Religion

How to Deal with Christian Well-Wishers

i am praying for you

Saint Christopher Hitchens died eight years ago (December 15, 2011). As many of you do, I miss Hitchens’ quick wit and acerbic tongue. While I disagreed with Hitch politically, we had much in common when it came to our critiques of Evangelical Christianity. I had a deep love, respect, and admiration for the man.

Several months after Hitchens’ death from esophageal cancer, his last book was released. Titled Mortality, the book was an introspective look at human mortality — in particular his own. I heartily recommend this book to everyone, Christian or not. Hitchens wrote:

  • The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of ‘acceptance,’ hasn’t so far had much application to my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been ‘in denial’ for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by the gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read — if not indeed to write — the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity.
  • To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
  • Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.
  • It’s normally agreed that the question ‘How are you?’ doesn’t put you on your oath to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like, ‘A bit early to say.’ (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, ‘I seem to have cancer today.’) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of ‘life’ when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite; the equally nasty double-cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose . . . It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body.
  • The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct god how to put them right.
  • However, one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound . . . In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.
  • Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down.
  • So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.

Live long enough, and your thoughts will increasingly turn towards your own morality. I am sixty-two and in fragile health. I am facing yet another health challenge, one that, frankly, worries me. I will have a CT scan next week, and then see the surgeon the week after for the results. I don’t want to make something out of possibly nothing, so I will refrain from talking much about this until the doctor says, you have ________________. Besides, my wife’s health problems this year are enough to worry me without adding more to my already full plate.

When Polly landed in the hospital in January, had major abdominal surgery in August, and was off work for two months, I was confronted with her fragility too. I thought, she could die!? No, no, no, that’s not how it’s supposed to happen! I am the sicko. I am first in line when it comes to dying. Funny how “life” doesn’t give a shit about what we think or want. “Life” just happens, regardless of our objections and protestations. “Life” ain’t fair, and not everything is unicorns, rainbows, and puppies. Live long enough, and the circumstances of life are going to deal you a lousy hand — with or without Jesus. All any of us can do is endure and hope for a better tomorrow.

Being an unbeliever, and having Christian friends, neighbors, and workmates often puts you in a difficult place when hard times come your way. You certainly want empathy and support from those closest to you, but when those people are Christians, their help is often couched in religious verbiage. It’s hard enough when you are feeling well to deal with Jesusy platitudes, but when you are sick, in pain, or dying, the last thing you want to hear is religious drivel.

A September 2010 Associated Press story shared Hitchens’ view on such things:

Stricken with cancer and fragile from chemotherapy, author and outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens sits in an armchair before an audience and waits for the only question that can come first at such a time.

“How’s your health?” asks Larry Taunton [who later wrote a fraudulent book about Hitchens that alleged Hitch might have become a Christian], a friend who heads an Alabama-based group dedicated to defending Christianity.

“Well, I’m dying, since you asked, but so are you. I’m only doing it more rapidly,” replies Hitchens, his grin faint and his voice weak and raspy. Only wisps of his dark hair remain; clothes hang on his frame.

….

For some of his critics, it might be satisfying to see a man who has made a career of skewering organized religion switch sides near the end of his life and pray silently for help fighting a ravaging disease.

He has an opportunity: Monday has been informally proclaimed “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day.”

Christopher Hitchens won’t be bowing his head, even on a day set aside just for him.

“I shall not be participating,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

….

Taunton is devoutly Christian yet has developed a fast friendship with Hitchens, who appeared at a similar debate sponsored by the organization last year. Taunton is among those praying for Hitchens, and Hitchens takes no offense.

The way the English-born Hitchens sees it, the people praying for him break down into three basic groups: those who seem genuinely glad he’s suffering and dying from cancer; those who want him to become a believer in their religious faith; and those who are asking God to heal him.

Hitchens has no use for that first group. “‘To hell with you’ is the response to the ones who pray for me to go to hell,” Hitchens told AP.

He’s ruling out the idea of a deathbed change of heart: “‘Thanks but no thanks’ is the reply to those who want me to convert and recognize a divinity or deity.”

It’s that third group — people who are asking God for Hitchens’ healing — that causes Hitchens to choose his words even more carefully than normal. Are those prayers OK? Are they helpful?

“I say it’s fine by me, I think of it as a nice gesture. And it may well make them feel better, which is a good thing in itself,” says Hitchens.

But prayers for his healing don’t make him feel better.

“Well, not any more than very large numbers of very kind, thoughtful letters from nonbelievers, some of whom know me, some of whom don’t, asking me to know that they are on my side,” Hitchens said. “That cheers me up, yes.”

Hitchens doesn’t know exactly how “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day” began, other than that it’s one of those things that appears on the Internet and goes viral. He declined an invitation to appear at a rabbi’s prayer service in Washington that day, and he doesn’t see any point in the exercise.

“I’m perfectly sure that there is nothing to be gained from it in point of my health, but perhaps I shouldn’t even say that. If it would do something for my morale possibly it would do something for my health. We all know that morale is an element in recovery,” he said. “But incantations, I don’t think, have any effect on the material world.”

Every time I mention a personal health problem, I can count on receiving blog comments and social media messages saying this or that Christian is praying for me. My standard response is to either ignore their comments or politely say “thank you.” In saying “thank you,” I am not, in any way, validating their beliefs or the existence of the Christian God. All I am doing is saying that I appreciate their thoughtfulness. Having spent most of my life in the Christian church, I know that people often say “I’m praying for you” when they don’t know what else to say or do. If it’s a one-off, I’m fine with their “praying for you” comment. It’s when they repeatedly tell me that they are praying for me that annoys me. There’s no need to keep reminding me that you are praying for me — if you are. Often, “praying for you” becomes an easy way to do nothing, much like “thoughts and prayers” every time there is another mass shooting.

Instead of doing the least you can do — praying — how about putting feet and hands to your prayers and meaningfully doing something for the sick, hurting, and dying? I am as guilty as the next person when I use social media emoticons or “thinking of you” comments to express my concern for someone. It is so easy to click LIKE and then move on to a funny cat video. For both the religious and the godless, instead of empty words, perhaps we should think about what we can do to help others. How can I make a difference in my friend’s, neighbor’s, or workmate’s life?

To Christians who might read this post, I ask you to pause for a moment before you say to an atheist, agnostic, or unbeliever, “I’m praying for you.” Ask yourself: why am I saying these words? What help will my words be to others? Is there something else I can do instead of uttering a religious cliché? Does this person already know I am praying for them? Do I really need to remind them that I am doing so?

