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Tag: Coronavirus Pandemic

My Wife’s Mother Has COVID-19 and Her IFB Church is to Blame

newark baptist temple heath ohio

In March 2020, I wrote a scathing post about the Newark Baptist Temple and its pastor Mark Falls’ handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. (Please read IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic.) In April, I wrote a post about why Polly’s mom refused to wear a mask or get vaccinated. (Please see No Need to Wear a Face Mask: When it’s My Time to Die, I’m Ready to Go.) And finally, last November, I wrote a post about Polly’s father’s funeral at the Newark Baptist Temple. (Please see An IFB Funeral: Fundamentalist Christianity Poisons Everything.) Despite me publicizing their recklessness (and the church and its pastor are very much aware of my writing), the Baptist Temple and its pastor continue to ignore the seriousness of COVID-19.

While family members swear on a stack of Bearing Precious Seed Leather Bound King James Version Bibles that Pastor Falls takes the virus seriously, video evidence suggests otherwise. Sure, Falls wears a mask (he and his family were infected last year), as do other church members, but by and large, the congregation continues to have unprotected sex with COVID-19. A recent family photo shot in the Baptist Temple’s gymnasium features at least three family members with serious health problems (including Polly’s mom). Not one person in the photo is wearing a mark. I see the same thing in other photos taken at the church or its school, Licking County Christian Academy. All the evidence suggests that the church gives lip service to CDC and Licking County Health Department COVID-19 guidelines.

Last Sunday, Polly’s mom told her during their weekly phone call that ten of her fellow church members were currently infected with COVID-19, and two of them were in the hospital. The church has had other outbreaks, and I believe at least one member has died from the virus. It is clear, at least to me, that the Baptist Temple facilitates and promotes super-spreader events, also known as Sunday church services. Polly’s mom continues to attend Sunday services, saying that she wears a mask and sits in the back of the church away from other people. Mom refuses to get vaccinated, claiming that COVID is no worse than the flu. And since she doesn’t get the annual flu vaccine, she has no plans to get the COVID-19 vaccine either. Besides, according to Mom, Jesus is in control, and she is ready to die and go to Heaven.

Earlier today, our nephew — who pleaded with Mom to get vaccinated — informed us that Mom coded while at the doctor’s office (she has congestive heart failure). She had yet another heart attack and was tested for COVID-19 while waiting to be admitted to the hospital. The test came back positive. She is currently asymptomatic, but the doctor told her the heart attack could be COVID-related. While it is impossible to know exactly where she was infected — she doesn’t go anywhere besides church and rarely comes in contact with people outside of her church — it is safe to conclude that the Baptist Temple is the vector.

Pastor Falls, a libertarian, refuses to insist that church members wear masks and practice social distancing. I suspect he thinks doing so is a good idea, but his libertarianism keeps him from demanding congregants follow CDC and Ohio Department of Health Department guidelines. The Baptist Temple is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. The church has all sorts of rules mandating member behavior, yet when it comes to COVID-19, it is hands-off and follow the Lord’s leading. Women can’t wear pants, and premarital sex will get you excommunicated, but whether to take steps to protect oneself from a deadly virus is just a matter of personal opinion.

Polly and I are beyond angry. And frustrated. And helpless. Nothing we say or do will change what is happening at the Newark Baptist Temple. We are forced to sit by while Mom gambles away her life, believing that Jesus and good genes will keep her alive. And if they don’t? Polly and I are left with the chore of dealing with the church, its pastor, and family members. We are left with the chore of cleaning up the mess Mom leaves behind after she dies. She refuses to update her will, leaving Polly and me to take care of everything after she is gone. We pleaded with Mom to set her house in order, but she refuses to do so, leaving her only daughter and son-in-law to deal with all the shit that is sure to come. We will certainly take care of things and do what we can to honor her wishes, but Mom’s unwillingness to make things easier for us is selfishness on her part.

I texted my oldest son the following today: I HATE the Baptist Temple. I literally hate what this church has done to my mother-in-law (and my deceased father-in-law) and our extended family. While Mom is certainly culpable for her ignorant beliefs about the virus and Jesus’s hands-on care, it’s hard not to put much of the blame on the church she has attended for the past forty-five years. Fundamentalist indoctrination has crippled her ability to think and reason, and in the end, it will probably kill her.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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Bruce, You Are Blindly Following the Media

peanut gallery

I recently received the following email from David Hoffman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lowell, Indiana. First Baptist is a King James-only Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregation. Hoffman is a graduate of Hyles-Anderson College — Jack Hyles’ institution of lower learning.

Hoffman wrote:

I read your words about the death of your father-in-law. I am sorry for your loss and the conundrum that you are [sic] your wife try to rectify. I too discovered the hypocrisy, inconsistencies, and perversion of the fundamental Baptist movement. I did not blindly follow them and I do not blindly follow the media hype about the “pandemic.” Your fears of the virus appears [sic] to me that you simply switched from blindly following fundamentalism to the agenda of the media. One has had several months to discover the hypocrisy, inconsistencies, and perversion of the Democrats, leftists, and media outlets. The “pandemic” should be more accurately called the PLANdemic into a globalist society exactly as …. dare I say it …. as the Bible predicted and written by the Rockefeller Foundation in 2010. I am sure Rockefeller and his globalists have our best interest at heart.

I was directly involved with four fundamental pastors who turned out to be narcissists (Hyles, Hyles, Schaap, Miller), but I did not abandon my faith in the Book; in fact, it solidified my faith in the Book because the Book forewarned of these cheap charlatans.

I will leave it to readers to respond to Hoffman. I physically don’t have the energy to school Hoffman about the Coronavirus pandemic. Besides, I do wonder if he is a Christian. Hoffman puts his faith in the King James Bible, not Jesus. In his world, it’s the Bible that says, not Jesus. One wonders how people were saved before 1611 or before the invention of the printing press or before the New Testament was written and collated?

Want to learn more about Hoffman’s Bibliodolatry? Please read a letter written by him on HACAlumni.com.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

If It’s God’s Will for Me to Get COVID-19 . . .

robert montanelli broken arrow

If it is God’s will that I get coronavirus, that is the will of the Almighty. I will not live in fear.

Robert Montanelli, Trump Rally Attendee in Tulsa, Oklahoma

On Saturday, President Donald Trump held a pep rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump bragged about how filled the Center would be, saying that 1,000,000 people requested tickets to his rally. Trump even planned for a huge outside crowd. All told, 6,200 people attended the indoor rally, and outside? Several dozen people, such sparse numbers that Trump canceled plans to address them after the main rally. Trump promised a John Holmes-like crowd. Unfortunately, as is often the case with the President, reality was much smaller than promised (just ask Stormy Daniels).

One attendee at the rally was Robert Montanelli from Broken Arrow — a Tulsa suburb. Montanelli wore a red “Keep America Great” hat and an oft-washed “Crooked Hillary for Prison” tee-shirt. When asked why he refused to wear a mask, Montanelli, with Trump-like bravado, said:

If it is God’s will that I get coronavirus, that is the will of the Almighty. I will not live in fear.

While the New York Times article that quotes Montanelli doesn’t mention his religious affiliation, his words have an Evangelical feel to them. I suspect the overwhelming majority of rally attendees were white Evangelicals. While I spotted a few blacks in the crowd, it was evident, at least to me anyway, that this water fountain was meant for Bible-quoting white Americans.

I suspect more than a few Trump supporters in attendance agreed with Montanelli: no masks needed. God is in control of everything, including the Coronavirus pandemic, and if they (or anyone else, for that matter) are infected with COIVD-19, God is to blame, not them. Of course, Evangelicals never use the word “blame” when speaking of their God’s sovereign, decretive acts, but if God holds the world in the palm of his hand, and is in control of everything, then “blame” is appropriate.

Evangelicals believe God is the first cause of everything, the creator of the universe. Thus, God is to blame for COVID-19. God is to blame for every infection and death. And yes, God should be credited for magically keeping some people from getting infected and/or dying.

In April, I wrote a post titled, No Need to Wear a Face Mask: When it’s My Time to Die, I’m Ready to Go. Here’s an excerpt from this post:

Like clockwork, my wife calls her mother every Sunday evening at 10:00 PM. They typically talk for an hour. Last Sunday, Polly asked her mom whether she was wearing a face mask when she went out in public. Mom replied, “no, I don’t need to wear a mask.” When Polly, out of concern for her eighty-four-year-old mother’s health and that of her father, told her mom, “look, you need to get a mask and wear it whenever you go out of the house.” Mom replied, “when it’s my time to die, I’m ready to go.” Polly angrily retorted, “and no one will be able to come to your funeral.” Mom smugly replied, “oh well, I won’t care. I’ll be dead.” And that was that . . .

….

Because of Mom’s intransigent fatalism, it is unlikely that we will ever see Polly’s parents again face to face. (Several weeks ago, we met them a public park for lunch. Seven hours round trip, two-hour visit.) We are not willing to risk infection, all because of her stubborn unwillingness to take basic health and safety precautions. We expect to one day hear the phone ring, and at the other end someone will be telling us one or both of them are dead. Will it be COVID-19 that kills them? I don’t know. Both of them have serious health problems. A virus such as COVID-19 would make easy work of them. We wish they would at least take basic safety precautions, but they won’t. I suspect that a month from now they will join their church family after church down at the local Olive Garden for lunch. “See, we all survived! Glory and praise to Jesus!” And three or four weeks later? Some of them may learn that their God is not in control; that their God is no match for COVID-19, influenza, or any of the other countless bacteria and viruses trying to kill us. Biology and science trump religion every time. Too bad the people who most need to hear this will be dead.

Fatalism is a foundational plank of Evangelical Christianity. Everything in life is predetermined and controlled by God. No need to worry about the Coronavirus pandemic or getting infected with COIVD-19. No need to worry about ending up in the ICU hooked up to a ventilator, dying alone. Everything that happens to you is according to God’s perfect plan for your life. So what if you get infected, suffer, and die? JESUS suffered and died for you — he suffered bigly compared to your suffering — and thanks to his resurrection from the dead, a room in Heaven’s exclusive Trump Hotel awaits you after death.

Of course, Evangelicals such as Montanelli don’t really practice what they preach. Oh, they piously talk about God being in control, but their day-to-day lives reflect the fact that they are the ones controlling their destiny. They may shoot prayers up to the ceiling God, asking for divine direction and favor, but their lives reveal that they are ones answering those prayers.

I suspect that Montanelli looks both ways before pulling into an intersection. I suspect when he goes to the doctor, that he expects to be treated with modern medical techniques. Imagine the doctor saying, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Let’s pray and ask God to heal you.” Why, Montanelli would rightly be upset. I suspect that every aspect of Montanelli’s life is controlled not by God, but self. Why then, did he refuse to wear a mask, saying that whether he dies or not is up to God?

Montanelli worships at the feet of the baby Christian Donald Trump. The president refuses to acknowledge or practice CDC or WHO guidelines. He wants to project manly power and strength, even though he has a hard time holding a glass or water or walking down an airplane ramp. Trump’s latest rally was one long infomercial for how great he is. Should it be surprising, then, that Trump’s followers try to emulate him? Montanelli’s bravado is not so much about God and Christianity as it is his need to act like his hero. Sure, Montanelli is a believer, but the central figure in this story is Donald J. Trump, not God.

And if Montanelli contracts COVID-19? Will he “let go and let God?” Will he passively trust that God will, come what may, take care of him? Will he seek medical care? Will he take whatever drugs doctors prescribe? Will he encourage his family members to wear masks? Something tells me that when faced with serious illness and death, Montanelli will do everything in his power to stay alive.

And his boy Trump? Much like God, he will be AWOL. Montanelli will learn that he is on his own, that his life rests not in the hands of Jesus, but in the hands of qualified medical professionals.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Living in the Land of Jesus, Guns, and Republicans: I Went Shopping at Meijer Today

meijer-covid-19

This post contains cursing. If you are easily offended by such language, I suggest you read something else.

Earlier today, we drove to nearby Defiance, Ohio to do some shopping at Meijer. I wondered exactly how locals would be acting now that Governor Mike DeWine has loosened or removed many of the restrictions that keep Ohioans sequestered at home. I say “wondered,” when, in fact, I knew exactly what I would see.

I live in the land of Jesus, Guns, and Republicans. And not just any Jesus. Sure, there are liberal and progressive Christians around here, but, for the most part, those who worship the dead Son of God are Evangelicals. Even those who attend mainline churches tend to skew to the right religiously. Atheists? Why, we are so rare that locals don’t even think we exist.

There are hundreds of churches in the quad-county area. I live in a community of 356 or so people. Within a few miles of my home there are three Church of God congregations, a Catholic church, a Methodist church, and two non-denominational churches. That’s why locals who haven’t read my writing assume I am a worshiper of Jesus. Several years ago, a woman engaged my daughter Bethany — who has Down syndrome — in a discussion about music at a high school basketball game. The woman asked, “so what kind of music do you like?” Bethany quickly gave her top five list of country bands. Then the woman said, “you like Christian music too, right?” Bethany said nothing. Much like her mother, she hates Christian music. I looked at the woman, gave her my fake smile, and said, “oh, we listen to all sorts of music.” And without missing a beat, I said, “should be a good game tonight.”

This woman, a devout follower of the Evangelical Jesus, had no place in her worldview for people who didn’t listen to Christian music. Imagine what her response might have been had I said, “We are atheists. We don’t listen to shitty Christian music.” Of course, I am too polite to do so.

I assume that local Christians have at least have been taught what is commonly called the TWO GREAT COMMANDMENTS:

  • Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thy heart, soul, and might (mind)
  • Thou shalt love your neighbor as thyself

I say “assume,” because, based on what I saw while shopping today, it is evident that local Christians have forgotten about loving their neighbors. I personally know several local progressive/liberal pastors. I know these men of God take seriously the Coronavirus pandemic and what can be done to lessen the spread of COVID-19. I do wonder, however, what local right-wing pastors are conveying to their congregants about the current pandemic. I suspect, not much.

I am sure someone is going to ask, “what does Evangelical Christianity have to do with what you experienced today?” Everything. You see, Evangelical theology breeds right-wing Republican/Libertarian political beliefs. All those old people who watch Faux News every night? They live here in Defiance, Williams, Henry, and Fulton counties. They have birthed children and have grandchildren who, having experienced little else but the white Evangelical monoculture of rural northwest Ohio, walk in their right-wing parents’/grandparents’ shoes. Want to know who to blame for the presidency of Donald Trump? Look no farther than rural northwest Ohio. Almost seven out of ten voting locals voted for Trump. Beliefs have consequences. Not only do Republicans control EVERY local/state/federal office, but their Jesus-infused political beliefs also infect every aspect of local life. And local Republicans are not the centrist Republicans I remember from back in the days when Jim Rhodes was governor and Howard Metzenbaum, John Glenn, and George Voinovich represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate. Thanks to the racist Tea Party rebellion against “Kenyan-born” Barack Obama, local Republicans have moved to the right, embracing immoral Libertarian politics. Many of these same people are militia-friendly gun owners who supported the recent armed takeover of the Michigan state house.

I can’t help but notice their memes and posts on social media decrying liberals, atheists, and virtually every action taken by the government to keep them safe during this pandemic. No conspiracy is too extreme for them. Bill Gates, as a modern-day Josef Mengele? The Chinese government behind the Wuhan virus? 5G causes COVID-19? Vaccines, the mark of the beast? I have seen every one of these crazy conspiracies touted on local Facebook pages. Good Christian people want the country opened up NOW! If doing so kills the neighbors they are supposed to love, so be it. All that matters to them is their “rights.” Ironically, most of the locals demanding freedom to do whatever they want, are anti-abortion, opposed to same-sex marriage, and oppose teaching evolution in public school science classes. Evidently, “freedom” only applies when their way of life is interrupted or impeded. I so wanted to ask these Libertarian dick-waggers, “do you mind if I strip off my clothes and stand on the sidewalk in front of your house while your children play in the yard?” Freedom, baby! It’s tyranny to restrict me in any way! Don’t like it? Stay in your house. Such is the absurdity of immoral, anarchist Libertarianism.

Yesterday, I heard a newscaster say that sixty-eight percent of people wear masks to protect themselves and others from exposure to the Coronavirus. I said to the TV — a common thing for me to do these days — where? Austin? Seattle? Not here, that’s for sure. Since March 7, I have gone to the store (hardware and grocery) six or so times. I have done my best to avoid mouth breathers, ordering online from Walmart, Amazon, Target, Chief Supermarket, Menards, Wayfair, CVS, New Egg, B&H, and several small companies when I can instead of going to brick-and-mortar stores. (You should see the mountain of cardboard we’ve accumulated in our garage.) Today’s trip was unavoidable. I know that every time we go to the store we risk infection, but it’s impossible for us to become hermits — even though such a life is appealing. All we know to do is limit exposure as much as we can, hoping the COVID-19 virus doesn’t track us down and kill us.

Today, roughly thirty percent or so of shoppers were wearing face masks. At Meijer, employees are required to wear masks, and every worker kept the letter of the law. I saw numerous employees, including one manager, with their masks pulled below their noses. I wanted to say, “you do know you breathe in and out of your nose, expelling whatever into the air?” I get it, wearing masks is uncomfortable and restricts breathing. To that I say, “tough shit.” Life is hard, period, right now, and we all have to adapt. Stop your whining.

As far as my fellow citizens were concerned, most of them were not wearing masks, and neither were they the least bit concerned about social distancing. (And to those who were wearing masks and trying to stay the fuck away from each other? Thank you, for loving your neighbor as yourself.) I saw numerous groups of mainly older people closely huddled together shooting the breeze. I wanted to go up to them and say, “are you guys idiots? You do know that you are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and dying, right?” Something tells me that doing so would have been a waste of time. Trump, Hannity, Ingraham, and their favorite TV preachers told them all the need to know about the Wuhan virus, end of discussion. Got any hydroxychloroquine or bleach?

What made things worse is that Meijer management decided to have its workers stock shelves on a Friday at 4:00 PM. Managers get from employees what they demand, so it seemed clear to me that managers were not that interested in making sure workers properly wear masks and practice social distancing. It’s impossible to stay six feet away from people if there are stockers and carts in the middle of aisles. The dairy aisle was the worst. Two women were stocking the coolers. They had THREE stock carts, plus a cardboard cart in the middle of the aisle, blocking traffic from both directions. I wanted to scream. Yes, I am angry, pissed off, and irritated. I am oh-so-tired of such carelessness and indifference.

Two things stood out during our shopping foray at Meijer. First, there were two morbidly obese seniors driving motorized carts through the store. They were together. Neither of them was wearing masks. One woman had a tank of oxygen perched on her basket in case she needed it. I thought, “talk about clueless. Death on wheels coming my way!” Second, there was a man in his early thirties with his significant other and several children. No mask, no surprise. He was a burly manly man. Real men don’t wear sissy masks. As I watched from a distance, the man sneezed, with gusto, not once, not twice, but three times. Three massive bursts of particles into the air. He made no effort to hold his sneeze or direct it into his arm or a cloth. Nope, this man just expelled his sneezes into the air. I am at a place in life where I consider such behavior criminal, no different than an HIV positive man having unprotected sex with someone. This man could have COVID-19 and not know it. Sure, he’s young, but young people DO die from this virus, and at the very least he could be an asymptomatic carrier. Whatever he was, he most certainly was an inconsiderate asshole.

I could write a lot more about our trip to Meijer today, but I will leave my raging storytelling here. I know that someone is sure to say, “Bruce, you should stay home! Sick? Aged? Not my problem. You need to quarantine, not me.” Fine. Are you going to make sure we have sufficient income to live? Are you going to make sure we have access to food, safely delivered to our home? Are you going to make sure we have medical care, including the delivery of our medications? “Of course not, Bruce! Freedom, baby! I get to live, and you, well sorry, but you don’t. Can’t worry about a ‘few’ old people dying.”

And come Sunday, these people who raised holy hell over supposed “death panels” a few years ago, will go to church, professing their love for Jesus and their fellow man. Disconnected from their words will be the reality of their behavior. Don’t tell me how much you love Jesus and your neighbor, show me. People who really love their neighbors will do everything they can to make sure the sick, elderly, and vulnerable are protected and cared for. That you refuse to wear a mask tells me that the only person you care about is self. I thought Jesus told his followers to deny themselves, to put God and others first? All I saw today was unmitigated selfishness.

I am an atheist, yet I live according to the grand truth that I should love my neighbor as myself. It matters to me if my neighbors, along with their families, get sick or die. The least I can do for them is wear a mask, wash my hands, and stay six-feet away. And to locals who only value their personal freedom and scream TYRANNY when asked to wear a mask? I say, “fuck you.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Federal Government has no Power to Respond to the Coronavirus Pandemic

david barton

Discredited Christian nationalist “historian” David Barton [is] now asserting that the federal government has no power to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Constitution puts all health care at the state level; it does not put it at the federal level,” Barton said during a recent interview. “So this was not a federal question; it is a state question. In the Constitution, you have 17 what are called enumerated powers. The Constitution says, ‘Federal government, here’s 17 things you’re allowed to do.’ And then in the Tenth Amendment, it says if it’s not one of those 17 things, it belongs to the states to deal with. Health care was one of those issues.” (Thanks to our friends at Right Wing Watch for the video.)

Barton seems unable to grasp that it’s not 1820 anymore. The Constitution and federal laws have changed over time, and there’s no longer any doubt that the federal government has the power – some would say the duty – to respond in the face of a public health emergency. (The fact that the current administration’s response has been hapless doesn’t negate that; it just makes it all the more obvious that we need to do a better job next time.)

What are Barton and his pals in the Religious Right up to here? Their main goal is to provide cover for President Donald Trump, their “I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Our-Lord-And-Savior” substitute. By pretending it was never Trump’s job to spearhead efforts to stop the spread of the virus to begin with, they hope to absolve him of all blame for the spiraling death toll. (Clever, right?) Unfortunately for the nation, their antics have the unpleasant side effect of putting us all in jeopardy.

Lying about the federal government’s responsibility in the face of a health crisis isn’t the Barton band’s only trick. Yesterday, a collection of Religious Right legal groups announced that they are forming a “hotline” pastors can call if they believe their religious freedom rights are being violated. (That is, if they’re angry that government agencies have ordered them to remain closed alongside everyone else.) The effort is led by a Barton associate named Rick Green.

— Rob Boston, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Christian Nationalists Are Spreading Fake News About The Federal Government And Coronavirus, May 14, 2020

IFB Preacher Gene Gouge Says He is in a War Against All Things Social

pastor gene gouge

Gene Gouge is the pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Hickory, North Carolina. Liberty Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. Gouge has been its pastor for over thirty years.

Recently Gouge made news headlines by saying the COVID-19 virus is much to do about nothing; little more than evil, communist propaganda.

WSOC-9 reports:

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Pastor Gene Gouge at Liberty Baptist in Hickory has been broadcasting his message of concern across the foothills — and he isn’t mincing his words.

“The news media is pure evil, communist propaganda,” Gouge said.

Not only has he attacked coverage of the pandemic but also whether or not the virus is truly a threat to the country.

“95% of everything that has gone on about the last month or two months is a mirage. It is an illusion, a delusion. It ain’t real,” he said.

Gouge believes the response to the pandemic is violating his congregation’s civil rights, so he put a sign outside his church asking the governor to stop the persecution of churches and Christians and to open the churches.

He believes people should be allowed to gather at places of worship.

“We believe this virus has been weaponized and has been used to hurt our country and hurt our constitution,” he said.

When Channel 9 asked him about the more than 50,000 deaths nationwide so far, the pastor responded, “You’re not going to develop an immune system by staying in the house and by wearing gloves and wearing a mask. People who are susceptible, cancer patients, elderly people no doubt should be extra precautions.”

After the above news story was published, Gouge took to the pulpit to “educate” congregants about the “war” he was fighting.

Here’s a partial transcript of what he had to say:

We are in a war. We are in a battle. I’ve said it from day one, we’ve been lied to, we’ve been manipulated, this virus has been weaponized to destroy this country, our nation, and the economy. And our states. We are at war. We are literally now being attacked.

….

We are at war. We are at war . . . The word social. I don’t know if you realize it or not, the word social is not even found in the Bible. The word social is a word of the world, it’s not a word that’s in the Bible. Any time that word social comes up it ought to throw up immediately a red flag of warning. I mean to us who are saved by the grace of God. Socialism. Socially. What’s a socialist? It’s one step from a communist. Amen. And then you got social reform. You know what social reform is? It’s the new coming, new world order. Then you got social medicine. That’s what we’ve heard about now ever since Obamacare. Social security. Don’t get mad at me. Social security is using the money, our money, to take care of us. that’s a scary thought, ain’t it? Social justice. I’ve been to Cuba. You see the billboard. Viva La Revolucion. Social Justice. And then social distancing. Oughta throw up a red flag just like that when it was used. You know what that is? Dividing the people. Dividing the people. You know what that basically is? It’s nothing more than communism. Communism is atheism. Atheism leads to Satanism. And I’m telling you this world is headed to a one-world religion of Satanism — the worshiping of Satan. You can read that in the book of the Revelation.

We’re at war. We’re at war.

Got all that? Gouge believes the word “social” is evil because the word is not found in the King James Bible. I wonder if Gouge thinks ice cream or potlucks are evil too since neither word is found in the Bible?

I wonder if Gouge owns a dictionary? Had he bothered to look up the word social, he would have found this:

social definition

Social sure sounds like church to me.

Gouge’s “social” rant is little more than a Trump campaign speech. Lies, half-truths, distortions, all meant to drive Gouge’s fake war agenda. I love his “atheism leads to Satanism” line. As any atheist would tell Gouge, atheism doesn’t lead to Satanism. Atheists believe Satan is a myth, and the only thing atheism has led them to is freedom from hearing nonsensical sermons such as this one.

Gouge believes that government-mandated social distancing is the persecution of Christians and churches. Here’s the message he put on the sign in front of his church:

Freedom Baptist Church Hickory North Carolina

Pastor Gouge says he is fighting a war. Based on my investigation, the only war Gouge is fighting is against science, reason, common sense, and loving your neighbor as yourself. If Gouge were alone in a cabin somewhere, his words could be easily dismissed as the rant of a deluded hillbilly. Unfortunately, Gouge has a following, people who hang on his every word. And this makes Gouge dangerous — a promoter of ignorance that can and does psychologically and physically harm others.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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Evangelical Pastor Levi Skipper Tries to Explain Why God Allows Suffering

pastor levi skipper

Recently, Pastor Levi Skipper, the evangelism catalyst (oh the ministry titles Evangelicals come up with these days) for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board (GBMB), wrote an article for the GBMB website. Titled, Why Doesn’t God Stop the Coronavirus: 4 Steps to Responding Well, the article attempts to answer the age-old question of why the Christian God allows suffering. I say attempts because as I shall show in this post, Skipper fails spectacularly in his defense of God’s honor, reputation, and name.

Skipper identifies the problem many people have with the notion of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God not only allowing the existence of the Coronavirus, but doing nothing about its spread and mortality.

Skipper writes:

Why doesn’t God stop the coronavirus? It’s a simple and yet profound question. As the body of Christ, we must be prepared to answer.

There is a perceived logical argument against God when looking at a crisis. You’ll see these argument arise especially during and in the wake of a crisis.

British comedian Stephen Fry delivered a vicious, scathing attack on the Judeo-Christian God when asked what he would say if it turned out, after he died, that God did in fact exist. He called this God a “maniac,” pointing to the large amount of unnecessary suffering in the world which he, by definition, created and allows (See More).

Don’t just gasp at that statement. This is the sentiment of millions of people today who choose either to reject God or deny His existence.

So how do they get to this mental state concerning God? The argument doesn’t take a lot of mental gymnastics. In fact, it is a very simple and even quite compelling argument.

God is all-powerful: He can do anything He wills.

God is all-loving: He cares with an intense love for His creation.

Suffering is a reality: We see suffering in the world now due to the Coronavirus Crisis.

Enter the problem: If there is a God who is all-powerful and all-loving, why doesn’t he stop this coronavirus?

….

This leads to an inevitable conclusion: A God who is all-powerful and all-loving, as we see the God of Scripture, would never have created the world in which we live. Choosing to believe in Him requires closing one’s eyes to the suffering that surrounds us. Therefore, as some would hold, He must not exist. Or, if He does exist, there no way that He is both all-powerful and all-loving.

Skipper does a good job of framing the objection many people have with the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God and the existence of suffering. We know that if we had the same power and love as God, we would behave differently. Why does God silently sit by while people, along with animals, suffer?

Skipper rightly recognizes that this is a powerful argument used by atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers against Christianity. Personally, I consider it an unanswerable, unassailable argument against claims Christians make for their God.

Skipper states:

First, this will be an argument used against followers of Jesus. In fact, this will be an argument that will quickly silence many Christians.

Secondly, this argument will be used by the evil one to shake the faith of believers today.

Skipper worries that unbelievers will use this argument to quickly silence Christians. And he’s right. Countless Evangelical apologists have come to this blog to defend their deity’s honor. Their arguments are endless (and tiresome). However, when it comes to suffering (and the existence of evil) their defenses quickly flame out. As long as Evangelicals are tethered to the Bible — a book they believe is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God — it is impossible for them to successfully defend God’s honor on this front. In particular, Bible literalism proves to a big problem in arguments about God and his culpability in human suffering. A cursory reading of the Bible reveals a God who is anything but kind, compassionate, and all-loving. If the Bible is one way we understand the nature of God, then it’s fair for non-believers to conclude that God is, to put it bluntly, a violent, judgmental prick.

Skipper begins his defense of the indefensible by saying:

God created a world in which love could exist. We read about this in Genesis 1.

….

We were created to love Him and one another. However, given the capacity to love means there is a capacity to choose. Had there been no choice to love it wouldn’t be genuine. Relationships would hold no meaning.

Terry Firma, writing for The Friendly Atheist website, responded to Skipper’s claim this way:

This has literally nothing to do with why God would allow or inflict pain, suffering, and death, but maybe Skipper is working up to it. I have to ask though: If love means having a choice, where does that leave a god who says he loves you, and if you don’t love him back, he’ll torture you forever?

It’s the same with Christians’ trite apologetics about free will.

Love me, insists the abusive husband or the sex-fiend kidnapper; and if the object of his warped affection can’t, or won’t, violence is sure to follow.

According to Skipper, the all-loving Christian God created humans to love him and love one another. This statement is, in and of itself, fraught with all sorts of problems. God didn’t create any of us with the capacity to love him. Surely, Skipper understands Evangelical Theology 101. The only two humans created to love the Christian God were Adam and Eve. Thanks to their fall into sin, none of us has an innate ability to love God. We are born into this world alienated from God. In fact, we naturally hate and despise God. That’s why we need to be born again. But, even here, can it really be said that God is an equal opportunity Savior? Of course not. Both Calvinism and Arminianism teach that human salvation is predetermined; that it is God alone who chooses who may enter into a restored love relationship with him. And for those who won’t or can’t love God? The bloodthirsty God of the Bible reserves for us a room in Hell for all eternity. As Terry Firma rightly notes, God is akin to an abusive husband who says to his wife: love me or else.

Later in his defense of God, Skipper states:

The consequence of sin include suffering, pain, toil, and death. This is the reason suffering exists in the world today. An all-powerful and all-loving God created a world in which love could exist. Man chose not to love, and, therefore, sin corrupted the whole of creation ushering in evil, pain, and suffering. One author writes, “Ever since Adam and Eve fell, members of the human community have been thoroughly committed to their own well-being regardless of the cost to others.”

The sum of Skipper’s defense of God is that humans are sinners and that’s why they suffer. Again, none of us had a choice in this matter. God is playing a rigged game. He created Adam and Eve, knowing that Satan — whom he also created — would tempt them, causing them to break his law. God decided that everyone born after Adam and Eve would not have an opportunity to choose whether to eat fruit off the proverbial tree of good and evil. Everyone born after Adam and Eve comes into this world with a sin nature. This too is God’s handiwork. Remember, God is all-powerful. He could have acted differently, but he didn’t. Why is that? What kind of God allows suffering, pain, and death just so he can “save” a few people he determined to deliver from before the foundation of the world? (Ephesians 1:4) It’s all a game, is it not?

Skipper concludes his “defense” of the thrice holy God by saying:

God promises that those who know Him will be set free from the penalty, power and presence of sin. So, while the coronavirus is racing through the world, God has not forgotten us and is still in the business of bringing others into a relationship with Himself.

In other words, don’t count on God doing anything about human suffering. Much like Baal in 1 Kings 18, God is an absentee deity. Perhaps he’s sleeping, on vacation, or using the toilet. Skipper’s all-loving God may seem to not care one whit about human suffering — hey it’s humans’ fault, not mine, says God — but he does really, really, really want to save us.

Skipper tells his fellow Baptists to focus on evangelizing unbelievers. God’s in the soul-saving business! Amen? Amen! Of course, the big question Skipper leaves unanswered is this: why do Christians suffer and die just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world? If God is focused on saving people, what, exactly, is he saving them from? It’s evident that God is NOT saving Christians from suffering, pain, and death, so I ask again, what, exactly, is he saving them from?

It seems to me that the only thing God is saving Christians from is the mess he, himself, created. It’s the Biblical God who created Adam and Eve with the capacity to sin. It’s the Biblical God who created Satan, the tempter of Adam and Eve. God is the first cause of everything, is he not? Yet, Christians buy into the notion that they need “saving,” believing that their God will reward them — not in this life — in the afterlife with eternal love, peace, and bliss in Heaven. Well, that and they will never have to be around non-believers who dare to question God’s love of the human race. Those people will be tortured forever in the Lake of Fire. That’ll teach them to question the all-powerful, all-loving God.

Let me share the good news to Southern Baptists and other Evangelical Christians who may read this post. There is no God. Suffering exists for many different reasons, and no deity is going to show up and make things better. While some causes of suffering are beyond us, much of the suffering we face is of human origin, and it is within our power to ameliorate or eliminate suffering. We are the Gods in this story, and it is up to us to make a difference in the lives of others. While the origin of the Coronavirus remains unknown, we do have opportunities to lessen the suffering of our fellow humans during this pandemic. Praying to a non-existent or absentee deistic God accomplishes nothing, and neither does offloading life to some sort of nonexistent afterlife. The people we really need saved from are politically and religiously motivated zealots who think that pain and suffering are somehow good for us, or that they prepare us for eternity in a mythical Heaven. The idea that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is not true, as any chronic pain sufferer will tell you. Since we only get one go-round in this thing we call life, wouldn’t it be good for all of us if we reduce suffering as much as possible? Surely, lives relatively free of pain and suffering would be good for all involved. I know it would for me, anyway. How about you?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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COVID-19 Infections and Deaths Expose Faith Healers as Frauds

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

Cable and satellite TV subscribers are “blessed” to have numerous explicit Evangelical channels to watch. These channels are dominated by Charismatic faith healers, many of whom are fabulously rich. Con artists, the lot of them, their goal is fleece the flock while pretending to heal them of everything from cancer to cavities. As the Coronavirus pandemic sweeps the world, infecting and killing people of every race, religion, and social status, I have noticed that these faith healers seem impotent, unable to heal anyone of the virus. Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California, a renowned fake healer, revealed his powerlessness over COVID-19 by cancelling all in-person worship services at his church. Johnson even shut down the church’s Healing Rooms, going to online healing instead. Why is that?

All across the world, Evangelical faith healers are powerless over COVID-19. Oh, they keep praying, anointing people with oil, and performing magic tricks, but their marks still get sick, and in some instances die. Their helplessness exposes for all the world to see the bankruptcy of faith healing. Rational, skeptical people have always known this, but I suspect that true-blue Charismatic believers are beginning to wonder if these so-called men of God are little more than modern Elmer Gantrys and Sister Sharon Falconers.

The Coronavirus pandemic also exposes Jesus himself as a fraud. Again, rational, skeptical people have always known that the miracle-working Son of God was a fraud; that the miracles recorded in the Bible are works of fiction. Yet, 2,000 years later, Charismatic (and Pentecostal) Christians still believe that Jesus, through the hands and prayers of Holy Ghost-filled preachers, can and does heal them. After all, Jesus did say to his disciples:

And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:7-8)

Just before allegedly ascending to Heaven, Jesus said to his followers:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:15-18)

Jesus’ brother James had this to say:

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. (James 5:13-15)

These Bible verses seem clear to me: preachers, evangelists, missionaries, and even common, every day Christians are empowered by God to heal the sick. Why, then, are they powerless when it comes to healing people of COVID-19?

It is obvious, at least to me anyway, that faith healers are frauds; that for all their supposed supernatural power and faith, they are unable to heal anyone from COVID-19. Will the Coronavirus pandemic be the seismic event that finally exposes these preachers for who and what they are: money-grubbing frauds? Will devoted Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians finally pull back the curtain and see that the divine wizard is but a man? Will they put their checkbooks away and let these so-called anointed prophets starve? I want to think that this is finally the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. I really, really, really want to believe that Charismatic and Pentecostal believers will be drawn to the light of reason and science. However, the Coronavirus pandemic will eventually fade into the fabric of human history, and when it does, faith healers will come up with a new shtick to rob Christians of their money. Perhaps if God would infect Kenneth Copeland, Jim Bakker, Bill Johnson, TD Jakes, Todd Bentley, Benny Hinn, Rodney Howard-Browne, Paula White, Pat Robertson, and others like them with COVID-19 and let them die horrible deaths while hooked up to respirators, maybe then believers would see the light.

I don’t wish COVID-19 on anyone, but a bit of karmic justice might put an end to the control faith healers have over so many people. Did you attend a Charismatic or Pentecostal church? Did you really believe faith healers could deliver you from your afflictions? If yes, what caused you to change your mind? Please leave your heavenly thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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No Need to Wear a Face Mask: When it’s My Time to Die, I’m Ready to Go

chick tract death

Like clockwork, my wife calls her mother every Sunday evening at 10:00 PM. They typically talk for an hour. Last Sunday, Polly asked her mom whether she was wearing a face mask when she went out in public. Mom replied, “no, I don’t need to wear a mask.” When Polly, out of concern for her eighty-four-year-old mother’s health and that of her father, told her mom, “look, you need to get a mask and wear it whenever you go out of the house.” Mom replied, “when it’s my time to die, I’m ready to go.” Polly angrily retorted, “and no one will be able to come to your funeral.” Mom smugly replied, “oh well, I won’t care. I’ll be dead.” And that was that . . .

It would be easy to dismiss Mom’s careless, reckless, stupid behavior as that of an old woman in poor health. However, there’s a deeper issue that I believe is driving her dismissal of common sense: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology and practice. Mom is the wife of a retired IFB pastor. She and Dad have attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, on and off, since May 1976. You might remember me writing about their church several weeks ago. (Please see IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic and Understanding the Pastors Who Refuse to Close Their Churches During the Coronavirus Pandemic.) As of today, the Newark Baptist Temple is still holding in-person worship services on Sunday mornings! One person intimately connected to the Baptist Temple told me, “Mark Falls is an idiot.” To that I say, amen. Pastor Falls continues to put theology and politics before the health and welfare of his congregation and that of the local community. Here’s a Facebook video of the Easter service at the Baptist Temple:

Here’s a Facebook video of their most recent Sunday service.

As you can see, the pastor and his congregation seem unconcerned about COVID-19. No social distancing to speak of, no masks, or gloves. The good news is that Mom and Dad haven’t been back to church since I publicly called attention to their pastor’s abhorrent behavior. It’s also evident, based on building acoustics, that attendance is a fraction of what it typically is. (I find it interesting the cameraman never pans the crowd.) Fortunately, some church members have more common sense than their pastor and other church leaders.

Setting Falls’ anti-government ideology and IFB theology aside, why does he insist on putting his parishioners at risk?

As Pastor Falls was preparing to pray at the start of last Sunday’s service, he stated:

Amen. What a privilege to be at the Newark Baptist Temple this morning. We’re so glad to see each of you here, and we are thrilled to know that many are watching us at home as well. Isn’t it great to be able to sing I’m Saved, I’m Delivered? The greatest crisis in your entire life was your sin crisis. Because you are going to have to stand before God someday. And if the Lord can save us from that he can save us from anything.

And there is it is: “if the Lord can save us from that [sin], the Lord can save us from anything.” No need to concern yourself with the Coronavirus. The Lord, if he so wills, can and will deliver you from the virus. Jesus can do what doctors and scientists can’t do. He’s the great physician! No worries. . . . Hardened into this thinking is nascent fatalism. Oh, Falls and other Fundamentalists will deny that they are preaching fatalism, but it’s clear from their sermons, prayers, and actions, fatalism is exactly what they are preaching. In this instance, they are no different from Islamic imams who say, “Allah’s will be done.”

Now let me bring this post back around to what Polly’s mom said about not wearing a mask: “No, I don’t need to wear a mask. When it’s my time to die, I’m ready to go.” Her comment drips with the fatalism taught to her by the pastors of the Baptist Temple, both the late Jim Dennis and now Mark Falls.

Where does this fatalism come from? As with most beliefs within the IFB church movement, their fatalism rests on their peculiar interpretation of the Protestant Bible. An overarching teaching that infuses fatalism into everything IFB churches say and do is the belief that the Christian God is the sovereign Lord of all creation; that he holds the world in the palm of his hand; that nothing happens apart from God’s purpose, plan, and will. Thus, no need to worry. Jesus is on the job! Amen? Amen!

death

What is it that causes Polly’s mom to be so fatalistic about dying; so much so that she is willing to put not only her own health at risk, but that of her husband? I suspect that her fatalism can be traced back to Hebrews 9:27:

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment

Here’s how this verse is typically interpreted in IFB circles. God is the giver and taker of life. When we are born, we come into the world with an expiration date; a death date. This date is fixed by God, and known only to him. No one dies before their appointed time. God knows the exact moment each of us is going to die. Not only that, he knows exactly how we are going to die. Thus, in Mom’s eyes, Jesus is on the job, and COVID-19 ain’t going to kill her unless God says so. And if God says so, there’s nothing she or anyone else can do about it.

Because of Mom’s intransigent fatalism, it is unlikely that we will ever see Polly’s parents again face to face. We are not willing to risk infection, all because of her stubborn unwillingness to take basic health and safety precautions. We expect to one day hear the phone ring, and at the other end someone will be telling us one or both of them are dead. Will it be COVID-19 that kills them? I don’t know. Both of them have serious health problems. A virus such as COVID-19 would make easy work of them. We wish they would at least take basic safety precautions, but they won’t. I suspect that a month from now they will join their church family after church down at the local Olive Garden for lunch. “See, we all survived! Glory and praise to Jesus!” And three or four weeks later? Some of them may learn that their God is not in control; that their God is no match for COVID-19, influenza, or any of the other countless bacteria and viruses trying to kill us. Biology and science trump religion every time. Too bad the people who most need to hear this will be dead.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser