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Category: Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: Exposing Evangelical Christianity’s White Supremacist, Christian Nationalist Roots

christian nationalism
Cartoon by Trygve Olson

In the wake of the massacre in Buffalo, we have all, naturally, tried to understand what could have caused someone to commit such a horrific act of violence. This young white man linked his motivations to fears about demographic and cultural changes in the U.S., dynamics that he believed were resulting in the replacement of “the white race.”

The shooting has spurred a national discussion about the mainstreaming of these concerns, often summarized under the term “replacement theory.” Most of the attention has been given to the demographic component of this theory, while the cultural aspects have been overlooked.

But the fear of cultural replacement has an unambiguous lineage that gives it specific content. At the center of the “great replacement” logic, there is—and has always been—a desperate desire to preserve some version of western European Christendom. Far too many contemporary analysts, and even the Department of Justice, have not seen clearly that the prize being protected is not just the racial composition of the country but the dominance of a racial and religious identity. If we fail to grasp the power of this ethno-religious appeal, we will misconstrue the nature of, and underestimate the power of, the threat before us.

….

In the U.S., this drive to preserve white Christian dominance undergirded the worldview of the Ku Klux Klan when it reemerged in the early part of the 20th century. We rightly remember the terrorism aimed at Black Americans, but the KKK was also explicitly anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic; it existed to protect the dominance of a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant America.

In 1960, in my home state of Mississippi, Governor Ross Barnett regularly blended his Christian identity with talk about the threat of “white genocide.” Off the campaign trail, Barnett also served as head of the large men’s Sunday school program at the most influential church in the state, First Baptist Church. After his successful segregationist campaign, FBC blessed him with a consecration service and a gift of a pulpit Bible in recognition of his protection of their white and Christian supremacist worldview.

Why are we seeing the rise in white supremacist violence over the last decade? In short, in the U.S. context, the election, and re-election, of our first Black President coincided with the sea change of no longer being a majority white Christian nation (as I noted in my book The End of White Christian America, white Christians went from 54% to 47% in that period, down to 44% today). These twin shocks to centuries of white Christian dominance set the stage for Donald Trump.

Trump’s “Make American Great Again” formula—the stoking of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-Black sentiment while making nativist appeals to the Christian right—contains all the tropes of the old replacement theory. The nostalgic appeal of “again” harkens back to a 1950s America, when white Christian churches were full and white Christians comprised a supermajority of the U.S. population; a period when we added “under God” to the pledge of allegiance and “In God We Trust” to our currency.

These fears about the “great replacement” are not fringe among conservative subgroups today, according to recent data from PRRI. While only 29% of Americans agree, for example, that “Immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background,” that number rises to dangerous levels among a range of groups comprising the conservative base in U.S. politics: 67% among those who say they most trust Fox News; 65% among QAnon believers; 60% among Republicans; 50% among white evangelical Protestants, and 43% among white American without a college degree.

Moreover, among white Americans, there is high (two-thirds) overlap between beliefs in Christian nationalism and replacement theory. And both views are associated with higher support for political violence among whites

….

The Department of Homeland Security has declared that white supremacists “remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland.” President Joe Biden, importantly, became the first U.S. President to use the words “white supremacy” in his inaugural address; and in the wake of the massacre in Buffalo last weekend, he called white supremacy a “poison…running through our body politic.” But while each identified white supremacy and dangerous “ideologies,” there is no acknowledgment of the documented ways right-wing Christianity has nourished these views.

There is a troubling religious double standard in the U.S.—one which threatens our safety and our democracy. If these same kinds of appeals and violent actions were being made and committed by Muslims, for example, most white Americans would be demanding actions to eradicate a domestic threat from “radical Islamic terrorism,” a term we heard relentlessly during the Trump era. But because Christianity is the dominant religion in this country, its role in supporting domestic terrorism has been literally unspeakable.

The clear historical record, and contemporary attitudinal data, merit an urgent discussion of white Christian nationalism as a serious and growing threat to our democracy. if we are to understand the danger in which we find ourselves today, we will have to be able to use the words white Christian nationalism and domestic terrorism in the same sentence.

— Robert P. Jones, Time, It’s Time to Stop Giving Christianity a Pass on White Supremacy and Violence, May 23, 2022

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.

Quote of the Day: A White Young Earth Creationist Evangelical Goes to Heaven

evangelicals-heaven

And I had this dream about a white creationist evangelical (WCE) who died and showed up at the gates of heaven.

Peter: “Why should God let you into heaven?”

WCE: “Who are you? Where’s Jesus?”

Peter: “I’m his representative. You know, the rock on which he built the church. You have to talk to me first and I need you to answer the question: Why should God let you into heaven? Keep in mind this is ‘Final Jeopardy.’” 

WCE: “I trusted Jesus as my savior, and I know Adam and Eve were real people. No Adam, no Jesus, you know.” 

Peter: “Did you feed the hungry?” 

WCE: “Well, I opposed abortion. I happily intimidated young women who were at the abortion clinic for an abortion. I showed up for anti-abortion protests, and I attended rallies in Washington D. C. to put pressure on the Supreme Court. A leaked draft on the day of my departure from Earth indicated that the Supreme Court was going to vote to abolish abortion. Oh, how I would have loved to have been there for that glorious moment of sticking it to the liberals!” 

Peter: “Calm down. This is not really a place that’s big on a lot of excitement and loud talking. Did you give water to the thirsty?” 

WCE: What do these questions have to do with getting into heaven? Look, I upheld the honor of God by opposing gay marriage. Gays are an abomination to the Lord. And I really hammered all those radicals who didn’t understand that boys should be boys and not transgender persons. I defended the bathrooms of America with all my heart.” 

Peter: “Did you know that I once thought Gentiles were an abomination to the Lord. Then, in a dream, God said to me, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ What a jarring idea. When I went to the church council in Jerusalem, my fellow apostles and I had a real argument about this idea. And then, we decided to accept Gentiles. Do you think that applying the Jerusalem Church’s solution to inclusion could have been a good model for dealing with gays? Ok. Sorry for the rant. I have another question. Did you show hospitality to strangers?” 

WCE: “I did if they were godly people: you know, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-science, anti-history, American patriots. But immigrants? No! I was part of the Minutemen who patrolled our southern border to keep all those criminals out of our country. I don’t understand this ‘snowflake’ need to pamper illegal immigrants. You have to stand up for your rights, and our rights as true Americans are threatened by these criminals – our values were endangered. So of course I didn’t show hospitality to them. As a good Christian I defended nationalist, heteronormative, sexist, ablest, racist, and classist power because that’s what God demanded.” 

Peter: “Did you clothe the naked?” 

WCE: “Is this some kind of sex question. Why do you want to talk about ‘nekkid people?’ Have you no shame? This place is not a nudist colony, is it? Are there a bunch of free-love hippies wandering the grounds? Look, I protested the way women dressed so sensuously. Disgraceful, I tell you, disgraceful.”   

Peter: “Did you care for the sick?”

WCE: “I wrote letters and signed petitions against Obamacare.” 

Peter: “Did you know that the legislation was actually called the Affordable Health Care Act. Almost everyone favors ‘affordable.’ Everyone is in favor of ‘health,’ and who would ever oppose ‘care’? Did you forget that Jesus was a healer, the ‘great physician’? Do you remember the story of the man left for dead on the Jericho Road and the stranger who paid for his emergency room, hospitalization, and rehab? Again, did you care for the sick?” 

WCE: “Why are you telling me all this Bible stuff? What’s that got to do with heaven? I was trying to stop socialism, man.” 

Peter: “Hmmm. Well, did you visit the prisoners?” 

WCE: “I stood up for law and order, capital punishment, and long sentences for drug offenders. Lock’em up, I say. I opposed BLM, CRT, ‘wokeness,’ and all those liberal socialists in Congress. The Dems are demons, I tell you, and they are in the sex slave business with children. Ungodly.” 

Peter: “You have quite the resume. What else did you do?” 

WCE: “I was a true patriot who defended the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, prayer in schools, ‘In God We Trust,’ and ‘one nation under God.’ I would have sent those professional ballplayers to prison for kneeling during the national anthem. I gave money to David Barton, a godly man trying to destroy the First Amendment to the Constitution. He really looks great in that red, white, and blue suit! Speaking of the glorious red, white, and blue, where’s the American flag?  Why isn’t it flying over this place?

Peter: “I should warn you that you seem to be conflating Americanism, nativism, sexism, and racism with Christianity. Is there anything else you would like to add?” 

WCE: “Well, I did my part to keep the world addicted to fossil fuels. I tried to help people to see that women must be submissive to men. And I supported all the efforts to rewrite American history to get rid of those liberal notions of systemic racism.”

Peter: “You really have quite the resume.”

WCE: “Thanks! And there’s more. I tried to help people see that God created the world in six literal days, and that evolution is a lie of the devil. And since the public schools – the devil’s playground – are infected with evolutionism, I have worked to convince parents to send their children to fundamentalist schools, where they will be taught a biblically consistent curriculum, and where they will learn the truth about six-day creation and the 6000-year-old universe.”  

Peter: What are you talking about? God gave you a brain, and this is the drivel you come up with?

WCE: “Oh, my, I forgot one of the most important of causes. I supported the Second Amendment to the Constitution. I believe in God and guns, lots and lots of guns. By the way, where are the armed guards, and why don’t you have a wall? My pastor told me that God loves walls, and that there was a huge wall in heaven, but I only see open spaces. Look, I know the line is getting long behind me, so let me sum up. God should let me into heaven because I believe in God, guns, the Bible, male superiority, and heteronormative white society. I believe in keeping America for real Americans, real patriots. I believe in the 4th of July as a Christian holiday, and the Pledge of Allegiance as the church’s creed. And I can’t wait to join the QAnon chapter here in heaven!”

Peter: “Oh my. Well, you can go through the door on the left. It’s a sort of holding pen for applicants with muddled answers. I will get back to you in a few million years with a final decision. In the interim I will register you for some remedial classes in science, history, and the Bible. Have a nice eternity. I need a break.”  

— Dr. Rodney Kennedy, Righting America: A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US, A White Creationist Evangelical Arrives at the Gates of Heaven, May 16, 2022

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.

Quote of the Day: I’m Woke, Liberal, and Progressive

leonard pitts jr

Understanding how That Word [liberal] was taken out of service is invaluable in understanding what is transpiring now with That Other Word. And here, yes, we are talking about “woke.”

Because we’ve seen this movie before. Once again, the right mocks a word with undisguised glee — it is slapped on a Florida education censorship bill; it is blamed by the L.A. County Sheriff for making the city unlivable; U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz claims it will “destroy” the military. And once again, the left responds with a crouch. Or has no one else noticed how the word has magically disappeared from the mouths of all but its detractors? A list that, not incidentally, includes Democratic strategist James Carville, who made news last year by declaring, in a Vox interview, that “Wokeness is a problem.”

6But is it, really? Or is the problem not that the left keeps allowing the right to frame the debate? Is the problem not the failure to finally realize that there is no word the left can use to define itself that will stop those mean conservatives from picking on them? Because it’s not the words the right opposes. Rather, it’s the beliefs those words express.

Like the belief that people should not have to breathe carcinogens in their air, drink poisons in their water or eat maggots in their meat. And that the workweek should not be 80 hours long. And that children should not be in factories, nor hardworking families in slums. And that women should control their reproductive destinies, LGBTQ people should be treated like human beings, Black people should be free to vote. And that government has a responsibility to enforce it all.

Those are noble causes to fight for. That those who have historically done so find it necessary to crouch in defense speaks to how upside down and inside out is this era — and to the success of the right in defining those who are too often timid and inept in defining themselves.

“Woke” means awake and aware. “Liberal” means “generous and broad-minded.” “Progressive” — just to complete the triumvirate — means “characterized by progress.” Each is preferable to its alternative.

That’s not to advocate for any particular word. Rather, it’s to say that every moment spent debating words is a moment spent not advocating for the beliefs those words express.

— Leonard Pitts, Jr., Seattle Times, Liberal, woke, whatever — just fight for your beliefs, May 10, 2022

Quote of the Day: Christian Fascists

chris hedges

The Christian fascists have coalesced in cult-like fashion around Donald Trump. They are bankrolled by the most retrograde forces of capitalism. The capitalists permit the stupidities of the Christian fascists and their self-destructive social and cultural wars. In exchange, the billionaire class gets corporate monopolies, union-busting, privatized state and municipal services, including public education, revoked government regulations, especially environmental regulation, and are free to engage in a virtual tax boycott.

The war industry loves the Christian fascists who turn every conflict from Iraq to Ukraine into a holy crusade to crush the latest iteration of Satan. The Christian fascists believe military power, and the “manly” virtues that come with it, are blessed by God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary. No military budget is too big. No war waged by America is evil.

….

The glue holding this Christianized fascism together is not prayer, although we will get a lot of that, but war. War is the raison d’être of all systems of totalitarianism. War justifies a constant search for internal enemies. It is used to revoke basic civil liberties and impose censorship. War demonizes those in the Middle East, Russia or China who are blamed for the economic and social debacles that inevitably get worse. War diverts the rage engendered by a dysfunctional state towards immigrants, people of color, feminists, liberals, artists, anyone who does not identify as a heterosexual, the press, antifa, Jews, Muslims, Russians or Asians. Take your pick. It is a bigot’s smorgasbord. Every item on the menu is fair game.

I spent two years with the Christian right reporting and researching my book “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” These Christian fascists have never hidden their agenda or their desire to create a “Christian” nation, any more than Adolf Hitler hid his demented vision for Germany in “Mein Kampf.” They prey, like all fascists, on the despair of their followers. They paint gruesome portraits of the end times. when the longed-for obliteration of nonbelievers presages the glorious return of Jesus Christ. The battle at Armageddon, they believe, will be launched from the Antichrist’s worldwide headquarters in Babylon once the Jews again have control of Israel. The closer we get to Armageddon, the giddier they become.

These people believe this stuff, as they believe in QAnon or the election fraud that supposedly put Biden in office. They are convinced that a demonic, secular-humanist ideology propagated by the media, the United Nations, elite universities, the ACLU, the NAACP, NOW, Planned Parenthood and the Trilateral Commission, along with the U.S. State Department and major foundations, is seeking to destroy them.

Violence is embraced as a cleansing agent, a key component of any fascist movement. The Christian fascists do not fear nuclear war. They welcome it. The insane provocations of Russia by the Biden administration, including the decision to provide $33 billion in assistance to Ukraine, target 10 Russian generals for assassination and pass on to Ukraine the intelligence to sink the Moskva, the guided missile cruiser that was the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet, supercharges the ideology of the Christian right. The marriage of the war industry, determined to make war forever, with the Christian fascists yearning for the apocalypse is terrifying. Biden is sleepwalking us into a war with Russia and perhaps with China. The Christian fascists will accelerate the bloodlust.

— Chris Hedges, Salon, Jesus, endless war and the irresistible rise of American fascism, May 10, 2022

Quote of the Day: Elon Musk Purchases Twitter, A Threat to Democracy

elon musk
Cartoon by Clay Jones

Article by Julia Conley, Common Dreams, ‘A Real Threat to Democracy’: Musk Buys Twitter for $44 Billion, April 25, 2022

Rights advocates, public health experts, and media critics were among those on Monday who warned that the purchase of  Twitter by mega-billionaire Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, creates a direct threat to democracy and the common good by putting the outsized power of the social media platform used by hundreds of millions worldwide into the hands of one man.

The social media company accepted Musk’s offer to purchase Twitter for $44 billion, or $54.20 per share—leading some critics to note other ways the enormous sum of money could have been spent rather than on what Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.) called “a vanity project boondoggle to silence” Musk’s critics.

“Tax the rich,” Garcia said on Twitter.

Musk’s purchase has led to concern that former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account will be reinstated. Trump was banned from the platform in January 2021 after violating its rules by inciting his followers to violently attack the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.

“Musk hasn’t just purchased another expensive play toy, but a global online community that includes about 330 million regular users,” said Jessica Gonzalez, co-CEO of Free Press.

“With control of such a massive platform comes great responsibility—and Musk hasn’t shown he has the capacity to be accountable to this diverse online community,” she added, noting Musk’s own history of using Twitter to “intimidate and disparage others, including journalists, elected officials, owners of competing businesses and anyone else who might challenge his views.”

With Musk at the helm, said Gonzalez, Twitter must improve its content moderation practices and “stop amplifying bigotry and conspiracy theories that pollute public discourse, threaten the health and safety of users, and undermine democracy.”

Musk has criticized Twitter’s efforts to moderate the platform, saying early this month that he believes “it’s just really important that people have the reality and the perception that they’re able to speak freely within the bounds of the law” and that “the civilizational risk is decreased the more we can increase the trust of Twitter as a public platform.” 

Journalist Anand Giridharadas said that by taking over Twitter and claiming he’ll protect the platform as “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk is “doing is what plutocrats have been doing… branding themselves the solution to the very problem they are.”

“This isn’t just some corporate takeover,” said Giridharadas. “This is about a set of very specific moves that our oligarchs have been taking that have gradually concentrated economic, political, and discursive power in fewer and fewer hands.”

As Media Matters reported Monday, right-wing politicians in the U.S. have been in favor of Musk’s purchase since he first offered to buy the platform earlier this month. On Friday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) led 18 House Republicans in writing to Twitter’s board of directors, demanding that the board preserve all records related to Musk’s bid.

“The right’s propagandists had celebrated Musk’s bid as a way to garner political gain by ending the company’s purported political censorship,” reported senior fellow Matt Gertz. “Then its elected GOP champions, responding to hesitation from and when Twitter’s board, raised the prospect of a costly congressional investigation if his offer wasn’t accepted.”

While Twitter was a large and powerful company before Musk’s takeover was announced, said Sana Saeed of Al Jazeera, the purchase “does underscore an unnerving trend—the ability of a single man to purchase something that impacts hundreds of millions (beyond users) in order to influence it in his own image.”

“It’s less than great when billionaires own sports teams—which bind communities together—as their playthings,” said Robert Weissman, president of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. “Having a billionaire own Twitter—a vital platform for communication and community—as his plaything is far more serious. It’s a real threat to democracy.”

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.

Quote of the Day: Six Times When It’s Better for Evangelicals to Keep Their Mouths Shut

quick to listen

What follows is an excerpt from a post by Ellis Orozco, a Southern Baptist pastor. I suspect Orozco and I disagree on many things. After all, he’s a believer, and I am a God-hating, perverted atheist. 🙂 That said, Orozco’s post really resonated with me. I have spent the past fifteen years interacting with Evangelical Christians. These experiences have largely been hostile and negative. Why is this? Many Evangelicals refuse to listen to what I have to say, refusing to accept my story at face value. Evangelicals read one or two posts and then unload their guns on my worthless, vile atheist person. Rarely do Evangelicals listen (read) before speaking. That’s why my favorite verse to quote to such people is Proverbs 18:13: Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. I didn’t say this, God did, to quote a favorite line used by Evangelical prooftexters. 🙂

Orozco gives six times when it’s better Evangelicals to shut-up and listen. After reading Orozco’s post, this curmudgeon said AMEN! Let me know what you think in the comment section.

First, when someone is telling their story. “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matthew 8:10).

Jesus heard the story of the Roman centurion and drew an astonishing conclusion: “This Gentile has more faith than any Jew I have met!”

If someone is brave enough to share their story, you should quietly listen, asking only questions that show you’re genuinely interested and encouraging them to continue.

If their story doesn’t align with your faith views on life, then it’s time to do the long and laborious work of building a friendship across that divide. Only then will you someday earn the right to speak the truth.

Second, when you don’t have all the facts. “Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen and understand’” (Matthew 15:10).

Jesus consistently lamented that people had ears but couldn’t hear and eyes but couldn’t see. He never mentioned that they had tongues but didn’t speak. Speaking our minds is not usually the problem for Christians.

Keep in mind that life is complicated and people make poor decisions for all kinds of reasons. Make sure you have as many of the facts as possible before you jump to conclusions.

The Christian’s first posture should be to ask sincere questions and listen. Seek to understand. Look for common ground. Gather the facts and then draw conclusions with humility and an ever-present awareness that you could be wrong.

“Gather the facts and then draw conclusions with humility and an ever-present awareness that you could be wrong.”

Third, when you are out of your depth. “‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep’” (John 4:11).

Jesus stood in front of a famous well. He was thirsty, but the well was too deep and he didn’t have anything with which to draw the water. He had to ask for help.

The democratization of publishing has brought hundreds of thousands of new commentators to the global conversation. According to Internet Live Stats, a staggering 7.5 million blog posts get published daily.

Too many are rushing to publish, anxious to add their voice to the growing discord. Anyone with a computer and internet service fancies themselves an expert. Most know just enough to be dangerous.

Much of what passes as opinion pieces are simply Christians parroting what their favorite pundit is saying. Often, neither the pundit nor the parrot has done their homework.

Last year when Critical Race Theory became controversial, I was in the middle of writing a series of blog posts on the topic of women in ministry. It was an issue I had devoted a considerable amount of time to studying — about a thousand hours of reading over a 20-year period. I ended up writing more than 30 blog posts on the subject of women in ministry, totaling more than 60,000 words.

I thought about shifting for a season and writing on the subject of Critical Race Theory. It was a hot topic, and I felt that as both a Latino and a conservative evangelical I might add a different perspective.

However, I quickly realized I was out of my depth and would need to invest at least 100 hours of reading to get to the place where I could say anything valuable about it.

“Recognize when you are dealing with an issue whose complexities overwhelm your meager research.”

I didn’t have 100 hours to invest, so I chose to keep my mouth shut. There were plenty of others, far more qualified than I, who were writing on both sides of that issue.

Recognize when you are dealing with an issue whose complexities overwhelm your meager research. Rely on the professionals who have devoted thousands of hours to studying the issue at hand.

Fourth, when you just met someone. “Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Legion,’ he replied because many demons had gone into him” (Luke 8:30).

Learn a person’s name before you attack them. Learn their story before you pass judgment.

My dad taught me that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. The day you meet someone is not the time to share everything you think is wrong with the world.

Most people don’t care what you think. At least, not at first. They want to know that you care about them before you start pointing out all they are getting wrong.

“Learn a person’s name before you attack them. Learn their story before you pass judgment.”

Fifth, when action is more important than words. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

There are moments that call for a cessation of words and a move to action.

When a tornado hits or a child is deathly ill or depression turns to suicidal ideation, the time for words is gone. The person who truly knows how to love turns off their mouth and animates their ears, hands and feet.

Sixth, when your theology lines up perfectly with your political agenda. “Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’” (Matthew 22:21b).

If God is always on your side, it’s time to reevaluate your view of God. You have most likely fashioned a god in the image of your party’s ideology. The danger is that you will lose the ability to distinguish between the rhetoric of the party line and the voice of God.

I am deeply suspicious of anyone (including myself) who always has God on their side. You should be too.

When you find yourself constantly quoting God to undergird your political views, it’s time to close your mouth and open your ears. God wants to teach you where you’re wrong.

The words of James should be plastered on every billboard in America: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20).

It’s difficult to estimate the damage that has been done by Christians who completely ignore the words of James.

Ellis Orozco, pastor of First Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas, Baptist News Global, Six times when it’s better for a Christian to stay silent, March 28, 2022

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.

Quote of the Day: Evangelicals Ignore Those Who Left at Their Own Peril

echo chamber

The answers to evangelical questions of identity, orthodoxy and politics have already been given by those on the margins, by those on the outside and those who maintain solidarity with them. It’s an open question whether or not the evangelicals who remain in their churches will listen to the prophets of the past or the present, who have challenged them on questions of theology, biblical interpretation, church relations, race, gender, sexuality, politics and more — and done so while standing on sound theological ground. But all signs indicate that evangelicalism will harden its heart once again. 

A prime example of this is Christanity Today’s March 2022 cover story, which aims to make caricatures of those deconstructing because it is “trendy on Instagram” and both vilifies and baits those struggling with the consequences of evangelical politics, church practice and beliefs. It neglects to quote a single prominent public critic of evangelicalism — whether they use contemporary in-vogue terms like exvangelical and deconstruction or not — and again cuts itself off from dialogue. As a Midwesterner and an erstwhile evangelical, I understand the chip-on-one’s shoulder impulse to snub such things out of a sense of pride.

But evangelicalism cannot afford to be so myopic and self-serving any longer. Recently, through the Trump administration, evangelicals wrought long-term damage to the republic and to their own reputation; through their own reticence to change within their local churches, they stifle themselves and those under their care. 

Wendell Berry once wrote that “there is an enormous number of people, and I am one of them, whose native religion, for better or worse, is Christianity. We were born to it; we began to learn about it before we became conscious; it is, whatever we think of it, an intimate belonging of our being; it informs our consciousness, our language, and our dreams. We can turn away from it or against it, but that will only bind us tightly to a reduced version of it. A better possibility is that this, our native religion, should survive and renew itself, so that it may become as largely and truly instructive as we need it to be.” 

Those words were published in 1994, and little has changed. People who have tried to reform this thing they loved called “evangelicalism” were spurned and evangelicalism has shown that it does not want to be reformed. Yet in the nearly 30 years since Berry wrote those words, it has gotten “easier” to question and to leave our so-called native religion. We have the guiding lights of those who left before us, who asked hard questions of evangelical doctrine and evangelical leaders (and received harder answers) and blazed myriad trails for us to walk. 

I do not hold out hope that evangelical elites will make the right choice and begin talking with instead of preaching to (or against, as John Cooper of Skillet recently did by declaring war on deconstruction) those who have left. The church will survive, but evangelical hegemony may not. It must not. 

— Blake Chastain, The Post-Evangelical Post, White Evangelicals Must Stop Consulting Themselves, February 17, 2022

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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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Quote of the Day: The Truth About Child Sex Trafficking

kaitlyn tiffany

All over the country, well-meaning Americans are convinced that human trafficking—and specifically child sex trafficking—is happening right in their backyard, or at any rate no farther away than the nearest mall parking lot. A 2020 survey by the political scientists Joseph Uscinski and Adam Enders found that 35 percent of Americans think the number of children who are victims of trafficking each year is about 300,000 or higher; 24 percent think it is “much higher.” Online, people read that trafficking is a problem nobody else is willing to discuss: The city they live in is a “hot spot,” their state one of the worst in the country. Despite what the mainstream media are saying, this is “the real pandemic.”

Of course, child sex trafficking does happen, and it is horrible. The crime is a serious concern of human-rights organizations and of governments all over the world. Statistically, however, it is hard to get a handle on: The data are often misleading, when they exist at all. Whatever the incidence, sex trafficking does not involve Tom Hanks or hundreds of thousands of American children.

When today’s activists talk about the problem of trafficking, knowing exactly what they’re referring to can be difficult. They cite statistics that actually offer global estimates of all forms of labor trafficking. Or they mention outdated and hard-to-parse figures about the number of children who go “missing” in the United States every year—most of whom are never in any immediate danger—and then start talking about children who are abducted by strangers and sold into sex slavery.

While stereotypical kidnappings—what you picture when you hear the word—do occur, the annual number hovers around 100. Sex trafficking also occurs in the United States. The U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline has been operated by the anti-trafficking nonprofit Polaris Project and overseen and partially funded by the Department of Health and Human Services since 2007. In 2019, it recorded direct contacts with 14,597 likely victims of sex trafficking of all ages. (The average age at which these likely victims were first trafficked—“age of entry,” as the statistic is called—was 17.) The organization itself doesn’t regard its figure for direct contacts as one that should be used with too much confidence—it is probably low, but no more solid data exist.

There is a widely circulated number, and it’s even bigger than the one Laura Pamatian and her volunteer chapter publicized: 800,000 children go missing in the U.S. every year. The figure shows up on T-shirts and handmade posters, and in the captions of Instagram posts. But the number doesn’t mean what the people sharing it think it means. It comes from a study conducted in 1999 by the Justice Department, and it’s an estimate of the number of children who were reported missing over the period of a year for any reason and for any length of time. The majority were runaways, children caught up in custody disputes, or children who were temporarily not where their guardians expected them to be. The estimate for “nonfamily abductions” reported to authorities was 12,100, which includes stereotypical kidnappings, but came with the caveat that it was extrapolated from “an extremely small sample of cases” and, as a result, “its precision and confidence interval are unreliable.” Later in the report, the authors noted that “only a fraction of 1 percent of the children who were reported missing had not been recovered” by the time they were counted for the study. The authors also clarified that a survey sent to law-enforcement agencies found that “an estimated 115 of the nonfamily abducted children were victims of stereotypical kidnapping.” The Justice Department repeated the study in 2013 and found that reports of missing children had “significantly decreased.”

Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, The Great (Fake) Child-Sex-Trafficking Epidemic, December 9, 2021

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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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Quote of the Day: Atheism and Agnosticism, The Last Closet

atheist closet

Some equate atheism with being immoral and even amoral. Some of the criticism leveled at nonbelievers comes from the suspicion that those who do not believe in God could not possibly believe in anything else, moral or otherwise. Several years ago, a coworker, upon learning of my agnosticism, said, “So you just believe and do anything you want?” That he had engaged in several extramarital affairs was lost on my hypocritical colleague but not on me.

The notion that atheists and agnostics “do anything they want to do” is not uncommon; however, it is woefully and recklessly ignorant.

Comedian and atheist Penn Jillette says he’s often asked, “Without God, what’s stopping you from raping all you want?” Jillette’s response? “I do rape all I want, and the amount I want is zero.”

The late Christopher Hitchens had a standing offer to name a moral thing that was done in the name of religion that hadn’t been done by an atheist. Morality isn’t the sole provenance of religion, and immoral persons can be found in pews and prisons alike.

….

It is precisely because of these religious prejudices and stereotypes that many agnostics and atheists do not discuss their worldviews in public or even private settings, and if they do, they don’t necessarily tell the truth.

Timur Kuran, in Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification, argues that social pressures can make people say that they want and believe something they really don’t want or believe. Kuran calls this “preference falsification,” a phenomenon that occurs when you make an inaccurate public statement about your actual preferences or beliefs.

“Some of the criticism leveled at nonbelievers comes from the suspicion that those who do not believe in God could not possibly believe in anything else, moral or otherwise.”

….

The same can’t be said for our nation’s and society’s view of atheists and agnostics. In spite of the Obama administration’s passing of the International Religious Freedom Act in 2016, many Americans still do not want atheists teaching their children or marrying them. They would, according to surveys, prefer a female, gay, Mormon or Muslim President to having an atheist in the White House.

To be sure, no closet, neither LGBTQ nor atheist, has ever been padlocked. The choice to come of out of either closet is free and deeply personal. But if the LGBTQ closet is largely empty, the agnostic closet remains, with stigma and stain awaiting anyone who decides to leave it.

Last year, I wrote a book in which I discuss my journey from minister to agnostic and critique popular religious notions like “everything happens for a reason.” I have friends who reviewed my book online, some of whom masked their names to avoid being outed by their association with a controversial topic and agnostic author.

I dream of a day when the atheist closet is empty. When epistemic humility is the intellectual norm and credal dogmatism is the outlier. I envision a world where the burden of proof for an invisible supreme being falls on the believer, not the skeptic. Until then, I hope that the flickering flame of my own religious journey will be a beacon of courage and hope for those cloistered in the last closet.

— David Ramsey, Baptist News Global, Atheism and agnosticism: The last closet, December 15, 2021

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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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Quote of the Day: VICE Feature Story Investigates Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Group Homes

lester roloff
Lester Roloff, the man responsible for countless pain, suffering, heartache, and abuse

Kimi Cook was 15 years old when she arrived at Lester Roloff’s Rebekah Home for Girls in Corpus Christi, Texas. Eager to end the teenager’s relationship with an older boyfriend, her parents pitched the place as an accelerated boarding school. Cook—who had previously done well on tests despite cutting classes at her San Antonio public school—eventually agreed to a month-long trial period.

Within hours of arriving, Cook learned she was no longer allowed to wear jeans, listen to rock music, or use tampons. She would also be required to attend church daily, memorize and chant from the Bible, and scrub her room early each morning. Disobedience was met with strict punishment ranging from revoked snack privileges to receiving “licks” with a wooden paddle, being put in an isolated closet, or being forced to kneel on linoleum for hours on end.

When she was allowed phone calls, Cook pleaded with her family to save her from what she remembered describing as a “jail” and “prison camp.” But three months in, she learned that no help was coming. As Cook recalled, a relative “explained to me that by signing the admittance paper, I had signed myself over into the care of the Roloff homes.”

By the time Cook started there, in 1983, the Southern Baptist Rebekah Home for Girls had already been the subject of state investigations spanning the previous decade, instigated in part by parents who witnessed a girl being whipped at the facility. In fact, Roloff had already temporarily closed the school—and the other homes he operated in Texas—after being prosecuted by the state on behalf of 16 former Rebekah Home for Girls residents. (Roloff grew even more notorious for exclaiming in court, “Better a pink bottom than a black soul.”)

After losing his last Supreme Court appeal in 1978, the Rebekah Home for Girls became the site of the “Christian Alamo,” where religious leaders formed a human chain around the place to defend against attempts to remove girls from Roloff’s care. The issue was eventually “resolved” by Governor Bill Clements, who Roloff himself had campaigned for. With an ally in office—Clements once said the closures amounted to “nitpicking” by his predecessor—Roloff transferred ownership of the homes from Roloff Enterprises to Roloff’s People’s Baptist Church; under this religious auspice, a state court ruled Roloff’s homes could operate without a license.

Roloff himself died in 1982, but by then he had established a strong tradition of exploiting the religious freedom loophole to shield suspect youth residential facilities from outside scrutiny. Somehow, that same loophole still exists across much of America today.

Cook escaped the school she hated when her older brother was killed in a car accident 11 months into her stay. The home was closed again in 1985 following pressure from the state, but reopened yet again in 1999, after Governor George W. Bush introduced religious exemptions for youth residential home regulations. The school operated until 2001, when a supervisor at Rebekah was convicted of unlawful restraint; finally, Texas laws were changed to require licensure for all youth homes—including religious ones.

Rebekah closed permanently in 2001, but at least some of its ex-employees helped found the New Beginnings Girls Academy in Missouri. This residence remains in operation despite state investigations into allegations of abuse. (VICE was unable to reach New Beginnings officials in connection with this story.)

Though Texas laws were changed amid the Roloff saga, many other state governments around the country lack the legal power to oversee religiously affiliated residential schools. Unlike personal religious exemptions, where an individual might argue that a law requiring, say, medical intervention, vaccination, or anti-discrimination violates his or her religious freedom, these facilities don’t need to apply for special treatment. In many states, such exemptions are written directly into the laws meant to regulate residential youth facilities—that is, religious schools are never subject to the rules in the first place.

….

In 2010, Clayton “Buddy” Maynard’s Heritage Boys Academy in Panama City, Florida, closed following allegations of racial discrimination and severe corporal punishment. When the prosecution lost witnesses in 2011, a criminal case against Maynard was dropped; in 2012, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Maynard was once again housing children at Truth Baptist Church in Panama City. This past May, a GoFoundMe page raised $500 in support of Maynard and the “Maynard Family Children’s Home.” Currently, he appears to operate the Truth Baptist Church in Panama City and, according to his Facebook profile, a “Truth for Troubled Youth Ministries.” (VICE was unable to reach Maynard for comment for this story.)

The same whack-a-mole pattern of scattershot oversight can be found across much of the country. Bobby Wills’s Bethesda Home for Girls in Mississippi closed in the 1980s following allegations of beatings with wooden boards, with operators moving on to the now closed Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Missouri. Alabama’s Reclamation Ranch was raided a decade ago following allegations of torture, yet founder Jack Patterson—who, according to his Facebook page, is a proud disciple of Roloff—continues to run an addiction-focused rehabilitation facility under the same name, now associated with Lighthouse Baptist Church. (Patterson has denied allegations of abuse at his facilities.) Yet another Baptist pastor, Michael Palmer, battled legal oversight over multiple decades and across multiple state and country-wide jurisdictions: In 1991, Palmer closed Victory Christian Academy after the state of California pushed for licensure.

One former student who attended Victory Christian described extended abuse at the school, including something called the “Get Right Room,” a small space where girls were punished with a version of solitary confinement. “You were brain-washed into thinking the abuse was good because the staff and the Lord loved your soul,” recalled Cherie Rife, now a holistic health practitioner in Irvine, California. Alleging that she was singled out for being a lesbian, Rife pointed to the religious justification that loomed above it all: “[Their] Baptist interpretation was used for fear and control and shaming.”

Palmer later helped found Genesis by the Sea, a facility located in Baja California that was closed in 2004 by the Mexican government; though the ensuing investigation asserted that claims of abuse were unsubstantiated, the school never reopened. Instead, Palmer redirected his attention to the Florida Panhandle and yet another residential reform home for girls: Lighthouse of Northwest Florida, which he closed in 2013 following an investigation into allegations of rape at the facility.

As Newsweek reported, Restoration Youth Academy in Prichard, Alabama, was yet another home operating under a modern incarnation of the Lester Roloff approach until 2012. The facility remained free from oversight until Charles Kennedy, the now retired captain of the Prichard Police Department, received a phone call from the mother of a boy who said he’d been abused at the facility. When I spoke with Kennedy, he recalled what he found at the home: a naked boy locked in a closet, widespread allegations of physical abuse, severe exercise, and sadistic mind games. Staff had even encouraged a suicidal student to shoot himself with a gun he didn’t know wasn’t loaded, Kennedy said.

— Nile Cappello, VICE, How Christian Reform Schools Get Away with Brutal Child Abuse, December 6, 2017

I hope you take the time to read all of Cappello’s story. As sickening as the story is, other Baptist group homes escaped Cappello’s investigatory eyes. These homes continue to this day to psychologically and physically harm vulnerable IFB teenagers. I have written several posts on these homes:

Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sin

How Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Churches Deal with Unwed Mothers

Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls

The Dogma that Followed Me Home by Cat Givens

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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 Gerencser