In April of 1972, my parents divorced. I was fourteen years old. In the fall of that year, my dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a baby and my mom married her first cousin — a recent parolee from Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. In early 1973, Dad auctioned off our household goods, and in the dark of night — hoping to avoid debt collectors — moved us across country from Findlay, Ohio to Tucson, Arizona. Five months later, I moved back to Findlay so I could attend eleventh grade at Findlay High School. In late May 1974, I returned home to Bryan, Ohio to live with my mom. By then, Mom’s second husband had committed suicide and she had a new man. Mom always had a new man. Her new beau was a man by the name of Chuck Jones.
Chuck was a lifelong resident of Bryan, Ohio. I don’t know how he and Mom met, but by the time I moved back to Bryan, he was Mom’s boyfriend. She would spend days on end at Chuck’s father’s rundown shack on the north side of town, leaving her children to fend for themselves. Chuck’s father was one of the town drunks, and as you shall learn in this story, so was his son. In November of 1974, Mom had another nervous breakdown. She spent the next six months or so at the Toledo State Mental Hospital. While there she would receive electroshock therapy (now known as electroconvulsive therapy — ECT).
After finding out his children had been living without parental supervision — as if we had any such supervision since their divorce — Dad came from Arizona, picked us up, and returned us to his home in Sierra Vista. I would live there until fall of 1975. After breaking up with my girlfriend — my first serious, I want to marry you, relationship — I left my car for Dad to sell (which he quickly did and pocketed the money), packed up my meager belongings, and rode a Greyhound bus back to Bryan. By then, Mom had married Chuck, and they had bought a new mobile home, putting it in a trailer park on US 6, between Bryan and Edgerton (where Manufactured Housing Enterprises’ manufacturing facility sits today.)
Chuck had a split personality, as is common among alcoholics. When somewhat sober, he was a decent enough man. He was a union journeyman meat cutter for Kroger in Fort Wayne. He and I weren’t close, but when he wasn’t drunk we got along well enough to make Mom happy. I wasn’t home much. I spent my daytime hours working as the dairy manager for Food Giant in Bryan. Evenings and weekends, I was either attending church or running around with my friends. On a few occasions, Chuck and I would go fishing for catfish in the St. Joe, a nearby river.
Chuck drank from the time he got up until he went to bed. He was a Pabst Blue Ribbon man. He was what you would call a functional drunk. There were times, however, when Chuck went from a tolerable drunk to a mean, nasty, violent boozer. Chuck abused my mom (physically and psychologically), and there were times she feared for her life.
One day, Chuck went on a rampage, verbally and physically abusing my mom. I was home at the time, and having had enough of his bullshit, I told him to stop. I thought at the time, that if I needed to — all 160 pounds of me — I would kick his ass and put an end to the abuse of my mother. I was angry — I mean redheaded, can’t-see-straight angry. While I blamed Mom for allowing such a degenerate like Chuck in her life, I wasn’t going to stand by and do nothing while he abused her.
Chuck briefly stumbled out of the living room down the hallway to their bedroom. When he returned he was brandishing a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver. He continued his screaming fit, pointing the gun at Mom and me. By this time, Mom was crying, worried that Chuck was going to kill us. Not me. I was beyond fear. Chuck cocked the hammer on the revolver, hoping to strike fear in my heart. Instead, I said to him, Go ahead! Stupid, I know, but I was eighteen and filled with righteous indignation. Fortunately, calling Chuck’s bluff was enough to back him up and he soon retreated to the bedroom.
Several days later, at the behest of my mother, Jack Smith, pastor of Eastland Baptist Church in Bryan, and an evangelist stopped by to “help” Chuck with his alcohol problem. What Chuck needed, said these clueless preachers, was Jesus. If he would just ask Jesus to save him, all would be well. I have no idea if Chuck got “saved,” but the only salvation the rest of us found was to get away from Chuck. My younger sister, age fifteen, got pregnant and married her baby’s father. I left to train for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. By the time I returned home for the summer (1977), Mom had thrown Chuck out of the house and divorced him.
Chuck lived with his dad for a time and then moved into his late mother’s house in Bryan. On November 19, 2009 Chuck died at the age of seventy. His obituary stated:
Charles E. ‘Chuck” Jones, 70 years, of Bryan, died Thursday, November 19, 2009 at the University of Toledo Medical Center, Toledo, Ohio. Chuck was born February 22, 1939 to Ewell “Pete” and Zelma (Sanders) Jones in Cloverport, Kentucky. He was an Army veteran. Chuck was a meat cutter, working for several area stores, including Kroger Company while living in Indiana and Harger Meats in Bryan, Ohio. Chuck obtained his pilot’s license at the age of 17. He enjoyed building airplanes that he then sold. He was an avid fisherman, but he also enjoyed gardening and playing on the computer. Preceded in death by his parents, half-brother, Donald Heston and sister, Irene Jones, he is survived by his aunt Dorothy Carver of Bryan and numerous cousins. Graveside funeral services will be held at 3:00 p.m. Saturday, November 21, 2009 at Farmer Cemetery with Pastor Gary Keisling officiating. There will be no public visitation.
Absent from this telling of his life was his addiction to alcohol and the great harm it caused to a woman who loved him. I shall never forget Chuck Jones. On the day I read his obituary in the local paper I said to myself, Good riddance, you piece of shit. Think I am being too harsh? Consider this: There are things Chuck did to my mom sexually, that to this day I am too ashamed to mention. Evil stuff. He was a violent, abusive man, and I have no problem saying that the world is better off without him in it. Now that I no longer have to love people because Jesus says I must, I am free to speak my mind on the people who have passed through my life.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.
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These days, I enjoy drinking an occasional glass of wine, shot of whisky, or a variety of other concoctions containing alcohol. However, enjoying the fruits and grains of God’s Creation® has not always been my habit. Being raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church meant that I heard countless sermons on the evils of alcohol. My parents didn’t drink and neither did I. I was almost forty-five years old before I drank alcohol, and then I only did it because I thought it might help with my pain. (It didn’t. I quickly learned that I have to drink a lot of alcohol before I feel its effects.) It has only been since I left Christianity that I have felt the freedom to drink alcohol at home and socially.
As a youth, the frequent sermons I heard about the dangers of drinking alcohol made a deep psychological impression on me. How could it not? Week after week, month after month, and year after year, the pastors and youth directors of the churches I attended made sure that congregants knew that drinking alcohol would lead a person straight to hell. As with many forbidden behaviors, preachers used violent, bloody, extreme stories to illustrate their anti-booze sermons, not-so-subtly reminding us that if we touched one drop of the Devil’s brew, we too could face such calamities and even death.
How did these men of God justify their anti-alcohol crusading on a Biblical basis?
Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. (Proverbs 20:1)
Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! (Isaiah 5:11)
Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:21)
Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again. (Proverbs 23:29-35)
It is not for kings [Donald Trump], O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. (Proverbs 31:4,5)
But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. (Isaiah 28:7)
For much of my life, these verses were sufficient to keep me from drinking alcohol. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I took another look at what the Bible actually said about alcohol. What I found was that the preachers of my youth, though well-intentioned, were misusing what the Bible said to advance a moralistic code of conduct. To do so, they only focused on Bible verses that propped up their teetotaling views. I never heard sermons quoting these verses:
Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. (Ecclesiastes 9:7)
The Lord hath sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength, Surely I will no more give thy corn to be meat for thine enemies; and the sons of the stranger shall not drink thy wine, for the which thou hast laboured:But they that have gathered it shall eat it, and praise the Lord; and they that have brought it together shall drink it in the courts of my holiness. (Isaiah 62:8,9)
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart. (Psalm 104:14,15)
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Isaiah 55:1)
And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household. (Deuteronomy 14:26)
Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. (Proverbs 31:6,7)
As I delved into the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words used for wine and strong drink, I concluded that it was impossible to support abstinence from alcohol from the Bible. While the Bible clearly condemns drunkenness, it does not forbid drinking alcohol in moderation; moderation being a word rarely used in IFB circles.
The text that finally convinced me that it was okay for people to drink alcohol in moderation was John 2:1-11 — the story where Jesus turned water into wine:
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
In John 2, we have Jesus attending a wedding at Cana — likely the wedding of someone he knew or a family member. Fermented wine drinking was a normal, everyday part of Jewish life in first century Palestine. It is not unreasonable to think that Jesus regularly drank wine. Attempts by Evangelicals to turn Jesus into a Welch’s-grape-juice-drinking temperance crusader are ludicrous and not supported by the Biblical text. No one who has studied this issues thinks that the wine served at this wedding was non-alcoholic. What sealed the deal for me the people at the wedding called Jesus’ wine creation good wine. Would first century Jews consider non-alcoholic wine “good” wine? Of course not. There is only one conclusion that an honest seeker of truth can come to: Jesus drank alcoholic wine and turned water into alcoholic wine so others could drink it.
Some Evangelical teetotalers, knowing that the Biblical text does NOT condemn moderate alcohol drinking, turn to other arguments in their attempts to keep people from enjoying beer, wine, and spirits. Here are a few of the arguments I have heard over the years:
The wine and strong drink in Bible times had less alcohol content. One notable preacher said that the alcohol content was likely one percent! Imagine how much one-percent wine someone would have to drink to, according to Solomon in Ecclesiastes, feel merry in heart.
Drinking alcohol could cause us to make poor decisions or sin against God, thus it is better to abstain than to put ourselves in danger of sinning. Neither give place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:27)
Being seen in public buying or drinking alcohol could cause people to think poorly of us, even causing sinners to reject Christianity. Since having a good testimony is paramount, the best thing to do is to never buy or drink beer, wine, or spirits. Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
The most common argument used to justify abstinence was the stumbling brother argument. The thinking goes something like this: Christians should never do anything that could cause a fellow believer to stumble and fall into sin. Better to refrain from doing something than to be the reason a weak Christian ends up at the bar on Friday night downing shots of whisky. The Biblical justification for this line of thinking is found in Romans 14:17-21:
For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.1 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
Evangelical churches often have numerous members who were alcoholics before Jesus (or AA) “saved” them. According to the stumbling brother argument, because some church members were alcoholics before they were saved, fellow Christians should go out of their way to not do anything that would cause them to go back to their former way of life. This line of thinking suggests that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not enough to keep some Christians from returning to a life of sin, so everyone else must be punished for their weakness. Of course, this line of thinking is absurd. Christians, along with the rest of humanity, can be addicted to all sorts of behaviors. Ever notice how fat many Evangelical — especially Baptist — preachers there are? I often kidded church members that gluttony is the only sin permitted in the Baptist church. If helping fellow Christians to avoid stumbling into sin is the goal, shouldn’t churches stop having fellowship dinners? Shouldn’t church women wear burqas so former porn addicts, adulterers, and fornicators aren’t tempted to return to their former ways of life? Shouldn’t Christians voluntarily get rid of their televisions, lest those who can’t control their viewing of “sinful” things on the Hellivsion® are tempted to watch HBO?
See how silly this kind of thinking is? Besides, it robs people of being responsible for their own behavior. This is little more than what I call Flip Wilson thinking — the DEVIL made me do it. Evangelicalism turns people into hapless, pathetic creatures who go through life fearing that sin and destruction are only a decision away. As a result, Evangelicals miss out on much of what non-Evangelicals and unbelievers consider a normal part of life. We only have one life and it will soon be past. Shouldn’t we enjoy it while we can? Instead of condemning the drinking of alcohol, perhaps Evangelicals should practice moderation and teach their children how to drink in a responsible way. Much like with sex, Evangelicals turn alcohol drinking into a larger-than-life demon that will destroy lives unless it is avoided at all costs. Yes, for some drinking alcohol can and does cause harm, but then virtually anything can cause harm when in used in excess. Evangelical parents are so obsessed with their children avoiding the world and its supposedly negative influences that they fail to train them how to make thoughtful, responsible decisions. Just Say NO becomes the mantra to live by, but as most worldlings know, such a black-and-white view of the world rarely works. in fact, such thinking actually makes it more likely for Christian teens and young adults to get caught up in “sinful” behaviors when they are away from the ever-watchful eyes of their preachers and parents or out on their own at college. Instead of prohibition, perhaps teaching responsible drinking is the right path to maturity. Doing this, of course, means ignoring the Bible — or at least certain verses anyway.
Today, our home sports a well-stocked liquor cabinet. Polly and I are free to drink whenever we want, even to excess. Channeling the ghosts of hippies past, we subscribe to the notion, if it feels good, do it (with the caveat that our behavior does not harm anyone). We seldom drink in public, and when we do it is rarely more than a drink or two. Our children are lustful imbibers of the fruit of the vines and grains of the field, but like their parents, they never drive an automobile after drinking alcohol (unless the requisite time necessary for the physical influence of the alcohol has passed). Most often, Polly and I drink at home, content to drink a few glasses of wine on the weekend. Neither of us is a beer drinker, thought Polly has of late, thanks to our oldest sons, found a few beers she likes. I tend to like hard liquor, Polly doesn’t. Neither of us has been drunk, though I have seen Polly quite happy a time or to. While our drinking of alcohol saddens Polly’s IFB parents, we no longer hide the bottles when they are around. Drinking alcohol is a part of our lives now, and we see no reason to hide our “sin” from anyone. When our family gathers together for special events, beer and/or wine are part of the festivities. On those occasions when attendees drink more than they should, they always leave our home driven by someone not under the influence of Satan’s deadly elixir.
The overarching rule of our lives is that we only get one opportunity to live, so we might as well enjoy our short time on earth. For many people, drinking alcohol is a part of them enjoying life. For others, it is not. Live and let live, each to his own — clichés to be sure, but they do reflect how Polly and I view the behavior of others. As long as someone’s behavior is not causing harm to himself or others, it is none of our business. This rule applies to virtually every aspect of human behavior. My fellow humans do things that I would NEVER do, but as long as they aren’t harming themselves or others, who am I to object? And I, at times, take this even further. If people are doing something that might potentially cause physical harm to themselves, I see no reason to object to their behavior. People are going to do what people do. Can premarital sex cause harm? Sure, but then so can marital sex. Eating too much of certain foods or skydiving can cause personal harm, but so can being a vegetarian and driving rather than flying on airplanes. Life is filled with risk and danger. The best any of us can do is to weigh the risks and act accordingly. No one gets out of this life without making a few errant risk calculations. That we lived to tell about them is all the reason more to embrace life and live with it gusto!
Did you grow up in a religion and/or a home that forbade the drinking of alcohol? Please share your experiences in the comment section.
Some may argue the church is not a business — I would disagree. After all, at one point in serving as the Senior Pastor of NewSpring Church I was responsible for 425 employees and a $63,000,000 budget — which takes way more than a prayer meeting to manage! What Jesus taught me I believe can be used to help you as well.
— Former pastor of NewSpring Church and alcoholic Perry Noble
After a stint in rehab, Noble has started a church (business) consulting operation — I Want My Church to Grow. Here’s the WHY (besides needing money) Noble gives for starting his business:
You want your church to grow. Not only that, Jesus wants your church to grow.
You know that if your church grows then more people will be influenced with the gospel, and in your heart you know that is a good thing.
However, it seems every report we see in both secular and Christian media screams that the church is declining and is in danger of being marginalized.
Not only that, when you express a desire to want your church to grow you seem to get the greatest amount of resistance from people who actually are in the church and claim to be Christians.
Jesus said to go and reach the world, and to do it through the local church! In your heart you know the local church has greater potential to change the world than politics, entertainment or social justice movements. But when it comes to making this happen you feel like you are hitting a wall and feel confused, discouraged and may even be tempted at times to just throw in the towel.
I get it, I know how frustrating and heartbreaking the leadership journey in the local church can be.
However, I think the leadership struggle is worth it.
Jesus changed entire communities through what He did in this movement.
And here is what I know: if He can use someone like me, then He can absolutely use you to accomplish immeasurably more than you could ever ask or imagine.
During my 16 years at NewSpring Church we saw 15 people in a living room grow to over 35,000 in attendance at 17 different locations and over 50,000 decisions for Christ in 16 years. And I believe with all my heart that if Jesus did great things in the church I served, He can do them in the church you serve as well.
My heart it to take the lessons I learned at NewSpring and help your church really clarify your vision and unify your staff and congregation, which I believe will result in exponential growth for your church. (At the bottom is a list of the specific things we can work on, depending on your specific desires/needs.)
Schedule a call and let’s see what we can do to figure out how your church can accomplish more in your community than you ever imagined possible.
God is a big God, His followers should have big dreams and the church should not let the world outdo us or out-dream us. I know you don’t want your church to be average or a mere statistic that says the church is dying.
Jesus said He would build His church, and your church is not the exception. Let’s chat about what we can do to set your church up for healthy, lasting growth.
Thank you, Perry Noble, for illustrating my contention that megachurches are massive businesses, corporate giants out to dominate the Evangelical market.