Religion

Independent Baptist Songs: I Know Who Holds Tomorrow by Ira Stanphill

ira stanphill

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

Today’s Independent Baptist Song is I Know Who Hold Tomorrow by Ira Stanphill. I was able to find a video of this song being sung by The Isaacs.

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow by Ira Stanphill

I don’t know about tomorrow;
I just live from day to day.
I don’t borrow from it’s sunshine
For it’s skies may turn to grey.
I don’t worry o’er the future,
For I know what Jesus said.
And today I’ll walk beside Him,
For He knows what is ahead.

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

Every step is getting brighter
As the golden stairs I climb;
Every burden’s getting lighter,
Every cloud is silver-lined.
There the sun is always shining,
There no tear will dim the eye;
At the ending of the rainbow
Where the mountains touch the sky.

I don’t know about tomorrow;
It may bring me poverty.
But the one who feeds the sparrow,
Is the one who stands by me.
And the path that is my portion
May be through the flame or flood;
But His presence goes before me
And I’m covered with His blood.

Video Link

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow is one of the songs Baptists sing when life is shitty.  When your life is swirling the toilet bowl, sing songs about the care and promises of God and the Heaven that awaits born-again Christians. Think of this as religious Valium, except Valium is real and Heaven is not.

About Ira Stanphill:

Stanphill  (February 14, 1914 to December 30, 1993) was an Assemblies of God pastor, singer, and Gospel songwriter. A gifted musician, he was already playing piano, organ, ukulele and accordion by age 10. By the time he reached 17, he was composing and singing, participating in revival crusades, prayer meetings, and tent campaigns. He graduated from the Junior College in Chillicothe, Missouri, and was later awarded an honorary Ph.D. from Hyles-Anderson College in Crown Point, Indiana. As a singing evangelist, he preached all over America and in over 40 other countries. He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1981, and published his autobiography, This Side of Heaven, in 1983.

Religion, Death, and the Afterlife: The Death of Derek Sheldon

derek sheldon roadside memorial 4

As many of you know, Polly and I travel the highways and byways of northwest Ohio, northeast Indiana, and southeast Michigan looking for photography opportunities. I have developed an interest in how we as Americans — particularly Midwesterners — memorialize life and death.  Of special interest is the various means religious people use to remember the dead. This interest might seem odd for someone who is an atheist, but I am attracted to roadside memorials and cemeteries. From time to time, I plan to share a few of the photographs I’ve shot while stalking death.

I shot these photographs at a roadside memorial for the late Derek Sheldon.

derek sheldon roadside memorial

derek sheldon roadside memorial 2

Derek Sheldon, a senior student at Elmwood High School in Bloomdale, Ohio, was tragically killed in an automobile accident on October 1, 2015. According to the Sentinel-Tribune:

Derek Arthur Sheldon, 17 of Bloomdale passed away on October 1, 2015, near Bloomdale.

He was born in Findlay on October 3, 1997, to William and Kimberly (Workman) Sheldon and they survive.

….

Derek was a senior at Elmwood High School where he played basketball and baseball. He was a member of the honor society, loved working with younger children during summer baseball, and enjoyed sports of any kind.

While I find roadside memorials psychologically and sociologically interesting, death at such a young age is always tragic.

 

 

 

Going All the Way for Jesus: Being an All-In Type of Person

all in

A commenter on my recent post, Jesus Said: Go Sell All That You Have and Follow Me, described me as an “all-in” type of person. I have often thought about being an all-in person. Was I always this way or did external forces turn me into that kind of person? I have rummaged through the first fifteen years of my life and concluded that I was NOT naturally an all-in kind of person. The best of example I found comes from my team sports experiences. I played Little League baseball, Pony League baseball, city league basketball, and one forgettable year of junior high football. I thoroughly enjoyed playing sports. I had enough talent to garner me a spot on teams, but my seat on the bench was usually right next to the water boy. Basketball was the only exception. I was a starter. This fact, however, shouldn’t be taken as a statement of my basketball prowess. If anything, all it says is that some of my teammates weren’t very good. I was a starter, then, on a very average team.

As I comb through my past sports experiences, one fact comes to light, regardless of the sport: I was never an all-in player. Sure, I would be at every practice and play pick-up games with neighborhood boys, but I was never the type of player who worked day and night on his skills. I enjoyed the fun and camaraderie that sports afforded me, but I was never going to be a lone gym rat, for example, shooting hundreds of shots a day to work on my foul shooting. My dad showed no interest in my athletic efforts. I don’t remember a time when he tossed the ball with me in the yard or attended one of my games. I want to think, surely, that he attended one or more of my games, but I have no recollection of him doing so. It was my grandmother who bought me my first baseball glove (and ball). I do have several memories of Grandma Rausch and my mom attending some of my Pony League games. I vividly remember hearing Grandma loudly telling the umpire while I was batting, THAT WASN’T A STRIKE! Never mind that I couldn’t have hit it even if it was. I was a terrible hitter, often used as a late-inning defensive replacement or a pinch runner (I am left-handed, and I was, in the day, a speedy base runner). I was never going to be Babe Ruth or even Mario Mendoza.

I can safely conclude, then, that I was NOT an all-in person in my younger years. However, as I turn my thoughts to my life from the time I was saved and baptized at age fifteen though my first decade in the ministry, I see a very different Bruce Gerencser. I see that once I became a Christian and declared I was called by God to be a preacher, I was all-in when it came to matters of faith. My transformation took place during the same time my parents divorced and my dad married a girl four years older than I. Yes, you read that right. She was 19. My father was 36. His new wife had given birth the previous year, leaving me wondering if the child belonged to my dad. Nonetheless, my familial circumstances greatly changed the year I got saved. My parents and siblings quit attending church, leaving me as the only Gerencser still a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. I disconnected from my family, and directed most of my time and energy into attending church, working on a bus route, learning how to be a preacher, and running around with my church friends. The church became my family. I spent as little time at home as possible, often not coming home until it was time for bed.

During this time period, Bruce Turner, the youth pastor at Trinity, became a surrogate father of sorts. (Please read Dear Bruce Turner.) I have nothing but good things to say about Bruce. He was a real help to me at a vulnerable time in my life. That said, he was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, and his theology, worldview, and way of living made a deep impression me. By the time I was sixteen, I was an all-in IFB Christian — a True Believer®. When Trinity would host Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship meetings, I would skip school so I could listen to the big-name IFB preachers of the day. Not one of my church friends joined me. I was alone when it came to a thirst for hearing these men of God. I am sure my church friends, if I asked them to comment on my younger years, would point to the changes that took place in my life after Jesus and I became best buddies. Not that I was no longer a fun-loving, humorous, girl-chasing redhead. I was, but my conduct and language changed, as did the kind of girls I was interested in. I only dated girls from the churches I attended, but after I was saved, I looked for girls who were as serious about their faith as I was. My first serious girlfriend after I was saved was the sixteen-year-old preacher’s daughter — Charlotte Brandenburg.

I was all-in with Jesus, so it made sense for me to only date girls who had similar motivations. The last girl I dated, of course, became my wife. We shared similar sentiments about spiritual matters and what it was God wanted us to do with our lives. And for the first three decades of our marriage, I was an all-in pastor, a man who demanded total commitment from himself, his family, and the churches he pastored. I had little tolerance for laziness, and I had no time for golf-playing ministerial colleagues. There were souls to save, churches to build. How could I devote one moment of time to the pleasures of the world while people still needed to hear the Evangelical gospel? Now, I don’t want to paint a picture of someone who was free from temptation and “sin.” I wasn’t, but the arc of my life was bent towards holiness, preaching the gospel, and doing all I could to help people mature in the faith. I often heard preachers talk about “balance.” For many years, I rejected calls for “balance,” choosing instead to devote most of my time and effort into the work of the ministry. Better to burn out than rust out, I proudly told myself.

As I look at the overall arch of my life, I can see how being all-in has helped me when it came to computers, photography, and writing. I tackled all three of these things without any training, choosing a path of self-education. I continue to work on knowing more about these things. I most certainly want to be a better writer and photographer. Computers? I just want the damn things to work when I push the “on” button. In other areas of my life, thanks to chronic illness and pain, I have learned to let go and let Loki. I am still learning to “not give a shit” about some things, even if all-in Bruce still wants to dive into the deep end of the pool. Maybe at age sixty-one, I am learning “balance.”  Or maybe, I have learned that it is okay to not be all-in on some things; that it’s okay not to know everything about e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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: I Didn’t Kill My Baby by Dr. Jen Gunter

dr jen gunter

On Feb. 5, during the State of the Union address, President Trump implied that women like me executed our babies after birth.

….

I am an obstetrician and gynecologist who has delivered newborns who could not live, either because they were extremely premature or had birth defects. I have provided abortion care for women after 24 weeks gestation faced with similar outcomes who chose a surgical abortion over a vaginal delivery.

And I also delivered a son who was born to die — my own son.

….

According to the president, we are executioners.

If you are going to accuse me of executing my child, then you need to know exactly what happened. It’s not a pleasant story and the ending is terrible. I wouldn’t blame you for not wanting to read it. But you need to know the truth, because stories like mine are being perverted for political gain.

It pains me to remember. And yet, it is the only memory of my son, and so even though it cuts, I keep it close.

I was pregnant with triplets and at 22 weeks and three days, my membranes ruptured — that is, my water broke, far too early. I knew it was catastrophic. Almost no baby born before 23 weeks can survive.

With the knowledge that I would probably be a parent for only a few minutes, I headed to the hospital. I told my husband at the time that it would be all right, that maybe I was wrong.

I lied. It was easier on me.

After we consulted with a high-risk obstetrician and a neonatologist, I heard the dismal news I had expected: The survival rate for male triplets at 22 weeks and three days was less than 1 percent.

And so I waited. I waited to bestow the names I had so carefully chosen on three boys who seemed destined to die at birth.

For a day nothing happened. That was cruel because I began to hope that maybe I could hang on for a few weeks and maybe one or more would survive. I couldn’t help but indulge in the fantasy. And I resented that hope because I knew the worst day of my life was almost here.

I know other parents in similar situations also cling to hope. I have delivered those women; sometimes their wrenching sobs push their child who is born to die into the world. Maybe their child had a lethal birth defect. Maybe their child was extremely premature, like my Aidan. There are a lot of ways a newborn can be born to die.

After a fitful night of sleep at the hospital — because when you know Death is standing at the doorway waiting for your baby, you don’t sleep well — I got up to use the bathroom.

And then, all alone, I realized I was delivering. There was no time to cry out. I stood alone in the hospital bathroom and delivered my own son. He fit in my hands.

….

And then a nurse parted everyone and brought him to me wrapped in a blanket. He was dying, she said. Did I want to hold him?

I was being poked and prodded. Needles piercing my skin. Drugs for sedation. I was being held down (I don’t resent that; I just couldn’t cooperate, and I know it was an emergency and everyone was really trying). A speculum was also in my vagina, opened wide so a doctor — a friend of mine trying not to cry — trimmed Aidan’s umbilical cord dangling from his placenta that was still inside my uterus.

I tell myself it was all those things that prevented me from holding him, but I know the truth.

I wasn’t brave enough.

If I held him and saw him die, then I would know exactly what I was going to face if the other two delivered (ultimately, my other two sons survived).

As Aidan’s parents we had decided that invasive procedures, like intravenous lines and a breathing tube in a one-pound body, would be pointless medical care. And so, as we planned, Aidan died.

— Dr. Jen Gunter, The New York Times, I Didn’t Kill My Baby, February 26, 2019

If you have the time, please read Dr. Gunter’s heartbreaking article in its entirety. It certainly casts a different light on pregnancy complications and late-term abortions; a light that anti-abortionists don’t want people to see.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: The Democratic Party is an Evil Institution

matt walsh

We have come — plummeted is probably the better word — a long way since 2002, when the Born Alive Infant Protection Act passed unanimously through the Senate. That bill recognized all born children as human persons, which is a position that has since fallen out of favor in the Democratic Party. In just over a decade and a half, Democrats have gone from “safe, legal, and rare abortions” to “kill ’em all and don’t stop when they’re born.” Many of us warned that the first slogan would lead eventually to the second. We take no pleasure in our vindication.

But the question of how we arrived at this point is academic. The most immediate and practical point is that we are here now in a place where every Democrat in the Senate, save three holdouts, supports fourth-trimester abortion. The Democrat Party has been for a long while, and is now inescapably, an evil institution. A decent person cannot in good conscience remain affiliated with it. That isn’t to say that every decent person must be a Republican. The Republican Party, after all, is hardly a bastion of moral courage. But a person with any sort of moral foundation, a person with any ethical sense whatsoever, cannot and will not align himself with a political institution that passionately defends abortion through every stage of pregnancy and beyond.

— Matt Walsh, The Daily Wire, You Can No Longer Be A Decent Person And A Democrat, February 26, 2019

Jesus Said: Go Sell All That You Have and Follow Me

go sell everything

 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? (Luke 18:18-26)

Evangelicals would have us believe that the Christian gospel is mental assent to a set of theological propositions. “BELIEVE these things, and thou shalt live,” Evangelicals say. Believe the right doctrines, pray the right prayer, and bingo! you are saved and headed for Heaven when you die. Evangelicals preach up God’s grace and our inability to save ourselves through good works, yet Jesus, the man, myth, and legend seems to say something very different in the Biblical passage above. Nowhere in Jesus’ sermons/teachings do you find him preaching the gospel preached by modern Evangelicals. It was not until the Apostle Paul that we find a greater emphasis on “right” beliefs, as opposed to “right” living. James, taking issue with the Pauline gospel, said:

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:14-20)

Pay close attention to how Evangelicals live and what they believe, and it’s hard not to conclude that they are following after Paul, not Jesus (or James). James was very clear: “faith without works is dead.” “Don’t tell me what you believe,” James said, “show me!”  While Evangelical pastors encourage congregants to do good works, it’s evident that the message is not getting through. The average Evangelical is Christian in name only, and certainly lives in contradiction to what Jesus and James said above. Worse yet, Evangelical preachers aren’t much better. Their time is spent at the golf course, at preachers’ conferences, coddling congregants, and making fat sheep fatter. If good works are the essence of the Christian gospel, is it not true, then, that most Evangelicals are not Christian?

In Luke 18, a ruler came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Evangelicals believe that preparing to meet God after death is THE most important thing any of us can do. Yet, few Evangelicals take the words of Christ seriously and follow in his steps. To the ruler’s question, Jesus replied, “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.” In other words, gaining eternal life was contingent on keeping the law of God. When the ruler said that he had kept the commandments from his youth forward, Jesus replied, “Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” Wow, what a demand! The ruler was quite rich, and selling everything and giving it to the poor probably seemed too much of a buy-in. The Bible says, the rich man went away sorrowful for he had great possessions.

Time and again in the gospels, Jesus demanded of people who wanted to be his disciples that they sell and forsake everything and follow him. This demand wasn’t optional. Inheriting eternal life hung in the balance. It should come as no surprise, then, that Jesus had few disciples. In the book of Acts we are told that after the death of Jesus, his followers gathered in an upper room to pray. All told, there were about 120 disciples. That’s it, after three years of public ministry. I suspect one reason for this is Jesus’ works-based gospel. Jesus demanded EVERYTHING from those who would follow him.

Two thousand years later, western Christianity has become little more than a cultural religion; one that is called on in times of trouble, and when children are born, young couples marry, and old people die. Imagine if Jesus came to the churches in your community and preached his gospel. Why, churches would empty out overnight. “Sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor, Jesus? Are you nuts?” I can’t speak to Jesus’ mental state, but I do know he said this about the path to life eternal:

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:12-14)

Jesus mentions good works, and then says the path to Heaven is a straight and narrow way, and few people find it. Billions of people claim to be Christians, yet few of them are walking the straight and narrow way. Why is that?

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2

Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

In the late 1980s, I came to the conclusion that good works were essential to salvation. Thinking this, of course, led me to do all sorts of things that caused personal harm and harm to my family. I took Jesus at his word when he said to sell everything and follow after him. Polly and I, along with our six children, lived in poverty for years because I really believed what Jesus said. We lived like the Beverly Hillbillies BEFORE they came to California. Imagine eight people living in a 12’x60′ wreck of a trailer, with one dinky bathroom. Our winter heat came from a Warm Morning Stove in the living room. My oldest sons have oh-so-fond memories of putting wood and coal in the stove. It would get so hot in the living room that we would open the front door and use it as a thermostat of sorts.

During our “poverty years,” I gave away money, cars, clothing, food, and sold countless personal possessions to help fund the church and help others. I so wanted to be a man who followed in Jesus’ footsteps, even to the place of crucifying my flesh for him. Of course, the problem I had with my flesh is that it kept coming back to life. Over and over again I denied self and followed Jesus and his teachings.

The years spent in poverty left a deep and lasting mark on our family. While there were many lifelong lessons learned during this time, none of us has any desire to relive the “good old days.”  Were there “good” days? Sure, we were happy, at least within that paradigm. It was all we knew, so it seems normal and right to us. It was only when we escaped the Evangelical bubble that we were able to see how crazy our lives were; how foolish we were when it came to money and our family. Today, if Jesus came to me and said, “sell everything and become my disciple,” I would reply, “first, you are dead, a figment of my imagination. And second, if you really are alive, why do you need me to fund your work on earth?  Get to work, Jesus! Time  for you to whip out your Hogwarts wand and work some magic. You da man, right?”

I suspect I am not alone when it comes to being deeply affected by Jesus’ gospel. Long before I became an atheist, I was quite estranged from Christianity as a whole. I read passages of Scripture like the ones above, took them seriously, and did my best to implement them in my life. Why is it that most Christians didn’t do the same? Didn’t they want to be True Christians®?  Why was I different from so many other Christians and pastors? That, my friend, I will leave for another day. Suffice it to say, that subject has been a frequent topic of discussion in counseling.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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: Should Christian Crosses be Permitted on Public Property?

peace cross

The right question for the [U.S. Supreme] court is whether a religious symbol on public property endorses one religion over others. The Peace Cross clearly does….At a time when Americans subscribe to a wide variety of religious beliefs — or none at all — it’s vital for government to be religiously neutral.

— Los Angeles Times Editorial, February 27, 2019, Via The American Humanist Association Newsletter

Romans 3: What the Bible Says About the “Human Condition”

Evangelicals believe that all humans are born sinners, at variance with God, and headed for Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in the atoning work of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. Evangelicals get their view of humanity straight from the Bible — a collection of books they believe is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. In their minds, the Bible is different from all other books. Divine in nature, perfect, and true, the Bible reveals to us God, the “human condition,” and what all of us must do to have right standing with God and avoid eternal damnation in Hell. According to Evangelicals, atheists and other non-believers deliberately reject the truths of the Bible because they desire to live sin-filled lives. Never mind the fact that Evangelicals also live sin-filled lives. You see, they have an out — Jesus. No matter what terrible things they do, forgiveness and restoration are but a prayer away:

If we [Evangelicals] confess our sins, he [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)

No bad behavior (sin) is beyond God’s forgiveness. King David committed adultery and had the woman’s husband murdered so he could have her for his own, yet he is called a “man after God’s own heart.” (Acts 13:22) We need only turn to the modern-day fall-from-grace/forgiveness stories of men such as Ted HaggardJimmy Swaggart, and Jim Bakker to see how the process works. Those of us who were once Evangelicals have first-hand experience with the sin/forgiveness, wash/rinse/repeat process by which we procured continued right-standing with God. Daily and twice on Sundays, we confessed our sins to God and asked for his complete, total, buried-in-the-deepest-sea forgiveness:

He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12)

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)

And each and every time, God — or so we believed anyway — granted us forgiveness. Catholics had the confessional, and we Evangelicals had the altars, prayer meetings, and devotional times. In fact, forgiveness was so readily available that all we had to do is send up a quickie prayer to Jesus. We could be at work, driving our cars, or cleaning up after masturbating to porn; it mattered not. All God required was for us to say “my bad, Jesus, I’m sorry, please forgive me.” And just like that our sin slates were wiped clean. Awesome, right?

Evangelicals believe they are hopeless and helpless apart from God’s grace. While Evangelicals often present themselves as superior to atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, pagans, and other non-believers, when confronted with their own “sinfulness” they reply, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace!”  According to their doctrine, the only thing that keeps Evangelicals from spending eternity in the Lake of Fire with Hitler, Mother Teresa, Christopher Hitchens, Barack Obama, and Bruce Gerencser is the moment in time they repented of their sins and asked Jesus to save them. Evangelicals see themselves as sinners who just so happened to have pushed the right button on the Eternal Hell Fire Insurance Policy®.

The Apostle Paul in Romans 3 reminded Christians and unbelievers alike of their true nature. Here’s how Paul describes the “human condition”:

  • None of us is righteous (vs. 10)
  • None of us understands (vs. 11)
  • None of us seeks after God (vs. 11)
  • None of us does good (vs.12)
  • All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory (vs. 23)

Paul goes on to describe the “human condition” this way:

Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Paul in Romans 3 and other places reminds Christians that the only difference between them and non-Christians is faith (Ephesians 2:8,9 and Hebrews 11); faith in Jesus as propitiation for sin (Romans 3:25 and 1 John 2:2); faith in the Jesus who died on the cross for our sins (Romans 5); faith in the Jesus who promised to forgive us of every sin — past, present, and future.

Is it any wonder Evangelicals live such schizophrenic lives? On one hand, God commands them to live morally, ethically, and righteously, and even commands them to be as perfect as their Father in Heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Yet, on the other hand, they are repeatedly reminded by Paul and other Biblical authors that it is impossible for them to keep, follow, and practice that which God commands. Thinking this way leads to all sorts of emotional stress. Evangelicals may be “sinners saved by grace,” but their behavior suggests that their lives are long on sin and short on grace. One need only read the Black Collar Crime series to see how such thinking affects Evangelicals. So-called men of God — deacons, evangelists, Sunday school teachers, and worship leaders — praise the wonders of God’s grace on Sundays, all while they are fucking their secretaries, sexually abusing boys and girls, seducing church teenagers, and otherwise engaging in behaviors that most people consider wrong. “Oh Bruce,” Evangelical apologists say, “these stories are the exception to the rule!” Really? You might want to read Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare? before defending God’s spokesmen. You might also want to talk to pastors who are willing to be honest about their own “sinful” behaviors and that of their congregations — that which has been confessed to them in secret.

“Fine, Bruce,” Evangelicals say. “Are atheists any better?” To that question I reply, yes and no. Atheists don’t believe in “sin.”  Most atheists reject Evangelical moralizing about “sin” and instead focus on good and bad behavior. While atheists certainly have smaller “sin” lists, they do believe that certain behaviors can be categorized as good or bad, along with many behaviors being neither good or bad. Most atheists are humanists, and their humanism gives them a moral, ethical, and practical foundation for living one’s life. Atheists recognize that some of their brethren are despicable human beings, every bit as bad as the men of God detailed in the Black Collar Crime series. They also recognize that humans are capable of doing good without the help of imaginary deities.

If atheists reject the Christian view of the “human condition” and forgiveness, how then do they deal with bad behavior? I can’t speak for all atheists, but I can share how I and other atheists I personally know handle acts of bad behavior. When we act inappropriately or cause harm to others, we confess it, ask forgiveness of whomever we harmed, and if necessary, make restitution. We recognize that none of us is perfect, and we can, at times, say and do things that hurt others. We own our behavior and vow to act better going forward. If our bad behavior has caused material or social harm, we make amends. One of the reasons I write about the things I do is because I believe I have a moral and ethical responsibility to own past bad behaviors; that the harm I caused to congregants must be atoned for; that the harm I caused to my wife and children must be made right. Simply put, wrongs must be made right. I can’t undo the past, but I can own past bad behaviors, and vow to be a better man, husband, and father. I will, most certainly, fail in this endeavor, but each day of my life I will try to be a better person than I was the day before. No magical wiping the slate clean, no religious incantations to a mythical God, just an honest, heartfelt commitment to being good. Is that not all that any of us can do?

To Evangelicals I say, leave your harmful religion behind. Humanism provides a far better way to live one’s life. And it’s a lot less stressful and a hell of a lot more fun.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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

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

Songs of Sacrilege: Nothing’s Right by Birdtalker

birdtalker

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

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Nothing’s Right by Birdtalker.

Video Link

Lyrics

Verse 1]
Tell me again what makes a good man
Is he free of blood on his hands?
Does he only say what anyone can?
Is he clean lines and Puritan?

[Chorus]
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right

[Verse 2]
Tell me again how you can talk to God
And how he tells you what to do
And how you’re sure it’s not your own damn voice
Disguised as something absolute

[Chorus]
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right

[Bridge]
The bonds of friendship and brotherly love
The silver linings of holy dove
Sometimes it all just takes try and done

[Chorus]
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right

Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right
Sometimes I feel like nothing’s right

The Satanic Temple: Hail Satan?

satan

Excerpt from Rolling Stone:

Everyone goes through something of a satanist phase. Maybe you drew “666” on your Converses and your youth pastor had to sit down and have a talk with you. Maybe you read a book about Anton LeVay and thought, “Hey, the dude had a few good ideas.” Or maybe you just spent a lot of time scaring other patrons at Hot Topic. But the ladies and gentlemen featured in the trailer for Hail Satan?, a documentary premiering in theaters on April 19th, take their love for all things Beelzebub more than a few steps further.

Directed by filmmaker Penny Lane (Our Nixon), Hail Satan? follows the lives of members of the Satanic Temple, a church/political activist group with multiple chapters across the United States. Founded in 2012, the Satanic Temple was originally launched as something of a PR stunt, though it’s grown into something of a political force to be reckoned with.

In the trailer for the documentary, members of the Satanic Temple fight for the construction of a monument to the goat demon Baphomet outside the Arkansas State Capitol building, much to the chagrin of Arkansas residents. They seem all too eager to combat stereotypes associated with devil worship, portraying themselves as bright-eyed, bushy-tailed activists staunchly committed to principles of religious freedom. “I believe that confronting injustice is an expression of my satanic faith,” one member of the temple says.

That said, members of the Satanic Temple are not at all averse to trolling: when a heckler shouts, “You’re gonna go to hell!,” a man in Baphomet garb flashes a smug grin. “I believe it,” he says, “and I’m excited about it.”

Video Link

 

The News Makes Me Think About Him

orthodox jewish boys

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Here in the United States, we have the same problems you find everywhere: drug abuse, domestic violence, you name it. One of our problems, though, is that we sweep it under the rug.

Such an admission would be unusually forthright, if not startlingly frank, in almost any place or time. But I recall it so clearly, more than two decades after I heard it, because of the person who uttered it.

He had hired me a week earlier—to work with children from some of the families he was talking about. It wouldn’t take long for me to realize that those problems, and others, had much to do with the very existence of that school.

The boys in that Orthodox yeshiva had been kicked out of other Orthodox yeshivas, almost invariably because of their behavior. I’d heeded the warnings of the man who hired me—the school’s head rabbi, whom I’ll call Halphen—about the “games” the boys might play. They played them, and I wasn’t surprised. (After all, I was a teenaged boy once!) I soon realized, however, that most of the boys would do no better in that school, in part because the main tool the school had for helping the boys was Halakhic law. More important, though, the boys—at least one, anyway—had problems even more serious than the ones Rabbi Halphen mentioned, and “the community,” as he liked to call it, was a cause.

Being a non-Jewish teacher (and a Catholic school alumnus) in an Orthodox yeshiva was, to say the least, an interesting experience. So was being a transgender woman—who was still living as a man—in an all-male environment. Of course, the boys didn’t know about my identity, though some thought I was gay. In any event, I was an outsider.

That meant the boys both looked down on, and even expressed hatred for me, but looked to me for what they couldn’t find from their rabbis and parents, or the other adults in their community. I think now of a dynamic James Baldwin described: whites who saw blacks as their inferiors went to those same blacks for love when no one else was watching them. When groups of boys were together, they mocked my goyishness, but when they encountered me one-on-one, they wanted to talk.

Naturally, they wanted to talk about wishes and dreams that were taboo in their community. One confessed his crush on a Puerto Rican girl. (As someone who’s dated Hispanics of all gender identities, and was married to one, I sympathized.) Others thought they might be gay or simply didn’t want the kind of family life their community proscribed for them: “You get married, start a business, have a bunch of kids, double your weight and get a heart attack,” as one boy mused. Still others wanted careers that weren’t part of the Orthodox menu. And there was the junior who wanted to know what I thought of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry.

One boy, though, haunts me to this day. I’ll call him Moishe. He seemed to circle around me for months before he finally asked whether we could talk during his lunch break. I agreed. Moishe expressed some of the usual complaints about the restrictiveness of his community. All along, I had a feeling he wanted to say something else, but not what he asked a few days later: Could I adopt him?

I explained that I couldn’t which, of course, he knew—but as I suspected, his question was a pretext to talk some more. Which we did, several more times over the weeks. Then, one sunny Spring afternoon, he came to me in tears. “I want to die!” he exclaimed.

“Have you talked to anybody else?”

He shook his head. “I can’t,” he sobbed. “They’ll never believe me.”

I knew that “they” meant any authority figure in his life: his parents, his other adult relatives, the rabbis in the school and the ones in his synagogue. Nor would anyone else in his synagogue. “They’re all in on it,” he cried.

My spine tingled. This was years before I talked about my own abuse, but I knew he wanted to talk about his. “Who?” I asked.

Moishe then told me about the rabbi in his synagogue who was always calling him in to help with one thing or another. My guess is that his parents thought the rabbi knew he was a “problem” child and they were grateful for the interest he showed. The rabbi took advantage of that trust and use the pretext of errands and chores to make contact with the boy. I am not talking merely about “face time;” I mean, literally, contact—in areas that should be touched only by medical professionals with gloved hands.

Although I would not talk about my own abuse, or name the priest who abused me, until many years later, I had an overwhelming, physically aching, sense of déjà vu. So many things I experienced felt the same way, as a Catholic school alumnus and transgender woman who was still living as a man, during the year I taught in that Orthodox yeshiva. And when I hear about sex abuse in the Catholic church or any other religious institution, I think of Moishe—and the words of Rabbi Halphen, who hired me to teach Moishe and other boys who were living with the issues that were being “swept under the rug.”

Southern Baptist Seth Dunn Says Female Pastors Are Just as Bad as Sex Offender Pastors

seth dunn

Seth Dunn is a Fundamentalist Southern Baptist [Dunn has since written me and said he is not a Southern Baptist] who believes it is his duty to right all theological wrongs. Dunn, a professor at Tennessee Temple University, [Dunn has since written me and said he is not a professor at TTU; that the school went out of business a few years ago] is one of the hands-on proctologists at the Pulpit & Pen website.

Daily, the fine men at Pulpit & Pen rage against the machine — the “machine” being non-Fundamentalist, non-Calvinistic Christianity. Recently, Dunn took to Twitter to express his outrage over churches who hire female pastors. Thinking he was being clever, Dunn tweeted:

seth dunn tweet

Dunn astoundingly believes that there is no difference theologically or morally between churches hiring female pastors and churches hiring sex offenders — rapists, perverts, sexual abusers, child molesters, and every other crime that might land you on the sex offenders list. Dunn rightly caught a lot of shit over his dumbassery, but he was not moved one whit from his viewpoint. He tweeted::

seth dunn tweet 2

You see, all that Dunn cares about is loving what God loves and hating what God hates, or at least his interpretation of what the Bible says God loves and hates. In other words, Dunn hates most of the human race; which makes sense since Dunn is a card-carrying member of Club Calvin — an exclusive club made up special people chosen by God to be saved. I don’t know Dunn, but even in my Fundamentalist days I would have said, Dude, you are an idiot!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.