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Why and How I Started Christian Schools Part One

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As devout Evangelicals, Polly and I strongly believed in Christian education. Outside of our two oldest sons attending public schools for two years when they were young, our six children either attended church-operated Christian schools or were home schooled. Our youngest three children were home schooled from kindergarten through grade twelve. Our oldest two children attended Licking County Christian Academy (LCCA) in Heath, Ohio for two years, attended Somerset Baptist Academy in Mt. Perry, Ohio for five years, and then were home schooled through grade twelve. Our third son took a similar path, except that his stint at LCCA took place his senior year, the result of him trying to run away from home. LCCA was, and still is, owned and operated by the Newark Baptist Temple (NBT). Polly’s uncle, Jim Dennis, pastored NBT for almost fifty years. Polly taught third grade one year at LCCA in the early 1980s, and worked two years in the church’s daycare “ministry.” She was summarily fired after church leadership determined that all church employees had to be members of the church. At the time, Polly and I were members of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, a church that I started with Polly’s father.

I recite the above historical sketch to impress on readers that I was a big proponent of Christian education, be it church schools or home schooling. In 1989, after having a falling-out with Polly’s preacher uncle, I started a church-operated Christian school in southeast Ohio. I served as the administrator of this school until March 1994, at which time I packed up my family and moved them to San Antonio, Texas, so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. While at Community, I started Community Baptist Academy in Elmendorf, Texas. Once the school was up and running, I moved on to other duties. The school had 55 students its first year. I left the church later that year (Please see the series, I Am a Publican and a Heathen.) The church later shuttered the school.

Ohio and Texas were similar when it came to regulations governing church schools. Simply put, there were no rules outside of fire and safety requirements. When I say NO rules, that’s what I mean – no curriculum or teacher requirements. Both states minimally regulated home education, but when it came to controlling schools owned and operated by churches, it was hands-off. In Ohio, schools such as Somerset Baptist Academy were called non-chartered nonpublic schools — institutions that objected to state oversight for religious reasons. Many Ohio parochial schools, however, were considered chartered nonpublic schools. Such school:

. . .holds a valid charter issued by the state board of education and maintains compliance with the Operating Standards for Ohio’s Schools. These schools are not supported by local or state tax dollars and require the family to pay tuition. Chartered Nonpublic schools are eligible for the Administrative Cost Reimbursement Program, Auxiliary Services Program and Transportation services for students.

As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor and later as a Calvinistic Baptist pastor, I vehemently opposed public education. In southeast Ohio, I was well known for letters to the editors of local newspapers I wrote decrying the damage “government schools” were causing to American children. I saw public schools as tools of Satan, little more than places where children were indoctrinated in socialistic, humanistic, atheistic, liberal, anti-American ways of thinking. I publicly went after school superintendents and teachers, the former for refusing to give Christianity its rightful place in their schools, and the latter for refusing to teach creationism and Christian-centric curriculum.

When I started Somerset Baptist Academy in 1989, the superintendent of Northern Local School District gave me old desks for our school. He was a gracious man, but I wondered at the time if he was actually quite glad I started a school, and the desks were a parting gift. I am sure he was tired of my visits and letters, thinking that my starting a school would put an end to the attacks. It didn’t. There were parents in the church who refused to put their children in the church’s school. This irritated me, but I still felt a pastoral duty towards them, so I continued to monitor and publicly harass public school officials when it was warranted (from my narrow uber-Fundamentalist point of view). I remain surprised that these families, for a time, stayed on as members. I routinely preached against public education and teachers’ unions, and argued that parents were commanded by God to raise their children up in a Christian environment — complete with proof texts such as Proverbs 22:6Deuteronomy 6:6,7, and 2 Timothy 3:14,15. There were even two public school teachers who attended the church for a while. For the life of me, I don’t know how they weathered my frequent and brutal assaults on their livelihood. Eventually, everyone who saw things differently moved on, leaving me with a congregation committed to my singular vision of Christian education.

As I ponder my past, I can see how hatred and mistrust of government fueled my desire to educate my own children and those of the people I pastored in distinctly Christian schools — institutions that were anti-government and totally separate from the “world.”  My worldview, at the time, was anti-cultural, not counter-cultural. I was closer, thinking-wise, to the Amish or Mennonites. In my mind, the world was “evil” and I was duty bound to be separate from the world and protect my children and those who attended the churches I pastored from Satan and his wicked emissaries. The Christian school, then, was a way to limit the influence of the “world.” As I will share in a future post, try as I might to shield students from the “world,” kids were kids and they found ways to drink in the culture of the day.

