Tag Archive: Defiance County

Cannibalism, How New Evangelical Churches Grow

cool church

Originally posted in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

If where you live is anything like northwest Ohio, new Evangelical churches are sprouting up like weeds in a gravel parking lot. You know — the weeds that keep returning no matter how much Roundup you spray on them. Here in Defiance County, they have spiffy new names, hiding the fact that they are generic, mostly-Baptist, churches. They present themselves as fresh, new, exciting places to worship God, complete with a relational pastor and the best damn worship band in town (props to the Ohio State marching band). One local new church called itself Fresh Life. Two years later, “Fresh Life” turned into same old shit, different building, and the pastor felt called to go somewhere else.

Here in Defiance County, Ohio, there is zero need for new churches. We already have more than one hundred churches for 37,000 people. The population is aging and in decline, and almost everyone professes to be a Christian. God, guns, and Republican politics are on display everywhere one looks. Out-of-the-closet atheists are few, and even traditionally liberal churches tend to be conservative. Why, then, is there a plethora of new Evangelical churches?

I’ll give the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement credit for one thing: their churches are initially and primarily built on evangelism. Granted, they think everyone who doesn’t believe as they do is non-Christian and headed for hell, but they do make a concerted effort to evangelize the “unchurched.”

I was taught in Bible college that the best way to start a church was to find the meanest, baddest man in town and win him to Jesus. If this man became a Christian and started living for Jesus, it would be the best possible advertisement for the church. Here in Defiance County, I am not the meanest, baddest man in town, but I am considered the resident atheist who hates God and Christianity. I would think that pastors would be lining up at my door trying to win the preacher-turned-atheist to Jesus. In the twelve years my wife and I have lived in the shadow of five Evangelical churches, not one preacher has knocked on our door. Why is that?

In the 1970s, the charismatics came to this area and began pillaging local established churches. Overnight, churches lost membership and income. In the 1980s and 1990s, these new churches experienced meteoric membership and income growth. Today, these same churches are in decline as their members move on to the latest, greatest churches in town. You see, it’s not about Jesus, worship, or even doctrine. It’s all about getting the best show for the dollar.  Entertainment-driven Evangelicals want to be pampered and have their “felt” needs met. Fail to do this and they will leave, complaining that they are not being fed or God is leading them elsewhere. If you want to study religiously-driven narcissism, just stop by one of these new Matt Chandler, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Ed Young, Andy Stanley, Perry Noble, Tim Keller wanna-be churches. Services are consumer-driven buffets for fat Christians who are only interested in having their “felt” needs met.

Where do most of the members of these types of churches come from? Other local churches. Overwhelmingly, their growth is transfer growth. One new church in Defiance has multiple services filled with people who used to attend other local congregations. Church leaders think they are being blessed by God, but what they are really doing is cannibalizing other churches. I am sure there are a few new converts, but, for the most part, the growth is driven by people changing pews.

And here’s the thing . . . a decade or so from now, another new, glitzy, we-have-the-most-awesome-hip-preacher-in-town church will come to town and Christians will leave the old-new church for the new-new one. I have watched this happen time and again, like the rising and setting of the sun. Evangelicalism is driven not by devotion to God, concern for the lost, or care for the sick and hungry, but by a narcissistic need to be relevant. This is why they spend enormous amounts of money on buildings, staff, technology, and feed-lot fattening programs for Christians.

What’s really happening is that wandering Evangelicals are changing which club they belong to. And that’s fine as long as Evangelicals are willing to admit “why” they are doing so. However, they aren’t willing to acknowledge that their new hippity-hoppity church is just their old church with a bigger sound system, better drum player, more charismatic worship leader, better coffee, and a preacher who can really “speak” to them.

I watch from afar, amused at their self-absorbed attempts to be relevant in a culture that increasingly has no interest in what they are selling. Much the same as when a town becomes saturated with fast-food restaurants and they begin trying to steal each other’s customers, new Evangelical churches come to areas already saturated with Jesus and steal members from other churches. It’s fun to watch. May the best band win.

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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“We Accept Anyone No Matter What,” Local Evangelical Says

pastor kyle brownlee

I live in rural northwest Ohio, an area dominated by Evangelical Christianity. Even local mainline churches tend to skew to the right theologically and socially. The last church I attended before leaving Christianity was a United Methodist church. This church’s pastor was every bit as Evangelical as I was back in the day. I know of only one church that openly accepts LGBTQ people into their membership — St. John United Church of Christ in Defiance. (Please see Open and Affirming: St John United Church of Christ, Defiance, Ohio.)

Living in such a religious monoculture can be difficult for someone such as I. I love country living, so I have learned to adapt to my environment, even when I want to, at times, cuss, scream, and bang my hang on the wall. All of my children and grandchildren live within twenty minutes of my home. Every time I write a letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, I pause for a moment to contemplate how my words might affect my progeny. I don’t want to cause them harm, yet, at the same time, I can’t and won’t be silent. If I don’t speak up for atheism, reason, and liberal politics, who will? For several years, it seemed like I was the atheist lone ranger, alone in my challenges to local Evangelicalism. Recent years have brought a handful of new voices to the editorial page of the Crescent-News. Not all of them are unbelievers, but we do share a common view of Evangelical Christianity and its negative, harmful influence on our local communities.

Today’s post is another opportunity to challenge the local Evangelical status-quo. Several days ago, I was checking out a local Facebook group and I came upon a discussion about starting a countywide youth group. The woman who suggested this surely had good intentions: let’s all work together for the common good. Several people suggested that there was no need for such a group. “We have the YMCA, and several churches have established youth groups,” they said. One person mentioned Xperience Church in Defiance. “Are they accepting of LGBTQ youth?” one commenter asked. A member of Xperience Church replied, “We accept anyone no matter what.”

Xperience Church is the latest in a long string of local cool hipster Evangelical churches. Xperience currently meets at the YMCA, but rapid attendance growth has them spending in excess of $1 million (one online commenter said the project will cost over $3 million) to move to new digs at the Northtowne Mall — a facility that will seat 825 people.  The following video features Experience Church pastor Kyle Brownlee giving his “vision” for the future. Please try to listen to two or three minutes, if you dare. After that, you may need a barf bag.

Video Link

After listening to Brownlee’s “vision,” you know what I wanted to do? Run! The Evangelicals are Coming! The Evangelicals are Coming! Run for Your Life!

Imagine for a moment, that you are a member of Xperience Church, and week after week you listen to Brownlee’s peppy, inspiring sermons. Imagine hearing over and over Brownlee’s “vision” for Defiance and the surrounding communities. You might come to the conclusion that Xperience Church really does “accept anyone no matter what.” However, as I will show below, Xperience Church — beneath all the loud music and relational sermons — is, belief-wise, a garden variety Evangelical church; not any different from dozens of other churches in rural northwest Ohio. (Xperience Church is affiliated with the Association of Relational Churches.)

Brownlee and Xperience Church believe, and I quote:

We believe that the Bible is God’s Word. It is accurate, authoritative and applicable to our everyday lives.

We believe in one eternal God who is the Creator of all things. He exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. He is totally loving and completely holy. We believe that sin has separated each of us from God and His purpose for our lives.

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ as both God and man is the only One who can reconcile us to God. He lived a sinless and exemplary life, died on the cross in our place, and rose again to prove His victory and empower us for life.

We believe that in order to receive forgiveness and the ‘new birth’ we must repent of our sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and submit to His will for our lives. We believe that in order to live the holy and fruitful lives that God intends for us, we need to be baptized in water and be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to use spiritual gifts.

We believe in the power and significance of the church and the necessity of believers to meet regularly together for fellowship, prayer and growing in our faith.

We believe that God has individually equipped us so that we can successfully achieve His purpose for our lives which is to worship God, fulfill our role in the church and serve the community in which we live.

We believe that God wants to heal, set us free, and transform us so that we can live healthy and blessed lives in order to help others more effectively.

We believe that our eternal destination of either Heaven or Hell is determined by our response to the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back again as He promised.

The church’s Our Values page states:

We will be authentic in order to reach people who don’t know Christ.
To reach people no one is reaching, we’ll have to be real with where we’ve been and what God’s done to transform us. We’re not a group of perfect people, we are a group of people being perfected.

….

We believe the local church is the hope of the world.
We believe church is amazing. The church is God’s rescue plan for humanity and a place to introduce them to Jesus. Around here, we have a heart for building God’s House.

Having read these official statements of belief and philosophy, does anyone really think that Xperience Church would “accept anyone no matter what?” Of course not. This is nothing more than classic Evangelical subterfuge. (Please see Just Remember, Evangelicals Always Have an Agenda and The Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals.) Yes, anyone is welcome to walk in the doors of Xperience Church and attend their services. Whosoever will, let them come, right? However, is Xperience Church really “accepting of LGBTQ youth?”  Again, sure, as long as you don’t think about the question too hard. I am sure local LGBTQ students are welcome to attend the monthly youth meeting and weekly Sunday services. However, are the same students free to date other same-sex students? Are they free to speak openly and positively about their sexuality? If I attended Xperience Church, would I be permitted to preach the gospel of humanism and pass out Bart Ehrman’s books? Knowing what you know about Evangelical social beliefs, does anyone think Xperience Church truly has an open-door, live-as-you-want, be-true-to-self, policy? Of course not.

What the church member should have said is this: “we accept anyone no matter what, but thanks to Jesus and his awesome redeeming grace, we expect that unbelievers will be saved and become dutiful members of Xperience Church. We expect that the “anyones” will be transformed by the power of the Holy Ghost; that their addictions, perversions, and sins will be washed away by the mighty blood of Jesus Christ.” In other words, “yes, you are free to visit Xperience Church, but we will not leave you alone until you see things our, oops, I mean God’s way!”

I know people who attend Xperience Church, including family members, so I am not suggesting the church and its hipster pastor are evil. I have no doubt that they have good intentions. However, it is evident, at least to me, that Xperience Church is NOT open and accepting in the same way as St. John United Church of Christ.

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches. I understand Brownlee’s “vision” quite well. Been there, done that, thinking that God had tasked me alone to reach local sinners with the gospel. There are over 300 Christian churches in rural northwest Ohio. Did Defiance really need another church? Of course not. But, Brownlee and his wife believe God speaks to them. (Please see Do Evangelical Christians “Know” the Mind of God? Hearing the Still Small Voice of the Evangelical God, Hearing the “Voice of God.) The Brownlees are certain that big things await them as God uses Xperience Church to advance and expand the Kingdom of God. Never mind the fact that the bulk of Xperience church members have been pilfered from other churches. (Please see IFB Church Planting and How Church Planters Convinces Themselves Their Churches are “Special”, The Elevate City Church Con Job, and What Should I Do? There’s No Church in My Town that Teaches the “Truth”.) Sure, Xperience Church is adding new converts to their numbers, but everyone in Defiance is already a Christian — just ask them — so most of their numerical increase comes from transfer growth. (Please see Most Evangelicals Don’t Choose to Become Christians.)

Look, I don’t care what people do on Sundays. If people want to spend their Sunday mornings worshipping a mythical deity, fine. However, when it comes to going after unbelievers whom Evangelicals deem sick, broken, sinful, and in need of fixing, you can expect me to object. I am more than happy to share the same terra firma as worshippers of Jesus. All I ask is that they keep their beliefs to themselves. Now who is being delusional, right? Confrontational Evangelism is part of Evangelicalism’s DNA. Brownlee makes that clear in his “vision” video. When you believe your family, friends, and neighbors are vile enemies of God in need of salvation, it stands to reason you would do whatever is necessary to reach these lost heathens for Jesus. What remains to be seen is whether Brownlee and his church will stay “on-fire” for Jesus once they move into their new building. Or will Xperience Church, in time, become just like every other institutionalized, incestuous Evangelical church. My money is on the latter. ‘Tis the nature of Evangelical churches. Time and reality take the wind out the best of “vision” statements. Once local churches have been raided and sinful locals harassed until they get saved, what’s left for “cool” churches to do? I mean, isn’t church really all about who has the best worship band or the best preacher? What will happen when Xperience Church and its pastors become boring? Why, God will lead yet another church planter to static, dying Defiance County to establish a new church.

Just what we need, another hamburger joint.

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.

Local Christian Zealot Daniel Gray Calls Me a Liar in the Local Newspaper

liar liar pants on fire

As sure as the sun comes up in the morning, writing a letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News will elicit a response from local Christian zealot Daniel Gray. Here’s my recent letter to the editor:

President Donald Trump knows he has no hope of winning the 2020 election without white Evangelical Christians. In 2016, eighty-two percent of voting white Evangelicals cast their votes for Trump. For the President to win the upcoming general election, his conservative Christian base must come out in force. While some of Trump’s moral faux pas have caused base erosion, for the most part, Evangelicals continue to stand by their man.

Why do Evangelicals continue to support President Trump? I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. There was a time when Evangelical churches and pastors took resolute stands on moral virtue and ethics — especially for elected leaders. I remember my outrage over President Clinton’s sexual misbehavior and lying while in office. From the pulpit and in letters to the editors of local newspapers, I demanded his immediate removal from office. Twenty years later? Evangelicals now turn a blind eye to the behavior of a president who paid off porn stars, allegedly sexually assaulted women, possibly committed treason, and doesn’t go a day without factually and materially lying to the American people. What changed?

In the 1970s, Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich birthed the Moral Majority. This small, innocuous group morphed into Hydra — a multi-headed monster. Gaining critical mass in the 1990s, these groups forsook their moral underpinnings, choosing instead to imbibe the sewage water of raw political power. All that matters now is keeping control, outlawing abortion, shoving LGBTQ people back in the closet, and establishing a Christian theocracy. Evangelicals even go so far as to paint themselves as a persecuted religious minority. One need only listen to Trump’s recent incoherent “religious freedom” speech at the United Nations to know he has heard his Evangelical base loud and clear.

While it is undoubtedly true that religious persecution happens in many places — including North Korea and Saudi Arabia — Trump blocking the immigration of the primarily Muslim Rohingya people reveals that his recent “religious freedom” speeches are little more than reminders to Evangelicals that he has their back. I entered the ministry in the 1970s. I didn’t know of a preacher who didn’t believe in the separation of church and state. Today? Scores of Evangelicals deny this wall even exists. For this reason, people who genuinely value religious freedom for all — including unbelievers and non-Christians — must fight the religious right’s attempt to redefine “religious freedom.”

Gray quickly responded (behind paywall), defending his peculiar version of Republicanized Christianity and political deity, Donald Trump:

There is no such thing as separation of church and state, and anyone who claims there is is not telling the truth.
The Constitution was ratified in 1787. The very first mention of this myth was in a letter from Jefferson to the Baptist detractors in 1802, 15 years later. It was never mentioned before. To change the Constitution you need a constitutional amendment, not a letter or a decision by the Supreme Court.

Bruce Gerencser claims Trump paid off a porn star, and yet there is no evidence in any form of this. The porn star actually lost her case for lack of evidence, which means even she couldn’t prove it. Every one of the claimed sexual assaults that he claims happened has been disproved or thrown out of court with prejudice.

One of these claims was disproved by American Airlines as the plane it was claimed to have been committed on was not even in service at the time of the “assault” and the armrests on the plane when it was in service were welded down so they couldnt be moved. Gerencser still has not answered why since Trump had a private plane, why he would have been flying commercial.

Even Mueller’s report said there was no treason committed. But people like Gerencser would try to have you believe all their myths.

As for Ms. Singer [local Democrat and friend], she might want to pay attention to reality. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on March 21, 2016 that the Second Amendment protected all forms of weapons and ammo and add ons if they affected the operation of said weapon.

The decision is 577 U.S. (2016) — Jaime Caetano v. Massachusetts, meaning you can’t ban/tax/demand they be moved or made inoperable or regulated out of existence.

I have written several posts in the past about Daniel Gray, Bruce Gerencser, The Ney, Ohio Atheist and My Response to Daniel Gray’s Lies. Gray, in good Christian fashion, despises me, and rarely passes on an opportunity to call me a liar. Writers of letters to the editor may only submit one letter every thirty days. Sometimes, I will note the date of Gray’s last submission and time mine so he has to wait three or four weeks to respond. I know it kills him to not be able to set Bruce, the liberal atheist, “straight.” (There’s not been a time in the past 12 years where Gray has agreed with something I have written.)

I continue to find it astounding that many twenty-first century Evangelicals deny the existence of the separation of church and state; legal protection for churches from government interference if there ever was one. Gray, of course, is a theocrat, and the wall between church and state impedes his attempts and those of his fellow Christians to establish a Fundamentalist theocracy. I have long since given up trying to argue separation of church and state with the Grays of the world. My time and money are better spent supporting groups such as Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the American Civil Liberties Union as they defend religious freedom, including the separation of church and state.

As far as Gray’s denial of all-things-Trump, welcome to rural Northwest Ohio — the land of God, Guns, Christianity, and White Republicans. I long ago gave up on arguing politics with local right-wing Christians. Writing letters to the editors of local newspapers is akin to me poking a bear. Dare to write or say anything contrary to the accepted political and religious views, and out come the Daniel Grays of Defiance and Williams Counties. Donald Trump overwhelmingly won rural Northwest Ohio in 2016 (Defiance County: Trump-64%, Clinton-30%, Other-6%), and if he survives impeachment, locals will overwhelmingly vote for him again in 2020. And if he’s impeached? Locals love former Indiana governor and current Vice President Mike Pence even more. And if Pence is impeached too? Then all Hell will break loose. Nancy Pelosi is third in the line of presidential succession. I can only imagine local outrage over such a turn of events. While Obama fared somewhat better here in 2008 (Defiance County: McCain-54%, Obama-44%, Other-2%) and 2012 (Defiance County: Romney-56%, Obama-42%, Other-3%), Republican officeholders at the local and state level won every election. Currently, there’s not one Democratic officeholder in Defiance or Williams Counties. Ofttimes, the local Democratic Party doesn’t even field candidates — in effect giving the seats to Republicans. While the Defiance County Democratic Party (Facebook Page and Website) has shown signs of a pulse of late, local demographic numbers make it almost impossible, presently, for Democrats to win office. The future lies in a mass extinction of aged right-wing Republicans, and younger progressives and Democratic Socialists taking the helm of the local Democratic Party (which is currently mostly controlled by people age 60 and older). I will likely be ashes spread along the shore of eastern Lake Michigan before a local Democrat is elected to office. Cynical? Perhaps, but I choose reality over a liberal fantasy.

I pastored three churches in rural Northwest Ohio: Olive Branch Christian Union in Fayette, Our Father’s House in West Unity, and Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier. As a youth, I attended Eastland Baptist Church and First Baptist Church, both in Bryan. The membership of these churches reflected the God, Guns, Christianity, and White Republican demographic. When Democrat Bill Clinton was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, most local Christians supported the removal of Clinton from office. Why? His immoral behavior with Monica Lewinsky and the numerous conspiracy theories attributed to Clinton and his wife, Hillary. At the time, I railed against Bill Clinton’s immorality, both privately and from the pulpit — Johnson Amendment, be damned. I would like to think that if I were an Evangelical pastor today, that I would hold Trump to a similar account.

Most locals agreed with me when it came to God, morality, and the behavior of the Clintons. What’s changed in the intervening years? Evangelicals, conservative protestants, and right-wing Catholics have sold their souls for bowls of pottage. Instead of being pillars of moral virtue and promoting morality and ethics, many local Christians such as Daniel Gray, have traded these things for political power. There’s no other explanation for their ongoing support of President Trump. No matter what Trump does, the Grays of the world ignore his behavior, choosing instead to concoct and support all sorts of conspiracy theories. Trump was right when he said in January 2016:

I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.

Trump was, of course, talking about the loyalty of his supporters. Trump rightly believed that there was/is nothing he could/can do that would stop Republican voters from voting for him — especially white Evangelical voters. If cavorting with porn stars, paying hush money, grabbing women by the pussy, sexually assaulting women, and lying daily won’t turn locals away from their demigod, nothing will. While I think Trump’s civil war comments are blown out of proportion, there are confederate-flag-waving, racist local Trump supporters who wouldn’t think twice about using Sharron Angle’s “Second Amendment remedy”  to keep their king on his throne.

Such is life in rural Northwest Ohio. You can read local responses to my Letters to the Editor of the Crescent-News here.

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.

Cecil Community Church: Mass Marketing Jesus

tell the world about Jesus

Warning! Truckloads of snark and blasphemy ahead! Read at your own risk. Easily offended Evangelicals will likely fly into fits of rage, so to avoid having to repent over your angry outbursts, I suggest you avoid this post. You have been warned. Don’t whine and complain later.

Several months ago, I received in the mail Evangelical propaganda from Cecil Community Church in Cecil, Ohio. Cecil, population 188, is a twenty-minute drive from Ney, the home of the infamous atheist Bruce Gerencser. The mail I received was a part of a mass marketing campaign by Cecil Community and its pastor Michael Mohr to evangelize lost sinners. Secondarily, of course, the goal of this campaign is to scarf up Christians who are looking for a new church home. Remember, the goal is always the same: more asses in the pews = more money in the offering plates.

Cecil Community used a mass marketing program from Cross America in Kokomo, Indiana. Their goal is to “send a cross and path to salvation to every home in America.” So far, over 1.3 million crosses have made it into the mailboxes of unsuspecting targets for evangelization. Crystal Sanburn, the executive director of Cross America, is the wife of Dick Sanburn, Executive Pastor of Operations at Crossroads Community Church in Kokomo.

Are you ready, dear heathens, to be saved? Follow along as I unpack the agitprop from Cecil Community and Cross America.

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A prayed-over piece of mail. Wow!  And not only that, these prayer warriors are praying for me right now. By name? I doubt it. At best, these pray-ers are using generic “Dear Lord bless all the missionaries” prayers, and not praying the phonebook. Telling me that that they are praying for me specifically is a tad dishonest and disingenuous. I bet after reading this post, they will be praying for me by name. Time to ask God to rain Holy, Righteous Judgment® down on 345 E Main St, Ney, Ohio.

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“You might be asking why you received this,” the back of the mailer says.  Nope, not really. I have been around the Evangelical propaganda tree a time or two. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I used all sorts of gimmicks to evangelize “lost” people and entice them and wandering sheep to attend my church. Why, I used contests, giveaways, and all sorts of nonsense to attract people to my church — and it worked. I would love to know what the hit rate is for these mailers. Something tells me the rate is around expectations for spam — pitifully low. Here’s a suggestion. How about knocking on every door and asking if you can be of help to them, no strings attached; you know, let America see Jesus in your works of charity?

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Now that is one weak, shallow presentation of the Christian gospel. Want to go to Heaven? Pray this prayer. Super! Did that forty-seven years ago, and just to be on the safe side, I prayed this prayer again! I am good to go, right Pastor Mohr; right Crystal Sanburn? What about repentance? Do I have to give up my sinful ways? What is it in this process that saves me and guarantees me a home in Heaven? How can I be sure that a room is reserved for me in Trump’s Heavenly Hotel®? So many questions. Do I need to go to church on Sundays? Will the fine folks at Cecil Community Church pick me up for church every Sunday? What lengths will you go to disciple me? And don’t suggest I join your online church. Please, is that what Paul meant when he said in Hebrews 10:25:

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

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I prayed the prayer, so that means my life has changed forever! How come nothing has changed? Oh, I see, I have to really, really, really believe. What does that mean exactly? If nothing changes, that means you haven’t believed hard enough. In other words, what Cecil Community Church and Cross America are preaching is works salvation. Evidently, there is some sort of Believe Spectrum®, and you have to hit the right level to win the grand prize — Heaven.

cecil-community-church

The mailer included an aluminum cross with Romans 10:9 stamped on the front of it. The cross even has a hole at the top so believers can put in on a chain and wear it or turn it into an earring. Of course, it could also be used with a nipple or genital piercing. Talk about putting Jesus where the action is.

I wonder, were these crosses manufactured in America? If not, how much were the foreign workers paid to make these cheap-ass popcan crosses?

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Finally, the mailer included a business card for Cecil Community Church and its pastor Dr. Michael Mohr. I was somewhat surprised that Mohr has an earned doctorate. Most Evangelical pastors sporting doctorates earned them through unaccredited Bible colleges, online, through a correspondence school, or are granted a doctorate for supporting the granting institution. The Bible college I attended, Midwestern Baptist College, gave out fake doctorates annually to men who played kissy-face with college president, Dr. Tom Malone. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor)

I found it interesting that, here in 2019, Cecil Community Church conducts a large mail outreach, yet they don’t have a website. What’s with churches not having websites?  The church does have a Facebook page. Its page says the following about Pastor Mohr:

Michael Mohr has his Master of Divinity and Doctorate from Asbury Theological Seminary and has been ordained with the Evangelical Church Alliance, International since 2003 [ecainternational.org]. With the ECA, Dr. Mohr has given ordination addresses, served on Ordination Councils in Canada and the USA and conducted ordination services. He has preached and conducted special services in churches in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

Previously, Dr. Mohr served as Pastor of Truth Deliverance Ministries & Truth Builders based out of Galion, Ohio. Michael Mohr returned to Northwest Ohio in 2018 and is a Spangler #9 Candy Cane Cook and Pastor of Cecil Community Church. In Defiance County, Michael had been active in 4-H and Scouts. He served as both President of the 4-H Junior Leadership Club and Junior Fairboard & was 4-H King. He served as a 4-H Camp Counselor and 4-H Day Camp Director. He served on the Extension Personnel Committee. He was a delegate to National 4-H Club Congress. And he served on the Ohio 4-H Foundation Board of Trustees. In Ney, Ohio, Michael earned Eagle Scout and was a Vigil Honor member of Order of Arrow. He was Senior Patrol leader of the Northwest Ohio group going to the National Scout Jamboree at Fort AP Hill. He graduated from Fairview High School.

Dr. Mohr equips and empowers others to be baptized practicing followers of Jesus. He says, “Follow Jesus and Be the Church” “Helping people grow close to Jesus gives me joy.” “God has used me often to do His miracles today. I have seen many healings and use Truth to set people free from bondage.”

A quick perusal of Mohr’s personal Facebook page reveals that he is a Trump supporter, anti-gun control, anti-abortion, anti-socialism, anti-Muslim, anti-Gang of Four, and pretty much hates everything about liberalism and the Democratic Party. In other words, he is a good fit for rural Northwest Ohio. Of course, he was born and raised in the white, Republican, Evangelical monoculture of Defiance County. He is, in every way, a product of his environment. I get it. I was raised in the same culture; the difference being is that I saw the light and got help. One need not keep thinking this way. Amen? Amen!

Look, I do not doubt that Pastor Mohr and the folks at Cecil Community Church are good people; that they love their families, work hard, and want a better tomorrow. That said, their worldview is diametrically opposed to mine, and that of most of the readers of this blog. While their stated goal is to entice me into believing their peculiar version of the Christian gospel, their greater objective is to attach me to their Borg hive. Sorry, but that ain’t gonna happen. Been there done that, no thanks.

Were you enticed to pray the sinner’s prayer after seeing this mailer? If not, why not? Surely, you want to go to Heaven when you die, and not spend eternity in Hell with Stephen Hawkings, Christopher Hitchens, Steve Gupton — man, I still miss him — and Bruce Gerencser, right? Or, maybe you are like me. If there is a Heaven and Hell, Hell seems a far more interesting place to be. At least there will be more than one book in the library.

Please leave your thoughts in the comment section. If you got saved, please share your testimony of faith with readers.

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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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.

Christmas 2017: The Christmas Light Drive-Thru in Hicksville, Ohio

keep christ in christmasMy wife, oldest daughter, and I, along with several of our children and grandchildren, recently attended the Christmas Light Drive-Thru at the Defiance County Fairgrounds in Hicksville, Ohio. Attended by thousands of people from Northwest Ohio, Northeast Indiana, and Southern Michigan, the drive-thru is a mishmash of lighted secular and Christian displays. Thousands of dollars and man-hours go into putting on the largest Christmas light display in the area. Volunteers at the entrance held donation buckets for attendees to donate. Not knowing what awaited me beyond the entrance, I threw in a $5 bill.

While the trappings of secular Christmas were everywhere we looked, it became very clear to us that Jesus, along with Christian nationalism, were the true stars of the show. At both the entrance and exit, there were lighted American flag displays. Later in drive-thru, we passed a lighted memorial to the Twin Towers in New York (yeah, it struck me as bizarrely strange too). We later drove by a display that said that God gave the us two things: the cross Jesus died upon and the flag of the United States of America.  This display, in particular, was a perfect example of how fused Christianity and right-wing political beliefs lie in the minds rural Midwesterners.

More than a few displays touted Christian clichés: Jesus is the Reason for the Season, Keep Christ in Christmas, to name two. My favorite display was one of a shirtless Santa lounging on a beach. After being assaulted by a barrage of Christian Christmas messages, Santa Bruce and Polly were ready for a trip to the beach too, along with a steady stream of alcoholic beverages.

There was nothing in the Christmas Light Drive-Thru that surprised me. I know rural Northwest Ohio quite well. It is, after all, the land of my birth and where I have spent most of my adult life. This is the land of conservative Christianity, right-wing politics, and Christian nationalism. Recent local outrage over Defiance College football players refusing to stand for the National Anthem revealed that Jesus and the GOP — God’s Only Party — are very much alive and well. Of the numerous letters written to the Defiance Crescent-News about the kneeling players, only three letter writers, including yours truly, supported their actions. The Christmas Light Drive-Thru, then, serves as a reminder of who rules the roost in rural Ohio — Jesus and right-wing politics. I am surprised that the Drive-Thru didn’t have a display of three wise men standing before a crèche while saluting an American flag flapping in the breeze over the white baby Jesus’ manger.

The people behind the Christmas Drive-Thru are decent, good people who simply in their actions reflect the tribal beliefs of most denizens of rural Northwest Ohio. I don’t find fault with the Christmas displays, except for the fact that there were no displays touting the Winter SolsticeHanukkah, or Kwanzaa. I suspect the area’s whiteness and lack of religious diversity has a lot to do with why these “other” holiday themes were not represented. (And if any of the people behind the Christian Light Drive-Thru stumble upon this post, I would love to provide and pay for a Winter Solstice display next year.)

The Drive-Thru cost us $5 and an hour of our time. While it is not likely we will make a return visit, I certainly understand its appeal — a bright shining display touting the beliefs most locals hold dear. I know we are generations away from, if ever, locals seeing and understanding that both the Jesus and Santa on display at the Christmas Light Drive-Thru are myths. As long as the Jesus myth prevails, so will displays touting the rightness of rural, white, conservative Christianity.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

“Laws Don’t Stop People From Doing Bad Things,” Says a Local Law Enforcement Officer

The title of this post is a verbatim statement made by a gun-loving, middle-aged white Republican who likely voted for Donald Trump. This man, a member of local law enforcement, recently attended a meeting that I happened to attend as well. Prior to the start of the meeting, several government officials were discussing gun laws and firearm restrictions. One avid Trump supporter happily lent his support to the President Trump’s lie that cities with stringent gun laws — Chicago, in particular — have higher crime rates and firearm-related violence. (Please see Gun Laws, Death and CrimeIs Chicago Proof That Gun Laws Don’t Work? Chicago Toughest on Gun Control? A Claim Shot Full of HolesLaw Center to Prevent Gun Violence.) The member of law enforcement chimed in with several anecdotal stories about gun violence and firearms laws, and then, uttering the most absurd thing I have ever heard come out of a policeman’s mouth. The man said, “Laws don’t stop people from doing bad things.”

Having business before this government body, I thought it unwise to interject my pinko-commie-socialist-liberal thoughts into the discussion. I thought to myself, just another day in the right-wing nirvana of rural Northwest Ohio. Nothing I could say would change hearts and minds, and saying the wrong thing could have a negative outcome for me business-wise. Later that night, as I sat in my recliner thinking about the day’s events, I found myself becoming angry over what the police officer said. How dare a man who swore an oath to uphold federal, state, and local law, and to serve and protect local citizens say that laws don’t stop people from doing bad things. If this is truly the case, why not repeal all laws and let the man with the fastest draw and the straightest shot determine social order and freedom. Is this police officer so blinded by his support of the gun lobbies’ misinterpretation of the Second Amendment that he cannot see the importance of having laws? Surely, he thinks we should have laws prohibiting murder, rape, robbery, and sexual abuse. I highly doubt this officer is a libertine. Born and raised in this area, this officer has been deeply influenced by the political, religious, and social mores of rural Ohio. Why, then, would he emphatically state that laws don’t stop people from doing bad things?

If asked, I am sure that the officer would limit his statement to the efficacy of gun laws. Why, I ask, limit making laws to firearm regulations? Laws don’t stop some people from murdering, raping, or molesting children. Is this reason, then, to do away with laws that make such behaviors illegal? Of course not. So it is with gun laws. It is certainly true that gun laws don’t keep motivated criminals from securing firearms. That said, limiting access to certain firearms, accessories, and ammunition, would make it harder for criminals to use them, and in doing so, would save lives. Outlawing semi-automatic assault rifles and high-capacity clips, along with having universal background checks and severely restricting handgun ownership would go a long way in putting an end to mass shootings, and would also, in time, reduce criminal gun violence. One front on the battle against drug addiction and opioid-related deaths is regulating/controlling legal drug supplies, and aggressively going after those manufacturing, distributing, and selling drugs illegally. We know that this is the only way to put an end to the opioid crisis, so why, then, do we not use the same approach to gun violence? That current gun laws are often ineffective is agreed by one and all. But the answer is not to say, fuck it, and give up on attempts to craft effective laws that respect gun owner rights while at the same time putting an end to gun violence. If progressive countries such as England, Australia, Spain, and Japan can drastically reduce gun violence through legislative means, surely the United States can do the same. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Japan has a per-hundred-thousand homicide rate of .31, Spain .66, Britain .92, Australia .98, and the United States 4.88. I ask you, in that set of numbers, which one stands out to you?

Laws may not stop people intent on harming others from committing crimes, but imagine, for a moment, a society without laws and enforcers of law. Imagine a world where all disputes are settled by violence, and the people with the most powerful means of violence win. Why, we would be living in a world much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or The Walking Dead and Mad Max. It is our laws and their enforcement that give structure and order to our society. Baptists should have the freedom to worship as they wish and not fear being murdered while they pray. Country concert goers should have the freedom to drink beer and sing tunes about women, beer and trucks and not fear being gunned down. All of us should have the freedom to go about our daily lives and not fear being murdered in our homes or at the grocery. The only way to protect our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is to have laws that are enforced for the common good. Until our political leaders stand up to the gun lobby and pass legislation restricting gun purchase, ownership, and use, we should expect continued mass shootings and gun-related crime and violence.

We, the people, have the power to stem the flow of blood in our streets. It remains to be seen if we will do so. Surely, twenty-six dead Baptists is enough to force the issue, right?  Surely, the mass shootings and gun violence of the twenty-first century, when taken collectively, will lead to systemic, nationwide change, right? Surely, now is the time to tell the NRA to go fuck itself, right? How many more people must die before we demand Congress and state legislatures send the gun lobby packing and begin to enact comprehensive gun regulation?

Hey, did you see what Trump tweeted?

My Thoughts on the Complicity of Rural America in the Election of Donald Trump

donald trump

I am appalled, as are tens of millions of other Americans, by the fact that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. I voted for Bernie Sanders during the primary season, believing that his progressive views were (are) the best way forward for the United States. Sanders’ inability to connect with older, rural, white Americans, and the Democratic National Committee’s attempt to derail him, doomed Sanders’ candidacy. While many Bernie supporters think that he would have beaten Trump had he received the nomination, I am of the opinion that this is little more than wishful thinking. Yesterday, I cast my ballot for Hillary Clinton primarily because I thought (and still do) that a Trump presidency will be disastrous for America. I was willing to overlook Clinton’s scandal-plagued career and her connection to Wall Street because I believed at the time (and still do) that electing Donald Trump would send the United States careening down a path that could lead to world war. A Clinton presidency would likely have been more of the same, a sameness that I could, if need be, stomach for four more years. As a progressive and a liberal, I’ve come to see that neither political party represents me. In 2008, swept up by promises of hope and change, I believed that Barack Obama would bring fundamental change to America. By 2012, I realized that idealistic hope and change had been swallowed up by an obstructionist Congress, lobbyists, big banks, and Wall Street. While President Obama talked a good game, his allegiances were still with corporate America. This became clear in the aftermath of the housing bubble collapse, when the Obama justice department failed to prosecute those who caused the collapse. The political élite ignored how angry middle America was over the pain and suffering caused by the last major recession. Having been ignored for decades, these older, white, Christian Americans see in Donald Trump a man who is willing to stand up for them; someone who speaks their language and empathizes with their pain; someone who doesn’t see them as deplorable. These are the people who swept Donald Trump into the White House. The majority of baby boomers and older people voted for Trump. Over eighty percent of Evangelicals cast their vote for the Republican nominee. Most of these people were never going to vote for a Democrat, so there is literally nothing that Trump could do that would turn them away from voting for him.

Next year, I will be 60 years old. Outside of a few years in California in the 1960s and Arizona and Michigan in the 1970s, I have spent my life living in Ohio. I have watched Ohio turn from a union-strong democratic state to a solidly red state where virtually every major political office is held by a Republican. As an Evangelical Christian and pastor, I was pleased to see Ohio move to the right. I suppose that, if I were still an Evangelical, I would be actively involved in trying to turn back the social progress of the past eight years. I have no doubt that I would have been working to criminalize abortion, shove gays back into the closet, reinstitute marriage as between a man and woman, force transgenders to use the bathroom that corresponded to their birth sex, and above all, I would been working to establish God and the Bible as the absolute authority in matters public and private. Fortunately, for me, my political and social views began to change in the late 1990s. While I was still conservative in many ways, my views began to creep leftward as I realized how hurtful and harmful many of my views were. By the time I left the ministry in 2005, I had moved to the far left of the evangelical tent, and had I not ultimately lost my faith I am sure I would now be a liberal Christian.

I now find myself quite alone in a sea of ravenous Evangelical Republicans. I know that there are numerous area residents who feel as I do. What do we do, now that our fellow citizens decided to elect a xenophobic, misogynistic, race baiting man unfit for public office? I live in Defiance County Ohio. Seventy-one percent of registered voters voted yesterday. Sixty-four percent of them voted for Donald Trump. Twenty-nine percent voted for Hillary Clinton. In nearby Fulton, Henry, and Williams counties, the splits were pretty much the same. Even worse, in Paulding County, seventy-two percent of people voted for Donald Trump, while Hillary Clinton received twenty-three percent of the vote. In nearby Putnam County, eighty percent of voters voted for Trump. A measly fifteen percent voted for Clinton.

While most rural Northwest Ohio counties have unemployment rates below state and national levels and jobs are plentiful, the fact is that much of the area has not yet recovered from the housing collapse. Yes, jobs are plentiful, but wages are not. My wife works for a large manufacturing concern who is having a hard time attracting new employees. If you find yourself looking for a job that starts out at $10 or $11 an hour, then move to rural Northwest Ohio. Housing is relatively cheap, as are groceries. If jobs are plentiful and housing and food are affordable, why do so many local residents still fear the future? One of the reasons is that wages are stagnant, and for those who work in local factories, after they reach a certain wage level all they receive are token, often laughable wage increases. The same workers have had to absorb scandalous increases in insurance costs. When my wife started with her employer in 1997, her insurance plan had a $300 deductible and a $1,200 maximum out-of-pocket. Today, her insurance plan has a $3,750 deductible and a $6,000 maximum out-of-pocket. During this time span, the amount that she pays for insurance premiums has gone up over 200%. Outrageous costs such as these are dragging many rural Americans right out of the middle class.

The housing collapse destroyed local property values. While values have improved in recent years, they are still below what they were in the 2000s. My wife and I bought our house in 2007 at the height of the boom market. Over the past 10 years we have made $25,000 of improvements on our home, including a new roof, windows, doors, and major inside remodeling. Yet, if we sold our house today, I doubt that it would bring much more than $10,000 over what we paid for it. Three houses across the street from us have sold in the last two years. All of the sellers were forced to reduce their prices in order to sell their homes. That said, housing prices are cheap, often hundreds of thousands of dollars cheaper than similar homes in cities and on the East and West Coast.

During the Obama administration, environmental regulations have been used to saddle local residents with increasing water and sewer costs. In nearby Defiance, residents are having to deal with water and sewer bills that could, when all the forced EPA mandates are met, reach $200 a month. While the EPA is absolutely right to force Defiance to stop dumping shit in local waterways, I do understand the frustrations of local residents who are forced to pay ever-increasing utility bills without any meaningful wage increases. The small community I live in had to install a sewer system for similar reasons. Fortunately, the project was shovel ready and the village received over $1 million of TARP money to pay for the new system. If the village of Ney had not received this money, our water and sewer bills would be much more like those of Defiance.

Rural Northwest Ohio is religiously dominated by Evangelical, mainline Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic churches. These sects are decidedly white, conservative, anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, and Republican. They are an aging population who think that the 1950s were the best times of their lives. Farms dot the landscape, and the latest election results show that farmers overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, even though, if Congressional Republicans have their way, drastic cuts will be made to farm programs.  Quite frankly, the only thing that will turn rural areas such as this one towards a more progressive path is for there to be a lot of funerals. Until grandma and grandpa die off, rural Northwest Ohio will continue to be a bastion of Republican values. I will do what I can to be a voice that counters their delusions, and I know many others will do the same, but we do not have sufficient numbers to make a meaningful difference in the short-term. Our best approach is to begin helping the millennial and gen-x generations find their political feet. Both the Democratic and Republican parties attempted to co-opt younger Americans for political gain. These young voters bought into Barack Obama’s message of hope and change. Eight years later, many of these same voters believe that the two-party system is broken beyond repair. It is for this reason many young Americans supported Bernie Sanders, hoping that he would split off from the Democratic Party and run an independent campaign. Disheartened by Sanders’ pragmatic refusal to do so, many of these disillusioned young voters stayed home on election day, allowing idealism to trump pragmatism. It remains to be seen if the millennial and gen-x generations will continue to support the two-party system, or will instead opt to burn the house to the ground and start a political revolution. I think Bernie Sanders is right when he says what America really needs is revolution. Perhaps after four years of being ravaged by an orange-skinned monster, America will be ready for a real hope-and-change revolution.

I am often asked why I continue to live in rural Northwest Ohio. Why would an atheist with socialistic/progressive/liberal values continue to live in an area dominated by God’s Only Party? The short answer is that this is where my children and grandchildren live, but there is more to my living here than just my love for family. First, I was born here. My father’s parents were Hungarian immigrants who settled in this area, operating a hundred-acre farm until both of them died in the 1960s. Both my mom and dad were raised on the farm. While my dad was raised in Ohio, my mom spent most of her younger years on a farm in Missouri. My rural country roots run deep. Polly and I recently celebrated our thirty-eighth wedding anniversary. We have spent most of our married years living among rural people. The slow, lazy hum of rural life suits us. Good schools surround us and we have few of the fears that many city-dwellers face. While we lock our doors and cars out of habit, if we didn’t it is likely that nothing would happen. We know our neighbors, even though we have little in common with them. We are surrounded by wildlife and greenery, and the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Michigan are but short drives away. We know little of traffic jams, and when we go to the big cities of Toledo and Fort Wayne to indulge in that which only they can provide, we are always glad when we return home; and that’s the key word…home. Yes, I am angry that my fellow country folk played a big part in electing Donald Trump. I totally get the anger that many of my blue state friends have towards rural America. Their anger is warranted, but I hope they will remember that not every country hick or hillbilly is a Republican. This is my home, and I will, from my little corner of the universe, do what I can to make sure that Donald Trump is a one term president and that his harmful policies are kept from fruition. As disheartened as I am today, I know that I cannot remain silent. If my goal remains a better future for my children and grandchildren, then I owe it to them to muster what strength I can to defeat political ideologies that want to roll back progress. Throwing feces and writing screaming blog posts will gain me nothing. I must do what I’ve always done, and that is to be a loud voice for progressive values and the humanist ideal.

Letter to the Editor: Is the Bible the Objective Standard of Morality?

letter to the editor

Letter submitted to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News on April 11, 2016

Dear Editor,

Recently, Cal Thomas pontificated about the need for an objective standard of morality. Of course, Thomas, an Evangelical, believes the moral code found in the Bible is the true standard of morality. Thomas believes America is mired in a moral quagmire. Blaming liberals, secularists, and atheists, Thomas believes America’s only hope is for Americans to once again prostrate themselves before the Bible and promise resolute fealty to its author — God.

What exactly is the Bible’s objective moral standard? The Ten Commandments? Or is it the Nine, since most Christians no longer “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy?” Or, as dispensational Evangelicals suggest, is just the New Testament the standard for morality? If it is just the New Testament, then why do Evangelicals continue to condemn homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and abortion — none of which is mentioned in the New Covenant? And why do Evangelical pastors continue to collect tithes and offering each Sunday, a practice not found anywhere in the New Testament?

While Evangelicals will point their peculiar interpretation of the Bible to justify the notion that they are the holders of God’s standard of morality, any careful examination of their churches shows that Evangelical moral beliefs are every bit as subjective as their atheist/agnostic/secularist neighbors. There are over one hundred churches in Defiance County, and not one of them agrees with another about what is considered moral behavior.

On matters of greater importance: salvation, baptism, and communion, local churches fight among themselves, each believing that it has the keys to the kingdom. One church has been running weekly ads in the Crescent-News to remind locals that their church — a Campbellite congregation — preaches the true gospel. Down the street Baptists preachers remind congregants that the heretical followers of Alexander and Thomas Campbell were thrown out the Baptist church mid-19th century. It is the Baptists who have the true gospel. And so the internecine wars continue unabated since the day Jesus was buried in a pauper’s grave.

Atheists such as myself laugh when Evangelicals suggest that the Bible is the standard for morality. Seeing the utter confusion and contradictory beliefs among the various Christian sects, how can anyone know for sure who is right? My money is on none of them being right. As a humanist, I believe it is up to people — not religions — to determine the standards by which we want to govern our lives.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

 

An Opportunity to be Enlightened: Local Good Friday Service and Walking the Stations of the Cross

jesus death on cross

“These events are a great opportunity for people to be enlightened. Too many people get three hours off on Good Friday and don’t do anything about it. If they come to these events it could change their lives. God is trying to show us that we need to be ready for Christ’s return. This is still history in the making and people can still be a part of that history, it’s not too late.”

Apostle O. Michael Smith of Believer’s Church International, Defiance, Ohio

Every year, a handful of Defiance area mainline Protestant, Catholic, and ecumenical Evangelical churches get together for a community Good Friday service. This year’s service will be held from noon-3 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. Immediately following the service, Christians will gather at St. Mary’s Catholic Church for the annual Stations of the Cross walk. According to the Defiance Crescent-News (behind paywall):

There will be 14 stops on the way, to read scripture and pray in remembrance of the 14 stations of the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows). Of the 14 stops, seven will be read and spoken in Spanish.

Father Eric Mueller of St. John Catholic Church had this to say about stations of the cross walk:

Good Friday truly is good, because Christ died for us on the cross and rose on Easter, giving us the gift of salvation that he freely offers to us. To celebrate as a Christian community with the Outdoor Stations of the Cross, we realize that our faith is such that we can take it out to the streets and be a witness to everyone, that we do believe in his death and resurrection.

The Stations of the Cross is a pilgrimage. For those of us who can’t go to the Holy Land, we walk here so we can recount the steps that Jesus took. This walk is a chance to be together with people from our community, and with Jesus, to not only understand his suffering, but to also understand the great love he has for us.

Christians doing Christian stuff on Good Friday…no big deal. What I find amusing is the notion that these events are some sort of statement affirming Christian unity. Most Defiance area churches do not participate in these events. Many local churches don’t even believe Catholics are Christian. Some Baptist churches not only consign Catholics to hell, they also doubt the Christianity of people attending liberal or mainline churches.

Father Muller thinks walking the Stations of the Cross is taking their Christian faith out to the streets as a public witness of belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus. I hate to break it to Muller, most people don’t give a shit. Many local businesses give employees Good Friday off or allow them to attend Good Friday services. Despite this, most locals — who are overwhelmingly Christian — will not be in attendance at either of the Good Friday events.

Apostle Smith thinks if people attend these events their lives could be changed. After all, Jesus is coming soon! What will be said that hasn’t been said countless times before? There’s not one person in Defiance County who hasn’t heard some version of the Christian gospel. Everyone knows who Christians say Jesus is and what supposedly happened to him 2,000 years ago. They know all they need to know, yet, come noon tomorrow most local residents will be busy living life, preparing for the REAL meaning of Easter — the Easter bunny, eggs, chocolate, and other candies. What Smith and his fellow religionists fail to understand is that, yes, people are becoming more enlightened, but this enlightenment is leading them away from, not towards organized religion. Despite all the religious pontificating from Republican presidential candidates that suggests otherwise, American Christianity is in decline — especially among millennials. There will come a day in the not too distant future that Good Friday services and walking the Stations of the Cross will be little more than relics of a bygone era.

Local Residents Threaten to Steal or Destroy Our Bernie Sanders Sign

bernie sanders 2016

Bernie Sanders for President Sign in Our Front Yard

Last July, we purchased a Bernie Sanders sign and placed in our front yard. We live on Ohio State Route 15, a busily traveled road running between Bryan and Defiance. By now, thousands of local residents have seen our sign. While several people have stopped by our home and asked where we got our Bernie sign, it remains the only one we have seen in Defiance and Williams County.

A few hours ago, one of my sons alerted me to an interesting discussion on the Citizens for a Better Williams County Facebook page about stealing local campaign signs. The screenshot that follow is self-explanatory.

stealing bernie sanders sign

Both potential criminals are Republican, and one of them is a devout Evangelical Christian. Evidently, respecting the property rights of others is not a part of their political or moral code. I wonder what they would do if they found out that not only are we Bernie Sanders supporters, we are atheists too?

I doubt that either of these people would steal or damage our sign. We all say stuff on Facebook that we don’t really mean.  That said, IF our Sanders sign comes up missing or is defaced, we will be sure to direct the Defiance County Sheriff’s department to the aforementioned Facebook discussion.

As I Remember it: Bryan, Ohio Part 1

gerencser family 1950s

My grandparents, Paul and Mary Gerencser and Children, 1950s.  My dad is on the front row, far left.  Only my two aunts, last row, far right, are still alive.

Bryan, Ohio is a small, rural community in the far northwest Ohio county of Williams. Bryan is the place of my birth, which occurred at Cameron Hospital (recently torn down) in June of 1957. My mother moved to the Bryan area in the 1950s. My father was a Williams County native. Dad’s parents, Paul and Mary Gerencser, were Hungarian immigrants who came to America in the 1920s. Arriving at Ellis Island, they made their way to Cleveland, and from there moved to Defiance County, Ohio. Grandpa and Grandma Gerencser later moved to Williams County Ohio after purchasing a 100-acre farm on the Williams/Defiance County line. (please see My Hungarian Grandparents: Paul and Mary Gerencser)

Bryan, the seat of Williams County, has, according to the 2010 census, a population of 8,545. The population in 1950 was 6,365. Racially, Bryan is 96% white. I was 7 years old before I had my first encounter with a black person – a porter at the train station in Chicago. There were no blacks living Bryan during my teenage years. Only a handful of blacks live in Bryan today.  Hispanics make up about 4% of the population.

great black swamp

Much of northwest Ohio was a part of a glacially fed wetland called The Great Black Swamp. According to Wikipedia, The Great Black Swamp:

…existed from the end of the Wisconsin glaciation until the late 19th century. Comprising extensive swamps and marshes, with some higher, drier ground interspersed, it occupied what was formerly the southwestern part of proglacial Lake Maumee, a holocene precursor to Lake Erie. The area was about 25 miles (40 km) wide (north to south) and 100 miles (160 km) long, covering an estimated 1,500 square miles (4,000 km2). Gradually drained and settled in the second half of the 19th century, it is now highly productive farm land. During the second half of the 20th century, efforts were undertaken to preserve and restore portions of the swamp to its pre-settlement state.

….

The land once covered by the swamp lies primarily within the Maumee River and Portage River watersheds in northwest Ohio and northeast Indiana. The boundary was determined primarily by ancient sandy beach ridges formed on the shores of Lakes Maumee and Whittlesey, after glacial retreat several thousand years ago. It stretched roughly from Fort Wayne, Indiana in the west, eastward to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge near Port Clinton along the Lake Erie shore, and from (roughly) US 6 south to near Lima and Findlay. Near its southern edge at the southwestern corner of present-day Auglaize County, the swamp was so impervious to travel that wheeled transportation was impossible during most of the year, and local residents thought the rigors of travel to be unsuitable for anyone except adult men.

Although much of the area to the east, south, and north was settled in the early 19th century, the dense habitat and difficulty of travel through the swamp delayed its development by several decades. A corduroy road (from modern-day Fremont to Perrysburg) was constructed through the Maumee Road Lands in 1825 and paved with gravel in 1838, but travel in the wet season could still take days or even weeks. The impassibility of the swamp was an obstacle during the so-called Toledo War (1835–36); unable to get through the swamp, the Michigan and Ohio militias never came to battle. Settlement of the region was also inhibited by endemic malaria. The disease was a chronic problem for residents of the region until the area was drained and former mosquito-breeding grounds were dried up.

In the 1850s the states began an organized attempt to drain the swamp for agricultural use and ease of travel. Various projects were undertaken over a 40-year period. Local resident James B. Hill, living in Bowling Green, Ohio, in the mid-19th century, made the quick drainage of the Black Swamp possible with his invention of the Buckeye Traction Ditcher. Hill’s ditching machine laid drainage tiles at a record pace. The area was largely settled over the next three decades. The development of railroads and a local drainage tile industry are thought to have contributed greatly to drainage and settlement.

(Astoundingly, Wikipedia fails to mention the Indian (primarily the Ottawa Indian tribe)  population that inhabited parts of the Great Black Swamp in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.)

Bryan sits just north of what once was the Great Black Swamp. The land of northwest Ohio is flat. Jokingly, local residents say that road overpasses are our mountains. In Williams County, the roads are laid out in a grid: the east-west roads designated A,B,C and the  north-south roads 1,2,3. Most of the roads are a mile or so apart from one another, and it is impossible to get lost in Williams County unless one is drunk.

While Bryan is a rural community surrounded by fertile farmland, it is also an industrial community. Sadly, in recent decades, Bryan has watched its industrial base decline due to factory closings and job outsourcing.

Ohio Art, the maker of the Etch-a-Sketch, still calls Bryan home, but most of its products are now made outside of the United States. ARO, another home-grown major corporation once employing over a thousand people, closed its doors a few years ago. The same could be said for factories such as  Hayes-Albion and Challenge-Cook, both thriving manufacturing facilities until their demise in the 1980s and 1990s.

Northwest Ohio has been hit hard by factory closings and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. There was a time when a person could make a good living at many of the local factories, but those days are long gone. Wages are stagnant or in decline, and there is little prospect of any sort of economic improvement. While northwest Ohio counties now have some of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, wages remain depressed.

I worked for a number of Bryan businesses during my teen and young adult years. Places  such as:

  • Bryan Nursing Home (closed)
  • Everhart’s Restaurant (changed hands)
  • Bob’s Dairy Freeze (closed)
  • Myer’s Marathon (closed)
  • Foodland (closed)
  • Holabird Manufacturing (closed)
  • Bard Manufacturing (manufacturer of furnaces)
  • General Tire (changed hands)
  • ARO (closed, now owned by Ingersoll-Rand, but manufacturing is no longer done in Bryan)

I also baled hay during several summers, and one summer I participated in a youth work program for teenagers whose families were on welfare. My  job placement was at the local elementary school and the Bryan Sewer plant.

I have moved in and out of Bryan many times over the years:

  • Born in Bryan 1957
  • Lived in or near Bryan from 1957 to 1962 (moved to California)
  • Lived in or near Bryan from 1965 to 1966 (moved to Lima, Ohio)
  • Lived in or near Bryan from 1967 to 1969 (moved to Deshler, Ohio and then to Findlay, Ohio)
  • Lived in Bryan in 1973 (moved to Findlay, Ohio)
  • Lived in Bryan in 1974 (dropped out of high school and later moved to Arizona)
  • Lived in Bryan 1975-1976 (moved to Michigan to attend college, came home during the summer)
  • Lived in or near Bryan in 1979 ( oldest son was born in Bryan, moved to Newark, Ohio)
  • Lived near Bryan from 1995 to 2003 (moved to Michigan)
  • Lived near Bryan from 2003 to 2004 (moved to Arizona)
  • Lived in or near Bryan from 2005 to 2007 (moved to Ney, Ohio where we currently live)

Even now, I live five miles away from Bryan, just across the Defiance/Williams County line.

For many years, I had a love-hate relationship with Bryan and northwest Ohio. In my youth, I couldn’t wait to get away from boring, flat, Bryan, Ohio, yet, despite my resolve never to  return to northwest  Ohio again, here I am, living, once again, in northwest Ohio.

These days, I have made my peace with Bryan. My six children and ten grandchildren live within 20 minutes of here. This is their home, and wherever they are, that is where I want to be. The land may be flat and b-o-r-i-n-g,  but there is something about this place I call home, something familiar and secure.

Now that I have laid a bit of groundwork, in future posts I plan to write about my experiences growing up in Bryan.

Notes

The Great Black Swamp-1987 Ohio Historical Society article by Carolyn Platt

Ohio’s Great Black Swamp-Undated Ohio Inside Story article

History of the Great Black Swamp-2011 The Black Swamp Journal article

Encouraged by a Young Bernie Sanders Supporter

bernie sanders 2016

Bernie Sanders for President Sign in Our Front Yard

A short while ago, someone pulled into our driveway and got out of their vehicle. I was busy writing when our early visitor detection system, also known as Breigh, the cocker spaniel, went off, alerting me that someone was in our driveway. Sure enough, seconds later someone knocked on our door.

As I looked out the window I saw a bearded young man wearing a ball cap in his late twenties standing on the porch. His vehicle was an old truck. I carefully opened the door, not knowing if there was a confederate-flag-waving redeck or an atheist hater standing on my doorstep. Imagine my surprise when I greeted a man who wanted to know where I got my Bernie Sanders sign.

As of today, I think our home sports the only Bernie Sanders sign in Defiance or Williams County. This man wanted to know if Sanders had a local office. I told him no and said I ordered the sign at Sanders’s website.

He said he wanted to get a sign because he was a big Bernie Sanders supporter, as was his girlfriend who sitting in the truck. I laughed and said, now there are two of us, and he replied that he had a number of friends who were Sanders supporters. At this moment, my heart flooded with joy, so much so that I wanted to shout PRAISE JESUS! Okay, just kidding a bit.

bernie sanders cartoon

When I look at the Republican debate lineup I want to gag and throw my hands up in despair. The candidates, all 17 of them, are a reminder of everything that is wrong with the United States. The young man on my porch reminded me that all is not lost. While President Obama failed to bring the hope and change I hoped he would, I know we are better off today than we were under the reign of King Bush. A better future awaits us if we can drive a stake in the heart of amoral capitalism and corporate greed. (I am not anti-capitalist as much as I am against capitalism as it is now practiced in the United States.)

There’s a restlessness brewing among young adults. Whether it will result in dramatic political change remains to be seen. For today, I am encouraged. If Sanders cannot win the nomination, then I will support whomever the Democratic candidate is. I hope, in the process, that Sanders can materially affect the Democratic party and force it to abandon the teat and bed of corporate America.

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