Look, it’s not easy confronting the mortality of our families, friends, and neighbors. Rarely does a week go by when I don’t read a newspaper obituary about someone I knew. Someday, it will be someone else reading my death notice. Not only are Polly and I battling serious health problems, we also have to deal with older family members who are dropping like flies. Just this week, we found out one of Polly’s aunts has only a few months to live. Her husband died a year or so ago. Polly’s mom has been at death’s door for months. Her father was recently admitted to the hospital for an infection and is now in a nursing home for the umpteenth time. He is sliding, ever-so-slowly, into dementia. The last time we visited Mom and Dad, he spoke all of a dozen or so words to us. It’s hard to believe that this feeble old man at age sixty-five was working in a factory and doing construction work on the side. I can say the same for myself. It seems like yesterday, I was a strong, viral man, one who hunted, played competitive sports, and did all his own auto and home repairs. Last weekend, I hired three of my grandchildren to rake our yard. I quietly wept as I thought, yet another thing I can no longer do.

Instead of saying to me, “I’m praying for you,” perhaps both of us would be better served if you said nothing. Instead of empty religious clichés, how about a look that says, “I understand” or a gentle hug that reflects our shared humanity. Or better yet, how about sharing a meal or hoisting a drink in honor of our friendship? Last Sunday, Polly and I had dinner at Taco’s Nacho’s with Dave and Newana Echler. Dave and I have been friends for over fifty years. For several years, I was their pastor. We have each helplessly watched as the other battles life-threatening illnesses. Every time we get together I wonder, will this be the last time we see each other?

The Echler’s are Christians. Newana is a Nazarene preacher’s daughter. They were heartbroken when Polly and I left Christianity. Yet, our friendship has survived. How? Because we chose to set religion and atheism aside, and, instead, focus on the things we have in common: good food, love of backroad travel, and family. We have so much shared history, I would hate to lose them as friends. As we left the restaurant, I reminded myself of how blessed I was to have the Echlers as friends. I am sure they privately pray for me, and while I can’t do the same for them, rarely does a day go by that I don’t think of them and wonder how they are doing. Every time we part company, we briefly embrace and say, “I love you.”  Love. Is this not what really matters? It was Dave who drove to Fort Wayne on the day of Polly’s surgery to be with me. It was Dave who pressed $300 in my hand, knowing that we were going through difficult times financially. It seems to me that instead of saying, “I’m praying for you,” what Christians and heathens alike need are tangible, thoughtful expressions of kindness and love.

What say ye, dear readers? Please leave your pithy, erudite thoughts 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.

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Christopher Hitchens is in Hell

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Originally published in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

According to those who KNOW the mind of God (Please see Do Evangelical Christians “Know” the Mind of God?) and KNOW the names written in the Book of Life, when Christopher Hitchens died on December 15, 2011, he went straight to Hell to be tortured day and night by the Evangelical God for refusing to admit said God exists and for rejecting the salvation proffered by Jesus Christ. (The irony here is that all four Evangelicals mentioned in this post are Calvinists, men who believe no one can “choose” to be saved.)

Al Mohler, Fundamentalist president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had this to say:

al mohler tweet christopher hitchens

Rick Warren, Fundamentalist pastor of Saddleback Church pontificated thus:

rick warren tweet about christopher hitchens

Doug Wilson, Fundamentalist pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho said:

We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever.

And finally, Chris Hohnholz, a writer for the Defending Contending blog (link no longer active), took the pious approach and said that Hitchens lived his life as a hater of God, but since no human can know the true spiritual state of any person, he couldn’t say whether Hitchens is in Hell:

The question that stands before us today of course, is where is Christopher Hitchens today. According to Mr. Hitchens, he simply ceased to exist, nothing more. But for the Christian, we know that we exist for eternity once this mortal body ceases functioning. There are only two possibilities as to where, Heaven or Hell. As Mr. Hitchens was created by God, and was bound to God’s laws, as we all are, he can only be in one of those two places. At first, it may seem quite easy to figure it out. He denied God, spoke vehemently against the Christian faith, and was often hateful and vitriolic in his speech regarding it. Considering that he made the statement there would be no deathbed conversion, it would be a simple thing to declare God sent him to hell. However, the truth is, we simply do not, and cannot know.

It is clear that Mr. Hitchens made a career of hating the very idea of God. But it is also clear that he was a common sinner just like the rest of us. He had a conscience, he was aware of right and wrong. He, like the rest of us, committed acts that were in violation of that conscience. We know that our consciences are God’s laws written upon our hearts. When we violate our conscience, we are violating God’s laws. Additionally, Mr. Hitchens debated with many Christians, he had heard the gospel presentation many times. There is little question that by the time of his death, Mr. Hitchens knew what God required of him. It is that time just prior to his death that we cannot know about. Is it at least possible, that as he faced those last moments, knowing death was coming that he considered those sins he committed, that he contemplated the gospel he had denied so many times, that he just might have repented and trusted Christ. If we are intellectually honest, we must say that it is possible. And since we cannot know, we hope that is what happened. We hope that we will find Mr. Hitchens in Heaven one day, for we do not wish the wrath of God on any man.

But we must also be honest say that he may not have repented. It is entirely possible that Mr. Hitchens held on to his rejection of God all the way into death. If so, Mr. Hitchens now stands before God in judgment for his sins. And not just for his atheism. As said before, our consciences are merely God’s law written on our hearts. When any man or woman breaks those laws, through lying, stealing, coveting, lusting, or blaspheming, they have sinned against a holy and righteous God. It is not just because he was an atheist that Mr. Hitchens may have stood condemned, it is because, as we all are, he was a sinner against the God who created him. And if that indeed is what occurred, even we Christians must mourn his death, for we do not wish Hell on any man. But we also rejoice that God is glorified, because His justice is perfect.

So what does that mean for the Christian? First, let us not run around proclaiming we know where Christopher Hitchens is, only God knows that. Let us share with people the truth, that if he repented and trusted Christ (which is our hope), he is in Heaven. But if he remained in his sins, he was condemned (as we all deserve). Let us not rejoice that another atheist voice is silent, that presents us as unkind and unloving. But let us not ignore that what he taught was blasphemous. As we engage in conversation with others on this, let us remember that, whatever Mr. Hitchens fate was, all of us face the same date with death.

This “sounds” nice, but don’t be deceived. I have heard these words many, many times, and they are words uttered by people who don’t want to look bad before the world so they refrain from saying in public what they proclaim every week in the pulpit or behind closed doors.

There is NOTHING, I repeat NOTHING, in the life of Christopher Hitchens that remotely suggests he is now with God and the angels. He is in Hell and Hohnholz knows it! I wish Evangelicals like Chris Hohnholz would at least own the abominable, horrendous doctrine of eternal punishment they preach.

The Dead Logic blog (link no longer active) pretty well sums up my feelings about people such as Mohler, Warren,Wilson and Hohnholz:

I feel even more sadness for those who are so blinded by religious prejudice that they see the death of Hitchens as an opportunity to peddle their religious wares. I’ve already expressed what I think about Albert Mohler’s recent comment on Twitter. Turns out that “purpose-driven” Rick Warren is just as classy as Mohler. Warren had his own douchebag moment on Twitter when he wrote: “Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.” Yes, Rick, use a man’s death as a tool in your propaganda machine. If Warren truly “loved” Hitch, he would be honoring his memory instead of disgracing Hitchens for the sake of “the Truth” with a capital T.

How did Christopher Hitchens spend the final days of his life? Ian McEwan of the New York Times wrote:

The place where Christopher Hitchens spent his last few weeks was hardly bookish, but he made it his own. Close to downtown Houston is the Medical Center, a cluster of high-rises like La Défense of Paris, or London’s City, a financial district of a sort, where the common currency is illness…..

….. While I was with him another celebration took place in far away London, with Stephen Fry as host in the Festival Hall to reflect on the life and times of Christopher Hitchens. We helped him out of bed and into a chair and set my laptop in front of him. Alexander delved into the Internet with special passwords to get us linked to the event. He also plugged in his own portable stereo speakers. We had the sound connection well before the vision and what we heard was astounding, and for Christopher, uplifting. It was the noise of 2,000 voices small-talking before the event. Then we had a view from the stage of the audience, packed into their rows.

They all looked so young. I would have guessed that nearly all of them would have opposed Christopher strongly over Iraq. But here they were, and in cinemas all over the country, turning out for him. Christopher grinned and raised a thin arm in salute. Close family and friends may be in the room with you, but dying is lonely, the confinement is total. He could see for himself that the life outside this small room had not forgotten him. For a moment, pace Larkin, it was by way of the Internet that the world stretched a hand toward him.

The next morning, at Christopher’s request, Alexander and I set up a desk for him under a window. We helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop. Talking and dozing were all very well, but Christopher had only a few days to produce 3,000 words on Ian Ker’s biography of Chesterton.

Whenever people talk of Christopher’s journalism, I will always think of this moment.

Consider the mix. Constant pain, weak as a kitten, morphine dragging him down, then the tangle of Reformation theology and politics, Chesterton’s romantic, imagined England suffused with the kind of Catholicism that mediated his brush with fascism and his taste for paradox, which Christopher wanted to debunk. At intervals, Christopher’s head would droop, his eyes close, then with superhuman effort he would drag himself awake to type another line. His long memory served him well, for he didn’t have the usual books on hand for this kind of thing. When it’s available, read the review. His unworldly fluency never deserted him, his commitment was passionate, and he never deserted his trade. He was the consummate writer, the brilliant friend. In Walter Pater’s famous phrase, he burned “with this hard gem-like flame.” Right to the end.

Christopher Hitchens is greatly missed. I always appreciated his sharp tongue and pointed critique of religion. He made the religious fuss, fume, and squirm as he attacked their beliefs and practices.

Someday, I will die. I have thought a lot about this, and while I am no Christopher Hitchens I can only imagine how my demise will play out in the blogosphere and in the pulpit. According to my critics, when death comes to take me, I will be cast in Hell with the Devil and Christopher Hitchens. A special Hell, punishment, and torture await me because I was once a believer and an Evangelical pastor.

I’ve spent the last twelve years being threatened with Hell and God’s judgment, and if I have a choice between Heaven with Mohler, Warren, Wilson and Hohnholz and Hell with Hitchens, Steven Hawking, my dear friend Steve Gupton and a cast of people I greatly admire, give me Hitch and Hell every time.

The world is richer because a man named Christopher Hitchens lived among us. While his body rots in the grave, his words remain. May his words continue to inspire people to consider a life and world without religious ignorance and oppression. There can be a better tomorrow without God.

Let me conclude this post with a few quotes from Hitch’s last published work Mortality:

  • The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of ‘acceptance,’ hasn’t so far had much application to my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been ‘in denial’ for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by the gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read — if not indeed to write — the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity.
  • To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
  • Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.
  • It’s normally agreed that the question ‘How are you?’ doesn’t put you on your oath to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like, ‘A bit early to say.’ (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, ‘I seem to have cancer today.’) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of ‘life’ when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite; the equally nasty double-cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose . . . It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body.
  • The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct god how to put them right.
  • However, one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound . . . In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.
  • Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down.
  • So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.

From the last page of Mortality:

“From Alan Lightman’s intricate 1993 novel Einstein’s Dreams; set in Berne in 1905:

With infinite life comes an infinite list of relatives. Grandparents never die, nor do great-grandparents, great-aunts…and so on, back through the generations, all alive and offering advice. Sons never escape from the shadows of their fathers. Nor do daughters of their mothers. No one ever comes into his own…Such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free.”

You can buy Mortality here
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.

Independent Baptist Songs: Revive Us Again by William Mackay

revive us again

From time to time, I plan to post lyrics from the songs we sang in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches I grew up in and pastored. Unbelievers and non-Fundamentalists might find some of these lyrics quite interesting, and, at times, funny or disturbing. Enjoy!

Today’s Independent Baptist Song is Revive Us Again by William Mackay. I was able to find a video of this song sung by Bill & Gloria Gaither and Friends.

Video Link

Revive Us Again by William Mackay

We praise thee, O God, for the Son of thy love,
For Jesus who died and is now gone above.

Refrain:
Hallelujah, thine the glory!
Hallelujah, Amen!
Hallelujah, thine the glory!
Revive us again.

We praise thee, O God, for thy Spirit of light,
Who has shown us our Savior and scattered our night. [Refrain]

All glory and praise to the Lamb that was slain,
Who has borne all our sins and has cleansed ev’ry stain. [Refrain]

All glory and praise to the God of all grace,
Who hast brought us, and sought us, and guided our ways. [Refrain]

Revive us again – fill each heart with thy love;
May each soul be rekindled with fire from above. [Refrain]

Wordwise Hymns had this to say about William Mackay:

There are many inspiring stories connected with the writing of our hymns. But it would be difficult to find a more unusual one than what happened to William Mackay.

When, at the age of seventeen, he left his humble Scottish home to attend college, his godly mother gave him a Bible in which she wrote his name and a verse of Scripture. Away from home, he began well. But as time went by he drifted further and further from the way he had been raised. He began drinking heavily. At a low point, to satisfy his thirst for whiskey, he carelessly pawned the Bible his mother had given him.

Many years went by. Eventually, MacKay completed medical training and took up his work in a city hospital. There one day the Lord met him in a special way. I imagine it started out like any other day, doing rounds, writing reports. But in one room he had an encounter that changed everything. It was a sad case. The patient was nearing the end. No hope for him. “Bring me my book!” he cried. “I need my book!” And the words seemed to echo in the flinty soul of Dr. MacKay.

Awhile later, he was told the fellow had died. And the doctor went back to the room, curious to find out what “book” had been so precious that holding it once more had been a dying man’s greatest desire. Soon his search uncovered a Bible. But not just any Bible. There inside the front cover, in his mother’s hand, was his own name, William Paton MacKay. It had been many years since he had seen it, but there could be no mistake. Someone had reclaimed the Bible from that pawn shop, and it had become a priceless treasure to a dying man.

MacKay went to his office and closed the door. He opened the Bible, slowly turning the worn and weathered pages.  Many contained specially marked verses his mother hoped he would read. He was alone in that room for many hours. But when he emerged the long night of sin had been blasted away by the life-changing light of heaven. With a newly tender heart, and a desire to reclaim wasted years, he resigned his place at the hospital. After training he went on to serve the Lord as a pastor. It is W. P. MacKay who wrote the hymn Revive Us Again.

If Christians have been gloriously saved by Jesus and the Holy Ghost lives inside them as their teacher and guide, why do they need to be “revived?” If God is an ever-present reality, why do Christians “need” anything?  Why do believers have such a hard time living the Christian life?

The IFB Church: Visiting Preachers and Evangelists Treated Like Demigods

phil kidd 2Originally published in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

The now-defunct Stuff Fundies Like posted a list written by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist Phil Kidd detailing how a church should take care of a visiting speaker or evangelist. While those not raised in the IFB church movement likely are astounded at the list, I can assure you that Kidd’s ten points are standard operating procedure in IFB circles. Special speakers, Bible conference speakers, and evangelists are routinely treated like demigods. They are fawned over like movie stars are when drooling, wild-eyed fans come in contact with them. Fans of movie stars will stand in long lines hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite actor. If they are lucky, they might even get the opportunity to get an autograph. So it is in the IFB churches. It is not uncommon to see fawning church members seek out big-name preachers and have them sign their Bibles. Teenagers are encouraged to have these larger-than-life men sign their Bibles so they will remember years later that they heard so-and-so preach — a giant of the faith, a man mightily used of God.

Over the years, I heard countless speaker introductions that left the congregation with the impression that Jesus himself was the speaker for the night. These men are treated like royalty, given preferential treatment during their brief engagement at the local IFB church, college, or conference. During their stay, they will be given gifts, fed food fit for a king, and when they have finished preaching their super-duper, candy-stick sermons (those that are preached over and over), they will be rewarded with a large honorarium, sometimes totaling thousands of dollars.

As with public speaking bureaus, the IFB church movement has a contingent of preachers who travel the country speaking at conferences, college chapel services, and revivals. Some of these men are pastors who treat their special speaking gigs as an opportunity to make extra money. Some of these men make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year “humbly” speaking about the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. It’s been rumored that some of these men are millionaires as a result of their “sacrifice” for Christ.

I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Over the course of fifty years in the Christian church, I heard numerous Bible conference speakers, special speakers, and evangelists. I could spend the next week writing about my experiences with the IFB luminaries of my day. While I met men I considered faithful, thoughtful, and humble servants, I also met a fair number of men who were arrogant, full-of-themselves, shysters who were in it for power, prestige, and money. I will leave it to readers to determine what category I think Phil Kidd fits in.

While this post focuses on the IFB church movement, Evangelicalism, in general, has a similar problem. Traveling mega-church pastors and parachurch leaders are often treated like the best thing since Jesus turned water into wine. Often attracting crowds of thousands, these men and women make a financial killing through fees, honorariums, book and video sales, and the sale of Jesus Junk®. When confronted by the seeming vulgarity of their profiting off the ministry, these chosen ones remind their critics that it is God “blessing” them and that the laborer is worthy of his hire. After all, secular speakers make tens of thousands of dollars from giving speeches, why shouldn’t they be allowed to rake in the cash too?

Fine, but let’s quit pretending that these traveling preachers are doing the work of God. They’re not. What they’re really doing is using the gullibility of Christians and the pretext of preaching the Bible to pad their bank accounts, increase their retirement funds, and collect the trappings of an affluent lifestyle.

Over the years, I had more than a few occasions to talk to notable IFB preachers about coming to speak at one of the churches I pastored. I was astounded by some of their demands. Instead of being humble servants of God, many of these men expected to be treated like they were royalty. They often demanded thousands of dollars in speaking fees (honorariums), along with travel and housing expenses. They expected to be fed well and have their every need met while they were “sacrificially” preaching the word of God at our church. Rare was the man who was willing to come for a love offering, trusting God to meet his every need. And even when they were willing to come for a love offering, giving them a poor love offering was a way to make sure that they would never accept an invitation to preach at your church again.

ifb preacher phil kidd

IFB Preacher Phil Kidd

There was one man, however, who left me with a good example of how a traveling preacher should conduct himself. His name was Henry Mahan, then the pastor of 13th Street Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky. Mahan came to preach a two-night Bible conference for me when I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio. This was during my early days as a Calvinistic Baptist pastor. Mahan was a well-known luminary in Calvinistic Baptist circles, and I was delighted that he was willing to come speak at our church.

When Mahan arrived, he made it clear to me that he wanted no honorarium and no expense money. He told me that he would pay all of his own expenses. In fact, he paid the check every time he and I went out to eat. His reasoning? The church he pastored paid him more than enough money, and a man in his church provided him with a new Lincoln Continental every two years. He had no need for more money. I was astounded when he told me this, and when I insisted that he take an honorarium from the church, he made it very clear that he would not speak for our church if he was required to accept the money. Needless to say, in the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I never had another preacher tell me this.

As a preacher of the gospel, I never was comfortable telling a church or pastor that I had to have X amount of money before I would come preach. I felt it my duty and obligation to preach every time I was asked. In fact, I never turned down an invitation to preach. Did I have some churches and preachers take advantage of my willingness to preach on the cheap? I’m sure that happened, but I determined at the beginning of my ministry that I would never allow money to dictate whether I would preach for someone else. There were times that preaching revival for a small church cost me more money in travel expenses than the church gave me in the love offering. While I knew that some churches were notoriously cheap, I never let that stand in the way of an opportunity to preach. (And, in retrospect, I wish I had worried a bit more about money.)

I should also note that tax fraud is quite common among traveling preachers. Driven by greed and hatred for the government, expenses paid by the church are often not recorded, and I had several preachers tell me that they preferred their offering in cash. In THIS God we trust, right?  One man told me preferred gold, but cash was okay too. Churches are required to give special speakers and evangelists a 1099 form for income tax purposes, so paying God’s chosen ones in cash means no 1099, no taxable income. I gave one such man more than $1,000 in a brown paper bag. I know for a fact that he “humbly” bragged about stiffing the government. Yes, the Bible says to render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, but it doesn’t say how much, right?

Do you have a story to share about your experience with a special speaker or evangelist? Please share your story 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 Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals

bait and switch

Originally published in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

On a previous iteration of this blog, a fundamentalist Christian by the name of Harold commented on The Jonathan Nichols Story: Growing up Gay in the IFB Church post. That post is an excerpt from Jonathan’s story about being raised in the Newark Baptist Temple, the church pastored for forty-six years by my wife’s uncle Jim Dennis, and how the church and its pastor responded to him when he said he was gay. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) Harold left this comment:

Jonathan, I am a Baptist who views on homosexuality being sin have never changed. I can say however that my views of homosexuals have changed from judgmental condemnation to compassion. You can Google C.S. Lewis views on homosexuals which are compassionate. I think anyone can be delivered from homosexual sin (pornography, masturbation, the actual sex act) and same sex attraction can be overcome but I think for many it is a battle and perhaps a life long battle although I’m not sure about it being life long. For a compassionate view of homosexuality I would recommend to anyone: Christian, gay, family of one who is gay, a book titled” Love Into Light” by Peter Hubbard. Also for anyone wanting free from homosexuality I recommend http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com

Harold wanted to present himself as a compassionate, loving Christian, but I wasn’t going to let him get by with his subterfuge, so I left this comment:

I know you mean well, but cut the bullshit. Bottom line, no homosexual will inherit the kingdom of God, right? Unless they repent of their sodomy they will be tortured by God in the lake of fire for all eternity, right? Quit hiding behind claims of love and compassion. Jonathan is fine how he is. He is free to love who he wants, and have consensual sex with who he wants. Why should you have these freedoms but not Jonathan? Answer, the Bible says…right?

Subterfuge. This word accurately describes the evangelistic methods used by many Evangelicals. Subterfuge is defined as: Something intended to misrepresent the true nature of an activity.

Evangelicals rarely tell non-Christians what their true motives are. They come bearing gifts, speaking of love and compassion, but their real goal is to convert sinners, baptize them, and make them tithing members of whatever Evangelical church they represent. I’ve come to the conclusion that most Evangelicals are incapable of loving for love’s sake and having compassion for others without having an unstated agenda.

A few years ago, an Evangelical wrote a post about his church going from door to door handing out flower pots. He said they just wanted to show the community that they loved them. I asked, did the flowerpots have the name of the church on them, and did you give them literature from the church? Of course they did. The goal, then, wasn’t showing the community they loved them; it was advertising their church in hopes that people would come to it.

Evangelicals are experts at subterfuge, and it is important to force them to declare their true intentions. In my comment to Harold, I also wrote

Harold, what is your end game here? Put in a good word for Jesus? Evangelize? Preach the truth?

When Evangelicals want to befriend you, help you, or to get all cozy with you, you need to consider what their real motive is for doing so. In an article on The Gospel Coalition website, Jeff Cavanaugh wrote:

Yet churches still have a tremendous evangelistic opportunity in the people who live near the church building. After all, these neighbors walk and drive past the church building every day. They may wonder about what goes on when the church gathers. For non-Christians who don’t know any believers personally, the church down the street may be the biggest reminder of Christianity they see on a regular basis.

So how can a church be faithful in evangelizing the neighborhood when the members don’t live there? Some evangelical traditions have made a practice of “visitation,” knocking on doors and trying to engage people in spiritual conversations. Sometimes this effort bears good gospel fruit, though cultural changes in recent decades have made this more difficult as many North Americans have become suspicious of strangers at the front door.

I serve my local church as deacon of community outreach, and our strategy for reaching the neighborhood around us is mainly one of long-term, patient faithfulness. Our goal is to build relationships with our neighbors that, over time, will make it easier for us to have spiritual conversations with them. These relationships also make our neighbors more willing to attend services and other events aimed specifically at engaging unbelievers with the gospel.

The basic principle behind this strategy is simple, and it’s one any church can follow: engage your neighbors by taking an interest in what they care about. Building common ground is easy when you participate side-by-side in community organizations, service projects, family events, block parties, yard sales, and the like. Common interests are one of the most powerful tools for building friendships that can enable spiritual conversations to take place.

My church is located in a historic urban neighborhood that has a well-defined identity, and many of our neighbors have common interests. Neighborhood associations are popular and prominent in the life of the community, and events like street fairs, art shows, music festivals, park cleanups, and community yard sales are common. We engage our neighbors by having church members volunteer for these events, host booths, and attend neighborhood association meetings. We also invite the community to a couple of evangelistic events at Christmas: a service of lessons and carols with a brief evangelistic sermon, and a sing-along production of Handel’s Messiah…

. . . If your church is in a lower-income area, your neighbors’ biggest concerns are likely to be some of their most basic needs: food, shelter, jobs, transportation, education. Your members might help meet some of these needs, and thereby gain neighbors’ trust and attention, through soup kitchens, clothes closets, literacy programs, and such..

My father pastors a church in Ohio in a middle-class suburb with a lot of families, and many of these neighbors’ lives revolve around their kids. So the church hosts some events throughout the year that provide activities for the kids and expose neighbors to the gospel. The church puts on a vacation Bible school every summer. They host a big Easter egg hunt for the kids of the neighborhood, and someone tells the resurrection story with a clear gospel presentation for the whole crowd…

Here’s the money quote:

The basic principle behind this strategy is simple, and it’s one any church can follow: engage your neighbors by taking an interest in what they care about. Building common ground is easy when you participate side-by-side in community organizations, service projects, family events, block parties, yard sales, and the like. Common interests are one of the most powerful tools for building friendships that can enable spiritual conversations to take place.

On one hand, there is nothing wrong with having common interests with your neighbors. But, as Cavanaugh makes clear, the REAL reason for Evangelicals to have these common interests is so they can witness to their neighbors. Again, this is subterfuge.

I know the neighbors who live on both sides of me. Several summers ago, I sat on my one neighbor’s porch and he and I talked for an hour. We talked about family, our gardens, our health, and psychology (he is a retired psychologist). In the summer, I often talked to my other neighbor, an elderly gent, about woodworking, fishing, and gardening. Every so often, he would let me know he saw his “educated” neighbor’s letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News — that’s me by the way — and we will talk about it for a few minutes. We’d laugh and say, see ya later. Sadly, he had a stroke and I haven’t seen him in over a year.

As a good neighbor, I have no agenda. I don’t want anything from my neighbors. I care about them, and I worry when I don’t see them for a while. Both of my neighbors are good people as they are. I have no desire to win them over to my cause or to convert them to atheism. They are part of my community, and I want to be friends with them. I have other neighbors in front and in back of our house. While I don’t know them as well, I try to be friendly and talk to them when I see them. Again, no agenda.

Evangelicals can’t do this. They see every person as a sinner in need of salvation. Every person they come in contact with is a prospect for heaven, a potential church member. Remember this the next time an Evangelical wants to be your friend or wants to be a part of your group. Perhaps, the first question to ask is this: what do you REALLY want or why are you REALLY here?

Remember, Evangelicals are also taught that the world is evil, and that they are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. (2 Corinthians 6:14) They are taught that they must stand apart from the world, its sins, its philosophies, and its inhabitants. They are like the neighbor who only comes into my backyard to steal my watermelons. He is not interested in me, he is only interested in watermelon. The watermelon in the Evangelical world is another sinner saved, baptized, and made a tithing member of a Bible-believing church.

Beware of watermelon thieves.

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.

Songs of Sacrilege: Raising Hell by Kesha

 

kesha

This is the latest installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Raising Hell by Kesha.

Video Link

Lyrics

[Intro]
Ooh, oh, oh, oh
Let’s go

[Verse 1]
Hallelujah
I’m still here, still bringin’ it to ya
Ohm, like Buddha
Good girls know how to get hard too, ya (Uh huh)

[Pre-Chorus]
I’m all fucked up in my Sunday best
No walk of shame ’cause I love this dress
Hungover, heart of gold, holy mess
Doin’ my best (Ah), bitch, I’m blessed

[Chorus]
Oh, if you couldn’t tell
We can always find the trouble, we don’t need no help
Singing oh, mama raised me well
But I don’t wanna go to Heaven without raisin’ hell (Get it)

[Post-Chorus]
Get it
Drop it down low, hit it, hit the floor with it
Drop it down low, drop it down low
Drop, dr-drop it down low, drop it down low (Get it)
Drop it, drop it, drop it, drop-drop-drop it down, down low
Bounce it up and down where the good Lord split it

[Verse 2]
Hands up, witness
Solo cup full of holy spirits
Somethin’ wicked (Ooh)
Speakin’ in tongues in my blood-red lipstick (Brrah)

[Pre-Chorus]
I’m all fucked up in my Sunday best
No walk of shame ’cause I love this dress (Ooh)
Only God can judge this holy mess (Ah, ah)
Bitch, I’m blessed

[Chorus]
Oh, if you couldn’t tell (Oh well)
We can always find the trouble, we don’t need no help
Singing oh, mama raised me well (Uh huh)
But I don’t wanna go to Heaven without raisin’ hell (Ah!)

[Post-Chorus]
Get it
Brrah
Drop it down low, hit it, hit the floor with it
Drop it down low, drop it down low
Drop, dr-drop it down low, drop it down low (Get it)
Drop it, drop it, drop it, drop-drop-drop it down, down low
Bounce it up and down where the good Lord split it

[Interlude]
Ladies and gentlemen (Oh, shit)
Let’s shake what the good Lord gave us (Oh yes, baby)
Come on, let’s go

[Bridge]
Aw, dang, this that shit (Uh huh)
Beat like this, wanna shake my ooh
Oh, dang, this that shit (Ah, ah)
Beat like this, wanna shake my ooh
Aw, dang, this that shit (Ah)
Beat like this, haters, suck my ooh
Woo, Lord, feelin’ it
Beat like this, make me feel that power

[Chorus]
Oh, if you couldn’t tell
We can always find the trouble, we don’t need no help
Singing oh, mama raised me well
But I don’t wanna go to Heaven without raisin’ hell

[Outro]
Can I get an amen? (Ah)
This is for the misfits of creation (You’re welcome, ah)
Take this as your holy validation (Come on)
You don’t need to hide your celebratin’ (Sing it, Kesha, bitch)
This is our salvation

 

Black Collar Crime: Baptist Pastor Daniel Heath Pleads Guilty to Sexting

pastor daniel heath

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Earlier this year, Daniel Heath, the associate pastor of First Baptist Church — affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — in Wilson, North Carolina, was charged with first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and coercion and enticement of a minor. The Wilson Times reported at the time (behind paywall):

A Wilson pastor and a volunteer youth baseball coach accused of sexual exploitation of a minor now faces a federal charge in connection to the case.

A Texas grand jury indicted 33-year-old Daniel Franklin Heath on one count of coercion and enticement of a minor, according to a unsealed federal indictment obtained by The Wilson Times. That indictment was handed down Wednesday. Heath, a former associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilson, was arrested a day earlier on the charge of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

According to the Texas federal indictment, Heath used an LG model cellphone to “persuade, induce, entice and coerce,” a minor to “engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of creating a visual depiction of such conduct, knowing that such depiction would transmitted in interstate and foreign commerce.”

Federal authorities say activity occurred from December of 2017 until April 11 of this year, according to the indictment out of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas Sherman Division. Heath could face 10 years to life in prison if convicted on the federal charge.

….

Heath’s arrest warrant in Wilson alleges that he did “encourage” a 16-year-old girl to “engage in sexual activity, perform sexual activities to herself for the purpose of producing material containing a visual representation depicting this activity, the defendant knowing the character and content of the performance and material.”

Church members were also seated inside the courtroom Friday.

Heath is currently being held on a $500,000 secured bond in the Wilson County Detention Center.

….

The Federal Bureau of Investigation contacted the Wilson Police Department in April regarding Heath, who was the subject of an ongoing investigation, officials have said.

On Tuesday, the police department’s FBI Task Force detective assisted FBI agents in executing a search warrant at Heath’s home in Wilson, according to officials. Based upon evidence gathered at the scene, authorities arrested and charged Heath on that same day.

Several weeks ago, Heath pleaded guilty to enticing and coercing a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity.

Baptist News Global reports:

Heath, who stepped down in May after 10 years on staff at First Baptist Church in Wilson, North Carolina, admitted to a federal court in Texas that he knew the unnamed minor was under 18 and living with her parents in Texas when he asked her to take photos and videos of herself engaging in sexually explicit conduct on her cellular phone and send the images to him.

Heath, 33, admitted his communications with the victim were romantic in nature, with both parties declaring themselves to be “in love.” Prosecutors said Heath required the girl to “submit” to him in matters including what to wear and to obtain his consent before touching her own body, but he did not agree with that part of a statement of stipulated facts.

….

According to the Wilson Times, the sentencing phase of Heath’s case is expected within the next few months. He could face from 10 years to life in prison.

Authorities say a third party introduced Heath to the victim through an Internet-based social media application in or about December 2017.

The two remained in “almost constant contact” until this April, court documents said, including his traveling to Texas to visit her in February.

Questions: What Happened?

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.

Steve asked:

What was unanswered for me by your comments on faith and the loss of your faith in God, is what happened. I wrestle with confusing contradictions of definition and practice in my own life, but for me God never got lost in that ongoing struggle. In fact, my frailty and understanding of my human weakness has come clearly into view while the faithfulness and forgiveness of God is my only hope. I just want to understand what happened on the path from your faith in God to atheism. Maybe how did you come to faith first and what dissolved it?

Life has been very hard, but God is still real. What made that different for you?

Since December 2014, I have written 3,545 posts, totaling 2,963,575 words. Suffice it to say, I have written extensively about my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism. I have told, re-told, and told again what led me to file for divorce from Jesus. Yet, despite all of this, many Christians still don’t understand WHY I am no longer a Christian. Steve is one such person.

Why do some Christians have such a hard time understanding my story; understanding my loss of faith? The main reason, I believe, is their inability to wrap their minds around the fact of a devoted, committed Evangelical pastor turning his back on everything he held dear. Jesus is the everything of Evangelicalism. He’s a lover, savior, friend, and confidant. He is the alpha and omega; the first and the last; the beginning and the end. I am sure Steve wonders, “why would anyone ever want to walk away from Jesus; walk away from the forgiveness of sins and life eternal; walk away from a life filled with meaning, purpose, and direction?”

I pastored thousands of people over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry. More than a few people struggle with accepting that I am no longer a Christian; that I am no longer a pastor; that I am no longer the passionate lover of Jesus they warmly and lovingly called Preacher. These people reflect on my sermons, passion for evangelism, commitment to sound doctrine, and tireless labors and ask themselves, “what happened?”

What happened, as I have detailed numerous times, is that once I no longer believed that the Bible was an inspired, inerrant, infallible text, I was then free to re-examine the claims of Christianity. I spent countless hours pondering the beliefs I once held dear. Sure, there were emotional aspects of my deconversion, but ultimately my decision to walk away from Christianity had to do with one simple fact: I no longer believed the central claims of Christianity to be true. I concluded cardinal doctrines such as the virgin birth of Jesus, his resurrection from the dead, and the miracles recorded in the gospels could not be rationally sustained. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense) Once these beliefs fell by the wayside it was clear to me that whatever I was, I wasn’t a Christian. So, on the last Sunday of November in 2008, I walked out of the back door of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return.

Yes, Bruce, I get all that, but WHAT happened? And therein lies the problem for many of my interlocutors. They have convinced themselves that I am hiding a secret of some sort — the REAL reason I deconverted. What such people want is an emotional explanation for my loss of faith. Surely there’s a trauma of some sort buried deep in the recesses of my story. I hate to break it to people, but there’s no untold secret. I have done all I can possibly do to honestly, openly, and completely tell my story. I don’t know what else I can say to people other than to say, read my blog! (Start with the WHY page.)

Part of the problem for Christians such as Steve is that they compare their lives to mine. Steve speaks of living a hard life, yet knowing that the Christian God is real and ever with him. Surely, it should be the same for me, right? I am not one to compare my life to the lives of others. Life is complex and messy, and each of us has unique circumstances and experiences. Instead of trying to find the one thing that led to my loss of faith, I wish Christians would just accept my story at face value. Many Christians cannot square my story with their own stories and beliefs. That’s not my problem. All I know is this: I once was saved, and now I am not. I once was a follower of Jesus, and now I am not.

Christians often look for defects in my story. Steve asking about how I came to faith is a good example of this approach. If a defect in the conversion process can be found, then my story makes perfect sense. I never was a Christian! See, I didn’t follow the right steps. Of course, such thinking is absurd. In the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, not one congregant, Christian friend, or ministerial colleague ever doubted my salvation or commitment to Christian orthodoxy and the teachings of the Bible. It’s disingenuous to say I never was a Christian. Nothing in my frail, imperfect life suggested that I was anything but a Christian.

I can’t keep Christians from combing through my life, looking for glosses, weaknesses, and contradictions. I know what I know, and that’s all that matters. I have published enough information about my life for anyone so inclined to come to a conclusion about my faith and subsequent atheism. People looking for secrets are sure to be disappointed. Well, except for my “secret” life as a pole dancer and stripper. Coming soon to a strip club near you! (Please see the ABOUT page.)

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.

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Quote of the Day: The Limits of Religious Freedom

torah bontrager

Freedom of religion and freedom of speech allow people to believe and say what they want in this country. But I know from firsthand experience that religiously driven myths reinforced by leaders can harm children’s lives and thwart their potential.

Like many Christian children, my Amish upbringing instilled in me the belief that Jesus’ return would be preceded by devastating conditions including floods, earthquakes, droughts, tornadoes, crop failures and fires — basically all the things climate change is unleashing. With no adequate education to temper these beliefs, fear of the coming apocalypse traumatized me. Had I stayed in the religion, recent weather patterns would no doubt have had me praying doubly hard.
When I escaped my community in Michigan in the middle of the night at age 15, I arrived in mainstream society laden with fears that had been reinforced through a limited Amish education that ended at the eighth grade. I’d acquired little secular knowledge thanks to a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case Wisconsin vs. Yoder, which found that Wisconsin’s compulsory school attendance law was unconstitutional because it violated Amish parents’ rights to exercise their religion. As a result, I had no knowledge of science, sex education, or any subject contrary to Amish religious views. Had I not escaped, the Supreme Court ruling would have sealed my fate: becoming an ignorant Amish housewife.

My hunger for empirical answers to allay my fear of hell drove me to earn a high school equivalency diploma and eventually apply to America’s top schools. Upon entering Columbia University, I was shocked to learn that many of my professors weren’t aware that the highest court in the country had set a precedent in favor of extremist religion over my basic rights. Over and over, I’ve seen how the system regularly protects religious sects as they harm children –– from a failure to educate them to a failure to physically protect them.

For example, in New York City, Mayor de Blasio has failed forcefully to stand up to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas to ensure that these schools provide Hasidic children with a state-mandated secular education. Most recently, 30 members of the New York City Council signed a letter spearheaded by Council Members Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger in opposition to regulations proposed by the New York State Education Department to provide the bare minimum general education to which they are entitled under state law.

And last month, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by congressional leaders to defend the constitutionality of a ban on female genital mutilation after a doctor from a Muslim community was charged with cutting the clitoral hoods of nine 7-year-old girls who cried and bled as a woman restrained them.

Whether fundamentalist Islam, ultra-Orthodox Jewish, Amish, or any other religion, all insular religious communities use a range of tactics to exert power and control over their members, starting at birth. Many of those tactics are steeped in utter fictions that serve to keep children from fulfilling their potential.

….

Yes, religious leaders can say what they want. But society must help minimize the harm. While [Robert] Jeffress has the right to make outlandish claims about [global climate change] rainbows, children should have the right to a federally-mandated adequate education that would give them the tools to assess the veracity of those claims.

Torah Bontrager, New York Daily News, The Limits of Religious Freedom: America Must Come to Grips with When Faith Groups Limit Personal Liberty, October 22, 2019

Books by Torah Bontrager

An Amish Girl in Manhattan

Quote of the Day: Do Born-Again Christians Have a Moral Conscience?

john stoehr

I am going to say something that I have never before said in public. I have professed my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.

More than once, actually.

I don’t remember how many times. Maybe half a dozen? I do remember each time had the same empirical result, which is to say no empirical result. I was the same after as I was before. I knew nothing had changed because my Christian upbringing taught the importance of the truth. What I didn’t know then, and what seems obvious now, is that the truth isn’t The Truth.

Years later my dad asked if I was saved. It was important to him. I said yes, and I felt like a liar. Then I realized there’s no way he could prove I wasn’t. Faith, after all, isn’t falsifiable. Telling him I was “saved” had the same small-T truth to it as saying I accepted Jesus, which is to say, no truth at all. Saying the words of the profession of faith in Christ did not actuate my inner moral conscience anymore than saying abracadabra.

To born-again Christians, the event I describe here, in which you profess your faith in God who gave His only Begotten Son to be sacrificed on the Cross of Calvary so that Man might be forgiven his Sins, is seminal. The revelation of God’s Power and Glory is supposed to be a turning point one reflects on in old age in search of wisdom to pass on to youngsters embarking on their own walk with the Lord. It is the implicit or explicit lesson to every Sunday school class, every Bible story, and every sermon. Everything about born-again Christianity is bent toward the goal of your being born again. The only thing missing is how to be a good person.

For me to say that the words of profession of my faith in Jesus did not actuate my moral conscience any more than saying abracadabra did isn’t merely offensive to born-again Christians. It’s also confounding. I mean, the point of being born again is to avoid burning for an eternity in a Lake of Fire. What’s morality got to do with that? (The people I’m describing, by the way, are all white. I have no unique insight into African-American evangelical religion or culture.)

….

I’m no historian but it seems to me, as someone who has strayed (badly but gladly) from my born-again Christian beginnings, that many of today’s believers have turned the Reformation on its head in a way. Whole lifetimes can pass by without having to think seriously about what a good person is or how to put virtue into action—why, when, and how. And such apathy is made possible by the deep-seated belief that morality is the same as obedience to authority, especially obedience to God the Father. In other words, I am good because people in authority tell me I am good for obeying their authority. Take the believer out of the shadow of authority, however, and what do you have? A person who’s never developed a moral core. An empty vessel, sadly. Donald Trump and his white evangelical supporters have more in common than most people think. (Caveat: I developed a moral core, but it wasn’t easy on my own. Others often do the same.)

John Stoehr, Rewire.News, Are White Evangelicals as Concerned About Middle Eastern Christians as We’re Meant to Believe? October 21, 2019

Stoehr poses this question in the context of Evangelicalism’s professed love for Middle Eastern Christians. You can read the rest of his article here.

Quote of the Day: Americans Increasingly Indifferent Towards Christianity

The United States is becoming a less Christian country, and the decline in religious affiliation is particularly rapid among younger Americans, new figures show.

The proportion of US adults who describe themselves as Christian has fallen to two-thirds, a drop of 12 percentage points over the past decade, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

Over the same period, the proportion of those describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” has risen by 17 percentage points to more than a quarter of the adult population.

Although churches and faith movements continue to exert strong political influence on the Trump administration and at the state level, the proportion of American adults attending religious services has declined.

The proportion of US adults who are white born-again or evangelical Protestants – the religious group which strives hardest to see its political agenda adopted – is now 16%, down from 19% a decade ago.

The number going to church at least once or twice a month has fallen by seven percentage points over the past decade. More Americans now say they attend religious services a few times a year or less (54%) than say they attend at least monthly (45%).

The fall in religious identification and activity has affected both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. According to Pew, 43% of adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51% in 2009. And 20% are Catholic, down from 23% in 2009.

Fewer than half of millennials (49%) describe themselves as Christians; four in 10 are religious “nones”, and 9% identify with non-Christian faiths.

As many millennials say they never attend religious services (22%) as those who say they go at least once a week.

Pew’s report, released on Thursday, says the decline of Christian communities is continuing at a rapid pace.

Religious ‘nones’ have grown across multiple demographic groups: white people, black people and Hispanics; men and women; all regions of the country; and among college graduates and those with lower levels of educational attainment.

“Religious ‘nones’ are growing faster among Democrats than Republicans, though their ranks are swelling in both partisan coalitions. And although the religiously unaffiliated are on the rise among younger people and most groups of older adults, their growth is most pronounced among young adults,” the report said.

— The Guardian, Americans Becoming Less Christian as Over a Quarter Follow no Religion, October 17, 2019

Questions: Bruce, Why Did You Become an Atheist?

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.

Chris asked:

I would like to know how you became an atheist after practicing Christian authoritarianism? What is it that makes people embrace systematic mythologies? Is it fear of death, a wish for immortality?

I have been asked many times by atheists and Christians alike why I became an atheist. Some questioners want to know more about the “how” of my deconversion. I usually point people to the WHY page. The posts of this page usually answer the “why” and “how” questions of my journey from Evangelical Christianity to atheism.

The WHY page includes:

My Baptist Salvation Experience

From Evangelicalism to Atheism Series

Why I Stopped Believing

Please Help Me Understand Why You Stopped Believing

16 Reasons I am Not a Christian

Why I Hate Jesus

The Danger of Being in a Box and Why It Makes Sense When you Are in It

What I Found When I Left the Box

The short answer to the question, Bruce, Why Did You Become an Atheist? is this: I thoroughly (and painfully) examined the central claims of Christianity and concluded they were not true. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense) While my story is much more complicated than that, the bottom line is that I don’t believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God; and I don’t believe the claims made within its pages about God, Jesus, and the human condition are true. Once I realized that what I had believed for fifty years was false, I concluded I could no longer call myself a Christian. In November 2008, I walked out the doors of the church (Ney United Methodist Church) for the last time. In 2009, I wrote Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and sent it to numerous friends, family members, ministerial colleagues, and former parishioners. From that point forward, I have proudly worn the atheist moniker.

Chris also asks, “What is it that makes people embrace systematic mythologies? Is it fear of death, a wish for immortality?” He asks if people embrace religions such as Christianity because they fear death or wish that there is life after death? The short answer is yes, but as with most questions concerning religion, the answers are far more complex.

Many atheists choose to call Christians stupid sheep who can’t think for themselves. If only Christians thought for themselves, why they would all be atheists! May I say, oh so kindly, that only stupid goats (atheists) think this way. Why people have religious beliefs is a complex issue; one rooted in biology, sociology, and geography, along with cultural, tribal, and familial beliefs and practices. Sure, people fear death and want to do go Heaven when they die. I am not too fond of the idea death myself, and life after death, at times, does appeal to me. The reasons, however, that lead to people to embrace religious beliefs are more varied and complex than just that they want to live forever.

Is it any surprise that I was a Christian? I was born to Christian parents, lived in a Christian nation, and was indoctrinated in Christian beliefs for the first fifty years of my life. There was no chance that I would “choose” any other religion but Evangelical Christianity. So it is for billions of people across the world — their beliefs are shaped by the beginnings of their lives. Once we understand how deeply immersed people are in religious faith, it should lead us to be more sympathetic to people who haven’t yet “seen the light.” Calling them stupid accomplishes nothing. The only way to reach Christians with the humanist gospel is to gently challenge their sincerely held beliefs; to cause them to question and doubt that which they hold dear. This is why I recommend the books of Dr. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar at the University of North Carolina:

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

Ehrman does a good job challenging the foundation of Evangelical Christianity — the Bible. Cause Evangelicals to doubt the authority and veracity of the Bible, and they are well on their way out the proverbial door. Now, that doesn’t mean they will all become atheists. They won’t. However, any move away from Fundamentalism is a good one. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Sure, I think atheism is the right response to the questions asked and answered by Dr. Ehrman. However, I also know that many people NEED the social connections faith communities offer. I have no desire to rob people of the things that help them get through this life, even if I think, in the end, we all end up in the same place — the grave.

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.

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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.