As I think back over my motives for starting two schools and sending my own children to Christian schools and homeschooling them, I have concluded that I sincerely wanted what was best for my four sons and two daughters and for the children of the families who attended the churches I pastored. I believed, at the time, that immersing children in a Christian environment and sheltering them from the “world” was the best way to protect them from sin and prepare them for adulthood. I now know that such thinking is not only naïve, it harms children and cripples them as adults. Later in my pastoral career, I realized this and made sure that my children were exposed to the world. Yes, we continued to home school, but we did so for pragmatic reasons — mainly continuity due to our frequent moves. If Polly and I had it to do all over again, we would send our children to public schools, especially now that Ohio allows open enrollment. All of our school-age grandchildren (ten) attend local public schools (Defiance City SchoolsNortheastern Local Schools, and Stryker Local Schools). Their schools and teachers aren’t perfect, but on the whole, we are pleased with the education they are receiving.

As I age — I will draw my first social security check in June — I lament past actions. I have spent countless hours in counseling lamenting choices made because I thought God wanted me to do something. I hurt a lot people trying to “help” them. That said, on balance, our children and those who attended the schools I started did well educationally. The reasons for this are many. I will share those reasons in my next post.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Portland, Oregon City Leaders Consider Giving Non-Believers Civil Rights Protections

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Portland City Council plans to hold a hearing tomorrow on an ordinance that will grant atheists and other non-believers civil rights protections under Portland law. The summary of the ordinance states:

Amend Civil Rights Code to add non-religion such as atheism, agnosticism and non-belief to the definition of Religion (Ordinance; amend Code Chapter 23.01)

The City of Portland ordains: Section I. The Council finds that:

I . Discrimination on the basis of non-religion such as atheism, agnosticism, and non-belief exists in the City of Portland and the state law does not explicitly prohibit such discrimination against these groups. This change is necessary to clarify that disbelief, or lack of belief should be included in the protected class of “Religion” in order to provide every individual an equal opportunity to participate fully in the life of the City.

2. Providing protections for non-religion such as atheism, agnosticism, and non-belief promotes the intent of the Council to remove discriminatory barriers to equal participation in employment, housing and public accommodations in the City of Portland. Other cities, such as Madison, Wisconsin, have taken similar measures.

3. It is necessary to update citations to the Oregon Revised Statutes as cited in Chapter 23.01 to the most current version in order to maintain accuracy.

4. Updates to make language used in Chapter 23.01 more inclusive are also needed

According to a 2015 Public Religion Research Institute survey, Portland is the most non-religious city in the United States. Forty-two percent of Portland residents self-identify as non-religious. Unsurprisingly, the most religious community in America is the Baptist stronghold of Nashville, with only fifteen percent of residents identifying as non-religious. Nationwide, almost one out of four Americans check NONE when asked their religious affiliation. This number continues to grow, scaring the shit out of Christian church leaders. Southern Baptists, in particular, are desperately trying to find ways to stem attendance loss. Millennials, especially, show an increasing indifference towards religion. I should note that being non-religious and being an atheist are not one and the same. All atheists are non-religious, but not all NONES are atheists. Most just don’t care about matters of faith. Most of my children fit in this category. They simply have no interest in organized religion. Do they believe in a deity of some sort? I don’t know, but I can tell you that such questions don’t interest them in the least.

According to Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the reason for the ordinance is simple:

Portland has a large percentage of residents who identify as religiously unaffiliated. We need to make these changes to our Civil Rights Code to remove discriminatory barriers, so they may participate equally in employment, housing, and public accommodations in the City.

Readers might be surprised to know that in many locales non-religious people do not have the same civil rights protections as the religious. At the Federal level, atheists have been forced to claim atheism is a “religion” in order to gain equal protection under the law. While atheists are growing in number and influence — much like the LGBTQ community — they often lack the same rights as religious people — especially at the state and local level. Groups such as the Freedom From Religion FoundationAmerican Atheists, the American Humanist AssociationAmericans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Civil Liberties Union tirelessly fight for civil rights protection for non-believers, diligently challenging  separation of church and state breaches and discrimination against non-believers. These battles are fought daily, and the good news is that unbelievers are, for the most part, winning. This does not mean, however, that the playing field is fair and just for atheists and other non-believers. It’s not. The United States is a long way away from living up to its secular heritage. Religious sectarians are, by nature, exclusionary, demanding that their beliefs be given preferential treatment. Evangelicals, in particular, believe that the United States is a Christian nation, a bright shining city chosen by God to conquer the world with the Christian gospel and the teachings of the Bible. In their minds, atheism is a religion too, albeit a false, Satanic one. I laugh when an Evangelical says to me atheism is a “religion.” If atheism is, indeed, a religion, it is the only sect in American history without beliefs, buildings, clerics, and holy books. Atheism can be defined with one sentence: The disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. That’s it. If atheism is a religion, it’s the only sect that doesn’t ask anything, including money, of its adherents. Maybe we should get the word out about the First Church of Atheism®. Keep your money, sleep in on Sundays, and eat succulent roasted babies for dinner. Better forget that last one, I suppose.

It will be interesting to see if Portlandian Christians object to the aforementioned proposed ordinance. In 2015, the city of Madison, Wisconsin, became the first community to pass a law making discrimination against atheists and other non-believers illegal. Local Christians said nothing. Channel 3000 reported at the time:

The vote amends the city’s equal opportunity ordinance, adding atheism as a protected class in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.

“There are many categories that are protected,” Weier said. “And it did occur to me that if religion was then perhaps the opposite should be”

UW graduate student, and former Atheists Humanists and Agnostics president Chris Calvey was among the five atheists speaking in favor of the proposals.

They told the council stories of housing, employment, volunteer, community, and parental custody discrimination because of their non-belief in God, saying that fact has no bearing on their character, values or what type of job they do.

“It’s actually something we’re commonly very concerned about, just because atheism is viewed as such a taboo in this country. And there’s such a stigma with it. That people in my student group for example are very hesitant to be honest about their lack of belief in God out of fear that they are going to be discriminated against in employment opportunities. If that came up in a job interview that’s held against them,” Calvey said.

“Having it on the books, where we’re legally a protected class, that’ll make things much easier for atheists,” Calvey said. “And we’ll be able to be confident that at least if we’re honest about what we actually believe, then we have the law backing us up so we can’t legally be discriminated against.”

“It’s really making a big statement that we’re not going to put up with discrimination in the name of God. That being a believer doesn’t mean you can discriminate,” Freedom From Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor said.

If such a law were proposed here in the land of God, Guns, and Republican Politics, I am certain local Christians would be outraged, filling local newspapers with letters to the editor about how evil and un-American atheism is. I have been personally attacked in the pages of the Defiance Crescent-News by Evangelicals and Catholics outraged over my atheism, anti-Christian views, and liberal/progressive politics. (Please see My Response to Daniel Gray’s Lies.) One of the reasons I take photographs for the local school district is to put a real flesh-and-blood face on atheism. I want locals to be confused by what they know about me as a man and what their pastors say about evil, Satanic atheists. If Christians actually know an atheist, that relationship often changes their opinion about unbelievers. Behavior matters. I know, when it came to me and my hostility towards LGBTQ people, my beliefs didn’t change until I actually knew and befriended someone who was gay. The same goes for atheists. Take the time to get to know an atheist/agnostic/humanist/pagan or other non-Christian and you will find out that we are not much different from the people you sit next to in church every Sunday. We have the same wants, needs, and desires as you do, and it sure would be nice if we had the same civil rights protections too.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

I’ve Always Lied to Tell the Truth, A Guest Post by Brian

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Guest Post by Brian

Reality is a complicated matter. Three people who appear to have been in the same place at the same time can easily produce three completely different stories about it. Words, then, have a pretty tough time, as they are the means by which we share, as simply or not, as we can, our Reality. I’ve always lied because I learned in the beginning that telling the bald truth was punishable, that it brought pain. Lying allowed me to avoid, or at least delay, the pain.

I was born into a family that served the Lord. First and foremost, beyond all else, the Master was served. It was Jesus-God who gave me life as he had given life to my parents, and of course my siblings. In the beginning, God . . . He created and sustained all and everything, me included.

How was I to know, when my mother pushed me from her womb, that all this was a big fucking lie from beginning to end? She was pregnant for the third time and when she attempted to sit up after delivering, the doctor told her to lie back down: “Please, please lie down! We aren’t finished yet. There’s another one coming . . .”

So it was that either myself or my brother joined his twin that day in 1952.

My mother had already given birth to my eldest sister a few years before, a toxic birth that put her into convulsions at home. Dad called an ambulance and they rushed her to the hospital and filled her with narcotics, severely compromising the whole process and leaving her firstborn brain-damaged, with a failure to thrive. She did appear somewhat as a normal baby but never developed as time passed and eventually had to be taken into full-time care at a provincial hospital. That was after my older brother was born more than year or so later, a robust baby who demanded what all babies do: mommy’s attention. After another pregnancy (me and my brother) it was clear that my older sister would not be getting the care she needed at home so the decision was made to give her over to provincial care. She lived more than fifty years, completely compromised, never able to speak or walk or use her arms. She died tragically in her fifties when a care worker, having routinely raised her in a sling for a bath, lowered her into scalding hot water. She did not die immediately but suffered third degree burns over two-thirds of her body. It took her a few days to finally give in and pass away.

Merciful Jesus. God in Heaven. My father had been preaching for a few years when my sister was born, and he trusted God with the experience of his fathering a toxic child whose life would be lived totally in-care, helpless. So, fifty-some years on, when she was lowered into the bath that would be her last, he said in the midst of his horrible pain, that God’s will is indiscernible, unknowable, and that we must realize that all things work together for good for those who know the Lord.

I was an adult when I lost my sister in this crazy and tragic accident, and I kind of went nuts over it. How could this ever happen? It was wrong, every way I looked at it. I phoned my mom and gently told her that I was calling a lawyer because . . . because . . . because . . . She listened and said that they would follow up. As a result of the death, new provincial legislation was passed to make it less likely that another killing would occur. My parents were given some money for their suffering and I claimed a settlement for myself, for a short term of therapy to deal with the loss.

But let me get back closer to my beginnings as a twin in the early fifties. When my brother and I were born, we had each other’s names. I was him and he was me. When my maternal grandma came to visit with my Baptist preacher grandfather, she changed our names, saying that my brother should be me and I should be my brother. My poor mother, after having remained unaware she was carrying twins, didn’t, by that time, give a rat’s ass who had what name and so I became my brother that day and he, me. This has always seemed to me somehow terribly significant, terribly symbolic of something or other but, as I have tried to share, reality is a mystery, a lifelong theater.

Let me leave this conundrum and go back a bit further, to approximately the ‘20s — the 1920s. It began on farms, both my mom and dad growing up fairly near one another, in rural Southern Ontario, Canada. My dad was the son of a farmer who had himself a large family and then eventually had to work off the farm to scrape together a living, leaving my barely-a-teen dad with the farm work. There were brothers but they found ways to leave so that dad was left with chores he did not enjoy at all. This might be partly a lie, as he refused to confirm or deny it. He would not talk to me much about his early farm life, only to say it was not good and that as he manned the horse-driven plow, the only thing that kept him going was searching the plowed earth as it was turned over, searching with all his might for Indian arrowheads. (Much of that part of the province was settled long before the white man by Natives, then called Indians, and dad collected many arrowheads in his hours of labor.) The years I am referencing here were pre-WWII, and life consisted of farm work, basic schooling and church attendance.

It was the church that offered my dad his freedom, and he enrolled in a Bible school to become a Baptist preacher. I am not sure what became of the farm when he made the choice to leave for the ministry, but I think it managed to carry on for several more years before it was given up. I don’t think my grandfather ever returned to work the land in any big way.

My maternal grandfather was a Baptist preacher, so mom grew up in a preacher’s home. The decades before the WWII were full of school and church life for my mom. She was a middle child and had both brothers and sisters. She left a diary from her high school days that my brother found among her things after she died last year and the diary revealed a young woman with strong feelings and a well-trained skill in writing around dangerous subjects and not revealing outright that which would be sinful and wrong. (My dear mother taught me to lie, I would say, taught me survival. My father withheld to survive, kept quiet and moved carefully.) In her diary, mom made it clear that any boy interested in being her friend in school would be vetted first by daddy and judged for his worthiness primarily by how much faith he showed and lived for all to see. People who did not attend church were unlikely to be good company at all and though they were part of the crowd at public school, they were always viewed through a Christian lens and kept at a safe distance.

Mom knew dad in those school days. He was a Christian, she thought for sure, but he was apparently not very social and kept pretty much to himself and a few other young men. (I think his time was fairly dominated with farm chores!) Even in those early mentions of my father in my mom’s diary, he revealed himself a loner and my mom applied her romantic wishes to that fairly blank slate. Dad fit the bill because he was a Christian. She thought he was smart-looking and when he chose ministry, mom set her sights on him. She made her own way toward independence by choosing the nursing profession, a perfectly acceptable choice for a young, unmarried Christian woman. It was a life of service that was acceptable and somewhat approved in the church, especially as it became clearer that war was coming again. Dad finished bible school — about three years of study. It was a rigorous teaching in Protestant doctrine with proud Baptist colors.

This was a time after the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy that swept America and resulted in Canadian Baptists choosing one side — the Convention — or the other side — ours, the true faith of the Union: those who held faithfully to the matters of inerrancy of scripture, the Atonement, the Resurrection and so forth, those essentials which, should they be abandoned, would lead us all down those dark path to eventual Satanic Atheism. In earlier Canadian history, we believers endured other splits too, and my dad clung to the Calvinist leanings of the old Regular Baptist days in his Bible school training. I surmise this from my memory of listening to his sermons, not from his sharing with me, because he refused to talk about his life. I made it clear to him by my rebellion as a teenager that I did not have a sincere interest in serving the Lord and so would use any information he shared with me regarding his history and ministry work, as fodder to attack what was not to be attacked but worshipped and adored.

Well, I certainly was morose and angry as a teen, depressed quite a bit and unable to feel free. My dad, being an isolated man, found it easier and better all around to remain a loner. He couldn’t help me — I knew that early on. He never really had a best male friend in his adult life and spent his time alone, reading. He collected religious books so that our simple home life was lined with them — cases and cases of mostly religious books, with a bit of literature thrown in, along with the popular cowboy writing of the time: Zane Grey and some Louis L’amour. I never did, and never have, read the cowboy stuff. We had a huge sculpted-cover, gold-page-edged Bible that was a job to even lift and marvel over. It had pictures too. I saw Daniel in the lion’s den!

Dad joined the air force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, just before the war and at the tail end of Bible School. He served on the prairies as an airplane technician, testing planes that had been serviced there. He did ground testing and hardly flew, though as a child he had spent time cutting out newspaper pictures of planes and collecting them in a scrapbook we discovered among his things as he aged. After his service, he married mom and they went into ministry and raised six kids.

My dad’s first church was one that he built himself, with the assistance of other men of faith. Dad had become a fine carpenter in his farm days and his skill was utilized fully in this new vocation. The church in its heyday had over a hundred members in a town that never broke ten thousand in population.

Mom worked as a nurse to supplement a lousy living in the ministry. I’m quite sure my dad never felt free to ask for a decent wage, nor would he believe God wanted him to ask. Instead, we lived by faith, and Mom’s hard work as a nurse.

It is my belief that God hates women and wants them eternally punished. I know this from watching how women are treated in churches, even those who call themselves modern and open. (I jest of course about God’s hate, because as far as I have seen, there is not now and never was a God. There are myriad concoctions called Gods invented by myriad people over time but I cannot believe in any of them.) As for women and God, things have changed for the better over the years but there are plenty of throwback Baptists and others out there busily holding to the Bible and routinely abusing women because they are well aware of God’s judgment on females from Eden onward. True love is following God’s will first and foremost. That which today I call open and blatant abuse of women, throwback religious men call the only true love in the world, the love of God for the weaker sex.

Even though dad took full advantage of God’s hatred for women, he did not relish bullying behavior. He believed in corporal punishment because he understood the scriptures as supporting it but he rarely exercised the option. Dad was not a physical abuser. He was not a man who raised his voice much beyond the pulpit, or even in the pulpit. My father’s failings had to do with what I would call ‘lack in life,’ what he did without, how he coped by being alone, being a loner.

I think of preachers as people who are communicators and who work on language and expression in order to convey the “message,” but my dad was not a communicator. He did not willingly talk much at all and preferred silence. He adored words — don’t get me wrong — words on a page that he could devour in silence. He never listened to music and had only an acceptable singing voice, not pleasing but not tone-deaf. Mom played the piano, somewhat unevenly, as her family grew, and she sang well too.

But what am I trying to do here by sharing these bits and pieces, this overview of life before and then during the time when I came along? It’s complicated. Some of it is probably lies I have told to survive. Reality is fluid and so we aim at a moving target in sharing our lives.

Mom and dad died last year, not more than a month or so between their exits into the ether. Dad was already quite demented but still smiling sometimes and it took him several weeks to realize mom was gone. He would look at me and his forehead would furl: “Mom’s gone to heaven now?” he would ask again and again and I would tell him that yes, she was gone, that she had died. Reality is a mysterious thing; have I said that too much? So how did he just up and die himself once the truth of mom’s passing was set in his head? Was his death, so close to hers, a fluke? Reality is not a simple thing to keep up with and those who say the Bible is a book God made simple enough for all to understand merely display their ignorance, and perhaps their inner wish that they had a clue about it. They are liars, startlingly similar to myself.

I am now retired, several years to seventy and an atheist without Jesus and his promise, and without his dad too. Being honest is not easy because I learned to lie in childhood to survive. I learned to parrot the correct words. I learned to hate myself for being bad.

I’m a ways down life’s road now and still too much a cliché, still not enough myself, not able to simply be. I watch children, little children being themselves and I marvel. I see in their free flight why we harm them, clip their wings and send them to training school.

I don’t believe in magic Jesus and sometimes wonder if more than half of the historical Jesus ever really lived at all. I wonder if there was a guy who drew attention, was bright and said some remarkable things, then drew the attention of bullies and was killed by them . . . and became a blank slate for humankind to write on. Perhaps the Bible is mostly graffiti. A lie too. Perhaps the Bible lies like I do or — no — better, much, much better.

But the Bible does not bear much attention in my life now and lacks pragmatic purpose, to say the least. We live in a time when our politics have become comic to the point of tragedy. Unless we can move beyond delusion and belief, we cannot allow ourselves to love our neighbors because we do not allow a basic love of self. There. I said it. I have played my card. We are not the selfish and fallen but the hated and abandoned and we finally have ourselves to answer for that lack. At what age in our lives do we finally become the author of our lives?

The man behind the curtain is finally only that one we see when we glance in a mirror.

I have come to believe that religion is not helpful. It is, as is often suggested, misguided and subject to human error. But that is because it is invented by imperfect beings who are always changing. Religion, or Belief, is not something that saves, but that depletes and spends uncontrollably, without reasonable balance. It demands that we admit we are basically evil and cannot help ourselves, and it has such power in our lack, the baggage of lack we carry with us, that we fully entertain outright abuse in our lives. We will listen to the first commandments and not balk and cry out a healthy “Bullshit!”

One of the most compelling proofs of our learned lack is the fact that children who are routinely beaten cannot even stand with themselves in their heart of hearts and have learned, through our lack as their elders, to take responsibility for the actions of the abusers who injure them. We have not been able as people to engender in our kids a basic right to own themselves and be free of taking responsibility for those who harm them. A beaten child always admits he is bad and so get beaten more. Children almost always share this when asked about being harmed. They believe they caused it and if they could only be better, then it would stop. We teach this in church every bit as much as we teach it from the bottom of a bottle of whiskey, every bit as much as an adult who punches to the head of a six-year-old child. Men do this harm far more than women, but it is not about gender, but about self-respect. Religion has been around far longer than any of us, and yet it has not accomplished the most fundamental and integral outcome. It has not modeled for us a basic, life-giving self-respect. It has co-opted our language and redefined words to fit “scriptural”’ ends but it has not looked after our innocence. We have been abandoned, and so have learned how to abandon ourselves. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Mohammed. Thank you God. There are so many religions that we have religions containing religions ad nauseum and all of them requiring our sustenance, our food and money, and all of them depleting our respect for ourselves and others.

Religion lies for a living. All religion. All Gods. Magicians are liars too but far more honest than any Pope. They trick your eyes and ears and make an honest living from it. Religion purports to be something other than what it is in pragmatic reality. It purports to save while in fact it spends, hoards and depletes. It purports to define and display the essence of love while it remains full of falsehood and deception.

My mom and dad loved me, loved all six of us kids with all the heart they could muster and it was good. It was far better than most experienced nearby us and I am forever thankful for what they accomplished. My parents loved us as all parents love, to the utmost, to the very best they can do, with everything they have . . . .

Now it must be acknowledged that everything my parents had included what they lacked in their own lives. I see as I get older that my father and much of his family suffered depression, untreated. My loner father treated his condition by becoming a preacher and my mom coped with being a Christian woman by marrying a preacher like her own father. The same subterfuge of her high school diary was perpetuated by finding a like structure in adulthood to carry on carrying on.

Both my parents were given over to God and in turn, they gave over their children. Of their five remaining children, only two were able to turn away from religion at all. The rest carry on the tradition with some variations in flavor but the basic ingredients the same old same old . . . .

And my journey? I was saved as a youngster, barely school-age, terrified and having nightmares about hellfire. I believed in God because I was told to and that was all there was as far as I could see. I learned at a very young age that I was a sinner and had to keep asking for forgiveness because I could hear swear words in my head and I stole some candy or did any of a million innocuous things that proved I was bad.
As I grew older, I grew more depleted and more sullen. I felt such anger, a generic misery that I understand now as my own body protesting the harm being done by our way of life. But then, back then I understood none of it. As a teen, I rebelled as much as I could, smoking dope and listening to Hendrix and Dylan. I tried like hell to drop out but could not quite accomplish it and always ended up at home again feeling dragged along and horrible.

Then, I figured it out. I realized that Jesus needed me to be myself and to follow only him and not any religion or way. I began my own private church, Brian’s church, and began to cherry-pick scriptures to be comfortable, to be able to still have Jesus and yet be done with the church as I knew it.

Honestly, really, in our heart of hearts, don’t we all invent our own church and our own God when we choose to throw the Faith dice? I think we do. I recently heard somebody say there are as many Christianities as there are Christians and that strikes me as on the mark.

As I grew tired with my own church inventions, I changed them up and continued on. I stopped attending churches except for the odd wedding or funeral. I found myself spending less time — less and less time — obsessing about these matters and even one day entertained the idea that I might not really believe in God at all. It was only for a second, though, and it haunted me so that I steered clear of it for years.

One day more than halfway through my life and long after I had fallen in love, married and had kids, I said quietly to myself, “I don’t believe.” Again, as before, I prepared to feel a blow to my sternum and to be flooded with fear. But nothing happened. Somehow, in the interim, in time passing, Elvis left the building and I stood there quite alone with my breath. The world glowed as I stood there and I tried it again: “I really just plain don’t believe.” Silence, normal pregnant silence, and the world was alive in my eyes. I stood there and felt a huge weight gone, just gone. Holy Jesus! This is honesty. I am being honest!

I once wrote a found-poem from a McDonald’s paper placemat. The placemat was targeting children and was simply numbered instructions that led the child to form a smile on their faces. At the end of the poem, the last point was the statement: “You are Happy!” I was indeed. Honest truth . . . I had been released!

I am free to honor myself and to honor innocence in all things. I declare wholeness and that we are not fallen creatures. I declare abandonment of restrictions on our vision, our journey in life. I declare that what the whole church has been unable to accomplish for centuries, Norm Lee has accomplished! (Norm was a teacher, an abused child almost killed by his dad, beaten to a pulp. He went on to dedicate himself to being a dad who would never harm his kids, never punish them but stay in healthy relationship with them and let them take the lead in their own lives. I had the great good fortune to know this man, who wrote a book called “Parenting without Punishing.”)

One person can change the direction of the world by saying the buck stops here. I will not harm as I was harmed. The basic message, perhaps, of Jesus’ Beatitudes was to live fully. When one strips away the references to the time and to a God, one is left with a very symbolic expression: feel truly and with passion. Honor yourself and others. Be blessed with life. Perhaps the Christ did just that, I don’t know, and if he said, Follow me, he meant live your life free and clear, without fear and without harming yourself and others. Be Norm Lee.

Know what I mean? Reality is a mystery to me.

Black Collar Crime: Baptist Pastor Lorenzo Washington Accused of Sexually Assaulting Teenager

pastor lorenzo washington

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.

Lorenzo Washington, pastor of Mt. Hill Missionary Baptist Church (also known as Mt. Hill Fellowship Community Church) in Aiken, South Carolina (and formerly the pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Grambling and St John’s Baptist Church in Newberry), stands accused of sexually assaulting a teen girl at a public school sporting event.

GoUpstate.com reports:

A pastor who has served several churches in South Carolina, including one in Spartanburg County, has been accused of sexually assaulting a Dorman High School student at an athletic event on the school’s campus.

The Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office arrested Lorenzo Renard Washington, 48, of Lexington, and charged him with third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and second-degree attempted sexual assault with a minor.

On Jan. 22, a Dorman student told school officials that a member of the booster club sexually assaulted her in a concession stand on campus, according to a statement from Lt. Kevin Bobo. The alleged attack occurred at a sporting event after normal school hours.

In an incident report, a Sheriff’s Office investigator wrote that Washington inappropriately touched the victim over her clothes and that he kissed her on her neck and mouth.

The school contacted law enforcement, and Washington was placed on trespass notice from all school events while the investigation was conducted, Bobo stated.

On Monday, a Sheriff’s Office investigator approached Washington, who denied the allegations, Bobo stated. Washington then canceled an appointment for a second interview.

Washington’s church bio page says:

Rev. Lorenzo R. Washington is the Senior Pastor of the Mt. Hill Missionary Baptist Church located in Montmorenci, SC. He is a proud native of Strawberry, SC and now resides in Lexington, SC with his beautiful wife the former, Jennifer L Jefferson of Beech Island, SC. He is the son of Mary Jane Washington and the late Primus Washington, and is the fifth child of six children. Rev. Washington is a proud husband, devoted father, former marine, and grandfather.

He commenced his preaching ministry under the tutorage of Rev. Dr. Terry Anthony King, overseer of Rock of Ages Baptist Church located in Greenville, SC, in October 2000. While under the leadership of Pastor King, he was licensed as an Associate Minister. Rev. Washington was the leading Armor Bearer for Pastor King and also the Young Adult Minister’s Counsel. In 2008, he was ordained by Rev. Terry L. Brown at the Center Rabun Baptist Church, Gray Court, SC.

Rev. Washington is the former pastor of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Grambling, SC and St. John Baptist Church located in Newberry, SC. While serving within the various capacities, he served as secretary of the Spartanburg County Baptist Association, member of the Ordination Counsel, clergy liaison with the Newberry Police Department  for  the Wildlife Youth Program, and an active member of both local and state level Baptist associations. He also holds certification in the Old and New Testament and Biblical Studies from Empowerment Christian Studies.

In his spare time, Rev. Washington loves spending time with his family and laughing about the joys that this life continues to bring. He is a die hard Pittsburg Steelers and Clemson Tigers No. 1 Fan Club Member. Rev. Washington also serves on the Dorman High School Executive Booster Club Board and is responsible for mentoring young athletes while serving as the girl’s basketball representative in Roebuck, SC.

Rev. Washington’s focus scripture is Matthew 6:33, “but seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Washington’s LinkedIn profile

Washington’s Facebook profile

Black Collar Crime: 90-Year-Old Evangelical Man Accused of Sex Crime

sebastian solis

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.

Sebastian Solis, a member of Soldiers of the Cross of Christ Church (Soldados De La Crus De Cristo) in Pasadena, Texas stands accused of touching a girl under a table — grabbing her buttocks. Oddly, a church member caught the assault on video, reporting it to — no not the police, silly boy — to their pastor and the girl’s father. Fortunately, the father reported the matter to the police. According to the police, the man touched the girl at least ten times, all at the church.

ABC-13 reports:

Court documents indicate the video shows the defendant sitting at a table, grabbing the buttocks of the girl, who was wearing a dress. Court records also show he allegedly moved his hands along her thigh and approached her crotch area.

The investigation, which began in November showed the defendant allegedly touched the girl at least 10 times, all taking place at the church on Austin Street.

Solis turned himself in this week. He is currently being held on a $10,000 bond. If he posts bond, he will have a protective order in place, and cannot contact the victim.

Bruce Gerencser