It has been brought to my attention that the Defiance City Schools is blocking student access to this site. Several of my grandchildren attend Defiance schools. On the one hand, I find this fact hilarious. However, this site is being blocked as a porn site — which it most certainly is not. Either their filtering algorithm is wrong, or someone at the school has blacklisted this site. It is possible, I suppose, that the Black Collar Crime series is triggering a block, but why not block just those pages instead of the whole site? I am the only public atheist in this area, so I do, at times, wonder if I am being deliberately censored for my lack of belief. I recently tried to join the Current Events in Defiance, Ohio Facebook group. My request was rejected, and a message asking why went unanswered. Again, I wonder, why? The same goes for email letters to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News disappearing or anniversary announcements (twice) not making it in the paper. I get it. I am an odd duck, a black swan in the midst of a bevy of white swans. However, I am also a loving, kind, decent, thoughtful human being. Regardless of my religious and political beliefs, I do what I can to be a good father, husband, and grandfather. When my children or grandchildren hear my name mentioned at Northwest Community StateCollege, at their public schools, or at work, I want them to be proud to be related to me — even if they disagree with my beliefs. (My children have been accosted at college and their places of employment by people demanding they defend something I have written. Small town, country life. I tell them that it is okay to say they don’t know me, but so far, my children have not done so. They must be hoping for a big inheritance after I die.) 🙂
I called my oldest son about Defiance City Schools’ block. I told him, “I hope your kids know Grandpa doesn’t run a porn site!” He laughed and said, “They do.” I don’t care what others think about me (okay, maybe I do a little bit), but I do want my children and grandchildren to think well of me. It matters. Someday, I will be ashes floating on the water of Lake Michigan, sinking into the deep to be seen no more. This blog will remain my testimony to the world (as long as Polly keeps paying the hosting fees). As my grandchildren get older, they will naturally be curious about their grandfather’s writing. As has been the case for my older grandchildren, my younger grandchildren will one day do a web search on my name and discover this site. Years ago, one of my granddaughters told me, “Hey Grandpa, I found your blog today!” That’s all she said, but she had THAT look on her face; you know the one that says, “I know your secrets.” 🙂 And that’s okay. I don’t talk politics or religion with my grandchildren unless they ask me a question or join a discussion I’m having with one of their parents. I am content to let curiosity kill the proverbial cat.
I emailed Aaron Eckhart, the technology coordinator for Defiance City Schools, the link for this post. I will update this article if and when I hear from him.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.
What follows is a sampling of the letters to the editors of the Bryan Times and the Defiance Crescent-News I wrote between 2015 and 2020. These letters were written after I deconverted from Christianity in November 2008.
It’s Time to End the Death Penalty in Ohio
It’s time for Ohio legislators to put an end to the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 2003, twenty Ohio inmates have been removed from death row “through exonerations, clemency, or sentence reductions because of intellectual disabilities.” In December 2014, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer testified before the House Criminal Justice Committee. Justice Pfeifer stated “The death penalty in Ohio has become what I call a death lottery…It’s very difficult to conclude that the death penalty, as it exists today, is anything but a bad gamble. That’s really not how a criminal justice system should work.”
Currently, Ohio legislators are working on bills that would prohibit the execution of those with severe mental illness, create an indigent defense fund, require crime labs and coroners to be certified, and prohibit the execution of anyone convicted solely on the testimony of jail house snitch. While these are great steps in the right direction, it is time for Ohio to altogether abolish the death penalty.
As Justice Pfeifer rightly noted, the death penalty has become a death lottery. Those of means have the ability to hire competent defense attorneys, often resulting in the death penalty being taken off the table. The poor, who can’t afford to hire an attorney, must rely on proper representation from a public defender. In many rural areas, the poor are often assigned an attorney with little capital case experience. While many public defenders do a great job defending indigent clients, there are times when they are not up to the task, lacking the necessary skill and time to adequately defend their client.
When a person’s life hangs in the balance, they deserve competent, aggressive representation. Attorneys who defend an indigent client are paid a pathetic fee and must often wait for months or years to be reimbursed by the state. If we are going to continue to use execution as the means to punish those convicted of a capital crime, then it is morally imperative that we make sure that those facing death have the same access to attorneys, expert witnesses, and crime labs, regardless of their ability to pay.
Currently, 140 men and one woman are awaiting execution in Ohio. Due to controversy over the drugs used in lethal injections, it is unlikely that there will be any executions until 2016. I would encourage Ohio legislators to use this time to find a way to bring an end to executions.
Killing someone because they committed a crime is rooted in the barbaric eye for an eye justice of the Old Testament. While many Christian sects now oppose the death penalty, Evangelicals and conservative Christians continue to demand death for those convicted of a capital crime. I ask, what happened to following in the footsteps of Jesus? Would Jesus, the Prince of Peace, approve of a criminal system that disproportionately punishes the poor and people of color? If Evangelicals, who overwhelmingly vote Republican, would get behind abolishing the death penalty, we can end this abhorrent practice.
Why is the Evangelical God Silent?
There seems to be no end to the sermons printed in the editorial section of the Crescent-News. Intractable warriors for the Evangelical God preach against homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, and the evils of socialism, humanism, secularism, and atheism. Letter writers claim to know the mind and will of God on every matter, warning that failure to heed their preaching will result in God pouring out his judgment and wrath on the United States. They warn that two people of the same sex marrying will bring an end to Western civilization. Yet, it seems that their preaching is falling on deaf ears.
Several months ago, St John’s United Church of Christ came out of the closet and declared themselves to be an open and affirming church. This means gays and same-sex couples are welcome at St. John’s. When I read the news report, I could hardly believe it. I thought, have I been beamed away to an alternate universe, to a county where people are not judged for who they love or how they express intimacy? No, right here in Defiance County, a church that is not ashamed to welcome one and all.
Young adults are increasingly gay-friendly and are no longer interested in the bigoted, homophobic religion of their parents. Some of them join the ranks of the nones, those who are atheists, agnostics, or indifferent towards organized religion. On many of the issues that seem to cause Evangelicals great consternation, young adults show that they think love, fairness, justice, and compassion are more important than dogma and literalism.
When I read the letters from Evangelicals, I see an aging group of people desperately trying to regain power and control over a culture that has little interest in what they are selling. Forty years ago, instead of focusing on personal piety and good works, Evangelicals sold their soul to groups like the Moral Majority and the American Family Association. They traded their place in the community for political power. They abandoned reason and rationality and became the purveyors of ignorance and bigotry. And now they are being weighed in the balance and found wanting.
Come June, despite millions of Evangelical prayers, conferences, rallies, and sermons, it is likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will set aside state laws forbidding same-sex marriage. I wonder how Evangelicals will respond? Will they turn to the heavens and ask God why he turned a deaf ear to their prayers? Will they point the finger at their homophobic rhetoric and bigotry? I doubt it. It will be atheists such as myself, liberals, socialists, and the Kenyan-born usurper in the White House who will be blamed for their inability to return America to the love, joy, and peace of the 1950s.
Evangelicals are like the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. They call out to the heavens asking their God to show his power and act on their behalf. Yet, from my seat in the atheist pew, it seems their God is either deaf or on vacation.
Medical Marijuana and Relieving Pain and Suffering
Rarely a week goes by when there is not a letter to the Editor from a fundamentalist Christian demanding their moral code and peculiar interpretation of the Bible be accepted by all. Even when they aren’t quoting the Bible or reminding local unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of their impending doom, their letters reflect an addled worldview, one shaped by an ancient book they think offers them unchanging truth. If their beliefs were kept in the church house, non-Christians would care little and hope that one day they would see the light. However, their beliefs are not kept in the church house, and because of this people of science, reason, and common sense must continue to push back as Christian fundamentalists try by legal and political means to force people to live by a worldview that is better suited for the dustbin of human history.
Take a recent letter writer who vehemently opposes legalizing the use of medical marijuana in Ohio. Even though they didn’t mention one Bible verse, their letter dripped with the fundamentalist presupposition that suffering and pain are in some way noble and good for us. Numerous Bible verses would certainly lead one to conclude that suffering and pain have probative value and make us closer to God and keeps us from clinging too closely to this life. If we buy into this kind of thinking and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, a life after death that is free of suffering and pain awaits us.
Sounds sublime, right? But what if there is no life after death, no divine payoff for trudging through life suffering for Jesus and enduring pain because it will make us stronger? What if the only life we have is this one? Well, that changes everything. If this life is it, and I think it is, then we should try to relieve not only our own pain and suffering, but that of others. As a committed humanist, I would never want to withhold from anyone that which would relieve or end their suffering and pain. Whether it is narcotic pain medications, medical marijuana, or physician-assisted suicide, I want all humans to have at their disposal the means to lessen their suffering and pain.
Any religion that values suffering and pain is one that should be roundly criticized and rejected. And if Jesus were alive today, I suspect he’d agree with me.
The Hypocrisy of Christian Government Officials Refusing to Issue Same-Sex Marriage License
Evangelical Christians are infuriated over the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Granting U.S. citizens equal protection under the law and affording them the same civil rights heterosexuals have is seen as an affront to God, the Bible, and true Christians everywhere. As a result, a handful of Christian government officials are refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, claiming doing so would violate their religious beliefs.
Should government officials be required to violate their religious beliefs in the execution of their duties? They serve the public, and when they walk in the door of their respective place of duty, what God, the Bible, or their pastor has to say has no authority or relevance. The United States is a secular state, and the highest court in the land has determined that marriage laws discriminating against same-sex couples are unconstitutional. Every government official is duty-bound to obey the law, and if they can’t they should either quit, be fired, or removed from office.
Evangelicals and their counterparts in the Catholic and Mormon church have at their disposal all the means necessary to undo same-sex marriage. If they feel the Court acted unjustly, the proper recourse is to work towards a constitutional amendment that establishes marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Empty threats of second amendment remedies, secession from the union, and Sodom and Gomorrah-like judgment from God change nothing. If Christians want real change, a return to Ozzie and Harriet’s 1950’s, then they should work to amend the Constitution. They won’t do this, of course, because they know they don’t have sufficient numbers to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision.
Why is it Christian government officials issue marriage licenses to adulterers and fornicators, but draw the line at same-sex couples? The Bible sure has a lot to say about adultery and fornication, yet these “sins” are routinely ignored. Only homosexuals and same-sex couples are singled out for discrimination and abuse. Why is this?
This question is not hard to answer. Having spent the first 50 years of my life in the Evangelical church, 25 years as a pastor, I know firsthand the rampant hysterical bigotry and homophobia within Evangelicalism. Evangelicals are now known as the religion of hate, and every time people such Franklin Graham, Tim Wildmon, Al Mohler, Ken Ham, or James Dobson open their mouth, the public is reminded of this fact.
Letters from Creationists
If I didn’t know any better, based on recent letters to the editor and church advertisements touting young-earth creationism, I would think that we are living in the 1920s — the era of the great creationist-versus- evolution debate.
We are almost 100 years removed from the Scopes monkey trial, yet Christian fundamentalists are still trying to hoodwink unwitting people into believing creationism is a scientific theory. Not only do they want the scientifically ignorant to believe that creationism is a scientific theory, Fundamentalists also want them to believe that it is the only explanation for the biological world.
Readers of the Crescent-News need to understand exactly what Christian fundamentalists are saying. According to them, the universe was created by the Christian God 6,020 years ago, in six 24-hour days. They also want you to believe that 2,000 years later God, in a genocidal rampage, killed every living thing with a flood, save Noah, his family, and two of every animal.
While these stories make for wonderful bedtime readings to children, they have no business being taught, outside of a comparative religion class, in the public school classroom. Creationism, along with its gussied-up sister intelligent design, is religious dogma, not biological science. I am of the opinion that any public school teacher found to be teaching creationism should immediately be removed from the classroom. We owe it to our children to make sure that they are taught sound scientific principles. God did it, is not such a principle.
I am sure my letter will bring howls and gnashing teeth from local Christian fundamentalists. They will, as they always do, cut and paste supposed rebuttals of evolution from bastions of ignorance like Answers in Genesis or The Institute of Creation Research. What they will fail to produce is peer-reviewed studies supporting their creationist claims. If creationists want to overthrow evolution, then I suggest they start publishing papers in non-Evangelical science journals. When the weight of the arguments become so overwhelming that they cannot be ignored, I have no doubt that scientists will declare creationism the winner.
This will never happen, of course, because creationism is theological in nature, not sound biological science. If people want to believe that a mythical God created the universe 6,020 years ago, fine. Ignorance is a permitted vice in a free society. But we should insist that public school children be taught science, and not long-discredited religious myths.
Is the Bible the Objective Standard of Morality?
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 more than 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.
Evangelical Hysteria Over Transgender Bathroom Use
Recent news stories have highlighted Evangelical outrage and hysteria over Transgenders using public restrooms. I suspect most Americans at one time or another have taken care of business while in proximity to someone whose sexual identity or orientation is different from theirs. Why all the outrage now over such a banal issue as who and where someone pees?
At the heart of this issue lies Evangelical hatred and disgust, not only for Transgenders, but also for anyone who dares to be different from the God-approved, heterosexual-only, virginal, monogamous-sex-only-within-the-bonds-of-marriage Evangelical belief concerning sexuality. As a Baptist teenager, I vividly remember sermons and admonitions warning teens of the dire consequences of fornication and masturbation. All the scare-tactic preaching did was make us feel guilty when we acted upon normal, healthy human sexual desire.
Evangelicalism is now widely considered a hateful religion by many Americans. Why is this? In the 1970s, Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich birthed The Moral Majority — an Evangelical group dedicated to reclaiming America for the Christian God. Along the way new groups such as Focus on the Family and the American Family Association joined with the Moral Majority to fight the war against what they perceived to be the takeover of America by Godless liberals, Satanic secularists, atheists, and humanists. In the 1980s these culture warriors sold their souls to the Republican Party, joining church and state and producing the ugly monster now on display for all to see.
During this same time frame, secularists, their numbers increasing thanks to a growing number of Americans who no longer are interested in organized religion, began to push back at Evangelicalism’s message of hate and bigotry. Atheist groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation and American Atheists began challenging governmental preferential treatment given to Evangelicals. Now, thanks to a rising swell of secularism, Evangelicals feel threatened. No longer are they given special treatment. No longer are their blatant assaults on the First Amendment ignored. The more Evangelicals are marginalized, the greater their outrage.
Evangelicals must accept the fact that progress has brought us to place of inclusion and acceptance of those who are different from us. Evangelical preachers are certainly free to keep preaching against what they believe are sinful behaviors. But they might want to notice that many Americans — particularly millennials — are no longer listening.
Ken Ham’s Latest Monument to Human Ignorance
Four or so hours away from Defiance, a man by the name of Ken Ham has built a $100 million monument to human ignorance — The Ark Encounter. This monument is a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark. As one who was raised in the Evangelical church and pastored churches for 25 years, I heard and preached countless sermons about Noah and the Ark. Regrettably, I was in my forties before I learned that this story and many others were myths, having no basis in historical or scientific fact.
According to Ham and his fellow Evangelicals, the universe is 6,021 years old. Everything we see, both on earth and in the skies, was created by God in six literal 24-hour days. According to creationists, the book of Genesis is a science textbook, one that emphatically teaches young earth creationism. Indeed, the entire Bible is infallible and without error, and should be, with rare exception, interpreted literally.
I am sure, just as Muslims who make a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Mecca, Evangelicals will flock to Kentucky to Ham’s monument to scientific ignorance. Adults will pay $40 for the privilege of touring Ham’s Ark, children $26. While there, Evangelicals will be taught “truths” about the historicity and reliability of the Bible and young earth creationism. I am sure most visitors will be awed by Ham’s Ark, ignoring that much of what Ham has constructed is built upon speculation. If Ham built a boat according to Biblical specifications, I highly doubt Kentucky officials would grant it an occupancy permit, and it is doubtful such a boat would safely float.
Ken Ham also operates the Creation Museum, another monument to ignorance. When it first opened, Evangelicals flocked to Kentucky to witness the wonders of the young earth creationism lie. Once witnessed, Evangelicals moved on to other entertainments, resulting in decreasing revenues for Answers in Genesis. Following the script of Field of Dreams, Ham built his Ark believing Evangelicals would visit if he did. And they will, for a time. The problem for Ham lies in the fact that Evangelicals easily bore. Once Evangelicals have seen the Ark, will they return? Probably not, especially if Ham continues to charge King’s Island-like admission prices. Perhaps Ham knows this, and this is why he is already planning a new entertainment venture — a replica of the Tower of Babel. Those who love reason and science can only shake their heads.
Local Evangelical Support of Donald Trump
Local Evangelicals often use the Crescent-News editorial page to wage war against sins they believe will cause the destruction of America. If these sins — abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism, same-sex marriage, driving while Democrat — are allowed to continue, they believe God will judge our country and remove his blessing. These same writers have spent years reminding readers that electing Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and now Hillary Clinton will result in the United States turning into a Communist/socialist/atheist/humanist state. Only God and the Christian Bible will do, they tell us. Ignore their words, pay the price.
During the primaries, these same people wrote letters extolling the virtues of various Republican candidates. When the dust settled, Donald Trump was left standing. Donald Trump is a misogynistic, xenophobic, racist, sexual predator with the acumen of a third grader. He offers no policy positions other than his plan to make America great again. Recently, Trump fat-shamed women, calling them names, and last week, a recording of Trump admitting that he sexually assaulted women surfaced for all to see. “Locker room talk,” they say, “just boys being boys.”
Many Evangelicals have decided that while Donald Trump’s a vile, disgusting human being, he’s exactly the kind of person God uses for his glory. “What a testament to God’s wondrous grace that God can even use someone like Donald Trump,” they say. Some believe that Trump is a “baby” Christian and will grow in the knowledge of the Lord. What, I ask, do these people see that the rest of us cannot? Here’s a man who told the world that he’s never asked God for forgiveness, yet we’re supposed to believe he’s a Christian? Please, stop insulting our intelligence.
If God really can use anyone to accomplish his purpose, cannot he use Hillary Clinton just as easily as Donald Trump? According to Evangelicals, Clinton’s the Antichrist. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God used Clinton to accomplish his purposes? Dare Evangelicals stand in the way of God’s plan for America?
Trump and his followers want to return America to the 1950s — a time when there was no God but the Christian God, Joseph McCarthy found Commies under every bed, men in white sheets ruled the South, abortion was illegal, blacks knew their place, women stayed at home, and gays stayed in the closet. Those of us who believe in progress must not let this happen.
The True Agenda of the Ayn Rand-fueled, Koch Brothers-funded, Evangelical-empowered, Paul Ryan-controlled Wing of the Republican Party
The recent attempt to pass what Donald Trump and Republicans dubbed the American Health Care Act has finally exposed for all to see the true agenda of the Ayn Rand-fueled, Koch Brothers-funded, Evangelical-empowered, Paul Ryan-controlled wing of the Republican Party. The white sheets have been torn away, exposing ideological hatred for minorities, the working class, and what the Bible calls the least of these. We now know that these shills for the one-percenters want to destroy the Federal government, roll back the New Deal, and cut the bottom out of social safety net. Their ultimate goal is to return our society to the days of the wild, wild West – days when every man controlled his own destiny; days when the capitalist with the fastest draw and surest aim or the robber baron with the quickest fists ruled the land.
As of the writing of this letter, Republicans have twice cancelled votes on the AHCA. Facing outrage from all corners of the political spectrum, Paul Ryan is increasingly aware of the fact that he never should have made public his agenda to destroy America. While I thoroughly enjoy watching Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and their surrogates get the public caning they so richly deserve, my joy is tempered by the fact that at the state level Republican extremists are quietly and effectively rolling back much of the social progress of the past century. More frightening than the AHCA debacle is the Koch Brothers-funded plan for a Constitutional Convention. And once a Constitutional Convention is convened, Tea-Party, Libertarian, and Evangelical theocrats will finally have the tools necessary to dismantle the Federal government and turn America into dog-eat-dog capitalist state ruled by men only concerned with their stock portfolios and return on investments. While Evangelicals will certainly make sure that their God is returned to his rightful place as America’s potentate, the real God of these extremists is laissez-faire capitalism.
One positive to come out of electing Donald Trump is the exposure of the true agenda of many Republican officeholders. Now it is up to Democrats, liberals, progressives. democratic socialists, and all who value social progress to coalesce into a movement willing to take on Paul Ryan/Koch Brothers/Ayn Rand Republicans. What lies ahead is a no-holds-barred fight to the death for the future of our Republic. I am ready for the fight. Are you?
I Support the Kneeling Defiance College Football Players
I write to lend my support to the Defiance College football players who have knelt during the playing of the national anthem. I commend them for their courage, knowing that most local residents oppose their actions. Their continued protest has brought calls for discipline, including expulsion from school. I commend college administrators and coaches for not bowing to public pressure to silence protest. These students, along with their counterparts in professional sports, need to be heard. Their protests have nothing to do with respect for the military or flag.
What lies behind their kneeling is inequality, injustice, and racism. While these issues might seem to locals to be the problems of urban areas, the truth is that we denizens of rural Northwest Ohio have our own problems related to these things. I recently participated in a forum discussion on racism in Northwest Ohio. Having lived most of my sixty years of life in this area, I can say with great certainty that we are not immune from charges of racism and injustice. We may hide it better, covering it with white, middle-class Christian respectability, but it exists, nonetheless.
Years ago, my family and I walked into a church towards the end of the adult Sunday school class. Teaching the class was a matronly white woman — a pillar of the church. She was telling the class that her grandson was not getting playing time on the college football team because blacks got all the playing time. She reminded me of a retired white school teacher I knew when I lived in Southeast Ohio. At the time, we had a black foster daughter. I had just started a new church in the area, and we were looking for a house to rent. This school teacher had a house available, so we agreed to rent it. When it came time to pick up the keys, she told us she decided to rent to someone else. We later learned that she said she wasn’t going to have a ni***r living in her house.
These stories are apt reminders of what lies underneath our country respectability. It is time we quit wrapping ourselves in the flag, pretending that racism, inequality, and injustice doesn’t exist. Our flag and anthem represent many things, but for many Americans, they represent oppression and denial of human rights; and it is for these reasons, among others, that players kneel.
Why Aren’t Chronic Pain Sufferers Considered Stakeholders When Discussing the Opioid Crisis?
Every week articles appear in the Crescent-News about the current opioid crisis. Medical professionals, substance abuse counselors, law enforcement, local government officials, and former addicts routinely are asked for comments or input on how to deal with drug abuse. There is, however, one stakeholder who is never asked to participate in these discussions – the chronic pain sufferer who takes opioid-based medications. Instead, the aforementioned groups speak as if chronic pain sufferers don’t exist. How else to explain the comments by authority figures about medical marijuana? Here’s a drug that can help people with chronic pain, yet law enforcement and government officials in particular go out of their way to make it hard or impossible for chronic pain suffers to access medical marijuana. Republican state legislators, in particular, are doing their best to make it nigh impossible for chronic pain sufferers to access and affordably buy medical marijuana. Local communities, giving into irrational hysteria, have caused harm to suffering locals by banning medical marijuana sellers. Imagine the outrage there would be if local governments banned cancer treatment drugs. Why, they would be voted out of office. Yet, it seems okay to demean, diminish, and harm chronic pain sufferers. Why is this?
One reason for these actions is that chronic pain sufferers are not part of local discussions about opioid abuse and use. Chronic pain sufferers who use narcotics as part of their pain management regimen are now treated like drug addicts. Chronic pain sufferers must jump through numerous hoops put in place by doctors, pharmacies, and government to get their prescriptions filled. Not one time have chronic pain sufferers been asked to have a seat at the discussion table. Instead, they suffer indignity in silence, fearing they will be looked down on if they dare to complain about the increasingly complex process required to get prescriptions filled.
I have read comments by Defiance Mayor Mike “Medical Marijuana is Not Part of Our Brand” McCann that reveal he is clueless about what chronic pain sufferers (and the handicapped) go through every day. The only way to change such ignorant perceptions is to include chronic pain sufferers in discussions about opioid abuse, medical marijuana, and pain treatment in general. Excluding them paints an inaccurate picture, leading to uneducated, ignorant, and irrational conclusions. Thanks to the war on opioids, chronic pain suffers have been pushed into the shadows. We deserve better.
Does President Trump Really Care About “Religious Freedom?”
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.
The Rotting Corpse of American Capitalism
Jerry Bergman’s latest letter to the editor about Karl Marx, Marxism, and atheism would be hilarious if it wasn’t for the fact that his distortions of history are believed by millions of Evangelical Christians. Marxism, socialism, and atheism are the new boogeymen used by preachers to foment outrage and fear among the faithful. Worse yet, many of these same preachers tell congregants that Donald Trump, a fascist, is the only thing standing between them and the socialist/Marxist horde taking over America.
Bergman takes one line from Marx, using it to paint a distorted view of 20th-century history. Here’s the rest of the quote:
“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.”
As readers can see, Marx’s view of religion is more nuanced and complex than Bergman suggests.
Marx believed that religion provides a fantasy of sorts for the poor and disenfranchised. Economic realities prevent the poor from finding happiness in this life, so religion promises them happiness in the life to come. This Faustian bargain chains the poor to the rotting carcass of immoral American capitalism. It is only when the poor and disenfranchised see beyond the false promises of eternal life and heavenly prosperity that they see their only hope of a better tomorrow rests in casting off the chains of religion and resolutely standing against the political and social status quo.
It is clear to anyone who is paying attention that American capitalism is a failed economic system. Is Democratic Socialism the answer? Maybe. One thing is certain: capitalism is not the answer. Once Trump and his robber baron cronies are voted out of office in November, we can then begin anew to not make America great again, but to make her more fair, equitable, and just for all Americans.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.
What follows is a sampling of the letters to the editors of the Bryan Times and the Defiance Crescent-News I wrote between 2013 and 2014. These letters were written after I deconverted from Christianity in November 2008.
My Response to Gary Luderman
I am writing in response to Gary Luderman’s recent letter to the editor.
Contrary to Luderman’s assertion, my letter was all about the Republican Party and its infection with right-wing religious extremism.
I am quite indifferent to personal and private religious practice. I was an evangelical pastor for twenty-five years and I know well the value people find in religious belief. I have no desire to rob anyone of their religious belief.
However, since the United States is a secular state, I do take issue with those who attempt to require fidelity to a particular religion’s peculiar beliefs, morals, and ethics.
I have never met Gary Luderman, so I am quite perplexed when he suggests I have no moral beliefs. How could he know this?
Luderman speaks of Christian morality as if it’s a singular belief and that all Christians adhere to the same moral and ethical system. Anyone who has paid close attention to Christianity, both in its present and historic form, knows there is no such thing as a singular belief about anything in Christianity.
Luderman mentions God’s rules? Which God? Which rules? Luderman believes that the Christian God is the God. He is atheistic towards all other Gods but the Christian God. He and I are quite the same then, the only difference being my atheism includes the rejection of the Christian God.
I assume Luderman believes that sex before marriage is a sin. Yet, the majority of Christians are not virgins when they marry. In fact, every study I have ever read shows that Christians are every bit as “sinful” as the rest of us. If Christians can’t keep their God’s moral standard why should they expect and demand anyone else to keep it?
The first three words of the Constitution is “We the People.” This is the foundation of our legal system. As a people, we decide how we want to govern ourselves. Collectively, we decide what kind of rules, standards and laws we want to have.
As our country matures, these rules, standards and laws change. At one time, homosexuality was considered a crime, a sign of mental illness. We now know that such beliefs are wrong and that in a just society all people regardless of their sexual orientation should have equal protection under the law.
As a humanist, my focus is on working towards a more just society. Whatever makes us more intolerant and is harmful to others must be abandoned. The proclamation of the angels in the birth story of Jesus is quite applicable today. We must continue to strive for peace and good will for all people.
As far as my personal morality and ethics is concerned, I will leave it to my wife, children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends to pass judgment on my moral beliefs. As much as lies within me, I try every day to love others and do all I can to promote peace and good will.
Local Boy Scout Leaders Oppose Gay Scouts
It comes as no surprise that local Boy Scout leaders are against gays being allowed to be a part of the Boy Scouts. Rural NW Ohio is a homogeneous area known for bigotry. We may be nice, friendly, country people, but behind the façade are beliefs that marginalize anyone who is not white, Christian, and heterosexual.
Local Boy Scout leaders are right; the Bible does condemn homosexuality. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote that homosexuality is a sign of reprobation. This is why, in the 21st century, we must abandon the Bible as the standard for morality. While Christians are free to live by the teachings of the Bible, in a pluralistic, secular society, where supposedly all people are equal, there is no place for discrimination against any group of people.
The Boy Scouts are free to fly the banner of bigotry. I hope local churches that sponsor Boy Scout troops will consider what their support of bigotry says to the local community. I hope they will also consider what message they are sending to the youth who attend their churches and participate in the Boy Scouts. If we desire a more progressive, tolerant society, then we must begin by opposing intolerance and bigotry wherever it is found.
The Boy Scouts are a private group and are free to set membership standards. Local residents are also free to withhold their giving through United Way to the Boy Scouts. Perhaps church members who are appalled by the bigotry of local Boy Scout leaders and local churches that sponsor Boy Scout troops, will withhold their offerings until the discrimination against gays end.
If we want a more just and tolerant society, we must oppose intolerance and injustice wherever it is found. We cannot let an antiquated, irrelevant book, written centuries ago, dictate how we should treat others today. While there are many good teachings in the Bible, there are also abhorrent, immoral teachings, that people who respect others, regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, must reject.
One thing is certain. Gay people are not going to return to the closet. They are out and intend to stay out. I hope there will come a day in Ohio when gays are afforded equal protection under the law. I hope there will come a day when gays are allowed to marry and have the same marital rights as heterosexuals. When the day comes when gays can legally marry in Ohio, I hope to be the first person in Defiance County to perform a same-sex marriage. Above all, I hope for a more just and tolerant society. As shown by the bigotry of local Boy Scout leaders, we have a long way to go.
My Response to Richard Mastin’s Assertion that I am Immoral
I am writing in response to Richard Mastin’s letter to the editor.
Mastin attempts to marginalize and discredit me by suggesting I am an immoral person. How does Mastin know I am an immoral person? He doesn’t know me personally. All he knows about me is what he reads on my blog and reads on the editorial page of this newspaper. His letter assumes a familiarity with me that he does not possess.
I am indifferent to what moral standard a person lives by. If a Christian wants to live by the moral precepts of the Bible I have no objection to them doing so. Personal morality is just that, personal.
What I object to is Christians trying to make their personal moral standard the law of the land. I object to any attempt to codify the teachings and commands of the Bible into the laws of the United States. The United States is a secular state and the wall of separation between church and state exists so no religion can force their beliefs on everyone.
I support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights because I think every person should have equal protection under the law. I think LGBT people should have the same civil rights as heterosexual people do. Christian morality has no claim in this debate since our civil rights are not dependent on believing in the Christian God.
If theocrats like Mastin get their way, it will lead to a loss of freedom and liberty for anyone who doesn’t measure up to the fundamentalist Christian moral standard. As history clearly shows, this kind of thinking always leads to diminished civil rights, violence, and bloodshed.
I would ask readers to consider when was the last time they saw a headline in this paper about an atheist being arrested for a crime? While there are certainly atheists who commit criminal acts, most criminal acts are perpetrated by people who believe in the Christian God and believe the Bible is God’s Word.
Each of us has the power to act morally and ethically. As an atheist, I live by the precept of not doing harm to others. As much as lies within me, I try to be a good man who is kind, respectful and loves others. I don’t need a god to be this kind of man.
Why is it so many local Christians think they need to paint me as an immoral, Satan-worshiping man? As a public figure, I accept that this kind of treatment goes with the territory, but, I wonder, why are they so intent on demeaning the character of a man they do not know?
I will state once again that those who know me know what kind of man I am. This is all that matters. My critics need a face to throw darts at, and I am that face. It is too bad they confuse the picture of my face with who I really am.
U.S. Supreme Court Rightly Rejects DOMA
The U.S. Supreme Court rightly determined that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. Of course, those who oppose same-sex marriage are infuriated over the Court’s decision.
Mike Huckabee spoke for a number of people when he said the justices asserted that they were bigger than God. Huckabee, like others of similar persuasion, wrongly assumed that DOMA was all about what the Christian Bible said on the matter of same-sex marriage. According to Christian fundamentalists like Mike Huckabee, God and the Christian Bible condemn same-sex marriage and homosexuality.
What they fail to understand is that God and the Bible don’t matter when it comes to settling constitutional issues. The Supreme Court is God when it comes to determining what is constitutional. They have the final say. As citizens, we are free to amend the Constitution, but until we do, we must live according to the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court.
Jehovah, Allah, or Jesus have no say when it comes to what is the rule of law. The sooner people like Mike Huckabee understand that the United States is a secular state the better off it will be for our republic.
The Bible is not the standard by which we determine what our laws will be. We the people, through our elected officials and the ballot box, decide what our laws will be. Christians are free to live by the teachings of the Bible, but they have no right to demand that everyone live by those teachings.
For the past 40 years, evangelicals have been repeatedly told that the United States is a Christian nation, a nation that should follow the teachings of the Bible. As interpreted by evangelicals, no matter how many times historians correct their errant thinking, they continue to think that the United States is a Christian nation meant to be governed by the Bible.
I have come to the conclusion that trying to correct their errant thinking is a fool’s errand. Like those who deny global warming, think Obama is a Kenyan, think Ronald Reagan was a great president, and think Fox News is really a news channel, there is no remedy for their willful ignorance.
What matters is fairness and justice for all. Same-sex marriage is a matter of equal protection under the law. Gays have a right to expect to be treated equally when it comes to the law. In no way does this Supreme Court decision affect how evangelical Christians live their lives. They are free to practice their religion and get married just like they always have. Their ministers are free to not marry same-sex couples just like I am free to marry same-sex couples once same-sex marriage becomes legal in Ohio.
I applaud the Supreme Court for standing on the side of fairness, justice, and equal protection under the law. The battle now moves to the states and I suspect here in Ohio the battle will be long and bitter. I can only hope fairness and justice will ultimately prevail.
My Response to Daniel Gray’s Lies
This letter is my brief response to Daniel Gray’s recent letter to the editor.
Gray continues to paint me as a liar, a deceiver, immoral, and an all-round bad person. Gray does not know me personally, so I am not sure how he comes to the conclusions he does about me. I have never made one of my letters personal, yet Daniel Gray and a few other letter writers think it is okay to attack my character and suggest that I am not a good person.
As a public figure, I know I must endure such attacks, but I wish my critics would focus on the issues rather than the person. If they would like to have a public discussion on these issues, I am quite willing to participate in any public forum they put together.
For the third time Gray suggests that I am not legally able to marry people and that anyone married by me is in danger of having their marriage invalidated. Gray seems to not understand the legal requirements for being licensed to marry people in Ohio. I meet all the statutory requirements and I am duly licensed to marry people in Ohio. Anyone can verify this by doing a ministerial license search on the Ohio Secretary of state’s website.
Central Local School District Wednesday and Sunday Blackout Policy
At a recent board meeting, the Central Local Schools board spent a significant amount of time discussing the Sunday/Wednesday blackout policy that forbids the use of buildings for school use on these days. These days are called designated family days.
The use of the phrase family days hides the fact that these kinds of policies are put in place to promote the activities and services of local Christian churches. I have lived in school districts where some of the local clergy would express outrage every time the school district violated their sacred time territory.
I suspect that the Central Local policy falls under the category of, “we have always done it this way.” Instead of calling this blackout policy family day, the board should call it what it is — no building use on the days Christians normally gather for public worship.
Setting aside, for a moment, the constitutional issue this policy raises, I would love to know if the Central Local school board has any data that suggests that students use Wednesdays or Sundays for church activities or family time? I suspect they don’t.
The American Christian landscape has changed greatly over the last few decades. Most churches no longer have a Wednesday service, and those who do battle declining attendance. I suspect that most of the students in the Central Local school district do not attend church on Wednesday night. Even on Sunday, I doubt that more than half of the students attend church. Confirming this will require an empirical study to be conducted.
The Central Local school board needs to remember that they are the governing authority for a secular school district. If they would like to claim that the Sunday/Wednesday blackout is not a tip of the hat to the local Christian community, then I suggest they move the blackout dates to other days, say Monday and Thursday. If the real issue is “family time,” then any two days would work, right?
Lost in the discussion is the fact that, especially at the junior high and high school level, most students don’t want to spend Wednesdays or Sundays hanging out with family. Teens generally want to spend time with their friends, playing sports, or attending school activities and functions. Thinking that if students are given Wednesday and Sunday off will result in students chilling out with mom and dad is not only humorous but naïve.
It is time to move Central Local Schools board policies into the 21st century. The agrarian, Christian church-centered culture of my youth is dying. We now live in a connected, seven-day-a-week world. We pay taxes to provide an education for our community’s children. It makes sense to allow the buildings to be used on every day of the week if that helps facilitate this education.
I am in no way criticizing the board itself. They do a great job. It is this particular policy that I object to.
Is it Time to Rename the Defiance Crescent-News Editorial Page the Sermon Page?
Every week readers of The Crescent-News are subjected to the rants of Bible quoting fundamentalist Christians. Perhaps it is time to rename the editorial page the sermon page. What do these letter writers hope to accomplish?
They seem oblivious to the fact that non-Christians, atheists, humanists, and secularists are immune to their sermonizing. The Bible has no power over us because we do not think it is an authoritative or supernatural book. At best, it is an ancient text written by unknown fallible men centuries ago.
As any student of the text of the Bible knows, the Bible has errors and contradictions. While it certainly has value as an inspirational text, it is a book no different from any other book. Some of its teaching are now considered immoral, and anyone with a modicum of science training knows that the universe was not created in six literal twenty-four-hour days. Most Christian sects accept evolution as the best explanation for the natural world; it is only fundamentalists that continue to hang on to a thoroughly disproved belief.
The United States is a peculiar country when it comes to religion and science. On one hand, we are known for scientific advancement, yet because of Christian fundamentalism, we continue to fight battles over creationism, global warming, and human sexuality.
I come into contact on my blog with people from all over the world. They are, at times, stunned by how scientifically backward the Unites States is. We continue to fight battles that were fought in their countries decades ago. Why is it we still fight these kind of battles in the United States?
One of the reasons is that we have a hands-off approach to Christian beliefs. Driving this approach is the historically ignorant belief that the United States is a Christian nation and that the Bible was our “real” founding document. Because of this, Christianity is given preferential treatment and mustn’t be criticized.
It is time to end this hands-off approach. Christianity has no right to special status. While I have no problem with people worshiping the Christian God, I do object to the notion that they should control our government and schools. The United States is a secular state, and a secular state should be governed by laws, not the Bible. In a secular state, our children should be taught science, not creationism or its gussied-up sister intelligent design. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to make sure that they have facts and evidence. If their parents want them to have religious instruction they can take them to church or teach them at home. We must continue to make sure there is a wall of separation between church and state.
When this letter is printed, fundamentalists will be outraged and they will write letters expressing how wrong I am. They are certain that they are right. They have God’s inspired, inerrant Word to “prove” how right they are. And ’round and ’round we go.
Political Candidates and the Separation of Church and State
This is an election year, and in less than a month Ohio will have a primary election. As a voting, taxpaying citizen of Defiance County, I want to pass on some advice to the candidates running for office and those who write letters to the editor showing their support for a particular candidate.
Not every voter in Defiance County is a Christian. Not every voter attends church on a regular basis. A sizable number of voters do not claim the Christian moniker, and outside of weddings and funerals, they never darken the doors of any local church. We are the “nones”, made up of atheists, agnostics, humanists, pagans, secularists and those who are indifferent toward religion. In Defiance County, there are also Muslims, Jews and Buddhists. I know this is hard for the Christian majority to believe, but living near them are people who do not think like they do about God and religion.
So, trumpeting the fact that you are a Christian, teach Sunday School, are pro-life, or are a member of the NRA might play well with Evangelicals, but for those of us who are not religious or not an Evangelical Christian, we are wary of people who play the faith card.
Being a Christian or being pro-life has nothing to do with how a candidate will perform as a local/county/state officeholder. In fact, when candidates for office play the faith card, I am inclined to not vote for them. Why should I vote for a candidate that considers one voter demographic more important than another? This is especially true at the local/county level. I want officeholders that will represent everyone, not just those who are a part of their particular religious sect.
Those running for office would do well to mimic John F. Kennedy’s approach to religion. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, made it clear that his personal religious beliefs would not come into play when he made decisions. Kennedy understood that he represented every citizen not just those who happened to be Christian.
The United States is a secular nation, not just at the federal level, but at the state, county, and local level too. I realize the candidates need votes to win. I realize that Defiance County is ruled by Evangelical, conservative, Republican ideology. Maybe it is a fantasy on my part to think that what every citizen of Defiance County needs to hear is how a candidate for office will spend our tax money, repair our roads, care for our poor and sick, and care for what we have entrusted to our governmental leaders.
It is these issues that will determine how I vote. Sadly, far too many of my fellow Defiance County citizens will vote, not on the issues, but on the number of buzz words they hear a candidate use. To them, where a candidate goes to church or what his view is on abortion is far more important than how he effectively governs.
God and Global Warming
A recent letter to the editor stated that the main reason for global climate change and the escalation of global temperatures is that this is how the Christian God wants things to be. The letter writer is not concerned one bit about climate change because God is on the job. We can collectively take a big sigh of relief knowing that the Christian God is in complete charge of the weather.
I wonder if people who make an argument like this understand the implications of their argument. If God is in control of everything, if he is the first cause, if he is the sovereign ruler of all, if there is nothing that we can do to stop the Christian God from doing his thing, then God must then bear the responsibility for everything that goes on in the world.
Katrina, Sandy, every hurricane, every typhoon, every mudslide, every forest fire, every natural disaster, must be laid at the feet of this micromanaging God. Since God is perfectly working out his will in the affairs of the human race, he then is accountable for war, starvation, disease, and death. If God is as the letter writer says he is, then God is culpable for everything that happens.
Of course, most fundamentalist Christians will object to what I have written here. They will say that humans have free will and that the bad things that happen are the result of humans exercising their free will. Wait a minute, I thought God was in charge of everything? Isn’t it God that gave humans free will? There is no way for God to avoid culpability since all power, authority, and control, rests with him.
This kind of fatalism is of no consequence if it is kept in the church house. If someone wants to believe that there is some sort of divine puppet master controlling their life, I couldn’t care less. But, when this kind of thinking bleeds into public policy, the result can be catastrophic.
The world doesn’t have the luxury or the time to just sit back and let God do his thing. Global climate change, along with ever-increasing global temperatures, is the greatest threat we face today. Doing nothing is not an option. As temperatures and seas rise, costs are sure to soar as global climate change disrupts growing seasons and forces the mass relocation of millions of people. As competition for earth’s dwindling, finite resources increases, affluent nations will turn to war to maintain their standard of living.
Our best days may be behind us and thinking that God is going to deliver us or is working out his plan only makes things worse. Why? Because it breeds inaction. Why worry about global warming? The rapture is just around the corner. Most global climate change deniers are also right-wingers religiously and politically. What is it in right-wing ideology that keeps people from seeing the world as it is? Answering this question would take more words than the Crescent-News allows.
What Happened to Ohio?
What has happened to Ohio, a state once known for its progressive politics and values? In a few short decades, religious and political fundamentalists have taken over the state government and are now attempting to take over the state board of education. Ohio is now being compared to backwater states like North Carolina and Mississippi.
The Ohio House of Representatives is considering HB 351, a bill that would effectively make abortion and birth control difficult to obtain. This bill has no abortion exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Evidently, women impregnated through rape or incest are supposed to realize their pregnancy is God’s wonderful plan for their life. Rep. John Becker, the sponsor of HB 351, made it clear that this bill is all about his personal religious convictions when he stated “This is just a personal view. I’m not a medical doctor.”
The Ohio Board of Education now has several Christian fundamentalists on its board. Mark Smith, the president of Ohio Christian University, is one such member. Smith, in a recent speech at the 2014 Road to Victory conference, made it clear that he is part of a movement that is determined to take the schools back for God. According to Smith, “it’s no secret that our educational system is full of teachers and professors who desire to obfuscate truth, and these individuals are effectively (deconstructing) our nation.”
“Truth” to Mark Smith and other Christian fundamentalists like him is the Bible. Smith stated “You see I’m excited to lead the cause for the rebirth of faith values in America, the rebirth of embracing a love for God, the love for family, and a love for our nation. I like traditional marriage. I’m for traditional marriage. Let’s embrace traditional marriage…” Rather than focusing on education, Smith wants to focus on inculcating our children with his brand of Christianity. Our children may not learn to do algebra, but at least they will know which God is the right one and which holy book is “truth.”
Sadly, most Ohioans are clueless about what goes on in Columbus. They continue to send Republicans to the state house without ever considering what they might do when they get there. The only way to stem the tide of religious extremism is to vote the extremists out of office. As it stands now, the Ohio Democratic party is weak and here in rural northwest Ohio it is almost non-existent.
The solution remains the same. We must stand up and fight. We must vote. We must support candidates that want to return Ohio to the days of its progressive greatness. We must be willing to make our voice heard. The editorial page of this newspaper is filled with letters from right-wing political and religious extremists. Surely there are Defiance County residents who are willing to stand up for the liberal/progressive values? Perhaps it is time to write a letter to the editor.
Questions about HB 597
Almost a hundred years after the Scopes Trial, Christian fundamentalists continue to demand creationism be taught in public school classrooms. Whether through young earth or old earth creationism or their gussied-up sister intelligent design, fundamentalists want to teach theology in place of sound science. Publicly, they appeal to the American sense of fairness. Teach the controversy, they say with fingers crossed behind their back. Except there is no controversy. Court after court has ruled that creationism has no place in the public-school classroom.
Yet, despite almost a century of litigation and scientific advancement, fundamentalists in Ohio are attempting once again to have their peculiar theology taught as a valid scientific theory. On July 29, Ohio Republican representatives Andy Thompson and Matt Huffman introduced House Bill 597 (HB 597) that would subtly pave the way for creationism to be taught in the science classroom.
HB 597 states “The standards in science shall be based in core existing disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics; incorporate grade-level mathematics and be referenced to the mathematics standards; focus on academic and scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes; and prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another…”
While the defenders of God and creationism will quickly point out that the bill does not mention creationism, its language opens the door for teaching the non-controversy “controversy”. Representative Thompson’s recent statement concerning the bill leaves little doubt about the objective of his bill. Thompson stated, “I think it would be good for [students] to consider the perspectives of people of faith. That’s legitimate.”
If Thompson is speaking about a high school philosophy or world religion class I would agree with him. I have long supported high school students being required to take a class in philosophy and world religion. In a world religion class students could learn about the various creation myths and how best to interpret and understand them.
However, fundamentalists don’t want their beliefs reduced to a chapter in a world religion textbook. They don’t want just a seat at the table; they want to be the only seat at the table. Their belief system demands certainty, exclusion, and fidelity. In their worldview, there is no place for open, honest discussion about religion and creationism. In their mind, there is one true creation story and that story is found in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3.
Creationists want students taught that Genesis 1-3 is the Christian God’s blueprint for the creation of everything. The universe is 6,000 years old, and according to creationist hero James Ussher, the earth was created the evening before Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. Everything that biology, archeology, astronomy, and geology tells us about the universe contradicts the creationist story. If we want our children and grandchildren taught sound science, then we must make sure that creationists are not permitted to sneak their theology into the classroom. Theology belongs in the church and home, not the public-school classroom.
Let’s hope reason and science rescue Ohio students from HB 597.
Response to Local Christian Fundamentalists
Over the past several weeks, local fundamentalist Christians have voiced their objection to my recent letter to the editor. While I cannot adequately answer all of their objections in the space of 500 words, I would like to address several issues.
I am not anti-religion. I know most people have some sort of religious belief they find beneficial. I am not the slightest bit interested in disabusing them of their belief. Yes, I am an atheist. I am also an agnostic, secularist, humanist, liberal, and Cincinnati Bengals fan. I am many things, but I am not one who wants to stop people from worshiping God.
My objection is to ignorance, especially the kind of ignorance that thinks ancient writings by unknown authors thousands of years ago make for good science. Fundamentalists are free to teach in church, private Christian schools, and home schools that the entire body of scientific evidence can be summed up by saying the Christian God did it. They are free to promote thoroughly discredited notions like the universe is 6,000 years old and was created in six days. They are free to deny all that science tells us about the world we live in. And yes, sadly, they are free to cripple their children intellectually. This is the price we pay for religious freedom.
However, when it comes to the public schools my 10 grandchildren attend or will some day attend, I expect them to be taught the scientific method. I expect them to be taught about facts and evidence without the taint of theology and fundamentalist ignorance.
The scientific method remains the best way for us to understand the universe. It is a method that relies on testing, verification, retesting and, if need be, admitting error. When is the last time that has happened at a local church? (That’s a rhetorical question) Fundamentalists think they have all the answers to all of life’s questions. Their view can be summed up this way: the Bible says — end of discussion. Do we really want local public school children being taught to think like this? Can we afford to cripple them intellectually, robbing them of the skills necessary to think rationally and critically? I think not.
Recent letter writers are like petulant children screaming for attention. For them it is not about science; it is about their belief system increasingly being marginalized and ignored. So when they gin up the non-controversy controversy over biological evolution, the age of the universe, or global climate change, I have no interest in giving their ignorance the air of respectability. After all, doesn’t the Bible say, don’t answer a fool according to his folly?
There is, in the main, little controversy over biological evolution, the age of the universe, or global climate change. Denial is simply a refusal to see things as they are.
For the record, I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years, pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I am not ignorant of what the Bible teaches.
Dying With Dignity
Recently, Brittany Maynard, a brave woman with terminal cancer, took her life. As a resident of Oregon, Maynard could legally choose to commit suicide. Many religious people are incensed over her suicide. A Papal Monsignor called Maynard’s choice reprehensible. Pope Francis called such acts a sin against God. Evangelicals have taken to the internet to denounce Maynard, suggesting her suicide landed her in hell.
Here’s what the religious need to understand: those of us who are not so inclined are not moved by quoted Bible verses and threats of God’s judgment and hell. For us, a God who controls life and death and afflicts people with disease, is a fiction. Everywhere I look, I see suffering and death. I reached a point where I asked, where is God? Eventually, I concluded that the Christian God was a figment of my imagination, an imagination fueled by 50 years of Christian indoctrination.
The Bible encourages people to pray, have faith, and hold on. The faithful are assured that God only wants what’s best for them. Suffering is turned into virtue, some sort of badge of honor. Those who suffer will be rewarded in heaven, the Christian preachers say. Of course, we have to take their word for it because no one has come back from the dead to testify to the veracity of the suffering for God sermons.
I am more inclined to believe what I can see. What I see is suffering and death. I should do what I can to alleviate the suffering of others. Imagine one of my children suffering from a painful disease and I have a cure for the disease. However, I am not willing to give my child the cure because I think his suffering is good for him. What kind of father would people think I am? Yet, the Christian God gets a pass when he does the same. If we consider a human who withholds that which could alleviate suffering reprehensible, surely we should view God the same way.
Theodicy, the problem of suffering and evil, is one of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. Like Baal in I Kings 18, when it comes to suffering, war, famine, disease, pain, and death, the Christian God is AWOL. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God was on vacation, talking with someone, sleeping, or using the toilet. Could not the same thing be said for all gods? It seems quite clear to me, we are on our own.
At the heart of Maynard’s choice is the right to self-determination. As a person who suffers with unrelenting chronic pain and debility, I want the right to say, no more. Unlike many religious people, I see little value in pain and suffering. I endure it for the sake of my wife, children and grandchildren, but my family knows that there might come a day when I am no longer willing to do so. I want that choice to be mine.
Bruce Gerencser Ney, Ohio
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.
What follows is a sampling of the letters to the editors of the Bryan Times and the Defiance Crescent-News I wrote between 2008 and 2012. These letters were written after I deconverted from Christianity in November 2008.
Manifest Destiny, an American Fantasy
I am writing in response to the letter to the editor by Rebecca Soellner.
In her letter she extols the virtues of the American Dream and love for God. Her letter is a good example of the error of Manifest Destiny — the notion that America has a divine purpose and future ordained by the Christian God.
Such thinking allows Soellner to justify the demolishing of the land and the killing off of wildlife and indigenous people just so our forefathers could plant the seeds of faith, hope, and love. I am not sure that the God of faith, hope, and love (1Cor. 13:13) wants any part of a people who stole the land from its rightful owners and then murdered them if they resisted. I seriously doubt that God was delighted when our forefathers corralled hundreds of indigenous men, women, and children into a building, set the building on fire, and burned them to death.
The spirit that Soellner extols allowed our forefathers to take what was not theirs and kill those they had no right to kill, all in the name of the Christian God. Our nation had a bloody, sinful beginning and we should recognize it as such. We had no right, God given or not, to do what we did. Think of how we would respond if Ohioans decided it was their manifest destiny to live in Indiana and they, by force, stole the land and killed the inhabitants of Indiana. There would be outrage at such barbarity, and rightly so.
Some of our forefathers were indeed Christian men and women. But many of them were not. Some of them came to America because of religious freedom and then made laws forbidding any other religion but the Christian one (and in some cases outlawing the Catholic religion). Many of our forefathers were opportunists who saw a great opportunity to amass land and wealth.
They had a respectable form of religion and thought nothing of using their religion to gain economic advantage. If it meant that they ended up with more money, they gladly went along with the notion that God was behind their endeavor.
Some day I hope the myth of the Christian nation will be put to rest. I hope we will stop turning our forefathers into saints who were only motivated by the Godliest of principles and virtues. They were fallible, frail, sinful human beings. Some indeed had great religious virtue but many others were driven by avarice and greed.
We must own up to the fact that our nation’s beginning is covered with blood and that we owe indigenous Americans an apology for our national sin. They deserve complete and full restitution for our wicked actions. While we cannot undo many of the sins of the past, we can stop trying to paint over our past sins with the God paint.
Reducing the Number of Abortions
President Barack Obama has made a plea to the pro-life movement asking them to work with him in reducing the number of abortions in the United States. One would think that his overture would be readily accepted. No matter what position a person holds on abortion, it would seem that reducing the number of abortions is in the best interest of everyone, especially for the unborn.
Unfortunately, President Obama’s plea was rejected. It seems pro-lifers don’t want to get their hands dirty by holding hands with those with differing views. Better to stand on the sidelines and chuck rocks than actually work toward reducing abortions.
The latest pro-life attempt to outlaw all abortions is to encourage the passage of “personhood laws.” Such laws would grant personhood at the moment of conception. Thus, from the moment of conception forward that which grows in the womb of the mother is a person protected by the same laws and constitutional rights as those who are born.
I am sure that pro-lifers are well-intentioned in their attempt to get personhood laws passed, but such laws would wreak havoc on our legal system.
If such laws were passed, women having an abortion would be guilty of murder as would the doctors who perform abortions. Women who lose the implanted egg during a car accident could be guilty of vehicular homicide. Disposing of fertilized eggs at a fertilization clinic would be considered murder. Women who take birth control pills that cause a spontaneous abortion would be guilty of murder. I could go on and on about the implications of such a law.
Whatever we may call the fertilized egg, a person it is not. Until the fetus is viable outside of the womb it should not be granted personhood status.
The vast majority of abortions take place prior to viability, with most occurring in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. Instead of focusing on the point where most abortions take place, the pro-life movement would rather focus on late-term abortions which make up 1 percent of all abortions. Of course. this is a calculated political move. What raises more money? Pictures of four-week-old fertilized eggs or 30-week-old aborted fetuses?
The pro-life movement here in northwest Ohio is missing a great opportunity to work with people like myself who don’t believe life begins at fertilization, but who sincerely desire to reduce the overall number of abortions.
I am in contact with a number of people who have similar views as mine. They sit in the back pew of the church, silenced by the rhetoric of the pro-life movement. They desire to work toward reducing abortions, but they have no opportunity to act on their beliefs because they are considered baby killers and often considered non-Christian.
If pro-lifers are sincerely interested in reducing abortions, then it is time for them to move down from their lofty pinnacle to where sinners like me, who are willing to work toward reducing abortion, are found.
Time to End the Wars in the Middle East
President Obama announced his wrongheaded, certain-to-be-disastrous, plan to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. For those of us who grew up during the Vietnam War, it is hard not to have visions of Lyndon Johnson, troop level escalations, and increasing numbers of American casualties. Obama is foolishly committing the same mistakes that Johnson committed 45 years ago.
The war being waged in Afghanistan and Iraq is unwinnable. Only by pulling some form of George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” can President Obama ever hope to claim victory in the Middle East.
Thirty years ago, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. At one point, the Soviets had 300,000 troops on the ground, yet they failed in conquering Afghanistan and ultimately withdrew in defeat. The Soviet’s war in Afghanistan is often referred to as their “Vietnam.”
Adding 30,000 troops to those already in Afghanistan will raise troops levels to around 140,000 troops. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 private contractors operating in Afghanistan, bringing the force total to 240,000 people.
According to a recent McClatchy News report, the recently revised Army counterinsurgency manual states that mounting a successful counterinsurgency effort, in a country with the population and land mass of Afghanistan, would require 600,000 troops!
It seems very clear to me that President Obama is making a grievous and politically fatal error in embracing and expanding the war that former President George Bush left him. As a committed liberal and pacifist, I believed the anti-war, bring-the-troops-home message that candidate Obama preached during the presidential campaign. While I allowed for the reality that Washington is a place of compromise and campaign promises left unfulfilled, I expected Barack Obama to make a good faith effort to end the bloodshed in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, President Obama has embraced the insane notion that by waging war a nation can end war. There has never been a war ended by war. Hostilities may cease but war has no power to end war. Only peace brings an end to war. Foolish are the people who think that killing people will bring an end to killing people.
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus did not say blessed are those who think peace is a good idea. He said blessed are those who make peace, who actively work for peace. Yet, here we are, a nation of millions of supposed Christ followers, and we continue to wage war with no end in sight.
I am 52 years old, and the United States has been actively involved in an offensive war somewhere in the world for almost half my life. It is hard not to conclude that we are a warring people who are willing to shed the blood of others to gain our objectives.
I renew my call to President Obama to end the war in the Middle East. I urge him to bring the troops home.
Evangelical Christian Church continues to grow while the mainstream Christian Church continues to decline. As the mainline Christian Church continues to decline, it seems likely that Protestantism will become a single party dominated by Evangelicalism. We see evidence of this in northwest Ohio. I do not know of a mainline Christian church in this area that would call itself a liberal, progressive church. Such a label would be societal suicide in our rural culture that is dominated by right-wing Christian and Republican ideology.
There are many important battles that loom on the horizon. While the election of Barack Obama dealt the political and religious right a severe blow, they have not been defeated. Theocrats, determined to make the Christian religion the official state religion, continue to argue for the enshrinement of the Christian God’s law as the law of the land. They continue to press for a revisionist history that paints our founding fathers as evangelicals and our nation as a Christian nation. The religious right continues to target local schools as a prime target for cultural change. Abstinence-only education, school prayer, Christian nationalism and intelligent design (which is nothing more than creationism in new clothes) are all points of attack that must be met head-on by those of us who are secularists. We cannot afford to give any ground to attempts to Christianize our schools and government.
Here in northwest Ohio we have become too complacent as right-wing religion (often joined at the hip with right-wing politics) pushes itself into every aspect of our daily life. A recent event is a case in point. The Bryan Jubilee was held recently. Thursday night was advertised as Christian Fun Night. The Jubilee is a public event. As such, there should be no exclusionary events. I wonder if the organizers of the Jubilee would allow the atheists, agnostics and deists of Williams County to have their own fun night, especially if that fun included acts that made light of the Evangelical Christian faith. I seriously doubt it. I want to encourage my fellow secularists and humanists to come out of the shadows and help stymie the continued encroachment of Evangelical Christianity into our schools and government. I realize our numbers are few, but we can make a difference if we are willing to speak out.
Not Everyone Believes or Accepts the Christian Narrative
Attempting to formulate a reply to the responses to my letter to the editor has left me with quite a quandary. In 500 words I must respond to issues that deserve far more treatment than I can give them. Every letter writer committed the same error as Jack Palmer.
They assumed a priori that everyone believes in the Bible, their God and their version of Christianity. According to them, it is self-evident that the Christian God is the true God. They base their assertion upon the Bible, and therein lies the problem. They believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. I suspect most of the letter writers also believe the Bible is inerrant.
I do not believe the Bible is a supernatural book. The Bible is a manmade book of spiritual writings. It is rooted in a nomadic and agrarian economy that no longer exists. The last book of the Bible was written 1,900 years ago. While certainly the Bible has some value in the 21st century, it is not a book that should be used as a divine road map for life nor as a rulebook for governing society.
The Bible is best suited for use in tribal worship, cultural events and acts of personal piety. In other words, our society is far better off if the Bible is relegated to the same shelf as the great classics of the past.
Because I do not believe the Bible to be the divine truth, threats of divine retribution and judgment have no meaning to me. They did at one time. I was a student of the Bible for over 33 years, attended a Christian college and pastored evangelical churches for 25 years. As an agnostic, I have a humanistic worldview. It is a worldview that focuses on the here and now rather than eternity and a mythical home in heaven.
With all the suffering in the world, time spent pining for a mansion in the sky seems scandalous. The responses to my letter make it very clear to me that no two Christians agree on anything. Every letter writer espoused a different form of Christianity. Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America.
Instead, what we do have is multiple Christianities, with every Christian picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible and then making God into their own image. Christians continue to use Pascal’s Wager with unbelievers to no effect. I would reverse the challenge and ask Christians, what if this is it? What if there is no heaven or hell?
What if you’ve spent your entire life seeking an eternal destiny that doesn’t exist? A life wasted that could have been spent enjoying the here and the now. A life wasted that could have been spent living and loving rather than trudging through a wicked world in search of a heaven and eternal reward that does not exist. We each have one life. This is it. Love and live.
Why Was There No News Report In the Crescent-News About the Reason Rally?
I waited in vain to see a Crescent-News report on the March 24 Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. Over 20,000 people gathered on The Mall to give their support to the idea that America should be a country governed by reason rather than superstition and religious dogma. The Reason Rally crowd was comprised of atheists, agnostics, humanists and secularists, every one of them with a love for America and its secular values and principles.
Noted speakers at the event included people like Richard Dawkins, David Silverman, Michael Shermer, James Randi, Dan Barker, Roy Speckhardt, Greta Christina and Nate Phelps, son of homophobic Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps. Videos from people like Bill Maher and Penn Jillette were shown and musicians like Bad Religion and Tim Minchin played for the crowd. Adam Savage, co-host of the popular TV show Mythbusters, gave a passionate speech that encouraged and stirred the secular crowd.
The Reason Rally was the American secularist movement’s coming out party. As the recent census showed, secularism is on the rise in America. As people turn away from religions that no longer provide the answers to life’s important questions, they are realizing that answers, hope, meaning and purpose can be found in a non-theistic, humanistic way of life. With no promise of heaven or threat of hell, secularists are focused on improving the world we live in. We only have one life and we best be about living it. If we want a better future for our progeny, we have no time to waste dreaming of promises of mansions in heaven.
I realize The Crescent-News leans toward the right politically and socially. The editorial page is so right-wing that it falls right off the right side of the page. That’s your right as a newspaper. I also realize you represent what the vast majority of Defiance area residents believe and support. However, you do have a duty to report the news and the March 24 Reason Rally was indeed news. It is news that is not going away. The Reason Rally was but the first shot over the bow of Ship Christian Nation. We are here and we are not going away.
Homosexuality and the Bible
Cal Thomas is right about one thing. The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality. The Bible is not ambiguous about homosexuality. It is a sinful behavior that is the mark of a reprobate heart. If the Bible is taken literally, it is clear that no homosexual will inherit the kingdom of God.
And this is the very reason the Bible should not be used as a legal standard in the United States. Christians are free to live according to the dictates of the Bible, however, in a secular state, a particular religion’s moral code of conduct has no business being codified into law.
There are many moral strictures in the Bible that many moderns find abhorrent. The Bible has been used in the past to justify all kinds of vile behavior. Not too many years ago segregationists routinely quoted the Bible to justify their dehumanizing of the African-American race. We matured as a nation and realized the Bible was wrong about slavery and the so-called inferior races.
In the same manner, the Bible is wrong about homosexuality. In fact, the Bible is wrong about many sexual matters. At best, the Bible is a religious text that promotes sexual repression and control. It is a book that is currently being used by single, white, Catholic men to deny women birth control and control of their own bodies. Christians who willingly submit to such anachronistic laws are free to do so, but Christian sects have no right to force, through the legal process, others to live by their moral code.
We say we are a Nation that believes in privacy but it seems that many Christians only support a right to privacy when what is being done in private lines up with their moral code. Simply put, Christians need to mind their own business when it comes to the sexual proclivities of others. What goes on behind closed doors between consenting adults is nobody’s business. Again, Christians are free to live according to their interpretation of the moral code of the Bible, but in a secular state they have no right to insist, through legal means, that others do so.
Homosexuals should have the same civil rights as any other American. Since marriage is a legal act licensed by the state, matters of religion have no place in the process. Two men, two women, or a man or woman should have the same freedom to marry. There is no civil reason for denying homosexuals the right to marry.
Christians need to realize that the United States is not a Christian nation. It never has been. Christianity does not deserve special status and certainly the Bible should have no weight when it comes to enacting law.
Our legal system should reflect what is best for the American people — how best to live as a pluralistic people in a secular state. Allowing homosexuals to marry and have the same civil rights as heterosexuals is absolutely essential as we mature as a nation.
Who is the “Our God?”
Who is this “our God” I keep reading about in the letters to the editor section of The Crescent-News?
If the letter writers spoke of our flag, our country, our military, or our government, I would readily understand what they mean. As a citizen of the United States, I have a common connection with all other U.S. citizens. Our country belongs to all of us, contrary to what right-wingers think when they speak of taking back their country.
When the Star Spangled Banner is played, I remove my hat and turn my face toward the flag of my native land. However, when the national anthem of the “our God” crowd, God Bless America, is played, I refuse to bow in obeisance to the “our God.”
We have no “our God” in the United States. We may be one people, under one flag, willingly governed by those we elect to office, but we do not have a common God, a deity that every citizen must worship and obey.
Where in the U.S. Constitution is this “our God” mentioned? At best, the U.S. Constitution mentions a generic God, a deist form of a Creator God. Even then, the founders of this country, understanding the danger of having state-sanctioned religion, made sure that there was a separation of church and state, and no religious requirement for holding office. They made sure there was not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. Christian, atheist and Muslim alike are equal in the eyes of the state.
So, I ask again, who is this “our God?” Of course, every letter writer would say “our God” is the Christian God. Again, I would ask, which Christian God? The Trinitarian God of the Lutheran or the non-Trinitarian God of the Oneness Pentecostal? The Calvinist God or the Arminian God? Which of the thousands of Christian sects have the “our God?”
Christians bitterly disagree and separate from one another over matters like salvation, baptism and communion. If Christians cannot agree on these basic teachings, how can there be an “our God?” The division and internecine warfare among Christians reveals the bankruptcy of the notion that there is an “our God.”
All that letter writers have is a personal God, a God they believe exists. I have no problem with them having a God or believing whatever they want to believe about that God. However, when they suggest that their personal God must be the God of all then I take issue with such a claim. As a citizen of a secular state that codified the freedom of, and from, religion in its founding documents, I object to any suggestion that there is an “our God” I must worship and obey.
Going down the “our God” road leads to violence, bloodshed and a loss of freedom. Such a notion must be resisted at every turn, lest we wake up one morning and find a Christian theocracy ruling the United States.
Evangelical Vote No Longer Enough to Carry Election
After the re-election of President Obama, Dr. Al Mohler, a noted right-wing Southern Baptist leader, told his followers that the American people had heard the right-wing message and rejected it.
Contrary to recent letters to the editor, the reason President Obama was re-elected was not because right-wing Christians didn’t vote. They did vote, and as this election makes very clear, their numbers are no longer sufficient to carry a national election.
What is the message of the religious right? Is it an inclusive message? Is it a message that broadly appeals to Americans?
The religious-right and the Republican Party are joined at the hip, and the Republican Party’s unwillingness to sever this tie has led to embarrassing defeats in the last two presidential elections.
Thanks to the religious right and the Tea Party, the Republican Party is now an extremist party dominated by white, aging, right-wing Christians. The Party is now known, like fundamentalist Christian churches are, for what they are against rather than what they are for.
As Mohler rightly understood, most Americans have rejected the right-wing exclusionary message. More and more Americans are coming to understand that mixing politics and religion is harmful to our republic.
Groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group I proudly support, continue to point out the unconstitutional entanglement of church and state in our schools and government entities. Every month the Freedom from Religion Foundation newsletter reports legal victories in cases concerning the separation of church and state. The courts continue, much to the consternation of the religious right, to reaffirm the legal fact the United States is a secular state and there is a strict wall of separation between church and state.
Twenty percent of Americans are now considered “nones,” people who are indifferent to religion or are atheists or agnostics. What is most encouraging is that this percentage jumps to 34 percent for young adults.
Young adults increasingly reject the bigoted, exclusionary message of right-wing Christianity (and by extension the Republican Party). On issues like homosexuality, abortion, immigration, socialized medicine, and war, young adults reject the message and values of right-wing Christianity.
I am encouraged by the changing beliefs and values of American young adults. I am profoundly glad that my six children have rejected the narrow, judgmental, exclusionary right-wing Christianity they were raised in. I have great hope that my eight grandchildren will grow up to be loving, accepting adults who do not judge others based on their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.
In the Bible there is a story about King Belshazzar (Daniel 5). The Bible has this to say about Belshazzar’s kingdom: Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting. This is exactly what is happening in America. The right-wing Christian message has been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Belshazzar lost his kingdom and exclusionary, bigoted right-wing Christians are losing theirs. This is good news for all who love freedom and liberty.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.
What follows is a sampling of my letters to the editors of the Bryan Times and Defiance Crescent-News I wrote between 1997 and 2008. These letters should forever put an end to the notion that I was never a True Christian®. These letters also should help current readers understand why former congregants and colleagues in the ministry are so troubled and upset by my defection from the one true faith. Readers should also note how my politics shifted leftward during this period of time. Please see my previous post, 1986-1995: A Look at My Writing as an IFB Pastor, for other letters I wrote as a Christian.
America is in Big Trouble
America is in trouble… big trouble. The moral and ethical structure of our nation is crumbling at its very foundation. We, at one time, accepted the “law of God” as our moral and ethical standard, but now, relativism reigns supreme. Law, morality, and ethics are relative to the situation and circumstance. It seems that there are no absolutes. We debate such issues as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, homosexuality, etc., and by our debate suggest that God has not spoken on these issues. God’s law is not a mystery. His law is clear. It is we, as defiant creatures, who have shaken our fist at the heavens and said, “We will not have You to rule over us.” As a result, instead of being ruled by the laws of Jehovah, we are ruled by the laws and system of corrupt humans. We have become a nation of people aptly described as “they did what was right in their own eyes.”
Who do we blame for the mess we are in? It is easy to blame the politicians. It is easy to point to the Clinton/Gore administration and say “they are the problem.” Recent articles in the Bryan Times reported on the meeting of the Christian Coalition. They were quick to blame the Democrats for all the ills in our society, all the while ignoring the ethical and moral lapses of those they support (i.e. Newt Gingrich). No, I would contend that what we see in Washington is a consequence and not a source of our ills.
The blame must be laid on the church and her ministers. There was a day when the church and her ministers were respected and were considered the moral voice of the community and our nation. Such is not the case today. Society has concluded that the church is irrelevant and her ministers are nothing more than educated buffoons. We are told to keep our religion within the four walls of the church (separation of church and state you know) and to keep our moral and ethical pronouncements to ourselves. If a prophetic voice is raised, screams of “Thou shalt not judge” are quickly heard. We, as ministers of the gospel, should be ashamed for allowing our voices to be silenced in such a manner. God has called us to be a clear voice of light in our decadent society. How then, can we be the prophets of God has called us to be?
First, we need to be reminded of who the boss is in this world. It is not the government, it is not society, it is not any mere human: it is God. He is the Sovereign of the universe. He is the Creator and we are the creatures. Our society needs to be reminded of who is in charge and that we will all be held accountable on Judgment Day.
Second, we need to be reminded of the authority of the Bible and the law of God. The Bible is God’s written revelation to man. His laws are to be loved and obeyed. The pulpits of America have been silent to the law of God and as a result antinomianism reigns. Church members have no absolutes and as a result they follow their own rules or they let “their conscience be their guide.” The greatness of a nation is directly related to the respect and obedience it gives to the law of God.
Third, we need to return to being bastions of absolute truth and morality. Ministers need to be thundering prophets instead of mild, wimpy church mice. There is no time for compromise. The battle is real and we must fight. On Judgment Day we will not be judged on our popularity, but rather on how we faithfully fought the battle and kept the faith.
Fourth, we need to stop trying to be culturally relevant to such a degree that we sacrifice what is true and honoring to God. The appearance of Audio Adrenaline at the Williams County Fair is case in point. In an effort to “reach”young people (and perhaps fill the grandstands) two high-powered “Christian” rock ‘n roll groups were booked at the fair. When Audio Adrenaline took the stage the party began to rock and roll. Complete with body piercing and mosh pits, we were given a quick lesson on how far we have slipped in our Christian society. We see the troubles that young people face and we think by lowering the standard and meeting them at the lowest common denominator we’ll “reach” them. Sadly we have been deceived. Young people need to hear truth, absolute truth. They need to hear preaching that challenges, provokes, and rebukes. They need to hear the kind of preaching that ultimately lead them to a higher standard in Jesus Christ. We have become convinced that the timeless methods that God has ordained no longer work. This is the ultimate deception.
Fifth, we need to return the word SIN to our vocabulary. God says sin is transgression of the law of God. The church and her ministers are not the final authority on what is holy and what is sin. God is. Ministers are called on to repeat what God has said (thus saith the Lord). Because of the fear of men, we do not preach on the “hard” subjects. We piously leave that to the “conscience” of the people. Such denial of responsibility will not wash with God on Judgment Day. We desperately need a revival of preaching against sin and the preaching of the solution to sin that is found in Jesus Christ.
When will we learn that people want truth and not compromise? We fear being rejected or ridiculed. We fear our message will not be heard, or that we will be viewed as Bible-thumping fanatics. Well, a cursory reading of the Bible will show that we would be in good company. The prophets of old did not conform to their society, but instead demanded that their society conform to the truth of God’s Word. They demanded of all men everywhere that they”repent and believe the gospel.”
I would ask my fellow ministers and fellow Christians…when our eulogy is read what will be said? Will we be remembered as one who was a true follower of Jesus Christ? One who was faithful to his holy Word? Will our life reflect one who was a radical follower of Jesus? Life is short and in but a few days we will pass from this life. Let us labor for that which is eternal. Let us restore those things we have let slip and restore God as the rightful ruler of our nation.
Evolution is Incompatible with Christianity
I am writing in response to the recent editorial that suggested evolution is not being taught in public schools because teachers fear right-wing religious zealots. The zealots are portrayed as being anti-science and intellectually stunted. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Evolution is a theory. Even the writer of the editorial admits such. Yet, just a few paragraphs later, he advocates teaching the theory as fact. He then states that man cannot understand biology without evolution.
What arrogant presumption and distortion of truth. Evolution is a theory of “how” things came into existence. It is, at its root, a faith religion that suggests a random existence apart from a divine being. Evolution demands that there is no God, no creator, and that man is nothing more than the most evolved of creatures. Man becomes nothing more than an animal that has evolved to a more mature state than that of other animals.
Evolution is incompatible with Christianity. Christianity begins with the premise that God is, and whatever God says is true. The Bible is God’s revelation to man, and he reveals in the first three chapters of Genesis how this world came into existence. To deny the biblical record is to deny God and his revelation, and the result is eternal damnation. Christians fear being viewed as ignorant if they deny the teachings of evolution. They become just like the schoolteachers who fear the religious zealots. If God is who he says he is, and he meant what he said in the Scriptures, then let us not fear, but instead declare boldly “Thus saith the Lord.”
It is time that we make some radical changes to our printed money and the pledge of the Allegiance. Both our printed money and the Pledge of Allegiance give testimony to the historical truth that the United States was a country that believed in God. Not just any God, but Jehovah God, the God of the Christian Bible.
Sadly, we as a nation no longer believe in Jehovah. Due to misguided thinking about pluralism and tolerance, we have become a nation of many gods. Those that dare assert that we were founded as a Christian nation (and a Protestant Christian nation at that) are labeled narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant miscreants.
The God attested to on our printed money and in the Pledge of Allegiance is no longer allowed to be mentioned in our country. Recently, a young girl wanted to sing the song Kumbaya at a camp talent show. She was not permitted to sing this song because it mentioned the word Lord. Government schools have eradicated every vestige of God from the classroom. The very schools that were founded on Christian principles (just look at a set of McGuffey Readers) have not only left that foundation, but try to insist such a foundation never existed. School officials are so afraid of God (or is it the god called the ACLU) that children no longer have Easter break. Instead, they have spring break. Children are given two weeks off at Christmas, yet they are never told what Christmas is. Attend the average government school Christmas program and you will come away with the conclusion that Christmas is all about snow, Rudolph, Frosty, et al. Pages could be written on the deliberate banishment of Jehovah from every aspect of public life.
What are the reasons for this happening? They are several. First, there is the mythical, so-called “separation of Church and State.” The separation clause is routinely quoted by government and school officials when they want to dismiss the religious requests and activities of others. Truth is, what is really happening is that Jehovah is the only God not welcome. All other gods are quite welcome. The god of humanism is quite welcome. The new age god is welcome. This past school year, in a Williams County elementary classroom, a teacher took class time to teach the children about serial killers. Our children can be taught about such perverse things, but they can not be taught the solution to serial killing (faith in God)? Schools try to enforce a moral and ethical code yet they fail. Why? You cannot have morals and ethics without a religious foundation. Morals and ethics demand an answer to the question “WHY is this wrong?” Why is it wrong to have sex before marriage? Why is it wrong to steal? Without God and His standard, the Ten Commandments, we have no foundation for morality and ethics.
Another reason is the myth called toleration. Liberals and conservatives alike bandy about the thought of toleration. The foundation of toleration is that all truth is equal and that all viewpoints are valid. Our country has become one big comparative religion class. Truth is, there is no such thing as true toleration, nor can there be. Christians believe the Bible to be their standard of morality and ethics. They believe the Bible to be, not just one truth among many, but THE TRUTH! Christians are called on to love what God loves and hate what God hates. Yes, we are a narrow, intolerant bunch because we dare suggest there is but one God, one way to heaven. We dare suggest there is but one moral and ethical code, the Bible. We dismiss arguments couched in words “well that’s your opinion,“ and we reply by saying “Thus saith the Lord.” Matters such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, drunkenness, abortion etc. are not matters for political debate. The Bible is clear on such matters.
It is amazing how we have redefined that which God calls sin. Homosexuality is called an alternative lifestyle. Drunkenness is called a disease. The adulterous partner is now called the significant other. On and on and on it goes. God said “Be not deceived . . . for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” We are reaping our harvest in America. The foundations are crumbling. Is anyone paying attention?
It’s time we either admit that Jehovah is dead and remove His name from our money and the pledge of allegiance or perhaps it is time we reassert the kingdom rights of the true and living God. God’s people need to stand up and be counted. Not in Marches for Jesus, but in the workplace, the school. the government and in every public arena of life. We need to sound forth that name which is above every name. That name, and only that name, by which men shall be saved.
The anniversary of the famed Supreme Court decision Roe vs Wade has just passed. Almost 30 years ago the Supreme Court ruled that abortion on demand was legal in the United States. Since that time, a battle between the forces called pro-life and pro-choice has raged without abatement in our country. We truly are a nation divided when it comes to abortion. Both sides have taken to the legal and political arena in an attempt to stifle or crush their opposition. In the case of the pro-life movement, some on the far extreme of the movement have taken to murdering clinic workers and the doctors who perform the abortions. Several men with such beliefs are on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
How are we, as Christians, to respond to the continued murder of babies in abortion clinics, private doctors’ offices, and hospitals? Some may suggest that I am asserting that the terms “Christian” and “pro-life” are synonymous. Such an observation is correct. “Christianity” and “pro-choice” are not compatible one with the other. I have written a number of times over the years on this issue, and each time I receive letters from supposed pro-choice Christians. Perhaps such folks are well-intentioned, but it is theologically impossible to square being a Christian with also being pro-choice. To be a Christian is to walk in the steps of, and follow after, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was pro-life and the Law of God states very clearly “Thou shalt not kill.”
The command “Thou shalt not kill” has a positive precept attached to it. That precept is “thou shalt preserve life.” If we are not to kill, then we are to preserve life instead. This preserving of life extends to not only the abortion clinic, but also the prison and countries where we are engaged in war. The Bible teaches and permits capital punishment, but it also prescribes when and who it is to be carried out. The Bible permits just war, but it also prescribes when and how such war is to be carried out. We must always remember that the killing of other human beings shows the baseness of human society, not its superiority. As Christians, we have a duty to preserve life at every opportunity. We must stand against abortion. We must work to outlaw the practice in the United States and the rest of the world. We should also be actively working to promote justice for those in prison and to insist that God’s law be followed in the execution of those guilty of first-degree murder. We must hold our government and military accountable for its actions in Afghanistan. Find the terrorists. Punish the evildoer, but in doing so do no harm to innocent men, women and children.
We must continue to wage the war of words with the pro-choice crowd. They speak of the “woman’s right to choose” and yet they are rarely challenged to the assertions they make in regard to this statement. I too, support a “woman’s right to choose.” She makes a choice to have sexual relations with a man, and she must live with the consequences of such an action. The pro-choice movement is at the forefront of the “right to have sex whenever with whomever movement” and then with the quickness of a magician they deny any accountability for the choice that is made. There are many choices a pregnant woman can make, but far too often abortion is the only option given because it is the easy way out. Adoption is an option. Extended family assistance in raising the child is an option. Our government needs to streamline the adoption process making it easy for families to adopt these unwanted babies
We must do more than just object to abortion. We must also put our words into action. We must help support women in their pregnancy and provide the means for their care. Every unwanted baby needs a home. My wife and I are the parents of six children, yet if needed, we would take on the responsibility of another child. It would not be easy, but our words must be backed up with action.
We must continue to oppose the fringes of the pro-life movement that advocates violence and murder in the name of God. Murdering a baby via abortion is a sin but so is murdering an abortion clinic doctor. We must not bear the sword. God gives government the responsibility of bearing the sword to punish evildoers. As we stand against abortion we must work to change the laws of the land. Abortion must once again be illegal. We must work to enact laws that make it criminal to participate in any part of the abortion process. We need to stop the tax flow to organizations that promote abortion. Let Planned Parenthood get its money from its liberal constituents, but not from the American taxpayer. There is much work to do and killing an abortion doctor will not stop the abortion mills. There will always be another to take their place. Instead, we must make abortion illegal thus removing the financial incentives that continue to fuel the abortion mills.
It is easy to become complacent in the matter of abortion. As I watched the events of September 11th, my heart was grieved. I mourned and wept for days over the tragic loss of life. Yet, keeping it all in perspective, the loss of life at Ground Zero equals one day of work in the abortion clinics of America. Our hands are covered with the blood of millions of babies that have been aborted since that fateful day when Roe vs. Wade became law. We must not rest until justice for all once again prevails in our Land. May God give us the grace and strength necessary to not waver in this battle of battles.
Nuclear War and the Prince of Peace
What a wonderful and beautiful Christmas Day! The ground is blanketed with six or so inches of snow and all is peaceful and quiet. There is nothing more beautiful than a crisp winter morning after an overnight snowfall. This wintry scene causes me to reflect on the glory of Christmas Day and the meaning of it. Christmas is about redemption. Christmas is about Jesus the Son of God taking on human flesh, and being born of the virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem. Jesus came into the world at the appointed time to bring redemption to all men. He came to proclaim peace and justice for all. He is called the Prince of Peace. Later in His life, Jesus would declare that peace and justice were to be character traits of those who profess to be followers of Him.
It is thoughts of peace and justice that now begin to cloud my mind on this Christmas Day. Jesus came to bring peace, yet there is no peace. Jesus came to bring justice, yet there is no justice. Those who claim to be His followers show little concern for peace and justice. It seems they are all too busy with eating, drinking, and being merry to concern themselves with such weighty notions of peace and justice. But, concern ourselves with them we must.
I have been reading of late the Social Essays of the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton. These essays were written at the height of the cold war and the Vietnam War. I am amazed at how timely Merton’s essays are for today, though they were written 40 years ago. In his time, Merton had to constantly battle censors within the Catholic Church who attempted to silence his anti-war message. Merton was quite creative in the ways he got his message to the public. His voice still speaks loudly today.
Merton’s essays on nuclear war, unilateralism, and preemptive war should be required reading for all Americans. Merton reminds us of the lunacy of the notion that a nuclear war can be fought and won. Once the buttons are pushed, the world as we know it ceases to exist. Thoughts of non-defensive, unilateral, preemptive war, Merton reminds us, are immoral and should be condemned by all Christians.
Today, America sits on the precipice of nuclear world war. We have become the big bully who thinks he can get his way by bluffing and threatening. Every once in a while, the bully even whips some weakling to show who is the toughest. Such is the case with Iraq. But now we have added North Korea to our list of nations we are intent on bullying. Unfortunately, North Korea does not quiver and shake at our threats. They well remember an America who could not defeat them during the Korean War. Since then, the North Koreans have added nuclear and biological weapons to their arsenal. According to recent newspaper reports, the North Koreans are quite willing to use what weapons they have to defend themselves.
What troubles me the most in all of this is the silence emanating from the pulpits of America. It seems the only voice that is heard is from warmongers such as Jerry Falwell. Does he, and those like him, speak for the rest of us? The German Church silently sat by while Hitler put into force the plans and programs that would later give us World War II and the Holocaust. Now, the clergy of America sit by silently as George Bush and Company put into force programs like the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act. George Bush threatens war and destruction on any nation that opposes him. Our insane notion of national superiority, coupled with immoral capitalistic greed, is leading us down a path that is certain to have catastrophic results, yet nary a word is heard from our pulpits.
The Scriptures are clear, Christians are called to be people of peace and justice. We are to be peacemakers. It is absurd to suggest, as George Bush does, that by waging war we will have peace. War always begets war, and history bears this out. Only peace begets peace. It is time for all nations, including America, to lay aside and destroy ALL weapons of mass destruction. Our nation needs to repudiate its doctrine concerning preemptive first strikes against other nations. The world needs to know that America will be a peacemaking nation that desires peace and freedom for all men. While we must leave space for defensive war or even what the theologians call “just war,” we must forsake attacking and killing others just because we do not like their government structure or way of life. Muslims have a right to live as they live without America interfering in their affairs. It is time we stop exporting Western civilization as the answer to the world’s problems. Better for us to concern ourselves with our own moral, ethical, and civil failures than trying to fix the problems of the world.
Fifty or so years ago the phrase “better dead than Red” was coined. Unfortunately, that philosophy is still alive and well. The proponents of this notion believe it is better for us all to be dead than to have any government or civilization than the one we have now. We had best think about the reality of such a notion because when the nuclear bombs start falling, it will be too late. The Reagan/Bush Star Wars notion of missile defense will not save us once the bombs start to fall. It will only take a few bombs to render this world unlivable. Those who survive will wish they had not.
It is not too late. Voices must be raised in opposition and protest to the war policy of the Bush administration. Protesters must make their voice heard via letters and public protest. Conscientious men and women in the military must say “I will not” to their leaders who want to slaughter them on the altar of political and economic gain. Politicians must get some backbone and be willing to stand up to the warmongering hawks on Capitol Hill. They have been raised up “for such a time as this!”
A Cat Killer is On the Loose
A cat killer is loose in Williams County. He is known by our local authorities. He even boasts of his cat killing and the enjoyment it gives him. Why should this be a concern to anyone? After all, he is just killing cats, right?
The Humane Society spoke of prosecuting the man because cats are considered property, and by his actions he violated the property rights of the cat owner (s). Do they have any moral standing apart from their relation to their owner?
All animals are a part of God’s created order. They were endowed by their creator with life, and with that life given certain rights. Animals have a right to be respected as created beings within the context of the order of Creation. While it is debated whether or not animals should be eaten for food, there should be no debate concerning the care of, love for, and responsibility to animals. Factory farms, factory slaughter houses, trophy hunting, and abandoned, mistreated animals are all abhorrent testimonies to the depravity of man. The wicked man cares not for the life of his beast (Proverbs 12:10).
The man who killed these cats should be prosecuted. Prosecutors who hide behind their prosecutorial discretion should be reminded of voter discretion at the next election. We need government leaders who recognize that cruelty to animals is just as abhorrent as a crime against a human. If we do not prosecute when it involves the “least” of us, who is to say we will not turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to other immoral behaviors deemed more serious by the powers that be?
If this man cannot be prosecuted, how about a sign in front of his house that says “Beware, cat killer lives here!”
The Rise of a New Christian Fundamentalism
There is a new fundamentalism rising up in America. While it has Christian theological overtones, it is really right-wing political extremism wrapped in the clothes of conservative Christian dogma. There was a time when politics and religion did not mix and were considered separate planes in God’s created order. Things are much different today. Political activism from the pulpit is common. A recent front-page feature article in the Columbus Dispatch about Rod Parsley, pastor of World Harvest Church in Columbus shows very clearly the agenda of this new fundamentalism. Parsley pastors a Church with over 10,000 members. The annual Church budget is in excess of $32,000,000. Parsley advocates pastors rising up to become Patriot Pastors. Theocracy is the goal.
Some would suggest that we ignore this folly and it will fade away as quickly as the Atkins Diet. Our nation has faced many well-intentioned but misguided attempts at reclaiming the culture for God. All have run their course. All have utterly failed because they attempt to use political means to gain a spiritual end.
But we can not ignore this movement because it is resulting in the death and maiming of thousands of people. Virtually every person involved in this new fundamentalism supports the war in Iraq. They have bought into the rhetoric that the war in Iraq is a war of good vs. evil. Opposition to the war is shouted down with angry words such as traitor, unpatriotic, liberal, etc. All discussion has ceased. Arrogant fundamentalism has usurped the right to speak for all Christians. We must always remember that one the key tenets of fundamentalism is the belief that you have the complete truth, and that all other views are error. No discussion. No shades of gray. Those who hold a different view are considered the enemy.
The most dangerous factor in the Iraq war is the fundamentalist religious right. Their thinking is not much different from the fundamentalist Muslims. They believe God is on their side and that the infidel needs to be destroyed. It is no wonder that many Muslims view the war in Iraq as a religious war. America, led by a Christian President, claims to be a Christian nation. God is invoked to justify virtually everything we do.
Most of the leaders of the fundamentalist religious right have a particular eschatological belief called pretribulational premillennialism. This is the theology of the wildly popular Left Behind book series. It is a relatively modern school of eschatological thought which is first found in writings of the mid-19th century. According to this system of thought, the world is headed toward a seven-year period called the Great Tribulation. This period of time concludes with Armageddon, at which time the thousand-year millennial kingdom of Christ will be established. Prior to the Great Tribulation, Jesus will return and rapture out all the Christians. it is important to keep this in mind when listening to the war rhetoric of the fundamentalist religious right. According to their theological system, Mathew 24 must be literally fulﬁlled. One of the key tenets of Matthew 24 is “war and rumors of war.“ Those holding to this theological persuasion have no impetus to be “peacemakers.“ War is inevitable, and the more war we have the closer we are to the rapture.
I am a conservative Christian. My theology and personal lifestyle practices place me squarely in the conservative Christian camp. Unfortunately, I am, along with many others, the son no one talks about. We sit silently in church while our ministers talk up war and nationalism from the pulpit. l speak for those who are Christians but who can not support the war in Iraq. I speak for those who believe that Jesus called us to be ”peacemakers.” It is not enough to believe in peace. We must actively promote peace.
Where are the conservative Churches and pastors that take a stand against war and actively promote peace? Have we become so blinded by our political agenda and fanciful eschatological interpretations that we have forsaken the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount?
We should note that when justification for war is talked about, it is the name of God that is invoked. Have you noticed that no one says, “Jesus supports the War In Iraq?“ Using the generic term God invokes the image of the wrathful God of the Old Testament. When we speak the name of Jesus we come away with a different image. We do not see Jesus as the soldier, the warrior. We see him as the shepherd, as the meek, mild-mannered, peace-loving Savior of the world.
The Dangers of Christian Nationalism
Throughout the history of the Christian church, it has been commonly believed that state and church, both ordained by God, operate on separate, yet equal planes of authority. This is commonly called the “separation of church and state.” History painfully reminds us of what happens when state and church are joined together. This union always results in the death of many people and the authority of both the state and the church being compromised. Adolph Hitler would not have been successful during World War II without the joining of church and state together. The church lost her moral authority when she became complicit in the Aryan teachings and programs of the Nazi regime. Yes, there were those who stood against Hitler and his murderous minions, but, for the most part, the German church remained silent. As a result, the world was plunged into war and millions of people suffered and died. This is but one example of many that could be pulled from the pages of history. I am using it because it is “current” history and one that can readily be researched.
The world owes a great debt to the United States for her willingness to stand against Germany and her attempt to rule the world. The United States stood on solid moral footing and she is to be commended for her courage and sacrifice. With such a great moral stand also comes a great challenge; to remain humble in the light of great victory. Coming out of World War II, the United States had the approval and appreciation of the world. Sixty years later the United States is now viewed as an imperialistic superpower that is intent on dominating and taking over the world one nation at a time. How did this happen?
Pride! One-word answer. Pride! Reinhold Niebuhr, shortly after the end of World War II said this:
We are indeed the execution of God’s judgment yesterday. But we might remember the prophetic warnings to the nations of old, that nations which become proud because they were divine instruments must, in turn, stand under the divine judgment and be destroyed……If ever a nation needed to be reminded of the perils of vainglory, we are that nation in the pride of our power and our victory.
As the post-September 11, 2001 era continues, there is an increasingly ugly, nationalistic pride that is rising up in the United States. This errant pride is seen in our nation’s actions in Iraq and in the continued saber-rattling against Iran. Strong traces of it can be viewed in the current debate going on in the United States over Mexican immigration.
A clear distinction needs to be made between patriotism and nationalism. According to Michael Dyson in his book titled Pride, “Patriotism is the critical affirmation of one’s country in light of its best values, including the attempt to correct it when it is in error. Nationalism is the uncritical support of one’s nation regardless of its moral or political bearing.” Sadly, much of what is called patriotism in the United States is actually prideful, sinful, nationalism.
As in Germany during World War II, this errant nationalism is graphically on display in churches everywhere. Christian theology has been wedded with political ideology and given a healthy baptism of flag-waving nationalism and the result is that the church in the United States has abandoned her call to follow Jesus. Far too many churches, including an unhealthy number of churches in this area, have become pawns in a political chess game. Such churches have lost their prophetic voice. Where is the voice calling out for justice and mercy? Where is the voice calling out for peace in the name of the Prince of Peace?
The flag-waving nationalism on display in many churches needs to stop. Ties with liberal or conservative political agendas need to be broken. The war in Iraq and Mexican immigration need to be viewed through the teaching of Jesus instead of a political party’s platform. It is time to repent.
Over the past 36 months, I have visited a good number of churches in the northwest Ohio area, including churches in Indiana and Michigan. I have yet to hear one critical word concerning the War in Iraq. I did hear numerous words promoting the war, and sometimes I was almost certain that I was hearing a public service announcement from the defense department. Why are the pulpits of so many churches silent on this crucial issue? Even churches that come from the “peace” denominations are strangely silent or even go so far as to promote war, in direct contradiction to their church doctrine. I realize I cannot make absolute judgments when I only visit a church once or a few times, but overall the silence is deafening.
It seems that many churches are requiring allegiance to the State and her war policy as a test of fidelity to Jesus. If one dare raise a voice of objection, immediate questions of salvation and love for country are raised. Coward, un-American, unsaved, liberal, and military hater are some of the kinder words hurled at those who, in Jesus’ name, oppose war. In spite of the name-calling, lovers of peace must continue to stand for peace. It is the LEAST we can do. Churches and ministers must be prodded and cajoled, and if need be, shamed into returning to being prophetic voices in the world. Instead of allowing political agendas to control the voice of the church, the clear and emphatic teachings of Jesus must set the agenda. It is time to stop the debates about “just war” (which is nothing more than political ideology wearing theological clothes) and return to doing what Jesus commands us to do; love our enemies and be a people who actively promote peace.
The Dangers of Christian Nationalism
Every time Christians gather together for communion, it is for the purpose of memorializing the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus on the cross has many theological implications: redemption and sanctification among many others. The death of Jesus also has political implications. His death, along with his resurrection from the dead, proclaimed a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. Who, and all that Jesus did, challenges the politics and agendas of every generation. There is a new King in the world, and Jesus is his name.
Last Sunday, many churches took time to briefly mention Memorial Day. Some churches had full-blown patriotic rallies, complete with the presenting of the colors and taps. Others sang a few patriotic songs and said a quick prayer for those who have died in our nation’s wars. Some took time to honor church members who are serving or had served in the Military.
I always prepare myself for what “may” happen in church on our nation’s various national holidays. I would prefer that churches not meld worship of God and nationalism together, but I have come to the place where I can tolerate it in short doses. Interjecting nationalism into our worship of God diminishes the focus of our worship, and can, if we are not careful, suggest that Christianity and American nationalism are one and the same.
In many sermons, we will hear that Christians need to view the sacrifice of war in and of itself, separated from its theological and political implications. An attempt is made to link the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus laid down his life for others and in war we are called on to do the same.
It is unwise to connect the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrifice of war. Jesus was the guiltless dying for the guilty. In war, there are no guiltless parties. It is also impossible to divorce the sacrifice of war from its theological and political implications. War ALWAYS has such implications.
My prayer is that churches will stop being agents for the political agendas of the Republican and Democratic parties. Instead of giving public service announcements for the defense department, churches would be truer to their calling if they proclaimed what Jesus said about peace and loving our enemies. I am still waiting to hear a sermon anywhere that takes seriously the claims and teachings of Jesus concerning peace and as a result, declares the war in Iraq to be contrary to Christian teaching. Instead of wrangling about “just war” I hope and pray churches will wrangle with the implications of “thou shalt not kill,” “love your enemies,” and “blessed are the peacemakers.”It is certainly proper and right to quietly remember those who have died during our nation’s wars. Some died defending freedom, others died for a political agenda, but all died as Americans and we should remember them. We should also take time to reflect on the awfulness of war and the danger of a nation with unchecked arrogance waging war against all who cross her path.
Paying Attention to Africa
Kenya is burning and the American government fiddles while it does. Kenyan Christians flee to a church for safety and are burned alive by Muslim extremists. Hundreds have been killed and thousands are fleeing for their lives. The government is in total collapse and the economy is being destroyed by rampant hyper-inflation.
One recent missionary letter I read reported gasoline selling for $20 a gallon. Kenya is another Rwanda or Sudan in the making. This is yet another chapter in a sordid African tale in which millions are dying or maimed and entire countries are destroyed. What is constant in this story is, for the most part, the American government and the Christian church stand by and do nothing.
Oh, we may throw some money at the problem, utter meaningless words like “genocide” and mutter some general non-efficacious prayers, but for the most part, Americans don’t care. Why is this?
I believe there are two basic reasons why Americans have little care or concern for the slaughter going in Africa. First, most Africans are black. I guarantee you that if 50 white European Christians were burned alive in a church by Muslim extremists, there would be outrage in America. There is a deep-seated racism in America towards black people. It is so deeply rooted many people are unaware of it. One could almost excuse it, but in the case of Kenya, Rwanda and Sudan, it has cost millions of people their lives.
Second, most Africans are poor. They live on a few dollars a day. They offer little of value to the world. They live lives of subsistence and most die leaving few, if any, material goods behind. They are but a blip on the screen of the American economy. While some oil production does come from Africa, it is not a major player in the oil market.
The bottom line is Africa does not matter. Africans have always been killing each other. Africans have always been starving. Africans have always had social and civil unrest. But we should care. A human catastrophe is taking place.
A whole country is being ravaged and slaughtered by war and disease. Almost half of the population in Swaziland is infected with AIDS. Thousands of children die from malnutrition every day. Thousands more are orphaned.
It is immoral for us to sit by and do nothing. I want to appeal to my fellow Christians to insist that their churches and pastors pray for, and actively get involved in, ending the carnage and suffering in Africa.
Write letters to government leaders pleading for action in Africa. Find humanitarian groups that are working on the ground in Africa and support them with your money. Educate your children about Africa and, most of all, search your heart for latent racism that may keep you from seeing black Africans for who they are — precious children of God.
We will never collectively progress as a nation until we admit that much of our social, economic and political belief is based upon myth. Time shapes facts into collective myths that are rarely, if ever, examined by the average citizen.
Christian ministers continue to preach the Christian nation myth. America has never been, and never will be, unless the Christian right gets its way, a Christian nation. We have always been a secular, pluralistic society. Any notion to the contrary is revisionism and not supported by our collective history. In secular America there is a clear separation of church and state. For this reason, questions concerning the religious beliefs and practices of presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama should be considered out of bounds and irrelevant.
Our political leaders continue to preach the myth of continual economic growth. Few people seem to question the notion of continual economic growth. Is unlimited, unconstrained growth possible? Will we ever reach a place where no more growth can take place? Do we really need one more restaurant in Defiance? Do we really need one more drug store? Do we really need another church on another corner? How many varieties of the same old stuff do we really need? When will our razor have enough blades?
We are rapidly approaching the time where the myth of continual growth will be clearly revealed. Soaring food and energy prices, collapsing housing and economic markets are all signs that continual growth is not sustainable. Words like sustainability, conservation and self-sufficiency are the common vocabulary of the future. An economy built on consumption will ultimately fail because it cannot sustain itself. We are consuming ourselves to death. We cannot rely on the government to tell us the truth about the economic condition of America. Statistics like the GDP, unemployment, poverty rate, etc. are massaged and manipulated by government officials to such a degree that they are essentially meaningless.
The evangelical Christian church and many of our government leaders continue to promote the myth that war brings peace. In fact, our entire national history rests on the foundation of this myth. Our nation has a bloody, warring history. We have bombed, killed and destroyed all who have stood in our way. From the early days of our nation to the present conflict in Iraq we have used military force and brutal war to force our will on others. We have rarely been a peaceful people.
War will never bring peace. It can’t. It may bring a cessation of hostilities, but peace can only come through peacemaking. A peaceful country will not have nuclear armaments capable of destroying the world many times over. A peaceful country will not wage pre-emptive wars and will only use its military forces for acts of self-defense. Peaceful nations act peaceably. Our national conduct shows us to be anything but peaceful.
Peace begins at home with each of us living like peacemakers. Peace begets peace.
Consistent “Pro-Life” Position
Ed Singer wrote the one letter I have read so far that succinctly distills the issues at stake in the 2008 presidential election. His appeal to Catholic school tradition is key to our choosing the next president of the United States. I only wish evangelical Christians had such a social tradition.
While groups like Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action attempt to bring social issues to the forefront of public discussion, evangelicalism is, for the most part, still a captive of the Republican Party. Many evangelicals are two-issue voters — abortion and homosexuality.
While I am certainly pro-life, I believe we miss the mark when we become single-issue voters. The issues are much broader and more complex than that. We need to think carefully about the current condition of our country and where we want to go in the future. I am 51 years old and I have voted in every election since Jimmy Carter won the White House. I am of the opinion that the current election is the most important election of my life.
I would ask my fellow evangelicals to consider what I call a “consistent life position.” It is not enough to be pro-life. We must also consider the issues of war, terrorism, torture, capital punishment and poverty. We must also consider the broad issue of social justice. What does it mean for me to be my brother’s keep? In a world filled with poverty, disease, war and injustice do I have a moral obligation to keep in regards to my fellow human beings?
America is a great nation filled with honorable, loving, and just people. In recent years, as we waged pre-emptive wars, turned our backs on the poor of the world, and continued to ignore to hurting and suffering in our own country, we have become less honorable, less loving, and certainly less just. We need a president who will take a completely different course from the one we are on now and who will lead us back to being a nation of honorable, loving, and just people.
As much as I like John McCain, I believe he will be four more years of George Bush. Will Barack Obama be any different? I don’t know. I find his speeches to be stirring, and they certainly are filled with all the things I think are important. Time will tell whether or not Barack Obama can deliver on what he has promised. I am willing to give him the chance. We cannot continue to stay the course, and I fear that is exactly what John McCain will do. We need a radical departure from the status quo.
Barack Obama’s message is one of change, and I can only hope that the change he brings will reinvigorate us as a nation and that will return to being a people of goodwill, both at home and across the world.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.