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Bruce, Do You Hate God?

hate god

On one level, this is a silly question. Since I do not think there is a God, if I hated God, I would be hating a nonexistent entity. This would be akin to hating Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. However, I understand why religious people might think someone like me hates “their” God. I spend a lot of time writing things that are negative about God and Evangelical Christianity, so surely I must HATE God. Maybe some atheists do hate God, but I don’t. It is a non-issue for me.

As a writer, my focus is on religion — particularly Evangelical Christianity and the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Religion is the human attempt to answer what I call the “hard” questions of life. Where did we come from? What is the essence, the substance of life? Is there life after death? What gives life meaning and purpose? These are not easy to answer. I realize many atheists will say “no evidence”. . . end of discussion, but I think these kinds of questions are worthy of friendly, thoughtful, pointed discussion. The problem is many religious people can’t discuss these questions in a friendly manner. Thinking their God and belief system are equivalent to “truth,” Evangelicals condemn and marginalize anyone who thinks differently.

While I think evolution is the best answer to the “where did we come from” question, I am not at all satisfied with the answers science gives when dealing with the something rather than nothing question. Even Bill Nye, in his debate with creationist Ken Ham, admitted that, so far, science hasn’t answered the question of where the first particle came from. Of course, Ham, a man with cement in the place where his brain once sat, jumped up and down and said, TEACHER, TEACHER, I KNOW THE ANSWER!  IT’S FOUND IN THE B-I-B-L-E. Ham thinks the question is answered, whereas Nye is willing to say, We don’t know, but we continue to try and find the answer to this important question.

I am an atheist because the evidence tells me, at this present moment, that there is no God. As a man who spent fifty years in the Christian church and twenty-five years in the pastorate, I am well versed in the teachings of the Bible and the one, true, and holy Evangelical faith. There’s no possible argument an Evangelical could make that I have not heard. It is not evidence that I am lacking. I have weighed all the available evidence in the balance and found it wanting. I am convinced, based on the available evidence, that the Evangelical God is a work of fiction, and that Christianity is an admixture of myths, legends, oral traditions, and religious teachings. Maybe someday a deity of some sort will reveal itself to us. If so, I will consider this new evidence just like I have the evidence for the plethora of human religions. I doubt this will happen, so I am not going to spend any time worrying about it. In the meantime,  I remain agnostic on the God question and live my day-to-day life as an atheist. Reason, skepticism, humanism, family, friends, writing, good food and music, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Cincinnati Bengals are enough for me — no God needed.

My hatred is reserved for certain aspects of some religions. Since I live in the United States, my experience has primarily been with the Christian religion, especially the Evangelical form of Christianity. While I think the essence of Christianity can provide value and substance for some people — even in our modern, scientific world — I am convinced that twenty-first-century Christianity is so far afield from its original intent that it has ceased to be Christianity at all. How does the Christianity of today, in any of its various forms, remotely resemble the teachings of Jesus, the poor, itinerant do-gooder of first-century Palestine?

Part of the problem is that early in the history of the Christian church, the Christianity of Jesus was subjugated by the Christianity of Paul. The modern version of Christianity we see today is Paul’s version of it and not that of Jesus. It is doubtful, at least in my mind, that we can ever recover what Jesus wanted Christianity to be. We can’t even know if he wanted to start a new religion. Perhaps all he wanted was to reform Judaism.  We can’t appeal to the Bible because it has been corrupted by errors, corrections, additions, and outright fraudulent changes. At best, we might be able to peer within the pages of the Bible and get a general idea of who Jesus was and what he was all about. And we can do this regardless of whether we consider Jesus divine or not.

When I look at American Christianity, what do I see? I see power, hatred, and wealth. I see arrogance. I see religious machinery. I see everything but what I should see. Where is Jesus? Where are good works? Look at all the Republican candidates for president over the past two decades. Jesus lovers, the lot of them, all trying to see who has the biggest Evangelical dick. Their beliefs and policies would likely be condemned by the Jesus of Nazareth they purportedly worship. Millions of Christians considered voting for these men, thinking they were voting for God’s man. (Please see Why I Hate Jesus.) And that’s precisely what Evangelical voters did in 2016, electing “baby Christian” Donald Trump as president, and attempting to do it again in 2020. Eighty-two percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Trump. By doing so, Evangelical Christians traded their souls for a bowl of pottage, choosing power and preferential treatment over morality, ethics, and decency.

It seems that most churches and pastors are focused on building a kingdom, not in Heaven, but here on earth. Why all the fancy, expensive buildings? Why all the programs designed to keep fat, lazy sheep fed and happy? Why does most church income go to maintain buildings, pay staff, and provide programs for people who are already Christians? What happened to outreach to the “least of these?” Where can I find a church where the poor, sick, homeless, and dying are given preferential treatment? If Jesus were alive today, do we really think he would go to an American Evangelical church? I don’t.

Even though I don’t believe in the Christian God — nor do I think the Bible is divine truth — I could see myself going to a church that took seriously the teachings of the man named Jesus. (And yes, I am aware that some of his teachings are contemptible.) I still have a heart filled with compassion for the poor, sick, and marginalized, and I suspect many of the readers of this blog do too. As atheists and agnostics, we don’t have many meaningful opportunities or outreaches to help others. Imagine the help we could lend to churches focused on helping others instead of building kingdoms in this life.

I wonder if there is any room in the world for itinerant atheist preachers? While I couldn’t preach the Christian gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, I could preach a humanist gospel, a gospel that says salvation is found in the goodwill, mercy, and compassion we have for others. I could point to the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, and Bruce Almighty and show how the relevant parts of their teachings can help make us better human beings.

My hatred is reserved for any religion that is focused on power and wealth, and not people. For the most part, I despise Evangelical Christianity. To Evangelicals, words in a book are more important than loving their neighbors and helping the poor, the hungry, widows, orphans, prisoners, and the homeless. They prefer the narrowness of their religion to the wideness of human love, mercy, and compassion. They would rather concern themselves with abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, gun rights, combatting socialism, refuting global warming, evolution, and getting Republicans elected, than trying to make a real difference in the lives of the “least of these.” Thinking evangelizing someone is more important than feeding and clothing them (better to go to Heaven with an empty belly, than Hell with a full one, the thinking goes), Evangelicals are viewed by non-Christians in the same light as door-knocking Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and siding salesmen.

My beef is not with God because I don’t think there is a God. My beef is not with Christians who are serious about loving and helping others. My disdain, and at times my anger, is reserved for those who have no regard for the plight of the poor and the sick, who only care about building a kingdom here on earth. No matter how much they talk about the future kingdom of God, their actions betray their true ambitions.

If churches took the teachings of Jesus seriously, they would merge, sell off the excess real estate, and use the money to help the poor, sick, and disadvantaged. If churches took the teachings of Jesus seriously, they’d fire all the professional Christians, forcing them to get real jobs. In doing so, these professional Christians would be forced to reengage with a world they lost connection with once they became gatekeepers and waitstaff at the local Evangelical churches.

If churches took the teachings of Jesus seriously, they’d stop programs that are little more than crack for religious junkies. These addicts bounce from church to church, program to program, service to service, hoping to get a Jesus Fix®. They are narcissists who have forgotten that what really matters is loving their spouses, children, family, and neighbors. They’ve traded the church for their common, dirty connection with the world. Sheltered from sinners, they listen to sermons that remind them of how wonderful it is in the church and how bad it is out there.

I don’t hate God. My hatred is reserved for evil done in the name of God. (Please see the Black Collar Crime series.) My hatred is reserved for those who value theological fealty, fidelity, and conformity more than they do people. Such thinking caused the burning of people at the stake and the slaughter of countless heretics. Given a chance here in America, Evangelicals with theocratic impulses would enact and enforce a Christian version of Sharia law. I hate all who dare attempt the subjugation and control others in the name of their God. Thinking they are oracles who have THE truth, they demand everyone else bow to their truth. Willing to use violence and the power of the state to force others to embrace their God and Holy Book, they cause deep hatred and resentment. Thinking they are being hated for their beliefs, what they are really being hated for is their unwillingness to allow others to have the same freedoms they demand for themselves.

As I look at American Christianity, I search in vain for one good reason that I would/should become a Christian. Maybe there is a group somewhere that takes the teaching of the socialist Jesus seriously, but so far all I see is ice cream. Various flavors, but all ice cream. (Please see But, Our Church is DIFFERENT!)

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: Former Catholic Youth Worker Brian Werth Spent Three Years in Prison for Sexual Abuse, Accused of Child Pornography Crimes

brian werth

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

In 2018, Brian Werth, a youth worker at St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in Rockville, Maryland, was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison for the sexual abuse of a church teenager.

The Bethesda Magazine reported:

A former youth minister at St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in Rockville was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison for the sexual abuse of a teen parishioner, according to Montgomery County prosecutors.

Brian Patrick Werth, 34, had been arrested in 2016 in connection with the abuse of a then-16-year-old girl, to whom he had sent explicit text messages for two years and had sexual contact with her earlier that year. He was charged with a fourth-degree sex offense, sexual abuse of a minor and second-degree assault.

Judge Karla Smith sentenced Werth to one year for the sex offense charge and two years for the assault charge, according to a State’s Attorney’s Office press release. The two terms will be served consecutively, followed by five years of probation with COMET, a sex offender monitoring program that will include periodic polygraph and psychosexual testing. Werth is also required to register as a sex offender for 15 years.

Smith went beyond state guidelines, which recommend zero to six months for the charges, in the sentencing. Ramón Korionoff, a spokesman for the State’s Attorney’s Office, said the sentence was appropriate.

“It is our hope that this above-the-guidelines sentence will send a strong message that people in position of authority and trust must not abuse that power over the young people they are supposed to be serving,” he said in a statement. “Hopefully, yesterday’s sentence will be the first step in healing for the victim and the church community in this matter.”

….

Werth, who lived in Montgomery Village at the time, had known the victim through the church, and learned that she “adored him,” according to prosecutors. They began texting, and police later discovered he had sent graphic and sexual texts to her since the summer of 2014.

On about May 20, 2016, Werth kissed the teen and had other inappropriate sexual contact with her during a youth event at the church, according to police.

St. Elizabeth’s had fired Werth in 2016 after the pastor received a complaint against him that summer, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Washington at the time. The pastor contacted the Archdiocese’s Child and Youth Protection Office, which then reported the case to county police.

After his release from prison, Werth was accused of one count of solicitation of a minor to engage in the production of obscene matter, three counts of possession with intent to distribute pornography, and ten counts of possession of child pornography.

In 2021, the Maryland State Police reported,

A Prince George’s County man was arrested and charged Tuesday after a Maryland State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force investigation developed evidence supporting charges of possession of child pornography and the attempted solicitation of a minor.

The suspect is identified as Brian Werth, 37, of Beltsville, MD. Werth, a registered sex offender, is charged with solicitation of a minor to engage in the production of obscene matter, three counts of possession with intent to distribute pornography and 10 counts of possession of child pornography. He was taken to the Maryland State Police College Park Barrack for processing before being transferred to the Prince George’s County Detention Center, where he is being held without bond.

On June 24, the Maryland State Police Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force received a CyberTip report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children involving the distribution of child pornography online. The investigation led to the identification of the suspect and his residence in Prince George’s County.

Through the course of the investigation, troopers discovered that Werth had also been communicating with a minor in North Carolina. Troopers, with the assistance of Homeland Security Investigations, arrested Werth Tuesday as he went to visit his probation officer in Hyattsville, Maryland. Investigators also served a search warrant at the identified suspect’s residence.

I found no further information on Brian Werth’s 2021 arrest. He could have been violated and returned to prison. I found no news story on the adjudication of Werth’s case. Maryland uses a convoluted sex offender registry. After several attempts to use it, I gave up. Come on, Maryland, it’s 2023.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Quote of the Day: Henotheism in Genesis 1 by John Loftus

quote of the day

By John Loftus, Debunking Christianity, Does God Exist? A Definitive Non-Philosophical Biblical Case

Note: For those unfamiliar with the term henotheism: henotheism is the worship of a single, supreme god that does not deny the existence or possible existence of other deities. (Wikipedia)

When we take the Bible seriously we discover a significant but unsuccessful cover-up about the gods we find in the Bible, who evolved over the centuries from polytheism to henotheism to monotheism.

Let’s look at Genesis 1. I’ll make 7 points about the first two verses, usually translated like this:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was without form and void, and darkness covered the surface of the abyss, and the Spirit of God was moving over the waters.

First, This is not describing the absolute beginning of time! The word “the” in verse one, “In the beginning” is not there.

Better Translations:

  • When God began to create the heavens and earth. (NRSV)
  • In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. (New American Bible)

Second, Genesis is not describing a creation out of nothing! Instead, it’s describing the making of something from pre-existing matter.

This is stated well by a translators note in New English Translation (NET):

Genesis itself does not account for the original creation of matter. The ‘heavenly/sky’ did not exist prior to the second day of creation, and the ‘earth/dry land’ did not exist as we know it, prior to the third day.

Genesis 1 begins ominously. What exists is a formless empty earth, hidden beneath a darkened watery chaos.

Third, Genesis 1 is not describing the origin of heaven where the saints go when they die! It’s describing the origin of the “skies” above us.

Fourth, Nor is it describing the origin of the planet earth, since it hadn’t been discovered yet! It’s describing the origin of “dry land”.

Fifth, Nor does the “Spirit of God” move over the waters! The word used can be translated “spirit” or “breath” or “wind” because the ancients believed wind came from the breath of their gods. It’s best translated as “the wind of God”. We no longer attribute the wind, or hurricanes, to God’s Spirit or breath.

Sixth, Who was making the world in Genesis chapter one?

It was Elohim, a plural word for “gods”. Dr. Randall Heskett: “Elohim, even after monotheism, still includes the heavenly hosts, who are part of the divine council.” Heskett is an Old Testament and Hebrew scholar. This includes “the sons of god” (Job 38:7). Elohim says, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26), which includes these celestial beings. More on Elohim directly below.

Seventh, The word “abyss” is misleading, since what is being described in Genesis 1:2 is not just vastly deep and darkened waters. It’s describing a primordial “chaos” which is being manipulated and maintained by mischievous chaos gods! More on chaos gods after we first look at Elohim.

So here is a better translation of Genesis 1:1-2:

Elohim made the skies and the dry land, beginning with land that was without form and void, with darkness covering the surface of the chaos, with the wind of Elohim moving over the waters.The original grammar is a bit difficult to translate. If nothing else, consider this a slightly interpretative translation using corrected wording.

I could use the word “God” instead of Elohim since the verbs indicate a singular male God. (i.e., “God he said ‘Let there be Light…’”). It’s just that it’s more complicated than that. Dr. Heskett suggested “In the beginning, when the henotheistic god—who became a monotheistic god but kept his henotheistic name—created the heavens and earth.” He adds, “elohim is the resonance of henotheism, before the move to monotheism.”

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest Joseph “Jack” Baker Sentenced to 3-15 Years in Prison for Sexual Assault

joseph jack baker

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

In 2019, Joseph “Jack” Baker, pastor of St. Perpetua Parish in Waterford, Michigan, was accused of sexually assaulting a child.

The Oakland Press reported at the time:

Father Joseph “Jack” Baker, 57, is on an electronic tether following his arraignment July 8 in 29th District Court, according to the Wayne County Jail website. Judge Laura Redmond Mack assigned a $500,000 personal bond at arraignment, which doesn’t require bail to be posted.

Baker, pastor of St. Perpetua Parish in Waterford since 2008, is one of six metro Detroit priests facing sexual abuse charges as part of an ongoing investigation by the state’s attorney general’s office. He was arrested July 8 in Wayne County and is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct – sexual penetration with a person under 13 years old, multiple variables. Court records list the offense date as Feb. 1, 2004.

Baker is also a former associate pastor at St. Hugo of the Hills Parish in Bloomfield Hills and Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn, and former pastor at St. Mary Parish in Wayne. He also was administrator at St. Benedict in Waterford in 2011, campus minister at Wayne State Medical School Campus Ministry and administrator at three churches in Inkster. He was ordained in 1993.

Attorney General Dana Nessel is calling the case “just the tip of the iceberg,” and said her office is reviewing “hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and files” seized last fall from Michigan’s seven diocese.

In October 2022, Baker was convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree with a child under the age of 13.

On March 1, 2023, Baker was sentenced to 3-15 years in prison. Afterward, he must register as a sex offender.

WLNS-6 reports:

Joseph “Jack” Baker, 61, was convicted in October 2022 of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. This charge is used when the victim is under 13.

Baker will spend three to 15 years in prison and must register as a sex offender for life.

He had previously been a pastor at St. Perpetua Parish in Waterford since 2008. He also served as a pastor at St. Mary Parish in Wayne, as associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn and as an associate pastor at St. Hugo of the Hills in Bloomfield Hills.

The Oakland Press added:

At his sentencing hearing in Wayne County’s 3rd Judicial Circuit Court, Joseph “Father Jack” Baker was ordered to spend 3-15 years in prison, with jail credit of 140 days, for first-degree criminal sexual conduct-sexual penetration of a person less than 13 years old.

Baker was pastor at St. Mary Catholic School in Wayne and his victim was a second-grader there when he was raped in the church sacristy in 2004. Both the victim and Baker were among those who testified at the trial last October, with Baker denying the allegation.

The Oakland Press is not naming the victim due to the nature of the crime.

In handing down the sentence, Judge Bridget Hathaway veered from sentencing guidelines of a minimum 25 years in prison, calling Baker’s case “somewhat unique.”

Noting that the priest was convicted of “one of the most serious crimes in the state,” Hathaway cited several factors for the lighter sentence, including Baker having no other criminal allegations against him and no prior criminal history, compliance with bond conditions for more than three years while he awaited trial, and several dozen letters of support from parishioners and others who, she said, credited him with doing  “a great deal of good for the community.”

….

Wednesday’s hearing, Kriger had asked the judge to sentence Baker to time served and “a period of probation or home confinement,” claiming he has a history of “dedication to service,” community involvement and helping others “in some of their darkest hours” — as evidenced by the letters written to the court on his behalf.

“This offense is 20 years old and is truly an aberration in Father Baker’s otherwise exemplary life…he has spent the last 20 years being the complete opposite of what he have seen in this case,” she said.

Russo Bennetts, however, argued that the “face (Baker) presented to the community and the face his victim saw” weren’t the same.

“This was not an aberration…he changed and destroyed (the victim’s) life,” Russo Bennetts said. “The people who wrote those letters weren’t sexually assaulted by Joseph Baker. The Joseph Baker in those letters in not the Joseph Baker (the victim) knows.”

Baker was given a lighter sentence because of all the “good” things he did as a pastor. Does anyone seriously think that this was the only time that Baker took advantage of a church minor? I mean, really? As has been shown in countless Black Collar Crime stories, judges often give offending clergy what I call the “preacher’s discount,” sentencing them to lighter sentences than non-clerics receive. Lost on judges is the fact that these men abused the trust their victims had in them, causing untold physical and psychological harm. They should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Updated: Black Collar Crime: Anglican Lay Pastor Mark Rivera Sentenced to Fifteen Years in Prison for Sexual Assault

pastor mark rivera

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

In 2022, Mark Rivera, a lay pastor at Christ Our Light Anglican in Big Rock, Illinois — an Anglican Church affiliated with the Anglican Diocese of the Upper Midwest — was charged with two felony counts of criminal sexual assault.

The Religion News Service reported at the time:

A former lay pastor in a conservative Anglican denomination was charged Wednesday (Dec. 29) with two felony counts of criminal sexual assault in the Kane County, Illinois, circuit court. The charges come a year after Joanna Rudenborg reported Mark Rivera, her former neighbor, to Kane County police, accusing him of raping her in 2018 and again in 2020. 

According to Pat Gengler, undersheriff at Kane County, bail was set at $50,000 and Rivera was released after a hearing. “He’s on home monitoring, so he does have a GPS bracelet which greatly restricts his movements,” said Gengler.

….

“I’m glad he was finally charged and the prosecution is happening,” said Rudenborg. “It’s certainly validating that the state looked at the evidence and said, this is a strong case worth pursuing. … I hope that my story being taken seriously by the authorities will help other people take other victims’ stories more seriously.”

….

Rivera is also being prosecuted on charges of felony sexual assault and predatory abuse of a victim under 13 years of age, and at least eight others have made allegations of abuse by Rivera, including child sexual abuse, grooming, rape and assault.

Rivera was a lay minister at Christ Our Light Anglican, an ACNA church plant in Big Rock, Illinois, from 2013 to 2019. He was also a volunteer leader at Church of the Resurrection — the headquarters of the Upper Midwest Diocese — in Wheaton, Illinois, from the mid-1990s until 2013.

On Aug. 28, ACNA announced the members of a Provincial Response Team that would oversee an investigation into the diocese’s handling of the allegations. The denomination was not able to respond to a request for comment by the time of publication, but according to an email sent from the Provincial Response Team to Rudenborg on Nov. 30 and shown to Religion News Service, the group was “ready to begin the initial vetting process to narrow down the list” of investigative firms. That list would then be voted on by both survivors and members of the Provincial Response Team. On Twitter, Rudenborg expressed frustration at the team’s lack of action.

“At this point, I’m safe from Mark, I’m not in any direct danger, so really what I want is for him to not be able to harm anyone else,” Rudenborg told RNS. “The only way we can be sure that that’s going to happen is if he goes back into custody. So it’s kind of still a waiting game.”

In December 2022, Rivera was found guilty of two counts of felony predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and three felony counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

The Daily Herald reported:

Mark Rivera, 49, of Winfield was found guilty of two counts of felony predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and three felony counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on Feb. 10.

Rivera was a lay pastor at the Anglican Church of North America in Big Rock when he sexually assaulted a child under the age of 13 multiple times between June 2018 and May 2019, according to a news release from the Kane County state’s attorney’s office. The abuse was reported to authorities after the victim told her mother.

“Mr. Rivera is a predator who used his position of respectability and stature in a church and within the community to prey on this child with no consideration for the trauma he caused,” Kane County Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Rodgers said. “The victim showed great courage in telling her mother about his criminal conduct, in preparing for this trial and in facing him in court.”

Rivera will have to register for life as a sexual offender, authorities said. He remains in custody at the Kane County jail on $500,000 bail.

After Rivera’s arrest, it came to light that he allegedly molested other children. A damning third-party report was revealed in October 2022, calling into question the Anglican denomination’s culpability in Rivera’s crimes.

Ministry Watch reported:

A long-awaited third-party report on sexual abuse reveals that leaders in an Anglican Church in North America diocese failed to act on tips about sexual misconduct and abuse and defended an alleged abuser as innocent while questioning reported survivors’ credibility.

The probe into events in the Upper Midwest Diocese, conducted by the investigative firm Husch Blackwell, also found that an ACNA priest did not report abuse by a lay pastor to the Department of Child and Family Services, claiming a church lawyer told him he was exempt from mandatory reporting laws, and that Bishop Stewart Ruch III and others allowed a church volunteer to have contact with teenagers after he had lost his teaching job for inappropriate behavior with students.

As serious as the report’s findings are, the investigation went forward without hearing from at least five alleged survivors of abuse who refused to participate over concerns about transparency.

The Upper Midwest Diocese in the ACNA—a small denomination formed by a 2009 split with the Episcopal Church over its LGBTQ-affirming policies—has been roiled since 2019 by allegations that Mark Rivera, a former lay pastor in the diocese known for his charisma and physical affection, had sexually abused young people he had met through Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois, and Christ Our Light Anglican Church in Big Rock, Illinois.

….

At least 10 individuals have made sexual abuse or sexual misconduct allegations against Rivera, who is now on trial in Kane County, Illinois, on charges of felony sexual assault and predatory abuse of a victim under 13 years of age. Rivera also faces charges for two felony counts of criminal sexual assault of a separate alleged adult victim. 

Ruch is on leave after admitting he made serious mistakes in handling the abuse allegations against Rivera, including failing to initially tell members of the Upper Midwest Diocese about those allegations.

ACNA spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment. 

Four years earlier, in 2015, several leaders became aware that a lay leader at Christ Our Light Anglican, Chris Lapeyre, had been fired from a high school teaching position that year over concerns about a relationship with a female student, according to the report. 

The Rev. Rand York, a priest at the church, told investigators he knew that Lapeyre had lost his job and why but allowed Lapeyre to stay in leadership, saying that he “was not concerned about Lapeyre interacting with young people at COLA because Lapeyre had three daughters of his own.”

Ruch, bishop of the diocese, reportedly told investigators that he also knew that Lapeyre had been fired over a “boundary crossing” issue but took no action. Lapeyre said his termination didn’t limit his leadership opportunities at either Christ Our Light Anglican or Church of the Resurrection, the diocesan headquarters in Wheaton.

The report states that Lapeyre, a friend of Rivera’s, told investigators he was aware of sexual misconduct by Rivera involving an adult woman in 2018 but did not tell anyone about it until 2020.

The report goes on to say that Ruch and York did not attempt to learn more about additional abuse allegations against Rivera made known to them in 2019, and Ruch did not consider reaching out to parents of at-risk teens who might have been vulnerable to abuse by Rivera.

Released online late Tuesday evening (Sept. 27), the report follows a monthslong investigation that was contentious from the start due to the objections from some of Rivera’s accusers.

“I have no reason to believe that anything about this investigation is independent,” said Cherin Marie when the investigation was announced in January. Cherin Marie, whose then-9-year-old daughter reported being sexually abused by Rivera in May 2019, has asked that her last name not be used to protect her family’s privacy.

Joanna Rudenborg, who says she was abused by Rivera, too, tweeted on Sept. 17 about her skepticism toward the anticipated report: “(T)he investigation has never been about justice or healing for survivors. It has been first and foremost about doing damage control.”

Survivors and advocates affiliated with ACNAtoo, an anti-abuse advocacy group, have publicly criticized the report on social media for including explicit details about a minor’s sexual abuse without the child’s consent. 

“The minor is one of multiple survivors of Mark Rivera’s sexual assault that chose not to participate in the investigation because it was obvious that the investigation was not safe,” Abbi Nye, an ACNAtoo advocate, tweeted on Friday morning. “They were right.”

Members of ACNAtoo say that while many of them reached out to ACNA leaders days ago asking them to redact the minor’s details, the report remains online, unedited. 

“The account of the young girl’s abuse in the report is all hearsay, from two leaders who are implicated in mishandling her abuse,” Nye told RNS. 

Investigators were asked to gather information about how ACNA leaders handled abuse allegations—but were barred from recommending charges or punishments.

“We were charged with gathering evidence regarding such issues and reporting the information collected, but we were explicitly directed not to render any legal determinations, evaluate or opine about any governance structure issues, or seek to address whether any discipline is warranted,” the firm wrote in its report.

….

The Rev. Gina Roes and Christen Price, an ordained deacon and attorney, respectively, told Religion News Service that the report is difficult to evaluate, given the severe limitations of its scope. Both women resigned in January from the Provincial Response Team originally charged with overseeing the investigations, claiming its process “never felt survivor-centered.” 

“It sort of defeats the purpose of having an investigation if there are no conclusions that can be made from the report,” said Roes, pointing to the report’s lack of analysis. “It leaves it in the hands of the ACNA and the diocese to interpret and characterize those facts.”

When asked about next steps, Roes and Price said denominational leaders who were excluded from the report due to its diocesan scope should be investigated. “There needs to be an investigation of the province,” said Price, referring to ACNA. 

In interviews with Husch Blackwell, Ruch admitted the diocese lacked protocols for responding to sexual misconduct allegations and left the matter largely for law enforcement to pursue.

But the report identifies another obstacle to reporting abuse: In notes and emails, church officials repeatedly expressed their belief in Rivera’s innocence.

“While I believe this entire accusation to be spurious (something has happened to this girl, but Mark is not the culprit), I fear however that this will spell the end of Christ Our Light,” York reportedly wrote in a May 20, 2019, email. “I believe Mark to be innocent. I would be stunned to find anything untoward with regard to his actions,” he wrote in another email days later.

Charles Philbrick, the church lawyer who reportedly advised York he wasn’t obligated to report the allegations, told Husch Blackwell he found the child’s allegations “hard to believe.” (The report says York was investigated by DCFS for failing to report, but nothing seems to have come from the investigation.) Philbrick said he gave Rivera a referral to a defense attorney, but only, he told investigators, out of his ethical obligation as an attorney, not in his capacity as chancellor, or church legal officer. 

As you can see, what seemed important to denomination officials was protecting the “good” name of their sect and the churches in question. I suspect the “truth” has yet to be revealed as far as the extent of Rivera’s sexual misconduct is concerned. Heads should roll, but it is unlikely that they will. They will bury Rivera’s proverbial body, lament his fall from grace( he was such a nice guy), and move on. Left behind are Rivera’s victims. I hope the victims sue.

Yesterday, Rivera was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

The Daily Herald reports:

A former lay pastor at a Big Rock church was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison for molesting a 9-year-old member of the church.

Kane County Judge John Barsanti sentenced Mark Rivera to six years apiece on two counts of predatory criminal sexual assault and three years on a charge of criminal sexual abuse.

Barsanti convicted him in December.

Rivera will have to serve at least 11.7 years before being eligible for parole but will receive credit for the approximately three years he has spent in jail or on electronic home monitoring while he awaited trial and sentencing.

On multiple times from June 2018 to May 2019, Rivera assaulted the child he knew. At the time, Rivera was a lay pastor at the Christ Our Light Anglican Church in Big Rock. The victim’s family attended the church.

The abuse happened at Rivera’s home in Big Rock.

The victim’s family and Rivera had previously attended a church in Wheaton.

Rivera, who now lives in Winfield, must register for life as a sex offender.

Rivera was also charged, in 2021, with sexually assaulting an adult who was unable to give consent due to intoxication. That case is scheduled for a jury trial in May in Kane County.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Short Stories: Sunday School Pins

sunday school pins

Do you remember Sunday school pins at the churches you attended as a child? They were given out as attendance awards. Attend Sunday school for one year, get a pin, and then get a pin for every year after that. I have seen older church members with pins adverting thirty, forty, and fifty years of Sunday school attendance.

These pins were meant to be badges of honor; a sign that the wearer had dutifully attended Sunday school year after year. They were also meant to remind people that they had endured years of Sunday school lessons taught by unqualified teachers who often read from quarterlies instead of actually teaching them.

I taught Sunday school for years. I knew how bad adult classes could be, so I wanted to make sure that class members actually learned something and interacted with the lessons. At one Southern Baptist church I pastored in Clare, Michigan, the church had an adult Sunday school class teacher. Polly and I decided to attend the class. OMG, it was awful. I mean awful. Bad theology and interpretation. For example, the teacher said election means “we choose God.” Yepper, the Calvinist in me wanted to strangle him. I tried to gently correct him, but he took the “whatever it means to me” interpretive approach. Week after week class members would share what the Bible meant to them. Many of them had Sunday School pins going back decades. So much time invested in Biblical “truth,” so little knowledge and understanding.

Did you receive Sunday school pins (or buttons)? Do you have a Sunday school experience you would like to share? Comment away!

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: Pastor Eddy Noelsaint Accused of Rape

eddy noelsaint

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

Eddy Noelsaint, the pastor of an unnamed church in Kissimmee, Florida, stands accused of raping a woman at his home.

Fox-35 reports:

A Kissimmee pastor was arrested after he allegedly sexually battered a member of his church twice at his home, Osceola County deputies said. 

Eddy Noelsaint, 51, was arrested on two charges of sexual battery after a woman told deputies he raped her twice at his home and reportedly drugged her on one occasion in 2022. 

On July 15, 2022, the woman said she was at Noelsaint’s house undergoing what she thought was a “spiritual revival as part of her cultural and religious beliefs.” During her baptism at Noelsaint’s church, she was assigned a spiritual grandmother who is Noelsaint’s wife, an arrest affidavit states. 

That evening, Noelsaint’s wife left to go to work at 7 p.m. and the woman was instructed to take a shower. Noelsaint reportedly walked into the bathroom making an advance toward her, which she declined. 

Later that evening, Noelsaint made the woman a green tea and kept asking her how she felt while she drank the tea. She said she wasn’t feeling well, so Noelsaint gave her two pills which gave the woman a headache and made her feel sleepy. A couple of hours later, he gave her two more pills, and she asked Noelsaint to call 911 because she felt her heart racing, deputies said. 

He then took her into another room and sexually battered her. He also took her wedding ring the next day telling the woman there were bad spirits contained in it. When she asked for the ring back, he told her he threw it away. 

A couple of months later in November 2022, she went to Noelsaint’s house again thinking she would be meeting with his wife who would be taking her to look for apartments. 

Instead, Noelsaint was there, and he sexually battered her a second time, according to an arrest affidavit. 

On Feb. 28, 2023, Noelsaint met with police and initially gave them conflicting stories about both incidents. He then confessed to sexually battering the woman. 

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: Catholic School Teacher Verity Beck Accused of Murdering Her Parents

verity beck

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

Verity Beck, a school teacher at Saint Katherine School of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania stands accused of murdering her parents by shooting them in the head and dismembering their bodies with a chainsaw.

The Reporter reports:

An Abington Township woman fatally shot her elderly parents and then used a chainsaw to dismember them, an alleged crime that authorities described as “a horrible, tragic situation.”

The discovery of the victims’ bodies and the arrest of Verity A. Beck on homicide charges were announced at a Wednesday evening news conference by Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and Abington Township Police Chief Patrick Molloy.

Beck, 43, who lived with her parents in the 1100 block of Beverly Road in the Jenkintown section of the township, was charged with first- and third-degree murder and possessing an instrument of crime in connection with the deaths of 73-year-old Reid Beck and his 72-year-old wife, Miriam.

“There were signs of extreme trauma and a chainsaw was found and both Reid and Miriam were found in different stages of dismemberment,” said Steele, describing the incident as “a horrible, tragic situation. These were not easy autopsies to conduct based upon the fact Verity used this chainsaw and then put parts of her parents into trash bags and had covered them up. They were actually in two different trash cans.”

The autopsies revealed that both victims suffered single gunshot wounds to the head.

“We believe that happened first,” Steele alleged.

Steele said the investigation is continuing.

“We are looking for what motive could have been behind this. We can’t share one with you at this time. I don’t know what was going on between these folks. That’s all under investigation and that’s going to be continuing and maybe we’ll have more on that later,” Steele told reporters during a news conference at the county detective bureau in Norristown. “We also believe that this happened over a period of some time.”

Steele explained the victims’ voices were last heard by another family member on Jan. 7.

Authorities revealed that a check of police logs showed there were no previous police contacts made at the home.

Steele said “it has not been an easy day” for the victims’ family or for the detectives who investigated the case.

“It’s been a difficult day for everybody working on this,” said Steele, referring to the disturbing nature of the alleged crime.

Beck, who was a teacher at the Saint Katherine School of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in Wynnewood, Lower Merion, was remanded to the county jail without bail to await a Feb. 1 preliminary hearing on the homicide charges before District Court Judge Juanita A. Price.

….

Prior to beginning her service at Saint Katherine’s last January, Beck produced criminal background checks and child abuse clearances, neither of which showed any prior misconduct, Heeney wrote. Additionally, no complaints “of any kind” were lodged against Beck during her brief time with the school community, officials said.

“All of us are shocked by these developments. Please know that the safety and protection of your children are always our primary concerns,” Heeney wrote. “Understanding the traumatic nature of this news, we will have counseling personnel available to anyone who may need those services. We are also exploring additional modes of support that may be needed.”

The investigation began on Tuesday, Jan. 17 after the victims’ son notified Abington police that he had gone to his parents’ home to check on them, because he hadn’t spoken to them by phone since Jan. 7, which was unusual, and he observed a deceased person lying on a floor, covered with a bloody sheet and a chainsaw near the body, according to a criminal complaint.

The son told police he spoke to his sister and when he asked if something bad had happened to their parents she responded, “Yes.” Beck allegedly told her brother that things at the home had “been bad.”

Abington police arrived at the home around 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 and attempted to make contact with Verity Beck but received no answer. Officers deployed a remote-controlled robot into the first floor of the home in an effort to locate Beck and deployed a drone to peer through the windows to determine her location but both attempts failed to locate Beck, court papers indicate.

At 12:10 a.m. on Jan. 18 police entered the residence through a side door.

“Officers immediately noticed a strong odor of decomposition in the residence,” county Detective Anthony Caso and Abington Detective Robert Hill Jr. wrote in the arrest affidavit.

When police announced themselves and asked Beck to make her whereabouts known she followed commands and entered the kitchen. When police asked Beck about her parents she allegedly replied, “They are dead.”

Detectives found a deceased male wrapped in a cloth sheet and determined he was decapitated, according to the criminal complaint.

“In close proximity to the male’s body detectives located a 55-gallon trash receptacle. This receptacle was filled with white trash bags and these trash bags were filled with assorted severed body parts,” Caso and Hill alleged.

“An electric-powered chainsaw with biological material in the chain portion indicated this chainsaw had been used to sever, at least some, of the body parts,” detectives added.

Detectives found additional severed body parts in a trash can in an attached garage, court documents indicate.

“This is somebody that is dismembering her mother and father and putting body parts in trash cans so clearly she’s trying to get rid of the evidence of her crime,” Steele alleged.

….

In the second-floor master bedroom detectives found a safe mounted into the wall and tools nearby and drill marks on the safe indicating someone, without a key or combination, had been trying to access the safe.

Detectives found a pillow that contained powder burns and a hole, consistent with a firearm projectile having been fired through the pillow, according to court documents.

In Beck’s bedroom detectives found two .38-caliber handguns, one containing one spent round and four live rounds and the other containing two spent rounds and three live rounds, according to the arrest affidavit. Both firearms were registered to Beck, detectives said.

Additionally, detectives recovered a third .38-caliber handgun containing two spent rounds and three live rounds but a check for ownership returned a result of “no record found,” court documents indicate.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Why I Write The Black Collar Crime Series and Will Continue to Do So Despite Criticism from Evangelicals

black collar crime

The Black Collar Crime series is in its seventh year, having published over one thousand reports of clergy and church leader criminal misconduct. Most of the reports are about Evangelical pastors, evangelists, youth directors, and other church leaders who committed sex crimes. Using Google Alerts, I receive an immediate notice any time a news story about clerical malfeasance is posted on the Internet. It is important that these stories receive wide circulation. Victims need to know that there are people standing with them as they bring to light what God’s servants have done in secret.

I realize that these reports are often dark and depressing, but the only way to dispel darkness is to turn on the lights. Clergy who prey on congregants — especially children — must be exposed, prosecuted, convicted, and sent to prison. By leveraging this blog’s readership numbers and publishing these reports, I am serving notice to law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges: we are paying attention, and if you fail to provide justice for victims, we will hold you accountable.

Many clerics have enormous power over people. How else do we explain that alleged repeat abusers of children and sexual predators such as Lester Roloff, Jack Patterson, and Mack Ford — to name a few — never spent a day in jail for their crimes? Mack Ford, in particular, spent decades physically and psychologically destroying teenagers, yet, thanks to his connections in the community, he was never prosecuted for his crimes. (Please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for GirlsTeen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your SinWhat Should We Do When Religious Freedom Leads to Child Abuse?)

Sometimes, these seemingly untouchable predators are brought to justice, but not before the public puts pressure on law enforcement and prosecutors, forcing them to act. The sordid story of abuse at Restoration Youth Academy is case in point. Decades of abuse reports were filed with local law enforcement, yet nothing was done. Yes, they finally acted and the perpetrators are now in prison, but what do we say to the hundreds of children and teenagers who were ritually abused before prosecutors got around to doing their job?

I am sure that this series will bring criticism from Evangelical zealots, reminding me that accused/charged clerics are innocent until proven guilty. While they are correct, all I am doing is sharing that which is widely reported in the news. In the sixteen years I’ve been writing about clergy misconduct, I can count on one hand the number of pastors/priests/religious leaders who were falsely accused — less than five, out of hundreds and hundreds of cases. The reason for so few false accusations is that no person in his or her right mind would mendaciously accuse a pastor of sexual misconduct. The social and personal cost is simply too high for someone to falsely accuse a religious leader of criminal conduct.

People often believe that “men of God” would never, ever commit such crimes. One common thread in the crimes committed by Jack Schaap, Bill Wininger, Josh Duggar, David Farren, Naasón Joaquín García, and a cast of thousands, is that family and fellow Christians were CERTAIN that these men of God could/would never commit the crimes with which they were charged. Even when presented with overwhelming evidence, their supporters, with heads in the sand, refuse to believe that these servants of Jesus did the perverse things they are accused of. (Please see What One IFB Apologist Thinks of People Who Claim They Were Abused and Evangelicals Use ‘We Are All Sinners’ Argument to Justify Sexual Abuse.)

Secondary reasons for this series have to do with exposing the lie that Evangelicalism is immune to scandal and criminal behavior. I remember when the Catholic sex scandal came to light. With great glee and satisfaction, Evangelical preachers railed against predator priests and the Catholic Church who covered up their crimes. Now, of course, we know — with the recent Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) and Southern Baptist sex scandals — that Evangelicalism is just as rotten, having its own problems with sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups. Evangelicals love to take the high moral ground, giving the perception that their shit doesn’t stink. Well, now we know better. Not only does Evangelicalism have a sexual abuse problem, it also has a big problem with pastors who can’t keep their pants zipped up. (Please see Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?)

I receive threats from people defending their religious heroes. Threats of legal action are common, even though all I am doing is republishing stories publicly reported by news agencies. A pastor featured in one of my reports contacted me and said that reporters had it all wrong. As I do with everyone who asserts they are being falsely accused, I told this preacher that he could give his version of the facts, sign his name to it, and I would gladly add it to the post. Usually, this puts an end to any further protestations. Most often, the accused want to bully me into taking down my post. In this preacher’s case, he provided me his version of events and I gladly added it to my post. After adding the information, I decided to investigate this pastor further. I found more information about his past indiscretions and crimes. I dutifully added them to the post. I have not heard anything further from the good pastor.

I am not immune from making mistakes, so if you spot a factual error in one of the stories, please let me know and I will gladly correct it. If you come across a story that you would like me to add to this series, please use the contact form to email me. Please keep in mind that I need links to actual news reports in order to add them to this series.

I primarily use Google Alerts for Black Collar Crime reports. I also rely on readers to alert me to new stories or updates of previous reports. I am one man with a limited amount of time each day to slog through the brackish Evangelical swamp, so I don’t see every report or know the outcome of every case I’ve featured in the Black Collar Crime Series. Keep in mind that I require EVIDENCE for me to update a story. Not gossip or personal opinion. Actual evidence such as reputable news stories (with links). Just because a reader or drive-by commenter says something doesn’t make it so. I appreciate your understanding.

I realize that nothing I say in this post will change the minds of preachers such as Dr. David Tee, whose real name is Derrick Thomas Thiessen. Thiessen has a sketchy background. He has been accused of abandoning his family, including an infant child, failing to pay child support, and fleeing to South Korea/Philippines to avoid being held accountable for his behavior.

Thiessen has been a vocal critic of me personally and of the Black Collar Crimes Series. Thiessen is known for defending clerics who commit sex crimes. Just this week he wrote two more posts defending Ravi Zacharias. He has also defended men such as Bill Cosby and Bill Gothard. Thiessen goes to great lengths to defend his support of offending preachers, but I find his defenses lacking in every way. Thiessen repeatedly rejects the substantial work done by law enforcement in investigating, prosecuting, and convicting pastors who commit sex crimes. Why? This is the judgment of the “world,” not God. Of course, God is unavailable for comment. All we have are our legal processes, albeit imperfect, they are the best we have to hold clergy and churches accountable.

Thiessen frequently blames victims for what happened to them. Thiessen is not alone in this approach to women (sometimes men) and children who have been sexually violated and taken advantage of by so-called men of God. Again, Thiessen claims that victims are following the ways of the “world” instead of God. Of course, God’s ways in Thiessen’s mind are his peculiar interpretation of the Protestant Christian Bible.

Today, Thiessen, in response to the post, Dr. David Tee Thinks Everyone Who is Not a Christian is an Atheist, renewed his objections to the Black Collar Crime Series. Here’s some of what he said:

He [Bruce Gerencser] is right in one thing, we do not like his black collar series but not for the reasons he thinks. We [Derrick Thiessen] do not like it for many reasons and two of them are, it is not being fair or just. That owner [Bruce Gerencser] ignores all the unbelievers and atheists who are caught, tried, and convicted for the same crimes.

….

[Speaking of being fair and just] Christians have to do both to be able to make an impact for Christ. But this is not the end of the hypocrisy and injustice carried out by the owners of the BG [The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser] and MM [Meerkat Musings] websites, as well as other unbelieving websites.

There have been other similar stories about drag shows in schools, and so on. Yet not one peep from either owner about how bad, immoral, or wrong these actions are. Instead, they would rather target Christians as that is the group of people, as well as Christ, that they hate.

This is another reason God told us to never follow in the counsel of the ungodly. They do not have fairness or just behavior in their thinking. Look at all the CRT, equity, BLM  re-education going on today. None of those and anything similar is of God nor are they just and fair.

….

Another reason we do not like the black collar series over at that website [The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser] is that it is unneeded. It does nothing constructive for society nor does it help redeem those men who failed in their Christian lives, if they were Christians at all.

All it does, as we said earlier, is influence others to hate Christ, pastors, and the church, and turning people to hate is wrong. It is not fair to those men highlighted and the series does not have people being just or fair towards them. In fact, it helps stoke the misguided guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality that many unbelievers endorse.

It is also redundant as the local papers will carry the same stories and his series is just wasting everyone’s time. When the Christian sees those stories they need to ask God how to reach those men so that Christ can redeem them.

….

{we would link to the article we talked about but it is so filled with lies and eisegetical comments that it is nothing but trash [which I can’t rebut] }

I have explained my motivations for writing the Black Collar Crime Series several times. He knows exactly why I do what I do, so I can only conclude that Thiessen is a liar and his goal is to impugn my character and impair my coverage of clergy sex crimes.

Let’s suppose I operated a site whose mission was to cover the Cincinnati Reds. Every day I published news stories about the Reds and individual players on the team. One day, a man named Deirere TeeDee sent me an email, complaining about me not writing any posts about the NHL, particularly me not covering the Detroit Red Wings. Duh, I replied, I write about the Reds, and Major League Baseball, not the National Hockey League and the Detroit Red Wings. Your complaint has no merit.

Yet, this is exactly what Thiessen has done with his complaint about me not covering atheists and other unbelievers who commit sex crimes. He knows that this site focuses on four things:

  • Helping people who have questions and doubts about Christianity
  • Helping people who have left Christianity
  • Telling the story about my journey from Evangelical Christian to atheist
  • Critiquing Evangelical Christianity

I have been blogging since 2007 — sixteen years. I have stayed true to these four focus points, rarely veering off the path to talk about politics, sports, food, and travel. Why Thiessen cannot understand why I write the Black Collar Crime Series is beyond me. I know that all sorts of people commit sex crimes, but my focus is on Evangelical preachers who commit such crimes. This is NOT a sex crime blog. If it was, I would cover unbelievers and believers alike. And even if I did, it would still be true that the vast majority of people who commit sex crimes are Christian or religious. Why? Because most Americans are Christians.

I have repeatedly explained to Thiessen why the Black Collar Crime Series is needed. I assume, at this point, he is being obtuse. Most of the stories I write require numerous news stories to tell the complete story. They also require research on my part to find out what sect the offender was a part of and their background and beliefs. Sometimes, these reports take a lot of time to put together. Other times, a Google search quickly gives me everything I need to write the story.

These reports are based on news reports, court records, social media, and other verifiable sources. I rarely interject my personal opinion. My goal is to provide a one-stop website for people looking for information about a particular preacher/church and their crimes. Blog traffic numbers suggest that this is exactly what is happening.

It is not uncommon for news sites to either delete stories about clergy sex crimes or put them behind paywalls. That’s why it is important for me to make these stories available to the public free of charge. The public has a right to know what is going on in Evangelical churches. Surely it is important to cover criminal behavior by clerics. Surely it is important to say to victims that I hear you and I will make your story known far and wide. The bigger question, then, is this: why do Derrick Thiessen and other Christians of his ilk want to muzzle me and keep these stories from being known?

One answer to the questions above is that the Thiessens of the world don’t care about the victims of clergy sex crimes. I suspect many of them believe that the victimized women (and men) and children and not victims at all. Thus, they view sexual predators as the real victims; that the “world” is out to get them. Thiessen admits as much when he says “When the Christian sees those stories [about rape, sexual assault, child molestation, along with theft, fraud, and murder] they need to ask God how to reach those men so that Christ can redeem them.” Remember, Thiessen has called sex crimes “mistakes.” He has yet to write one positive post about the victims of clergy sexual misconduct. All that Thiessen cares about are the poor preachers who rape, assault, misuse, and abuse vulnerable people. In his mind, these preachers just made “mistakes.” If they will just shoot a 1 John 1:9 ( If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness) to Heaven, Jesus will forgive them and cleanse them from all unrighteousness. With that, the offending preachers are forgiven and should get right back on the ministry horse. Thiessen seems oblivious to the fact that most pedophiles are incurable; that Jesus himself can’t fix them. He seems to be oblivious to the fact that preachers caught committing sex crimes, particularly child pornography, have likely been doing so for years. When a 60-something-year-old preacher is arrested for sexually assaulting a child, it is likely that he has committed this crime before. Most clergy sex crimes go unreported/unprosecuted (as is the case in the general population). What I cover with the Black Collar Crime Series is but a fraction of the crimes committed by Christian clergy. I read sites such as Ministry Watch, The Roys Report, Bishop Accountability, Baptist Accountability, and the Black Collar Crime listings published monthly for members by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I am astounded by how many stories about clergy sex crimes I actually miss.

It’s clear to all who are willing to see that Evangelicalism has a clergy sex crime problem of epic proportions. These reports are not a few bad apples. The sex scandal roiling through the Southern Baptist Convention certainly proves that the proverbial barrel is littered with rotten, stinking apples.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Update: Black Collar Crime: Methodist Pastor Russell Davis Sentenced to Three Years in Prison for Raping Three Church Teenagers

pastor russell davis

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

In 2018, Russell Davis, a Methodist pastor, was accused of raping a church teenager.

WMUR-9 reports:

A Seabrook man is being held without bail after he was accused of raping a child while he was serving as a pastor in the Methodist Church.

Russell Davis, 65, faces several charges in Massachusetts. Seabrook police said they arrested Davis Thursday on a fugitive from justice warrant. The Essex County District Attorney’s Office said he is being held without bail because he is still employed in the ministry and has access to children.

Davis pleaded not guilty in Newburyport District Court to charges out of Rowley, Massachusetts, of rape of a child with force and indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or over, and a charge of rape from Newbury, Massachusetts.

Prosecutors said the allegations involve the same victim and incidents that occurred in April 2004.

According to the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, Davis was a licensed Methodist minister from 1999 to 2015. His first assignment was in Warren, New Hampshire.

Davis moved among several churches in Maine and Massachusetts after that until his license was discontinued in 2015. A spokesperson for the church would not say why his license was discontinued but said it was not related to sexual misconduct.

It’s unclear whether Davis has been affiliated with any churches in New Hampshire since then.

….

An April 9, 2018 Salem News report states:

A former pastor accused of raping a child will have the chance to be released from custody as he awaits trial. A Newburyport District Court judge ordered that he be held on $5,000 cash bail, following a dangerousness hearing on Monday.

While Russell Davis, 65, of Seabrook, was found dangerous by the court, he will be released should he post bail. If released, he will need to wear a GPS monitoring device, live in Massachusetts, stay away and have no contact with his alleged victim and have no unsupervised contact with children under 16. He is due back in court May 16.

Monday’s dangerousness hearing, which is to determine whether a defendant poses too great a risk to his alleged victim or society to be afforded bail while awaiting trial, was originally scheduled for last week. But an Essex County prosecutor told Judge Peter Doyle that Davis’ attorney was not available that day.

On March 30, Davis pleaded not guilty to charges of rape of a child with force, as well as indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or over. Those offenses took place in Rowley in 2004, according to the Essex District Attorney’s office.

In addition, Davis also pleaded not guilty to a charge of rape, which allegedly occurred in Newbury in 2004, the DA’s office said. No information was available about when the allegations surfaced. Davis was arrested a day earlier in Seabrook. A judge ordered all police reports related to Davis’ arrest impounded.

Other victims came forward, reaching a total of three. It is likely there were other victims whose assaults were not prosecuted.

Five years later, Davis pleaded guilty to raping and attempting to rape the three boys. Astoundingly, Davis was only sentenced to three years in prison. Davis’s attorney wanted probation!

The Salem News reports:

They were boys who’d already suffered significant losses in life: A parent to cancer, other parents to substance abuse. They had been put into foster care with other family.

In the then-mostly rural communities of Byfield, Newbury, Salisbury and Rowley, in the late 1980s, the 1990s and early 2000s, the vulnerable teens were steered toward a local United Methodist Church — and into the path of a lay pastor, a man who, though not ordained, had been given a type of license by the church to work as a youth minister.

On Thursday, Russell Woodman Davis, 70, pleaded guilty to raping and attempting to rape the three boys at various times between 1988 and 2006, in Newbury, Rowley and Salisbury.

Davis was sentenced to three to four years in state prison, a sentence that Salem Superior Court Judge Thomas Drechsler had offered if Davis opted to plead guilty before his trial, which had been scheduled for next week.

Drechsler said Thursday that he hopes the sentence balances the “profound trauma and damage” done to the three victims and Davis’ abuse of a position of trust, with Davis’ advanced age and cancer, which, he also pointed out, has been in remission.

Davis, who had been free on bail in the case, was taken into custody in the courtroom, first placed into handcuffs and then, after being led to a chair, into leg shackles.

One of his victims, as well as several family members and friends, craned their necks to watch.

On Tuesday, Drechsler heard from one of the victims, now an adult, about his ongoing struggle to recover from the trauma.

He was back in court on Thursday, where he appeared overcome by emotion at several points during the hearing, burying his face in his hands as the prosecutor detailed again, for the record, what had happened to him and the other boys.

The judge heard from one more person on Thursday, the sister of one of the victims, who had taken him in after the death of their mother from cancer.

The woman, whose name is being withheld by the newspaper so as not to identify her brother, said the abuse began within four weeks of their mother’s death.

“There is no amount of jail time that could punish him enough,” she told the judge, before saying she hopes Davis will “rot in hell.”

Prosecutor Kate MacDougall, who had requested a five- to seven-year prison term, told the judge that had the case gone to trial, she would have made a “significantly higher” sentencing request, given the “abhorrent nature of the acts and unimaginable destruction inflicted upon these men.”

Davis’ lawyer, Edward McNaught, had initially hoped for probation — a disposition previously rejected by another judge in 2021 — but sought two years in custody.

MacDougall described the facts of the case in court chronologically, though the victims came forward at different times — including one who, in 2010, reported his abuse to police. They did not pursue the case at that time.

In 1988, the first victim was 12 when his mother died and he went to live with his sister.

He met Davis at the church.

The second boy, who had been placed with an aunt, met Davis in 2003 when she brought him to her church. That boy would later introduce Davis to the third boy, who was about a year older.

Davis, said the prosecutor, “would take these young men under his wing under the guise of providing mentorship.” He would spend time alone with that boy and the others, coercing and forcing them into sexual acts to which they were too young to consent or that they did not want to engage in.

“Did you commit those acts?” Drechsler asked Davis at the conclusion of the prosecutor’s remarks.

“Yes I did, your honor,” Davis replied, with no emotion.

Davis pleaded guilty to a series of rape and attempted rape counts involving each of the boys.

But prior to trial, prosecutors were forced to drop other counts, including disseminating obscene material and unnatural acts, due to the statute of limitations having run.

Davis told the judge that he had a high school equivalency and had attended a seminary but did not finish.

Prior to working for the church, he was a U.S. Postal Service employee for 20 years, he told the judge.

In a January 2001 interview with The Salem News, Davis discussed his recent appointment as pastor of Peabody’s First Methodist Church on Washington Street — and his work with a group of 10 high school boys at a church in Byfield, where he was known as “Pastor Rusty.”

According to archived stories from The Daily News of Newburyport, Davis worked as pastor of the East Parish United Methodist Church in Salisbury and the Community United Methodist Church in Byfield, and had also served as chaplain in the Byfield Fire Department for a decade.

In a statement released after he was first charged in 2018, the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church said Davis had lost his church license to work as a pastor in 2015 but said it was unrelated to the allegations against him.

After completing the prison term, Davis will be on probation for three years, with conditions that he register as a sex offender, undergo a sex offender evaluation and treatment, and have no unsupervised contact with anyone under 18, as well as have no contact with the victims and their families.

If he violates any of the conditions of that probation he could be returned to prison for up to life.

Prosecutors may also seek to keep Davis in custody after he completes his sentence if he is determined to be a sexually dangerous person.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser