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Tag: Counseling

My Response to an Evangelical Counselor Who Wants to “Help” Me

helping bruce

Today, I received the following email from David Blair Corbett, a licensed Canadian Evangelical counselor, and a pastor. You can check out his website here. Corbett wanted me to know that he is an authority figure. He listed all his degrees and qualifications: BSc, MSW, RSW, Ordained – CFCM (Canadian Fellowship of Churches and Ministers retired). Corbett also let me know that he knows he can “help” me.

Here’s what he had to say:

Hey Bruce,

I’ve read a bit of your writings on the net this morning here in *******. You are of similar age to me and I have *** adult children and a dear wife of *** years (in November). I still work full time in a 35 year old private practice I created to help people out of what I refer to as “performance-based churchianity”.

I am a licensed and registered psychotherapist (Masters in Clinical Social Work since 1987) and am a retired minister, ordained and commissioned to pastoral counselling.

Your story shared online saddens me deeply. I have worked with a significant number of men with similar narratives to mine and yours (the church became “the mistress”). I’m so sorry to hear your story and even sadder that such a deception of performance-based “trying to live for Jesus” was able to destroy your faith. I came close to losing my trust in God, I know what it feels like to make “churchianity” my mistress.

If you want to correspond, it’d be a real pleasure to talk openly with you.

Dear Dave,

I don’t want to correspond with you, and the reasons I don’t will become clear in a moment. I am direct and plain-spoken so I hope you will not be offended by what I say. I know you came to this site to “help” me, but it is you who actually needs help. I hope you will learn the lesson I am about to teach you, and that you will never, ever contact complete strangers on the Internet, offering them unsolicited advice.

You say that you read a “bit” of my story. You, in fact, read a minuscule bit of the 4,000+ posts on this site. Based on the server logs, you read the following posts:

I say “read,” but perhaps a better word is “skimmed.” According to the server logs, you were on this site all of four minutes — the time it takes to eat a ham sandwich — before you composed your email and clicked send. You did spend more time on this blog after emailing me. Maybe you had the aforementioned posts open in tabs and you went back to read them. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, but more than a few counselors have come before you, each with their own offer of “helping” me, each as incurious as you are.

You clicked on the WHY? page. You had the opportunity to read thirty-two posts, the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series, and/or read/listen/watch thirteen interviews I’ve done in recent years. What did you do? You skimmed two posts and sent me an email. Here’s what your God has to say about this: Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. (Proverbs 18:13)

Much like many Christian drive-by armchair therapists, you made a snap judgment about my past and present life without doing your homework. You wrongly assumed that I was always an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. I wasn’t. You wrongly assumed that the theology I had at twenty-one was the same theology I had at fifty. It wasn’t. As a result, you built in your mind a caricature of Bruce Gerencser, a false picture of who I am as a person.

You seem to suggest that if I had the “right” theology; the “right” view of God; the “right” soteriology; the “right” understanding of the works-grace paradigm I wouldn’t have deconverted. Or maybe you are subtly saying I never was a Christian to start with. Regardless, since you made no effort to understand my back story, you have no idea why I left Christianity and why I am an atheist today. While there is certainly an emotional component to my loss of faith, the primary reasons for my deconversion are intellectual. The bottom line is this: I am no longer a Christian today because I came to see that the central claims of Christianity are not true. They no longer make sense to me (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense). Regardless of how one might view my experiences and beliefs as a pastor, one salient fact remains: Christianity is built on a foundation of myths and lies. The Bible is not inerrant or infallible, virgins don’t have babies, dead people don’t come back to life, and all the miracles attributed to Jesus are fictional stories. I see no evidence for the existence of the Christian God of the Bible.

I left Christianity in November 2008 — almost fourteen years ago. I have found writing to be quite therapeutic. My goal has always been to tell my story, hoping that others might find strength and encouragement. I want readers to know that this is a safe place for them; a place to tell their own stories; a place safe from the Daves of the world. Thousands of people read my writing every day. I am humbled by this fact; that in my brokenness people still think I have something to offer them. (And it goes without saying that I am blessed to have so many wonderful people offer me love, kindness, and support.) At the same time, I have received thousands of emails, social media messages, and comments from Evangelical Christians. Nasty, vile, hateful, violent, judgmental people; people who, like you, want to “help” me. Prooftexts, sermons, personal attacks, assaults on my character. Threats of judgment and Hell. Death threats. Attacks on my wife and children. If you want to “help” people, Dave, try helping your own. I don’t need your help.

Had you bothered to do a bit of reading, you would have learned that I have been seeing a licensed secular counselor (a psychologist) for over a decade. Snap, Dave, did it ever dawn on you that I might be seeing a counselor already? Of course not, because you see the desired outcome for me as a return to Christianity. My counselor, instead, desires for me wellness and happiness — no deity needed. I deliberately sought out a counselor who was not religious (in the Evangelical sense). Hard to find here in rural northwest Ohio, but fortunately, for me, my mental health needs have been well served by two secular counselors over the past decade.

My story “saddens you.” I suggest you seek out a competent secular counselor to help you with your sadness. Would it matter to you if I said that Iife is better for me in every way since I walked away from Christianity? Or are you one of those Christians who can’t imagine someone having a good life apart from your peculiar understanding of the Bible God? There’s nothing you could offer me, Dave, that would entice me to return to Jesus. Besides, if your God really exists, he knows where I live. He knows my email address and my text number. No need to send the Daves of the world to “help” me. I have no desire to return to the leeks and garlic of Egypt. I am quite happy in the Promised Land, a place where I am loved and accepted as I am.

Dave, you overstepped by emailing me. If you didn’t know that then, I hope you do now. Maybe you meant well. There’s no way for me to know since I don’t know you (nor do I want to know you). One thing is for certain: you know nothing about me. You should never have sent me your email. But you did. Hopefully, you have learned the lesson I tried to teach you today. Dear brothers, don’t ever forget that it is best to listen [read] much, speak little . . . (James 1:19).

Bruce Gerencser, ABC, RFD, OCPD, Thrice Ordained, Circumcised

After writing this post, I saw that you followed me on Twitter. What’s next, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Tiktok? Are you a stalker? I know what you are up to, Dave. You might want to check out these posts:

You also might want to read what I have written about Christian counseling:

One more thought, Dave. Your introductory letter states the following:

Institute of Basic Life Principles (Basic and Advanced) and it’s Advanced Training Institute and Medical Training Institute of America (Dr. Bill Gothard) – many years of the week-long 32 hr. Basic Seminar and two times through the Advanced, we also homeschooled with them for 8 years.

Bill Gothard? Really? I’m speechless. Well, not really. I am quite familiar with Gothard, having pastored numerous people who were infected with BLP and ATI thinking. Oh, and my grandfather, a devout Fundamentalist Christian was a big Gothard fan too. He nagged me for years about attending one of Gothard’s seminars. No thanks. John was a violent drunk and a child molester BC (before Jesus), and a mean, nasty, violent man with Jesus. No thanks. (Please see Dear Ann and John.) You would have known these things had you bothered to do your homework.

You might want to check out my interaction with another Evangelical counselor, a judgmental ass if there ever was one. Please see Dr. Bill Clark Makes All Sorts of Claims About My Life, But Provides No Evidence for Them.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

A Few Thoughts About Mental Illness and Depression

bruce and mom 1957
Bruce and his mom, July 1957

Originally written 2011, edited, corrected.

At the age of fifty-four, my mother turned a .357 magnum Ruger revolver toward her chest and pulled the trigger. The bullet tore a hole in her heart and in a few moments she was dead. Mom had tried to kill herself many times before. This time she succeeded (please see the post Barbara).

When I was eleven, Dad had to call for an emergency squad because Mom had taken several bottles of prescription drugs. They rushed her to the hospital and pumped her stomach, and she survived to die another day. Later in the year, Mom and the neighbor lady were in a serious automobile accident in Lima. I say accident because it is possible that Mom pulled into the other lane of traffic, allowing the truck to hit them.

Mom made a third attempt on her life that same year. I came home from school and found Mom lying unconscious on the floor with blood pooling around her body. She had slit her wrists. Yet again, the emergency squad came, and her life was saved.

As best I can tell, Mom had mental problems her entire life. She was bright, witty, and well-read, but Mom could, in a split second, lapse into angry, incoherent tirades. Twice she was involuntarily committed to the Toledo State Mental Hospital, undergoing shock therapy numerous times. None of the treatments or drugs worked.

In the early 1960s, my parents found Jesus. Jesus, according to the Bible, healed the mentally ill, but, for whatever reason, he didn’t heal Mom. The mental health crises I have shared in this post, and others that I haven’t shared, all occurred after Mom put her faith and trust in the loving Jesus who supposedly had a wonderful plan for her life. Mom died believing Jesus was her Savior. To this day, I lament the fact that I didn’t do more to help her. Sadly, I saw her mental illness as an inconvenience and an embarrassment. If she just got right with God, I thought at the time, all would be well. If she would just kick her drug habit, I told her, God would be there to help her. What she really needed was for her eldest son to pick her up, hold her close, and love her. I will go to my grave wishing I had been a better son, that I had loved Mom and my family more than I loved Jesus and the church.

findlay ohio 1971-1974
Mom, Bruce, and friend, Findlay, Ohio, summer 1971

Mom was quite talented. She played the piano and loved to do ceramics. Her real passion was reading, a habit she happily passed on to me. (Mom taught me to read.) She was active in politics. Mom was a member of the John Birch Society, and actively campaigned, first for Barry Goldwater, and later for George Wallace.

My parents divorced when I was fourteen. Not long after the divorce, Mom married her first cousin, a recent parolee from a Texas prison (he was serving time for armed robbery). He later died of a drug overdose. Mom would marry two more times before she died. She was quite passionate about anything she fixed her mind upon, a trait that I, for good or ill, share with her. In the early 1970s, Mom was an aide at Winebrenner Nursing Home in Findlay, Ohio. Winebrenner paid men more than they paid women for the same work. Mom, ever the crusader, sued Winebrenner under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act. The Federal Court decided in her favor.

We moved quite often, and I have no doubt this contributed greatly to Mom’s mental illness. She never knew what it was to have a place to call home. Our family lived in one rental after another, never stopping long enough to buy a home. I lived in sixteen different houses by the time I left for college at the age of nineteen.

I have always wondered if my parents were ever happily married. Mom and Dad were married by an Indiana Justice of the Peace in November 1956. At the time of their marriage, Mom was eighteen and pregnant. I learned a year ago that Dad was not actually my biological father. Dad meant well, but the instability of their marriage, coupled with us moving all the time, caused my siblings and me great harm. Dad thought moving was a great experience. Little did he know that I hated him for moving us around. New schools (seven different school districts). New friends. Never having a place to call home. No child should have to live this way.

From the time I was five until I was fourteen, my parents were faithful members of a Baptist church in whatever community we lived in. The Gerencser family attended church every time the doors were open (I have attended over 8,000 church services in my lifetime). Mom would play the piano from time to time, though she found it quite stressful to do so. One time, much to my embarrassment, she had a mental meltdown in front of the whole church. She never played again. For a time, Dad was a deacon, but he stopped being one because he couldn’t kick his smoking habit. I suspect the real reason was that he was having an affair.

No matter where we lived or what church we went to, one thing was certain: Mom was mentally ill and everyone pretended her illness didn’t exist. Evangelical churches such as the ones we attended had plenty of members who suffered from various mental maladies. For the most part, those who were sick in the head were ignored, marginalized, or told to repent.

In 1994, I co-pastored a Sovereign Grace Baptist church in San Antonio, Texas. (See the I am a Publican and a Heathen series.) One day we were at a church fellowship and my wife came around the corner just in time to hear one of the esteemed ladies of the church say to her daughter, you stay away from that girl, she is mentally retarded. “That girl” was our then five-year-old daughter with Down syndrome. This outstanding church member’s words pretty well sum up how many churches treat those with mental handicaps or illness. STAY AWAY from them!

Many Christians think mental illness is a sign of demonic oppression or possession. No need for doctors, drugs, or hospitals. Just come to Jesus, the great physician, and he will heal you. After all, the Bible does say in 2 Timothy 1:7: For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. If someone is mentally unsound, it’s the person’s fault, not God’s. Get right with God and all will be well.

I have suffered with depression for most of my adult life. I am on the mountaintop one moment and in the valley the next. Plagued with a Type A personality, and being a consummate workaholic, I am often driven to despair. Work, Work, Work. Go, Go, Go. Do, Do, Do. I have no doubt that the way I lived my life as a Christian contributed to the health problems that now plague me. While I was busy burning the candle at both ends for Jesus, my body was screaming STOP! But I didn’t listen. I had no time for family, rest, or pleasure. Work for the night is coming, the Bible says. Better to burn out for Jesus than rust out, I told myself. And now, thanks to living this way for much of my adult life, I am a rusting 1957 Chevrolet, sitting on blocks, awaiting the day when the junkyard comes to tow me away.

For many years, I hid my depression from the outside world. While Polly and my children witnessed depression’s effect on their husband and father, church members never had a clue. I have often wondered how parishioners might have responded had I told them the truth. I suspect some church members would have seen me as a fellow depressive, but others would likely have questioned whether I was “fit” to be a pastor.

In 2008, a few months before I deconverted, I told a pastor friend that I was really depressed. Instead of lending me a helping hand or encouraging me, he rebuked me for giving in to the attack of Satan. He told me I needed to confess my sin and get victory over it immediately. A lot of Christians think just like this (former) pastor friend of mine. (Please see Dear Friend.)  Depression is a sign of weakness, and God only wants warriors and winners.

barbara gerencser 1956
Barbara Gerencser, 1956

Going to see a counselor was the single most important thing I have done in the last ten years. It took me leaving the ministry and departing from Christianity before I was willing to find someone to talk to. Several times, while I was still a Christian, I made appointments with counselors only to cancel them at the last minute. I feared that someone would see me going into the counselor’s office or they would drive by and see my car in the parking lot. I thought, My God, I am a pastor. I am supposed to have my life together.

Indeed, it took me leaving the church, the pastorate, and God to find any semblance of mental peace. I have no doubt some readers will object to the connection I make between religion and mental wellness, but for me, there was indeed a direct correlation between the two.

I still battle with depression, but with regular counseling and a (forced) slower pace of life, I am confident that I can live a meaningful, somewhat peaceful life. As many of you know, I have chronic, unrelenting pain. I have not had a pain-free day in over twenty years (my days are counted as less pain, normal pain, more pain, and off the fucking charts pain). The constant pain and debility (I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, an incurable stomach disease, last year) certainly fuel my depression. My counselor says she would be surprised if I wasn’t depressed from time to time.  Embracing my depression and coming to grips with the pain and debility is absolutely essential to my mental well-being. This is my life. I am who I am. I accept this, and I do what I can to be a loving, kind, and productive human being.

To my Christian readers I say this: sitting near you in church this coming Sunday will be people who are suffering with mental illness. Maybe they are depressed. They hide it because they think they have to. Jesus only wants winners, remember? Pay attention to other people. The signs are there. Listen to those who you claim are your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Embrace them in the midst of their weakness and psychosis. While I don’t think a mythical God is going to heal them, I do think that loving, understanding friends can be just the salvation the mentally ill need.

It is not easy being around those who are mentally ill. Let’s face it, depressed people are not fun to be with. We are not the life of the party. When I am in the midst of mental and emotional darkness, I am not the kind of person most people want to be around. I become withdrawn, cynical, and dark. These attributes, coupled with the physical pain I endure, can, at times, make me unbearable to be around. It is at these moments when I need the help of others. Sadly, most people, including my family and friends, tend to pull away from me when I need them the most. I understand why they do so, but the loneliest place on earth is sitting alone in the darkness of night wishing you were dead.

How do you respond to people who are mentally ill? How do you respond to those who are depressed?  Perhaps you suffer from mental illness or depression. Do you hide it? How are you treated by others? If you are a Christian, how are you treated by your church and pastor? Please share your 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.

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.

Questions: Bruce, How Old Were You When you First Acknowledged Your Worthlessness?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Brian asked:

Can you recall how far back you decided to acknowledge your worthlessness? Was there an event or feeling that stays with you illuminating the knowledge you garnered, convincing you that you required ‘saving’? Some people say it was the Bible, the Bible says etc. but for me it was nightmares of hell, awful feelings of doom. I was just a youngster and went running to my mom. I had been preached at of course and had been told by adults that we are all bad without Jesus…. I guess it was all that input that build up in me and grew night horrors. And of course seeing how important it was to my mom and dad. What about you, Bruce?

This is a tough question for me to answer. I grew up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) home. The IFB church movement is an uber-Fundamentalist, hellfire and brimstone sect. I made my first profession of faith (my born-again moment) in the 1960s at Scott Memorial Baptist Church in El Cajon, California. Then, at age fifteen, I made another profession of faith, was baptized by immersion, and declared before Jesus and the church that God was calling me to preach. Four years later, I enrolled to study for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. While at Midwestern, I met a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter. We married and spent the next twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches.

Fear of Hell, threats of God’s judgment, and the worthlessness of humans were part of my life for as long as I can remember. Sadly, these things still lurk deep within the recesses of my mind. I regularly see an exorcist (secular counselor) who helps purge my mind of these demons. I have been seeing him for ten years. A lifetime of religious indoctrination and self-esteem-destroying beliefs and practices have left deep scars. All I know to do is to keep washing my mind with self-affirming, rational thinking. Surrounding me with people who think similarly is a big help too.

Brian asks when, exactly, I first acknowledged that I was a worthless person. Unfortunately, worthlessness has been a part of my DNA for as long as I can remember. Sure, Jesus allegedly gave me love, hope, and peace through his shed blood on the cross and resurrection from the dead, but worthlessness was never far away. When Jesus is the only thing that stands between you and Hell, and your parents, pastors, and churches constantly beat you over the head with the sin stick, it’s hard to think well of yourself. Having been wounded by the fifty years I spent in the Christian church, I doubt I will ever think well of myself. Jesus and his Church did a number on me (and as a pastor, I harmed other people).

Brian grew up in an IFB preacher’s home. I suspect he will understand my difficulty with pinning down the date when I first realized that I was a piece of shit in the eyes of God. Jesus may have saved me from sin, but he failed to saved me from my parents, pastors, and lifelong immersion in harmful religious beliefs. I’m fucked, Jesus, and it’s your fault. 🙂

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.

Armchair Evangelical Psychologists

armchair psychology

When I started blogging in 2007, I made the decision to use my real name as I attempted to tell my story. I also decided that I would not protect the guilty. Since Evangelical churches, pastors, parachurch groups and the college I attended are a part of my storyline, I decided their names should be part of my story. Doing this has upset a lot of people, especially when a web search for their name, church, or group brings up my blog on the first page.

If you take time to search for websites mentioning my name, you will find sites with articles deconstructing my life. You will also find my name and articles mentioned on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Free Jinger, Reddit, and a number of public/private sites.

Since I write using my real name, and I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world, it is not hard to find a wealth of information, positive and negative. I knew when I started blogging that I would open myself up to intense scrutiny. I knew that people would lie about me, distort my story, and try to besmirch my character. This is the price I pay for being a public figure.

Those of you who have read this blog for years know I stopped blogging several times when the emotional and mental stress became too much. (That I have been blogging now for six years straight is nothing short of a miracle.) What changed? Thanks to me seeing a counselor on a regular basis, I have learned to handle the stress that comes from having a public blog that is widely read. This doesn’t mean that I plan on blogging until Jesus comes again, but I hope I have enough mental and emotional wherewithal to withstand the pressures that come my way. If anything puts an end to my writing career it will be chronic illness and unrelenting pain. Recent health circumstances have had me circling the proverbial blogging drain, but, so far, I have been able to find the stopper, keeping me from disappearing. No promises, but I live for another day.

Several years ago, a man by the name of Steve Ransom sent me an email that I shared with readers in a post titled Steve Ransom Lays Down a Challenge to Bruce and His Fellow Atheists. He purported to have a new argument that he was sure would set me back on the right path to God. All he really had was a deconstruction of my life, and how I had followed a false God. There was a time such a deconstruction would cause me mental and emotional angst. Not anymore.

When I started blogging, I thought if I just told my story people would understand, even if they disagreed with me. I thought if I just explained myself, that my critics would at least understand my viewpoint. I know, I know, quite naïve of me.

This subject came up one day during counseling. I expressed my dismay over Evangelicals not being willing to accept my explanation of my life. Who knows my life better than me, right? My counselor told me:

Bruce, you think they care what you think? They don’t give a shit about what you think.

And he is right. I know that those who tear into my life aren’t interested in anything I have to say. They have read a handful of posts, maybe even twenty-five or thirty, and they are now ready to render judgment, and render they do. It’s happened countless times over the years, and it will happen in future. Evangelicals can’t help themselves, so I let them have one opportunity to say whatever is on their mind. One comment, that’s it. Then it is time for them to move on.

There was a time when I engaged every Evangelical commenter. I thought if I just explained myself, they would understand. I now know better. Now that I know they don’t give a shit, neither do I.

Of particular note are Evangelical critics who think they have me figured out psychologically. Instead of accepting at face value my explanation for why I left the ministry and left Christianity, they delve into what they believe are the psychological reasons for my divorce from Jesus and my abandonment of the church. According to them, I abandoned all I loved and held dear because I was angry, bitter, jaded, hated God, ad infinitum. Instead of accepting at face value what I say about my Evangelical past, these critics, use a nit comb to go through my life, looking for the “real” reason I am an atheist today. 

I used to try to answer such people, but after years of doing so, I decided to leave them to their own devices. I know that nothing I say will change their minds, so why bother, right? Such people are not my target audience, so why give one moment of my time to them. I remain committed to helping those who have doubts about Christianity and those who have left the faith. They are my church, not those who sit in the back pews throwing horse shit at me as I share my life’s story.

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, Why Did You Start to See a Secular Counselor?

i have a question

I recently asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question you would like me to answer, please leave your question on the page, Your Questions, Please.

Brian asked:

I admire the personal work that you have done to be able to garner perspective about your directions in life. It sometimes seems that the vast majority of folks are not able to seek professional help in dealing with trauma in their lives.

Very often, when listening to someone tell some personal history, I will use the word ‘trauma’ in expressing sympathy, in acknowledging the tale but so often I am rebuffed with something like: “No, it wasn’t traumatic. So many people have terrible things they have to deal with and mine wasn’t like that at all…” The vast majority, once again, seem pre-therapy and not really ready to make that step to include real feeling, real self-care in their lives. They distance themselves from the heart.

Christianity, particularly evangelical sorts encourages people to look to God for cures, for help, for everything! And unless a therapist is in the bubble, they are of-the-world and thereby suspect in the work they do.

I wonder if you would speak some more to how and why you started to see a counsellor. You have spoken to this issue before in passing but could you share with us some of the feelings that allowed/suggested counselling was a direction to go. You have mentioned being ostracized and alone in your search. You were a hardliner IFB preacher who studied how to become a hardliner’s hardliner. Yet, eventually, your direction brought you to an exit sign. Perhaps you have said all you wish to regarding this matter but I think in these times of trouble, it might be helpful to share some more about your way of healing, the coping with God’s army at your door, the struggle with lonely choices. It’s a lot to ask, I know and feel free to set it aside if that is necessary.

Thanks for the question, Brian.

I grew up in a home dominated by mental illness. My mom tried to kill herself numerous times, finally succeeding in the 1990s. (Please see Barbara.) She was fifty-four. Mom was placed in a mental hospital for two lengthy stints when I was a teenager. To say that Mom’s illness was traumatic for me would be a gross understatement. I still bear the psychological scars from her manic episodes, attempted suicides, and being cruelly asked to perform her funeral after she killed herself with a Ruger revolver. I am weeping as I write this. Oh, how I miss my mother. I grieve the fact that she never got to know most of my children and none of my grandchildren. I told my youngest daughter the other day that Mom would have loved her oldest son, two-and half-year-old Ezra. He is, in every way, a spitting image of his grandfather. He is impulsive, ornery, and rambunctious. I imagined my mom telling Laura, “Ezra’s a little shit just like your dad was.” So many memories left unmade because of mental illness and suicide.

As a teen and a young man, I quickly learned to keep my feelings safely in the arms of Jesus. As a devout Evangelical Christian, and later a pastor, I believed that God was in control of everything and that would never give me more in my life than I could handle. Every bit of trauma and adversity in my life was God testing me, increasing my faith, or chastising me for a known/unknown sin. Whatever came my way, I sucked it up, believing that it was all part of God’s wonderful plan for my life.

Of course, psychologically (and later physically) things were not okay with me. I struggled with deep, long-lasting bouts of depression and on many occasions had thoughts of killing myself. To the outside world and to the churches I pastored, I was the model Christian and pastor, but my wife and our children saw the “real” Bruce Gerencser. No matter how much a depressive tries, he can’t hide his trauma and struggles from those who are close to him. Mom’s mental struggles, my parents’ divorce after 15 years of marriage, moving from school to school and house to house, witnessing Mom being raped by her brother-in-law, finding Mom lying a pool of blood after she had slit her wrists, knowing Mom had been sexually molested by my grandfather, my own molestation by a relative as a young boy, having a father who likely knew I wasn’t his biological son — a father who never said “I love you” or attended one of my ballgames or school events — and spending much of my young life living in poverty, often having to steal money for lunch and shoplift to get school clothes, is it any wonder that I might have a problem with depression; that I might have thoughts of killing myself?

This was a heavy load for a young man to carry, and carry it I did until I was in my forties. I finally reached a place where I recognized I was in trouble; that if I didn’t seek professional (non-religious) help that I was going to become a statistic, a sorry story on the obituary page of the local newspaper. Yet, it took me two more years before I saw a counselor. I made several appointments with one counselor, only to cancel the appointments. I was worried that someone I knew would see my car at the clinic or see me going into the counselor’s office. I couldn’t bear being “exposed” to people who knew me. Bryan is the town of my birth. I have family scattered all over rural northwest Ohio. What if people found out I was a “nutjob”? “Just like his mother!”

It wasn’t until we bought our home in Ney (2007) and we deconverted from Christianity (2008) that I finally sought professional care from a secular psychologist by the name of Dr. David Deal. Past trauma, along with the loss of faith and career had put me in a desperate place. It was David who came along side me for the next decade and helped me to unravel my past and understand my struggles, along with helping me build coping mechanisms in my life. I will be forever grateful for all that he did for me.

The first thing we did in counseling was peel back my life. David likened it to peeling an onion one layer at a time. Painful and teary-eyed to be sure. When I left Christianity, I left all I had ever known. I had been a pastor for twenty-five years. My whole identity was wrapped up in being Pastor Bruce or Preacher. Now that my faith and career were gone, I was left with answering the question, “who am I?” “What do I want in this life?” By this time, health problems had added a whole new layer of complexity. Being in pain all the time is enough to drive anyone to thoughts of suicide, let alone a depressive such as I am.

Over time, I began to understand my past and began building a healthier understanding of self. I like to think I have become a better man, husband, father, and grandfather. Do I still battle depression? Do I still have thoughts of suicide? Yep. As Dexter the serial killer was fond of saying, depression and suicidal thoughts are my “dark passenger.” Recent new health problems and hospitalization drove me to the edge of despair. I told Polly, “I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t . . .” Fortunately, my dark passenger withdrew into the recesses of my mind. I am not better health-wise, but psychologically I am in a better place — at least enough so that I am not dwelling on suicide.

COVID-19 has made it impossible for me to see Dr. Deal. I hope that this pandemic will soon come to an end. He and I have a hell of a lot of stuff to talk about. Until then, I continue to write. David urged me to keep writing; that doing so would help others and also provide an outlet for my passion. I write because I must do so. Without writing for this site, I am not sure I would make it through a typical week. This blog allows me to tell my story. It is, I suppose, a digital journal of sorts, with entries of millions of words since December 2014.

Thank you for “hearing” my story and continuing to support what I do.

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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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Why I Thought I was “Qualified” to Counsel Others

want truth read bible

Recent posts about Christian counseling caused more than a few outraged Evangelical counselors to object to my assertions. (Please see Beware of Christian Counselors, Questions: Should People Trust Christian Counselors with Degrees from Secular Schools?, and Outrage Over Christian Counselor Post.) Of particular note were the people who emphatically said that pastors are NOT counselors; that pastors offer congregants spiritual advice, and not professional counseling (regardless of what congregants believe they are receiving).

Anyone who has attended an Evangelical church knows that such an assertion is false. Pastors routinely counsel people — both inside and outside of their churches — and counselees believe they are receiving professional services. I don’t know of an Evangelical preacher who doesn’t provide counseling services. It is for this reason that I wrote the post Beware of Christian Counselors. Just because a man is a pastor doesn’t make him qualified to counsel people. In fact, I would argue that many pastors cause incalculable harm by posing as trained and qualified counselors — their only qualifications being that they own a Bible and can read.

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Over the course of my ministerial career, I counseled hundreds of people. When people walked into my office, they believed — without ever checking — that I was qualified to provide counseling services; that I had all the answers for whatever was ailing them. Why did I think I was “qualified” to counsel people?

I grew up in churches where the pastor (or youth director) was considered God’s Answer Man®. Armed with an inspired, inerrant, and infallible King James Bible, my pastors were ready, willing, and able to dispense supposed life-changing wisdom. I watched my mentally-ill mother suffer through countless pastoral counseling sessions without ever getting the help that she needed. Her failure to respond to their Biblical admonitions was, according to our pastors, a lack of obedience on her part to God/Church/Bible. Her confinements to Toledo State Mental Hospital, drug addiction, and periodic electroshock therapy treatments should have been screaming warning signs to these men of God, but they weren’t. Mom wanted
“God’s best” for her life, so she sought out counseling from her pastors. Every pastor believed he could “fix” Barbara. Arrogant to the end, these servants of God believed they offered the mentally ill the same deliverance Jesus gave the Maniac of Gadara. Mom finally found the deliverance she so desperately sought. One Sunday morning, she turned a Ruger .357 magnum on herself, blowing a hole in her heart. Mom ignominiously died in a matter of minutes. She was 54. (Please see Barbara.) All praise be to Jesus, right? At least she was “saved” and went to Heaven.

I don’t remember a time before her death when Mom’s mental health problems weren’t a part of my life. For the longest time, I shamefully believed that Mom was just a drug addict who loved sin more than she loved Jesus. If she would only repent and follow the teachings of the Bible, all would be well. Oh, how I wish life offered do-overs! I guarantee you that my mom would have received different care; that I would have been a better son. Would the outcome have changed? I don’t know, but one thing is for sure, I will NEVER have the opportunity to find out.

Young preachers tend to model what they see in the lives of their pastors and older colleagues in the ministry. I know I did. I never heard one pastor or colleague suggest that he was anything but competent to counsel church members. I never heard one sermon that ever suggested that anything other than Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible were answers for the human condition. Secular counselors and mental health treatment were routinely ridiculed and condemned. It was even suggested that “mental illness” was nothing more than the result of disobedience to God.

In the mid-1970s, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. Many of my professors were graduates of Midwestern — quite the incestuous relationship. Professors sporting doctorates were often honorary doctors, having received this recognition from Midwestern or another IFB school. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) All told, I took one class related to counseling. Most of the class was spent “debunking” secular psychology and counseling. Everything I experienced at Midwestern taught me that my pastors and colleagues were right: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible were all that people needed to successfully navigate life.

I entered the ministry believing that I was called by God to “shepherd” his flock (fellow Christians), and offer them infallible counsel and help from the Word of God. I sincerely believed that the Bible was God’s answer book; a divine blueprint for life; a standard by which Christians were to live their lives. I believed the answer to every question was “Thus Saith the Lord!” My past experiences with my mom should have taught me differently, but I viewed her as a rebellious sinner, and not someone who needed physical and psychological help.

As a pastor, I counseled hundreds of congregants and outsiders. Not one time did I say to a counselee, “you need professional help.” How could I? My entire life and ministry were built upon the notion that “With God (and by extension the Bible) All Things Are Possible.” In my mind, Jesus and the Bible were a vending machine. Just push the proper buttons for whatever was ailing a person, and out came the answer. When you believe, as Evangelicals do, in the sufficiency of Scripture, to do anything that suggests otherwise is heresy.

I know that what I have written so far sounds insane to non-Evangelical Christians and unbelievers. However, when you live in the Evangelical bubble, everything makes sense. The Bible as the manual for mental illness? Yes, Praise Jesus! Prayers as a cure for whatever ails you? Absolutely! In a self-contained world — built brick-upon-brick with verses from an ancient religious text — such nonsense seems reasonable. When you are told for years that the “world” is out to destroy you and your family, and that safety and protection can only be found in Jesus, the church, and the Holy Bible, the level of dysfunction and harm should come as no surprise. It was not until I left the ministry (2005) and left Christianity (2008), that I was able to experience life outside of the Evangelical box. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box.) It was then, as many of you can attest in your own lives, that I realized that I had a lot of bat-shit crazy beliefs. I had caused incalculable harm to people who loved me and called me preacher. While they bear some blame for the damage done (and sadly many former congregants are still being ritually abused in Evangelical churches), I bear the greater burden. I had a duty and responsibility to competently help them. Instead, I arrogantly believed, as the Apostle Paul did, that I could be “all things to all men.” Marital problems? Rebellious children? Substance abuse? Sexual dysfunction? Suicidal thoughts? Mental illness? Financial problems? Praise be to Jesus, I had ALL the answers. Except, I didn’t, and for that, I will forever live with regret. I can’t fix the past, but I sure as hell can warn people about what goes on behind closed office doors in countless Evangelical churches and Christian counseling “ministries.”

About Bruce Gerencser

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

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Outrage Over Christian Counselor Post

lord that heals you

Last Friday, I published two posts focused on Christian counseling. The first post, Beware of Christian Counselors, was an expanded repost of an article originally posted in 2015. The second post, Questions: Should People Trust Christian Counselors with Degrees from Secular Schools? was the first answer in the Your Questions, Please series. Thanks to these posts being shared on social media, thousands of new readers came to this site, including many Evangelical Christian counselors. (The first post was also featured on the weekly link round-up published by Infidel753.)  I quickly found out that Evangelical counselors are a touchy lot. I received numerous comments, emails, and social media messages from outraged, butt-hurt counselors who were offended by what I wrote. Several of them took it upon themselves to psychoanalyze me. One Evangelical counselor read all of one post and concluded, “I am concerned that your atheism is more of a result of a wound from fundamentalism than it is rational thought.” Several other counselors told me that my post was harmful to people with mental health problems. Why? According to thse counselors, people needing professional help might read this post and avoid seeking out counseling. Not really. At best, they might avoid seeking out overtly CHRISTIAN therapy, and to that I say, Amen, all praise be to Loki.

These offended counselors assured me that Christian counselors were capable of compartmentalizing their beliefs; of separating their theology from their practice. Now, if these counselors were mainstream liberal Christians, I would be inclined to agree with them. However, if spending fifty years in the Christian church and twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches has taught me anything, it is that most Evangelicals are unable to compartmentalize their beliefs when at work — be they doctors, nurses, school teachers, factory workers, or counselors. I could spend the next several days detailing experiences where Evangelical Christians crossed professional and ethical boundaries, thinking it was their obligation, duty, and responsibility to put in a good word for Jesus. I am sure readers of this blog have stories of their own — times when Evangelicals tried to evangelize them or offer unsolicited Biblical advice. Over the past twelve years, I have received thousands of emails from Evangelicals who took it upon themselves to write me, even after being warned that I am NOT interested in receiving such emails. In their minds, fidelity to Jesus and the Bible trumped personal boundaries and respect.

Beliefs have consequences. What we believe materially affects how we view the world and our place in it. Just as it is impossible to separate a skunk from its smell, it is impossible to separate our beliefs from who and what we are. Granted, we can, at times, set aside our beliefs, choosing not to engage people who believe differently from us. I live in rural northwest Ohio. Evangelical Christianity permeates every aspect of life. Public atheists are almost as rare as the ivory-billed woodpecker.

I’ve been encouraged in recent years by younger locals who are more willing to publicly challenge tribal and cultural-religious norms. That said, many atheists and agnostics keep their beliefs to themselves out of fear of losing their jobs or harming interpersonal relationships. I, for one, don’t talk about religion or atheism in public unless asked. The same goes for Facebook. It takes all of ten seconds to plug my name into a search engine and find out all sorts of things about me, including my pants inseam, hobbies, marital status, where I live, and yes, what my beliefs are concerning religion in general, and Christianity in particular. Several weeks ago, a post of mine was shared on a local Facebook discussion forum. Thousands of locals visited this site for the first time. There’s nothing that I can do about such exposure — not that I would want to. I am a writer, so I want people to read my writing. However, I also have to peacefully live amid people who differ from me in virtually every aspect of life. Why do we differ? Our beliefs.

The suggestion that beliefs don’t affect how we look at others and interact with them is absurd. Evangelical Christian counselors are not immune to this either. In fact, I would argue that it is HARDER for them to disconnect themselves from their beliefs than most people. Counselors are in a position to help people when they are most vulnerable. If counselors believe that there is one true God, Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life, and the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, it is impossible for them to disconnect their lives from these beliefs when entering their places of employment. This is especially so for Evangelical counselors. How can their beliefs not affect their interaction with clients? Of course, some counselors advertise their Christianity, letting believers know that they will receive “sound” Biblical counsel and advice from them. This is no different from some counselors advertising the secular nature of their work. I don’t have a problem with counselors having presuppositions — be they religious or secular. All I ask is that Evangelical counselors make these beliefs known at the start; that they don’t spring on unwary clients their peculiar Bible-based beliefs.

I am sure more than a few Evangelical Christian counselors will continue to assert that they are capable of compartmentalizing their beliefs. I don’t believe this is possible, but let me ask a few questions to see if, perhaps, I am wrong.

  • Do you believe there is one true God — yours?
  • Do you believe that all humans are sinners and in need of redemption through the merit and work of Jesus Christ?
  • Do you believe that humans are born alienated from God?
  • Do you believe it is the responsibility of Christians to evangelize unbelievers?
  • Do you believe there is a Hell where all non-Christians will spend eternity being tortured by God?
  • Do you believe life begins at conception?
  • Do you believe abortion is murder?
  • Do you believe in the Christian concept of sin?
  • Do you believe that all sex activity outside of marriage is sin?
  • Do you believe LGBTQ people choose to be gay, lesbian, etc.?
  • Do you believe homosexuals can sexually change?
  • Do you believe gender reassignment surgery is wrong?

Every Evangelical I know would, with Holy Ghost gusto, answer YES! to these questions. Pray tell, how would such beliefs not materially affect how Evangelical Christian counselors interact with counselees? What if a client wanted to have an abortion, what would Evangelical counselors say? What if a client wanted to change their gender, marry their same-sex partner, have sex before marriage, or engage in any of the numerous behaviors considered sin? Would the best interest of the client be paramount, or would fidelity to Jesus and the teachings of the Bible take precedence?

The Christian counselors who expressed outrage over my posts want me to believe that they can objectively separate their beliefs from their work. I don’t believe that for a moment. Such a disconnect would be akin to an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher secretly taking on a part-time job as a bouncer at a strip club. Imagine one night coming face to face with Deacon Bob. The preacher looks at the deacon, the deacon, the preacher, both with a look that says, “what in the Hell are you doing here?” And in Holy Ghost unison, each says to the other, “Brother, I am here to evangelize sinners!” Now, both the preacher and deacon are likely at the strip club for other than religious reasons, but their beliefs are never far away. (Please see The Preacher Goes to the XXX Movie House) So it is with Evangelical counselors. When push comes to shove, if the counselor is a committed follower of Jesus, his or her beliefs are bound to surface.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Should People Trust Christian Counselors with Degrees from Secular Schools?

i have a question

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me.  All questions will be answered in the order they are received.

Troy asked:

In a local village forum on Facebook, a local Christian counselor spammed his services. I started a bit of a controversy by linking your warning about Christian counseling. I’m not against such religious counseling, but I do think people need to be warned that they aren’t licensed by the state. This guy retorts that he has a masters from a dual accredited school and offers anecdotes of high success rate with some that have tried secular counseling previously. It isn’t really mentioned in your own blog post, but I’d be interested to see your opinion on it, in particular about the dual accreditation.

Troy asked me this question on Facebook, but I thought it would make an excellent question for me to answer publicly. Before reading this post, you might want to read the post Troy mentions, Beware of Christian Counselors. In that post, I give an in-depth look at how utterly unqualified many Evangelical pastors are to provide counseling services. Thanks to the separation of church and state, the federal government and many state governments take a hands-off approach to what happens at houses of worship. Here in Ohio, pastors are free to provide counseling services to anyone who asks for them. In the early 1980s, I was the assistant pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. I was in my twenties at the time. One young adult — who attended the church from time to time — would frequently stop by my office to talk to me. On numerous occasions, he told me that he was thinking about killing himself. Red light, warning sign, right? This man told me that the only thing holding him back from ending his life was not knowing whether suicide was the unpardonable sin. He was afraid that if he killed himself, God would send him to Hell. This went on for weeks until one day I told him, why don’t you kill yourself and find out? Even now, as I read these words, I am horrified. It matters not whether the man was serious about ending his life or just wanted me to listen to him talk. If the man had actually killed himself, I know that I would have been culpable in his death — but protected by the clergy-congregant seal. Having battled depression and suicidal thoughts much of my adult life, I can only imagine how I might have responded if a pastor told me, why don’t you kill yourself and find out? This is one of those times where the only thing I can say is that I was a stupid young man who allowed my busyness and impatience to affect my relationship with a congregant. The young man, by the way, never “bothered” me again.

Many Christian colleges and universities are accredited. However, it is important to ask who, exactly, is the accrediting body. More than a few Christian colleges are accredited by groups that were established for the express purpose of giving Evangelical institutions cover when being questioned about accreditation. The best way to determine if an institution’s accreditation is of any value is to find out if they accept Pell Grants or VA Education Benefits. If they don’t, it is likely that their “accreditation” is little more than wallpaper covering a hole in a wall.  Looks nice, but structurally there are likely to be problems.

Let me be clear, I am not anti-Christian education. Evangelicals are, for the most part, anti-culture. They have spent the past hundred years building a subculture that caters to the wants, needs, and whim Evangelical Christians. I call this subculture the Christian Ghetto. What Evangelicals do is take what the secular world offers and slap the word Christian in front of it: Christian bookstore, Christian music, Christian coffee shop, Christian TV, Christian radio, etc. Sometimes, the word Christian is omitted, and icons are used instead: a cross or the ichthus (fish) symbol. The icons are meant to say to people, “Hey, I am a member of the Jesus club, spend your money here!” As an atheist, when I see such signs, I immediately look elsewhere. Even as a Christian, I frequented businesses based on the quality of their work, and not whether we shared a common faith.

People who live in areas where Evangelicalism has a strong presence can find it difficult or impossible to find a counselor who is not a Christian or doesn’t use “Biblical” methods with clients. One of my sons is a former drug addict. For several years, he drove to Toledo to attend group therapy. The program director was a state-licensed social worker who also happened to be an Evangelical Christian. Most of her techniques were standard operating procedure. However, on more than a few occasions, the woman would tell the group that if they truly wanted deliverance from their addictions, then JESUS was the answer. She would then invite the group to visit her church, where the — wink-wink — “real” answers could be found.

And therein is the problem when you have Evangelical counselors who have state licensure but also have devout religious backgrounds. Rare are Evangelical counselors who can compartmentalize their religious beliefs. I don’t fault them for being unable to do so. Christianity for Evangelicals is more than clothes you wear on Sundays; it’s a worldview, a way of life. Evangelical counselors can no more separate themselves from their beliefs than skunks can separate themselves from their smell.

If Evangelicals want Christian counselors to talk to, that’s fine. That said, pastors and counselors should be required to tell counselees the extent of their training and licensure. And this goes for Evangelicals who are licensed social workers. Such people can’t work in secular settings unless they are willing to build a wall between their religious beliefs and accepted counseling practices. Unfortunately, many Evangelical social workers feel led by God to reach those in need with the gospel and teachings of the Bible. Evangelical social workers know they can’t outwardly and publicly share their faith, so they, instead, look for low-key, behind-the-scenes opportunities to put in a good word in for Jesus. For example, an Evangelical social worker with the welfare department might have a client whose pregnant and already has five young children. The woman asks the social worker what services and programs are available to her. A conscientious social worker would tell the overburdened woman about ALL her options — including abortion. The Evangelical social worker, however, is anti-abortion, so she refers the woman to the local pro-life crisis pregnancy center.

There are countless ways a counselor’s Evangelical beliefs can get in the way of competently helping a client. In the above-mentioned scenario, the social worker committed malpractice and should be fired and have her license revoked. As for the counselor mentioned by Troy, I would want to know where he received his training and licensure. As far as his religious approach to counseling being superior and producing “better” results than secular counseling, I would want more than anecdotal stories to prove his claims. For Christians, Jesus ALWAYS produces superior results, so I suspect that this man likely doesn’t have empirical evidence to back up his claims. He just knows it to be true!

About Bruce Gerencser

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

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Beware of Christian Counselors

bible has all the answers

Originally published in February 2015. Edited, corrected, and expanded.

In communities where Evangelical Christianity dominates the culture, it is often hard to find a counselor/psychologist who is not a Christian. It stands to reason that, in a predominantly Christian culture, most counselors would be Christian. This is not a problem if the counselors are able to compartmentalize their religious beliefs, but many counselors who are Christian can’t or won’t do this.

When counselors believe the Bible is an authoritative text, and the standard for moral and ethical conduct, it’s impossible for them to counsel someone objectively. No matter how much they tell themselves otherwise, sooner or later their religious beliefs will affect the advice they give to their clients. The skunk/smell analogy applies here. You can’t separate a skunk from his smell, and neither can you separate an Evangelical Christian from his or her presuppositions and beliefs.

Back when I was still an Evangelical pastor, I started taking classes to become a licensed social worker. It wasn’t long before my Bible-based beliefs were conflicting with what I was being taught in class. I asked the dean of the department:

Suppose I am a licensed social worker and I am working for the Department of Human Services. The client is pregnant and is thinking about getting an abortion. Since I am a Christian and I think abortion is morally wrong, would I be able to counsel the woman according to my pro-life beliefs?

The department head made it very clear that, based on my religious and moral beliefs, I would have a hard time working in a secular/state environment. She suggested that I might be able to work for a private, religious service provider, but my religious beliefs would likely preclude me from working in a secular setting.

Of course, this offended me. I thought that I should be able to push my religious beliefs on others. I now see that the department head gave me sound advice. Evangelical Christians often demand they be permitted to work any job in any profession and not be forced to compartmentalize their beliefs. (A current example of this is Evangelical pharmacists who want the right to withhold morning-after drugs from women who might be pregnant.) However, there are some professions where people’s religious beliefs would preclude them from working in that field because their beliefs would not allow them to provide a client or a customer certain services or goods.

Many pastors provide counseling services. Here in Ohio, a pastor is not required to have ANY training before counseling someone. The fact that the counseling is done through the church exempts the pastor from any governmental oversight. I knew several pastors who were high school dropouts, with no theological or counseling training, who regularly counseled people — both in and outside of their churches. In the twenty-five years I pastored churches, I never had one person ask me if I was qualified to be a counselor. If asked, I would have told them I took a one-semester counseling class that was more about debunking secular counseling than in techniques to help people. (The professor was a pastor who had no training in counseling.) I did, however, get an A in the class.

Many pastors don’t think they need specialized training to counsel people. After all, the inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible has the answer to every question and problem. All a pastor needs to do is figure out what the problem is and find the appropriate Bible verse that addresses the issue. Every difficultly is reduced to obedience/disobedience, sin/righteousness, God/Satan, flesh/spirit. These kinds of pastors are very dangerous because they give simplistic answers to complex problems. It is not uncommon to find pastors counseling congregants who have medically diagnosed conditions, but want “God’s help” to overcome their mental illness.

Before seeing a pastor for counseling, a prospective client should ask about his training and qualifications. Even if a pastor has college-level training, the value and extent of that training depends on where he got the training. Many Evangelical colleges have counseling programs that do little more than teach pastors how to proof-text any problem. Many Evangelical colleges teach some form of nouthetic counseling:

Nouthetic counseling (Greek: noutheteo, to admonish) is a form of pastoral counseling that holds that counseling should be based solely upon the Bible and focused upon sin. It repudiates mainstream psychology and psychiatry as humanistic, radically secular and fundamentally opposed to Christianity. Its viewpoint was originally articulated by Jay E. Adams, in Competent to Counsel (1970) and further books, and has led to the formation of a number of organizations and seminary courses promoting it. The viewpoint is opposed to those seeking to synthesize Christianity with secular psychological thought, but has failed to win them over to a purely Biblical approach. Since 1993, the movement has renamed itself Biblical counseling to emphasize its central emphasis on the Bible. The Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling states that “The aim of Nouthetic Counseling is to effect change in the counselee by encouraging greater conformity to the principles of Scripture.”

Ponder, for a moment, the aim of nouthetic counseling: “to effect change in the counselee by encouraging greater conformity to the principles of Scripture.” In other words, get right with God, and obey the teachings of the Bible (as interpreted by the pastor/church). Imagine being a woman and seeing a pastor for counseling who just so happens to endorse patriarchal thinking, complementarianism, and quiverfull philosophy.  Women not indoctrinated in such teachings will find themselves at odds with their counselors (pastors) and churches. If a woman has egalitarian beliefs, what should she do? Her trusted advisor’s goal is not to “help” her per se, as much as it is to get her to conform to certain theological beliefs.

Some Evangelical pastors go so far as to say that mental illness is the result of demonic oppression or possession. Again, the Bible becomes the solution to whatever problem a person may be having. Whether the problem is due to sin or a demon, God and the Bible are always the cure for whatever ails the person. This approach rarely addresses core issues and, in some cases, can lead to more problems, including suicide.

Imagine for a moment, an Evangelical woman going to her pastor for help. He listens to her “confession” and then prescribes whatever Bible verse is appropriate. The woman profusely thanks the pastor, and leaves his office determined to put the Word of God into practice. Perhaps this works for a day, a week, or a month, but, sooner or later, the problem returns. She goes back to the pastor, and he reminds her of what the Bible says. He tells her that she needs to repent, walk in the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, put on the whole armor of God, withstand the devil, etc. The message is clear: If you are still having a problem it is YOUR FAULT!

I know some pastors will be offended by what I am about to say next, but I need to be clear: Most Evangelical pastors are unqualified to counsel people. They lack the necessary training to provide counseling competently, and their commitment to the Bible keeps them from properly helping people. It’s one thing if people have questions about the Bible or are questioning their faith. Certainly, those people should seek out their pastor’s counsel on spiritual matters. However, many so-called “spiritual” problems are actually mental/physical/emotional problems which pastors dress up in religious garb. An untrained pastor has no business counseling people who have mental/physical/emotional problems.

Sadly, many people think pastors are experts on everything. Little do they know that many pastors aren’t even experts on the Bible, let alone anything else. Many Evangelical colleges have turned their pastor-training programs into business and marketing programs. Actual training in the fundamentals of the ministry and the Bible is often quite limited. Many pastors-in-training will graduate from college without ever having studied most of the books of the Bible (and OT or NT survey classes don’t count). Many Evangelical pastors-in-training only take one or two counseling classes. Yet, because they have taken these classes, these pastors think they are qualified to be counselors. They may not be counselors, but they did stay at a Holiday Inn, right?  I know several pastors who got counseling degrees from Christian mail-order diploma mills (along with other advanced degrees, including doctorates). (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) They proudly let everyone know that they have a degree in counseling and are qualified to counsel all comers, yet truth be told, they are as ignorant as backwoods moonshiners.

Over the years, I counseled hundreds of people. Not one time did I tell people that they needed to see a medical professional or a psychologist. I firmly believed the Bible had all the answers. My judgment was further clouded by the fact that my mother was mentally ill, was on all kinds of drugs, was treated by psychiatrists, and attempted suicide numerous times before eventually killing herself at age 54. (Please see Barbara) I considered psychologists and psychiatrists to be enablers who encouraged people to continue in their sin.

In the late 1980s, I was visiting with a fellow pastor in his office when a severely agitated young man came into the office. The man was either high on drugs or mentally disturbed. I thought my pastor friend would try to calm the man down and offer him some Biblical counsel. Instead, he told the man that he needed medical help. My pastor friend took him to the hospital in Zanesville and dropped him off. I was shocked that he did this. When I questioned him, he told me that he was unqualified to help the man. He was the first pastor I ever heard say such a thing. I now know he was right.

I did have two members who ended up seeking treatment at a stress center. I had tried to help them, and when I couldn’t, they had sense enough to seek out competent help. Both of these women stopped going to church after they got out of the stress center. At the time, I saw this as an example of what happens when you go to the “world” for help. I now know that these women learned for themselves that the Bible was not the answer to their problems.

Most of the people I counseled learned to play the game that long-time Evangelicals are experts at playing; they learn to pretend. The Bible, God, praying, confession, and self-denial, are of little help to them; they can’t seek help outside the church, so they learn to fake having the “victory.” This leads them to live schizophrenic lives. Sadly, the person’s spouse, parent, or children know that their loved one doesn’t have the “victory” because, at home, that person can’t or won’t hide his or her mental health problems. It is one thing to pretend for an hour or two on Sundays, but rarely can a person pretend every hour of every day.

I spent most of my adult life playing the pretend game. I struggled with depression, perfectionism, and OCPD, and while I could hide it while at church, it was impossible to hide it at home. My wife and children suffered because I couldn’t get the “victory” over sin, the flesh, or whatever else the Bible and preachers said was “wrong” with me. I lived this way until 2010, when I finally decided that I needed to see a counselor. Next to marrying Polly, it was the single most important decision I ever made.

The psychologist I see has not “cured” me, but he does help me deal with depression and the mental and emotional struggles I have as a result of being chronically ill and in constant pain. I consider him to be a lifesaver. He has helped me to embrace my life as it is, and he has also helped me come to terms with my religious past. I know that I can talk to him about anything. He listens and then tries to constructively help me. Sometimes, he listens and says nothing. He knows that sometimes the help I need is just having someone to talk to. He doesn’t view me as a problem that needs fixing, and he allows me the space to be my authentic self. If I have learned one thing in counseling, it is who Bruce Gerencser really is. Before this could happen, layer after layer of religious belief and thinking had to be peeled away. At the heart of my difficulties was Evangelicalism and the Bible, and they had to be confronted head-on. Even now, as an atheist, my religious past and the beliefs I once held affect how I think and reason. I now realize that the scars of my religious past will always be there. The longer I live without religion and the Bible, the easier it becomes, but these things can, when I least expect it, come to the forefront and cause emotional and mental problems.

I know that some readers of this blog have similar pasts and are all too familiar with pastoral counseling and how the Bible is not the answer for whatever ails a person. If you are able to do so, please share your thoughts in the comment section. I know that others will be helped by you sharing your story.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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Bruce Gerencser