was I, Bruce, the Baptist, ready and willing to evangelize these fish-eaters and convert them into Baptists. In the eleven years I pastored in Somerset, I had not one Catholic convert. Not one. I continued to preach against the great whore of Babylon (Revelation 17) and the Catholics politely ignored me.

My view of Catholicism began to moderate somewhat in the early 1990s, thanks to my Catholic doctor, Bill Fiorini. I won’t tell the story again here. Please read What One Catholic Doctor Taught Me About Christianity. By the early 2000s, I no longer believed that Catholics were false Christians. While I still had reservations about many of their beliefs, I came to believe that Catholics were Christians too — as were a number of other sects formerly deemed by me to be false. For seven years, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. The church’s slogan was, The Church Where the Only Label That Matters is Christian! Needless to say, more than a few of my colleagues in the ministry believed that I was becoming a liberal; an ecumenicist. They, of course, were right. After decades of deciding who is in and who is out; who is saved and who is not, I decided to let God sort the sheep from the goats. If someone said to me, I am a Christian, I accepted their profession of faith at face value. (I suspect had I known back then about the sexual abuse going on in Catholic churches, I might not have been so accepting.) This allowed me to enter into relationships with people I would have otherwise kept at distance, including the three Catholic girls my oldest sons married. Meeting and befriending Catholics went a long way towards driving religious bigotry out of my life.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Questions: Bruce, What Did You Learn About the Bible as a College Student?

questions

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

ObstacleChick asked, “What did you learn about the Bible as a college student?” Specifically, ObstacleChick wants to knows what I was taught about the origin of the Bible, the existence of “other” texts, and why the Apocrypha was excluded from the Protestant Bible. ObstacleChick also asked what I taught congregants about these things.

Most Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The college I attended. Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, believed the Bible was a divinely written, supernatural, one-of-a-kind book; a text by which all things were to be measured. My professors took one of two approaches to how the Bible came to be:

  • God dictated the exact words of the Bible to its authors.
  • God used fallible humans, with their cultures and experiences, to write the Bible, and supernaturally, through the Holy Spirit, made sure that what they wrote was exactly what he intended for them to write. (2 Peter 1:21)

Of course, appeals were made to the Bible itself to “prove” that the Bible was indeed what my professors claimed it was. In other words, the Bible was a supernatural book because it said it was; the Bible was inerrant because it said it was. There were no errors, mistakes, or contradictions in the Bible because its author, God, is incapable of making mistakes.

These presuppositions were laws that students were expected to obey without question. Questioning the nature of the Bible brought swift, certain expulsion. Midwestern was also King James-only and it only used certain Greek texts in its Greek classes. The premise upon which every class was taught was the belief that the Bible was inspired, inerrant, and infallible.

I can’t remember a time when one of my professors talked about non-canonical texts or variants. Many of my classes were little more than glorified Sunday school classes, a common problem found in Evangelical colleges to this day. The goal was teach minsters-in-training how to properly preach and teach the Bible. The Bible, then, was viewed a book of divine knowledge, an instruction manual for life.

The IFB church movement is inherently and proudly anti-Catholic. To many IFB preachers, the Catholic church is the great whore of Babylon described in Revelation 17; a false religion that will one day be used to by the Antichrist to control the masses. Thus, the Apocrypha was rejected because of its inclusion in the Catholic Bible. It was not until much later that I learned the 1611 version of the King James Bible included the Apocrypha and that the men who put together what is now the Bible were Catholics. Facts that didn’t fit the approved narrative were ignored or banned.

Most of the students at Midwestern came from IFB churches that had similar beliefs as those of the college. Thus, college classes reinforced beliefs students brought with them from home. The New International Version (NIV) came out in 1978, and students were not allowed to have a copy of it in their possession. Midwestern was a King James school — no corrupt, Satanic Bibles allowed. I remember having a discussion with the Greek professor’s son who was home on break from Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. He had a brand spanking new copy of the NIV. I remember thinking of how “liberal” he was and that if word got out about his use of the NIV it could cost his father his job. By the next academic year, the Greek professor was gone. Rumor had it he was dismissed because he refused to toe the party line on the King James Bible. (Keep in mind the Greek professor was Fundamentalist in every other way — and still is today — but his refusal to use only the King James Version of the Bible branded him as a heretic.)

I carried the aforementioned beliefs into the ministry, and I wouldn’t question them for many years. I expected congregants to embrace without question the belief that the Bible was a God-inspired, inerrant, infallible text. At the churches I pastored, we were people of the BOOK! Questions and doubts were viewed as tools used by Satan to lead Christians astray and to render churches powerless. Alleged contradictions were “explained” and those that couldn’t be were relegated to the land of Trust God. He never makes mistakes.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I came to see that what I had been taught about the history and nature of the Bible was a lie; that all translations had errors, mistakes, and contradictions; that there were no such things as inerrant manuscripts. My exposure to higher textual criticism forced me to conclude that the Bible was very much a man-made book; a fallible book used by God to convey truth. I believed then that God could use human means to convey his truth, even if the Bible itself was fallible.

As far as the churches I pastored were concerned, I never said anything from the pulpit that would cause people to doubt that the Bible was the Word of God. Towards the end of my time in the ministry, I would mention variants in the Greek texts and why some Biblical texts might not say what we Christians have traditionally thought they said. No one seemed to have a problem with these admissions. As is often the case in Evangelical churches, congregants trusted me. They believed that whatever I told them from the pulpit was the Truth. Of course, the truth I was preaching was shaped and molded by my presuppositions about the Bible. Telling congregants the REAL truth would have resulted in conflict and loss of faith. Can’t have that! Remember, most people attend church so they can feel affirmed, so they can have their felt needs met. No one wants a pastor who casts doubt on the Bible and its teachings. Congregants want cheerleaders, not truth tellers.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Questions: Bruce, As an Evangelical, How Did You Handle the Differences Between the OT and NT God?

questions

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

Dave asked, As an Evangelical, How Did You Handle the Differences Between the OT and NT God?

The short answer is, I didn’t. As an Evangelical, I viewed God as this monotheistic whole; that the Old Testament characterization of God was one side of his nature, and the New Testament portrayal the other side of his nature. God, unlike humans, was able to love and hate at the same time. He could be the carrot or the stick. God was this perfect balance of emotions, never wrong, always acting according to his purpose, will, and plan. In those moments where I had a hard time reconciling the God of the OT and the God of the NT, I reminded myself that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts and God’s way are not my ways. Who was I to object to anything that God did?

Believing the Bible was an inspired, inerrant, infallible text, of course, boxed me in as to what I could or couldn’t believe. I believed the words of the Bible were straight from the mouth of God. Thus, when God commanded cruel, violent, or genocidal behavior, I had to say, God had his reasons. We have to trust God, believing that he knows what he is doing.

One of reasons I left Christianity is because I could reconcile the OT and NT God. Either they were two different deities, or the Christian God was a loving, kind madman. I knew that Christians deny the former, so I concluded that the God of the Bible was not a divine being I wanted to worship. Over the years, I have dealt with liberal Christians who only see God as a God of love, mercy, and kindness. They love the NT God, but even here is God really all that loving and kind?  I concluded that he is not.

In the NT, we have the violent death of Jesus on the cross. According to Evangelicals, God, the Father poured out his wrath on Jesus, his Son, to satisfy a longstanding debt: human sin. Everything that happened to Jesus came from his Father’s hand. What kind of father treats his son this way? What kind of father punishes his son for what someone else did? God, the Father, then, comes off looking like a serial killer who loves to inflict pain and suffering on his victims before he kills them.

We also have the book of Revelation. Evangelicals believe Revelation is a record of past history and future events. Someday soon, Evangelicals say, Jesus and his Father are going to unleash a house of horrors upon the Earth such as never has been seen. The earth will be destroyed and billions of people will die, including little children, unborn fetuses, and the developmentally disabled. The bloodshed, according to the Bible, will be so great that blood will flow through the streets the height of a horse’s bridle.

Once God is finished with the earth and its inhabitants, he will resurrect everyone who ever lived on our planet and divide them into two groups: saved and lost. The saved will live forever in God’s kingdom on a new earth. The lost will be fitted with bodies capable of enduring endless suffering and pain, and then cast into the Lake of Fire. Most of the people in the Lake of Fire will be there because of geography — living in places where people worshiped the wrong deity.

It seems to me, then, that the Christian God has always being capricious and violent; that he has always resorted to bloodshed to prove a point or get his way; that the OT and NT Gods are really one being with a split-personality disorder. What the Christian God needs is psychiatric help.

What Christians need to do is write a new Bible, excising the genocidal God from the story. Evangelicals, of course, would never approve of a rewrite. They need the violent God to justify the culture war and their belief that that they are the gleam in their Father’s eye. Imagine all the smug, self-righteous Evangelicals on Judgment Day. They want God to make non-Evangelicals pay for their unbelief. Open a can of whoop ass, Lord, and give it these filthy, reprobate sinners. They deserve an eternity of pain and suffering for not believing in the right God and not living by book, chapter, and verse. Pour it on, Lord. You are worthy!

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser