Thank You For Reading The Life And Times of Bruce Gerencser. Your Support is Appreciated.

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners

bruce and polly gerencser 2008

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Summer 2008

What follows is the letter I sent in April, 2009 to my family, friends and former parishioners. This letter came after Polly and I attended church  on the Sunday before Thanksgiving  in 2008. I am republishing it here so it is part of the historical narrative of my life. I know many of you have read this before but I hope you will read it again. As I reread this, I am reminded that what I wrote here is still, almost seven years later, the motivating factor of my life.  The rough, sharp edges are gone, but I remain a man in love with his wife and family and a seeker of truth.

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you has an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and decisions I made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually every fiber of my being.

I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the church was my life would be an understatement.  As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress, and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known this for a long time, but now everyone will know.

The church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies have led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. Particularly, I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is.

I have no time to invest in the blame game. I am where I am today for any number of reasons and I must embrace where I am and move forward.

In moving forward, I have stopped attending church. I have not attended a church service since November of 2008. I have no interest of desire in attending any church on a regular basis. This does not mean I will never attend a church service again, but it does mean, for NOW, I have no intention of attending church services.

I pastored for the last time in 2003. Almost six years have passed by. I have no intentions of ever pastoring again. When people ask me about this I tell them I am retired. With the health problems that I have it is quite easy to make an excuse for not pastoring, but the fact is I don’t want to pastor.

People continue to ask me “what do you believe?” Rather than inquiring about how my life is, the quality of that life, etc., they reduce my life to what I believe. Life becomes nothing more than a set of religious constructs. A good life becomes believing the right things.

I can tell you this…I believe God is…and that is the sum of my confession of faith.

A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.

I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones. I am a committed progressive, liberal Democrat, with the emphasis being on the progressive and liberal. My evolving views on women, abortion, homosexuality, war, socialism, social justice, and the environment have led me to the progressive, liberal viewpoint.

I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, She is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye opener.

Polly is free to be whomever and whatever she wishes. If she wants to start attending the local Fundamentalist Baptist church she is free to do so, and even has my blessing. For now, she doesn’t.  She may never believe as I believe, but in my new way of thinking that is OK. I really don’t care what others think. Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you living a good, productive life? Do you enjoy life? Yes, to these questions is good enough for me.

I have six children, three of whom are out on their own. For many years I was the spiritual patriarch of the family. Everyone looked to me for the answers. I feel somewhat burdened over my children. I feel as if I have left them out on their own with no protection. But, I know they have good minds and can think and reason for themselves. Whatever they decide about God, religion, politics, or American League baseball is fine with me.

All I ask of my wife and children is that they allow me the freedom to be myself, that they allow me to journey on in peace and love. Of course, I still love a rousing discussion about religion, the Bible, politics, etc. I want my family to know that they can talk to me about these things, and anything else for that matter, any time they wish.

Opinions are welcome. Debate is good. All done? Let’s go to the tavern and have a round on me. Life is about the journey, and I want my wife and children to be a part of my journey and I want to be a part of theirs.

One of the reasons for writing this letter is to put an end to the rumors and gossip about me. Did you know Bruce is/or is not_____________? Did you know Bruce believes____________? Did you know Bruce is a universalist, agnostic, atheist, liberal ___________?

For you who have been friends or former parishioners I apologize to you if my change has unsettled you, or has caused you to question your own faith. That was never my intent.

The question is, what now?

Family and friends are not sure what to do with me.

I am still Bruce. I am still married. I am still your father, father in-law, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and son-in-law. I would expect you to love me as I am and treat me with respect.

  • Here is what I don’t want from you:
  • Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?
  • Constant reminders that you are praying for me. Please don’t think of me as unkind, but I don’t care that you are praying for me. I find no comfort, solace or strength from your prayers. Be my friend if you can, pray if you must, but leave the prayers in the closet. As long as God gets your prayer message, that will be sufficient.
  • Please don’t send me books, tracts, or magazines. You are wasting your time and money.
  • Invitations to attend your Church. The answer is NO. Please don’t ask. I used to attend Church for the sake of family but no longer. It is hypocritical for me to perform a religious act of worship just for the sake of family. I know how to find a Church if I am so inclined, after all I have visited more than 125 churches since 2003.
  • Offers of a church to pastor. It is not the lack of a church to pastor that has led me to where I am. If I would lie about what I believe, I could be pastoring again in a matter of weeks. I am not interested in ever pastoring a church again.
  • Threats about judgment and hell. I don’t believe in either, so your threats have no impact on me .
  • Phone calls. If you are my friend you know I don’t like talking on the phone. I have no interest in having a phone discussion about my religious or political views.

Here is what I do want from you:

I want you to unconditionally love me where I am and how I am.

That’s it.

Now I realize some (many) of you won’t be able to do that. My friendship, my familial relationship with you is cemented with the glue of Evangelical orthodoxy. Remove the Bible, God, and fidelity to a certain set of beliefs and there is no basis for a continued relationship.

I understand that. I want you to know I have appreciated and enjoyed our friendship over the years. I understand that you can not be my friend any more. I even understand you may have to publicly denounce me and warn others to stay away from me for fear of me contaminating them with my heresy. Do what you must. We had some wonderful times together and I will always remember those good times.

You are free from me if that is your wish.

I shall continue to journey on. I can’t stop. I must not stop.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Bruce

slightly edited for grammar 021616

Clay Yarborough and the Evangelical Fear of Breasts

angela strassheim naked pregnant woman

Angela Strassheim Photo of of Naked Pregnant Woman

For those of us raised in the Evangelical/fundamentalist church, we are quite familiar with the fear preachers and church leaders have of exposed breasts and cleavage. Women are oft reminded to cover up, lest the weak, pathetic men of the church throw them down in the middle aisle of the church and ravage them. As the recent GRACE report on sexual abuse and rape at Bob Jones University reveals, women are viewed as temptresses out to beguile helpless men. This kind of thinking is found in the Bible:

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adultress will hunt for the precious life.Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. (Proverbs 6:23-29)

For at the window of my house I looked through my casement,And beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, Passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house,In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night: And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart. She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house: Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.) So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him, I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows. Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee. I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves. For the goodman is not at home, he is gone a long journey: He hath taken a bag of money with him, and will come home at the day appointed. With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him.He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life. Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:6-27)

Clay Yarborough, 33,  is president of the Jacksonville, Florida city council. Yarborough, an Evangelical, attends First Baptist Church, a  Southern Baptist congregation. Fundamentalist Mac Brunson is his pastor,  Recently, Yarborough objected to the city providing funding for an art display that included a picture of a naked pregnant woman on a couch. Yarborough stated:

“I am trying to promote a positive moral climate in our city and though some will defend the pornography by labeling it ‘art,’ we need boundaries in order to be healthy, especially where it concerns our children.”

Ah yes, think of the children.

Yarborough’s puritanical objection resulted in a threefold increase in attendance at the Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit.

The 14 photographs in the exhibit were shot by photographer Angela Strassheim. Asked her opinion of Yarborough’s objection, Strassheim said:

“The man is entitled to his own opinion,But I don’t think it in any way is pornography. Maybe he hasn’t seen enough porn.”

The more enlightened in Jacksonville rightly poked fun at Yarborough’s fear of breasts. Here’s a picture of a protester that was posted on The Folio Weekly:

ban boobs

Picketer Supports Exhibit with a Ban Boobs from City Hall Sign

As a photographer, I think the photo celebrates the beauty of womanhood and pregnancy. It was tastefully done and in no way is it pornography. Unlike Yarborough, I have seen porn and this ain’t it. (though I highly doubt, being the good Baptist boy that he is, that Yarborough has never, ever seen porn)

The Museum of Contemporary Art issued a press release stating:

The Cultural Council stands ready to defend the artistic and curatorial choices of our cultural service grantees.

Council President Yarborough’s objection to a photography exhibit featuring the human form, which has been present in museums, homes and galleries since the dawn of time, is unfortunate and could be viewed as an effort to stifle artistic expression. This particular exhibit, which celebrates the “transitional points” in life – “the precious, fleeting nature of childhood and adolescence” – opened to rave reviews last week. We’re proud to have an organization of MOCA’s caliber in our community and we stand behind it, it’s executive and the artist behind this amazing exhibit.

Mark Woods, writing for the Florida Times-Union, sums it up best when he writes (link no longer active);

It was almost noon on Black Friday. While many people undoubtedly were busy doing something wholesome, like preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ with a new big-screen TV, I headed downtown, paid my $8 and went inside a building to see some porn.

Or at least that’s how the president of the Jacksonville City Council views what’s in the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville these days…

…We do know this: There is an image in MOCA of a nude woman lying on a couch, her breasts and pregnant belly visible.

That’s right. A female nude with bare breasts and a round belly. In a museum. Shocking, right?

From the Cummer to the Louvre, pretty much every museum in the world has more than a few nudes, male and female, sometimes even together, sometimes holding naked babies. And have you seen that chapel in Italy? Nudes everywhere. Even the ceiling. Not sure what porn-peddler was responsible for that.

Even by itself, without any context whatsoever, it’s hard to imagine the photo in MOCA coming anywhere close to the legal definition of pornography. And the photo isn’t hanging by itself. It is one of 14 in a new exhibit on the towering atrium wall. The basic themes of this exhibit are — please cover your young one’s eyes — childhood and motherhood…

…I’m not exactly sure what Yarborough wants to see hanging in the atrium, what will avoid his personal version of the “I know it when I see it” definition of pornography. Something without nudity, I presume. Maybe a giant still life of fruit. (Well, as long as there’s not two bananas together. That clearly would be wrong.) Or better yet, how about some nice velvet art? But, please, no dogs playing poker. That only would glorify the issue we have with canine gambling.

In all seriousness, this City Council and its president had been on such a roll. I was preparing to come back to the paper and heap praise on them for doing a lot of hard, serious work and avoiding the kind of silliness that has marred the past. But now it appears we’re taking a detour back down Silly Street.

