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You Are Welcome Here, Evangelical Churches Say, But do They Really Mean It?

you are welcome here

On January 23, 2018, I wrote the following:

A tagline often used by Christian churches to advertise themselves to non-Christians is this: YOU ARE WELCOME HERE! This statement is meant to convey to people that their church is friendly and accepting of everyone. When mainline churches use this line, they often are just that: friendly, accepting, and welcoming. Years ago, Polly and I, along with our three youngest children, visited the Episcopal church in Defiance. On our first visit there, an older woman — whom we learned later was a pillar of the church — came up to us and said, WELCOME! We don’t care what you believe, you are welcome here. This congregation sincerely didn’t care what you did or didn’t believe, though there were several members of a Fundamentalist persuasion who likely were not as indifferent about our beliefs, especially our pro-choice view on abortion. There’s another church in Defiance, St. John’s United Church of Christ, that advertises the fact that they are a welcoming church. St. John’s caused quite of bit of controversy when they came out in support of same-sex marriage. Both of these churches genuinely accept people as they are, where they are, and don’t try to evangelize. They are more focused on good works than right doctrine.

However, when Evangelical churches, such as the one outside of Ney, say, YOU ARE WELCOME HERE!, I chuckle, knowing that they mean something far different when they say this than do the aforementioned Episcopal and UCC churches. Evangelical churches want to be perceived as welcoming places where anyone and everyone can walk through their doors and feel at home. Little do first-time visitors realize that this friendliness is a con; that the church has an ulterior motive: to evangelize them and turn them into more soldiers in God’s Fundamentalist army. Evangelicals will piously say that they love everyone, just as God loves everyone. Sounds good, right? We all want to feel loved and accepted. With Evangelicals, however, their love is a means to an end. They might feign love for you for a time, but their objective is to save you, baptize you, get your checking account number, and add you to the church roll. Yes, Evangelicals say, we love you as you are, but we love you enough to not leave you there.

Some Evangelical churches are content to leave sinners alone, trusting that the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the Word will bring them to repentance. Week after week, congregants will “love” on sinners (also called “love bombing”), leading them to believe that they are loved and accepted as they are. Little do they know that there is no way for them to gain membership in the club until they first change their ways. This is why I laugh when I hear Evangelicals say that their churches LOVE and ACCEPT LGBTQ people. Sure they do. Oh, they love and accept them enough to let them take two feet of real estate in one of the church pews, but let someone living in “sin” try to become part of the club and they will be told, sorry, only saved, sanctified, heterosexual people are allowed to be members. Want to sing in the choir, play in the church band, teach Sunday school, or work in the nursery? REPENT and believe the gospel. REPENT and stop being who and what you are. REPENT and realize you are a filthy, vile, broken sinner in need salvation.

It is really easy for anyone to test whether a particular Evangelical church is as welcoming as its members claim it is. Ask the pastor if you and your lesbian partner — whom you legally married last year — can join the church. Or, ask the pastor if you can recruit church members to work at the local Planned Parenthood. Take any of the hot-button social issues or any of the “bad” sins Evangelicals are obsessed with and work them into your life story. Ask the pastor if the church will accept you as a member as you are, with you not planning to change your ways. I guarantee you that Evangelical churches will let you in the gate so they can preach at you, but they sure as heaven aren’t going to let you be a club member unless you first go through their particular club’s membership rituals.

So, when Evangelical churches put on their advertising signs, YOU ARE WELCOME HERE! don’t believe them. When Evangelicals tell you that their churches love people unconditionally, feel free to snort, chortle, and laugh. They don’t love anyone unconditionally, and, according to the Bible, neither does their God. (Please read Does God Love Us Unconditionally?  Does God Hate? and Evangelicals Say They Love LGBTQ People, But do They Really?) I am sure Evangelicals reading this might say, Well, Bruce, you aren’t welcoming of everyone. You don’t love unconditionally. So there! Here’s the thing: I have never made such claims. I don’t live in a mythical world of cheap clichés. While I go out of my way to be kind to and respect everyone, some people are assholes and I have no interest in being, nor do I have the energy to be fake friends with such people. The same goes for unconditionally loving everyone. While I am generally a nice guy — just ask anyone who knows me — there are some people who don’t deserve my love. One of the joys of unbelief is that I no longer have to fake-love people. As a pastor, I had to feign love towards countless boorish, nasty people. What would Jesus do, right? Now that Jesus isn’t in my way, I am free to choose whom I want to love and whom I don’t. I spent decades putting up with relatives such as my grandparents, all because I thought that the Bible taught me to do so. Now I am free to say to them, I have no interest in you being a part of my life. (Please read Dear Ann.) Goodbye, good riddance, have a happy death.

Perhaps it is time for Evangelical churches to be honest in their advertising. Stop lying to the public. Stop feigning acceptance and admit that the only people who are truly welcome are those who believe the right things and live a certain way. And that’s okay. It’s your club, Evangelicals. You have every right to have membership rules and obligations. But, please quit with mimicking the small print at the bottom of an infomercial. Tell people the truth about what you demand and expect of them. Hiding your true agenda behind clichés and word salads only turn people off, especially when they find out you lied to them. Don’t tell LGBTQ people you love and accept them, when, in fact, you intend to do everything possible to turn them into Jesus-loving heterosexuals. Jesus said in John 8:32, the TRUTH shall set you free. It’s time for Evangelicals to put their Lord and Savior’s words into practice.

— end of original post —

Several questions were raised about what I wrote above, so I thought I would take a stab at answering them and better explaining how I view Christian churches.

Churches can best be described as membership clubs. As clubs, these churches have their own beliefs, rules, and practices. The club alone determines who can be a member. Members are expected to embrace the beliefs and practices of the club. No one should expect to be a club member without adhering to the beliefs and practices of said club.

I am a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan. Every spring I say to myself, this is the year. The Reds are going to make it to the World Series. And by August the Reds will be out of the pennant race, just as in virtually every other year. This year, the team will likely end up with a franchise record number of losses. Yet, I continue to cheer and root for the Redlegs. So it is with Christians. Their systems of beliefs have no rational foundation. Based on ancient religious texts, Christian beliefs find their foundation in the myths and hysteria of a pre-enlightenment world. Such beliefs, to put it simply, make no sense to me. (Please read The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) And they don’t need to. The particular beliefs and practices of a church (or other social clubs) are immaterial to me, and it matters not that I think Christian beliefs are fantastical myths. Thanks to the U.S. Constitution and federal/state law, people are free to believe whatever they want. It’s 2022, and countless Americans believe the earth is flat, evolution is a myth, the Moon landing was faked, the Holocaust didn’t happen, and 9/11 was an inside job. Still others believe that Donald Trump was the greatest president ever to sit in the oval office. I have long since stopped arguing with the supporters of the Orange-Haired Toddler. No amount of rational discussion will change their minds about Donald Trump. That most of the former President’s supporters also happen to be Evangelicals is telling — a double-dose of delusion.

When I struggle to understand how such-and-such a person could be a Fundamentalist Christian, I remind myself of the fact that people join churches for all sorts of reasons: family, social connection, absolution of sin, certainty of moral beliefs and worldview. I find it helpful to view Christianity from an economic perspective; particularly from a cost-benefit point of view. Yes, joining a Christian club costs the member. Club members are expected to give money to the club. They are also expected to submit to the club’s leaders and obey their teachings. If the club believes certain human behaviors are verboten, new members are expected to willingly and happily not do these things. At the same time, the club is expected to benefit its members. Club members expect to be welcomed and respected. They expect to have meaningful relationships and social connections. As long as the benefits outweigh the costs, most members will remain in the club. For those of us who are Evangelicals-turned-atheists, one of the reasons we left Christianity is that the costs outweighed the benefits.

Many Christians believe that people such as myself should respect their beliefs. How dare you criticize my God/beliefs/church, Christians say. They wrongly think that religious beliefs are special and should never be critiqued, criticized, or, if warranted, mocked. I completely reject such a notion. I don’t expect anyone to respect my beliefs. I expect my beliefs to be tested and tried in the public square. I do, however, respect Christians as individuals, as fellow citizens on Planet Earth. This respect of person I grant to others means I won’t criticize or condemn their club memberships. Want to join a Christian club? Want to join a Satanist club?  Want to belong to the Moose, Elks, or the Masonic Lodge? I don’t care one whit about which, if any, clubs people join. Each to his own.

What I do expect is that Christian clubs be honest in advertising what it is they believe and practice. I expect clubs to be clear about their membership requirements. And therein lies the problem, and the reason I wrote the first post. Evangelical churches love to advertise that everyone is welcome, when, in fact, this is not true. Inquiring prospective members deserve to be told the truth about what will be expected of them if they become a part of the church. Saying that LGBTQ people are WELCOME sounds wonderful, but Evangelical churches are being dishonest when they don’t disclose the fact that to be members, non-heterosexuals will be forced to deny their sexuality and embrace heterosexuality. In some Evangelical churches, new members will be expected to dress a certain way, abstain from certain foods/beverages, and only attend club-approved entertainment events. More than a few people have gotten saved at the “friendliest church in town,” only to find out that once they were baptized and became members, club leaders expected them to change their behavior.

Evangelicals love to say that they leave it up to the Holy Spirit to change people’s lives, but rarely is this actually practiced. Using sermons, Bible studies, and other means of coercive indoctrination, Evangelical churches expect newly minted believers to change, and if they don’t, they are branded as sinful, rebellious, backslidden, and out of the will of God. In some instances, misbehaving members are cast out of the club, returned to the world from whence they came. Such actions are fine as long as there was a full disclosure of expectations. It is dishonest for churches to say to people that their assemblies are open to everyone and they let the Holy Spirit change people, when in fact they are only open to people who believe the “right” beliefs and live their lives a certain way.

What I am saying here is that Evangelical pastors and churches need to be honest and tell the truth to prospective members. Surely, if Christian beliefs and practices are as honorable and wonderful as Christians say they are, full disclosure should cause no harm. I suspect, though, that more than a few Evangelical pastors know that if they told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, their club memberships would be much smaller. Some Evangelical colleges refuse to give new students the conduct handbook until after they are on campus. Why do they do this? College administrators know that if they tell the truth before students are on campus, it is likely that more than a few of them will choose not to enroll. Students come to the college looking forward to freedom and fun, only to find out that the college is actually a prison work camp. It is scandalous that colleges such as Pensacola Christian College do not fully disclose to new students their draconian (and silly) rules. Yet, these same colleges expect students to be truthful in all things.

Cable and satellite TV companies hide taxes/fees/equipment costs from prospective customers so it seems that the service is cheaper than it actually is. So it is with many Evangelical churches. It’s the hidden beliefs and practices that I object to. Churches wait until new members have signed on the dotted line to tell them, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story. If Evangelical churches are upfront about everything and someone decides to join their respective club, fine. Lying, however, about expectations is always wrong, whether through omission or commission, and Evangelical pastors and churches shouldn’t be upset when this practice is exposed to the light of day. Just tell the truth, Evangelicals, and you will not hear a peep from me.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Short Stories: Grandpa is an Atheist

bruce gerencser not afraid of hell

My wife, Polly, and I have thirteen grandchildren, ages two to twenty-two. Over the next three years, ten of our grandchildren will be in junior high, high school, and college. One of the first things our older grandchildren do in school is type my name in Google. And what do they find? This blog. And perhaps for the first time, they learn that Grandpa is an atheist.

Out of respect for my children, I don’t talk about religion with my grandchildren. If asked, I will briefly answer their questions, but I wait until they are in high school before I have in-depth discussions with them about religion and politics. I typically shape my answers according to their age and the religious beliefs of their parents; how open their parents are to me sharing my story. The older they get, the more questions they have. Sometimes, I resort to buying them books for their birthdays or Christmas.

Last Saturday, we watched son #2’s three children, ages 12, 10, and 8. We had a delightful time. The girls talked my ears off, especially Emma, the twelve-year-old. Emma excitedly let me know that she had found my blog and that she knew I was an atheist. (I let her parents know she was reading my blog at school.) Emma is one smart cookie, top-of-the-class, a straight-A student who wants to be a large animal veterinarian someday. She loves to talk, as does her Grandpa, so we get along famously.

Emma didn’t ask me any questions about atheism. I did tell her Nana was an atheist too. However, she did share with me her own experiences in the Catholic church. (She definitely thinks her priest is b-o-r-i-ng.) 🙂 I found it fascinating to listen to her explain her view of the world. And make no mistake about it, kids her age have a worldview. Emma is a voracious reader, as are most of my grandchildren. Their parents are quite liberal when it comes to what they are allowed to read (as Polly and I were, surprisingly, with our children). The broader their reading experiences, the broader their worldview.

I told Emma about one of her older cousins being asked by her teacher if she was related to me. (The teacher had read a letter I had written to the local newspaper.) Sadly, my children have experienced this at the local community college and their places of employment. Dad is a public figure with a peculiar last name. People will naturally make the connection. I told my children they are free to disown me, but so far none of them has done so. As my grandchildren get older, they will face the same scrutiny.

After telling Emma this story, I was delighted to hear her say “I am proud of my Grandpa.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce, You Never Knew the REAL Jesus

who is the real jesus

I have been accused hundreds of times over the years of never having been a True Christian®. The gist of this accusation is that I met, worshiped, and followed a counterfeit Jesus. If I had encountered the REAL JESUS and put my faith and trust in him, I would have become a True Christian® and would still be a follower of Christ to this day. The Bible gives cover for this argument when it says:

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (I John 2:19)

According to Evangelicals who say I never met the REAL JESUS, the angels of light in my life — parents, pastors, professors — were actually tools of Satan used by him to deceive me. And true to my training, I then became a false angel of light too — deceiving the churches I pastored and pulling the wool over the eyes of my colleagues in the ministry; that is, if any of them knew the REAL JESUS themselves.

The fact that I no longer profess to be a follower of Jesus is further evidence that I never met the REAL JESUS. Had I met the REAL JESUS, I would have continued in the faith; I would have continued pastoring churches. That I now stand in opposition to Christianity and the teachings of the Bible is clear evidence to Evangelicals that whatever Jesus I followed over my fifty years in the Christian church, he was not the REAL JESUS.

A good example of this thinking can be found in the recent blog comments by Rod Rogers [all spelling and grammar in the original]:

Yes, but you now claim that you are not a christian and therefore you never were a christian, right? You have painted your self into a corner. Either you were a liar for years or you are lying now; but you have to choose. My point is that God is always God or there never was a god. You have claimed both. Very sad.

Bruce, you don’t go from preaching God’s word, studying and praying daily and then wake up one day and say God never existed. That never happens. Somewhere you came to a place where God didn’t meet your expectations. I don’t know where that happened but it happened.

“Each aspect of my life must be judged in its context.” Ok, YOU said you were a Christian, said you were a preacher. In that context, were you preaching the truth or preaching a lie? Preaching a lie makes one what? “All I am saying is that I once was a Christian just like you, and now I’m not.” And all I am saying is that by your own admission you believed in once saved always saved. Now you don’t believe in God at all. By you own theology you yourself believed either you were not saved to begin with or you preached a lie. You are in a corner.

Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? Matthew 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Either you never were a child of God or you still are.

Bruce, it doesn’t matter what happened when. The only thing I am assuming is that you are telling the truth when you say that you were an IFB. If you were ever IFB then you believed in OSAS. You just don’t want to admit the truth. Your comment, “It’s like saying, I’m divorced now, so that means I never was married”?”, has nothing to do with my comment; its Non Sequitor.

I’m 64 years old and have met a lot of people and you are the only one who claims to have lived at the foot of the cross and woke up one day and renounced it. Sorry, I don’t believe that.

Rod is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). As such, he believes in the doctrine of “once saved, always saved.”  According to this doctrine, once a person is saved, he can never, ever fall from grace; never, ever lose his salvation. Built upon a foundation of intellectual assent to a set of theological propositions, most proponents of “once saved, always saved” believe that I am still a Christian; that I am just backslidden or out of the will of God. I say most, because some “once saved, always saved” believers can’t bear to fathom that someone who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29) can still be a Christian. If I am not now a Christian, in their minds that means I never was a Christian; that in decades of pastoral experience I never came in contact with the REAL JESUS.

Calvinists fall into “once saved, always saved” crowd, albeit they believe that a person must endure to the end (death) to be saved; and even then, some people who thought they were saved will wake up in Hell, realizing that they never were one of the elect. What a con job, right?  Much like many in the “once saved, always saved” IFB crowd, the Calvinists who knew me have concluded that I never met the REAL JESUS. If I had met the REAL JESUS, I would still be in church, availing myself of means of grace. That I am now an outspoken opponent of True Christianity® is proof to them that I was a false Christian.

In 1994, I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church — an independent Calvinistic congregation — in Elmendorf, Texas. While at Community, I became friends with Jose Maldonado, pastor of Hillburn Drive Grace Baptist Church. I had met Joe in the fall of 1993 when he and Pat Horner — my soon-to-be co-pastor — came to preach a conference at the church in Ohio I was pastoring at the time.

I resigned from Community in the fall of 1994. You can read more about that debacle in the series titled, I Am a Publican and a Heathen. After leaving Community, I had no further contact with Maldonado. Imagine my surprise, then, to hear that Maldonado, sixteen years after our last contact, took to the pulpit to let people know that I was now an atheist; a man who never knew the REAL JESUS.

Here’s a short audio clip of Maldonado “exposing” me as a false prophet:

You can listen to Maldonado’s four-part sermon series or read transcripts of his sermons here.  You also might find interesting the post titled, Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser.

The hilarious thing in the whole “Bruce met a false Jesus” saga, is that “once saved, always saved” Baptists and Calvinistic Baptists bitterly oppose one another, each believing the other preaches a false gospel. In other words, each side believes the other has never met the REAL JESUS.

As you can see, the core theological problem for both groups is that True Christians® are eternally saved. The Bible says in John 10:27-29:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

Those who hear the voice of Jesus and follow after him are given eternal life and are held safe in his hand. No man is able to pluck Christians out of the hand of Jesus. The problem with this argument, of course, is my life as a Christian clearly shows that I heard the voice of Jesus and followed after him. There’s nothing in my storyline that remotely suggests that I was following after a false Jesus; that I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing; that I was a false prophet. Yet, here I am today, having safely jumped out of the hand of Jesus, an out-and-proud apostate. “How can these things be?” Evangelicals ask themselves. Zealots such as Rod refuse to accept my story at face value, suggesting that there is some part of my story I am not sharing lest I give away the “real” reason I am no longer a Christian. This leads people to concoct all sorts of conspiracies about my loss of faith.

How about we let Occam’s Razor tell the story here. Occam’s Razor is a philosophy which suggests that if an event has two possible explanations, the explanation which requires the fewest assumptions is usually correct: I once was a Christian and now I am not; I once was a follower of Jesus and now I am not; I devotedly loved Jesus and now I don’t; the telling of my story is an honest, forthright reflection of my life as a Christian and an Evangelical pastor — theology be damned.  Christians holding to Arminian theology believe followers of Jesus can and do fall from grace. In their minds, I am just one more sad example of someone who chose not to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Works for me.

Here’s what I know for sure, I once was saved and now I am not. It really is that simple. It is not up to me to help Evangelicals square their theology with my testimony. Can’t make my story fit in the narrow confines of your rigid theological box? Tough shit, not my problem. I have no doubt I met numerous times the REAL JESUS. A mythical being, to be sure, but I most certainly had a torrid love affair with this Jesus for most of my adult life. Just as I would never doubt a sincere Christian’s testimony of faith, all I ask is that Evangelicals grant me the same courtesy. This will never happen, of course, because their theology bars them from doing so. Their intransigence reveals the real truth behind this discussion; that the question has never been about meeting the REAL JESUS; that what really matters is believing the right sectarian doctrines; that Evangelicalism is inherently a text-based system; that what really determines entrance into Heaven is checking off the right boxes on the Beliefs Checklist. The Evangelical gospel is this: BELIEVE THESE DOCTRINES AND THOU SHALT BE SAVED. It’s never been about the REAL JESUS.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Dear Christians, if the Holy Spirit is Your Teacher and Guide . . .

indwelling of the holy spirit

Evangelicals believe that the moment a sinner is saved, God, in the person of the Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost, comes into the born-again sinner’s life and lives — somewhere, no one can say for sure where — inside of that person. This is commonly called the “indwelling of the Spirit of God.” Every true Christian® is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:19 states that the bodies of Christians belong to God; that these bodies are the temple, the residence, of the Holy Ghost.

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

In Romans 8:7-10,13,14,16, the Apostle Paul says that Christians have the Spirit of God dwelling inside of them.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God…The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

Those who do not have the Spirit’s indwelling are not Christian. How can someone know he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit? While Evangelicals tend to focus on right beliefs as evidence of salvation, Paul says that behavior is evidence of whether someone is led by the Spirit. Those who are in the flesh (unbelievers) cannot please God, but, according to Paul, Christians are “not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” Paul speaks of death for those who live according to the flesh. True Christians® are to mortify (put to the death) the flesh. This mortification of the body brings life, both in the present and the afterlife.

Reflecting the Gnosticism found throughout the Bible, Paul tells the Church at Corinth that the things of God cannot be known apart from the indwelling of the Holy Ghost:

But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:10-14)

The natural man (non-Christian) cannot understand the things of God. Supposedly, only Christians can understand and correctly interpret the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The Bible is the only book ever written that cannot be understood just by reading it. Unbelievers, according to Evangelicals, have sin-darkened hearts and are in bondage to the ruler of this earth, the prince and power of the air, Satan. According to the Bible, non-Christians are deaf and blind to Biblical truth. No unbeliever can understand the Bible without first being saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman tackles unbelievers not understanding the Bible in a post titled Does a Person Need the Holy Spirit to Interpret the Bible?

I’ve never found it at all convincing that a person needs the Holy Spirit in order to interpret the Bible. As an agnostic, of course, I don’t believe in the Holy Spirit (since I don’t believe in God). But even when I did believe in the Holy Spirit, I thought that it was silly to claim that a person could not interpret the Bible correctly without the Spirit – for a couple of reasons that have always struck me as virtually irrefutable.

The first is this: if it’s true that the Holy Spirit is the one who provides the correct interpretation of Scripture, then why is it that so many people who claim to have the Holy Spirit cannot agree on what the Bible means? This is simply an empirical fact that is not open to dispute. Different Christian interpreters of the Bible, all of them claiming to be guided by the Holy Spirit based on humble prayer, come away with diametrically opposed interpretations of major important passages, of minor less important passages, and of major biblical themes and doctrines – just about everything.

I saw this vividly when I was myself a fundamentalist Christian: clear and hard-core different interpretations of major issues, by devout and spiritual Christians, based on how the New Testament was being read. As a poignant example: I had come out of a charismatic background where we believed that “speaking in tongues” was the clearest manifestation of God’s spirit, based on our reading of Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. At Moody Bible Institute, on the other hand, we were taught that charismatic activity, and especially the speaking in tongues, was a demonic activity and that the charismatic group from which I had come was misinterpreting these passages. Well, which is it? Both groups claimed to be representing the views of the Holy Spirit that had guided their reading of Scripture.

I could point to passage after passage after passage where well-meaning and clear headed Christians who claim to be given their understanding by the Spirit provide two, three, or four contradictory interpretations of the passage. So what is the evidence that the Spirit assists in interpretation?

The second reason I’ve never bought this is that as a complete agnostic who does not believe in the Holy Spirit, I have studied passages and come to the very same conclusions as those who claim the Spirit has told them what the passages mean. If I “need” the Holy Spirit to interpret these passages, why have I interpreted them in the same way that people who have the Holy Spirit has interpreted them? Seems like I’ve done all right without the Spirit.

And there’s a reason for that. Whatever you think about God, the Holy Spirit, or the Bible – the Bible is written in human languages following human rules of spelling and grammar and coming out of completely human situations lived in by human authors. To interpret the Bible you need to be a human, one who can read words and understand sentences. Even if the Bible is inspired, it is inspired in human words and is, therefore, susceptible of human understanding. My view is that the Spirit does not contribute to the process.

Ehrman is quite right when he says that Christian confusion over exactly what the Bible says belies the notion that the Holy Spirit lives inside Evangelicals, acting as some sort of divine GPS or search engine. According to many Evangelicals, all they need to do is say, Lord lead me/show me the way, and BOOM! their lives follow the exact course mapped out by the Holy Spirit. The same goes for understanding the Bible. Evangelicals metaphorically type their questions into God’s Google app, and BOOM! the Holy Ghost leads them to the exact book/chapter/verse answer. Awesome, right? No need to think. Just “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” with God promising “every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7,8)

If the Holy Spirit lives inside EVERY believer, why can’t Christians even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, communion, and whether masturbation is a sin. There are thousands of Christian sects, each guided by the Holy Spirit, each believing that their Jesus is the way, truth, and life and their little merry band of believers is the holder of the faith once delivered to the saints. Christianity might — I say might — be taken more seriously by non-Christians if sects/churches/pastors all spoke with one voice. But, they don’t. Instead, Christianity is rife with internecine warfare, with sects and churches competing with each other over money — err — I mean souls. Jesus said that the world would know that people were his followers by their love for one another. Hey Christians . . . how’s that loving one another thing working out?

Supposedly, being indwelt by the Holy Ghost gives Christians the requisite power necessary to live above sin (transgression of the law of God) and the world. I say supposedly, because from my seat in the atheist pew, I don’t see any difference between Christians and non-Christians. Am I missing something here, Christians? If all the above is true, if God the Holy Spirit, really does live inside of you and is your teacher and guide, why is it that Christians don’t live any differently from unbelievers? If, as John says, in 1 John 2:3,4,15, 29, 3:6:

….we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him…. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him….ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him….whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

Can anyone really say that he or she is a Christian? 1 John 3:8 states that anyone who sins is of the devil! Can someone be a Christian AND a child of the devil? At this point, Evangelical readers likely will say, Bruce, Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. Christians are works in progress.  Wait a minute, what about all the verses mentioned above? What about what 1 John 3:10 says, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” John says the difference between God’s children and Satan’s children is behavior. The writer of the book of Matthew says in chapter 25 that on judgment day it will be what people did and did not do that will determine where they spend eternity.

Video Link

I am sure that I will hear from Evangelicals who will castigate me for “wrongly” interpreting the Bible. After all, I don’t have the Holy Spirit living inside of me, so how can I possibly tell others what the Bible says and means? Well, I just did. So much for needing the Holy Ghost to know what the Bible says. The aforementioned verses aren’t ambiguous, so what conclusions should unbelievers come to when observing how Evangelicals live their day-to-day lives? At best, we can conclude that Christians are, in every way, just like unbelievers; that if the Holy Spirit lives inside of believers, he is fast asleep or on vacation; that Christianity has no moral or ethical authority, given that Christians themselves can’t practice what they preach.

If you are an Evangelical, think about the notion that God lives inside of you; that the Bible is some sort of Gnostic book that can’t be understood by six-sevenths of the human race; that only the saved understand what the Bible teaches. Do you REALLY believe these things? Do you really believe that the moment I left Christianity that I lost the ability to understand the teachings of the Bible; that decades of reading and study disappeared from my memory, never to be remembered again? In what other realm do we see this kind of thinking?

Sadly, Evangelicals, unlike liberal and progressive Christians, stubbornly hold on to their literalistic interpretations of the Bible — interpretations that force them to endorse, support, and defend silly beliefs, no matter how stupid and ignorant it makes them look. There is little that any of us can do to reach people who think they know the punch line for the biggest joke in history. While mere worldlings feast on the plethora of literature available today, Evangelicals scour the pages of a book deemed inexhaustible, hoping to find Bronze age wisdom for twenty-first-century living.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Quit Wear “Sexy” Clothing, Women. You Are Causing Christians to Sin!

sexy nuns

The reason I have dedicated myself to putting together the small book, Christian Fashion in the Teaching of the Church is because I am convinced that a life lived in a Christian way—and consistently so, especially for a woman—is partly expressed by the way one dresses, and that this is particularly important in today’s world. I will try to explain this briefly.

Allow me to present you with an image. In these summer days, not only holiday resorts, but also big cities like Rome or London are invaded by people—men and women—dressed in the most indecent manner. In my opinion, this phenomenon represents a brutal violence against Christians, because it jeopardizes one of the most important but also most fragile virtues of our faith: chastity.

In the streets and squares of large cities, scenes are imposed on passers-by that disturb the eyes, feed curiosity, provoke disordered desires and, in this sense, constitute a real assault. Yet we cannot deny that there is a certain consistency in this indecent attire: it corresponds to the dominant philosophy of life, which is materialism, hedonism and the dissolution of all values. Everything is permitted, and the pursuit of pleasure is the ultimate goal. There is a consistency in this scene.

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The transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, and humanism, can also be traced in the fashions of those times. Fashion was also the great vehicle to transmit the ideas of the French Revolution.

Fashion made the agitated year of 1968 into a radical turning point in Western social life. The criteria of beauty, decorum, harmony and elegance, which were already in crisis, were overcome by the egalitarian and anarchic spirit which was the very soul of the student movement. In 1968, most of the girls at demonstrations were in trousers. Jeans became a sort of uniform for the youth, the quintessential symbol of the new egalitarian fashion.

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Along these lines, gender studies developed within American feminism in the seventies. Its advocates placed the denial of an authentic difference between men and women at the center of their conceptual approach. The notion of a fluctuating and subjective identity based on a social construction of gender replaced the objective reality of biological sex.

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The concept holds that the male—female difference is merely a cultural and not a natural fact. Since culture can change, the next step is to suggest interchangeability in practice. Thus, the medical establishment offers surgical operations to make a man “a woman” and a woman “a man.” To make this utopian idea a normality, it must be imposed in schools, indoctrinating children from an early age.

Clothing is once again a revolutionary tool. In kindergartens and schools where gender ideology is applied, boys dress as girls and girls as boys. Boys can have their nails painted and are being taught embroidery and crocheting, whilst girls devote themselves to disassembling engines or playing with toy cars.

Fashion is therefore a formidable revolutionary weapon and needs to be opposed when it threatens to overthrow the principles of Catholic morality and the core values ​​of Western culture.

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That such danger is to be found everywhere today is a warning repeated, not only by the Church, but even by men who are outside the Christian faith; the most clear-sighted thinkers, those solicitous for the public good, strongly denounce the sinister threat to the social order and to the future of nations; the poisoning of the roots of life by the present multiplication of incitements to impurity; while the indulgence (which we would do better to call a denial) of an ever-more-extensive part of the public conscience, blind to the most reprehensible moral disorders, slackens the brakes even more.”

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In the years immediately after the Second Vatican Council, many sought to separate doctrine from the modus—the style or form in which doctrine is expressed. Thus, these people expressed themselves differently from the past and brought about a cultural transformation that is deeper than it may seem. The way in which we presents ourselves—the styles in which we expresses ourselves—reveals a way of being and of thinking.

Fashion is basically a person’s style. Style expresses the ideas which guide us. Through our clothing we express a world vision. If it is true that examples count as much as ideas, then the way we dress also can express our “lived Christianity.”

Virginia Coda Nunziante, Return to Order, The Way Christians Dress Expresses Their Lived Christianity

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Is it a Sin to Wear Distressed (Torn) Clothing?

distressed clothing

Clothes don’t have to be clean anymore. People can wear clothes that are deliberately ripped, stained and full of holes without fear of rejection. Clothes don’t even have to be clothes anymore. They can be shredded rags, the dingier the better.

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Such tattered garments are called “distressed” clothes (rightfully so), and they are becoming increasingly fashionable. It’s not just amateurs haphazardly ripping up faded jeans or retailers making random tears anymore. It is going mainstream.

The world of high fashion has now embraced “distressed” clothing as chic. Fashion designers are using new technology and hiring special effects technicians to get that natural moth-eaten, threadbare look that makes it seem like you’ve been wearing the garment for twenty years.

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You should not have to explain why you don’t wear ripped clothes. This is something your mother should have taught you at an early age. She would sew up your tears the minute she saw them. If she found a hole in a purchase, she would make you take back such clothes to the store for a refund.

Times have sadly changed, and so have some mothers. A lot of fashion conscious moms can now be found in shredded shorts and custom-holed t-shirts.

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Perhaps the first place to start is by affirming that a ripped garment is not modest clothing because it is not real clothing. This claim is guaranteed to raise a firestorm, but from a purely metaphysical perspective, it must be admitted that such garments fail to fulfill their purpose.

Most people would object that it is still clothing, but just a different kind that is more comfortable and thus makes people happier. People should do that which makes them happiest. Therefore they should wear ripped clothes so as not to worry about their appearance or condition. It is all about comfort.

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Deliberately ripped garments work against the purpose of clothes. They are caricatures of what clothing should be. Far from adorning the body, the process of ripping turns that which should be strong, beautiful and orderly into something weak, ugly and frayed. Tattered attire is disordered and therefore should not be worn.

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The second reason why ripped clothing should not be worn is that it is immodest.

Again such a claim raises hackles. Most people would object that as long as tattered clothes stay outside the extreme point of undress that is considered morally and socially unacceptable, you cannot say that it is immodest.

And here is the crux of the problem. People have completely lost the notion of what modesty is and how it is manifested. People lack even a catechism definition of this virtue.

People confuse modesty with chastity and thus only associate it with sensuality. Modesty does play a major role in preserving chastity, but it is much more than that. It is often mistakenly associated only with female attire, but it also applies to men.

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Modesty is the virtue that safeguards the dignity of a person in association with others. It benefits both the individual and society because it governs the exterior appearance and behavior of the person and thus helps make society civil and harmonious.

Beyond dress, modesty is concerned with the manner of speech, posture, gestures, and general presentation of the person. Modesty calls upon people to behave well with others and conform to standards of decency and decorum found in the healthy customs of an ordered society.

When you present yourself properly to others, you are modest. When you control yourself in your external actions and manners in society, you are modest. When you act erratically and speak in a manner that offends and disregards others, you are immodest.

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In matters of Catholic dress, this means holding to all that is proper to a soul that is a temple of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, you dress in a manner that is ordered, dignified and reasonable to who you are. Adults dress like adults; children dress like children. Authorities dress in accord with their office.

It also means you should not dress carelessly. Saint Thomas Aquinas states that you are immodest when you are unduly negligent in your appearance and fail to present yourself according to your state in life. You are also immodest when you seek to attract attention to yourself by showing a lack of concern for presenting oneself well (Summa, II-II, q. 169, a. 1).

Immoral and revealing clothing is of course immodest. However, improper, soiled and ripped unisex clothing is also immodest. It is not proper to the dignity of a person made in the image and likeness of God. When Our Lady spoke out against immodest fashions at Fatima, she was referring to this kind of immodesty as well.

— Catholic John Horvat II, Return to Order, Is it Immodest to Wear Deliberately Ripped Clothes?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

A Tale of Two Prelates

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Two priests rose to positions of power in large American dioceses. After attaining their positions, one went on to become the Archpriest of Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the major Papal basilicas in Rome.  The other would be laicized and therefore a pariah in the Church community, not to mention among his former clerical colleagues.

Oh, and being laicized was the latter priest’s punishment for, in part, doing what the other priest should have done: namely, calling out priests’ and other church officials’ sexual abuse of children.

Two decades ago, the Boston Globe (behind paywall) published a series of articles—which became the basis of the 2015 film “Spotlight”–documenting allegations, which were later proved, of sexual abuse by priests and lay members of religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church. Although there were reports and warnings about such abuse as early as 1985, it took the Globe report to call attention to the problem, in part because the Boston Archdiocese has long been one of the largest and most influential in the United States, while the 1985 report focused on incidents in Louisiana. Also, by the time the Globe series came out, the language, culture and attendant attitudes about sexual victimization were changing: Although the “Me Too” movement was another decade and a half in the future, public awareness, and victims’ willingness to speak of, sexual violence was growing, however slowly. Also, the Church was losing—again, however slowly—its grip on public discourse.

The Globe reports revealed not only the identities of some predatory priests, it also showed how Archdiocese and Church officials—including Archbishop (and Cardinal) Bernard Francis Law— helped to cover up the abuse by, among other things, moving offending priests from parish to parish and intimidating victims into silence. 

 Not long after the Globe exposé was published, Law—arguably the most powerful American priest after Cardinal/Archbishop O’Connor of New York—was forced to resign his post. But, being the resourceful executive he was, he landed on his feet—in Rome, where Pope John Paul II appointed him the Archpriest of Santa Maria Maggiore. That made him a citizen of Vatican City, and therefore immune to prosecution by American authorities.

In contrast to Law, a priest in Oakland, California did what secular law (ironic, isn’t it?) and basic human decency dictated: He called attention to the sexual abuse his administrative superiors claimed not to know about or denied. In 2005, Tim Steir refused an assignment in the Oakland Diocese over its handling (or, perhaps, lack thereof) of sexual abuse claims. For more than a decade, he spent every Sunday outside the Diocese cathedral calling for church accountability and justice for its victims.

Although he hoped for the best, he wasn’t naïve: he wasn’t surprised when, earlier this year, the Vatican came for his collar. Still, he said, “it felt like a blow.” He was sad and angry because, “If I’d been raping kids, I wouldn’t have been thrown out of the club.”

Perhaps no more damning indictment—or truer observation–of any organization has ever been made. I know: the priest who abused me as a child died long before I, or any of his other victims, could speak of our experiences, and he enjoyed all of the post-mortem benefits of a man who “dedicated” his life to God—or, more precisely, the institution of the Church. When, a few years ago, he was listed—like two other priests from that same parish—as a sexual abuser, some members of that church—who include some of my classmates from that church’s school—branded his victims as “liars” and “opportunists.” (Mind you, I have not benefited, except in terms of my emotional well-being, from speaking of my abuse.) 

For his honesty and forthrightness, Father Steir was rewarded by—having “Father” removed from his name. In the ranks of the Roman Catholic clergy, he became a persona non grata earlier this year. As his “parting gift,” if you will, to the church—but, more specifically, to his former colleagues and any Church members who are paying attention—he wrote an open letter to them. In addition to denouncing the ways in which the worldwide Church and its individual Archdioceses, Dioceses, and parishes have denied or covered up abuse, he made a clarion call for more tolerant attitudes toward LGBTQ and other non-conforming people, and called for the Church to restore a right priests had until the 12th Century: marriage. While I don’t think allowing priests to wed would eliminate pedophilia (plenty of married men molest children) or change the priesthood’s status as a haven for closeted gay men, it would at least give priests a more realistic idea of the challenges faced by the married couples they counsel. 

Call me cynical, but even under the current Pope, I don’t envision the changes Steir recommends coming to pass. I also fully expect that after the current Pope leaves his office, voluntarily or otherwise, the College of Cardinals—the Church’s real power, much as the Supreme Court in the United  States—will appoint someone more reactionary, not only than the current Pontiff, but also his predecessor. People such as Tim Steir will be ex-priests—and prelates like Bernard Law will be even more privileged than they were under Popes John Paul II and Benedict.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The Voices of Atheism: Neil deGrasse Tyson Patiently Schools Bill Moyers on God and Religion

neil degrasse tyson

This is the latest installment in The Voices of Atheism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. Know of a good video that espouses atheism/agnosticism or challenges the claims of the Abrahamic religions? Please email me the name of the video or a link to it. I believe this series will be an excellent addition to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.

Thank you in advance for your help.

What follows is an interview of Neil deGrasse Tyson patiently schools Bill Moyers, a Christian, on God and religion.

Video Link

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Whose Stories of Doubting and Questioning Do We Hear?

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Recently, I wrote about a friend who is doubting the god in which she had always believed. That got me thinking about a book I read early in my gender affirmation process: She’s Not There.

Jennifer Boylan’s account of growing up as a closeted (as nearly all of us were) transgender and her route to self-realization is skillfully written and therefore, mostly engaging. But there was something about it that I didn’t quite trust. I’m not just talking about the normal biases we all have in telling our own, or any other, stories. Rather, I realized, that she seemed not to realize that her transition, while not easy, was still smoother than most, aided by privilege she probably didn’t realize she had when she lived as James.

She grew up, if not affluent, then at least comfortably upper middle class. All of her education took place in secular private schools. And, by the time she wrote She’s Not There, she—as James—had become an acclaimed novelist and tenured professor in a liberal arts college where most students come from backgrounds like her own.

Now, to be fair, her level of privilege pales in comparison to what Bruce Jenner had before—and, to a great degree, has enjoyed since—becoming Caitlyn. She has become a kind of transgender Tucker Carlson and, thus, for much of the political right (excluding, of course, the highly religious and pure-and-simple haters), their idea of what a trans person “should be” or, worse, “really is.” Likewise, Ms. Boylan seems to have settled into a career as a transgender Maureen Dowd, presenting gender issues to her mostly educated center-left readers without challenging them to ask any really difficult questions about themselves.  So, for her audience, she has become the “representative” trans woman, just as Caitlyn Jenner has become for hers.

What I’ve come to realize, as a transgender woman from a working-class background, is whose stories are not only told, but paid attention to. Yes, as a white male who usually “passed” as heterosexual (I am bi but most of my relationships have been with women), I had a level of privilege not afforded to others.  But even within the white male milieu, I was, at best, in a lower-to-middle-rung, socially and economically, and my status has probably dropped since starting my “transition.”

A similar phenomenon, if not controls, then at least influences, the world of atheists, agnostics, questioners, and those who may believe but don’t identify with a particular faith tradition. Some have asked, on this blog and in other venues, why there seem to be so few atheists who aren’t white and well-educated. Now, I haven’t been able to find any surveys or other research that classified non-believers or non-religious people by race or socioeconomic class. But I would venture this guess: the stories we hear are mainly of those who dissected, if you will, the sacred texts and traditions of the churches or other religious institutions in which they grew up. 

Being able to deconstruct, if you will, those books and customs, means not only being intimately familiar with them, but also having the means—whether they are dialectical tools or simply the time—to do so.  For most, that means having a rigorous formal education, whether in those texts and traditions themselves, and in the analytical skills to take them apart, but also in the rhetorical modes to express them.

Most people who have such skills—and, again, the time (this can’t be overemphasized) to do so come from relatively privileged backgrounds. There are exceptions, of course, such as Bruce, but even though he didn’t attend some prestigious seminary or divinity school, nonetheless had enough of a background in the Bible—and, most important, has an inquiring mind—to ask, what, exactly, he had been preaching from the time he was fifteen until he was fifty. 

Everything I’ve just said, I suppose, relates to what Cicero said: Victor imperatus. The winner dictates or, as Churchill said, writes the histories. The “victors” I’ve described aren’t, of course, triumphant generals, but folks who are perhaps even more powerful: the ones who dominate the popular as well as the intellectual discourse. 

I have come to believe that what I’ve described—in the transgender as well as the non-theistic communities—is a reason why we really don’t know whether the “vast middle” of the United States, monolithically loves “God and Guns,” as Barack Obama famously said, or perhaps harbors more non-believers, doubters or questioners than we realize. While I don’t doubt that there is more religious fervor in folks who live outside of the coastal and Beltway “bubbles,” and I have to ask whether we have been blind to those—a minority, to be sure—who don’t express their questions or doubts openly, whether because of the ostracism they could face in their own communities, or simply because they know they can’t or won’t be heard. 

My friend is one of them. Although she lives in the same “blue” city as I do, and her upbringing was like mine, she didn’t have the opportunity or inclination to learn formal methods (which is to say, those that are recognized by the socio-intellectual establishment) of inquiry and came from a church and community that enforced a belief based on texts she was discouraged from reading. She has come to question, late in her life (assuming, of course, that she doesn’t break some record for longevity), beliefs she has long held. 

In brief, I think that while the source of her questions and doubts is different from some of ours, it is no less valid—and deserves to be heard, just as the experiences of a trans person of color who was kicked out of their home (or ran away from said home after continuous bullying) are as vital to understanding us, individually and as a community, as those of a white upper-middle class trans person who becomes a tenured professor—or a commentator on Fox News.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser