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Category: Questions

Questions: Bruce, How Was Your Relationship with Your Father?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Logan asked:

Would you perhaps write some about your dad, Robert. Maybe tell some stories about growing up and your thoughts/ feelings now.

Logan has asked me this question before, and I ignored him. I had a complex, difficult relationship with my father. Over the years, I have been hesitant to talk about him. Part of the reason for this is that I don’t want to say anything that will hurt my younger siblings. They have very different memories of our father from mine. Why this is so will become evident by the time you reach the end of this post. I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I cannot adequately answer Logan’s questions without delving deeply into my relationship with Robert Gerencser.

As some of you might know, “Dad” was not my biological father. In November 1956, Dad, age 20, married my eighteen-year-old mom, then about six weeks pregnant. Unable to marry in Ohio due to state age requirements, Mom and Dad drove to Angola, Indiana, and were married by a justice of the peace. Afterward, Mom and Dad set up house in Bryan, Ohio — several miles away from the farm where Dad grew up.

In June 1957, Barbara Tieken Gerencser gave birth to a beautiful 🙂 9-pound 15-ounce redheaded boy. I would later learn family members questioned how a dark-skinned Hungarian man could be the father of such a fair-skinned boy (though, to be fair, my maternal great grandfather was redheaded). Sixty-two years later, I had a DNA test, and sure enough, “Dad” wasn’t my biological father. After contacting my newly revealed half-brother who lives in Michigan, I found out that it is likely that my biological father, a truck driver, had a fling with my mom, who was, at the time, working at The Hub, a truck stop in Bryan. (I have a half-brother and three half-sisters. I hope to meet them for the first time in September.)

Did Dad know that I wasn’t his son? Did Mom know she was pregnant before they married? Did she know who my biological father was? Did my biological father know Mom was carrying his child? So many unanswered questions. Unfortunately, these questions will never be answered. Dad, 49, died from a stroke after heart surgery in 1987, and Mom, 54, killed herself in 1991 (please see Barbara).

I have stopped writing for a moment, struggling with how best to describe and explain my relationship with my father. Even now, 40 years after seeing my dad for the last time, I am not sure how I feel about the man. There were times I hated Dad, and when he died, I felt . . . nothing.

Dad and I weren’t close. When I was a young child, Dad moved us all over the place — literally. House to house, school to school, I was just a piece of the furniture to him. Then, as a teenager, I became a poorly paid (if at all) employee for Dad’s businesses (a hobby store in Findlay, Ohio, and a gun store in Sierra Vista, Arizona). After my parents divorced when I was 15, I moved back and forth from Arizona to Ohio several times, finally settling in Bryan with my mom in 1976. I was 18. Over the next eleven years, I saw my dad a total of three times: a birthday party, my wedding, and the birth of my second son.

Dad never told me that he loved me, never attended my ball games, and never engaged me meaningfully at an emotional level. He had a very different relationship with my siblings. I am left with the question, why? Was this because I wasn’t his biological son? Was it me? My personality? My hatred for his second wife? The emotional harm he caused me as a child and teenager? So many questions. So much pain.

Here’s what I know:

Dad repeatedly uprooted my life. Every year or so, I had to adjust to a new school and try to make new friends. The longest I attended one school was two and a half years. In five of my eleven school years, I attended different schools, not because of Dad being in the military or job relocations, but due to him not paying the rent or avoiding bill collectors.

Dad had affairs with several women. Granted, my mom was mentally ill. She tried to kill herself numerous times. She spent time at the Toledo State Mental Hospital, undergoing electroshock therapy. Mom could be passionate and brilliant one moment and a raging lunatic the next. Living with her was a challenge, so I understand why Dad sought out the love of other women.

My parents divorced shortly before my fifteenth birthday. Both of them quickly remarried. Mom married her first cousin, a recent parolee from the Texas penal system. Her cousin physically abused her. He later died of a drug overdose. Dad married a 19-year-old woman with a toddler, bringing her into our home, and expecting us to accept her as our new mother. I, of course, already had a mother. His wife and I would have a contemptuous, turbulent relationship. Dad? He rarely, if ever, took my side. One Sunday, I came home from church, and Dad’s wife and I got into a heated argument. She picked up a leather belt, hitting me in the face. I responded by picking her up, throwing her into a cement block wall, fracturing her spine, and knocking her out. We had no phone, so I left her lying on the floor and walked several miles to where Dad worked as a salesman for a carpet store and told him I might have killed his wife. Dad rushed home, while I spent the rest of the day away from the scene of the crime. Two months later, I hopped a Greyhound bus and moved back to Ohio. I later moved back to Arizona for ten months. Outside of seeing Dad’s wife at my wedding, we had no interaction with each other.

Dad was involved in illegal gun sales. He also embezzled $10,000 from Combined Insurance Company. Where this money went remains a mystery. We lived in a new house during this time. My parents drove a late model Pontiac convertible, and Dad bought a $1,200 HO train layout that took up most of the basement of our trilevel home. Mom also tried to kill herself three times: overdose, pulling her car in front of a truck, and slitting her wrists. As a fourth-grade boy, I came home from school one day to find Mom lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Later, we were forced to move from our new home, back to a ramshackle farmhouse owned by Dad’s sister. While living here, Mom was raped by her brother-in-law. I was home from school sick when it happened.

Dad moved us to Findlay the summer before my eighth-grade year of school. Mom and Dad would divorce in the spring of my ninth-grade year. By then, Dad — by passive inaction and indifference — made it clear that I was expected to buy my own clothes and pay for my school lunches. There were times when I would sneak into Dad’s bedroom early in the morning to “steal” money from his wallet to pay for my lunch.

Dad didn’t pay his bills. Imagine going into a flower shop to buy your girlfriend flowers and seeing your Dad’s name on a list of deadbeat customers, or a bounced check of his taped to the wall. Or imagine going to the dentist only to have him refuse to treat you until your dad paid his bill. Or imagine your Dad selling your Lionel electric train collection, guns, and automobile, promising to “send” you the money. I knew he would stick me, and I was right. I am still waiting for his check . . .

Living this way forced me to grow up quickly. I learned that if I wanted anything, I had to work for it. Not a bad lesson to learn in life, so “thanks,” Dad. I hope readers can see the sarcasm dripping from my words.

Dad’s been dead for thirty-four years. Do I miss him? Sure, but not like I miss my mother. God, do I miss Mom. I can only imagine how much she would have enjoyed her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Would Dad have been proud of me, proud that I was a preacher, proud that I married a beautiful woman? Dad made a new life for himself in Arizona. My siblings spent their formative years with him. Both of them still live in Arizona. I recognize that I chose a different path, that Arizona was just a short pit stop for me. I chose the church over my family. I made my own life in Ohio. Thus, Dad and I became like two ships passing in the night.

These days, all I have is regrets.

And to my brother and sister, I say, “I’m sorry” . . .

Postscript:

Surely, Bruce, you have some fond memories of your father? Sure . . . I remember hunting doves with him along the river. I remember hunting rabbits and pheasants with him a few times. And, we went fishing a few times too. All of these memories come from the first twelve years of my life. As a teenager, I remember manning Dad’s table at gun shows and train shows. I learned my business sense and how to interact with customers from him. I remember going to swap meets in Tucson, selling his wares on Sundays after church. And . . . that’s it. Oh wait, he gave me money one time, surely he did? One time, right? Oh, and I remember he bought me school clothes one year at Rink’s Bargain City (Shitty) — a pair of shoes and cheap jeans I was too embarrassed to wear. I did my shopping that year in downtown Findlay, shoplifting my shirts and Levi jeans. When I needed glasses, Dad bought me a pair, the cheapest ones — black plastic frames, welfare glasses. Weeks later, I saved up enough money to buy my own glasses — wire-rimmed frames, you know just like my friends and churchmates wore. So, yes, I have many “fond” memories.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Questions: Bruce, Do You Know Many Ex-Evangelical Preachers?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Davie from Glasgow asked:

I have a quick one that you surely will already have answered somewhere but I just can’t recall – It’s clear that you are a particularly singular fellow Bruce but in your time (maybe most likely through this blog) have you come across any other people that were also once evangelical/fundamentalist PREACHERS for any length of time before deconverting and becoming agnostics/atheists? Or are you as unique as you seem??

I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I left Christianity at the age of fifty. I am now an atheist and a humanist. According to my counselor — whom I have seen for a decade — I am a rare bird. While it is not uncommon for clergypersons to leave the ministry or deconvert, most do so when they are in their twenties or thirties. The longer a man (or woman) is in the ministry, the less likely he is to cash in his chips and walk away. By the time a man is in his forties or fifties, he has invested decades in pastoring churches. He may have a 401k. He likely has no viable work skills outside of the church. His entire life has been invested in the work of the ministry. He may have doubts, but he says to himself, “what else am I going to do?” The existence of The Clergy Project is a testament to the fact that more than a few churches are pastored by men who no longer believe.

I have interacted and corresponded with countless ex-pastors over the years — Evangelical and mainline clerics alike. I know several men who were in the ministry longer than me, but, for the most part, most ex-preachers I know spent far less time in the ministry than I did. Anecdotally, I think the number of men and women leaving church positions is increasing. COVID-19 only increased the number of clergypeople saying that they have had enough. Not all ex-pastors left due to a loss of faith. Some left because they were tired of endless church drama, board fights, and other soul-numbing dysfunction. A handful of ex-preachers I know left the ministry because they admitted to themselves and others that they were gay.

