Tag Archive: Christianity

Help for Those Who Doubt

no explanations

You are an Evangelical Christian.

You put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

You’ve been baptized and you are a member in good standing of a Christian church.

For years, everything was fine between you and God.

But now, suddenly, you have questions and doubts.

Maybe something happened in your life to cause you to question your faith.

Maybe you’re having trouble accepting some of the teachings of the Bible.

Maybe you’ve come to see that Christianity is not all it is cracked up to be.

Maybe you have read a book by an author such as Bart Ehrman and now you have questions.

So, now what?

Going to your pastor or a fellow church member won’t help you. They will tell you to pray, trust God, or resist the temptation of Satan. I suspect you have tried all these things and yet you still have doubts.

Christians are taught not to doubt. Just believe. Just have faith. Only in Evangelical Christianity is the natural human experience of doubt considered a bad thing.

Doubt means you have questions. Doubt means something doesn’t make sense to you. Doubt means that the answers of the past no longer answer the questions of the present.

First, it is OK to doubt. Anyone who tells you otherwise has something to hide or has an agenda. Your pastor wants to keep you as a church member and he knows that the exit door of the church swings out on the hinges of doubt. This is why he tells you to trust God, pray, read your Bible, attend church more, and confess any sin in your life. You know these “solutions” will do nothing to assuage your doubt. Why can’t your pastor see this?

Second, the only way to find answers for your doubts is to be willing to read and study. You must be willing to work hard. If you really want to know, the answers can be found.

Third, be honest. I mean completely honest. Don’t lie to yourself.  Be willing to meet the truth in the middle of the road. Engage every bit of new information and weigh it carefully. Don’t move forward until you really understand the new information.

Fourth, you must be willing to follow the path wherever it leads. Are you willing to lose your faith if that is where the path leads? Are you willing to leave the church you are a part of if that is where the path leads?

Fifth, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. This journey of yours is singular. It is a lonely walk that you must take by yourself. No one can guide you, direct you, or tell you which way to go. You alone must chart your course. Remember, the journey is more important than the destination.

Sixth, don’t be in a hurry. Take your time. You have your whole life ahead of you.

Seventh, be careful whom you share your doubts with. Evangelical Christians are known to turn on those who don’t think like they do. They think their God demands conformity and obedience, and as a doubter they will have “doubts” about you.

It doesn’t matter where your journey takes you. Maybe you will stay right where you are, but I doubt it. It is likely that your doubts are telling you something about where you are now. Staying where you are is not an option IF you are really serious about finding answers to your doubts.

Not all people can embrace their doubts. They fear losing their faith. They fear the judgment of God. They fear hell. They fear disappointing their family and friends.  Ask yourself: should fear be a motivator for doing anything?

Here is what I know from my own experience; you will always have doubts. Having questions is how we mature and grow. As we seek answers to the doubts we have, we develop a better understanding of self and the world we live in. Pity the person who never doubts, who never seeks answers to questions. Ignorance is not bliss, and understanding self and the world we live in is key to living a happy, productive life.

I am here to help you, no strings attached, I don’t want your money, life, or soul. I have no desire to convert you to atheism. In fact, I am quite certain that most people will not end up where I am.  It is not about you being like anyone else. It is your life, your journey, and I hope you will walk on in openness and honesty.

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A Comment from a Christian Seminary Student

email

Recently, I received a Facebook message from a Canadian seminary student by the name of Matt. I assume he is an Evangelical. Here’s some of what he had to say:

You don’t know me. I am a seminary student at a school in Canada. One of my professors passed around your article entitled “Know it all Evangelicals” and asked the class to post a response in the class forum.

As I considered my response, I felt that if I wanted to take the assignment seriously I should also post my response in the comments on your article…

…If you are not interested in this I completely understand and will bother you no more. I wish you all the best as you battle through your health issues. Thanks for considering my request.

Here’s the comment Matt posted to the class forum page:

Dear Bruce,

Thanks for a thought provoking article. I’ll admit that my first reaction was indignation and the inner protest that while this may refer to most Christians, it certainly doesn’t refer to me, don’t lump me in with everyone else.

I suspect that just about any Christian reading the article would feel similarly at least initially. Perhaps others would jump on the bandwagon and say, “Yeah, that is the problem with the church, they are so arrogant and they know nothing.” as though they themselves are somehow apart from and therefore better than the church.

Then I tried to think more about what you are really saying. It seems that the main problem that you outline in the article is the arrogance Christians tend to have based on their knowledge which in reality often amounts mostly to ignorance. I wonder if I really can be lumped into that category.

Perhaps in your years as a pastor you had the experience of having kids from your church go off to Bible College and then come back after a year armed with a new knowledge and a great zeal to correct the areas where you were in error in your leadership. The reality is that I was one of those kids. I recall as a Bible School student zealously inserting myself into a church conflict in the church where I grew up.

I made sure to point out to the pastor the areas where he was wrong and clearly warned him of the dangers of his behaviour. He was a man who was struggling in life, he had a teenage daughter causing a great deal of grief in his home and a church in turmoil around him and I am sure that in my great wisdom and discernment I caused far more harm than good. I look back on that incident with no small regret and hope that I have learned something since then.

Now, years later I find myself with a role of leadership and influence within the church and your article is a challenge to me. I can ask myself, “How can I be an influence for good in the church? Can I challenge the young people around me to get into their Bible, to study the scriptures and to think about what they are reading?” I think I can. The reality is that if the scriptures are true (and I believe that they are) they are worth studying and knowing. If they are truly a way to know God then this is what I should devote my life to learning and I want to influence the next generation of the church to change the reputation that we have of being arrogant and ignorant.

Thanks for your challenge.

Matt

While I cannot find the post Matt references, I do remember what I wrote. I focused on the arrogance of many Evangelicals when it comes to them thinking they know everything. In truth, most Evangelicals know very little about theology, the Bible, the history of the Christian sect, and the transmission of the text they claim is divine. Even among preachers, the lack of knowledge is astounding.

I think Bart Ehrman’s books should be required reading in the Evangelical church (and even more so in Evangelical Bible colleges and seminaries). Evangelicals should know where their Bible and beliefs came from and how much these beliefs have changed over the centuries. They should know that many of the claims they make for the Bible are not only laughable but ignorant. If they are going to say that the Bible says ____________, then they should learn to defend and explain their assertions. In the process of learning how to defend themselves, they should expose themselves to authors and scholars outside of their sect, men such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, NT Wright, and even secular, non-Christian writers of the ilk of Bart Ehrman and Robert M Price.

I take the Bible seriously and those who say they believe it should do the same. I hope, in the advice Matt gives to his future church people, that he will encourage them to read outside the rut of their peculiar sect. Any belief worth having will stand examination and critique. Now, if it is really all about faith, then future Evangelical preachers such as Matt need to make that clear. They need to state that their beliefs are faith-based and not evidence based. This we believe, then becomes an article of faith, a shared faith, that may have some facts attached to it, but such facts are not required.

I want to thank Matt for his comment. I always appreciate it when an Evangelical makes an attempt to engage me on a  thoughtful, professional, and intellectual level. His kind message to me is a reminder that my writing is often discussed far beyond the pages of this blog.

Note

I have had countless Evangelicals attempt to disparage and discredit Bart Ehrman. When I ask them which of his books they have read, they often state they have read NONE of them. As with the Bible and theology, their knowledge is based on what someone else has told them.

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer

How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

(I do make a few shekels if you buy these books through the links above)

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They Come From a Storybook

grimm characters

Bethany (my 25-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome) and I religiously watch the hit TV show Grimm.  Along with Captain America, Rascal Flatts, and Sleepy Hollow, Bethany loves Grimm. She is quite intense when she watches the show and can easily recite to anyone who asks (or doesn’t ask) the Grimm storyline, complete with character descriptions.

One of the problems Bethany has is that she has a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction. As we were watching Grimm last week, Bethany asked, they are all real, right? I snickered a bit, and then told her, no, they are not real. They come from a storybook.

Later in the week, I was watching a crime procedural show and one of the characters explained how it is possible for a large number of people to testify to a certain event happening. The detective said:

People make things up and it is told over and over. Eventually it becomes common knowledge.

And then I thought to myself, just like the stories in the Bible.

I can just imagine an Evangelical preacher reading this post and doing this while screaming:

jumping man

THE BIBLE IS DIFFERENT!!! In what way is the Bible different? Think on this question before trying to defend the Bible as a historically accurate, factual book. Do we have any more evidence for the Jesus of the Bible than we do the fictional creatures in Grimm? While there may have been a man named Jesus that lived and died in Palestine during the period recorded in the gospels, is there any evidence for a Jesus that was the miracle-working, divine, son of God?

Just because people say something is so doesn’t mean it is factual or true. An Evangelical preacher is simply following the path described by the detective. He is repeating a story that has been told over, and over, and over again. And as with the telephone game, the Jesus story of the 21st century is wildly different from the Jesus story of the first, second, twelfth, or fifteenth century.

Evangelicals embarrass themselves when they assert without knowledge that what they believe is exactly the same as what the early New Testament church believed. What is their evidence for this claim? Why the passed-down story of Jesus, passed down from Christian to Christian, sect to sect.

I am an avid reader of Smithsonian Magazine. Every month I learn something I didn’t know before. In the January 2015 issue, I learned from an article about Martin Luther King, Jr. that “King and his demonstrators were driven out of Selma by the police on “Bloody Sunday.” I also learned that the Watt Riots took place in 1967.

Imagine for a moment that I am telling my children about my life growing up in the 1960’s. Imagine me saying to them, I remember seeing the Watts Riots on TV in 1967. My children would accept this as a fact because they know I was born in 1957, so I was alive during the race riots of the 1960s. Perhaps, they would pass this on to their children, a story of how life was when Gramps was a kid. Think on this for a moment.

The February 2015 edition of Smithsonian came a few days ago. In the Discussion section was a correction. King was not in Selma on Bloody Sunday. He arrive two days later. The Watts Riots? They took place in 1965, not 1967.

Now ponder how the stories of the Bible came into being and why people repeat them and believe them today.

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Songs of Sacrilege: Jesus Loves Me (But He Can’t Stand You) by Austin Lounge Lizards

This is the third 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 leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Jesus Loves Me (But He Can’t Stand You) by The Austin Lounge Lizards from Austin, Texas. (HT: Camels with Hammers)

 Video Link

Lyrics

I know you smoke, I know you drink that brew
I just can’t abide a sinner like you
You know, God can’t either, that’s why I know it to be true
That Jesus loves me, but he can’t stand you

I’m goin’ straight to heaven, boys, when I die
‘Cause I’ve crossed every T and I’ve dotted every I
Why, my preacher tells me that I’m God’s kind of guy
That’s why Jesus loves me…..but you’re gonna fry

God loves all His children, by gum
That don’t mean He won’t incinerate some
Can’t you feel those hot flames lickin’ you?
Woo-ooo-ooo-oo

I’m raisin’ my kids in a righteous way
So don’t you be bringin’ your kids over to my house to play
Why, yours will grow up stoned, left-leaning, and gay
I know – Jesus told me on the phone today

Jesus loves me, this I know
And he told me where you’re gonna go
There’s lots of room for your kind – down below
Wo-wo-wo-o

Jesus loves me, he loves me real good
I know he does because he called me up on the phone today and told me how much he loves me
He said, “Son, I loooooove you”
He speaks English pretty well, considering it’s a second language for him
You can talk to him too, you know, I’ve got a 900-number in Tulsa that you can call him at – I do it all the time
He’ll be glad to hear from you, I talk to him every day

Jesus loves me, but he can’t stand you!

Why Ex-Christians Don’t Trust Evangelicals

lets be friends

Evangelicals get upset when ex-Christians such as I question, deflect, or reject their “love” and “friendship.” Several years ago, on a post that is no longer available, the following discussion took place:

TW: @John & Erin, Hi. I also have a Pentecostal background (A/G to be exact), and was a youth pastor & worship pastor (not at the same time, youth for 13 years, worship for 10 years). I would very much love to talk to both of you and share experiences. I left the A/G at the end of 2011 (out 2 years now), and while I am still a believer, I completely denounced all of the BS nonsense that the A/G promotes, like speaking in tongues, faith healing, etc.

If you are both amenable to chatting further, Bruce (if he doesn’t mind doing this), can forward my email address to you both and you can contact me, just let him know. And Erin, I know exactly what you mean when you say you can still “speak in tongues on demand”, haha!

Erin: TW: I appreciate the offer, and respect that you’ve left the AG, but because you are still a believer, I would want to know a little more what you’d like to “chat” about.  As a former-christian-now-atheist, I’ve run into these “chats” a few times before that really only have one ulterior motive. I’m not assuming this is true of you, but I’d like to know more what you’re thinking first. Thanks!

John: I am glad that you have managed to escape the Pentecostal movement.

You say that you are still ‘a believer’. Does this mean that you are a Fundamentalist or an Evangelical or have you moved to some form of non-Evangelical Christianity? If the latter, I am open to the idea of chatting with you further about the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements.

I have informed Bruce that he can pass me email address onto you and you can contact me. Even if you are some kind of open evangelical, I am willing to discuss the ‘tongues movement’ with you further.

What I am not open to is any subtle or direct attempt to try and reconvert me to Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism. If you do try to attempt this, I will close off further discussion. I consider both Fundamentalism and most of Evangelicalism to be religions of psychological, emotional and intellectual oppression and don’t wish to be sucked back into those camps, ever again.

So, if you are willing to stick to topics related to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements and their problems, i am open to further discussion with you.

Why are Erin and John so hesitant to correspond with TW? The answer is this: they have had many of these kind of conversations already, and rarely, if ever, do they turn out well. Now let me explain why they don’t turn out well.

Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God. They believe people must have a personal relationship with Jesus to go to heaven when they die. Everyone who does not have a personal relationship with Jesus will go to hell when they die. Evangelicals believe the Bible/God/Jesus has commanded them to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person whether the latter want to hear it or not. They believe all other Gods are false Gods and all other religions are false religions. In their minds, Jesus is THE WAY, not a way, THE TRUTH, not a truth, and THE LIFE, not a life. Simply put, it is Jesus or hell, choose!

People like Erin, John, and i know that Evangelicals have a pathological need to evangelize. While they may say they just want to be friends or get to know us better, what they really want to do is win us back to Jesus. How could it be otherwise? If Evangelicals really believe the Bible is what they say it is, that Jesus really is the only way, truth, and life, and hell awaits those who refuse to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, how can they not attempt to evangelize everyone they come in contact with? In fact, I would say if they DON’T evangelize they are being disobedient to the clear teachings of the Bible (as read through the eyes of an Evangelical).

When Evangelicals want to be my friend, get to know me, correspond with me, etc. I immediately wonder what their real motive is. When I ask them about their motive, they almost always assure me their motive is pure, that they really just want to be my friend. However, after eight years of having Evangelicals sincerely tell me they just want to be my friend, the truth is, in EVERY instance, over time, their true motive became known. While I am sure there are Evangelicals who can be friends with an ex-Christian without trying to evangelize them or win them back to Jesus, I just haven’t met any.

One man, a preacher and the brother-in-law of a dear friend of mine, friended me on Facebook a few years ago. While he was quite disturbed by my deconversion, he told me he just wanted to be my friend. When his sister-in-law found out about it, she warned him to NOT try to evangelize me or be preachy. Our friendship didn’t last two weeks. I wrote something that infuriated him, he double-barrel blasted me with the Bible gun, told me I was a bad influence on people, and unfriended me (picture a toddler picking up his toys and stomping off to his room). He later told his sister-in-law and brother-in-law that they should avoid me and not be friends with me because I was a tool of Satan and a bad influence. Fortunately, they ignored his advice and they remain my friends. (They are my only Evangelical friends)

Another man, a local Evangelical preacher, tried a few years ago to befriend me. He and I corresponded a bit and he would comment from time to time on this blog (in one of its previous iterations). He friended me on Facebook and we began having more serious discussions in private. But, as with all such friendships, it quickly came to an end when he began having doubts about his call to the ministry and even his faith. My discussions with him were quite unsettling, so instead of honestly dealing with the questions and doubts, he determined I was the problem and unfriended me, stopped answering my emails, and stopped commenting on my blog.

Who can forget Evangelical Baptist preacher Marty? Marty was a regular reader of this blog and commented frequently. He had me questioning whether I was wrong about Evangelicals being able to be friends with someone like me. I thought maybe Marty was “the one!”  Marty’s friendliness went on for several months until I began to notice an increased level of hostility in his comments. And sure enough, one day the shit hit the fan and Marty went full-bore fundamentalist on me. He told me, well told everyone since it was in a blog comment, that he knew the REAL reason I was not a Christian. When pressed to disclose this reason, he refused to do so. The discussions became more shrill, Marty became defensive and preachy, and eventually I had to ban Marty from commenting. In one of his last comments, Marty whined and complained about being persecuted by me and other atheists who responded to his comments.

I could share dozens of similar stories that illustrate why many ex-Christians rebuff attempts by Evangelicals to befriend them.  Here are a few things I have learned from all of these failed pseudo-friendships:

  • Evangelicals are certain they are right and I am wrong
  • Evangelicals are certain there is some “secret” reason I am no longer a Christian
  • Evangelicals are certain I have been hurt or abused and that is why I am no longer a pastor or a Christian
  • Evangelicals are certain that they are the one who can bring me back into the fold, thus gaining a notch on their gospel gun for doing so
  • Evangelicals are certain my intellectual reasons for deconverting are a façade hiding the real reason(s) I am no longer a Christian.

In other words, they can never be my friend because they are unable to love me and accept me as I am. They love Jesus too much to leave me in my present state. I am like a beautiful woman who is constantly chased by suitors. As soon as a potential suitor comes sniffing around she asks them, do really want to woo me, love me and marry me or, pardon the bluntness, do you just want to fuck me? Quite honestly, a lot of Evangelical zealots just want to spiritually fuck me. When I wake up in the morning, they will be gone, off to fuck other sinners for Jesus.

Perhaps today will be the day that an Evangelical befriends me, accepts me as I am, and loves me so much that he will let me go to hell. I doubt it, but like my lack of belief in God, it is “possible” there really is an Evangelical somewhere who values personal relationships more than right beliefs. I just haven’t met one yet.

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Bruce Gerencser, The Ney,Ohio Atheist

angry man

How Dare the Ney Atheist Attack Our God

Here in Defiance County, I am considered the resident atheist. Every month or so, I write a letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News challenging the dominant Evangelicalism culture found in rural NW Ohio. My letters usually bring  down the wrath of local Evangelicals on my head. Most responses are little more than sermonizing and Bible quoting. Worse yet, I find it amazing how many of the responders have a faulty understanding of basic Christian theology and hermeneutics.

In recent years, several other atheists/agnostics have joined me in poking the Evangelical Christian bear. There was one, then two, and now three. Why that makes a godless Trinity.  Who knows what the future may hold? Perhaps, we are in the early days of a godless revival.

While my letters to the editor cause much consternation among local Evangelicals and Tea Party members, they are not my intended target. Yeah, it’s fun watching them get all riled up, but that’s not the reason I write the letters.

In November of 2008, I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church and have not darkened the door of a Christian church since. This coming September, it will be 12 years since I pastored a church.

Over the past seven years, I have started and stopped blogging numerous times. This online exposure has allowed me to come in contact with local residents who are secretly an atheist or an agnostic. They fear loss of job, loss of financial stability, and social condemnation, so they stay in the closet. This blog and private email contact with me provides a safe haven for the godless who live near me.

They are the reason I write letters to the editor. My letters are my way of saying you are not alone. I hope that my letters give them strength and courage, and when the time is right, perhaps they too can join the small band of local, vocal atheists.

Not only do local Evangelical zealots respond to my letters, they also send me email, snail mail, and stop by my house. Ney, Ohio has a population of 354 people. Defiance County has an estimated 2012 population of 38,677. There has been zero population growth in the last 35 years. There is only one city in the County, Defiance, with an estimated 2012 population of 16,838.  There are three villages in the County, Hicksville, population 3,581, Ney, population 354, and Sherwood, population 827. There is also 12 unincorporated communities. My point in stating the County demographics is to emphasize that Defiance County is rural, quite small, and everyone knows your business. (and if they don’t they make it up) This is why it is easy for local Evangelicals to find out my address. Those of you who live in big cities can easily blend into the fabric of the metropolis, but I can’t do that. I knew the moment I said in public, I am an atheist, that the news would spread far and wide.

What adds to my fame is that I pastored a church in nearby West Unity for seven years. I was born five miles from where I now live. My grandparents owned a farm on the Defiance-Williams County line. I have aunts, uncles, and cousins, scattered here and there. My surname, Gerencser, is Hungarian and quite unique. If you run into someone in this area with the Gerencser name, we are related.

Being related can, at times, pose a problem for my wife and children. Polly, two of my sons, and one of my daughters work at the same place. It is a huge factory with around 2,000 employees. My two other sons work for local businesses that put them in frequent contact with the public. When one of my letters hits the editorial page, it is not uncommon for them to hear about it from someone they work with. I told all of them years ago that they do not have to defend me. In fact, they are free to disown me. So far, I am still their Dad.

More times than I can count, my children have had to answer the question, are you related to the guy who writes in the newspaper? Even at the local community college where all of my children but one took classes, professors and students would ask if they were related to me. Usually the inquisitor is an Evangelical or a Catholic who objects to something I wrote. Every once in a while, someone actually voices their approval or agreement with what I wrote. Such praise is rare, but I’ll take it.

One aspect of my fundamentalist past has helped me in my current role as the resident atheist. As a fundamentalist preacher, I had an unflinching commitment to what I considered truth. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Bible, I wouldn’t bend, bow, or move. So it is today. I don’t back down. Now, I am not spoiling for a fight, but if an Evangelical says put your dukes up, I am inclined to do so.

There have been a few occasions where one local zealot has deliberately lied about me in a letter to the editor. Others have cast doubt upon my claim of being a pastor for 25 years. In their mind, they can’t comprehend some like me walking away from Jesus. Since they lack the ability to accept my story at face value, they try to impugn my character, suggesting that there is some “secret” reason I left the ministry and left Christianity. Several have questioned my ethics and morality.

The Defiance Crescent-News is a right-wing, libertarian leaning newspaper owned by Dix Communications. Letters to the Editor are supposed to be about the issues of the day. Slandering someone is usually not permitted. Evidently, if that “someone” is an atheist, it is OK if someone like Daniel Gray or Richard Mastin lie about me. I am not talking about a difference of opinion here. I am talking about slander and lies.

On July 7, 2013, Gray wrote:

Bruce Gerencser should use facts in his letters. His latest rant is so full of errors as to make his point completely obtuse. Here are a few examples…

…The fact that Gerencser can marry anyone is laughable. He received his claimed ministerial credentials by professing a faith in a deity and swearing to follow that religions teachings. So unless he does so, then his authority to marry anyone under the same is null and void. Anyone he marries could actually find that they are not and never have been married. And last, the only way to change our Constitution is by a constitutional amendment…

…History and facts yet again destroy the views of Gerencser. He should be used to that by now.

Here’s my response to Gray:

This letter is my brief response to Daniel Gray’s recent letter to the editor.

Gray continues to paint me as a liar, a deceiver, immoral, and an all-round bad person. Gray does not know me personally, so I am not sure how he comes to the conclusions he does about me. I have never made one of my letters personal, yet Daniel Gray and a few other letter writers think it is okay to attack my character and suggest that I am not a good person.

As a public figure, I know I must endure such attacks, but I wish my critics would focus on the issues rather than the person. If they would like to have a public discussion on these issues, I am quite willing to participate in any public forum they put together.

On July 21, 2013, I wrote another letter:

For the third time Gray suggests that I am not legally able to marry people and that anyone married by me is in danger of having their marriage invalidated. Gray seems to not understand the legal requirements for being licensed to marry people in Ohio. I meet all the statutory requirements and I am duly licensed to marry people in Ohio. Anyone can verify this by doing a ministerial license search on the Ohio Secretary of state’s website.

On August 25 , 2013, fellow shit stirrer Willy Pack, came to my defense:

…Our secular government guarantees all of its citizens freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Fundamentalists, however, have made many clumsy attempts aimed at silencing Mr. Gerencser through intimidation and denigration.

Can anyone doubt that if they had the power of past ages, they would summon him before the court of the Inquisition? They all seem to be vying for the position of head inquisitor. What would be his crime other than not sharing their beliefs and daring to say so publicly? Are they really that intolerant of others’ beliefs or just afraid their beliefs cannot stand up to a little scrutiny?

With all of the different religions, denominations and sects on this planet, one thing is for certain: We are all going to hell according to somebody’s religion.

Let me conclude this post with several other letters to the editor that offended Christians have written about me.

September 14, 2014, Gary Grant wrote:

This letter is a response to Bruce Gerencser. The first question is why he is so hateful toward Christians and their belief in the God of the Bible.

I first read his article in the Sunday, Sept. 7 opinion page. It really gets frustrating to read his responses to Christians. His arrogance toward the word of God is nothing short of sheer stupidity. He acts like he knows more about God than God Himself.

Is Gerencser an atheist? If God’s word is just a joke and only stupid idiots believe it, why is Gerencser so interested in destroying it? What is he afraid of? Indeed, he should be afraid because if he dies without Christ in his life, he is in for a major shock. Why is he taking such a huge gamble with his life? I’ve been a Christian for over 40 years and don’t regret one second of it.

As far as creationism in schools, what’s the problem? I let people see both sides. Did Gerencser evolve from a monkey? What does he believe? How did we get here? There has to be a divine creator, to believe otherwise is to empty your brain of any rational intelligence.

Gerencser should turn his life over to Him before it’s too late. He could be a modern-day Apostle Paul.

May 1 ,2013, Richard Mastin wrote:

I’s true I don’t know Bruce Gerencser. His own words explain as I never could. Bruce wrote that “I object to any attempt to codify the teachings and commands of the Bible into the laws of the United States.”

Doesn’t he know that our system of life, government, laws and three branches was designed based on the Bible?

He objects to Christians trying to make biblical morality the law of the land. It’s been unwritten and in some instances written law until atheists and liberals started outlawing God in the 1960s.

Separation of church and state didn’t exist until 1947 when the atheistic ACLU and a supreme court justice, with approval of our Democrat-controlled House, Senate and presidency forced it on us. We’re losing our foundation. Government-controlled medicine is forced today.

The rights of church and state were always flexible and tolerant of the other until liberal domination in recent years. Bruce isn’t for tolerance. He wants organizations like the Christian-backed Boy Scouts to be forced to lower their moral standards to accept homosexual leaders.

Bruce wants to put the fox in the henhouse. He cares for the rights of gay persons, but not of those whose moral values lie with biblical teaching. He would destroy thousands to attain this and be happy about it. It would destroy the Scout oath.

He wrote: “I live by the precept of not doing harm to others, but be respectful of them.” Facts prove homosexual behavior is destructive to families, especially youth, and yet Bruce wants laws placing homosexuals in the their midst, hurting and destroying many. Hypocrite and disrespect come to mind.

I don’t consider any person moral who attempts to destroy Boy Scout high moral values. Bruce calls the Bible antiquated and irrelevant. Being an ex-pastor he knows God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their immoral homosexuality. If you or he think God won’t bring judgment on us, you’re wrong. This is about destroying the Boy Scouts, not equal protection for gays. His immoral atheistic ideals will bring national suicide.

The further we drift from Christianity and moral values the closer national death comes. We must stand strong behind the Boy Scouts. If homosexual leaders are permitted, the Cub Scouts, Brownies, Girl Scouts, 4-H, Campus Life and all other youth organizations will be forced to accept this immoral lifestyle and America will die.

Death is knocking on America’s door. America is like a 100-year-old barely holding onto life. If Bruce’s immoral desires don’t kill us, government’s anti-God attitude and subsidized medicine will. We must return to God now; tomorrow will be too late.

March 3, 2013, Daniel Gray wrote:

I wonder what reality Bruce Gerencser is in as it obviously isn’t where the rest of us are.

First, no one can be called a “bigot” if they are against homosexuality. Every dictionary and encyclopedia classifies bigotry as as having a bias or hatred against a group or person because of their religion-race-creed or disability, it says nothing about homosexuality; as such it is a lifestyle.

You cannot be bigoted against a lifestyle no matter how much Gerencser wishes as there is no medical nor scientific proof that homosexuality is genetic or people were “born that way”. As such, it isn’t genetic by all available present scientific and medical standards; that leaves it to be a lifestyle. Thus Gerencser’s left-wing wishes are just childish schoolyard name calling. I expected better…

…Gerencser had better hope his wish does not come true as a person of the same religious denomination he claims to have received his pastoral license from could turn him into the ruling body and send clippings of his letters. That ruling body could very well vacate his pastoral license for not following the teachings of the denomination he claims to have been part of, thus making his ability to marry anyone void. There is precedent for this. He could then apply for a justice of the peace license, but I don’t think they give them out anymore.

So, in the future may I strongly suggest to Gerencser that he start checking his facts before going off on yet another repeated tirade, especially since he has been proved incorrect on every letter he has sent so far.

January 6, 2013, Kenny Barnes wrote:

I am responding to a Jan. 2 letter to ther editor provided by Mr. Bruce Gerencser.

I am amazed that any lucid person would present an argument concerning a person or an entity that doesn’t exist! How can anyone claim to be an atheist under those circumstances? One would have to consider himself a super-intellectual, disregarding his surroundings or be as Psalm 14:1 quotes, ” A fool says in his heart, there is no God.”

I can’t answer that question. It does seem quite hypocritical to me however, that Mr. Gerencser would mention the “proclamation of angels.” Who declared the birth of Jesus still applicable today? We Christians, (born-again ) consider that babe in the manger to be God come in the flesh.

Lastly, Mr. Gerencser alludes to premarital sex among Christians. He seems to have lost all regard to pre-marital sex among ethnic groups. Babies born out of wedlock reach an astounding 73 percent.

Yet Mr. Gerencser considers his personal morality and ethics to be judged by his spouse, his children, his grandchildren, friends and neighbors. I don’t question them at all. I would suggest that he take his family and friends on a one week trip to the beautiful city of San Francisco, eat at some of the city’s finest restaurants and explain how our country is maturing, when at the tables next to them, people are dining completely nude. That’s progress isn’t it?

December 19, 2012 Gary Luderman wrote:

I am responding to an article in the Dec. 12 issue of The Crescent-News by Mr. Bruce Gerencser titled, “GOP is now an ‘extremist party.'”

The title piqued my interest enough that I took time to read the entire article. I take no pleasure whatsoever in stating that I found the letter rather intellectually vacuous. (Wait a minute, saying that didn’t make me feel that badly at all.)

First of all, this was not really a letter against the GOP as it was against Christian morality. Anyway, it appears that Mr. Gerencser does not believe in any moral standards — at least not those of the Christian faith. Not only that, but I gather from the tone of his letter that he feels intellectually and morally superior to people that do. Well, then let me ask two questions:

1. If Gerencser doesn’t like God’s rules, then whose rules are we to use? His?

2. Doesn’t Gerencser have any rules or standards at all? Is there nothing that anyone can do that he would not approve of or try to stop? Think about it, if there is just one thing that he doesn’t approve (for example, Christian values), then he is just as bad as GOP Christians. If not, then who is he to set any rules or have any opinions at all? Again, if there is no God, then who makes up the rules?

But there is a much larger issue. His philosophy not only affects you and yours, it is affecting and destroying the heart of our nation. If there are no rules or standards, then no one is free and no one is safe.

Is everybody and everything to be constantly changed and believed by the latest and largest lobby group that arises? Would you like to set up a committee to make moral decisions according to the latest polls?

Mr. Gerencser’s beliefs and thought processes have been around since almost the beginning of mankind. He presents nothing new, modern or enlightened. All he is doing is what mankind has always done — not liking God’s rules, therefore thinking that God is wrong and mankind is right. He takes the place of God and is hell-bent on making God into his own image. As a Republican, I will pray for him.

June 17, 2012, Maggie Spangler wrote:

Mr. Gerencser is trying to undermine the historical importance the Bible played in the building of our country’s government by villainizing it and by stating; “that the moral code of conduct of a particular religion has no business being codified into law within a secular state”.

What is the Bible? It’s a book, an inanimate object. Mr. Gerencser states that; “The Bible has been used in the past to justify all kinds of vile behavior.” The Bible itself is not responsible for any of the reprehensible acts that have been committed throughout history and have been justified by misquoting the Bible. It is the person behind the act that is responsible; not just for committing them but also for using the Bible in a lie to further their own agenda. No one will inherit the kingdom of God, if the Bible is to be taken literally…

…We the United States of America are not a secular state, but a constitutional republic. Our Founding Fathers created our government based upon the Constitution which was based upon three separate documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta and the Bible. Because of this our government is controlled by the Constitution. That is why it is called a, “living, breathing document”. We have been a Christian nation from the very beginning and many of us still are. Because our Constitution was based upon the Bible, that our government is based upon the Bible and the only way to change that is to change the Constitution. Hence, the fight we have been having over the last several decades.

Mr. Gerencser also stated that, “Our legal system should reflect what is best for the American people. How best to live as a pluralistic people in a secular state.”

Do you know what the second sentence in his quote means? Pluralism is the theory that a multitude of groups should govern the United States, not the people as a whole. These groups or organizations include trade unions, civil rights activists, environmentalists and business or financial lobbyists.

…A secular state remains neutral in matters of religion and treats all its citizens equal regardless of religion. Our Founding Fathers did not want our fledgling country to be sucked back into what they had just left where your religious stance could get you killed, and they wanted God to be the father of our nation. It all comes down to one thing: Do you believe in God?…

January 16, 2011, Larry Tonjes wrote:

In reply to Bruce Gerencser’s letter of Dec. 19 that this is a Christian nation, my belief as a “theocrat” is that no matter how determined any human wants to be, including Bruce Gerencser, to run away from God, it can’t be done.

The word “theocracy” is defined as “rule by divine authority.” Yes, America has had “war, torture, homophobia (not defined in the dictionary), amoral capitalism, economic collapse, the destruction of the working class and punitive political policies that punish and hurt the poor” as Gerencser mentions, but name me a nation that hasn’t had these problems.

According to the Bible and science, these problems are products of the human condition. In the insurance industry this used to be called “inherent vice,” meaning that everything in this world has an inherited flaw because it is of this world, a flawed world filled with flawed humans and flawed material to work with. The flawed problems mentioned have been endured through every type of government known to man, including Islam, communism, socialism, Judaism, Hinduism, Taoism, Shintoism, democracy. Bruce Gerencser is looking for a scapegoat because Christianity hasn’t solved all our nation’s problems, so he is looking to the current progressive movement for salvation…

August 25, 2010 Bob Palczewski wrote:

I cannot help but wonder what would make someone who has read the Bible (assuming the entire Bible from cover to cover), attended a Christian college (attending a Christian college does not make one a Christian) and been an evangelical pastor change his mind and become an agnostic humanist.

Richard Dawkins in his book, The God Delusion, contains a chapter entitled “The Poverty of Agnosticism.”

Dawkins is a renowned atheist, and you are probably wondering why I quote an atheist to make a point. In the said chapter he discusses many points concerning agnosticism but I would like to point out two items of interest. First he observes there is an “agnostic spectrum,” varying degrees of agnosticism, ranging from one — “I believe in God but have a lot of questions concerning his existence” — to seven — “I do not believe in God, period.”

Second, he also mentions two types of agnosticism — a temporary agnosticism in practice and a permanent agnosticism in principle. I wonder where Mr. Gerencser stands.

If he was once enlightened and has fallen as far as agnosticism, then there is still hope. The next step is apostasy on which the Bible is very clear. If he has sincerely studied the Scriptures then he knows what I am referring to (Hebrews 6). If not, then he should, perhaps, rethink his position. And, yes, I know his position on the inerrancy of scripture. However, the Bible is as relevant today as it was then.

August 17, 2010, R.L. Wellman wrote:

This is in reply to Bruce Gerencser’s letter on Aug. 8. There is only one thing he wrote that I can agree with — that is you only have 500 words or less to respond to a letter that is full of untruths and assumptions.

Not everyone believes in God or the Bible. This is where the problem arises. Every other religion in the world talks about how their God or ways are the only way that’s right. Agnostics, from the Greek word agnostos means, “to not know,” and agnostic is one who admits, “I don’t know.”

There is only one true God. This is the Being who made each and everyone of us in his likeness and gave us a mind and will of our own. This is the same God who inspired the prophets of old to write the Bible, His Word. The Bible may not be a supernatural book, but it is His Word. The last book was written 1,900 years ago and is still as relevant today as when it was written….

With a humanistic worldview that focuses on the here and now, you don’t have to be good. You can do anything you want, take anything you want, because when you die that’s it. Bruce assumes Christians have no life, no joy, not living and loving. He said they trudge through a wicked world in search of heaven or eternal reward. If this is what he did, no wonder he became agnostic.

God means different things to different people. No two Christians have all the same rules to follow. That’s one reason different views exist. I don’t know about you, but I would rather not live in a world that doesn’t believe in God. It would be everyone for themselves, anything goes. If it feels good, do it. You can look and see what is happening in the United States today and it doesn’t take long to figure out we are headed away from God and in the wrong direction….

August 17, 2010, Daniel Gray wrote:

…But my other question would be while Gerencser claims to have been a pastor for 25 years and since being an agnostic is one step above being an atheist, as both of them deny the existence of a deity according to every encyclopedia and dictionary out there, is Gerencser now freely admitting that he was living a lie and that his whole life before becoming agnostic was a fraud?

And, if he was a pastor, then what about all the people he was supposed to lead? Is he now admitting that he deceived them as well? And, why bother becoming a pastor in the first place if you were just going to turn your back on your chosen religion, especially one that he has never mentioned? Something about his claim just does not sound correct…

October 14, 2009,Daniel Gray wrote:

…Gerencser himself then states “it would be easy to dismiss the right-wing fringe as tinfoil hat-wearing poorly educated kooks.” Why ask for civil discourse and then insult the same people? He claims to be a pastor, then freely admits he is a socialist? You cannot be both as this is like oil and water — they don’t mix. I find it very disturbing that a pastor would play fast and loose with the truth just to try and score political points….

March 4, 2009, Deb Joseph wrote:

This is in response to Mr. Gerencser’s letter to the editor on abortion. Wow! Sir, you are way off the mark when it comes to pro-life. This is what is wrong with the direction of this country. You cannot compromise murder. The commandment is “Thou Shall Not Kill.” It’s quite straight forward. The Bible does not say “Thou shall not kill, unless it is in the first few weeks of a pregnancy”. If, sir, you are a true Christian, you believe that there is one God Almighty, Creator of All. You also agree that God is capable of anything. So you would have to conclude that if God intended a pregnancy to last in only the final 30 weeks, it would be so. The final weeks are only possible with the first few. This completes God’s cycle. This is how He has said it will be. This is how He has designed it. By no means am I being your judge…

… Mr. Gerencser, you can call yourself a Democrat or a Republican, but with views like yours on abortion, you are a far cry from a Christian…

As far as my credentials are concerned:

baptist ordination1983

Bruce Gerencser Ordination, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio April 2, 1983

Bruce Gerencser, Ohio License to Marry, May 2,1983

Bruce Gerencser, Ohio License to Marry, May 2,1983

universal life ordination

Bruce Gerencser, Universal Life Ordination, March 15, 2011

ohio license to marry 2

Bruce Gerencser, Ohio License to Marry, March 22, 2011

And here’s the final proof, straight from the Ohio Secretary of State’s Minister Licensing database:

ministerial license as of january 2015

Bruce Gerencser, Ohio Secretary of State Minister Licensing Database

How to Start a Non-Chartered Christian School in Ohio

ace pace

From an ACE Pace

Here is what you need to do to start a Christian school in Ohio.

  • Start a church
  • Start a Christian school as a ministry, an extension of the church

That’s it.

I kid you not, that’s it.

No rules, no regulations. No curriculum requirements. No teacher requirements. No notification requirements.

The Ohio homeschooling rules are more extensive than the rules for a non-chartered religious school.

Does this mean all non-chartered Christian schools are educationally deficient? Of course not, BUT many are.

Many Ohio non-chartered Christian schools are owned and operated by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. The schools are viewed as an oasis away from the world, from the evil influences of humanists, secularists, atheists, socialists, Catholics, Southern Baptists, and communists.

By the way, about the first step: start a church? Starting a church is as easy as saying “we are a church” and you are the pastor. According to state and federal law, a church is tax exempt because it is a church. Many people wrongly assume a church must file for 501(c)(3) status to be tax exempt. 501(c)3) status is NOT required for tax exemption. It does confer a few extra benefits, like being allowed to send mail as a non-profit, but it is not needed for a church to be tax-exempt.

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Songs of Sacrilege: Hand of the Almighty (God will F**k You Up) by John Butler

This is the second 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 leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Hand of the Almighty (God Will Fuck You Up) by Australian John Butler. Warning! This song contains numerous swear words.


Video Link

Lyrics

Oh, sinner, do not stray From the straight and narrow way For the Lord is surely watching what you do If you approach the Devils den Turn round dont enter in Lest the hand of the almighty fall on you.

Hell fuck you up (hell fuck you up) Yes, God will fuck you up If you dare to disobey his stern command. Hell fuck you up (hell fuck you up) Dont you know hell fuck you up So you better do some prayin while you can.

Long ago a man named Lot Had a wife he thought was hot But she could not stop her black and sinful ways. You know it was her own damn fault When God turned that bitch to salt. Thats the way he used to work back in those days:

He fucked em up (he fucked em up) He really fucked em up When the people went and turned their backs on him He can fuck you up (hell fuck you up) No shit hell fuck you up Just like he fucked the people up back then.

I used to have a friend named Ray Who walked that evil way He cursed and drank and broke his neighbors fence You know Ray was full aware That some sheep were over there And he knew them in the Biblical sense.

God fucked him up (he fucked him up) He went and fucked Ray up Went and paid him back for all his wicked sins. He fucked him up (he fucked him up) Fucked that boy completely up Now hes married to a Presbyterian.

HT: Susan, for sending me this song on Facebook.

You Must Be Born Again to Believe the Bible

Several years ago, in response to one of my letters to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, local resident Nancy Dietrick sent me a postcard:

post card from nancy dietrick

Instead of writing me a letter like several local Christians have, Dietrick decided to send me a postcard. I have no doubt local post office workers enjoyed her message to the village atheist.

What confused me was the notion that once I was “born again” I would understand the Bible. Isn’t that backwards? I thought one had to embrace the gospel message in the Bible in order to be born again? Doesn’t this require me to at least read some part of the Bible? I am so confused.

Not really.

Dietrick seems to forget that I was once “born again”. She seems to forget that I was a Christian for 50 years and a pastor for 25 of those years. I am quite certain that I know the Bible as well as anyone in NW Ohio. I have read the Bible through countless times. Add to this the Bible reading I did as I prepared my sermons, it is safe to say that Bible comprehension is not my problem. In fact, the Bible is one the major reasons I am now an atheist.

How to Witness to an Atheist

good news

Many Evangelical Christians take seriously Jesus’ command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Every creature includes atheists.

Here is what Christians need to understand:

  • Many atheists were Christians before they deconverted. In my case, I was a Christian for fifty years and I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five of those years. Granted, most atheists’ stories are not like mine, but many of them were raised in the Christian church and know what the Christian gospel is and what the Bible teaches.
  • Many atheists have read the Bible many, many times. In fact, many atheists have likely read the Bible more than the average American Christian.
  • Many atheists attended church before they deconverted. They know a good bit about Catholic and Protestant Christianity. They know what it is to worship God, pray, and live according to the precepts of the Bible. They are not ignorant of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
  • People become atheists for a variety of reasons. Often there are emotional and cultural reasons why a person becomes an atheist, but, at the end of the day, most people become atheists for intellectual reasons.
  • Most atheists are not atheists because they are angry with God, mad at the church, or hurt.

Here are some evangelistic methods that will likely not work with atheists:

  • Preaching at the person
  • Quoting Bible verses (the atheist has likely heard the verses before)
  • Giving a testimony of how Jesus saved you and changed your life (atheists place little value on subjective stories like testimonies)
  • Giving the atheist a book, tract, sermon tape/CD/DVD
  • The Romans Road, John Road, Four Spiritual Laws, The Way of the Master, or any other evangelistic program you have been taught
  • Inviting them to church
  • Friending them on Facebook
  • Trying to become friends with them using your friendship evangelism methods

Personally, I would suggest you not witness to an atheist. You are likely going to be disappointed with the result. There are a lot of “other” prospects for heaven that are much easier to evangelize. However, if you are certain God is directing you and the Holy Spirit is leading you to witness to an atheist, I would encourage you to be all prayed up and ready to have an intellectual discussion about God, Jesus, and the Bible. Be prepared to talk about theology, philosophy, history, science, and archeology. Be prepared to give evidence (proof) for the assertions you make. Saying the Bible says will not work since the atheist will likely not accept the authority of the Bible.

atheists read the bible

You might as well face it, if the atheist refuses to accept the Bible as a God-inspired authoritative text, there is no hope of you successfully witnessing to him or her. It is better for you to kick the dust off your shoes and go evangelize those who accept your presuppositions about God and the Bible.

Atheists are the swine in the don’t cast your pearls before swine Bible verse. Atheists are reprobates whom God has turned over to their evil desires. Atheists are followers of Satan, deaf and blind to your God and the Bible. With so many billions of other people to witness to, why bother witnessing to people who have no interest in your message, are likely to make great intellectual demands of you, and are probably not God’s elect? Be a smart fisher-of-men – go where the fish are.

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Why Most Americans are Christian

american jesus

The Jesus of Millions of Americans

Ask a Christian for the reason most Americans are Christian and you will likely get some sort of theological explanation, complete with a personal testimony of faith in Jesus Christ. However, is this really the reason most Americans are Christians? Is it really all about theology and relationship?

Perhaps there is another explanation.

First, America is a Christian nation. Not a Christian nation like theocrats think we are, but Christian nonetheless. Christianity permeates our being as a people. Christian churches are everywhere. Our government leaders are overwhelmingly Christian and freely use language that reflects their Christian heritage. Christianity is on full display everywhere  we look.

Second, there is a cultural form of Christianity that permeates virtually every aspect of our society. Country singers win awards for songs about cheating on  a spouse and they thank the Christian God for winning the award. Boxers and MMA fighters brutalize one another and then thank the Christian God for the strength to do what they do. Prayers are uttered at sporting events, players give testimony to faith in Jesus, and the Christian God is given all the credit for their success.

Cultural Christianity is all about what  people say and not what they do. This is the predominant form of Christianity in America. When asked, do you believe in the Christian God? they will say Yes. It matters not how they live or even if they understand Christian doctrine. They believe and that’s all that matters.

It is this Christian world  into which every American child is born. While my wife and I can point to the various conversion experiences we had, we still would have been Christians even without the conversion experiences. Our culture was Christian, our families were Christian, everyone around us was Christian. How could we have been anything BUT Christian?

Practicing Christians have a hard time accepting this. They KNOW the place and time Jesus saved them. They KNOW when they were baptized, confirmed, dedicated, saved, or whatever term their sect uses to connote belief in the Christian God.

Why are most people in Muslim countries Muslim? Why are most people in Buddhist countries Buddhist? Simple. People generally embrace the dominant religion and practice of their culture, and so it is in America.

It is culture, and not a conversion experience, that determines a person’s religious affiliation. The conversion experiences are the eggs the Christian chicken lays. Evangelicals, in particular, have built their entire house on the foundation of each person having a conversion experience. However, looking at this from a sociological perspective, it can be seen that a culture’s dominant religion affects which religion a person embraces more than any other factor.

Over the course of my life, I have lived in Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and California. Every place I lived had its own cultural idiosyncrasies. Let me share a couple of stories with you that illustrate this.

Here in NW Ohio, local convenience stores have one or two rows of Dr. Pepper in their coolers. Pepsi and Coke are the dominate brands. When I lived in Elmendorf, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, I would go down to the Conoco and buy a bottle of pop. The dominant pop in the cooler was Dr. Pepper. There would be numerous rows of Dr. Pepper and only a couple of rows for Pepsi and Coke. Big Red was another favorite pop and it also had more space in the cooler than Pepsi. Why? Culture.

When I left the church in Elmendorf and moved back to Ohio, I kept in touch with a Hispanic family in the church. They eventually moved to Ohio to be a part of the church I was pastoring. I warned them that they were moving to an area where Anglos dominate the culture. There are no stores here with the foods, vegetables, and fresh tortillas that Hispanics in San Antonio can easily buy at the local HEB grocery store. I did my best to make certain they understood these things.

With great anticipation and excitement they moved to Ohio. And, two months later, discouraged and depressed, they moved back to San Antonio. Reason? Culture. The differences between the two cultures was too great. Even though they convinced themselves they could adapt, the differences were so vast that it would have required them to stop doing things they had done their entire life. Such drastic change is hard.

mango tree

Cambodian Mango Tree

I pastored in SE Ohio for eleven years. Appalachian culture dominates the area. I found that there is a huge cultural difference between NW Ohio and SE Ohio. While only 200 miles separate them, the cultures are very different from one another.

One day a man in the church brought us a bag of green peppers. He said, here are some mangos for you from my garden. Mangos? Mangos are fruit that grows on trees. I thought, why is this guy calling green peppers “mangos?”  A short time later, we went to the grocery store in Zanesville, Ohio. As we strolled through the produce section we noticed the green peppers. The sign above them said “mangos.” Why? Culture.

Culture affects how we live, how we talk, what we eat, and what we do for entertainment. It affects every aspect of our lives. Why should matters of religion be exempt from the influence of culture?

I am an atheist, but I know that my moral and ethical values have been shaped by the culture in which I grew up. I have no problem admitting that some of my moral beliefs come from my Christian upbringing. Growing up in a poor family shaped how I view things such as poverty, welfare, and the place of government in our day-to-day lives. Culture and environment have largely made me who I am today. Even though I am now a godless heathen, I still like some of trappings of my Christian past. I love listening to southern gospel music. I  enjoy listening to Third Day and some of the other Christian rock groups. I don’t believe one word of the lyrics, but there is something about the music that appeals to me. It is familiar to me, as are many of the other cultural peculiarities by which I am surrounded.

How about you? What cultural peculiarities do you see where you live? How has the Christian culture of America shaped and affected your life?

12082015

 

Why I Retired from the Ministry

i quit

What follows is a post I wrote detailing the reasons why I retired from the ministry in 2005. When I wrote this I had not yet declared myself an atheist/agnostic. As you will see, I was still clinging ever so precariously to my Christian beliefs.

Originally written in 2008. Slightly edited and corrected.

I am often questioned about why I retired from the ministry. I started preaching as a teenage boy and I pastored my first church at age 24. Since then I have pastored churches in Ohio, Texas and Michigan, with my last pastorate being in 2003 (I candidated for several churches in 2005). I have been married over 30 years and I have spent my entire married life in the ministry.

Acquaintances, family and friends are often miffed about why I walked away from the ministry. Why quit preaching? I am often asked. Surely there’s a church somewhere for you to pastor? Surely you still “want” to pastor? If God called you how can you walk away from his calling?

Good questions and quite frankly I have more questions these days than I do answers. What follows is my attempt to shed some light on the “why” question.

Why did I retire from the ministry?

  • I retired because the word retire is a better word than quit. I don’t want to be known as a quitter. I was told my whole life by my peers that God hates quitters. I can still hear the scathing words of Tom Malone and Jack Hyles ringing in my ears as they skinned quitters alive in their sermons. So I use the word retire but, truth be told, I have just plain quit.
  • For health reasons. I have Fibromyalgia. I am in constant pain. Last year I was tested for MS and the tests were inconclusive. I have numbness in my face , hands, and legs. My doctor ruefully told me that he is uncertain as to what my actual neurological problem is. I’ll just have to wait to see what “breaks.” I am a type A, perfectionist workaholic. I worked myself into a physical collapse, foolishly thinking that anyone cared how hard I worked. God didn’t and neither did the people I pastored.
  • For family reasons. I sacrificed my family and my marriage for a mistress called the Church. I lived for the Church. I was willing to die for the Church. I worked long hours for lousy pay. I allowed my family and my wife to become an appendage to the work I was doing. They were the default clean-up, tear down crew and did all the jobs no one else wanted to do. Our family was so wrapped up in the Church that we lost our self-identity. I want my children to know me for more than just being a pastor. I want my wife to have a husband who doesn’t always put her second to the Church. Whoever said “you must sacrifice your family for the sake of your calling” is not only wrong but also a destroyer of families. If there is one thing I have learned it is that family comes first.
  • Changing theology. My theology is undergoing a complete and through overhaul. I entered the ministry as a Fundamentalist Baptist. I have become, over time, progressive in my thinking and I now identify with liberal causes and beliefs. I am not the man I once was, but neither am I the man I want to be. As my friend Tammy Schoch told me recently, “it is normal in mid-age to reevaluate one’s beliefs and to readjust or change your beliefs accordingly.”
  • Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry. These two writers have fundamentally changed how I look at the world and how I view my place in it. I have come to realize that I spent most of my adult life wasting my time with a religion that made no difference in the world I live in and a religion I have increasingly come to believe doesn’t do much to prepare us for the next life either.
  • The meaninglessness of vast parts of American Christianity. I have come to realize that most of what we do in Christianity doesn’t amount to much of anything. We seem to spend most of our time and effort making sure we have things to spend most of our time and effort on. We collect money so we can spend the money so we can collect money so we can spend the money…It seems that much of our work is simply done to keep the Titanic floating. Little progress is made in truly making a difference in the world.
  • Changing understanding of the Bible. I started out in the ministry as a King James Only, every-word-of-the-Bible-is-inerrant, believer. I have come to understand that such a belief is not only unsustainable theologically but absolutely irrational. I no longer use the Bible as a science or history textbook and I no longer need to read any particular systematic theology into the text in order to enjoy reading the Bible. I simply enjoy reading the Biblical narrative for its own sake. It now speaks to me in ways I never thought possible.
  • Meeting people of other religious faiths or no faith at all. I was blessed with Catholic daughters-in-law. They forced me to come to terms with my deep-seated hatred for any religion but my own. As you may well know, we as Baptists hate Catholics. The big change for me was when I attended a Midnight Christmas mass with my wife and some of our children. What a beautiful and powerful service. It shook my bigoted bones right down to my core.
  • Gandhi. Gandhi showed me the way of peace, of non-violent resistance. Of course, according to my Baptist beliefs Gandhi is burning in hell right at this moment. I no longer believe that and I do not believe such vengeful hate by God is consistent with His love and mercy. I have abandoned the classic Baptist understanding of hell and I believe in annihilation. My beliefs are becoming more and more universalist as I go along. I will leave it to God to sort out the “who is in and who is not.”
  • For mental health reasons. I came to the realization that I was full of fear and regret. I feared God and I regretted wasting my life serving a deity I only served out of fear. No matter how perfect I was, no matter how much I did, I simply couldn’t meet God’s  standard (or that of the men who spoke for God). I despaired for my life. I have since been introduced to a God who loves and has mercy and who does not use fear in his dealings with his children.
  • For my kids and grandkids. I want to know my kids and grandkids. I want to be more than just a religious guru to them. I want to be able to enjoy THIS life with them without everything revolving around the NEXT life. I struggle with the “dad doesn’t go to Church any more”….but I hope in time I can have a relationship with my kids and grandkids that doesn’t revolve around religion. Yes, I still want to talk about God, but I also want to enjoy the day-to-day things of life and I want to share those things with my kids and grandkids.
  • Guilt. This is the biggest problem I face – guilt over how I have lived my life, how I wasted my life, and how I hurt my family. I am sure some pious soul is going to tell me “Get over it and move on with life.” I wish I could but I can’t . Until I can come to terms with the past 30 or 40 years, I cannot move forward from here. I am sure my wife is tired of me living in 1985 or 1994, but I must resolve the issues that plague me before I can move forward. I am making progress in this area and I plan to start on a book in the New Year titled “From Eternity to Here”.  Several people I respect greatly have suggested that writing a book might be cathartic, just what I need to move my life forward.
  • I simply don’t want to be in the ministry any more. I have no desire for it and I do not want to give the requisite time necessary to be a “good” pastor. I believe I still have good teaching skills and I have a sincere desire to be a help to others, but I do not want to exercise my gifts in a traditional Church setting. I have wasted enough time already and I don’t want to waste any more.

I could pastor a church tomorrow if I wanted to. Thousands of churches are without pastors. Most of them don’t deserve to have another pastor. They have chewed up and spit out the previous 20 pastors and they will do the same to the next one. Quite frankly, many Churches just need to die. As I look back at how willing I was to sacrifice so small Churches could have a “full time” pastor, I am ashamed of myself. Living on food stamps, with my kids wearing hand-me-down clothes, all so people could say “we have a full time pastor and he has kids” The most I ever made in the ministry, counting housing, salary and reimbursements, was $26,000. While everyone one else progressed economically, my family was supposed to settle for welfare wages and a chicken or two. I never pastored a church that took it upon themselves to offer me a raise. I had to ask, and often plead and beg, to get a raise. I saw their cars and houses. I saw their material stores, yet I was just supposed to sing “Oh how I love Jesus, thank you for keeping me poor.”

The most prosperous times of my life came when I was bi-vocational. I managed restaurants, sold insurance, delivered newspapers, pumped gas, and managed government programs. In retrospect, I should have always been bi-vocational. I should not have allowed the church to keep me poor. My problem was that I could never do anything half-way. I still can’t. So while I worked a full-time secular job, I also worked the church job full-time. I often worked 60 or 70 hours a week, rarely taking a day off. Vacations? We only took them if I was preaching a conference somewhere. Dates with my wife? Only if it was a church outing.

I realize some of this sounds like the grousing of a bitter old man. I shall plead guilty to that charge. I am bitter at times, and as the Dixie Chicks said “I am not ready to make nice.” I fully accept my own culpability in the affairs of my life. I write for the sake of my family and for the sake of my own mental health. I also write this as a warning to young pastors who are tempted to take the same path I took.

I will stop writing this with the sharing of the biggest breakthrough in my life over the past few months. I spent my life “living for Jesus and Living for Others.” I bought into the mantra of Jesus First, Others Second, and Bruce doesn’t matter . I spent far too much time worrying about what others thought of me, of how they viewed my ministry and family.

My big breakthrough is pretty simple. I have come to the place where I don’t give a shit about what others think of me or what I believe. I don’t give a shit that you are upset that I wrote the word shit. I simply don’t care. Things matter to me, but what someone thinks of me personally or what they think of my beliefs, I don’t care. It has been liberating to be delivered from the judgments of others.

Have you said WOW yet? I heard you!  Let me paraphrase Thomas Merton. People were upset with Merton because his beliefs were always changing, always in motion. He said he frustrated his critics because just when they thought they had him pinned down on an issue they found out he had already move on to something else.

That’s me, always moving, until the heart stops beating.

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