It would be one thing if Yarborough wanted to argue that tax dollars shouldn’t be used for anything related to the arts. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, but I’d be able to respect that position more than the idea that tax dollars should be pulled from this museum because of this photo.

If the councilman wants to bemoan taxpayer-funded titillation, he might want to check out a football game or concert or a lot of other things that, while still far from pornography, might not send the best message to kids…

When this story first came out I posted it to my wife’s Facebook page, complete with the photo of nude pregnant lady. Within seconds, several people reported the posting to Facebook. We suspect that the offended are several of our fundamentalist extended family members. Go back and look at the photo again. Is there anything that suggests impropriety or that a teenager seeing it would be harmed (since the minimum age for a Facebook account is 13)? This is silly, isn’t it? Yet, countless Evangelicals have this irrational fear of breasts. Preachers have spent endless hours reminding women to cover up lest the poor, pathetic men of the church be led astray. Perhaps it is time to teach men to embrace their sexuality. Stop treating men like they are helpless and stop treating women like they are temptresses out to bed any man who dares to gaze upon her comeliness. We do live in the 21st century, yes?

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The US Military’s Slush Fund

defense spending

2015 Projected Defense Spending

Julia Harte, writing for The Center For Public Integrity, had this to say about the US Military’s 2015 budget:

The U.S. military’s budget request now pending on Capitol Hill includes a particularly notable oddity inside the special fund meant to support combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan: a new $810 million U.S. defense initiative to “reassure” Europeans of their security in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s Crimean land grab.

This is not how America’s war budget – otherwise known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund – is supposed to work. The White House in 2011 reaffirmed that the OCO, originally established in 2001 under a different name, was for “temporary and emergency requirements” associated with U.S. combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, many experts say its continued use is emblematic of a five-year collapse in Washington’s fiscal discipline.

The OCO budget isn’t subject to spending limits that cap the rest of the defense budget for the next seven years; it’s often omitted altogether from tallies of how much the military spends each year; and as an “emergency” fund, it’s subject to much less scrutiny than other military spending requests.

This sort of special war funding was supposed to decline and then disappear as combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down. But that target has receded, if not disappeared altogether, as the OCO fund has become a larger catchall — a slush fund used by the military services, by lawmakers, and by the White House to escape budgetary constraints, officials and independent experts say.

Although President Barack Obama promised as a candidate in 2008 to “end the abuse” of wartime emergency spending, it’s now clear he will not do so before leaving office in 2016, these experts agree. This year, the main defense authorization budget is likely to come in at a cool $521.3 billion, snugly within the legal limits for federal spending in 2015. But the OCO includes an additional $63 billion. As a result, more than a tenth of all Pentagon spending will remain uncapped and subject to much less scrutiny than the remainder.

The European initiative is just one of many programs in the OCO budget that have little or nothing to do with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The new Defense Authorization Act for 2015, which may be signed by the president in coming days, includes $55 million to retain the “air superiority presence” of the U.S. Air Force. Another $351 million of OCO funds would go to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense system….

…Moreover, the OCO budget isn’t a fiscal salve only once a year. The Defense Department comptroller can — and often does — ask the House and Senate committees on appropriations and armed services for permission throughout the year to add new spending to the OCO budget if programs already in that budget wind up costing less than anticipated. Often, additional non-emergency expenses sneak in during that process.

Over the past four years, for example, the Defense Department’s comptroller has sought congressional approval to add roughly $20 billion worth of expenditures to OCO to cover costs not previously stated in the budget, including many that do not appear to be emergencies or directly related to combat operations, according to a CPI tally.

These “reprogrammings” are typically approved without a public hearing, based merely on written assent from the four chairmen of Congress’s defense-related committees. Their letters are rarely made public.

On occasion, however, the Pentagon submits a reprogramming request for OCO funding so outlandish that lawmakers reject it publicly. That’s what happened on September 8, when Comptroller Michael McCord requested $1.5 billion in OCO funds to purchase 21 Apache helicopters, eight F-35 Joint Strike Fighter planes, and assorted spares and repair parts to replace aircraft that the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force had lost in battles over the past two years…

…A close examination of OCO reprogramming requests that sailed through over the past three years reveals many that seem unrelated to core Iraq and Afghanistan emergency fighting needs: an $86 million request for unemployment compensation for ex-servicemembers; a $13.7 million request for funds to help prosecute alleged 9/11 conspirators; and a $104.5 million request to help test a bomb capable of destroying bunkers 200 feet underground…

…Far from the original OCO task of providing direct support for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration’s current OCO mandate anoints the Pentagon a global therapist, bodyguard, and trainer — and gives it uncapped funding to do all that those roles entail.

You can read the entire report here.

Bob Jones University Ignored Sexual Abuse for Decades

bob jones university

Under attack over their handling of sexual abuse and rape complaints, fundamentalist Christian university, Bob Jones University, hired GRACE (Godly Response for Abuse in the Christian Environment), to do an investigation.  Towards the end of the investigation, Bob Jones ended its contractual arrangement with GRACE and refused to allow any report to be issued. The outrage over this was such that Bob Jones was forced to re-contract with GRACE and the report has now been released.

For those of us raised in Christian fundamentalism, this report tells us what we already know. I saw nothing shocking or surprising in the report, and anyone who is shocked or surprised has not been paying attention for the past 30 years.

I have often stated that the internet will be the undoing of places like Bob Jones University. They can no longer hide their sins. They no longer have the power to keep the stories from getting out. While my heart aches for those who have been abused, I am glad that these stories are being brought into the light of day.  As people tell their stories, preachers, professors, churches, and colleges are forced to confront the horrible, sickening abuse that has taken place on their watch. Just as the Catholic church has predator priests, so the Christian fundamentalist movement has their own predator preachers. It’s time to knock the halo off Christian fundamentalism.

From the recently released Bob Jones University GRACE  report:

In his book, Becoming An Effective Christian Counselor: A Practical Guide For Helping People, Dr. Fremont discusses counseling victims of incest and explains that the first objective is to ensure that blame is appropriately assigned to “the older person who took advantage of the younger innocent person.”However, Dr. Fremont states, “If the victim has deceived either parent or both parents, he needs to confess and repent of his own sin.” As an example, Dr. Fremont describes the case of a “teenage girl who takes a bath only when her mother is away from the home and leaves the bathroom door unlocked, inviting the father’s corruptness.” Dr. Wood similarly discussed the importance of a victim’s repentance if there is any wrongdoing. In his counseling training video, “Scriptural Principles for Counseling the Abused,” he teaches that, “If [abuse victims] have sinned, and some of them have not and some of them have, but you handle a guilty conscience always the same way: by confessing to God you are sorry for your failure and by not doing that same thing again and by asking forgiveness.” When asked what he thinks the spiritual impact is upon victims of sexual abuse, Dr. Wood told GRACE:

“I think that people internally are angry at God for allowing this to happen.So you have to get beyond that and it is a very difficult thing to get beyond because I can’t tell you why something like this happened. I can tell you it did happen but I can’t tell you why it happened or why the Lord allowed it to happen. I assume that there is some reason that this has happened and that you have to work it out within your own mind about why, and it is interesting that in many cases that it really is the root problem. The girl may have caused it to start and that is the root problem with her and she has to handle that somehow or another.”

GRACE asked Dr. Wood if he could offer any examples of when a girl might have caused abuse to start, and he stated, “I mean if she is aggressive with a man, then she may have caused it. It is pretty easy for things like that to get started between individuals. I think that generally a girl will feel guilty about it, she will feel that she shouldn’t have had anything to do with it, but she knows down in her heart that she did have something to do with it.” Dr. Wood further explained how the victim’s provocation is sin just as a perpetrator’s assault is sin. Both the victim and the perpetrator need cleansing from their sins, according to Dr. Wood.

The report details the story of a woman called 777:

In the mid-2000s, a disclosure of a rules violation to Student Life staff resulted in a victim’s “withdrawal at the request of the administration.” In this instance, 777 disclosed to her Assistant Prayer Captain, the Resident Counselor, and her Resident Supervisor that she “had been abused by her pastor since she was 15 years old and was expecting a child in January.” 777’s pastor, who was married with children, came to Greenville on several different occasions while she attended BJU. During these occasions, she said they went to Spartanburg and stayed in a hotel together. During one of the pastor’s visits when she was 20 years of age, she became pregnant. Upon learning that she was pregnant and believing she would be expelled, 777 began to pack up her belongings in the dorm. The residence life staff confronted her and asked why she was packing and leaving. At that point, she explained to them that the abuse began when she was 15. She also acknowledged to them that she had lied about her whereabouts when she obtained the overnight passes to leave campus.

Consequently, she was asked to withdraw at the request of the administration for lying about the overnight passes. 777 wrote a letter to her prayer group explaining the reason for her departure, a copy of which was turned over to BJU officials. The letter describes their relationship, as well as the pastor’s manipulative use of biblical passages to facilitate and justify the ongoing abuse.

Due to these dynamics, 777 told GRACE, “I had to break rules to go off campus, but I didn’t feel like I had a choice in the matter.” According to administrative officials, 777 was asked to withdraw at the request of the administration for lying on the overnight passes.Dr. Berg explained to 777 that her withdrawal was required, “because the offense was publicly known and because she did have some ethical responsibility in the matter, even though her pastor was very manipulative.”

Several months after 777 left BJU, she called Dr. Berg to ask if she could be allowed to take her final exams since she had been very near the end of the semester. This request was denied. 777 stated that in the letter to her prayer group that she “loved being loved and needed” and “[the pastor] said he wouldn’t make it if I walked away and he would walk out on his family and the church if I left. So, I stayed and kept my mouth shut.” 777 also stated that Dr. Berg said, “it was some sort of consensual relationship,”so he would not allow her to take her finals.

Dr. Berg agreed that the situation was “complicated” and “heartbreaking” but nonetheless defended the university’s decision to remove her from school because of the school’s policy about automatic expulsion for lying about overnight permissions. When GRACE brought this case to the attention of Dr. Jones, III, he acknowledged, “Well there is a case that is the kind of thing we wanted to know about that needed to be brought to our attention. Anyway, that is heartbreaking.”

Claire Jordan, writing for Al Jazeera, reports:

For decades, Bob Jones University (BJU), a self-described fundamentalist Christian college, has urged sexual abuse victims not to go to the police and counseled them to repent for the blame it said they share, according to an extensive independent investigation published Thursday.

The report, nearly two years in the making, is a catalog of grief stretching back four decades, based on hundreds of survey results, dozens of in-depth interviews and a wealth of corroborating documentation. It details a culture that shamed victims into believing they were ruined by their abuse. It also strongly criticizes the school’s brand of counseling, which rejects modern psychology and urges victims to look for the “sin” behind their rapes and view their continued trauma as a struggle with God.

More than half the alleged victims surveyed reported they felt the school’s response was hurtful or very hurtful. Some victims said they found counseling sessions worse than their abuse. But the vast majority of the 50 self-identified victims interviewed for the study said they loved Bob Jones University, that they wished it no ill and hoped sharing their experiences would bring much-needed change.

A nonprofit group, Godly Response for Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), conducted the probe at the request of Bob Jones, after revelations that one of the university’s trustees covered up sex abuse at his church. The scope of such a review would be extraordinary for any university, but BJU, a campus of about 3,000 in Greenville, South Carolina, known for its strict biblical teachings, is one of the most insular in the country.

The GRACE report not only indicts the culture and counseling philosophy at BJU but also names four individuals it considers the main architects of the school’s approach. Among its many policy recommendations, GRACE urges BJU to strip its campus bookstore of the works of these individuals, bar its onetime primary counselor from counseling and take action against Bob Jones III — the chancellor and a former president of university and a grandson of its founder, for whom it was named.

BJU has maintained an insular, conservative culture that prohibits drinking and television. Unmarried men and women may not touch. Opposite sexes may gather socially only in well-lit outdoor areas on campus until 10:20 p.m. Even Christian music is not permitted if it has a rock, pop, jazz or hip-hop beat. Much of the outside world — from “worldly friends” to websites, which are deemed un-Christian — is shunned.

On Wednesday, BJU President Steve Pettit released a statement on the report, writing on behalf of BJU, “I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding and support after suffering abuse or assault.” He promised victims “who felt we failed them” that school officials were thoroughly analyzing GRACE’s findings and recommendations.

Former BJU student Katie Landry, who spoke to ”America Tonight” as part of our exclusive investigation into Bob Jones earlier this year, recounted how when she reported her rape to then-Dean of Students Jim Berg, she was so devastated by a barrage of questions — Had she been drinking? Had she been impure? What was her root sin? — that she raced out of the administration building, dropped out of school and didn’t tell anyone else for five years.

He just confirmed my worst nightmare,” Landry said. “It was something I had done. It was something about me. It was my fault.”

In candid remarks published in the report, Berg denied that the “sin behind every sin” was a concept he used and said he couldn’t remember the details of that session. But he acknowledged that the investigatory nature of his counseling, hurried schedule and “eagerness to bring real resolutions” may have made him brusque towards sex abuse victims in a way “that is probably more threatening than helpful.”

Berg, who was dean of students and chief counselor on campus for three decades, and is a current faculty member, estimated that he’s counseled 200 to 300 sexual abuse victims at Bob Jones. The report names Berg, along with former Dean of Education Walter Fremont, longtime Executive Vice President Bob Wood and Gregory Mazak, who oversees undergraduate and graduate degrees in biblical counseling as key figures in shaping  the university’s counseling philosophy, which was imparted to thousands of students, pastors, counselors, teachers and missionaries. But none of these men had any formal training in psychology, or a license to practice.

“What this report found was that the materials made available by these individuals had caused an incredible amount of damage in a large group of people,” said Boz Tchividjian, the head of GRACE. “The report didn’t find that any of it was intentional or malicious. But it did cause harm.”

Of 141 self-identified abuse victims who answered the question in the GRACE survey, more than 60 percent said Bob Jones’ culture was filled with messages that blamed and disparaged victims.

Some pointed to a fixation on women’s dress and teachings that seemed to imply that women were responsible for a man’s lust. Many interviewed by GRACE said the school’s sermonizing on sexual sin left them feeling like damaged goods, as it failed to differentiate between those who chose to have sex and those who had it forced upon them…

You can download the entire 244 page report here. (PDF file. It will start downloading when you click the link) When you are done reading it, feel free to

puke

Dying With Dignity

brittany maynard

Brittany Maynard

What follows is a letter I wrote recently to the Defiance Crescent-News.

Dear Editor,

Recently, Brittany Maynard, a brave woman with terminal cancer, took her life. As a resident of Oregon, Maynard could legally choose to commit suicide. Many religious people are incensed over her suicide. A Papal Monsignor called Maynard’s choice reprehensible. Pope Francis called such acts a sin against God. Evangelicals have taken to the internet to denounce Maynard, suggesting her suicide landed her in hell.

Here’s what the religious need to understand: those of us who are not so inclined are not moved by quoted Bible verses and threats of God’s judgment and hell. For us, a God who controls life and death and afflicts people with disease, is a fiction. Everywhere I look, I see suffering and death. I reached a point where I asked, where is God? Eventually, I concluded that the Christian God was a figment of my imagination, an imagination fueled by 50 years of Christian indoctrination.

The Bible encourages people to pray, have faith, and hold on. The faithful are assured that God only wants what’s best for them. Suffering is turned into virtue, some sort of badge of honor. Those who suffer will be rewarded in heaven, the Christian preachers say. Of course, we have to take their word for it because no one has come back from the dead to testify to the veracity of the suffering for God sermons.

I am more inclined to believe what I can see. What I see is suffering and death. I should do what I can to alleviate the suffering of others. Imagine one of my children suffering from a painful disease and I have a cure for the disease. However, I am not willing to give my child the cure because I think his suffering is good for him. What kind of father would people think I am? Yet, the Christian God gets a pass when he does the same. If we consider a human who withholds that which could alleviate suffering reprehensible, surely we should view God the same way.

Theodicy, the problem of suffering and evil, is one of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. Like Baal in I Kings 18, when it comes to suffering, war, famine, disease, pain, and death, the Christian God is AWOL. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God was on vacation, talking with someone, sleeping, or using the toilet. Could not the same thing be said for all gods? It seems quite clear to me, we are on our own.

At the heart of Maynard’s choice is the right to self-determination. As a person who suffers with unrelenting chronic pain and debility, I want the right to say, no more. Unlike many religious people, I see little value in pain and suffering. I endure it for the sake of my wife, children and grandchildren, but my family knows that there might come a day when I am no longer willing to do so. I want that choice to be mine.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

The Outrage Culture

outrage

Last Saturday, Ohio State thumped Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Conference football title game. This impressive win was enough to propel Ohio State into the National Championship playoff. They will play Alabama on New Year’s Day. Texas Christian University, along with Baylor University are outraged that their teams did not make it into the final four. Before the Big Ten Conference game, Texas Christian held the number 3 spot. Ohio State bumped them out of the playoff. Fans of Texas Christian, Baylor, and the Big 12 Conference took to social media, blogs, and sports news sites to express their outrage over their team and conference being slighted. The outraged pointed out why Ohio State didn’t deserve a playoff spot, often using abusive, childish, and derogatory language.

Last night, Dan Barker appeared on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show to register his outrage over a restaurant giving patrons who say a prayer a discount. Barker’s Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a threatening letter to the restaurant demanding they stop their prayer discount immediately. Jordan Klepper made a mockery of Barker and the Freedom From Religion Foundation and I, as a member of the Foundation, was quite embarrassed.

President Obama can’t break wind in a White House bathroom without Fox News being outraged over his fartiness. Fox has expressed indignant outrage over everything from the President’s wardrobe to his children acting like teenagers. Every day, there is a new outrage at Fox News, end of the world wars on Christmas and Christianity.

MSNBC gets in on the outrage game too. Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, Pete King, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin seem to demonstrate their stupidity every time they open their mouth and MSNBC is right there to let their viewers know exactly what these dimwitted hacks said. Let the outrage begin.

And then there’s the Evangelicals. Is there anyone more offended, upset, and outraged than Evangelicals? From Worldnet Daily to James Dobson to Franklin Graham to John Piper to John Hagee to Phyllis Schlafly, Evangelical talking heads take to social media, their blogs, and ministry websites to express outrage over same-sex marriage, abortion, birth control, immigration, Xmas, the minimum wage, and countless other things that they are sure are condemned in the Bible. Why God is outraged and so are they! They have even convinced themselves that they are a persecuted remnant. Atheists, humanists, socialists, communists, secularists, and Democrats have taken a secret blood oath to destroy Christian America. Why any day now, Evangelicals will be rounded up and send off to concentration camps, or so the paranoid among them think.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of all the fake outrage. It seems we have lost all sense of proportion. Even when there is an element of truth in a person or groups outrage, like in the case where the restaurant IS violating the law by only offering a discount to those who say a religious prayer, it seems that many people give every outrage equal weight. Result? Someone mentioning the Christian God at a high school graduation is equivalent to Mexican immigrants dying in the Sonoran Desert because of draconian, immoral immigration policies.

Everyone is so busy showing their outrage by posting to Facebook or Twitter and asking their friends to click like or retweet that they never consider how insignificant and petty their outrage is. As our climate warms and corporations continue to buy Congress, countless Americans are outraged over the series ending finale of Sons of Anarchy.  As we fight a global war against a ginned up enemy called terrorism and countless civilians continue to be slaughtered in the Middle East and Africa, far too many Americans spend their time being outraged over their singer not winning The Voice.

Count me as one person who is outraged over the outraged. Is this what we what become, a petty populous indifferent and ignorant of our surroundings, more concerned over posting a bad restaurant review on Yelp than we are the future of the human race? If this is so, I wonder if there will even be a future for us to hope for. We are going to kill ourselves one tweet and like at a time.

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Bruce

Feeding and Helping a Feral Cat

Several months ago, a feral cat and her two kittens wandered into our yard. We tried to ignore them for as long as we could, but the animal lover in us won out and we decided to feed them. All three cats were quite scrawny, and about six weeks ago one of the kittens no longer made an appearance in our yard. We suspect the kitten died.

Now that it is winter, we have put a doghouse stuffed with straw in the backyard so the kitten can escape the cold and snow. Sometimes, one of the other local feral cats checks into the doghouse, but the kitten uses it almost every day.

While we are in no position to bring the cat into our home, it is within our power to feed and help him. I wish everyone would spay their cats and not allow them to roam free, but there are a lot of irresponsible pet owners so it is up to responsible, caring people to help the least of these. These cats don’t deserve to be punished because of the stupidity of supposed intelligent human beings.

feral kitten

Feral Kitten

feral kitten

Feral Kitten

feral kitten

Feral Kitten

feral kitten

Feral Kitten

feral kitten

Feral Kitten

Response to Local Christian Fundamentalists

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, published September 14, 2014.

Dear Editor:

Over the past several weeks, local fundamentalist Christians have voiced their objection to my recent letter to the editor. While I cannot adequately answer all of their objections in the space of 500 words, I would like to address several issues.

I am not anti-religion. I know most people have some sort of religious belief they find beneficial. I am not the slightest bit interested in disabusing them of their belief. Yes, I am an atheist. I am also an agnostic, secularist, humanist, liberal, and Cincinnati Bengals fan. I am many things, but I am not one who wants to stop people from worshiping God.

My objection is to ignorance, especially the kind of ignorance that thinks ancient writings by unknown authors thousands of years ago make for good science. Fundamentalists are free to teach in church, private Christian schools, and home schools that the entire body of scientific evidence can be summed up by saying the Christian God did it. They are free to promote thoroughly discredited notions like the universe is 6,000 years old and was created in six days. They are free to deny all that science tells us about the world we live in. And yes, sadly, they are free to cripple their children intellectually. This is the price we pay for religious freedom.

However, when it comes to the public schools my 10 grandchildren attend or will some day attend, I expect them to be taught the scientific method. I expect them to be taught about facts and evidence without the taint of theology and fundamentalist ignorance.

The scientific method remains the best way for us to understand the universe. It is a method that relies on testing, verification, retesting and, if need be, admitting error. When is the last time that has happened at a local church? (That’s a rhetorical question) Fundamentalists think they have all the answers to all of life’s questions. Their view can be summed up this way, the Bible says, end of discussion. Do we really want local public school children being taught to think like this? Can we afford to cripple them intellectually, robbing them of the skills necessary to think rationally and critically? I think not.

Recent letter writers are like petulant children screaming for attention. For them it is not about science; it is about their belief system increasingly being marginalized and ignored. So when they gin up the non-controversy controversy over biological evolution, the age of the universe, or global climate change, I have no interest in giving their ignorance the air of respectability. After all, doesn’t the Bible say, don’t answer a fool according to his folly

There is, in the main, little controversy over biological evolution, the age of the universe, or global climate change. Denial is simply a refusal to see things as they are.

For the record, I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years, pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I am not ignorant of what the Bible teaches.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

Questions about HB 597

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News.  Published September 7, 2014.

Dear Editor:

Almost a hundred years after the Scopes Trial, Christian fundamentalists continue to demand creationism be taught in public school classrooms. Whether through young earth or old earth creationism or their gussied up sister intelligent design, fundamentalists want to teach theology in place of sound science. Publicly, they appeal to the American sense of fairness. Teach the controversy, they say with fingers crossed behind their back. Except there is no controversy. Court after court has ruled that creationism has no place in the public school classroom.

Yet, despite almost a century of litigation and scientific advancement, fundamentalists in Ohio are attempting once again to have their peculiar theology taught as a valid scientific theory. On July 29, Ohio Republican representatives Andy Thompson and Matt Huffman introduced House Bill 597 (HB 597) that would subtly pave the way for creationism to be taught in the science classroom.

HB 597 states “The standards in science shall be based in core existing disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics; incorporate grade-level mathematics and be referenced to the mathematics standards; focus on academic and scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes; and prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another,”

While the defenders of God and creationism will quickly point out that the bill does not mention creationism, its language opens the door for teaching the non-controversy “controversy”. Representative Thompson’s recent statement concerning the bill leaves little doubt about the objective of his bill. Thompson stated, “I think it would be good for [students] to consider the perspectives of people of faith. That’s legitimate.”

If Thompson is speaking about a high school philosophy or world religion class I would agree with him. I have long supported high school students being required to take a class in philosophy and world religion. In a world religion class students could learn about the various creation myths and how best to interpret and understand them.

However, fundamentalists don’t want their beliefs reduced to a chapter in a world religion textbook. They don’t want just a seat at the table; they want to be the only seat at the table. Their belief system demands certainty, exclusion, and fidelity. In their worldview, there is no place for open, honest discussion about religion and creationism. In their mind, there is one true creation story and that story is found in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3.

Creationists want students taught that Genesis 1-3 is the Christian God’s blueprint for the creation of everything. The universe is 6,000 years old, and according to creationist hero James Ussher, the earth was created the evening before Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. Everything that biology, archeology, astronomy, and geology tells us about the universe contradicts the creationist story. If we want our children and grandchildren taught sound science then we must make sure that creationists are not permitted to sneak their theology into the classroom. Theology belongs in the church and home, not the public school classroom.

Let’s hope reason and science rescues Ohio students from HB 597.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

 

What Happened to Ohio?

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. Published July 13, 2014

Dear Editor:

What has happened to Ohio, a state once known for its progressive politics and values? In a few short decades, religious and political fundamentalists have taken over the state government and are now attempting to take over the state board of education. Ohio is now being compared to backwater states like North Carolina and Mississippi.

The Ohio House of Representatives is considering HB 351, a bill that would effectively make abortion and birth control difficult to obtain. This bill has no abortion exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Evidently, women impregnated through rape or incest are supposed to realize their pregnancy is God’s wonderful plan for their life. Rep. John Becker, the sponsor of HB 351, made it clear that this bill is all about his personal religious convictions when he stated “This is just a personal view. I’m not a medical doctor.”

The Ohio Board of Education now has several Christian fundamentalists on its board. Mark Smith, the president of Ohio Christian University, is one such member. Smith, in a recent speech at the 2014 Road to Victory conference, made it clear that he is part of a movement that is determined to take the schools back for God. According to Smith, “it’s no secret that our educational system is full of teachers and professors who desire to obfuscate truth, and these individuals are effectively (deconstructing) our nation.”

Truth to Mark Smith and other Christian fundamentalists like him is the Bible. Smith stated “You see I’m excited to lead the cause for the rebirth of faith values in America, the rebirth of embracing a love for God, the love for family, and a love for our nation. I like traditional marriage. I’m for traditional marriage. Let’s embrace traditional marriage … .” Rather than focusing on education, Smith wants to focus on inculcating our children with his brand of Christianity. Our children may not learn to do algebra but at least they will know which God is the right one and which holy book is truth.

Sadly, most Ohioans are clueless about what goes on in Columbus. They continue to send Republicans to the state house without ever considering what they might do when they get there. The only way to stem the tide of religious extremism is to vote the extremists out of office. As it stands now, the Ohio Democratic party is weak and here in rural northwest Ohio it is almost non-existent.

The solution remains the same. We must stand up and fight. We must vote. We must support candidates that want to return Ohio to the days of its progressive greatness. We must be willing to make our voice heard. The editorial page of this newspaper is filled with letters from right-wing political and religious extremists. Surely there are Defiance County residents who are willing to stand up for the liberal/progressive values? Perhaps it is time to write a letter to the editor.

Bruce Gerencser

Ney

God and Global Warming

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. Published May 28, 2014.

Dear Editor:

A recent letter to the editor stated that the main reason for global climate change and the escalation of global temperatures is that this is how the Christian God wants things to be. The letter writer is not concerned one bit about climate change because God is on the job. We can collectively take a big sigh of relief knowing that the Christian God is in complete charge of the weather.

I wonder if people who make an argument like this understand the implications of their argument. If God is in control of everything, if he is the first cause, if he is the sovereign ruler of all, if there is nothing that we can do to stop the Christian God from doing his thing, then God must then bear the responsibility for everything that goes on in the world.

Katrina, Sandy, every hurricane, every typhoon, every mudslide, every forest fire, every natural disaster, must be laid at the feet of this micromanaging God. Since God is perfectly working out his will in the affairs of the human race, he then is accountable for war, starvation, disease, and death. If God is as the letter writer says he is, then God is culpable for everything that happens.

Of course, most fundamentalist Christians will object to what I have written here. They will say that humans have free will and that the bad things that happen are the result of humans exercising their free will. Wait a minute, I thought God was in charge of everything? Isn’t it God that gave humans free will? There is no way for God to avoid culpability since all power, authority, and control, rests with him.

This kind of fatalism is of no consequence if it is kept in the church house. If someone wants to believe that there is some sort of divine puppet master controlling their life, I couldn’t care less. But, when this kind of thinking bleeds into public policy, the result can be catastrophic.

The world doesn’t have the luxury or the time to just sit back and let God do his thing. Global climate change, along with ever-increasing global temperatures, is the greatest threat we face today. Doing nothing is not an option. As temperatures and seas rise, costs are sure to soar as global climate change disrupts growing seasons and forces the mass relocation of millions of people. As competition for earth’s dwindling, finite resources increases, affluent nations will turn to war to maintain their standard of living.

Our best days may be behind us and thinking that God is going to deliver us or is working out his plan only makes things worse. Why? Because it breeds inaction. Why worry about global warming? The rapture is just around the corner. Most global climate change deniers are also right-wingers religiously and politically. What is it in right-wing ideology that keeps people from seeing the world as it is? Answering this question would take more words than the Crescent-News allows.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney