Tag Archive: Bill Beard

A Former Parishioner Asks: Please Help Me Understand Why You Stopped Believing

why

Originally posted April 2015. Edited, updated, and expanded.

A former parishioner asks:

I just don’t understand how you could just decide you don’t believe any longer. I as you know am a Christian and I could never or would never lose my faith in God, but if I did I would like to think that it would be some type of horrible thing that happened to me to cause me to lose my faith in God. I am not judging you  I am just curious as to what happened to cause you to question and then lose your faith. You were such a good preacher, I learned so much from you I just don’t understand what happened. Please help me to understand.

I am quite sympathetic to those who once called me pastor/preacher. I know my deconversion causes them great pain as they attempt to reconcile the man of God they once knew with the atheist I am today. In some cases, the pain and cognitive dissonance is so great that they can’t bear to write or talk to me. One former pastor friend, the late Bill Beard, told me that I should keep my deconversion story to myself lest I cause others to lose their faith. (Please read Dear Friend.)

I try to put myself in the shoes of former parishioners. They listened to me preach, interacted with me on a personal level, and considered me a godly man. Perhaps I won them to Christ or baptized them or helped them through some crisis in their life. Maybe I performed their wedding or preached the funeral of their spouse, parent, or child. My life is intertwined with theirs, yet here I stand today, publicly renouncing all I once believed to be true; an atheist, an enemy of God. How is this possible, the former parishioner asks?

The email writer asks if some horrible thing happened to cause me to lose my faith. The short answer is no. Eleven years removed from deconverting and fourteen years since I preached my last sermon, I can now see that there were many factors that led me to where I am today. As with all life-changing decisions, the reasons are many. I could point to my disenchantment over the deadness, shallowness, and the emptiness of Evangelicalism; I could point to my loss of health and the poverty wages I earned pastoring churches. I could point to how fellow pastors and parishioners treated me when I left the ministry and later began to question my faith. (Please read Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.) I could point to my knowledge of lying, cheating, adulterous pastors. I could point to my anger towards those who readily abandoned me when I had doubts about the veracity of Christianity. I could point to the 100+ churches we visited as we desperately tried to find a church that took seriously the teaching of Jesus. (Please read But Our Church is Different.) I could point to the viciousness of professing Christians, people like my grandparents, who put on a good front but were judgmental and hateful towards my family and me. (Please read Dear Ann.) I could point to my bitter experience with Pat Horner and Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. (Please read I Am a Publican and a Heathen.) All of these things played a part in my deconversion, but the sum of them would not have been enough to cause me to walk away from Christianity.

Several years ago, I wrote a post titled Why I Stopped Believing. I think an excerpt from this post will prove helpful in answering the question of why I no longer believe:

Since I never made much money in the ministry, there was no economic reason for me to stay in the ministry. I always made more money working outside of the church, so when I decided to leave the ministry, which I did three years before I deconverted, I suffered no economic consequences. In fact, life has gotten much better economically post-Jesus.

Freed from the ministry, my wife and I spent several years visiting over a hundred Christian churches. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered, a Christianity that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. During this time period, I read countless books written by authors from a broad spectrum of Christendom. I read books by authors such as Thomas MertonRobert Farrar CaponHenri Nouwen, Wendell BerryBrian McLarenRob BellJohn Shelby SpongSoren Kierkegaard, and NT Wright.  These authors challenged my Evangelical understanding of Christianity and its teachings.

I decided I would go back to the Bible, study it again, and determine what it was I REALLY believed. During this time, I began reading books by authors such as Robert Wright Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, These three authors, along with several others, attacked the foundation of my Evangelical beliefs: the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. Their assault on this foundation brought my Evangelical house tumbling down. I desperately tried to find some semblance of the Christianity I once believed, but I came to realize that my faith was gone.

I tried for a time to convince myself that I could find some sort of Christianity that would work for me. Polly and I visited numerous liberal or progressive Christian churches, but I found that these expressions of faith would not do for me. My faith was gone. Later, Polly would come to the same conclusion.

I turned to the internet to find help. I came upon sites like exchristian.net and Debunking Christianity. I found these sites to be quite helpful as I tried to make sense of what was going on in my life. I began reading the books of authors such as John LoftusHector AvalosRobert M. PriceDaniel DennettChristopher HitchensSam HarrisJerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins.

I read many authors and books besides the ones listed here. I say this to keep someone from saying, but you didn’t read so and so or you didn’t read _______. So, if I had to give one reason WHY I am no longer a Christian today it would be BOOKS.  My thirst for knowledge — a thirst I still have today, even though it is greatly hindered by chronic illness and pain — is what drove me to reinvestigate the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible. This investigation led me to conclude that the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible could not rationally and intellectually be sustained. Try as I might to hang onto some sort of Christian faith, the slippery slope I found myself on would not let me stand still. Eventually, I found myself saying, I no longer believe in the Christian God. For a time, I was an agnostic, but I got tired of explaining myself, so I took on the atheist moniker, and now no one misunderstands what I believe.

The hardest decision I ever made in my life was that day in late November of 2008, when I finally admitted to myself, I am no longer a Christian, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God. At that moment, everything I had spent my life believing and doing was gone. In a sense, I had an atheist version of a born-again experience. For the past eleven years, I have continued to read, study, and write. I am still very much a work in progress. My understanding of religion and its cultural and sociological implications continues to grow. Now that I am unshackled from the constraints of religion, I am free to wander the path of life wherever it may lead. Now that I am free to read what I want, I have focused my attention on history and science. While I continue to read books that are of a religious or atheist nature, I spend less and less time reading these. I still read every new book Bart Ehrman publishes, along with various Christian/atheist/humanist blogs and publications, and this is enough to keep me up to date with American Christianity and American atheism/humanism.

For a longer treatment of my path from Evangelicalism to atheism, please read the series From Evangelicalism to Atheism.

If I had to sum up in two sentences why I no longer believe I would say this:

I no longer believe the Bible is an inspired, infallible, inerrant, God-given text. I no longer believe as true the central claims of Christianity; that Jesus is the virgin-born, miracle-working son of God, who came to earth to die for our sin, resurrected from the dead three days later, and will someday return to earth to judge the living and the dead.

The email writer comes from a Baptist background. A conundrum for her is to theologically square my past with the present. There is no doubt that I was a Christian for fifty years. I was a devoted, sincere, committed follower of Jesus. I preached to thousands of people during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. Not one parishioner or colleague in the ministry ever doubted that I was a Christian. I was far from perfect, but I was, in every way, a believer.

Those who say I never was a Christian make a judgment based on their theology and not by how I lived my life for fifty years. Baptists must do this because they believe that a person, once saved, cannot fall from grace. The doctrine of eternal security/once-saved-always-saved/perseverance (preservation) of the saints requires them to conclude I am still a Christian or I never was. The few former parishioners and colleagues in the ministry who are Arminian in belief have no problem explaining my trajectory from Evangelicalism to atheism. I once was saved and I fell from grace.

Here’s what I know: I once was a Christian and now I am not. For those who once called me pastor/preacher, they should know that when I was their shepherd I was a Christian. What good I did and what benefits my ministry brought them came from the heart of a man who was a devoted follower of Jesus, a man who loved them and wanted what was best for them. Those experiences, at the time, were real. While I have written extensively on how I explain my past and the experiences I had, former parishioners should content themselves with knowing that I loved and cared for them. While I had many shortcomings, my desire was always to help others. This desire still motivates me to this day.

Much like the Israelites leaving Egypt and heading for the Promised Land, so it is for me. My Promised Land is atheism, agnosticism, and humanism. While I will always have great fondness for many of the people I once pastored, I will never return to Egypt, the house of bondage. Christianity and the ministry are distant sights in my rearview mirror. While I will always appreciate the love and approbation of the people I once pastored, I am not willing to “repent” of my atheistic beliefs. My mind is settled on the nature of the Bible and the claims of Christianity. I fully recognize that billions of people find value, meaning, and purpose in religion, but I do not.

I have no desire to cause believers to lose their faith. I am just one man with a story to tell. Over the past eleven years, I have not even once tried to “evangelize” believers in the hope that they will lose their faith and embrace atheism. Yes, I do write about Evangelicalism and atheism, but people are free to read or not read what I write. If they have doubts about Christianity or have recently left Christianity, then my writing is likely to be of some help to them. If they write me asking questions or asking for help, I do my best to answer their questions and help them in any way I can. Over the years, hundreds of such people have written to me. Have some of them deconverted? Yes, including pastors, missionaries, and evangelists. But, deconversion has never been my goal. Instead, I view myself as a facilitator, one who helps people on their journey. It’s their life, their journey, and I am just a signpost along the crooked road of life.

Former parishioners need to understand that Bruce and Polly Gerencser are the same people they have always been, except for the Christian part. We are kind, decent, loving people. We love our children and our grandchildren. We strive to get along with our neighbors and be a good influence in the community. We are now what we were then: good people.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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Things I’ve Heard Preachers Say

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Over the years, I heard countless sermons, both during church services and at pastor’s conferences. I have also spent extensive time talking shop with my fellow colleagues in the ministry. Needless to say, I have heard some interesting, outlandish, and, at times, insane statements on all sorts of subjects. What follows are a few of the things I heard. I give them to you as I remember them. Some of the quotes are forty-plus years old, so they may not be verbatim. Unless otherwise noted, quotes are from Sunday sermons.

The Bible says in 1 Peter 4:1, Arm Yourselves!  (The speaker pushed his suit coat back and pulled out a revolver. The crowd went wild.) — Jack Wood, Baptist evangelist, said at a preacher’s conference in Rossville, Georgia

Go to Hell for all I care. No, I don’t mean that. Yes, I do. Go to Hell for all I care — Tom Malone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out! (Said to a man who got up to leave during the sermon.) — Tom Malone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

Who cares about the hole in the ozone layer? That just means there will be a bigger hole for Jesus to come through when he returns to earth again. — Bruce Gerencser, pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio

Speaking of Matthew 5:28. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart, When a good looking woman comes your way, it’s not the first look that’s a sin; it’s the second one. So just make sure the first look is a long one. — Unnamed Baptist evangelist to a group of preachers, including fifteen-year-old Bruce Gerencser, at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio

Girl, when you climb into the backseat with a boy, I hope the only face you see is mine. — Baptist Evangelist Don Hardman (who came out of the pulpit, stood right in front of a teen girl, pointed his finger, and said the aforementioned quote), said during a revival meeting at Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio

No girl has ever gotten pregnant without holding hands with a boy first. — Bruce Gerencser, pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio

I have checked the tithing records, and it has come to my attention that there are some church employees who are not tithing. Either you will start tithing or I will have your tithe taken out of your check. — James Dennis, Newark Baptist Temple, Heath, Ohio

I don’t know, I have never, never lost. — Jack Hyles, First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana (answering someone who asked Hyles how he responded when he lost), said at a Sword of the Lord conference held at the Newark Baptist Temple, Heath, Ohio

Years ago, some men were drilling a deep hole towards the center of the earth. Suddenly, they heard what sounded like voices and screams. The men got a microphone and lowered it into the hole, and sure enough they heard people screaming. Hell is real! — Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church, Millersport, Ohio

If the King James Bible was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it is good enough for me. — Unnamed preacher at a Sword of the Lord conference held at the Newark Baptist Temple, Heath, Ohio

God doesn’t use quitters! — Tom Malone, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

The government is coming to take our guns. It’s the duty of every Christian to own guns so they can defend themselves. — John Williams, Baptist evangelist, said at a revival held at Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio

There was a man whom God called to be a preacher. Instead of obeying God, the man instead took a secular job, married, and he and his wife had several children. One day, his wife and children were killed in an automobile accident. At the funeral home, God said to the man, now will you serve me? The man began weeping, and said to God, yes, I will serve you. I ask you, what will God have to take away from you for you to serve him? — Greg Carpenter, preacher

Divorce is always a sin. — Keith Troyer, Fallsburg Baptist Church, Fallsburg, Ohio

Your girlfriend’s skirt is too short and it is immodest. (This judgment was said to me, not my girlfriend. I replied, don’t look. Were her skirts too short? Not from my vantage point.) — Chuck Cofty, Sierra Vista Baptist Church, Sierra Vista, Arizona

What’s your favorite quote from your days as an Evangelical Christian? Please share them in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Dear Friend

bill beard lighthouse memorial church

Bill Beard, pastor Lighthouse Memorial Church

This is a letter I sent to a dear friend of mine, Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church in Millersport, Ohio. I was Bill’s pastor several times in the 1980’s, I baptized him, and I took part in his ordination with the Church of the Nazarene. After Bill received the letter Dear Family, Friends, and Parishioners in April 2009, he drove from is home near Lancaster, Ohio to my home here in Ney. This letter explains my understanding of our conversation and where I thought our friendship was headed. I have published this letter before. Like with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

I saw Bill again recently at a funeral service I conducted this past summer in New Lexington, Ohio for a former friend and church member. After exchanging pleasantries, he made an offhand snide comment about his car. Evidently, he did not appreciate the one line in this letter mentioning that he drove to my house in a Lincoln. I meant nothing by it, but he must have thought I did. We chatted for a bit and then it was time for the service. I am sure he curious about what I would say or do and I have no doubt that the non-religious service disappointed him. This was but another reminder of how far his former friend has fallen.

Dear Friend,

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a 100.00 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a 100.00 bill in the offering plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and I a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I being a Calvinist.

One day you came to place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really  see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become. (whether I view it as good or bad)

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced I had  no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace.

Do you know what troubled me the most? You didn’t shake my hand as you left. For 26 years we have shook hands as we came and went. The significance of this is overwhelming. You can no longer give me the right hand of fellowship because we no longer have a common Christian faith.

Over the course of three hours you constantly reminded me of the what I used to preach, what I used to believe. I must tell you forthrightly that that  Bruce is dead. He no longer exists, but in the memory of a distant past. Whatever good may have been done I am grateful, but I bear the scars and memories of much evil done in the name of Jesus. Whatever my intentions, I must bear the responsibility for what I did through my preaching, ministry style, etc.

You seem to think that if I just got back in the ministry everything would be fine. Evidently, I can not make you understand that the ministry is the problem. Even if I had any desire to re-enter the ministry, where would I go? What sect would take someone with such beliefs as mine?  I ask you to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a pastor again. Does not the Bible teach that if a man desires the office of a bishop (pastor) he desires a good work? I have no desire for such an office. Whatever desire I had died in the rubble of my 25 plus year ministry.

We talked about many things didn’t we? But I wonder if you really heard me?

I told you my view on abortion, Barack Obama, the Bible, and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ.

You told me that a Christian couldn’t hold such views. According to your worldview that is indeed true. I have stopped using the Christian label. I am content to be a seeker of truth, a man on a quest for answers. I now know I never will have all the answers. I am now content to live in the shadows of ambiguity and the unknown.

What I do know tells me life does not begin at conception, that Barack Obama is a far better President than George Bush , that the Bible is not inerrant or inspired, and that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven. (if there is a Heaven at all)

This does not mean that I deny the historicity of Jesus or that I believe there is no God. I am an agnostic. While I reject the God of my past it remains uncertain that I will reject God altogether. Perhaps…

In recent years you have told me that my incessant reading of books is the foundation of the problems I now face. Yes, I read a lot. Reading is a joy I revel in.  I read quickly and I usually comprehend things quite easily. (though I am finding Science to be a much bigger challenge) Far from being the cause of my demise, books have opened up a world to me that I never knew existed. Reading has allowed me to see life in all its shades and complexities. I can no more stop reading than I can stop eating. The passion for knowledge and truth remain strong in my being. In fact it is stronger now than it ever was in my days at Somerset Baptist Church.

I was also troubled by your suggestion that I not share my beliefs with anyone. You told me my beliefs could cause others to lose their faith! Is the Christian faith so tenuous that one man can cause others to lose their faith? Surely, the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than Bruce. (even if I am Bruce Almighty)

I am aware of the fact that my apostasy has troubled some people. If Bruce can walk away from the faith…how can any of us stand? I have no answer for this line of thinking. I am but one man…shall I live in denial of what I believe? Shall I say nothing when I am asked of the hope that lies within me? Christians are implored to share their faith at all times. Are agnostics and atheists not allowed to have the same freedom?

I suspect the time has come that we part as friends. The glue that held us together is gone. We no longer have a common foundation for a mutual relationship. I can accept you as you are,  but I know you can’t do the same for me. I MUST be reclaimed. I must be prayed for. The bloodhound of heaven must be unleashed on my soul.

Knowing all this, it is better for us to part company.  I have many fond memories of the years we spent together. Let’s mutually remember the good times of the past and each continue down the path we have chosen.

Rarer than a Ivory-billed woodpecker is a friendship that lasts a lifetime. 26 years is a good run.

Thanks for the memories.

Bruce

somerset baptist church 1983

Somerset Baptist Church, Landmark Building 1983

This is the place where I first met Bill and Peggie Beard

somerset baptist church 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, 1985

Bill and Peggie Beard gave us 5,000.00 to buy this building

somerset baptist church 1985-2

Somerset Baptist Church, First Church Bus, 1985

Bill and Peggie Beard helped us buy our first church bus

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