Several times a month I receive emails from Evangelicals wanting to be “friends” with me. These emails invariably say that the writer is Evangelical, but not like the Evangelicals I focus on in my writing. Often, these writers attempt to “hook” me by saying that they “totally” understand why, based on reading about my past experiences, I would walk away from the ministry and Christianity. They too, I am told, would have done the same. Usually, these emails are filled with compliments about my transparency, openness, and honesty. These Evangelicals promise me that their motives are pure, and that they have no desire to try to win me back to Jesus. All they want is an opportunity to show me “true” Christian love and friendship.
I also get Facebook friend requests from Evangelicals who, again, promise that they have no ulterior motive for friending me. Years ago, one such person friended me on Facebook. He knew “everything” about me, having read my blog and talked to his sister who was, at one time, a member of one of the churches I pastored. So, I friended him, thinking that maybe, just maybe, he was different from other Evangelicals. And for a while he was, but one day he became inflamed with righteous indignation over something I had written about Christianity. Our discussion quickly spun out of control, and the man unfriended me. He warned his sister about me, saying that I was satanic and Christians should avoid me lest I influence them with my demonic words.
These days, I simply do not respond to Evangelical friendship requests, be they via email or on social media. Several years ago, the president of a Christian college attempted to goad me into having lunch with him by appealing to my desire for openness and understanding. This man told me that he just wanted to share a meal and hear my story. I told him, as I do anyone else who takes this approach, Look, I have written more than four thousand blog posts. I have written extensively about my past and present life. If you really want to know about my life, READ! If, after reading my writing, you have questions, email them to me and I will either answer them in an email or a blog post. Of course, this is not what these “friendly” Evangelicals want. They want a face-to-face meeting with me so they can probe my life, hoping to find that wrong beliefs led to my deconversion. Never mind that I have written numerous posts about my past beliefs. Everything someone could ever want to know about my life and beliefs can be found on this blog.
Perhaps the question these Evangelicals should ask is this: why would I want to be friends with you? What would a friendship with you bring to my life that I don’t already have? It’s not like I don’t have any friends. I do, and I am quite happy with the number of friends I have, both in the flesh and through the digital world. Not only that, but my partner of forty-five years is my best friend, and I am close with my six children and their families. I have all I need when it comes to human interaction. Why, then, would I want to be friends with Evangelicals who, as sure as I am sitting here, want to evangelize me? Friendship Evangelism remains a tool churches and parachurch ministries use in their evangelistic efforts. Friendship becomes a pretext. The real goal is to see sinners saved. Promoters of “Friendship Evangelism” know that befriending people disarms them, making them more sensitive and receptive to whatever version of the Christian gospel they are promoting.
As long-time readers of this blog know, I am pretty good at stalking people on the internet and social media. I have learned that you can tell a lot about people just by looking at their Facebook wall, along with the groups they are a part of and the pages they like. Recently, a local man contacted me, offering to buy me dinner with no strings attached. What, no expectations of sex after the date? Consider me a doubter. I decided to check out the man’s Facebook profile. I found out that he voted for Donald Trump and supports most of the Evangelical hot-button issues. He opposes same-sex marriage and abortion. We have nothing in common socially or politically. Why, then, would I want to be friends with him?
Friendships are generally built around shared beliefs. I don’t have any interest in being friends with people who voted for Donald Trump or support political views I consider anti-human, racist, bigoted, and misogynistic. And I sure as hell don’t befriend people who root for Michigan. I have standards, you know? Seriously, most of us have friends who hold to beliefs similar to our own. We might have a handful of friends who differ from us, but we find ways to forge meaningful relationships with such people. I am friends with several Evangelicals, but the main reason I am is that our friendships date back to the days when we were walking the halls of Lincoln Elementary. We’ve agreed not to talk about religion or politics. We share many common connections that make such discussions unnecessary. I am sure they fear for my “soul” and pray that I would return to the fold, but these things are never voiced to me. If they did attempt to evangelize me, it would most certainly put an end to our friendship.
To the man, these friendly Evangelicals believe that my life is missing something — Jesus — and is empty, lacking meaning, purpose, and direction. In their minds, only Jesus can meet my needs. Without him, what is the point of living another day, right? In their minds, Jesus is the end-all. Why would I want to trade the life I now have for Jesus? What can Jesus — a dead man — possibly offer me? Well, Bruce, these Evangelicals say, Jesus offers you forgiveness of sins, escape from Hell, and eternal bliss in Heaven. Surely, you want to go to Heaven when you die? Actually, I am content with life in the present. Threats of Hell or promises of Heaven have no effect on me. Both are empty promises.
Why would I ever want to be friends with someone who believes that, unless I believe as they do, their God is going to torture me in a lake filled with fire and brimstone for eternity? This same God — knowing that my present body would, in hell, sizzle like a hog on a spit — lovingly plans to fit me with a special fireproof body that will be able to feel the pain of being roasted alive without being turned into a puddle of grease. What an awesome God! No thanks. I have no interest in being friends with anyone who thinks that this is what lies in the future for me. I can’t stop (nor do I want to) such people from reading my writing, but I sure as hell don’t want to “fellowship” with them over dinner at the local Applebee’s.
I would like to make one offer to Evangelicals who want to be friends with Atheist Bruce. Fine, let’s go to the strip club and have drinks, and let’s do it on All Male Revue Night. I’m not all that interested in seeing males strip, but I thought taking these Evangelicals to such a place would help them see how I feel when they view my life as lacking (naked) and in need of clothing (Jesus).
My life is what it is. True friends accept me as I am, no strings attached. Evangelicals, of course, have a tough time doing that. In their minds, Jesus is the end-all, the answer to all that ails the human race. Life is empty without the awesome threesome — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I spent fifty years in the Christian church. For half of those years, I was preaching the Evangelical gospel. I was, according to all who knew me, a devoted, zealous follower of Jesus. Whatever my faults may have been (and they were many), I loved Jesus with all my heart, soul, and mind. Deciding to walk away from the ministry and Christianity were the two hardest decisions I have ever made. Yet, my life, in virtually every way, is better today than it was when I was a Christian. Quite frankly, Christianity has nothing to offer me. I am content (well, as content as a perfectionist with OCPD can be, anyway) with life as it now is. Sure, life isn’t perfect, but all in all, I can say I am blessed. Yes, blessed. I am grateful for my partner, six children, and thirteen grandchildren. I am grateful that I can, with all the health problems I have, still enjoy their company. The advice I offer up to people on my ABOUT page sums up my view of life:
You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.
Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you’d best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.
For me, the game of life is late in the fourth quarter. Time is literally running out. I must focus my attention and energy on relationships that are mutually beneficial, relationships that offer love, kindness, and acceptance. No Evangelical worth his or her salt can offer me such a relationship. Lurking below the surface will be thoughts about how much better my life could be with Jesus and thoughts of what will happen to me if I die without repenting of my sins. Evangelicals who really believe what the Bible says can’t leave me alone. They dare not stand before God to give an account of their lives, only to be reminded that, when given the opportunity to evangelize the atheist ex-preacher Bruce Gerencser, they said and did nothing. And it is for these reasons that I cannot and will not befriend Evangelicals.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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