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Category: Questions

Bruce, Do You See Young People Leaving Christianity in Rural Northwest Ohio?

i have a question

I recently asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question you would like me to answer, please leave your question on the page, Your Questions, Please.

ObstacleChick asked:

Where you live in evangelical conservative land, are you seeing younger people leaving religion as polls seem to indicate in the US?

I live in rural northwest Ohio. While I have lived in Michigan, California, Arizona, and Texas over the years, rural Ohio is my home. I understand country thinking, chafe when city-slickers call us ignorant hillbillies, and generally appreciate the cultural values of country life. That said, as I have moved leftward politically and embraced atheism, I have increasingly found the God-Guns-Republican ethos of rural folks to be stifling and frustrating.

Older locals, with a few exceptions, view me as a curiosity — someone they can’t figure out. I have been told on more than a few occasions, “Bruce, how can you be so smart, yet so dumb?” Those who were congregants of mine or know my Evangelical background are shocked that someone of my education, experience, and faith could ever turn his back on Jesus and start worshiping Satan — “Satan” being a catchall for atheism, liberalism, progressivism, communism, socialism, and other -ism’s their pastors have deemed anti-God.

Over the years, I have been repeatedly eviscerated by local Evangelicals and conservative Catholics in letters to the editors of the Bryan Times and the Defiance Crescent-News. Some of these Jesus-lovers have turned to lies and distortions to “prove” that I am Satan incarnate or a communist infiltrator. One man said that I was lying about my ministerial past, and that he had reported me to the state of Ohio for illegally performing weddings (which he did not actually do).

One day, I received an email from this man’s nephew. He informed me that he considered his uncle a blooming idiot. This 20-something man told me that he didn’t attend church; that he was an atheist. Over the years, I have received numerous emails and social media comments from younger locals. With the exception of one woman — a local pastor’s daughter — these young people voiced their discontent over the right-wing/conservative nature of rural northwest Ohio. Many of them no longer attended church or still went to services on Sundays because they had to.

Based on these anecdotes, I have concluded that local young people are increasingly disaffected from the religious beliefs and politics of their parents and grandparents — especially those who had opportunities to move away,go to college, and experience the world outside of homogeneous rural northwest Ohio.. I see this same disaffection with most of my children. Regrettably, one of my sons has become a gun-toting, Trump-supporting, white supremacist — who is now flying a militia flag and the Christian flag from his front porch. Except for him, my children have liberal/progressive values. Not all of them are atheists, but none of them, except for our white supremacist son, attends Evangelical churches. I suspect all of them will vote for Biden on election day. Even Bethany — our daughter with Down syndrome — if she could vote, she’d vote for Biden. The other day a Trump ad came on TV. Bethany booed and said, FUCK TRUMP! She is certainly a product of her environment.

Generally, local churches are losing younger congregants, especially when they go off to college. Churches are dying on the vine, though local Christians would try to argue that this is untrue. “Look at Xperience Church in Defiance,” they would say. “Xperience is growing by leaps and bounds! See, Jesus is alive and well.” However, as someone who has studied Evangelical church growth since the 1970s, I know that just because a few new Evangelical clubs are growing doesn’t mean the rest of the clubs are okay. In fact, where do churches such as Xperience get most of their new members? Transfer growth — Christians moving from one church to another. (Please see The Fine Art of Church Hopping.) Xperience Church has pillaged other congregations to fuel their explosive growth, Interestingly, some of the churches that have suffered the greatest loss from Xperience stealing members are those who did the very same thing to mainline churches in the 1970s and 1980s. You see, it is immoral capitalism that drives Evangelical church growth. Xperience Church just so happens to be the newest hamburger joint in town. Everyone loves visiting a new restaurant — especially here in rural northwest Ohio where Applebee’s and Chipolte are considered upscale fine dining. (Please see Dear Evangelical, Just Because You Quote the Bible Doesn’t Make Your Comment True, “We Accept Anyone No Matter What,” Local Evangelical Says.)

Looks, then, are deceiving. Yes, some local Evangelical churches are growing. However, the question remains, WHY are these churches growing? Where are there new members coming from? Since virtually everyone in rural northwest Ohio is a Christian, this growth can’t be driven by conversions. What’s driving this growth is people deciding they prefer Wendy’s over McDonald’s. The good news is the fact that many young people have decided they don’t like any of the offerings from local hamburger joints, choosing instead to cook at home, become vegans, or seek out rational, progressive restaurants. When you have had a Five Guys or Red Robin hamburger or eaten at a gastropub in Fort Wayne or Toledo, it’s hard to return to cheap, unsatisfying hamburgers sold on every corner in rural Ohio.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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Bruce, Did You Ever Pray for God to Abolish Hell?

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I recently asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question you would like me to answer, please leave your question on the page, Your Questions, Please.

