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The Mythical Evangelical Victory Over Sin

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According to Evangelicals, the Holy Spirit lives inside of them (1 Corinthians 3:16, John 16:13 and Romans 8:9). This indwelling is what sets the Christian apart from the world — Satan’s Kingdom. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is greater than Satan. Satan walks to and fro across the earth like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Non-Christians are easily devoured and destroyed by Satan, but not Christians. (2 Corinthians 4:41 Peter 5:8).  Supposedly, because the Holy Spirit is their teacher and guide (John 14:26), Spirit-filled, obedient Evangelicals are immune to sin. Ephesian 6 talks about Christians wearing spiritual armor as they battle Satan:

Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints… (Ephesians 6:11-18)

In some corners of the Evangelical world, Christians believe they can totally overcome sin and live sinless lives (sinless perfection), although many Evangelicals reject such thinking. But the Bible says that people who sin are of the devil (I John 3:8). This leads me to believe that God expects Christians to live above sin. Jesus told his followers, be ye perfect even as my father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Surely Jesus would not have said this if it was impossible for Christians to attain this lofty standard. Doesn’t the Bible say that Christians are new creations — old things pass away and ALL things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17)? Yet, as we look at how Evangelicals live their lives, what do we see?

There are numerous Evangelical websites dedicated to helping Christians who are “addicted” to porn. Other sites exist to help Evangelicals sexually toe the line. Yet, Evangelicals commit sexual sins at the same level as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. No matter how loud and long Evangelical preachers preach against sexual sin, church members continue to ignore their preaching. There is no statistical category that shows Evangelicals being more moral or ethical than their counterparts in the world. Try as they might, Evangelicals are no different from unsaved family, friends, and neighbors.

Evangelicals KNOW these things, yet they go to church Sunday after Sunday seeking victory over sin. Songs are sung (Victory in Jesus) that testify to the mighty power of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost. Sermons are preached extolling the virtues of living sin-free lives. Sometimes, church members find themselves “convicted” over sin. This leads them to fall to their knees, asking Jesus to give them the victory over _____________ (fill in the blank with the sin of the week). Despite all the singing, preaching, and praying, Evangelicals continue to sin. As powerful as Evangelicals tell us God is, he is unable to keep them from sinning. Perhaps humans are more powerful than God. Perhaps human free will cannot be overcome or thwarted by God. How else do we explain daily reports of God-fearing, Bible-preaching pastors raping children, molesting children, having affairs, stealing from their churches, along with a host of other “sins”? (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.)  If Catholic priests are Jesus’ representatives on earth, how do we square this belief with the sexual scandals that have rocked the church over the past decade? If God is so powerful that he holds the world in his hands, why does he allow priests to sodomize boys and Baptist youth leaders to take sexual advantage of church teenagers?

It is time for Evangelicals to join the human race. Stop all the moralizing and sermonizing. You have been found out, Evangelicals, and now it’s time to admit it. Come join us in the muddy, dirty waters of Sin Creek. The water is warm and inviting. Bathing suits are optional. 🙂

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Depression and Lightening the Load

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Updated, corrected, rewritten, expanded

I have battled depression most of my adult life. For many years, I denied that I was depressed, attributing my melancholy to God testing or trying me, Satan tempting me, or God punishing me for this or that sin. My religious beliefs told me that depression was a sign of a backslidden, sinful, or rebellious life. After all, the Bible says in Isaiah 26:3:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee [God]: because he trusteth in thee.

Psalm 43:5 states:

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

The Apostle Paul — a First Century Tony Robbins and Wayne Dyer — had this to say:

 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

And if these verses weren’t enough, there was always the “look at all Jesus suffered on the cross just so you could be saved and go to Heaven someday!” Compared to what Jesus went through, my depression was nothing. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.)

I had numerous colleagues in the ministry, but talking to them about my depression was not an option. Talking to them meant admitting I was weak or “sinful.” I never considered seeking out the help of a psychiatrist or a psychologist. How could I? I had preached numerous sermons on the aforementioned verses, and on my bookshelf sat books such as Psycho-Heresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity by Wayne and Deidre Bobgan and PsychoBabble: The Failure of Modern Psychology–and the Biblical Alternative by Richard Ganz. No, I concluded that I was the problem.

I now know that having a Type A personality and being a perfectionist and a workaholic didn’t help matters. No matter how hard I worked, I never measured up. The church growth craze of the 1970s and 1980s only exacerbated my depression. The ministry was reduced to a set of numbers: attendance, souls saved, and offerings. Push, push, push. Go, go, go. Do, do, do. Much like a crack addict seeking his latest fix, I focused on attendance increases and souls brought to Jesus to push my depression into the background. And as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, declining attendance and a lack of “God working in our midst” forced my depression to the forefront. I spent countless nights alone in the darkness of the church building praying to God, pleading that he would fill me with the Holy Spirit and use me to bring in a large harvest of souls. In the end, no matter how hard I worked or how much I sacrificed— money, family, and health — it was never enough. Success was a temporary elixir that soothed my depression, but its effect soon wore off and I retreated for the thousandth time into the deep, dark recesses of my mind.

depression

In 2005, two years after I left the ministry, I told Polly I needed professional psychological help. It took me another three years before I was willing to pick up the phone and make an appointment. At first, finding a “Christian” counselor was important to me. Once I found one, I then had second thoughts about people seeing me entering his office or noticing my car in the parking lot. I live in an area where almost everyone knows me — both as a pastor and now as an atheist. It wasn’t until I deconverted that I began calling counselors, hoping to find a non-religious, secular counselor. Fortunately, I found just the right person to help peel away the layers of my life, allowing me to finally embrace my depression and find ways of handling what Dexter the serial killer called his “dark passenger.” Late last year, I started seeing a new counselor, a woman. My first counselor and I had become friends (a common problem in long-term counseling relationships), so I knew it was time for me to see someone new.

Readers who have been with me since the days of blogs named Bruce Droppings, NW Ohio Skeptic, The Way Forward, and Fallen From Grace have helplessly watched me repeatedly psychologically crash and burn, only to rise again out of the ashes like a phoenix. Surprisingly, the current iteration of my blog has been active for seven years. I attribute the length of my success to the help I’ve received from my counselors. That said, I can’t guarantee that I might not, in the future, crash. I’ve told myself that if that happens again, I’m done blogging.

Some days, I feel like I have tied a knot on the rope of my life and I am desperately trying to hold on. There are days when I feel my grip slipping, leaving me to wonder if I can make it through another day. I do what I can. Whether that will be enough remains to be seen. Health problems, especially chronic pain and bowel problems, continue to drive my depression and virtually every other aspect of my life. I can’t escape these things. All I know to do is endure.

As depressives will tell you, small problems often pile up for them and turn into full-blown depressive episodes. I mean, suicide level, I can’t deal with this any longer episodes. My counselor is keenly aware of how quickly things can pile up for me. Starting with chronic illnesses, unrelenting pain, loss of mobility, and decreased cognitive function, my plate is quite full before I even get out of bed — that is, if I can get out of bed.

Recent events have filled my plate as I would on Thanksgiving Day. What’s one more helping of ham, turkey, and candied sweet potatoes, right? While I find it too painful to write about many of the things that have been added to my plate, I have talked to my counselor about how overwhelmed I am with life. She encourages me to focus on what is best for me, and not “fixing” the problems of others. I am not sure how well I can heed his advice, but I am trying.

I have written all this to say that I must continue to find ways to “lighten my load.” My health will never be as good as it is today, and someday I will likely be unable to leave my home. In the interest of improving the quality of what life I have left, I must identify the unnecessary things that are weighing me down and cast them aside. This is not easy for me to do. Giving in has never been my strong suit. I hate to let go of things (and people) who have been very much a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Over the past few months, I have made a concerted to downsize and simplify my life. I sold all my photography equipment. Boy, was this hard. Even worse, I am turning my office into a pantry and a storage room. Gone will be the metal desk I’ve owned for almost forty years — a M.A.S.H. era desk. Most of my 4,000+ plus sermons were crafted on my desk. Countless couples and church members sat across from me, telling me their woes. I used this desk every day for most of my adult life — until I couldn’t. Thanks to herniated discs in my back and neck, I can no longer use the desk. Saying goodbye to my dear friend brought tears, but I knew it was the right thing to do. My oldest son will soon move my desk to his home. I wonder if I should tell him what Mom and Dad did on that desk? 🙂

It goes without saying, that above everything I could ever do or own, I deeply love my wife, children, and grandchildren (and yes, my daughters-in-law and son-in-law too). As illness and pain whittle down my life, I am learning that what matters most is love and family. The praise of congregants and the approbation of fellow clergy are but distant memories. I would trade all of them for one day without pain. We silly humans so often focus on things that don’t matter. Age brings perspective, and what really matters — at least to me — fits on a small Post-it note. And even now, I continue to mark through things on my list. I suspect that when death claims me for its own, my list will contain a handful of names and the words “they loved me until the end.”

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Evangelical Mack Major Warns Christian Women About the “Sin” of Masturbation

sin of masturbation

According to Evangelical author Mack Major, Christian women are masturbating themselves straight to hell. Major writes (link no longer active):

Too many Christian women are losing their salvation because they masturbate. Dildos and all of those other sex toys have been used for thousands of years in demonic sex rituals. It’s one of the main ways ancient pagan societies worshiped their demonic gods. Masturbation is a direct path to Satan. There’s nothing normal about it. And shame on any Christian that says so.

According to an article written by Major titled Vibrators, Dildos, and Sex Demons: (link no longer active)

Many of you who are reading this have sex toys in your possession right now. And whether you want to accept it as fact or not: those sex toys are an open portal between the demonic realm and your own life. As long as you have those sex toys in your home, you have a doorway that can allow demons to not only access your life at will, but also to torment you, hinder and destroy certain parts of your life as it relates to sex and your relationships.

Huffington Post writer Ed Mazza notes that Major spends a good bit of space on his website talking about sex and masturbation. Major warns Christian readers that there are sex demons that can take control of them:

There are such things as sex demons. And the danger in masturbating is that one could inadvertently summon a sex demon to attach itself to you through the act of masturbating. And once that demon attaches, it is difficult to get it to leave. It will drive you to masturbate, even when you don’t want to. You’ll be hit with urges to play with yourself so powerful that only an orgasm will allow you some temporary relief.

The next time you are masturbating, just remember you could be summoning a sex demon! I found myself laughing as a read Major’s words. Really? Does anyone buy the bullshit that Major is shoveling? Sadly, yes. There are Evangelicals who think the sin of Onanism is a grievous act of willful disobedience to the teachings of the Bible (even though there are no actual verses that address masturbation or call it a sin). I have read more than a few articles by members of the Evangelical Purity Police® that suggest masturbation is a sin because it requires lust to get the sexual juices flowing. While this line of thinking might work with those still ensconced squarely upon Evangelical sexual prohibitions, for those of us who would love to be taken over by a sex demon, appeals to lust fall on deaf ears. Lust, along with most of the “sins” Evangelicals obsess over, is a religious construct. What Evangelicals call lust, unbelievers call desire — normal, healthy, erotic feelings of sexual need and fulfillment. Visual images can and do enhance sexual relationships, and when one is left to fornicate with his or her hand, well . . . visual stimulation is appreciated.

As is often the case, Major focuses on the sexual proclivities of women. What men like Major fear is that dildos, vibrators, and index fingers remove women’s need for men. While women may or may not find masturbation as fulfilling as intercourse or oral sex (I am not a woman so I cannot speak authoritatively on the subject), I am sure when needed it gets the job done. I know that is how it works for men, having been an expert masturbator since the age of thirteen. Despite warnings that choking my chicken (see 500 Masturbating Euphemisms) will lead to blindness, God’s judgment, and hell, I have found it to be a necessary part of what it means to be human. I often chuckle as I think of the days when it was my turn to clean the showers at the Midwestern Baptist College men’s dormitory. I can only imagine how much sinning went on behind closed shower doors – sinning that the men who are now pastors once performed with gusto. Imagine how shocked Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) teenagers and adults would be if their pastors put their stamps of approval on self-pleasuring.

I have long believed that men like Mack Major, who rage against sex — in all forms but monogamous married heterosexual intercourse — have dark, deep, locked closets filled with what Evangelicals call the sins of the flesh. Those who scream the loudest against this or that sin often practice those very sinful behaviors behind closed doors. The fact that Evangelical churches have a porn epidemic on their hands is a reminder that Evangelicals are every bit as human as the unwashed, uncircumcised, masturbating, dick-sucking, fucking Philistines of the world. The only difference is that we Philistines sin with gusto, waking up in the morning without a guilt hangover. All praise be to dildos, vibrators, and sex demons.

This post was originally written in 2016. Since then, Major has written a book titled Sex Magic: Flirting With the Demonic. Here’s how Major describes his book on Amazon:

Believers are opening portals through playing around with dangerous sexual practices and occult ideas that contradict the direct authority of scripture.

Many are being initiated directly into the occult through something called sex magic; and most don’t even know it.

Are you helping to create the Antichrist, and don’t know it? More specifically: are your sexual practices providing the vessel that Satan needs to usher in the era of The Beast 666?

If you’ve been engaging in masturbation, fornication, watching porn, adultery, homosexual relations, BDSM, cross-dressing, LGBTQ relations of any kind, spouse swapping, orgies, toy parties, had an abortion: you’ve been engaged in some form of sex magic; and whether you know it or not you’ve been having open fellowship with actual demonic entities.

Why do you think sex occupies your mind 24/7, or why you can’t stop watching porn or masturbating? Why is your mind constantly bombarded with unclean thoughts; and in spite of how much sex you have it’s never enough? Perhaps you can’t even enjoy sex anymore without the help of some form of visual aid or a sex toy. Those are not necessarily your thoughts.

Other symptoms of being involved in sex magic are even more pronounced.

Your life is overrun with constant misfortune. Relationships that start off well crumble. Golden opportunities seem to turn into dirt. Opportunities to advance in life slip right through your hands and you end up going nowhere, remaining stuck in constant frustration while living in increased desperation. Nothing that should go right is ever sustained, and instead things end up going wrong.

If this is your situation, you’re not crazy and you’re not cursed. You’ve just opened a sex portal; and now your life is being blockaded by evil spirits that are intent on destroying you in every way. In order to break free and get your life back, you must know how those portals got opened. And most of all you need to learn the methods and techniques for closing those doors forever.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

No Matter What God Tells You to Do, Do It!

never question god

And Samuel said (to Saul), Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king. (I Samuel 15:22,23)

 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)

Like all despots, dictators, and potentates, the Christian God demands his followers implicitly and explicitly obey him. When he says, JUMP, the only proper response is, HOW HIGH? The Christian God has no tolerance for those who dare to disobey him. Doubts, questions, or concerns are not permitted. John Sammis’ nineteenth-century hymn Trust and Obey says: Trust and obey, for there’s no other way To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Those of us raised in Evangelical churches know all about obedience. Obey God. Obey your parents. Obey pastors. Obey adults. Later in life, women are told that not only must they obey God and their pastors, they must also obey their husbands. As with all cults. obedience is the key to a compliant, easily manipulated group. Jim Jones, once an ardent Evangelical, commanded his followers to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, resulting in the death of over 900 people — including 304 children. Evangelical pastors and Catholic priests sodomize, rape, and molest children who have been taught from a young age to implicitly obey them. Trust me, I am a pastor, are words that have caused incalculable harm to young and old alike. Taught to be blindly obedient, these Christian sheep obey the commands of their shepherds. Once robbed of the capacity to think and reason, church members are easy prey for predator pastors and priests.

Of greater concern is the belief that God directly speaks to Evangelicals. Pastors routinely tell congregants that God spoke to them and told them to do ______________.  Church members, supposedly indwelt by the Holy Spirit, believe God directly speaks to them with an inaudible, small voice (I Kings 19:11-13).  According to the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is given to Christians to be their teacher, voice, and guide:

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26)

But when they deliver you (the disciples) up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. (Matthew 10:19,20)

Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (I Corinthians 2:13)

But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. (I John 2:27)

According as his (God) divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, (2 Peter 1:3a)

Consider, for a moment, that millions and millions of Americans believe that God lives inside of them and directly talks to them. This should scare us, especially considering that many elected government officials think God talks to them. Do we really want a president who hears voices in his head, thinking it is the Christian God telling him what to do? What if God tells him to launch a nuclear strike on China or Russia? Should Christians such as this be anywhere near the nuclear football?

Several years ago, Randall Murphree, editor for the American Family Association Journal, perfectly illustrated the mind-numbing, reason-killing obedience the Christian God expects from his followers. Murphree recently took a trip to Kentucky to see Ken Ham’s monument to ignorance, Ark Encounter. Reflecting on his visit to the Ark Park, Murphree wrote:

 Answers in Genesis (noted for its Creation Museum in northern Kentucky) is building a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark in Williamstown, Kentucky, about 30 miles south of Cincinnati. I was blessed to tag along a few days ago when AiG hosted a media tour of the Ark under construction. Wow!

We think we can imagine what it would look like, but to walk up to it in real life took my breath away – 510 feet long (more than a football field and a half), 51 feet high (4-5 stories).

AiG cofounder Ken Ham led our tour, taking us through the four levels and to the top deck, explaining how Noah could realistically have cared for two of each kind of animal on the Ark, pointing out interior framework and structure that will house 132 exhibits lining the long walkways, explaining that animals on the Ark itself will be realistic sculptures but a petting zoo will adjoin the Ark property. And there’s so much more to anticipate.

….

As exciting and stimulating as the Ark was, I began to decompress on the long drive home. An unlikely metaphor came to mind – extreme sports, those over-the-top, beyond-reason, insane physical challenges people are tackling these days.

Extreme! Now, Noah was really into the extreme – extreme obedience! I thought. What he did was impossible for man. But God gave him specific directions, and Noah obeyed, giving himself fully to the calling…

….

Unexpectedly I was suddenly doing some real soul searching, taking a little inventory, and considering God’s direction in my life. Sometimes I think He calls me to a task too great. How often have I not been obedient? My little Ark encounter humbles me and challenges to listen more carefully for God’s voice and be ready to demonstrate – as Noah did – extreme obedience.

Murphree says that God demands EXTREME OBEDIENCE! If God tells you to go into the desert and build a huge boat, do it!  If God tells you to murder your only son, do it! If God tells you to move to Africa and be a missionary, do it! If God tells you to give all your money to the church or a TV preacher, do it! If God tells you to pitch a tent in your backyard and fast and pray for 40 days, do it! Whatever it is that God tells you to do, DO IT!  Any doubt or hesitation is a sin, an affront to the God who holds the keys to life and death in his hands.

obey god

Evangelicals are frequently reminded that God only wants what is good/best for them. So whatever God commands, he means it for their good. God is good all the time, all the time God is good say Evangelicals. Since God is the pillar of moral purity and virtue, Evangelicals can trust him when he tells them to do _____________.  According to the Biblical passage mentioned above, God isn’t interested in sacrifice (religious works). All God wants is for those who worship him to obey his commands. And not just the commands found in the Bible. God can, and does, command Evangelicals to do things that seem crazy to unbelievers. Better to be viewed as crazy than disobey God.

Remove religion from this story and hearing voices in one’s head would be viewed as a sign of mental illness. But because it involves religion, we are supposed to uncritically accept that Evangelicals do what they do because God told them to. Having spent most of my adult life in Evangelicalism, I intimately understand the notion that God “talks” to Christians. God talked to me many times, telling me whom to marry, where to live, what churches to pastor, and whether I should buy something or give money to a religious cause. For five decades, I believed God lived inside of me. I believed God and I were the best of buds. I would pray (talk) to God and he would often respond. When I needed to know what to preach or what direction to lead the church, I always asked God to tell me what I should do. And guess what? God, ever the chatterbox, never failed to tell me exactly what he wanted me to do.

I now know, of course, that the voice in my head was my own. The God who was talking to me had red hair and his name was Bruce Gerencser. (Please see A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God.) No big deal right, right? Who cares if Evangelicals think God talks to them? No harm, no foul, right? I used to think so, but as I continue to write about my past life as a soldier for the Christian God, I now think otherwise. I now see how believing God talked (leading, directing, showing, moving) to me hurt not only me, but my family. Instead of being proactive and acting as a reasonable, rational adult would, I allowed the voice in my head to keep me from acting responsibly. From selling family heirlooms and collectibles so I could use the money to “help” someone, to living in abject poverty so I could “minister” to God’s people, I know firsthand how “listening” to the voice of God can cause untold heartache and loss.

Every month or so, we hear of stories about someone who killed or severely hurt themselves or others, all because God “told” them to do it. Several years ago, a Muslim woman cut the head off a child because Allah told her to do so. I am sure Evangelicals saw this as an example of what happens when someone listens to the wrong God. However, there are plenty of stories about Evangelicals hearing the voice of God and doing things such as drowning their children, gouging out their eyes, cutting off their penis, or making the top 12 on American Idol or The Voice. I put “God told me to do it” in the search box on Huffington Post and it returned stories such as Teacher Says ‘Higher Power’ Told Him To Attack Kid With Skateboard; Mom Allegedly Tries To Drown Son In Puddle Because Jesus Told Her To; Man Allegedly Stabs Grandma, Blames Archangel Michael; Nurse Thinks Grandmother Was Possessed, Beats Her To Death; Jesus And Mary Told Me To Kill Him Because He Is Satan’s Spawn!

hearing gods voice

Jack Schaap, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) megachurch pastor who is now serving a twelve-year federal prison sentence for having an illicit sexual relationship with a minor girl in his church, told his young lover, “This is exactly what Christ desires. He wants to marry us + become eternal lovers!” Countless religious leaders have used similar lines to seduce women. How do we know it wasn’t God telling them to do what they did?  After all, the God of EXTREME OBEDIENCE might ask Evangelicals to do things the unsaved world might not understand. God expected the first woman, Eve, to sleep with her sons and expected Noah’s grandchildren to have sex with their sisters (or mothers). So why is it shocking to hear that sexual predators such as Jack Schaap and other preachers featured in the Black Collar Crime Series prey on young women because God told them to do so?

The belief that God talks to you is a great way to get whatever you want or to justify your behavior. All Evangelicals need to do is say God told me and discussions are over. God is the E.F. Hutton of the universe: When God speaks, everybody listens. His voice must always be obeyed, regardless of how silly, crazy, or irrational his commands sound. While I am sure that Evangelicals will object to my extreme presentation of their beliefs, am I really being extreme, considering that the Bible is littered with stories of people doing irrational/immoral things? If an Evangelical somewhere says that God told him to move to Montana and build a compound in preparation for the end of the world, should any of us think that the man is a nut-job? Isn’t that EXACTLY what Noah did? Isn’t that what Moses did? How about the Mormons, Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate, or the people who took over the federal building in Oregon? What about the Evangelicals who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and tried to overthrow the government? All of these people have one thing in common: they believed God told them to do what they did. Either God is schizophrenic or his followers are.

Did you, at one time, believe God talked to you?  Have you ever made an important decision based on God telling you to do something? Please share your story in the comment section. I promise I won’t call the men in white coats to come and get you. 🙂

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Question

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Are you Jewish?”

I lied, sort of, depending on which rabbi you ask.

Almost all agree that Judaism is passed on through the female biological line. That sounds straightforward enough, but if your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother was Jewish but nobody in any part of your family has practiced the religion or participated in any of its cultures….one rabbi might say, “You’re as Jewish as Theodor Herzl,” while another might tell you you’re as goyish as Pat or Debbie Boone.

I know: I have had exactly such an experience. As I was preparing to marry a Jewish woman of Latin American heritage, I consulted with rabbis and took classes. Since I no longer considered myself a part of the Roman Catholic church in which I’d grown up or with the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches in which I later affiliated myself, but I did not yet identify as atheist or non-religious, I was willing to participate in my wife-to-be’s religion and help raise the children we planned to have in it.

The Latin American Jewish community in which she was raised, mostly in the Miami area, was more conservative, politically and socially, than the non-Hasidic Ashkenazic Jews in whose proximity I was raised and have lived much of my life. When she went to college, she “fell away” from the religion but had returned to it, if in a more mystical and ritualistic iteration, by the time she met me. So, while she didn’t want to submit to the more severe sartorial and other regulations of some sects, she felt that prayer—in Hebrew—and other aspects of the religion were important to her life.

I would realize, much later, long after our marriage ended, that for her, her faith and “spirituality” was a way of keeping her inner torment– what some would call “demons” — at bay. She seemed to think that her faith and intense prayer were a way to deal with her extreme mood swings, some of which resulted in physical attacks on me she could not remember, or so she claimed, the following day. (Do you need more proof that prayer cannot substitute for medication and therapy?) Also, I came to understand –because I would come to the same knowledge about myself—that her religiosity was a defense (or, at least, she tried to use it as such) against desires that were not approved by her family and community.

In short, both of us were trying to deal with—or not deal with—the fact that we weren’t entirely heterosexual. Oh, and in my case, that I wasn’t the man I presented myself to be, or any kind of man at all. It would have been difficult enough for her family to approve of someone who wasn’t a mensch—which, to them, meant what some would condescendingly call a “nice Jewish boy.”

So, while I told her family and the rabbis that I am Jewish, I knew well that in the eyes of some, I wasn’t truly one of them, and never could be. And, interestingly, one of the rabbis we consulted tried to discourage me from living as a Jew. For one thing, he saw that I wanted to do so at least in part for the sake of marriage and the approval of her family. He pointed out the ostracism, persecution and worse Jewish people have faced throughout history and even warned me that no matter how fastidiously I followed the ways of his religion or how well I learned Hebrew, some “in the community” wouldn’t quite accept me.

I would later learn that he wasn’t the only rabbi who tried to dissuade people from converting to, or resuming, Judaism. So, when I heard the query, “Are you Jewish?” many years later from a young bearded man in front at a sidewalk table near Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, I was taken aback. Unlike Christianity, Judaism doesn’t have a tradition of evangelism. At least, they haven’t tried to bring non-Jews into the fold. But that young man was part of the only Jewish community that, to my knowledge, tries to spread its words and ways –and only to other, mainly secular, Jews: the Lubavitchers, who comprise much of the Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, Montreal, and a few other cities.

I can’t help but wonder whether that young man was more successful in his “evangelism” efforts than I was in mine as an Evangelical Christian. Some would argue that I didn’t really “have the Holy Spirit within” me because I—at least to the best of my knowledge—never “brought” anybody “to Jesus.” Likewise, I can imagine that young man chastised for his lack of faith or commitment or something for not bringing “lost” Jewish people “home.”

Of course, today, as an atheist, I don’t care whether someone thinks I am, or ever was, Jewish, Christian or of any other religion. I think my ex and her family realized that I was only “going through the motions” and would be no more Jewish than I was a man. I sometimes wonder, though, what sort of discussion or argument I could have had with that young man had I told him that I am Jewish, or had I immersed myself in the religion enough to help raise the children my ex and I planned but never had.

(In case you’re wondering: My ex remarried. Her husband was raised in a conservative Jewish community and, within five years, they would have four children whom they would raise in the religion and send to yeshivas. I also heard, from mutual friends, that they were considering a move to Israel. Oh, and I’ve gone through a long process of affirming my identity as a woman.)

Now, if anyone were to ask me whether I’m a Christian, Catholic, or Jewish, the answer to the first two would be an emphatic “no.” As for the question of my Jewishness, that would depend on how much time or energy I have for a discussion or argument. After all, someone I knew in my youth told me and the rabbi of the man she married that she was a “Jewish atheist.” The rabbi said that was entirely plausible and made no effort to convince her otherwise. I could tell that rabbi the same thing: I, like her, have Jewish heritage on my mother’s side of the family (though my relatives converted to Catholicism) but don’t believe in any “supreme” or “higher” “being.”

In the years since then, I’ve had co-workers, and have friends and friendly acquaintances, who are Muslims. Interestingly, though Islam is a proselytizing religion, none has tried to “witness” (if you’ll pardon a Christian term) to me, and most Islamic states don’t encourage proselytizing. Oh, and contrary to what some religious conservatives and grandstanding politicians would have their constituents believe, neither I nor any other atheist I know makes any effort to recruit (or, if you like, proselytize) others to our way of thinking. I guess in that sense, at least, I am as Jewish as I am an atheist!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Why Can’t I be Like Everyone Else?

normal

I grew up in a Fundamentalist Baptist home. I spent the first fifty years of my life regularly attending Christian churches. Deeply immersed in the Christian life and way of thinking, I never doubted that I would become anything other than a Baptist preacher. I was five years old when I first told my mother that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. Not a fireman, not a police officer, not a baseball player — a preacher. Unlike most people, I never went through the angst of trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. From the time of my conversion at age fifteen to the moment I walked away from the ministry, I never doubted that God had called me to be a preacher of the gospel. I was what people call a true believer®. My life oozed Jesus, the Bible, and my visible, dedicated commitment to the Baptist church. While many people today question whether I was a “real” Christian, no one during my time in the ministry ever questioned that I was anything but a sincere follower of Jesus Christ. Anyone who suggests otherwise is deliberately ignoring the facts.

Yet, here I am at age sixty-four, no longer in the ministry, no longer Christian, and now an outspoken atheist and critic of Evangelical Christianity. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. During its sixty-plus-year history, thousands of students attended classes at Midwestern. Hundreds of men went on to pastor churches or work in some other capacity at churches or Christian educational institutions. Some men went on to be missionaries or evangelists. Women married preachers, went to the mission field, or became Christian school teachers. While Midwestern never had a large student body, its students and graduates can be found serving Jesus all across the globe. Yet, out of all these students, as far as I know, my wife and I are the only two who have publicly renounced Christianity. While I am certain other former Midwestern students are atheists or agnostics, I am unaware of their existence. Perhaps they do not want the notoriety and hassle that come from publicly renouncing Midwestern’s God. I know well the price one must pay when rejecting the tribal God. Polly and I lost dozens of friends and colleagues as a result of our public declaration of unbelief. We are estranged from family, have few friends, and are forced to live with the whispers and gossip of local Christian residents who treat us as some sort of exotic zoo animals. We willingly endure these things because we value honesty and intellectual integrity above cultural or social acceptance.

There are times when I find myself wondering why I cannot be like everyone else. I loved preaching and teaching. I loved helping others. I loved rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty in the work of the ministry. Yet, despite loving these things, they were not enough to keep me in the fold. Why is it my former colleagues and the students I attended college with are able to continue believing and I am not? While it would be tempting to say that I am intellectually superior to them, I know this is not the case. It would be easy to dismiss everyone with a wave of the hand and a snide — bunch of illiterate hillbillies — comment, but I know that in doing so I would be painting with too broad a brush (a brush I wish atheists would quit using).

Perhaps there was something wrong with my faith. I have often asked myself this question. Was there something about my Christian experience that was in some way defective? I don’t think so. While I certainly can see how someone might — by taking a small sample size of my life — conclude that the blame for my faithlessness rests solely on my shoulders, but my life, when taken as a whole, reflects that I was one who truly believed in God, Jesus, and the teachings of the Bible. Yet, I am an atheist. While I doubt I will ever fully understand why I cannot be like others, I have come to a few conclusions about the trajectory of my life and how I arrived at where I am today.

I have always valued intellectual pursuit. While I spent many years bouncing from wall to wall within the Evangelical box, even within these constraints I diligently sought to know the truth. This is why I left the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement in the late 1980s. It is also why I became a Calvinist and then later abandoned Calvinism as I embraced more of a works-oriented social gospel. While many of my former colleagues in the ministry have never deviated from the theology they were taught at Midwestern Baptist College and other Evangelical institutions, I was unwilling to accept certain beliefs as “truth” just because it was the official doctrine of Midwestern or whatever group I was a part of. Years ago, I attended one of the monthly meetings of the Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship (BIBF). It was a well-attended meeting, and every preacher had on the uniform — suit and tie. Not I. I wore an ivory-colored sweater. The reason I remember this is because the host of the meeting pointed out the fact that I was wearing a sweater. He found my attire amusing, yet he thought that it was wonderful that I was unwilling to follow the herd’s dress code. Of course, I spent the remainder of the day having corncob in their ass preachers look at me as some sort of liberal compromiser. Closer friends in attendance ribbed me about dressing so casually. I think this story accurately reflects how I viewed life then and still view it today. Unwilling to acquiesce to tribal demands, I forged my own path. Friends and colleagues viewed me as double-minded, whereas all I was trying to do is be honest and follow the path wherever it led. I am, today, still on this path. Who knows where I might yet end up? 🙂

I have never been a go-along-with-the-crowd type of person. Even though I was a committed Fundamentalist, I didn’t do something just because big-name preacher so and so did. As any observer of Evangelical Christianity can tell you, there has been a tremendous amount of upheaval over the past fifty years. Up until the 1970s, the 1950s style of doing church was considered the Evangelical way of doing things. Today? It is hard to find a church that still does things — as IFB preachers call it — the “old-fashioned” way — old-fashioned meaning “the way things were done in the days of Ozzie and Harriet.” While my style of ministry and preaching changed somewhat over the years, I made these changes, most often, for pragmatic reasons. I firmly believed that churches and preachers must adapt their methodologies to the times. While bus ministries and door-to-door evangelism once yielded great numerical growth, these methods no longer work — regardless of what head-in-the-sand IFB preachers might tell you. Churches unwilling to adapt only hurt themselves, leading to attendance decline and closures.

Even as an atheist, I am resistant to following the herd. The atheist “movement” and Evangelicalism have more than a few things in common. In Evangelicalism, certain preachers are revered and considered mountaintop dispensers of wisdom and knowledge. So it is with atheists. All one has to do is look at the speaker lineup for atheist and humanist conferences. Instead of embracing the diversity of the atheist community, these conferences often become little more than the atheist version of star-powered award shows. And I get it. People are not going to fly or drive hundreds of miles to hear atheist nobodies. As with Evangelicals, many atheists seem to value the pronouncements of big-name speakers and writers over those of everyday, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety atheists. As with Evangelicals, the only way to get in the game is to play by the rules. If you are unwilling to play by the rules, you can expect to not be invited to play the game. I have accepted that this is the way things are. This is the price I pay for maintaining freedom and autonomy. A price, by the way, I am more than happy to pay.

As many of you know, I am working ever-so-slowly on a book. I think the book will be something that doubting Evangelicals and Evangelicals-turned-atheists will find helpful. As with all writers, I hope that my book will become a New York Times bestseller. One way to sell a lot of books is to get well-known atheists to write endorsements. I decided not to do this. While I know a handful of well-known atheists, most of my involvement with atheists comes through this blog and social media. I remain, to this day, a blue-collar laborer, unknown, but happy to have an opportunity to lend my small voice to the collective objection to evangelical Christianity. Knowing that I will never be asked to join the A-Team, I content myself with helping people break free of Evangelicalism’s pernicious grasp. While it would be fun and somewhat rewarding to speak to thousands of like-minded atheists, such an experience pales in comparison to helping people find their way out of the Fundamentalist maze.

I have said all of the above to provide some context for my answer to the question, why can’t I be like everyone else? I can’t be like everyone else because I am me. That is the simplest explanation. I am who I am and my life is what it is. I value honesty over conformity and independence over sameness. These values have only gotten stronger now that I am an atheist. No longer burdened by Evangelicalism’s written and unwritten code of acceptable belief and practice, I am free to be whoever, and whatever I want to be. I recognize that living my life this way might result in me not being accepted by the larger atheist community. I know there are pro-life atheists and Republican atheists who understand what I am talking about. Conformity — even among atheists — is often demanded if one wants to join a particular club. This is why atheism is so fractured. Proponents of various atheistic groups — Atheism+, mythicism, social justice, feminism, and the destruction of all religion — demand fidelity to that group’s doctrines. They are, in many ways, not much different from Fundamentalists, with their rigid codes of belief and conduct. Many atheists have a need to be part of something larger, so they are willing to surrender their intellectual autonomy to be a part of a group. I am unwilling to do so, and this is why, in the end, I cannot be like everyone else.

I am more than willing to work with atheist groups and individual atheists when their causes align with mine. However, as I learned from my battles with the proponents of Atheism+, it is all or nothing for many atheists. Either you accept the 10 Commandments of that group’s dogma or they will have nothing to do with you. This is why more than a few atheists have questioned my atheism. If I dare write something that runs afoul of the received atheist faith, as with Evangelicals, my commitment to atheism and humanism is questioned. If I suggest something that gives the hint of accommodationism, I am accused of promoting religion. I have received countless emails from atheists over the years who object to something I have written. If I say I am agnostic on the God question, the defenders of true atheism® are sure to let me know that they think I am a hypocrite and have some sort of religious hangover. While these letters used to bother me, I now understand that Fundamentalist thinking can be found in every group. There is nothing I can do about this. I am committed to being open and honest about my life and I am committed to passionately writing about my beliefs and worldview. If these things do not meet the criteria for acceptance into the atheist college of cardinals, so be it. I value personal freedom and intellectual integrity far more than I do membership in any group. If this limits me in some way, I am willing to accept that this is the price I must pay for being true to self. These traits will be valued by many, and that is enough satisfaction for me to continue preaching the gospel of godlessness.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Memo to Christians: Atheists Really Don’t Care if You Put “God Bless America” Signs on Private Property

wall of separation of church and state

Several years ago, CHARISMA reported:

An atheist organization targeted a small-town post office to demand they remove their “God Bless America” banner, but that’s not the whole story.

“Employees are free to ask God to bless America all they want on their own time. The problem comes when they ask their government employer to endorse their personal religious beliefs by plastering them on the side of the federal building,” Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Madeline Ziegler said of their campaign.

Though the Pittsburg, Kansas, post office complied with the atheist organization’s demands, residents took Ziegler’s words to heart.

According to The Morning Sun, a local fireworks shop printed 1,500 yard signs and banners, which residents plastered across the city.

“Obviously, we’re among the majority that didn’t agree with the decision to take the sign down (at the post office),” Jason Marietta, retail sales director, told The Morning Sun.

Instead of one big sign at the post office, Pittsburg  now has 1,500 across the town, marking the area for God.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation rightly objected to a God Bless America sign adorning the Pittsburg, Kansas post office. Post offices are government buildings staffed by government employees, and as such, they are not permitted to promote religion. It is time for Christians to understand that the wall between church and state defined in the Establishment Clause of the Constitution forbids government from endorsing Christianity. This is the law. Don’t like the law? Work to change it. The fact that violations of church and state have gone unnoticed for years doesn’t mean they are in some inexplicable way legal. Just because drivers routinely break the speed limit and don’t get caught doesn’t mean that speed laws are invalid.

Supposedly, U.S. congressmen know the Constitution, so it is baffling to hear U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) say:

It is outrageous that some would aim to divide a community over a banner that has been proudly displayed since Sept. 11, 2001. I commend the Pittsburg community for rejecting this decision and I stand with them. The Constitution guarantees a right to freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. This banner is not only an expression of faith, but of love for country.

Expressions of patriotism, faith, and community should be welcome in our society and I have contacted USPS officials to express my concerns about their decision and to request their reconsideration. If the local post office branch is unwilling to display the banner, then I would be proud to hang it at my own office in Pittsburg.

and U.S. Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-2nd District Kansas) say:

This banner has been proudly displayed in the Pittsburg community for nearly 15 years. Should all the owners (who bought the banner) agree my office would be a fitting place to move it to, I would be honored to hang it outside of my office on Broadway Street. Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, this banner has been a patriotic symbol in the Pittsburg community and I would be proud to continue this great tradition.

Since these Kansas government officials and many of the residents of Pittsburg, Kansas seem to lack basic reading skills and have never taken a civics or American government class (or maybe they slept through the class), let me illustrate the issue at hand with pictures:

pittsburg kansas post office
This is the Pittsburg, Kansas Post Office, owned and operated by the U.S. Government. It is illegal to hang sectarian or religious banners on this building.
handing out god bless america signs pittsburg kansas
This is a private citizen handing out God Bless America signs to be displayed on private property. This is legal.
jakes fireworks god bless america sign
This is a God Bless America sign hanging inside Jake’s Fireworks, a private Pittsburg, Kansas business. This is legal.
god bless america sign on pittsburg kansas post office
The former is legal, the latter is illegal, thus the sign on the Post Office has to come down.

Atheists do not care in the least what signs people put on private property. Woo! Hoo! Pittsburg Christians put up 1,500 God bless America signs on private property. I don’t know of one atheist who objects to this. In fact, I suspect groups like the Freedom From Religion FoundationAmerican AtheistsAmericans United for Separation of Church and State, American Humanist Association, and the ACLU would oppose any attempts to restrict the free exercise of religion on private property. What these groups and the atheists and Christians who support them object to is the breaching of the wall of separation of church and state. The Pittsburg post office violated the law and this is the ONLY reason the sign had to come to down.

I wonder what offended Pittsburg Christians would do if these signs were hanging over the local post office:

allah bless america
baphomet bless america

I have no doubt Christians in Pittsburg would demand the immediate removal of these signs. Representative Jenkins and Senator Moran would issue press releases calling for the swift removal of these anti-American, anti-Christian signs. There is one word for such behavior, HYPOCRISY. If it is okay for a Christian sign to hang over the post office, then it should be okay for the signs of other religions to hang there too. If there is no separation of church and state, then shouldn’t any and every religion have the right to adorn government buildings with their signs?

The real issue is that Christians wrongly think that their religion deserves preference and special treatment. Decades of illegal government endorsements of Christianity are now being called into question. Christians do not like being treated in the same manner as adherents of other religions. Christians, due to a poor understanding of American history and the U.S. Constitution, think that they should be permitted to adorn public buildings and lands with sectarian signs and crèches (along with opening sessions of government with Christian prayers). It is time for Christians to realize that their religion is no longer the tail that wags the dog. The United States is a secular state, and the sooner Christians realize this the better. The separation of church and state protects not only atheists and non-Christians from government encroachment, but it also protects Christians. It is this wall of separation that protects all Americans from the theocratic tendencies of many of the world’s religions. History is clear: once the wall between church and state is breached, freedoms are lost and people die. We dare not trust any religious sect, including the fine Christians of Pittsburg, Kansas, with the keys to our republic. Too much is at stake to let even an innocuous act such as hanging a God Bless America banner on a government building to go unchallenged. Our future freedom depends on us beating back every sectarian attempt to scale the wall of separation between church and state.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear Evangelical Bible Smugglers and Proselytizers: Don’t Do the Crime, if You Can’t do the Time

tony baretta
Tony Baretta says, Don’t Do the Crime if You Can’t Do the Time

Many Evangelicals have a sense of entitlement. Believing that their God is the one true God, and that their religion is the one true religion, Evangelicals think they have a right to spread their beliefs to the ends of the earth. Many Evangelicals are also flag-waving, right-wing nationalists who believe the United States is a city set on a hill, shining forth the light of Christianity and democracy. Package these things together and what you have are insufferable people who arrogantly think that their beliefs and ideologies are truth and all other beliefs and ideologies are false.

With the above facts in mind, it should come as no surprise that Evangelicals are proselytizers, not only for their brand of Christianity, but also for right-wing American nationalism. As people of THE Book, Evangelicals believe they have been commanded by God to take their peculiar version of the Christian gospel to every tribe, nation, and tongue. In some corners of Evangelicalism, people believe that the gospel must be preached to the whole world before Jesus can return to earth. This is why Evangelicals are known for their missionary efforts. Thousands of missionaries have spread across the globe hoping to win the lost to Jesus. While most of the missionaries serve in countries that already have established Christian sects such as Roman Catholicism, Evangelicals view non-Evangelical Christians as targets for evangelization. Their goal is not to make everyone Christian as much as it is to convert people to their brand of Christianity.

Proselytizing Evangelicals think that every nation should have the same laws and regulations as the United States. These zealots for Jesus travel to other countries, often smuggling in Bibles and tracts, with the express purpose of preaching the gospel to those they deem lost and in need of salvation. If a country’s laws prohibit such things, too bad, the Evangelical says. I’m on a mission for Jesus and his laws are above any earthly laws. Cultural sensitivity be damned, all that matters is spreading the good news of the Evangelical gospel to the ends of the earth.

Every so often, proselytizing Evangelicals are arrested for breaking the laws of the countries they have invaded for Jesus. Most often, these countries are non-Christian, Hindu, or Muslim, nations that have strict laws prohibiting proselytizing. These countries often have laws that prohibit conversion to another religion. In some instances, Evangelicals find themselves behind bars in countries such as North Korea that prohibit religious worship.

When news of their arrests reaches the United States, Evangelicals and their supporters in government quickly claim that the people arrested are being persecuted for their faith. Demands are made for their immediate release. Few Evangelicals seem to understand the idea behind the cliché When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Sovereign states have a right to have their own laws, and it is the height of American arrogance to demand that other countries play by our rules. Yes, North Korea is a totalitarian communist state, but they are an autonomous state, and those traveling within its borders are expected to obey the law. The same can be said for China, India, and Cuba.

Evangelicals arrested for proselytizing are not being persecuted for their faith. To quote the famous fictional detective Tony Baretta, Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time. While their arrests are regrettable, their real crime is stupidity. Blinded by certainty and arrogance, Evangelicals think they can break laws and not be held accountable. The issue is not the justness of such laws. Every nation-state, including the United States, has unjust laws. What I find interesting is that many Evangelicals, thinking the United States is a Christian nation, reject the notion of separation of church and state. Yet, they say they are being persecuted for their faith when arrested in countries that don’t have separation of church and state. Since many Evangelicals want a theocracy, shouldn’t other countries have the right to have a different type of God rule? And if atheism is a religion, as many Evangelicals say it is (and it is not), shouldn’t atheistic states have a right to bar all non-theistic religions? Shouldn’t these countries be permitted to govern themselves according to their own religious beliefs? Shouldn’t they have the right to ban Christianity and Christian law, just as many American Evangelicals want to ban Islam and sharia law?

I have no sympathies for American Evangelicals who are arrested for breaking the laws of sovereign states. If they are found guilty and either incarcerated or executed, their punishment is not persecution. As long as Evangelicals believe that God’s law supersedes human law, then they are going to find themselves in legal trouble, not only in foreign countries, but here in the United States. Those who seized a government building in Oregon were, to the man, Christian. They and their supporters believe they are being persecuted, when in fact they are being prosecuted. Break the law and you will likely be arrested, prosecuted, and punished. This is the way it works in any nation that has laws (regardless of the rightness or morality of these laws).

If proselytizing Evangelicals arrested for their “faith” want to be true to their Christian beliefs, they should quietly and resolutely bear whatever punishment comes their way. Isn’t this what the Apostle Paul did? And as with Paul, if God wants to free “persecuted” Evangelicals, he has all the power necessary to do so. But what do incarcerated American Evangelicals do? They turn to the U.S. government for help, demanding the State Department get them out of prison. Why not just pray and wait on God?

There is real persecution going on in the world. Christians are being executed by ISIS and Boko Haram just because they have the wrong faith. I support our government’s efforts to stop such barbaric and senseless killing. But, this is not the same as what imprisoned Evangelicals proselytizers are facing. The former, in most instances, are not trying to force their faith on others. The latter evangelize non-Evangelicals with full knowledge that they are breaking the law. Their punishment is the direct consequence of their actions.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear Evangelical, Please Be Honest With Unbelievers

full disclosure
Graphic by Chris Slane

Evangelicals like to tell anyone who will listen that they are truth-seekers; that they are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. But is this really true?

I contend that many Christian zealots have a hard time admitting what they really believe. Rarely, when speaking with non-Christians, do they give a full disclosure of their beliefs. Instead, they speak of the transformative powers of their religion and how Jesus changed their lives. They speak of the fruit and benefit of being a Christian. All this is well and good, but shouldn’t Christians tell the whole story when sharing with someone the wonders of Christianity? Surely they want a person to enter into the Christian religion with their eyes wide open, right?

The truth is just the opposite. Most evangelism methods teach people to focus on the gospel, to focus on Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. When a non-Christian asks questions that are not on-point, they are told to direct the person back to the main message of the forgiveness of sins and salvation in Jesus Christ. Questions and doubts are better left to another day after the person has become a Christian.

This seems to me like a car salesman selling someone a car without letting them look under the hood. The salesman extols the beauty and craftsmanship of the exterior without ever disclosing that the motor is missing. This is the way many people feel a year or so after they have been saved/converted/born again.

These new converts entered Christianity with a superficial knowledge of what it is that Christians really believe. They were told the bare minimum necessary to get them into the baptismal and church pew. If we can just get the non-Christians saved and in the church, we can then teach (indoctrinate) them the rest of the story, Christians think to themselves. No need to muddy the waters with talk about abortion, homosexuality, tithing, or any of the sundry other beliefs that Christians hold dear. All the sinner needs to know is that Heaven is real, Hell is hot, death is certain, and the forgiveness of sin is but a prayer away.

This way of evangelizing is rooted in the notion that the number of souls saved and the number of people attending church are the standard for determining success. By this standard, Jesus was an overwhelming failure. When the disciples in Jerusalem gathered in the upper room they numbered 120. Not much of a crowd after 3 years of preaching, healing the sick, and raising the dead.

Far too many Evangelical churches and pastors think the answer to reaching the masses is catchy clichés and slick advertising. If we can just get non-Christians to pay attention to us, Evangelical pastors think, then they will come to our store and check us out.  And granted, humans are quite gullible and subject to being easily swayed by flashy colors and promises beyond their wildest dreams. As much as we would like to think otherwise, advertising works. We see or hear an ad and the message becomes fixed in our minds. Sometimes it is very subtle. Now that millions of homes have DVRs and viewers are skipping advertisements, advertisers have taken to using in-show product placement. The next time you watch a TV show, look carefully for the product placements. Look behind the scene. The advertisements are everywhere.

Apple is a master at the product placement game. Virtually every TV show has an Apple computer, tablet, or iPhone prominently displayed. This annoys me to no end. I know that only a small percentage of homes actually have an Apple computer and that we are a Windows-based PC culture, yet if I didn’t know that, I would assume every home in America had an Apple computer.

Apple wants consumers to buy into their myth: that owning an Apple product is more than just owning a new piece of hardware. It is an “experience”  Forget the price. Forget everything that might be negative about the product and focus on the experience. (Full disclosure: I own an iPad Pro and iPhone.)

The bottom line is that corporations want consumers to buy their products and they use slick advertising to induce us to purchase their wares. They never mention what their product won’t do.  They want consumers to buy into the advertising hype without looking too closely at the negative aspects of their product. After all, they are well aware that they must convince consumers to want what they don’t need.

If corporations gave full disclosures with every product they sell, their sales would plummet. They know they must promote the positive and hide the negative in order to continue to sell products. So it is with Evangelical Christianity.

A belief system is far more important than buying a consumer product. A belief system is meant to permeate itself throughout a person’s life. Whether we say we are a Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Pantheist, Mormon, or Humanist, we should know why we are labeling ourselves in this manner. Beliefs affect how we view the world and each other. They also determine what things we value and consider important.

I deconverted almost fourteen years ago. Since then, several people I know have come out in a big way and declared themselves to be atheists, only to, a few months or years later, return to the Christian religion. The reasons for their double-mindedness are many, but the key issue is that these people did not carefully consider what it means to be an atheist. Perhaps they were just angry at God or angry at their church or pastor and in a moment they said, FINE! I reject God and I am now an atheist!  Once the anger subsided, they realized that their decision to call themselves atheists was a decision based on emotion and not fact.

Many Evangelicals come into the Christian church in similar fashion. Trouble comes into their lives: marriage problems, family problems, financial reversals, health problems, addictions, mental distress, or emptiness. They are looking for answers, meaning, purpose, and deliverance. They want their lives to be different.

And into their need steps a Christian preaching a minimalist message of a Jesus who will fix what ails you. Just, let Go and let God, people are told. Preachers and evangelizers tell them just enough to get them inside the front door of the church house. A new convert is made, glory to God!

Once inside the church,  they are then, bit by bit, exposed to the “rest” of the Christian belief system. Some new converts are appalled once they hear, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. They might say to themselves, I wish they had told me these things BEFORE I became a Christian. Others, desiring the communal aspects of belonging to a group, quickly become cafeteria Christians, believing what they want to believe and rejecting that which they find offensive.

Over time, the communal aspects of Christianity often lose their power. The new and the not-so-new converts start to see that Evangelicals aren’t any different from non-Christians. They come to understand, that for all their talk of change and newness of life, Evangelicals are quite like the rest of the human race.

Evangelicals lie, cheat, kill, steal, and commit acts their Bible says are sins at the same frequency and level non-Christians do. Simply put, they are just like everyone else (and smart is the Christian who understands this).

The pews of Christian churches are filled with people with questions and doubts about what their pastors call “truth.” Their skepticism and dubiety are never given a voice because doing so would open them up to scrutiny or charges of lacking faith. Evangelical churches and pastors demand fidelity to their teachings, and outliers or non-conformists are looked down upon, and in some cases, kicked out of the church. In many churches, it is: believe this or leave.

The ranks of atheists, agnostics, and nones are growing due to the fact that people are asking questions that they find no answers for within the Christian church. As their questions and doubts grow, so does their disaffection and estrangement from the church. Having become a Christian with a bare minimum of knowledge and understanding, they have little or no ability to find answers to their doubts or questions. Often their pastors are no help because the only answers they have are pat, superficial, proof-texts from the Bible. If all else fails, doubters are reminded that the Devil uses doubt to lead Christians astray. The antidote for doubt is faith and resting on the promises found in the Bible.

These tactics may have worked years ago, but not today. People have questions and they want answers. Real answers. Saying, God says or the Bible says, is not sufficient. As Christians listen to more and more preaching, they start to ask themselves, do I believe this? As they listen to the political and social pronouncements from the pulpit they ask, does this accurately reflect my worldview? Telling such doubters to just “faith it” will surely drive many of them into the arms of humanists, atheists, and secularists like myself.

Questioning often leads these Evangelicals to look for answers outside the church. They start reading books or searching the internet. They stumble upon blogs such as this one. They say to themselves, here’s someone who understands where we are in our lives. He understands our doubts and questions, and so do the people who comment on his posts. They might even email me or leave a comment asking for help. They find out that questions and doubts are okay, and that the most important thing is following the path of life wherever it leads.

When doubters and questioners write me, I do not try to convert them to atheism. I encourage them to read and study, offering the titles of a few books that might be a help.  I encourage them to seek out answers to their questions and doubts. Above all, I gently ask them to walk the path of life with honesty and integrity. If they will do this, I tell them, they will end up exactly where they need to be.

I try to give people full disclosure when I talk about my own life and my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism. I do not hide the negative aspects of becoming an atheist. It is important that doubters have full knowledge before they choose to number themselves among the godless. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I Am an Atheist)

I wish Christians would do the same. Instead of using shallow, superficial evangelism methods, Evangelicals should be honest about what means to profess faith and Christ and be a part of a Christian church. Evangelicals need to stop hiding the unsavory or harsh aspects of Christianity and the Bible. Instead, prospective Christians should be encouraged to study the history of Christianity before deciding to become Christians. Evangelical churches and pastors should make sure prospective converts are fully informed about what it means to follow Jesus, including the social and cultural prohibitions.

Christian churches are hemorrhaging people because they have failed to do this. Surely, it is preferable to have fewer, but better-informed converts, than to have pews filled with people whose knowledge of Christianity wouldn’t fill a 3×5 card.

Ignorance is rife within the Christian church. The average Christian couldn’t defend his or her beliefs if their lives depended on it. All they know is this: Jesus saved Me! Praise Jesus, when is the next fellowship dinner? Quote the Ten Commandments? Summarize the Sermon on the Mount? Defend the Trinitarian teaching on God? Give a cogent, complete defense of how a person is saved?  Not a chance.

The truth is most Christians rarely read the Bible. Their knowledge of Christianity comes from what the pastor says during his sermons.  I long ago concluded that for many Christians, their belief system is whatever their pastor believes. They live in blissful ignorance of what the Bible actually says and what the Evangelical church actually believes.

If Christian churches want to stem the tide of disaffection and departure, they must begin telling the truth. All the truth, not just a sanitized version to sell people on the notion of what Jesus can do for them.

Christianity is doing a good job making people atheists. Until they get serious about disclosing the good, bad, and ugly of the Christian faith, they will continue to make people the twofold children of Hell.

To those churches and pastors who love to blame evolutionists, secularists, and atheists for their numerical decline and loss of power, I say this: don’t blame us. It is your own fault for thinking you could continue to hoodwink people into believing without knowing. In this modern era of science, such an approach no longer works. If you want people to treat Christianity seriously, and you want people to consider joining your club, then you owe it to prospective converts to tell them the whole truth about the Christian religion. If you refuse to do this, the only blame for the empty pews rests with you.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser