Tag Archive: Calvinism

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Five

sovereignty-of-god

In the previous posts in this series, I have talked a lot about the doctrines of grace, also known as the five points of Calvinism. Today, I want to talk about the sovereignty of God — the singular, overarching belief that binds Calvinistic theology together. What do Calvinists mean when they speak of the sovereignty of God? If there’s one book that every newly minted Calvinist has likely read — no, it’s not the Bible — it would be A.W. Pink’s classic, The Sovereignty of God. Since this book is widely accepted as the definitive Calvinistic statement on the sovereignty of God, I thought I would let Pink define the doctrine:

The Sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this expression? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the godhood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.

….

The Sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite. When we say that God is Sovereign we affirm His right to govern the universe which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. We affirm that His right is the right of the Potter over the clay, i. e., that He may mold that clay into whatsoever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to give an account of His matters to any.

Sovereignty characterizes the whole Being of God. He is Sovereign in all His attributes. He is Sovereign in the exercise of His power. His power is exercised as He wills, when He wills, where He wills. This fact is evidenced on every page of Scripture.

Simply put, saying God is sovereign means that He alone is responsible for and controls EVERYTHING! Of course, such a statement quickly leads to the critics of Calvinism saying, so God is culpable for sin? Calvinists have all sorts of arguments they use to get around this logical conclusion, including answering in the affirmative — Yes, God is responsible for sin. If God is sovereign and he decrees all that happens without exception, then the only conclusion one can come to is that God is responsible for sin. So what? some Calvinists say. God is God and he can do whatever he wants to do. Whatever God does is right because it is God who is doing it.  When objections are raised, Calvinists reply, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways. In other words, he is God, the creator and we are the created. He is the potter, as the book of Romans says, and we are the clay. God can and does do whatever he wants, and as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 9, those who object to God’s sovereignty need to shut the hell up (okay, he didn’t say it like that word for word, but you get my point). As finite beings, mankind has no right to criticize or condemn God’s works.

When I first came to know and understand the sovereignty of God, I was relieved. For the longest time, I carried the burden of building a church congregation on my shoulders. While God was certainly there right along beside me, I knew it was up to me to get things done. As a Calvinist, I no longer felt pressured to get this or that done; that if God wanted me to do something he would bring it to pass; that if God didn’t want something done there was absolutely nothing I could do. Now, in retrospect, I know that only way anything gets done is if I do it. I suspect that’s how it works for you in your life too. And Calvinism aside, a case can be made for taking this approach to life; that praying and “waiting” on God often become camouflage for laziness and indifference.

As the sovereignty of God permeated every aspect of my ministerial and personal life, how I approached things began to change. The first thing I did away with was giving altar calls — a manipulative tool popularized by nineteenth century evangelist Charles Finney. The second thing I did was turn my attention away from aggressive evangelistic efforts. Instead, I focused more of my time on my studies; on preparing my sermons; on preparing lessons for Sunday school and, later, an elders’ class. As I mentioned in a previous post, I set my sights on un-saving congregants who had been saved during my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days. I believed that I had been preaching a truncated, bastardized version of the Christians gospel, so it was my solemn duty to preach the Calvinistic gospel. I learned, after six years of such efforts at one church, that it is much harder to get people un-saved than it is to get them saved. The third thing I did was breatheGod is in control, I told myself. No need to stress out over winning the lost. If God wanted them saved, well he would save them. My job was to preach the gospel.

During my early years as a Calvinist, I read John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus. In this book, MacArthur demolished my IFB soteriology. MacArthur believed: “The gospel call to faith presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ’s authority.” IFB pastors generally believed that a person could be saved, yet not make Jesus Lord of their lives. The crux of the argument was whether sinners had to repent of their sins to be saved. Many IFB preachers believed in what Calvinists called decisional regeneration; the belief that by praying a simple prayer a sinner was saved. Requiring sinners to repent of their sins was, in the eyes of many IFB preachers, works salvation. MacArthur would not have any of that, saying that the lordship of Christ was not optional; that if a person was not willing to forsake his sin and totally follow Jesus there would be no salvation for him. (See One, Two, Three, Repeat After me; Salvation, Bob Gray Style.)

One story that stands out from this time is a written interaction I had with Curtis Hutson, editor of the Sword of the Lord — an IFB newspaper. Previous to Hutson, John R. Rice was the editor of the Sword. Rice had written in a tract titled What Must I Do to Be Saved? that sinners had to repent of their sins to be saved. No repentance, no salvation. Hutson, after taking over the Sword, decided to rewrite the part in the tract that talked about repentance. Hutson, like many of the big name IFB preachers of the day, believed that repentance was a mere change of mind: I was against Jesus and now I am for him; I was headed east and now I am headed west; I was a sinner and now I believe in Jesus. Men such as Jack Hyles and Bob Gray, Sr. turned this intellectual assent into an art form. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people prayed the sinner’s prayer, believing that by doing so they became Christians. No mention of repenting of sin was mentioned. To do so was to preach works salvation. And that’s exactly what Curtis Hutson told me when I wrote him. I called him out on his secretive change of Rice’s tract. I told Hutson that he materially changed what Rice believed; that Rice’s gospel and his gospel were not the same. Hutson responded by telling me that I was preaching works salvation, a gospel that did not save.

Rice was no Calvinist, but he did believe that repentance was essential to salvation. If a person was not willing to forsake his sin and follow after Jesus, there would be no salvation for him. Back in my college days, I went door to door attempting to evangelize sinners. My goal was to share with them the simple plan of salvation (The Roman’s Road) and ask them if they wanted to be saved. If so, I asked them to pray the sinner’s prayer. (See The Top Five Reasons People Say the Sinner’s Prayer.) Once they prayed the prayer, I declared them to be a newly-minted Christian. One day, I happened upon a woman I thought might need saving. As I started to go into my spiel, she — realizing I was one of those terrorist preacher boys from Midwestern Baptist College — stopped me and said, there’s no need for you to continue. I already did that. I asked her where she went to church and she replied, nowhere. I am saved now. Why do I need to go to church? Men such as Hyles, Gray, Sr, Dennis Corle, Hutson, Steven Anderson, and countless other IFB preachers believe that this woman, if she “sincerely” prayed the sinner’s prayer, was saved, a new-born child of God. Rice, MacArthur, and the now Calvinistic Bruce Gerencser believed the woman was still dead in trespasses and sins, and headed for hell unless she repented of her sins and followed after the Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

As a Calvinist, I believed that sinners were spiritually dead, unable to believe without God giving them the ability to do so. Man was bound by sin, and unable to do anything about it unless God intervened. This intervention was called regeneration; the giving of life to dead sinners. For most (not all) Calvinists, regeneration preceded faith. Since unregenerate humans had no free will and were spiritually dead, it was impossible for them to believe on their own. As an IFB preacher, I believed faith preceded regeneration; that spiritual life came when a sinner, by faith, asked Jesus to save them. As a Calvinist, my response to this notion was this: how can a dead man do anything?

My goal, then, as a Calvinistic preacher, was to preach the gospel in the hope that what I preached would find fertile ground in the hearts given life by the Holy Spirit. As an IFB preacher, so much of how people were saved depended on me: the right sermon, the right illustrations, the right delivery, the right invitation song. As a Calvinist, my objective was to simply preach the gospel; to declare the whole counsel of God. If sinners were going to be saved it was up to God, not me.

Numerically speaking, hundreds and hundreds of people were saved through my ministry and preaching as an IFB preacher. As a Calvinist, I saw a few people saved. As an IFB preacher, I expected people to be saved weekly. As a Calvinist, I found that months and months could pass without anyone saying that God had saved them. This, by the way, is typical. IFB churches tend to rack up large numbers of converts, whereas in Calvinistic churches conversions are few. IFB churches tend to focus on quantity, and Calvinistic churches on quality. Which is better? It all depends on what matters to a preacher. Does he want big attendance numbers, or does he value the intellectual growth of congregants?

Let me illustrate this difference with what is commonly called The Great Commission:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19,20)

IFB churches tend to focus on verse 19: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The goal is to preach the gospel to the whole world. Calvinistic churches, on the other hand, tend to focus on verse 20: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. The goal is to teach followers of Christ his commandments. Rare is the church that fulfills both parts of the Great Commission.

As I survey my years in the ministry, I have to say that my Calvinistic years were far more rewarding personally and intellectually. I enjoyed the hard work required for crafting good sermons. I enjoyed spending hours upon hours reading books and studying the Bible.  As an IFB preacher, my life was consumed with the ministry, with winning souls, with building a growing church. As a Calvinist, I was content to be the resident intellectual; a man paid to study the Bible and read awesome books. I still cared about the souls of attendees and church members, but I no longer felt pressed to perform. Above all, as a Calvinist, I found that I had more time to spend with my wife and children.

In Part Six, I plan to write about how Calvinism affected my marriage and my relationship with my children. In particular, I plan to talk about birth control and family size. There’s a reason Polly and I have six children and why there’s six years between child number three and child number four and why we stopped having children after our youngest son was born. Stay tuned.

Note

For you who are interested in the difference between Rice’s version of the tract What Must I Do to Be Saved? and Curtis Hutson’s:

John R Rice wrote:

Does not the Bible say that we must repent? Yes, the Bible plainly says that “God … commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), and again, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5).

This was the preaching of John the Baptist, of Jesus, of Peter and of Paul, that men should repent. And certainly repentance is in God’s plan of salvation. The trouble here, however, is that men misunderstand what repentance means, and there has grown up an idea that repentance means a period of weeping and mourning over sin, or sorrow for sins. This idea comes from the Douay Version of the Bible which instead of “repent” says “do penance.”

So the place of inquiry, where people should be taught the plan of salvation from the Bible, in revival meetings, became “the mourner’s bench” and thousands of people have been taught that God would not hear their prayer nor forgive their sins until they went through a process of sorrow and mourning over their sins!

Do not misunderstand me. God is anxious for you to have a penitent, broken heart over your sins. You have gone away from God. You have trampled under foot the blood of Jesus Christ, wasted years of your life which you can never live over again. You have served your father, the Devil.

There is plenty for you to weep over, and I am not surprised if you feel deep shame and sorrow in your heart that you have so mistreated the God who made you and the Saviour who died for you. I am not surprised if you cannot keep back the tears! But what I want you to know is that tears or no tears, however much sorrow you may have in your heart, or not have, those things do not save you.

You ought to be sorry for your sins and ashamed of them. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance” (II Cor. 7:10)—the right kind of sorrow leads to immediate repentance, but mourning is not itself repentance.

“Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no respite know,
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.”

To repent literally means to have a change of mind or spirit toward God and toward sin. It means to turn from your sins, earnestly, with all your heart, and trust in Jesus Christ to save you. You can see, then, how the man who believes in Christ repents and the man who repents believes in Christ. The jailer repented when he turned from sin to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Curtis Hutson changed the tract to this:

Does not the Bible say that we must repent? Yes, the Bible plainly says that “God … commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), and again, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). This was the preaching of John the Baptist, of Jesus, of Peter and of Paul, that men should repent. And certainly repentance is God’s plan of salvation. The trouble here, however, is that men misunderstand what repentance means, and there has grown up an idea that repentance means a period of weeping and mourning over sin, or sorrow for sins. This idea comes from the Douay Version of the Bible which instead of “repent” says “do penance.” So the place of inquiry, where people should be taught the plan of salvation from the Bible, in revival meetings, became “the mourner’s bench” and thousands of people have been taught that God would not hear their prayer nor forgive their sins until they went through a process of sorrow and mourning over their sins! The right kind of sorrow leads to immediate repentance, but mourning is not itself repentance.

Other posts on the Sovereignty of God

Is God Sovereign and Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

Luck, Fate, or Providence?

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

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.

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.

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Four

i have a questionPart four of this series is a short parenthetical post meant to answer several questions asked by readers.

What was it about Calvinism that attracted you, theologically and psychologically?

Calvinism is a theological system built with points of doctrine which build upon one another. Pull any of the five points: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints, from the system and it collapses upon itself. Of course, the same could be said of any theological system. That said, Calvinism is the most complex, intricate theological system ever created by human minds.

It was the order and complexity of the system, then, that caught my attention. I have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and I am a perfectionist. (See Christian Perfection: A Personal Story.) I desire, crave, and need order. Theologically, Calvinism provided for me just what the doctor ordered. As I read and studied the Bible, listened to preaching tapes of Calvin-loving preachers, and devoured countless Calvinistic books, I began to “see” the truthiness of the doctrines of grace, along with its attendant doctrines such as the Sovereignty of God.

The primary reason I became an atheist is that Christianity no longer made any sense to me. (See The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) The opposite was true with Calvinism. It simply, at the time, based on my reading and study, made sense to me. Calvinism best explained certain Bible verses that had always perplexed me. Yet, at the same time, it created new interpretive problems for me. As a non-Calvinist, I found that words such as world and all meant everyone without discrimination (i.e. For God so loved the world — John 3:16). Calvinism, due to the doctrines of election and predestination, requires adherents to reinterpret verses that imply that Jesus died for everyone, Jesus loves everyone, etc. Of course, Arminians do the same with verses that speak of election and predestination.

I have long argued that the Bible is a book that can be used to prove almost anything. Whatever your theological beliefs might be, there’s support for them in the Bible. I’ve concluded, then, that all theological systems are Biblically “true” and that all sects – Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Methodists, to name a few —  are right when they claim their beliefs are the faith once delivered to the saints.

How is Calvinism different from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology?

While IFB churches are autonomous, each with its own set of beliefs and practices, they do, generally, have a common set of beliefs. (See What is an IFB Church?) When I entered the ministry in the 1970s, I didn’t know one IFB pastor who claimed the Calvinist moniker — not one. There were several pastors who, if rumors were true, had Calvinistic tendencies. Calvinism was routinely derided, criticized, and deemed heretical — antithetical to soulwinning and church growth.

In the late 1980s, Calvinism began to make inroads into the IFB church movement. Some IFB preachers embraced Amyraldism (four-point Calvinism). Wikipedia explains Amyraldism this way:

It is the belief that God decreed Christ’s atonement, prior to his decree of election, for all alike if they believe, but he then elected those whom he will bring to faith in Christ, seeing that none would believe on their own, and thereby preserving the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. The efficacy of the atonement remains limited to those who believe.

The issue, of course, was for whom did Jesus die? Evangelical Calvinists believe Jesus died on the cross only for the elect — those chosen by God from before the foundation of the world. Four-point Calvinists, uncomfortable with the doctrine of limited atonement (particular redemption), concocted a system that said, the atonement of Christ is sufficient to save everyone in the world, but efficient for only the elect. God that?

While Calvinism continues to make inroads in IFB churches, many Calvinistic pastors tend to keep their beliefs to themselves. They preach Calvinism without ever mentioning Calvinistic buzz-words. Over time, congregations are converted without ever realizing they changed.

Classic IFB beliefs are laughingly called one-point Calvinism. Yes, God is the one who saves sinners, but it’s up to them to decide whether to believe. As with Arminian churches, emphasis is placed on man’s ability to choose (free will). Calvinists, on the other hand, focus on the sovereignty of God and the inability of man. As you can see, these two theological systems are disparate, so much so that the two groups are continually at war, each believing the other is heretical.

Evangelical Calvinists generally believe that IFB churches preach works salvation, and they alone preach salvation by grace. Carefully examining Calvinism, however, reveals that they too preach salvation by works. In fact, outside of Pelagian sects, all Christian sects/churches preach some form of salvation by works. (Let the howling begin.)

There are numerous other theological differences between IFB theology and Evangelical Calvinism, but I have shared enough of the differences to show that these two groups generally don’t “fellowship” with each other. Calvinists view IFB (and Southern Baptist) churches as targets for subversive theological change. Pastors neglect to tell such churches about their Calvinistic beliefs, hoping, over time, to win them over to the one true faith. This approach has led to all sorts of church conflict.

Why would your change of theology cause friends and colleagues in the ministry to shun (abandon) you?

In the IFB church movement (and many other Evangelical sects), fealty to right doctrine is paramount, as is following certain social practices. Some tolerance is granted for being slightly off theological center, but major deviations result in shunning or being labeled a heretic/liberal. Calvinism was certainly considered antithetical to IFB doctrine and practice, so I was not surprised when many of my preacher friends distanced themselves from me as they would a gay man with AIDS. I moved on to new fellowship groups, those with Calvinistic, reformed beliefs and practices. I will talk at length about these groups in a later post.

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.

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.

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Three

six point calvinist

I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio, from 1983-1994. In 1988, after being exposed to what Calvinists call the ”doctrines of grace,” I abandoned my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology and embraced Evangelical Calvinism. By this time, I had begun preaching expositionally (verse by verse through books of the Bible). This allowed me to preach through the books loved by Calvinists: Ephesians, Romans, John, and First John. One Sunday night, I talked about limited atonement (particular redemption) in my sermon. Afterwards, a man in the church passed me a note that said, Did I just hear you say that Christ only died for the elect? I later explained to him how my theology was changing. For a short time, I would be preaching John Calvin in the auditorium and he would be teaching teens IFB theology in the church basement. Eventually, we had a parting of the ways.

Outside of this man (who was a dear friend), every other regular attendee went along for the ride, believing that I had their best interests at heart — I did — and I would always tell them the truth — truth being my peculiar interpretation of the Bible. Not only had my soteriology changed (doctrine of salvation), so had my eschatology (end-times, future events). As an IFB preacher, I was a dispensationalist. I believed that the return of Jesus was imminent; that Jesus was coming soon in the clouds to rapture away his people. And then God, for seven years, would rain holy hell upon the earth, culminating in Jesus returning to earth again (yes, a second, second coming). After Jesus’ return, he would reign on earth for a thousand years. At the end of these days, Satan would be loosed for a season, causing many of the people on earth to rebel against God one last time. God crushes this rebellion, destroys Heaven and Earth, makes a new Heaven and Earth, judges all humanity, sending non-Christians to the Lake of Fire and Christians to God’s eternal kingdom. And all God’s people live happily ever after. Not God’s people? Eternal punishment and torture awaits. Got all that?

As a Calvinist, my eschatology was simple and direct: some day God will pour out his wrath on earth, judge the living and dead (general resurrection and judgment), make a new Heaven and a new Earth, and usher in his everlasting kingdom. The joy of the Lord awaits the elect. The non-elect are cast into the Lake of Fire, a place reserved for the devil, his angels, and the whore of Babylon (Catholic church).

After several months of preaching the wonders of Calvinism, I gathered a core group of church members together and asked them to attend a Wednesday night class so I could teach them the finer points of the doctrines of grace. So, for three months, ten or so faithful members, including my wife, gathered with me as I took them through the five points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. Once these people were thoroughly indoctrinated, I knew it would be smooth sailing from there. These were the people who gave the most money and did most of the work. Most of them had been with me from our first service in July 1983. They were the core group that would stand with me no matter what.

fellowship tract league

I stopped using tracts such as this one from Fellowship Tract League in Lebanon, Ohio. As a Calvinist, the word MAYBE goes after ALL THIS I DID FOR THEE.

Over time, I changed out the printed literature we were using, moving from Chick Tracts and Fellowship Tract League literature to materials printed by Chapel Library. I also purchased Calvinistic books and made them available to the church, hoping that they would read them and better understand the doctrines of grace. Sadly, most congregants perfected me just telling them what to believe. Just give is a book report, Preacher.

In August 1989, we opened the doors of Somerset Baptist Academy to fifteen students, ranging from kindergarten to tenth grade. The school became yet another vehicle to indoctrinate people in the “true” gospel. Children were required to memorize the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and read biographies of Calvinistic missionaries and preachers. For a time, we primarily used — I shit you not — McGuffey Readers. After one year with the McGuffey Readers, I decided that was a big mistake — thank God! We began the second year of school using books published a Mennonite/Amish publisher Rod & Staff. We also used PACES (self-study materials) for some of the high school students.

On Sundays, I stopped giving invitations and got rid of our hymnbooks, putting in their place Gadsby’s Hymns — a nineteenth century collection of 1,100 Calvinistic hymns. After a year or two of grinding through Gadsby’s Hymns, I decided to let some of our loved and cherished Arminian hymns back into the church (I know, proof that I was not a True Calvinist®.) Every change I made was framed in “Biblical” terms. The Bible says __________________, so this is why we are doing this and no longer doing that. Congregants genuinely believed that I wouldn’t lead them astray, but I do have to wonder how many of that original group really understood the depths of my changing theology and practice. As I will share in the next post, word got out that I was now a Calvinist, and this brought to the church new people who were specifically looking for a Calvinistic church. They knew Calvinism inside and out.

As with virtually everything I do in life, I threw my body, soul (I had one back them, before Satan stole it), and mind into building a bastion of Calvinistic truth in rural Southeast Ohio. I read, studied, preached, evangelized, taught school, and visited prospective members — week after week, month after month. I was filled with zeal, believing that I had been lied to by my IFB pastors and professors. And now that I knew the “truth,” the whole “truth,” and nothing but the “truth” I made sure my wife’s preacher-laden family and my colleagues in the ministry heard this “truth” too. Surprisingly, Polly’s long-tenured IFB preacher uncle, the late Jim Dennis, actually agreed with me (though his outward practices suggested otherwise). Other family members chalked up my new beliefs to, Oh, that Bruce. There he goes on another tangent. Many of my colleagues in the ministry, believing that Calvinism was heresy, distanced themselves from me. The fifteen-church youth fellowship I had started in 1986 went up in smoke as pastors said they didn’t want to fellowship with a Tulip-picker or have a Calvinist preaching to their teens. Some of my friends ignored my changed beliefs, expecting that I would come around in time. I did, but not in ways they expected. These would be the friends who would abandon me after my theology and politics turned towards the left.

In the next post in this series, I will continue to talk about how Pastor Bruce becoming a Calvinist materially affected the church I was pastoring and how it altered my personal relationships with my wife, children, and friends.

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.

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.

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Two

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner

Three Calvinist Peas in a Pod: Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

 

My first exposure to Calvinism came in 1988 when I began borrowing and listening to cassette sermon tapes from Chapel Library — a Calvinistic tape lending library and tract publisher in Pensacola, Florida. I had seen an ad for Chapel Library in a periodical I received, so I thought I would write to request a list of sermon tapes. Most of the preachers on the list were not familiar to me, but one name stood out: Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones, who died in 1981, was a well-known British Evangelical pastor. He was the pastor for many years of Westminster Chapel in London.

Along with a handful of Lloyd-Jones’ sermon tapes, I ordered tapes of Rolfe Barnard, a Southern Baptist evangelist. While I thoroughly enjoyed Lloyd-Jones’ sermons — and I would listen to dozens more of them over time — it was Barnard’s sermons that blew me away. Here was a Calvinist who preached with the fervor of an old-fashioned fire and brimstone evangelist. I had never heard Calvinistic preaching before listening to Lloyd-Jones and Barnard. I had been told that Calvinistic preachers were dried up prunes with little zeal, passion, or power. I was big fan of nineteenth century Calvinistic Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, but having only read his sermons, I had no idea how Spurgeon sounded. I assumed he preached with great authority and power, but since there are no recordings of his preaching, all anyone can do is assume how Spurgeon preached.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979.  Midwestern — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — was resolutely opposed to Calvinism. Ironically, one of the college’s men’s societies carried Spurgeon’s name. When questioned about having a society named after Charles Spurgeon, students were told that, yes, Spurgeon was a Calvinist, but God mightily used him in spite of his Calvinism. More than a few IFB preachers suggested that Spurgeon was not a “true” Calvinist; that his zeal for winning souls was inconsistent with his Calvinistic beliefs. I would later thoroughly study Spurgeon’s published sermons, and I determined, without question, that Charles Haddon Spurgeon was an Evangelical five-point Calvinist.

While Spurgeon was my favorite nineteenth century preacher, Rolfe Barnard quickly became my favorite modern-day preacher. Many of his recorded sermons were preached at Thirteenth Street Baptist Church in Asheville, Kentucky. For many years, Henry Mahan was the pastor of Thirteenth Street. I called Henry one day to see if he had contact information for Barnard. I wanted to have him come preach a meeting at our church. Henry told me, well brother, Brother Barnard died in 1969. (Henry and I would later develop a friendship. I visited Thirteenth Street several times, and Henry came to Ohio to preach a conference at the church I was pastoring.)

Here’s a sermon by Barnard that will give readers a good idea of his preaching style and sermon content:

Video Link

Barnard’s sermons made a deep, lasting impression on my life. As Barnard preached the Calvinistic gospel and spoke of God’s sovereignty and grace, I found myself emotionally stirred. I asked myself, why hadn’t I ever heard these “truths” before? Why hadn’t my college professors told me of these “truths?” In time, I came to believe that my mentors and professors had lied to me about the gospel, salvation, and God’s grace.

rolfe barnard

Barnard, then, opened the door for me to Evangelical Calvinism; and once the door was opened there was no going back. I began buying and reading books written by Calvinistic theologians and pastors — many of them from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Over time, I would buy almost one thousand theology books and Christian biographies. One time, a church teen walked into my study, looked at all my books, and said, preacher, have you read all these books? With great humble pride I replied, yes, every one of them. I was quite proud of my library, a common trait found among Calvinistic preachers. It was through these books and the preaching tapes from Chapel Library that Bruce Gerencser, a one-time IFB preacher, became an Evangelical Calvinist.

As newly minted Calvinists are wont to do, I made it my mission to convert my colleagues in the ministry to Calvinism. All my zeal accomplished was fractured relationships, including one man who got so mad at me — accusing me of being the keeper of the Book of Life — that he stomped out of a meeting we both were in, never to be in the same room with me again. Of course, I viewed his temper tantrum as him not being able to handle the “truth.”

I started a monthly newsletter titled, The Sovereign Grace Reporter. I mailed this newsletter to hundreds of IFB and Calvinistic preachers. The Calvinists loved my newsletter, including several IFB preachers who were closeted lovers of John Calvin. Some IFB preachers got so upset with me that they sent me angry letters, demanding that I take them off the newsletter mailing list.  This video clip from A Few Good Men pretty well says what I thought of these angry preachers:

Video Link

One preacher, my best friend at the time, was sympathetic to my Calvinistic views. Through hours-long theological discussions and reading books I loaned him, he embraced certain aspects of Calvinism (though he certainly would never have called himself a Calvinist). He would later pull back from Calvinism. One mutual acquaintance of ours told my friend, Bruce Gerencser almost ruined you with that Calvinistic stuff.

My theological transformation came at a time when the church I was pastoring was facing attendance decline due to the fact that we decided to stop operating our bus routes. I determined, then, with my new-found beliefs in hand, to do three things:

  • Try to un-save all the people who were saved through my preaching of the IFB gospel. I was convinced that many of the people who attended Somerset Baptist Church were “saved” but lost. If Rolfe Barnard was right about the true condition of many Baptist churches — filled with lost people — then it was my duty and obligation to expose the false IFB gospel and preach to them the true gospel. I found that it was a lot harder to un-save people than it was to lead them to salvation.
  • Teach the congregation the doctrines of grace (Calvinism), line by line, week after week. I abandoned preaching topical and textual sermons, choosing instead to exegetically preach through books of the Bible. For example, I preached over one hundred sermons from the gospel of John (my favorite gospel).
  • Start a tuition-free private Christian school for our church’s children. By doing so, I would not only teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic, but it would also allow me, through having students memorize the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and read biographies of Calvinistic missionaries and preachers, to indoctrinate them in the one “true” faith.

In the next post in this series, I will talk about how Pastor Bruce becoming a Calvinist materially affected the church I was pastoring and how it altered my personal relationships with my wife, children, and friends.

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.

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.

Man Faces Harsh Reality of Calvinism

I found the following post on a public Calvinistic discussion forum. Many of us who used to be Evangelicals/Calvinists understand the psychological angst this man is going through as he takes Christianity/Calvinism to its logical conclusion. If God is sovereign, the first cause, the creator of every everything, and nothing happens apart from his purpose and plan, then it is reasonable to conclude that the Christian God created sin, created hell, and created billions of people he intended to torture in the Lake of Fire for eternity. Apologists for Calvinism go to great lengths to explain these conclusions, but I find their explanations to be little more than the ass-covering Sarah Huckabee Sanders gives Donald Trump — empty lies. If God is who and what Calvinists say he is, then Calvinists most own the aforementioned conclusions. Either that or write a 666-page book defending the Big Kahunah’s honor.

did god create hell

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part One

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner

Three Calvinist Peas in a Pod: Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

A regular reader of this blog asked if I would write about my move from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology to Evangelical Calvinism. While I have mentioned the fact of my move to Calvinism, I have never explained why I did so.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. Midwestern was a small Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution started in the 1950s by Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby megachurch Emmanuel Baptist Church, to train men for the ministry. While there were women enrolled for classes at Midwestern, seeking either to hook a preacher boy and become his wife or become a Christian school teacher, everything revolved around manufacturing new soldiers for the IFB war machine.

In a post titled, What is an IFB Church? I listed the following doctrinal distinctives:

  • The inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible
  • The sinfulness, depravity of man
  • The deity of Christ
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • The blood atonement of Christ for man’s sin
  • The resurrection of Christ from the dead
  • The second coming of Christ
  • Separation from the world
  • Salvation from sin is by and through Christ alone
  • Personal responsibility to share the gospel with sinners
  • Heaven and hell are literal places
  • Hierarchical authority (God, Jesus, church, pastor, husband, wife)
  • Autonomy and independence of the local church

While IFB churches and pastors are known for internecine wars over fine points of doctrine or whether certain behaviors are sinful, the aforementioned beliefs are nonnegotiable. Deny one or more of these doctrines and you will be labeled a compromiser or a heretic.

Some churches don’t use the IFB moniker due to its negative associations; but using the doctrines listed above as the standard, many Southern Baptist congregations would be considered IFB churches. The same could be said for General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) congregations. I should also add, in passing, that many Reformed Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist, Conservative Baptist, and Missionary Baptist churches have the same doctrinal markers as churches who proudly claim the IFB label. This means, then, that there are tens of millions of Americans who attend churches that hold to IFB theological beliefs, even if many of them refuse to label themselves as such.

Calvinism was considered heresy at Midwestern, and students found discussing Calvinism or promoting its tenets were expelled. My systematic theology teacher, Ronald Jones, made it clear that Calvinism was not to be discussed. Students weren’t taught anything about Calvinism, and most of them simply accepted the anathemas uttered by their teachers as fact. I know I did. Midwestern’s goal, then, was to reinforce the doctrines taught to students in their home churches. Rare were classroom discussions that veered from IFB orthodoxy. According to Tom Malone and the professors at Midwestern, there was One Lord (Jesus), one faith (IFB doctrine and practice), and one baptism (Baptist immersion). While these promoters of the one true faith grudgingly admitted it was possible for non-IFB  Christians to be True Christians®, most outsiders were considered religious, but lost (especially Catholics, who were considered the spawn of Satan).

Midwestern was also King James Only. Students were not allowed to use any Bible version but the 1769 revision of the King James Bible. Midwestern also promoted the belief that a certain Greek translation, commonly called the Textus Receptus, was the true Word of God in Greek, and all other translations, such as Wescott and Hort, were inferior and were not to be used in Midwestern’s Greek classes. One professor disobeyed this edict, introducing students to the wonderful world of textual variants. He was summarily fired, even though on every other point of theological and social Fundamentalism he was a true-blue Baptist Fundamentalist.

When I began pastoring IFB churches in 1979, I didn’t know one pastor who would have called himself a Calvinist. Today, Calvinism has made deep inroads in the IFB church movement, and in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In the SBC, Calvinistic pastors, led my men such as Al Mohler, are battling with non-Calvinistic pastors for the soul of the Convention.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Calvinism, here’s the TULIP acronym for the five points:

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints (Preservation of the Saints)

Calvinists also hold to what is commonly called the Five Solas:

  • Sola Scriptura — By Scripture Alone
  • Sola Fide — By Faith Alone
  • Sola Gratia — By Grace Alone
  • Solus Christus — Through Christ Alone
  • Soli Deo Gloria — Glory to God Alone

Calvinism is a theological and philosophical system where each point builds upon the other. Remove any one point and the system collapses. As with any theological system, adherents endlessly debate the finer points of belief. There are numerous subsets of Calvinistic belief, each with peculiarities that set them apart from other Calvinists.

Calvinism is a complex theological system. I call it an intellectual’s wet dream. Calvinistic pastors line their bookshelves with wordy tomes written by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Puritans and nineteenth-century Calvinistic Baptists and Presbyterians. IFB pastors have dick measuring contests, with church attendance being the measure of success. Calvinists also have dick measuring contests, with library size being the definitive proof of a pastor’s prowess.

Many of the Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptist pastors I knew were, at one time, IFB pastors. All that changed for them was their soteriology and, at times, their ecclesiology. The same social Fundamentalism found in IFB churches is often found in Evangelical churches of Calvinistic persuasion. For many years, I would drive once a month to a Calvinistic pastor’s meeting in Mansfield, Ohio. Most of the men in this group were former IFB pastors — GARBC, SBC, and unaffiliated Baptist churches.

One big difference between Calvinistic Baptist churches and IFB churches is how the congregations handle church discipline. Typically, in IFB churches errant members are, behind the scenes, “encouraged” to leave so they can find a new church to better meet their needs. If this approach doesn’t work, pastors use their sermons, complete with subtle prods, to run the offender off. I don’t know of an IFB church that actually practices church discipline as laid out in Matthew 18:15-18:

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Calvinistic Evangelical churches, on the other hand, are much more likely to use church discipline to punish unrepentant members who run afoul of morality codes and conduct standards or disobey orders from their pastor/elders. Supposedly, the goal of church discipline is to effect restoration, but more often than not, it is used as Biblical cover for kicking people out of the church or shaming them into submission. One church I pastored, Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, used church discipline for all sorts of offenses, including not regularly attending Sunday worship services. Even when the church was notified that the absent member was attending a new church, because the member didn’t ask the church’s permission to leave the church, he or she was excommunicated. The threat of church discipline was used to quash disagreement and keep congregants in line. (I was excommunicated from this church myself. You can read about my time at Community in the series titled, I am a Publican and a Heathen.)

My first exposure to Calvinism came in 1988 when I began borrowing and listening to cassette sermon tapes from Chapel Library — a Calvinistic tape lending library and tract publisher in Pensacola, Florida. I suppose, all told, that I listened to several hundred tapes. Before returning them, I would make copies of the tapes so other people in my church could listen to them. A year or so later, I started CHARIS Tape Library — a lending library patterned after Chapel Library. Tapes were sent free of charge to anyone who requested them. The goal was to spread the good news of the Calvinistic gospel — also known as the TRUE gospel, the faith once delivered to the saints.

In part two of this series, I will share how these tapes were instrumental in my theological move from IFB theology to Evangelical Calvinism.

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.

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.

An Argument Against the Existence of God: The Suffering of Animals

animal suffering

One of the biggest problems Christian apologists face is the fact that there is suffering in the world; that violence, bloodshed, famine, disease and death ravage all living things. The existence of these things suggests, at least to atheists and agnostics, that the Christian God of the Bible either doesn’t exist or he is an absentee creator who have no interest in these things.

When pressed on these issues, apologists usually take one of three approaches:

  • God’s ways are not our ways; his thought are not our thoughts. Humans are finite beings who cannot understand why God does what he does.
  • Humans are sinful, thanks to the fall of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden. Suffering is the result of mankind’s fallen nature. Want to blame someone, blame man!
  • Suffering is a problem that cannot be totally understood in this life, but its existence does not negate the existence of God. There are other evidences for God which prove his existence.

If you have engaged Evangelical zealots on the issue of suffering, you will always hear one or more of approaches mentioned above. Simply put, God can do whatever he wants to do, and humans are to blame for whatever befalls them, not God. If God is the divine creator, as Evangelicals say he is, then an argument can be made for him doing whatever he wants to do. However, Evangelicals further assert that their God is moral and just, and that his revealed morality and justice is found within the pages of the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible.

Once appeals are made to the Bible, Evangelicals have a big problem on their hands. According to the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, nothing happens apart from God’s decree, purpose, and plan. Calvinists and Arminians alike believe that God is sovereign and that he alone controls the universe. Thus, if Evangelical theology is taken to its logical conclusion, this means God is ultimately culpable for everything that happens — including sin, suffering, and death. When backed into a theological corner, Evangelicals will use all sorts of arguments in their attempts wiggle out of the obvious: that God, the first cause of all things, is culpable for everything done on planet Earth.

Some Evangelicals will argue that God created humans with free will. This means, then, that humans are responsible for their actions, not God. What a minute. Are Evangelicals saying that human will trumps the will of the Almighty; that humans can subvert what God desires to do; that God is forced to stand by and do nothing while humans exercise their free will? I thought God was omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent? Are Evangelicals saying that God is the biggest bad ass in the universe, yet he is powerless to stop humans from doing whatever it is they want to do?

Other Evangelicals — usually Calvinists — will use various lapsarian (the order of God’s decrees) arguments to extricate God from the vice of culpability.  Here’s a chart that details the various lapsarian views:lapsarian views

Wikipedia

These arguments, of course, are not found in the Bible. They are philosophical arguments used to justify various theological beliefs. Some Calvinists, realizing the huge problem the origin and existence of sin and suffering causes them, will take their theology to its logical conclusion and say that God created sin; that the fall of the human race was decreed by God; that God from before the foundation of the world only purposed to save a remnant of people; that the overwhelming majority of humans will die and go to hell, all because of the sin nature God gave them. Other Calvinists, denying the aforementioned logical conclusions, put their dancing shoes on, and with salsa-like motions attempt to dance around the problems of sin and suffering.

Regardless of the arguments made for humankind’s sinfulness and the subsequent fallout, none of them adequately answers the problem of non-human animal pain and suffering. Animals do not have a will or a soul. Animals have no ability to make moral or ethical choices — at least not in the sense that humans do. Thus, animals, in a Biblical sense, are not sinful. Yet, animals face untold violence, suffering, and death. As anyone who has watched Animal Planet or the National Geographic channel knows, the animal world is violent. Darwin’s theories of adaptation and survival of the fittest are on glorious display as animal species fight to live.

If animals are not sinners and God created them, why did God create animals to be so violent? Why do animals suffer through no fault of their own? Why are billions of animals annually raised and slaughtered using violent, torturous methods by humans who supposedly bear the imprint of God? Why do these same image bearers, hunt down animals for sport, causing untold terror to the hunted? What, if anything, in the animal world says to rational humans that the Christian God of love, mercy, and kindness exists?

In recent weeks, a hawk has been frequenting our back yard. He has developed an appetite for the pigs of the feeder — starlings. Starlings tend to be bullies, forcing other bird species to feed elsewhere. These starlings think they have nothing to fear, so they drop their guard as they voraciously scarf down bird seed. The visiting hawk takes advantage of their carelessness, swooping in and grabbing a starling dinner. One day, I watched him nail two starlings in the space of half an hour.

Now, I am not a big fan of starlings (or grackles). They love to raid our feeders, at the expense of other birds we feed. That said, their death at the hand of this hawk is a reminder of how violent the animal world is. Since sin and free will are not issues, why then did God create animals to be so violent? Why is there so much suffering and death? Billions and billions of animals annually die horrific deaths, sometimes suffering for great lengths before dying. What in this arrangement says to us that the Christian is who and what his followers say he is? From my seat in the atheist pew, it seems to me that there is no God.

Some Evangelicals will agree that animal suffering is problematic; that the violence and death is regrettable and troubling. But, that doesn’t mean the Christian God is a myth. There are OTHER arguments for the existence of God, so no one should reject God without considering these other arguments. God will, in eternity, explain everything to us, but, for now, we must trust that God is working out all things according to his purpose and plan. The problem, of course, is that God’s indifference to animal suffering and death points to the fact that if the Christian deity exists, he is lacking moral character; that he is willing to do nothing while animals suffer; that he has the power to end their suffering, yet he turns a blind eye and says, make my steak rare.

smile god loves you

I can accept, from a theological perspective, that, thanks to sin, humans suffer and die. Their suffering is recompense for their disobedience. However, animals never sinned against God. They’ve done nothing to warrant suffering and death. Thus, a God who created animals knowing they would suffer and die is not a deity worthy of worship. This same God not only killed the entire human race — save eight — by drowning them, he also slaughtered all living things save the few animals gathered up by Noah (and birds capable of continuous flight for a month or longer and sea animals able to live in fresh water). What in the story of Noah says to us that the Christian God is kind, loving, and good? Nothing. God not only killed millions of men, women, and children, he also killed countless innocent unborn babies. He also killed who knows how many animals. Why? Because he could.

Some Christians will ignorantly argue that animals don’t feel pain, so it is impossible for them to, in the classic sense, suffer. Those of us who have spent time around animals, either as pet owners, farmers, or observers in the wild, know differently. Animals can and do feel pain, and they can and do suffer (so much so that we have them euthanized).

Peter Singer writes:

We can never directly experience the pain of another being, whether that being is human or not. When I see my daughter fall and scrape her knee, I know that she feels pain because of the way she behaves – she cries, she tells me her knee hurts, she rubs the sore spot, and so on. I know that I myself behave in a somewhat similar – if more inhibited – way when I feel pain, and so I accept that my daughter feels something like what I feel when I scrape my knee.

The basis of my belief that animals can feel pain is similar to the basis of my belief that my daughter can feel pain. Animals in pain behave in much the same way as humans do, and their behaviour is sufficient justification for the belief that they feel pain. It is true that, with the exception of those apes who have been taught to communicate by sign language, they cannot actually say that they are feeling pain_ but then when my daughter was a little younger she could not talk either. She found other ways to make her inner states apparent, however, so demonstrating that we can be sure that a being is feeling pain even if the being cannot use language.

To back up our inference from animal behaviour, we can point to the fact that the nervous systems of all vertebrates, and especially of birds and mammals, are fundamentally similar. Those parts of the human nervous system that are concerned with feeling pain are relatively old, in evolutionary terms. Unlike the cerebral cortex, which developed only after our ancestors diverged from other mammals, the basic nervous system evolved in more distant ancestors common to ourselves and the other ‘higher’ animals. This anatomical parallel makes it likely that the capacity of animals to feel is similar to our own.

….

Andrea Nolan writes:

The nature of pain is perhaps even more complex in animals. How pain is sensed and the physical processes behind this are remarkably similar and well conserved across mammals and humans. There are also many similarities in pain behaviours across the species, for example they may stop socialising with people and/or other animals, they may eat less, they may vocalise more and their heart rate may rise. The capacity of animals to suffer as sentient creatures is well established and enshrined in law in many countries, however we don’t understand well how they actually experience pain.

Some aspects of the experience and expression of pain are not likely to be the same as in humans. First, animals cannot verbally communicate their pain. Dogs may yelp and you may notice behaviour change but what about your pet rabbit, cat, tortoise or horse? Animals rely on human observers to recognise pain and to evaluate its severity and impact. Without the ability to understand soothing words that explain that following surgery to repair a bone fracture, their pain will be managed (hopefully) and will subside, animals may also suffer more when in pain than we do.

The debate around animals’ capacity to experience pain and suffer raged in the 20th century, but as we developed a greater understanding of pain, and studied its impact on the aspects of animal life that we could measure, we veterinary surgeons, along with many behavioural and animal scientists, recognised the significant impact of untreated pain, and we now believe this experience causes them to suffer.

….

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association established the Global Pain Council and released a document detailing the existence of animal pain and how it should be treated. The document’s introduction states:

The ability to experience pain is universally shared by all mammals, including companion animals, and as members of the veterinary healthcare team it is our moral and ethical duty to mitigate this suffering to the best of our ability. This begins by evaluating for pain at every patient contact. However, and despite advances in the recognition and treatment of pain, there remains a gap between its occurrence and its successful management; the inability to accurately diagnose pain and limitations in, and/or comfort with, the analgesic modalities available remain root causes. Both would benefit from the development, broad dissemination, and adoption of pain assessment and management guidelines.

….

The science is clear on the matter: animals do feel pain and suffer. Only those wanting to protect God’s character and moral virtue deny their existence. Thus, because innocent animals can and do suffer, feel pain, and die violent deaths, I am left to conclude that the Christian God is not loving, kind, or good. He is not, for this reason alone, a God worthy of our fealty, devotion, and worship. Animal suffering, then, is yet another reason I doubt the existence of said God. And since there’s no God that can intervene, it is up to humans to do all they can to lessen animal suffering and pain. How we treat the least of these says much about our character and values. Show me a man who mistreats animals and kills for sport, and I will show you a man who is lacking in character. The path to peace requires love and compassion for all living things, not just those who agree with us or who offer some benefit to us.

Let me conclude this post with several quotes from Gandhi:

Strictly speaking, no activity and no industry is possible without a certain amount of violence, no matter how little. Even the very process of living is impossible without a certain amount of violence. What we have to do is to minimize it to the greatest extent possible.

It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God, the Compassionate, if we in turn will not practice elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures.

There is little that separates humans from other sentient beings — we all feel joy, we all deeply crave to be alive and to live freely, and we all share this planet together.

A good read on the issue of suffering is Bart Ehrman’s book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer.

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.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Raising White Christian Boys in a Culture That Hates Them

scott alan buss

You just don’t talk about white people, boys or not, as if they’re somehow deserving of equal consideration and treatment in America when we all know that every other gender (of which one is real), every other ethnicity, and every other religious perspective is totally deserving of “special consideration” above and beyond what “Christian white boys” in America ought to have or even expect.

You aren’t supposed to notice, and certainly not speak out against, the fact that American culture has been systematically programmed to embrace and promote an attitude of open hostility, discrimination, and disdain for several groups, with particular hostility acutely focused on Christian white boys, who literally embody the sin of being several problematic things all at once, namely: Christian, white, and male.

To be not only a male, but a young male in America, makes you the target of an anti-Christian educational system and a pagan pop-culture designed to feminize and castrate you by various means, including the mass prescription of mind altering drugs (and I mean literally mind altering – the brain is radically altered by these things) to compensate for and/or crush the more “annoying” aspects of maleness in youth.

To be a Christian – an actual Bible-believing Christian – in this culture makes you a fringe kook even in most “conservative Christian” churches. To actually believe in Jesus as Lord over everything in His creation for real is to be a relic of America’s Calvinistic past that it’s anti-Calvinistic/anti-Christian present can’t seem to ditch fast enough or impugn loudly enough.

I mean what kind of racist, sexist, homophopic, islamophobic, transphopic, global warming denying white devil do you have to be in America these days to dare to publically acknowledge that your children are, um, white, and that said whiteness is totally cool and good?

….

Yes, my children are white.

Really white.

Glow in the dark white.

They make Dracula look tanned and SPF 100 seem reasonable.

You get the picture.

The very white picture.

Now on to more important things…

Like open discrimination.

As in: If you’re a white boy or man in America, it is 100% A-Okay (and virtuous even) for you to be openly discriminated against through any number of “special considerations” given to everyone who is not like you.

Every other gender (of which one is real) gets preferential treatment.

Every other ethnicity (of which all are a part of one race – the human race) get’s preferential treatment.

Every other religious worldview gets preferential treatment.

As a Christian white boy and Christian white man in America, you are and will be uniquely targeted for attack, criticism, discrimination, and blame.

Scott Alan Buss, AKA Fire Breathing Christian, Raising Christian White Boys In A Culture Programmed To Hate Them, November 22, 2017

Note

Buss is a Calvinist. He attends Christ the King Church in Centerville, Tennessee.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Daniel Williams Pleads Guilty on Loitering Charge

busted

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Daniel Williams, pastor of Arrowbrook Baptist Church in Xenia, Ohio, was arrested earlier this year on a prostitution related charge. In August, Williams pleaded guilty to loitering.

WHIO reports:

A Xenia pastor arrested in Dayton was found guilty earlier this year for loitering to engage in solicitation, according to court records.

Daniel P. Williams, 40, of Huber Heights, was found guilty in late August after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of loitering, according to Dayton Municipal Court.

Williams’ employer is listed as Arrowbrook Baptist Church in Xenia in both court record and the police report. The church’s website also lists Williams as their pastor.

….

Williams was originally charged with a second count of loitering and a third count of soliciting, both of which were withdrawn upon his guilty plea, according to Dayton Municipal Court.

The violation happened at around noon Aug. 17 in the 3400 block of East Third Street in Dayton, according to Dayton police.

Williams was sentenced to 60 days in jail, with 60 days being suspended. He will be on probation for one year, according to court records.

….

Arrowbrook Baptist is a Southern Baptist church affiliated with the Founders Ministries and 9Marks — both Calvinistic ministries. Williams’ church bio states:

Pastor Dan has served Arrowbrook as the Pastor of Preaching and Teaching since May 2001. He graduated from Wright State University with a Degree in Mass Communication and a Minor in Religious Studies. He is married to his wife,****, and together they live in Huber Heights with their daughter ****. Pastor Dan has a desire to build up the people of God through the preaching of God’s Word and a deep love for the local church, knowing that it was for the church that Jesus Christ died.

“God is With You,” says Sioux Center Christian School Principal Josh Bowar to Students Molested by Curtis Van Dam

god the child molester

Note: As you will soon see, I was very angry when I wrote this post — the eighth post today dealing with sexual/financial misconduct by clergy and church leaders. Day after day, these kind of stories show up in my email in-box. I often feel dirty, disgusted, and depressed after reading them. Is there no end to the predatory behavior of Christian clergy? That’s a rhetorical question. The answer, of course, is no. What makes these stories worse is the fact they are often covered up, explained away, or coated with Grade A religious bullshit. I started the Black Collar Crime series in March. Since then, I have posted almost 250 stories. These reports are but the tip of the iceberg. Most sexual abuse goes unreported. As we are learning with Hollywood’s sexual harassment/abuse/rape scandal, men (and it is almost always men) with power and authority over children and women can and will use that power to satisfy their perverse desires. What makes Evangelical and Catholic scandals worse is the fact that pastors, priests, and other church leaders are naively viewed as pillars of morality and virtue. People, especially children, implicitly trust clerics and church leaders, and these degenerates take that trust and use it harm their charges. 

Curtis Van Dam, a fifth-grade teacher at Sioux Center Christian School in Sioux Center, Iowa, was arrested and charged with sexually molesting numerous students. The Globe Gazette reports:

An elementary teacher at Sioux Center Christian School arrested last month for committing a lascivious act with a student at the school has been charged with an additional 84 counts of sexual abuse involving “numerous” children, police said Wednesday.

Curtis Van Dam, 35, of Sioux Center, was arrested Oct. 23 after a complaint was lodged against him five days earlier for inappropriate conduct with a student.

The latest charges are tied to incidents that occurred over a four-year period, between August 2013 and last month. Van Dam now faces 101 felonies and 39 misdemeanors.

The felonies include 72 counts of second-degree abuse, 12 counts of third-degree sexual abuse, 14 counts of sexual exploitation by a teacher, and three counts of lascivious acts with a child.

The alleged acts took place at various locations, including the private school, the release said.Police Chief Paul Adkins said the investigation is continuing, and additional charges are possible. Adkins declined to identify the number of alleged victims or their ages.

Van Dam, a fifth-grade teacher at the school, was fired following his arrest last month.

Police searched Van Dam’s residence on Oct. 21, two days before his arrest. He is booked into the Sioux County Jail.

Van Dam started teaching at the school after he graduated from Dordt College in 2004.

Sioux Center Christian School was founded in 1905. According to the school’s website, the school has 509 students in grades K-8 for the 2017-18 school year.
In a statement, the school said it removed Van Dam from the school immediately after hearing the initial complaint and terminated him on Oct. 19. The case, the school said, is now “in the hands of our criminal justice system and we trust that justice will be served.

….

Evidently, no one, not even God, knew that Van Dam was preying on school children for FOUR FUCKING YEARS. Josh  Bowar, the principal at Sioux Center Christian had this to say to the children abused by Van Dam:

Kids, we want you to know that we consider you brave for telling your parents, the police, and the interviewers what happened to you.  We praise God that your testimony has brought to light a dark secret that none of us adults knew was there. Please know that thousands are lifting you before the throne of your Father in heaven…. Trust Him to restore you completely.

Sioux Center Christian is a Reformed institution. These institutions’ philosophy is such that they believe that Van Dam’s heinous behavior was decreed (or permitted) by the sovereign, all-knowing God of John Calvin (and yes, I know all the arguments Calvinists use to escape the logical conclusion of their deterministic theology). A statement put out by Bowar states:

We have been told from the beginning that additional charges for a former teacher at Sioux Center Christian would be coming. Today, Mr. Curt Van Dam, was charged with 101 felonies and 39 misdemeanors. We have been informed that he was arrested this afternoon. On Oct 18, within hours of hearing a complaint, school officials removed Mr. Van Dam from the school and immediately contacted authorities. His employment was terminated on Oct 19 and we have been in full cooperation with civil authorities since. This case is in the hands of our criminal justice system and we trust that justice will be served.

Though the number of charges do not necessarily reflect the number of students, we are grieved again as we hear the extent of the charges. We’ve wept, now it’s time to weep again. We’ve prayed, now we need to continue praying. We’ve brought our anger and fears to the Lord, and now we need to lay those feelings again at His feet. We need to remember that though the charges are many, it also means that many students are no longer carrying secrets. Kids, we want you to know that we consider you brave for telling your parents, the police, and the interviewers what happened to you. We praise God that your testimony has brought to light a dark secret that none of us adults knew was there. You have played an important role in keeping others safe. Please know that thousands are lifting you before the throne of your Father in heaven… trust Him to restore you completely.

Our focus at Sioux Center Christian continues to be the Christ-centered education of our students, while also providing daily support and guidance to students as needed through their teachers and professional counselors. Tonight, there is a parent group session with All Things New Therapy Services. It is at 6:30pm in our gym for parents. Next Wednesday, Nov. 15, we will have a parent/5th – 8th grade student opportunity with Pastor Aaron & Nicole Baart at 6:30pm in our gym.
We are planning additional specialized support for our students in the months ahead and for as long as it takes. If this news especially hurts because you have suffered or are suffering abuse, we encourage you to bring it out of the realm of secrecy, so that it loses its powerful grip on you. We encourage you to talk to a professional Christian counselor.

We know hearing these new charges is incredibly painful and heartbreaking, but we need to be reminded again that we are walking this road of pain, so that another child need not. In the midst of this hurt, we proclaim hope. Hope in our sovereign God, who is so very trustworthy and true in His promises of life and healing. He gave His only Son, who lived as one of us, died on the cross, rose again, and reigns on high, so that we could enjoy eternal life in Christ’s unfolding Kingdom. As a community of people bound together by our love and care for kids, let us persevere through the trials that lay before us. This will be an enduring process but we rest in our Living Hope, Jesus Christ. Let’s continue to pray and encourage one another. We have been overwhelmed by the love and support shown by our entire community and beyond …you have done more for us than words can define. Be assured that God is good and He is at work mightily in this school. Thank you for your continued prayers and support.

Below was not part of our public statement, but we want to share this with those who read the statement. We have all experienced comfort and assurance through Scripture and in songs of faith during this trying time. Here is one Bible verse that has been especially encouraging to us:

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:6-9

This is, of course, a horrible story. I find it hard to believe that NO ONE had any suspicions about Van Dam’s predatory behavior. Not one person questioned Van Dam’s behavior? Not one child complained? Not one parent wondered if Van Dam’s was up to no good?

Bowar offered the abused children thoughts, prayers, and Christian counseling. The thoughts and prayers are worthless, little more than empty religious platitudes meant to make adults feel better about allowing a sexual predator to run wild at Sioux Christian. And the Christian counseling? This allows the school to keep the matter in-house. Students will be counseled according to Biblical principles, with, I suspect, a healthy dose of Calvinistic thinking. Will these counselors tell the children the truth; that their abuse at the hands of their teacher was all part of God’s plan for their lives; that God was “with” them through every disgusting, vile act perpetrated by Van Dam.

I wonder if anyone will dare to ask the question,WHERE WAS GOD when Van Dam was violating these children? And while you are at it, explain to these precious children why an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God stood by and watched — doing nothing — while their innocence was ripped away. Shouldn’t God be held accountable for his indifference?

Of course, God didn’t intervene because he couldn’t — he doesn’t exist. Religion might provide a temporary salve to soothe these wounded children, but there is coming a day, perhaps years from now when they are adults, that those abused by Van Dam will have to wrestle with the things done to them by their Christian school teacher. Perhaps then, far away from the empty words of Josh Bowar, they will find healing. I hope they will seek out competent counselors who put them, and not God, first.

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.

Bible Thumpers: Dealing With Evangelical Bible Bullies

Most churchgoing Evangelicals are nice enough people. They may have irrational beliefs and, by their attendance and financial support, lend their names to social policies we progressives find offensive and harmful, but meet Evangelicals at local football games or restaurants and they will act very much like the rest of us. A small percentage of Evangelicals are Bible thumpers — people who live and breathe the Bible, Christian doctrine, and evangelization. Many of the Evangelicals-turned-atheists/agnostics who read this blog were, during their Christian days, Bible thumpers. Evangelicals who stumble upon this blog and comment are usually members of the Bible thumper club. Bible thumpers might be a minority within the broader context of Evangelicalism, but they have a larger-than-life presence on the internet, television, and radio. Most Evangelicals are Sunday-go-to-meeting Christians — people who love Jesus and their fellow man.  Bible thumpers, on the other hand, love doctrine and hearing themselves talk far more than they do other people. Bible thumpers are quite willing to psychologically eviscerate those deemed enemies — liberal Christians, Catholics, non-Christians, atheists, agnostics, and even Evangelicals who aren’t as “committed” as they are.

Earlier this week, I tried to engage a Bible thumper in a thoughtful discussion on the Rational Doubt blog. I should have known better. I ALWAYS should know better. It’s been years since I have had a lengthy discussion with an Evangelical that turned out well. By the time I figured out I had made a huge mistake, this Bible thumper, sensing emotional blood in the water, turned to attacking me personally, suggesting that I was intellectually inferior and a whiner. This man’s words cut to the quick, opening up wounds that lie buried deep in my being. It’s been almost three years now since I have returned to blogging. People who have been following my writing for years know that I quit blogging several times in the past because of vicious assholes for Jesus. A little voice in my head kept telling me to tell this Bible thumper exactly what I thought of him and move on, but since I was a guest on Rational Doubt (which periodically publishes my writing to their site, as does No Longer Quivering) I decided to refrain from giving the Bible thumper the Bruce Almighty treatment. I finally threw in the towel, much to the delight of the Bible-thumper. According to him, his superior “Biblical” arguments caused me to flee. He even suggested that deep-down I knew that his arguments were correct.

Readers who frequent this blog know the kind of man I am. They also know of my physical struggles and my decades-long battle with depression. Had they been following the Rational Doubt debacle, I am sure I would have gotten emails, instant messages, and texts asking me if I was okay. When a major depressive state sets in — as it now has — life gets quite dark for me. It is easy for me to lose sight of what matters. What doesn’t matter is a piss-ant Evangelical who uses the Bible to bully people. This particular man is just one more of the thousands of Bible thumpers who have come before him. I knew what kind of awful man he was, so why did I engage him anyway? I knew he described himself on his website as:

T.C. Howitt writes at the gospel crossroads of truth and reality, using the Bible to illuminate our benighted culture. He considers no subject sacred in this fallen world, relying on the power of God’s word alone to boldly declaim the shocking wickedness surrounding us in the forms of secular humanism, scientism and technological idolatry.

I knew that his Facebook page said: “I’m on Facebook to preach God’s word. Don’t be surprised when you hear it.” I knew his Medium profile said: “Writer, preacher of God’s word, destroyer of idols, giver of fair warning.” These three statements set off a warning in my mind that said, WARNING, BRUCE! BIBLE THUMPER AHEAD. Yet, despite knowing all I needed to know about what kind of man Todd Howitt is, I decided to engage him anyway. The fault, then, is mine, not his. Rabid dogs act like rabid dogs. I shouldn’t expect them to act like lovable puppies. Bible thumpers act the way they do because they believe the Bible is the answer to every question, and that they know everything. Every morning, these zealots arise and sing:

The B-I-B-L-E,
Yes that’s the book for me,
I stand alone on the Word of God,
The B-I-B-L-E.
BIBLE!

bible thumper 4

They have read countless books that reinforce their educated ignorance. Bible thumpers believe they have life figured out, and that if everyone would believe as they do, all would be well. Many of these Bible thumpers are Calvinists, adding another layer of arrogance and certainty to their behavior. I KNOW all of these things, so why, then, did I bother to engage Howitt? My counselor tells me that I wrongly think that if I just share with people my story and explain my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism, that Bible thumpers will understand. Dr. Deal had told me several times, Bruce, you think these people care about what you think. They don’t! They don’t give a shit about you or what you think.

Doc, of course, is right. I KNOW he is right. I have known for years that he is right. I know, I know, I know, yet every so often the “just explain yourself” Bruce nags me, demanding to speak, and so I let him. And as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, the moment I do, I realize I have made a big mistake. (I am not talking here about explaining myself to the regular readers of this blog. I owe it to readers who have invested their time (and money) in reading my writing to explain things that aren’t clear. Fortunately, regular readers rarely need an explanation. They understand my writing methodology and usually know what I mean when I say this or that.)

Earlier today, I read a Washington Post article about the turmoil in Spain over Catalonia’s attempt to secede from Spain. Speaking of the supposed dialog between the parties, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said:

The word dialogue is a lovely word. It creates good feelings. But dialogue has two enemies: those who abuse, ignore and forget the laws, and those who only want to listen to themselves, who do not want to understand the other party.”

I thought as I read it, Rajoy’s statement fits well with my recent “dialog” with Todd Howitt. Howitt is an enemy to open and honest dialog because his Fundamentalist religious beliefs have turned him into an abusive bully. He may smile and say Praise Jesus! while he is doing it, but Howitt and other Bible thumpers can and do cause psychological harm to people with sensitive sensibilities (which Bible thumpers view as weakness). Howitt had no interest in understanding where I was coming from. He stated from the get-go that he was a former atheist (doubtful) and he was there not to dialog or converse — already knowing how atheists think — but to preach the Word. In other words, he was only interested in hearing himself talk. Those of us who are former Evangelicals are quite familiar with people who only want to listen to themselves talk. Our pastors were people who believed they were men supernaturally chosen by a supernatural God to preach the inspired, inerrant supernatural Word of God. Our duty as hearers was to submit to the pastor’s — I mean God’s — authority and explicitly follow the laws, precepts, commands, and examples found within the pages of the one book that is different from all the books ever written — the Protestant Bible. As an Evangelical pastor, I did the same. Since I had been called by God to preach and teach at whatever church I was currently pastoring, I expected congregants to listen and obey. (Hebrews 13:17)

Bible thumpers believe they are plugged into God 24/7 — that is, except when they, under the cover of darkness, behave in ways that make them entries for the Black Collar Crime series. Bible thumpers believe that their knowledge of the Bible is superior to that of the vast majority of people on earth. Some of them think that they are so right that no church is good enough for them. They are infected with what I call A.W. Pink disease. Pink was a famous early twentieth-century Calvinistic writer who secluded himself on an island because he couldn’t find a pure enough church to attend.

Having risen to the level of being worthy to enter the inner temple of Biblical truth, Bible thumpers, girded with self-righteousness , fan out across the internet seeking forums to dispense their Trumpian-level knowledge. Scores of such people over the years have made their way to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. These days, Bible thumpers are rarely permitted to sell their faux-gold plated turds on this site. A decade spent dealing with Bible thumpers has taught me that engagement is futile. While I, at times, forget this maxim, I am getting better at just letting Bible thumpers tilt at windmills. I took a big step backward this week. All I know to do is make an appointment with my therapist, rest my mind, hope Ohio State beats the shit out of Penn State on Saturday, and hopefully, most of all, learn from my mistake.

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.

Open Letter to Evangelical Air Force Chaplain Sonny Hernandez From the Freedom From Religion Foundation

sonny hernandez

Yesterday, I published an excerpt from an article by Air Force Chaplain Sony Hernandez — a Fundamentalist Calvinist —  in which Hernandez told Christian soldiers that their duty to God comes before the U.S. Constitution. Today, church-state watchdog Freedom From Religion Foundation responded to Hernandez.

To Captain Sonny Hernandez, Chaplain for the U.S. Air Force Reserves:

Dear Captain Hernandez,

This is a response to your recent misguided rant about the “duties” of Christian military chaplains to “avoid supporting or accommodating evil.” You make it clear that by “evil” you mean the American values of religious pluralism and the constitutional right of non-Christians and the nonreligious to freely exercise their beliefs. Your ideas are unworthy and un-American.

The tirade was meant to encourage other military chaplains to follow your lead and turn their backs on the Constitution — the very document that you and they have sworn an oath to uphold and defend — by actively denigrating non-Christian service members. This is a shameful call to action that will actively undermine unit cohesion and the readiness of our armed forces.

You begin your diatribe by distinguishing between “True” Christians (those who are devoted to your interpretation of the bible and “hate the things that God hates”) and “Counterfeit” Christians (those who “appeal to the Constitution” and “support everyone’s right to practice their faith regardless if they worship a god different from ours”). You declare that military chaplains “accommodate evil” if they accommodate the men and women of our armed services who are not Christian.

Midway through your rant, you swing and miss at an incredibly easy question that you pose to yourself: “Is it wrong for a professing Christian service member to say, ‘I support the rights of all Americans to practice their faith since the Constitution protects their rights?’ ”

The easy, correct, obvious answer — the one demanded by your oath to uphold the Constitution — is, “No, it’s not wrong to support the right of free religious exercise, or any of the other rights enshrined in our Constitution.”

Your answer? “Absolutely!” Your disrespect for the very principles on which this nation was founded is appalling.

As a military chaplain you have a duty to aid our service members in the free exercise of their religious beliefs. Accommodating the free exercise of religion is, in fact, your only job. Military chaplains exist to grant our service members access to a church or religious leader of their chosen religion while they live on base or travel overseas.

While the military chaplaincy has unnecessarily expanded and in many cases now provides redundant access to Christian chaplains in areas where private Christian churches are available, the justification for military chaplains nevertheless remains rooted — tenuous though those legal roots may be —  in the constitutional principle of free religious exercise. Your call to openly disregard the Constitution is particularly hypocritical, given that the Constitution justifies your existence.

You are encouraging military chaplains to abuse their government positions to promote your particular brand of Christianity to atheist and minority religious service members. This is a dangerous proposal that disrespects the constitutional separation of religion and government and undermines the well being of our non-Christian military members.

U.S. service members have freedom of religion, which includes freedom from religious promotion by the government. By conflating the difference between private belief and government action — the First Amendment only protects the former — you sow confusion and perpetuate the type of overt proselytization by military chaplains that has become far too common.

Earlier this year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote to the Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire after a guardsman complained to us that on-base ceremonies regularly include chaplain-led bible readings and prayer. These are not optional services taking place in a chapel; service members are often required to attend these events as part of their official duties. This is a serious violation of the First Amendment rights of our country’s service members, a violation that you appear to embrace, since it benefits your particular religion.

After bashing the constitutional rights of non-Christians, you bizarrely choose to make an appeal to the constitutional rights of military chaplains. You write, “Military chaplains are not forced to do anything that would violate what their conscience dictates,” which is poorly phrased but basically true. Military chaplains have the right to freely exercise their religion too. But they don’t have the right to force their personal beliefs on others. And they also don’t have a right or an obligation to be military chaplains. Freedom of religious belief does not include the freedom to blow off the duties you’re being paid to perform while continuing to receive a government paycheck.

Your final straw man sets up a false dichotomy. You claim that your opponents want military chaplains either to accommodate “all service members” or else “resign from the military.” There is a world of choice between these two extremes! How about we find military chaplains who are willing to preach to those who welcome them without jamming religion down the throats of the more than 30 percent of service members who are non-Christian, including the 23 percent who have no religious preference? There are indeed many atheists/agnostics/humanists in foxholes who should be protected from religious intrusion and coercion while on duty.

All servicemen and women, chaplains included, must swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Your recent post was meant to undermine that hallowed document and the rights it protects. You are unfit to wear the uniform and, if you had the courage of your loudly proclaimed religious convictions, you would resign immediately. Shame on you.

Yours Sincerely,

Sam Grover
Associate Legal Counsel
Freedom From Religion Foundation  

Are you a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation? If your answer is no, I encourage you to become a member today.