Dave asked:

[Christian] Fundamentalists believe you can bring anything to God in prayer and he will answer it. They also believe in eternal torture as this god’s punishment for most of the human race. As a pastor did you ever pray that God would not allow such a monstrosity as hell? Why do you think that this plea is not made continuously by people who hold this belief? Is it because they don’t really believe they can change the mind of God, or is it because they relish the idea that nonbelievers will get what they deserve?

Evangelicals believe that the Bible God hears and answers their prayers. While Evangelicals are all over the place theologically on prayer, they believe that God does hear their petitions and answers in one of three ways:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not now

According to Evangelicals, every prayer that conforms to the will of God is answered affirmatively. Why, then, do most Evangelical prayers go unanswered — especially big-ticket items such as the ones mentioned by Dave? Why does God seem indifferent to human suffering, pain, and loss? According to Evangelicals, God saying no or not now happens for one of these reasons:

  • God wants to increase our faith
  • God wants to test us and make us stronger
  • God wants to chastise us for our sins, restoring us to a right relationship with him
  • God wants to bring glory to his name

While I am sure there are other “reasons” for God saying no or not now, these are the big four — the reasons most often cited by Evangelicals.

For thirty-five years, I prayed every day — often multiple times a day. Yet, I never, one time, asked God to abolish Hell. I believed Hell (and the Lake of Fire) was an awful place of eternal damnation and suffering, yet I also believed the people in Hell were getting exactly what they deserved. Salvation had been offered to them by Jesus Christ, yet they rejected it, choosing instead their own selfish desires. Of course, I dared not think too hard on the matter, lest I see multiple glaring contradictions. Had I thought about that matter, I would have concluded that God was unjust and unfair; that eternity in Hell seemed to be determined by who your parents were and geography.

After embracing Calvinism, I concluded that eternal destiny was determined not by making a decision for Christ, but because God had chosen some people to spend eternity in Hell. No one deserved salvation and eternity in Heaven, so God can’t be blamed for sending most people to the Lake of Fire.

I never believed I could change the mind of God through my prayers. God was the sovereign Lord over all, and everything that happened was according to his purpose and plan. People saved under my ministry were converted because God purposed from before the foundation of the world to bring them to saving faith. When I prayed, it was not so God would give me what I want, but so my will would conform to God’s. Ironically, on many occasions God’s “will” aligned perfectly aligned with mine. It was amazing that God often gave me exactly what I wanted. I later concluded that the only person answering my prayers was me; that my prayers were self-fulfilling wants, needs, and desires.

Dave concludes by asking a question that most Evangelicals don’t want to answer: [do] they [Evangelicals] relish the idea that nonbelievers will get what they deserve?

I do know that some Evangelicals relish the fact that I will some day go to Hell to be punished and tortured by God for eternity. I am viewed as someone especially deserving of eternal torture. I knew the “truth” and rejected it. I spit in the face of Jesus, choosing atheism over the one true faith. I have received countless emails and blog comments from Evangelicals who, with sadistic delight, describe what God is going to do to me after I die. Usually, they end with a call to repentance or “praying for you,” but I suspect that many of my critics relish what awaits for me in Hell.

Deep down, Evangelicals need validation; to know for certain that they are right. Their lives are built on certainty; that their God is the one true God; that the Bible is a supernatural book given to them by a supernatural God, a book that is a blueprint or manual for life; that their decision to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ was the right choice, guaranteeing them an eternity of heavenly bliss.

Those who don’t believe as they do will get exactly what they deserve — eternal punishment in Hell. What better way for you to be proven right than for unbelievers to be cast into the Lake of Fire? I suspect some Evangelical zealots will take day strolls to the rim of the Lake of Fire, and say to unbelievers, I TOLD YOU SO! The eternal suffering of unbelievers is, for Evangelicals, vindication of their beliefs.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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, Has Your Story Won Any Converts to Atheism?

peanut gallery

Recently, a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor emailed me and asked:

You certainly are preaching your good news still, eh? Once a preacher, always a preacher I guess. I read some of your site and I find it intriguing, if a bit … missionary … in its atheistic zeal. I’m curious if your message about your personal journey has won any converts to the atheism cause. Or did most former Christians just come to your site because they already had one foot on the way out and saw you out here? Like you, I’m sick of the lies inside the churches. But its clear I don’t hate the same set of “lies” you do. Unlike many Christian pastors, I have no interest in converting anyone and never have. I write only because I went through this same journey (and its subsequent fallout) with a fellow pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church, Ryan Bell, and I am gathering information as to why these journeys take place at all. So thanks for taking the time to write down why you left. It actually strengthens me in staying.

I have always been passionate about whatever I do in my life. So, what might be perceived as “missionary zeal” is actually just me being me. As a writer, I believe I have something to say that matters, so I put my whole being into my work. That said, my goal has never been to be an evangelist for atheism. My target audience remains the same today as it was a decade ago: those who have questions/doubts about Christianity and those who have left Christianity. I see myself as a facilitator. My goal is to help people distance themselves from Fundamentalist Christianity. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)

The letter writer asks if my story has won any converts to atheism. The short answer is yes. Numerous ex-Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and laypeople say that my writing was instrumental in their deconversion. While this is not my goal, I am humbled by the fact that many people find my writing helpful. That thousands of people read this blog still blows my mind.

The readers of this blog are quite eclectic. While I am an atheist and an agnostic, many readers are not. Evangelicals and liberal Christians, along with atheists, agnostics, pagans, and other non-Christians read my writing. Many of them have both feet firmly planted in their religious traditions. Others do not. Questioners and doubters, along with people seriously considering leaving the fold, often find that my writing resonates with them. My words ring true.

Of course, I also attract Evangelical apologists and critics, along with Muslim and Catholic zealots. Countless Christians have sent me emails or left comments on a particular post, hoping to bring me back into the fold, deconstruct my life, or discredit my story. In my early blogging days, I thought that if I just openly and honestly shared my story apologists, zealots, and critics would, at the very least, understand where I am coming from. Those days are long gone. Instead of engaging in endless debates, I give such people one opportunity to “share” whatever it is God as laid upon their hearts. If they play well with others, I might approve further comments from them. Unfortunately, most Evangelical commenters are terrible representatives of Christ on earth. (Please see Dear Evangelical.) Even if they could mount an effective defense of Christianity, why would I ever want to be around such nasty, arrogant, mean-spirited people?

As far as the “why” of my deconversion, here’s my stock answer:

I no longer believe that the central claims of Christianity are true. I came to a place in my life where these beliefs no longer made sense to me. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) I reject all the miraculous claims made for Jesus, from his virgin birth to his resurrection from the dead. I do believe Jesus is was a real flesh and blood human being who lived on Palestine 2,000 years ago, However, as with all humans, he lived and died, end of story.

Over the years, I have corresponded with hundreds of clergy who are either no longer believers or have serious doubts about Christianity. Our numbers are increasing daily. Why is that?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Four Questions from an Evangelical Pastor

questions

Several days ago, an Evangelical pastor whom I have known for over forty years sent me some questions, the answers to which appear below. I found his questions sincere and honest, unlike many questions I receive from Evangelicals. Far too often, ulterior motivations lurk behind some questions, but I don’t sense that here. Hopefully, readers of this blog will find my answers helpful.

Bruce, do you ever feel like you’re wrong?

I am sixty-two years old. I have been wrong more times than I can count. Over the past decade, I have, on occasion, written about my wrongness, be it beliefs I held or decisions I made. As a pastor, my beliefs evolved over the course of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. One of the mistakes my critics make is picking a certain point in my life, and judging me from that moment in time. In doing so, they mistakenly or deliberately ignore what has come before and after. Yes, I entered the ministry as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. Yes, I at one time was a Jack Hyles supporter. However, my beliefs and associations continued to evolve. By the time I left the ministry in 2005, my beliefs were, compared to those I entered the ministry with, quite liberal. I entered the ministry with a narrow, judgmental view of people who called themselves Christians. I believed that my little corner of the Evangelical tent was reserved for True Christians®. Twenty-five years later, the front door of the church I pastored said, “the church where the only label that matters is Christian.”

The same could be said of my evolution politically. For many years, I was a diehard Christian nationalist who only voted Republican. I listened to Rush Limbaugh every day. In 2000, for the first time, I voted for a Democrat. By the time I moved to my current home, I was a liberal and a democratic socialist.

And finally, the same could be said of my social beliefs. I entered the ministry as an anti-abortion, patriarchal homophobe. I pastored a Baptist church in southeast Ohio for eleven years. I was well-known for my public pronouncements against abortion, women’s rights, and homosexuality. Yet, two decades later, my views have dramatically changed. I am now considered a defender of choice, women’s rights, and LGBTQ people.

People who have never changed their minds about anything — a common trait among religious Fundamentalists — look at my journey and see a man who is unstable. I, on the other hand, see a man who is willing to change his mind when confronted or challenged with facts and evidence that render his beliefs untenable.

Intellectual and personal growth only come when we are willing to admit we are wrong. Closed-minded Fundamentalism stunts our thinking. One need only visit an IFB church to see what happens when people shut themselves off from the world and refuse to investigate and challenge their beliefs.

So, yes, I have been wrong, and I have no doubt that I will continue to be wrong. A well-lived life is one where there is ongoing progress and maturity. If I regret anything, it is that I waited way too long give in to my doubts and questions; that I waited way too long to expose myself to people who think differently from me; that I waited too long to admit to the love of my life and my children that I was wrong.

Bruce, have you ever hesitated at all in deciding to become an atheist?

The short answer is yes, especially when I first deconverted. For a time, my mind was plagued with thoughts and fears about being wrong and God throwing me in Hell. I feared God punishing me for disobedience. I lay in bed more than a few nights wondering, “what if I am wrong?”

Over time, my doubts and fears faded into the fabric of my life. It’s been years now since I had such thoughts.

Perhaps, this pastor is asking me a different question, wondering if I was hesitant about publicly identifying as an atheist. I have never been one to hesitate when I am confident that I am right. I am not the type of person who hides who and what he is, even if it would make life easier for me if I did so. In this regard, my wife and I are as different as day and night. Now, I don’t go through the streets screaming, “I am an ATHEIST,” but I don’t shy away from the label. I have often warned people who have contacted me about their own questions and doubts to NOT look at my life as a pattern to follow. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist) Each of us must choose our own path. I don’t judge or criticize atheists who choose to keep their unbelief private. Each to his own.

When I started blogging in 2007, one question I asked myself was whether I wanted to write anonymously. I chose to use my real name, but there have been moments when I wondered if I made the right choice. I have been brutally attacked and threatened by Christian zealots. The pain these people inflict leaves deep, lasting scars. Two weeks ago, this blog celebrated its fifth anniversary. Anyone who has ridden Bruce’s crazy train for years knows that me making it to five years is surprising. On at least three other occasions over the years, I have stopped blogging and deleted all of my posts due to savage attacks from Christian Fundamentalists (and, at one time, Fundamentalist atheists).

My life is pretty much an open book. I try to be open and honest, owning past mistakes and transgressions. Are there moments when I wish I had used a pseudonym instead of my real name? Sure, but it’s too late now to do so. The horse has left the proverbial barn. Even if I stopped blogging tomorrow, it would be impossible to erase my Internet footprint.

Bruce, was your transition difficult for you to accept?

I want to answer this question from two vantage points. First, was my transition from Christian to atheist hard for me to accept? Not at all. I have always believed truth matters. My life appears to my Evangelical critics to be one of a wanderer, a double-minded man (whom the Bible says is unstable in all his ways). My battle with depression is a sure sign to them that I am weak-kneed mentally. Perhaps, but I am the kind of person who is unafraid of changing his mind or being viewed as odd or different. In 2005, my mother-in-law and I had an epic blow-out. I believe I have written about this in the past. (This blow-out, by the way, totally altered our relationship — for the better, from my perspective.) Several days after our titanic battle, my mother-in-law called me. We talked about many things. During our conversation, Mom said, “Bruce, we always knew you were “different.” And she was right. I have always been the kind of person who follows the beat of my own drum, both as a Christian and an atheist. I have no doubt that my singular drum beating has caused me problems and affected the relationships I have with Polly, my children, and my extended family. I am who I am, and I have reached a place in life where I no longer apologize for being Bruce Gerencser.

Second, was my transition from a pastor to a commoner hard for me to accept? Absolutely. My entire life was wrapped up in Jesus and my calling to preach the gospel. The ministry was my life. I enjoyed being the hub around which everything turned. I enjoyed the work of the ministry, especially studying for and preaching sermons. To this day, I miss standing before people and saying, “thus saith the Lord.” I miss the love and respect I received from congregants. I miss the place I had in the community due to my position as a minister.

Walking away from the ministry and Christianity meant abandoning my life’s calling; abandoning everything I held dear. Doing so meant, at the age of fifty, I had to answer countless questions that I hadn’t thought about in years. Fortunately, Polly walked hand in hand with me when I deconverted. I can only imagine how different our lives might have been had I became an atheist and Polly remained a Christian. I highly doubt our marriage would have survived.

Do I still miss certain aspects of the ministry? Sure. Fortunately, writing has become a ministry of sorts for me. This blog and its wonderful readers are my church. I digitally preach sermons, hoping that people find them encouraging and helpful. The traffic numbers suggest that a few people, anyway, love and appreciate the content of my post-Christian sermons. And all Loki’s people said, AMEN!

Bruce, do you wonder at all about any form of an afterlife?

I do not. I have come to accept that life is short, death is certain, and once we draw our last breath we cease to exist. There was a time, post-Jesus, when I hoped there was some sort of life beyond the grave. It’s hard to comprehend not existing. I have had numerous thoughts about non-existence; about going to bed at night and never waking up; of being alive one moment, and dead the next. 2019 was a tough year physically for Polly and me. I thought about how life might be without Polly lying next to me; of not hearing the keys in the door late at night and her voice ringing out, “I’m home.”

As much as I might want for there to be life after death, the facts tell me that no such thing exists. What evidence do we have for an afterlife? None, except the words in this or that religious text. I am no longer willing to build my life and future on what the Bible does and doesn’t say. This is a good spot for me to share the advice I give on the About page:

If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

I do my best to live by this statement. If, perchance, I learn after I die that there is an afterlife, fine my me. I have no worries about the existence of the Christian God and his Heaven/Hell. I am confident that the only Heaven and Hell is that which we make in this life. That said, is it possible that some sort of cosmic afterlife exists? Sure, but I am not counting on it. I am not going to waste this life in the hope that there is some sort of divine payoff after I die

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Questions: How Would You Respond to Someone Who Rejects Your Advice?

i have a question

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.

Anonymous asks:

How would you respond to someone who rejects the advice on your About page?

Let me be honest with you, I found this question to be strange. Not sure what to make of it.

On the About page, I offer the following advice:

If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

What would I say to someone who rejects this advice, Anonymous asks. The short answer is “okay, be well, my friend.” I give this advice freely, and whether someone accepts it or finds value in what I have written is up to them. If they don’t, no skin off my back. I am not some sort of deity declaring his law. I am just a feeble, frail, fucked-up man who has learned a few things in his sixty-two years of life. The aforementioned statement reflects my experiences and the lessons I have learned as I motor through my oh-so-short existence.

I try each day to live by these words. I am certain that come the end of the day, I have, to some degree or the other, failed. All I know to do is try again.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Questions: How do You Deal with Evangelical Family and Friends?

i have a question

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.

Jen asks:

How do you deal with Fundamentalist/Evangelical family and friends? I’m surrounded by them. Now that I’m an evil Liberal, I’m not taken seriously. When I do speak up, they use silencing techniques. I haven’t been outside the fold for very long, so I have a knee-jerk reaction to their control tactics (I hate them). I’m hoping we can find a way to have a peaceful relationship, but everything is so one-sided. It’s their way or else. I think part of the issue is that I was always the silent submissive one. Now that I can think for myself and speak up, they don’t know how to handle it.

Jen, a self-described “evil liberal,” is having trouble getting along with Evangelical family and friends. I am sure scores of readers understand Jen’s predicament. She wants to get along with her Evangelical friends and family, but she’s having difficulty doing so due to their incessant need to dominate and control things. She suspects that her outspokenness after being silent and submissive in the past is perhaps part of the problem. Her family and friends don’t know what to do with the “new” Jen.

jumping man

Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist. If you have not read the post, Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? I encourage you to do so. Many “enlightened” Evangelicals hate being called Fundamentalists. They will stomp and scream, objecting to being lumped together with the Steven Andersons, Fred Phelps, and Franklin Grahams of the world. Imagine a toddler jumping up and down, screaming, I’M NOT A CHILD. That’s many “offended” Evangelicals. As my previously mentioned post makes clear, true Evangelicals are theological and social Fundamentalists. If it walks, talks, and acts like a Fundamentalist, it is a Fundamentalist. Part of the problem is the far left of the Evangelical tent is inhabited by Christians who are not theologically or socially Evangelicals, yet they claim the Evangelical label. These Evangelicals are actually liberal or progressive Christians, but, for some reason, perhaps familiarity or family connections, they refuse to abandon Evangelicalism.

Jen’s family and friends sound like they are typical Evangelicals, so I am going to assume that their beliefs are Fundamentalist. What do we know about Fundamentalists? First, Fundamentalists believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Second, Fundamentalists tend to interpret the Bible literally. Third, Fundamentalists have a black and white view of the world. And fourth, Fundamentalists crave certainty. These four things breed arrogance and often lead to the boorish behavior Jen describes in her comment. Fundamentalists aren’t interested in seeking truth. In their minds, they have already found it. Fundamentalists think their beliefs are one and the same with the mind of God. How can they not think this way? God, the Holy Spirit, lives inside of them and is their teacher and guide. Armed with an authoritative, infallible book, Fundamentalists are certain they know the answers to every question. Doubt this premise? Ask yourself when is the last time you have heard a Fundamentalist say, “I don’t know,” or “that’s an interesting question, let me think on it and get back with you.” Never, right?

Certainty stunts or retards intellectual growth. That’s why many Evangelical preachers haven’t changed their beliefs in years, if ever. One of my favorite U2 songs is “I Still Haven’t Found What I am Looking For.

Video Link

Evangelicals typically don’t say they haven’t found what they are looking for. Instead, they believe they hit the knowledge jackpot when Jesus reached into their wicked, sinful lives and saved them, imparting to them new life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  At that moment, all things became new, including their knowledge and understanding of, well, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

Imagine, if you will, a room of Evangelicals having a discussion about any of current social hot button issues. They are in agreement, say on abortion or same-sex marriage. God has spoken, end of discussion. Thus saith the Lord, right? Into the room walks liberal Jen, the Jen everyone has been praying for; praying that she will see the “light.” Jen thinks that her Evangelical family and friends might appreciate her view on the subject being discussed. So, she shares her progressive viewpoint, and just like that, the oxygen is sucked out of the room. The looks on the faces of her family and friends tell her all she needs to know: “I have spoken out of turn. How dare I share a different opinion. How dare I suggest that there are other ways to look at issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage.” “What’s next,” they think. “Is unsaved Jen going to tell us that LGBTQ people are fine just as they are?” God forbid, right?

And therein lies the problem when it comes to trying to get along with Evangelical family and friends — especially when there is a herd of them. Dissenting opinions or “unbiblical” speech is NEVER welcome. Everyone is expected to kowtow and conform to Evangelical truth. So what are the Jens of the world to do?

First, Jen can shut up and refrain from entering discussions. She can continue to be a quiet, submissive wallflower. No one should have to do so, but countless non-Evangelicals, not wanting to have conflict, choose this path.

Second, Jen can say, “dammit, I have just as much right to speak my mind as anyone else! I am NOT going to be silent!” While I admire such resolve, such an approach is not without danger. I have corresponded with numerous ex-Evangelicals who were ostracized or banished the moment they dared to pet the proverbial cat the wrong way. Readers might find, Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist helpful. In this post, I detail the dangers of speaking your mind. Just remember, once you open your mouth and say _________________, you no longer control what happens next. I know former Christians who spend the holidays at home alone because they have been excommunicated over their heretical, liberal beliefs.

Let me share a personal story:

With my parents being dead, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Polly’s parents. This abruptly changed in 2010. I left the ministry in 2003 and abandoned Christianity in November 2008. In early 2009, I sent out my family-shattering letter, Dear Family Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter radically changed our relationship with Polly’s Fundamentalist family.

Christmas of 2009 was best remembered by a huge elephant in the middle of the room, that elephant being Polly and me and the letter I sent the family. No one said anything, but the tension was quite noticeable.

2010 found us, just like every year since 1978, at Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. This would be the last Christmas we would spend with Polly’s parents and her extended family. We decided to blend into the background, and besides short pleasantries, no one talked to us. Not that they didn’t want to. We found out later from one of our children that Polly’s uncle wanted to confront me about our defection from Christianity. Polly Mom’s put a kibosh on that, telling her brother-in-law that she had already lost one daughter and she was not going to lose another. (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005.)

I appreciate Polly’s Mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family. I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people and I couldn’t ask for better in-laws.

Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and through the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats, and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism made for an uncomfortable evening.

Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephew’s had bought on the cheap at Big Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, to go poo-poo on, poo-poo being the Fundamentalist word for shit.  This was the last straw for us.

On our way home the next day, I told Polly that I couldn’t do it anymore and she said neither could she. So, we decided to stop going to Polly’s parents’ home for Christmas Eve. We do try to see Polly’s parents during the holiday, but we no longer attend the family gathering on Christmas Eve. Making this decision saddened us, but we knew we had to make it. (BTW, our children still attend the Christmas Eve gathering.)

After Polly and I deconverted in 2008, we decided to take the “seen, but not heard” approach when around her family. Everyone knew we had left Christianity, yet that fact did not get in the way of their assaults on our beliefs and politics. Ever been around people who were making a “point” without addressing you directly? That was family holidays for us. After a while, we got tired of being pummeled; tired of being treated as problems that needed fixed. We loved being around Polly’s family — food, fun, and fellowship, right? Well, that ended the moment we dared to step outside of the confines of approved family beliefs.

You see, that’s what Fundamentalist certainty does. Polly and I were forced to forge a new path and start new family traditions. Sure, we miss the “good old days,” but life moves on. Polly’s family — those who are still among the living, anyway — remain staunch Fundamentalists. It is unlikely that they will change their minds any time soon. Yes, Polly and I changed our minds, and many of you did too, but we are the exceptions to the rule. Once Fundamentalism takes root, it is almost impossible to change your ways. When you are totally invested in being “right,” admitting you might be wrong is damn near impossible.

Jen is in a difficult spot, and I can’t and won’t tell her what to do. She has to survey the land, so to speak, and determine what she can live with. It is unlikely her Evangelical family will change, so she has to weigh what comprises, if any, she is willing to make. Is she willing to be silent, submissive Jen? If not, can she live with the conflict that is sure to follow? Is she willing to risk losing the relationships she has with family and friends? Choosing the latter will most certainly cost her — painfully so.

Are you an ex-Evangelical? How to handle your relationships with Evangelical family and friends? Please share your sage advice in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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.

The Man With No Butt

Bruce Gerencser, early Spring 2015
Bruce Gerencser, early Spring 2015

Originally written in 2015. Edited, corrected, and expanded.

Recently, I asked readers for questions. Ed asked:

As a person of similar age and girth as Bruce Almighty…… belt AND suspenders or suspenders/belt alone?

Some things are far more relevant to our daily life than institutionalized fantasies.

I thought the following post would more than answer Ed’s belt and suspenders question. Enjoy!

I’m a big guy. 6 feet tall, just north of 360 pounds. Thanks to my recurrent battle with only Loki knows what, I have lost 25 pounds since last September. No one who knows me has asked if I’ve lost weight. I have an odd body shape for a man my size, and unfortunately, weight loss or gain goes unnoticed. Unlike most men my size, I don’t have what is commonly called a beer gut. Instead, from my size 8 head to my size 10 feet, I am shaped like a fire hydrant. I do have some belly fat, but I am pretty much a cylindrical mass of human flesh. I have ruddy complexion and beard color to play Santa, so in recent years I have finally embraced my inner Claus. Come Thanksgiving, it will be impossible for me to go in public without multiple people calling attention to Santa-like looks.

Most men my height have a 32-35-inch inseam. Not me. I have a 29-inch inseam. Even worse, I have no butt. No woman has ever complimented me for having a nice ass, mainly because my shirt is usually hanging out the back. I have spent much of my life tucking in shirts that are not long enough. Buying XXXL shirts is a challenge because clothing makers assume that every XXXL man has a big gut. The shirts are long enough, but often they are way too big in the chest. I finally found a t-shirt that fits me well. Made by Key Industries, I can buy them for less than $14 on Amazon. (Short Sleeve, Long Sleeve) The t-shirts are well made, don’t feel cheap, and have a pocket on the front. This pocket works well when I need someplace to put my lens cap or cellphone.

Last year, my oldest son introduced me to Van Heusen no-iron Traveller (Flex) shirts. Nice shirts that never need to be ironed provided they are removed from the dryer on time. Polly wishes I had “discovered” these shirts back in the day when I was wearing white pinpoint cotton oxford shirts. Those shirts ALWAYS needed to be starched and ironed — another of the many reasons my wife is a saint. These shirts have longer tails, but I’ve found that I have to order one size larger than I normally do.

polly mom and dad 2018 (2)
Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2018

Even when I get shirts that fit, I still have a problem keeping my pants up. Most people have hips and a butt they can hang their pants on. Not me. Since I don’t want to make the local news, Atheist Moons Shoppers at Meijer, I not only wear a belt but I also wear suspenders. Wearing only a belt is an invitation for embarrassment, especially now that I have lost weight. I put two new holes in my belt so I can cinch it up tighter, but even then, my pants tend to work their way down. If you are a local reader and have seen me at Meijer with my hands in my pockets, it’s not because my hands are cold. When I feel my pants following the path of least resistance, I pull them up Grandpa-style and put my hands in my pockets to keep them from sliding back down.

perry suspenders
Perry Suspenders

A few years back, I found the perfect suspenders for a guy like me. Most suspenders have a clasp that is snapped on the pants. Over time, these snaps get weak, tend to come unsnapped, and smack the wearer in the face. Thankfully, I found Perry Suspenders. Perry Suspenders, which come in 2 widths and 2 lengths, hook on your belt, providing a second layer of butt exposure security. You can buy a pair of Perry Suspenders for $13-18 on Amazon. Since wearing Perry Suspenders, I no longer fear being the subject of a YouTube video shot by a local resident at Meijer. Nothing like fame for having your pants drop down to your knees in the middle of the store. It’s never happened to me, but I have caught them well on their way to embarrassing me.

I buy most of my clothing and shoes on Amazon. I am not a big fan of Amazon, but their selection of big and tall clothing is second to none. When it comes to jeans, I typically buy Levi 550s or 560s. When I find something that “fits,” I tend to stick with that brand. When it comes to shoes, I buy them either through Amazon or its affiliate Zappos. My snowboard feet take a 10-EEEE shoe. I buy two brands: Skechers and New Balance. Again, I buy what I know, what has fit me in the past. At my age, I have no interest in redesigning the clothing wheel. (I did learn several years ago, that I was washing my jeans way too often; that as long as they aren’t dirty or smelly, jeans can be worn for weeks at a time between washes. It took me a long time to buy into this idea. I was used to washing my jeans after every wearing. Now they last a lot longer.)

I buy well-made leather belts made by YourTack in nearby LaGrange, Indiana. So far, I have bought my belts online, but I do hope to visit their store someday. Last year, I discovered how much I love wearing fedoras. Depending on whom you ask, I either look like an Amish man or a mobster. We have Amish communities nearby, so I tend to get second looks from people trying to match my Amish-looking hat and beard with my English-looking clothing. After buying several inferior hats on Amazon, I decided to look elsewhere. My search took me to the Village Hat Shop in San Diego, California. When it comes to wool/felt hats, you get what you pay for. The Village Hat Shop carries a large selection of hats, in a variety of sizes. Shipping is free, and most orders are delivered in 5-8 days.

So there ya have it. All you ever wanted to know about the man with no butt.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Questions: Was Biblical Inerrancy the Primary Reason I Deconverted?

i have a question

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.

Emersonian asked:

I suppose, not to assume that I understood Steve’s question better than he does (especially since he’s commented above) — the follow-up question is this: was there a line for you between rejecting biblical inerrancy/Christ’s divinity and embracing atheism? Obviously there are many folks (myself included) who believe in a concept of “god” without the trappings of evangelical Christianity . . . so I’d say, even if this wasn’t the question Steve was really asking, do you feel that you went through multiple stages of detachment from religion (rejecting evangelical Christianity, then Christianity as a whole upon further examination, then rejection of the concept of a God of any kind) or was it all a package deal — if the evangelical view isn’t true then all of it must be BS? I know that you and Polly did attend non-evangelical churches of various types after your departure from your former congregation: how did that inform your eventual acceptance of your own atheism?

Perhaps what Emersonian wants to know is whether I think I threw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater; that in abandoning Evangelicalism (the bathwater), I threw out God (the baby) altogether. I certainly understand how someone might read my story, miss a few of the connecting dots, and come to this conclusion. However, this is not what happened, as I shall explain below.

I have been asked on several occasions if I thought I would still be a Christian had I begun life in liberal Christianity instead of Evangelicalism? This is a good question, but one, of course, that I cannot answer. Playing the “what might have been” game is an interesting endeavor, but it is impossible to know how things might have turned out had I walked through door number one instead of door number three. I am sixty-two years old. The sum of my life is a long string of choices. Each choice sent me down a certain path. A different decision along the way would have sent me in a different direction. Maybe I would have married a different woman, gone to a different college, chosen a different profession, or lived in a different state. The fact remains, however, that I made certain choices that resulted in certain outcomes. So it is with me being an Evangelical Christian for 50 years of my life. I was born to Evangelical parents, grew up in an Evangelical home, attended Evangelical churches, went to an Evangelical college, and married an Evangelical woman. We spent the next twenty-five years ministering in Evangelical congregations, gave birth to six Evangelical children, and had numerous Evangelical cats and dogs.

My life was so deeply immersed in the Way, Truth, and Life of Evangelical Christianity that even today, eleven years removed from the day I walked out the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, I wrestle with the vestigial remains of Evangelicalism. Now, this does not mean that I, deep down in my heart of hearts, still yearn to be a Christian. I don’t. What it does mean, however, is that five decades of Evangelical training and indoctrination left a deep scar upon my life; a scar that is fading with time, but will likely never totally fade away.

It is certainly true that coming to understand that the Bible was not an inspired, inerrant, infallible text shook my religious foundation. “If the Bible is NOT what Evangelicals claim it is,” I asked myself, “are any of its teachings true?” Answering this question forced me to re-study the central claims of Christianity; especially beliefs that were supernatural in nature. From creation to apocalypse, I took a careful look at the doctrines I once held dear. I painfully concluded that the central claims of Christianity could not be rationally and intellectually sustained.

I have always been the type of person who follows the evidence wherever it leads. This is why my theological foundation shifted several times when I was a Christian. I entered the ministry as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. Over time, I abandoned cheap grace, one-two-three, repeat-after-me soteriology and embraced Calvinism. A decade or so later I abandoned Calvinism. When I left the ministry in 2005, I was preaching what some of my critics called a social, works-based gospel. I was a far different preacher and man in 2005 from the one I was when I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in 1976. Time changes all of us, and I am no exception.

Take my eschatological beliefs. For many years, I held to a dispensational, pretribulational, premillennial eschatology. Once I embraced Calvinism, I adopted a posttribulational, amillennial eschatology. Countless other beliefs changed over the years. The more I read, the more my beliefs evolved. This approach to gaining knowledge continued as I contemplated leaving Christianity. The goal has always been the same: to know the truth.

“Why didn’t I become a liberal Christian?” you might ask. Surely, I could have abandoned Evangelicalism, yet held on to the Christian God. Maybe, but I doubt it. I value truth more than many liberal/progressive Christians do. Liberals seem willing to jettison virtually every Christian belief save believing in the existence of Jesus/God. Their beliefs can fit on the front side of a 3×5 card. I find myself asking, “why bother?” Such people are usually universalists, so there’s no concern about unbelief landing anyone in Hell. I suppose there is value in the social aspects of belonging to a church, but I enjoy sleeping in on Sundays far more than I do listening to terrible, lifeless sermons and attempting to sing songs best suited for the Vienna Boys Choir.

After I left the ministry and before I deconverted, our family visited over 100 churches in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Arizona, and California. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We attended churches across the sectarian Christian spectrum. The only churches we avoided were IFB congregations. Our goal was to find a church to call home that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. After three years of searching, we concluded that all the churches we visited were pretty much the same. Sure, we experienced different liturgies, different worship/preaching styles, etc., but at a foundational level, these churches differed very little from each other.  I know, I know, every church thinks theirs is “special.”  Every church thinks their buffet is better than those of other churches. Every church thinks their flavor of ice cream (please see My Heart Goes Out to You or Please Try my Flavor of Ice Cream) is better than any other flavor. That’s what happens when you spend your life in inbred relationships; when you spend your life in religious bubbles that give the appearance of rightness. Ultimately, it was exposure to the “world” that led me down the path of deconversion. Once freed from the authoritarian hold of the inerrant Word of God, I was free to read and study whatever I wanted. I was no longer walled in by Evangelical beliefs. I was free to follow the path wherever it went. This led to where I am today.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser