Menu Close

Tag: Christianity

Selling Jesus

going steady with jesus

Several years ago, on a cold, wet Ohio winter day, a door-to-door hustler for Erie Construction knocked on our door, asking if we would be interested in receiving a vinyl siding estimate. I said, “sure.” I knew we either had to side or repaint our home, so I thought, here’s my opportunity to get our first estimate.

On the appointed day, two Erie Construction salesmen showed up at 1:20 p.m. for our 1:00 p.m. estimate. STRIKE ONE. Don’t be late. I have plenty of things to do on any given day, and if I set time aside to hear your sales pitch, BE ON TIME!  Neither salesman apologized for being late. I gave them a pass, though it is not uncommon for me to tell tardy salesmen, “sorry, you missed your window of opportunity. Maybe later.” Of course, this usually pisses them off. And I care how much? Not at all. BE ON TIME!

Having spent most of my adult life selling Jesus, I am quite familiar with the techniques used by salesmen to get me to sign on the dotted line. The only difference between selling religion and siding/vacuüm cleaners/automobiles is the product. The goal is the same. Get the customer to buy your product, be it Jesus with an eternal warranty or Erie Construction premium siding with an original owner lifetime warranty.

The salesmen entered our home and sat down at our dining room table. One man carried the props, and the other, the alpha closer, carried a portfolio of “magic” papers with which he would later attempt to WOW us. The alpha closer did ninety-nine percent of the talking. He asked us questions about our backgrounds, family, and employment. It was Sales 101. Get to know the prospective mark. Attempt to befriend them. Use the information given to you to develop a bond. I used this very technique hundreds and hundreds of times as I traveled the highways and hedges of the communities in which I pastored, seeking to sell salvation to people I considered “lost.”

One humorous moment occurred when the salesman asked us what we did for a living. After Polly recited her résumé, the salesman turned to me and asked what I did for a living. I gave my typical answer: “I am retired and I own a photography business.” Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, this answer satisfies salesmen and busybodies alike. Not this time. The salesman asked, “Bruce, what did you do before you retired?” Remember, the word “retired” in my vocabulary means “I left the ministry and Christianity.” The word covers up shit I don’t want to talk about to strangers. I paused for a moment, thinking how best to answer the man’s question. I was already irritated by their tardiness, so I thought, how about a bit of snark?  I said, “I was a pastor for twenty-five years. I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.” I then continued, saying, “don’t read anything into that. God and I had a falling out and we are not on speaking terms.”

When salesmen find out I was a pastor, it is common for them to change their behavior. Anything to make a sale, right? As I often do, I made sure I used several swear words during our discussion. This was me saying, “I ain’t one of THOSE preachers, God dammit!” Fortunately, no further questions were asked. Both salesmen asked if they could measure the outside of our home. I said, “sure.” Off they went, returning ten or so minutes later, measurements in hand, ready to present to us the best siding deal on planet earth.

The alpha salesman continued his pitch by telling us the benefits of doing business with a AAA company such as Erie Construction. Evidently, he never thought an old curmudgeon such as I would bother to fact-check his claims. After they were gone, I consulted GOD — the Internet — and found out that Erie Construction was NOT a AAA company. I am sure they have thousands of satisfied customers, but they also have customers who were not satisfied with their work due to missed job start/finish dates, shoddy workmanship, and poor warranty work.

As a seller of Jesus, I too shared with prospects the wonders of the Son of God. Evangelicalism was, in my mind at the time, a AAA company, offering the forgiveness of sin, eternal life after death, and peace, purpose, and direction in this life. Who wouldn’t want to buy what I was selling, right? Most of my evangelizing took place pre-Internet. I didn’t have to worry about negative reviews of Jesus, Evangelicalism, me personally, or the church I was pastoring at the time. I relied on people taking my word for it. Today? Thanks to the world wide web, Evangelicalism has been exposed for what it is: a psychologically harmful con job; a system of belief that robs people of their humanity and their money.

The alpha salesman breathlessly shared with us the wonders of Erie Construction’s premium grade one-hundred percent vinyl siding. He spent significant time dissing his competition and their inferior siding, even though he later admitted Erie sells “inferior” siding too. “Buy cheap siding and it only lasts five to eight years,” he told us. The salesman also discounted the value of repainting our home. Polly and I, along with our younger children, painted it ourselves over two summers — 2007, 2008. I told the salesman that we were thinking about hiring someone to paint our home. Eleven years had passed since we painted our home. The intervening years had been unkind to us physically, so Polly and I painting our home was out of the question.

The salesman sensed that we were weighing “siding versus paint,” so he quickly pulled out his “magic” papers and showed us why painting our home was not cost-effective. His statistics were grossly inflated for the area we lived in. I told him, “look, I am not in good health, so I am not going be around twenty years from now.” The salesman quickly rebuffed my mortality claim, saying, “oh you’ll be around for a long time!” STRIKE TWO. I replied, “no, really, I am on the short side of life.” The salesman wouldn’t hear of it, telling me that I had a long life ahead of me. At this point, I almost said, “Look dude. You need to listen to me. I am not long for this life. If I make it to seventy, I’ll be happy.” I said nothing, deciding that I wanted to get their price for siding our home.

As a salesman for Jesus, I reminded prospects that my Jesus was the one true God, and that the salvation I was selling was the only one to promise true forgiveness of sin and eternal life after death. My “siding” was superior to that which other sects and churches were selling. I often told people, “has anyone else ever cared about you enough to knock on your door and share the Good News® with you?” Of course, I knew it was unlikely anyone but the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses had ever tried to evangelize them. Those sects were cults. I was representing the white American Jesus and Christianity. No one had a product like mine.

Finally, it came to time for the salesman to close the deal. He started using heavy-handed sales techniques, hoping that he could entice us into biting. His price? $25,000! Keep in mind, we already have new windows, doors, soffits, and gutters, so his estimate was just for the siding. His estimate, astoundingly, did not cover our small outbuilding. He asked us what we thought of the price, and I replied, “that’s a good bit more than we expected. I had thought the estimate would come in closer to $12,000-$15,000.”  “Quality costs,” the salesman told us. He proceeded to use the fact that we drive a new car as a reason why we should have Erie side our home. “It’s evident you value quality in an automobile. Surely, you want the same for your home!” I thought, “yeah and your siding almost costs as much as our car!” (This summer we finally had our house painted. Cost? seventy-five percent less than Erie’s siding estimate.)

The alpha salesman attempted numerous times to get us to sign on the dotted line. Each time, I told him, we are not prepared to make a decision today. Evidently, he was hard of hearing, because no matter how often I said, “not today,” he came back at us with a slightly different angle, hoping we would say “yes.” Somewhere in this process, I said to myself, “STRIKE THREE!” I wasn’t going to do business with Erie regardless of their price. The salesman even tried to appeal to my vanity, saying I could take photos before and after and Erie would pay me to use them on their website. “What,” I thought, “$500?” I said nothing, and the salesman finally intuited that we weren’t going to buy siding from him. His demeanor was that of the air being let out of a balloon. And with that, he and his sidekick packed up their props and exited stage right.

As a seller of the Evangelical Gospel, I pressured people into praying the sinner’s prayer. I warned them of the dangers of delay. “No one knows what might happen tomorrow,” I said. “Do you really want to risk God’s judgment and eternity in Hell?” I would remind them that this might be the only time they had an opportunity to buy God’s miraculous covers-everything siding, uh I mean salvation. Whether from the pulpit or at their front door, I reminded sinners of the urgency of covering up their sinfulness with Jesus’ premium salvation, complete with an eternal warranty. Most people said, “no thanks,” but over the course of twenty-five years, hundreds and hundreds of people said, “yes!”  Some of them found great value in what I was selling. Most converts, however, found out that the “siding” I was selling was not as good as I said it was. The storms of life came their way and often ripped their “siding” away, exposing the fact that Jesus was NOT the “friend who never will leave you” as I promised he was. What they found, instead, was a religion that demanded their fealty and money. Most of them, eventually, said, as we did to Erie Construction, “no, thanks!”

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.

Is God Sovereign and Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

sovereignty-of-god

The first verse in the first book of the Christian Bible says, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The verses that follow go on to explain all that God created. His crowning achievement was the creation of Adam and Eve — humans created in the image of God. Adam and Eve would later eat fruit from a tree that God said was off-limits. Their love of fruit brought sin and death into the world. From this point forward, humans come forth from their mother’s wombs at variance with God. According to the Bible, newborns come into the world speaking lies. Humans are, by nature, enemies of God. Wanting to repair the fractured relationship between the Creator and his creation, God cooked up a scheme through which sins could be forgiven. In the Old Testament, the Bible says God required blood sacrifices for the expiation of sin. Animals were ritually slaughtered and their blood was placed upon altars to provide atonement for national and personal sins. In the New Testament, the Bible says that God sent himself to earth in the form of a God-man by the name of Jesus. This Jesus was one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God. After traveling through Palestine for three years, working miracles, and preaching sermons, this Jesus was accused of heresy by the Jews, arrested by the Roman government, and executed. Three days later, this Jesus miraculously came back to life, spent forty days appearing to his followers, after which he ascended to Heaven. According to Christians, for the past 2,000 years, Jesus has been hanging out in heaven doing God things: building rooms (mansions) for Christians to live in, helping Christians score touchdowns, helping grandmas find their car keys, and controlling presidential elections. While Jesus, at least according to those who speak on his behalf, is intimately involved in the minutest details of the lives of his followers, it seems he can’t be bothered with important issues such as war, starvation, global climate change, human trafficking, and the Cincinnati Reds winning the World Series. Why is it that Jesus never seems to be around when you really, really need him?

Most Christian sects can be plotted along the line between Arminianism and Calvinism. While these two systematic theologies are poles apart from one another, both agree that the Christian God is the absolute, authoritative ruler of the universe. While Arminians and Calvinists argue amongst themselves about free will and the order of salvation, both agree that God is sovereign, and that he has the whole world in the palm of his hands. This God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. The Bible says that none of us can escape the presence of this God. He is everywhere — the ultimate voyeur.

If everything is created by God, owned by God, known by God, and nothing escapes his ever-seeing eye, isn’t it logical to say that God is responsible for sin? Isn’t it logical to hold God responsible for everything that happens? If humans are not ultimately in control of their lives or their destiny, how then can they be held responsible? If God alone — either through predestination and election or prevenient grace — saves sinners and gives them keys to their Jesus-built mansions in the sky, how then can any of us be held accountable for not becoming Christians? If it is God, through the Holy Spirit, that gives life to dead sinners so they can believe, how then can any un-quickened sinners be held accountable for their depravity? Billions of people, past and present, live in places where Christianity has no influence. People can go through their entire lives without hearing the Christian gospel, yet when they die God will hold them accountable for not hearing that which they had no opportunity to hear. Does this sound just and fair?

Does any of this make sense to you? Wouldn’t it have been better for the Gods — Yahweh, Jesus, and Holy Spirit — to cut out all the bullshit and create a universe not tainted by sin and depravity? Surely it was in God’s power to create an Adam and Eve who were incapable of sinning. It’s a fair question, then, to ask why God did what he did. If God controls the universe and nothing escapes his sovereign grasp, why all the war, violence, rape, starvation, and terrible contemporary Christian music?

Start asking Christian pastors and laypeople these questions, and you’ll quickly conclude that they really don’t have any answers. Oh, they will spin some sort of elaborate theological answer that will leave you neck-deep in quicksand, but don’t expect them to give direct, succinct answers. Most often, apologists for the Christian God will give contradictory or incoherent answers, and when their nonsense is pointed out they will swiftly run to the house of faith, slamming the door while they scream, GOD’S WAYS ARE NOT OUR WAYS! GOD’S THOUGHTS ARE NOT OUR THOUGHTS! HOW DARE YOU CHALLENGE THE CREATOR! HE CAN DO WHAT HE WANTS! This screaming is the equivalent of la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you, now fuck off.

A perfect illustration of this can be found in a post on the Faith-It website by Christine Suhan. Titled, Dear Christians, Stop Saying ‘Everything Happens for a Reason,’ Suhan shows how it is impossible for Christians to develop a coherent understanding of the world while at the same time trying to hold on to Evangelical beliefs. Here’s some of what she had to say:

Have you ever found yourself, in the midst of unimaginable grief, pain, heartache or despair, wondering how you are going to make it through another day? Wondering where your next breath is going to come from? Your world has crumbled beneath you and you are left feeling shattered, empty and hopeless.

And then a well meaning friend or family member comes along and drops the infamous “Everything happens for a reason” bomb. You smile kindly and nod—that’s all you can do to keep yourself from punching them in the face.

….

Sometimes bad things happen for no reason other than we are human beings having a human experience. Pain, heartache, grief, loss, disease and death are inevitable parts of the human experience.

We hear people say “Life dealt me a crappy hand” as if pain and hardships are not the norm. We assume that life is supposed to be easy and when things don’t go our way, we feel like we have been wronged. Human beings seem to have an innate sense of entitlement. We think that we are owed a pain-free existence.

But the truth is that human beings are not exempt from the human experience. And struggle is an innate part of the human experience. None of us are exceptions to this rule. We all struggle. We all suffer. We all experience pain, heartache and loss. And sometimes, there’s just no reason other than we are human and pain is a part of the process.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was struggling to find peace with “God’s plan” for her life including the recent death of a loved one.

“How could this possibly be God’s will?” she asked.

Here’s what I’ve come to know about God’s will:

God’s will is not the path we walk, but rather how we walk the path.

God’s plan is never for someone to have cancer. God’s will is not for an innocent child to be brutally murdered. God’s will is not for a teenage girl to be raped. God’s will is not chronic pain, illness, disability or death.

God’s will is not an event that happens to us, it’s how we respond to what happens.

God’s will for us is to walk with Him through the cancer. Through the abuse. Through the death. Through the illness. God’s will is for us to draw close to him in the midst of pain. God’s will is for us to use our painful life events to carry his message of hope, grace, forgiveness and mercy.

God’s plan was never for pain to be part of the human experience. His plan was for us to live in peace and harmony with Him. The human experience became painful when sin entered the world. Our own free will weaved threads of tragedy, loss, heartache and pain into the human experience.

God is not responsible for our pain. We are not responsible for our pain. What happened in the Garden of Eden is responsible for the human condition. And the human condition is hard wired for pain and suffering. God is not causing us to hurt. He is hurting with us. What we do with our hurt is what matters. How we handle tragedy is what brings purpose into our pain.

There’s hardly ever a justifiable reason for the bad things that happen in life. Tragic loss is not laced with inherent specs of good. I used to get so mad when people would say, “You can find good in every situation.” That’s just not true. There was nothing good about being raped. There is no good in murder or abuse.

Suhan takes the shit happens approach. Thanks to Adam and Eve and their progeny’s sin nature, pain, suffering, and death are part of the human (Westworld) experience. According to Suhan, there is no reason or purpose for these things to happen. The problem, however, is that Suhan’s worldview runs contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine. This often happens when Christians try to thoughtfully ponder about human existence. How can rape or murder be good or have some sort of higher purpose? If God is the sovereign of the universe, why does he permit, either passively or by decree, such things to happen? Surely, an all-powerful God can keep people from being raped or murdered. Why does he idly stand by and do nothing?

According to Suhan, God does do s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g. When a teenage girl is being ritually raped by her pastor or an altar boy is being repeatedly sodomized by his priest, Jesus is right there holding the victim’s hand. That’s right, the God who could stop sexual assault does little more than send victims a BFF text that says, I am with you in spirit. Love, Jesus. Millions of people will go to bed tonight hungry, and the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and sends sunshine and rain for crops to grow will do nothing to feed them, choosing instead to smile and hold their empty plates. While the risk of nuclear war between the United States and Russia continues to increase, Jesus wants everyone to know that he will be right there with them if they are turned into an ash heap. Is this the best that God can do for us — hold our hand?

If God is the supreme ruler of the universe, the creator of all things, the giver of life and death, and he who sees and knows everything, it is impossible to absolve him of culpability for pain, suffering, violence, and death. God could intervene, but he does nothing. Try as they might, Christian apologists have no suitable answer for their sovereign God’s inaction. The best these defenders of the faith can come up with is that Adam and Eve ate an apple, pissed off God in the process, and for thousands of years now he is been standing by while Evangelical pastors rape church children, serial killers murder innocents, and warring nations rain death down on the heads of innocent civilians.

And if this isn’t bad enough, Christian pastors and theologians remind us that there is coming a day when God will end his hand-holding ways, resurrecting everyone from the dead so he can judge them and fit those who don’t measure up with some sort of supernatural body that will survive an eternity of torture in a lake filled with fire and brimstone. This God, who couldn’t be bothered with stopping Hitler’s horrendous slaughter of six million Jews, will definitely be hands-on when the time comes to make his “chosen” people pay for their rejection and execution of Jesus Christ. Billions of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and wrong-flavor-of-ice-cream Christians will be awakened from their slumber, only to be cast into Hell with the Devil, his angels, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Anthony Fauci, Nancy Pelosi, and Bruce Gerencser.

Who in their right mind would want anything to do with Evangelical Christianity?

It is for these reasons (and others) that many people turn to agnosticism, atheism, universalism, and other non-theistic religions. The only way to understand what goes on in the world is to realize that we humans are responsible for what does and does not happen. It is up to humans, not fictional deities, to put an end to violence and suffering. We are the masters of our universe, and if we want things to be different, then it is up to us to change them. A humanistic view of the world requires us to acknowledge that randomness and luck often affect our lives. Sometimes, we are at the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time. Slight variations in decisions or movements can drastically change outcomes. It is highly unlikely that a jet flying overhead will crash into my home. It’s possible, but the probability of it happening is minuscule. And when that unlikely event happens to some unlucky individuals, we must accept it as just that – an unfortunate incident that took lives, but not an act of God. Instead of attempting to develop some elaborate and often contradictory religious explanation of the world that supposedly matches the dictates of ancient religious texts, it is far better for us to just live in the moment and do what we can to improve life for not only ourselves and our progeny, but also for animals and other humans. Interjecting God into the discussion just complicates things. We humanists hope that Suhan and her fellow Christians leave off holding hands with their fictional best friend, and instead join hands with us as we try to combat violence, pain, suffering, disease, climate change, starvation, inequality, and death. Surely God is not so jealous that he can’t put off the handholding until Christians make it to the other side.

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.

Update: Black Collar Crime: Former Evangelical Pastor Ronnie Hyde Sentenced to Life in Prison for 1994 Murder

ronnie hyde

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.

In 2017, Action News Jacksonville reported:

Ronnie Hyde, 60, was arrested Tuesday in the 1994 murder of 16-year-old Fred Laster and the FBI began searching his Jacksonville Beach home, as well as a property of his on Jacksonville’s Eastside.

….

For more than two decades, Laster was known as “John Doe” to investigators looking into his death. His dismembered body was recovered behind a dumpster on Highway 441 near Interstate 10 on June 5, 1994.

In a related story, Action News reported:

A Duval County judge denied bond on Wednesday for Ronnie Hyde, 60, who has been charged in the death and dismemberment of Nassau County teen Fred Laster.

Twenty-three years after the killing, the suspect in the case faced a judge for the first time.

Hyde was wearing a red jumpsuit which indicates a high risk inmate. He will likely hire an attorney of his own.

Andrew Sturm was at the hearing to support him. He said Hyde is his friend and counselor.

“We recommended him to my mom and my nephew who he sees and he’s done nothing but great in my life,” said Sturm.

Sturm said he met Hyde through Crosswater Community Church.

According to Sturm, Hyde counseled his 13-year-old nephew and while he doesn’t suspect Hyde harmed him, he said he still called the FBI after learning of his arrest.

“Per my nephew’s own words, no one put words in my nephew’s mouth, Ron never did anything at all inappropriate, Ron never touched him at all,” said Sturm.

In court, Hyde tried speaking with the judge but the judge stopped him saying it was not the time to speak about his case.

Sturm said this is not the Hyde he knows.

“Ron is an extremely intelligent person, very much a loner he likes to play his guitar. He would play at county festivals and stuff like that,” said Sturm.

The Florida Times-Union added:

Authorities credited advancements in technology, increased exposure from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the assignment of a fresh detective to the cold case unit with the recent break in the case.

“All it takes is that one spark of information that can lead to an arrest,” Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter said.

Local FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles Spencer asked the public for help as the case continues, saying Hyde traveled abroad, was “a named subject in a previous child exploitation case” and had access to numerous children over the years.

Hyde, who lists his employment as a licensed mental health counselor at Crosswater Community Church in Nocatee, previously worked as a youth pastor at Strength for Living Church in Jacksonville where he first met Laster’s family.

Rev. Jack Millwood of Hyde’s current church issued a statement: “We are working and cooperating fully with the FBI in their investigation of Ron Hyde. I am personally not aware of any victims of Ron Hyde that involve anyone associated with Crosswater. If any person or persons has any information regarding potential victims of Ron Hyde, please contact the local FBI office.”

A neighbor watching the flurry of law enforcement activity at Hyde’s Jacksonville Beach home said there was something about the place always made her uneasy as did Hyde.

“It was always a house we skipped when we went trick-or-treating,” the neighbor said.

A similar search took place throughout the day at a second home on Thelma Street in Jacksonville. Spencer said agents will continue an extensive search of the homes, but would not disclose what exactly investigators are looking for.

“The search could take several days and no stone will be left unturned, I can assure you of that,” Spencer said, asking residents for patience during the process.

Hunter said investigators met with Laster’s family in November 2015 to collect his siblings’ DNA samples, building a profile that they could possibly match with the DNA taken from the torso found in 1994. Three months later, lab tests confirmed the remains and Laster’s family members were related.

A match still left the case unsolved. A second DNA profile recovered from a flannel shirt found near the torso in 1994 had no match in a law enforcement database. But last April, investigators sifted through trash cans outside Hyde’s home and retrieved nasal swabs containing DNA that was also matched to the flannel shirt.

“I am extremely proud of the detectives who worked on this extremely difficult case,” Hunter said. “… It has allowed the family to have some closure.”

The sheriff demurred when asked whether there was a sexual nature to the case. Still, court records show Laster’s sister told authorities she and her brother had spent the night at Hyde’s home a year before he went missing and that she woke up to find Hyde nude and trying to quietly wake her brother.

Laster’s siblings said they confronted Hyde numerous times over the years, and each time he seemed to provide a different version of events regarding Laster’s disappearance. In one breath Hyde told the siblings he had dropped Laster off near Pecan Park, in another breath he said it was in the Oceanway area and in another still he said he’d taken Laster to their grandmother’s house in Nassau County.

Eventually, Lasters’ siblings gave up trying to get answers from Hyde. They said they last spoke to him in 2003.

You can read February 28, 2018, Florida Times-Union report about Hyde’s case here.

In April 2022, Hyde was sentenced to life in prison.

The Florida Times-Union reports:

A Duval County jury took a little more than three hours to find former Jacksonville Beach youth pastor Ronnie Leon Hyde guilty of killing and dismembering a 16-year-old Yulee boy in 1994.

Following a tearful victim impact statement from Travis Laster, whose brother Fred Laster’s remains were found in Columbia County behind a gas station dumpster, Hyde was sentenced to life in prison.

Hyde, 65, stood motionless as Judge Tatiana Salvador read the sentence just after 3:30 p.m., his attorney Ann Finnell at his side. The verdict came after four days of witness and evidence presentations to the jury, wrapping with Hyde testifying in his own defense.

Standing at a courtroom podium, not looking at Hyde, Travis Laster said his entire family all lost someone who “was loved dearly.” And since no one knew the remains were his until a 2016 DNA test, his grandmother died never knowing what happened to her grandson, his brother said.

….

When Hyde addressed the court in his own defense Thursday and again when he was questioned by the prosecutor the next day, he denied having done anything to the boy who he knew and spent a lot of time with.

He said the teen was upset over a dispute with his sister when he last saw him and he had bailed out of Hyde’s car on U.S. 17 in Nassau County and disappeared.

…..

Laster’s torso was found on June 5, 1994, behind a Lake City dumpster and missing the head, legs and hands, police said. Evidence was collected but his identification wasn’t unknown for years.

In 2014 the case was advertised on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website and prompted Laster’s twin sister to contact staff saying it could be him. More DNA samples were obtained and submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which compared results to the evidence found at the 1994 scene.

That led to his identification in 2016 and eventually to Hyde, believed to be the last person to see Laster whom he met in the mid-1980s and formed a relationship with the Laster family, according to the investigation.

A search warrant at Hyde’s Jacksonville Beach home uncovered more evidence and led to his arrest in 2017. He was charged with first-degree murder, plus 25 child-pornography possession counts that will be processed separately in court.

A motive was never clear.

On January 4, 2023, Hyde pleaded guilty to three counts of possession of child porn and was designated a sexual offender. Hyde was sentenced to seven years in prison, which will run concurrently with his murder sentence.

News 4 reports:

Ronnie Hyde, who was convicted last year of killing 16-year-old Fred Laster, pleaded guilty Wednesday in the possession of child pornography case against him, according to Duval County court records.

Court records show Hyde, 66, pleaded guilty to three counts of possession of child porn and was designated a sexual offender.

Hyde, a former youth pastor, was sentenced to seven years in prison, and that sentence will run concurrently with his life sentence for his conviction in the murder of Laster, whose dismembered remains were found in 1994 behind a Columbia County gas station.

Hyde’s attorney successfully lobbied for the child pornography charges to be tried separately. Hyde had originally been charged with 25 counts of possession of child porn.

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.

Abraham and Isaac: God Has a Right to Command You to Kill Your Child and Faith Demands You Do It

abraham sacrificing isaac

Years ago, Petrus Klopper, a writer for the Isaiah 53:5 Project and Solid Rock Apologetics, attempted to answer the question, How could God command Abraham to kill his son? I say “attempted,” because Klopper miserably failed at his task, just as every other Christian apologist has failed when attempting to do the same. According to Klopper, God had every right to ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Notice that I used the word “sacrifice,” not “kill,” as Klopper did in his title. God, in no uncertain terms, asked Abraham to put his only son Isaac on an altar and sacrifice him. Someone is sure to ask, “don’t the words sacrifice and kill mean the same thing”? Yes and no, and I will demonstrate Klopper’s sleight of hand in a moment by using the word sacrifice.

For those not schooled in the mystical stories of the Christian Bible, here’s the text, Genesis 22:1-13, that tells the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac:

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

According to seventeenth-century Baptist theologian John Gill, God commanded Abraham to:

… offer him (Isaac)  there for a burnt offering; this was dreadful work he was called to, and must be exceeding trying to him as a man, and much more as a parent, and a professor of the true religion, to commit such an action; for by this order he was to cut the throat of his son, then to rip him up, and cut up his quarters, and then to lay every piece in order upon the wood, and then burn all to ashes; and this he was to do as a religious action, with deliberation, seriousness, and devotion… (John Gill Commentary, E-Sword)

According to eighteenth-century Anglican cleric John Wesley, God wanted Abraham to not only kill his son, but also offer him as a burnt sacrifice. Wesley wrote:

…offer him (Isaac) for a burnt offering – He must not only kill his son, but kill him as a sacrifice, with all that sedateness and composedness of mind, with which he used to offer his burnt – offering. (John Wesley Commentary, E-Sword)

Eighteenth-century theologian Matthew Henry, chiming in agreement with Gill and Wesley wrote:

 …offer him (Isaac) for a burnt-offering. He must not only kill his son, but kill him as a sacrifice, kill him devoutly, kill him by rule, kill him with all that pomp and ceremony, with all that sedateness and composure of mind, with which he used to offer his burnt-offerings. (Matthew Henry Commentary, E-Sword)

Nineteenth-century Presbyterian theologian Albert Barnes called Abraham’s potential sacrifice of Isaac a “human sacrifice.” Recognizing the moral issue raised by human sacrifice, Barnes writes:

The only solution of this, is what the ease itself actually presents; namely, the divine command. It is evident that the absolute Creator has by right entire control over his creatures. He is no doubt bound by his eternal rectitude to do no wrong to his moral creatures. But the creature in the present case has forfeited the life that was given, by sin. And, moreover, we cannot deny that the Almighty may, for a fit moral purpose, direct the sacrifice of a holy being, who should eventually receive a due recompense for such a degree of voluntary obedience. (Albert Barnes Commentary, E-Sword)

Based on the aforementioned references, we can conclude that God, as a test, commanded Abraham to take his only son Isaac to Mount Moriah, and kill him so he could be offered as a human burnt sacrifice to God.

Klopper makes clear in his post that there are three things God is NOT doing in this story:

  • God was not tempting Abraham
  • God was not instituting or condoning child sacrifice
  • God was not telling Abraham to do wrong

Christian apologists like Klopper will go to great lengths to justify God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Klopper used the word kill in the post title because he doesn’t want readers to confuse what God is asking Abraham to do with human sacrifice. However, it is clear from the text that the human sacrifice of Isaac is EXACTLY what God is asking Abraham to do.

Is Isaac human? Yes. Does Abraham build an altar to be used for sacrifices? Yes? Did Abraham place Isaac on the altar, preparing to offer him as a human sacrifice to God? Yes. Does Abraham implicitly obey God’s command to sacrifice his son? Yes. Then, pray tell, how is what God commands Abraham to do NOT child sacrifice? Any fair and honest reading of the text shows that God clearly intended for Abraham to kill (murder) his son as a flesh and blood sacrifice.

Similar stories can be found in other tribal cultures, and Evangelicals are quick to label these stories as murderous and barbaric. Evidently, according to Evangelicals, there is some sort of difference between stories of human/child sacrifices to false deities, and the God/Abraham/Isaac story. Try as I might, I can’t find the difference.

Klopper, perhaps realizing that his this is not child sacrifice argument is intellectually vacuous and lame, goes on to say that God is not commanding Abraham to do wrong. Really? In what universe is child/human sacrifice not wrong? Every civilized society in the world condemns child/human sacrifice. Even atheists consider such murderous actions wrong. Yet, somehow, according to Klopper, God asking Abraham to slice, dice, and sauté his son is not, in any way, wrong.

Klopper makes one final argument which, according to his Fundamentalist-infused mind, should silence every critic. It is the one argument, next to faith, that Christians will turn to when no other argument will work: God is God and he has a right to do/command whatever he wants to. Klopper states his argument this way:

God has the right to take human life and could therefore authorize Abraham to do so in a particular case. Note that had Abraham decided of his own accord to sacrifice Isaac, he would have been wrong and his act would have been condemned by God (as were other human-initiated sacrifices).

According to Exodus 20, murder is a sin. Thou shalt not kill, right? But, according to Klopper, if God authorizes (commands) someone to commit murder (human sacrifice) then it is okay. Hmm, so then, Christians who have, in the past, said that God commanded them to kill their children or spouse, these murderous behaviors are okay, right? I’m sure that Klopper will object to my line of inquiry, but is this not exactly what he is saying? Or is he making a distinction between murderous stories in the Bible and those found on page one of the newspaper? Evidently, if a God-sanctioned murder is recorded by an unknown author in a so-called divine religious text, that makes the slaying moral. However, if a devout twenty-first-century Christian — a person we can see and talk to — says and does the same, it is not a God-approved murder. This makes “perfect” sense to me.

human sacrifice
Comic by Scott Maynard

Surely we can all agree that a God, ANY God, commanding someone to commit murder is wrong. It matters not whether it is Abraham or Victoria Soliz, a woman who tried to drown her 3-year-old son in a puddle because Jesus told her to do so. While Evangelicals will attempt to make a distinction between God speaking to Abraham and God speaking to someone like Soliz, there is no difference between the two. Both are hearing voices in their heads that are telling them to murder their child. And hearing voices in one’s head commanding immoral, unethical, or dangerous acts is always a sure sign of mental distress or illness. Despite knowing this, Klopper is determined to present Abraham as a great man of faith who was willing to do whatever God commanded him to do.

It is too bad that Klopper is boxed in by his belief that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant text. Such a belief requires Klopper to accept the Abraham/Isaac/human-sacrifice story as factual history. While Klopper does make numerous spiritual applications from the Genesis 22 text in his post, he is hamstrung by the requirement to accept the text as history. Jews, on the other hand, treat this text as an allegory or a metaphor. They understand, along with everyone else except Evangelicals, that no one in his or her right mind should accept Abraham sacrificing Isaac as literal truth.

And here’s the thing, IF Abraham had actually murdered Isaac, twenty-first-century Evangelical preachers would be preaching sermons about Abraham’s great faith and his willingness to explicitly obey God, even if it meant murdering his own son. Praise Jesus!! (And how is this any different from the Muslim who believes God is commanding him to kill in Allah’s name?)

Let me be clear, any deity who demands his followers to murder as a test of obedience is not a deity worthy of our worship.

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.

There’s No Such Thing as a Former Christian

saved or lost

Like Hotel California, once you are in, you can’t get out.

Once you are saved, you can never be lost.

Once God’s hound dog, the Holy Spirit, tracks you down, you belong to God forever.

Or so says Charles Smith:

If you scour the world-wild-web for any amount of time using atheism as your search term, you will undoubtedly find pages and pages of sites laced with the famous proclamation, “I used to be a Christian.” While this may be intriguing to the seeker, desiring a glimpse at the testimony of a formerly professing believer turned cynic in hopes of discovering reasons to remain religiously repulsed by Christendom, or possibly the opposite – looking to see if their retroversion experience is sensible – one thing is certain…there’s no such thing as a former Christian.

Cultural Christianity is quite the phenomenon of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries…

After “leaving the faith,” these misguided, false-converts then find their voices in the blogosphere, social sites, chat rooms, discussion boards and every other form of digital media outlet known to man – exhaustively expatriating as many “cardboard Christians” as they can sink their flaw-full claws into. Ironically, if they would spend as much time truly investigating and begging with a contrite heart, “God, please show yourself to me!” they would discover that He is absolutely faithful to do so – and the door the Lord has once opened, can be closed by no man.

These poor misinformed “ex-Christians” were never truly reborn of the Holy Spirit of God. They followed the crowd in church, were dunked under water, consumed crackers and gulped grape juice, sang songs, talked the talk, looked the part, memorized verses and so many other religious acts, but never came to a saving faith found in a relationship with the only begotten Son of God. Like so many of their contemporaries who weren’t led to the foot of the blood-stained cross of Calvary, they never saw their sins in the mirror of the ten commandments and consequently, never realized the magnitude of their debt – owed to a God who, because of His perfect love and justice, must punish sin – and they never saw the spotless Lamb for who He was and is, the ransom payment – the sacrificial substitute – who carried their sins before the Father and said “I will take their punishment.” Their prideful hearts of stone never crumbled under the weight of such a love and therefore, they simply socialized and enjoyed the music and learned to get along. But, of course, anyone who goes through a “phase” knows, it wore off and they moved on and Jesus wept…

Let the reader understand, just as you can’t become unborn once you have evacuated the womb, you also cannot become un-born-again. It is impossible to un-ring a bell, un-cook an egg or un-kill the living. If you are a spiritual seeker, please know that there is no such thing as an ex-Christian and if you want the truth, please look in a good Bible teaching church for assistance. If after reading this you still claim to be a “former believer,” you just do not understand…

While Smith’s argument certainly might apply to cultural or nominal Christians, it falls flat on its face when it comes to people like me; those who were sincere, committed, devoted, sold-out, on fire, consecrated, dedicated, sanctified followers of Jesus. While it is quite easy to dismiss those who never really took Christianity seriously, what about those of us who did? Did I really spend most of my adult life deceived, never having come to faith in Jesus Christ? Only in the echo chamber of Smith’s mind is such a claim possible. The only way he can square his theology with the life of someone like me is to say I never was a Christian, and since theology always trumps reason, Bruce Gerencser never was a Christian.

Look, I understand. I really do. Christians such as Smith cannot fathom anyone walking away from their Jesus. Why would anyone want to walk away from J-E-S-U-S, the most awesome God-man in the world, the biggest, baddest God in the entire universe? Why would anyone walk away from a golden ticket to God’s Motel 6? No more pain, no more suffering, no more death . . . who in their right mind would turn down such an offer?

But I did, others have, and more will continue to do so. Evidently, God didn’t want us bad enough to keep us.

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.

Understanding the Difference Between Private and Public

ideas dont have rights

Evangelical Christians, among others, have private (personal) beliefs that people such as I consider uninteresting, intellectually lacking, or irrational. As long as they do not try to force their beliefs on me, codify their beliefs into law, or demand special treatment, I am quite indifferent toward their beliefs. I have no interest in regulating what people believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, or anything else for that matter.

However, when Evangelicals state/argue/debate their beliefs in the public space — newspapers, TV, books, magazines, Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, public meetings, etc. — then the rules of engagement change. Once these beliefs are uttered publicly they are no longer considered private and are open to criticism, investigation, debate, ridicule, mockery, and attack. People deciding to utter their beliefs in public should know this, and if they don’t, they are in for a rude awakening the first time they “share” their beliefs publicly.

As a writer, hopeful author, essayist of letters to the local newspaper, and the public face of atheism where I live, I am considered a public figure. As such, I open myself up to criticism, investigation, debate, ridicule, mockery, and attack. While I would hope people would treat me fairly and with respect, I have no right to expect such treatment and I have no recourse if someone lies about me, distorts my beliefs, or attacks me personally.

I can’t do anything about what someone may say about me or my writing on their own blog or in an internet forum. I can’t control the sermons Evangelical preachers preach about me. They can take something I have written and twist and distort it, and there is nothing I can do about it. This is the wild, woolly nature of the public space.

I wish Evangelical Christians would understand the difference between private and public. When they drag their beliefs into the public space, they have no right to whine, moan, or complain that I am attacking them and their beliefs. If they don’t want their beliefs assaulted or challenged, then they need to keep them out of the public space. As Tristan Vick said in a comment:

Someone needs to tell this caterwauling Christian that it’s people who have rights, not ideas.

Evangelicals often think that this blog is public; that they have a right to say whatever they want in the comment section. However, this blog is actually private; a site that the public can read and if they follow the rules comment on. As the owner of a private site, I have the absolute right to decide who may comment and what comments are approved. This site is no different from the churches Evangelicals attend.

If Evangelicals want to take me to task, critique my writing, or attack my character, they are free to do so on their own blogs, from the pulpits of their churches, on their podcasts, or any other medium of their choosing. But not on my blog.

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.

Frozen Embryos: If Life Begins at Conception . . .

3 day old human embyro
Three-Day Old Human Embryo. Why He Looks Just Like his Father.

According to anti-abortionists/forced birthers, life begins at conception. At the very moment the sperm and egg unite, a new life is created. Anti-abortionists are intractable when it comes to their position. Life begins at conception . . . end of debate.

Let me tell you a story . . .

This story takes place at the We Make Life Possible Fertility Clinic, owned by Dr. David Tee, a renowned gynecologist, fertility expert, and archeologist.

Sue gave birth to a beautiful baby girl through in vitro fertilization. Her baby girl is one month old. Sue stopped by the Fertility Clinic to show off her newborn to the clinic staff.

While Sue was there, a huge explosion rocked the place and the clinic was engulfed in flames. Later speculation on World Net Daily, Charisma, Protestia, and TheologyGynocology, suggested a supporter of Barack Obama/Joe Biden/Nancy Pelosi/Kamala Harris/AOC was behind the attack.

John, named after John the Baptist, a forced birth activist, happened to be passing by the clinic when the explosion took place. John went running into the clinic hoping to perhaps save someone from the fire.

John had been to the We Make Possible Life Fertility Clinic before. His wife Purity had problems conceiving, and not wanting to wait on God to open her womb, she went to the clinic for non-vaginal-sex fertilization. While the treatment was successful, Purity miscarried a few months into the pregnancy.

John knew the clinic stored hundreds of fertilized eggs (embryos) in a freezer. As he rushed into the clinic, John saw Sue huddled in a corner with her newborn daughter trying to get away from the fire. John thought, “Surely I should save these two.”

John thought for a moment, asking himself What Would Jesus Do? Suddenly, he realized the fire was going to destroy all the frozen embryos. John told Sue and her baby Sorry, maybe Jesus will come to rescue you, and he rushed to the freezer where the frozen embryos were stored. Through John’s heroic effort, hundreds of frozen embryos were saved. Sadly, Sue and her newborn daughter were burnt to death.

Who among us would fault John? After all, he acted according to the greater good. Who wouldn’t save two hundred lives at the expense of two lives?

The above story follows the logic of the life-begins-at-conception viewpoint to its illogical conclusion. There is no difference between two hundred embryos and Sue and her baby. Life is life. It makes perfect sense for John to save the frozen embryos and not Sue and her little one. Surely John would be praised for saving the two hundred embryos, right? If the clinic is unable to reopen, perhaps the frozen embryos can be put up for adoption. After all, EVERY embryo is a life.

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.

What Should I Do? There’s No Church in My Town that Teaches the “Truth”

biblical truth

The United States is awash in Evangelical churches. I live in the rural northwest Ohio community of Ney — population 356. There are seven churches within five miles of my house, and six of them are Evangelical. Surely Ney, Ohio, has all the churches it needs, right? It does, but back in my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church-planting days, I would have looked at the religious demographic for Ney and concluded that the town didn’t have a church preaching the “truth.” You see, the Church of God, the other Church of God, and yet another Church of God, the garden-variety Evangelical church, the Methodist church, the charismatic church, and the Catholic church all preach from the same Bible as IFB churches do, but, in my mind at the time, none of them is true to the faith once delivered to the saints as an IFB church would be. So, with God on their sides and a wind of prayer at their backs, Evangelical church planters will go to communities already overrun with congregations and start new churches. Most of their “new” members will come from other churches. That’s the dirty little secret Evangelicals don’t like to talk about: that most church growth comes from transfers; people moving from one sect/church to another). “Look at how God is ‘blessing’ our new church. We are growing by leaps and bounds!” Yet, for the most part, these new members are most likely disgruntled people poached from other churches. (The largest church in Defiance County, where I live, is Xperience Church, an Evangelical congregation of almost 1,000 people that recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. The vast majority of the church’s members are transfers from other churches or people who were already Christians. This church is predatory, as are most church plants.) Of course, in the IFB church movement, it is generally believed that Catholics, mainline Christians, and charismatics are not even Christians — that they are following a false Jesus — so it’s okay to steal them from their non-IFB churches.

Calvinists, in particular, are noted for searching far and wide for churches that teach the gospel according to John Calvin. Back in my Calvinistic days, I had congregants who drove 30-45 minutes to our church just so they could sit under a man who preached the “true” gospel. In 1994, I became the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elemendorf, Texas. The church was stridently Fundamentalist and Calvinistic. We had people who had moved all the way from Michigan and Ohio just so they could be members of a church that taught the “truth.” Think about how many thousands of churches they passed on their way to San Antonio, Texas. None of them preached the “truth”? There were several members who believed that the Christian gospel = the five points of Calvinism; that professing Christians who were not Calvinists were likely false Christians; that all the great Arminian preachers of the twentieth century were false prophets who preached an errant, heretical gospel. At Community Baptist, “truth” mattered. This led to numerous squabbles over doctrine; you know, one “truth” battling another “truth,” both believing they were right, straight from God himself.

According to the Bible, Pilate said to Jesus, “What is Truth?” You would think that after 2,000 years, Christians would have the answer to that question figured out; that by now they would be united around ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, ONE BAPTISM. Instead, Evangelicals fight among themselves over the slightest of doctrinal differences. Much blood has been spilled over how a person is saved and the method by which he is baptized. Evangelicals fight over eschatology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, soteriology, and a host of other “ologies.” Evangelicals tend to be literalists who believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. In their minds, the Bible is a divine roadmap, a blueprint or handbook for life. Thus, every jot or tittle matters; every word has divine meaning. That’s why many Evangelicals believe certain Bible translations are “true” and others just contain the “truth.” On the extreme fringes of Evangelicalism, you have IFB churches that believe the King James Bible is the “pure” inerrant Words of God. Over the years, I heard several preachers say that if the person who led you to Jesus used any Bible but the KJV, it was very possible that you weren’t even saved. In their minds, the KJV of the Bible was some sort of magic book, supernatural in nature, chucked by God over the rampart of Heaven 412 years ago.

It is for these reasons and others that Evangelicals continue to start new churches in communities already saturated with Christian churches. Why, even in the Baptist Belt, new churches are being planted. Why? I ask. Isn’t everyone in the deep South already saved? The real truth is that Evangelical church planting is much like opening a new hamburger joint. There’s a McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Sonic, Jack in the Box, Carl’s Jr, and Five Guys in town, yet the community “needs” yet another hamburger restaurant. So it is with church planting. Evangelical church planters convince themselves that such-and-such town NEEDS a new church — an Evangelical one. When a new hamburger restaurant comes to town, where does most of its business come from? Other restaurants. People have a fixed amount of discretionary money, so for a new restaurant to grow and thrive, it must poach patrons from other restaurants. All the new restaurant does is weaken the other ones. So it is with churches. They are predatory in nature. Rarely, if ever, do you find congregations that started with new converts. For all their talk about saving souls, Evangelical churches rarely increase their attendance through “winning the lost.” Why do the necessary hard work of winning souls when you can just steal members from somewhere else?

To answer the “what should I do” question, I say this: stop looking for Theological Nirvana®. It doesn’t exist.  I don’t know of a community that needs more churches. How about trying to make one of the churches that already exist better? But, Bruce, God told me to start a new church! Sure, he did. As a former church planter, I know better. Church planters start new churches because they need the Jesus Buzz® that comes from planting a new church; that feeling of everything being new. People seek out new churches because they too are looking for a Jesus Buzz®. New churches are exciting. When Evangelicals can’t “feel” the Lord like they used to, they look for that feeling elsewhere. Where better to “feel” the presence and power of Jesus than in a new church? The problem, of course, is that new churches will one day become old, established churches, just like the ones people left years before. That’s the nature of the human experience, be it marriages, churches, or hamburgers.

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.

Update: Black Collar Crime: Anglican Priest Graeme Lawrence Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for Raping Teen Boy

graeme lawrence

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.

In November 2017, Graeme Lawrence, the defrocked Anglican Dean of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia was accused of sexually assaulting a teenage boy.

The Newcastle Herald reported:

Graeme Lawrence was the charismatic 13th Anglican Dean of Newcastle who supported the Hunter through the 1989 earthquake, the 2005 Bali bombing and the 2007 floods, and was honoured for his work by a grateful community.

He declined to comment on Tuesday after police charged him with sexually assaulting a teenage boy, 15, in the early 1990s, following a referral in 2016 from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It marked another point in a fall from grace for the former Anglican priest that has included the public airing of sexual abuse allegations at a Newcastle Anglican disciplinary hearing in 2010, a failed Supreme Court appeal against its findings in 2011, his defrocking in 2012 and denial of child sex allegations during questioning at a royal commission public hearing in Newcastle in 2016.

Mr Lawrence, 75, was arrested at a Kotara home by Newcastle City Local Area Command Strike Force Arinya police at 8.30am on Tuesday and charged with four counts of aggravated sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault.

In a statement NSW Police said the charges related to “alleged sexual assaults upon a 15-year-old boy in the Hunter region during 1991”.

….

A royal commission public hearing in Newcastle in August, 2016 was told Dean Lawrence was a powerful and influential churchman. During evidence to the commission Mr Lawrence denied sexually abusing a teenage boy at a church youth camp in the 1990s.

He became the 13th Anglican Dean of Newcastle after moving from Griffith to Newcastle in 1984.

In 2019, Lawrence was found guilty of raping a 15-year-old church boy and sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison.

ABC News reported at the time:

Graeme Lawrence, the former Anglican Dean of Newcastle, has been sentenced to a maximum of eight years jail over the rape of a 15-year-old boy at his deanery in 1991.

The 77-year-old was in July found guilty of aggravated sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault.

Lawrence was the Anglican Dean of Newcastle in 1991 when he lured his victim to his private accommodation next door to Newcastle’s Christ Church Cathedral after a youth band concert.

The court heard how Lawrence led then 15-year-old Ben Giggins into a small room and showed him pictures of naked boys before forcing him to the ground and raping him.

“He pulled the shirt over his head forcing him to hands and knees,” District Court Judge Tim Gartelmann said during today’s sentencing remarks.

“The victim was so scared he was shaking at this time.

“The offender must have known the victim did not consent but persisted regardless.”

Judge Gartlemann said Mr Giggins had repeatedly asked him to stop.

The court heard Lawrence had taken steps to silence his victim, warningMr Giggins — who eventually broke free and ran away — not to tell anyone what happened.

The judge said Lawrence had yelled after his fleeing victim: “Don’t go telling anybody, you’re just a boy and I’m the Dean. No one will believe you.”

He said the former dean had shown no remorse for his crimes, before he handed down a non-parole period of four years and six-months.

In an earlier victim impact statement that Mr Giggins read out to the court during sentencing submissions, the 43-year-old husband and father said the incident had scarred him for life.

He said he kept the rape a secret for decades and the trauma and regular depressive bouts he experienced put immense strain on his family.

Anglican.Ink added:

Graeme Lawrence is Australia’s most senior (former) Anglican clergyman to be locked up for child sex offences.

The unmarried and likeable Lawrence was the Anglican Dean of Newcastle for 25 years. He ruled over Christ Church Cathedral. Every bishop that came to Newcastle knew that Lawrence was not to be crossed. He was the real master conductor of the Diocese. In fact, one bishop who refused to conform told the Royal Commission, “I am the bishop who is not welcome in his own cathedral”.

Lawrence was well-connected within the church, with lawyers and with business people. He had lots of friends at the Newcastle Club, an old private club adjacent to the Cathedral where Lawrence was a regular and an Honorary Member.

But his ‘good old days’ are over.

Graeme Lawrence, aged 77 years, is now defrocked and a convicted paedophile. He’s been sentenced to eight years in prison. He’ll serve at least four and a half years behind bars before having any hope of parole.

He was one of many unsavoury characters who lurked within Newcastle’s Anglican Church for decades.

He retired in 2008. Less than two years later, the first allegations started to surface about his role in enabling the cover-up of his paedophile friend, Father Peter Rushton.

Rushton was accused of sexually abusing hundreds of boys throughout his forty-year career as an Anglican priest.

Bishop Brian Farran spoke up in 2010 and alleged Rushton had molested boys who served during church services or he “arranged to make it happen”.

One of Rushton’s victims, Mr. Paul Gray, recounted in horrifying detail how the priest abused him repeatedly between the ages of 10 and 14.

Rushton allegedly cut Gray’s back with a knife and smeared his blood to “symbolise the blood of Christ”.

The demonically-charged Rushton died in 2007 without ever being convicted.

Lawrence had for years conspired to keep Rushton out of trouble, enabling him to continue inflicting trauma to hundreds of boys in the Church.

Lawrence was one of a “gang of three” including Reverend Bruce Hoare and former Diocesan Registrar Mr. Peter Mitchell who are all believed to have covered up Rushton’s crimes. Mitchell, who was once the Diocesan Treasurer, went to jail in 2002 for defrauding the Church of nearly $200,000.

Some have alleged Lawrence was part of a series of networks actively supporting Anglican child sex offenders around Australia for decades.

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.

Romans 3: What the Bible Says About the “Human Condition”

Evangelicals believe that all humans are born sinners, at variance with God, and headed for Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in the atoning work of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. Evangelicals get their view of humanity straight from the Bible — a collection of books they believe is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. In their minds, the Bible is different from all other books. Divine in nature, perfect, and true, the Bible reveals to us God, the “human condition,” and what all of us must do to have right standing with the Christian deity and avoid eternal damnation in Hell. According to Evangelicals, atheists and other non-believers deliberately reject the truths of the Bible because they desire to live sin-filled lives. Never mind the fact that Evangelicals also live sin-filled lives. You see, they have an out — Jesus. No matter what terrible things they do, forgiveness and restoration are but a prayer away:

If we [Evangelicals] confess our sins, he [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)

No bad behavior (sin) is beyond God’s forgiveness. King David committed adultery and had the woman’s husband murdered so he could have her for his own, yet he is called a “man after God’s own heart.” (Acts 13:22) We need only turn to the modern-day fall-from-grace/forgiveness stories of men such as Ted HaggardJimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, David Hyles, and countless other “fallen” Evangelical preachers to see how the process works. Those of us who were once Evangelicals have first-hand experience with the sin/forgiveness, wash/rinse/repeat process by which we procured continued right-standing with God. Daily and twice on Sundays, we confessed our sins to God and asked for his complete, total, buried-in-the-deepest-sea forgiveness:

He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12)

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)

And each and every time, God — or so we believed anyway — granted us forgiveness. Catholics had the confessional, and we Evangelicals had the altars, prayer meetings, and devotional times. In fact, forgiveness was so readily available that all we had to do is send up a quick prayer to Jesus. We could be at work, driving our cars, or cleaning up after masturbating to porn; it mattered not. All God required was for us to say “my bad, Jesus, I’m sorry, please forgive me.” And just like that our sin slates were wiped clean. Awesome, right?

Evangelicals believe they are hopeless and helpless apart from God’s grace. While Evangelicals often present themselves as superior to atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, pagans, and other non-believers, when confronted with their own “sinfulness” they reply, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace!”  According to their doctrine, the only thing that keeps Evangelicals from spending eternity in the Lake of Fire with Hitler, Mother Teresa, Christopher Hitchens, Barack Obama, and Bruce Gerencser is the moment in time they repented of their sins and asked Jesus to save them. Evangelicals see themselves as sinners who just so happened to have pushed the right button on the Eternal Hell Fire Insurance Policy® Dispensing Machine.

The Apostle Paul in Romans 3 reminded Christians and unbelievers alike of their true nature. Here’s how Paul describes the “human condition”:

  • None of us is righteous (vs. 10)
  • None of us understands (vs. 11)
  • None of us seeks after God (vs. 11)
  • None of us does good (vs.12)
  • All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory (vs. 23)

Paul goes on to describe the “human condition” this way:

Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Paul in Romans 3 and other places reminds Christians that the only difference between them and non-Christians is faith (Ephesians 2:8,9 and Hebrews 11); faith in Jesus as the propitiation for sin (Romans 3:25 and 1 John 2:2); faith in the God-man who died on the cross for our sins (Romans 5); faith in the Jesus who promised to forgive us of every sin — past, present, and future.

Is it any wonder Evangelicals live such schizophrenic lives? On one hand, God commands them to live morally, ethically, and righteously, and even commands them to be as perfect as their Father in Heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Yet, on the other hand, they are repeatedly reminded by Paul and other Biblical authors that it is impossible for them to keep, follow, and practice that which God commands. Thinking this way leads to all sorts of emotional stress. Evangelicals may be “sinners saved by grace,” but their behavior suggests that their lives are long on sin and short on grace. One need only read the Black Collar Crime series to see how such thinking affects Evangelicals. So-called men of God — pastors, deacons, evangelists, Sunday school teachers, and worship leaders — praise the wonders of God’s grace on Sundays, all while they are fucking their secretaries, sexually abusing boys and girls, seducing church teenagers, and otherwise engaging in behaviors that most people consider wrong. “Oh Bruce,” Evangelical apologists say, “these stories are the exception to the rule!” Really? You might want to read Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare? before defending God’s spokesmen. You might also want to talk to pastors who are willing to be honest about their own “sinful” behaviors and that of their congregations — that which has been confessed to them in secret.

“Fine, Bruce,” Evangelicals say. “Are atheists any better?” To that question I reply, yes and no. Atheists don’t believe in “sin.”  Most atheists reject Evangelical moralizing about “sin” and instead focus on good and bad behavior. While atheists certainly have smaller “sin” lists, they do believe that certain behaviors can be categorized as good or bad, along with many behaviors being neither good or bad. Most atheists are humanists, and their humanism gives them a moral, ethical, and practical foundation for living one’s life. Atheists recognize that some of their brethren are despicable human beings, every bit as bad as the men of God detailed in the Black Collar Crime series. They also recognize that humans are capable of doing good without the help of imaginary deities.

If atheists reject the Christian view of the “human condition” and forgiveness, how then do they deal with bad behavior? I can’t speak for all atheists, but I can share how I and other atheists I personally know handle personal acts of bad behavior. When we act inappropriately or cause harm to others, we confess it, ask forgiveness from whomever we harmed, and if necessary, make restitution. We recognize that none of us is perfect, and we can, at times, say and do things that hurt others. We own our behavior and vow to act better going forward. If our bad behavior has caused material or social harm, we make amends. One of the reasons I write about the things I do is because I believe I have a moral and ethical responsibility to own past bad behaviors; that the harm I caused to congregants must be atoned for; that the harm I caused to my wife and children must be made right. Simply put, wrongs must be made right. I can’t undo the past, but I can own past bad behaviors, and vow to be a better man, husband, and father. I will, most certainly, fail in this endeavor, but each day of my life I will try to be a better person than I was the day before. No magical wiping of the slate clean, no religious incantations to a mythical God, just an honest, heartfelt commitment to being good. Is that not all that any of us can do?

To Evangelicals I say, leave your harmful religion behind. Humanism provides a far better way to live one’s life. And it’s a lot less stressful and a hell of a lot more fun.

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