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The Lies Evangelicals Tell Themselves About Atheists

liar liar pants on fire

It is common for Evangelicals to lie to themselves when confronted with facts and evidence that does not fit their worldview. One need only look at their theological beliefs to see how lies are routinely used to prop up beliefs that can no longer be intellectually and rationally supported. It’s the twenty-first century, not the sixteenth, yet Evangelicals continue to use past justifications to support their outdated, irrational, anti-human beliefs. In other words, they lie to themselves.

So it is for Evangelicals when it comes atheists. Let me illustrate how Evangelicals see atheists with a screen capture from an Evangelical discussion forum. I can’t remember which forum I found this, but it was either the Fundamental Forums, the Baptist Board, or the Puritan Board — three peas in a pod:

how evangelicals view atheistsA

According to this Evangelical dullard, atheism makes people angry, hopeless, and self-destructive. Sound familiar? This statement, of course, has no grounding in reality. This is a lie the man tells himself; a necessary lie in order for his worldview to make sense. In his worldview, the world is neatly divided into two categories: saved/lost, in/out, black/white, Heaven/Hell. Atheists, then, are lost and headed for Hell. Their refusal to believe in the Evangelical God is a sign of a reprobate mind; people who have been turned over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (Romans 1,2).  Fair enough, I suppose. That’s what the Bible says, right? I can’t fault Evangelicals for believing the Bible; even though they conveniently not-believe-it when it suits them. What people such as myself find irritating is the attacks on our character. Oh, you are an A-T-H-E-I-S-T?  Well, that means you live a life without meaning, purpose, and direction. You love to sin. No matter how often atheists correct this false notion, Evangelicals remain steadfast in their beliefs about atheists. No matter how much evidence is presented to the contrary, Evangelicals continue to lie to themselves about atheists. Why?

Evangelicals are convinced that they are, in God’s eyes, special; that Jesus has chosen to save them by his grace; that everything that happens in their lives is according to their God’s purpose and plan for them; that Heaven awaits them after they die — God’s reward for their faith and obedience. In order for these things to be true, atheists must be viewed as their enemies; people who hate God; people who follow Satan; people who have hopeless, empty lives; people who love to sin against the thrice holy God of the Bible. Of course, none of these things is true. The evidence at hand suggests that atheists on the whole live lives filled with purpose and meaning. Atheists don’t hate God or follow Satan, because they do not believe either exists.

For Evangelicals, atheists are evil personified. It’s been that way, in particular, ever since avowed atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair successfully challenged the constitutionality of prayer and Bible reading in public schools. From the 1960s forward, atheists have become more vocal about their godlessness, and are far more willing to publicly and legally challenge the theocratic tendencies of Evangelicals. Groups such as American AtheistsFreedom From Religion Foundation, and the American Humanist Association have increasingly challenged Evangelical church and state violations in the courts — and have won. Things are so bad now for Evangelicals that even Satanists — who are atheists — are challenging the preferential treatment Evangelicals receive from the local, state, and federal government.

In reaction to what Evangelicals believe is a frontal assault on Christianity, they go out of their way to paint their atheistic enemies as bad, even evil, people. Atheists are called all sorts of names and tagged with all sorts of reprehensible behavior. Sure, there ARE atheists who are awful people, but talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Evangelicals have plenty of bad behavior going on in their own ranks, right? Evangelicalism is roiling with sexual abuse scandals and other sex crimes perpetrated by so-called men of God. (Please see the Black Collar Crimes Series.) Evangelicals have lost any sense of high moral ground, and are now considered the most hated religion in America. Many younger Americans believe Evangelicals are a hate group — people who despise LGBTQ people. Yet, despite all of this, Evangelicals continue to lie to themselves about atheists (and other non-Evangelicals). After all, if atheists have lives just as good and as meaningful as Evangelicals, why be a Christian? If atheists demonstrate the “fruit of the Spirit” without believing in said Spirit, what does that say about Christianity? If atheists love their spouses, love their children, hold down jobs, and contribute to their communities, what does that say about the claims Evangelicals make for their lives being “transformed” by the power of God? It seems to this atheist that Evangelical Christianity doesn’t offer anything that can’t be found outside of religion. Once the Bible with its Bronze Age foolishness loses its authority and power, people are free to craft meaningful, purposeful lives on their own terms. This scares the shit out of Evangelicals. And instead of accepting the fact that atheists are every bit as good, moral, and ethical as Evangelicals are, they lie to themselves as the man did in the above quotation.

There was a time when I would try to correct such false notions about atheists. I have, however, come to the place where I realize that until Evangelicals are willing to stop lying to themselves and are willing to see things as they are, there’s no hope of changing their minds. As long as their pastors preach thundering sermons and write scathing blog posts about the “evil” atheists, their lies will be reinforced. Who are they going to believe? Atheists, in their own words, or their pastors? Until Evangelicals come to the place where they rationally and skeptically weigh what their pastors say, they will continue to believe the lies that are told about atheists. There’s nothing we atheists can do about this except to continue living our lives in ways that give atheism a good name.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Romans 3: What the Bible Says About the “Human Condition”

Evangelicals believe that all humans are born sinners, at variance with God, and headed for Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in the atoning work of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. Evangelicals get their view of humanity straight from the Bible — a collection of books they believe is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. In their minds, the Bible is different from all other books. Divine in nature, perfect, and true, the Bible reveals to us God, the “human condition,” and what all of us must do to have right standing with the Christian deity and avoid eternal damnation in Hell. According to Evangelicals, atheists and other non-believers deliberately reject the truths of the Bible because they desire to live sin-filled lives. Never mind the fact that Evangelicals also live sin-filled lives. You see, they have an out — Jesus. No matter what terrible things they do, forgiveness and restoration are but a prayer away:

If we [Evangelicals] confess our sins, he [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)

No bad behavior (sin) is beyond God’s forgiveness. King David committed adultery and had the woman’s husband murdered so he could have her for his own, yet he is called a “man after God’s own heart.” (Acts 13:22) We need only turn to the modern-day fall-from-grace/forgiveness stories of men such as Ted HaggardJimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, David Hyles, and countless other “fallen” Evangelical preachers to see how the process works. Those of us who were once Evangelicals have first-hand experience with the sin/forgiveness, wash/rinse/repeat process by which we procured continued right-standing with God. Daily and twice on Sundays, we confessed our sins to God and asked for his complete, total, buried-in-the-deepest-sea forgiveness:

He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12)

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)

And each and every time, God — or so we believed anyway — granted us forgiveness. Catholics had the confessional, and we Evangelicals had the altars, prayer meetings, and devotional times. In fact, forgiveness was so readily available that all we had to do is send up a quick prayer to Jesus. We could be at work, driving our cars, or cleaning up after masturbating to porn; it mattered not. All God required was for us to say “my bad, Jesus, I’m sorry, please forgive me.” And just like that our sin slates were wiped clean. Awesome, right?

Evangelicals believe they are hopeless and helpless apart from God’s grace. While Evangelicals often present themselves as superior to atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, pagans, and other non-believers, when confronted with their own “sinfulness” they reply, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace!”  According to their doctrine, the only thing that keeps Evangelicals from spending eternity in the Lake of Fire with Hitler, Mother Teresa, Christopher Hitchens, Barack Obama, and Bruce Gerencser is the moment in time they repented of their sins and asked Jesus to save them. Evangelicals see themselves as sinners who just so happened to have pushed the right button on the Eternal Hell Fire Insurance Policy® Dispensing Machine.

The Apostle Paul in Romans 3 reminded Christians and unbelievers alike of their true nature. Here’s how Paul describes the “human condition”:

  • None of us is righteous (vs. 10)
  • None of us understands (vs. 11)
  • None of us seeks after God (vs. 11)
  • None of us does good (vs.12)
  • All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory (vs. 23)

Paul goes on to describe the “human condition” this way:

Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Paul in Romans 3 and other places reminds Christians that the only difference between them and non-Christians is faith (Ephesians 2:8,9 and Hebrews 11); faith in Jesus as the propitiation for sin (Romans 3:25 and 1 John 2:2); faith in the God-man who died on the cross for our sins (Romans 5); faith in the Jesus who promised to forgive us of every sin — past, present, and future.

Is it any wonder Evangelicals live such schizophrenic lives? On one hand, God commands them to live morally, ethically, and righteously, and even commands them to be as perfect as their Father in Heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Yet, on the other hand, they are repeatedly reminded by Paul and other Biblical authors that it is impossible for them to keep, follow, and practice that which God commands. Thinking this way leads to all sorts of emotional stress. Evangelicals may be “sinners saved by grace,” but their behavior suggests that their lives are long on sin and short on grace. One need only read the Black Collar Crime series to see how such thinking affects Evangelicals. So-called men of God — pastors, deacons, evangelists, Sunday school teachers, and worship leaders — praise the wonders of God’s grace on Sundays, all while they are fucking their secretaries, sexually abusing boys and girls, seducing church teenagers, and otherwise engaging in behaviors that most people consider wrong. “Oh Bruce,” Evangelical apologists say, “these stories are the exception to the rule!” Really? You might want to read Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare? before defending God’s spokesmen. You might also want to talk to pastors who are willing to be honest about their own “sinful” behaviors and that of their congregations — that which has been confessed to them in secret.

“Fine, Bruce,” Evangelicals say. “Are atheists any better?” To that question I reply, yes and no. Atheists don’t believe in “sin.”  Most atheists reject Evangelical moralizing about “sin” and instead focus on good and bad behavior. While atheists certainly have smaller “sin” lists, they do believe that certain behaviors can be categorized as good or bad, along with many behaviors being neither good or bad. Most atheists are humanists, and their humanism gives them a moral, ethical, and practical foundation for living one’s life. Atheists recognize that some of their brethren are despicable human beings, every bit as bad as the men of God detailed in the Black Collar Crime series. They also recognize that humans are capable of doing good without the help of imaginary deities.

If atheists reject the Christian view of the “human condition” and forgiveness, how then do they deal with bad behavior? I can’t speak for all atheists, but I can share how I and other atheists I personally know handle personal acts of bad behavior. When we act inappropriately or cause harm to others, we confess it, ask forgiveness from whomever we harmed, and if necessary, make restitution. We recognize that none of us is perfect, and we can, at times, say and do things that hurt others. We own our behavior and vow to act better going forward. If our bad behavior has caused material or social harm, we make amends. One of the reasons I write about the things I do is because I believe I have a moral and ethical responsibility to own past bad behaviors; that the harm I caused to congregants must be atoned for; that the harm I caused to my wife and children must be made right. Simply put, wrongs must be made right. I can’t undo the past, but I can own past bad behaviors, and vow to be a better man, husband, and father. I will, most certainly, fail in this endeavor, but each day of my life I will try to be a better person than I was the day before. No magical wiping of the slate clean, no religious incantations to a mythical God, just an honest, heartfelt commitment to being good. Is that not all that any of us can do?

To Evangelicals I say, leave your harmful religion behind. Humanism provides a far better way to live one’s life. And it’s a lot less stressful and a hell of a lot more fun.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Quote of the Day: The American War Machine and the Complicity of the Democratic Party

chris hedges

By Chris Hedges, excerpted from a Salon article titled How the Democrats Became the Party of Endless War

The Democrats position themselves as the party of virtue, cloaking their support for the war industry in moral language stretching back to Korea and Vietnam, when President Ngo Dinh Diem was as lionized as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is now. All the wars they support and fund are “good” wars. All the enemies they fight, the latest being Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, are incarnations of evil. The photo of a beaming Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris holding up a signed Ukrainian battle flag behind Zelenskyy as he addressed Congress was another example of the Democratic Party’s abject subservience to the war machine.

The Democrats, especially with the presidency of Bill Clinton, became shills not only for corporate America but for the weapons manufacturers and the Pentagon. No weapons system is too costly. No war, no matter how disastrous, goes unfunded. No military budget is too big, including the $858 billion in military spending allocated for the current fiscal year, an increase of $45 billion above what the Biden administration requested.

….

There once was a wing of the Democratic Party that questioned and stood up to the war industry: Senators like J. William Fulbright, George McGovern, Gene McCarthy, Mike Gravel and William Proxmire and House members like Dennis Kucinich. But that opposition evaporated along with the antiwar movement. When 30 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus recently issued a call for Biden to negotiate with Putin, they were forced by the party leadership and a warmongering media to back down and rescind their letter. Not that any of them, with the exception of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have voted against the billions of dollars in weaponry sent to Ukraine or the bloated military budget. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan voted present.

….

This lust for war is dangerous, pushing us into a potential war with Russia and, perhaps later, with China — each a nuclear power. It is also economically ruinous. The monopolization of capital by the military has driven U.S. debt to over $30 trillion, $6 trillion more than the U.S. GDP of $24 trillion. Servicing this debt costs $300 billion a year. We spend more on the military than the next nine countries combined, including China and Russia. Congress is also on track to provide an extra $21.7 billion to the Pentagon — above the already expanded annual budget — to resupply Ukraine.

“But those contracts are just the leading edge of what is shaping up to be a big new defense buildup,” The New York Times reports. “Military spending next year is on track to reach its highest level in inflation-adjusted terms since the peaks in the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between 2008 and 2011, and the second highest in inflation-adjusted terms since World War II — a level that is more than the budgets for the next 10 largest cabinet agencies combined.”

The Democratic Party, which under the Clinton administration aggressively courted corporate donors, has surrendered its willingness to challenge, however tepidly, the war industry. 

“As soon as the Democratic Party made a determination, it could have been 35 or 40 years ago, that they were going to take corporate contributions, that wiped out any distinction between the two parties,” Dennis Kucinich said when I interviewed him on my show for The Real News Network. “Because in Washington, he or she who pays the piper plays the tune. That’s what’s happened. There isn’t that much of a difference in terms of the two parties when it comes to war.”

….

In his 1970 book “The Pentagon Propaganda Machine,” Fulbright describes how the Pentagon and the arms industry pour millions into shaping public opinion through public relations campaigns, Defense Department films, control over Hollywood and domination of the commercial media. Military analysts on cable news are universally former military and intelligence officials who sit on boards or work as consultants to defense industries, a fact they rarely disclose to the public. Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star army general and military analyst for NBC News, was also an employee of Defense Solutions, a military sales and project management firm. He, like most of these shills for war, personally profited from the sales of the weapons systems and expansion of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the eve of every congressional vote on the Pentagon budget, lobbyists from businesses tied to the war industry meet with Congress members and their staff to push them to vote for the budget to protect jobs in their district or state. This pressure, coupled with the mantra amplified by the media that opposition to profligate war funding is unpatriotic, keeps elected officials in bondage. These politicians also depend on the lavish donations from the weapons manufacturers to fund their campaigns.

Tech giants, including Amazon, which supplies surveillance and facial recognition software to the police and FBI, have been absorbed into the permanent war economy. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Oracle were awarded multibillion-dollar cloud computing contracts for the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability and are eligible to receive $9 billion in Pentagon contracts to provide the military with “globally available cloud services across all security domains and classification levels, from the strategic level to the tactical edge,” through mid-2028.

Foreign aid is given to countries such as Israel, with more than $150 billion in bilateral assistance since its founding in 1948, or Egypt, which has received over $80 billion since 1978 — aid that requires foreign governments to buy weapons systems from the U.S. The U.S. public funds the research, development and building of weapons systems and purchases them for foreign governments. Such a circular system mocks the idea of a free-market economy. These weapons soon become obsolete and are replaced by updated and usually more costly weapons systems. It is, in economic terms, a dead end. It sustains nothing but the permanent war economy.

“The truth of the matter is that we’re in a heavily militarized society driven by greed, lust for profit, and wars are being created just to keep fueling that,” Kucinich told me.

In 2014, the U.S. backed a coup in Ukraine that installed a government that included neo-Nazis and was antagonistic to Russia. The coup triggered a civil war when the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, the Donbas region, sought to secede, resulting in over 14,000 people dead and nearly 150,000 displaced, before Russia invaded in February. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to Jacques Baud, a former NATO security adviser who also worked for Swiss intelligence, was instigated by the escalation of Ukraine’s war on the Donbas. It also followed the Biden administration’s rejection of proposals sent by the Kremlin in late 2021, which might have averted Russia’s invasion the following year. 

This invasion has led to widespread U.S. and EU sanctions on Russia, which have boomeranged onto Europe. Inflation ravages Europe with the sharp curtailment of shipments of Russian oil and gas. Industry, especially in Germany, is crippled. In most of Europe, it is a winter of shortages, spiraling prices and misery.

“This whole thing is blowing up in the face of the West,” Kucinich warned. “We forced Russia to pivot to Asia, as well as Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Saudi Arabia. There’s a whole new world being formed. The catalyst of it is the misjudgment that occurred about Ukraine and the effort to try to control Ukraine in 2014 that most people aren’t aware of.”

By not opposing a Democratic Party whose primary business is war, liberals become the sterile, defeated dreamers in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground.” 

Note: It is evident, at least to me, that the United States is fighting a full-blown proxy war in Ukraine against Russia. It is also evident that most of our political leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, fully support this proxy war, regardless of the issues Hedges raises in this article.

President Biden and the Democrats just passed and signed into law a $1.7 trillion budget. Almost $1 trillion will go to the military and security agencies. Billions more will go to Ukraine, Israel, and other foreign countries. No expense will be spared when it comes to maintaining and expanding our dying Empire. Too bad there isn’t any money left for the American people; for those who are living paycheck to paycheck; for those facing astronomical medical bills IF they have insurance at all; for our schools; for our roads and bridges — to name a few pressing needs. Our nation is dying from misplaced priorities.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Quote of the Day: What Would the United States be Like if it Was Like Israel?

juan cole

By Dr. Juan Cole, Informed Comment

What would the United States be like if it was like Israel?

After the most recent election is held, the president comes out and says that settling North America is the exclusive privilege of white Christians. He is determined to make some parts of the U.S. whiter and more Christian by giving incentives for people to move there. He names Detroit and the south side of Chicago, the state of Hawaii, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole oil-rich lands in Oklahoma.

Only white Christians are allowed to be cabinet secretaries and congressional majority and minority leaders.Non-white non-Christians like Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are expelled from the House for their inflammatory speeches questioning white privilege. The citizenship rights of all Native Americans outside the original 13 colonies are revoked and they are put under martial law.

In this future Christian Zionist America, the U.S. has invaded Canada and occupied British Columbia, including Vancouver and the Great Bear Rainforest, a First Nations reserve. That is another place the president says there have to be more white Christian people, displacing the Wuikinuxv Nation, the Heiltsuk Nation, the Haida Nation and other first nations tribes. Vancouver residents from Hong Kong have their citizenship revoked and are expelled back to China. Washington State is now connected to Alaska, which the president maintains is necessary to the security of the U.S., given that you can see Russia from there. The U.S. army goes back to using conscription to have enough troops to patrol Vancouver and the rest of the province.

The new president then announces that ultimately British Columbia will be formally annexed to the United States, making the fifty-first state and renamed White Columbia. He says, however, that Washington only wants the land and real estate, and that British Columbians will never be given U.S. citizenship.

Ottawa’s vehement protests against this Yankee land grab are disregarded, and Canada is reminded of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Washington vows that Canada will never be allowed to have a nuclear program of its own.

When armed gangs from Vancouver manage to fire some rockets at Seattle, the U.S. Air Force scrambles F-18s and bombs the city, bringing down apartment buildings. People in Kitsilano are called and given an hour to get out of their homes before they are bombed. The U.S. also bombs the airport and stops any flights out of Vancouver, and forbids people in British Columbia to go out in fishing boats since they pose a security hazard. What with being able to see Russia and all.

The president appoints the head of the Southern Baptist Convention to oversee Christianity in the United States, and to decide who is a white Christian. Only Southern Baptists are considered Christians. Methodists, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics are declared ineligible to have “Christian” written on their identity cards. They can be American citizens, just as non-whites can, but they are second-class citizens.

The new president declares that white Christian businesses don’t have to serve gay people or trans people or single women who are dressed indecently and in the company of unrelated men. One of his cabinet secretaries suggests that white Christian physicians shouldn’t have to treat gays, either.

The president of Christian Zionist America declares that all oppressed white Christians around the world, such as the Afrikaaners in South Africa and the Germans in Brazil, are free to come to the United States and will be given citizenship immediately. They would be wise to become Southern Baptists and get properly baptized on arrival, though. They will be given government help to appropriate resources from non-whites and non-Christians, especially in First Nation reserves in British Columbia and in Asian-majority neighborhoods in Hawaii and Los Angeles.

Stamps are issued honoring Dylann Roof (who shot down African-Americans) and Wade Michael Page (who shot down U.S. Sikhs),

Both inside the U.S. and in its occupied territory in the northwest, 33 million settlers, ten percent of the population, will be mobilized to establish apartment complexes in these places. Only white Christians will be allowed to live in them. They will be built on land confiscated from its present owners. The white Christian settlers will be allowed to walk around with assault rifles and defend themselves from any attacks from the angry owners of the land and other resources that the settlers have just helped themselves to.

Any local non-white person who makes a fuss about all these outsiders moving in and taking their land and petroleum will be put in federal penitentiary and kept in solitary, without charge or trial, for as long as the local white Christian sheriff wants. This includes children and minors. Sometimes to teach them a lesson, bulldozers will be brought in and their family homes will be destroyed. If they try to rebuild, the home will be demolished again, hundreds of times if necessary.

These African-Americans, Latinx people, Asian-Americans and indigenous North Americans will be reminded that settling North America is an exclusively white Christian right.

Note: I do a lot of writing about the theocratic tendencies of Evangelicals. Israel, with its recent political changes, seems intent on establishing a full-blown theocracy; one where Palestinians are not welcome. I suspect many Evangelicals think what is happening in Israel is a blueprint for what they would like to see happen in the United States.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Atheists are Leading the World Astray

atheism

Recently Rodney Kennedy, pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church in Schenectady, New York, stated that atheists, along with skeptics, secularists, agnostics, and unbelievers, are gaslighting our entire culture; that atheists are to blame for the increasing level of unbelief in the United States.

Kennedy asserted:

Many of the skeptics, agnostics, secularists, atheists, and non-believers have gaslit our entire culture. As reward for this act of delusion, they have produced the age of unbelief.

….

How have atheists managed to gaslight so many Americans? There are many reasons why, but the ones we are qualified to make sense of are rhetorical: How did a group of nonbelievers establish such an epistemic power over such a large number of Americans?  How did they establish credibility/authority? How have they swayed so many people to leave the church? There are various identifying marks that scholars have given to these departing groups: The NONE’s and the DONE’s.

Some of this persuasion comes in the form of personal testimony. Steven Weinberg ends his a lovely essay, “Without God,” explaining why he cannot believe in God with the confession, “Living without God isn’t easy. But its very difficulty offers one other consolation — that there is a certain honor, or perhaps just a grim satisfaction, in facing up to our condition without despair and without wishful thinking — with good humor, but without God.” The offer on the table that people are taking up is that life without God provides honor, dignity, a grim satisfaction. This seems a Esau-like bargain — a giving up of faith for the swill of atheist soup. This “grin and bear it” with a stiff upper lip seems a far distance from the hope that lives in the hearts of Christian believers.

Many atheists have managed to self-produce an aura of intelligence. The so-called “New Atheists” actually refer to themselves as the “Brights.” Smart people, in other words, no longer believe in God. This may be a reaction to the numbing anti-intellectualism of one form of Christian faith known as evangelicalism. In any event, smart people are presented as those with enough sense not to believe in God.

….

The atheists have an amazing self-confidence to insist that the secular creed has at last been proven: that a belief in a loving God is no longer possible. One of the ironies of the recent spate of books defending atheism is the confidence the “New Atheists” seem to have in knowing which God it is they are sure does not exist. The best-sellers in this genre of unbelief have been Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything; Sam Harris, The End of Faith; Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell; Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. One gets the impression that this type of atheist is so sure of victory that their only remaining task is to watch the ship of faith crash into the rocks and sink into the dark and stormy sea.

A claim of superior intelligence, self-confidence bordering on arrogance, and an easy dismissal of more than 2,000 years of Christian belief provide the flares of the gaslighting project of the atheists. In previous moments of a wave of atheism, Christian theologians have weathered the storms. Now, the invention of “gaslighting” — emotional proof and manipulation — seem to give an advantage to the atheists. A generation not interested in reality, facts, or truth can be easily led to follow politicians, preachers, or atheists.

Kennedy takes a cheap shot at atheists, wrongly lumping all unbelievers together. Kennedy’s words sound Evangelical, yet when I checked out his church’s website, I found that the church is an LGBTQ-affirming liberal church; the product of a merger between an American Baptist church and a United Church of Christ congregation. So what gives with his cheap, ill-informed swipe at atheists? Does he not know any atheists? Does he really think we are to blame for the rising unbelief in the United States?

Kennedy wrongly assumes that “New Atheists” — are they even a thing anymore? — speak for all atheists. They don’t, and they never have. Imagine Kennedy’s objection if I said Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Al Mohler, and Tom Ascol represented all Christians. Kennedy would be outraged and rightly chastise me for being ignorant about the depth and breadth of Christianity. This is exactly what he is doing when he says the Four Horsemen: Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens are the defacto representatives for atheism; as if there is even an “atheism” to represent.

Kennedy sees the alarming rise of the NONES and DONES and looks for reasons why this is happening. He concludes that atheists are to blame; that atheists are gaslighting our culture. (This leads me to think that Kenndy doesn’t understand what gaslighting really is.) According to Kennedy, the atheist worldview is swill — the slop given to hogs by farmers. Again, it seems that underneath Kennedy’s outward liberal persona lies Evangelicalism.

Kennedy doesn’t like that atheists offer a worldview rooted in reality, stripped of fanciful claims about salvation and Heaven. Why does this bother Kennedy so much? If Christianity is a superior worldview, why are people rejecting it, especially younger adults? Are atheists using myths, coercion, and fanciful claims to win over people to their cause? Of course not. We see life as it is. We don’t make promises we cannot keep or promises that have no basis in fact. Kennedy promises his flock bliss in the sweet by and by if they will but believe (and obey) in this life. Yet, people are no longer buying what Kennedy and other so-called men of God are selling. Why is that?

I suspect the main reason is that Christianity has failed to deliver on its promises. People are no longer willing to “trust” that the man in the pulpit is telling them the truth. Further, thanks to the Internet, people are learning that preachers don’t practice what they preach; that scores of ministers are arrested every year for sex crimes; that pastors say one thing from the pulpit and do another thing in the privacy of their homes. If Kennedy is looking for someone to blame for increasing unbelief, I suggest he look in the mirror. While atheism is increasing, most NONES and DONES are not atheists. They are people who look at organized Christianity and say “no thanks.”

The Internet has played a big part in the overturning of the tables in the Temple. For centuries preachers were gatekeepers of “truth.” People had nowhere else to turn. And then came the Internet. Christians could now fact-check their pastors or verify the veracity of their church experiences. What they found on the Internet didn’t line up with what they heard from the pulpit or saw in the lives of people who allegedly are followers of Jesus. Some of them found blogs authored by former Christians. I am one such ex-Evangelical. I have been blogging for fifteen years, telling my story to millions of people.

Why are people attracted to my writing? Am I serving up “swill” as Kenndy alleges? Am I pulling the wool over readers’ eyes? That’s for you to decide. I am just one man with a story to tell. I have no desire to make converts to atheism. I am content to tell my story and leave it at that. Sure, my critiques of Evangelicalism can be sharp, but there’s nothing subversive about them. I am content to write and leave it to readers to decide whether my words ring true.

Why did Kennedy write what he did? Did he think his words would effectively reach the NONES and DONES? If so, he might want to rethink that approach. Was his goal to goad atheists? Or maybe he’s a cleric trying to find ways to keep asses in the pews and dollars in the plates. Regardless of his motivation, he might want to consider how atheists could be his ally. Both Kennedy and atheists think Evangelicalism is causing material harm to our culture. Why not join together around a common cause? Further, Kennedy might want to actually talk with atheists about what they believe and why; about how they view religion and the world; what their wants, needs, and desires really are. As things stand, the only atheist Kennedy knows is a strawman.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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“Normal” is a Just a Setting on a Washing Machine

normal

Polly’s mom recently died. I always had a contentious relationship with my mother-in-law. She never wanted me to marry her daughter, and she went to great lengths to frustrate our dating relationship. It was not until Polly told her mother we were getting married with or without her blessing that she grudgingly gave in and helped Polly plan our wedding. We’ve been married for almost forty-five years. Polly’s mom was certain that marrying someone from a divorced family led to divorce. I assume, by now, we have put that bit of nonsense to rest. Over the years, Polly and I butted heads with her mom over how many children we planned to have, how we raised our children, ministerial moves, choices of secular employment, how we celebrated Christmas, and a host of other things.

In 2004-2005, we lived in Newark, Ohio, blocks away from Polly’s parents. Our plan was to live there and care for them as they got older. Unfortunately, they made it clear that our help wasn’t needed. Message received. We returned to northwest Ohio so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. Five years ago, Polly’s dad (who died in November 2020) had botched hip replacement surgery that left him crippled. We offered to move them up here so we could help care for them. Our offer was rebuffed. Polly’s mom told her that they couldn’t move because their church — the Newark Baptist Temple — was very important to them. This sentiment is strange considering that their church pretty much ignored them since Dad’s hip surgery. Out of sight, out of mind.

As readers are aware, Mom made sure that the Gerencser family had nothing to do with her personal affairs and funeral. Mom’s behavior hurt her devoted daughter beyond measure. Why would she do these things? Our atheism. That’s the reason she gave us the last time we talked to her face to face. (Which was odd since she never, ever, not one time talked to us about our beliefs.) We, of course, respected her wishes. Her life, her choices, end of story.

I realize that if Polly had married a “normal” Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher boy things might have been different. Instead, Polly married a “bad boy”; a man who has always marched to the beat of his own drum; a man who has rarely been afraid to make hard, controversial decisions. In Mom’s eyes, I was an “odd duck”; I was “different.” Why couldn’t I have been like other IFB preachers? You know, like Polly’s Dad, Uncle, and cousins? Why couldn’t I have kept the faith? You see, the underlying issue is my unwillingness to hew to IFB belief. We left the IFB church movement years before we deconverted. Polly’s mom was upset with me numerous times during my years in the ministry; upset over decisions such as: me not wearing the IFB preacher uniform (white shirt, tie, and suit), letting Polly wear pants, allowing my children to listen to Christian rock, not preaching from behind a pulpit, not sending my children to a Christian college, removing the name “Baptist” from our church name, using praise and worship music during church services, and not using the KJV when I preached, to name a few. Nothing was as bad, though, as me leaving the ministry in 2005 and Polly and I walking away from Christianity in 2008. I suspect Mom believed that if I were out of the picture, Polly would come running back to Jesus and the family religion. Little did she know how independent her daughter really iwas and how anti-religion she has become. She may not be as vocal as her husband, but Polly has no use for anything associated with organized religion. She is, in every way, her own woman. The days when Bruce, the IFB Patriarch, ruled the home are long gone. Most of all, Mom blamed me for what our children have become. According to her, I  RUINED them! Actually, what I really did was set them free. Each of them is free to be whoever and whatever he or she wants to be. Yes, to a person each has abandoned IFB/Evangelical Christianity, and some don’t believe in gods at all. Yes, they have abandoned the social strictures of their Fundamentalist youth. OMG! They drink beer, cuss, go to movies, watch R-rated programs, and have sex outside of marriage. I can don’t imagine what Mom would have thought had we told her our youngest son is gay. In Mom’s eyes, my children (who are grown-ass adults in their thirties and forties) were “worldly,” and it is all MY fault. I was, after all, in her IFB worldview, the head of the home, even though all my children are out on their own with families, well-paying jobs, and own their homes. Mom might have lamented their worldliness, but I am quite proud of who and what ALL my children have become.

It’s Thanksgiving 2005. We are living in Bryan, Ohio, five miles from where we now live. Polly’s parents came to our home to join us for the day. Mom, as she often did, blew into our home like a tornado, moving furniture and changing meal preparations. It was noticeable to me that Polly was quite stressed by her mom’s behavior. She, however, said nothing. As the day wore on, I became increasingly agitated by Mom’s behavior, so much so that I reminded her that she was a guest in our home and asked her to please STOP micromanaging everything. Well, that went over well. Mom and Dad didn’t stay long that day. A day or so later, Mom called to apologize. During our conversation, she said, “Bruce, we have always accepted you. We knew you were ‘different.'”

Different? Sure, but does that make a bad husband, father, grandfather, or person? Since when is being different a bad thing? My mother had many faults, but she taught me to think for myself and be my own person. I carried her teachings into my life and they continue with me to this day. I refuse to follow the well-trodden path. I refuse to do something just because everyone is doing it. I choose, instead, to walk my own path, even if that means I am walking alone. I realize that Mom went to the grave saddened by what had become of her daughter, her son-in-law, and her grandchildren. Instead of seeing that we were happy and blessed, all Mom could see was our ungodly disobedience and lack of faith. Instead of seeing what awesome children and grandchildren we had, all she saw was their faithlessness and worldliness. Her religion kept her from truly embracing and enjoying our family. In mom’s world, the wash can only be cleaned if the washing machine is set to “normal” and Tide is used for detergent.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Leonard Eley Indicted on Sex Crime Charges

pastor leonard eley

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.

Leonard Eley, pastor of Storm Shelter Ministries in Laurel, Delaware, stands accused of soliciting nude photos from a runaway child.

WHYY reports:

A Delaware pastor allegedly paid a runaway child for several nude photos of herself,  and authorities suspect he may have done the same with other minors.

Leonard Eley, 62, who heads Storm Shelter Ministries on U.S. 13 in the Sussex County town of Laurel, used $200 of church funds to pay the child electronically through CashApp, and paid her cell phone bill, authorities said in court records. The child, whose age was not disclosed, was a former member of the church, police said.

Only one alleged victim is specified in Eley’s arrest affidavit and indictment but Mat Marshall of the Attorney General’s Office said that based on interviews with witnesses, authorities suspect there are more victims.

Eley faces charges of sexual solicitation of a minor, two counts of possession of child pornography, and theft by false pretenses.

Laurel police began investigating in late July after calls to hotlines run by the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Division of Family Services that reported a child was possibly “being sexually trafficked.”

The pastor was arrested then just on the solicitation charge, and released on a $30,000 secured bond. A Sussex County grand jury indicted Eley on all four charges on Nov. 28, and this week authorities announced the alleged crimes in a news release.

….

In one exchange, Eley told the girl she “has too much clothes on in one picture,’’ and asked her to remove some and send another picture. He added that he “is sending $50 on CashApp,” the detective wrote.

In another text exchange, Eley asked her to do the same thing, promised to send $150 this time, and that “no one will ever see the pictures but him,’’ the affidavit said.

Eley also asked her numerous times to “delete the messages” between them, Whitehouse wrote.

The child told authorities she did what he asked, and received $200, Whitehouse wrote, adding that he “observed CashApp receipts” sent from Eley to the child.

The indictment said the money came from “church donations made to the Storm Shelter Ministries CashApp Account.”

WHYY News reached Eley by phone Wednesday, but in response to queries, the pastor said “no” three times and then hung up.

Whitehouse wrote in the arrest affidavit that “pastor eley” was listed as a contact in the girl’s cell phone, and the number matched Eley’s number.

The girl’s phone also included a “selfie” photo sent from Eley’s number that matched his driver’s license picture, Whitehouse wrote.

Whitehouse reviewed several texts between Eley and the child, the affidavit said.

Ministry Watch adds:

When detectives confronted him, police said Eley confessed to asking and paying for the pictures. He told police he had PTSD from a traumatic brain injury he encountered in the military. He cited his PTSD as the reason he requested the pictures. Police said they captured Eley’s confession on a body cam.

Detectives said Eley instructed the victim several times to delete the conversations between them and made other lewd statements to her.

Storm Shelter Ministries was incorporated in September 2005, but its listed status is “unknown,” according to Bizapedia. The church’s Facebook page is currently unavailable.

The child is the only victim mentioned in Eley’s arrest affidavit and indictment, but based on interviews with witnesses, authorities believe there are more.

The Delaware DOJ continues seeking more information from the public and is asking for help identifying more victims.

Authorities released Eley from custody on a $30,000 secured bond. In November, a Sussex County grand jury indicted Eley on all four charges.

Eley remains out on bond as he awaits his court date. He has not entered a plea yet.

His arraignment will be in early January.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Updated: Black Collar Crime: Anglican Lay Pastor Mark Rivera Convicted of Sexual Assault

pastor mark rivera

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.

Mark Rivera, a lay pastor at Christ Our Light Anglican in Big Rock, Illinois — an Anglican Church affiliated with the Anglican Diocese of the Upper Midwest — was charged earlier this year with two felony counts of criminal sexual assault.

The Religion News Service reported at the time:

A former lay pastor in a conservative Anglican denomination was charged Wednesday (Dec. 29) with two felony counts of criminal sexual assault in the Kane County, Illinois, circuit court. The charges come a year after Joanna Rudenborg reported Mark Rivera, her former neighbor, to Kane County police, accusing him of raping her in 2018 and again in 2020. 

According to Pat Gengler, undersheriff at Kane County, bail was set at $50,000 and Rivera was released after a hearing. “He’s on home monitoring, so he does have a GPS bracelet which greatly restricts his movements,” said Gengler.

….

“I’m glad he was finally charged and the prosecution is happening,” said Rudenborg. “It’s certainly validating that the state looked at the evidence and said, this is a strong case worth pursuing. … I hope that my story being taken seriously by the authorities will help other people take other victims’ stories more seriously.”

….

Rivera is also being prosecuted on charges of felony sexual assault and predatory abuse of a victim under 13 years of age, and at least eight others have made allegations of abuse by Rivera, including child sexual abuse, grooming, rape and assault.

Rivera was a lay minister at Christ Our Light Anglican, an ACNA church plant in Big Rock, Illinois, from 2013 to 2019. He was also a volunteer leader at Church of the Resurrection — the headquarters of the Upper Midwest Diocese — in Wheaton, Illinois, from the mid-1990s until 2013.

On Aug. 28, ACNA announced the members of a Provincial Response Team that would oversee an investigation into the diocese’s handling of the allegations. The denomination was not able to respond to a request for comment by the time of publication, but according to an email sent from the Provincial Response Team to Rudenborg on Nov. 30 and shown to Religion News Service, the group was “ready to begin the initial vetting process to narrow down the list” of investigative firms. That list would then be voted on by both survivors and members of the Provincial Response Team. On Twitter, Rudenborg expressed frustration at the team’s lack of action.

“At this point, I’m safe from Mark, I’m not in any direct danger, so really what I want is for him to not be able to harm anyone else,” Rudenborg told RNS. “The only way we can be sure that that’s going to happen is if he goes back into custody. So it’s kind of still a waiting game.”

Last week, Rivera was found guilty of two counts of felony predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and three felony counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on February 10.

The Daily Herald reports:

Mark Rivera, 49, of Winfield was found guilty of two counts of felony predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and three felony counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on Feb. 10.

Rivera was a lay pastor at the Anglican Church of North America in Big Rock when he sexually assaulted a child under the age of 13 multiple times between June 2018 and May 2019, according to a news release from the Kane County state’s attorney’s office. The abuse was reported to authorities after the victim told her mother.

“Mr. Rivera is a predator who used his position of respectability and stature in a church and within the community to prey on this child with no consideration for the trauma he caused,” Kane County Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Rodgers said. “The victim showed great courage in telling her mother about his criminal conduct, in preparing for this trial and in facing him in court.”

Rivera will have to register for life as a sexual offender, authorities said. He remains in custody at the Kane County jail on $500,000 bail.

After Rivera’s arrest, it came to light that he allegedly molested other children. A damning third-party report was revealed in October 2022, calling into question the Anglican denomination’s culpability in Rivera’s crimes.

Ministry Watch reported:

A long-awaited third-party report on sexual abuse reveals that leaders in an Anglican Church in North America diocese failed to act on tips about sexual misconduct and abuse and defended an alleged abuser as innocent while questioning reported survivors’ credibility.

The probe into events in the Upper Midwest Diocese, conducted by the investigative firm Husch Blackwell, also found that an ACNA priest did not report abuse by a lay pastor to the Department of Child and Family Services, claiming a church lawyer told him he was exempt from mandatory reporting laws, and that Bishop Stewart Ruch III and others allowed a church volunteer to have contact with teenagers after he had lost his teaching job for inappropriate behavior with students.

As serious as the report’s findings are, the investigation went forward without hearing from at least five alleged survivors of abuse who refused to participate over concerns about transparency.

The Upper Midwest Diocese in the ACNA—a small denomination formed by a 2009 split with the Episcopal Church over its LGBTQ-affirming policies—has been roiled since 2019 by allegations that Mark Rivera, a former lay pastor in the diocese known for his charisma and physical affection, had sexually abused young people he had met through Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois, and Christ Our Light Anglican Church in Big Rock, Illinois.

….

At least 10 individuals have made sexual abuse or sexual misconduct allegations against Rivera, who is now on trial in Kane County, Illinois, on charges of felony sexual assault and predatory abuse of a victim under 13 years of age. Rivera also faces charges for two felony counts of criminal sexual assault of a separate alleged adult victim. 

Ruch is on leave after admitting he made serious mistakes in handling the abuse allegations against Rivera, including failing to initially tell members of the Upper Midwest Diocese about those allegations.

ACNA spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment. 

Four years earlier, in 2015, several leaders became aware that a lay leader at Christ Our Light Anglican, Chris Lapeyre, had been fired from a high school teaching position that year over concerns about a relationship with a female student, according to the report. 

The Rev. Rand York, a priest at the church, told investigators he knew that Lapeyre had lost his job and why but allowed Lapeyre to stay in leadership, saying that he “was not concerned about Lapeyre interacting with young people at COLA because Lapeyre had three daughters of his own.”

Ruch, bishop of the diocese, reportedly told investigators that he also knew that Lapeyre had been fired over a “boundary crossing” issue but took no action. Lapeyre said his termination didn’t limit his leadership opportunities at either Christ Our Light Anglican or Church of the Resurrection, the diocesan headquarters in Wheaton.

The report states that Lapeyre, a friend of Rivera’s, told investigators he was aware of sexual misconduct by Rivera involving an adult woman in 2018 but did not tell anyone about it until 2020.

The report goes on to say that Ruch and York did not attempt to learn more about additional abuse allegations against Rivera made known to them in 2019, and Ruch did not consider reaching out to parents of at-risk teens who might have been vulnerable to abuse by Rivera.

Released online late Tuesday evening (Sept. 27), the report follows a monthslong investigation that was contentious from the start due to the objections from some of Rivera’s accusers.

“I have no reason to believe that anything about this investigation is independent,” said Cherin Marie when the investigation was announced in January. Cherin Marie, whose then-9-year-old daughter reported being sexually abused by Rivera in May 2019, has asked that her last name not be used to protect her family’s privacy.

Joanna Rudenborg, who says she was abused by Rivera, too, tweeted on Sept. 17 about her skepticism toward the anticipated report: “(T)he investigation has never been about justice or healing for survivors. It has been first and foremost about doing damage control.”

Survivors and advocates affiliated with ACNAtoo, an anti-abuse advocacy group, have publicly criticized the report on social media for including explicit details about a minor’s sexual abuse without the child’s consent. 

“The minor is one of multiple survivors of Mark Rivera’s sexual assault that chose not to participate in the investigation because it was obvious that the investigation was not safe,” Abbi Nye, an ACNAtoo advocate, tweeted on Friday morning. “They were right.”

Members of ACNAtoo say that while many of them reached out to ACNA leaders days ago asking them to redact the minor’s details, the report remains online, unedited. 

“The account of the young girl’s abuse in the report is all hearsay, from two leaders who are implicated in mishandling her abuse,” Nye told RNS. 

Investigators were asked to gather information about how ACNA leaders handled abuse allegations—but were barred from recommending charges or punishments.

“We were charged with gathering evidence regarding such issues and reporting the information collected, but we were explicitly directed not to render any legal determinations, evaluate or opine about any governance structure issues, or seek to address whether any discipline is warranted,” the firm wrote in its report.

….

The Rev. Gina Roes and Christen Price, an ordained deacon and attorney, respectively, told Religion News Service that the report is difficult to evaluate, given the severe limitations of its scope. Both women resigned in January from the Provincial Response Team originally charged with overseeing the investigations, claiming its process “never felt survivor-centered.” 

“It sort of defeats the purpose of having an investigation if there are no conclusions that can be made from the report,” said Roes, pointing to the report’s lack of analysis. “It leaves it in the hands of the ACNA and the diocese to interpret and characterize those facts.”

When asked about next steps, Roes and Price said denominational leaders who were excluded from the report due to its diocesan scope should be investigated. “There needs to be an investigation of the province,” said Price, referring to ACNA. 

In interviews with Husch Blackwell, Ruch admitted the diocese lacked protocols for responding to sexual misconduct allegations and left the matter largely for law enforcement to pursue.

But the report identifies another obstacle to reporting abuse: In notes and emails, church officials repeatedly expressed their belief in Rivera’s innocence.

“While I believe this entire accusation to be spurious (something has happened to this girl, but Mark is not the culprit), I fear however that this will spell the end of Christ Our Light,” York reportedly wrote in a May 20, 2019, email. “I believe Mark to be innocent. I would be stunned to find anything untoward with regard to his actions,” he wrote in another email days later.

Charles Philbrick, the church lawyer who reportedly advised York he wasn’t obligated to report the allegations, told Husch Blackwell he found the child’s allegations “hard to believe.” (The report says York was investigated by DCFS for failing to report, but nothing seems to have come from the investigation.) Philbrick said he gave Rivera a referral to a defense attorney, but only, he told investigators, out of his ethical obligation as an attorney, not in his capacity as chancellor, or church legal officer. 

As you can see, what seemed important to denomination officials was protecting the “good” name of their sect and the churches in question. I suspect the “truth” has yet to be revealed as far as the extent of Rivera’s sexual misconduct is concerned. Heads should roll, but it is unlikely that they will. They will bury Rivera’s proverbial body, lament his fall from grace( he was such a nice guy), and move on. Left behind are Rivera’s victims. I hope the victims sue.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Black Collar Crime: Pastor Isaac Luna Valencia Accused of Sexually Molesting Minor Church Girl

Isaac Luna Valencia

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.

Isaac Luna-Valencia, pastor of an unnamed church in Las Vegas, Nevada, stands accused of sexually molesting a minor church girl.

Channel 8 reports:

A Las Vegas pastor has been accused of molesting a girl under the age of 14 during a boat trip to Lake Mohave, according to the arrest report.

Isaac Luna-Valencia, 48, is facing charges of two counts of lewdness with a child under the age of 14 and kidnapping of a minor.

On Dec. 5 the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department received a report from Child Protective Services that a child had disclosed that she was molested by her church pastor during a boat trip to Lake Mohave in June 2021, according to the arrest report.

In an interview with police, the victim said that on June 5, 2021, she went on a boat outing with Luna and several other people. After a couple of hours, everyone got off the boat and went to the shore. Lune and the victim were the only ones who stayed on the boat.

While on the water, Luna called the victim over to the side of the boat that was opposite the shoreline, causing the boat to conceal them both from others.

According to the arrest report, the victim said that his request made her feel hesitant and “weird” because she had never felt comfortable around Luna. However, she did what he asked and went over to him.

When the victim got close to Luna, she told police that he grabbed her causing her back to be against his chest and stomach. He then wrapped his arms around her and proceeded to molest her, the arrest report said.

The victim told police that she never stopped trying to break his grip and that he eventually let her go and pretended that nothing happened, police said.

Later that day, the victim was jumping off of the boat with two other people causing something “important” to fall off. At the end of the day, Luna realized that the item was missing and asked for someone to go back out to the lake with him to find it.

The victim was told to go with Luna despite saying she did not want to, the report said. Luna took the victim back out to the lake and stopped in between a couple of “mountains.”

While the victim was looking for the item, Luna stood up and came behind her. He whispered in her ear that she was the daughter that he “wished he had” or “never had”, the arrest report said.

According to police, the victim said that she felt that her uneasiness caused Luna to tighten his grip around her.

After a couple of minutes, Luna took a “quick” look around for the missing item and then went back to the others. The victim told police that she felt uncomfortable because he did not take much of an effort to look for the missing item.

According to the arrest report, the victim told multiple people about the incident including other members of the church and her legal guardian.

The victim told her legal guardian about the incident in September 2022. The legal guardian held a meeting and decided that the truth would come out and that they would get a sign from God that would cause her to truly believe the victim, the arrest report said.

On Dec. 2, a family friend who grew up with the victim found out about the incident. When he asked the victim’s legal guardian why he was not told sooner, she said that she believed they could figure the situation out on their own, the report said.

According to police, the guardian said that in the previous meeting, they concluded that there was no evidence that the molestation happened and they blamed the victim for not pulling out her phone to record Luna abusing her.

She also said that Luna was a “loveable guy”. When asked what solution they came up with at the meeting, she said that they decided that if it happened again, happened to anyone else, or “if there’s a sign from God,” they will know it happened for sure.

….

The family friend of the victim filed a report to CPS.

Why is the church unnamed? It sure sounds like this church is NOT a safe place for minors to be.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The Age of Consent

guest post

A Guest Post by Bob who blogs at Some Questions for God.

This post is the result of a short email encounter that I had with a Church of Christ minister after I challenged him to give me a biblical pronouncement against pedophilia – to which – he immediately responded . . .”you seriously defending pedophilia?” – to which – I immediately responded . . .”No, I am seriously asking you to tell me what the bible (God) has to say about pedophilia”  — to which the Church of Christ minister had nothing to say.

My request to him was, ” . . . give me the exact age at which a child is no longer a child – and give it to me from your “Holy Book” where God lays down the law as to the age a child should be in order to be old enough to marry — old enough to have sex.”

Pedophilia is defined as sexual feelings directed toward a child.  I guess we can’t pass laws against what a person “feels,” but once they act on those feelings, those acts should rightly be considered unlawful and immoral violations against a child, as prescribed by the society(s) that we live in. I do not subscribe to the notion that pedophilia is a “sin” (and it looks like a lot of Christian ministers don’t either, based on the number of them who sexually assault children in their own congregations). “Sin” is a religious term used to control the ignorant masses.

We know that the God of the Bible is concerned with the eating of shellfish, the mixing of fabrics, as well as working on the “Sabbath”, but what about a 10-year-old girl – show me in the bible where God is concerned for her?

Since so many Christian enthusiasts claim that the Bible is the source book for moral standards, I just want to know where God lays down the laws as to the age children should be before they are old enough to marry – old enough to have sex?

If anything, it seems that the God of the Bible actually approves of pedophilia:

And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Numbers 31:15-18)

Do I need to explain these verses, or can you, dear reader, just let your imagination take over and picture what was going to happen to these poor girls, female children, virgins, in the hands of these Hebrew soldiers, at the command of the Lord’s representative, Moses.

From the Wikipedia page on Age of Consent: In traditional societies, the age of consent for a sexual union was a matter for the family to decide, or a tribal custom. In most cases, this coincided with signs of puberty, menstruation for a woman, and pubic hair for a man.

The first recorded age-of-consent law dates from 1275 in England; as part of its provisions on rape, the Statute of Westminster 1275 made it a misdemeanor to “ravish” a “maiden within age,” whether with or without her consent. The phrase “within age” was later interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke (England, 17th century) as meaning the age of marriage, which at the time was twelve years of age.

The American colonies followed the English tradition, and the law was more of a guide. For example, Mary Hathaway (Virginia, 1689) was only nine when she was married to William Williams. Sir Edward Coke “made it clear that the marriage of girls under 12 was normal, and the age at which a girl who was a wife was eligible for a dower from her husband’s estate was 9 even though her husband be only four years old.”

In 17th-century Spain an official legal document of the central council of the Inquisition of Madrid (The Suprema) written in 1614 stated that “adults” were then considered to be “women over twelve and men over fourteen”.

In the 16th century, a small number of Italian and German states determined the minimum age for sexual intercourse for girls, setting it at twelve years. Towards the end of the 18th century, other European countries also began to enact similar laws. The first French Constitution of 1791 established the minimum age at eleven years. Portugal, Spain, Denmark, and the Swiss cantons initially set the minimum age at ten to twelve years.

Age of consent laws were, historically, difficult to follow and enforce: legal norms based on age were not, in general, common until the 19th century, because clear proof of exact age and precise date of birth were often unavailable.

In the USA the age of consent has been all over the place – In 1895 the state of Delaware’s age of consent was 7 years old.

My great-grandmother was married at age 15 in 1891. 

My great, great, great grandmother was married at age 12 in 1841.

Now that I think about it, perhaps it’s a good thing that the bible doesn’t offer any guidance on the age of consent, because if it did, in the US we would likely have 13-year-old girls forced to marry 40-year-old preachers.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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Bruce Gerencser