None of us likes to apologize. Apologizing to a person or a group requires us to admit that we were wrong. Im not talking about fake apologies here: “I am sorry you feel that way” or “I am sorry you feel offended.” I am talking about apologies where we recognize we caused harm and want to make amends.
All of us are going to say or do things that offend or harm others. None of us is perfect. We can act out of selfishness, greed, offense, or anger, harming others in the process. In such times, it is proper, dare I say essential, for us to apologize. As a former Evangelical pastor, I said and did a lot of things that harmed my wife, children, and church congregants. While I can justify my bad behavior by saying I didn’t know any better or that I was a product of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) indoctrination and conditioning, the fact remains that I materially harmed people. To those people I owe, at the very least, an apology, and, if possible, the making of amends.
I left Christianity in 2008 — fifteen years ago. After deconverting, I sent out a letter explaining my decision to family, friends, and former parishioners. You can read this letter here. This letter elicited a number of judgmental, hostile, hateful responses. Overnight, I became a pariah, an enemy of God. People I had known for upwards of fifty years said some pretty awful things to me, accusing me of being demon-possessed, mentally ill, and a false Christian. My best friend said that I was mentally ill; that I was destroying my family. Another dear friend sent me a long letter that suggested I was under the influence of Satan. She was the only Christian during this period who later had second thoughts about what she said to me and apologized.
Over the years, I have received thousands of emails, blog comments, and social media messages from Evangelical Christians, including pastors, evangelists, missionaries, professors, and college friends. I have received very few emails, comments, or messages from Evangelicals (or conservative Catholics) that I would consider thoughtful or respectful; attempts to sincerely understand why I deconverted. The rest of them were openly hostile toward me, often saying and doing things that caused hurt and harm. I quickly learned that some Evangelicals will lie to prove a point; that others totally ignore what Jesus said about how to treat your enemies.
A handful of Evangelicals have later come back to me and apologized for the things they said to me and I happily forgave them. That said, I am not one who thinks an apology requires forgiveness in response. Shortly before Polly’s mom died, I had an IFB family member call me and say all sorts of vicious, vile, hurtful things, including threatening me twice with violence. I finally hung up on the man. At Mom’s funeral, this family member came up to me and said “I’m sorry for those things I said you.” I replied, “Thank you, and then turned away.” The man crossed a line of no return with me. Nothing he could say would fix the harm and hurt he caused, not only to me, but to Polly and our children. I suspect he felt guilty over his behavior and that was the motivation for his attempted apology. Religion will do that to you. Guilt is one thing, contrition and restoration are something else. Sadly, this man wasn’t too apologetic. When it came time for him to settle Mom’s financial accounts — Mom refused to let us do it because we are atheists and she didn’t “trust” us — he shorted Polly’s inheritance by at least $5,000. (Money, the one thing that will show the truth of one’s religious beliefs.)
I generally forgive people who sincerely, with no strings attached, apologize. I have only withheld my forgiveness from three people in sixty-six years: the aforementioned family member, my mom’s father, John, and his wife, Ann. (Please see Life with My Fundamentalist Baptist Grandparents, John and Ann Tieken.) My Mom’s dad is dead and his wife is in a nursing home. I haven’t spoken to either of them in over twenty years. I cut them out of my life and that of my children years ago. I have no regrets for doing so. They were bad people. As the living family member mentioned above, he might be able to buy my forgiveness by returning the $5,000 he stole from Polly (and the leftover money from the insurance and the jewelry that was supposed to go to Polly). 🙂 That’s never going to happen, so I have no intention of forgiving him.
Thinking about the thousands of Evangelicals I have interacted with over the years on this site, why is it so hard for them to admit and apologize for being uncharitable, meanspirited, or hateful? When their behavior is challenged straight from the Word of God, why do they ignore my rebuke or try to justify their awful behavior? Is what I say true, regardless of whether an atheist is saying it? Isn’t the message what matters, not the messenger?
I have tagged 212 posts with the Evangelical Email and Comments tag. I suspect there are a hundred or more posts from earlier years that I should have tagged but didn’t. Read their emails, comments, and messages to me. Where, oh where, is Jesus anywhere to be found?
When I give these followers of Jesus what loyal readers call “The Bruce Gerencser Treatment®,” I always notify them that I have responded to them. Some of them use fake names and email addresses — cowards for Jesus — so I can’t let them know that I have weighed their words in the balance and found them wanting. What I found interesting about the rest of them is that over ninety percent of them never acknowledge or respond to my response post. Why is that? Fear? Upset that they have been outed or made to look bad? Or perhaps they deep down know they shouldn’t have called me names, slandered me, attacked my character, disparaged my family, or ridiculed the readers of this blog. They are embarrassed by their assholery; that their ugly behavior is on public display for all to see. I warn Evangelicals on my comment page:
If you email me anyway — and I know you will, since scores of Evangelicals have done just that, showing me no regard or respect — I reserve the right to make your message and name public. This blog is read by thousands of people every day, so keep that in mind when you email me whatever it is you think “God/Jesus/Holy Spirit” has laid upon your heart. Do you really want your ignorance put on display for thousands of people to see? Pause before hitting send. Ask yourself, “How will my email reflect on Jesus, Christianity, and my church?”
I suspect this warning wards off many Evangelicals from sharing the “good news” with me. Several hundred people access the contact page every month, but most never hit send. While I still get email these days, the volume is minuscule compared to what I received ten or so years ago. Either Evangelicals have given up on me — doubtful — or the various roadblocks I have set in their way frustrate them enough that they give up or refrain from hitting send out of fear of being publicly exposed. Either way, I get enough email to keep me (and Carolyn, my editor) busy and hopelessly behind.
If Evangelicals are anything, they are certain they are right. Many of them, such as Dr. David Tee and others, believe that, as an atheist and a humanist, I don’t say anything worth hearing. In their minds, I am under the influence and control of Satan, so what could I possibly say that is relevant and true? This certainty, of course, breeds arrogance. Evangelicals can’t apologize because that would mean that they were wrong. Filled with the Holy Ghost and armed with an inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible, how could they possibly be wrong? Or so their thinking goes, anyway. So they run roughshod over atheists and anyone else they disagree with, thinking Jesus approves of their stand for truth and their war against atheism.
Think about your time in the Evangelical church. Do you remember a time when your pastor or another church leader stood before the congregation and admitted they were wrong? Do you ever remember your pastor or another church leader apologizing to you personally or to the church as a whole? Never? Once, maybe twice? I did, on occasion, but certainly not as often as I should have.
That’s why I have stopped expecting Christians to take seriously the teachings of Christ, especially the Sermon on the Mount. I have stopped expecting them to give behavioral evidence that they are followers of Jesus — especially the fruit of the Spirit. And because they have abandoned the teachings of the Bible they “say” they believe, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Evangelicals do the things they do.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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