I am often asked why I stayed in the ministry for so many years. I was a true believer, a saved, sanctified, born-again follower of Jesus Christ, the virgin-born, sinless, crucified, resurrected eternal son of the one true God. I never meaningfully doubted or questioned my beliefs until I was in my late 40s. However, when I determined I no longer believed the central claims of Christianity were true, it was not difficult for me to walk away from the ministry. First, I was tired. Second, my health was deteriorating. Third, I never made much money pastoring churches ($26,000 was the most I made any one year). I always made more money working secular jobs. And fourth, I have never been a good liar. I knew I couldn’t be a “fake it until you make it” Christian, a hypocritical pastor. So, when it came time for me to leave the ministry and later Christianity itself, I did not quietly exit stage left. (Please see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.) With my face turned towards an unknown future, I walked away from the church, never to return. I don’t regret walking away. In retrospect, if I would have had some inkling about what my future held, I would have certainly prepared better for a post-Jesus, post-ministry life. But, it is what it is. All I know is to make the most of what life I have left. (Please see The Midwestern Baptist College Preacher Who Became an Atheist.)

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Questions: Bruce, Do You Still Feel a “Tribal” Pull When Coming in Contact with People Different From You?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Kel asked:

As part of a minority group in my home country, I feel that religion, in this case Christianity, provides me with a sense of belonging. It helps since a lot of people of my own ethnicity are Christians, too.

Even after I started questioning my Evangelical faith – though I won’t consider myself an atheist – I can still feel a surge of (“Christian”) zeal when confronted with Evangelicals’ “tribal enemies” or unfamiliar situations (people with different religions, etc.). Strangely, I am never bothered by online atheists though . Probably because they never threaten me with their version of Hell.

My question is: as a humanist, do you still experience this “tribal pull” when you see unfamiliar people with different customs or religions? Especially if they seem threatening.

Kel asks an interesting (and difficult) question: “as a humanist, do you still experience this ‘tribal pull’ when you see unfamiliar people with different customs or religions? Especially if they seem threatening.”

The short answer is no. Now let me explain. I grew up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) home. I was saved, baptized, and called to preach at an IFB church in Findlay, Ohio. I attended an IFB college, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and spent twenty-five years of my life pastoring IFB/Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.

If the IFB church movement is anything, it is anti-culture, separatist, and White — very, very White. The communities I lived in and churches I pastored were very, very White too. And Christian. It was assumed by one and all that everyone was Christian, even if, as an IFB preacher, I tried to evangelize my neighbors for being the wrong type of Christian.

What I have described above is typical for the rural Midwest (even though Ohio is technically in the East). While I have lived in large racially diverse communities — San Diego, Tucson, San Antonio, Yuma, and Pontiac — the bulk of my life has been spent among people who look just like me. My Fundamentalist religious beliefs, then, fit well with my cultural identity.

Thirteen years ago, I walked away from Christianity, and in doing so, I abandoned my cultural identity. However, long before my deconversion, my politics began to change. I went from being a flag-waving, right-wing Christian nationalist to a Democratic socialist. I left the Republican Party in 2000, and even though I am still a registered Democrat (due to our broken two-party system), I am far too liberal and pacifistic for most Democrats. I voted for Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020, not because I liked the candidates, but because I considered Donald Trump an existential threat to our Country. He still is.

I am an atheist, humanist, socialist, and pacifist in a part of the country where people who believe as I do are as rare as an ivory-billed woodpecker. Thus, I remain a separatist, at odds with most of the people around me. My neighbors, for the most part, have never been my tribe. Thanks to the Trumpism that has infected rural Ohio, it is my neighbors I fear, not “outsiders” — as if anyone “different” would willingly move to the White land of God, Guns, and the GOP. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for the fact that our six children and thirteen grandchildren live twenty minutes or less from us, Polly and I wouldn’t live here. We have few friends and often feel like we are black swans in a bank of white swans. We just don’t fit. Yet, we enjoy the slow pace of country life. We feel “safe” — that is until the Trumpists and militias take up arms against the government and seek to harm those who believe differently from them. Thanks to me being a public figure who is well-known locally, we won’t be hard to find when extremists come looking for commies, socialists, and atheists.

As I ponder Kel’s question, I can only think of one instance where I felt a “tribal” pull when coming in contact with someone “different.” Shortly after 9-11, Polly and I went grocery shopping at Meijer in Defiance. I was pastoring a small Evangelical church in West Unity, at the time. As we turned the corner to walk down the next grocery aisle, we suddenly and frightfully stopped. Not far from us was a young Muslim couple (they could have been Indian). She was wearing a face covering, and he was wearing a turban. I thought, “Are these people terrorists? Are they suicide bombers”?

As a humanist, I accept that I will always be considered an outsider. I am the “different” person in Kel’s question. Perhaps I need to ask local right-wing Christians what they think and feel when they come in contact with me.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Questions: What Can We Do to Hasten the Demise of Fundamentalism?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Steven asked:

I don’t care that the latest survey on American religion shows the ranks of Fundies and Evangelicals decreasing – I consider them the biggest threat to my livelihood, this country, and to the world.


What, if anything, do you believe we can do as individuals to hasten their religion’s decline and demise? Without violating anyone’s human rights, of course!

Let me focus on fundamentalism, in general, instead of Evangelicalism. While Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist (please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?), fundamentalism can be found in numerous religious sects, including Islam and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). We also see fundamentalism in political, economic, and social ideologies and, yes, atheism.

Wikipedia defines fundamentalism this way:

Fundamentalism usually has a religious connotation that indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs. However, fundamentalism has come to be applied to a tendency among certain groups – mainly, although not exclusively, in religion – that is characterized by a markedly strict literalism as it is applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established “fundamentals” and their accepted interpretation within the group often results from this tendency.

When I use the word Fundamentalism with a capital F, I am referring to a specific subset of Protestant Christianity, namely Evangelicalism. When I use the word fundamentalism with a lower case f, I am referring to Wikipedia’s definition above. Far too often, we tend to focus on religious fundamentalism, ignoring the fundamentalist tendencies within our own groups, ideologies, and worldviews.

Thus, it is small f fundamentalism that is an existential threat to our wellness, livelihood, and future. Ideologues who say their truth is big T Truth and demand everyone bow to their beliefs are fundamentalists. We see this thinking among Qanon supporters, Trumpists, capitalists, socialists, vegans, vegetarians, essential oil practitioners, etc., ad nauseum. I am not suggesting that people who hold these beliefs (I am, after all, a socialist) are necessarily fundamentalists, but anyone who is so pigheaded and resolute about their beliefs that they turn their minds off from skepticism, reason, science, and common sense is prone to fundamentalism. One need only look at Trumpism, the “big steal” belief, and the 1/6/21 attempt to overthrow our government to see the terrifying fruit of fundamentalist thinking. This blog primarily focuses on Evangelicalism. Is there any doubt that fundamentalism causes psychological and social harm (and, at times, physical harm)? Evangelicalism is not a painful sliver in your finger that can be quickly removed with tweezers — problem solved. Evangelicalism infects every aspect of our lives, and if left unchallenged and unchecked, like an incurable disease, it will metaphorically kill us. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But consider this: without Evangelicals, Donald Trump would never have been elected, and the U.S. Supreme Court would not be overturning much of the social progress of the past sixty years. Here in Ohio, right-wing, anti-science Republicans control virtually every aspect of state government. Ohio is now a laughingstock, derision typically reserved for the backwaters of America.

How can we combat fundamentalism? Good question. The dystopian side of me says, “it’s too late, we are big F FUCKED!” I am not convinced our democracy will survive Qanon, Trumpism, and the increasing dysfunction in every aspect of our society. Times are bad and are getting worse. Anyone who thinks Santa Joe and his elves will “deliver” America (and the world) ain’t paying attention. I’m depressed by what I see, and I see nothing on the horizon that leads me to conclude that better days lie ahead.

There are some things, however, we can do, even if our actions are doomed to fail. We have two choices in life: do nothing or fight. I may be cynical and pessimistic, but I choose to fight. I cannot sit by while fundamentalists rape our land like a swarm of locusts, destroying everything they touch. None of us has the power to affect systemic change by ourselves, but each of us can do “something.” We can write books, blog posts, articles, and letters to the editor; produce videos and podcasts; challenge fundamentalist worldviews on social media; financially support advocacy groups; join local groups opposed to fundamentalist ideologies; use our buying power to force corporate change; vote for political candidates who truly understand the existential danger of fundamentalist thinking. Most importantly, we can do things that will materially make the world a better place to live. Bruce shouts, DO SOMETHING! If we don’t fight, we are guaranteeing our demise. This is no time to be indifferent or passive. We may not win the war, but we can bloody the fundamentalist horde marching against all we hold dear.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Questions: Bruce, How Old Were You When you First Acknowledged Your Worthlessness?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Brian asked:

Can you recall how far back you decided to acknowledge your worthlessness? Was there an event or feeling that stays with you illuminating the knowledge you garnered, convincing you that you required ‘saving’? Some people say it was the Bible, the Bible says etc. but for me it was nightmares of hell, awful feelings of doom. I was just a youngster and went running to my mom. I had been preached at of course and had been told by adults that we are all bad without Jesus…. I guess it was all that input that build up in me and grew night horrors. And of course seeing how important it was to my mom and dad. What about you, Bruce?

This is a tough question for me to answer. I grew up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) home. The IFB church movement is an uber-Fundamentalist, hellfire and brimstone sect. I made my first profession of faith (my born-again moment) in the 1960s at Scott Memorial Baptist Church in El Cajon, California. Then, at age fifteen, I made another profession of faith, was baptized by immersion, and declared before Jesus and the church that God was calling me to preach. Four years later, I enrolled to study for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. While at Midwestern, I met a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter. We married and spent the next twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches.

Fear of Hell, threats of God’s judgment, and the worthlessness of humans were part of my life for as long as I can remember. Sadly, these things still lurk deep within the recesses of my mind. I regularly see an exorcist (secular counselor) who helps purge my mind of these demons. I have been seeing him for ten years. A lifetime of religious indoctrination and self-esteem-destroying beliefs and practices have left deep scars. All I know to do is to keep washing my mind with self-affirming, rational thinking. Surrounding me with people who think similarly is a big help too.

Brian asks when, exactly, I first acknowledged that I was a worthless person. Unfortunately, worthlessness has been a part of my DNA for as long as I can remember. Sure, Jesus allegedly gave me love, hope, and peace through his shed blood on the cross and resurrection from the dead, but worthlessness was never far away. When Jesus is the only thing that stands between you and Hell, and your parents, pastors, and churches constantly beat you over the head with the sin stick, it’s hard to think well of yourself. Having been wounded by the fifty years I spent in the Christian church, I doubt I will ever think well of myself. Jesus and his Church did a number on me (and as a pastor, I harmed other people).

Brian grew up in an IFB preacher’s home. I suspect he will understand my difficulty with pinning down the date when I first realized that I was a piece of shit in the eyes of God. Jesus may have saved me from sin, but he failed to saved me from my parents, pastors, and lifelong immersion in harmful religious beliefs. I’m fucked, Jesus, and it’s your fault. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Questions: Bruce, Why are Humans Religious?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

William asked:

History is replete with different types of religious beliefs, why is this do you think? Are humans programmed to believe in a superior deity(ies)? Is the mind hardwired to explain things through magical ways? Are rituals to please a God(s) just another form of gambling, hoping to strike it lucky? Or is it just a throwback to our heightened imagination pre-agriculture as a defense mechanism when we really had to be afraid of the dark?

I am an atheist. I have not, as of today, seen any evidence for the existence of a deity or deities. I am convinced that the supernatural claims of the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, along with the claims of the other major religions of the world, are false. That said, most humans are, to some degree or the other, religious. While atheist, agnostic, secular, humanist numbers are increasing, as is the number of people indifferent towards religions, there’s no doubt that we live in a religious world.

This fact can be explained in several ways. First, humans are likely religious because being so gives us some biological/ evolutionary advantage. Second, sociologists and other scientists tell us that personal religious beliefs are determined by geography, parental training, cultural influence, church indoctrination, and personal experiences. Third, most people don’t choose a religion. Instead, they adopt the religion of their parents and culture. One need only look at a religion dispersion map to see how the aforementioned reasons determine with which religion people self-identify.

Will we ever have a post-religion world? Maybe. We are generations away from such a world, and who knows, another religion may arise in the future that captivates millions and millions of people. Until we take skepticism, reason, and intellectual inquiry seriously, religion will continue to infect our minds. Perhaps the best we can hope for is neutering religious fundamentalism — the most dangerous force in the world.

My editor, Carolyn, wonders if I understood William’s question correctly.

Carolyn writes:

Oddly enough, I read the question in a very different way. I thought he was asking why, from the beginning of religion, humans developed such religions. I figure that it was basically fear of the unknown, and the unknown was HUGE!! Will the sun still come up tomorrow? Perhaps we should worship it or pray to it. The rain is pouring down and the creek is rising toward our shelter. Maybe we should pray to a god to keep the creek from rising more and our shelter from washing away. The bear is mighty and fierce. Perhaps we should pray to him to protect us from other animals. Etc., etc., etc.

Perhaps it took Bruce AND Carolyn to answer William’s question. 🙂 I can expand on Carolyn’s addition if needed, but I think she adequately adds yets another reason humans were/are religious. Thanks!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Questions: Bruce, Is the IFB Church Movement a Cult?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Anne asked:

Is the IFB considered to be a cult in America?

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a group of autonomous local churches that trace their lineage back to the liberal/modernist vs. Evangelical/Fundamentalist controversy in the 20th century. Thousands of churches left denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention and American Baptist Convention, to name a few, and establish independent churches. Many of these churches “fellowshipped” (grouped) around IFB and other Fundamentalist colleges (Bob Jones University, Maranatha Baptist College, Midwestern Baptist College, Tennessee Temple, Pensacola Christian College, The Crown College, Hyles-Anderson College, Baptist Bible College, Massillon Baptist College, Trinity Baptist College, West Coast Baptist College, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, and others) IFB missions groups, pastor’s fellowships, and IFB fellowship groups such as the Sword of the Lord and the Southwide Baptist Fellowship. Some IFB churches were/are fiercely independent, choosing not to fellowship with anyone. (Please see Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps.)

In the 1960s-1980s, many of the largest churches in the United States were IFB congregations. Today, many of those churches and colleges are in numeric decline or have closed their doors. From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Established by Tom Malone, the pastor of a nearby IFB megachurch, Emmanuel Baptist Church, the college churned out scores of pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Christian school teachers, and pastor’s wives. Today, the church is dead, the college campus has been turned into efficiency apartments and a senior center, and the college continues to hold classes for a handful of students at Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. Midwestern’s website hasn’t been updated in a year. I wouldn’t be surprised if the college closed its doors.

While at Midwestern, I married the daughter of Lee Shope, an IFB pastor and graduate of the college. After our marriage in 1978, Polly and I spent the twenty-five years pastoring IFB and other Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Both of us were raised in IFB homes and attended IFB churches. Our lives were deeply shaped (and marred) by the IFB church movement. Both of us are unbelievers today, but the IFB beliefs and practices still lurk deep within the recesses of our minds. That’s what religious indoctrination will do to you.

Anne asks if the IFB church movement is a cult. The short answer is yes. (Please see One Man’s Christianity is Another Man’s Cult and The IFB Blood Cult: I’m Not Brainwashed, I’m Bloodwashed.

In January 2021, Dr. Steven Hassan, a mental health professional and former member of the Unification Church, published a dissertation titled The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control: Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Trafficking and the Law. Using Hassan’s BITE model, it is apparent that the IFB church movement is a cult, as are many other Evangelical sects and churches.

The following describes the specific methods that cults use to recruit and maintain control over people. Note that it is not necessary for a group to engage in all the behaviors mentioned below to be considered a cult:

Behavior Control

1. Regulate individual’s physical reality
2. Dictate where, how, and with whom the member
lives and associates or isolates
3. When, how and with whom the member has sex
4. Control types of clothing and hairstyles
5. Regulate diet – food and drink, hunger and/or fasting
6. Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
7. Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence
8. Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
9. Major time spent with group indoctrination and
rituals and/or self indoctrination including the
Internet
10. Permission required for major decisions
11. Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and
others) reported to superiors
12. Rewards and punishments used to modify
behaviors, both positive and negative
13. Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
14. Impose rigid rules and regulations
15. Punish disobedience by beating, torture, burning,
cutting, rape, or tattooing/branding
16. Threaten harm to family and friends
17. Force individual to rape or be raped
18. Instill dependency and obedience
19. Encourage and engage in corporal punishment

II. Information Control

1. Deception:
a. Deliberately withhold information
b. Distort information to make it more acceptable
c. Systematically lie to the cult member
2. Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
a. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
b. Critical information
c. Former members
d. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
e. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking
3. Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
a. Ensure that information is not freely accessible
b. Control information at different levels and missions within group
c. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when
4. Encourage spying on other members
a. Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
b. Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership
c. Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group
5. Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies
and other media
b. Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources
6. Unethical use of confession
a. Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
b. Withholding forgiveness or absolution
c. Manipulation of memory, possible false memories.

III. Thought Control

1. Require members to internalize the group’s
doctrine as truth
a. Adopting the group’s ‘map of reality’ as
reality
b. Instill black and white thinking
c. Decide between good vs. evil
d. Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs.
outsiders)
2. Change person’s name and identity
3. Use of loaded language and clichés which
constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and
reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words
4. Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
5. Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states,
undermine critical thinking and even to age regress
the member
6. Memories are manipulated and false memories are
created
7. Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut
down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts
and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful
thinking
b. Chanting
c. Meditating
d. Praying
e. Speaking in tongues
f. Singing or humming
8. Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking,
constructive criticism
9. Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine, or
policy allowed
10. Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate,
evil, or not useful
11. Instill new “map of reality”

IV. Emotional Control

1. Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are
deemed as evil, wrong or selfish
2. Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger,
doubt
3. Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s
or the group’s fault
4. Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as
a. Identity guilt
b. You are not living up to your potential
c. Your family is deficient
d. Your past is suspect
e. Your affiliations are unwise
f. Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
g. Social guilt
h. Historical guilt
5. Instill fear, such as fear of:
a. Thinking independently
b. The outside world
c. Enemies
d. Losing one’s salvation
e. Leaving or being shunned by the group
f. Other’s disapproval
6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment
and then declaring you are horrible sinner
7. Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins
8. Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or
questioning the leader’s authority
a. No happiness or fulfillment possible outside of the group
b. Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable
diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc.
c. Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends and family
d. Never a legitimate reason to leave; those who leave are weak,
undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or counselor, or
seduced by money, sex, or rock and roll
e. Threats of harm to ex-member and family

Freedom of Mind Resource Center

One of the difficult things I had to come to terms with is the fact that I was raised in a cult, and attended this cult’s churches and college. I would then marry a woman also raised in this cult, and we would spend most of our married life pastoring cultic churches. My life was dominated by cultic beliefs and practices until I was in my 40s. Simply put, I was a cult leader.

I am sure IFB pastors and church members who stumble upon this blog will object to being labeled a cult. The Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Moonies are cults, not us! We are “Biblical” Christians. We pastor New Testament Churches. We can trace our lineage all the way back to Jesus. And on and on it goes. However, using the BITE model, it is clear the IFB church movement is a cult; that its pastors are cult leaders; that its colleges continue to train the next generation of cult leaders.

If it walks, talks, and acts like a cult, it is a cult.

I have written 451 posts about the IFB church movement and its colleges and pastors. Here’s a selection from these posts:

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Questions: Was Evangelist Rolfe Barnard a “Liar for Jesus”?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Brocken asked:

I’ve listened to a few of Rolfe Barnard’s sermons. Do you think he was truthful with all of his sermons or do you think he was prone to lying for Jesus. I’m referring to one sermon where he talked of being opposed by seven deacons of one Baptist church and Rolfe Barnard praying to God to either convert them or kill them. According this sermon by Rolfe Barnard all seven deacons who opposed him all soon died.

rolfe barnard

Rolfe Barnard was a 20th century Southern Baptist evangelist. Barnard died in 1969. At one time, Barnard was affiliated with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) John R. Rice and the Sword of the Lord. However, Barnard fell out of favor with Rice after he began emphasizing the doctrines of grace (five points of Calvinism) in his preaching. From that time forward, Barnard preached for Calvinistic Baptist churches.

During my transition from IFB doctrine to Calvinism, I stumbled upon the preaching Rolfe Barnard. In Part two of the series, Why I Became a Calvinist, I wrote:

My first exposure to Calvinism came in 1988 when I began borrowing and listening to cassette sermon tapes from Chapel Library — a Calvinistic tape lending library and tract publisher in Pensacola, Florida. I had seen an ad for Chapel Library in a periodical I received, so I thought I would write to request a list of sermon tapes. Most of the preachers on the list were not familiar to me, but one name stood out: Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones, who died in 1981, was a well-known British Evangelical pastor. He was the pastor for many years of Westminster Chapel in London.

Along with a handful of Lloyd-Jones’ sermon tapes, I ordered tapes of Rolfe Barnard, a Southern Baptist evangelist. While I thoroughly enjoyed Lloyd-Jones’ sermons — and I would listen to dozens more of them over time — it was Barnard’s sermons that blew me away. Here was a Calvinist who preached with the fervor of an old-fashioned fire and brimstone evangelist. I had never heard Calvinistic preaching before listening to Lloyd-Jones and Barnard. I had been told that Calvinistic preachers were dried up prunes with little zeal, passion, or power. I was big fan of nineteenth century Calvinistic Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, but having only read his sermons, I had no idea how Spurgeon sounded. I assumed he preached with great authority and power, but since there are no recordings of his preaching, all anyone can do is assume how Spurgeon preached.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979.  Midwestern — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — was resolutely opposed to Calvinism. Ironically, one of the college’s men’s societies carried Spurgeon’s name. When questioned about having a society named after Charles Spurgeon, students were told that, yes, Spurgeon was a Calvinist, but God mightily used him in spite of his Calvinism. More than a few IFB preachers suggested that Spurgeon was not a “true” Calvinist; that his zeal for winning souls was inconsistent with his Calvinistic beliefs. I would later thoroughly study Spurgeon’s published sermons, and I determined, without question, that Charles Haddon Spurgeon was an Evangelical five-point Calvinist.

While Spurgeon was my favorite nineteenth-century preacher, Rolfe Barnard quickly became my favorite modern-day preacher. Many of his recorded sermons were preached at Thirteenth Street Baptist Church in Asheville, Kentucky. For many years, Henry Mahan was the pastor of Thirteenth Street. I called Henry one day to see if he had contact information for Barnard. I wanted to have him come preach a meeting at our church. Henry told me, well brother, Brother Barnard died in 1969. (Henry and I would later develop a friendship. I visited Thirteenth Street several times, and Henry came to Ohio to preach a conference at the church I was pastoring.)

….

Barnard’s sermons made a deep, lasting impression on my life. As Barnard preached the Calvinistic gospel and spoke of God’s sovereignty and grace, I found myself emotionally stirred. I asked myself, why hadn’t I ever heard these “truths” before? Why hadn’t my college professors told me of these “truths?” In time, I came to believe that my mentors and professors had lied to me about the gospel, salvation, and God’s grace.

Barnard, then, opened the door for me to Evangelical Calvinism; and once the door was opened there was no going back. I began buying and reading books written by Calvinistic theologians and pastors — many of them from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Over time, I would buy almost one thousand theology books and Christian biographies. One time, a church teen walked into my study, looked at all my books, and said, preacher, have you read all these books? With great humble pride I replied, yes, every one of them. I was quite proud of my library, a common trait found among Calvinistic preachers. It was through these books and the preaching tapes from Chapel Library that Bruce Gerencser, a one-time IFB preacher, became an Evangelical Calvinist.

If you have never listened to one of Barnard’s sermons, give the following sermon a listen.

Needless to say, Rolfe Barnard made a huge impression on me. Now to Brocken’s question. Was Barnard a “liar for Jesus?” Evangelists are known for their dramatic stories, and Barnard was no exception. His stories would literally cause me to weep. I never asked myself whether Barnard’s stories were true. While I have no definitive proof for the claim that Barnard was a “liar for Jesus,” all the people in his stories are long since dead, so I can’t verify his sensational claims. However, as with the fantastical claims found in the Bible, I seriously doubt that Barnard’s stories were true. There may have been elements of truth in Barnard’s illustrations, but it is doubtful that many of his stories happened exactly as he said.

At one time, I revered Barnard. I listened to ALL of his available sermons. Thus, it is not easy for me to say that he was a “liar for Jesus.” But skepticism demands that I pay closer attention to Barnard’s stories. It is clear, at least to me, that he was prone to exaggeration (Baptist for lying).

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Questions: Are There Any Famous Evangelical Pastors Who Have Not Fallen Into “Sin”?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Tammy asked:

Are there any famous/successful pastors who have not had affairs, committed crimes, been guilty of fraud, etc? 

They’ve fallen one after another like dominoes . . . 

Tammy, along with her husband Jim, has been my friend for years. When Polly and I walked away from Christianity in 2008, Tammy and Jim walked the path with us, providing love, kindness, and support.

I suspect there’s a bit of sarcasm in Tammy’s question. That said, rarely does a day go by without me receiving a Google Alert about this or that preacher committing a crime — usually sex crimes. In 2017, I started the Black Collar Crime Series. This series primarily focuses on crimes perpetrated by Evangelical preachers. As of this date, I have published 800+ articles. I also have 200+ stories that I have not yet posted.

While most Evangelical preachers, famous or not, do not commit crimes, thanks to the Internet, we now know that Evangelicalism has a huge problem with sexual assault, rape, and other predatory behaviors perpetrated by pastors, evangelists, youth directors, missionaries, deacons, worship leaders, parachurch leaders, college professors, and other church leaders. When I first started the Black Collar Crime Series, Evangelicals told me that predatory preachers were just a few bad apples. Four years later, it’s evident that there are more than just a few bad apples in the proverbial apple barrel. We now know Evangelicalism’s sex scandals are every bit as pervasive as those found in Roman Catholicism.

Are Evangelical churches “safe”? Maybe. If I were a member of or visiting an Evangelical church, I wouldn’t let my children out of my sight. I would NEVER allow my teen children to attend youth-focused classes or ministries. If the Black Collar Crimes Series has taught me anything, it is this: predators hide in plain sight. The same goes for seeing a pastor for counseling. I wouldn’t recommend ever being alone with a pastor. Sadly, way too many pastors “prey’ on vulnerable church members, using their positions of authority to engage in sex with “consenting” adults (which is illegal in most states, but rarely prosecuted).

I know some Evangelical preachers will be butthurt over me painting with such a broad brush. I also know most preachers are decent, thoughtful, caring people. However, there’s an awful stink coming from the apple barrel, and little is being done to eliminate the smell. Everywhere we look, we see coverups. The largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), has an alarming sexual abuse problem. What has the SBC done to address this problem? Nothing outside of referring the “problem” to a board for study.

Most clergy sex crimes go unreported; thus, we can’t know the percentage of Evangelical preachers committing crimes. Famous, big-name, megachurch pastors surround themselves with handlers. It is common for megachurches to have security forces. In addition, pastors have personal handlers/assistants. Often, when church members report misconduct by their pastors, these handlers make the “problems” go away. Brave is the person willing to go public about their pastor’s misconduct. Such people often have their lives ruined by the defenders of predatory preachers. That’s why when people contact me and share stories of abuse, I believe them.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser