Tag Archive: Christianity

Bruce, I’m Afraid I will Become an Atheist

bible made me an atheist
Comic by Mike Stanfill

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

You want out. You know the religious community you’re a part of is not good for you. You know that your pastor thinks he speaks for God, and you have come to see the arrogance of such a claim. Your gut is screaming to you RUN! RUN!RUN! but you are afraid.

You fear God will chastise or kill you for your rebellion. You fear losing your spouse, children, extended family, and friends. You fear losing the close connection you have with those you go to church with.

As many do, you search the internet for answers. Perhaps a Google search has brought you to this blog. Much of what I write resonates with you. You find yourself nodding and saying amen. But . . .

I am an atheist.  Atheists are routinely despised and hated in America. While my writing makes sense to you, you fear becoming like me. You fear that if you truly embrace what your heart/mind is telling you, you might become an atheist. And this scares the shit out you.

I wish I had comforting words to share with you, but I don’t. This blog does not exist for the purpose of converting Christians to atheists. I have no interest in being an evangelist for atheism. I am far more interested in helping those who have been hurt by religion, people who want a way out, but can’t seem to find it. At best, I am a facilitator, one who helps others as they journey through life.

My journey has brought me from Evangelicalism to atheism. Much like many Christians-turned-atheists, my journey had a lot of stops before I reached the conclusion that I was an atheist. For a time, I was a liberal Christian, then a universalist, and later an agnostic. Each and every step of the journey was/is difficult. Atheism and humanism are where I finally found the peace and purpose I was looking for. Your journey may not be the same as mine, and that’s okay.

I want to encourage you to continue to walk forward. Listen and read. Investigate. Challenge. Question. Be skeptical. When you come to what seems to be a resting place, ask yourself, why am I stopping here? Can I live with where I am? Do I have peace? Does this make sense to me?

Many have run from Fundamentalism only to find themselves tangled up in a less aggressive form of Christianity. They abandon the social Fundamentalism of their previous churches, only to find themselves ensnared by the same theological Fundamentalism they left. (See Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)

Some people find rest and peace in liberal/progressive Christianity. Others find that liberal Christianity is just a temporary stop along the slippery slope of reason. Many people, unwilling to abandon spirituality altogether, join groups such as the Unitarian Universalist church or one of the many “spiritual” religions of the world.

Some, like me, keep on traveling until they embrace agnosticism or atheism. They have let reason guide them every step of the way. Are they more enlightened than others are? No. While I have no need for a deity or a religion, I recognize that many people do. In their darkest moments, many people need a God to cling to, a transcendent being who gives them hope. I do not consider such people ignorant or foolish. If that is what gets them through the night, who am I to object? As long as their religion is kept within the walls of their home or church, they will get no argument from me.

Every one of us is on a journey through life. We know where we have been, we know where we are, but we do not know where we will end up. If you had told me twenty years ago that I would not be a pastor and that I would be an atheist, I would have laughed uncontrollably at such a foolish notion. Yet, here I am, an atheist.

I do think that religious Fundamentalism is a pernicious evil that we should work very hard to eradicate. It is alarming to what degree Christian Fundamentalists control the Federal government these days. It is in everyone’s best interest to neuter religious Fundamentalism wherever it is found. When Fundamentalists gain political power, freedoms are lost and people die.

This blog is meant to be a bright flashing light along the journey of life. It says to Evangelicals that there is deliverance from the bondage they are in. You need not fear becoming an atheist. No one will try to convert you. You WILL be challenged and encouraged to exercise reason as you continue your journey, however there are no altar calls at my church. Read, study, and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path. Sometimes, in an out-of-the-way place, you will find what you are looking for.

Here is the gist of what I am saying in this post. I don’t care one bit whether you become an atheist. I want to help facilitate your journey. I want to encourage you to walk openly, with honesty and integrity. Remember the old church song, Where He Leads I will Follow? Instead of God leading the way, let reason and evidence lead the way. Be willing to investigate and challenge everything you say you believe.

Yes, you MIGHT end up becoming an atheist, and if you do, I will gladly welcome you to the club of the damned. However, maybe you will stop somewhere else on the road of life, and as long as you have walked openly, with honesty and integrity, I will say, good for you.

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

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Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Evangelical Man Tells Me I Have Committed the Unpardonable Sin

unpardonable sin

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Many Christian sects teach that a person can commit what is commonly called the unpardonable sin. An unpardonable sin is an act or behavior so heinous that God will never forgive the person who commits it. Where does this teaching come from?

The Bible says in Matthew 12:31-32:

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

Many Christians believe the unpardonable is ascribing to Satan the work of the Holy Spirit. The context of Matthew 12 is Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath day and the Pharisee’s accusing Jesus of working by the power of Satan.

Several years ago, I received the following email from a blog reader in Canada:

Mr. Agnostic…

I will not take much of your time sir, except to say it’s people like you who nail down the authenticity of HELL. You are to be pitied, for you have spent the greater part of your life pretending to be something you never were…a CHRISTIAN. To be a Christian means to have Christ in you (via the Holy Spirit). Obviously, the spirit that fills you is a vile, demonic presence. My concern should be for your soul, but somehow I tend to believe you have committed the “unpardonable sin”, simply by your contemptible re-assessment of Christianity in general. For you, sir…my prayers may be in vain, but for all the precious souls you profess to have led to Christ, I must pray that their “salvation” is a credible one and they have not followed the abominable trail of demonic lies you have set before them in the aftermath of your own life.

Let’s see if I can sum up his argument:

  • People like me prove the authenticity of Hell.
  • I am to be pitied because I spent the greater part of my life pretending to be a Christian.
  • I am filled with a vile, demonic presence.
  • I have committed the unpardonable sin.
  • He is not concerned for me since it is too late for me to be redeemed, but he is concerned for the people I pastored. He hopes that their salvation is credible (Greek for they have the real deal like me) and that they have not followed the “abominable trail of demonic lies [I] have set before them.

The gist of the matter is this: I never was a Christian, and I am an unredeemable agent of Satan.

There is only one problem with this line of thinking . . . I don’t believe in God, and since Satan is a creation of the mythical Christian God and the Christian Bible (and Dante), I don’t believe in Satan either. So threatening me with Hell has no effect, thus proving, of course, that I am a reprobate, a man with a hardened heart, a man beyond the reach of even God himself.

Here’s my message to the reader in Canada:

Let this man’s words be a warning to all. This is what happens when you drink deeply at the well of religious certainty. He is so certain that he is right, that he thinks he has the correct, true, infallible truth; that anyone who does not follow after his God’s truth and his interpretation of the Protestant Bible is deceived and will burn forever in the Lake of Fire.

This man shall someday learn the truth, except he won’t know it because dead men learn nothing. 

Thus saith Bruce Almighty

Yes, I am mocking and ridiculing this man. He deserves it. I have no respect for people such as he; people filled with arrogance and certainty; people who live in a world so narrow and confined that I doubt Jesus himself would want to spend time with them.

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

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Voices of Atheism: Dying Out Loud by Dave Warnock

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.

Today’s video features a Freethought Matters interview of Dave Warnock. Dave is a former charismatic Evangelical pastor. Currently, Dave is battling Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Video

Video Link

What Motivated Me to Work so Hard for Jesus

working for jesus

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected

It all started with my belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. I considered the Bible the road map for navigating through a Satan-dominated, sin-plagued world. The Bible, along with the Holy Spirit who lived inside of me, was my God’s way of speaking to me and telling me what to do

According to how Evangelicals interpret the Protestant Bible, every person is a vile sinner under the just condemnation of God, deserving eternal punishment in Hell/Lake of Fire. The Bible also says that God graciously provides a way for us to have our sins forgiven and avoid eternal punishment. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth to be the final atonement for our sins. Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross, and three days later rose again from the dead, conquering death and the grave. Our salvation and eternal destiny rest squarely on the merit and work of Jesus. He, and he alone, is the way, truth, and life. Through the preaching of the Word (the Bible) and the work of the Holy Spirit, God calls out to sinners, saying, repent and believe the gospel. Those who hear his voice are gloriously saved and made part of the family of God.

The Bible taught me that as a God-called, God-ordained minister of the gospel, I had the solemn obligation to preach the good news to everyone. Work for the night is coming. Leave everything for the sake of the gospel. Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ. These clichés were not mere words to me. They were clarion calls to forsake all, including my family and economic security, and follow Jesus.

Every church I attended, every youth group I was a part of, and every summer youth camp I went to, reinforced the belief that God wanted (demanded) one hundred percent of me. All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give, says the old gospel song, I Surrender All. I went to an Evangelical Bible college to train for the ministry. Every class curriculum, every professor, every chapel speaker shouted out to students:

Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.
We never will give in while souls are lost in sin
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.

My wife went to college to get an Mrs. degree. She believed God wanted her to marry a preacher. Polly knew that she would have to make sacrifices for the sake of her husband’s call. She was taught that Jesus, the ministry, and the church came first. She was also taught that her husband was specially chosen by God to proclaim the good news of the gospel. She was encouraged to read biographies of great men and women of faith to learn how to deal with being married to a man of God. Polly and I entered marriage and the ministry knowing God had called us to a life of self-denial and devotion to the work of the ministry. Hand in hand, we embraced the work we believed God had set before us.

I consider 1983-1994 to be the high point of my ministerial career. I pastored a growing, busy Evangelical church. Sinners were being saved, baptized, and joining the church. Backsliders were being reclaimed. God was smiling on our work. Not only was this my observation, but it was the observation of my colleagues in the ministry. God was doing something special at Somerset Baptist Church.

During this time, I did a lot of preaching.  A typical week for me looked something like this:

  • Jail ministry on Tuesday
  • Nursing home ministry on Wednesday
  • Midweek service on Thursday
  • Street preaching 2-3 days a week
  • Teaching the adult Sunday school class
  • Preaching twice on Sunday

We also had a tuition-free Christian academy, open only to the children of church members. In addition to my busy church preaching schedule, I held revival services and preached at bible conferences and pastor’s fellowships. I was motivated by what I believed the Bible taught me about the work of the ministry.  I looked at the life of the apostles and thought that they were a pattern to follow. Run the race, Paul told me, I. I was totally committed to what I believed was God’s calling on my life.

Some Christians object and say “you are the one who worked yourself to death. Don’t blame the Church or God. OUR pastor doesn’t work this way. He takes time for his family. Blah. Blah Blah.” Even now, as an atheist, I find such objections lame. If the Bible is true, if what it says about God, sin, salvation, death, Hell, and Heaven is true, how dare any preacher or any Christian for that matter, treat the gospel of Jesus Christ so carelessly.  How dare any preacher not burn himself out for the sake of those in need of salvation. No time for busywork. No time for golfing with your fellow preachers.

More than a few pastors are lazy hirelings who do just enough to keep from getting fired. They pastor a church for two or three years, wear out their welcome, and then move on down the road to another church. I have no respect for pastors who defend their laziness by stressing the importance of balance in their lives. Where do they find such a notion in the Bible they say they believe? Jesus doesn’t call them to balance. He calls them to forsake all and follow him.

One of the reasons I see Christianity as a bankrupt religion is the lackadaisical approach Christians and their spiritual leaders have towards matters that supposedly have eternal consequences. Most of what goes on in the average church is meaningless bullshit. Call a business meeting to decide on the color of the paint for the nursery walls and everyone shows up. Implore people to come out for church visitation and the same three or four people show up.

Why should I take the Bible, God, Jesus, salvation, Heaven or Hell seriously when most Christians and pastors live lives that suggest they don’t. It took leaving the Christian church and leaving the ministry for me to realize that most of what I was chasing after was nothing more than a fool’s errand. Many of the ex-ministers who read this blog know what I am talking about. So much of life wasted, and for what? Too bad I had to be fifty years old before I realized what life is all about. Too bad I sacrificed my health on the altar of the eternal before I realized that there is no eternity, just the here and now.

From a psychological perspective, I understand that my type-A, workaholic personality made it easy for me to be the preacher I came to be. Whether it was pastoring churches or managing restaurants, I worked day and night, rarely taking time off for family or leisure. I still have the same tendencies, the difference now being that the list of things that matter to me is very small. Polly matters. Family matters. My neighbors matter. But matters of eternity, Heaven, and Hell? Nary a thought these days. If the Christian God exists, then I am screwed, and more than a few of the readers of this blog are too. However, I don’t think the Christian version of God exists, so I am investing all my time, money, and talent — how many times did you hear that phrase in a sermon? — on the only life I have — this one. I will leave it up to the gods and my family to do what they will with me after I am dead. Of course, depending on what happens to me after death, I could come back from the dead and write a book titled, “Heaven is for Real and Boy are the Atheists In Trouble.”

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

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Songs of Sacrilege: The Spirit Bears The Curse by Derek Webb

derek webb

This is the one hundred seventy-fourth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Songs of Sacrilege is The Spirit Bears The Curse by Derek Webb. Webb, formerly part of Contemporary Christian Music group Caedmon’s Call, is now an unbeliever. The song “sounds” like a praise and worship song until the end, and then takes an interesting turn.

Video Link

Lyrics

help me to forget
all of my regret
i know you’re strong enough to do the job
you go by many names
forever stay the same
your promises i claim
you’re all i’ve got

we gather here because we know
there’s nowhere else that we can go
where we can be really free

so we raise our voice
we raise an offering
would you come near
and quench our thirst
oh, lift our hearts
as the spirit bears the curse

oh, we depend on you
we know that you’ll come through
we feel it instantly when you move
it’s more than chemistry
more than community
you enter into me
you’re in my veins

you bear the weight of all our grief
uncertainty and unbelief
oh, you restore our sanity

so we raise our voice
we raise an offering
would you come near
and quench our thirst
oh, lift our hearts
as the spirit bears the curse

now my knees are weak
my speech is slurred
oh, the things you shake
oh, the things you stir
i am calling out the only name
that delivers me from my guilt and shame

oh, alcohol
alcohol
oh, alcohol
we raise our voices for alcohol
alcohol
an offering for alcohol
alcohol
oh, alcohol
oh, alcohol

Songs of Sacrilege: Revelation 22:20 by Puscifer

puscifer

This is the latest installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Revelation 22:20 by Puscifer.

Video Link

Lyrics

Don’t be aroused by my confession
Unless you don’t give a good goddamn about redemption, I know
Christ is comin’ and so am I
You would too if this sexy devil caught your eye

She’ll suck you dry
And still you’ll cry to be back in her bosom
To do it again
She’ll make you weep
And moan and cry to be back in her bosom
To do it again

(Pray)
‘Til I go blind
(Pray)
‘Cause nobody ever survives
Prayin’ to stay in her arms just until I can die a little longer
Saviors and saints, devils and heathens alike
She’ll eat you alive

Jesus is risen, it’s no surprise
Even he would martyr his mama to ride to hell between those thighs
The pressure is building at the base of my spine
If I gotta sin to see her again then I’m gonna lie, lie, lie

She’ll make you cry
I’ll sell my soul to be back in your bosom
Gladly now please suck me dry
And still you’ll cry to be back in her bosom
To do it again

(Pray)
‘Til I go blind
(Pray)
‘Cause nobody ever survives
Prayin’ to stay in her arms just until I can die a little longer
Saviors and saints, devils and heathens alike
She’ll eat you alive

My pulse has been rising, my temples are pounding
The pressure is so overwhelming and building
So steady there, Freddy, I’m ready to blow
What is she, what is she, what is she waiting for?

(Pray)
(Pray)
(Pray)
(Pray)

(Pray)
‘Til I go blind
(Pray)
‘Cause nobody ever survives
(Pray) Prayin’ to stay in her arms just until I can die a little longer
Saviors and saints, devils and heathens alike
She’ll eat you alive

Is it Okay for an Evangelical Christian to Marry an Unbeliever?

unequally yoked together

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

The Bible is clear on this subject. The inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God that millions of Evangelicals SAY they believe says:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)

2 Corinthians 6:14-17 is not an ambiguous or hard-to-interpret passage of Scripture. It means exactly what it says. Believers (Christians, followers of Jesus) should not be unequally yoked (joined) together with unbelievers. The Bible describes marriage this way: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

One would think that bought-by-the-blood, Bible-believing Evangelicals would, because of their love for Jesus, obey what God has commanded. God calls on every single Christian to be just like Tim Tebow: a virgin until the day they marry a fellow believer of the OPPOSITE sex.

But, in another, all-too-typical, example of the fact that Evangelicals only believe the Bible when it fits their lifestyle and ignore it or explain it away when it doesn’t, the Christian Partner for Life website (website is no longer active) gives this advice:

Finding your husband or wife can be quite a process.  Often, whether through school or elsewhere, we meet people in our lives who are not committed Christians.  A common question that we receive is: “Is it OK to date someone who is not committed to Christianity?”  While many advisors and ministers that we encounter have said definitively “NO,” we think it is important to have a more secular view of the situation.  If you have a great connection with someone, and they would potentially want to explore raising your future family with predetermined beliefs, we see no reason to object . . .

We believe that marrying a non-Christian or a non-practicing Christian is not a definitive “no” answer, as is commonly taught.  Would you rather stay single or marry a loving and wonderful person who is agnostic of Christian beliefs?  If this future partner is devoted to you and has a great moral compass, we think the possibility of marriage should very much exist.  If a relationship is based upon love, trust and mutual respect, there is a good chance that a marriage will succeed, regardless of religion.

The caveat to this question becomes whether your future spouse is willing to raise a family the way that you would like to.  Would your future spouse be open to raising your children as committed Christians?  If so, we think that a relationship could work . . .

In other words, ignore the Bible.

The Bible says that nonbelievers are dead in trespasses and sin. Unbelievers are at variance with God, vain in their imaginations, and haters of God. Unbelievers are really bad people, After all, their father is the devil himself.

Yet, John at Christian Partner for Life says: “If this future partner is devoted to you and has a great moral compass” then perhaps it would be okay to marry them. How can unbelievers have a great moral compass? According to the Bible, they can’t.

Here’s what I think . . . unbelievers are hotter . . . and baby, when it comes to chasing after hotness, let the Bible be damned darned.

All silliness aside, John’s post at Christian Partner for Life is just another reminder that Evangelicals, for all their bluster about the Bible being truth, really don’t believe it.

Now for MY marriage advice for unbelievers.

Actually, the Bible gives some pretty good advice here. In most circumstances, it would be unwise for an unbeliever to marry an Evangelical. Unless the believer is willing to live as an unbeliever, then it is probably not a good idea to marry someone who doesn’t believe in or worship God. I can hear the howling now Evangelicals everywhere are screaming, HOW DARE YOU EXPECT A BELIEVER TO DENY THEIR FAITH AND LIVE AS AN UNBELIEVER!! I bet it seemed okay to most Evangelicals when John proposed the very same thing when he suggested making sure the unbeliever would be willing to raise future children as believers. Evangelicals seem to always expect OTHERS to compromise so they can be true to their beliefs, but they rarely seem to be able to compromise their beliefs for the sake of others. The message is clear: my beliefs matter, yours don’t.

Generally, it is a bad idea for an unbeliever to marry an Evangelical, especially if their prospective marriage partner’s family is Evangelical too. If you marry anyway, you are sure to have conflict over issues such as:

  • Baptizing or dedicating your children
  • Attending church
  • Tithing
  • Praying over meals
  • Having family devotions
  • Cursing
  • What entertainments to participate in
  • What movies to watch
  • Sex

You will also likely subject yourself to a life of “I am praying for you” and subtle attempts to win you to Jesus.

It is almost impossible for Evangelicals to NOT talk about their faith — nor should they be expected to. This is why the Bible actually gives sound advice about an unequal yoke.

Contrary to the aphorism opposites attract, successful marriages are usually built on the things that the husband and wife have in common. While my wife and I are very different people, we do have many things in common. We cultivate our common values and beliefs, and with things we differ on, we leave each other free to pursue those things.

Over time, the things a couple differs on can become something both like or agree upon. When Polly and I married she was a sports atheist. I was a jock. I mean, I was one of THOSE kinds of guys. I played sports year-round for the first ten years of our marriage. Age, knee problems, and a busy ministerial life ended my sports playing career. Polly made a good faith effort to enter into my world. For a long time, her ignorance of sports was quite amusing, but bit by bit she became conversant in sports-talk. I did not reciprocate. I still do not know how to sew or put the toilet seat down.

We still have a lot of things that we do not hold in common, and that’s okay. But, the bedrock of our marriage of almost forty-two years is the values, beliefs, and likes we share. I believe it would be very hard for an Evangelical and an unbeliever to find common ground to build a successful marriage. It’s not impossible, but it is hard.

On this issue, I am much more of a Bible believer than John at Christian Partner for Life. Granted, I see the principle taught in Scripture from an atheist perspective these days, but it still is good advice. When it comes to the foundational issues of life and the philosophies we live by, having a common mind is always best. Certainly, compromise is possible, but willingly chucking your beliefs (whatever they might be) for love will usually leave you disappointed, and it may land you in divorce court.

If you are in an unequally yoked marriage or relationship, how do you make it work? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

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

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

If You Didn’t See it, It Didn’t Happen

fake church sign first baptist

The late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana — a man considered by some of his followers to be the greatest preacher since the Apostle Paul — made famous the statement:

If You Didn’t See it, It Didn’t Happen

Over the years, at Sword of the Lord conferences and Bible conferences, I heard Jack Hyles make this statement several times.  When Hyles was accused of having an illicit relationship with his secretary, it was this very line he and his followers used. This If-You-Didn’t-See-it-it-Didn’t-Happen thinking was taught to countless pastors at Pastor’s School and Hyles-Anderson College. These Hyles-trained men carried this thinking home to their churches and used it themselves to rebuff accusations of impropriety and immorality.

This is the argument that one commenter used when dismissing Bethany Foeller Leonard’s accusations against Pastor Bill Wininger. Since the abuse occurred almost two decades ago, there is no physical proof that Wininger sexually molested Leonard. While others have now come forward and added their names to the accusations, they too have produced no hard, physical evidence to prove their claims.

According to this commenter, since there is no actual physical evidence, it is likely the abuse never happened. According to him, Bethany Leonard and others are lying and are out to ruin this man of God. In his mind, since there is no semen-stained Monica Lewinsky blue dress, any claims of abuse should be rejected out of hand.

This is the same kind of argument that Ken Ham uses when ignoring the overwhelming evidence for evolution and the age of the universe being billions of years and not thousands of years old. Countless Evangelicals have been swayed by Ham’s Jack Hyles impersonation when he says, were you there? According to Ham, since none of us was there when the earth was birthed into existence, we cannot know how old the universe, earth, and the human race really are. We should accept what God says in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Protestant Bible — that the universe is 6,023 years old. According to Bishop James Ussher, a 17th century Ken Ham, creation began on the “nightfall preceding 23 October 4004 BC.”

While this kind of thinking sounds insane to people who are not Evangelicals, millions of Americans and other Western Christians believe as Ken Ham does. Since none of us was there, we must accept what the Bible says about the beginning of the universe. Never mind the fact that the writers of the book of Genesis weren’t there either. The oldest manuscripts, which are not the originals, are dated thousands of years after the events recorded in Genesis. Even if Moses actually wrote the book of Genesis, and we have no evidence for this other than that the BIBLE says he did, he would have written the book thousands of years after the events recorded in Genesis. In other words, Moses, or whoever the authors were, weren’t there at the moment of creation, so how can they know what happened?

The commenter I mentioned earlier refuses to believe that Bill Wininger sexually abused Bethany Foeller Leonard because there is no physical evidence to prove Leonard’s claims. No one saw it, there is no proof of it, so it didn’t happen.

I wonder if this commenter, and others who think like him, realize the huge problem they are creating for themselves. As Christians, they believe:

  • Jesus came to earth and was born of a virgin
  • Jesus worked miracles in Palestine almost 2,000 years ago
  • Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross
  • Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later
  • Jesus ascended into the clouds and left the earth 40 days after he resurrected from the dead

Every Christian believes these things to be facts, yet there is no evidence for any of these claims. None. Nada. Zip. Using the commenter’s objection to Bill Wininger being considered a child molester, should he not refrain from calling himself a Christian or from evangelizing others in hope that they will put their faith in Jesus? Where is the evidence?

When it comes to Bethany Foeller Leonard and others who are claim they were abused by their pastor, we have living people who can be questioned. Yet, according to one commenter, their claims should be rejected. Their testimony, which Leonard has put in written form, can be read by everyone, yet, because there is no physical evidence, the claims must be rejected out of hand. Why is this same rationale NOT applied to the Bible and the claims Evangelicals make for Jesus?

I can know Bethany Foeller Leonard wrote a letter about Bill Wininger abusing her, however I have no way of knowing who wrote the various books of the New Testament. I wasn’t there, to use Ken Ham’s illogical logic, and I didn’t see it, so it must not have happened, to use Jack Hyles’ illogical logic. Surely this is one of those what-is-good-for-the-goose-is-good-for-the-gander moments.

Please explain to me how it is reasonable and rational to reject Leonard’s claim out of hand, but not apply the same thinking to the claims made for Jesus that I mentioned above? Or, can reasonable people put their faith in Leonard and others and come to the conclusion that they are telling the truth, just as the Christian would do concerning the historic witness of the Christian church concerning the claims the Bible makes for Jesus Christ?

Why are people such as the commenter mentioned above so willing to accept what they are told about Jesus, a Jesus they have never met, never seen, and for which there is no physical evidence, yet when a few women say, this man abused me, their claims are rejected out of hand?

Simply put, you can’t have it both ways.

For further information about Bill Wininger, please see UPDATED: IFB Pastor Bill Wininger Outed as Sexual Predator

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

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Churches That Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things and Why Bad People Do Bad Things — Part 2

elmer gantry
Is Your Pastor an Elmer Gantry? Are You Sure? How Can You Know?

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In the first part of this series I dealt with Churches That Abuse: Why Bad people do Bad things. I wrote:

Churches attract all kinds of people with varying motivations for being part of a particular religion. I spent fifty years in the Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical church. When it comes to other religions, I only know what I read in the media. The experiences and observations I share in this post come from the fifty years I spent in those churches, first as a parishioner, and later as a pastor. I spent twenty-five years in the pastorate, pastoring churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas.

The Christian church often attracts people with ulterior motives. Generally, Christian people are very trusting. When someone gives a testimony of redemption, most Christians readily embrace the lost sheep that is now found. Tales of addictions, sexual immorality, prison, violence, and the like find a sympathetic ear with most Christians. The worse the sinner, the greater the testimony of God’s wonderful, saving grace.

There is no doubt that many sinful, fallen people have found deliverance through what they believe is the saving work of Jesus Christ. Many vile people now live productive, grace-filled lives as born-again Christians. They are to be commended for the changes that have taken place in their lives. While I no longer embrace the Christianity and its message of saving grace, I willingly admit that religion transforms and changes multitudes of people.

Because Christian people are trusting and accept people at face value, they are an easy mark for people who have evil intentions. In among the sheep are criminals, thieves, child abusers, and sexual deviants, to name a few. These people make an outward show of Christianity, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves seeking sheep — often children — to devour. This is true not only in the local church, but also in Christian camps, group homes, and Christian schools.

Churches make it easy for deceivers to set up camp in their midst. The deceivers quickly embrace the church family, begin to regularly attend services, and even give money to the church. They are soon embraced as brother or sister. Before too long they are given access to places of responsibility within the church. They now have access to the treasures of the congregation, be it monetary, physical, or spiritual.

In this post, I want to deal with Churches that Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things. This post deals with a very difficult and controversial subject. It is easy for us to understand evil actions in a church when they are committed by evil people — wolves in sheep clothing. It’s much harder for us to understand evil actions in churches when the evil is committed by individuals who are generally considered good people.

How does a good person — a pastor, deacon, or Sunday school teacher — go from a life as a devoted follower of Jesus to one of engaging in acts of abuse and perversion? It is easy to dismiss them as people who secretly were always abusers, but what if they weren’t?  What caused them to turn from being a follower of Jesus to being an abuser?

I will not offer any iron-clad answers to this question. I do want to suggest that there are teachings and ideologies within many Christian groups, especially those of Evangelical or Fundamentalist persuasion, that are instrumental in turning good people into abusers. They become Good People who do Bad Things.

My focus is on Evangelicalism — the sect I am most familiar with. I could spend the next hour detailing the heinous acts of people I personally know; men and women considered to be devoted followers of Jesus who became abusers of the very people they were supposed to love and care for. If the Black Collar Crime Series has exposed anything, it has exposed the ugly reality that Evangelical churches have a big abuse problem.

I do not want this post to come off as a justification for the behavior of abusers. When 9-11 happened, our focus was rightly on the terrorists who murdered thousands of people. Over time, a few people tried to raise questions about WHY the terrorists did what they did. Sadly, many people have no interest in pondering or answering the WHY question. “Who in the hell cares WHY they did it. We know they did it, and that is all that matters.” I understand this sentiment, but refusing to ask the WHY question leaves us open to a repeat of 9-11. Understanding the terrorists’ motivations just might reduce the number of terrorist attacks going forward. Motivations matter.

Multitudes of people have gone through their own personal 9-11.  They have been attacked, abused, and often emotionally and spiritually destroyed by people they trusted. Their tales of abuse are heart-wrenching, and I have no problem understanding their hatred for those who abused them. What I want to gently do is try to understand WHY the abuse happens. I will understand if you say, “Let them all rot in hell. I don’t care what their reasons were, or why they did what they did.” I have not walked in your shoes, so I have no right to tell you how you must respond to these issues. But I do think answering the WHY question is very important when it comes to reducing emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual abuse.

I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Evangelical church. I believe I can give some answers to the WHY question. I want to look behind the abuse and see what led good people to become abusers. I am convinced there are things within the DNA of Christianity that lend themselves to breeding and growing abusers, especially within the Evangelical church.

Every church and denomination has its own orthodoxy and its own orthopraxy.  When trying to determine why good people do bad things, we must first look at what a particular church or denomination believes and practices. This is essential to understanding why people, in the name of God, people who are committed followers of Jesus, abuse other people, often doing despicable things to those they are supposed to love and protect.

Most Evangelical churches teach:

  • The Bible is the inspired word of God and is sufficient for faith and practice. I am deliberately avoiding the various arguments about inspiration, inerrancy, etc. Every Evangelical believes the Bible, to some degree or another, is God’s truth.  If he doesn’t, he is not an Evangelical.
  • That what the Bible teaches is to be believed, obeyed, and practiced.
  • The Bible is to be, with rare exception, read in a literal sense.
  • The pastor is called by God to preach and teach the Bible to the church membership. I am well aware that a minority of churches have multiple pastors or elders, but the majority of churches are pastored by one person.

When we add these things together, we end up with sects and churches that believe everything that is written in the Bible; sects and churches that expect members to live by teachings of the Bible. They believe the most important thing in the world is to be obedient to God. They also believe that God has given them pastors to teach them and guide them in the teachings of the Bible. The pastor is the linchpin of the church. He is the main cog upon which the machinery of the church turns. It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance the pastor plays in what people believe and practice. The amount of power that a pastor has is astounding.

How do pastors gain such power over people?

People want to believe that when they go to church, they are safe. After all, they are surrounded by people who love Jesus and who seem to sincerely follow the teachings of the Bible. The “it’s what is inside that counts” sounds nice, but in most churches, everything is measured by what can be seen and experienced from the outside. If people “look” Christian then they “are” Christian. If they “act” Christian then they “are” Christian. People enter the pastor/parishioner relationship with their guard down. They trust the pastor. Surely, he has their best interest at heart.

This is why, when charges of abuse are brought against their pastor, it is hard for church members to accept that their pastor is an abuser. “He wouldn’t do such things.” “He is a man of God.” “He is kind and loving.” “He would never do anything to hurt the church or his family.” Looking in from the outside, the level of denial seems astounding, but church members are taught to be loyal. They are taught to stand firm no matter the circumstance. If they didn’t see it, it didn’t happen. (Please see Sexual Abuse and the Jack Hyles Rule: If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen.)

I know of countless church scandals where the facts of the scandal were not in dispute, yet many members refused to believe them. They steadfastly denied reality. When the late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church, Hammond Indiana — at one time the largest church in America — was charged with infidelity, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) movement was divided into two groups of people: those who stood with Hyles and considered all the evidence against him to be false or circumstantial, and those who believed Hyles was guilty of the things he was accused of.

The evidence was overwhelming. I have no doubt that Hyles did what his accusers said he did. Yet, the 100%-Hyles people — those who actually wore buttons that said “100% Hyles” — won the day. Thousands of people left the church, but Hyles survived the scandal and pastored the church until his death. After his death, his son-in-law Jack Schaap pastored the church.  He, too, found himself accused of sexual misconduct. Unlike his brother-in-law David Hyles, who got away with having sex with numerous female church members, (please see UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored) Jack Schaap was found guilty of having sex with a minor and is now serving a twelve-year federal prison sentence.

Hyles had what we called the “Hyles Mystique.” Jack Hyles had god-like qualities. He was a super-Christian, a super-pastor who somehow got thirty or forty hours out of every twenty-four-hour day. He preached at conferences every week, preached at his church on Sunday and Wednesday, counseled dozens and dozens of people each week, and still had time to be a wonderful father and husband. His preaching was inspiring and he had command of the pulpit like few other preachers. Surely, such a man could not “sin” or “abuse” other people. I was quite the Hyles fan, but I later came to see that Hyles was a narcissist and a serial liar.

In Evangelical churches, pastors are considered to be a step above the rest of the human race. They are God-called, God-inspired men who speak on behalf of God. They supposedly have vast knowledge of the Bible and they have an answer for every question. If the God/Bible/Pastor doesn’t have the answer to a question . . . well that’s never happened.

Church members are taught that the Bible is God’s divine answer book. In the Bible, Christians will find everything they need that pertains to life and godliness. If it is not in the Bible, it is not worth knowing. Say what you will about Evangelicals, but many of them take seriously the teachings of the Good Book. They read it and study it, desiring to know how to live their lives in conformity to its teachings.

Church members are taught to NOT trust their own reasoning, nor are they are to trust the vain philosophies of this world. Out in the world, Satan walks to and fro seeking whom he may devour. This is why church members are discouraged from reading books or magazines that are not written by approved Christian authors. They dare not open their mind to the world, and by living this way, they ultimately lose their ability to rationally think and, over time, to spot error and contradiction. Skeptics do not make good Christians. The Bible, or should I say, the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible, becomes the only thing that matters. This is fertile ground for the seeds of abuse to grow and mature.

Sunday after Sunday, people gather together in Evangelical churches to listen to their pastor expound and illustrate his interpretation of the Bible. They think they are doing so with an open mind, but instead they have closed off their mind to everything except what their pastor teaches. Since he is the man of God, he is explicitly trusted by almost everyone.

Before I go on, I need to say that I think most pastors are honorable people.  I think they, as I did, entered the ministry with the best of intentions. They sincerely want to help people and to instruct people how to live according to the teachings of the Bible. Regardless of my beliefs about God, the Bible, and Christianity in general, I greatly respect pastors who selflessly work hard to minister to their churches.

Most churches are pastored by one person. Churches with multiple pastors or multiple staff members make up a small number of the total churches in America. Even in large churches, with numerous staff members, there is usually one person who is THE pastor. Take a look at mega-churches. Tens of thousands of church members and dozens of staff members, yet the churches are labeled as John MacArthur’s, Rick Warren’s, Bill Hybels’ church, etc. No matter how many elders are on the board, there is no doubt whose church it is.

No matter the size of the congregation, the church revolves around the pastor. He is the head honcho, the bwana, the chairman of the board. The pastor has tremendous power granted to him by the church body. In many churches, the power that a pastor has is almost absolute. Granted, a church CAN dismiss its pastor, but rarely are disaffected church members willing to get into a turf war with the pastor. In every church there is a core group of people who are on the pastor’s side. Disaffected church members find it difficult to take on the pastor and those who support him.

As time goes on, the pastor, whether on purpose or not, tends to consolidate his power/authority in the church. He becomes the go-to man for everything, even things that have nothing to do with the Bible or the church. The pastor may even deceive himself about this. He may see this as the church and pastor maturing together like an old married couple.

I am sure you have heard the line: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sadly, this is often the case in many Evangelical churches. Over time, the pastor becomes a monarch ruling from a throne. First Baptist Church becomes John Smith’s church. The pastor’s name is on the sign, the church letterhead, and every piece of literature put out by the church. If the church is a corporate body, with every member being an essential part, why does it matter what the pastor’s name is?

The answer is quite simple. In America we are attracted to personalities. We live in a culture that puts a great premium on star power. As a result, people view pastors as stars and personalities. As with actors, politicians, and athletes who seem larger than life, when a pastor begins to believe the hype about himself, he has taken the first step to being an abuser. Filled with pride and arrogance, the pastor begins to actually believe what people say about him. “Great sermon pastor.” You are the best preacher I have ever heard.”  “What a powerful man of God you are!” “We are so glad to have you as our pastor!”

The pastor and the church are complicit in providing fertile ground for abuse to occur. While ultimately the abuser is the one who must give an account for his abuse, the church is complicit to the degree that it fails to see all people, INCLUDING the pastor, as mere humans. Pastors are capable of committing the same sins and behaving in similar ways as their congregants and non-Christians.

Trust is a good thing. Generally, we should trust one another. However, there is a difference between eyes-wide-open trust and blind trust. Closing off one’s mind to the possibility that good people can do bad things is irresponsible. Every week there are news reports of good people doing bad things. Sometimes these are bad people acting like good people doing bad things, but sometimes they really are good people doing bad things.

Good pastors are capable of doing bad things. I have pondered the WHY of this for a long time. I want to conclude this post with a few thoughts on the “why” of pastors that abuse. Why to good men do bad things?

First, they believe the hype about themselves. Pastors foolishly begin to believe the accolades that are thrown their way. Pretty soon they begin to think, I AM SOMEBODY. This is especially true if the pastor is a gifted communicator or has great people skills. They forget that Bible says pride goeth before a fall. The story of Nebuchadnezzar and his rise to power and fall should be burned into the mind of every pastor. The book of Daniel records Nebuchadnezzar saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?”  Many an Evangelical pastor has uttered a similar statement, only to be ruined by his arrogance and pride. (Please see Tony Soprano Would Make a Good Independent Baptist Preacher.)

Second, they think they are more knowledgeable than they really are. The longer a pastor serves in one church, the more willing people are to come and talk to him about the problems they are facing. Most pastors have little or no training in counseling or psychology. Even when they do have training, most often they are trained to view the Bible as the answer to every problem. When I was a pastor, rare was the day that someone didn’t come to me and say “can we talk?” I counseled hundreds of people over the years. Evangelicals have the same problems as non-Christians do. Sometimes they have MORE problems than non-Christians, due to literalist interpretation of the Bible. The Bible does not make life easier to live. It’s commandments, rules, and regulations are often a source of conflict and psychological stress.

This is complicated further by the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible. In the hyper-fundamentalist wing of the Evangelical church, you will find lengthy codes of conduct said to be taken straight from the Bible. This code of conduct is enforced through the preaching of the pastor. (Please see An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook.) Many times, the pastor’s own personal code of conduct is presented as the standard by which everyone else must live. After all, the pastor got it right from the Bible! (See Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)

As I look back over twenty-five years in the ministry, I now realize the churches I pastored had far more dysfunction than I was willing to admit. My staunch, literalist stand on the teachings of the Bible caused some of this dysfunction. Thinking the Bible is the answer to what ails us is not only ignorant, it can be dangerous. This dysfunction was furthered by my own arrogance as I allowed myself to become THE answer man. I could justify myself by saying that many of the people I pastored were lazy Christians. They were quite willing to accept whatever answer I gave them. One church member, when asked “what do you believe?” answered, “I believe whatever the preacher believes.” Brutal, but honest.

Most church members read the Bible devotionally and never spend a moment studying the doctrines they say they believe. Of course, I now see that this is essential to the long-term survival of Evangelical Christianity. Ignorance is bliss, or, in Evangelicalese, ignorance is faith. When Evangelicals embark on an intellectual journey to truly understand Christianity and its teachings, they often end up leaving the faith or embracing some form of liberal Christianity. Evangelical Christianity is not well served when looked at with the microscope of reason and fact. For this reason, pastors encourage their parishioners to read only approved books, and parishoners are encouraged to send their kids only to approved Evangelical colleges. This is vitally important for keeping the ship afloat. Non-approved books and non-approved colleges usually cause trouble and often lead to people leaving the church. Knowledge is power.

Over the years, I counseled a number of people who needed immediate psychological or psychiatric help. At the time, I despised the mental health profession. I viewed them as tools of Satan. Instead, I gave people lame, unhelpful advice from the Bible. Instead of helping them, I abused them with the Bible. Several church members had nervous breakdowns and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I viewed this as their fault, their unwillingness to trust God and obey his commandments. Those who had a nervous breakdown later left the church. They found out that what I was selling was snake oil. I proclaimed Jesus as the cure and they found out he wasn’t.

When given the opportunity, I tell young pastors to stick to doing what they were trained to do. Leave mental health issues to the professionals trained to deal with them. The same could be said of many things pastors counsel others on without having the proper training to do so.

Third, the pastor thinks of himself as being impervious to sin. He is, after all, the man of God. He is the servant of the Most High. He has his Ephesian 6 armor on 24/7. Pastors can begin to think that they are invincible, that they are above the fray. They really should know better, but arrogance and pride blind them from seeing themselves as they really are. At this point, pastors lack self-awareness and are extremely vulnerable to self-deception and open to doing things considered sinful and abusive.

Pastors have a legal, ethical, and moral obligation to act appropriately and responsibly. The Bible, in 1 Timothy 3, sets a high moral and ethical standard for pastors, as do the laws of most states.

Here in Ohio, a pastor is considered a person of authority. He can be held criminally liable for not reporting abuse or for violating the trust of a parishioner. Let me give an example. If church member Joe has an affair with church member Sue, the Bible calls their behavior adultery. However, when a pastor has an affair with a congregant the Bible still calls the action adultery, but the law calls his behavior an abuse of authority. Countless pastors end up in prison because they ignored their moral, ethical, and legal obligations to church members.

Pastors who commit sexual sin with a church member are abusing the trust given to them by the member. The state recognizes this and accordingly criminalizes such actions, Pastors, due to the sensitive nature of their interactions with congregants, put themselves in situations where the potential for sin and abuse is great. They often see people at their worst. The conscientious pastor acts appropriately, giving what help he can and recommending secular services for those things he can’t help with. The abusive pastor sees vulnerability as an opportunity to take advantage of a church member. Such pastors are rightly considered the lowest of the low, like dog shit on the bottom of a shoe. Preying on the weak and the vulnerable might work in Darwin’s survival of the fittest, but in the church, members rightly expect their pastor to treat them ethically and morally.

Let me share a personal story that I believe will help illustrate what I am trying to say. One spring day, a young woman who used to attend the church came to my office dressed quite provocatively. Her parents still attended the church, but she had left the church, off to sow her wild oats.  She had a short, tight skirt on and when she sat down and crossed her legs, she definitely had my attention. It didn’t take me long to realize what her intentions were. In her mind, the best way to get back at her parents was to screw the preacher and ruin his ministry and the church. Fortunately, I realized what was going on and had my wife come into the office with us.

In no way do I intend to present myself as a pillar of moral virtue. I wasn’t then, and I am not now. In the above-mentioned story, I was fortunate that I did not take a bite of the forbidden fruit. I just as easily could have. If I had, I would have been guilty of abusing this young woman. Never mind her attempt to seduce me. As a pastor, I was the one who had the responsibility to act appropriately in every circumstance. That’s what the Bible teaches and what the law demands.

A number of the readers of this blog were abused in Christian group homes and boarding schools. Their stories of abuse still bring me to tears. How did these people, children at the time, end up in abusive settings? In almost every circumstance it began with their pastor. Let’s face it, troubled teens are not easy to deal with. But we must remember that “troubled teen” in an Evangelical context does not mean the same thing as it does elsewhere. A “troubled teen” in an IFB church might be nothing more than a teen who listens to rock music, drinks a beer now and again, fools around with her boyfriend, or admits to trying pot. This, of course, describes most everyone who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s.

Evangelical children are taught to obey authority, especially the authority of their parents and pastors. When parents have a child or a teen they can’t control — and I readily admit there are some kids who need help beyond what parents can provide — they most often seek out counsel from their pastor. When teens end up in a Christian group home or boarding school, they almost always end up there based on the recommendation of their pastor. In my opinion, when these kids are sent off to a group home and abuse happens, the pastor bears just as much responsibility as the abusers. He is culpable because he is the one who recommended a home such as New Bethany Home for Girls, Hephzibah House, or the Roloff Homes. Our legal system recognizes this, equally punishing the bank robber and the person who drove the getaway car. (Please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls and Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sins.)

Truth be told, pastors often are just as trusting as church members. Parents come to them seeking help for their “troubled teen.” The pastor remembers that “so and so” from college runs a group home, so he gives the parents the phone number for the home, thinking he has done all he needs to do. The pastor has NOT done his due diligence. He should thoroughly check out any place he is recommending to parents with “troubled teens.” The same could be said for Christian colleges. Many Christian colleges are purveyors of institutionalized abuse, yet pastors blindly recommend these colleges to prospective students. Rarely does anyone consider how the bizarre codes of conduct at many Christian schools affect the minds of the students sent there. Pensacola Christian College goes so far as to withhold giving the students and their parents the complete list of rules and regulations until the students are on campus. Pastors are responsible for the people, places, and things they recommend. Ignorance is not an excuse.

I hope this post helps to explain how good people — specifically pastors — can do bad things. I hope I also adequately answered the WHY question. If not, please ask your questions in the comment section and I will do my best to answer them.

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

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Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Lingo, A Guide to IFB-Speak

ifb

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

If you are unfamiliar with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement, please see The Anatomy of the IFB Church Movement for more information.

Below is a list of words and phrases used in IFB churches. IFB churches and pastors have a lingo that may sound strange to the uninitiated, so I hope this list will help.

Guide to Words and Phrases used in IFB Churches

Inerrancy of the Bible

The Bible, many times the King James Bible, is inspired, infallible, and without error, perfect in all it says and teaches. Some IFB churches believe that even the italicized words added by the translators are inspired.

Inspiration of the Bible

The Bible, in its original writings, was breathed out by God. God directed (moved) the writers of the Bible in such a way that their words were the exact words God wanted to be written down. Some within the IFB Church movement believe that the King James Bible is just as God-inspired as the original writings. Others believe God has preserved his Word throughout history, and the King James Bible is the only Bible for English-speaking people.

The Second Coming of Jesus Christ

Someday, perhaps today, Jesus Christ will come in the clouds and rapture all the Christians off the face of the earth. Then, all the unbelievers will face seven years of tribulation as described in the book of Revelation. Jesus will then return to earth, bind Satan, and establish his millennial kingdom. During the millennium, the raptured Christians will remain in heaven while Jesus rules the earth with a rod of iron. At the end of the millennium, Satan will be loosed for a season and God will defeat him. Then God will judge everyone, destroy the heavens and earth, and make all things new. (This is an abbreviated form of what IFB churches believe about the Second Coming.)

Pastoral Authority

The pastor, called by God, is in charge of the church. He is called by God to speak the words of God to church members. Most IFB churches are pastored by one man. Often, the pastor has the final say on everything. Typically, the longer a preacher pastors a church, the more control he has.

Pastoral Succession

Many IFB churches have pastors who have been their pastor for years and decades. As these preachers age and their children grow up, it is not uncommon for the pastor’s children to be hired as church staff. In some cases, the pastor’s son or son-in-law becomes the pastor-in-waiting. The church becomes a possession, a franchise that is passed down from generation to generation.

Soulwinning

Proverbs 11:30 says The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Most IFB churches actively evangelize their community. They believe they are commanded by God to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, even if people don’t want to hear it. Much like Jehovah’s Witnesses, IFB church members often evangelize door-to-door and hand out tracts. They believe God holds them personally accountable for the souls of those they could have witnessed to and didn’t. Ezekiel 33:7-9 says:

So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

Altar Call

The altar, located at the front of the church, is the place where the unsaved and saved alike come to do business with God. Often the church has trained altar workers who help those who come forward during the altar call (public invitation). In IFB churches, the altar is similar to the Catholic confessional.

Backsliding

Since IFB churches believe Once Saved, Always Saved, they must account for when members become worldly or stop doing what is expected of them. Such members are called backsliders. IFB pastors spend significant amounts of time trying to get backsliders to live as good Christians should. A good Christian attends church every time the doors are open, reads and studies the Bible daily, prays without ceasing, tithes and gives offerings, evangelizes the lost, and follows the church social code/standards. Congregants who don’t are considered, backslidden, worldly, or carnal.

Standards

Standards are rules that every IFB church member is expected to obey. Standards are often developed, based not on direct commands from the Bible, but upon inferences from particular Bible verses. Every IFB church has its own standards. IFB churches fuss and fight over standards, and often a church will refuse to fellowship with other IFB churches that don’t have the same basic standards as they do. (Please see The Official Independent Baptist Rule Book.)

Separation

Separation is the abstaining from people, actions, and things that are considered worldly. What is worldly is defined by what the pastor says the Bible says is worldly. What is worldly varies from church to church. Worldly can be generously defined as anything the pastor thinks is a sin or could cause someone to “stumble” or have a bad testimony.

Head of the Home

The husband is the boss and the decider of everything pertaining to the family. IFB churches are hierarchal and complementarian when it comes to marriage and family.

Right Hand of Fellowship

When new members are welcomed and admitted into the church membership, they are given the right hand of fellowship. Many congregations have new members stand at the front of the church so every church member can come by and shake their hand or hug them. This is a great opportunity for pervert Deacon Bob to cop a feel.

The Call

The “call” is when God speaks to a man’s heart, telling him to be a pastor, evangelist, or missionary. The man called by God makes his calling publicly known before the church, often at the close of the Sunday morning church service.

Preacher Boy

A preacher boy is a young boy, most often a teenager, called by God to be a preacher. Preacher boys often have favored status in IFB churches. Many IFB pastors pride themselves in how many boys have been called to preach under their ministry. This is very similar to a man passing his seed on.

Faith Promise

Faith Promise is a method used by some IFB pastors to extract money from church members. Most often, faith promise is associated with mission giving. Church members are asked to make a promise of X amount of dollars for missions, and by faith they are to expect God to give them the money for the offering. And when God fails to come through? Congregants are expected to give anyway, even if it caused financial harm.

Prayer Meeting

Prayer meeting is a time when prayer requests are gathered and members or the pastor prays over them. It is also known as the midweek gossip hour. It is a golden opportunity for gossips to share dirt about sinful family members or backslidden Christians — all in the name of “praying” for them.

Stewardship

Stewardship is a method used by some IFB pastors to extract money from church members. Some pastors preach a series of messages on being good stewards (caretakers) of the money God has given each church member. The objective is to get people to give more money to the church.

Revival

A revival is a time when a special speaker, often called an evangelist, comes to the church and preaches each night for a consecutive number of days — usually three to seven days. Many IFB church members make spiritual decisions during the nightly revival altar calls.

This is not an all-encompassing list. If there are other words and phrases you think would be a good addition to this list, please leave them in the comments (and make sure you define them).

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

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The Official Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Rulebook

rules

The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook, Known in Some Churches as Church Standards

  • Thou shalt obey the pastor at all times
  • Thou shalt obey all adults at all times if you are a child or teenager
  • Thou shalt obey your husband at all times is you are a woman
  • Thou shalt obey your parents at all times
  • Thou shalt obey the police and government unless the pastor says it is a sin against God to do so
  • Thou shalt tithe
  • Thou shalt give an offering
  • Thou shalt give a faith promise missionary offering
  • Thou give an offering any time the pastor says God is saying to collect a special offering
  • Thou shalt attend church every time the doors are open
  • Thou shalt read the Bible every day
  • Thou shalt pray every day
  • Thous shalt pray without ceasing
  • Thou shalt pray for every meal, but ice cream at Dairy Queen after church requires no prayer
  • Thou shalt only use the King James Bible — 1611 edition which is really the 1769 revision
  • Thou shalt only use the Scofield King James Bible
  • Thou shalt not have long hair (over your ears, collar) if you are a man
  • Thou shalt not have a block cut hairstyle is you are a man
  • Thou shalt not have facial hair if you are a man, but if you are a woman you can have facial hair
  • Thou shalt not have tattoos unless you have prison tats from your life before Christ
  • Thou shalt not take the hem out of your Levi jeans or alter your clothing in any way so that you look worldly
  • Thou shalt not wear pants (britches) if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt not wear shorts, but a woman can wear Baptist shorts — also known as culottes
  • Thou shalt not expose any flesh if you are a woman, especially your thighs, breasts, or back
  • Thou shalt only wear dresses with hemlines below the knees if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt not have any physical contact with the opposite sex if you are unmarried
  • Thou shalt not masturbate
  • Thou shalt not have more than one hole in each ear if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt not pierce any body part except your ear, and then only if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt not watch TV, but if you are a carnal Christian and must watch TV thou shalt only watch Little House on the Prairie or Bonanza
  • Thou shalt not go to the movie theater, but using streaming services is okay
  • Thou shalt always have tracts in your shirt pocket or purse, ready to evangelize at a moment’s notice
  • Thou shalt drive a car with church advertising stickers, IFB cliches, or Bible verses attached to the bumper
  • Thou shalt park down the street when visiting the local strip club or whore house lest the pastor know you are there and stay away
  • Thou shalt not dance
  • Thou shalt not listen to secular music, especially rock music, which is from the pit of hell
  • Thou shalt not listen to contemporary Christian music (CCM)
  • Thou shalt not smoke tobacco
  • Thou shalt not drink fermented alcohol — after all, Jesus drank Welch’s grape juice
  • Thou shalt not dip snuff
  • Thou shalt not chew tobacco
  • Thou shalt not cuss, but saying darn, shoot, crap, freaking, and fudge are okay
  • Thou shalt not date non-Independent Baptist girls or boys
  • Thou shalt not have any non-Independent Baptist friends
  • Thou shalt home school your children or send them to a Christian school
  • Thou shalt only read pastor-approved Christian books
  • Thou shalt never speak in tongues
  • Thou shalt only believe what the pastor says you are to believe
  • Thou shalt go soulwinning every week
  • Thou shalt say you have victory over sin, even if you are lying
  • Thou shalt adhere to the perception is reality rule
  • Thou shalt send your kids to the same Christian college the pastor went to
  • Thou shalt leave the church if you commit adultery, get a divorce, or get pregnant outside of marriage
  • Thou shalt  believe everything the pastor says even when you are certain he is lying, speaking evangelistically, or embellishing his illustrations
  • Thou shalt wear a bra if you are a woman, and it can only be a white, underwire bra
  • Thou shalt not mix bathe (Baptist for swimming with the opposite sex)
  • Thou shalt not go to amusement parks unless the youth group is going
  • Thou shalt not go to the prom
  • Thou shalt not show emotion unless praising Jesus from 10:00 am to noon on Sunday or giving a testimony during Sunday evening service
  • Thou shalt say AMEN during at the appropriate time during the pastor’s sermon, especially when he shouts, pounds the pulpit, or performs gymnastics
  • Thou shalt not be angry even though the pastor is allowed to be angry, but that’s because his anger is righteous anger
  • Thou shalt be for what the pastor is for and against what the pastor is against, because if you don’t, a bear might come out of the woods and eat you
  • Thou shalt never use your brain
  • Thou shalt ignore any science that contradicts the Bible
  • Thou shalt never try to fix your own problems because the pastor is the official fixer of all problems
  • Thou shalt takes notes on the sermon even if the rabbit wanders five miles off the trail or the sermon is incoherent
  • Thou shalt always tell the pastor what a wonderful sermon he preached, even when you have no idea what he was talking about
  • Thou shalt always tell Sister Bertha what a wonderful job she did with her off-key rendition of What a Friend we Have in Jesus
  • Thou shalt not use canned (taped) music for music specials
  • Thou shall not play the guitar or drums

Please be advised that this rulebook is subject to change at the whim of the pastor. He is the man of God who speaks for God. He alone is allowed to change his mind. This means that God changed his mind, yes?

Of course not.

This is the Christianity of millions of North Americans.

Is it any wonder that we are fucked up?

Feel free to add your own additions to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Rule Book.

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

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Churches That Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things and Why Bad People Do Bad Things–Part One

elmer gantry

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Churches attract all kinds of people with varying motivations for being part of a particular religion. I spent fifty years in the Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical church. When it comes to other religions, I only know what I read in the media. The experiences and observations I share in this post come from the fifty years I spent in those churches, first as a parishioner, and later as a pastor. I spent twenty-five years in the pastorate, pastoring churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas.

While I am no longer a Christian or a pastor, I do keep myself informed about Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical Christianity. Just because I no longer believe doesn’t mean that my experiences and observations are now, suddenly, invalid or lack value. Some Christians try to marginalize or invalidate my writing by suggesting that since I am no longer a Christian, or may have never been a Christian (their view), my experiences and observations can safely be ignored or ridiculed. I will leave it to the readers of this blog to decide whether what I write has value. I suspect, knowing my readers as I do, that what follows will resonate with many of them,

The Christian church often attracts people with ulterior motives. Generally, Christian people are very trusting. When someone gives a testimony of redemption, most Christians readily embrace the lost sheep that is now found. Tales of addictions, sexual immorality, prison, violence, and the like find a sympathetic ear with most Christians. The worse the sinner, the greater the testimony of God’s wonderful, saving grace.

There is no doubt that many sinful, fallen people have found deliverance through what they believe is the saving work of Jesus Christ. Many vile people now live productive, grace-filled lives as born-again Christians. They are to be commended for the changes that have taken place in their lives. While I no longer embrace the Christianity and its message of saving grace, I willingly admit that religion transforms and changes multitudes of people.

Because Christian people are trusting and accept people at face value, they are an easy mark for people who have evil intentions. In among the sheep are criminals, thieves, child abusers, and sexual deviants, to name a few. These people make an outward show of Christianity, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves seeking sheep — often children — to devour. This is true not only in the local church, but also in Christian camps, group homes, and Christian schools.

Churches make it easy for deceivers to set up camp in their midst. The deceivers quickly embrace the church family, begin to regularly attend services, and even give money to the church. They are soon embraced as brother or sister. Before too long they are given access to places of responsibility within the church. They now have access to the treasures of the congregation, be it monetary, physical, or spiritual.

Countless churches, after just a short time, readily appoint newcomers to positions of authority. The reason for this is simple. Most churches need a steady supply of new workers. Sadly, many churches practice the four W’s: win them, wet them, work them, waste them. It is not uncommon for Baptist churches to turn over their membership every five or so years. It is common to find new church members quickly appointed as deacons, Sunday school teachers, junior church workers, youth workers, nursery workers, etc. Rarely is the past life of the new church member examined, either through an interview or comprehensive background check. This is especially true in smaller churches. All that matters is that Jesus saved them.

What I have written above also applies to pastors. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I candidated at a number of churches. Not one church did a criminal background check. Several churches did check my references, but the references they checked were those I gave them. Who would ever give a reference from a disgruntled church member or board member?  Every church I candidated at readily accepted the information on my résumé. I found every church to be trusting, and while this is a trait that should be generally commended, it is this same trait that often results in churches hiring men and women who are deceivers.

Bad people are those who become members of a church for ulterior reasons or those who are pastors with a secret past, who go from church to church preying on unsuspecting congregations. Bad people do bad things to trusting children, teens, and adults. They physically and sexually abuse people. They scam people out of their money — sometimes their life savings. They wreak havoc wherever they go. After getting caught, they pack up their wares and go down the road to another church and set up shop. There is no shortage of supply of sincere, trusting, honorable church members.

There are some things that churches can (must) do to keep themselves from being easy marks:

  • Do not allow newcomers to become members of the church for at least one year. Do not allow them to hold any office of authority or responsibility. Time will likely expose them for what they really are.
  • Require federal and state criminal background checks on every person who will be in a place of authority or will have contact with children or teenagers. This must be a “no exceptions” policy. These background checks should be repeated annually.
  • Pastors should have an open-door policy.  Church members should be encouraged to share any concern they might have.
  • When someone reports abuse of any kind, an immediate investigation must be done. 
  • ALL criminal activity should be reported to the police. ALL abuse should be immediately reported to law enforcement or child protective services. In Ohio, people in places of authority are REQUIRED to report any abuse they are made aware of. They can be held criminally liable if they do not report it.
  • Churches should thoroughly investigate candidates for the pastorate. State and federal background checks should be done. References should be thoroughly checked. Phone calls should be made to the churches previously pastored. I would even go so far as to send people to the churches a candidate previously pastored or is currently pastoring.
  • Candidates for a church’s open pastorate should be just as diligent. Churches are notorious for hiding their dirty laundry. Why did the last pastor leave? What shape are the church’s finances? Churches, as a whole, can be just as abusive as a pastor or an individual church member.
  • Churches must be diligent in their investigation of new church members and prospective candidates for the pastorate. The unasked question is often the very thing that ends up biting the church in the ass. Personally, I would record all interviews, along with ANY meetings the church has. Recordings put an end to the he-said-she-said fights that are far too common in Christian churches.
  • Every church program or class should have a minimum of two workers who are not related. No person should be permitted to teach a class, work with the teenagers, or staff the nursery alone. If possible, every room should have a window in the door or hall wall. This allows people walking by to look in at any time.

Just because someone is a teenager or a pre-teen doesn’t mean he or she should be exempt from the things mentioned above. Many churches staff their nursery, junior church, or vacation bible school with young people from the church (and sometimes from other churches). Churches assume that young people are safe. This assumption can prove to be deadly. Years ago, we had a teenager in our church who was a nice young man. Likable. Easy going. Oh, and, unbeknownst to me, he had spent two years in a juvenile detention center for rape.

The church attracts bad people who do bad things. Unless churches are diligent in protecting themselves, they will continue to be easy targets for abuse. The old adage is true: better safe than sorry. A genuine Christian will not be offended if the church is diligent in its protection of its children and teenagers.

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

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

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