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Why We’re Still Paying

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

A few days ago, I wrote about the report on sexual abuse in French Roman Catholic churches. While I was, naturally, recalling my own experiences of sexual exploitation by a priest, and of living in France, what motivated me to write the article was a conversation with someone I met only recently and, to my knowledge, knows nothing about the experiences I’ve described in other essays and articles.

She is a professor of English and African-American studies in a nearby college. While growing up, she shuttled between the US and Jamaica, where she was born. She, therefore, has a visceral understanding as well as an academic knowledge of something that’s become a punching bag for religious and political conservatives in this country: Critical Race Theory.

While we mentioned it, and one of us remarked that those who rail against it have absolutely no idea of what it is, we didn’t talk about it in depth. Rather, a seemingly unrelated topic led us into a conversation about, among other things, how our accomplishments have “drawn targets on our backs” for those who wanted to discredit us or, worse, get us fired on spurious charges—and how the very rules we followed were used against us for following them.

“You have paid for what you know,” I sighed. “And I’m not talking about your college and grad school tuition.”

“And I still am.” I nodded. “And so are you,” she added.

Of course, she could have been talking about any victim in the French report or others like it. People who are sexually abused or assaulted, or suffer any other kind of trauma, by definition, spend the rest of their lives paying for what was done to them. Those psychic wounds—and, too often, physical debilitations—are intensified, and passed on generationally (and, according to recent research, genetically) through the racism, sexism, homophobia and other prejudices encoded in our laws, embedded in our institutions and, most important, enmeshed in the lenses through which people see their world and act on it.

Critical Race Theory, as I understand it, posits that race is a social construct and, therefore, racism is a product, not only of individual prejudices and actions, but also something woven into legal systems and policies. Thus, the fact that we’ve had a Black (actually, multi-racial) President, and African-American athletes and entertainers are among the wealthiest people in America, no more validates the claim that “racism is over” (a claim I’ve heard, not only from conservatives, but from people even further to the left than I am) than defrocking a few priests—or sentencing them to “prayer and penance”—will eradicate clerical sexual abuse.

The French report, and others, say as much: Nothing less than a reform of, not only the way rogue priests and deacons are disciplined, but of the very systems that have enabled them to commit their crimes, is needed. For one thing, there needs to better screening and monitoring of clerics-in-training, and young clerics. As an example, a priest (not the one who sexually abused me) in my old church was defrocked—years after accusations that he sexually exploited boys in the parish were verified. I’m glad that he was cast out of the priesthood (my abuser died before I, or any of his other victims, spoke of his deeds), but he really shouldn’t have been a part of it in the first place: My morbid curiosity led me to discover that before he was “transferred” to our parish from another, he’d been kicked out of a seminary for sexual misconduct. That didn’t keep him from enrolling in—and graduating from—another seminary!

Just as the Roman Catholic Church, and other religious institutions, need to prevent predators from becoming prelates, it also needs to dismantle the systems and structures that allow officials, from the Pope on down, to shield perpetrators from justice. Local priests are transferred from one parish, or even diocese, to another when parishioners complain about their behavior; after Bernard Francis Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston and moved to Rome, Pope John Paul II appointed him as the Archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, which made him a citizen of Vatican City—and thus immune to prosecution by US authorities.

Then again, even when perpetrators are called to account for their crimes, it’s often a hollow victory: Because victims, for a variety of reasons, don’t talk about their sexual abuse for decades after they experienced it, by the time a priest is accused, the accounts are verified and the wheels of justice grind along, the perfidious prelate is very old—or dead, as my abuser was by the time I or any of his other victims spoke up.

Cases like Law’s are cited as reasons why systemic change, while needed, is not enough. More than a few people, including commenters on my previous post, have suggested that what underpins the system—the Bible itself—is the root of the problem. I would agree, as the Abrahamic religions, in all of their iterations from the Taliban’s version of Islam to the most liberal Episcopal or Reform Jewish congregation–is premised on gender, racial, and other social hierarchies specified in everything from the Books of Exodus and Leviticus to the letters of Paul. Bringing in a mixed-race transgender minister, and rooting out an individual paedophile, can do no more to change the inherent biases of the Bible and the institutions based on it than choosing another Black President or CEO, or driving out another individual racist, will destroy the system that perpetuates intergenerational traumas and inequalities—or getting rid of a few rogue cops or arresting a few drug dealers or users will eradicate the draconian laws and unjust social conditions that fuel the demand for, and business in, banned substances.

Until structures, systems, and institutions based on arbitrarily-defined groups of people and designed to protect or punish some of those groups (just as arbitrarily chosen) are, not reformed, but dismantled, their victims will continue to pay for what they are forced to learn—and what the perpetrators can’t, or won’t, understand. The woman I mentioned at the beginning of this essay knows as much.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

What IFB Churches Believe About Divorce

god hates divorce

(I am reposting this article to better explain “Dr.” David Tee’s (David Theissen/TEWSNBN) horrible view of marriage, divorce, and domestic violence. Ben Berwick also responded to TEWSNBN’s claims here and here.)

Churches and pastors who identify with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement generally believe that marriage is for life and that divorce is a sin. While you will find a variety of interpretations among IFB churches and pastors, I can safely say they hate divorce. The Bible says in Malachi 2:14-16:

Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he [God] hateth putting away [divorce]: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

The Bible says that God hates divorce. IFB Christians are fond of saying they “love what God loves and hate what God hates,” so it should come as no surprise, then, that the sin of divorce is roundly hated. Not as hated as, say, homosexuality, liberalism, sleeping during the pastor’s sermon, or women wearing pants, but definitely a top-ten sin.

There are generally four IFB positions on divorce.

Adultery is the Only Ground for Divorce

First, many IFB churches and pastors believe that there is one ground for divorce: adultery. In Matthew 19: 3-9, Jesus purportedly said:

The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

Jesus is clear: the only valid reason for divorce is adultery. I should note in passing that only men were permitted to divorce their wives.

Adultery and Abandonment are the Only Grounds for Divorce

Some IFB churches and pastors believe there are two grounds for divorce: adultery and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 states:

And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.  But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that if a congregant has an unbelieving spouse who abandons him, the congregant has two choices: reconciliation or living single the rest of his life. Many IFB churches and pastors believe this passage of Scripture teaches that abandonment is also grounds for divorce. However, this passage only applies to mixed marriages, marriages where one spouse is a Christian and the other is not. Further, Paul makes it clear that if an unbelieving female spouse leaves her Christian husband, he is NOT to divorce her; that he must either be reconciled to her or remain single all the days of his life.

blood of jesus

Divorce for Any Reason is Permitted Before Salvation

Some IFB churches and pastors believe that divorce for any reason is permitted as long as it occurred before a person is saved. The thinking goes something like this: The moment a person prays the sinner’s prayer, he or she becomes a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. Salvation gives the believer new life. Past sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus and cast into the sea of God’s forgetfulness to be remembered no more. Thus, pre-Jesus divorce — and murder, sexual assault, and spousal abuse — doesn’t count against the new Christian. I remember one evangelist who came regularly to one church I pastored that had a divorce in his past; in his pre-Jesus life. He hid this from me and other pastors, knowing that many of us believed that the Bible taught preachers must be the husbands of one wife, not one wife at a time. Years later, I found out that his first wife was a thirteen-year-old girl he impregnated. They later divorced, but his ex-wife believes her preacher ex-husband still has an appetite for younger girls. When I questioned this man about his former marriage, he replied, “It’s under the blood, brother, it’s under the blood!” In other words, he refused to be held accountable for anything he did BC — before Christ.

There are No Grounds for Divorce

Some IFB churches and pastors believe there are no grounds for divorce; that the exceptions granted by Jesus and Paul were given due to the hardness of man’s heart; that God’s standard is “marriage until death do we part.” While allowance was made for women leaving their husbands if they regularly beat them, separating spouses were told that under no circumstances could they divorce and remarry. They were reminded that Jesus said: Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. In other words, remarry and you are an adulterer.

IFB luminary John R. Rice was asked, “Should A Divorced Woman Remarry Her Husband, Who Wants Her Back, Or Marry The Other Man She Is In Love With?” He responded:

She should remarry her husband. You see, when she was married first, she took a solemn vow to love, honor and obey . . . until death do us part. And the Bible clearly teaches that divorce is wrong. Even if the husband mistreated the wife (and of course all husbands and wives are human and fail in some degree), still she was his wife, she had promised to be with him until death, and God wanted her to obey her husband and love him and be true to him.

I think that if a wife will set out to obey her husband, she will find that love will increase. She will have to confess to God her sin of loving another man, and if in her heart she will honestly turn from that in repentance, then God will help her to love her husband and help the husband to forgive and love her. If things are not always easy, still the only way to happiness is to do right and have God’s blessing.

Satan always has some very attractive ways in sin. Sin is always attractive at first, but it always ends bad. The Bible says, ‘The way of transgressors is hard’ (Prov. 13:15). And, again, the Bible says in Numbers 32:23, ‘Be sure your sin will find you out.’ And Romans 6:23 says, ‘The wages of sin is death.’

First Corinthians 7, verses 10-13, says, ‘And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.’”

Now the thing to do is to believe that God will restore happiness and that He will help straighten things out. So give Him a chance to do that.

Rice’s answer was typical of what I heard as a long-time member and pastor of IFB churches.

In 1994, I was between pastorates and Polly and our six children and I attended an IFB church pastored by my best friend. One night, I went with him on a visitation call to a church family who was having marital problems. They were seriously contemplating divorce. My preacher friend made it clear to them that God hated divorce and that there were no Biblical grounds for divorce. He said, “You have two choices. Either reconcile or separate and remain unmarried.” In his eyes, getting a divorce and then remarrying was a grievous sin and grounds for excommunication. He went on to say, “God says, if you remarry, both you and your new spouse are adulterers.”

Later, on our way home, I questioned him about his position on divorce. I asked, “if they remarry, what is it that makes them adulterers?” He replied, “the sex act.” I said, “So, every time they have sex, they are committing adultery?” My friend paused for a moment — thinking this was another one of Bruce’s famous theological traps — and then said, “Yes.”  And sure enough, he walked into one of my traps. I replied, “So, no one who is divorced and remarried is a Christian? And anyone in your church who is divorced and remarried (I mentioned several couples by name) will spend eternity in Hell?” As he pondered my questions, I reminded him that the Bible said in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

“If, as the Bible says, adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God,” I said, “then doesn’t that mean that divorced-remarried people — whom you say are adulterers — will NOT inherit the kingdom of God?” After a seemingly long period of silence, my friend said, “well, maybe I need to rethink my position.” Ya think?

Conclusion

Is it any wonder that divorced people feel out of place and marginalized in IFB churches? Worse yet, the aforementioned positions on divorce and remarriage can lead to women, in particular, enduring all sorts of abuse at the hands of their husbands. In October 2015, I wrote a post titled, Domestic Violence in the IFB Church. Here’s an excerpt from that post that illustrates the danger of taking a no-divorce position:

Years ago the church I was pastoring joined together with other IFB churches to hold a joint revival meeting. The speaker was Bill Rice III. (I am almost certain it was Bill Rice but it could have been Pete Rice, both were associated with the Bill Rice Ranch.) One night, Bill Rice preached on  the subject of marriage and divorce. Rice did not believe there were any grounds for divorce. He said that even if a husband was beating on his wife, the wife should stay in the marriage. Perhaps she would win her husband to Jesus by her willingness to stay in the marriage. Rice intimated that saved husbands don’t beat their wives.

By the time of this meeting my views had already begun to change and I pulled our church out of the meetings. I was incensed that Rice was advocating a woman endure her husband beating on her, implying that God wanted her to do so.

The teachings of the Bible on marriage and divorce reflect a time when women were viewed as chattel, as little more than property. There’s nothing in Jesus’ or Paul’s teachings on marriage/divorce that suggests they moved beyond the beliefs and practices found in the Old Testament. Jesus, being God, hated divorce; and the Apostle Paul? Well, he had a real problem with women in general. I have long asked, Why Would Any Woman Want to be an Evangelical Christian? I wrote, at one time:

Why would any woman want to be an Evangelical Christian? If the Bible is the inspired Word of God and every word is true, why would any modern, thinking woman ever darken the door of an Evangelical church?

Over the past hundred years women have continued to gain rights and privileges kept from them by men, law, and social propriety: the right to vote, equal pay for equal work, the right to use birth control, the right to have an abortion, the right to divorce. While women do not yet have equal rights and privileges in this country, huge progress has been made toward that end.

Why don’t women have true equal rights and privileges in America? Don’t deceive yourself into thinking they do. There are still places in our society where the signs say Men Only. The primary reason women are denied basic civil rights and social privileges is that Christian patriarchal thinking still permeates our society.

Evangelical Christianity teaches that women are inferior to men. The Bible calls women a weaker vessel. The Bible teaches that women are to be married, keepers of the home, bearers of children, and sex partners for their husband (unless the husband goes Old Testament and has multiple wives and concubines). Simply put, the Bible teaches that the world of women revolves around husband, food, children, and sex.

If the Bible is meant to be taken as written, women have no part in the governance of society or the church. Women are relegated to teaching children, and as women age they are given the task of teaching younger women how to be good wives.

….

I am of the opinion that many women embrace Evangelical Christianity and continue in the church because of the social and family connection they have with others in the church. They are willing to put up with being considered second-class citizens as long as they can maintain those connections. I suspect this is due to the maternal instinct that most women have. Others have been so indoctrinated by the men in their life that they actually think they are inferior to men and meant to be their slaves. I’ve had more than a few conversations with women who cannot or will not see that they deserve a far better life than they now have.

As long as there are marriages there will be divorces. Sometimes, people marry the wrong person or find out their spouses were not the people they thought they were. The issues that can derail a marriage and lead to divorce are many. As a humanist, I desire peace and happiness for everyone. Sometimes, the only way for a married couple to find peace and happiness is to divorce. Yet, IFB churches and pastors would rather have couples spend their lives living in misery with people they do not love. Years ago, an older woman began attending the church I was pastoring at the time. After a few visits, I stopped by her home to get to know her better. I found out that she was married, but her husband was nowhere to be found. Later, a church member who knew her well told me, “Yes, she is married, but her husband lives in the second story of the house. They don’t speak to each other.” Come to find out, they had been living this way for twenty-five years. Why? The Bible says . . . The Bible says NO DIVORCE, so this couple had lived in the same home for twenty-five years, but apart from each other; much like boxers in the ring retreating to their respective corners. Sorry, but this is no way to live.

The good news is that Evangelical churches, in general, are becoming more accepting and tolerant of divorce. However, in the far-flung edges of the Evangelical universe, there are still churches and pastors who take a no-divorce position, demonize divorced people, and promote beliefs that can and do cause physical and psychological harm to women and children. (Yet, many of these same preachers support Donald Trump. Talk about hypocrisy.)

Are you a former IFB/Evangelical church member? What position did your church/pastor take on divorce? Did you get divorced while still a member of an IFB/Evangelical church? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Domestic Violence Is Not Grounds for Divorce

domestic violence

We are going to get this out of the way right now. There is only one reason for divorce. The unbelieving world has created a myriad of reasons but in reality and truth, there is only one- adultery.

Since God and Jesus get to make the rules, there are no substitutes. While the unbelieving world feels that they are more compassionate and more moral than God, they keep coming up with new ways to break up a solid family.

Sadly, the church has followed the unbelieving world and added far more reasons than the one Jesus gave. Many years ago we were in an online discussion with a woman on this very topic. We stated our position, as above, and she came back with, ‘My pastor said abandonment’ is grounds for divorce.

We came back with a solid no and restated adultery and her response was always the same – ‘and abandonment. her pastor was wrong and so are all those people who add abuse or domestic violence to the list.

Domestic violence is a sin but it is not a reason for divorce. In fact, encouraging people to divorce an abusive partner does not make the situation any better. Many women are killed after they have moved out and divorced their husbands.

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Does this mean we are condemning people to abusive relationships? No. We are telling them not to sin in response to the sins committed against them. Sinning in response does not solve the problem either.

Remember Jesus was heavily abused by his family and the Romans, yet he did not sin in retaliation. He set the example. He is the one to follow. Can spouses and children bring charges against their mates and parents?

This is a delicate issue and one has to use the law wisely. Punishment is not for revenge or to hurt others. It is to bring the offender to repentance. You cannot achieve that goal if you sin in response or deal with the offender unjustly.

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We do not sin when sin is done against us. Forgiveness does not make everything go away or make it better. Nor does it remove punishment but it helps us see clearly and find the just punishment for the offense or offenses committed.

Revenge is mine saith the Lord. Our duty is to allow God to lead us to the just punishment and not let our own will get in the way.

“Dr.” David Tee (David Thiessen), Theology Archeology: A Site for the Glory of God, Domestic Violence, October 6, 2021

Porn Addiction and Masturbation in Evangelical Churches

how to stop masturbating

Did you know that one of the biggest problems facing Evangelical Christians is masturbation? Recently, Pure Life Ministries, a Fundamentalist “purity” ministry started by Steve Gallagher, published an article about what they believe is a “sexual sin” crisis facing American Evangelicals.

According to Ed Buch, Pure Life’s vice president for counseling services, countless Evangelical Christians are “porn addicts.” Their porn addiction has led to an epidemic of sexual self-gratification among sexually active Evangelicals.

Buch states:

Yeah, I think it’s definitely getting harder and harder to maintain that illusion that sexual sin is not a problem in the [Evangelical] church today. But there probably still are those who are just oblivious to it, or in denial over that situation. Because study after study is getting done now; surveys and polls are being done on a regular basis by people like the Barna Group and Focus on the Family, which are qualified organizations. They are really looking into these things and are consistently churning out numbers that tell us that fifty percent of the men in a congregation are addicted to pornography. Twenty percent of the women in a congregation are addicted to pornography. Focus on the Family did a poll that said that forty seven percent of families say that porn is a problem in their home.

And none of this should be really shocking because one of the stats that I saw recently was that eighteen percent of pastors are addicted to pornography. I’m using the word addicted here Brooks. It’s not just that these people are occasionally consuming something that they shouldn’t. These are men and women who are compulsively addicted to pornography and other forms of sexual sin. It’s a huge problem in the church.

But do you know what always stands out to me hand in hand when I see these statistics? I’ve read the letters to the churches in the Book of Revelation, and two of them specifically mention sexual sin as an issue in the church. What that tells me is that sexual sin in the church has been a problem, it is a problem, and it is going to continue to be a problem, even as we go through the very end times.

….

Well, let’s first go back to the verse I just quoted out of 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul was writing and saying that these various ones will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Among them he listed fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals and sodomites. That pretty well covers abroad list of sexual sinners right there. So, I suppose the other issue that isn’t on that list, that really most people latch onto, is masturbation. When it comes to this issue of masturbation, there are many who believe that it’s not a sin. Even some pastors may teach that sort of thing, that masturbation is not a sin.

But I can tell you this.  I’ve been in addictions counseling for over 20 years and in my ministry experiences, I can assure you that just like cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, those things that are the gateways to harder drug use and abuse, masturbation is a gateway to other forms of sexual sin. And sin always begins in the heart. So, when Jesus addressed sexual sin, and He did, that’s exactly what He pointed to. Do you remember the passage in Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount? He said that if a man looks at someone lustfully, he’s committing adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28). And so, whether I look at someone literally walking by or driving by, or something, and I’m looking at them lustfully, or whether it’s simply happening in my mind’s eye while I’m masturbating, I’m still committing sin. I’m committing the sin of adultery in my heart. And when I fantasize and masturbate, that’s what’s going on.

Then Jesus went on to say shortly after that, that it’s from within, it’s out of the heart of men that proceed evil thoughts, or fantasies, or you might say adulteries, fornication, and so on (Matthew 15:19). Jesus is telling us that those more offensive, deeper forms of sexual sin are actually rooted in our heart. They arise out of our hearts. So, when masturbation is corrupting our hearts, it’s feeding into those other forms of sin that will eventually flow and follow out of that same heart.

Do you know what I find in our counseling, Brooks? There are a lot of men who want to hold on to that sin masturbation and make it some kind of a pet sin that they don’t have to give up.  They’ll give up a lot of other things, but not that one. And they’ll continue to struggle with that one for a little while. And that’s why in his book At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry, Steve Gallagher devotes an entire chapter to this topic of masturbation. Because it is one of those myths that people have held onto, that it’s not really a sin. He addresses that pretty thoroughly in the book.

The bottom line to all of this, Brooks, is that masturbation, of which some people use the term self-gratification, and I’ve seen more and more recently, people are even just calling it self-sex; all of those terms, whichever one you choose, they’re pointing to the root of selfishness. I’m literally having sex with myself if I’m engaged in masturbation. So, if you look at the whole of Scripture, the full teaching out of the Bible, there is no way you can defend such a selfish behavior as being compatible with your Christianity.

Buchs, Gallagher, and Pure Life Ministries believe that Evangelical churches are filled with “porn addicts.” What should we make of this assertion? Is “porn addiction” even a thing? Sure, people can become addicted to many things, but has Internet porn turned half of all teen and adult Evangelical church members into addicts? Imagine for a moment an Evangelical megachurch with 20,000 members. Does Buch expect anyone to believe that this church has thousands and thousands of porn addicts; men (and women) so obsessed with porn that they spend every waking moment on the Internet, fulfilling their lustful desires? This, on its face, is absurd. Do Evangelicals look at porn? Sure, many do, including pastors. Do Evangelicals masturbate after watching YouPorn and other sites? Sure, many do. However, is this a sign of “addiction”? Of course not. Why, then, do Evangelicals confess to porn addiction?

Theology is the problem, not “addiction.” Evangelicals are taught, often from birth, that they are hopeless, vile, wicked, broken sinners whom God hates; that salvation from original sin comes only through the merit and work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection from the dead three days later. Evangelicals are taught from the earliest ages that they are in some way defective, and the only way to change this is by getting “saved.” Yet, as Buch makes clear, even after Evangelicals are “born-again” they still have a problem with “sin.” Why is that? Supposedly, Evangelical Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He is their ever-present teacher and guide. Yet, the Holy Spirit is no match for porn. Evangelicals also have the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Yet, it seems the words of God are powerless to stop church members from viewing porn. And finally, Evangelicals have their churches and pastors who provide frequent reinforcement of Godly sexual mores. Yet, all the preaching, teaching, books, conferences, and Christian blogs/websites do little to turn eyes from 36DDD to Jesus. What gives?

Evangelicals go through life believing they are weak. Sure, Jesus saved them, but Satan and the “world” continue to tempt them to sin and lead them astray. Making matters worse is that Evangelical preachers frequently remind weak congregants that God/church/pastor expects them to follow the Bible’s strict moral code (and a-biblical moral standards adopted and enforced by church leaders). ALL sexual activity outside of heterosexual/married/monogamous sex is a sin against the thrice-holy God. Even the most natural of sexual behaviors, masturbation, is a sin.

Instead of teaching church members sexual responsibility, Evangelical preachers beat them over their heads with God’s No Fun Book. This leads, of course, to fear and guilt. Evangelicals who engage in normal, healthy sexual activity fear exposure and judgment by God and the church. They are laden with guilt over their inability to stay on the straight and narrow sexually. Giving in to one’s natural desires only leads to more and more fear and guilt. As former Evangelicals can attest, this fear and guilt destroy one’s sense of self-worth.

Sadly, as long as people continue to attend Evangelical churches, the fear and guilt cycle will continue. The only permanent solution is for congregants to leave churches that promote sexual repression and find congregations that affirm normal, healthy expressions of sexuality. Let me also add that deep immersion into repressive theological beliefs such as those espoused by Buchs, Gallagher, and Pure Life Ministries may require competent secular counseling to overcome. Help awaits, but it requires exiting places where abuse and repression are normalized in the name of the God of the Bible.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

La communauté, La famille et L’eglise: Spinning Ties Into A Web

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Four decades ago, I lived in Paris. The neighborhoods in which I lived, like many others in the City of Light, were populated mainly by working-class native-born French people, some of whom moved to the city from other parts of France. Today, those areas have gentrified, or have become home to bobos or immigrants. Among the latter, one can still see a reflection of the neighborhoods’ old character: the people worked hard, but they put their jobs aside at the end of the workday to relax with family, and sometimes friends, over a meal and conversation.

This way of living was also found, and still survives, in the countryside and smaller cities and towns outside the Paris region. Much later, I realized that why I so enjoyed spending time among those everyday French people is that they reminded me about the best parts of my childhood and the neighborhood in which I grew up: a blue-collar Brooklyn enclave of Italian, Irish and Polish families. Whatever dysfunctions and other dramas played out in the squat brick houses and apartment buildings, families—including mine—gathered around a table for supper when the family’s breadwinner (nearly always the father) came home from work. And the Sunday dinners—which, it seemed, began as soon as Mass ended—included grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and sometimes their friends.

(I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the reasons I liked my childhood home and life—in spite of something that happened there, which I’ll mention—and the time I spent with French people is the food! What French people make for themselves and their families is, like my mother’s and grandmother’s cooking, hearty and tasty.)

There was another interesting parallel between the districts near the rue Daguerre and Canal St. Martin and a part of Brooklyn bounded, roughly, by the D and F lines of the New York subway system: They were overwhelmingly Catholic. In my old neighborhood, the streets were deserted on Sunday mornings because nearly everyone went to the church in the middle of our neighborhood. Some men sat in their cars, looking at the Sunday News, outside the church building: they drove their wives, kids, and other relatives and could therefore claim to be fulfilling the Roman Church’s mandate to “attend or assist” at Mass. While I didn’t see such gatherings of automobiles outside Parisian church buildings, it seemed that most people in my environs attended Mass.

While the French kids I met—including a couple whom I tutored—didn’t attend Catholic schools unless they were “problem” kids or their parents were very religious (French people trusted, and still trust, their public schools to a much greater degree than most Americans do), the church held an elevated status. Note that I used the small “c”: Their reverence, like that of folks I grew up with, went mainly to the local parish and in particular its leaders. Few, if any people, are more trusted and respected in such an environment than the local parish priests and, to a lesser extent, others who serve the parish in one way or another. They, like my peers and their parents, had little truck with the capital-C Church, except perhaps to donate to some charity or some order of monks or nuns named for a saint who was particularly meaningful to them.

The relationship I’ve described between a community’s people and its church has, it turns out, a more sinister side. It is expressed in this sentence: “The Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence.

Even in such restrained prose, even in translation, that declaration is stark and unambiguous. Some of us never would have needed to see or hear of the report that contains it because we know it, in every fiber of our beings, in every pore of our bodies. Every one of us—me and, possibly, some kids with whom I attended school and church, served at Masses and played, as well as some whom I knew in Paris—has had to live with it. Some, like me, have spoken of the sexual abuse only after decades after we suffered it. Others cannot speak of it because they are too broken by addiction or mental illness caused or exacerbated by the abuse; still others have taken their stories to their graves.

Perhaps even the man who headed the commission that issued the report containing that declaration has had to pay for that knowledge with more than a grant for its academic and institutional research. Jean-Marc Sauvé, in announcing the findings contained in the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church, admonished a Church that “failed to see or hear, failed to pick up on the weak signals, failed to take the rigorous measures that were necessary.” Worse, he said the Church, for years, showed a “deep, total and even cruel indifference toward victims.”

And how many victims are there? According to the report, more than 200,000 children were abused by clergy members in France since 1950. That number is half again as high if those who were victimized by perpetrators who worked for the Church, or who were affiliated with it as laypeople, such as Boy Scout organizers or Catholic school staff.

Mind you, those numbers include only those whom the researchers found. So do the numbers of perpetrators—between 2900 and 3200. Still, the Commission counted enough victims and abusers to conclude that abuse of minors within the Church comprises about 4 percent of all sexual violence within France.

As necessary as the work of the Commission was, and as forthright as Sauvé’s declarations are, it was left to Francois Devaux to say, in layperson’s terms, what led to the abuse, whether it happened in Bensonhurst or Belleville: “(t)here was a betrayal, a betrayal of trust, betrayal of morality, betrayal of children, betrayal of innocence of your own people…” In other words, the paedophile priests did what sexual abusers and other sociopaths have always done: They used people’s trust to victimize them. Devaux, the head of the abuse victims’ group La Parole Libérée, went on to tell Church representatives they were “a disgrace to humanity.”

“You must all pay for these crimes, “he intoned, slowly enunciating each word. “You must all pay for these crimes,” he repeated.

Those crimes all stemmed from the exploitation of trust—the kind of trust inculcated in the young and vulnerable for the putative custodians of, not only their physical well-being, but also their emotional and spiritual growth. Jean-Marc Sauvé and Francois Devaux, whatever their experiences might have been, understand as much and have expressed it clearly. Perhaps they, like me, had their best and worst childhood memories in the same places, with the same people.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser