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Tag: Depression

Bible Thumpers: Dealing with Evangelical Bible Bullies

bible thumper 2
Graphic by GlamorKat

Most churchgoing Evangelicals are nice enough people. They may have irrational beliefs and, by their attendance and financial support, lend their names to social policies we progressives find offensive and harmful, but meet Evangelicals at local football games or restaurants and they will act very much like the rest of us. A small percentage of Evangelicals are Bible thumpers — people who live and breathe the Bible, Christian doctrine, and evangelization. Many of the Evangelicals-turned-atheists/agnostics who read this blog were, during their Christian days, Bible thumpers. I know I was. Evangelicals who stumble upon this blog and comment are usually members of the Bible thumper club. Bible thumpers might be a minority within the broader context of Evangelicalism, but they have a larger-than-life presence on the internet, television, and radio. Most Evangelicals are Sunday-go-to-meeting Christians — people who love Jesus and their fellow man. Bible thumpers, on the other hand, love doctrine and hearing themselves talk far more than they do other people. Bible thumpers are quite willing to psychologically eviscerate those deemed enemies — liberal Christians, Catholics, non-Christians, atheists, agnostics, and even Evangelicals who aren’t as “committed” as they are.

Several years ago, I tried to engage a Bible thumper in a thoughtful discussion on the Rational Doubt blog. (Our discussion is no longer available.) I should have known better. I ALWAYS should know better. It’s been years since I have had a lengthy discussion with an Evangelical that turned out well. By the time I figured out I had made a huge mistake, this Bible thumper, sensing emotional blood in the water, turned to attacking me personally, suggesting that I was intellectually inferior and a whiner. This man’s words cut to the quick, opening up wounds that lie buried deep in my being. It’s been almost eight years now since I have returned to blogging. People who have been following my writing for years know that I quit blogging several times in the past because of vicious assholes for Jesus. A little voice in my head kept telling me to tell this Bible thumper exactly what I thought of him and move on, but since I was a guest on Rational Doubt (which periodically publishes my writing on their site) I decided to refrain from giving the Bible thumper the Bruce Gerencser Treatment®. I finally threw in the towel, much to the delight of the Bible thumper. According to him, his superior “Biblical” arguments caused me to flee. He even suggested that deep down I knew that his arguments were correct.

Readers who frequent this blog know the kind of man I am. They also know of my physical struggles and my decades-long battle with depression. Had they been following the Rational Doubt debacle, I am sure I would have gotten emails, instant messages, and texts asking me if I was okay. When a major depressive state sets in — as it did when I had this discussion — life gets quite dark for me. It is easy for me to lose sight of what matters. What doesn’t matter is a piss-ant Evangelical who uses the Bible to bully people. This particular man is just one more of the thousands of Bible thumpers who have come before him. I knew what kind of awful man he was, so why did I engage him anyway? I knew he described himself on his website as:

T.C. Howitt writes at the gospel crossroads of truth and reality, using the Bible to illuminate our benighted culture. He considers no subject sacred in this fallen world, relying on the power of God’s word alone to boldly declaim the shocking wickedness surrounding us in the forms of secular humanism, scientism and technological idolatry.

I knew that his Facebook page said: “I’m on Facebook to preach God’s word. Don’t be surprised when you hear it.” I knew his Medium profile said: “Writer, preacher of God’s word, destroyer of idols, giver of fair warning.” These three statements set off a warning in my mind that said, WARNING, BRUCE! BIBLE THUMPER AHEAD. Yet, despite knowing all I needed to know about what kind of man Todd Howitt is, I decided to engage him anyway. The fault, then, is mine, not his. Rabid dogs act like rabid dogs. I shouldn’t expect them to act like lovable puppies. Bible thumpers act the way they do because they believe the Bible is the answer to every question, and that they know everything. Every morning, these zealots arise and sing:

The B-I-B-L-E,
Yes that’s the book for me,
I stand alone on the Word of God,
The B-I-B-L-E.
BIBLE!

bible thumper 4

They have read countless books that reinforce their educated ignorance. Bible thumpers believe they have life figured out, and that if everyone would believe as they do, all would be well. Many of these Bible thumpers are Calvinists, adding another layer of arrogance and certainty to their behavior. I KNOW all of these things, so why, then, did I bother to engage Howitt? My counselor tells me that I wrongly think that if I just share with people my story and explain my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism, Bible thumpers will understand. Dr. Deal had told me several times, Bruce, you think these people care about what you think. They don’t! They don’t give a shit about you or what you think.

Doc, of course, is right. I KNOW he is right. I have known for years that he is right. I know, I know, I know, yet every so often the “just explain yourself” Bruce nags me, demanding to speak, and so I let him. And as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, the moment I do, I realize I have made a big mistake. I am not talking here about explaining myself to the regular readers of this blog. I owe it to readers who have invested their time (and money) in reading my writing to explain things that aren’t clear. Fortunately, regular readers rarely need an explanation. They understand my writing methodology and usually know what I mean when I say this or that.

Several years ago, I read a Washington Post article about the turmoil in Spain over Catalonia’s attempt to secede from Spain. Speaking of the supposed dialog between the parties, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said:

The word dialogue is a lovely word. It creates good feelings. But dialogue has two enemies: those who abuse, ignore and forget the laws, and those who only want to listen to themselves, who do not want to understand the other party.”

I thought as I read it, Rajoy’s statement fits well with my recent “dialog” with Todd Howitt. Howitt is an enemy to open and honest dialog because his Fundamentalist religious beliefs have turned him into an abusive bully. He may smile and say Praise Jesus! while he is doing it, but Howitt and other Bible thumpers can and do cause psychological harm to people with sensitive sensibilities (which Bible thumpers view as weakness). Howitt had no interest in understanding where I was coming from. He stated from the get-go that he was a former atheist (doubtful) and he was there not to dialog or converse — already knowing how atheists think — but to preach the Word. In other words, he was only interested in hearing himself talk. Those of us who are former Evangelicals are quite familiar with people who only want to listen to themselves talk. Our pastors were people who believed they were men supernaturally chosen by a supernatural God to preach the inspired, inerrant supernatural Word of God. Our duty as hearers was to submit to the pastor’s — I mean God’s — authority and explicitly follow the laws, precepts, commands, and examples found within the pages of the one book that is different from all the books ever written — the Protestant Christian Bible. As an Evangelical pastor, I did the same. Since I had been called by God to preach and teach at whatever church I was currently pastoring, I expected congregants to listen and obey. (Hebrews 13:17)

Bible thumpers believe they are plugged into God 24/7 — that is, except when they, under the cover of darkness, behave in ways that make them entries for the Black Collar Crime series. Bible thumpers believe that their knowledge of the Bible is superior to that of the vast majority of people on earth. Some of them think that they are so right that no church is good enough for them. They are infected with what I call A.W. Pink disease. Pink was a famous early-twentieth-century Calvinistic writer who secluded himself on an island because he couldn’t find a pure enough church to attend.

Having risen to the level of being worthy to enter the inner temple of Biblical truth, Bible thumpers, girded with self-righteousness, fan out across the internet seeking forums to dispense their Trumpian-level knowledge. Scores of such people over the years have made their way to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. These days, Bible thumpers are rarely permitted to sell their faux-gold plated turds on this site. A decade spent dealing with Bible thumpers has taught me that engagement is futile. While I, at times, forget this maxim, I am getting better at just letting Bible thumpers tilt at windmills.

I originally wrote this post in 2017. Over the past five years, I have come a long way in learning how to deal with Evangelicals who only want to cause harm. Life is too short — literally — for me to waste time trying to engage people who only want to viciously, violently, and hatefully attack me and the readers of this blog. On the rare occasions I do engage such people, I do so for entertainment purposes or to provide graphic illustrations of the ugly underbelly of Evangelical Christianity. Such people do a wonderful job turning people away from Christianity.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Dr. Patrick Johnston and His Dangerous Advice to Depressives

sin can make you sick

Dr. Patrick Johnston is a former Ohio family practice physician, the founder of the Association of Pro-life Physicians, and the former director of Personhood Ohio (link no longer active). He and his ex-wife Elizabeth have ten children, all of whom are homeschooled. Several years ago, Johnston wrote a rebuttal to a post that I published about my views on abortion and personhood laws. Johnston believes there are no justifiable reasons for women to have abortions. Rape? Nope. Incest? Nope. Life of the mother? Nope or maybe. Severe physical malformation? Nope. Ectopic(tubal) pregnancy? Nope. Huh? That’s right, Johnston does not think women should have access to abortion services if they have ectopic pregnancies. In a December 2015 Personhood Ohio article, Johnston stated (link no longer active):

Many sincere advocates of life fall prey to the argument that abortion is occasionally necessary to save the life of the mother. An example of an ectopic pregnancy is often given. However, a cursory investigation of the evidence reveals that many babies have survived ectopic pregnancies. There are life-saving alternatives to treat the mother and her ectopically-implanted baby. Successful transplantation of the embryo from the Fallopian tube to the uterus has been reported in the medical literature as far back as 1917. We do not have to kill these babies to save the mother. Their cases is [sic] not hopeless.

Johnston also wrote an article for his blog titled Saving Ectopically Implanted Boys and Girls. Yes, really.

Johnston and Personhood Ohio tried for years to amend Ohio’s Constitution. If successful, Article 1, Section 16 would have been amended to say (link no longer active):

(A) The words “person” in Article 1, Section 16, and “men” in Article 1, Section 1, apply to every human being at every stage of the biological development of that human being or human organism, including fertilization.

(B) Nothing in this Section shall affect genuine contraception that acts solely by preventing the creation of a new human being; or human “eggs” or oocytes prior to the beginning of the life of a new human being; or reproductive technology or In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) procedures that respect the right to life of newly created human beings.

So far, right-thinking citizens and politicians have kept the amendment and its subsequent iterations from being enacted.

In an undated article titled Curing the Miseries of the Mind: Anxiety and Depression (link no longer active), Johnston and his now ex-wife Elizabeth offer up advice to those who suffer from mental health problems. According to the Johnstons, the cure for depression and anxiety is found in the Bible:

If you are suffering from severe depression or anxiety, I want to let you know that there is light at the end of your dark tunnel – and it’s not found in a pill! The God who created you loves you, and does not want you to be miserable. I believe that God’s Word – the Holy Bible – holds the key that, if not cures, greatly alleviates psychological symptoms.

Ah yes, the time-tested Fundamentalist maxim: the B-i-b-l-e is the cure for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Johnston admits that he does “prescribe a lot of medication for anxiety and depression because they help alleviate symptoms,” but he wants people to know that many physical and mental ailments have “spiritual roots.”  The Johnstons list seven reasons people suffer from anxiety and depression:

  • Genetic and social influences (Yea! Dr. Johnston makes an appeal to science.)
  • So that the sufferers faith will be strengthened
  • Punishment for sin
  • Unforgiveness
  • Ingratitude
  • Unbelief
  • Excessive worry
bible the cure for depression
This graphic is not Dr. Johnston’s, but it does show similar “Biblical” cures for depression.

The Johnstons then give their Jesus-infused prescription for overcoming depression. Are you ready to be delivered, fellow depressives? All right, let’s all get h-a-p-p-y! The Johnstons believe that the following tips will help people “overcome the daily onslaught of anxiety and depression”:

  • Write out encouraging Bible verses, quotes, or thoughts, and tape them up at your house or work, or carry them in your purse or wallet. Refer to them and memorize them whenever you are struggling with unhealthy thoughts.
  • Turn on uplifting Christian music. Sing and meditate on the principles of God’s Word. Praise and worship the Lord. Try dancing to praise music! By all means, turn OFF any music or television that saddens you or causes you to focus on your troubles.
  • Make a list of ten things to think about when you are tempted to think things you shouldn’t. Make your list very practical. For instance: “What will I buy at the store?”, “Where will we go on our next vacation?”, “What will I say to my friend/neighbor/family member next time we speak?”, etc. Always have this list on hand to refer to when tempted to be anxious, depressed, or angry.
  • Occupy yourself with a big project or many projects that direct your mind off of yourself and onto others. There is no end to the number of nursing home residents, hospitalized patients, struggling families, volunteer organizations, and ministries who need a letter or a helping hand. Do not sit around and wait for your problems to disappear. Busy yourself with projects and invest your time in caring for others.
  • Always fight the tendency to pity yourself. You will find one hundred reasons to believe that self-pity will make you feel better but it never solves anything. When tempted to pity yourself, think of others you know who are in much worse circumstances (i.e. the paralyzed teenager, the young husband who just lost his wife, Christians who are persecuted for their faith in China, Cuba, or Indonesia, etc.). Make a list of such people and remind yourself of how blessed you are. Stop and take a moment to pray for those who are less fortunate than yourself.
  • Journal!! Write out your thoughts, regardless of how troubling or embarrassing they may be. Often, when you see on paper what is going on in your head, you will be surprised by how manageable your problem is through changing your way of thinking!
  • A few good Scriptures on topics of importance are listed below for your edification. Suffering: 1 Pet. 4:12-16, Rom. 8:17-18, 2 Cor. 4:17, James 1:2-4  Forgiveness/Mercy: Matt. 6:14-15, Matt. 18:21-22, Heb. 8:12, Prov. 11:19, James 5:9 Thankfulness: Phil. 4:11, Heb. 13:5, Rom. 1:21 Fear/Worry/Doubt: Matt. 6:25-34, Phil. 4:6-7, 2 Tim. 1:7, I Cor. 10:13

Certainly, some of the advice offered by the Johnstons can often help alleviate the effects (not the cause) of anxiety and depression. However, make no mistake about it, the Johnstons believe that the Christian God and the Bible are the CURE for those suffering from mental difficulties. I suspect that Dr. Johnston tells depressives who are not Christians that Jesus can and will cure what ails them. For those who are Christians, Johnston tells them to put mind over matter and remember that there are always people worse off than you. Trust Jesus and all will be well.

If Johnston is prescribing God and the Bible as a cure for anxiety and depression then he is committing medical malpractice. His patients should expect treatment by a doctor thoroughly grounded in the scientific method. Using the tips mentioned above to “cure” depression might work for a time, but true healing comes through counseling, behavior modification, and, if warranted, psychotropic drugs. As someone who has suffered from depression for most of my adult life — both as a Christian pastor and as an atheist — I know that the sort of Christian voodoo offered by Johnston does not cure depression. If Johnston objects to what I have said here, he is free to present empirical data that suggests otherwise. Until then, Dr. Johnston’s tips for curing anxiety and depression should be viewed in the same light as the chants and gimmickry of witch doctors.

Note

We know the Johnstons personally. We attended church with them in 2004-2005 at Faith Bible Church in Jersey, Ohio. Faith Bible is a family-centric, Reformed Baptist congregation.

Elizabeth filed for divorce in 2020, saying “he [Patrick] has been repeatedly unfaithful to me, as well as psychologically and emotionally abusive.”

Elizabeth stated at the time:

After repeatedly taking him back, covering for him, preserving his reputation, and forgiving him of adultery, pornography and sexual immorality, which began 16 years ago, I have been forced to come to the harsh realization that I’ve done all I can and am entrusting Him to my Savior! I don’t share this to harm or humiliate, but to help explain why I, a Christian woman who hates divorce, have decided to separate and pursue a divorce.

The deception and aggression has recently gotten very unhealthy, so I am being forced for the sake of my children to make the hardest decision of my life. To stay at this point would be more harmful to my children than to separate. I will be blasted for not staying married. Don’t listen to the critics, and just pray for us instead.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Depression and Lightening the Load

eeyore

Updated, corrected, rewritten, expanded

I have battled depression most of my adult life. For many years, I denied that I was depressed, attributing my melancholy to God testing or trying me, Satan tempting me, or God punishing me for this or that sin. My religious beliefs told me that depression was a sign of a backslidden, sinful, or rebellious life. After all, the Bible says in Isaiah 26:3:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee [God]: because he trusteth in thee.

Psalm 43:5 states:

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

The Apostle Paul — a First Century Tony Robbins and Wayne Dyer — had this to say:

 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

And if these verses weren’t enough, there was always the “look at all Jesus suffered on the cross just so you could be saved and go to Heaven someday!” Compared to what Jesus went through, my depression was nothing. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.)

I had numerous colleagues in the ministry, but talking to them about my depression was not an option. Talking to them meant admitting I was weak or “sinful.” I never considered seeking out the help of a psychiatrist or a psychologist. How could I? I had preached numerous sermons on the aforementioned verses, and on my bookshelf sat books such as Psycho-Heresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity by Wayne and Deidre Bobgan and PsychoBabble: The Failure of Modern Psychology–and the Biblical Alternative by Richard Ganz. No, I concluded that I was the problem.

I now know that having a Type A personality and being a perfectionist and a workaholic didn’t help matters. No matter how hard I worked, I never measured up. The church growth craze of the 1970s and 1980s only exacerbated my depression. The ministry was reduced to a set of numbers: attendance, souls saved, and offerings. Push, push, push. Go, go, go. Do, do, do. Much like a crack addict seeking his latest fix, I focused on attendance increases and souls brought to Jesus to push my depression into the background. And as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, declining attendance and a lack of “God working in our midst” forced my depression to the forefront. I spent countless nights alone in the darkness of the church building praying to God, pleading that he would fill me with the Holy Spirit and use me to bring in a large harvest of souls. In the end, no matter how hard I worked or how much I sacrificed— money, family, and health — it was never enough. Success was a temporary elixir that soothed my depression, but its effect soon wore off and I retreated for the thousandth time into the deep, dark recesses of my mind.

depression

In 2005, two years after I left the ministry, I told Polly I needed professional psychological help. It took me another three years before I was willing to pick up the phone and make an appointment. At first, finding a “Christian” counselor was important to me. Once I found one, I then had second thoughts about people seeing me entering his office or noticing my car in the parking lot. I live in an area where almost everyone knows me — both as a pastor and now as an atheist. It wasn’t until I deconverted that I began calling counselors, hoping to find a non-religious, secular counselor. Fortunately, I found just the right person to help peel away the layers of my life, allowing me to finally embrace my depression and find ways of handling what Dexter the serial killer called his “dark passenger.” Late last year, I started seeing a new counselor, a woman. My first counselor and I had become friends (a common problem in long-term counseling relationships), so I knew it was time for me to see someone new.

Readers who have been with me since the days of blogs named Bruce Droppings, NW Ohio Skeptic, The Way Forward, and Fallen From Grace have helplessly watched me repeatedly psychologically crash and burn, only to rise again out of the ashes like a phoenix. Surprisingly, the current iteration of my blog has been active for seven years. I attribute the length of my success to the help I’ve received from my counselors. That said, I can’t guarantee that I might not, in the future, crash. I’ve told myself that if that happens again, I’m done blogging.

Some days, I feel like I have tied a knot on the rope of my life and I am desperately trying to hold on. There are days when I feel my grip slipping, leaving me to wonder if I can make it through another day. I do what I can. Whether that will be enough remains to be seen. Health problems, especially chronic pain and bowel problems, continue to drive my depression and virtually every other aspect of my life. I can’t escape these things. All I know to do is endure.

As depressives will tell you, small problems often pile up for them and turn into full-blown depressive episodes. I mean, suicide level, I can’t deal with this any longer episodes. My counselor is keenly aware of how quickly things can pile up for me. Starting with chronic illnesses, unrelenting pain, loss of mobility, and decreased cognitive function, my plate is quite full before I even get out of bed — that is, if I can get out of bed.

Recent events have filled my plate as I would on Thanksgiving Day. What’s one more helping of ham, turkey, and candied sweet potatoes, right? While I find it too painful to write about many of the things that have been added to my plate, I have talked to my counselor about how overwhelmed I am with life. She encourages me to focus on what is best for me, and not “fixing” the problems of others. I am not sure how well I can heed his advice, but I am trying.

I have written all this to say that I must continue to find ways to “lighten my load.” My health will never be as good as it is today, and someday I will likely be unable to leave my home. In the interest of improving the quality of what life I have left, I must identify the unnecessary things that are weighing me down and cast them aside. This is not easy for me to do. Giving in has never been my strong suit. I hate to let go of things (and people) who have been very much a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Over the past few months, I have made a concerted to downsize and simplify my life. I sold all my photography equipment. Boy, was this hard. Even worse, I am turning my office into a pantry and a storage room. Gone will be the metal desk I’ve owned for almost forty years — a M.A.S.H. era desk. Most of my 4,000+ plus sermons were crafted on my desk. Countless couples and church members sat across from me, telling me their woes. I used this desk every day for most of my adult life — until I couldn’t. Thanks to herniated discs in my back and neck, I can no longer use the desk. Saying goodbye to my dear friend brought tears, but I knew it was the right thing to do. My oldest son will soon move my desk to his home. I wonder if I should tell him what Mom and Dad did on that desk? 🙂

It goes without saying, that above everything I could ever do or own, I deeply love my wife, children, and grandchildren (and yes, my daughters-in-law and son-in-law too). As illness and pain whittle down my life, I am learning that what matters most is love and family. The praise of congregants and the approbation of fellow clergy are but distant memories. I would trade all of them for one day without pain. We silly humans so often focus on things that don’t matter. Age brings perspective, and what really matters — at least to me — fits on a small Post-it note. And even now, I continue to mark through things on my list. I suspect that when death claims me for its own, my list will contain a handful of names and the words “they loved me until the end.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

A Few Thoughts About Mental Illness and Depression

bruce and mom 1957
Bruce and his mom, July 1957

Originally written 2011, edited, corrected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

barbara gerencser 1956
Barbara Gerencser, 1956

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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Bruce, Why Did You Start to See a Secular Counselor?

i have a question

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

Brian asked:

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the question, Brian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Depression: It’s the Little Things

nope

Thank you to everyone who has contacted me in recent months, asking me how I am doing, health-wise. Hopefully, this post will catch everyone up on my current status. Not a cheerful, “ain’t life grand” post, but I do try to be honest and forthright about my health.

I have suffered from depression most of my adult life, especially since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia in1997.

Over the past three decades, not only have I had to contend with fibromyalgia, I’ve had to deal with osteoarthritis and neurological problems (peripheral neuropathy) that are ever so slowly robbing me of my physical strength and ability to walk. My cane and wheelchair are never far away. Some days — most days — are cane days, other days are wheelchair days. Some days are cane and wheelchair days — days when I want to use my cane to club the thoughtless people who walk in front me, try to get in front of me, or just stand there ignoring the fact that I can’t get around them. If illness and debility have taught me anything, it is that some of my fellow humans are narcissistic, self-absorbed assholes who have no time or empathy or time for others.

Every day is a pain day for me. Some days, the pain is manageable and tolerable, and it fades into the background as I write or focus on other things. Other days, the pain is standing with both feet on my neck, threatening to turn me into a weeping, pathetic, suicidal man. Most days, are a balance between these extremes. I take my pain medications and muscle relaxers, try the best I can to function, hoping to live for another day.

Along with fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis. neurological problems, and chronic pain, I’ve had three bouts with skin cancer, my gallbladder removed several months ago, a labrum tear in my shoulder, torn menisci in both of my knees, severe lower back and hip pain, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Oh, and now, my red blood cell counts are low — very low. I have been on iron supplementation for the past month. I had bloodwork done today, and I have two doctors’ appointments tomorrow. One appointment is with the orthopedic doctor to see if the problem with my lower back — the disc space at L5 — has worsened, and then an appointment with my primary care doctor. If my red blood cell counts have not improved, I will have to have a colonoscopy and an endoscopy to check for internal bleeding. Since having surgery, I have had nausea, loss of appetite, and dull headaches. I have my eyes checked, nothing abnormal there. All told, since last Thanksgiving, I have lost 70 pounds. And not because I was trying to do so.

Healthwise, my plate is full. That said, I accept my life as it is. I am a realist. I don’t try to delude myself into thinking I am a young buck running through the forest in pursuit of a doe. I am a loving, kind, passionate man who, due to genetics, luck, environmental exposure, and personal lifestyle choices, has a body that is dying at a faster rate than others my age. I am a high mileage automobile that from a distance looks good, but closer inspection reveals a lot of wear and tear.

All of this I embrace and own. It’s my life, I have to live my life on the terms dictated to me by my body. Thinking happy thoughts, putting mind over matter, pretending things are different from what they are, provide no help for me. Even when I was a young man — a healthy, strapping, strong man who hunted, hiked, cut wood, and could bend the world to my will — I tried to see things as they are.

Having my father die at age forty-nine and my mother commit suicide at age fifty-four tend to give me a particular perspective. Visiting sick and dying church members in the hospital reminded me that life is short. My experiences with the sick and dead have certainly shaped my understanding of life, and I know the path I am on, healthwise, leads to a fiery furnace. No not Hell, silly. I am going to be cremated after I die.

My counselor has told me several times that it would be unusual for a person with the health problems I have to not be depressed. He knows I struggle with suicidal thoughts, but he also knows that these thoughts are driven by the chronic, unrelenting physical pain. Through kindness, compassion, friendship, and support, he keeps me from falling down the rabbit hole, never to be seen again (though thanks to the Coronavirus Pandemic, I have not seen him in nine months).

As many depressives will tell you, it is often little things that worsen their depression. For me, it’s not the chronic illness and unrelenting pain . . . it’s the little, unexpected things that push me towards the abyss. Things such as:

  • Falling and wrenching the shoulder that has the labrum tear
  • Constipation
  • Getting out of the house so I can take photographs, only to find out I left the SD card in the card reader
  • Emails and texts to friends who never respond
  • Health advice from people I have repeatedly asked to stop pretending they are doctors
  • People asking me, have you tried this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that . . .
  • Dropping a dish on my foot
  • Stubbing my toe in the dark on something that is not where it is supposed to be; something left on the floor by one of my grandchildren
  • Nothing in the refrigerator I want to eat
  • No Internet
  • The printers running out of ink or toner
  • Microsoft screwing my desktop computer with an update, and now I have to spend precious time “fixing” it
  • Needing a quarter for a shopping cart at Aldi and not having one
  • The batteries in the remote dying just as I get comfortable in my recliner or bed
  • Making an error in the checkbook
  • Store clerks who treat me as if I have a disease, or worse yet, treat me as if I don’t exist
  • Finding out last night’s dinner stained my favorite shirt
  • The DVR not recording a show I wanted to watch
  • No milk and I want to eat a bowl of cereal
  • People not wearing face masks
  • One of my children borrowing my tools one month, one year, five years ago, not returning them, and NOW that I need them, they are nowhere to be found
  • Looking out the back window at our wild, overgrown yard, hearing the taunts of the trees, bushes, and weeds, saying, WE WIN!

Silly stuff, I know. But, here’s what you need to understand: for those who live with chronic illness and pain, there’s a cumulative effect. Their lives are already filled to the brim with the struggles that come from their illnesses. It’s often all they can do to just get out of bed and live another day. So, when small insignificant things are thrown on top of their overload, it can and does bring them crashing down.

Try to remember this the next time you think your suffering friend is overreacting to a small matter: it’s not that one thing that is the problem; it’s the accumulation of numerous small things that have left your friend or loved one curled up on the bed wanting to die.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Beware of Christian Counselors

bible has all the answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: God’s Cure for Depression: The BIBLE

john piper

As Christian Hedonists, we’re not unfamiliar with the pain of depression. And we get a lot of questions in the inbox about how to work through those unavoidable times in life when depression hits. There’s often a physical and medical side to depression, but also a spiritual side to these seasons, too. In that vein, a question comes in an email from one female listener.

“Pastor John, what Scripture passages do you return to when you are suffering from depression? I am suffering from depression pretty bad at the moment, and I need some help from Scripture. Can you help me?”

This is the central question for her to ask — namely, “Where shall I turn in Scripture, in God’s word?” This is what God said we should listen to: his word.

Now, I don’t want to be naïve here. To be sure, there are many dimensions to depression — from genetic, to dietary, to exercise, to trauma, to demonic harassment, to relational stress, to financial burdens, to weather conditions, to sinful entanglements, to sleeplessness, and on and on. I don’t want to give the impression that I am oversimplifying the complexities of what might trigger a season of darkness, or depression.

Nevertheless, I’ll say it again: under and over and through all these issues that may need to be addressed — and I would encourage her to address all of them that are relevant — the key question is “What has God said to me?” That is, “What does the Scripture say?”

The reason this is so key is that the Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Depression regularly involves a weakening of our faith and our hope, and God is clear that reawakening of faith, reawakening of hope, will not come if we’re not hearing the word of God.

The Scriptures do not present themselves as an automatic guarantee of emotional turnaround, because the Scriptures themselves describe people who hear the word of God and do not emotionally turn around — like the parable of the soils, or 1 Corinthians 15:2 (“You believed in vain”), and so on.

The Scriptures aren’t naïve, as if they are the quick and easy panacea for every emotional blankness [Depression is emotional blankness? Really?]. But the point is that, without the Scriptures, there’s no hope of a Christ-exalting turnaround of our emotions.

Medication might turn us around emotionally, but by itself, without the word of God, it won’t put us on a right footing with Jesus Christ. It may feel good, but without the word of God, it may not have done you any long-term good.

— John Piper, Desiring God, What Hope Does God Offer in My Depression?, September 8, 2018

Was Fundamentalist Pastor Bruce Gerencser Mentally Ill?

bruce gerencser 1991
Bruce Gerencser, 1991, Somerset Baptist Academy. Surely everyone can see from this picture that I was a real Christian.

Telling my story often leads people to surmise that they only way someone could believe and behave as I did was to be mentally ill; that nobody in his right mind would live as I did; that only a crazy person would stand on a street corner and preach at passersby; that only a lunatic would sacrifice his life and that of his family to a non-existent God. Dismissing these things with the wave of a Freudian hand is far too easy, and it allows non-Christians to avoid thinking about how their own behavior might be deemed mental illness by those who do not have their beliefs. For example, countless people believe that essential oils can cure all sorts of diseases, as can chiropractic care. Evangelists from the First Church of Essential Oils and First Subluxation Church of the Spine use blogs, social media, newspapers, and face-to-face encounters to preach their gospel, hoping to convert people to their respective religions. The same could be said about homeopathy, iridology, acupuncture, and herbal cancer cures. Consider also that many political systems of thought, much like Christian Fundamentalists, demand fidelity, purity, and obedience. And we must not forget the God-above-all-Gods, American sports — particularly football and basketball. Spend some time around people whose lives revolve around this or that sports team, and it’s hard not to conclude that these people are delusional members of a cult. Yet, all of these beliefs and behaviors EXCEPT Christian Fundamentalism are considered “normal.” Why is that?

It is not helpful to lazily attach the “mentally ill” label to all Christian Fundamentalists. Now, that’s not to say that some Christian Fundamentalists aren’t mentally ill — they are. What troubles me is when non-Fundamentalists look at Evangelical beliefs and practices and conclude that only insane people would believe and live that way. This is a patently false conclusion. We must either conclude that all humans — yes you — have, to some degree or the other, a mental imbalance, or there are other explanations for why all of us believe and practice the things we do. I would posit that we humans are complex creatures, and our ways of life are shaped, molded, and controlled by our genetics, parents, childhood, environment, economic status, physical health, social strata, and a host of other exposures and variations. Thus, when someone reads one or more of my blog posts — say, posts such as My Life as a Street Preacher, I Did It For You Jesus: Crank Windows and Vinyl Floor Mats, and How the IFB Church Turned My Wife Into a Martyr — without thoughtfully and humbly considering the variables mentioned above, they will not come to a reasoned conclusion.

Part of the problem is that each of us has our own definition of “normal,” and we use that definition as the standard by which we judge the beliefs and practices of others. We rarely ask who it was (God?) that made us the “normal” police or why our standard of normality should be the inerrant, infallible rule (get my point now?) by which we determine whether someone is mentally ill or has a “screw loose.” Atheists love to say “each to his own,” except for religion, of course. Fundamentalists, in particular, have heaped upon their heads by atheists judgment and derision, without atheists making any attempt to understand. No need, many atheists say. Fundamentalists are delusional nut jobs — end of story.

Much of my writing focuses on my past life as a Fundamentalist Christian, especially the twenty-five years I spent pastoring Evangelical churches. I have willingly and openly chosen to be honest about my past, including my beliefs and behaviors. In doing so, I hope my story brings encouragement and understanding, and that doubting Christians or ex-Evangelicals might see that there is life after Jesus. What I don’t want my writing to be is exercises for non-Christians, ex-Christians, liberal Christians, or atheists to practice armchair psychology. Psychoanalyzing me — past and present — is best left to my counselor. Whether I was, in the past, mentally ill is impossible to know. I’m more inclined to think that my past is a reflection of someone who sincerely and resolutely believed certain things, little different from the countless other beliefs embraced by humans.

I have suffered with depression most of my adult life. The reasons for my struggle are many. Certainly, religion plays a part, but I would never say that the blame for my depression rests with Christianity alone. Again, I am a complex being, and the “whys” of my life are many. I left Christianity ten years ago. I pastored my last church fifteen years ago. Yet, here I am long removed from God, Jesus, the church, and all of trappings of Christianity and I still battle depression. Why is that? If Christianity is the root of psychological difficulties, one would think that I would have regained mental health once I was freed from my marriage to Jesus. However, that hasn’t proved to be the case. I have learned that depression can affect believer and unbeliever alike.

I hope readers will see my writing as an opportunity to understand, and not judge. When the day comes that I feel that that is no longer the case, I will have written my last blog post.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser