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Tag: Atheism

Why I Won’t Let Anyone Control My Storyline

shut up bruce

We all have a story to tell. I love to hear the stories of others. I hate Facebook, but I remain on the service because of the stories, complete with photographs, people tell about their lives. The Internet allows me to meet and interact with people all over the world. My life is richer in every way because I have met people different from me. And yes, I have met people who are similar to me too — people who have similar beliefs and want the same things I do.

In the 1990s, I started sharing my story on the Internet — on church websites, BBS sites, and AOL/CompuServe forums. I also sponsored a discussion email list, CHARIS. For a time, I shared my stories on several private forums for Calvinistic pastors. I did all of this as Pastor Bruce Gerencser, a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

In 2007, as my search for “authentic” Christianity intensified, I started a blog. By then, my theology and political beliefs had become progressive/liberal. For a time, I was enamored with the Emerging/Emergent church. I openly wrote about how my life, and that of my family, was changing. This brought all sorts of attacks from people I labeled “keepers of the Book of Life” — people who thought they had the duty and obligation to declare who is and isn’t saved. These Fundamentalist Christian zealots believed that God had called them to “discern” the unbiblical beliefs and behaviors of others. This kind of thinking continues to this day on sites such as Protestia and Christian Research Network.

Several “discernment ministers” declared that I would one day become an apostate and leave Christianity. According to them, the signs were there for all to see. And, they were right. In early 2008, I was sliding down the proverbial slippery slope of unbelief. I stopped to rest several times along the path to the bottom. I thought maybe liberal Christianity might be what I was looking for. It wasn’t. I then thought that Universalism might be the answer. In the end, nothing stopped me from hitting the bottom of the hill with a big thud. On the last Sunday in November 2008, I attended church for the last time. Throughout all of this, I continued to tell my story.

In early 2009, I wrote a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. I posted this letter to my blog. I also sent it via email and snail mail to over two hundred family members, friends, colleagues in the ministry, and former church members. This was me telling all who knew me (and Polly) that Elvis had left the building.

From 2007 through 2014, I had several blogs. I would write for a while, face withering attacks and character assassinations, crash into an emotional heap, and then quit blogging. After my wounds would heal, I would rise like a Phoenix from the ashes and start writing again. In December 2014, I started the current iteration of this blog, The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. I find it hard to believe I am still blogging six and a half years later. But, here I am, one man with a story to tell.

When I first started telling my story years ago, I decided that I would use my real name. I am the only Bruce Gerencser in a world of almost eight billion people. In this regard, I am special. 🙂 I am blessed (and cursed) to have a unique name. Thus, I don’t have to worry that I will be confused with someone else. When someone searches for “Bruce Gerencser,” the first Google/Bing result is this site. I am easy to find, and if someone wants to contact me, I am but a click away.

Early on, Evangelical zealots, along with former friends, family members, church members, and ministerial colleagues, tried to control my storyline. I was told countless times that I needed to move on or that I had no right to talk about others whose stories intersected with mine. One dear ex-friend, the late Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church in Millersport, Ohio, drove 3 hours to see me after receiving the aforementioned letter. (Please see Dear Friend.) Bill desperately and frantically tried to reclaim me for Jesus, but he concluded, after a three-hour-long discussion between us, that my mind was made up. Bill then asked me to keep my story to myself. Why? Bill feared that if people heard about my deconversion that it could cause them to lose their faith too (and he was right). What Bill wanted to do is control my storyline.

I determined long ago that I wouldn’t let anyone control my storyline. It’s my story, and I plan to tell it as I see fit. I view my blog as a digital autobiography. Honestly telling my story means that I am going to say things, at times, about people that they (and others) might find unflattering or embarrassing. Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) people, in particular, despise my willingness to talk out of school. They hate that I am willing to write about what went on behind closed doors. They know that I know secrets, where the proverbial dead bodies are buried. Instead of getting their panties bunched up, perhaps they should thank the Lord Jesus Christ that I don’t tell ALL I know. You know: preachers who were fucking their secretaries, preachers who were porn addicts, preachers who abused their wives/children, preachers who visited strip clubs, preachers who were drunks — all while they were raging against their congregants’ sins. I don’t share these things because they are not germane to my story. However, when their lives intersect with mine, an honest telling of my story requires me to tell the truth — even when it portrays me and others in an unflattering light.

I can’t tell my story if I leave out the unflattering parts. Some family members are livid with me because I dare to paint a negative portrait of the family’s now-deceased patriarch. They want this giant of the faith to be portrayed only in a positive light. However, the sum of this man includes his angry, violent outbursts. Sure, on balance, he was a decent man. However, he emotionally and physically hurt people. I told my oldest son the other day that if one of my children ever wrote an autobiography, I would want them to tell the truth — all of it, as they remember it. I certainly would want them to write about all the good things they remember about their father, both as a man and a preacher. But, if that’s all they wrote, their book would be incomplete. You see, there’s another side, dare I say multiple sides, to their father. A dark side. An angry side. A violent side. A mentally ill side. An OCPD side. A man who loved them, yet a man who harmed them. You can’t tell and know my story without telling everything — well, almost everything. I won’t share my favorite sex positions. I would rather show you. Pictures coming soon. Woo! Hoo! 🙂 So, while it would hurt me if one of my children told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about their father, I would be proud of them for doing so. I don’t want my children to bury the past. I want them to own it and give an honest accounting of the good, bad, and indifferent things they have experienced. After I am dead, I want my children to share wonderful stories about me. I am, I hope, on balance, a kind, decent, loving man. At the same time, I want them to share the “other” stories too. I want them to know that it is okay to say out loud that their father physically abused them; that “Biblical” discipline is, in fact, child abuse.

I make no apologies for mentioning people by name in my writing. More than a few family members, ex-friends, former church members, and ex-colleagues in the ministry have objected to me portraying them in a poor light. I tell them, “then you should have treated me better.” Don’t want to be portrayed as an asshole or a prick? Behave differently. And instead of trying to badger me into whitewashing your interaction (s) with me, how about owning your behavior? I had a few nasty interactions with a handful of church members years ago. While most former congregants will praise me, the sum of my twenty-five years in the ministry can’t be told without saying, “you know, Pastor Bruce sure could be an arrogant, self-righteous, judgmental asshole.” Yes, I was a kind, loving, compassionate preacher, but I was also that other man too. You can’t have an Oreo without the white filling.

There may come a day when I am done telling my story. I may also die with my fingers on my IBM Model M Clickity-Clack keyboard, preparing to add one more chapter to my story. Who knows? God? 🙂 I promise you this: I will be open and honest with you, even when it paints me (and others) in an unflattering light. It is up to readers to decide whether what I write rings true. Remember this as you read my story: I am telling my story as I remember it. It is up to you to decide whether what I write is believable.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can 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.

Advice for Atheists: What to Do When Your Christian Family Won’t Respect You

all-about-jesus

I listen to several atheist call-in shows on YouTube: The Atheist Experience, Talk Heathen, Matt Dillanhunty’s The Hang-Up, Jimmy Snow’s The Sometimes Show, and The Sunday Show on The Line. It is not uncommon for me to listen to these shows late at night when I am having trouble sleeping (which is EVERY night). It is not uncommon for atheists to call, asking for advice on how to handle their Fundamentalist Christian families — especially parents. I have heard heart-wrenching stories from atheists who have been kicked out of their parents’ homes, excommunicated from their families, and generally treated like dog shit on the bottom of a shoe.

I have concluded that many expressions of Christianity cause otherwise decent people to treat their unbelieving children, grandchildren, siblings, nephews, nieces, and cousins with disregard and disrespect. And even when behavior doesn’t go this far, atheists often feel marginalized and walled off from those they love. All because they no longer worship the family/tribal deity or refuse to go to church on Sunday. And it is worse yet for atheists who are also politically progressive/liberal or who are LGBTQ.

My parents died years ago, so my deconversion played no part in our relationship. While both of my siblings believe in God, religion is very rarely talked about. Neither of them regularly attends church. On the other hand, Polly’s family are, for the most part, devout, church-going Independent Fundamentalist Baptists. Polly’s father was an IFB preacher. He and I started a church together, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, in the early 1980s. Dad died last November. Mom still attends an IFB church, the Newark Baptist Temple.

In November 2008, Polly and I walked out of the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time. We had reached the end of the proverbial line. Not sure what we had become, we were certain that we were no longer Bible-believing Christians. Several months later, in a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners, I informed those who knew us that we were no longer Christians. Not long after that, I began calling myself an atheist. This letter caused immediate outrage. We feel its reverberations to this day. Ironically, most of Polly’s IFB family, including pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and their spouses, took what I call the silent approach. For the most part, Polly’s family pretends that there is not a ginormous rainbow-colored godless two-trunked, six-leg elephant in the middle of the room. It has been over twelve years since Polly’s parents learned of our unbelief. Four thousand-plus days, and not one question or conversation about why we are no longer Christians. Outside of being told, “we are praying for you,” Polly’s parents and extended family ignore our unbelief (and that’s preferable to how some atheists are treated by their Christian families).

In the early days of our unbelief, Polly’s mom would invite her to come to special church events (even though we live 3 hours away), and when we visited on a Sunday, she would ask if we would go to church with her. It’s been years since Mom has asked us to attend her church or asked Polly to come to a Mother-Daughter Tea. I suspect that she has resigned herself to the fact that we aren’t interested in such things. Last year, Mom — during a hospital stay where death was a real possibility — did tell Polly that she hoped we would come back to Jesus and get back in church. I snarkily told Polly to tell her, sure. We are now Muslims. 🙂 What Polly’s mom wants, of course, is for us to come back to her brand of Jesus, and start attending a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching Baptist church. That ain’t going to happen — ever.

We live with the fact that there will always be a huge God-shaped hole in the middle of our relationship. And not just with Polly’s mom and extended family. We have six grown children, ages twenty-seven to forty-two. Outside of our oldest son, not one of our children has had an honest sit-down discussion with us about our beliefs and why we are no longer Christians. (Maybe, reading my blog satisfies this need, but I have my doubts about whether many of them read my writing.) Granted, only two of our six children regularly attend church (Catholic and Southern Baptist). Maybe our unbelief just doesn’t matter to them. However, a short conversation with one of my sons last year led me to conclude that some of our children and their spouses do not understand why we walked away from the ministry and later deconverted.

Polly and I are determined to live open, authentic lives. If people want to know “why,” we are more than willing to share our reasons and motivations with them. There are no secrets when it comes to our defection from the One True Faith®. Our children know that we won’t be cowed into doing things we don’t want to do, and that includes baptisms, confirmations, and church programs. Polly will, at times, attend such things, but I do not — ever. If that makes me a bad father or grandfather, I don’t know what to tell them.

All in all, I am fine with the relationship I have with my children and their spouses, siblings, Polly’s mom, and our extended families. I wish we could be openly atheistic around family, but I am willing to set aside my beliefs when around them (unless asked) for the sake of maintaining harmonious, peaceful relationships. Some atheists, however, don’t have this option. Their Christian families are openly hostile towards their unbelief. I know of atheists who are brutalized in Jesus’ name every time they come into contact with their Christian families. Viewed as unsaved or backslidden, these atheists are often evangelization targets. Sometimes, their Christian parents sic their pastors on them, thinking the man of God can rope them and drag them back to church. Another steer corralled for Jesus. Amen? Amen! Is it any wonder many ex-Christians need years of therapy to deal with how their Christian families treat them?

Most atheists want love, kindness, and respect from their Christian families. Surely, that’s not too much to ask, right? Unfortunately, in some families, Jesus, the Bible, and the church are more important than having good relationships with unbelieving family members. Many Evangelicals believe that blood is not thicker than water, that their church families are their “real” families. Over the years, I have watched the harm caused to Polly by this kind of thinking. Polly’s sister died in a tragic motorcycle accident in 2005, so she is her mother’s only living daughter. Yet, Polly’s mom acts as if her IFB Christian granddaughters and nieces are her “real” daughters. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched Polly’s mom treat her like she is the proverbial ugly stepchild with hurtful words and behaviors. It wouldn’t surprise me if Polly never talked to her mom again. But she does. Why? Because she loves her. And on those Sundays when she doesn’t want to talk to her mom, I encourage her to do so, reminding her that someday soon her mom will be gone.

Polly’s favorite uncle, Art, died in 1994 at fifty-one from viral heart disease. Polly asked her mom if she could have one memento to remember Art, a glass elephant. That’s it. (We are not big on such stuff.) Art collected glass, so he had all sorts of expensive glass collectibles. Over the past twenty years, Polly has, from time to time, asked about the elephant. Polly’s mom gave her all sorts of excuses (lies) about the elephant’s whereabouts, finally saying it had been sold years ago. Imagine Polly’s surprise and heartbreaking disappointment when she learned that the elephant was very much “alive,” having been sold at an auction earlier this year. She would never have known this had it not been for the fact that after Art’s glass was auctioned off and the unsold items picked through my Mom’s “real” family, Polly was offered the leftovers no one wanted. (And there’s a reason no one wanted them. Anyone want some famous composers plates. All six for $100 plus shipping if you want them.) In the tub of leftovers was an inventory of the items sold at auction (for thousands of dollars). On that list? Yep, a glass elephant.

While this may seem a small matter to some of you, it crushed my wife. Being constantly treated as less-than will do that to you. When you see other women in the family treated as daughters, and you are just an afterthought (except when a fucking mess needs to be cleaned up), it’s hard to not feel hurt and marginalized. Polly will never say to her mom or extended family what I have written here, but I will. Why? Because Polly is a wonderful person, a loving, caring mother, daughter, aunt, and cousin — even when treated as less-than, due to unbelief, lack of church attendance, or Loki forbid, whom she is married to. (God, if she had just married someone else she would still be a Christian!) If Polly said to me, “I am done with my family,” I would understand.

With the aforementioned story in mind, let me try to bring this post to a conclusion. Family relationships, even the best of them, are complex. In families where religion is front and center 24-7, family relationships are often fraught with conflict. Unbelievers walk on eggshells, fearing saying or doing the “wrong” thing will result in hostility, correction, or rebuke. What’s an unbeliever to do?

Some atheists refuse to cower to Jesus and the Bible. This, of course, often leads to open warfare. Sometimes, this warfare destroys relationships. I know some atheists who have not seen or spoken to their Christian families in years. This is especially true for atheist LGBTQ people. When your parents or siblings view you as a vile, sinful reprobate, it is hard to have a healthy relationship with them.

When atheists write to me for advice about how to deal with their Christian families, I typically ask them several things:

  • Do you want to have a relationship with your family?
  • Does your atheism matter to you?
  • Are acceptance and respect important to you?
  • Are you willing to endure unwanted attacks and badgering from religious family members?
  • Are your Christian parents, grandparents, siblings, and extended family willing to have an open, honest discussion with you about why you are an atheist?
  • How much time are you willing to devote to having a relationship with your Christian family.
  • Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

How atheists answer these questions, and others, will guide them in how best to measure their relationship with Christian family members. Some atheists are like Polly, willing to endure mistreatment for the sake of maintaining family relationships. Others, unwilling to be misused and abused in Jesus’ name, will have frank discussions with their families, defining boundaries that MUST be maintained if there are to be continued relationships. And some atheists will conclude that it is impossible to have relationships with their Christian families. No path is the right one. Every atheist must determine for themselves what, if any, relationships they want to have with Christian family members. Atheists might find that it is possible to maintain relationships with some Christian family members, but not others. Twenty years ago, I ended my relationship with my Fundamentalist Christian grandparents. John and Ann were/are awful people, judgmental assholes. (Please see Dear Ann and John.) I have not regretted telling them to take a hike. I am quite happy that none of my thirteen grandchildren know them. They will never have to endure the indignities dished out by John and Ann Tieken.

I hope atheist and agnostic readers of this post will share how they handle their relationships with Christian family members in the comment section. Knowing how others deal with their Christian families will be helpful.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can 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.

A Letter to a Former Parishioner: Dear Wendy

bruce gerencser 1987
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987

Dear Wendy,

You have contacted me several times in recent years via Facebook, hoping to reconnect with the man you once called Pastor. Shockingly, you found out that I am no longer a Christian; that I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God; that I proudly self-identify as an atheist and a humanist. I can only imagine how difficult and heartbreaking it was for you to read my blog for the first time. You are not the first former church member to feel this way. I am sure you hoped that you would find me faithfully serving Jesus, preaching the gospel, and winning souls to Christ. Instead, you found out that I have repudiated all that I once believed and preached.

We were Facebook friends for a short while, and then you unfriended me. I told you that I understood your decision to unfriend me. I know my story can be troubling and disconcerting to those who were once close to me. You sent me another friend request, yet before I could accept it, you thought better of friending me and deleted the request. Again, I understand. You have a hard time reconciling the Bruce who was your pastor in the 1980s, and the Bruce of today. Because your worldview requires you to frame and measure everything according to your interpretation of the Bible, you find it impossible to square my life today with that of thirty-plus years ago. From a theological perspective, the current Bruce Gerencser is a lost man headed for Hell, yet you remember a Bruce Gerencser who loved God and devoted his life to following after Jesus.

Set the religious stuff aside for a moment. Instead of attempting to see me through religious eyes, how about seeing me through human eyes? The kind, loving, compassionate, temperamental, flawed man who pastored Somerset Baptist Church decades ago still exists. The man you have such fond memories of is still alive and well — though physically in poor health. From a human perspective, I haven’t changed much. The character strengths and flaws I had as your pastor still exist today. Next month, I will turn sixty-four, and if there is one thing I have learned, it is this: humans rarely change. We are, character-wise, who we are. While my beliefs, politics, and worldview have dramatically changed over the years, my nature has not. Sure, age, sickness, and time have affected me, as they do all of us, but, for the most part, I am not much different today from who I was during the exciting days when Somerset Baptist was a thriving, growing church.

If you can ever look beyond your theological beliefs and see Bruce, the man, you will find out that the man you once loved and respected is right in front of you. Sadly, many Evangelicals cannot see people for who they are because their theological beliefs force them to define people according to what the Bible says instead of what they can see with their eyes. Your fellow Christians routinely savage me. I have been repeatedly told that I am evil and a follower of Satan. Evidently, what I believe, and not my behavior, determines what kind of man I am. The moment I said, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I went from a loving husband, father, and grandfather to a man who is worthy of scorn and derision; a man, some say, who is hiding a life of debauchery and licentiousness.

You have two choices set before you, Wendy. Either you can embrace and befriend the Bruce of 2021, or you can hang on to the memory of the 1987 Bruce. I would love to be friends with you in the here and now, but life is too short for me to worry about people who cannot see beyond my beliefs and are thus unable or unwilling to befriend me. Virtually all of my former Evangelical friends, parishioners, and ministerial colleagues, have been unable to remain friends with me post-Jesus. I understand why this is so. Fidelity to Jesus and the Bible was the glue that held our relationships together. Once I deconverted, that which bound us was gone. Rare are friendships that survive for a lifetime. Today, almost thirteen years after I attended church for the last time, I have two Evangelical friends. Everyone else has written me off or turned me into a sermon illustration, a warning of what happens when someone no longer believes the Bible is true.

Since you can’t seem to bring yourself to befriend me as I now am, you are left with your memories of the time we spent together in the rolling hills of Southeast Ohio. And that’s okay. I, too, have many fond memories of the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist Church. Nothing in the present can change the experiences of the past. If it helps you think better of me, then, by all means, cling to our shared memories, pushing from your mind thoughts of Atheist Bruce. If you ever want to be friends again, you know where to find me.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can 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.

Bruce, If You Don’t Believe in Jesus Anymore, Who Do You Think Called You Into the Ministry?

emmanuel baptist church 1983
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination April 1983, age 25

Several years ago, I received the following email:

I read your blog. Thanks for sharing. I have been an Evangelical Christian since I was 5. I accepted Jesus of the Bible at that time. When I read your “Why I Hate Jesus”, it made me sad. I couldn’t help but think that you have had a lot of pain from people who profess Jesus Christ and that Jesus Himself has let you down. I did have a question. On your ABOUT page, the question was “when were you called into the ministry. ” If you don’t believe in Jesus anymore, who do you think called you into the ministry?

In this post, I want to focus on the question, “If you don’t believe in Jesus anymore, who do you think called you into the ministry?”

This is a fairly common question I am asked when someone is trying to square my current atheistic life with that of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I believed that it was GOD who called me into the ministry, but now I believe that this same God is a fiction. If God doesn’t exist, who is it then that spoke to my “heart” as a fifteen-year-old boy, telling me that I was to be a pastor, a preacher of the good news of the gospel?

The Evangelical culture I grew up in emphasized the importance of boys and girls growing up to be full-time servants of Jesus Christ. Children and teenagers were encouraged to pray and ask God if he wanted them to devote their lives to the ministry, be it as a pastor, evangelist, or missionary. As Hannah did with Samuel, parents were challenged to give their children over to God, hoping that he might see fit to use them in a mighty way to advance his Kingdom. Pastors considered it a sign of God’s favor if teen boys were called to preach under their ministry. Like the gunslingers of yesteryear, pastors put a notch on their gospel gun every time a boy surrendered to the ministry.

Being called to full-time service means you are special, uniquely chosen by God to do his work. From the moment a boy says, preacher, I think God is calling me to preach, he is treated by the church as some sort of extraordinary human being. I heard countless preachers say that being called into the ministry was the greatest calling in the world; that becoming President of the United States would be a step down from the ministry. Preacher boys — as young men called into the ministry are often nicknamed — are quickly given preacher things to do. No time is better than NOW, I was told, to start serving God and preaching his Word. I preached my first sermon to the Junior High Sunday school class two weeks after I stood before the church and said, God is calling me to be a preacher. I spent the next few years honing my preaching skills at youth meetings, nursing homes, and any other place that didn’t mind hearing the ramblings of an inexperienced, uneducated boy preacher. By the time I delivered my last sermon in April 2005, I had preached 4,000+ messages, often preaching three or more sermons a week.

What I have written above is key to answering the question, “If you don’t believe in Jesus anymore, who do you think called you into the ministry?” Since I don’t think God exists, the only way I can possibly answer this question is from an environmental, psychological, cultural, and sociological perspective. It is important to remember that it is not necessary for God to exist for people to believe that he does. Billions of people believe in a supernatural deity/force that does not exist. Every day, billions of people will pray to, worship, and swear allegiance to deities that cannot be seen, heard, or touched. These deities can, however, be felt, and it is these feelings that lead people to believe that their invisible God is indeed real. Thus, I KNOW that God called me into the ministry because I “felt” him speak to me. This is no different from the five-year-old Bruce Gerencser believing that Santa Claus somehow came down the chimney every Christmas Eve and put presents under the tree just for him. Of course, time, experience, and knowledge caused me to see that my beliefs about Santa were false, as they did when it came to my beliefs about God.

These religious feelings and beliefs of mine were reinforced by the Bible. Various verses in the Word of God speak of men who are called to be pastors/elders/bishops/missionaries/evangelists. Variously interpreted by Christian sects, all agree on one point: God calls boys/men (and in some cases, girls/women) into the ministry. This calling is essentially God laying his hand on someone and saying, I have set you apart for my use. Church youngsters are regaled with stories about men and women called by God who did great works. From the Bible, stories of the faith-driven exploits of Noah, Moses, David, Gideon, Elijah, Elisha, Joshua, the apostles, and Paul are used as reminders of what God can and will do for those willing to dedicate their lives to serving him. Church children are encouraged to read the biographies of men (and a few women) mightily used by God. I heard more than a few preachers say, look at what God did through Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, Dwight Moody, Bob Jones, John R. Rice, Billy Sunday, Adoniram Judson, Andrew Fuller, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, Jack Hyles, B.R. Lakin, and countless other servants of God. Who knows what God might do through you if you will dare to surrender your life to him? What young preacher boy wouldn’t want to be someday used by God like these men?

I spent thirty-three years believing that God had called me to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ; that this calling was irrevocable; that misery and judgment (and perhaps death) awaited if I failed to obey God. The Apostle Paul said in First Corinthians 9:16:

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!

As with Paul, Bruce the Evangelical preacher had a burning desire to preach the gospel; to tell as many people as possible that Jesus alone can save them from their sin; that there is a Hell to shun and a Heaven to gain; that what is a man profited if he gain the world and lose his soul. I shed countless tears over the lost — both in and out of the church. I spent untold hours praying for revival to break out in America, spreading to the ends of the earth. Believing Jesus was coming back to earth soon, I devoted myself to making sure as many people as possible heard the gospel. I thought, at the time, my duty is to tell them. It is up to God to save them. For many years, my evangelistic zeal burned so hot that I preached a minimum of four sermons a week, along with preaching on the streets and holding services at the local nursing home and county jail. To quote the motto of Midwestern Baptist College — the institution I attended in the 1970s — Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry, Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry. We Never Will Give in While Souls are Lost in Sin, Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry!

My burning the candle at both ends wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t believe that God had called me into the ministry and was speaking to and through me. I believed that this God existed. I may never have seen God or audibly heard him, but I felt his presence in my life. I “heard” the Holy Spirit speaking to me, leading me, and teaching me truth. These experiences of mine were verified by what I read in the Bible and Christian biographies and what I observed in the lives of my pastors, teachers, and mentors. Most of all, they were verified by the work God accomplished through my preaching and leadership. How then, knowing these things, can I now believe that God is a work a fiction; that my ministerial experiences were the work, not of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, but the works of a quite-human Bruce Gerencser?

The deconversion process afforded me the opportunity to step back from my life and view it from a distance. As I looked at my parents’ religious, theological, social, and political leanings and that of the pastors of the churches we attended, it would have been shocking if I hadn’t, as a teenager, professed that God was calling me into the ministry. At age five, while we were living in San Diego and attending Scott Memorial Baptist Church (Scott Memorial was pastored by Tim LaHaye), I told my mother that I was going to be a preacher someday. Not a baseball player, policeman, or garbage truck driver — a preacher! This, of course, pleased my Mom. (Ironically, neither my mother or father ever heard me preach.) When people talked about the angst they had over trying to determine what they wanted to do with their lives when they grew up, I had no frame of reference. I never wrestled with what I wanted to be as an adult. I always wanted to be a preacher, and by God’s wonderful, matchless grace, that is exactly what I became. Everything I experienced in my life led me to the monumental day at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, when, with tears and trembling, I told the church God was calling me into the ministry. Scores of fellow church members shouted Amen! and later hugged me, telling me that they would pray for me. I am sure that more than a few people had mixed feelings about my calling. Really Lord? Are you sure you can use this temperamental, ornery redheaded boy? I have often wondered what my peers thought as I went from the boy who told the youth director to fuck off! to a young man who loved Jesus, carried his Bible to school, handed out tracts to his unsaved friends, went soulwinning, worked on a bus route, and occasionally preached at Sunday evening youth meetings. The old Bruce, who wore frayed jeans, boots, and tee-shirts to church, gave way to the New Bruce, who wore preacher clothes, including ties. What’s next? Swearing off girls? Anyone who knew me as a preacher boy knows I resolutely obeyed the Baptist Rulebook®. (Please read The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) I didn’t smoke, drink, cuss, listen to rock music, or engage in premarital sex. I had plenty of girlfriends, but I drew the line at kissing, holding hands, and putting our arms around each other. My commitment to virginity was part of my devotion to God. As much as I wanted to have sex, I willingly took many a cold shower, keeping myself pure until my wedding day.

Most Baptist preachers will likely say that they just KNEW God was calling them to preach. If they are still Christians, I am sure they attribute their feelings to supernatural intervention. It’s all because of J-E-S-U-S, not me, I’m sure they’ll say, yet the signs in front of their churches say Rev. So-and-So, Pastor. You see, the whole notion of being called by God is rooted not in the supernatural, but in earthly human experiences. My Baptist faith taught me to call my interest in the ministry a calling from God, but in truth, it was the natural outcome of my upbringing and experiences. My entrance into the preaching fraternity was never in doubt. How could I not have become a preacher?

There is nothing in my story that requires the actual existence of a supernatural deity. All that is required is that I, along with the other players in my life, believe God exists. For my first fifty years of life, I believed that the Evangelical God was every bit a real as the sun, moon, stars, and earth. And now I don’t. Does this invalidate my years in the ministry? Of course not. All that has changed is my perspective and how I see my trajectory from a sinner to a Holy Spirit-led follower of Jesus Christ. Instead of God being the first cause, I now know that environmental, psychological, cultural, and sociological influences molded me into the man who would one day preach thousands of sermons in churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Congregants called me Pastor Bruce, Rev. Gerencser, or Preacher — the man of God who spoke the Word of God to the people of God. I now know who I really was . . . his name is Bruce.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can 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.

Why I’m Still an Atheist

On the last Sunday in November 2007, my wife and I walked out of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time. We decided that we were done with Christianity, that whatever we were, we weren’t Christians. Initially, I claimed the agnostic label. Several months later, I abandoned this label, choosing instead to self-identify as an atheist. Thirteen years later, I am still an atheist.

While my beliefs have become more nuanced over time, I remain unconvinced that the central claims of Christianity are true. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) Thousands of Evangelical/Roman Catholic/Greek Orthodox/Muslim apologists have emailed me or left comments on this site. Their objective? To evangelize me or reclaim me for Jesus. Whether the goal is salvation or restoration, they hope I will see the “light” and abandon atheism. That hasn’t happened, and it is unlikely to happen in the future. There remains no new argument for apologists to make for Christianity. I have heard their best (and worst) arguments. What could they possibly say that would change my mind?

I am a confirmed apostate, a heretic, and a reprobate. I am NOT a prospect for Heaven. With all the low-hanging fruit in the world, why do zealots bother with me? Is it that they really care for my “soul”? Or is it that they have a pathological need to hear themselves talk? Maybe they think that there is a .00000001 percent chance that their words will strike pay dirt; that I will repent and rejoin Jesus’s blood-washed band. Trust me when I say . . . that ain’t going to happen! Winning the lottery has better odds than me becoming a Christian again.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can 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 Lack Self-Awareness, Says Christian Man

peanut gallery

Recently, a Christian man by the name of Roger sent me the following email:

Interesting story. I think you’re right on that fundamentalism is idiotic. You’ve spelled that out quite well. Pastors are mostly egomaniacs as you rightly point out. But you could just ask them to find this pastor in the Bible (along with their whole church edifice and all its trappings) and you expose their empty hypocrisy. You don’t need to pick apart the Bible to destroy fundamentalism. They don’t even apply the Bible they claim to preach.

The problem you fail to see is that atheism is equally if not more stupid than fundamentalism. Why do these annoying atheists keep making moral claims? Why do they whine all day about how unjust hell is or how evil the biblical God is? Who are you, you evolved rodent, to make such an appeal to what is evil or unjust? Good and evil are just socially evolved constructs, right? So stop the whining. But atheists never stop whining. Atheists in my experience are actually highly moral people and constantly appeal to moral / ethical claims. The fact is the notion of morality and ethics is simply hard-wired into the human mind whether you like or it not. But atheists’ lack of self awareness about this is more annoying than fundamentalists telling me the earth is 6000 years old. It’s just theft. They’re stealing from the theists that they mock in this regard. They live in their own bubble, just like you accuse the fundamentalists of.

According to Roger, atheists are worse than Christian Fundamentalists. Atheists lack self-awareness, and have no morality or ethics of their own. Atheists are just stupid people who spend their waking hours whining about harmful Christian beliefs. Good to know, right?

I suspect that while Roger distances himself from Christian Fundamentalism, underneath his liberated self lies Fundamentalist beliefs. He sees himself as an “enlightened” Christian, yet it is likely that his core theological beliefs are not much different from those who proudly wear the Fundamentalist label.

Roger later sent me another email. Here’s what he had to say:

I wanted to reach out again and hope you didn’t take offense at the last message I sent. I read it again after I sent it and realized I probably came across as antagonistic and rude. Tone is absent in email. I was just laying out my general thoughts on fundamentalism / atheism, nothing personal about you or your story. Please forgive me if that was offensive to you and if so, please just disregard the message. I don’t mean you any disrespect or unkindness. I wish you the best on your journey.

warmly,
Roger

Take offense? Of course not. Roger is just another self-righteous, arrogant Christian asshole. I have received thousands of emails and comments from the Rogers of this world. I am of the opinion that people tend to say what they mean the first time. Roger meant for his email to be personal, and I took it as such. It is too late for me to “disregard” his message.

I wish Christians would “think” before emailing me. I wish they would ask themselves what they hope to accomplish by contacting me. I am NOT a prospect for Heaven. There’s nothing Roger could possibly say that I haven’t read/heard before or said in one of the 4,000+ sermons I preached. Wouldn’t it be better to refrain from hitting “send”? Yet, most of the Rogers of the world can’t seem to help themselves. Whatever their motivations, they are driven to set me straight, put in a word for Jesus, or evangelize.

Roger closed his last email with “warmly”. Yep. His email made me feel warm all over. As in wearing dark blue khakis and pissing your pants.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can 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.

Defiance City Schools Blocks Student Access to This Site

defiance city schools

It has been brought to my attention that the Defiance City Schools is blocking student access to this site. Several of my grandchildren attend Defiance schools. On the one hand, I find this fact hilarious. However, this site is being blocked as a porn site — which it most certainly is not. Either their filtering algorithm is wrong, or someone at the school has blacklisted this site. It is possible, I suppose, that the Black Collar Crime series is triggering a block, but why not block just those pages instead of the whole site? I am the only public atheist in this area, so I do, at times, wonder if I am being deliberately censored for my lack of belief. I recently tried to join the Current Events in Defiance, Ohio Facebook group. My request was rejected, and a message asking why went unanswered. Again, I wonder, why? The same goes for email letters to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News disappearing or anniversary announcements (twice) not making it in the paper. I get it. I am an odd duck, a black swan in the midst of a bevy of white swans. However, I am also a loving, kind, decent, thoughtful human being. Regardless of my religious and political beliefs, I do what I can to be a good father, husband, and grandfather. When my children or grandchildren hear my name mentioned at Northwest Community StateCollege, at their public schools, or at work, I want them to be proud to be related to me — even if they disagree with my beliefs. (My children have been accosted at college and their places of employment by people demanding they defend something I have written. Small town, country life. I tell them that it is okay to say they don’t know me, but so far, my children have not done so. They must be hoping for a big inheritance after I die.) 🙂

I called my oldest son about Defiance City Schools’ block. I told him, “I hope your kids know Grandpa doesn’t run a porn site!” He laughed and said, “They do.” I don’t care what others think about me (okay, maybe I do a little bit), but I do want my children and grandchildren to think well of me. It matters. Someday, I will be ashes floating on the water of Lake Michigan, sinking into the deep to be seen no more. This blog will remain my testimony to the world (as long as Polly keeps paying the hosting fees). As my grandchildren get older, they will naturally be curious about their grandfather’s writing. As has been the case for my older grandchildren, my younger grandchildren will one day do a web search on my name and discover this site. Years ago, one of my granddaughters told me, “Hey Grandpa, I found your blog today!” That’s all she said, but she had THAT look on her face; you know the one that says, “I know your secrets.” 🙂 And that’s okay. I don’t talk politics or religion with my grandchildren unless they ask me a question or join a discussion I’m having with one of their parents. I am content to let curiosity kill the proverbial cat.

I emailed Aaron Eckhart, the technology coordinator for Defiance City Schools, the link for this post. I will update this article if and when I hear from him.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can 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.

Short Stories: The Night I Stuffed an Atheist in a Trash Can

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before wedding.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — from 1976-1979. Midwestern was an affordable, unaccredited training school for preachers (and prospective preacher’s wives). The school advertised itself as a “character-building factory.” Because Midwestern was an unaccredited college, there was no federal/state aid/grants available for students. Either your parents paid for your school (such people were called “mama called, daddy sent) or you worked. I worked.

I worked a lot of different jobs while at Midwestern, mainly factory and grocery store jobs. One of my favorite places to work was Felice’s Market, just off of Telegraph Road. I primarily worked in the dairy department. Sometimes I would also work in the produce department. I typically worked evenings and some Saturdays.

The Felice brothers treated me well. One of the brothers helped me buy a car, and when I married Polly in 1978, they gave us a $200 wedding gift. Knowing that I needed money for setting up our apartment, the brothers also hired me to tar and seal the store’s roof. Boy, was that a mess –not a job I ever wanted to do again.

Even though I was a flaming, outspoken Fundamentalist Baptist preacher, I got along with the owners, my boss, and fellow employees. That is, except for one persnickety atheist high school student who worked evenings in the frozen food department. He and I would go back and forth about God and the Bible. One night, we got into a heated discussion about creationism and the existence of God. I had no answers for his challenges, except to quote the Bible and assert “Thus Saith the Lord!”

For some reason, on this night, this scrawny, mouthy atheist got under my skin. Granted, I was quite temperamental, but I really let this atheist get to me. After being unable to answer the age-old question, “where did God come from?” I had enough and decided to put an end to the atheist’s disrespect of the one true God. It was nearing closing time, and the atheist was gathering up trash in a large trash can. As he came near me, running his godless mouth, I latched ahold of him, picked him up, and stuffed him ass first into the trash can. Point made. And with that, I walked off, leaving his rescue to someone else. My fellow employees thought what I did was hilarious. However, my boss, the next day, did not.

The atheist and I never talked about God or the Bible again. I think he was genuinely afraid of me. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can 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.

Bruce Gerencser