Questions

Questions: Bruce, How Do You Handle Fear of God’s Wrath and Hell?

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.

Mary asked, “Bruce, How Do You Handle Fear of God’s Wrath and Hell?”

Those of us raised in Evangelical and Catholic churches heard countless Sunday school lessons and sermons on God’s judgment and wrath and the hell  that awaits those who refuse to repent of their sins and follow after Jesus. From preschool forward, well-meaning adults threatened us with Bible stories about God’s judgment and wrath. By the time we reached our teenage years, we had been thoroughly indoctrinated in Christian theology with its beliefs that humans are broken and in need of fixing; that those who refuse to be fixed by Jesus will spend eternity being tortured in a fiery lake of fire and brimstone. Most of us can remember feeling fear and terror when evangelists would warn us of the danger of not believing in Jesus Christ and following the teachings of the Bible. Most of us made numerous professions of faith and faced uncounted struggles over the surety of our salvation. Our pastors would preach on this or that sin — the very sins we were committing! — and fear and dread would fill our hearts. We would wonder, “am I really a Christian?” Every time we took communion we were reminded to examine ourselves and make sure we were in the faith. Not being “in the faith” exposed us to the wrath and judgment of God, our pastors said. God was not one to be trifled with, we were told. The safest thing any of us could do was immerse ourselves in the church and his teachings.

Many people exposed to Fundamentalist Christianity abandon it in their teenage years or when they go off to college. Others, such as myself and many of the readers of this blog, spent decades dutifully and faithfully serving the Christian God. I was part of the Christian church for fifty years, and I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five of those years. Every crevice of my mind was saturated with Evangelical belief. The Bible said it is a fearful thing to fall under the hands of the living God, and I certainly feared God. In times of feeling guilt over my “sins” I felt that God was just around the corner waiting to mete out his wrath upon my life and my family. God lurked in the shadows, ready, able, and willing to chastise me for my sins. I may have been saved, but there were days I felt as if I was dangling over the pit of hell, and the only thing that kept me from falling in was God’s long-suffering patience.

It should come no surprise then, that people who grow up this way are indoctrinated and conditioned in such a manner that they have a deep reverence and fear of God. He was touted as the creator of all things who holds the entire universe in the palm of his hand. God was not one to be messed with. Yet, despite all of this, many of us left Christianity and embraced atheism, agnosticism, humanism, or some other non-Christian religion. We are so glad to be free from the bondage and chains of our Christian past. You couldn’t pay us enough money to return to our religious past. We are free! Thank Loki, we are free, free at last! And yet, despite knowing we are free, many of us find that we are in bondage to our past because of residual thoughts about God’s wrath and hell. These thoughts are most often coupled with the question, what if I am wrong?

It’s natural for us to have doubts about the rightness of our divorce from Jesus. Our minds are flooded with snippets of sermons we’ve heard and Bible verses we have read about the existential and eternal danger of unbelief. We remember the stories preachers told us about people who refused to believe that Jesus was the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. One story sticks in my mind, even to this day. Charles Keen, a graduate of the same college I attended and the pastor for many years of First Baptist Church in Milford, Ohio, told a story about a man he repeatedly witnessed to. One day, the man was standing on a downtown street corner in Cincinnati. Shortly before this, Charles Keen had, yet again, witnessed to this man. As he took a step off of the street corner, the man had a massive coronary and dropped dead right in the street. He had heard the gospel for the last time, Pastor Keen said. And now, he is in hell! Stories such as this made a deep impression upon my life, and even today I remember them. I know that most, if not all, of these stories were lies or exaggerations, but they were told in such a way that caused me never to forget them.

Those of us who are unbelievers rationally know that fear of God’s wrath and hell are vestiges from our past; irrational leftovers from our days as followers of Jesus. When people first deconvert, it is not uncommon for them to struggle with fear and doubt. Did I make the right decision? What if the Christian God really is the true and living God? Man, if I’m wrong, I am going to burn forever in hell! If your deconversion was based on an honest examination of the claims Christians make for their religion, God, and the Bible, there is nothing to fear. As time goes on, thoughts of God’s wrath and hell will become less and less. It’s been ten years since divorce papers were served on Jesus. At first, I had more than a few sleepless nights when I struggled with the ramifications of my unbelief. But as time went along, these struggles became less and less. Now, Evangelical zealots will tell me that my struggles were the Holy Spirit trying to draw me back into the fold. Just remember, the Spirit of God will not always strive with man, these zealots say. There’s coming a day when God will stop talking to you and when that happens you have committed the unpardonable sin, crossing a line of no return. You have become the reprobate of Romans 1 and 2. Such warnings and threats no longer work with me. Once the Bible lost its authority over me, the spell was broken. Once I realized that the Bible was not what Christians claim it is and that their God was a myth, Jesus’ hold on me was forever severed. Once I was disconnected from the Borg collective, my mind was free to wander and roam the wonders of human knowledge and existence. Once I successfully scaled the walls of the box and fell over the side, I was free of the clutches of Evangelical Christianity. (See The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it  and What I Found When I Left the Box.) All that’s left is my KJV Oxford preaching Bible on the shelf. Well that, and a passel of regrets.

It has been ages since I have had a thought about God’s wrath or hell. As a sixty-one-year-old man who daily battles chronic illness and unrelenting pain, I do have thoughts about death, but not in a religious context. My thoughts tend to focus on the brevity of life and human existence. I have thoughts about going to sleep one night and never waking up; the loss of family and friends and all the things that matter to me. My thoughts are about how much more I wish I had accomplished and how much of my life I wasted chasing after a nonexistent God and hallucinatory eternal life. No one can reach my age without a few regrets. Nothing I can do about them except turn them into blog posts. The past has nothing for me, but today, tomorrow, and next year, if fate allows, are everything — the land of hope and promise. I choose to focus on seven things: my relationship with my wife, my children and grandchildren, my friends, my photography, this blog, and eating good food — in that order. I have no time for thoughts of a Bronze Age God’s wrath. I have no time for thoughts of a mythical heaven or hell. And when, on those rare moments in the dark of night when I have a stray thought about how much the Christian God is pissed off at me and how he is going to make me pay in hell, all I can do is chuckle and remind myself that such thoughts are residuals of a life I have long left behind; no different from thoughts of an old girlfriend I dated in high school or a car I once owned. I know my mind is filled with all sorts of clutter and detritus, and, at times, this junk might make a passing appearance in my thoughts. Nothing to worry about.

If you have similar feelings, just laugh, and then utter an atheistic prayer of gratefulness and thankfulness; grateful that you are no longer in bondage and thankful that your mind is no longer in shackles. Ponder how good you have it. Billions of people are enslaved by religion, yet you are free. Free! Free to wander the path wherever it leads. Free to love whomever you want to love. I can think of no better life than one built upon the humanistic ideal. Focusing on the awesomeness of the life you now have can and will drive fear of God’s wrath and hell away. Live long enough, and your religious past will become a distant memory.

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, Is Rural Northwest Ohio Less Prejudiced Than When You Were a Child?

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.

Becky asked, “Questions: Bruce, Is Rural Northwest Ohio Less Prejudiced Than When You Were a Child?”

Rural Northwest Ohio is about as white as a Mississippi Ku Klux Klan meeting. In the 1970s, I attended Findlay High School, one of the largest high schools in the state of Ohio. There were two black students in the whole school — a brother and a sister. I spent the early years of my life in Bryan, Ohio. There were no black people who lived in Bryan. Even today, very few Blacks live in Bryan or the surrounding area. I saw my first black person at the age of five — a porter on the train we were riding from Chicago to San Diego. Every public school I attended was as white as white could be. I don’t blame this whiteness on the people who live in rural Northwest Ohio. It’s not their fault that everyone happens be white. That said, living in homogeneous communities and not being exposed to racial diversity tends to breed racist beliefs. The closest rural Northwest Ohio comes to having a minority population is the sizable number of Hispanics who call this part of Ohio home. But even here, I have vivid memories of how family members, church members, and my friends thought of “Mexicans.” Many of the Hispanic families in rural Northwest Ohio trace their lineage back to family members who came here as migrant workers. These workers would pick local crops and then move on. Some of them decided to stay, putting down roots and having children. Thanks to automation, most farmers no longer need migrant workers. There are still a few working farms that hire Hispanic transients to pick their labor-intensive crops. If these farmers had to rely on local whites to harvest their crops, their tomatoes, squash, sweetcorn, and other crops would be left on the ground to rot.

I recognize that I am a white man raised in a white culture. My interaction with nonwhites is somewhere between little and none. I had a black college roommate, but he spent his four years of college trying to be white. I now have several local Hispanic friends, but this doesn’t mean that I truly understand the vagaries of their culture. I’m a white man in a white world, and as long as I live in rural Northwest Ohio, that’s not going to change. Fortunately, attending college in Pontiac, Michigan, living in San Antonio, Texas, and managing restaurants in Columbus, Ohio exposed me to people of color. The beginning of the cure, then, for racism, is exposure to people who are different from us. I’ve known more than a few homophobes, yours truly included, who saw the light after they met someone who was gay or who had one of their children come out of the closet. There’s nothing better than exposure to people different from us to force us to deal with our deeply rooted bigotry and racism. As a sixty-one-year-old man, I can say that I’ve come a long way when it comes my attitudes about race and human sexuality. That said, I don’t believe for a moment that I have been miraculously delivered from the conditioning of the first forty or so years of my life. All I can do is confront racism and bigotry in my life when it shows itself.

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.

The rural Northwest Ohio of my youth was stridently racist. Anyone who suggests otherwise is living in denial. In 2015, I wrote a post titled, Does Racism Exist in Northwest Ohio? Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote:

I am 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? Before I answer this question, I want to spend some time talking about demographics and my own experiences as a resident of northwest Ohio.

….

In 1995, I moved back home to northwest Ohio, pastoring a church in Alvordton for a short time and pastoring a church in West Unity for seven years. Polly and I have lived in this area now for 17 of the last 20 years. This is our home. Our six children and ten 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 race, racism, and race relations.

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 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 me and told me he needed groceries. I told him that I would have someone bring over some groceries. 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, 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 Bryan residents 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 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.
  • Interracial couples now live in the area.
  • Migrants workers, once a part of the ebb and flow of the farming season, are now permanent residents.
  • Younger adults and teenagers no longer think race is a big deal.
  • Music and television 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 such as 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, subtle racism must continue to be challenged. Unfortunately, on both sides of the political divide, there are those who use race and fear to stoke distrust and hate of those who are different. We must forcefully marginalize 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.

Three years after writing this, I continue to see progress on the race front with younger locals. These teenagers and young adults are much more tolerant and nonjudgmental than their parents and grandparents. They also are much more likely to vote Democratic. That said, their racist and bigoted parents and grandparents, thanks to the election of Donald Trump, are far more likely these days to express racist thoughts on social media and in private conversations. Donald Trump and his lackeys have, in one way, done us a big favor. The president’s overtly racist tweets and abhorrent immigration policies have ennobled local racists, giving them permission to fly Confederate flags and preach the gospel of white Christian nationalism and white superiority. The good news is this: we now know who the racists are. From this perspective, it seems that little progress has been made on the local front. However, I’m confident that once Baby Boomers and The Great Generation die off, their white and proud thinking will die with them. I am not so naïve as to believe that rural Northwest Ohio will ever be free of racism, but I’m confident that there is coming a day when racist bigots will be so marginalized that their bigotry will be little more than a minor inconvenience. We are not there yet, but I see the train picking up steam. Once the bigot who resides in the White House is either impeached or voted out of office — along with all those who supported and enacted his abhorrent policies — I have no doubt a better tomorrow lies ahead.

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, How is Your Health?

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.

Paul asked, “Bruce, how is your health?”

The short answer is “fine.” When people ask me about my health, I usually use “fine” or one of my other discussion killers such as “super-duper,” “I’m on top of the world,” or “so far so good.” These rejoinders are, of course, lies, but as most people with pervasive health problems know, most people who inquire about how you are feeling are just trying to be polite. They really DON’T want a head-to-toe rundown of all that ails you. My wife’s aunt asked me the other day how things were for me. I replied with “fine,” and then I added, “you really don’t want to know about my hemorrhoids, do you?

Paul, on the other hand, sincerely wants to know how I am doing health-wise. The remainder of this post will detail the day-to-day struggles I have with chronic illness and unrelenting pain.

Where-oh-where do I begin? Let me start with the big-ticket health problems. First, I have fibromyalgia. This remains the overarching problem that dominates my life day-in and day-out. With fibromyalgia, I have fatigue and widespread muscle spasms and pain. I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1997. Second, I have osteoarthritis in my spine, neck, hands, shoulders, and feet. In other words, everywhere. Third, I have high blood pressure, which is treated with medication. Fourth, I am diabetic. Currently, I take two different diabetes medications.

Adding to these things is the fact that I was treated for skin cancer twice over the past year. I see a dermatologist every six months to atone for the youthful sin of repeated blistering sunburns as a child. Several months ago, I found out that I have two Morton’s neuromas and bursitis in my left foot. The best way I can describe the pain is having your foot hit with a hammer — repeatedly. Because I am diabetic, I am unable to have the foot surgically corrected. I have chosen to live with the pain instead of risking the loss of my foot from surgery complications.

Recent months have brought increasing nerve pain in my legs. This, by far, is the biggest problem I face, because it affects my ability to sleep. It is not uncommon for me to take two to three hours to fall asleep, and even then I rarely sleep through night, thanks to pain and a weak bladder. If there’s one aspect of my health that leaves me wanting to die, it’s nerve pain. Narcotics help, but the pain never goes away. I mean n-e-v-e-r.

Doctors continue to monitor a lesion I have on my pancreas. So far, I am cancer-free. I will likely have to have lesion biopsied again next year.

I continue to battle depression. My depression is primarily driven by my health problems. When pain levels are severe, so is my depression. I had been seeing a counselor, but he and I have become good friends, and this, unfortunately has ruined our professional relationship. My last two visits were spent talking about politics and Donald Trump. I am looking for a new counselor, but so far, I have not found a local counselor who is not faith-based.

The sum of these things and a niggling list of other things I won’t mention have severely limited my ability to get around. Most days, I walk with a cane. Some days, especially when what we are doing requires a lot of walking, I use a wheelchair. Over the past year I have noticed that my ability to walk is slowly declining. I continue to push myself, but I sense there is coming a time when my walking days will be over.

Most days, I have a short window where I feel good enough to write, work in the office, edit photographs, etc. I do what I can. There are times when I push myself too hard — an unwise move — and when that happens I often end up in bed for several days.

I want to conclude this post with a few please do not do these things:

  • Please do not ask me if I have tried _____________. I am under the care of competent doctors whom I trust with my medical care. They know my body far better than you.
  • Please do not tell me you are praying for me. I understand praying might be your way of showing empathy, but telling an atheist you are praying for him is not helpful. If you MUST pray, I don’t want to know about it.
  • Please do not read into what I have written in this post. I am not suicidal, and if I become suicidal I doubt your email will stop me from ending my life.
  • Please do not try to “encourage” me with rah-rah, happy-as-a-seal-with-a-ball words. I do not find such words helpful or motivational. I am just not built that way. I am a pessimist, a grinder who stoically embraces what life brings my way. I have always been this way.
  • Please do not ask me about my diet. I actually eat a lot of vegetables, fish, and all the things you are sure I don’t eat.
  • Please do not ask me if I am taking this or that supplement or drug. Over the past twenty years, I have tried dozens of medications and supplements. Every time a paper is published that says ________________ might help fibromyalgia patients, I ask my doctor what he thinks. More often than not, we give it a try.

Many people think that every health problem can be “fixed.” I’m here to tell you that such a belief is as every bit as fantastical as believing Jesus resurrected from the dead or Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin. I am a realist. I accept life as it is and do what I can each and every day to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. I hope I do so through my writing, photography, and operating the TV remote for Polly.

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 a Pastor, What Was Your View of Arminianism?

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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.

Mike asked, “Bruce, As a Pastor, What Was Your View of Arminianism?”

Before I answer this question, let me give a definition of Arminianism:

Arminianism is based on theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) and his historic supporters known as Remonstrants. His teachings held to the five solae of the Reformation, but they were distinct from particular teachings of Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and other Protestant Reformers. Jacobus Arminius (Jakob Harmenszoon) was a student of Theodore Beza (Calvin’s successor) at the Theological University of Geneva. Arminianism is known to some as a soteriological diversification of Protestant Calvinist Christianity. However, to others, Arminianism is a reclamation of early Church theological consensus.

Dutch Arminianism was originally articulated in the Remonstrance (1610), a theological statement signed by 45 ministers and submitted to the States General of the Netherlands. The Synod of Dort (1618–19) was called by the States General to consider the Five Articles of Remonstrance. These articles asserted that:

  • Salvation (and condemnation on the day of judgment) was conditioned by the graciously-enabled faith (or unbelief) of man;
  • The Atonement is qualitatively adequate for all men, “yet that no one actually enjoys [experiences] this forgiveness of sins, except the believer …” and thus is limited to only those who trust in Christ;
  • “That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will,” and unaided by the Holy Spirit, no person is able to respond to God’s will;
  • The (Christian) Grace “of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of any good,” yet man may resist the Holy Spirit; and
  • Believers are able to resist sin through Grace, and Christ will keep them from falling; but whether they are beyond the possibility of ultimately forsaking God or “becoming devoid of grace … must be more particularly determined from the Scriptures.”

I was raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches and attended an IFB Bible college. I began my ministerial career holding to what is commonly called one-point Calvinism. I believed salvation was gained by a volitional act of human will, that the Holy Spirit could be resisted, and that once a person was saved he could never fall from grace. Eternal security, also known as once-saved-always-saved, is what sets IFB churches apart doctrinally from Arminian churches. Arminians believe Christians can lose their salvation. Their theology diverges in two directions when it comes to falling from grace. One group believes that Christians can lose their salvation and regain it at a later date. The other group believes that once Christians lose their salvation they can never again be saved. I came into contact with both groups during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

The Bible teaches both Arminianism and Calvinism. That’s what’s so great about the Bible, it can be used to prove almost anything. As a one-point Calvinist, whenever I came upon verses that affirmed the security of the believer, I made sure I exposed the error of Arminianism. When I preached from verses that seem to say that Christians could fall from grace, I usually pounded the pulpit, shouted, and tried to explain away what the verses clearly said. I have no doubt that Arminian preachers did the same at their churches. I didn’t believe that Arminians were false Christians. I just saw them as ignorant of biblical truth. During the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio, I had the opportunity to preach for a number of Arminian churches: Free Will Baptist, Church of the Nazarene, Christian Union, and Assembly of God. When preaching for these groups, I focused my preaching on the beliefs we shared, and not on our differences. This worked well until I got on the subject of sanctification at a Nazarene church. I so offended the congregation that the pastor told me that I was no longer welcome to preach at his church. I had planned to preach a week-long revival, but after two days I was fired. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have gone anywhere near the doctrine of sanctification, but God was leading and I let the congregation know that there was no such thing as sinless perfection. I knew that saying this would cause offense, but I said it anyway. In my mind, at the time, I believed being true to God was more important than avoiding controversy.

In the 1980s, my theology shifted from one-point Calvinism to John MacArthur-style lordship salvation and five-point Calvinism. At this juncture, my view of Arminianism radically changed. While I still thought many Arminians were Christians, I believed that they preached a corrupted, false gospel of works. More than a few of my Calvinistic ministerial colleagues believed that Arminians were false Christians; that Arminianism was inherently a works-based religion. As a fervent preacher of John Calvin’s gospel, I made Arminianism a frequent target. As an IFB preacher, I was aware that there were Arminians who attended my church. They loved my preaching style and my passion for evangelism, so they chose to ignore my one-point Calvinism. When I became a five-point Calvinist and started preaching the fullness of the doctrines of grace, Arminians felt quite unwelcome and stopped attending church. I don’t blame them for leaving the church. I imagine I would have done the same if my sincere beliefs had been assaulted and ridiculed week after week.

In late 1990s, I moved away from five-point Calvinism and adopted more of a hybrid theology. My focus at this point in the ministry was on how Christians lived out the gospel. Instead of focusing on doctrinal purity and salvation, I turned my attention towards promoting good works. I was troubled by the disconnect between Evangelical belief and Evangelical practice. Instead of focusing on doctrine, I focused on lifestyle. I came to the conclusion that true Christianity was not measured by what we said, but by what we did. If I had to pick a particular theological system of thought that best fit my beliefs at this time, it would’ve been Anabaptist or Mennonite theology. This change theologically coincided with my changing political beliefs. As my political beliefs moved leftward, so did my theology. The last church I pastored was Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. A man who was a member of the church in Mount Perry, Ohio came to hear me preach one Sunday. He remarked afterward that I was preaching more of a social gospel. I suspect he was right. Fifteen years later, as a card-carrying member of First Church of Atheism, I still think that beliefs are measured by behavior; that what matters the most is not our beliefs, but our actions. Of what value is humanism if it fails to motivate us to do good works?

Ironically, many of my former IFB congregants and colleagues in the ministry believe that I am still a Christian. This is where the doctrine of once-saved-always-saved becomes absurd. Here I am, a blasphemer of God and a denier of everything Evangelicals hold dear, yet because, at a moment in time, I prayed the sinner’s prayer, I am forever a Christian. Nothing I can say or do will void my Lifetime Eternal Life Warranty®. I am forever married to Jesus, even if I’m a whore. This means that the ex-Christian readers of this blog are still saved. Good news, right? We can sleep in on Sundays and still go to heaven when we die! Proponents of once-saved-always-saved say that this doctrine promotes the grace of God; that God is not a quitter. What it actually does, however, is make a mockery of God’s grace. If subsequent belief and lifestyle do not matter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right: Evangelicals are preaching a gospel of “cheap grace.”

Arminians, on the other hand, believe that Christians can and do fall from grace. Such people see me as someone who was once saved and now is lost. I prefer this designation. It honestly describes my life. I once was a Christian; I once was a follower Jesus; I once devoted myself to the teachings of Christ; and now I am an unbeliever. Arminians take my testimony at face value. They believe me when I say, I once was saved and now I am lost. 

It is not uncommon for IFB churches to have hundreds of conversions each year. Yet, attendance grows very little. Shouldn’t there be a connection between soul saved and asses in the pew? I know one church that prides itself in having won tens of thousands of souls to Christ, yet the church runs two thousand or so people in attendance. Surely, saying “I am a Christian” ought to mean something. I find myself thinking that I take Christianity and the Bible more seriously than most Evangelicals. If Jesus is all that Evangelicals say he is, shouldn’t how they live their lives reflect this? One need only look at Evangelical support of Donald Trump to see how disconnected behavior has become from belief. While there is nothing Evangelicals can say that would ever win me back to Jesus, I might be persuaded to admire their religion and their God from afar if I ever saw that their beliefs made them better people. Unfortunately, most Evangelicals live lives no different from those of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. In fact, I have met atheists, agnostics, humanists, Buddhists, and pagans who live exemplary lives; people who love their fellow-man and do what they can to make the world a better place to live. If forced to choose, I’m with godless humanists; people who try their best to meaningfully impact the lives of others as they march to hell.

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, Was it Hard to Change Authoritarian Thought Patterns?

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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.

Questions: Bruce, What Are Your Views on Objective Morality?

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.

Geoff asked, What are your views on objective morality?

The question asked by Geoff is complex and filled with nuance. Anytime I have addressed morality in the past, my writing has elicited all sorts of comments from atheists and Fundamentalists alike. It seems few people like or appreciate my worldview and my understanding of morality. As a Christian, I believed that the issue of morality was settled for me: God hath spoken. Shut the hell up and do what he commands! As a dutiful follower of Jesus, I attempted to follow not only the teachings of the Bible, but the direction of Holy Spirit who lived inside of me (or so I thought at the time).  Once I deconverted, I had to rethink my worldview. What was it I believed about morality in general? What was I it I believed about specific moral statements and standards? My understanding of morality has evolved over the past decade. I am, in no way, a finished product. I still have many questions about morality, and it is impossible to fully answer them in a blog post.

I readily admit that Christianity has deeply affected my understanding of morality. I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches. As a result, Evangelical morality has seeped deeply into the dark recesses of my mind. While I try to distance myself from my past, its effects linger. Thus, there are times my moral views line up with those of Christians. This doesn’t mean, then, that I am a Christian. My views also, on occasion, line up with Buddhism and other religions. All this tells me is that religions have, in the past, played a big part in the evolution of human morality.

When someone asks me whether I believe in objective morality, what I hear them asking is whether I believe there are moral standards or moral absolutes. In the strictest sense, my answer is no. Morality is always subjective. Now that doesn’t mean countries, states, and tribes can’t have absolute moral standards. They can and do. All I ask is that believers in objective morality admit that their absolutes have changed over time, and that, in fact, the changing nature of their absolutes suggests that their morality is actually subjective. For example, there is a push in the United States to make eighteen the minimum age for marriage. This law, if passed, would be considered an objective moral standard. However, in the past, people were permitted to marry as young as age thirteen, and in some countries, children are betrothed to one another when they are still primary school age. If there’s such a thing as objective morality, then shouldn’t the age for marriage have been fixed from day one? That it hasn’t been shows the subjectivity of moral beliefs.

Morality is affected by tribal, cultural, and sociological influences. This means that all morality changes with time, including absolute, never-changing, God-said-it, it’s-in-the-Bible Evangelical morality. Evangelicals now do things that were considered sins — violations of objective morality — fifty years ago. Even Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) morality continues to change and evolve. Only those who are deliberately blind, people with fingers in their ears who say, nah, nah, nah, I can’t HEAR you, fail to see that morality is inherently subjective.

All of us belong to certain countries and tribes. As a U.S. citizen, I live in a country that supposedly values the rule of law. I say supposedly because Donald Trump’s abhorrent behavior and his penchant for ignoring the rule of law makes me question whether we indeed are still such people. Fascism is on the rise, and when it comes in full force it brings law by force, instead of WE THE PEOPLE deciding the laws that will govern us. For now, we are still a nation governed by laws shaped and enacted by legislators elected by voting Americans. These laws establish what we as a people believe is moral. These laws, over time, change. For example, at one time it was illegal to have an abortion; then in 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court legalized most abortions. Today, with the prospect of a right-wing Catholic being added to the Supreme Court, it is possible that laws regulating abortion will change, and women will be forced to revert to the days of coat-hanger, back alley abortions. The same can be said for much of the progress made on social and church/state issues over the past six decades. This ebb and flow shows that morality is subjective.

Theocrats, of course, despise the give and take of the legal process in democratic countries. They want a dictatorship, with the Christian (or Muslim) Holy book as the objective standard for morality. Theocrats demand that laws reflect their Fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible (or Koran). In their minds, their interpretations are one and the same with God’s will and commands. But, even for theocrats, their interpretations change over time, thus proving, once again, that morality is subjective.

Not only do governments establish moral norms, so do the tribes to which each of us belong. Whether at the group or family level, certain moral standards govern behavior. Now, keep in mind I am using the word moral in as broad of a way as possible. Divorce your mind from the religious constructs you have been taught, and see morality as the rules/laws/precepts by which we govern behavior. I suspect your family has certain moral standards, and those standards may or may not be different from mine. For example, I have lost readers over my refusal to stop using curse words in my writing. In their tribes, cursing is verboten or is considered in poor taste. In my tribe, it is okay to curse, except when young children are present or Polly’s IFB parents are visiting (though there have been times when a few damns, shits, and assholes have slipped out). When it is only adults in the room? Cursing is permitted, and be prepared to be schooled in sexual innuendo. Were the readers who demanded that I sanitize my writing “wrong”? Who determines what words are appropriate and what words are not? It should be clear to everyone that the words writers choose to use are subjective. Each tribe to its own.

My children are known for having what is called the Gerencser work ethic. This ethic was taught to them by their parents. Work hard. Eight hours pay for eight hours work. Do your best. Do it right the first time. Never accept good enough as a standard for acceptance. The reasons for these maxims are many, but regardless of how they came to be, they are deeply ingrained into the psyche of my adult children. My oldest son has taken one personal day at work in twenty years. His mom has taken zero. My younger children are not as zealous as their older siblings, but they still are known for being no-nonsense hard workers. This tribal ethos often brings them into conflict with other employees who have different work standards. For example, one son works in a department where the majority of the workers have already used half or more of their personal days. My wife supervises people who are already out of personal days with six months to go before they accrue new days. Years ago, my two oldest sons were asked by their fellow employees to slow down. Why? They were making less industrious employees look bad. My sons ignored their critics, choosing instead to follow the Gerencser work ethic (an ethic that can be found in many families, by the way). Both now hold management positions with their respective employers, as do their younger brother and mother. Does this make the Gerencsers better than other people? Depends on how “better” is defined, I suppose. All I know is that this very subjective work ethic is deeply embedded in my tribe. We behave this way because that what we have been taught to do.

Each of us also has personal moral standards; certain things we will and won’t do. I don’t expect other people to live by my moral standards. These rules of behavior — ever-changing — help me navigate the road of life. As a humanist, I look to the humanist ideal to provide moral guidance. This ideal, crafted by men and women, is inherently subjective, but it does address and support my worldview. I have no problem with Evangelicals wanting to live by their personal interpretations of the Bible. Go with God, I say. It is when Evangelicals demand that others live by their interpretations I have a problem.

As a post-Evangelical, I have been forced to reexamine my morality and worldview. For example, I am a pacifist. More specifically, I am proponent of non-violent resistance. Sounds like a moral absolute, right? I would like it to be, but the world is too messy for it be so; too gray, too challenging for me to say that I am, without reservation, a pacifist. Generally, I oppose violence, yet I love and support American football — organized violence. I wouldn’t take up arms to defend the United States, but I would defend my family against attack and harm. I face this same struggle with most moral issues. It’s too easy to write Ten Commandments and say obey. I choose, instead, to think about each issue, and then come to a reasoned conclusion.

Most people agree that we should avoid harming others. I think that’s a good place to start. But, even here, it is impossible to ever live a life that does not, at some point, harm others. Take vegans. They don’t eat meat for moral reasons. They don’t want to cause animals pain and suffering. Yet, providing vegans a non-animal diet still causes pain, suffering, and death. Earthworms, insects, and other animals die so farmers can provided vegans with yummy (I am being sarcastic here) soybeans. The goal, then, should be to promote the greatest good while at the same time causing the least harm.  We can then build on this foundation, asking “what is the best way for humans to govern themselves and live lives of love, peace, and harmony — pass me a joint, bro.”

Human morality is inherently subjective; a work in progress; a work that will never be completed; a work that will hopefully lead to a kinder, gentler tomorrow; a work that places great value on justice and kindness. Nirvana, it will never be, but we can have a better tomorrow if we want it badly enough. Unfortunately, internecine warfare between countries and tribes leaves me wondering if human progress is but an illusion, a pipe dream. Perhaps it is, but I see no other option than to work towards a better future for my progeny. This work requires of us hard discussions and debates about morality. Holy books or trade paperbacks are not the answer. We the people remain the captains of our ships, the masters of our destinies. God’s not coming to save us.

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, Did Your High School Teach Evolution?

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, “was evolution taught in the high school you attended?”

I actually attended four high schools in the 1970s:

I took biology in tenth grade. All that I remember about biology class at Rincon High was the labs; specifically dissecting a frog. Biology class at Findlay High dealt with the basics of biology, including evolution.

I was quite the Fundamentalist Baptist during my years at Findlay High School. I remember writing an English paper on the subject, Why I’m a Baptist. I received an A on the paper. My teacher’s only comment was the word interesting, written in red and underlined. In biology class, I was a royal pain in the ass, frequently injecting Biblical young-earth creationism into class discussions. When it came time to take tests, I would give the correct answers to the questions and then write what the Bible had to say on the matter. Here I was, sixteen years old, and my mind had already been ruined by Fundamentalism. As a result, the science I learned in public school didn’t stick. I was an unabashed, full-fledged, Bible-thumping, young-earth creationist. In my mind, every question could be answered with, the BIBLE says ______________.

As a pastor, on several occasions, I went after public school science teachers for teaching Darwinian evolution. When I got wind of church teens being taught evolution, I would march down to the local school and demand their religious beliefs be accommodated and respected. Usually, it was church parents, not students themselves, asking me to do something about evolution being taught. Teachers, not wanting conflict with a local preacher, accommodated my demands, often giving Christian students alternative work to do. In retrospect, I am sure the teens who attended my church were thoroughly embarrassed by being singled out.

In 1989, I started a private school for the children of the families who attended Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Creation science was taught in every grade. Evolution was only mentioned in passing, more of warning that its teachings were Satanic and contrary to the Word of God.

It was not until my post-Jesus days that I began to seriously study science. While I know a lot more than I did a decade ago, I am still, in every way, an ill-educated novice when it comes to the various scientific disciplines. I must, then, rely on experts to give me answers about this or that matter of science.

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, If You Had It to Do All Over Again, Is There Anything You Would Do Differently?

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.

Tony asked, “When looking back at the events when you revealed to your family and friends your loss of faith would you change any of the way you navigated that? If so, what and why?”

Come November, it will ten years since I left Christianity; ten years since I attended a public worship service; ten years since I prayed; ten years since I studied the Bible; ten years since I abandoned that which had been the hub, the center, the focus of my life.

In April 2009, I sent a letter to family, friends, and former parishioners. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you has an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and decisions I made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually every fiber of my being.

I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the church was my life would be an understatement.  As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress, and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known this for a long time, but now everyone will know.

The church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies has led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. Particularly, I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is.

I have no time to invest in the blame game. I am where I am today for any number of reasons and I must embrace where I am and move forward.

In moving forward, I have stopped attending church. I have not attended a church service since November of 2008. I have no interest of desire in attending any church on a regular basis. This does not mean I will never attend a church service again, but it does mean, for NOW, I have no intention of attending church services.

I pastored for the last time in 2003. Almost six years have passed by. I have no intentions of ever pastoring again. When people ask me about this, I tell them I am retired. With the health problems that I have, it is quite easy to make an excuse for not pastoring, but the fact is I don’t want to pastor.

People continue to ask me “what do you believe?” Rather than inquiring about how my life is, the quality of that life, etc., they reduce my life to what I believe. Life becomes nothing more than a set of religious constructs. A good life becomes believing the right things.

I can tell you this…I believe God is…and that is the sum of my confession of faith.

A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.

I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones. I am a committed progressive, liberal Democrat, with the emphasis being on the progressive and liberal. My evolving views on women, abortion, homosexuality, war, socialism, social justice, and the environment have led me to the progressive, liberal viewpoint.

I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, she is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye opener.

Polly is free to be whomever and whatever she wishes. If she wants to start attending the local Fundamentalist Baptist church she is free to do so, and even has my blessing. For now, she doesn’t.  She may never believe as I believe, but in my new way of thinking that is OK. I really don’t care what others think. Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you living a good, productive life? Do you enjoy life? “Yes,” to these questions is good enough for me.

I have six children, three of whom are out on their own. For many years I was the spiritual patriarch of the family. Everyone looked to me for the answers. I feel somewhat burdened over my children. I feel as if I have left them out on their own with no protection. But, I know they have good minds and can think and reason for themselves. Whatever they decide about God, religion, politics, or American League baseball is fine with me.

All I ask of my wife and children is that they allow me the freedom to be myself, that they allow me to journey on in peace and love. Of course, I still love a rousing discussion about religion, the Bible, politics, etc. I want my family to know that they can talk to me about these things, and anything else for that matter, any time they wish.

Opinions are welcome. Debate is good. All done? Let’s go to the tavern and have a round on me. Life is about the journey, and I want my wife and children to be a part of my journey and I want to be a part of theirs.

One of the reasons for writing this letter is to put an end to the rumors and gossip about me. Did you know Bruce is/or is not_____________? Did you know Bruce believes____________? Did you know Bruce is a universalist, agnostic, atheist, liberal ___________?

For you who have been friends or former parishioners, I apologize to you if my change has unsettled you, or has caused you to question your own faith. That was never my intent.

The question is, what now?

Family and friends are not sure what to do with me.

I am still Bruce. I am still married. I am still your father, father in-law, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and son-in-law. I would expect you to love me as I am and treat me with respect.

  • Here is what I don’t want from you:
  • Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?
  • Constant reminders that you are praying for me. Please don’t think of me as unkind, but I don’t care that you are praying for me. I find no comfort, solace or strength from your prayers. Be my friend if you can, pray if you must, but leave the prayers in the closet. As long as God gets your prayer message, that will be sufficient.
  • Please don’t send me books, tracts, or magazines. You are wasting your time and money.
  • Invitations to attend your Church. The answer is NO. Please don’t ask. I used to attend Church for the sake of family but no longer. It is hypocritical for me to perform a religious act of worship just for the sake of family. I know how to find a Church if I am so inclined, after all I have visited more than 125 churches since 2003.
  • Offers of a church to pastor. It is not the lack of a church to pastor that has led me to where I am. If I would lie about what I believe, I could be pastoring again in a matter of weeks. I am not interested in ever pastoring a church again.
  • Threats about judgment and hell. I don’t believe in either, so your threats have no impact on me.
  • Phone calls. If you are my friend you know I don’t like talking on the phone. I have no interest in having a phone discussion about my religious or political views.

Here is what I do want from you:

I want you to unconditionally love me where I am and how I am.

That’s it.

Now I realize some (many) of you won’t be able to do that. My friendship, my familial relationship with you is cemented with the glue of Evangelical orthodoxy. Remove the Bible, God, and fidelity to a certain set of beliefs and there is no basis for a continued relationship.

I understand that. I want you to know I have appreciated and enjoyed our friendship over the years. I understand that you can not be my friend any more. I even understand you may have to publicly denounce me and warn others to stay away from me for fear of me contaminating them with my heresy. Do what you must. We had some wonderful times together and I will always remember those good times.

You are free from me if that is your wish.

I shall continue to journey on. I can’t stop. I must not stop.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Bruce

As you can see, when I wrote this letter I was still hanging on to the hope that there was a deistic God of some sort. By the fall of 2009, I had abandoned any pretense of belief and I embraced the atheist moniker. I hope readers today can sense my rawness and pain as I wrote those words a decade ago.

Writing this letter was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. I knew that my letter would cause some controversy, but I naively believed that the Christians in my life would understand and appreciate me being honest about where I was in life. The fallout was immediate. I received numerous angry, judgmental emails and letters. No one was interested in understanding my point of view. Instead, people told me I was under the control of Satan and I needed to immediately repent. A handful of people couldn’t wrap their minds around my new life, so they said I was mentally ill and needed help. One woman wrote and told me that my problem was that I was reading too many books. She advised me to only read the Bible, believing that if I did so all would be well and Pastor Bruce would return to the faith.

A close pastor friend of mine drove three plus hours from southern Ohio to pay me a visit. Afterwards, I wrote him a letter:

Dear Friend,

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a 100.00 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a 100.00 bill in the offering plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and me a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I being a Calvinist.

One day you came to place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become (whether I view it as good or bad).

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced, I had no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace.

Do you know what troubled me the most? You didn’t shake my hand as you left. For 26 years we shook hands as we came and went. The significance of this is overwhelming. You can no longer give me the right hand of fellowship because we no longer have a common Christian faith.

Over the course of three hours you constantly reminded me of the what I used to preach, what I used to believe. I must tell you forthrightly that that Bruce is dead. He no longer exists, but in the memory of a distant past. Whatever good may have been done I am grateful, but I bear the scars and memories of much evil done in the name of Jesus. Whatever my intentions, I must bear the responsibility for what I did through my preaching, ministry style, etc.

You seem to think that if I just got back in the ministry everything would be fine. Evidently, I can not make you understand that the ministry is the problem. Even if I had any desire to re-enter the ministry, where would I go? What sect would take someone with such beliefs as mine? I ask you to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a pastor again. Does not the Bible teach that if a man desires the office of a bishop (pastor) he desires a good work? I have no desire for such an office. Whatever desire I had died in the rubble of my 25 plus year ministry.

We talked about many things didn’t we? But I wonder if you really heard me?

I told you my view on abortion, Barack Obama, the Bible, and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ.

You told me that a Christian couldn’t hold such views. According to your worldview that is indeed true. I have stopped using the Christian label. I am content to be a seeker of truth, a man on a quest for answers. I now know I never will have all the answers. I am now content to live in the shadows of ambiguity and the unknown.

What I do know tells me life does not begin at conception, that Barack Obama is a far better President than George Bush, that the Bible is not inerrant or inspired, and that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven (if there is a Heaven at all).

This does not mean that I deny the historicity of Jesus or that I believe there is no God. I am an agnostic. While I reject the God of my past, it remains uncertain that I will reject God altogether. Perhaps…

In recent years you have told me that my incessant reading of books is the foundation of the problems I now face. Yes, I read a lot. Reading is a joy I revel in. I read quickly and I usually comprehend things quite easily (though I am finding science to be a much bigger challenge). Far from being the cause of my demise, books have opened up a world to me that I never knew existed. Reading has allowed me to see life in all its shades and complexities. I can no more stop reading than I can stop eating. The passion for knowledge and truth remain strong in my being. In fact, it is stronger now than it ever was in my days at Somerset Baptist Church.

I was also troubled by your suggestion that I not share my beliefs with anyone. You told me my beliefs could cause others to lose their faith! Is the Christian faith so tenuous that one man can cause others to lose their faith? Surely, the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than Bruce (even if I am Bruce Almighty).

I am aware of the fact that my apostasy has troubled some people. If Bruce can walk away from the faith…how can any of us stand? I have no answer for this line of thinking. I am but one man…shall I live in denial of what I believe? Shall I say nothing when I am asked of the hope that lies within me? Christians are implored to share their faith at all times. Are agnostics and atheists not allowed to have the same freedom?

I suspect the time has come that we part as friends. The glue that held us together is gone. We no longer have a common foundation for a mutual relationship. I can accept you as you are, but I know you can’t do the same for me. I MUST be reclaimed. I must be prayed for. The bloodhound of heaven must be unleashed on my soul.

Knowing all this, it is better for us to part company. I have many fond memories of the years we spent together. Let’s mutually remember the good times of the past and each continue down the path we have chosen.

Rarer than an ivory-billed woodpecker is a friendship that lasts a lifetime. 26 years is a good run.

Thanks for the memories.

Bruce

I saw my former friend a couple of years ago at the funeral of an ex-parishioner. The family had asked me to conduct the funeral. We traded pleasantries and went our separate ways. Whatever friendship we once had was gone.

Polly’s family — which included, at the time, three Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers, an IFB missionary, and an IFB evangelist — said nothing to me, but I heard all sorts of negative stuff through the family grapevine. One of the aforementioned preachers did contact me via email. We had an honest, friendly discussion; that is, until the family patriarch told him to stop talking to me. He, of course, complied. Polly’s parents (her dad is a retired IFB pastor) took the “we are praying for you” approach. To this day, her parents have never talked to us about why we left Christianity. I do know they have, in the past, read my blog.

I am often asked about how my children responded to my deconversion. Keep in mind that I was a pastor their entire lives. They spent thousands of hours in church. They also had a firsthand look at the ugly underbelly of Evangelical Christianity. Over the years, I have had varying degrees of discussion with my children about why I left Christianity. For a time, some of them were confused. Imagine your dad being a pastor your entire life, and then one day he says, “I am no longer a Christian!” For a time, some of my children didn’t know what to do with their new-found freedom. I was criticized for “cutting my children free.” I was told that this was cruel; that I should have provided them support and guidance. Perhaps. At the time, I wanted them to have the same freedom I had; the freedom to walk the path of life without Dad saying, “this is the path, walk this way.” I leave it to my children to tell their own stories. I can say this: none of them is Evangelical. And for this I am grateful. The curse has been broken.

What about Polly? As with my children, I can’t and won’t speak for Polly. She has a story to tell, and perhaps she will one day tell it. I can say that Polly and I walked together out the back door of the church, and neither of us believes in God. Our primary difference, of course, is that I am an outspoken Evangelical-turned-atheist, whereas Polly — consistent with her quiet, reserved nature — prefers to quietly live her life, keeping her thoughts about God and religion to herself.

Knowing all that I have written above (and countless other experiences I haven’t shared), if I had it to do all over again, would I do anything differently? I have often pondered this question. Was it wise to send everyone a letter? Should I have started blogging about my loss of faith? Should I have named names and used my real name in my writing?  I certainly can argue that I should have done none of those things; that by doing them I turned myself into a target; that by doing them I quickly and irrevocably destroyed numerous personal relationships. Would it have been better for me to die by a thousand cuts, or was it better to cut my jugular vein and get it over with?

The answer lies in the kind of person I am. I have always believed in being open and honest. I have never been good with keeping secrets. I love to talk; to share my story; to share my beliefs and opinions. In this regard, Polly and I are quite different from each other. I have always been outgoing and talkative, a perfect match for a vocation as a preacher. Leaving Christianity took me away from all I held dear, but I remained the same man I always was. This is why my counselor tells me that I am still a preacher; still a pastor. The only thing that’s changed is the message. I suspect he is right, and that’s why, if I had to do it all over again, I would have still written a letter to family, friends, and former parishioners. I would, however, have made a better effort at explaining myself to my children and extended family. I am not sure doing so would have made any difference, but it might have lessened some of the family stress and disconnect.

For readers inclined to follow in my steps, please read Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist. Don’t underestimate what might happen when you say to Christian family and friends, I am an atheist. Once you utter those words, you no longer control what happens next. In my case, I lost all of my friends save one. People I had been friends with for twenty and thirty years — gone.

Being a pastor was how I made a living. One thing I have learned is that being an atheist, disabled, and fifty to sixty years old renders one unemployable (I have had a few job offers over the past decade, but the physical demands of the jobs made employment impossible). Two years ago, I started a photography business. This has provided a little bit of income, for which I am grateful. Come June 2019, I will start receiving social security. This will hopefully alleviate some of the financial difficulties we’ve faced in recent years. I mention these things because I did not consider how being a very public atheist (and socialist) in a rural white Christian area would affect my ability to make a living. In recent years, I have met several local atheists who, for business and professional reasons, keep their godlessness to themselves. I don’t blame them for doing so. It is at this point alone that I pause and consider whether my chosen path out of Christianity was wise. Would things have been better for me had I kept my “light” to myself? Maybe. All I know is this: there are no do-overs in life, and all any of us can do is walk the path before us. I intend to keep telling my story until I run out of things to say. And people who know me are laughing, saying, “like that’s going to happen anytime soon!”

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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