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Questions: Was Biblical Inerrancy the Primary Reason I Deconverted?

i have a question

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

Emersonian asked:

I suppose, not to assume that I understood Steve’s question better than he does (especially since he’s commented above) — the follow-up question is this: was there a line for you between rejecting biblical inerrancy/Christ’s divinity and embracing atheism? Obviously there are many folks (myself included) who believe in a concept of “god” without the trappings of evangelical Christianity . . . so I’d say, even if this wasn’t the question Steve was really asking, do you feel that you went through multiple stages of detachment from religion (rejecting evangelical Christianity, then Christianity as a whole upon further examination, then rejection of the concept of a God of any kind) or was it all a package deal — if the evangelical view isn’t true then all of it must be BS? I know that you and Polly did attend non-evangelical churches of various types after your departure from your former congregation: how did that inform your eventual acceptance of your own atheism?

Perhaps what Emersonian wants to know is whether I think I threw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater; that in abandoning Evangelicalism (the bathwater), I threw out God (the baby) altogether. I certainly understand how someone might read my story, miss a few of the connecting dots, and come to this conclusion. However, this is not what happened, as I shall explain below.

I have been asked on several occasions if I thought I would still be a Christian had I begun life in liberal Christianity instead of Evangelicalism? This is a good question, but one, of course, that I cannot answer. Playing the “what might have been” game is an interesting endeavor, but it is impossible to know how things might have turned out had I walked through door number one instead of door number three. I am sixty-two years old. The sum of my life is a long string of choices. Each choice sent me down a certain path. A different decision along the way would have sent me in a different direction. Maybe I would have married a different woman, gone to a different college, chosen a different profession, or lived in a different state. The fact remains, however, that I made certain choices that resulted in certain outcomes. So it is with me being an Evangelical Christian for 50 years of my life. I was born to Evangelical parents, grew up in an Evangelical home, attended Evangelical churches, went to an Evangelical college, and married an Evangelical woman. We spent the next twenty-five years ministering in Evangelical congregations, gave birth to six Evangelical children, and had numerous Evangelical cats and dogs.

My life was so deeply immersed in the Way, Truth, and Life of Evangelical Christianity that even today, eleven years removed from the day I walked out the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, I wrestle with the vestigial remains of Evangelicalism. Now, this does not mean that I, deep down in my heart of hearts, still yearn to be a Christian. I don’t. What it does mean, however, is that five decades of Evangelical training and indoctrination left a deep scar upon my life; a scar that is fading with time, but will likely never totally fade away.

It is certainly true that coming to understand that the Bible was not an inspired, inerrant, infallible text shook my religious foundation. “If the Bible is NOT what Evangelicals claim it is,” I asked myself, “are any of its teachings true?” Answering this question forced me to re-study the central claims of Christianity; especially beliefs that were supernatural in nature. From creation to apocalypse, I took a careful look at the doctrines I once held dear. I painfully concluded that the central claims of Christianity could not be rationally and intellectually sustained.

I have always been the type of person who follows the evidence wherever it leads. This is why my theological foundation shifted several times when I was a Christian. I entered the ministry as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. Over time, I abandoned cheap grace, one-two-three, repeat-after-me soteriology and embraced Calvinism. A decade or so later I abandoned Calvinism. When I left the ministry in 2005, I was preaching what some of my critics called a social, works-based gospel. I was a far different preacher and man in 2005 from the one I was when I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in 1976. Time changes all of us, and I am no exception.

Take my eschatological beliefs. For many years, I held to a dispensational, pretribulational, premillennial eschatology. Once I embraced Calvinism, I adopted a posttribulational, amillennial eschatology. Countless other beliefs changed over the years. The more I read, the more my beliefs evolved. This approach to gaining knowledge continued as I contemplated leaving Christianity. The goal has always been the same: to know the truth.

“Why didn’t I become a liberal Christian?” you might ask. Surely, I could have abandoned Evangelicalism, yet held on to the Christian God. Maybe, but I doubt it. I value truth more than many liberal/progressive Christians do. Liberals seem willing to jettison virtually every Christian belief save believing in the existence of Jesus/God. Their beliefs can fit on the front side of a 3×5 card. I find myself asking, “why bother?” Such people are usually universalists, so there’s no concern about unbelief landing anyone in Hell. I suppose there is value in the social aspects of belonging to a church, but I enjoy sleeping in on Sundays far more than I do listening to terrible, lifeless sermons and attempting to sing songs best suited for the Vienna Boys Choir.

After I left the ministry and before I deconverted, our family visited over 100 churches in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Arizona, and California. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We attended churches across the sectarian Christian spectrum. The only churches we avoided were IFB congregations. Our goal was to find a church to call home that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. After three years of searching, we concluded that all the churches we visited were pretty much the same. Sure, we experienced different liturgies, different worship/preaching styles, etc., but at a foundational level, these churches differed very little from each other.  I know, I know, every church thinks theirs is “special.”  Every church thinks their buffet is better than those of other churches. Every church thinks their flavor of ice cream (please see My Heart Goes Out to You or Please Try my Flavor of Ice Cream) is better than any other flavor. That’s what happens when you spend your life in inbred relationships; when you spend your life in religious bubbles that give the appearance of rightness. Ultimately, it was exposure to the “world” that led me down the path of deconversion. Once freed from the authoritarian hold of the inerrant Word of God, I was free to read and study whatever I wanted. I was no longer walled in by Evangelical beliefs. I was free to follow the path wherever it went. This led to where I am today.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Questions: What Happened?

i have a question

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

Steve asked:

What was unanswered for me by your comments on faith and the loss of your faith in God, is what happened. I wrestle with confusing contradictions of definition and practice in my own life, but for me God never got lost in that ongoing struggle. In fact, my frailty and understanding of my human weakness has come clearly into view while the faithfulness and forgiveness of God is my only hope. I just want to understand what happened on the path from your faith in God to atheism. Maybe how did you come to faith first and what dissolved it?

Life has been very hard, but God is still real. What made that different for you?

Since December 2014, I have written 3,545 posts, totaling 2,963,575 words. Suffice it to say, I have written extensively about my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism. I have told, re-told, and told again what led me to file for divorce from Jesus. Yet, despite all of this, many Christians still don’t understand WHY I am no longer a Christian. Steve is one such person.

Why do some Christians have such a hard time understanding my story; understanding my loss of faith? The main reason, I believe, is their inability to wrap their minds around the fact of a devoted, committed Evangelical pastor turning his back on everything he held dear. Jesus is the everything of Evangelicalism. He’s a lover, savior, friend, and confidant. He is the alpha and omega; the first and the last; the beginning and the end. I am sure Steve wonders, “why would anyone ever want to walk away from Jesus; walk away from the forgiveness of sins and life eternal; walk away from a life filled with meaning, purpose, and direction?”

I pastored thousands of people over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry. More than a few people struggle with accepting that I am no longer a Christian; that I am no longer a pastor; that I am no longer the passionate lover of Jesus they warmly and lovingly called Preacher. These people reflect on my sermons, passion for evangelism, commitment to sound doctrine, and tireless labors and ask themselves, “what happened?”

What happened, as I have detailed numerous times, is that once I no longer believed that the Bible was an inspired, inerrant, infallible text, I was then free to re-examine the claims of Christianity. I spent countless hours pondering the beliefs I once held dear. Sure, there were emotional aspects of my deconversion, but ultimately my decision to walk away from Christianity had to do with one simple fact: I no longer believed the central claims of Christianity to be true. I concluded cardinal doctrines such as the virgin birth of Jesus, his resurrection from the dead, and the miracles recorded in the gospels could not be rationally sustained. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense) Once these beliefs fell by the wayside it was clear to me that whatever I was, I wasn’t a Christian. So, on the last Sunday of November in 2008, I walked out of the back door of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return.

Yes, Bruce, I get all that, but WHAT happened? And therein lies the problem for many of my interlocutors. They have convinced themselves that I am hiding a secret of some sort — the REAL reason I deconverted. What such people want is an emotional explanation for my loss of faith. Surely there’s a trauma of some sort buried deep in the recesses of my story. I hate to break it to people, but there’s no untold secret. I have done all I can possibly do to honestly, openly, and completely tell my story. I don’t know what else I can say to people other than to say, read my blog! (Start with the WHY page.)

Part of the problem for Christians such as Steve is that they compare their lives to mine. Steve speaks of living a hard life, yet knowing that the Christian God is real and ever with him. Surely, it should be the same for me, right? I am not one to compare my life to the lives of others. Life is complex and messy, and each of us has unique circumstances and experiences. Instead of trying to find the one thing that led to my loss of faith, I wish Christians would just accept my story at face value. Many Christians cannot square my story with their own stories and beliefs. That’s not my problem. All I know is this: I once was saved, and now I am not. I once was a follower of Jesus, and now I am not.

Christians often look for defects in my story. Steve asking about how I came to faith is a good example of this approach. If a defect in the conversion process can be found, then my story makes perfect sense. I never was a Christian! See, I didn’t follow the right steps. Of course, such thinking is absurd. In the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, not one congregant, Christian friend, or ministerial colleague ever doubted my salvation or commitment to Christian orthodoxy and the teachings of the Bible. It’s disingenuous to say I never was a Christian. Nothing in my frail, imperfect life suggested that I was anything but a Christian.

I can’t keep Christians from combing through my life, looking for glosses, weaknesses, and contradictions. I know what I know, and that’s all that matters. I have published enough information about my life for anyone so inclined to come to a conclusion about my faith and subsequent atheism. People looking for secrets are sure to be disappointed. Well, except for my “secret” life as a pole dancer and stripper. Coming soon to a strip club near you! (Please see the ABOUT page.)

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Erick Ortenblad Accused of Theft by Swindle

pastor erick ortenblad

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.

Erick Ortenblad, pastor of Experience Christ Church in Raymond (Willmar, Prinsburg), Minnesota, stands accused of swindling a family out of $70,000. Ortenblad is a graduate of Christ for the Nations Institute.

The West Central Tribune reports:

A New London man faces a felony charge of theft by swindle for allegedly bilking a Prinsburg couple out of $70,000 in the guise of a loan.
Erick Anders Ortenblad, 34, made his initial appearance last week in Kandiyohi County District Court. He was released on his own recognizance on the condition he not leave Minnesota and have no contact with the alleged victims.

His next court appearance will be Nov. 13.

According to court records, the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office received a report early this year that a couple in Prinsburg had been swindled by Ortenblad.

The couple said the pastor of their church had introduced them to Ortenblad, who said he was a pastor of Experience Christ Church. They told authorities they felt they could trust him because other people in their community knew him.

Ortenblad visited the home of the couple several times to pray with them, with attention to the man’s health problems, according to the criminal complaint. Their pastor accompanied Ortenblad to the first meeting and told authorities he had learned later about subsequent meetings. He had been surprised when he learned about the loan, the pastor said.

Ortenblad allegedly asked the couple for a $70,000 loan so he could purchase a church property in Willmar on short notice. The couple said they gave Ortenblad a $70,000 check in March 2017 and made it clear it was a loan. He allegedly told them he would repay them when his home in Texas was sold.

….

When he was interviewed by law enforcement, Ortenblad said the money was a loan for the church building. However, the day after he deposited the money in the church’s account, he transferred $55,000 to his father’s account in the same bank to repay a debt.

Ortenblad’s father was interviewed and said he knew of the loan from the couple but did not know why they had loaned him the money, according to the complaint. He said he believed some of the money had been used to repay him for a loan he had given his son and family to purchase their home in Texas.

When the sale of the Texas house fell through, Ortenblad said he was unable to repay the couple, according to court records. He said that he had owed about $2,000 to his housing association, and he claimed the association foreclosed on his home and sold it without giving him any financial compensation.

Ortenblad said the remaining $15,000 of the loan was spent on church expenses, including salaries for him and his wife.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Keith Collins and His Wife Accused of Theft

pastor keith collins
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.

Keith Collins, pastor of Church of the Overcomer in Trainer, Pennsylvania, and his wife Carolyn stand accused of embezzling over $1,000,000 from elderly, incapacitated adults.

The Delco Times reports:

A former Democratic candidate for Delaware County Council, his wife and her sister were charged Monday in a scheme to embezzle more than $1 million from approximately 112 elderly victims through court-appointed guardianships.

Pastors Keith and Carolyn Collins, of the Church of the Overcomer in Trainer, and Gloria F. Byars, sister of Carolyn Collins, turned themselves in Monday morning on charges including theft, conspiracy, receiving stolen property and failure to make required dispensation of funds.

“Gloria Byars, Keith Collins and Carolyn Collins were entrusted to care for our most vulnerable elderly citizens,” said Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland at a press conference announcing the charges. “Instead of simply doing their jobs, they cruelly embezzled over $1 million from over 100 incapacitated individuals, people who could not make decisions for themselves.”

The total amount of fraud alleged comes to $1,009,172 and involves 108 victims in Philadelphia, Delaware, Bucks, Berks, Montgomery and Lancaster counties. Copeland indicated another four victims from Philadelphia would also be included in those roles. All of the victims are over the age of 60 and many are in their 80s and 90s, she said.

“The impact of Byars’ and the Collins’ actions were far reaching, depleting significant amounts of monies from their wards from six different counties,” Copeland said. “To add insult to injury, Keith and Carolyn Collins, as pastors, used their church to help funnel the stolen money, betraying not only their duties as court appointed guardians but their duties as ministers of God.”

Copeland said the defendants used the ill-gotten gains on personal expenses including luxury cars, high-end clothing and accessories from Louis Viton, Jimmy Choo and Coach, airline trips and Hilton Hotel stays worth thousands of dollars, and a time share.

….

Byars and Carolyn Collins had no comment Monday, but Keith Collins, a longtime staple of the church community and unsuccessful Democratic candidate in the 2011 county council race, denied the allegations.

“I’m a pastor and if there were donations made, people are allowed to make donations to the church,” he told reporters outside the county courthouse in Media.

When confronted with accusations of theft, Collins indicated he did not know what the specific allegations were, but that taking care of people was his “life’s work” and that he works with people that no one else wants to work with.

“You’re welcome to come to the church and find out about us,” he later said while being led out of district court in handcuffs to a waiting law enforcement vehicle.

 

Is it a Sin for Women to Wear Pants?

polly-yuma-arizona

Polly wearing her first pair of pants, Yuma, Arizona, 2004

God says:

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God. (Deuteronomy 22:5)

Jack Hyles, the late pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, said in a  December 2, 1973 sermon:

Some of you pants-wearing ladies, I hope God will get you so under conviction tonight that you’ll hit the mourner’s bench before you go home!  Let me tell you something.  You ladies who wear your “britches,” don’t you laugh at me while I’m preaching the Bible to you.  The Bible says a woman should not wear that pertains to a man.  In this heathen generation, you ladies who wear pants have fallen prey to the unisex philosophy.  You are a part of the unisex movement!  I’m going to prove it to you.  You won’t believe it because you want to go ahead and be a part of it.  You don’t want to be different.  You’re not willing to buck the trend, but you’re hearing one preacher tonight who is happy to buck the trends even if he loses his job because of it.  I started 27 or 28 years ago what I believe, and I am preaching the same thing tonight.  If you get my sermons and listen to them, I preach the same things tonight I preached 28 years ago.  I preached against ladies wearing britches 28 years ago, and I’m not going to stop it just because you can’t find a skirt in a department store any more.

It’s time for some of you deacon’s wives to look like ladies instead of men.  It’s time for some of you deacons to yank them up and say, “Put a skirt on and take those ‘britches’ off!” It’s time for some of you who teach Sunday school classes in our church, to look like ladies and not like men.  The Devil is trying to break down the barrier between the sexes.  When you do anything to aid it, you’re a part of his work.

You say, “Brother Hyles, I heard you on the radio. I didn’t expect this!  You come on saying the radio saying, ‘A happy hello to all of our friends in radio land.  It’s a great joy to meet you this morning.  Maybe the burden is heavy and load is light.  We come on the broadcast not with a kick in the pants but with a pat on the back’” That the broadcast, honey.  In the pulpit, it’s a kick in the pants and not a pat on the back!  The back-pattin’ is on Monday morning, but the pants-kickin’ is on Sunday night!  The Devil is using clothing.  Whether you believe it or not, the book of Deuteronomy is in the Bible and Deuteronomy 22:5 says it is wrong for a woman to wear that which pertaineth to a man.  “Well,” you say, “in those days, the men wore long, flowing garments.” I don’t care what they wore, there was a difference between men and women.  I mean it’s up to the man to decide what he wears.  You say, “My husband is not going to do that!”  Well, you Jezebel, I am!

….

I’ll just say it again. It’s time some of you Christians dress like fundamentalists.  In fashion, men’s magazines and clothing trade journals herald men’s mini-skirts- can you feature it?  Can you feature Jim Vineyard in a miniskirt?  That would set burlesque back two generations!  Get this now.  There are harem lounging pajamas.  Did you know that there are lingerie shops for men, where men can buy silk, satin, and lace gowns and pajamas?  You’re horrified, aren’t you?  Yet you wear your “britches” to the store tomorrow!  Men’s magazines and clothing trade journals herald men’s miniskirts, harem lounging pajamas, earrings and necklaces.  One manufacturer is showing men’s shifts- a rather straight-line dress worn by women.  Their colors, psychedelic prints, are soft pinks.  (Can you imagine Sully in a pink shift?)  Fashion designers admit they are using ladies wearing men’s clothing and men wearing ladies’ clothing as a part of the trend to make America one sex.  You haven’t got enough sense to know it! “Now,” you say, “Preacher, what are you saying?”  I’m saying that God wants there to be a difference between the sexes.  I’m saying, in our generation, ladies ought not to wear whatever men have worn, and men ought not to wear whatever ladies have worn.

In 2002, Catholic Marian T. Horvat  wrote:

The three ladies [from a 2002 photo] are wearing pants, which are inappropriate for women for reasons of both immodesty and egalitarianism. As for modesty, according to the sound Catholic teaching of the past, trousers are immodest apparel for a woman because by their nature they emphasize a woman’s form and invite immodest regard. As for egalitarianism, Cardinal Guiseppe Siri made a superb warning in 1960. He noted that the wearing of men’s dress by women is “the visible aid to bring about a mental attitude of being ‘like a man’” since the clothing a person wears “modifies that person’s gestures, attitudes and behavior.

Millions of Americans attend churches that believe it is a sin for women to wear pants (britches, slacks, jeans, trousers, shorts, capris).  Many of these churches refuse to let non-dress wearing women attend their services. The late Jack Hyles, the one-time pastor of the largest church in America, required pants-wearing women to put paper dresses over their clothing before entering the sanctuary. I grew up in churches where pants wearing was grudgingly allowed, but women who did so were considered rebellious hussies. Evangelist John R. Rice speaks for countless Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preachers when he says:

Oh, women, what have you lost when you lost your femininity! When you bobbed your hair, you bobbed your character, too. Your rebellion against God’s authority as exercised by husband and father, has a tendency, at least, to lose you all the things that women value most. If you want reverence and respect from good men, if you want protection and a good home and love and steadfast devotion, then I beg you to take a woman’s place! Dress like a woman, not like a man. Have habits like a woman. And if you want God to especially bless you when you pray, then have on your head a symbol [long hair/head covering] of the meek and quiet spirit which in the sight of God is of such great price.

The message to women was clear: want to be right with God? Stop wearing pants.

In the mid-1970s, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern prided itself in being a character-building factory; an institution that turned out soulwinning, hellfire-and-brimstone preachers and missionaries. While women were permitted to take classes, most of them were there to snag a preacher boy, hoping to graduate with an MRS degree. My wife, Polly, was no exception. She came to Midwestern hoping to find a preacher to marry. She found one. However, I think I can safely say that she sure got more than she bargained for when she married me! I am certain, to this day, that Polly’s mom wishes her daughter had married one of those other preachers. Why, she would still be a preacher’s wife, if she had!

Women were not permitted to wear pants at Midwestern. Dresses had to be knee-length. One weekend, Polly and I went on a double-date with another dorm couple. Dorm students were not permitted to travel more than ten miles from the college campus. Wanting to go to the mall, we decided to break the ten-mile rule. Such daredevils, right? Not long after we arrived at the mall, we noticed the wife of Midwestern’s president walking with her youngest daughter. Imagine our surprise to see Mrs. Malone and her daughter wearing pants!  This was an early example of the hypocrisy that permeated the IFB church movement.

Polly was forty-six years old before she wore a pair of pants for the first time. In 2004, we lived in Yuma, Arizona. We thought of ourselves then as far more progressive and liberal than we were when we married in 1978. And we were, but deep-seated Fundamentalism dies hard. I had concluded that many of the church standards and rules we lived with for forty-plus years were legalistic and unnecessary. Polly, fearing that she would burn in Hell if she broke the rules, was not, at the time, as liberal, especially when it came to clothing. One day, we were shopping at Target, and I noticed that women’s capris were on sale. I picked up a pair, turned to Polly, and said, “why don’t you try on a pair of these.” You would have thought I had asked her to strip naked and run through the store. She had that look on her face, the same one she had when I brought home a Christian rock CD (Petra) and played it in our home. She was certain that God was going to send lightning from Heaven and kills us all. I assured her that God didn’t care about what she wore. Now, I didn’t really know that for sure. I just thought that Polly would look nice in capris. After what seemed like forever, I finally convinced Polly that God was not going to get her if she wore pants.

We returned to Ohio in 2005. By then, Polly was a pants convert. Well, except when her mother was around. Polly’s mom is in her eighties and has never worn a pair of pants. Polly was afraid of what her mom would say or think if she saw her wearing pants. Eventually, Polly decided to show her rebellious streak and donned a pair of pants in her mom’s presence. Polly’s uber-rebellious sister had been wearing pants for years. Not Polly. She was a true-blue believer. I still remember the look on Mom’s face when she saw Polly was wearing pants; a look of sadness and disappointment; a look that has been repeated numerous times over the past decade and a half as we continue to shed the bondage of our Fundamentalist Christian past.

Bruce, this sounds crazy! Sure, from the outside, it does. However, when you are in the Evangelical bubble, believing it is a sin for women to wear pants makes perfect sense. Let me outline for you how my thinking went back in the day.

  • The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God
  • The Bible says in Deuteronomy 22:5 that it is an abomination for women to wear men’s clothing
  • The Bible teaches that there is to be a visible difference between the sexes  — hair and clothing
  • Women are to wear modest apparel, clothing that does not expose their flesh or accentuate their shape
  • Men are visually attracted to women
  • Women shouldn’t dress in ways that cause men to lust after them
  • Refusing to dress properly reveals a rebellious spirit
  • Christians are to dress differently from the “world”

These “truths” governed my thinking, preaching, and conduct until I was in my early forties. Perhaps my deconversion actually began then, as I started to question the rules, standards, and regulations that had governed my life. These days, I tell Polly, “hey, it sure would be nice to see you in a dress once in a while. You know, show a bit of cleavage.” My, oh my! How far we have come . . .

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Questions: What do Evangelicals Consider “Moral Failing?”

i have a question

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

Darcy asked:

I was just reading something about drug addiction being a medical problem, not a morality problem. Then I realized poverty is also often seen as a moral failing. (Which means a failure to be a True Christian®). Are any other problems often seen as a moral failing, as in NOT True Christian®? Mental illness, physical illness, birth defects (used to be seen as a mark of the devil because of immoral parents), being a survivor of abuse, being LGBTQ, not finding your usual parking space, etc.?

Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Sin is transgression of the Law of God (as found within the pages of the Bible). Thus, you would think that Evangelicals would be diligent in keeping the more than 700 laws, commands, precepts, and teachings found in the Old and New Testaments. If the Bible is what Evangelicals say it is, wouldn’t it stand to reason that these followers of Jesus would commit themselves to studying, understanding, and practicing ALL that the Bible teaches — even the hard things? Yet, we know that Evangelicals don’t live differently from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Outside of what they do with their time on Sunday mornings, there’s little difference between saints and sinners.

Every Evangelical is what I call a Buffet Christian®. Evangelicals, clean plate in hand, walk down the Bible buffet line, picking and choosing what to believe and practice, ignoring the rest. No one obeys all the teachings of the Bible. I don’t know of one Christian who even believes and practices the red words in the Bible (words attributed to Jesus) or Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. Years ago, I told the church I was pastoring, that Christianity would be better served if Christians shut their mouths and spent the next five years putting the Sermon on the Mount into practice. Of course, neither I nor the people I pastored listened to what I was saying. We had a culture war to fight. Jesus would just have to wait until we conquered the United States for God.

One peculiarity found in some Evangelical churches — especially Holiness and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations — is the notion of “church standards.” Church standards consist of a written (sometimes unwritten) list of things church members are expected to believe and practice. After I left the ministry in 2005, our family looked for a church to attend. We found a dying Bible church in Butler, Indiana we thought we would be a good fit for us. The pastor, Jim Glasscock, was a wonderful man, as was his wife. When I inquired about joining, Jim was excited. However, his excitement quickly turned to disappointment. You see, the church had certain standards for members, one of which was holding to dispensational theology and pretribulational, premillennial eschatology. I was a non-dispensational amillennialist. This meant that we could NOT join the church.  Crazy, right?

IFB churches, in particular, are known for having church standards. Some churches require new members to agree to their church’s standards. Often, new congregants are required to sign their names, saying they have read the standards and agree to abide by them. Other churches only do this for members who are in leadership capacities. Back in the late 1970s, we attended the Newark Baptist Temple for a short time. Polly’s uncle, the late Jim Dennis, was the pastor. Polly’s father was the assistant pastor. Annually, members in leadership positions were required to sign on the dotted line affirming submission to the church’s standards. I refused to sign the form, causing quite a problem. I continued to teach Sunday school and drive a bus, but my refusal to submit caused a rift between Pastor Dennis and me.

One afternoon, I stopped by the Baptist Temple to pick Polly up from work. She was a teacher at the church’s school. At the time, I was a general manager for Arthur Treacher’s in Reynoldsburg. It was my day off, and a fellow manager and I got together to play some pick-up basketball. Afterward, wearing sweaty gym shorts and a t-shirt, I stopped at the church to pick up Polly. I knew my dress was a violation of the church’s standards, but, hey, I was just running in and running out, no big deal. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, Pastor Dennis saw me and lit into me like he would someone who was standing there stark naked. He took us to his office and dressed us up one side and down the other. Ever the rebel, I didn’t take his abuse lying down. Pastor Dennis’ behavior turned my rift with him into a chasm — one that neither of us ever totally resolved after that.

Another church that comes to mind is Maranatha Bible Church in Glenford, Ohio. One evening, the church’s pastor, Bob Shaw, stopped by a congregant’s home unannounced. Imagine his surprise when the door was opened by a female Sunday school teacher wearing pants! His outrage over her “sin” caused a huge blow-up, leading to the family leaving the church. Of course, at the time, I had a similar belief about women wearing pants. One woman in the church I pastored refused to stop wearing pants. I went over to her home to talk to her about her lack of submission to the church’s standards (Greek for submissions to my personal beliefs and preferences). She was, of course, wearing pants. As we sat there talking, her husband pointed to his wife and said, “do you really believe ________ wearing pants is a sin?” He was sure that, when pressed, I would back down, but I didn’t. It was the 1980s, and I really did believe that women shouldn’t wear pants. (My wife, Polly, wore a pair of pants for the first time in 2004, at the age of forty-six.)  I told him, “yes, your wife is sinning wearing pants!” Our conversations ended on a cordial note, but this family never darkened the doors of the church again. A few years ago, I apologized to the wife for being such an ass. She graciously accepted my apology (though she, to this day, can’t wrap her mind around the fact that I am an atheist).

I have said all this to point out that when it comes to defining “moral failure” (sin), Evangelicals are all over the place. What is considered a moral failing differs from church to church, pastor to pastor, and member to member. Every Evangelical has a list — written or unwritten — of beliefs and practices by which he or she determines what is or isn’t moral. Take receiving government assistance. I never had a problem with congregants receiving government help. Hell, the Gerencser family wouldn’t have survived the 1980s without the Federal government and the State of Ohio lending them a BIG helping hand. We didn’t have medical insurance for 16 years. Five of our six children were birthed thanks to evil Medicaid. That said, I knew pastors who opposed all forms of government assistance. No matter how dire the circumstances, congregants were expected to pray, seek God’s help, and do everything they could do to change their circumstances.

Some churches have strict qualifications for who may or may not be a pastor. Such churches use 1 Timothy 3 as a list of absolute qualities for a pastor. I saw one standard, ruling your own children well, used to boot several men out of the ministry; not due to anything they had done, but because a grown child was out in the “world” sinning against God. Never mind the fact that I don’t know one pastor — including myself at the time — that measured up to the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

The same goes for the “fruit of the Spirit.” According to Evangelicals, True Christians® are indwelt by the Holy Ghost. In other words, God lives inside every believer, acting as their teacher, guide, and conscience. Galatians 5:22,23 says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Tell me, do you know one Christian who meets this standard? Note, verse 22 says, the fruit of the Spirit IS (present tense), and not some sort of objective for Evangelicals to aspire for. Much like the standard for pastors, Evangelicals are expected to show in their lives “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.” Know any believers who meet this standard? Of course not. Jesus told his disciples, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” How is that working out for God’s chosen ones? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.)

Evangelicals do have lists of beliefs and behaviors they consider “moral failings” However, these lists are dependent on personal interpretation of the Bible, whim, tribal influence, cultural influence, and personal experience. There’s no such thing as an infallible, inviolable, authoritative standard — despite Evangelicals suggesting otherwise. One need only watch current internecine wars being fought among Evangelicals over female preachers, LGBTQ church members, same-sex marriage, and a host of other social hot-button issues. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul writes about Christians having the Holy Spirit as their teacher. Unlike “the natural man [who] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, followers of Jesus have “the mind of Christ.” Tell me, in a nation where most people profess to be Christians, where are the people who “have the mind of Christ?” Where are the people who think and act like Jesus?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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Quote of the Day: The Limits of Religious Freedom

torah bontrager

Freedom of religion and freedom of speech allow people to believe and say what they want in this country. But I know from firsthand experience that religiously driven myths reinforced by leaders can harm children’s lives and thwart their potential.

Like many Christian children, my Amish upbringing instilled in me the belief that Jesus’ return would be preceded by devastating conditions including floods, earthquakes, droughts, tornadoes, crop failures and fires — basically all the things climate change is unleashing. With no adequate education to temper these beliefs, fear of the coming apocalypse traumatized me. Had I stayed in the religion, recent weather patterns would no doubt have had me praying doubly hard.
When I escaped my community in Michigan in the middle of the night at age 15, I arrived in mainstream society laden with fears that had been reinforced through a limited Amish education that ended at the eighth grade. I’d acquired little secular knowledge thanks to a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case Wisconsin vs. Yoder, which found that Wisconsin’s compulsory school attendance law was unconstitutional because it violated Amish parents’ rights to exercise their religion. As a result, I had no knowledge of science, sex education, or any subject contrary to Amish religious views. Had I not escaped, the Supreme Court ruling would have sealed my fate: becoming an ignorant Amish housewife.

My hunger for empirical answers to allay my fear of hell drove me to earn a high school equivalency diploma and eventually apply to America’s top schools. Upon entering Columbia University, I was shocked to learn that many of my professors weren’t aware that the highest court in the country had set a precedent in favor of extremist religion over my basic rights. Over and over, I’ve seen how the system regularly protects religious sects as they harm children –– from a failure to educate them to a failure to physically protect them.

For example, in New York City, Mayor de Blasio has failed forcefully to stand up to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas to ensure that these schools provide Hasidic children with a state-mandated secular education. Most recently, 30 members of the New York City Council signed a letter spearheaded by Council Members Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger in opposition to regulations proposed by the New York State Education Department to provide the bare minimum general education to which they are entitled under state law.

And last month, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by congressional leaders to defend the constitutionality of a ban on female genital mutilation after a doctor from a Muslim community was charged with cutting the clitoral hoods of nine 7-year-old girls who cried and bled as a woman restrained them.

Whether fundamentalist Islam, ultra-Orthodox Jewish, Amish, or any other religion, all insular religious communities use a range of tactics to exert power and control over their members, starting at birth. Many of those tactics are steeped in utter fictions that serve to keep children from fulfilling their potential.

….

Yes, religious leaders can say what they want. But society must help minimize the harm. While [Robert] Jeffress has the right to make outlandish claims about [global climate change] rainbows, children should have the right to a federally-mandated adequate education that would give them the tools to assess the veracity of those claims.

Torah Bontrager, New York Daily News, The Limits of Religious Freedom: America Must Come to Grips with When Faith Groups Limit Personal Liberty, October 22, 2019

Books by Torah Bontrager

An Amish Girl in Manhattan

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: How to Avoid Getting Abused by Your Husband

A wife has a much greater chance of being abused if she is quarrelsome, contentious, & abusive towards her husband rather than if she is kind, loving, & submissive. God’s ways are for our good, NOT for our harm.

Lori Alexander, Twitter, October 21, 2019

In other words, ladies, if your (Christian) husband beats the shit out of you, it is likely your fault. All you need to do is be kind, loving, and submissive, and your husband will not beat you.  Why, if wives would just stop being quarrelsome, contentious, and abusive towards their husbands, peace would reign supreme. Talking about blaming the victim. Just when I think Alexander can’t say anything worse, she sends out a Trump-like tweet or blog post.

Quote of the Day: Do Born-Again Christians Have a Moral Conscience?

john stoehr

I am going to say something that I have never before said in public. I have professed my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.

More than once, actually.

I don’t remember how many times. Maybe half a dozen? I do remember each time had the same empirical result, which is to say no empirical result. I was the same after as I was before. I knew nothing had changed because my Christian upbringing taught the importance of the truth. What I didn’t know then, and what seems obvious now, is that the truth isn’t The Truth.

Years later my dad asked if I was saved. It was important to him. I said yes, and I felt like a liar. Then I realized there’s no way he could prove I wasn’t. Faith, after all, isn’t falsifiable. Telling him I was “saved” had the same small-T truth to it as saying I accepted Jesus, which is to say, no truth at all. Saying the words of the profession of faith in Christ did not actuate my inner moral conscience anymore than saying abracadabra.

To born-again Christians, the event I describe here, in which you profess your faith in God who gave His only Begotten Son to be sacrificed on the Cross of Calvary so that Man might be forgiven his Sins, is seminal. The revelation of God’s Power and Glory is supposed to be a turning point one reflects on in old age in search of wisdom to pass on to youngsters embarking on their own walk with the Lord. It is the implicit or explicit lesson to every Sunday school class, every Bible story, and every sermon. Everything about born-again Christianity is bent toward the goal of your being born again. The only thing missing is how to be a good person.

For me to say that the words of profession of my faith in Jesus did not actuate my moral conscience any more than saying abracadabra did isn’t merely offensive to born-again Christians. It’s also confounding. I mean, the point of being born again is to avoid burning for an eternity in a Lake of Fire. What’s morality got to do with that? (The people I’m describing, by the way, are all white. I have no unique insight into African-American evangelical religion or culture.)

….

I’m no historian but it seems to me, as someone who has strayed (badly but gladly) from my born-again Christian beginnings, that many of today’s believers have turned the Reformation on its head in a way. Whole lifetimes can pass by without having to think seriously about what a good person is or how to put virtue into action—why, when, and how. And such apathy is made possible by the deep-seated belief that morality is the same as obedience to authority, especially obedience to God the Father. In other words, I am good because people in authority tell me I am good for obeying their authority. Take the believer out of the shadow of authority, however, and what do you have? A person who’s never developed a moral core. An empty vessel, sadly. Donald Trump and his white evangelical supporters have more in common than most people think. (Caveat: I developed a moral core, but it wasn’t easy on my own. Others often do the same.)

John Stoehr, Rewire.News, Are White Evangelicals as Concerned About Middle Eastern Christians as We’re Meant to Believe? October 21, 2019

Stoehr poses this question in the context of Evangelicalism’s professed love for Middle Eastern Christians. You can read the rest of his article here.

An Example of Our Broken, Costly Healthcare System

healthcare system

Last January, my wife was admitted to the hospital and later diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. In July, she was told she had bladder cancer and a fistula that had created a path between the colon and bladder (resulting in feces in the urine). A urologist and colorectal doctor planned to do surgery sometime in August. On August 1, I rushed Polly to the emergency room. Her catheter had come out — more precisely, blown out — and she was, to put it bluntly, shitting all over herself and the floor. After six days at the Community Hospital and Wellness Center (Bryan Hospital), the surgeons decided Polly’s surgery would have to be done at Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Late on August 6, Polly was transferred by Williams County EMS — the only ambulance service in the county —  to Parkview. Polly would later have successful bladder and colon surgery. All told, she spent eighteen days in the hospital. Total cost for the January and August hospitalizations? $200,000. And that’s what our insurance paid, not what the various service providers billed. The sheer amount of the billings and various providers is mind-boggling, even to a man who spent most of his adult life handling church and secular business finances.

Our annual insurance deductible is $3,400. Our maximum out of pocket is $6,750. On top of that, we pay $84 a week for family medical coverage. Polly’s employer pays another $19,000 a year to provide our family insurance.  This means that we personally paid $11,118 this year for medical expenses. Add what Polly’s employer pays to this amount, and our total medical costs exceed $30,000. And, all praise be to the God of American Capitalism, this starts all over again come January 1. Well, with one change: our insurance premiums go up again, as they have most years over the past two decades! (Some years, premiums remained the same, and deductible and out of pocket maximums were increased. Over the past two decades, our deductible has increased 1,000% and our family maximum out of pocket has increased over 500%)

Polly’s surgeries were a success. Last Friday, she had a colonoscopy to determine whether her colectomy could be reversed. The surgeon reported that her colon was free of inflammation and that the colectomy could be reversed. Surgery is planned for March 2020. The bladder cancer? The pathologist made a “mistake.” Polly doesn’t have cancer. The pathologist’s negligence caused untold grief for us. His error triggered a hospital-level tumor board review. The urologist who resected Polly’s bladder sent tissue samples to the University of Michigan for examination. The samples were cancer-free.

Polly having surgery in March 2020 means, of course, that we will have to meet our annual insurance deductible and maximum out of pocket again. This means that, once again, we will spend $11,118 for medical costs. Of course, this has been the norm more years than not for us over the past decade. The only difference this year is that it is Polly’s medical bills, and not mine, that are running up the tab.

And, that’s not all . . . (think of Billy Mays doing a late-night OxiClean infomercial).

We have almost $3,000 of medical bills that the insurance company didn’t pay. I spent several hours on the phone today, trying to figure out why these bills weren’t paid. Right now, my emotions run the range of going postal and weeping, wondering when we will get out from under the weight of medical costs. The EMS bill balance of $965 is ours to pay (the total billed amount for transport was almost $1,900). Polly’s transport was medically necessary and Williams County EMS was the only provider in the county. What were we to do, right? I asked both the hospitalist and nurse to make sure that the transport was covered by our insurance. They assured me that it was. And it was, with one big fuck you. Williams County EMS accepts our insurance, BUT they do not accept insurance adjustments and assignments. Polly’s insurance company paid what Medicare customarily pays, leaving us with a substantial balance. I am also dealing with pathology and radiology bills that were rejected by the insurance company due to incomplete paperwork, lack of reports, etc. Trying to find someone who could actually “fix” these problems for me proved futile. It’s up to me to contact the various players and make sure proper documents are submitted to the insurance company.

The American healthcare system is broken. And it will remain this way until our government leaders are willing to overhaul the system and take the profit out of medical care.  As long as insurance companies and large “non-profit” health care providers are in the driver’s seat, we shouldn’t expect change. In the meantime, all I know to do is send out monthly checks of $25, $50, and $100 to service providers as payment for our outstanding balances. One provider, Parkview Hospital and Physicians Group, refuses to accept payments for more than a twelve-month period. Owe them $2,400? Your monthly minimum payment is $200. Yes, they offer bill reduction if you are poor, but unfortunately, we are just over income line they use to determine eligibility. Our local hospital, thankfully, did provide us a partial bill reduction (and was, overall, substantially cheaper than Parkview). They also don’t demand exorbitant monthly payments. We have been paying them $100 a month for, it seems, forever.

I know our story is not any different from those of other Americans facing serious medical problems. We are held captive by a system that prioritizes profit over care; a system that is almost impossible to navigate. Until government leaders put the healthcare needs of their constituents first, we shouldn’t expect things to change. While the Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction, Congress, along with the Federal Courts, are going out of their way to burn “Obamacare” to the ground. President Trump and Republicans promised Americans awesome health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is invalidated. I can safely say that no such “awesomeness” is forthcoming. For the Gerencsers, 2020 will be yet another year of mounting healthcare costs; just as it will be for millions of Americans. We are all dying, one medical bill at a time.

On October 2, 2019, Michael Hicks. professor of economics and the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, wrote an editorial in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette castigating Parkview and other Indiana Hospitals for their excessive medical care costs. (We live in rural northwest Ohio. Toledo and Fort Wayne are our “big” cities, 40 miles or so in either direction.) Here’s what Hicks had to say:

Several weeks ago, a concerned citizen sent me a financial summary of Indiana’s not-for-profit hospitals. He asked that I look into the issue of excessive profits by these systems.

I was skeptical that the issue would be relevant. Profits are critical to an economy; they serve as a guide to pricing and investment decisions and reward the men and women who create value. The demonization of profits is a sure sign of unformed thought. Moreover, not-for-profit hospitals have explicitly chosen to forgo profits as part of their operations, so I doubted the financial summary would reveal anything important.

I was mistaken.

What I discovered will deeply anger every Hoosier and should embarrass most hospital administrators and board members. I also expect it to cause significant changes to state policy with respect to these hospitals. This is likely to change the way we tax them, regulate their competitors and enforce antitrust laws. It will surely lead to civil litigation involving billions of dollars of excess profits.

It turns out the not-for-profit hospital industry and its network of clinics is the single most profitable industry in Indiana. These profits are so large that, when accumulated, they account for roughly 9% of the state’s total economy. As of 2017, this industry had accrued more than $27 billion – yes, billion. Yet, the not-for-profit industry in Indiana pays virtually no taxes and invests almost none of those profits locally. That money is invested in Wall Street, not Main Street.

However, they do charge Hoosiers a premium to access health care.

Earlier this year, a Rand Corporation study found that hospitals in Indiana were charging among the highest prices in the nation. While the hospital association has been fighting this excellent study, it is surely correct. I am confident the Rand study is right because I mapped these hospitals and compared the Rand price data with the lack of competition in each health care market.

In places where there is little competition, such as Fort Wayne, consumers pay more than twice the cost for a typical medical treatment as they do in places with the most competition. This is how these hospitals accrued excess profits that are roughly 12 times larger than the entire state of Indiana’s Rainy Day Fund.

This windfall of profits has happened fairly recently. In 1998, the typical Hoosier spent $330 less than the average American for health care. We now pay $819 more per person than does the average American. The only factor that can explain this is growing monopoly power among our not-for-profit hospitals.

If you are not shocked by this, nothing can shock you. In a typical post-recession year, these excess profits were so large that they shaved almost 30% off economic growth in the state. Let me highlight some particularly egregious examples.

Parkview Hospital is the most blatant example. In one recent year, Parkview Hospital in Wabash earned a 48% profit rate. By comparison, Walmart, which also has a store in Wabash, had a profit rate of 3.12% that year. Parkview Hospital’s profit absorbed a full 4.1% of the county’s gross domestic product.

Using data from a ProPublica investigative website, I found IU Ball Memorial Hospital enjoyed a lavish 23.8% profit in that year. This was more than $100 million, or a full 2.5% of the county’s GDP. Despite this, the president of Ball Memorial recently begged the city of Muncie to subsidize new luxury apartments so his doctors could live downtown.

That subsidy will cost Muncie Community Schools more than $2 million, which just so happens to be about two days of profits at the not-for-profit IU Ball Memorial Hospital.

There are literally dozens of other outrageous examples reflecting an appalling lack of governance at not-for-profit hospitals.

To be fair, there are a few hospitals that choose not to participate in this plunder of their patients and communities. These good actors, along with the not-for-profit community as a whole, are hapless victims of this outrageous monopolization of health care in our state. I feel especially sorry for the faith-based community which will surely be linked unfairly to some of these institutions. They should be among the first to call for legislative intervention and governance change in these hospitals.

Local governments are also victims. The most profitable industry in our state pays no property tax and no income tax, but overcharges schools, and city and county governments for health care. There is almost certainly a tax reckoning coming for not-for-profit hospitals, which will add much to the coffers of local government.

Maybe the only good news in all of this is that this situation is a plaintiff attorney’s dreamscape. There is a $27 billion settlement pool alongside the most abundant evidence of anti-competitive behavior I have ever seen. If you lead a school, business or municipal government that has paid health care expenses in Indiana, find a good trial lawyer, or better yet a class-action specialist.

This news about Indiana is now attracting national attention as an example of a health care system run amok. This is the most shocking thing I have seen in more than two decades of public policy research.

Monopoly pricing at hospitals is likely a contributor to our state’s nearly 10-place decline in health rankings over the past two decades.

The most similar modern phenomenon I have witnessed is the effect of strip-mining on many Appalachian communities.

To place this in historical context, the profit rates at Indiana’s not-for-profit hospitals are larger than anything the Gilded Age robber barons were able to secure. In this observation is a final lesson.

In the process of vetting this study with several colleagues, I shared it with one lifetime Republican and veteran of two GOP administrations. His response was simply that this is the single best argument for Warren/Sanders-style health care reform he had ever seen. He is not wrong, and that alone should prompt quick legislative, regulatory and legal action.

Hicks’ editorial, along with my plight, demonstrate some of the greatest reasons for a major overhaul of our nation’s healthcare system. But let us not hold our collective breaths waiting for that to happen. It seems the health of constituents is not a priority in Congress.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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

Why I Thought I was “Qualified” to Counsel Others

want truth read bible

Recent posts about Christian counseling caused more than a few outraged Evangelical counselors to object to my assertions. (Please see Beware of Christian Counselors, Questions: Should People Trust Christian Counselors with Degrees from Secular Schools?, and Outrage Over Christian Counselor Post.) Of particular note were the people who emphatically said that pastors are NOT counselors; that pastors offer congregants spiritual advice, and not professional counseling (regardless of what congregants believe they are receiving).

Anyone who has attended an Evangelical church knows that such an assertion is false. Pastors routinely counsel people — both inside and outside of their churches — and counselees believe they are receiving professional services. I don’t know of an Evangelical preacher who doesn’t provide counseling services. It is for this reason that I wrote the post Beware of Christian Counselors. Just because a man is a pastor doesn’t make him qualified to counsel people. In fact, I would argue that many pastors cause incalculable harm by posing as trained and qualified counselors — their only qualifications being that they own a Bible and can read.

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Over the course of my ministerial career, I counseled hundreds of people. When people walked into my office, they believed — without ever checking — that I was qualified to provide counseling services; that I had all the answers for whatever was ailing them. Why did I think I was “qualified” to counsel people?

I grew up in churches where the pastor (or youth director) was considered God’s Answer Man®. Armed with an inspired, inerrant, and infallible King James Bible, my pastors were ready, willing, and able to dispense supposed life-changing wisdom. I watched my mentally-ill mother suffer through countless pastoral counseling sessions without ever getting the help that she needed. Her failure to respond to their Biblical admonitions was, according to our pastors, a lack of obedience on her part to God/Church/Bible. Her confinements to Toledo State Mental Hospital, drug addiction, and periodic electroshock therapy treatments should have been screaming warning signs to these men of God, but they weren’t. Mom wanted
“God’s best” for her life, so she sought out counseling from her pastors. Every pastor believed he could “fix” Barbara. Arrogant to the end, these servants of God believed they offered the mentally ill the same deliverance Jesus gave the Maniac of Gadara. Mom finally found the deliverance she so desperately sought. One Sunday morning, she turned a Ruger .357 magnum on herself, blowing a hole in her heart. Mom ignominiously died in a matter of minutes. She was 54. (Please see Barbara.) All praise be to Jesus, right? At least she was “saved” and went to Heaven.

I don’t remember a time before her death when Mom’s mental health problems weren’t a part of my life. For the longest time, I shamefully believed that Mom was just a drug addict who loved sin more than she loved Jesus. If she would only repent and follow the teachings of the Bible, all would be well. Oh, how I wish life offered do-overs! I guarantee you that my mom would have received different care; that I would have been a better son. Would the outcome have changed? I don’t know, but one thing is for sure, I will NEVER have the opportunity to find out.

Young preachers tend to model what they see in the lives of their pastors and older colleagues in the ministry. I know I did. I never heard one pastor or colleague suggest that he was anything but competent to counsel church members. I never heard one sermon that ever suggested that anything other than Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible were answers for the human condition. Secular counselors and mental health treatment were routinely ridiculed and condemned. It was even suggested that “mental illness” was nothing more than the result of disobedience to God.

In the mid-1970s, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. Many of my professors were graduates of Midwestern — quite the incestuous relationship. Professors sporting doctorates were often honorary doctors, having received this recognition from Midwestern or another IFB school. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) All told, I took one class related to counseling. Most of the class was spent “debunking” secular psychology and counseling. Everything I experienced at Midwestern taught me that my pastors and colleagues were right: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible were all that people needed to successfully navigate life.

I entered the ministry believing that I was called by God to “shepherd” his flock (fellow Christians), and offer them infallible counsel and help from the Word of God. I sincerely believed that the Bible was God’s answer book; a divine blueprint for life; a standard by which Christians were to live their lives. I believed the answer to every question was “Thus Saith the Lord!” My past experiences with my mom should have taught me differently, but I viewed her as a rebellious sinner, and not someone who needed physical and psychological help.

As a pastor, I counseled hundreds of congregants and outsiders. Not one time did I say to a counselee, “you need professional help.” How could I? My entire life and ministry were built upon the notion that “With God (and by extension the Bible) All Things Are Possible.” In my mind, Jesus and the Bible were a vending machine. Just push the proper buttons for whatever was ailing a person, and out came the answer. When you believe, as Evangelicals do, in the sufficiency of Scripture, to do anything that suggests otherwise is heresy.

I know that what I have written so far sounds insane to non-Evangelical Christians and unbelievers. However, when you live in the Evangelical bubble, everything makes sense. The Bible as the manual for mental illness? Yes, Praise Jesus! Prayers as a cure for whatever ails you? Absolutely! In a self-contained world — built brick-upon-brick with verses from an ancient religious text — such nonsense seems reasonable. When you are told for years that the “world” is out to destroy you and your family, and that safety and protection can only be found in Jesus, the church, and the Holy Bible, the level of dysfunction and harm should come as no surprise. It was not until I left the ministry (2005) and left Christianity (2008), that I was able to experience life outside of the Evangelical box. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box.) It was then, as many of you can attest in your own lives, that I realized that I had a lot of bat-shit crazy beliefs. I had caused incalculable harm to people who loved me and called me preacher. While they bear some blame for the damage done (and sadly many former congregants are still being ritually abused in Evangelical churches), I bear the greater burden. I had a duty and responsibility to competently help them. Instead, I arrogantly believed, as the Apostle Paul did, that I could be “all things to all men.” Marital problems? Rebellious children? Substance abuse? Sexual dysfunction? Suicidal thoughts? Mental illness? Financial problems? Praise be to Jesus, I had ALL the answers. Except, I didn’t, and for that, I will forever live with regret. I can’t fix the past, but I sure as hell can warn people about what goes on behind closed office doors in countless Evangelical churches and Christian counseling “ministries.”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: God Killed Congressman Elijah Cummings

We know the Bible. You’ve got a leader [Cummings] that has been in office for over 30 years, that opened the door on unfettered abortion in this country.

His civil rights icon status was a joke because he did nothing to bring rights to his people; all he did was divide, all he did was play the race card. He was one of the most extreme, crooked, deceptive, demonic attempt.

He used his power as a member of the Judiciary Committee – he would always twist the law. He would defend corruption. Everything that he’s done has been nothing but trying to take this president out.

I don’t say this with any disrespect [yes you do, asshole] to Cummings’ family, but I believe that God had had enough and God moved. [And how, exactly, does McDonald know this? Did God send him an email?]

— Christopher McDonald, Right Wing Watch, God Had Had Enough’: Chris McDonald Says God Killed Rep. Elijah Cummings for Opposing Trump, October 17, 2019

(Video Taken down by Christopher McDonald. Evidently, he doesn’t like all the attention he is getting from outside of his merry band of troglodytes.)

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor Stacey Shiflett was McDonald’s guest on the program. Shiflett agreed with everything McDonald said and added his own attacks on the person and memory of Elijah Cummings. My God, the man’s corpse isn’t even cold yet.

Previously, I praised Shiflett for standing up for sexual assault victims in IFB churches. Unfortunately, Shiflett’s true nature came out during McDonald’s show. He may stand up for victims of abuse, but he is also an asshole for Jesus.

Shiflett is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, Maryland.