Menu Close

(Updated) Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest W. Thomas Faucher Back in Court on Child Porn Charges

w thomas faucher

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.

Last month, I posted a story about Catholic Priest W. Thomas Faucher and his arrest on child pornography charges. Faucher is back in court today, thanks to newly found porn on his computer (he had tried to delete it). The judge raised Faucher’s bond to $1 million, saying that the community was not safe as long as Faucher roamed free.

KTVB-7 reports:

A retired Boise priest was taken back into custody Tuesday morning after a judge quadrupled his bond, declaring that the brutally violent child pornography newly discovered on the suspect’s computer had convinced him the community was not safe as long as Father W. Thomas Faucher remained free.

Prosecutors leveled nine new charges against Faucher during the hearing – seven new counts of possession of child pornography, one new count of distribution of child pornography and one new count of LSD possession – bringing his total charges to more than 20.

Prosecutor Kassandra Slaven said the additional charges correspond to additional graphic files, images and videos found on the 72-year-old’s computer – some of which Faucher had attempted to delete, she said.

Those images and videos are “so concerning that the state feels that a $250,000 bond just simply does reflect the danger and risk the defendant poses to the community,” Slaven told the judge.

….

Forensic investigators have so far recovered more than 2,000 child pornography files from Faucher’s devices, the prosecutor said, including pictures and videos depicting the “extremely brutal rape and torture of children.”

“Quite frankly, your Honor, the content is some of the worst that the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has seen,” Slaven said. “This involves very young children – many, many infant children.”

Online, Faucher fed his “sadistic and deviant” desires by chatting with people with similar interests, Slaven said, discussing fantasies that were alarming in their specificity: even outlining the gender, age and other details about children he would like to abuse.

“There are countless, countless, countless graphic chat conversations on his computer where he is very specific about how his sexual interests are evolving; he discusses in great detail the desires he has to sexually abuse and even kill children,” Slaven said.

….

Faucher’s attorney, Mark Manweiler, vigorously opposed the motion to increase bond.

Manweiler argued that the new charges were “quantitative” – more pornographic files discovered – but not a significant change in alleged conduct, meaning that Faucher is not any more likely to skip court.

“He’s 72 years old: Conviction of even a small number of these charges could likely result in a functional life sentence,” he said. “Whether he is charged with 500 counts or he’s charged with five, it makes no qualitative difference to his motivation or ability to appear at all his court appearances.”

The defense attorney also argued that Faucher has no prior criminal history, has complied with all GPS monitoring and other court conditions, and is not charged with any actual physical sexual contact with any children.

Although two people who say they were molested by the priest decades ago came forward after his arrest, Faucher has not been charged in those cases.

….

Update:

Channel 7 reported in October 2020:

A former priest who served at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Boise for decades before being arrested in a violent child pornography case that shook his parishioners and detectives alike is dead.

Father W. Thomas Faucher was 75. He was less than two years into a 25-year fixed prison sentence at the Idaho State Correctional Institution.

….

Faucher had already retired from his position as priest when police raided his diocese-owned home in northwest Boise in February of 2018, seizing thousands of violent and sexual images and videos, some of which showed victims as young as infants and toddlers being raped and tortured.

Prosecutors said later that the evidence collected in the case was among the most disturbing that members of the Idaho Internet Crimes Against Children task force had ever encountered.

Detectives also recovered extensive online chat logs in which Faucher wrote about his desire to rape and murder a child, mused about sexually assaulting an altar boy at his church, and discussed traveling to South America to abduct and abuse a small boy before killing that child.

Faucher later told a judge he did not remember writing those messages, or sending an email containing photos of two children being sexually assaulted by adult men. He pleaded guilty to two counts of distribution of child pornography, two counts of possession of child pornography and possession of LSD in September 2018, saying he wanted to “take responsibility” for what he had done.

Then-mayor Dave Bieter was among those to ask the judge for leniency at Faucher’s sentencing, writing in a letter that the priest had provided counsel and solace after the death of Bieter’s parents. The mayor later told KTVB that although he was “deeply disturbed and angry” about what Faucher had done, showing compassion and forgiveness are central tenets of his faith.

Although his defense attorney asked for probation, the sentence of 25 years without parole handed down by the judge all but guaranteed the retired priest would die behind bars.

Faucher was defrocked – officially removed from the position as clergy by the Vatican – after his conviction, and Idaho Court of Appeals upheld his 25-year sentence earlier this year.

Questions: Bruce, If You Had It to Do All Over Again, Would You Still Write Your Infamous Letter?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Alisha asked:

I have read several times on your page about your writing a letter to friends and family after your deconversion. You chose to be very open with people about your change in belief. Your wife, you said, has chosen not to really talk much about her leaving Christianity. Now that several years have passed since you sent the letter, I wonder if you feel it was the correct thing to do or if you think taking your wife’s approach might have worked out better?

My wife and I left Christianity in 2008. In early 2009, I wrote a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners detailing our loss of faith, and sent it to hundreds of family members, friends, colleagues in the ministry, and former church members. While Polly signed her name to the letter (and agreed with its content), it was generally perceived as coming from me. Others have always viewed Polly as not thinking for herself or under the spell of “Bruce.”

While there might have been a time forty years ago that was true, I can confidently say that Polly thinks for herself, makes her own decisions, and generally does what she wants. While our relationship is quite “traditional,” the patriarchal form of our marriage died an ignoble death decades ago. We now have an egalitarian approach to marriage. Does patriarchal thinking still show up in our relationship from time to time? Sure. Religious indoctrination will do that to you. Several years ago, I told my counselor that I wished Polly would be more assertive, make more decisions. He reminded me that she was free to NOT make decisions too; that maybe she liked me being the main decision-maker in our family; that I needed to accept her as she is. Doc, of course, was right. The difference now is that I no longer make unilateral decisions that affect both of us. Years ago, I would go to work with one car and come home with another. I would NEVER do such a thing today. We have learned to make decisions together.

The aforementioned letter was our coming-out party. While I continue to be outspoken about my unbelief, spending the past thirteen years sharing my story and trying to help those with questions and doubts about Christianity, Polly, on the other hand, quickly receded into the background, rarely talking about her loss of faith. Personality-wise, Polly is quiet and reserved. In high school and college, she was a wallflower. She went on one date before starting to date me. I was, in every way, her one and only. I’m a talkative, opinionated extrovert. Polly is not. I remember being frustrated with her when we were dating over how little she talked (much like her father). People, including myself, mistook her shyness for her not having an opinion. Trust me, Polly Shope Gerencser has lots of opinions. You just need to learn how to extract them from her as I have over forty-three years of marriage. Do I wish she was more vocal? Sure. But Polly is not me, and it’s unfair for me to expect her to be a quarter-fed talk-a-machine like I am. 🙂

I said all of this to make this point: our personalities largely determined our individual response to loss of faith. I charged Hell with an empty squirt gun, screaming FREEDOM!, and Polly stood on the sidelines, quietly smiling, never saying a word. We each responded the way we did because it was our nature to do so. That is still true today.

When we deconverted, I stood on a corner, street preacher-style, and told the world that I was no longer a Christian. Polly, on the other hand, stood in the crowd, quietly saying, AMEN! Alisha wants to know, with thirteen years of unbelieving life in the rearview mirror, would we do it all over again the same way? On the one hand, I could say, “we are who we are, personality-wise.” Can any of us act differently? (And no, I am NOT interested in discussing free will.) I do know, however, that my letter had real-world consequences. We lost all of our friends save two. And I mean ALL OF THEM! We lost friendships twenty and thirty years in the making. One letter, one honest reflection, and BOOM! — fractured friendships. Some of our friends turned on me, sending me hateful, judgmental emails. (Polly was spared any of this ugliness from our friends.) One of my closest friends savaged me in several emails, suggesting I was mentally ill. Another friend said I was possessed by Satan. And yet another dear friend who had known me for twenty-five years — the wife of an evangelist who had preached for me numerous times — told me that it was evident I was unsaved, that I was a deceiver, that the Devil was using me. (Our youngest daughter is named after her.)

My ministerial colleagues immediately broke fellowship with me. Not one colleague tried to “understand” my story. Not one emailed me and asked if we could talk, have lunch, or tried to interact with me. My letter was a declaration of war — a war that I am fighting to this day.

Imagine losing all of your friends and professional connections in a matter of months. Fifty years in the Christian church, twenty-five years in the ministry, countless relationships, all burned to the ground. To say this response was devasting to Polly and me would be a gross understatement.

Polly took a quiet, measured approach, choosing to NOT talk about her loss of faith. It’s only been in recent years that she has shared with her co-workers that she is not a believer. One of her employees is also an unbeliever, so Polly has been more open to her, but even today, she is hesitant to talk about this part of life with others. (Polly has agreed to share her story on my podcast channel when and if I ever get the *&%$#* thing off the ground.)

We have made a few friends over the years, mainly through this blog and social media. The couple who remained friends of ours when we deconverted are the only people we do things with. I have lunch from time to time with a United Church of Christ pastor and a former mainline Lutheran pastor. Outside of these friendships, neither of us has people in our lives we can call up and have in-person relationships with. Sure, we have six children and thirteen grandchildren, but we want and need non-family relationships as well.

As far as family relationships go, we are estranged from much of Polly’s Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) family. We maintain a decent relationship with her mother, but we have yet to have a meaningful discussion with Mom about why we are no longer Christians. Mom and Dad (now deceased) got the letter I sent in 2009, and that’s been the extent of any discussion about why we left the ministry and later left Christianity. I suspect Mom has read my blog now and again, as many of Polly’s IFB family have, but our losses of faith remain the proverbial rainbow-colored elephant in the room. I suspect Mom still thinks that I am the patriarch of our home; that the only reason Polly is an unbeliever is me; that when I die, she will come running back to Jesus and Evangelical Christianity.

I could go on and on about the price we have paid for leaving Christianity. Would our lives be better today if I had never sent my infamous letter to family, friends, and former parishioners? Would our lives be better if I had never started blogging, never written letters to local newspapers’ editors, never given interviews detailing my story? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. We are who we are. Could I have NOT written my letter? I have pondered that question more times than I dare admit. I suspect Alisha wants to know if it is better to gently remove the bandaid or just get it over with and rip it off. I can’t tell her what to do in her own life. Am I happy with how our life has turned out post-Jesus? Sure (in general). Is Polly happy? Sure (in general). Neither of us is a woulda-coulda-shoulda kind of person. We tend to be realists, pessimists, and pragmatists. Would our lives have been different if I had stayed quiet about our unbelief? Maybe.

Perhaps some of the readers of this blog will chime in about their approaches to declaring (or not) their unbelief. This truly is one of those questions where there is no right answer.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

The Four Marks of a False Convert According to Jordan Standridge

elmer gantry 1960
Elmer Gantry, played by Burt Lancaster (1960), preaching on the evils of evolution

I was a part of the Christian church for fifty years. I made a public profession of faith at age fifteen, attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college in the 1970s, married a preacher’s daughter, and spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. In 2008 I left Christianity, declaring that I was no longer a believer. Since then, Evangelical family members, former congregants, ministerial colleagues, and countless Evangelical zealots have tried to square my story with their peculiar theologies. Some people think I was a true Christian, but fell from grace. Others think I am still a Christian — saved, but backslidden. And then there are those who think I was a false convert; that I never was a Christian; that I spent most of my life living a lie. What better way to dismiss my story out of hand than to say that I was a fake, a fraud, a deceiver.

Jordan Standridge, an Evangelical missionary in Italy, recently wrote an article detailing four characteristics of a “false convert.”

Writing for The Cripplegate website, Standridge stated:

Over the years I’ve seen that one of the most powerful moments in a new believer’s life is the realization that there is such a thing as a false convert. The sudden realization that salvation is not dependent on a prayer, a baptism or family history propels true believers to a whole other dimension in their walk with Christ. They begin to examine themselves properly (2 Cor 13:5), they become more evangelistic, they care more about theology and they appreciate being at church so much more. Understanding the fact that false converts are a reality is so important for those who call themselves Christians.

As we saw last week, there are few things more disappointing than when someone from our church walks away from the Lord. Especially when you’ve spent countless hours not only teaching and discipling that person, but you have shared a myriad of hours of ministry with him.

….

Of course, no amount of time spent discipling people is wasted time, but there is a sense in which we want to use our time wisely and be able to water where the grass is green, rather than spend our time watering dead grass. Is there a way to tell? Is there a way to be able to recognize the sheep from among the goats in this life? Well, Simon had four red flags that Luke points out in the short story of Acts 8:9-24 which we can apply to all false converts. These don’t encompass all the red flags, but they are a helpful start. So, here are four characteristics of a false convert.

They are man-centered

In other words, they like to be exalted by others. They are all about seeking attention and wanting to be noticed.

….

False converts don’t truly love God and don’t care if He ultimately receives the glory from their life; rather, they are simply after the cheap thrills of recognition and attention. A lack of love for God’s glory shows up in a lack of evangelism, and a lack of speaking about God at all. Those who are man-centered only care about how God can affect them and improve their life and aren’t interested in picking up a cross to follow Christ (Luke 9:23).

They are not devoted to Jesus 

Simon seemed to just go through the motions in Acts 8. As we’ve already seen, he was simply after holding on to his influence and adapting to what the culture around him wanted. Most people in his cult were giving their lives to Jesus, and so, in order to fit in, he also sought to accept Christ. He didn’t truly love Jesus, he simply wanted Jesus to give him what he ultimately sought– the desires of his carnal heart. He completely misunderstood salvation. I mean, he did it all:  he believed, was baptized, and followed Philip.

But, as we know, salvation is not actions, but rather, it is a heart change that God does to a person.  Ultimately it takes Peter one conversation to realize that this man hadn’t truly been saved. False converts completely misunderstand salvation and think that it is through their actions that they are saved. They might say that salvation is not through works with their lips, but their hearts declare something completely different. They don’t truly love Jesus in their hearts and are only after the benefits of what Jesus can bring to their life.

They have a selfish attitude

This is where Simon’s motives become clear. Acts 8:18-19 shows us Simon’s heart. He offered Peter and John money to be able to have the Holy Spirit and do the miracles that they were doing. Of course, this is silly to us and shows us a deep misunderstanding of how the Holy Spirit works. But, if we go beyond the surface, we will notice an even greater red flag.

Notice why he wanted the spiritual gifts. He wanted spiritual gifts so that he could be noticed and feel good about himself. He had completely selfish reasons for them. But, a simple reading of the New Testament will teach us that spiritual gifts are only given to us to be able to serve those around us. Their only goal is to serve the other members of the Church.

Today, so many churches promote certain spiritual gifts as more important than the others, and they also encourage those in their congregations to experiment with spiritual gifts that were not intended for them. Even if they do so unintentionally, they are setting up their congregations to see spiritual gifts as a way to promote themselves in front of the eyes of the church. This is a complete misunderstanding of spiritual gifts and it shows a love-of-self that is dangerous at best.

Christ, on the other hand, teaches his disciples that in order to be great one must be willing to serve. He then, through the Holy Spirit, gifted each member of the church with spiritual gifts intended to bless the whole body. The Christian life is a life of self-sacrifice, each Christian is called to put selfish desires to death and be willing to put the interest of others above their own (Gal 5:13).

They misunderstand repentance

Ultimately, Simon showed a lack of understanding of what repentance is. First of all, he got rebuked by Peter. Peter exposed his heart’s intentions and called him out on his sin. Simon’s response is telling. He cared about what Peter said, but not because he displeased his Savior, but because he was concerned about the consequences. He didn’t want what Peter said would happen to Him. This is worldly sorrow. Look at his response, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

Not only was he more worried about his consequences, but he also misunderstood how repentance works. He asked them to pray for him. Repentance is a constant desire to be pure in front of God. Repentance doesn’t need others to intercede for them, but, instead, it is the act of a person who humbles himself before his Father and requests forgiveness and desires to change. And this doesn’t just happen at the moment of conversion. This is continual each and every day.

….

Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving slave (Matt 18:21-35) teaches a simple fact, and that is if you are unwilling to forgive, then you probably haven’t truly experienced grace. You could also say that someone who doesn’t repent of sin after he becomes a Christian probably isn’t a Christian. A Christian’s humility doesn’t go away at conversion, but rather continues on into his sanctification. As his love for Christ increases, his hatred for sin will increase as well, and it will show itself in a desire to admit sin and continue to repent daily.

On the other hand, false converts hate confrontation. They close up and defend themselves, or, better yet, attack back in order to keep the confronter at bay. They can’t possibly believe that they could have sinned in some way. False converts are prideful and don’t ever own up to sins that they have committed. In other words, they are blind to their sin.

Of course, this must have been eye opening to the early church. Most churches would be ecstatic to have a guy like Simon proclaim Christ and join the church, and maybe Philip was blinded by this as well. But, Simon had all the wrong motives in coming to Christ, and, even though it wasn’t evident at first, his true colors came out in time. Having someone walk away can be extremely painful, but each time it happens, we can be thankful that God has changed our hearts and given us new life. I think that when false-converts walk away, we are also more likely to value the seasoned saints in church around us who have been so faithful to follow Christ for so many years, and who have said, perhaps thousands of times, no to the world and yes to Christ.

Standridge believes True Christians® can ferret out false converts in their churches. False converts:

  • Are man-centered
  • Are not devoted to Jesus
  • Have selfish attitudes
  • Misunderstand repentance

I know scores of people who Standridge would label false converts. However, his four characteristics of a false convert don’t ring true. Standridge is looking for easy explanations to explain the mass exodus from Evangelical churches. Pastors, evangelists, missionaries, elders, deacons, youth directors, worship leaders, and other committed followers of Jesus are walking (or running) out the back doors of churches never to return. How does Standridge explain an increasing number of Evangelical clergy and church leaders who are embracing atheism, agnosticism, or non-Abrahamic religions? Are they all “false converts”?

Instead of addressing the stench arising from Evangelicalism’s corpse, Standridge uses worn out tropes to marginalize and dismiss people who once loved and served Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind. I challenge Standridge to carefully read my story and see if he can find a whiff of his “four characteristics of a false convert.”

Stories such as mine and yours remain a conundrum for Evangelicals. Our testimonies suggest that we were once followers of Jesus, and now we are not. We once loved God and his church, and now we don’t. We once believed the Bible was the Word of God, and now we don’t. We were, in every way, true converts, and now we are not.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Socialism Is Evil and Jesus was a Capitalist

jesus was a socialist

Socialism is a cancer that ultimately destroys every society where it’s allowed to fully matasticize [sic]. It’s appalling to see so many young people fooled by its thinly-veiled deceptions. And one of the biggest reasons why Socialism is evil is because it’s immoral. And it’s especially evil in this regard because it’s so deceptive.

Socialism’s ideologues prey on people’s sense of fairness and compassion when it’s quite the opposite in practice. Here are just a few of the many reasons why Socialism is immoral.

Socialism is a false anti-Christ religion. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating here: Socialism is an anti-Christ religion that replaces dependence upon God with dependence upon the State. And this was the intent of its founders.

….

This anti-Christ aspect of Socialism has been proven in history, as Christianity and other religions are suppressed, or outlawed, wherever Socialist regimes are allowed to flourish.

Socialism advocates theft.  Under the pretense of being “fair,” Socialism says its okay to redistribute wealth. But it’s fundamentally immoral to steal from people, even if you voted to steal from people (Democratic Socialism).

….

By preaching equal outcome instead of equal opportunity, Socialism justifies stealing from the wealthy under the pretense that some rich people exploit the poor.

….

While we all have equal value to God, and are loved equally by Him, we were not created equal in abilities, gifts, or outcomes.

….

Socialism is prejudicial. For instance, Socialists condemn wealthy people for being rich because they assume that they got rich by exploiting the poor (one of Karl Marx’s main arguments). With the Postmodern Neo-Marxist Social Justice movement, they’ve just switched class with race or gender. So, now, people are no longer judged by the content of their character but by the color of their skin.  This is not only racist, it’s definitive prejudice, which is immoral.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care for the poor or marginalized, we just don’t do so by stealing from other people. That would be immoral in any world.

Socialism advocates coveting your neighbors goods. This sin is similar to the last one. Socialism says it’s good to covet your neighbor’s possessions simply because it’s unfair that they have more than you. But God calls this idolatry.

Socialism forces compliance rather than incentivising doing the right thing. Forcing people to do the “right thing” is the opposite of the teaching of Christ who told us to serve others out of love.

While government can create laws that incentivize charity and compassion from those with financial means, whenever the State forces it on them it’s going down the road toward tyranny. And I think we’ve seen the disastrous effects that the welfare state has had on the poor. It has not helped them but made them dependent upon the State, which is a form of slavery, and that’s immoral.

Socialism is intolerant to those with different views. This is rather ironic since Socialists often view themselves as tolerant, but no one is more intolerant than the radical left. The “Woke” movement is a cold and pitiless religion, they’re the 21st century witch hunters—an unforgiving cult that shames and ostracizes, even erases, anyone who does not live up to their woke standard.

….

Socialism foments division. Socialism thrives by pitting one group against another, making them either the “oppressed” and the “oppressors.” But there is no class, race, or gender division in the Kingdom of God

….

God shows no partiality, and it’s immoral for us to do so.

Socialists often advocate violence to advance their cause. This isn’t true with all Socialists, but it’s most definitely true with the fathers of Socialism (Marx, Lenin, Mao, etc.)

We do see this justification with the neo-Marxist BLM organization and the “anti-fascist” fascists who call themselves Antifa.

Socialism creates dependence instead of freedom.

….

In contrast, Jesus died for us to live in freedom.

….

Beloved, don’t be fooled by this deceptively immoral ideology. Let’s educate ourselves and our children with the truth that makes us free. And the truth is, while there are corrupt people who do immoral things under Capitalism, Socialism is immoral by design.

— Mel Wild, In My Father’s House, Why Socialism is Immoral, September 14, 2021

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Why People are Leaving Evangelical Churches: Pastor Rob Dyer, Close, But No Cigar

church door

Rob Dyer is the pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Belleville, Illinois. Dyer recently wrote an article for Ministry Architects’ website detailing why people leave churches and don’t come back. I first read Dyer’s article on a Southern Baptist website.

Dyer wrote:

Years ago, we used to tell ourselves that young adults who had strayed from the church would come back after they got married. When that didn’t happen, we shifted our hopes and proclaimed that they would return when they had kids. Some came back for baptisms, but the tsunami of baby-toting individuals never quite hit the shores of our weekly worship. 

And, so, we edited the story, confident that the returns would happen once their kids reached school age. As school-age children began signing up for all sorts of activities, we figured that our amazing youth programs would make the list of prioritized pursuits. While many congregations saw some waves of church reengagement, many others experienced something entirely different about “their” young adults…

The reality is, this is the story for many churches for many years; it isn’t a truth we found out in 2020 or even 2021. And surveys and church statistics continue to reveal that missing church members are more likely to stay home than to go to a different church. So it’s not that they’re going somewhere else. They aren’t going anywhere. And they certainly aren’t coming back.

Churches around the nation had a reset button hit. In-person church was halted and then, slowly, restarted. In the meanwhile, online methods of worship filled the gaps. In the beginning, many churches experienced numbers that exceeded their previous in-person numbers. “We’ve got so many people attending our church from out-of-state!” we exclaimed with delight, as evangelism seemed to thrive despite the pandemic. At the same time, our church members were laying down some of the activities and hustle of everyday life that used to conflict with church options. 

But they were doing this all while at the same time picking up the stress of daily pandemic navigation. And experiencing the rise of political and social tensions. And a general feeling of exhaustion grew in our people.

People were starting to drop off of the Zoom gatherings and online worship events. Online children and youth ministry activities saw an increase of cameras turned off and eventually a decrease in participants. Our masked and socially distanced gatherings that started to emerge attracted fewer numbers, but we figured that the people would return, volunteer, and help us rebuild the church once we reached that “new normal.” We started editing the story that we told each other – making excuses for individuals and families who were not showing up.

As our society is opening up more and more, people are starting to pick up the weight of busy lives again. With the pandemic and virus variants over their heads, people are finding that they have a reduced capacity for weight bearing. Even joyful activities are getting sidelined in this “new normal.” Now, the church is realizing something not just about young adults, but also about people of all ages in our churches. They’re not coming back. 

….

Our excuses for the absence of others don’t help anyone. We can hope – and speak in goals and prayers and aspirations – for a someday return. But there’s a reality to our relationships, or lack thereof, that’s been hushed or is being ignored. And our stories aren’t as true as they could be.

It’s not even that people aren’t returning – they might never have been connected in the first place. People have experienced how easy (or how difficult) it is to live without their church. Obligation and duty no longer make up for a lack of connectedness, devotion, or faith itself. People learned who their friends are and some discovered – or finally acknowledged – that the church isn’t a necessary part of their lives. As much as churches miss people, people just aren’t missing back. 

For years we’ve had no magic answer for the young adult losses that many churches grappled with before the pandemic. In that context, though, we believed too many false narratives and failed to adequately address the motivations involved. Similarly, no magic answer exists for the receding engagement across multiple age groups that we are seeing post-pandemic. 

But what we do know is that the future of the church will require innovative changes. We have experienced how developing healthy systems is essential for all church seasons to not just survive – but thrive – and it’s time to admit we cannot move forward with our pre-pandemic approaches. 

I appreciate Dyer’s willingness to address the lies that sects, churches, and pastors tell themselves about why people leave churches and don’t return. However, Dyer seems to imply that the main reason people leave churches is a lack of engagement on their part; fringe members who never bought what their churches were selling. This certainly explains some membership loss, but Dyer fails to address the proverbial elephant in the room: pastors, evangelists, missionaries, youth directors, deacons, elders, and worship leaders are leaving Christianity, often embracing atheism, agnosticism, Buddhism, or declaring they no longer have any interest in organized religion (the nones). Further, churches are seeing a mass exodus of younger adults — their future is literally walking out the back door, never to return. Are these people, as Dyer seems to imply, fringe attendees, people who were never committed to their churches (and Jesus)?

I suggest Dyer and others like him talk to some of the people who frequent this blog; people who were once on fire, sold-out followers of Jesus Christ; people who devotedly served their churches for decades. Take note of the reasons why they are no longer Christians.

Dyer thinks that the bleeding can be stopped, though amputations might be necessary. I disagree. Evangelicalism is terminal, slowly drawing its last breath. They have forsaken Jesus, turning to politics as their Lord and Savior. As they strain at gnats and swallow camels, Evangelicals need only to look in the mirror to see who is to blame for their demise. Evangelicals may burn down the world as they lust for power and control, but one thing is for certain: those who walked (or ran) out the back doors of their churches ain’t coming back. There is nothing the Dyers of the world can say or do that would entice those who left to return. Once you have left Egypt for the Promised Land, there’s no going back.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce Gerencser