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

Are You in Pain Today?

new pain schedule

Last Friday, my surgeon called and asked me to come see him at 1:30 pm today so we could go over the recent biopsy results of the fluid removed from the mass in my chest. In early December, I had a huge cyst that spanned from my breast/collarbone to my sternum/underarm drained and biopsied. The interventionist radiologist removed 360cc of fluid. I IMMEDIATELY felt relief — all praise be to Asclepius.

The nurse came out to the waiting area and called my name. Someone new. “Where’s MY nurse . . . dammit, I have no time to train a new one,” I thought.

Into the room we went. I could hear my doctor talking to another patient next door. He seemed in a good mood, but then he always seems that way.

The nurse took my blood pressure and pulse. Then she asked, “are you in pain today?”

If there is one question that raises my hackles, it is this one. “Can’t you read my chart? See right there where it says the patient has fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, nerve pain, and is on narcotic pain management. Pay attention.”

For a brief snarky second, I wanted to say, “Praise Jesus, I went to a Benny Hinn Miracle Meeting® on Saturday, and God healed me of everything except the cyst that is growing again in my chest.” Instead, I said, “yes, I am always in pain.”

Then the nurse asked me another question that I despise answering, “On a scale of one to ten, what’s your pain level?”

I replied, “I hate pain charts. Pain charts are subjective, a waste of time.”

I got the “look,” you know that look that says, “give me a fucking number so I can enter it in the proper box on your chart.”

I replied, “six.”

Hell, it could have been ten or three or twelve. By what standard am I being asked to judge the level of my pain? Such a silly way to determine pain levels and what, if any, treatment is appropriate.

The surgeon entered the room with a medical student in tow. We traded a bit of chit chat and then moved to discussing the biopsy results and his recommended course of treatment. I told him the cyst had returned and was growing larger by the day. I stood up and had him feel the cyst. I turned to the medical student — a woman — and asked her if she would like to feel the cyst. She said, “yes,” and proceeded to put her hand above my right breast. The surgeon had her feel above the left breast too so she knew what normal felt and looked like.

The surgeon told me that removing the cyst could be a difficult operation due to its proximity and depth. His suggestion was for the radiologist to drain the cyst again and then inject it with a sclerosing agent. Hopefully, this procedure will stop the fluid from accumulating again.

The surgeon asked Polly and I if we had any questions. Both of us said, “no.” He then asked Polly how she was doing and if she was scheduled to see him soon (he is the doctor who will be reversing her colectomy). Polly answered in the affirmative. The surgeon and his student left, and my regular nurse came in to talk to me about scheduling the procedure. Hopefully, I will have it done in the next fourteen days.

The surgeon? He had left the office after seeing me and quickly made his way across the street to the hospital. Waiting for him was a young girl who needed emergency surgery.

What is your opinion of pain charts? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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.

Bruce, the Christian Atheist

salvation card

Recently, a self-identified Evangelical Christian apologist left the following comment:

Both you and Ray [Boltz] were very passionate about the Lord for many many years. And Ray still is. I don’t believe in people losing their salvation so I look to you as a brother who got very very weak in his faith. I think Ray is a very strong believer who has found a liberal church to condone his lifestyle. So are they all unsaved because they don’t see it like us?? I say who are we to make that judgement call??? If you believe in Christ from your heart you are given eternal life period..you are saved. I believe you both have done that.

The commenter is a proponent of the doctrine of once-saved-always-saved. At the age of fifteen, I asked Jesus to save me. For the next thirty-five years, I was a committed, devoted follower of Jesus. For twenty-five of those years, I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Based on my decision at age fifteen, the commenter mentioned above concluded that I was still a Christian — once-saved-always-saved. While I know this doctrine well — having grown up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement — I have long believed that this idea is absurd. Yes, I lived as a Christian for four decades, but there’s is nothing in my life today that remotely suggests that I am still a Christian. I have spent the past decade opposing Christianity in general, and Evangelicalism in particular. I proudly self-identify as an atheist and agnostic. Yet, according to this commenter, because I sincerely prayed the sinner’s prayer at age fifteen, I am still a Christian. There is nothing I can do to divorce Jesus. We are married, no matter what I do or how I live. I can fuck every other God and make a mockery of my marriage to Jesus, yet I am still married to him. Nothing, according to the Bible, can separate me from the love of Christ. (Romans 8:31-39) Think, for a moment, about the men featured in the Black Collar Crime Series. All of these men likely had similar religious experiences to mine. The difference, of course, is that they raped and sexually molested children and took advantage of vulnerable congregants, and I did not. Yet, according to the aforementioned commenter, these vile, disgusting “men of God” are still saved, and when these men die, they will inhabit the same Heaven as the children and congregants they harmed. Is there any Christian doctrine more disgusting than once-saved-always-saved?

Look, I get it. Evangelicals who believe in once-saved-always-saved are hemmed in by their literalistic beliefs and interpretations of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Instead of stating the obvious — that people can and do walk away from Christianity — proponents of once-saved-always-saved are forced to defend the indefensible. Christian salvation is reduced to a momentary transaction in time, and once the transaction is completed salvation is sure and secure. Are there Bible verses that teach once-saved-always-saved? Absolutely! But there are also verses that teach the perseverance/preservation of the saints and conditional salvation. Any and every doctrine Christians believe can be justified by the Bible. The Bible is a book that can be used to prove almost anything. When I am asked if the Calvinists or the Arminians are right, I reply, “they both are.”

The Bible speaks of there being a “faith once delivered to the saints.” This suggests that Christianity is singular in nature. However, it is clear, at least to me, that there are numerous Christianities, each believing that their sect/church is True Christianity®. Christians can’t even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, and communion. Millions of theological tomes have been written, each defending a peculiar theological system. According to Evangelicals, the Bible can be understood by children, yet pastors spend years in college learning how to interpret the Bible. Their church office shelves are lined with books that break down the Bible into singular words and clauses. Baptists and Campbellites fight to the death over the one Greek word in Acts 2:38 — the word eis. Evangelical Internet forums and Facebook groups are filled with people who spend their days and nights debating the nuances of this or that interpretation of the Bible. Once-saved-always-saved is one such interpretation.

From Pascal’s perspective, once-saved-always-saved is a good deal. I have said the prayer, and now I am headed for God’s Heaven when I die. No matter what I say or do, a room has been reserved for me in the Father’s mansion. (John 14:1-6) Sweet deal, right?

I have decided to call myself a Christian Atheist®. Sounds crazy, I know, but is this not the logical conclusion of once-saved-always-saved? I am in every way an atheist, yet because of the prayer I prayed at the altar of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio at age fifteen, I am a Christian. Or so some Evangelicals say, anyway.

I feel embarrassed for Jesus. Well, I would anyway, if he were still alive. But, he’s not. Jesus’s bones lie buried somewhere in the sandy soil of Palestine. Consider what I am saying here. I deny that Jesus resurrected from the dead. Is not Jesus’s resurrection central to Christian belief and practice? How can one deny Jesus’s resurrection and his divinity and still be a Christian?

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.

666: Beware of the Mark of the Beast

mark of the beast

And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six. (Revelation 13:11-18)

And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. (Revelation 19:19,20)

Most Evangelical Christians are literalists. When Evangelicals read the book of Revelation, they see the first four chapters as past history or representative of various ages and believe that the rest of the book prophesizes events that have yet to happen. Deeply influenced by dispensational, premillennial, pretribulational eschatology, Evangelicals believe that we are living in the last days; that the return of Jesus and the rapture of the church are imminent. Granted, most Evangelicals don’t live in ways that give credibility to their end-times beliefs, but theologically they believe that Jesus is coming soon! (Believe what I say, not how I live, Evangelicals say.)

Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, explained what will soon happen on earth this way:

We have never been closer to the end of the world than right now. It is, however, important to know that the Bible also talks about a new beginning when there will be no perversion, no terrorism, no war, no starvation… no problem of any kind. As Isaiah 11:9 says, the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth. [But] it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Revelation 13 talks about spiritually dark times, the tribulation period. “Satan’s son” will emerge on the scene… “the man of perdition, the man of sin, the beast… best known as the antichrist… the most evil man who’s ever lived… history’s vilest embodiment of sin and rebellion.

Revelation 13:15-18: The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.

If you google the number 666, you’ll receive 543 million results. And you probably will find 543 million ideas about what it actually means. I don’t think anyone can answer this with complete certainly, but this much we do know… The antichrist is going to introduce a cashless society… The endgame of this is to cause people to engage in devil worship.

This scenario is unfolding before us.  The technology to make that happen is already here. The fact that the words of Revelation 13 were penned in the age of wood, stones, swords and spirit, makes this prophecy one of the powerful proofs of the inspired nature and reliability of God’s word that one could have ever imagined. Who could have predicted a one-world economic system that controls all commerce but God?

God knows the future just as well as we know our past. While we sometimes forget even our past, God knows the future with complete precision. Only God can tell what is going to happen, as Isaiah 46:9,10 says.

The real reform is some kind of a banking union where everyone signs on board, that there’s going to be some kind of a banking overlord, a banking union that everyone’s gonna have to bow down to. Can this actually happen? And the leader of it will be the antichrist, and he will have his mark.

The antichrist’s economic policy will be very simple. Take my mark and worship me, or starve to death… No mark, no merchandize… No seal, no sale.

The technology to do this is already here. A June 1, 2012 headline from New York Daily News read, “‘Human barcode’ could make society more organized.” The article said, “Microchip implants have become standard practice for our pets, but have been a tougher sell when it comes to the idea of putting them in people.”

Since 2006, new U.S. passports include radio frequency identification tags, known as RFID, that store all of the information in the passport as well as a digital picture of the owner. In 2002, an implantable id chip, called VeriChip, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The chip can be implanted in a person’s arm, and when scanned can pull up a 16-digit id number containing information about the user. However, it was discontinued in 2010 amid concerns about privacy and safety. Am I saying that this technology will be the mark of the beast? No, I’m not. I’m just saying the ability to technically pull this off exists.

We don’t know when the tribulation period will begin, five or 20 years from now. But with the technology today, we know all this is “totally plausible.” But let’s not overreact. Not every stamp put on someone’s hand by some authority is the mark of the beast. Or, if an office building’s number is 666, that’s not the mark of the beast.

While we do not know exactly when the mark of the beast will appear, we know this though that a great delusion will come upon the world and many will believe the lie leading to their destruction, as 2 Thessalonians 2:9 warns. Destruction will happen “because they refused to believe the truth that would save them.” At the time of the tribulation, they will choose to believe in a lie that the antichrist is “God.”

Got all that?

I came of age in an era when Evangelicals believed that Jesus would come and rapture them away at any moment. Evangelical pastors and evangelists preached prophecy-focused sermons, reminding believers to be busy winning souls for their “redemption draweth nigh.” Congregants were told that it was likely that the antichrist was alive and would soon establish his satanic, one-world government on earth. Some Evangelical pastors tried their hand at predicting who the antichrist was and when Jesus would rapture all the True Christians®. Catholics, mainline Christians, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mormons were considered false Christians. Only those who believed the Evangelical gospel were saved and would soon be taken up into Heaven by Jesus, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.

the rapture 3

Over time, rapture mania faded away. Evangelicals focused on building kingdoms in the present, and not the future coming of the kingdom of God. It’s rare to find Evangelicals these days who really believe that the next sound they could hear is Gabriel’s trumpet. One need only look at how Evangelicals live and how deeply they are immersed in the materialistic culture of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world to see that they don’t really believe Jesus’ return is imminent.

Silly stuff, right? Here’s why these things still matter. First, the federal government and many state governments have Evangelicals who are embedded within the halls of power. Trump is crass pussy-grabbing heathen who only uses Evangelicals for political gain, but Mike Pence is a true believer — a man who reads the book of Revelation literally and who believes that the second coming of Jesus will be ushered in by war in the Middle East. As Evangelicals watch the conflict between the United States/Israel and Iran/Iraq/Syria, they can’t help but think that Jesus is coming soon! Remember, the Evangelical view of the world ends with the battle of Armageddon; a divine reckoning of sorts; a war between God/Good and Satan/Evil. Evangelicals will be raptured away by the time of the battle of Armageddon, but most of the rest of us, having been led astray by the false prophet, will have taken the mark of the beast and will wage war against God.  God will slaughter us, ridding the world once and for all of non-Evangelicals.

The mark of the beast will be used to control and manipulate people. Most importantly, Evangelicals say, the mark of the beast will be used to control commerce. Want to get a hamburger at McDonald’s? You will have to have the mark. Want to buy or sell groceries, seeds, and other necessities? You will need the beast’s mark. I remember when grocery stores started installing barcode scanners. Why, Evangelical preachers lost their collective shit. I heard numerous prophecy “experts” say that barcodes were the precursor for the mark of the beast. And then it was RFID chips. And then it was DNA encoding. And then it was . . .

Evangelicalism continues to be infected by what I call tabloid/news headline preaching. During my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days, I would preach sermons straight out of the local newspaper. It was easy to connect paper headlines with this or that Bible verse. I later changed my eschatological beliefs and that put an end to such speculation, but millions and millions of Americans literally believe that Jesus is coming soon, and those of us who are not raptured away will be forced to accept the mark of the beast if we want to survive. Of course, if we do accept the mark, that means our souls are doomed, and after we die, we will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire with Satan.

rapture

Are you ready to get saved, dear readers? Jesus is coming soon — so said many an Evangelical. Surely, you don’t want to miss out on an eternity of bliss and perfection and endless praise and worship songs. Neglect your salvation, and you risk spend eternity with Christopher Hitchens, Steve Gupton — yes, I still miss him — Steven Hawking, Gandhi, Bruce Gerencser, and countless other heathens. I plan to remain an unrepentant atheist. As one reader told me, “heaven for the climate, hell for the company.” I am sixty-two years old. Evangelical preachers have spent my entire life saying that the coming of Jesus is right around the corner; that this or that world event is a sure sign of his imminent return; that the moral and social decay and secularization of the United States reflect the increasing influence of Satan on our country. How many times have you heard a homophobic Evangelical preacher say, “if God doesn’t judge the United States soon, he will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Evangelical preachers with all their doom and gloom warnings have become the little boy who cried wolf. Not only aren’t their congregants listening to them, neither are unbelievers. The Bible and its “prophecies” are no longer believable. “You just wait Bruce, God is going to prove you wrong,” Evangelical zealots say. Maybe, but I doubt it. The only hell I am worried about is the one we humans are creating through war and ignoring global climate change. One need only watch what is going on in Australia to see how quickly our planet could burn to the ground. One need only watch the violent acts of warmongers — in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East — to see how quickly millions of people could die. The notion that war stops war is absurd. As the Trappist monk Thomas Merton said decades ago (and I quote from memory, so forgive me if I don’t get Merton’s words exactly right) “war begets war. War only brings a cessation of hostilities. Only peace brings an end to war.”

We humans are the enemy, not fictitious deities, demons, and Bible characters. We need not worry about the rapture, the second coming of Jesus, the antichrist, the mark of the beast, or the Great Tribulation, any more than we need to worry about the events and people found in the Harry Potter books. WE have met the enemy, and it is US.

Did you grow up in a church that focused on eschatology? Did you worry about the rapture? Did you wonder if the return of Jesus was imminent? Did your pastor ever talk about the mark of the beast? Please share your astute thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

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.

A Cross He Could, and Would, Not Bear

thelma and louise

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

When Thelma & Louise came out, it seemed that people reacted in one of two ways. Some viewers were unhappy that the two title characters fled after Thelma shot and killed the man who tried to rape her. Others — including nearly all of the women I knew — elevated those characters into heroes. One even said she felt a “catharsis” when Harlan is struck by the bullet from Thelma’s gun.

I could have said the same: When Thelma fired that gun, I vicariously struck back — at what? She did to her aggressor what I wish I’d done — to whom?

At the time I saw the film, I had not yet come to terms with the childhood sexual abuse I suffered from a priest. Those experiences were submerged within me, occasionally bubbling up through nightmares and unconscious behavior. Also, I was many years away from starting my gender-affirmation process. I was living as a man, with a deep hatred of the male species (that’s how I thought of them) and resentment of my membership in it.

I saw Thelma and Louise with the woman I was dating. She knew of my attitudes about men and referred to me, only half-jokingly, as a “male lesbian.” To her, my response to Thelma’s action was just an expression of how I felt about men generally. I accepted that explanation simply because, at that time, I couldn’t come up with a better one.

There was another part of my response to the film which I understood full well, but discussed with no one—not even my woman friend. I completely sympathized with Thelma and Louise running from the law. Actually, Thelma wanted to call the police, but Louise understood that no one would believe her claim of attempted rape, especially since Thelma had been drinking and dancing with Harlan before he tried to attack her. Now, I wasn’t drinking or dancing with the priest before he took advantage of me sexually, but I knew that even if I’d had the language to describe, and make sense of, what happened to me, no one (at least, no one I knew then) would have believed me. I grew up in a conservative community where nearly everyone attended the same church I did, and many kids were my classmates in my Catholic school. In such a milieu, nobody — especially a child — has more credibility than a priest.

A recent news story brought to mind my reaction to Thelma and Louise — and to earlier experiences. I first heard the story from a friend of mine in France, and it made its way into English-language media during the past few days.

A 19-year-old boy confronted the priest who, earlier, abused him. That, of course, is something I wish I could have done to my abuser, who died three decades before I spoke of his actions with anyone. Then the young Frenchman did a Thelma, if you will: He killed that priest.

I will admit that in hearing the story, I vicariously struck back at my abuser. Perhaps that reveals some baseness in my character. If it doesn’t, then perhaps this does: I also felt a vicarious thrill in picturing the young man vanquishing his abuser.

All right, I’ll admit: It was the way he tore the life out of that man of the cloth that so excited me. In fact, I’ll confess something perhaps even cruder: I found myself wishing I’d come up with the way he ended a decades-long string of abuses.

According to reports, the young man, identified only as “Alexandre V.” suffocated the priest by ramming a cross down his throat.

Yes, you read that right.

Now, I know that killing should never be condoned: I have opposed capital punishment from the moment I learned about it. Still, I have to concede that if I were on a jury at his trial, I would have a difficult time voting to convict him. I would hope that other jurors, and a judge, would consider not only Alexandre’s suffering, but also the way the priest “shattered a whole family,” in the young man’s words.

He was not being at all hyperbolic. Perhaps not surprisingly (at least, I’m not surprised to learn) the prelate, Father Roger Matassoli, is also alleged to have abused Alexandre’s father as well as other boys during the time he served in the northern French diocese of Saint-Andre-Farivilliers.

Alexandre probably knew about other boys Father Matassoli is said to have abused. What he and his father—as well as their fellow parishioners — probably didn’t know, until the allegations of abuse came to light, was the circumstances by which Father Matassoli arrived at their Oise parish. They probably knew only that he was transferred to their diocese from the diocese of Clermont in 1967 because of — you guessed it — allegations of sexual abuse which, of course, the church hushed up.

How many lives and families did Father Matassoli “shatter” there? We may never know, but at least that cycle has been broken.

Now I can only hope that young Alexandre gets the help he’ll need — and Thelma never got. I know how much they both need it: It took me nearly half a century to get help.

And help is all he can hope for. Although it’s tempting to see a young man ramming a cross down the throat of a priest who abused him as a kind of “poetic justice,” the truth is that there is no justice in situations like ours. I just hope that the French authorities understand as much. At least he is in a country where such help is not contingent on his (or his family’s) ability to pay for it, and where the church is losing its power to silence victims young and old.

Quote of the Day: Donald Trump’s War with Iran

trump nuke or tweet

IN SEPTEMBER 2015, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump appeared on the syndicated radio show of conservative media star, Hugh Hewitt, to talk foreign policy.

“Are you familiar with General Suleimani?” Hewitt asked the real estate mogul from Queens.

“Yes,” said Trump, before hesitating. “Go ahead, give me a little … tell me.”

When Hewitt told Trump that Suleimani “runs the Quds Forces,” Trump responded: “I think the Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by us.”

“No, not the Kurds, the Quds Forces,” Hewitt interjected. “The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Quds Forces. The bad guys.”

“I thought you said Kurds,” a sheepish Trump replied.

….

It’s also a column that allows me to revisit what I have long considered to be the most unforgivable take of the 2016 presidential race: “Donald The Dove, Hillary the Hawk.” That was the ridiculous headline to the New York Times column from Maureen Dowd in April 2016, in which she falsely claimed that Trump had opposed the Iraq War “like Obama,” and then credulously suggested that, in contrast to Clinton, “he would rather do the art of the deal than shock and awe.

A reminder: Trump pulled out of the landmark Iran nuclear deal less than 18 months after assuming office. He replaced his predecessor’s nuclear diplomacy with a “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran, which had pushed the United States and the Islamic Republic to the brink of war even before this latest dangerous escalation.

Dowd was wholly, utterly, and embarrassingly wrong — as some of us tried to explain at the time. But it wasn’t just her. Plenty of other people across the political spectrum foolishly bought into the ludicrous premise that Trump would be some sort of dove, a noninterventionist, an old-fashioned isolationist.

And plenty of my colleagues in the media continue to push this deluded view. Remember: Trump has twice bombed the Assad regime in Syria; reduced Mosul and Raqqa to rubble; vetoed a congressional attempt to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi bombardment of Yemen; and overseen a fivefold increase in drone strikes throughout the region and beyond. Yet on New Year’s Eve, the New York Times still insisted on bizarrely referring to “the president’s reluctance to use force in the Middle East.”

That line, of course, hasn’t aged so well. Less than 72 hours later, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force and the deputy head of the Iran-backed militias in Iraq, are dead. Killed via drone.

THE UNITED STATES has now effectively declared war on Iran. This is no longer a “cold” war or a “shadow” war. It’s a war-war. And here’s what so terrifying about it: The current commander-in-chief of the U.S. military as it readies for open conflict with Tehran is the guy who last week accused Canada’s prime minister of cutting him out of a Canadian TV version of “Home Alone 2″; who regularly retweets QAnon, Pizzagate, and white nationalist accounts on Twitter; who believes that Ukraine is in possession of a nonexistent Democratic National Committee server; who thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax; who wants to use nuclear weapons to stop hurricanes; and who is willing to take a Sharpie to an official government map in order to prove he was right about the weather (when he was, in fact, 100 percent wrong).

— Mehdi Hasan, The Intercept, Four Years Ago, Trump Had No Clue Who Iran’s Suleimani Was. Now He May Have Kicked Off WWIII, January 3, 2020

Real Christian Pastors Don’t Lust After Women

pastor godfrey migwi

Recently, Godfrey Migwi, pastor of House of Hope Church in Nairobi, Kenya and a clinical psychologist, addressed the temptations pastors face from “skimpily dressed” women. Migwi stated:

At times we’re tempted by skimpily dressed women who come to church to make advances on us in the name of counselling. We are human beings and have feelings.

Migwi is admitting that pastors are human; that they can be “tempted” just like anyone else. Pastors aren’t immune from sexual want and desire. As if we needed him to tell us this, right? Those of us who spent years in Christian/Evangelical churches know that pastors, deacons, evangelists, missionaries, worship leaders, youth directors, and Sunday school teachers can, and do, not only commit sex crimes, but also engage in consensual sexual relations with congregants. It is also true, that there are women (and men) who develop sexual feelings for their pastors, and, at times, act on those feelings. I had several occasions over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry where it became crystal clear to me that a female congregant had an interest in me beyond my Bible knowledge. Counselors, doctors, and others who have close intimate relationships with people face similar problems.

It is also true that pastors can develop sexual feelings for one or more congregants. To admit this is stating the obvious: pastors and other church leaders are normal human beings, subject to the same wants, needs, and desires as their congregants. The difference, however, is that pastors have a moral and ethical obligation — let alone a commitment to their spouses — to refrain from acting on their desire to be sexually intimate with congregants. Migwi, as is common for Evangelicals to do, blames women for pastors being sexually tempted. If women would only dress “properly,” men of God wouldn’t be tempted to fuck congregants. We have heard this before, right? This is nothing more than an attempt on the part of clergy to evade personal responsibility for their sexuality. Pastors preach personal responsibility and accountability, yet when it comes to their own moral weaknesses and failures, they blame others.

Jeff Maples, of Reformation Charlotte fame, has a completely different take on this issue. Here’s what Maples had to say about Pastor Migwi’s statement about “skimpily dressed” women:

Of course, sexual immorality is rampant in Pentecostalism and the denomination is where the majority of clergy who fall to sexual immorality end up when they are “restored” to ministry.

It’s difficult to discern whether what this pastor says is actually true or not — in Africa, the climate is different. Perhaps, in Africa, pastors who preach the Word of God, stand on the authority of Scripture, and are devoted to making converts and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are typically sought out to be fawned over by underdressed women and seduced into one night stands.

Perhaps.

But, perhaps, these pastors — particularly the ones who preach the false Pentecostal Word of Faith gospel and lead people into the idolatry of money — are actually tempted because they are, well, largely false converts.

First, Maples states, “sexual immorality is rampant in Pentecostalism and the denomination is where the majority of clergy who fall to sexual immorality end up when they are “restored” to ministry.” Maples would have readers believe that clergy sexual misconduct is a big problem in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, and exposed sinning pastors usually are later “restored” to the ministry. Maples is largely right. However, he seems to be oblivious to the fact that his own corner of the Evangelical tent has the same problem; that clergy sexual misconduct is common wherever people gather to worship the Christian God. As the Black Collar Crimes series makes clear, Evangelical pastors can be and are sexual predators. Imagine if I started a series that focused on Evangelical pastors and their consensual affairs and sexual dalliances. Why, I wouldn’t have time to write about anything else. (Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?)

Second, Maples does what Christian Fundamentalists do when trying to distance themselves from “sinning” brethren: he says they aren’t True Christians®. Maples says, “perhaps, these pastors . . . are actually tempted because they are, well, largely false converts.” Migwi and his fellow Pentecostals/Charismatics are Evangelical theologically. Yes, lots of crazy shit goes on in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. But the same can be said for Evangelical churches in general. What’s “crazy” is in the eye of the beholder.

If the sexual temptation Migwi speaks of is, as Maples says, due to the tempted pastors not being True Christians, can we not then conclude that Maples is saying, that True Christian pastors are not sexually tempted, nor do they commit sexual “sins”? Maples, and others of his ilk, believe Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible are talisman of sorts that ward off Jezebels who want to bed “godly” pastors. Jesus is a chastity belt for pastors, or so Maples would have us believe anyway. However, as anyone who is paying attention to what goes on in Evangelical circles knows, sexual scandal is not uncommon among God’s chosen ones. Evangelical salvation does not inoculate pastors from sexual desire and temptation. I just wish that Evangelicals would admit that they have the same wants, needs, and desires as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world; that pastors can and do have sexual affairs. Wouldn’t it be refreshing for a “sinning” pastor to admit that he desired a woman who was not his wife, pursued her, and bedded her for no other reason than because he wanted to? Stop with all the excuses and misdirections, and just admit your humanity, fallibility, and frailty, oh “men of God.” Time to climb of your high horse and own your sexuality.

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.

1976: My First Christmas with Polly

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977

Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

In August 1976, I packed my meager belongings into my dilapidated, rust-bucket of a car and moved two hours north to the Midwestern Baptist College dormitory. Midwestern, located in Pontiac, Michigan, was a small, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college. I planned to study for the ministry. Well, that, and chase girls. I thought, at the time, that Midwestern would provide me an ample supply of Baptist girls to date. Playing the field, was my goal. However, “God” had different plans. By the end of September, I was in a serious relationship with a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter named Polly. To say that I was smitten is a gross understatement. In February of 1977, we became engaged, and in July 1978 we tied the knot at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio.

Forty-three years ago, I met a young woman who altered the course of my life. How we got to where we are today requires a book-length telling, but for today, let me share with you the story of our first Christmas.

Polly’s family gathered for Christmas on Christmas Eve. On a snowy Christmas Eve afternoon, I left my mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio and traveled four hours south to Newark, Ohio — the home of Polly’s parents and aunt and uncle. The family gathering that year was held at the home of Jim and Linda Dennis. Jim, married to Polly’s mom’s younger sister, was the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple — an IFB institution. Both Jim and Polly’s father were graduates of Midwestern Baptist College.

Prior to the family gathering, a short, dutiful Christmas Eve service was held at the Baptist Temple. Jim, ever the jokester, pointed out to the congregation that his niece Polly had a guest with her. “They have a shirttail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirttail is.” Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed. No one in Polly’s family, at the time, thought that our relationship would last. I was Polly’s first boyfriend, so her family thought I was just a fad that would quickly pass.

After church, we drove to the Dennis’s home. Polly’s mom had her sister and cousin ride with us, just in case we did something nefarious; you know like hold hands or kiss. We safely arrived to Dennis’ home with our virginity intact.

Until my arrival in Newark, Polly and I had never kissed. That’s right, we had been dating for four months and had not yet kissed each other. The reason for this was simple. Midwestern banned, under threat of expulsion, all physical contact between unmarried dating couples. Called the six-inch rule, this ban caused all sorts of emotional trauma for dating couples. You see, it is normal for couples to desire and have physical contact with each other. “Normal” at Midwestern, however, was determined by the Bible, sexually frustrated preachers, and arcane rules imported from Bob Jones University — the college where the founder of Midwestern, Tom Malone, received his ministerial training.

Getting caught touching a member of the opposite sex was a sure way to get yourself “campused” (grounded from all outside activities, including dating). Repeat offenders were “shipped” (expelled). Polly and I both received demerits for breaking the six-inch rule. Our sin? I played on the college basketball team (not a big feat — think intramural basketball). One day at practice, I slapped at a basketball, severely dislocating a finger. I went to the local ER and oh-so-painfully had the finger put back in place. It remains crooked to this day. I had to wear a finger splint for several weeks. Male students were required to wear ties to classes. The splint hindered my ability to tie my tie, so I asked Polly to do it for me. Keep in mind we were standing in the middle of dorm common area when Polly tied my tie. If we had plans to break the six-inch rule, this would not have been the place we would have done so. Unfortunately, a couple sitting nearby turned us into the disciplinary committee. The next week, we appeared before the committee and were shamed for our licentious, immoral behavior. I suspect the only reason we weren’t punished more severely was because of who Polly’s uncle and father were (Jim was a college trustee at the time).

As you might imagine, by Christmas, our hormones were raging. We looked forward to getting away from the college and its rules so we could privately and intimately express our love to one another. Oh, college administrators warned unmarried students that the six-inch rule still applied while at home for Christmas break. I thought, at the time, “yeah, right. Catch us if you can.”

Polly’s parents lived in an apartment on Union Street. I spent a total of twenty-four hours with Polly that first Christmas. Our first kiss came when Polly’s mom asked her to go to the apartment complex’s laundry room to do some laundry. Seeing an opportunity for some old-fashioned necking, I went along, and it was there we had our first kiss. We did a lot of laundry that day.

Come Christmas Day, it was time for me to go home. Polly begged her mom to let me stay one more day, but she refused. Polly’s mom would spend the next fifteen months doing all she could to destroy our relationship — including forbidding us to marry. Needless to say, she and I have had an on-and-off-contentious relationship for years. In recent years, our relationship with Polly’s parents has improved. Age and impending death will do that, I suppose.

Many kisses would follow that first kiss on Christmas Eve 1976. After our return to Midwestern after break, Polly and I had a real problem on our hands. You see, we had crossed a physical line, and once that line was crossed there was no going back. We spent the next nineteen months breaking the six-inch rule, only double-dating with dorm couples who had the same “moral” standards we had. Summer breaks allowed us the freedom to act normally, but while classes were in session, we had to sneak around to just kiss one another. While we both were virgins on our wedding day, both of us knew that if we waited much longer to get married that we would likely have given in to our passions. A week or so before our wedding, Polly’s mom let us go to The Dawes Arboretum south of Newark without a chaperone. We spent several hours enjoying one another’s embrace, coming oh-so-close to rounding third and sliding into home. As it was, Polly was on a strict curfew, and we were late. Boy, did we get a lecture when we arrived home. Here we were getting married in a matter of days, and we were being treated like children.

One memory about our first Christmas stands tall in my mind. Polly and I were sitting on the couch, close enough to touch one another, but not so close as to arouse her eagle-eye mom’s attention, watching a TV special starring Captain & Tennille. One of the songs they sang was their 1975 number one hit, “Love Will Keep Us Together.

Video Link

Forty-three years later, that song is still true. Love, indeed, has kept us together.

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.

Living in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter

thomas paine on reason

People who believe science is the best way we have to explain the world we live in and who believe facts matter find themselves under increasing assault by people who refuse to accept things as they are. I am all for vigorous debate and disagreement, but there comes a time when what matters is facts. Recently, a family member — who happens to be a Trump-supporting Evangelical pastor — posted a quote allegedly by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on social media. Generally, I avoid discussing politics and religion on my personal Facebook account. Want to discuss such things with me? Go to my Facebook page or my blog. My personal Facebook account is reserved for photographs, family stuff, silly memes, and cat videos.

For whatever reason — boredom, perhaps? — I decided to respond to the Ocasio-Cortez quote. The quote seemed out of character for Ocasio-Cortez, so I went to Snopes to check it out. Sure enough, the quote was false. After determining the quote’s truthfulness, I left the following comment: thou shalt not bear false witness. This got me excommunicated; not unfriended, just blocked from seeing the man’s posts. I don’t play that game, so I unfriended him. I then let him know that I did so, and why.

The false quote perfectly fits this man’s worldview; his view of secularism, liberalism, socialism, and Democrats. In his mind, it must be true because it reinforces his sincerely-held political beliefs. I suspect many readers could tell similar stories; times when they challenged religious or political statements with facts. I have repeatedly responded to false claims on Facebook from friends and family members by commenting with a link to the relevant Snopes article. I have yet to have someone say to me, thanks for pointing out my error. I made a mistake. All I get is silence, and the false quote or meme continues to live on in infamy.

In 2017, Dr. R. Kelly Garrett wrote an article titled, Facts don’t matter to Americans, and we should be worried.

Garrett said:

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’ll bet that’s true,” before you had all the facts? Most people probably have at some point.

Where people differ is in how often they do so. A 2016 survey that my colleague Brian Weeks and I conducted found that 50.3 percent of all Americans agreed with the statement “I trust my gut to tell me what’s true and what’s not.” Some of those polled felt quite strongly about it: About one in seven (14.6 percent) strongly agreed, while one in 10 (10.2 percent) strongly disagreed.

In other words, there’s a lot of variation in how Americans decide what to believe.

In a recent paper, we were able to use the findings from this survey and two others to dig into the different approaches people take when deciding what’s true.

We found some surprising differences between how people think about intuition and how they think about evidence. It turns out that how often someone trusts their intuition and how important they think it is to have evidence are two separate things. Both make a big difference in what we believe.

What we learned offers some hope for people’s ability to tell truth from fiction, despite the fact that so many trust their gut.

Many incorrect beliefs have political foundations. They promote a policy, an ideology or one candidate over another.

People are susceptible to political misinformation because they tend to believe things that favor their side — even if it isn’t grounded in data or science. There are numerous factors at play, from the influence of nonconscious emotions to the need to defend a group that the individual identifies with.

For these reasons, millions of Americans believe things that aren’t true.

….

With all the talk about political bias, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that politics aren’t the only thing shaping people’s beliefs. Other factors play a role too.

For example, people are more likely to believe something the more often they’ve heard it said — commonly known as the illusory truth effect. And adding a picture can change how believable a message is, sometimes making it more convincing, while at other times increasing skepticism.

Valuing intuition versus valuing evidence

Our study focuses on something else that shapes beliefs: We looked at what matters the most to people when they’re deciding what’s true.

We found that having faith in your intuition about the facts does make you more likely to endorse conspiracy theories. However, it doesn’t really influence your beliefs about science, such as vaccine safety or climate change.

In contrast, someone who says beliefs must be supported with data is more likely both to reject conspiracy theories and to answer questions about mainstream science and political issues more accurately.

The risk of relying on one’s intuition may be self-evident, but its role in belief formation is more nuanced.

….

In the end, knowing how much someone trusts his or her intuition actually tells you very little about how much proof that person will need before he or she will believe a claim. Our research shows that using intuition is not the opposite of checking the evidence: Some people trust their instincts while at the same time valuing evidence; others deny the importance of both; and so forth.

The key is that some people — even if they usually trust their gut — will check their hunches to make sure they’re right. Their willingness to do some follow-up work may explain why their beliefs tend to be more accurate.

It’s valuing evidence that predicts accuracy on a wider range of issues. Intuition matters less.

….

In this context, our results are surprising. There are many individual qualities that seem like they should promote accuracy, but don’t.

Valuing evidence, however, appears to be an exception. The bigger the role evidence plays in shaping a person’s beliefs, the more accurate that person tends to be.

We aren’t the only ones who have observed a pattern like this. Another recent study shows that people who exhibit higher scientific curiosity also tend to adopt more accurate beliefs about politically charged science topics, such as fracking and global warming.

There’s more we need to understand. It isn’t yet clear why curiosity and attention to the evidence leads to better outcomes, while being knowledgeable and thinking carefully promote bias. Until we sort this out, it’s hard to know exactly what kinds of media literacy skills will help the most.

But in today’s media environment — where news consumers are subjected to a barrage of opinions, data and misinformation — gut feelings and people’s need for evidence to back those hunches up can play a big role. They might determine whether you fall for a hoax posted on the Onion, help spread Russian disinformation or believe that the British spy agency MI6 was responsible for Princess Diana’s death.

For now, though, when it comes to fighting the scourge of misinformation, there’s a simple strategy that everyone can use. If you are someone who consistently checks your intuition about what is true against the evidence, you are less likely to be misled. It may seem like common sense, but learning to dig into the story behind that shocking headline can help you avoid spreading falsehoods.

Several days ago, a Christian man named Bill Wood stopped by this site to wow me with his intellectual prowess. Wood posted verbose comments meant to “educate” me about Biblical and scientific truth. You can read his comments here. Wood demanded I explain to his satisfaction my deconversion. I pointed him to the WHY page. Not good enough for Wood. He doubled and tripled down, refusing to accept any “truth” but his own. Wood is a classic reminder of why I don’t get into discussions with Evangelicals. Their minds are made up as to what the “truth” is. Wood believes the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. I asked him if he had read any of Bart Ehrman’s books, knowing that the answer was likely a big, fat, emphatic NO! Sure enough, all I got was another lengthy sermon. You see, for the Bill Woods of the world, their minds are closed to anything that challenges their worldview. They have decided this or that is “truth,” end of discussion. Their “gut” (often called the Holy Spirit) tells them that whatever they believe about God, Jesus, religion, science, etc. is true. In Bill Wood’s mind, creationism trumps science; theological dogma trumps archeological, geological, and sociological facts. All the facts in the world won’t change his mind.

We now live in a post-facts world. Instead of chasing truth wherever it leads, people scour the Internet looking for websites, blogs, memes, and social media posts that reinforce their beliefs. In 2016, eighty-one percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Three years later, a majority of Evangelicals still support the President, despite his having told over 15,000 public lies. On January 23, 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump said:

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.

Fast forward to today. Does anyone doubt that what Trump said is the truth; that no matter what he says or does, a sizeable percentage of Americans will resolutely support him. To these people, facts don’t matter. As long as their beliefs and worldview are confirmed, Trump is free to run roughshod over our Republic. As long as Trump says he is anti-abortion, anti-transgender, anti-immigration, anti-welfare, anti-socialism, anti-atheism, anti-anything enacted by Obama, white Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and Mormons will continue to vote for him. Racists and white supremacists know that Trump is their best chance for a whiter America. No matter what the “facts” are, an overwhelming majority of Republicans and libertarians move in lock-step fashion with the President.

What are people who value facts supposed to do? If a large number of Americans are impervious to the truth, what hope is there for this great nation of ours? I know that this post will do nothing to change hearts and minds. People who agree with me will shout “right-on, brother!” Those who don’t will just see me as yet another liberal, commie, socialist out to destroy white Christian America.

We truly live in perplexing times. I have no confidence in things becoming better any time soon. I shudder to think what four more years of Donald Trump will bring us. Imagine what would happen if Republicans somehow took control of Congress? We are fools if we think the United States is invulnerable to decline and collapse. History tells us about many great civilizations who have come and gone. We are not immune to a similar fate.

What do you think people who value facts and truth should do? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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.

Quote of the Day: What Does U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr Really Want?

bill barr

But at least since Mr. [Bill] Barr’s infamous speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School, in which he blamed “secularists” for “moral chaos” and “immense suffering, wreckage and misery,” it has become clear that no understanding of William Barr can be complete without taking into account his views on the role of religion in society. For that, it is illuminating to review how Mr. Barr has directed his Justice Department on matters concerning the First Amendment clause forbidding the establishment of a state religion.

In Maryland, the department rushed to defend taxpayer funding for a religious school that says same-sex marriage is wrong. In Maine, it is defending parents suing over a state law that bans religious schools from obtaining taxpayer funding to promote their own sectarian doctrines. At his Department of Justice, Mr. Barr told law students at Notre Dame, “We keep an eye out for cases or events around the country where states are misapplying the establishment clause in a way that discriminates against people of faith.”

In these and other cases, Mr. Barr has embraced wholesale the “religious liberty” rhetoric of today’s Christian nationalist movement. When religious nationalists invoke “religious freedom,” it is typically code for religious privilege. The freedom they have in mind is the freedom of people of certain conservative and authoritarian varieties of religion to discriminate against those of whom they disapprove or over whom they wish to exert power.

This form of “religious liberty” seeks to foment the sense of persecution and paranoia of a collection of conservative religious groups that see themselves as on the cusp of losing their rightful position of dominance over American culture. It always singles out groups that can be blamed for society’s ills, and that may be subject to state-sanctioned discrimination and belittlement — L.G.B.T. Americans, secularists and Muslims are the favored targets, but others are available. The purpose of this “religious liberty” rhetoric is not just to secure a place of privilege, but also to justify public funding for the right kind of religion.

Mr. Barr has a long history of supporting just this type of “religious liberty.” At Notre Dame, he compared alleged violations of religious liberty with Roman emperors forcing Christian subjects to partake in pagan sacrifices. “The law is being used as a battering ram to break down traditional moral values and to establish moral relativism as a new orthodoxy,” he said.

Barr watchers will know that this is nothing new. In a 1995 article he wrote for The Catholic Lawyer, which, as Emily Bazelon recently pointed out, appears to be something of a blueprint for his speech at Notre Dame, he complained that “we live in an increasingly militant, secular age” and expressed his grave concern that the law might force landlords to rent to unmarried couples. He implied that the idea that universities might treat “homosexual activist groups like any other student group” was intolerable.

This form of “religious liberty” is not a mere side issue for Mr. Barr, or for the other religious nationalists who have come to dominate the Republican Party. Mr. Barr has made this clear. All the problems of modernity — “the wreckage of the family,” “record levels of depression and mental illness,” “drug addiction” and “senseless violence” — stem from the loss of a strict interpretation of the Christian religion.

The great evildoers in the Notre Dame speech are nonbelievers who are apparently out on the streets ransacking everything that is good and holy. The solutions to society’s ills, Mr. Barr declared, come from faith. “Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct,” he said. “Religion helps frame moral culture within society that instills and reinforces moral discipline.” He added, “The fact is that no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion.”

Within this ideological framework, the ends justify the means. In this light, Mr. Barr’s hyperpartisanship is the symptom, not the malady. At Christian nationalist gatherings and strategy meetings, the Democratic Party and its supporters are routinely described as “demonic” and associated with “rulers of the darkness.” If you know that society is under dire existential threat from secularists, and you know that they have all found a home in the other party, every conceivable compromise with principles, every ethical breach, every back-room deal is not only justifiable but imperative. And as the vicious reaction to Christianity Today’s anti-Trump editorial demonstrates, any break with this partisan alignment will be instantly denounced as heresy.

….

“What does Bill Barr want?”

The answer is that America’s conservative movement, having morphed into a religious nationalist movement, is on a collision course with the American constitutional system. Though conservatives have long claimed to be the true champions of the Constitution — remember all that chatter during previous Republican administrations about “originalism” and “judicial restraint” — the movement that now controls the Republican Party is committed to a suite of ideas that are fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution and the Republic that the founders created under its auspices.

Mr. Trump’s presidency was not the cause of this anti-democratic movement in American politics. It was the consequence. He is the chosen instrument, not of God, but of today’s Christian nationalists, their political allies and funders, and the movement’s legal apparatus. Mr. Barr did not emerge in order to serve this one particular leader. On the contrary, Mr. Trump serves a movement that will cynically praise the Constitution in order to destroy it, and of which Mr. Barr has made himself a hero.

— Katherine Stewart and Caroline Fredrickson, The New York Times, Bill Barr Thinks America Is Going to Hell, December 30, 2019

Quote of the Day: The Rise of Christian Fascism

chris hedges

The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters. It stood by as the core Gospel message—concern for the poor and the oppressed—was perverted into a magical world where God and Jesus showered believers with material wealth and power. The white race, especially in the United States, became God’s chosen agent. Imperialism and war became divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, became shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism became intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith. The mega-pastors, narcissists who rule despotic, cult-like fiefdoms, make millions of dollars by using this heretical belief system to prey on the mounting despair and desperation of their congregations, victims of neoliberalism and deindustrialization. These believers find in Donald Trump a reflection of themselves, a champion of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that define the central beliefs of the Christian right. When I wrote “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” I was deadly serious about the term “fascists.”

….

Tens of millions of Americans live hermetically sealed inside the vast media and educational edifice controlled by Christian fascists. In this world, miracles are real, Satan, allied with secular humanists and Muslims, is seeking to destroy America, and Trump is God’s anointed vessel to build the Christian nation and cement into place a government that instills “biblical values.” These “biblical values” include banning abortion, protecting the traditional family, turning the Ten Commandments into secular law, crushing “infidels,” especially Muslims, indoctrinating children in schools with “biblical” teachings and thwarting sexual license, which includes any sexual relationship other than in a marriage between a man and a woman. Trump is routinely compared by evangelical leaders to the biblical king Cyrus, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and restored the Jews to the city.

….

The ideology of the Christian fascists panders in our decline to the primitive yearnings for the vengeance, new glory and moral renewal that are found among those pushed aside by deindustrialization and austerity. Reason, facts and verifiable truth are impotent weapons against this belief system. The Christian right is a “crisis cult.” Crisis cults arise in most collapsing societies. They promise, through magic, to recover the lost grandeur and power of a mythologized past. This magical thinking banishes doubt, anxiety and feelings of disempowerment. Traditional social hierarchies and rules, including an unapologetic white, male supremacy, will be restored. Rituals and behaviors including an unquestioning submission to authority and acts of violence to cleanse the society of evil will vanquish malevolent forces.

….

Christian fascism is an emotional life raft for tens of millions. It is impervious to the education, dialogue and discourse the liberal class naively believes can blunt or domesticate the movement. The Christian fascists, by choice, have severed themselves from rational thought. We will not placate or disarm this movement, bent on our destruction, by attempting to claim that we too have Christian “values.” This appeal only strengthens the legitimacy of the Christian fascists and weakens our own. We will transform American society to a socialist system that provides meaning, dignity and hope to all citizens, that cares and nurtures the most vulnerable among us, or we will become the victims of the Christian fascists we created.

— Chris Hedges, Truthdig, Onward, Christian Fascists, December 30, 2019

Check Out Randy Withers’ Review of The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

worst blog

Randy Withers, a licensed professional counselor and clinical addictions specialist, recently wrote a review of The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. Randy wrote:

Bruce Gerencser is an avid and prolific blogger who lives in rural Ohio with his wife of more than four decades. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years in three different states but left the ministry in 2005. In 2008 he left Christianity as well. He now considers himself a humanist and an atheist.

His blog is about that journey, and why and how he chose the path he did. His blog, by the way, is enormous. He’s got something like 3,000 separate entries. I mean, good lord.

Bruce Gerencser is my hero. For one thing, he’s got a huge readership, many of whom are pissed off Evangelicals who seem to believe that Bruce just needs a stern talking to about his errant ways.

Bruce does a great job of interacting with his readers in the comment section of his blog, which he both reads and moderates. I’m impressed by this, given the sheer vitriol that many of his Christian readers express towards some of his life decisions. He has the patience of Job (sorry for the reference, Bruce), and a matter-of-fact wit that is straight-up hysterical.

You can read the rest of the review here.

I appreciate Randy’s kind and thoughtful words. Finally, someone who appreciates my sense of humor.  As far as his critique of this site’s ancient theme, he is right. Readers can expect a new theme and design in the near future — that is, if the rapture doesn’t take place first. Well, come to think of it, I will be left behind when Jesus comes to gather up his chosen ones, so I’ll have plenty of time to work on a new theme.

Please check out Randy’s website, especially 10 of the Absolute Best Mental Health Blogs You Need to Start Reading in 2020.

Here’s to a mentally healthy 2020.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Evangelist Acton Bowen Sentenced to Over 1,000 Years in Prison

acton bowen

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.

(Please read Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Evangelist Acton Bowen Arrested on Child Sex Charges,  Black Collar Crime: Why Did Young Boys Need to be Protected from Evangelist Acton Bowen? Black Collar Crime: Evangelist Acton Bowen Accused of Additional Sex Crimes and Black Collar Crime: District Attorney Says Evangelist Acton Bowen is a ‘Danger to Every Child in This Community’, and Black Collar Crime: Evangelist Acton Bowen Pleads Guilty to Sex Crimes for further information about Acton Bowen.)

In April 2018, Evangelical evangelist Acton Bowen was arrested on child sexual abuse charges.

AL.com reported at the time:

A well-known Alabama evangelist, public speaker and author was arrested in Hoover Tuesday on child sex charges.

Paul Edward Acton Bowen, a 37-year-old Gadsden native who now lives in Etowah County’s Southside community, was taken into custody by Hoover police about 12:35 p.m. The founder of Acton Bowen Outreach Ministries is charged with second-degree sodomy, enticing a child to enter a vehicle or house for immoral purposes, and second-degree sex abuse. The victim was a young male, but police did not release his age except to say he is over 12 and under 16.

Hoover police Capt. Gregg Rector said the department’s Special Victim’s Unit first launched an investigation three weeks ago. The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office issued the warrants on Monday.

“This is certainly one of the more disturbing cases that we’ve investigated in quite some time,” Rector said. “Mr. Bowen is in a highly-respected position of influence and he is trusted by many. We believe he betrayed that trust in the worst kind of way.”

Bowen was taken into custody in Pelham and transported to the Hoover City Jail. He was moved to the Jefferson County Jail where he was released early Wednesday on $90,300 bond.

Rector said the victim in this case is an underage family acquaintance, “He is currently doing well and has been in a safe environment since police were first notified,” Rector said.

….

Bowen is president and founder of Acton Bowen Outreach. His bio says he served for 12 years in a local church, led a citywide student Bible study in Gadsden and was also the host of xlroads TV, a worldwide broadcast viewed weekly by millions of teens and adults in every city in America and over 170 countries around the world.

The website says Bowen is a cohost of Top3 on the JuceTV Network in New York City.

“Everyone associated with JuceTV was shocked and disheartened to hear of the egregious allegations made against Acton Brown this week. Our prayers go out to those who may have been hurt and victimized,” a JuceTV spokesperson said in a statement to AL.com. “Mr. Brown made four appearances on JuceTV, an affiliate of TBN, the most recent last summer, but there are no on-going ties.”

The outreach website described Bowen as a regular contributor on Fox News as a correspondent on faith and religion. However, network officials say Bowen has never been employed or paid by Fox News.

It goes on to say he speaks up to 20 times a month at churches, disciple-now weekends, citywide crusades, camps, conferences, school assemblies and leadership seminars – giving him a live platform in front of more than 350,000 people.

acton bowen donald trump

Acton Bowen and President Donald Trump were Best Buds. I suspect, if asked about Bowen today, Trump would reply, “Never heard of the guy.”

Bowen was also charged with committing sex crimes in Florida. ABC 33/40 reported:

 The list of sexual abuse accusations against evangelist Acton Bowen has crossed state lines. Bowen was charged with lewd or lascivious battery in Bay County, Florida according to the local sheriff’s office.

The charge was filed on May 23rd. According to Florida state law, a person commits lewd or lascivious battery by engaging in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age or encouraging, forcing, or enticing any person less than 16 years of age to engage in sexual activity.

….

After posting the two aforementioned stories, it was reported that, two days after Bowen’s arrest, his wife filed for divorce, stating that she “fears for her immediate safety from (her husband) and any third parties that may attempt to contact (her husband) as a result of the crimes for which he has been alleged to have committed.” Several days later, two of Bowen’s ministry board members, Trenton Garmon and Josh Dodd, resigned. Al.com reported that Bowen was required by his board to install the Covenant Eyes porn-blocking software on his computer. Why? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. A daily report was sent to his accountability partner. No mention is made of how board members ensured Bowen was not accessing pornography on other devices.

What stood out in the AL.com report is the following statement by Garmon:

We requested that he never be alone with any female other than his wife. And we requested that he never be alone with a male minor which I considered to be someone under 16 years old. I was told that these minimums were being followed. Yet, in light of the allegation, it appears that the Guardian Policy was not always honored. This is not to imply criminal guilt by any means, yet our policy was not abided by. As you may be aware he has publicly denied the criminal allegations.

Why did Bowen’s board specifically require him to never be alone with boys under the age of sixteen and never be alone with females regardless of their age, other than his wife?

acton bowen anniversary gift to wife

After his arrest, Bowen said he was completely innocent of all charges:

I have not done what I am accused of and have not acted inappropriately in any way. My family and I trust the legal system and the people who are entrusted with the duty of protection each of our rights. I believe the truth will stand and I will be vindicated of this false accusation. We ask that each of you keep everyone involved in this process in your prayers.

AL.com reported:

In his first public statement, Bowen said he wanted to say “thank you” to the countless number of people who have prayed for his family. “My wife, Ashley, and I along with our incredible family are so grateful for your prayers,” he said.

“I’m also thankful for the countless calls of support from those who have walked a lot of life with me and know me best,” he said. “Your steadfast, unshakable support gives me strength. For almost 20 years (since I was 18) my life has been committed to serving Jesus by serving people.”

“When this accusation was made known to me I was hurt, confused, and heartbroken,” he said. “Prior to the arrest only one side of the story was heard.”

….

On Monday, the “innocent” Acton Bowen pleaded guilty to 28 counts of sexual abuse involving victims between the ages of 13 and 16. I wonder if his praying supporters will now admit that Bowen is a sexual predator; that it is likely Bowen sexually molested other children who have not yet reported their abuse to law enforcement? Is it too much to ask that God’s people, in unison, condemn Bowen for his heinous behavior? I jest. Bowen’s supporters will scurry away in the night like cockroaches when the light is turned on, but few will take to social media or blogs to publicly excoriate Bowen. Forgive, forget, and move on. That’s what Evangelicals do.

AL.com reports:

An Alabama evangelist pleaded guilty this morning in an Etowah County courtroom to 28 counts of sexual abuse involving six victims.

Paul Acton Bowen, charged in both Jefferson County and Etowah counties, was facing criminal charges, including enticing a child for sexual act, sodomy, traveling to meet a child for sexual act and sexual abuse involving six different victims between the ages of 13 and 16.

He was first arrested by Hoover police in April 2018 and has remained jailed since then.

The 39-year-old Bowen is a Gadsden native and founder of Acton Bowen Outreach Ministries.

Bowen entered a blind plea to the Etowah County charges, meaning he could face the maximum for each offense, including up to life in prison. Circuit Judge Debra Jones will set a hearing for sentencing later, during which Bowen’s lawyers could present mitigating evidence toward any sentencing. Jones was hearing the case after several Etowah County judges recused themselves from the case. Bowen’s ex-wife was the daughter of an Etowah County judge.

….

Bowen served for 12 years in a local church, led a citywide student Bible study in Gadsden and was also the host of xlroads TV, a worldwide broadcast viewed weekly by millions of teens and adults in every city in America and over 170 countries around the world.

The Etowah County charges dealt with young boys who told investigators that after they met Bowen through his ministry, they were abused in several ways not only in Etowah County but during trips to different states and abroad.

Bowen remains in jail, awaiting sentencing. He faces up to life in prison for his crimes. Bowen still faces charges in Florida.

Last Friday, Circuit Judge Debra Jones sentenced Bowen to 1,008 years in prison for sexually abusing six teenagers.

AL.com reports:

Circuit Judge Debra Jones presided over the case after several Etowah County judges recused themselves. Bowen’s ex-wife is the daughter of an Etowah County judge.

Moments before being sentenced, Bowen, standing in shackles, looked out on a packed courtroom and apologized in a trembling voice, both to his own family and the victims, for years of sexual abuse. “The shame and guilt I feel is overwhelming and has been for a long time,” he said. “My heart was never wanting to hurt anybody but my mind was not well.”

Family members and victims wept as Jones slowly read out the maximum sentence and fine on every count. Each sentence is to run consecutively – rather than concurrent.

Bowen still faces trial in Jefferson County on three felony charges of traveling to meet a child for sex, enticing a child for a sexual act and sodomy. Trial is set on those charges for April 20, 2020. If Bowen ever should be released from jail on his Etowah County convictions – which prosecutors said was unlikely – he would be considered a “sexually violent predator,” which means he would face a 10-year probationary period.

….

The Etowah County charges dealt with young boys who told investigators that, after they met Bowen through his ministry, they were abused in several ways not only in Etowah County but during trips to different states and abroad. The young male victims told investigators the misconduct lasted months, and sometimes years.

One of the victims, a teen boy over the age of 12 but under the age of 16, said Bowen exposed him to sexual intercourse from 2006 through 2009. Another victim claims the abuse happened from 2014 through 2017, and yet another reported to lawmen that he suffered the abuse in 2018.

In the sentencing hearing, which lasted more than an hour in Etowah County, District Attorney Jody Willoughby read out one victim’s impact statement. That victim, who said his abuse happened from the age of 12 to 15, said he saw Bowen as a “cool guy” who provided him with nice clothes, money and took him on trips, while at the same time, engaging in abuse.

“I could convince myself I was living the good life,” he wrote, “even as I was trying to suppress it.” But the victim said he developed a drinking problem that led to blackouts as he attempted to forget the pain and shame of abuse, seeing himself as “damaged goods.” This led to problems trusting others, difficulty opening up to his wife, and “a divide between me and my God” because of Bowen’s role as a pastor.

“He is a wolf in sheep’s skin,” the man wrote. Another wrote that Bowen “did his best to ruin the lives of other young men.” Another victim was prepared to testify in court, but chose not to, too overcome by emotion. Willoughby said this shows how important Bowen’s guilty plea was, in that victims were not required to relive the abuse on the stand.

….

Police have said the victim in the Jefferson County case is a Hoover boy under the age of 16 and over the age of 12 who is a family acquaintance of Acton Bowen. Court records in the Jefferson County case say Bowen engaged in sexual intercourse with the teen boy, and enticed him into getting into a 2010 Jeep Wrangler for the purpose of sodomy.

Bowen was first arrested by Hoover police in April 2018 on charges involving one male teen and later by Etowah County authorities in the case involving the other six victims.

Authorities have said they believe there are other victims who still have not been heard from. After the hearing, Willoughby said he would prosecute any other cases.

“There’s not a question in my mind,” he said. “If anyone is out there who wants to come forward, please let law enforcement know. We will get justice, justice will be had.”

Just before sentencing, Bowen quoted the book of James, saying “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” He said at church functions, he would often have people tell him they wished they could be like him.

“Inside my heart, I kept saying, ‘I’m the biggest sinner in the room,’” he said. “My pride kept me from asking for help. I’m so sorry.”

%d bloggers like this: