Last Saturday, my son, grandson, and I attended the basketball game between Defiance High School and Findlay High School. Defiance is ranked fourth in Ohio High School Basketball Division II and Findlay is a Division I school, so I thought this would be a great game to attend. As always, I took my camera with me. Here are a few of the pictures I took:
The Defiance High School Student Section is called Kirk’s Krazies.
Kirk’s Krazies, Defiance High School
The coach of the Findlay High School Trojans complained about the officiating right from the start of the game. His complaining infected his team and Findlay fans, and the game was one nonstop bitchfest about the officiating.
Jim Rucki, Findlay High School Basketball Coach
What made things worse was one of the officials developed rabbit ears. Rabbit ears is a sports term for someone who listens to criticism and lets it affect their game, or in the case of this official, their ability to officiate the game.
Mr Rabbit Ears
Instead of ignoring the Findlay coach, this official began responding, often with thrown up hands and the words, I didn’t see it. This is the worst thing an official can do. Like a shark smelling blood in the water, a seasoned coach like Rucki will continue to badger an official, knowing the official is paying attention.
The game was a tightly contested:
#20 Kameron Singleton and #32 Chaze Proehl
#10, Grant Niswander
#4, Michael Menendez, #10, Wes Detter, #Unknown
The deciding factor came down to trust, which coach trusted his point guards to run the offense and win the game. At the end of regulation, the game was tied and it took two overtimes before Defiance prevailed 63-58.
During the overtimes, the points guards for Defiance ran the floor like seasoned veterans:
#4, Michael Menendez
When the game really mattered, it was the Findlay coach’s lack of trust in his point guard that cost his team the game. When he brought the ball up the court he would look to the bench for the play. Perhaps he was a young, inexperienced player and Coach Rucki didn’t trust him to run the offense. One thing was quite evident, Kirk Lehman, the Defiance coach, trusted his points guards, when the game was on the line, to execute the offense. This is the one thing that made the difference and Defiance came away with the victory.
Lest anyone accuse me of being a homer, I attended Findlay schools from 8th through 11th grade. I have a great fondness for Findlay High School sports. This post reflects my take on the game as a sports fan. That said, I like the way Defiance plays the game, so I plan to watch more of their games in the coming weeks.
o hear many Evangelical preachers tell it, salvation is a transaction between God and humankind. Humankind is wicked, vile, and sinful, unable to do good and headed for hell. God, in his infinite wisdom, made a way for us to have our sins forgiven. Once we avail ourselves of this super-duper sin-erasing way, we have a ticket to heaven that cannot be canceled. The moment we pray to Jesus and ask him to forgive us of our sins and come into our life, one of heaven’s angels puts a door hangar on a room in the Father’s House that says RESERVED.
Countless American Christians have prayed the sinners prayer and are certain that when they die they will wake up in heaven. They have successfully pulled the handle on God’s Salvation Dispensing Machine® and down the chute came a Fire Insurance policy that guarantees payment upon death. It is the only insurance that pays off AFTER you die.
Eternal security, also known as once-saved-always-saved, is a central tenet of many an Evangelical preacher’s soteriology. Once in the family you can never leave the family. God’s family is like the mob, once you are in, you are in for life. What better thing to offer sinners than a guaranteed home in heaven that costs them nothing more than a few heartfelt words:
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Arminians, those who believe you can lose your salvation, object to the doctrine of eternal security. According to their theology, Christians can lose their salvation. Good works are necessary to maintain one’s salvation. Calvinists also object to the doctrine of eternal security. They emphatically believe that a person must persevere, hold on until death. And if they don’t, this is proof that the person never really was a Christian.
Based on what I have written above, this means that someone such as myself, a reprobate, a denier of God and his offer of salvation, a man who once was saved, who once followed Jesus is either:
Still saved because once you are saved you can never lose it
Unsaved because I lost the salvation I once had
Never was saved
Over the years I have had numerous Christians tell me that one of these three statements is an accurate description of my present state. All of them are quite certain that they are 100% right about my standing with God and where I will end up when I die.
Every Christian sect would agree that salvation and eternal destiny are THE most important issues every person must decide. Amos 4:12 says, PREPARE to meet thy God. Surely then, God has made the whole salvation thing crystal clear, right? Nope.
Take the aforementioned verses in Romans 10:9,10, 13. It seems clear that belief=salvation=eternity in heaven. John 10:28 says:
And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These are the verses on which the once-saved-always-saved believers hang their hats. Of course, Arminians and Calvinists both have arguments and rebuttals to the once-saved-always-saved interpretations. I once heard an Arminian preacher explain John 10:28 this way:
No man can pluck you out of God’s hand but you can jump out by yourself.
The point I am trying to make is that the whole notion of Christian salvation is hopelessly convoluted, complex, and contradictory. Right now, Evangelical preachers reading this post are:
They are certain that THEIR soteriology, THEIR plan of salvation, is the right one. As I have stated numerous times, the Bible teaches multiple plans of salvation, with each plan contradicted by other Bible verses. Let me illustrate this. We already know what the once–saved-always-saved preacher says. Are there verses that contradict his salvation plan?
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end;
This passage seems to be quite clear. A brother (brethren) can have an evil heart of unbelief and walk away from God. He will only have salvation and eternal life if he is steadfast to the end.
Can a person, for a time, fall away, and then come back to Jesus? Is it possible for someone such as I to repent of my sin, renounce my atheism, and return to following Jesus? Countless Evangelical preachers would say, YES! It’s never too late. As long as you are a living, breathing soul, you can be saved.
But wait a minute!
Doesn’t Romans 1 and 2 talk about people who can’t be saved, people who have been given by God over to a reprobate mind? Isn’t it too late for them? And what about the Jews? John 12:37-40 says:
But though he (Jesus) had done so many miracles before them (the Jews) , yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.
God blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts of the Jews so they would not understand and be converted. In other words, these Jews could not be saved. Does this no-salvation-for-you only apply to Jews alive during the days Jesus walked through the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem? Evangelicals argue endlessly over the Jews and whether they can be saved or even need to be saved.
Now, if I can, let me land this plane. Consider a few passages from the book of Hebrews.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
As a Christian, I was once enlightened and I tasted of the heavenly gift. I was made a partaker of the Holy Ghost, tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come. I am now an atheist and I have repudiated all that I once said I believed. According to Hebrews 6:4-6, it is IMPOSSIBLE for me to ever be saved again. Why? Because I make a mockery of Jesus’s atoning work on the cross.
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Granted, theologians and preachers of every persuasion have explanations for the multiple, contradictory plans of salvation. Many will dismiss the Hebrews quotes with a wave of the hand saying, these verses apply to the Jews not us. Others will open their sect’s systematic theology book, turn to the section on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) and “prove” that any salvation scheme but theirs is wrong and will likely lead to eternal damnation and hell fire.
Here’s my point. If Christian theologians and preachers can’t agree on something as basic as salvation, what hope is there for those not trained in theology? How can they, without the preacher telling them, read the Bible and find out for themselves the way to heaven?
From cover to cover the Bible is a convoluted, contradictory mess. Try as theologians and preachers might to “harmonize” the Bible to fit their theological system, it remains unable to simply answer the question, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16 and Mark 16) Even with the passage that asks the question what must I do to be saved, Christian preachers argue amongst themselves over whether salvation requires baptism.
All of what I have detailed here is evidence that the Bible is very much a human-made book. Surely if the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible as many Christians sects and preachers believe, one would think that the manner in which someone is saved, how one comes into right standing with God, would be clear. It’s not.
Let me finish this post with Bruce Gerencser’s salvation plan:
Live well, do good works, and die. The only heaven and hell you will experience in this life is what you and your fellow human beings create.
Straight from the mouth of Bruce Almighty, written down on this inspired, inerrant, and infallible page. Thus saith Bruce.
The two tools most often used by Evangelical preachers to keep people in the pews are:
The threat of God’s judgment
The threat of hell
As with Jonathan Edwards in his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Evangelical preachers warn parishioners of the judgment to come and the hell that awaits anyone who does not repent of their sins and become a follower of Jesus.
…The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment…
While few Evangelical preachers can turn a word and speak as eloquently as Edwards, their message is still the same: judgment and hell awaits those who do not repent of their sins and follow after Jesus.
Preachers often use what I call the carrot and stick approach. Every person has a choice to make about where they spend eternity. While Calvinists and Arminians argue endlessly over whether we really are free to choose, saving faith does require an act of volition. Every person must choose between heaven and hell. Become a follower of Jesus and heaven, the carrot awaits when you die. Reject Jesus, his salvific work on the cross and his death-defying resurrection from the dead, then hell, the stick, awaits you when you die.
Evangelical preachers impress on those under the sound of their voice that it is important to make a decision for Christ NOW! The Bible says in the last part of II Corinthians 6:2:
…behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation.
According to Evangelical preachers, none of us has the promise of tomorrow. Proverbs 27:1 states:
Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.
Evangelical preachers are like Larry the Cable Guy. Git ‘er Done! Today, right now, don’t delay.
Some preachers spice up their sermons with illustrations of people who died suddenly or who died after hearing and rejecting the preacher’s warning about God’s judgment and hell. These stories, true or not, are meant to elicit an immediate response. When I was a preacher, my goal was to press every person who heard my sermon to make a decision. I was of the opinion that there was no such thing as a neutral position. Once a person heard the gospel, heard my sermon, they had a choice to make. Heaven or hell, which will it be?
A regular reader of this blog sent me a Franklin Graham quote that I think will help illustrate what I am trying to say in this post:
“Death is serious, eternal business. Once our physical hearts beat for the last time, we will instantly find ourselves either in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in all His splendor, or in the pit of Hell away from His presence.”
There’s the carrot and the stick. Heaven or hell; choose now while your heart is still beating. The moment your heart stops beating, your eternal destiny is settled.
Think for a moment about what Graham said here about the heart stopping. So, if a person’s heart stops, his eternal destiny is settled? What if his heart is restarted using a defibrillator? Does this mean his eternal destiny is not really settled and he gets another chance to decide, heaven or hell? For those people who have heart transplants, does that mean that they need to decide again?
The bigger problem with Graham’s statement is that it is bad theology. According to orthodox Christian theology, when people die, they do not go to heaven or hell. Instead, they go to the grave and will remain there until the resurrection of the dead. Grandma is not up in Heaven running around, nor is she peering over the portals of Heaven watching her grandchildren play. Neither is Christopher Hitchens in hell, being tormented day and night for daring to mock the thrice holy God. They are dead, lying in the grave, awaiting the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.
After the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment will take place and every person will be sent to his or her eternal destiny. And even here, many Evangelical preachers, including Graham, get it wrong. Christians will not spend eternity in Heaven. Instead, they will spend it in the kingdom of God. Hitchens and the rest of us reprobates? We will not spend eternity in hell. Instead we will spend it in the lake of fire.
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
And here an even more interesting point. Isn’t our eternal destiny is settled by repenting of our sins and following after Jesus? These texts state that everyone is judged by their works, that it is works that determine whether Grandma, Hitchens, or anyone else goes to heaven or hell.
I wish Evangelical preachers would get together and figure out exactly where it is we are all going when we die. I wish they would determine if it is really up to me to decide? With so much confusion and lack of theological precision, how is a poor, lost atheist such as I am, supposed to determine in what hotel to make my final reservation?
The purpose of this post is to show how confusing and contradictory Evangelical preachers and their theology can be. If they are not precise and clear, can mere untrained, unwashed Philistines such as we are have any hope of finding THE Way, Truth, and Life?
Somerset Baptist Church Auditorium after Remodel, 1992
In July of 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. In 1985, we bought a Methodist church building near Mt Perry, Ohio for $5,000.00. The church, built in 1831 and one of the oldest Methodist buildings in Ohio, would be the church home until Polly and I moved away in 1994.
During the 11 years I was pastor, hundreds of church members came and went and we hauled thousands of kids to church on one of our four buses. For 5 years, we operated a private Christian school, open only to the children of the church. It was tuition-free.
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1983
Today, I uploaded over a hundred pictures from our time at Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset/Mt Perry, Ohio. I made the album public so readers of this blog could view them. You can see them here.
This was the church where I came of age as a pastor. In 1983, I was a hardcore, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor. When I moved away in 1994 to co-pastor Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, I was a committed Calvinistic, Reformed Baptist pastor. I went through tremendous intellectual and social transformation during these 11 years.
As I scanned the pictures, my mind was flooded with wonderful memories of the shared experiences I had with the church family. Yes, there were bad times, stupid times, dumb ass times. Yes, I was a fundamentalist and that brought all kinds of baggage with it. But, as I looked at the pictures, I didn’t think about beliefs. My thoughts were of the wonderful times we had. Yes, fundamentalism mentally and emotionally hurt and scarred me, but that does not mean there are no good memories. There are lots of them. In fact, the vast majority of the memories I have are good ones. Sometimes, when people deconvert they often become so fixated on the negative that happened that they forget the good times. I know I did.
Bruce Gerencser, 1991, Somerset Baptist Academy
I also shed some tears. There were a handful of people in the pictures who are now dead. Cancer, heart attacks, and car accidents claimed their lives and all I have left of them is the pictures and our shared memories.
After I posted the pictures to Facebook, I heard from a number of people who were once part of the church. Most of the people I heard from were children when I was at Somerset Baptist Church. They are now middle-aged with families of their own. Their parents, like me, are old and gray. It was nice to hear from them.
I decided to upload to Facebook all of the old pictures I have. They aren’t very good – the best a $20.00 camera could offer. In fact, they are down-right terrible. But, infused into the photos are memories, and it is those memories that matter. In the coming weeks, I will find out if the lesion on my pancreas is cancer. If it is, I know the prognosis is, “it sucks to be me.” I am OK with that, not that I have any choice in the matter. I wanted to upload these pictures while I could. Even without the current health problems I have, I know that I am on the shorter end of life. The sun is long in the western sky and I thought it best to share the photos while I could.
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985
I feel old today, as a man who has lived a long life. But, I also feel blessed to have lived a good life, a life marked by contradiction, conflict, grief, and change, along with happiness, joy, and goodness. It is the sum of my life.
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s
Why is it that so many Evangelicals have no desire to be curious? Yes, I know many are, so don’t get your panties in a bunch if you are a curiouser- than-a-cat Evangelical. I frequently get an email or a blog comment from an Evangelical Christian wanting to “help” me find my way to Jesus. Such people are certain that they possess the requisite knowledge and skill to win me to Jesus. They are sure that if they just befriend me, quote the right verses, soothe my hurts, or understand my pain, I will fall on my knees and call on the name of Jesus.
I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I was a pastor for twenty-five of those years. I have a Bible college education. Surely they understand that I am not an atheist out of ignorance? Of course not, and here is where their lack of curiosity gets them in trouble. They often don’t know anything about me or this blog. Why? Because they did a Google/Bing/Yahoo search for _________________ and their search brought them to a single blog post of mine. They read that one post and immediately decide that I am a poor wayfaring waif in need of Jesus.
When I get comments such as these, I go to the logs and see what pages they read. Usually, they have read only the page the search brought them to. Their lack of curiosity (or laziness) is astounding and leads them to make wild judgments about me and come to rash, ill-informed conclusions. If they would just read the About page they would be better informed about me and this blog.
I suspect part of the reason Evangelicals are not, in general, known for their curiosity, is because they are 100% certain that they are absolutely right. They worship the one, true God and this God lives inside of them. This God walks with them, talks with them, and tell them that they are his own. They have a supernatural book given to them by this supernatural God. This book contains all the answers about life they will ever need.
When you are certain…there is no need to think, reason, investigate, or doubt. When the man upstairs is on your team, no need to consider any other team. When your church has declared that strawberry ice cream is the one true ice cream, no need to try any other ice cream.
Simply put, no need to know anything else, when you already know all you need to know. God said it and that settled it. One true God, one true religious text, one way of salvation. The earth is 6,000 years old, created in six days. The Bible gives the blueprint for Christ-honoring family, a happy marriage, obedient kids, and great sex. When the answer to every question is God, it’s not surprising to find that Evangelicals are not curious.
The good news is that more and more Evangelicals are discovering the curiosity that lies dormant beneath the surface of their lives. Once they make this discovery, they are on their way out of the closed-mindedness and senses-dulling prison of Evangelicalism. They will find out that science can and does explain the world they live in. Science doesn’t have all the answers, but it is asking the right questions.
Still want/need to believe in a transcendent deity or some sort of spirituality? Once free of the heaven/hell, saved/lost, in/out, good/bad paradigm of Evangelicalism, people are free to wander at will. When the fear of hell and judgment is gone, they are free to experience those things that are meaningful to them. Once the question is no longer will you go to heaven when you die, the journey rather than the destination becomes what matters.
Curiosity may kill the cat, but trust me Evangelicals, it won’t kill you.
I wrote the following to inform those who don’t know me about my past and present life. While this is in no way the sum of my life, it should help to answer some of the questions readers might have. I try to be open and honest. If you have a personal question you would like me to answer, please send me an email or leave your question in the comment section.
Rural NW Ohio, the village of Ney. One stoplight, one gas station, one pizza place/bar, and one restaurant/bar. We have lived here since 2007.
Do you own your own home?
What color is your hair?
Well it used to be bright red, some say orange. These days, it is a faded, dull red, mostly white. (see picture above)
How tall are you?
How much do you weigh?
I currently weigh 365 pounds. I weighed 160 pounds at age 18, 180 pounds the day I got married, and 225 pounds five years after I married. I am twice the man I was on my wedding day.
Which hand are you?
Left, 100% left.
What color are your eyes?
They range from gray to sparkling blue. Polly says my eye color is determined by my mood.
What is your body shape?
I have short legs (29 inch inseam) and a long body. One man told me I was built like a fire plug.
What’s wrong with you?
How much time do you have? I have suffered with depression most of my life. I have Fibromyalgia, diagnosed in 1997. Since 2007, I have had non-specific neurological problems that affect my ability to stand and walk. I live with daily, unrelenting pain. I walk with a cane and often have to use a wheelchair.
What sports teams do you root for?
Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Louisville Bats, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Toledo Mud Hens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Ohio State football and basketball.
I am also a dirt track racing fan.
Did you play sports?
Yes, I played Little League and City League baseball and City League basketball. I played one year of junior high football.
I was usually good enough to make the team, but I tended to be on the far end of the bench (except for City League basketball, where I was a starter).
Should Pete Rose be in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame?
What do you like to do for fun or to relax?
Go anywhere with Polly.
Attend a sporting event with my sons.
Read non-fiction books.
Take a walk in the woods, or a walk anywhere with the love of my life by my side. These days, it is usually Polly pushing me in a wheelchair when we take walks.
What are your hobbies?
I am a serious amateur photographer. I use Sony, Tamron, and Sigma equipment.
I have extensive computer/Windows software knowledge. I build my own computers.
I also like to garden and work in the yard when I am able.
When did you buy your first computer?
1992, a V-Tech 286.
Who are your favorite authors?
Thomas Merton, Henry David Thoreau, Bart Ehrman, and Wendell Berry, along with countless other authors who have helped me along the way.
What is your favorite comic?
What foods do you like?
Do you drink alcohol?
Yes, I like wine and spirits. I am not a beer drinker.
What are your favorite restaurants?
Mad Anthony’s in Fort Wayne and Auburn, Indiana, Red Lobster, and Texas Roadhouse.
For dessert, I like Eric’s Ice Cream in Defiance, Ohio and Dietsch Brothers Ice Cream in Findlay, Ohio.
What is your favorite ice cream?
Rocky Road and Mint Chocolate Chip.
What is your favorite candies?
Double dipped chocolate malted milk balls from Dietsch’s, Clark, Zero, Zagnut, Snickers, and Milky Way candy bars, and Goetz’s Carmel Creams.
What communities have you lived in?
Over the past 58 years, I have lived in:
Ohio: Bryan (numerous times), Ney (twice), Farmer, Deshler, Harrod, Findlay, Mount Blanchard, Alvordton (twice), Newark (twice), Buckeye Lake, New Lexington (twice), Junction City, Mount Perry, Glenford, and Somerset.
California: San Diego and Chula Vista.
Arizona: Tucson, Sierra Vista, Hereford, and Yuma.
Michigan: Pontiac and Clare.
How many houses have you lived in?
16 houses by age 21 and 18 more houses since Polly and I have been married.
How many cars have you owned?
Over 60. The cheapest cost $25.00, the most expensive cost $29,000.00.
What car do you currently own?
2015 Ford Escape.
What was your favorite car?
The 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS I owned in the 1970s.
What was your least favorite car?
Any of the cars I owned that were made by American Motors.
Besides pastoring, what jobs have you worked?
Janitor, gas station attendant, short order cook, newspaper motor route, life insurance salesman, sweeper salesman, restaurant general manager, network manager, durable medical equipment supply office manager, dairy department manager, grocery stock clerk, workfare/court offender program manager, litter control manager/officer, building code enforcement officer, grant manager, real estate updater for auditor’s office, farm worker, mechanic, cable box repairman, shipping and receiving, turret lathe operator, and numerous general laborer jobs in factories.
What was your favorite job?
Restaurant general manager.
What is your favorite color?
What are your politics?
Liberal, progressive, socialist.
Are you an atheist?
Are you a humanist?
What is your worldview?
I am agnostic on the God question. I cannot know for certain if a god of some sort exists, but I think it is highly improbable. It is possible that a deity of some sort might someday reveal herself to us, but I highly doubt it. I am convinced that all of the deities in the human panoply of gods are the creation of humans.
I live my day-to-day life as an atheist. Thoughts of God never enter my mind unless I am writing an article for this website.
I try to live my life according to the humanist ideals spelled out in the various humanist manifestos.
Do you fear going to hell?
No more than I fear Mickey Mouse breaking into my house and stealing my TV.
In other words, since heaven, hell, and the devil are the fictions of humans, I don’t fear hell.
How many churches have you visited/preached at in your lifetime?
What can you tell me about your wife?
We met at Bible college. Polly is a pastor’s daughter. She is my lover and best friend. She is an awesome cook, a great seamstress, and she never lets me have all the covers.
What can you tell me about your kids?
Well, there are six of them, four sons and two daughters. Four of them are married and have children of their own. One of them is going through a divorce. Five of them are gainfully employed. Our oldest daughter has Down Syndrome.
Are your children Christian?
You’ll have to ask them. None of them is Evangelical and all of them have left the faith of their youth.
Do you have any siblings?
Yes, a brother and sister. They both live in Arizona (Chandler and Tombstone).
Are your parents still living?
No. My father died at the age of 49 from a stroke and my Mom committed suicide at the age of 54.
What kind of music do you like to listen to?
I like every style of music except rap, old-style country, and opera.
Who are your favorite artists?
Matt Nathanson, Eliza Gilkyson, Darius Rucker, Theory of a Deadman, Staind, Seether, Lucinda Williams, The Carpenters, Collective Soul, Sugarland.
What is your favorite movie?
Mosquito Coast and Hell in the Pacific.
If you could live any place in the world where would you live?
Anywhere near water as long as Polly is with me and my children live 20 minutes away.
Why do you blog?
I have a story to tell and blogging is my way of telling it.
Why do you stop blogging from time to time?
Depression and health problems.
Have you made a lot of money blogging?
Yes, millions of dollars. So much money that I don’t know what to do with it.
Serious answer? Last year, blog donations totaled about $2000. I don’t write to make money. I write because I want and need to.
Are you writing a book?
Yes, I started it a dozen times and I hope to have it done before I die. I signed a book contract last December. I hope to have it completed by the end of summer.
What’s most important to you?
What’s least important to you?
The approbation of others.
What is your favorite season?
If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?
You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.
Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.
What do I mean by the word “saved”? Delivered. Redeemed. Set free. Bought by the blood. Justified. (Looked at by God just as if I never sinned.)
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.(Romans 10:9, 10)
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8.9)
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3,4)
Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9)
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark 16:16
Oops. Scratch that last one. Don’t want to start a war between the Baptists and the Campbellites. (Church of Christ)
Let me set aside, for a moment, the fact that these verses teach several different salvations. Most Christians interpret these verses, and others, in a very basic, generic way:
I am a sinner. Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. Three days later he resurrected from the dead. Believing this message, I admit I am a sinner, I repent of my sins, and by faith I trust Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me. I am trusting Jesus to save me and keep me until I die. By putting my faith and trust in Jesus I know I will go to heaven when I die. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
There are three basic schools of thought when it comes to salvation. I know there are various shades of each of these. Please, spare me the emails and comments that say I didn’t properly describe YOUR TRIBE.
Once Saved, Always Saved
There is the “once saved, always saved” school. According to this school of thought, once a person is saved he can never be un-saved. No matter what the person does, no matter how the person lives, he is saved forever. A person can stop attending Church, stop doing ANYTHING that remotely suggests that he is saved, yet “once saved, always saved.” One noted writer even said that a person could go to the altar and be saved and then leave the Church, curse God, and live like a heathen the remainder of his life…it matters not, “once saved, always saved.”
This is the belief of most Baptists and many Evangelicals and fundamentalists. Salvation becomes a form of “fire insurance.” People don’t want to go to hell, so they get saved. Whew, that’s over. Next!
Coupled with this belief is the notion that the believer will be rewarded some day for doing the right things in this life. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
So, people might be “once saved always saved” but if they don’t live right they will lose their rewards in heaven. The nature of this loss of rewards is never clearly defined. Maybe their mansion won’t have indoor plumbing? (John 14:1-6)
Some “once saved always saved” believers realize that their version of salvation really looks bad. They know their brand of salvation looks like it is preaching a “live like hell, still go to heaven” message.
To counter this, they teach that Christians who live carnally will be chastised (corrected) by God in this life. If a carnal Christian is not chastised, it is proof that they were never “really” saved. After all the Bible says in Hebrews 12:8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
Countless once-saved-always-saved Baptists have told me that I am still a Christian. No matter what I do, no matter I believe, I can never, ever lose my salvation. I suppose if this is the case then there will be a lot of atheists in heaven.
Conditional Salvation, Arminianism
Arminian groups hold to a conditional salvation. They believe a person is saved by grace but kept by works (works they do by the power of God, so it is really all of grace). In this school of thought, people can only know they are saved in the present moment. Their future salvation is conditioned on them doing the right things. This is the belief of groups like the Free-Will Baptists, Methodists, Wesleyans, etc.(groups who trace back their heritage to John and Charles Wesley and Jacobus Arminius).
A believer can do certain things that will result in the loss of salvation. Some Arminian groups believe you can only lose your salvation one time. In other words, “once saved, once lost, always lost.”
The Bible says in Hebrews 6:4-6:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
Other Arminian groups believe a person can repeatedly be saved, lost, saved, lost, saved. They often talk about a line that is crossed, when a person goes from a state of grace to being lost again. I have asked repeatedly over the years exactly where that line is and no one can tell me. I have been told by more than one Arminian preacher, “You just KNOW when you have crossed the line.”
Arminians have no problem explaining my life. It is quite simple to them; I once was saved and now I am lost.
Perseverance of the Saints, Calvinism
The final school of thought is the Calvinistic school. Calvinist groups like the Presbyterians, some Baptists, Episcopalians,etc adhere to what is commonly called the five points of Calvinism (which were actually articulated as a reply to the Arminians). Point number five is the perseverance of the saints or the preservation of the saints.
The perseverance of the saints is “once saved, always saved” with a twist. Calvinists believe salvation is a work done totally by God. From start to finish it is God who does it all. A person can not believe, exercise faith, or do anything apart from God giving them the power to do so. Those whom God saves, God keeps. Now, God only saves a certain number of people. God knows exactly how many he will save. They are the elect. They have been predestined to salvation. No one but the elect will be saved. Everyone else need not apply.
The God who saves is the God who causes believers to persevere to the end. If they don’t persevere to the end, then that is proof they were never saved to start with.
After hearing my story Calvinists conclude I never was saved. I didn’t persevere. I have received common grace but not God’s special, saving grace. In other words, God toyed with me and then said fuck you. The contradiction in their conclusion is that they can not know if I might yet persevere in the future. Perhaps I am just going through an atheist phase.
No Calvinists can know for sure they are saved. They can HOPE they are. They can constantly examine their lives to see if they are availing themselves to the means of grace, but until they die they can not know for sure they are saved. They MUST persevere to the end to be sure. They are hoping God comes through for them, but they won’t know for sure until the end. After all, they too could be deluded. They too could be following a false Christ. Perhaps God is just toying with them too and they will end up bunking in hell with atheists such as I.
Imagine a person going from church to church trying to find out the one true Christian message of salvation. You would think Christians could agree on the most basic of truths, salvation.
But they don’t.
I am convinced that Christians better hope that God is a universalist. If not, hell is going to be filled with Christians.
Warning! What follows is not suitable for children or fundamentalist Christians.
If you have not read the serious version of Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Bruce Gerencser, please read it here.
I have noticed in the search logs that people are looking for information (more likely dirt) on Bruce Gerencser. They are entering search strings such as Bruce Gerencser, Bruce Gerencser sermons, Bruce Gerencser bio, etc. Many times they misspell my name, spelling Gerencser: Gerenscer, Gerenser, or Gerencer.
In order to facilitate their search for the Kim Kardashian lowdown on my life, I thought I would write two posts, a serious one and this one.
Where can I listen to your old sermons?
There are no online sermons of me preaching. For many years, all of my sermons were taped. I am sure there are tapes of my sermons gathering dust in former parishioner’s closets.
All told, I preached over 4,000 sermons.
What is your shoe size?
What clothes do you wear most of the time?
I wear blue jeans and tee shirts 99% of the time.
I still have a tie I bought in 1976. I haven’t worn a tie in almost ten years.
I don’t wear shorts in public and I have not taken my shirt off in public in over 30 years. I know all the babes in Ney are just waiting for me to go strutting down the street with no shirt. I am sure they will think, what a stud. Or maybe they will call 911.
I always wear a hat in public. Usually I wear a Reds or Bengals hat.
What kind of underwear do you wear?
The invisible kind.
What is your…?
Don’t even ask. I am told that it is big enough. But, the person telling me this has only seen one flesh and blood man naked. Compared to what I have seen, uh, well somewhere on the internet, I doubt I will become a porn star any time soon.
Are you on Social Security?
No. Thanks to listening to well-off, hate-the-government preachers, I opted out of Social Security when I was 24 (seemed like a good, money-saving idea at the time). By the time I realized those preachers were full of shit and opted back in, it was too late. While I cannot draw Social Security Disability, I will be able to draw Social Security based on my secular work when I turn 62 1/2.
Do you have animals?
Yes, I currently have a dog that somehow stayed behind when my youngest daughter moved out. I also have two cats. Polly tolerates and sometimes loves the animals. Thanks to my mother, I am a hopeless animal lover.
Do you kill spiders?
Never. It’s the Buddhist in me.
Are you afraid of snakes?
I do wish the snakes that stand in fundamentalist pulpits Sunday after Sunday would climb into a hole never to be seen again. Dare we hope?
What kind of temperament do you have?
Why, just ask my family. I am quiet, meek, passive, and never get angry. Ok, I might be lying just a bit.
Back in the real world, I am temperamental and have a wry sense of humor. I can quickly become angry, but my anger rapidly dissipates. I don’t hold grudges and I am quick to forgive.
My humor has gotten more risqué post-Jesus. I blame this on my children.
Do you have any identifying marks?
I am circumcised. That sure as hell had to hurt. I don’t remember it, but it sure left a scar.
I have a scar on my nose from skin cancer surgery and a scar on my left hand from carpal tunnel surgery.
I have a scar on my leg from being bit by a dog when I was 11.
I have short legs, a long body, and no butt. I have spent most of my life pulling up my pants and tucking in my shirt. I wear suspenders lest locals someday open their newspaper and read Local Atheist Moons Christians at Meijer.
What was your greatest sports achievement?
As a 12-year-old, I won third place in the Deshler Punt, Pass and Kick contest. There were four kids in my age group.
Are you allergic to anything?
Bees and Republicans.
If you had to concoct one meal, what would be in it?
The Whopper from Burger King, French fries from McDonald’s, onion rings from Sonic, washed down with a super-sized Pepsi. And then, for dessert, a banana split from Eric’s Ice Cream.
Man, I wish I could eat this meal right now. Sounds like a dying man’s last wish.
Do you drive a car?
Very rarely. Polly does 99% of the driving and she should do the other 1%. I have driven hundreds of thousands of miles in my lifetime. No, I am not exaggerating. For a number of years, when I was a pastor in SE Ohio, I drove 40-50,000 miles a year. Polly rarely drove.
I have become accustomed to Polly’s driving. It hasn’t been easy. I like to be in control and that includes being in control of the car. She has learned to ignore me except when I am screaming, watch out, we are going to die!
Do you swear?
Have you ever killed anyone?
Just myself, one fast food and junk food meal at a time.
Have you ever looked at pornography?
Really, you are asking this? I am a guy. Next question.
Have you ever committed adultery?
Yes. Jesus said if I look at a woman in lust I have committed adultery with her in my heart. I must admit I have an adulterous heart. My wife now says we are in an open marriage, so I can look but not touch. Touching will bring the death penalty.
Do you have any irrational fears?
One — flying on an airplane. I did it once and it ain’t happening again, ever! If my brother or sister in Arizona dies before me, they better keep them on ice until I get there. I will be taking the bus or Polly will be driving me. No planes. The good news is that I will likely die before they do, so I don’t have to worry about flying again.
Have you ever committed a crime?
Felony or misdemeanor?
I shoplifted clothing as a teenager, mainly Levi jeans. My Dad thought Rink’s Bargain City, also known as Bargain Shitty, and Twin Fair were fine clothing stores.
Years ago, I stiffed the IRS by not claiming cash gifts from parishioners as income. This is a common practice among clergy.
A teenage friend of mine and I stole his father’s 1955 Chevrolet and turfed a bunch of lawns. We made the newspaper the next day.
As a teenager I pelted cars with apples, water balloons, and snowballs. I now threaten to beat the shit out of kids who do the same to me.
I have had more traffic tickets than I can count, but none since 1985.
In 2014, I found $27 in a school parking lot. I thanked the Sky God for his blessing and put it in my pocket. I did look to see if anyone was nearby to whom the money might belong. My eyesight was pretty bad. After the game, I used the money to buy dinner.
What are your favorite sodas?
Pepsi, Suncrest Cream Soda, Jones Cream Soda, Big Red, and Faygo Rock and Rye.
I refuse to drink diet pop. Diet pop is like taking Vicodin without the Hydrocodone. Why bother?
What are seven things you hate?
Any team from Ann Arbor, Michigan that is playing Ohio State.
The Saint Louis Cardinals.
Fundamentalism, wherever it is found.
Rude, self-absorbed people.
Any fart but my own.
What is your favorite practical joke?
I put brown shoe polish on toilet paper and then came out of the bathroom screaming at my kids about who left the shitty toilet paper in the bathroom. Much to their horror, I proceeded to put the toilet paper in my mouth.
Have you ever used illegal drugs?
Never, but I sure would like a joint. I think it would help with my pain. Anyone from Colorado coming this way?
Have you ever had an affair?
Only with God, Jesus, and the church. They sure turned out to be lousy lovers.
What’s the oldest thing in your house?
You mean beside me and Polly?
Old photos of family are the treasure I hold on to. I have the baseball glove I bought at the age of 14 from JC Penny. I also have a knife my Dad gave me 44 years ago.
What are your favorite homemade desserts?
Vanilla pudding with vanilla wafers and meringue on top, but only if it is made exactly like my Mom made it. Polly finally accomplished this task over the holiday. I can now die in peace.
Oatmeal, raisin, and chocolate chip cookies.
Any cake my mother-in-law-makes.
Oreos — they are homemade, right?
What things do you refuse to get rid of?
I’ve had the same metal desk and file cabinet in my office for 30 years. They were made in the 1950s, back when Americans made stuff.
What was the first car you owned?
My first car was a 1960 Mercury Comet. I let an unlicensed friend of mine drive it one day and he lost control of it. The car hit a ditch bank and flipped over several times. He ended up in the back with the seat on top of him and I ended up with my head sticking out of where the windshield used to be. The car was totaled. I paid $200 for the car. To hear my friend tell it, we were going 100 mph when he lost control. The car had a six cylinder 144 CID motor, with a top speed of 68 mph. He was doing about 40 when he lost control.
What magazines do you read?
Digital Photography, Harper’s, Mother Jones, National Geographic, Orion, Outdoor Photography, Popular Photography, Shutterbug, and Smithsonian.
I also read magazines when I use the toilet. If no magazine is available, I read the ingredients on whatever is nearby. Always learning.
If you could sit anywhere with Polly where would it be?
Ok Bruce, they want a romantic answer. The fifty yard line at the Super Bowl is not what they are looking for.
On the banks of the Blanchard River, Riverside Park, Findlay, Ohio.
The eastern shore of Lake Michigan when the sun is setting.
What are your toilet habits?
I put the seat up when I pee and I don’t put it back down. I don’t care which way the toilet paper roll dispenses the paper.
Do you have a reoccurring dream?
Yes, and it involves Pamela Anderson. Enough said.
I hope you have had some fun with this post. I have no doubt this will not satisfy those looking to get some dirt on me or discover who the r-e-a-l Bruce Gerencser is. Who knows, maybe they will find out I am really a transvestite, vegan, University of Michigan-loving man. After all, the lies told about a person always make for better news than the truth.
According to the WBNO website, the 65-year-old Bryan Times will no longer be printing the newspaper in-house. This end 150 years of a local newspaper being printed in Bryan, Ohio.
This comes as no surprise as small-town newspapers such as The Bryan Times try to adapt to the changes in how local residents get their news. As with TV news, newspapers have an increasingly aging subscriber base. Younger adults no longer turn to the TV or newspaper to get the news.
The Bryan Times made a stab at having a website with blogs and other internet news, hoping to attract those who use the internet to get their news. I doubt anyone at the newspaper would consider the website initiative a rousing success. The Times, like the Defiance Crescent-News, hides most of its news behind a paywall.
While I understand the economics behind such a move, younger adults will just look for some other news site at which to get their news. Having grown up in an age where most everything on the internet is “free,” most younger adults are not willing to pay for online news. Young adults live in a world where they can stream unlimited movies with Netflix or stream unlimited music with Spotify for less than $10.00 a month. In their mind, paying $8.99 for a newspaper they can read in a few minutes is an unnecessary, frivolous cost. They might spend the equivalent amount of money buying ring tones for their smartphone, but young adults increasingly no longer see the value in a printed newspaper.
As I looked up the links for the aforementioned newspapers, I noticed that many of the newspapers had been bought out by larger media companies. What were once local, independent newspapers are now owned by media giants such as Gannett. I suspect the newspaper industry will continue to contract until almost every newspaper is a subsidiary of a Wall Street media giant. Future historians will write of the days when America lost the voice of a free press.
The Bryan Times remains a family-owned independent newspaper. The Cullis family has owned the paper for many years. Christopher Cullis, the same age as I am, is currently the publisher. Years ago, when I first started writing Community Voice editorials for the Times, Cullis told me that my editorial could be any length, but if I wanted people to read it I should write 800-1,000 words. This proved to be good advice.
Several times, Cullis called me after I submitted an editorial to ask if I really meant to say _________________? In most cases the answer was “No,” and he would suggest a better wording. I appreciate his help in making me a better writer.
Sadly, with the Times moving its printing to Fort Wayne, 18 people will lose their jobs. I suspect some of these employees have worked for The Bryan Times many years. No doubt, their layoff was a difficult action for the Cullis family to take.
In 1946, Grant Brown opened Brownie’s Restaurant in Bryan, right next door to The Bryan Times. It was Bryan’s first drive-in restaurant. As a teenager, I ate many a hamburger at Brownie’s. For a time, I even had a weekly tab that I paid each payday. Facing competition from the chain fast food restaurants that moved into Bryan in the 1970s, Grant Brown closed Brownie’s in 1975. The Times bought the building and tore it down to make way for a building expansion.
Will The Bryan Times go the way of Brownie’s Restaurant? I hope not, but I wonder if there is a future for the printed newspaper? It is increasingly cost-prohibitive to print a newspaper, and being unable to significantly raise subscription prices, newspapers cut the one thing they can cut: their employees.
I wish the Cullis family nothing but the best. The Bryan Times is one of the best small town newspapers around. From my Mom’s letters to the editor in the 1960s to my own letters to the editor and Community Voice editorials, The Bryan Times has graciously allowed us to voice our take on the world. I wish them nothing but the best, even if I have my doubts that a prosperous future lies ahead. Someday, we will realize what we’ve lost as a result of the decline of American newspapers. For now – hey, did you see what J-Lo and Kim Kardashian did today? OMG!
In September of 1971 I began my ninth grade year at Central Junior High School in Findlay, Ohio. At home, my parents argued constantly, and seven months later, in April of 1972, they divorced. A few months after that, Mom married her first cousin and Dad married a 19-year-old who had a little girl.
Needless to say, life at home was anything but love, peace, and harmony. I hated my parents for getting divorced. I hated my Dad for marrying a girl who was only four years older than I.
I stayed away from home as much as I could. Dad was busy with his “new” family, so my siblings and I were left to our own devices. I spent a lot of time at the local YMCA. I didn’t have the money for a membership, so I learned the fine art of sneaking into the Y. The Y became my home away from home.
Dad started G and B Train Shop with Gary Zissler, a fellow deacon at the church. The store mainly sold Lionel, American Flyer, and HO trains. I worked at the store in the evenings. Dad paid me twenty-five cents an hour minus the cost of the pop I drank. Since we rarely had pop at home, I became a pop-a-holic while at the train shop.
Our family attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Trinity was a large Independent Baptist Church pastored by Gene Milioni. Ron Johnson was the assistant pastor and Bruce Turner was the youth pastor.
After Pastor Milioni married my Dad and his second wife, my Dad and my siblings stopped going to church. I, however, immersed myself in the church, attending church every time the doors were opened.
The church became my family. Most of my close friends attended Trinity and the church provided me with everything I found lacking in my home life. Even though I am now an atheist, I will forever be grateful for the support and social connection the church provided for me.
In the fall of 1972, my tenth grade year at Findlay High School, Al Lacy held a revival at Trinity Baptist Church. One night, I came under great conviction and I went down to the altar, confessed my sins, and asked Jesus to save me. A week later I was baptized, and not to long after that I publicly confessed before the church that I believed God was calling me into the ministry. I was fifteen.
My life changed dramatically after I got saved. I started carrying my Bible to school and I witnessed to my non-Christian friends. My non-Christian friends, those I played sports with, thought I had lost my mind, and some of my Christian friends did too.
I have always been an all-in kind of person. I don’t do half-way, so when it came to being a Christian I was 100% committed to Jesus. I took seriously what I heard the pastors preach. In my young mind, I saw the pastors as speaking for God. After all, everything they preached about came straight out of the Bible, God’s inspired, inerrant Word.
Trinity was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. The pastors preached against rock music, premarital sex, mixed swimming, going to movies, short skirts and pants on women, and long hair on men. Remember, it was the early 1970s and mini-skirts and maxi-dresses were popular and men wore their hair long. The pastors at Trinity were anti-counterculture, believing the love and peace generation was destroying America.
Like a good Baptist boy, I tried to follow the rules to the letter. God (or the pastor) said it, I believed it, and that settled it for me. One sin the pastors were against was any kind of dancing. Not just some types of dancing, they were against ALL dancing.
A few years ago, I wrote about how the no-dancing rule affected me:
I vividly remember ninth grade year at Central Jr High. The Phys Ed teacher decided to teach square dancing. I was all for learning to square dance. This would be my only opportunity to touch the cheerleaders. Unfortunately, Pastor Milioni put an end to my carnal desires. He came to school and made a fuss about the square dancing class. Next thing I know, I am being forced to sit with the fags (talking as we did in the 1970’s, I do not use such language today) who refused to take Phys Ed. This was a punishment worse than death. (Pastor Milioni also came to my school to complain about the choir singing Jesus Christ Superstar. I had to quit choir)
The school held regular dances, social events that everyone attended, well everyone but this good Baptist boy. I went through a period of time where I was really upset about all the rules and restrictions, so I would stay overnight with a non-Christian friend and I would go to the dances with him. I did this numerous times. I don’t know if my parents ever caught on. If they did, they never said a word.
I came through the 1970s with my Baptisthood intact. I never smoked cigarettes, drank, or smoked marijuana. I didn’t listen to rock music, kept my hair cut short, and I successfully made it through high school as a virgin. Not the I didn’t want to have sex, I did, but I was afraid of what might happen if I did and I didn’t think any of the church girls I dated were “willing.” I found out a few years ago, after talking to some of the girls I went to church with, that they were more “willing” than this naïve Baptist boy thought they were.
The first time I danced was at the wedding of one of my children. This was the first time for my wife too. My daughters-in-law cajoled us into dancing. Oh, what a sight we were. We may have been years away from our fundamentalist youth, but it was quite evident that we didn’t know anything about dancing.
How about you? If you were raised a fundamentalist and attended a public school, how did that affect your ability to be a normal student? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.
For some insight into this kind of thinking, here’s an excerpt from an article titled All Dancing is Dirty,written by David Stewart, an IFB zealot:
One of the most disgusting and sinful movies ever produced is “Dirty Dancing.” Dirty Dancing (1987) starred Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, and Jerry Orbach. The great evangelist, Billy Sunday, preached uncompromisingly against dancing—would to God that more preachers had the guts to do so today. The Apostle Paul cautions us in 1st Corinthians 7:1 concerning touching the opposite sex (i.e., a person to whom we are not married). Adultery begins with a mere “touch.”
No man should ever touch a woman to whom he is not married. This Scripture also applies to women. If it’s NOT good for a man to touch a woman to whom he is not married, then it is certainly not good for a woman to allow a man to touch her either (unless it’s her husband)…
… In night clubs all across America, dancing is a prelude to fornication, homosexuality, and abortion. People place their hands all over each other, violating God’s warnings against lust, lasciviousness, and unholy thoughts. People have become so hardened nowadays that morality is a joke to them (clearly evidenced by the godless late night shows on hellivision). The Word of God states that “Fools make a mock at sin…” (Proverb 14:9).
Just as the Hawaiians still blame and hates Christianity today for taking away their dirty-dancing centuries ago, so do many people around the world (as witnessed in the preceding quote from an occultist)…
…Dancing is just as sinful at high school proms, ballrooms, town gatherings, etc. Dancing and immodest dress are synonymous. Dancing leads to lasciviousness (i.e., immoral sexual desire). The ONLY place where dancing is acceptable is between a husband and wife in the privacy of their own home, and without observation by others. America has deteriorated into a sexually perverted nation, where sensual and suggestive dancing is commonplace. As a result, millions of unwanted babies continue to be murdered every year through abortion. This is a great evil in America! We have earned the title from Muslims of being THE GREAT SATAN!
Think about it … the average person today can’t help but laugh at the thought that dancing is a sin; yet millions of unplanned pregnancies continue to be terminated through murderous abortions. Is it surprising that a nation that sees no harm in murdering children would also see no harm in premarital sex, petting, dancing, pornography, stealing, divorcing, and filthy conversation? I think not…
…All dancing is of the Devil, whether it be the Tango, the Foxtrot, the Rumba, the Swing, et cetera. It’s because dancing is inherently fleshly. Some dancing schools even advertise “Touch Dancing.” Women who dance, immodestly expose their bodies, luring lustful men to sinfully gaze upon them. According to Jesus’ Words in Matthew 5:28, lust is sinful … But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Dancing has always been dirty and sinful…
…Even bally [ballet] dancing is sinful, VERY SINFUL, because the women dance in their underwear, giving explicit views of their body. Those women who dance while skating are filthy. It is offensive to God. Bally Dancing is sexually arousing and; therefore, extremely sinful. The same people who scoff at my preaching are the same people who have no problem with abortion, divorce, nor fornication…
…The bottom line is that dancing is a worldly entertainment, heathen. Dancing is a very physically activity, which basically gives men a dirty show to watch, and in many cases, touch. The Hawaiian hula is the filthiest dance on earth. I can understand why the Christian missionaries tried to mentor the natives away from it. People today criticize the early missionaries like they were bad people, and perhaps some of them were; but they were justified in trying to change the Hawaiian culture from one of paganism and sexual immorality to one of grace, chastity, belief in Jesus Christ, and decency. Hawaii is a very sinful place today, and the hula is as filthy as ever…
…No normal man can watch a women jumping around in tights without getting aroused. As Christians, we must rise above the filth and immorality of this sinful world. I’ve known people who were actively involved in some sort of dancing. In every case, they were worldly–going to gambling casinos, homosexual-friendly, drinking beer, attending nightclubs, indulging in sexual sins, running from God. I’ve never met one soulwinner who was a dancer. I’ve never met a dedicated, Christ-honoring, sin-hating Christian who went dancing. The unsaved world loves dancing, because it is sexually suggestive and filthy. Jesus didn’t dance…
The thinking demonstrated in Stewart’s article was what was behind the taboos at the churches I attended as a youth. Needless to say, years of this kind of abuse plays havoc with a persons ability to live normally.
The black framed glasses? Welfare glasses. As soon as I saved up enough money to buy wire-rimmed glasses, I ditched the glasses.
Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I have spent a good bit of my life moving, either from town to town or house to house. In 1971 my Dad moved us from Deshler, Ohio to Findlay, Ohio. I lived in Findlay from 1970-1974. I say “I lived”, because my parents divorced in 1972 and my Dad moved us to Tucson, Arizona in the early spring of 1973. I finished my tenth grade year at Rincon High School in Tucson, and once school was out I moved back to Findlay to live with several families in the church I attended. For a few months in the fall of 1973 I attended Riverdale High School in Mount Blanchard, Ohio, and then I transferred back to Findlay High School and finished out eleventh grade.
Got all that? Here’s my point in giving you a Bruce Gerencser geography lesson. From 1970-72, eighth and ninth grade, I attended Central Junior High School (which has since been torn down) in Findlay. Two school years, my longest consecutive years at one school without a move to a new school district. (though we did live in 3 different houses during this time), when I actually had time to make a few friends.
While I am now a 6 foot, 360 pound man, during the two years I spent at Central Junior High, I was 5 foot 2 inches, and weighed a little over 100 pounds. I was a late bloomer, not reaching my current height until the end of eleventh grade. Needless to say, I was quite conscious of my diminutive size.
Even though I was slight of build, I played city league baseball and basketball. I am left-handed, and being left-handed gave me a decided advantage when it came to playing baseball and basketball. Even though I loved playing sports, gym class at Central Junior High was one of my least favorite classes.
As I mentioned above, I wasn’t very big and puberty came quite slowly for me. I enjoyed playing the various sports in gym class, but when games were over, came the dreaded mandatory shower. Here I was, a small boy with little underarm or pubic hair, among, what seemed at the time, giants. When I took off my clothes and glanced at other boys in the class, it was quite evident to everyone that I was in every way on the small side. Needless to say, I became quite self-conscious about my body.
The gym teacher was also a coach. He was a rough-and-tumble, crude man, typical of many of the coaches I played for. One day, he walked into the shower room where all of us were showering and he surveyed the mass of the nakedness before him and said, Well, I can tell who is having sex and who isn’t. His inference was clear; those with bigger penises and testicles were the ones having sex. Since I was one of the smallest boys in the class – and I mean small in every way – I was quite embarrassed. I am sure some of the boys thought, and we know who ISN’T having sex.
I was also the only redhead in the class. At the time, I had bright, flaming orange hair that definitely made me stand out. My gym teacher called me Carrot. This only added to my self-consciousness.
One week for gym class, we square danced. The male and female gym classes were joined together for dance lessons. I thought, this will be my chance to touch one of the cheerleaders. Typical, self-conscious boy’s dream, right? Well, my dream became a nightmare because my pastor, Gene Milioni, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, came to the school and raised a ruckus about the dancing. As a result, my parents would not allow me to square dance. Later in the year, Pastor Milioni would complain about the choir singing Jesus Christ Superstar. I was in the choir, and as a result of his complaint my parents wouldn’t allow me to sing.
I still remember to this day sitting at the top of the gym bleachers watching my classmates square dance. Next to me were two boys who were believed to be homosexuals. The proof of their homosexuality? They refused to take a shower at the end of gym class. Remember, it was the 70s… So there I was with the two weirdo’s who wouldn’t take a shower.
While I eventually grew up to be a physically fit 6-foot man, endowed well enough to father six children, I have been self-conscious about my body my entire life. Once free of junior high gym class, I never took another communal shower. When it comes to using the bathroom, I always try to use a stall. Just the thought of using a urinal is enough to cramp the flow. If I have to use a urinal, I make sure no one is nearby. And if a man uses the urinal next to me? It’s like a vise grip on my urethra. It ain’t gonna happen. I have often wondered if my experiences in junior high gym class play a part in my inability to urinate when someone is standing next to me.
I do know that my religious training resulted in an unhealthy view of the human body and sex. The fundamentalist churches of my youth spent significant time preaching against short skirts, pants on women, long hair on men, and premarital sex. Even masturbation was considered a sin. The body, the flesh was sinful and in need of salvation.
How about you? Were you body self-conscious in school? How did your religious upbringing affect how you viewed your body. Please share your story in the comments section.
What would Evangelical Christianity be without guilt?
Guilt, despite what preachers say, is the engine that powers Evangelicalism.
Often preachers will try to hide guilt by giving it other names like conviction. But no matter how they try to hide it, guilt plays a prominent part in the day-to-day lives of those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ.
Think about it for a moment. The Bible presents God as a righteous, holy, judging, wrathful, deity. In the Old Testament this God was unapproachable except by a few chosen people. People who got too close wound up dead.
Who can forget the story about the man who put out his hand to steady the ark of the covenant and God rewarded this man by killing him. Or the story about God killing the entire human race save eight people (and yet, Evangelicals say God is pro-life).
From Genesis to Revelation we see a God who gives no quarter to disobedience or sin. He demands worship and expects perfect obeisance. He is a God who not only hates sin but hates those who do it. (the-hate-the-sin-but-love-the-sinner line of thinking is not found in the Bible.) Evangelicals often remind people such as myself that someday every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Bow now or bow later, the thinking goes.
There are hundreds of commands in the Bible, commands that God expects every Christian to obey without question or hesitation. After all, according to the Bible, God himself lives inside every Christian. According to the Bible, the Christian has the mind of Christ. The Bible also says that Christians are to be perfect even as their father in heaven is perfect. Lest one doubt whether God is serious, the writer of First John reminds his fellow Christians that he who sins is of the devil.
The Bible message is clear, obey God lest you fall under his judgment, a judgment that could lead to your death. Put in words that any child can understand: do what God says or he is going to get you. Remember this is a God who killed two people in the book of Acts for lying. This is the same God who brutalized his son on the cross because of what other people did. This is also the same God that will someday savage the earth and its inhabitants and torture in hell for all eternity all those who are not Christians. The book of Revelation reads like Quentin Tarantino movie script. The vengeful God will pour out his wrath upon the earth, killing billions of people and destroying the earth in the process.
It should come as no surprise then that many Evangelicals live with a backbreaking load of guilt. They know what God expects and they fear him, but, in spite of all their hard work, they still can’t measure up to what God expects of them. What deepens their guilt is preachers who say they speak for God, adding more rules and regulations that God demands every Christian obey (also called church standards).
I spent most of my life in the Evangelical church. I desperately wanted to be a good Christian. I felt God had called me into the ministry and I wanted to be the best pastor possible. I was willing to sacrifice everything for God. And so that’s what I did. I sacrificed my family, my health, and my economic well-being for God. I held nothing back and I was willing to die for my God if necessary.
A while back someone made a comment on Facebook about my being an atheist. This person has known me for 37 years. He said that he was shocked that I was an atheist because if anyone was a committed, true blue believer, I was. Most people who knew me in my Christian days would give a similar account of my devotion to God.
As a pastor I gave 100% to the cause. I worked long hours without regard to whether I got paid. Most of the churches I pastored paid a poverty wage, but that didn’t matter to me. I would have gladly worked for free, and, in fact, I did work many weeks and months without receiving a paycheck. It was never about the money. It was all about faithfully serving God and fulfilling his calling on my life. It was all about being obedient to the commands and teachings found in the Bible.
One would think that someone as committed as I was wouldn’t have guilt, but guilt played a prominent part in my life. Striving for perfection quickly reveals how imperfect one is. Sometimes I envied Christians who could take a minimal, carefree approach to God and his commands. Why couldn’t I be nominal just like everyone else? I’m not sure I have an answer for that. All I know is this, I worked for the night is coming when no man can work and the more work I put into my Christian faith the more guilt I had.
I often pondered the work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus had given his all on the cross for me. Shouldn’t I give my all to him? I took seriously the command to walk in the steps of Jesus. I tried to pattern my life after the example of Jesus and the apostles. I wanted to be found busy working for the advancement of God’s kingdom with Jesus came back to earth.
I prayed in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night, and numerous times throughout the day, yet I feared I was not praying enough. After all, the Bible commands us to pray without ceasing. No matter how many people I witnessed to, there were always more people I needed to evangelize. There never seemed to be an end of souls that needed saving. How dare I spend one moment taking care of my own personal needs while countless souls were hanging by a bare thread over the pit of hell. I had no time for talk of heaven or eternal reward. There was too much to do.
I know some readers of this blog will read this post and say, no wonder you were guilty all the time. Look at how motivated and driven you were. Yes, this is true, but I ask you, where do I find in the Bible the laid-back, nominal, easy-come-easy-go, Christian life? While certainly such a life would have lessened the amount of guilt I had, how could I live such a life knowing what I did about the teachings and commands of the Bible?
Look at the examples given for us in the Bible of people who were devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Show me the nominal Christian. In every instance nominal Christianity is roundly condemned. God expects — dare I say demands — 100% devotion and anything less than that is treason against God.
So, for many years I lived with guilt almost every day. I felt guilty when I stopped to enjoy life. I felt guilty when I stopped to attend to my personal wants and desires. I felt guilty when I spent money that could have gone to the church or to missionaries. Why could I not be like the Apostle Paul? Or why could I not be like Jesus himself?
Of course the real problem was that I was a human being. A life of selfless devotion to God was an impossibility. Now that I’ve left the ministry and left the Christian faith, my problem with guilt still remains. I’m no longer guilty over my lack of devotion and I’m certainly not guilty over committing what the Bible calls sin, but I do lament the amount of time, money, and effort I gave in devotion to a God who does not exist. As the old gospel song goes, wasted years, oh how foolish.
I also regret leading people into the same kind of life. I regret causing parishioners to feel guilty over not measuring up to the commands found in the Bible. As I have often said, churches would be empty if it weren’t for guilt and guilt’s twin sister fear.
Perhaps my penance is this blog. I am sure there are many people who read this blog who know exactly what I’m talking about. Atheism and a humanist worldview have allowed me, for the most part — aside from what I have mentioned above — to live a life free of guilt (and fear). I no longer have to fear or feel guilty over not keeping God’s commands. No longer are my actions checked against God’s sin list. My actions on any given day are good or bad and when I do bad things I need to make things right if I can and try not to do them again. There is no need for me to be threatened with hell or promised heaven. All I want to do is be a good human being and be at peace with others. If my actions fail this standard then I need to do better.
How about you? Do you still struggle with guilt post-Jesus? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.