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Category: Religion

Black Collar Crime: United Methodist Pastor John Hackmann Accused of Soliciting Child Pornography

pastor john hackmann

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.

John Hackmann, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Marion, Illinois stands accused of soliciting child pornography.

KFVS-12 reports:

Reverend John S. Hackmann, Jr., 45, was charged with child pornography and intimidation.

The Williamson County sheriff said on Monday he had bonded out of the Williamson County Jail.

According to the State’s Attorney’s Office, Hackmann’s preliminary hearing was set for Nov. 19.

Court documents state Hackmann solicited a teen to get lewd photos of female friends that are her age. He’s accused of threatening to show the teen’s mother a private video of her and boyfriend.

Frank J. Beard, Bishop of the Illinois Area, The United Methodist Church, released the following statement:

Conference leadership has been notified of the arrest Thursday by Williamson County authorities of the Rev. John S. Hackmann II, 45, pastor of Marion First UMC.

In the best interest of all concerned, Rev. Hackmann has been temporarily relieved of his pastoral duties while an inquiry is made into the circumstances which led to the arrest.

An interim pastor will be assigned to serve Marion First during this time. It is our intention to cooperate with the criminal investigation as it unfolds.

The judgment of guilt or innocence regarding the criminal charges will come through that process. Our responsibility is to care for the welfare of the people involved and of the Church.

Please join us in prayer for Rev. Hackmann, his family, all parties involved and this congregation as we move forward guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Thank You, God, for Blowing My Leg Off

rebekah dimartino
Rebekah Martino’s Amputated Leg

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Most Christians are taught to give thanks for everything. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

No matter what, the will of God is for them to always, in every circumstance, give t-h-a-n-k-s. When tempted to whine, complain, or pity themselves, Christians are reminded of the pain and suffering Jesus endured on their behalf. No one has ever suffered like Jesus — or so Christians are told by their pastors, anyway. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.)

As with all of us, bad shit happens to Christians. They get sick; they have accidents; they are at the wrong place at the wrong time, or any of the other countless misfortunes that may befall humans. They contract sicknesses and diseases, so much so that it makes an outsider wonder if the Great Physician has lost his license to practice medicine.

When it comes to physical, emotional, and mental maladies, Christians are in the same boat with the rest of us. The difference is they have to pretend that what is going on in their lives is good for them, that God had a wonderful, awesome, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious plan for their lives. They must always look on the bright side. They know every word of the Footprints in the Sand Poem by Mary Stevenson:

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

Jim Steinhauer spoke for many of us when he wrote:

Sorry to have to break it to you, Jesus, but those are obviously my footprints.

Look closely. See how those footprints have that wavy tread pattern on the bottom, just like my docksiders? If they were yours, they’d make a sandal mark, like the footprints next to mine a little farther up the beach when I was going through better times.

See the footprints at the time of my divorce? You’ll notice that the sandaled footprints drift off from the docksider ones. They lead to that picnic bench over there, the one with the cigarette butts scattered all over. It appears that in my darkest hour, instead of carrying me, you sat on a stump and had a couple of smokes. Real helpful, Jesus. Real helpful.

Sure, the sandal footprints came back when I got that big job promotion, but right at the point where my son Tommy died, they veer off again. Actually, now that I look again, it seems like there’s an unusually large distance between each of the sandal-wearer’s footprints around the time of my son’s death, as if the person were actually running away.

I’m sorry, Jesus, but your whole story about carrying me during my worst moments just doesn’t gibe with the facts. Besides, you’d certainly think a person would remember being carried by the Son of God, right? That’s a pretty memorable thing, wouldn’t you say? Well, either I’ve got amnesia, or you’re a liar, because I don’t recall ever being toted around by the Messiah. The only thing I do remember about my worst moments on the path of life is the horrible feeling of plodding along the cold sand all alone while icy rain fell in sheets and chill winds assailed me.

So thanks, Jesus. Thanks a bunch. You were really there for me when things got tough.

I realize that thanking God amidst adversity and suffering can be a coping mechanism. One night, in the midst of a bout of horrible pain, I found myself crying out to the God of Ceiling®. While my utterance brought no answer from the Great Physician, it did help to distract me for a moment from the unrelenting pain. My utterance also caused me to chuckle and say, hey, Bruce, who ya taking to? Dumb ass!

I don’t want to rob anyone of anything that helps get them through the rough times of life. But, when I read news reports of someone praising God for their sickness, disease, or accident, it does cause me to wonder if the person is living in denial or has been so conditioned by their religious training that they cannot see life as it is. Such is the case of Rebekah DiMartino.

On April 15, 2013, DiMartino was standing 3 feet away from the Boston Marathon finish line when a bomb went off. The blast caused severe damage to DiMartino’s left leg. Weeks later, the leg had to be amputated. She now has a prosthetic leg with the word BLESSED embroidered across the front of it.

Several years ago, DiMartino told her story (link no longer active) at St Matthew’s Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky:

“Whatever you are going through in your life, don’t give up because God has got a plan for everything. And everything that we go through, it ultimately works together for your good.” “I took everything in the back of the legs so that Noah [her son] would be saved. That is God’s purpose [for me]. I cannot feel sorry for myself in the least bit because I know my son is running around like normal today. … I thank God every day for my little boy still being here.”

While I certainly sympathize with DiMartino, and I somewhat appreciate her positive outlook on her life after the bombing, I cannot accept or embrace a God who uses a terrorist and a bomb to blow someone’s leg off. Using DiMartino’s God’s-got-a-purpose-for-everything logic, the deaths of Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, and Martin Richard, all victims of the same bombing, happened because God had a purpose and plan for them. And the same could be said for policeman Sean Collier who was shot to death by the bombers. According to the Boston Public Health Commission, 264 people were injured in the bombing. Like DiMartino, 16 people lost a limb, and three people lost multiple limbs. Is this really God working out his plan for all of these people?

I understand the religious conditioning required to think like this. I used the same “reasoning” for years to “explain” my health problems. God has a plan for my life. God is working all things out for my good. God is teaching me to trust him more. God is drawing me closer to him. God is testing my faith. God is chastising me so that I might draw closer to him. Christian clichés — that’s all these are. The truth is, for Rebekah DiMartino, she was the victim of a terrorist bombing. She was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and her son, fortunately, was at the right place at the right time.

These kinds of stories should remind us that our lives hang by a slender thread. An accident, a genetic abnormality, a stray bullet, a moment of clumsiness or inattention, along with a plethora of diseases, can snuff out our lives in the blink of an eye. As an atheist, I have no intention of praising an absent or fictional God for the suffering and pain I must live with every day of my life. Instead, I embrace the pain and suffering and do my best to make the most of it. Certainly, that’s what DiMartino is doing. The only difference is that she thinks the Christian God is behind the wizard’s curtain orchestrating the events of her life.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Twenty-Five Questions for Christians who say Abortion is Murder

abortion is murder al shannon

I have some questions for those who believe that abortion is murder.

  1. Does life begin at conception?  How do you know it does? Is your view based on science or is it based on a religious belief?
  2. If life begins at conception, why are you supporting an Ohio bill that makes it illegal to have an abortion once a heartbeat is detected? Does life begin at conception or at first heartbeat?
  3. Do you support the use of emergency contraception (morning after) drugs? Why or why not?
  4. Should a pro-life pharmacist have the right to not dispense emergency contraception drugs? Should I be allowed to opt out of anything that goes against my moral or ethical beliefs, regardless of their foundation?
  5. Is abortion murder?
  6. Do you believe murderers should be prosecuted?
  7. Do you believe that driving the get-away car makes a person just as guilty as the person who robbed the bank?
  8. Do you believe a woman who has an abortion should be prosecuted for murder? How about the doctor who performs the procedure? How about the nurse that assisted in the procedure? How about the person who drove the woman to the clinic? If you believe in the death penalty, do you support the execution of murderers?
  9. Do you use birth control pills?
  10. Should you be prosecuted for murder since birth control pills can, and do, cause spontaneous abortion?
  11. Should abortion be allowed for reasons of rape, incest, or saving the life of the mother?
  12. If you answered yes to question eleven, do you support murdering the fetus if it is the product of rape or incest?
  13. Should a fetus be aborted if the mother’s life is at risk?
  14. Do you support murdering the unborn if it saves the life of the mother?
  15. Is your viewpoint on abortion a religious belief?
  16. What passage in the Bible prohibits abortion? Does this passage define life beginning at conception?
  17. Has God ever killed the unborn?
  18. In Genesis, God destroyed every human save eight by drowning them in a flood. Were any of the women who drowned pregnant? Did God kill the fetuses they were carrying? (Kill the mother, kill the fetus.)
  19. Do you support the death penalty? Do you support war? Should women who survive self-induced abortions be charged with attempted murder?
  20. If you answered yes to question nineteen, why do you oppose the killing of the unborn but support the killing of those already born?
  21. Why do you believe that killing the unborn is murder but consider an American bomb killing a baby 3 hours old a tragic result of war, collateral damage, but not murder?
  22. Do you support birth control being readily available in every school? If your objective is to reduce or eliminate the need for an abortion, wouldn’t easily available, free access to birth control reduce the abortion rate?
  23. Do you believe it is better for a severely deformed child to live for a day and die than for the fetus to be aborted? If so, explain why it is better for the child to suffer needlessly?
  24. Do you believe that God is in control of everything? Does everything include children being born deformed or with serious defects that will result in a life of extreme suffering and pain?
  25. Is someone a Christian if he or she supports abortion?

My view on abortion

3 day old human embyro
Three Day Old Human Embryo.

I do not think that life begins at conception, nor do I think it begins at first heartbeat. That said, I do not support abortion on demand. Approximately 65% of abortions occur in the first eight weeks, and 88% of abortions occur in the first trimester. I do not support any law that restricts access to an abortion in the first trimester. Once fetus viability (the ability to live outside the womb) is established, I do not support the right to an abortion except when the life of the mother is at stake or there’s a severe fetal abnormality.

I support women having full access to reproductive services (including access to birth control), as well as school-aged girls and young women. For women who have at-risk pregnancies, I support government-sponsored access to genetic testing and amniocentesis that will reveal severe birth defects. Better to have an abortion earlier in a pregnancy than to have a child born without a brain who will die a few moments or days after birth.

I support comprehensive sex education for junior high and high school students, and health education for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. Since girls often reach menses at ages as young as ten, waiting until they are sixteen to educate them about reproduction is irresponsible and leads to unintended pregnancies. I do not support “Just say No” programs that take the “aspirin between the knees” approach and ignore the reality that most teenagers will, at some point, be sexually active. Yes, teens should perhaps wait, but they don’t, and everyone should agree that teenagers having babies is not a good idea. If we agree that this is not a good idea, then making sure they can’t get pregnant should be a top priority.

I support radical changes to adoption laws in this country. The government should make it easy and affordable for people to adopt children (after being thoroughly vetted). By changing the law, it is more likely that women with unplanned pregnancies will carry their fetuses to term. This would also put out of business adoption agencies — many of them Christian — that charge extortion-level fees for adoptions.

abortions when

Neither God, the Bible, papal decrees, nor religious rhetoric have sway over me. Showing me bloody pictures of dismembered late-term aborted fetuses also has no effect on me. I know that only 1.3% of abortions occur after the twenty-first week. In 2017, 862,000 abortions were performed in the United States. That means, roughly 11,000 abortions were performed from the 21st week to term. Why don’t pro-lifers wave around pictures of zygotes or other pictures from the chronological time period when most abortions take place? Simple: such pictures wouldn’t excite, inflame, and manipulate the passions of zygote worshipers like a bloody, gory picture of a dismembered fetus does.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

A Comment from a Canadian Christian Seminary Student

email

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Several years ago, I received a Facebook message from a Canadian seminary student by the name of Matt. I assume he is an Evangelical. Here’s some of what he had to say:

You don’t know me. I am a seminary student at a school in Canada. One of my professors passed around your article entitled “Know it all Evangelicals” and asked the class to post a response in the class forum.

As I considered my response, I felt that if I wanted to take the assignment seriously, I should also post my response in the comments on your article . . .

. . . If you are not interested in this I completely understand and will bother you no more. I wish you all the best as you battle through your health issues. Thanks for considering my request.

Here’s the comment Matt posted to the class forum page:

Dear Bruce,

Thanks for a thought provoking article. I’ll admit that my first reaction was indignation and the inner protest that while this may refer to most Christians, it certainly doesn’t refer to me, don’t lump me in with everyone else.

I suspect that just about any Christian reading the article would feel similarly at least initially. Perhaps others would jump on the bandwagon and say, “Yeah, that is the problem with the church, they are so arrogant and they know nothing.” as though they themselves are somehow apart from and therefore better than the church.

Then I tried to think more about what you are really saying. It seems that the main problem that you outline in the article is the arrogance Christians tend to have based on their knowledge which in reality often amounts mostly to ignorance. I wonder if I really can be lumped into that category.

Perhaps in your years as a pastor you had the experience of having kids from your church go off to Bible College and then come back after a year armed with a new knowledge and a great zeal to correct the areas where you were in error in your leadership. The reality is that I was one of those kids. I recall as a Bible School student zealously inserting myself into a church conflict in the church where I grew up.

I made sure to point out to the pastor the areas where he was wrong and clearly warned him of the dangers of his behaviour. He was a man who was struggling in life, he had a teenage daughter causing a great deal of grief in his home and a church in turmoil around him and I am sure that in my great wisdom and discernment I caused far more harm than good. I look back on that incident with no small regret and hope that I have learned something since then.

Now, years later I find myself with a role of leadership and influence within the church and your article is a challenge to me. I can ask myself, “How can I be an influence for good in the church? Can I challenge the young people around me to get into their Bible, to study the scriptures and to think about what they are reading?” I think I can. The reality is that if the scriptures are true (and I believe that they are) they are worth studying and knowing. If they are truly a way to know God then this is what I should devote my life to learning and I want to influence the next generation of the church to change the reputation that we have of being arrogant and ignorant.

Thanks for your challenge.

Matt

I’m am not sure which post (s) Matt was referencing, but I do remember what I wrote. (Please see Know-it-all Christians and Why Do Evangelical Pastors Think They Know Everything.) I focused on the arrogance of many Evangelicals when it comes to them thinking they know everything. In truth, most Evangelicals know very little about theology, the Bible, the history of Christianity, and the transmission and historicity of the text they claim is divine. Even among preachers, the lack of knowledge is astounding.

I think Bart Ehrman’s books should be required reading in Evangelical churches — even more so in Evangelical Bible colleges and seminaries. Evangelicals should know where their Bible and beliefs came from and how much these beliefs have changed over the centuries. They should know that many of the claims they make for the Bible are not only laughable, but ignorant. If they are going to say that the Bible says ____________, then they should, at the very least, learn to defend and explain their assertions. In the process of learning how to defend themselves, they should expose themselves to authors and scholars outside of their sect, men such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, N.T. Wright, and even secular, non-Christian writers of the ilk of Bart Ehrman, John Loftus, and Robert M. Price. And that’s just for starters.

I take the Bible seriously, and those who say they believe it should do the same. I hope, in the advice that Matt gives to future congregants, he will encourage them to read outside the rut of their peculiar sect. Any belief worth having will stand examination and critique. Now, if it is really all about faith, then future Evangelical preachers such as Matt need to make that clear. They need to state that their beliefs are faith-based, and not evidence-based. This we believe, then becomes an article of faith, a shared faith, that may have some facts attached to it, but such facts are not required.

I want to thank Matt for his comment. I always appreciate it when Evangelicals make attempts to engage me on a thoughtful, professional, and intellectual level. Rarely does this happen, so I am all the more pleased when it does. His kind message to me is a reminder that my writing is often discussed far beyond the pages of this blog.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Quote of the Day: Why Amy Coney Barrett’s Religious Beliefs Matter

preaching anti abortion gospel lexington kentucky (5)

During the first day of Appellate Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings, they [Democrats] focused on health care and how Donald Trump’s third nominee might rule after the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments next month on the Affordable Care Act. Avoiding religion was probably wise given the Republicans’ level of fake outrage over fake “religious bigotry.” The rest of us, however, don’t need to play along. Barrett’s Catholicism is fair game.

Yes, I know. Highly influential liberal pundits, and some liberal pundits striving mightily to become influential, argue that religion should be off limits. First, they say, because a person of sincerely held religious beliefs can adjudicate impartially. Second, there’s enough to talk about without bringing up Barrett’s faith. While I presume these liberals mean well (to be clear, in presuming this, I’m being generous), they’re wrong.

They assume, for one thing, that religion and politics can be disentangled. Sometimes they can be. Sometimes they can’t. For another, these liberals behave as if politics is somehow taking religion hostage. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote Monday night: “When politicians use faith as an excuse to pass and uphold laws that seize control of people’s bodies but not guarantee them healthcare, feed the poor, shelter the homeless, or welcome the stranger, you have to wonder if it’s really about faith at all.”

No, you don’t have to wonder. It’s about their faith, full stop. Millions in this country—white evangelical Protestants and conservative white Catholics chief among them—root their genuinely held religious beliefs in opposition to modernity, which is to say, in politics. There is, therefore, no appreciable difference between them. The more our society moves in the direction of greater freedom, equity, and justice for all people, the more these revanchists believe their faith is under siege; and the more they feel their faith is under siege, the more prepared they are to go to war over “religious freedom.”

I don’t know if Barrett intends to help reverse Roe any more than you do. I do know—and you know—that that’s why Donald Trump picked her. That’s why she accepted his illegitimate nomination. Overturning Roe, or at least gutting it in order to permit the states to outlaw abortion, has been the goal for decades.

….

They are demanding, and getting, an autocratic usurpation of the majority’s will in the name of religion.

Not just any religion, though. A very specific strain of conservative white Christianity. This strain believes that one person has a right to use another person, without her consent, in order to stay alive. The person being used by another person to stay alive has a moral obligation to forfeit the monopoly over her body, such that her body isn’t private property so much as public property jointly owned by members of their shared faith. Importantly, if the person being used by another person to stay alive refuses, she is subject to various punishments, including, if the court overturns Roe, legal ones. There’s a reason Republicans want to make Barrett’s religion off limits. They don’t want a majority to see outlawing abortion as the establishment of a state religion.

You aren’t able to see violations of the First Amendment if you insist that religion is off limits. What’s more, you can’t see the treasonous bad faith of the revanchists. They don’t care about babies. If they did, they’d be up in arms over news of the president’s treatment for covid-19. He was injected with an “antibody cocktail” tested on stem cells derived from a baby aborted nearly half a century ago. White evangelical Protestants and white conservative Catholics usually say “fetal tissue,” even in life-saving drug treatments, is a grave offense to God, but not this time.

….

That’s bullshit, but at least they’re dropping the charade. What they want to say but fear saying—because saying it out loud for everyone to hear would be too gothic and horrifying for mainstream America—is what they really mean. What they really mean is that it’s okay for one person to use another person’s body without his or her consent.

….

So don’t ignore religion. It is central. None of this makes sense when it’s not.

— John Stoehr, Religion Dispatches, Why Amy Coney Barrett’s Religion is Fair Game, October 14, 2020

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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 Voices of Atheism: Abortion and the Sanctity of Life by George Carlin

george carlin

This is the latest installment in The Voices of Atheism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. Know of a good video that espouses atheism/agnosticism or challenges the claims of the Abrahamic religions? Please email me the name of the video or a link to it. I believe this series will be an excellent addition to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.

Thank you in advance for your help.

What follows is a video of a comedy bit by the late George Carlin.

Video Link

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved?

saved or lost

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Yes.

No.

Maybe.

What do I mean by the word “saved”? Delivered. Redeemed. Set free. Born again. Regenerated. Bought by the blood. Justified (looked at by God just as if I never sinned).

The Bible says:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9,10)

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8.9)

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3,4)

Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9)

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16)

Oops. Scratch that last one. Don’t want to start a war between the Baptists and the Campbellites (Churches of Christ); sects who famously fight over the Greek word eis (for) in Acts 2:38. The Baptists believe people are baptized eis (because) their sins have been remitted, but the Campbellites — who were excommunicated by the Baptists for preaching baptismal regeneration — believe people are baptized eis (for, in order to) have their sins remitted. Neither group believes the other is “saved.”

Most Christians interpret the aforementioned verses, and others, in a basic, generic way:

I am a sinner. Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. Three days later Jesus resurrected from the dead. Believing this message to be true, I admit I am a sinner, I repent (turn from or change my mind) of my sins, and, by faith, I trust Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me. I am trusting Jesus to save me and keep me until I die. By putting my faith and trust in Jesus, I know I will go to heaven when I die. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

There are three basic schools of thought when it comes to salvation. I know there are various shades of each of these. Please, spare me the emails and comments that say I didn’t properly describe YOUR TRIBE. This post is not a doctoral thesis on “Christian Soteriology Through the Ages.”

Once Saved, Always Saved

There is the “once saved, always saved” school. According to this school of thought, once a person is saved, he can never be un-saved. No matter what the person does, no matter how the person lives, he is saved forever. A person can stop attending church, stop doing ANYTHING that remotely suggests that he is a Christian, yet “once saved, always saved.” One noted Evangelical writer, R.B. Thieme, even said that a person could go to the altar and be saved and then leave the church, curse God, and live like a heathen the remainder of his life . . . it matters not, “once saved, always saved.”

This is the soteriological belief of most Baptists and Evangelicals. Salvation becomes “fire insurance.” People don’t want to go to Hell, so they get saved. Whew, that’s over. Next! How ’bout them Cowboys!

Coupled with this belief is the notion that the believer will be rewarded someday for doing the right things in this life. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

So, people might be “once saved always saved” but if they don’t live right, they will lose their Heavenly rewards. The nature of this loss of rewards is never clearly defined. Maybe their mansions won’t have indoor plumbing or satellite TV? (John 14:1-6)

Some “once saved, always saved” believers realize that their version of salvation really looks bad. They know their brand of salvation makes it looks like they are preaching a “live like hell, still go to heaven” gospel.

To counter this, they teach that Christians who live carnally (worldly, fleshly) will be chastised (beaten, corrected) by God in this life. If a carnal Christian is not chastised, it is proof that he was never “really” saved. The Bible says in Hebrews 12:8: But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Countless once-saved-always-saved Baptists have told me that I am still a Christian. No matter what I do, no matter what I believe, I can never, ever lose my salvation. I suppose if this is the case, then there will be a lot of atheists in Heaven.

Conditional Salvation, Arminianism

Arminian sects believe in conditional salvation. Arminian sects include Freewill Baptists, Methodists, Wesleyans, Churches of Christ, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of the Nazarene, Pentecostals, and others.  They believe a person is saved by grace, but kept by works (works they perform by and through the power of God, so it is really all of grace). In this school of thought, people can only know they are saved in the present moment. Their future salvation is conditioned on them doing the right things.

A believer can do certain things that will result in the loss of salvation. Some Arminian groups believe you can only lose your salvation one time. In other words, “once saved, once lost, always lost.”

The Bible says in Hebrews 6:4-6:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Other Arminian groups believe a person can repeatedly be saved, lost, saved, lost, saved. They often talk about a line that is crossed, when a person goes from a state of grace to being lost again. I have asked repeatedly over the years exactly where that line is, and no Arminian can tell me. I have been told by more than one Arminian preacher, “You just KNOW when you have crossed the line.”

Arminians have no problem explaining my life. It is quite simple to them; I once was saved, and now I am lost.

Perseverance (Preservation) of the Saints, Calvinism

The final school of thought is the Calvinistic school. Calvinist groups such the Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, some Southern Baptists, Sovereign Grace Baptists, and Episcopalians, to name a few, adhere to what is commonly called the five points of Calvinism (which were actually articulated as a reply to the Arminians). Point number five is the perseverance (preservation) of the saints.

The perseverance of the saints is “once saved, always saved” with a twist.  Calvinists believe salvation is a work done totally by God. From start to finish, it is God who does it all. A person cannot believe, exercise faith, or do anything apart from God giving them the power to do so. Those whom God saves, God keeps. Now, God only saves a certain number of people. God knows exactly how many he will save. They are the elect. They have been predestined to salvation. No one but the elect will be saved. Everyone else need not apply.

The God who saves is the God who causes believers to persevere to the end. If they don’t persevere to the end, then that is proof they were never saved to start with.

After hearing my deconversion story, Calvinists conclude I never was saved.  I didn’t persevere. I had received common grace, but not God’s special, saving grace. In other words, God toyed with me, and then said “fuck you, go to Hell.” The contradiction in their conclusion is that they cannot know if I might yet persevere in the future. Perhaps, I am just going through an atheist phase, and I will return to Christianity at some later point and time.

Calvinists cannot know for sure they are saved. They can HOPE they are. They can constantly examine their lives to see if they are availing themselves to the means of grace, but until they die, they cannot know for sure they have made it to the finish line. They MUST persevere to the end to be sure. They are hoping God comes through for them, but they won’t know for sure until the end. After all, they too could be deluded. They too could be following a false Christ. Perhaps God is just toying with them too, and they will end up bunking in Hell with atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Steven Hawking, Steve Gupton, Gandhi, Bruce Gerencser, and all those who preached the false gospel of Arminianism.

Imagine a person going from church to church trying to find out the one true Christian message of salvation. You would think Christians could agree on the most basic of truths: salvation.

But they don’t.

I am convinced that Christians better hope that God is a universalist. If not, Hell is going to be filled with Christians.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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2008-2012: A Look at My Writing Post-Christianity

letter to the editor

What follows is a sampling of the letters to the editors of the Bryan Times and the Defiance Crescent-News I wrote between 2008 and 2012. These letters were written after I deconverted from Christianity in November 2008.

December 2008

Manifest Destiny, an American Fantasy

Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to the letter to the editor by Rebecca Soellner.

In her letter she extols the virtues of the American Dream and love for God. Her letter is a good example of the error of Manifest Destiny — the notion that America has a divine purpose and future ordained by the Christian God.

Such thinking allows Soellner to justify the demolishing of the land and the killing off of wildlife and indigenous people just so our forefathers could plant the seeds of faith, hope, and love. I am not sure that the God of faith, hope, and love (1Cor. 13:13) wants any part of a people who stole the land from its rightful owners and then murdered them if they resisted. I seriously doubt that God was delighted when our forefathers corralled hundreds of indigenous men, women, and children into a building, set the building on fire, and burned them to death.

The spirit that Soellner extols allowed our forefathers to take what was not theirs and kill those they had no right to kill, all in the name of the Christian God. Our nation had a bloody, sinful beginning and we should recognize it as such. We had no right, God given or not, to do what we did. Think of how we would respond if Ohioans decided it was their manifest destiny to live in Indiana and they, by force, stole the land and killed the inhabitants of Indiana. There would be outrage at such barbarity, and rightly so.

Some of our forefathers were indeed Christian men and women. But many of them were not. Some of them came to America because of religious freedom and then made laws forbidding any other religion but the Christian one (and in some cases outlawing the Catholic religion). Many of our forefathers were opportunists who saw a great opportunity to amass land and wealth.

They had a respectable form of religion and thought nothing of using their religion to gain economic advantage. If it meant that they ended up with more money, they gladly went along with the notion that God was behind their endeavor.

Some day I hope the myth of the Christian nation will be put to rest. I hope we will stop turning our forefathers into saints who were only motivated by the Godliest of principles and virtues. They were fallible, frail, sinful human beings. Some indeed had great religious virtue but many others were driven by avarice and greed.

We must own up to the fact that our nation’s beginning is covered with blood and that we owe indigenous Americans an apology for our national sin. They deserve complete and full restitution for our wicked actions. While we cannot undo many of the sins of the past, we can stop trying to paint over our past sins with the God paint.

Bruce Gerencser

March 2009

Reducing the Number of Abortions

Dear Editor,

President Barack Obama has made a plea to the pro-life movement asking them to work with him in reducing the number of abortions in the United States. One would think that his overture would be readily accepted. No matter what position a person holds on abortion, it would seem that reducing the number of abortions is in the best interest of everyone, especially for the unborn.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s plea was rejected. It seems pro-lifers don’t want to get their hands dirty by holding hands with those with differing views. Better to stand on the sidelines and chuck rocks than actually work toward reducing abortions.

The latest pro-life attempt to outlaw all abortions is to encourage the passage of “personhood laws.” Such laws would grant personhood at the moment of conception. Thus, from the moment of conception forward that which grows in the womb of the mother is a person protected by the same laws and constitutional rights as those who are born.

I am sure that pro-lifers are well-intentioned in their attempt to get personhood laws passed, but such laws would wreak havoc on our legal system.

If such laws were passed, women having an abortion would be guilty of murder as would the doctors who perform abortions. Women who lose the implanted egg during a car accident could be guilty of vehicular homicide. Disposing of fertilized eggs at a fertilization clinic would be considered murder. Women who take birth control pills that cause a spontaneous abortion would be guilty of murder. I could go on and on about the implications of such a law.

Whatever we may call the fertilized egg, a person it is not. Until the fetus is viable outside of the womb it should not be granted personhood status.

The vast majority of abortions take place prior to viability, with most occurring in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. Instead of focusing on the point where most abortions take place, the pro-life movement would rather focus on late-term abortions which make up 1 percent of all abortions. Of course. this is a calculated political move. What raises more money? Pictures of four-week-old fertilized eggs or 30-week-old aborted fetuses?

The pro-life movement here in northwest Ohio is missing a great opportunity to work with people like myself who don’t believe life begins at fertilization, but who sincerely desire to reduce the overall number of abortions.

I am in contact with a number of people who have similar views as mine. They sit in the back pew of the church, silenced by the rhetoric of the pro-life movement. They desire to work toward reducing abortions, but they have no opportunity to act on their beliefs because they are considered baby killers and often considered non-Christian.

If pro-lifers are sincerely interested in reducing abortions, then it is time for them to move down from their lofty pinnacle to where sinners like me, who are willing to work toward reducing abortion, are found.

Bruce Gerencser

December 2009

Time to End the Wars in the Middle East

Dear Editor:

President Obama announced his wrongheaded, certain-to-be-disastrous, plan to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. For those of us who grew up during the Vietnam War, it is hard not to have visions of Lyndon Johnson, troop level escalations, and increasing numbers of American casualties. Obama is foolishly committing the same mistakes that Johnson committed 45 years ago.

The war being waged in Afghanistan and Iraq is unwinnable. Only by pulling some form of George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” can President Obama ever hope to claim victory in the Middle East.

Thirty years ago, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. At one point, the Soviets had 300,000 troops on the ground, yet they failed in conquering Afghanistan and ultimately withdrew in defeat. The Soviet’s war in Afghanistan is often referred to as their “Vietnam.”

Adding 30,000 troops to those already in Afghanistan will raise troops levels to around 140,000 troops. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 private contractors operating in Afghanistan, bringing the force total to 240,000 people.

According to a recent McClatchy News report, the recently revised Army counterinsurgency manual states that mounting a successful counterinsurgency effort, in a country with the population and land mass of Afghanistan, would require 600,000 troops!

It seems very clear to me that President Obama is making a grievous and politically fatal error in embracing and expanding the war that former President George Bush left him. As a committed liberal and pacifist, I believed the anti-war, bring-the-troops-home message that candidate Obama preached during the presidential campaign. While I allowed for the reality that Washington is a place of compromise and campaign promises left unfulfilled, I expected Barack Obama to make a good faith effort to end the bloodshed in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, President Obama has embraced the insane notion that by waging war a nation can end war. There has never been a war ended by war. Hostilities may cease but war has no power to end war. Only peace brings an end to war. Foolish are the people who think that killing people will bring an end to killing people.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus did not say blessed are those who think peace is a good idea. He said blessed are those who make peace, who actively work for peace. Yet, here we are, a nation of millions of supposed Christ followers, and we continue to wage war with no end in sight.

I am 52 years old, and the United States has been actively involved in an offensive war somewhere in the world for almost half my life. It is hard not to conclude that we are a warring people who are willing to shed the blood of others to gain our objectives.

I renew my call to President Obama to end the war in the Middle East. I urge him to bring the troops home.

Bruce Gerencser

June 2010

Right-Wing Christianity Dominates Rural Northwest Ohio

Dear Editor:

Evangelical Christian Church continues to grow while the mainstream Christian Church continues to decline. As the mainline Christian Church continues to decline, it seems likely that Protestantism will become a single party dominated by Evangelicalism. We see evidence of this in northwest Ohio. I do not know of a mainline Christian church in this area that would call itself a liberal, progressive church. Such a label would be societal suicide in our rural culture that is dominated by right-wing Christian and Republican ideology.

There are many important battles that loom on the horizon. While the election of Barack Obama dealt the political and religious right a severe blow, they have not been defeated. Theocrats, determined to make the Christian religion the official state religion, continue to argue for the enshrinement of the Christian God’s law as the law of the land. They continue to press for a revisionist history that paints our founding fathers as evangelicals and our nation as a Christian nation. The religious right continues to target local schools as a prime target for cultural change. Abstinence-only education, school prayer, Christian nationalism and intelligent design (which is nothing more than creationism in new clothes) are all points of attack that must be met head-on by those of us who are secularists. We cannot afford to give any ground to attempts to Christianize our schools and government.

Here in northwest Ohio we have become too complacent as right-wing religion (often joined at the hip with right-wing politics) pushes itself into every aspect of our daily life. A recent event is a case in point. The Bryan Jubilee was held recently. Thursday night was advertised as Christian Fun Night. The Jubilee is a public event. As such, there should be no exclusionary events. I wonder if the organizers of the Jubilee would allow the atheists, agnostics and deists of Williams County to have their own fun night, especially if that fun included acts that made light of the Evangelical Christian faith. I seriously doubt it. I want to encourage my fellow secularists and humanists to come out of the shadows and help stymie the continued encroachment of Evangelical Christianity into our schools and government. I realize our numbers are few, but we can make a difference if we are willing to speak out.

Bruce Gerencser

August 2010

Not Everyone Believes or Accepts the Christian Narrative

Dear Editor:

Attempting to formulate a reply to the responses to my letter to the editor has left me with quite a quandary. In 500 words I must respond to issues that deserve far more treatment than I can give them. Every letter writer committed the same error as Jack Palmer.

They assumed a priori that everyone believes in the Bible, their God and their version of Christianity. According to them, it is self-evident that the Christian God is the true God. They base their assertion upon the Bible, and therein lies the problem. They believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. I suspect most of the letter writers also believe the Bible is inerrant.

I do not believe the Bible is a supernatural book. The Bible is a manmade book of spiritual writings. It is rooted in a nomadic and agrarian economy that no longer exists. The last book of the Bible was written 1,900 years ago. While certainly the Bible has some value in the 21st century, it is not a book that should be used as a divine road map for life nor as a rulebook for governing society.

The Bible is best suited for use in tribal worship, cultural events and acts of personal piety. In other words, our society is far better off if the Bible is relegated to the same shelf as the great classics of the past.

Because I do not believe the Bible to be the divine truth, threats of divine retribution and judgment have no meaning to me. They did at one time. I was a student of the Bible for over 33 years, attended a Christian college and pastored evangelical churches for 25 years. As an agnostic, I have a humanistic worldview. It is a worldview that focuses on the here and now rather than eternity and a mythical home in heaven.

With all the suffering in the world, time spent pining for a mansion in the sky seems scandalous. The responses to my letter make it very clear to me that no two Christians agree on anything. Every letter writer espoused a different form of Christianity. Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America.

Instead, what we do have is multiple Christianities, with every Christian picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible and then making God into their own image. Christians continue to use Pascal’s Wager with unbelievers to no effect. I would reverse the challenge and ask Christians, what if this is it? What if there is no heaven or hell?

What if you’ve spent your entire life seeking an eternal destiny that doesn’t exist? A life wasted that could have been spent enjoying the here and the now. A life wasted that could have been spent living and loving rather than trudging through a wicked world in search of a heaven and eternal reward that does not exist. We each have one life. This is it. Love and live.

Bruce Gerencser

April 2012

Why Was There No News Report In the Crescent-News About the Reason Rally?

Dear Editor:

I waited in vain to see a Crescent-News report on the March 24 Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. Over 20,000 people gathered on The Mall to give their support to the idea that America should be a country governed by reason rather than superstition and religious dogma. The Reason Rally crowd was comprised of atheists, agnostics, humanists and secularists, every one of them with a love for America and its secular values and principles.

Noted speakers at the event included people like Richard Dawkins, David Silverman, Michael Shermer, James Randi, Dan Barker, Roy Speckhardt, Greta Christina and Nate Phelps, son of homophobic Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps. Videos from people like Bill Maher and Penn Jillette were shown and musicians like Bad Religion and Tim Minchin played for the crowd. Adam Savage, co-host of the popular TV show Mythbusters, gave a passionate speech that encouraged and stirred the secular crowd.

The Reason Rally was the American secularist movement’s coming out party. As the recent census showed, secularism is on the rise in America. As people turn away from religions that no longer provide the answers to life’s important questions, they are realizing that answers, hope, meaning and purpose can be found in a non-theistic, humanistic way of life. With no promise of heaven or threat of hell, secularists are focused on improving the world we live in. We only have one life and we best be about living it. If we want a better future for our progeny, we have no time to waste dreaming of promises of mansions in heaven.

I realize The Crescent-News leans toward the right politically and socially. The editorial page is so right-wing that it falls right off the right side of the page. That’s your right as a newspaper. I also realize you represent what the vast majority of Defiance area residents believe and support. However, you do have a duty to report the news and the March 24 Reason Rally was indeed news. It is news that is not going away. The Reason Rally was but the first shot over the bow of Ship Christian Nation. We are here and we are not going away.

Bruce Gerencser

May 2012

Homosexuality and the Bible

Dear Editor:

Cal Thomas is right about one thing. The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality. The Bible is not ambiguous about homosexuality. It is a sinful behavior that is the mark of a reprobate heart. If the Bible is taken literally, it is clear that no homosexual will inherit the kingdom of God.

And this is the very reason the Bible should not be used as a legal standard in the United States. Christians are free to live according to the dictates of the Bible, however, in a secular state, a particular religion’s moral code of conduct has no business being codified into law.

There are many moral strictures in the Bible that many moderns find abhorrent. The Bible has been used in the past to justify all kinds of vile behavior. Not too many years ago segregationists routinely quoted the Bible to justify their dehumanizing of the African-American race. We matured as a nation and realized the Bible was wrong about slavery and the so-called inferior races.

In the same manner, the Bible is wrong about homosexuality. In fact, the Bible is wrong about many sexual matters. At best, the Bible is a religious text that promotes sexual repression and control. It is a book that is currently being used by single, white, Catholic men to deny women birth control and control of their own bodies. Christians who willingly submit to such anachronistic laws are free to do so, but Christian sects have no right to force, through the legal process, others to live by their moral code.

We say we are a Nation that believes in privacy but it seems that many Christians only support a right to privacy when what is being done in private lines up with their moral code. Simply put, Christians need to mind their own business when it comes to the sexual proclivities of others. What goes on behind closed doors between consenting adults is nobody’s business. Again, Christians are free to live according to their interpretation of the moral code of the Bible, but in a secular state they have no right to insist, through legal means, that others do so.

Homosexuals should have the same civil rights as any other American. Since marriage is a legal act licensed by the state, matters of religion have no place in the process. Two men, two women, or a man or woman should have the same freedom to marry. There is no civil reason for denying homosexuals the right to marry.

Christians need to realize that the United States is not a Christian nation. It never has been. Christianity does not deserve special status and certainly the Bible should have no weight when it comes to enacting law.

Our legal system should reflect what is best for the American people — how best to live as a pluralistic people in a secular state. Allowing homosexuals to marry and have the same civil rights as heterosexuals is absolutely essential as we mature as a nation.

Bruce Gerencser

August 2012

Who is the “Our God?”

Dear Editor:

Who is this “our God” I keep reading about in the letters to the editor section of The Crescent-News?

If the letter writers spoke of our flag, our country, our military, or our government, I would readily understand what they mean. As a citizen of the United States, I have a common connection with all other U.S. citizens. Our country belongs to all of us, contrary to what right-wingers think when they speak of taking back their country.

When the Star Spangled Banner is played, I remove my hat and turn my face toward the flag of my native land. However, when the national anthem of the “our God” crowd, God Bless America, is played, I refuse to bow in obeisance to the “our God.”

We have no “our God” in the United States. We may be one people, under one flag, willingly governed by those we elect to office, but we do not have a common God, a deity that every citizen must worship and obey.

Where in the U.S. Constitution is this “our God” mentioned? At best, the U.S. Constitution mentions a generic God, a deist form of a Creator God. Even then, the founders of this country, understanding the danger of having state-sanctioned religion, made sure that there was a separation of church and state, and no religious requirement for holding office. They made sure there was not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. Christian, atheist and Muslim alike are equal in the eyes of the state.

So, I ask again, who is this “our God?” Of course, every letter writer would say “our God” is the Christian God. Again, I would ask, which Christian God? The Trinitarian God of the Lutheran or the non-Trinitarian God of the Oneness Pentecostal? The Calvinist God or the Arminian God? Which of the thousands of Christian sects have the “our God?”

Christians bitterly disagree and separate from one another over matters like salvation, baptism and communion. If Christians cannot agree on these basic teachings, how can there be an “our God?” The division and internecine warfare among Christians reveals the bankruptcy of the notion that there is an “our God.”

All that letter writers have is a personal God, a God they believe exists. I have no problem with them having a God or believing whatever they want to believe about that God. However, when they suggest that their personal God must be the God of all then I take issue with such a claim. As a citizen of a secular state that codified the freedom of, and from, religion in its founding documents, I object to any suggestion that there is an “our God” I must worship and obey.

Going down the “our God” road leads to violence, bloodshed and a loss of freedom. Such a notion must be resisted at every turn, lest we wake up one morning and find a Christian theocracy ruling the United States.

Bruce Gerencser

December 2012

Evangelical Vote No Longer Enough to Carry Election

Dear Editor:

After the re-election of President Obama, Dr. Al Mohler, a noted right-wing Southern Baptist leader, told his followers that the American people had heard the right-wing message and rejected it.

Contrary to recent letters to the editor, the reason President Obama was re-elected was not because right-wing Christians didn’t vote. They did vote, and as this election makes very clear, their numbers are no longer sufficient to carry a national election.

What is the message of the religious right? Is it an inclusive message? Is it a message that broadly appeals to Americans?

The religious-right and the Republican Party are joined at the hip, and the Republican Party’s unwillingness to sever this tie has led to embarrassing defeats in the last two presidential elections.

Thanks to the religious right and the Tea Party, the Republican Party is now an extremist party dominated by white, aging, right-wing Christians. The Party is now known, like fundamentalist Christian churches are, for what they are against rather than what they are for.

As Mohler rightly understood, most Americans have rejected the right-wing exclusionary message. More and more Americans are coming to understand that mixing politics and religion is harmful to our republic.

Groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group I proudly support, continue to point out the unconstitutional entanglement of church and state in our schools and government entities. Every month the Freedom from Religion Foundation newsletter reports legal victories in cases concerning the separation of church and state. The courts continue, much to the consternation of the religious right, to reaffirm the legal fact the United States is a secular state and there is a strict wall of separation between church and state.

Twenty percent of Americans are now considered “nones,” people who are indifferent to religion or are atheists or agnostics. What is most encouraging is that this percentage jumps to 34 percent for young adults.

Young adults increasingly reject the bigoted, exclusionary message of right-wing Christianity (and by extension the Republican Party). On issues like homosexuality, abortion, immigration, socialized medicine, and war, young adults reject the message and values of right-wing Christianity.

I am encouraged by the changing beliefs and values of American young adults. I am profoundly glad that my six children have rejected the narrow, judgmental, exclusionary right-wing Christianity they were raised in. I have great hope that my eight grandchildren will grow up to be loving, accepting adults who do not judge others based on their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.

In the Bible there is a story about King Belshazzar (Daniel 5). The Bible has this to say about Belshazzar’s kingdom: Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting. This is exactly what is happening in America. The right-wing Christian message has been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Belshazzar lost his kingdom and exclusionary, bigoted right-wing Christians are losing theirs. This is good news for all who love freedom and liberty.

Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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1997-2008: A Look at My Writing as an Evangelical Pastor

letter to the editor

What follows is a sampling of my letters to the editors of the Bryan Times and Defiance Crescent-News I wrote between 1997 and 2008. These letters should forever put an end to the notion that I was never a True Christian®. These letters also should help current readers understand why former congregants and colleagues in the ministry are so troubled and upset by my defection from the one true faith. Readers should also note how my politics shifted leftward during this period of time. Please see my previous post, 1986-1995: A Look at My Writing as an IFB Pastor, for other letters I wrote as a Christian.

September 1997

America is in Big Trouble

Dear Editor:

America is in trouble… big trouble. The moral and ethical structure of our nation is crumbling at its very foundation. We, at one time, accepted the “law of God” as our moral and ethical standard, but now, relativism reigns supreme. Law, morality, and ethics are relative to the situation and circumstance. It seems that there are no absolutes. We debate such issues as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, homosexuality, etc., and by our debate suggest that God has not spoken on these issues. God’s law is not a mystery. His law is clear. It is we, as defiant creatures, who have shaken our fist at the heavens and said, “We will not have You to rule over us.” As a result, instead of being ruled by the laws of Jehovah, we are ruled by the laws and system of corrupt humans. We have become a nation of people aptly described as “they did what was right in their own eyes.”

Who do we blame for the mess we are in? It is easy to blame the politicians. It is easy to point to the Clinton/Gore administration and say “they are the problem.” Recent articles in the Bryan Times reported on the meeting of the Christian Coalition. They were quick to blame the Democrats for all the ills in our society, all the while ignoring the ethical and moral lapses of those they support (i.e. Newt Gingrich). No, I would contend that what we see in Washington is a consequence and not a source of our ills.

The blame must be laid on the church and her ministers. There was a day when the church and her ministers were respected and were considered the moral voice of the community and our nation. Such is not the case today. Society has concluded that the church is irrelevant and her ministers are nothing more than educated buffoons. We are told to keep our religion within the four walls of the church (separation of church and state you know) and to keep our moral and ethical pronouncements to ourselves. If a prophetic voice is raised, screams of “Thou shalt not judge” are quickly heard. We, as ministers of the gospel, should be ashamed for allowing our voices to be silenced in such a manner. God has called us to be a clear voice of light in our decadent society. How then, can we be the prophets of God has called us to be?

First, we need to be reminded of who the boss is in this world. It is not the government, it is not society, it is not any mere human: it is God. He is the Sovereign of the universe. He is the Creator and we are the creatures. Our society needs to be reminded of who is in charge and that we will all be held accountable on Judgment Day.

Second, we need to be reminded of the authority of the Bible and the law of God. The Bible is God’s written revelation to man. His laws are to be loved and obeyed. The pulpits of America have been silent to the law of God and as a result antinomianism reigns. Church members have no absolutes and as a result they follow their own rules or they let “their conscience be their guide.” The greatness of a nation is directly related to the respect and obedience it gives to the law of God.

Third, we need to return to being bastions of absolute truth and morality. Ministers need to be thundering prophets instead of mild, wimpy church mice. There is no time for compromise. The battle is real and we must fight. On Judgment Day we will not be judged on our popularity, but rather on how we faithfully fought the battle and kept the faith.

Fourth, we need to stop trying to be culturally relevant to such a degree that we sacrifice what is true and honoring to God. The appearance of Audio Adrenaline at the Williams County Fair is case in point. In an effort to “reach”young people (and perhaps fill the grandstands) two high-powered “Christian” rock ‘n roll groups were booked at the fair. When Audio Adrenaline took the stage the party began to rock and roll. Complete with body piercing and mosh pits, we were given a quick lesson on how far we have slipped in our Christian society. We see the troubles that young people face and we think by lowering the standard and meeting them at the lowest common denominator we’ll “reach” them. Sadly we have been deceived. Young people need to hear truth, absolute truth. They need to hear preaching that challenges, provokes, and rebukes. They need to hear the kind of preaching that ultimately lead them to a higher standard in Jesus Christ. We have become convinced that the timeless methods that God has ordained no longer work. This is the ultimate deception.

Fifth, we need to return the word SIN to our vocabulary. God says sin is transgression of the law of God. The church and her ministers are not the final authority on what is holy and what is sin. God is. Ministers are called on to repeat what God has said (thus saith the Lord). Because of the fear of men, we do not preach on the “hard” subjects. We piously leave that to the “conscience” of the people. Such denial of responsibility will not wash with God on Judgment Day. We desperately need a revival of preaching against sin and the preaching of the solution to sin that is found in Jesus Christ.

When will we learn that people want truth and not compromise? We fear being rejected or ridiculed. We fear our message will not be heard, or that we will be viewed as Bible-thumping fanatics. Well, a cursory reading of the Bible will show that we would be in good company. The prophets of old did not conform to their society, but instead demanded that their society conform to the truth of God’s Word. They demanded of all men everywhere that they”repent and believe the gospel.”

I would ask my fellow ministers and fellow Christians…when our eulogy is read what will be said? Will we be remembered as one who was a true follower of Jesus Christ? One who was faithful to his holy Word? Will our life reflect one who was a radical follower of Jesus? Life is short and in but a few days we will pass from this life. Let us labor for that which is eternal. Let us restore those things we have let slip and restore God as the rightful ruler of our nation.

Bruce Gerencser

March 1999

Evolution is Incompatible with Christianity

Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to the recent editorial that suggested evolution is not being taught in public schools because teachers fear right-wing religious zealots. The zealots are portrayed as being anti-science and intellectually stunted. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Evolution is a theory. Even the writer of the editorial admits such. Yet, just a few paragraphs later, he advocates teaching the theory as fact. He then states that man cannot understand biology without evolution.

What arrogant presumption and distortion of truth. Evolution is a theory of “how” things came into existence. It is, at its root, a faith religion that suggests a random existence apart from a divine being. Evolution demands that there is no God, no creator, and that man is nothing more than the most evolved of creatures. Man becomes nothing more than an animal that has evolved to a more mature state than that of other animals.

Evolution is incompatible with Christianity. Christianity begins with the premise that God is, and whatever God says is true. The Bible is God’s revelation to man, and he reveals in the first three chapters of Genesis how this world came into existence. To deny the biblical record is to deny God and his revelation, and the result is eternal damnation. Christians fear being viewed as ignorant if they deny the teachings of evolution. They become just like the schoolteachers who fear the religious zealots. If God is who he says he is, and he meant what he said in the Scriptures, then let us not fear, but instead declare boldly “Thus saith the Lord.”

Bruce Gerencser

August 2000

True Christianity

Dear Editor:

It is time that we make some radical changes to our printed money and the pledge of the Allegiance. Both our printed money and the Pledge of Allegiance give testimony to the historical truth that the United States was a country that believed in God. Not just any God, but Jehovah God, the God of the Christian Bible.

Sadly, we as a nation no longer believe in Jehovah. Due to misguided thinking about pluralism and tolerance, we have become a nation of many gods. Those that dare assert that we were founded as a Christian nation (and a Protestant Christian nation at that) are labeled narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant miscreants.

The God attested to on our printed money and in the Pledge of Allegiance is no longer allowed to be mentioned in our country. Recently, a young girl wanted to sing the song Kumbaya at a camp talent show. She was not permitted to sing this song because it mentioned the word Lord. Government schools have eradicated every vestige of God from the classroom. The very schools that were founded on Christian principles (just look at a set of  McGuffey Readers) have not only left that foundation, but try to insist such a foundation never existed. School officials are so afraid of God (or is it the god called the ACLU) that children no longer have Easter break. Instead, they have spring break. Children are given two weeks off at Christmas, yet they are never told what Christmas is. Attend the average government school Christmas program and you will come away with the conclusion that Christmas is all about snow, Rudolph, Frosty, et al. Pages could be written on the deliberate banishment of Jehovah from every aspect of public life.

What are the reasons for this happening? They are several. First, there is the mythical, so-called “separation of Church and State.” The separation clause is routinely quoted by government and school officials when they want to dismiss the religious requests and activities of others. Truth is, what is really happening is that Jehovah is the only God not welcome. All other gods are quite welcome. The god of humanism is quite welcome. The new age god is welcome. This past school year, in a Williams County elementary classroom, a teacher took class time to teach the children about serial killers. Our children can be taught about such perverse things, but they can not be taught the solution to serial killing (faith in God)? Schools try to enforce a moral and ethical code yet they fail. Why? You cannot have morals and ethics without a religious foundation. Morals and ethics demand an answer to the question “WHY is this wrong?” Why is it wrong to have sex before marriage? Why is it wrong to steal? Without God and His standard, the Ten Commandments, we have no foundation for morality and ethics.

Another reason is the myth called toleration. Liberals and conservatives alike bandy about the thought of toleration. The foundation of toleration is that all truth is equal and that all viewpoints are valid. Our country has become one big comparative religion class. Truth is, there is no such thing as true toleration, nor can there be. Christians believe the Bible to be their standard of morality and ethics. They believe the Bible to be, not just one truth among many, but THE TRUTH! Christians are called on to love what God loves and hate what God hates. Yes, we are a narrow, intolerant bunch because we dare suggest there is but one God, one way to heaven. We dare suggest there is but one moral and ethical code, the Bible. We dismiss arguments couched in words “well that’s your opinion,“ and we reply by saying “Thus saith the Lord.” Matters such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, drunkenness, abortion etc. are not matters for political debate. The Bible is clear on such matters.

It is amazing how we have redefined that which God calls sin. Homosexuality is called an alternative lifestyle. Drunkenness is called a disease. The adulterous partner is now called the significant other. On and on and on it goes. God said “Be not deceived . . . for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” We are reaping our harvest in America. The foundations are crumbling. Is anyone paying attention?

It’s time we either admit that Jehovah is dead and remove His name from our money and the pledge of allegiance or perhaps it is time we reassert the kingdom rights of the true and living God. God’s people need to stand up and be counted. Not in Marches for Jesus, but in the workplace, the school. the government and in every public arena of life. We need to sound forth that name which is above every name. That name, and only that name, by which men shall be saved.

Bruce Gerencser

January 2002

Abortion

Dear Editor:

The anniversary of the famed Supreme Court decision Roe vs Wade has just passed. Almost 30 years ago the Supreme Court ruled that abortion on demand was legal in the United States. Since that time, a battle between the forces called pro-life and pro-choice has raged without abatement in our country. We truly are a nation divided when it comes to abortion. Both sides have taken to the legal and political arena in an attempt to stifle or crush their opposition. In the case of the pro-life movement, some on the far extreme of the movement have taken to murdering clinic workers and the doctors who perform the abortions.  Several men with such beliefs are on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

How are we, as Christians, to respond to the continued murder of babies in abortion clinics, private doctors’ offices, and hospitals? Some may suggest that I am asserting that the terms “Christian” and “pro-life” are synonymous. Such an observation is correct. “Christianity” and “pro-choice” are not compatible one with the other. I have written a number of times over the years on this issue, and each time I receive letters from supposed pro-choice Christians. Perhaps such folks are well-intentioned, but it is theologically impossible to square being a Christian with also being pro-choice. To be a Christian is to walk in the steps of, and follow after, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was pro-life and the Law of God states very clearly “Thou shalt not kill.”

The command “Thou shalt not kill” has a positive precept attached to it. That precept is “thou shalt preserve life.” If we are not to kill, then we are to preserve life instead. This preserving of life extends to not only the abortion clinic, but also the prison and countries where we are engaged in war. The Bible teaches and permits capital punishment, but it also prescribes when and who it is to be carried out. The Bible permits just war, but it also prescribes when and how such war is to be carried out.  We must always remember that the killing of other human beings shows the baseness of human society, not its superiority. As Christians, we have a duty to preserve life at every opportunity. We must stand against abortion. We must work to outlaw the practice in the United States and the rest of the world. We should also be actively working to promote justice for those in prison and to insist that God’s law be followed in the execution of those guilty of first-degree murder. We must hold our government and military accountable for its actions in Afghanistan. Find the terrorists. Punish the evildoer, but in doing so do no harm to innocent men, women and children.

We must continue to wage the war of words with the pro-choice crowd. They speak of the “woman’s right to choose” and yet they are rarely challenged to the assertions they make in regard to this statement. I too, support a “woman’s right to choose.” She makes a choice to have sexual relations with a man, and she must live with the consequences of such an action. The pro-choice movement is at the forefront of the “right to have sex whenever with whomever movement” and then with the quickness of a magician they deny any accountability for the choice that is made. There are many choices a pregnant woman can make, but far too often abortion is the only option given because it is the easy way out.  Adoption is an option. Extended family assistance in raising the child is an option. Our government needs to streamline the adoption process making it easy for families to adopt these unwanted babies

We must do more than just object to abortion. We must also put our words into action. We must help support women in their pregnancy and provide the means for their care.  Every unwanted baby needs a home. My wife and I are the parents of six children, yet if needed, we would take on the responsibility of another child. It would not be easy, but our words must be backed up with action.

We must continue to oppose the fringes of the pro-life movement that advocates violence and murder in the name of God.  Murdering a baby via abortion is a sin but so is murdering an abortion clinic doctor. We must not bear the sword. God gives government the responsibility of bearing the sword to punish evildoers. As we stand against abortion we must work to change the laws of the land. Abortion must once again be illegal. We must work to enact laws that make it criminal to participate in any part of the abortion process. We need to stop the tax flow to organizations that promote abortion. Let Planned Parenthood get its money from its liberal constituents, but not from the American taxpayer.  There is much work to do and killing an abortion doctor will not stop the abortion mills. There will always be another to take their place. Instead, we must make abortion illegal thus removing the financial incentives that continue to fuel the abortion mills.

It is easy to become complacent in the matter of abortion. As I watched the events of September 11th, my heart was grieved. I mourned and wept for days over the tragic loss of life. Yet, keeping it all in perspective, the loss of life at Ground Zero equals one day of work in the abortion clinics of America. Our hands are covered with the blood of millions of babies that have been aborted since that fateful day when Roe vs. Wade became law. We must not rest until justice for all once again prevails in our Land. May God give us the grace and strength necessary to not waver in this battle of battles.

Bruce Gerencser

December 2002

Nuclear War and the Prince of Peace

Dear Editor:

What a wonderful and beautiful Christmas Day! The ground is blanketed with six or so inches of snow and all is peaceful and quiet. There is nothing more beautiful than a crisp winter morning after an overnight snowfall. This wintry scene causes me to reflect on the glory of Christmas Day and the meaning of it. Christmas is about redemption. Christmas is about Jesus the Son of God taking on human flesh, and being born of the virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem. Jesus came into the world at the appointed time to bring redemption to all men. He came to proclaim peace and justice for all. He is called the Prince of Peace. Later in His life, Jesus would declare that peace and justice were to be character traits of those who profess to be followers of Him.

It is thoughts of peace and justice that now begin to cloud my mind on this Christmas Day. Jesus came to bring peace, yet there is no peace. Jesus came to bring justice, yet there is no justice. Those who claim to be His followers show little concern for peace and justice. It seems they are all too busy with eating, drinking, and being merry to concern themselves with such weighty notions of peace and justice. But, concern ourselves with them we must.

I have been reading of late the Social Essays of the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton. These essays were written at the height of the cold war and the Vietnam War. I am amazed at how timely Merton’s essays are for today, though they were written 40 years ago. In his time, Merton had to constantly battle censors within the Catholic Church who attempted to silence his anti-war message. Merton was quite creative in the ways he got his message to the public. His voice still speaks loudly today.

Merton’s essays on nuclear war, unilateralism, and preemptive war should be required reading for all Americans. Merton reminds us of the lunacy of the notion that a nuclear war can be fought and won. Once the buttons are pushed, the world as we know it ceases to exist. Thoughts of non-defensive, unilateral, preemptive war, Merton reminds us, are immoral and should be condemned by all Christians.

Today, America sits on the precipice of nuclear world war. We have become the big bully who thinks he can get his way by bluffing and threatening. Every once in a while, the bully even whips some weakling to show who is the toughest. Such is the case with Iraq. But now we have added North Korea to our list of nations we are intent on bullying. Unfortunately, North Korea does not quiver and shake at our threats. They well remember an America who could not defeat them during the Korean War. Since then, the North Koreans have added nuclear and biological weapons to their arsenal. According to recent newspaper reports, the North Koreans are quite willing to use what weapons they have to defend themselves.

What troubles me the most in all of this is the silence emanating from the pulpits of America. It seems the only voice that is heard is from warmongers such as Jerry Falwell. Does he, and those like him, speak for the rest of us? The German Church silently sat by while Hitler put into force the plans and programs that would later give us World War II and the Holocaust. Now, the clergy of America sit by silently as George Bush and Company put into force programs like the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act. George Bush threatens war and destruction on any nation that opposes him. Our insane notion of national superiority, coupled with immoral capitalistic greed, is leading us down a path that is certain to have catastrophic results, yet nary a word is heard from our pulpits.

The Scriptures are clear, Christians are called to be people of peace and justice. We are to be peacemakers. It is absurd to suggest, as George Bush does, that by waging war we will have peace. War always begets war, and history bears this out. Only peace begets peace. It is time for all nations, including America, to lay aside and destroy ALL weapons of mass destruction. Our nation needs to repudiate its doctrine concerning preemptive first strikes against other nations. The world needs to know that America will be a peacemaking nation that desires peace and freedom for all men. While we must leave space for defensive war or even what the theologians call “just war,” we must forsake attacking and killing others just because we do not like their government structure or way of life. Muslims have a right to live as they live without America interfering in their affairs. It is time we stop exporting Western civilization as the answer to the world’s problems. Better for us to concern ourselves with our own moral, ethical, and civil failures than trying to fix the problems of the world.

Fifty or so years ago the phrase “better dead than Red” was coined. Unfortunately, that philosophy is still alive and well. The proponents of this notion believe it is better for us all to be dead than to have any government or civilization than the one we have now. We had best think about the reality of such a notion because when the nuclear bombs start falling, it will be too late. The Reagan/Bush Star Wars notion of missile defense will not save us once the bombs start to fall. It will only take a few bombs to render this world unlivable. Those who survive will wish they had not.

It is not too late. Voices must be raised in opposition and protest to the war policy of the Bush administration. Protesters must make their voice heard via letters and public protest. Conscientious men and women in the military must say “I will not” to their leaders who want to slaughter them on the altar of political and economic gain. Politicians must get some backbone and be willing to stand up to the warmongering hawks on Capitol Hill. They have been raised up “for such a time as this!”

Bruce Gerencser

May 2003

A Cat Killer is On the Loose

Dear Editor:

A cat killer is loose in Williams County. He is known by our local authorities. He even boasts of his cat killing and the enjoyment it gives him. Why should this be a concern to anyone? After all, he is just killing cats, right?

The Humane Society spoke of prosecuting the man because cats are considered property, and by his actions he violated the property rights of the cat owner (s). Do they have any moral standing apart from their relation to their owner?

All animals are a part of God’s created order. They were endowed by their creator with life, and with that life given certain rights. Animals have a right to be respected as created beings within the context of the order of Creation. While it is debated whether or not animals should be eaten for food, there should be no debate concerning the care of, love for, and responsibility to animals. Factory farms, factory slaughter houses, trophy hunting, and abandoned, mistreated animals are all abhorrent testimonies to the depravity of man. The wicked man cares not for the life of his beast (Proverbs 12:10).

The man who killed these cats should be prosecuted. Prosecutors who hide behind their prosecutorial discretion should be reminded of voter discretion at the next election. We need government leaders who recognize that cruelty to animals is just as abhorrent as a crime against a human. If we do not prosecute when it involves the “least” of us, who is to say we will not turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to other immoral behaviors deemed more serious by the powers that be?

If this man cannot be prosecuted, how about a sign in front of his house that says “Beware, cat killer lives here!”

Bruce Gerencser

September 2005

The Rise of a New Christian Fundamentalism

Dear Editor:

There is a new fundamentalism rising up in America. While it has Christian theological overtones, it is really right-wing political extremism wrapped in the clothes of conservative Christian dogma. There was a time when politics and religion did not mix and were considered separate planes in God’s created order. Things are much different today. Political activism from the pulpit is common. A recent front-page feature article in the Columbus Dispatch about Rod Parsley, pastor of World Harvest Church in Columbus shows very clearly the agenda of this new fundamentalism. Parsley pastors a Church with over 10,000 members. The annual Church budget is in excess of $32,000,000. Parsley advocates pastors rising up to become Patriot Pastors. Theocracy is the goal.

Some would suggest that we ignore this folly and it will fade away as quickly as the Atkins Diet. Our nation has faced many well-intentioned but misguided attempts at reclaiming the culture for God. All have run their course. All have utterly failed because they attempt to use political means to gain a spiritual end.

But we can not ignore this movement because it is resulting in the death and maiming of thousands of people. Virtually every person involved in this new fundamentalism supports the war in Iraq. They have bought into the rhetoric that the war in Iraq is a war of good vs. evil. Opposition to the war is shouted down with angry words such as traitor, unpatriotic, liberal, etc. All discussion has ceased. Arrogant fundamentalism has usurped the right to speak for all Christians. We must always remember that one the key tenets of fundamentalism is the belief that you have the complete truth, and that all other views are error. No discussion. No shades of gray. Those who hold a different view are considered the enemy.

The most dangerous factor in the Iraq war is the fundamentalist religious right. Their thinking is not much different from the fundamentalist Muslims. They believe God is on their side and that the infidel needs to be destroyed. It is no wonder that many Muslims view the war in Iraq as a religious war. America, led by a Christian President, claims to be a Christian nation. God is invoked to justify virtually everything we do.

Most of the leaders of the fundamentalist religious right have a particular eschatological belief called pretribulational premillennialism. This is the theology of the wildly popular Left Behind book series. It is a relatively modern school of eschatological thought which is first found in writings of the mid-19th century. According to this system of thought, the world is headed toward a seven-year period called the Great Tribulation. This period of time concludes with Armageddon, at which time the thousand-year millennial kingdom of Christ will be established. Prior to the Great Tribulation, Jesus will return and rapture out all the Christians. it is important to keep this in mind when listening to the war rhetoric of the fundamentalist religious right. According to their theological system, Mathew 24 must be literally fulfilled. One of the key tenets of Matthew 24 is “war and rumors of war.“ Those holding to this theological persuasion have no impetus to be “peacemakers.“ War is inevitable, and the more war we have the closer we are to the rapture.

I am a conservative Christian. My theology and personal lifestyle practices place me squarely in the conservative Christian camp. Unfortunately, I am, along with many others, the son no one talks about. We sit silently in church while our ministers talk up war and nationalism from the pulpit. l speak for those who are Christians but who can not support the war in Iraq. I speak for those who believe that Jesus called us to be ”peacemakers.” It is not enough to believe in peace. We must actively promote peace.

Where are the conservative Churches and pastors that take a stand against war and actively promote peace? Have we become so blinded by our political agenda and fanciful eschatological interpretations that we have forsaken the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount?

We should note that when justification for war is talked about, it is the name of God that is invoked. Have you noticed that no one says, “Jesus supports the War In Iraq?“ Using the generic term God invokes the image of the wrathful God of the Old Testament. When we speak the name of Jesus we come away with a different image. We do not see Jesus as the soldier, the warrior. We see him as the shepherd, as the meek, mild-mannered, peace-loving Savior of the world.

Bruce Gerencser

May 2006

The Dangers of Christian Nationalism

Dear Editor:

Throughout the history of the Christian church, it has been commonly believed that state and church, both ordained by God, operate on separate, yet equal planes of authority. This is commonly called the “separation of church and state.” History painfully reminds us of what happens when state and church are joined together. This union always results in the death of many people and the authority of both the state and the church being compromised. Adolph Hitler would not have been successful during World War II without the joining of church and state together. The church lost her moral authority when she became complicit in the Aryan teachings and programs of the Nazi regime. Yes, there were those who stood against Hitler and his murderous minions, but, for the most part, the German church remained silent. As a result, the world was plunged into war and millions of people suffered and died. This is but one example of many that could be pulled from the pages of history. I am using it because it is “current” history and one that can readily be researched.

The world owes a great debt to the United States for her willingness to stand against Germany and her attempt to rule the world. The United States stood on solid moral footing and she is to be commended for her courage and sacrifice. With such a great moral stand also comes a great challenge; to remain humble in the light of great victory. Coming out of World War II, the United States had the approval and appreciation of the world. Sixty years later the United States is now viewed as an imperialistic superpower that is intent on dominating and taking over the world one nation at a time. How did this happen?

Pride! One-word answer. Pride! Reinhold Niebuhr, shortly after the end of World War II said this:

We are indeed the execution of God’s judgment yesterday. But we might remember the prophetic warnings to the nations of old, that nations which become proud because they were divine instruments must, in turn, stand under the divine judgment and be destroyed……If ever a nation needed to be reminded of the perils of vainglory, we are that nation in the pride of our power and our victory.

As the post-September 11, 2001 era continues, there is an increasingly ugly, nationalistic pride that is rising up in the United States. This errant pride is seen in our nation’s actions in Iraq and in the continued saber-rattling against Iran. Strong traces of it can be viewed in the current debate going on in the United States over Mexican immigration.

A clear distinction needs to be made between patriotism and nationalism. According to Michael Dyson in his book titled Pride, “Patriotism is the critical affirmation of one’s country in light of its best values, including the attempt to correct it when it is in error. Nationalism is the uncritical support of one’s nation regardless of its moral or political bearing.” Sadly, much of what is called patriotism in the United States is actually prideful, sinful, nationalism.

As in Germany during World War II, this errant nationalism is graphically on display in churches everywhere. Christian theology has been wedded with political ideology and given a healthy baptism of flag-waving nationalism and the result is that the church in the United States has abandoned her call to follow Jesus. Far too many churches, including an unhealthy number of churches in this area, have become pawns in a political chess game. Such churches have lost their prophetic voice. Where is the voice calling out for justice and mercy? Where is the voice calling out for peace in the name of the Prince of Peace?

The flag-waving nationalism on display in many churches needs to stop. Ties with liberal or conservative political agendas need to be broken. The war in Iraq and Mexican immigration need to be viewed through the teaching of Jesus instead of a political party’s platform. It is time to repent.

Over the past 36 months, I have visited a good number of churches in the northwest Ohio area, including churches in Indiana and Michigan. I have yet to hear one critical word concerning the War in Iraq. I did hear numerous words promoting the war, and sometimes I was almost certain that I was hearing a public service announcement from the defense department. Why are the pulpits of so many churches silent on this crucial issue? Even churches that come from the “peace” denominations are strangely silent or even go so far as to promote war, in direct contradiction to their church doctrine. I realize I cannot make absolute judgments when I only visit a church once or a few times, but overall the silence is deafening.

It seems that many churches are requiring allegiance to the State and her war policy as a test of fidelity to Jesus. If one dare raise a voice of objection, immediate questions of salvation and love for country are raised. Coward, un-American, unsaved, liberal, and military hater are some of the kinder words hurled at those who, in Jesus’ name, oppose war. In spite of the name-calling, lovers of peace must continue to stand for peace. It is the LEAST we can do. Churches and ministers must be prodded and cajoled, and if need be, shamed into returning to being prophetic voices in the world. Instead of allowing political agendas to control the voice of the church, the clear and emphatic teachings of Jesus must set the agenda. It is time to stop the debates about “just war” (which is nothing more than political ideology wearing theological clothes) and return to doing what Jesus commands us to do; love our enemies and be a people who actively promote peace.

Bruce Gerencser

May 2006

The Dangers of Christian Nationalism

Dear Editor:

Every time Christians gather together for communion, it is for the purpose of memorializing the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus on the cross has many theological implications: redemption and sanctification among many others. The death of Jesus also has political implications. His death, along with his resurrection from the dead, proclaimed a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. Who, and all that Jesus did, challenges the politics and agendas of every generation. There is a new King in the world, and Jesus is his name.

Last Sunday, many churches took time to briefly mention Memorial Day. Some churches had full-blown patriotic rallies, complete with the presenting of the colors and taps. Others sang a few patriotic songs and said a quick prayer for those who have died in our nation’s wars. Some took time to honor church members who are serving or had served in the Military.

I always prepare myself for what “may” happen in church on our nation’s various national holidays. I would prefer that churches not meld worship of God and nationalism together, but I have come to the place where I can tolerate it in short doses. Interjecting nationalism into our worship of God diminishes the focus of our worship, and can, if we are not careful, suggest that Christianity and American nationalism are one and the same.

In many sermons, we will hear that Christians need to view the sacrifice of war in and of itself, separated from its theological and political implications. An attempt is made to link the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus laid down his life for others and in war we are called on to do the same.

It is unwise to connect the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrifice of war. Jesus was the guiltless dying for the guilty. In war, there are no guiltless parties. It is also impossible to divorce the sacrifice of war from its theological and political implications. War ALWAYS has such implications.

My prayer is that churches will stop being agents for the political agendas of the Republican and Democratic parties. Instead of giving public service announcements for the defense department, churches would be truer to their calling if they proclaimed what Jesus said about peace and loving our enemies. I am still waiting to hear a sermon anywhere that takes seriously the claims and teachings of Jesus concerning peace and as a result, declares the war in Iraq to be contrary to Christian teaching. Instead of wrangling about “just war” I hope and pray churches will wrangle with the implications of “thou shalt not kill,” “love your enemies,” and “blessed are the peacemakers.”It is certainly proper and right to quietly remember those who have died during our nation’s wars. Some died defending freedom, others died for a political agenda, but all died as Americans and we should remember them. We should also take time to reflect on the awfulness of war and the danger of a nation with unchecked arrogance waging war against all who cross her path.

Bruce Gerencser

January 2008

Paying Attention to Africa

Dear Editor:

Kenya is burning and the American government fiddles while it does. Kenyan Christians flee to a church for safety and are burned alive by Muslim extremists. Hundreds have been killed and thousands are fleeing for their lives. The government is in total collapse and the economy is being destroyed by rampant hyper-inflation.

One recent missionary letter I read reported gasoline selling for $20 a gallon. Kenya is another Rwanda or Sudan in the making. This is yet another chapter in a sordid African tale in which millions are dying or maimed and entire countries are destroyed. What is constant in this story is, for the most part, the American government and the Christian church stand by and do nothing.

Oh, we may throw some money at the problem, utter meaningless words like “genocide” and mutter some general non-efficacious prayers, but for the most part, Americans don’t care. Why is this?

I believe there are two basic reasons why Americans have little care or concern for the slaughter going in Africa. First, most Africans are black. I guarantee you that if 50 white European Christians were burned alive in a church by Muslim extremists, there would be outrage in America. There is a deep-seated racism in America towards black people. It is so deeply rooted many people are unaware of it. One could almost excuse it, but in the case of Kenya, Rwanda and Sudan, it has cost millions of people their lives.

Second, most Africans are poor. They live on a few dollars a day. They offer little of value to the world. They live lives of subsistence and most die leaving few, if any, material goods behind. They are but a blip on the screen of the American economy. While some oil production does come from Africa, it is not a major player in the oil market.

The bottom line is Africa does not matter. Africans have always been killing each other. Africans have always been starving. Africans have always had social and civil unrest. But we should care. A human catastrophe is taking place.

A whole country is being ravaged and slaughtered by war and disease. Almost half of the population in Swaziland is infected with AIDS. Thousands of children die from malnutrition every day. Thousands more are orphaned.

It is immoral for us to sit by and do nothing. I want to appeal to my fellow Christians to insist that their churches and pastors pray for, and actively get involved in, ending the carnage and suffering in Africa.

Write letters to government leaders pleading for action in Africa. Find humanitarian groups that are working on the ground in Africa and support them with your money. Educate your children about Africa and, most of all, search your heart for latent racism that may keep you from seeing black Africans for who they are — precious children of God.

Bruce Gerencser

July 2008

American Myths

Dear Editor:

We will never collectively progress as a nation until we admit that much of our social, economic and political belief is based upon myth. Time shapes facts into collective myths that are rarely, if ever, examined by the average citizen.

Christian ministers continue to preach the Christian nation myth. America has never been, and never will be, unless the Christian right gets its way, a Christian nation. We have always been a secular, pluralistic society. Any notion to the contrary is revisionism and not supported by our collective history. In secular America there is a clear separation of church and state. For this reason, questions concerning the religious beliefs and practices of presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama should be considered out of bounds and irrelevant.

Our political leaders continue to preach the myth of continual economic growth. Few people seem to question the notion of continual economic growth. Is unlimited, unconstrained growth possible? Will we ever reach a place where no more growth can take place? Do we really need one more restaurant in Defiance? Do we really need one more drug store? Do we really need another church on another corner? How many varieties of the same old stuff do we really need? When will our razor have enough blades?

We are rapidly approaching the time where the myth of continual growth will be clearly revealed. Soaring food and energy prices, collapsing housing and economic markets are all signs that continual growth is not sustainable. Words like sustainability, conservation and self-sufficiency are the common vocabulary of the future. An economy built on consumption will ultimately fail because it cannot sustain itself. We are consuming ourselves to death. We cannot rely on the government to tell us the truth about the economic condition of America. Statistics like the GDP, unemployment, poverty rate, etc. are massaged and manipulated by government officials to such a degree that they are essentially meaningless.

The evangelical Christian church and many of our government leaders continue to promote the myth that war brings peace. In fact, our entire national history rests on the foundation of this myth. Our nation has a bloody, warring history. We have bombed, killed and destroyed all who have stood in our way. From the early days of our nation to the present conflict in Iraq we have used military force and brutal war to force our will on others. We have rarely been a peaceful people.

War will never bring peace. It can’t. It may bring a cessation of hostilities, but peace can only come through peacemaking. A peaceful country will not have nuclear armaments capable of destroying the world many times over. A peaceful country will not wage pre-emptive wars and will only use its military forces for acts of self-defense. Peaceful nations act peaceably. Our national conduct shows us to be anything but peaceful.

Peace begins at home with each of us living like peacemakers. Peace begets peace.

Bruce Gerencser

October 2008

Consistent “Pro-Life” Position

Dear Editor:

Ed Singer wrote the one letter I have read so far that succinctly distills the issues at stake in the 2008 presidential election. His appeal to Catholic school tradition is key to our choosing the next president of the United States. I only wish evangelical Christians had such a social tradition.

While groups like Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action attempt to bring social issues to the forefront of public discussion, evangelicalism is, for the most part, still a captive of the Republican Party. Many evangelicals are two-issue voters — abortion and homosexuality.

While I am certainly pro-life, I believe we miss the mark when we become single-issue voters. The issues are much broader and more complex than that. We need to think carefully about the current condition of our country and where we want to go in the future. I am 51 years old and I have voted in every election since Jimmy Carter won the White House. I am of the opinion that the current election is the most important election of my life.

I would ask my fellow evangelicals to consider what I call a “consistent life position.” It is not enough to be pro-life. We must also consider the issues of war, terrorism, torture, capital punishment and poverty. We must also consider the broad issue of social justice. What does it mean for me to be my brother’s keep? In a world filled with poverty, disease, war and injustice do I have a moral obligation to keep in regards to my fellow human beings?

America is a great nation filled with honorable, loving, and just people. In recent years, as we waged pre-emptive wars, turned our backs on the poor of the world, and continued to ignore to hurting and suffering in our own country, we have become less honorable, less loving, and certainly less just. We need a president who will take a completely different course from the one we are on now and who will lead us back to being a nation of honorable, loving, and just people.

As much as I like John McCain, I believe he will be four more years of George Bush. Will Barack Obama be any different? I don’t know. I find his speeches to be stirring, and they certainly are filled with all the things I think are important. Time will tell whether or not Barack Obama can deliver on what he has promised. I am willing to give him the chance. We cannot continue to stay the course, and I fear that is exactly what John McCain will do. We need a radical departure from the status quo.

Barack Obama’s message is one of change, and I can only hope that the change he brings will reinvigorate us as a nation and that will return to being a people of goodwill, both at home and across the world.

Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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What Evangelicals Think They Know About Atheists

things christians say to atheists

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Evangelical Christians have all sorts of ideas about what atheists believe and what kind of people they are. Where do they get these ideas? From Evangelical apologetic’s books, their pastors, evangelists who hold meetings at their churches, their Sunday School teachers, Christian Radio and TV, Fox News, and their fellow Christians.

Most Evangelicals don’t know any atheists. They live in what I call the Evangelical ghetto, a bubble insulated from worldly, godless influences. After all, there are no atheists in their churches — though they might be surprised to learn that there are likely secret atheists sitting near them in church almost every Sunday. Evangelicals tend to surround themselves with people who think and act as they do, so they are rarely exposed to people who hold beliefs different from theirs — and this is common for all tribes, including atheists.

This is the same criticism LGBTQ people have of Evangelicals. Evangelicals rage against the sin of homosexuality, yet they don’t personally know any LGBTQ people.  All they know is what their pastors say, TV preachers say, or what they read in Evangelical apologetics book.

When Evangelicals actually meet and befriend a non-heterosexual, they are often forced to rethink their beliefs. When a face is put on their beliefs, they are forced to deal with the humanity of that person. Often, when Evangelicals become friends with an LGBTQ person, they soften or abandon their beliefs about homosexuals being sinful, wicked, deviant, child-molesters.

So it is with atheists. Evangelicals have little in-person, up-close contact with atheists, and until they do, they will continue to say and believe outlandish and untrue things about atheists.

So what do many Evangelical Christians think they know about atheists?

  • They think atheists are a monolithic group where everyone believes exactly the same thing.
  • They think atheists practice the “religion” of atheism.
  • They think atheists hate the Evangelical God.
  • They think atheists oppose religion of any kind.
  • They think atheists have a secret desire to live immoral lives.
  • They think atheists worship Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
  • They think atheists are ignorant of the Bible and Christianity.
  • They think atheists are out to steal the souls of children.
  • They think atheists are agents of Satan/Lucifer/Beelzebub/Barack Obama.
  • They think atheists revere men such as Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
  • They think all atheists are liberals, voted for Barack Obama in 2008/2012, and will vote for Joe Biden in November.
  • They think atheists are out to destroy America and turn it into a godless state.
  • They think all atheists are pro-abortion.

And in every instance, Evangelicals are wrong about what they think they know about atheists. What is atheism?

Atheism is in the broadest sense an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.

From this point, atheists head off in many different directions. Yes, most atheists are likely political liberals, but many atheists are Republican, pro-life, Libertarian, supporters of the right to own guns, and yes, some of them, inexplicably, will vote for Donald Trump.

Are some atheists ignorant of the Bible and Christianity?  Sure, and as an atheist, I am embarrassed when they open their mouths and expose their ignorance. However, many atheists are like I am, raised in the Christian church, taught the Bible from our youth, and we know the Bible inside and out. There are countless college-trained atheists who were once Evangelical pastors. Some, such as I, spent most of their adult life preaching and teaching the Bible, winning souls, and doing the work of the ministry.

As I asked one commenter who suggested that since I was not a Christian and didn’t have the Holy Spirit living inside me, my understanding of the Bible was wrong: does this mean the moment I said, I am an atheist, thirty-five years of intense Bible study and knowledge immediately left my brain? Really?

If Evangelicals really want to understand atheists, they are going to have to set aside their presuppositions and actually get to know real, flesh-and-blood atheists. Most Evangelicals are unwilling to do this. They are closed-minded like former Taylor University professor James Spiegel (who wrote The Making of An Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief), having made up their mind that atheists are in rebellion against their peculiar version of God and secretly desire to live immoral lives.

Actually getting to know an atheist might force them to rethink their beliefs, and we can’t have any of that. To admit that atheists can be and are kind, loving, thoughtful human beings means that the Evangelical claim that only Jesus makes people loving and kind is not true. To admit that atheists are as moral as they are is to rob the Evangelical God of his power.

Evangelicals cannot stand being “just like everyone else.” They have been told their whole lives that they are unique and special — a new creation in Christ Jesus. To admit that atheists are just like they are is too much to handle, and invalidates the foundation upon which their lives are built.

So Evangelicals continue their attack on atheists, refusing to realize that the atheists they are attacking do not exist and are figments of their imaginations.

Here’s an offer I will make to any Evangelical church/pastor within a two-hour drive from Ney, Ohio. I will gladly, free of charge, come and speak to your church about atheism and answer any questions the congregation might have. I will even bring my beautiful, godless wife of forty-two years with me. If you really want to know and understand what makes an atheist tick, I am ready and willing to be examined. This is not an offer to debate. I do not do debates. This is a genuine offer to educate your congregation about atheism. If you are interested, please contact me (and I will prepare myself for the deluge of invitations that are sure to come).

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Closer to Home

guest post

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

He made it—just barely—out of Sobibor. So, it was no surprise that any time a former Nazi was found, or a new revelation about the regime and the Holocaust emerged, he took notice.

Louis is gone now. Though I can’t imagine what he endured, in the camp or in his nightmares and flashbacks, I feel I’ve become like him, in a way. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, I can’t help but to notice when some clerical predator is exposed.

Or what he and his brethren left in their wake.

Since “coming out” about my abuse two years ago, I have met others who had to endure similar horrors, whether from priests, professors, professional colleagues, parents or others in positions of authority. I have also learned about lives, families, communities and institutions that were destroyed as a result.

Some of the institutions will be missed. Others, however, deserved, like Hitler’s regime and its agencies, to be swept into the dustbin of history.

Perhaps the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Rockville Centre and Camden won’t disappear any time soon. There can be little doubt, however, that they’ve lost their powers, including their abilities to harbor and enable priests who preyed on people’s trust.

Last week, within the space of a couple of days, they declared bankruptcy, citing the financial strain of lawsuits from sex-abuse litigation. They are, of course, not the first dioceses to take such action. But their going into receivership is significant because of their relative prominence. Camden, in New Jersey, is directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia which, in 2015, was tied with Chicago as the second-most Catholic city in the US. (Boston, New York and Pittsburgh were tied for first.) Rockville Centre, comprising the Long Island counties of Nassau and Suffolk, is one of the largest dioceses (by population) in the nation—and the largest, to date, to declare bankruptcy. It’s also directly east of the Diocese of Brooklyn, of which it was a part until 1957.

Camden’s and Rockville Centre’s proximity to two of the largest and most Catholic American cities is reason enough to take notice of them. Equally important, though, is another characteristic they share, and I know all too well.

The parish in which I, as an altar boy, was abused by a priest, is in the heart of the Diocese of Brooklyn. In other posts, I’ve talked about the church’s centrality in my old neighborhood: Nearly everyone attended it, and I, like many of my peers, were pupils in its school. Many kids were encouraged, or even forced, to become altar boys or participate in other church activities; I, and some other kids, volunteered for such things because our families or other people in our community didn’t have the time, or didn’t know how to give us the kinds of non-material support we needed. (For some kids, that support was material.) Our parents worked long and hard (our fathers at paid jobs, our mothers at uncompensated tasks) but, because they married and birthed us when they were very young (or for other reasons), didn’t know how to deal with anything besides fawning obedience. They did not know how to respond to the kinds of tiredness, sadness, or bewilderment children experience, sometimes because for no other reason than they don’t have the language or other means of expressing it.

What I didn’t know, of course, was that at the time I was growing up, we were part of a way of life that was dying: The cops, the firefighters, the factory workers were moving their families to Rockville Centre and other places on Long Island.

And to New Jersey, where I moved with my family when I was twelve. Our new church was part of the Diocese of Trenton, the northern neighbor of Camden diocese. The city of Camden, once home to RCA and Campbell’s soup, was in steep decline. But the surrounding communities in its diocese flourished as bedroom communities to Philadelphia, from which cops, firefighters and factory workers moved.

There, and in the Rockville Centre enclaves, their parents worked even harder to pay and keep up their houses and car payments. That meant kids were, perhaps, even more isolated and alienated than they would have been in South Philly or South Brooklyn — and, in those pre-Internet days, with fewer ways of reaching others who felt the way they did.

A lonely or alienated kid is to a sexual predator—whether a priest or some other authority figure — like tinder to a forest fire. So, if a kid feels isolated in an urban enclave, imagine what it must be like in a suburban town, with the family’s breadwinner(s) commuting for several hours a day in addition to the time he/she/they work.

Fortunately for me, I did not get involved with our new church, beyond attending mass, after my family moved to New Jersey: I become more involved with Scouting (which I joined before our move) and school-related activities. But other kids who weren’t drawn to such things (literary magazines, photography clubs, sports teams and the like) were probably even more stranded than their peers in the neighborhood my family left. So, some of them might have been even easier prey for predacious priests than I was.

Although I have never met them, I thought about those young people when I heard that the Dioceses of Camden and Rockville Centre declared bankruptcy — just as I imagine my late friend Louis thought about inmates at Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Auschwitz whenever a former Nazi was found in Cleveland or Argentina or some other place far from where they committed their horrible crimes.

In short, the bankruptcies of the Camden and Rockville Centre dioceses were personal for me — just as the capture of John Demjanjuk was for Louis, my late friend.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You Are In It

man in a box

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I was a fervent, dedicated, committed believer of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” I believed it, practiced it, and lived it. When I was in the Christian box, it all made sense to me. Everything I read, everything I heard, and everything I experienced, reinforced the belief that I was in the right box.

God told me, the Bible told me, my friends and family told me, and the opposition of the world told me, that I was in the right box. Every once in a while, I would take one step outside the box and experience a bit of “other-boxedness.” However, after every foray into the world outside the Christian box, I would return to the safety of the box.

This is the way I lived my life for almost fifty years. Then one day, I decided to take more than one step outside of the box. I haltingly, tentatively took a few steps, staying close enough to the box that I could run back if I needed to.

Over time, I wandered farther and farther away from the box. I found all kinds of things that were not in the box I was in. I was confronted with data, beliefs, ideologies, facts, and practices that I had never heard of. I was uncertain about what I should make of these new-found things.

I talked to fellow box-keepers about this. They cautioned me about wandering outside of the box. Bruce, nothing good happens outside of the box, they told me. Everything we need for life and godliness is right here in the box. We even have a manual that tells us how to live in the box.

But I continued to wander outside of the box. One day, I wandered so far outside the box that I realized, for the first time, that the box sat on a steep, slippery hill. And there were other boxes too, all of them on that same slippery hill. The first time I noticed this, I quickly retreated to the safety of the box. Then one day, I found myself far outside the box. I turned around to look longingly at the box and I slipped, and before I knew it I was slipping and sliding down the slippery hill. On this day, I fought and clawed my way back up the hill and crawled back to the safety of the box. Dirty and bruised, I was safe within the box once again. The box was my salvation.

But it wasn’t. My mind was filled with thoughts of all the wonders I found outside the box. Things that people in my box said were bad for me; things that they were sure would ruin me. They told me that The box was all I needed. They feared I was becoming a wanderlust.

And they were right. I wandered once again outside the box, and just as before, I fell down the slope of the slippery hill. This happened to me many times before I finally gave up and stayed at the bottom of the hill. When I did this, the box I had lived in for almost 50 years was no longer large enough for me. For the first time, the things I had lived with in the box seemed odd, peculiar, and contradictory.

When I was in the box it all made sense. It all fit. But now, outside of the box, at the bottom of the slippery hill, the things I once believed now seemed to be the strange language of an alien culture. I found myself saying, I can’t believe I actually believed _________________________. It seems so crazy and incoherent now, yet when I was in the box it all made sense.

I can’t go back to the box I was in. As a secularist now, as a person who values skeptical, rational, and critical thinking, I must always be aware of other boxes around me. Every box’s occupants say that they have the truth. Every box’s occupants want me to take up residence in their box. However, I have learned, perhaps the hard way, that living in the narrow, blind confines of a box keeps me from experiencing the world that exists outside the box. Every box’s occupants think they are unique. Their sameness cannot be seen until one is out of the box — all of the boxes.

Experiencing the world outside of the box changed me forever. I know I still have a penchant for box-like thinking, but I revel in a life free of the constraints of any box.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.