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Tag: Evangelicalism

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Pastor William Wahl Charged With Criminal Sexual Conduct

william wahl

William Wahl, a youth pastor at The River Church in Kimball, Michigan, has been charged with two second degree counts of criminal sexual conduct, two fourth degree counts of criminal sexual conduct, one count of aggravated indecent exposure, one count of distributing explicit material of children, and one count of using a computer to commit a crime.

M-Live reports:

A former youth pastor at The River Church in Kimball Township has been arrested and charged with four counts of criminal sexual conduct and three other felony charges.

Port Huron resident William Stefan Wahl, 27, is facing two second degree counts of criminal sexual conduct, two fourth degree counts of criminal sexual conduct, one count of aggravated indecent exposure, one count of distributing explicit material of children and one count of using a computer to commit a crime.

….

Police say an the investigation began in late 2021 after hearing allegations of sexual assault of a child by the youth pastor.

The investigation revealed that there were four victims alleging sexual abuse going back to 2014.

A Port Huron Times Herald report states Wahl was terminated last year as an employee by the church’s Board of Elders after the allegations came to light and filed a report with authorities.

The Church is pastored by Bill and Kim Wahl, and Matt Wahl is the associate pastor. I suspect William Wahl is related to them.

The Times Herald adds:

St. Clair County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Cailin Wilson said the alleged incidents took place between 2014 and 2021, when Wahl was over 17 years old and with victims ranging from 10 to 17 years old. 

In response to the allegations, Bill Wahl, co-lead pastor of The River church, sent a press release dated Nov. 2, 2021, that stated The River Churches Board of Elders were made aware of a possible child abuse incident perpetrated by an employee against two minors. 

The board immediately began an investigation of the facts, assuring that all involved parents were notified. Within hours, the employee was terminated and the board filed a report with the proper authorities to investigate the matter, the press release said.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

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 Reflection on My Children: Why Putting God, the Church, and Saving Souls First is a Bad Idea

gerencser grandchildren 2021

My wife, Polly, and I have six children, ages 42, 40, 37, 32, 30, and 28. Our children spent much of their lives in church. As Evangelical PKs (preacher’s kids), every aspect of their lives was managed, controlled, and dictated by their preacher father’s interpretations of the Bible. Every choice in their lives was filtered through the lens of Evangelical literalism. We homeschooled (and sent to a private Evangelical school) our children, so this way of living seemed “normal” to them. If you have never experienced any other life but your own, dysfunction can seem “normal.”

The Gerencser family lived according to the Jesus-first mantra. Mom and Dad, especially D-A-D, put God, the church, and saving souls first. If our children wanted to do something and it got in the way of God/church/souls, I forbade them from doing so. While I am sure my refusal to let them do normal child/teen stuff angered them, they never said I word. Taught to submit and obey, our children dutifully submitted to my edicts. (This changed somewhat later in my ministerial career.) Even when son #3 moved out of our home at age eighteen because he didn’t want to follow the rules, he did so respectfully.

Last week, I went to a basketball game at Defiance High School. Granddaughter #2, a sophomore at DHS, plays in the pep band. I wanted to see her play. I found it interesting to watch her in her native environment, though her friendly interactions with boys made me feel very “old.” 🙂

This was the first basketball game I have attended since February 2020. As I watched the game with my oldest son, my mind slipped into introspection mode and a deep sadness (with tears) came over me. I played baseball and basketball as a child, through my high school years, and well into adulthood. I was still playing competitive softball and basketball into my early thirties when chronic knee problems ended my playing career. Yet, none of my children was permitted to play organized, competitive sports. Why?

My son and I talked about the year I let him play little league baseball. He was excited about playing. Several of his public school friends were on the team. (Son #1 and Son #2 attended public schools in first and second grade in the New Lexington and Northern Local school districts.) On the day of my son’s first game — boy, was he excited — I told him he would have to quit the team. Why? His game schedule conflicted with our church’s service schedule. I felt “convicted” about letting my son play baseball on the day we had our midweek service (Thursday), so I made him quit. Not only that, I made him take his uniform to school and give it to his coach’s son. This would be the first and only time one of our children played sports.

I could spend days sharing stories about how God/church/souls got in the way of our children experiencing normal childhoods. This is not to say that their childhoods were awful, they weren’t. By their own accounts, there are many things they appreciate about their upbringing. I was a taskmaster, but our children appreciate that I taught them good work skills. The Gerencser Work Ethic® is the stuff of legend at their places of employment. Five of our children have management-level jobs, as does their mom and as did their dad most of his life. Much like their parents, our children are known for being no-nonsense, hardworking employees, people who rarely, if ever, miss a day of work. (Polly hasn’t missed a day of work in twenty-five years, even though I ask her to call off work and stay home with me almost every day. “Come on, live on the wild side. Just once, experience the thrill of calling off!”) 🙂 Our children, thanks to literally growing up in church, learned at a young age to talk with adults. They were intimately involved in every aspect of church life. This gave them life skills far beyond their years. Much was expected of them, and they always delivered — well, 98.9 percent of the time, anyway.

All of these “good” things, however, don’t undo the sadness I feel over the life my children missed out on. I have had long conversations (as I did with my son at the basketball game) with them over these things, profusely apologized, and they have forgiven me. However, the scars and a sense of loss remain. There are no do-overs in life, so all I know to do is own the past, make amends, and do better. I am so glad to be blessed with thirteen grandchildren. They are, in a sense, a do-over for me, a chance for me to live a better life before them and my children.

I am fortunate that I have good relationships with my children. My unwillingness to bend or move from my rigid Evangelical beliefs could have destroyed my family. That it didn’t is a testimony to the love, kindness, and resiliency of my children. Do they have scars from their days as PKs? Sure. How could they not? Children, most of all, want to be loved. While Polly and I told our children we loved them, our behavior said to them that God/church/souls came first. You see, what we model to our children matters. If I had the opportunity to give advice to a group of young preachers, I would tell them to put their families first — before Jesus, before the ministry, before winning souls. When life comes to an end, they will be the only people who matter.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

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.

How Do Evangelical Christians Explain My Life?

reprobate

Rather than asking each of my Evangelical critics to “explain” my life, I thought I’d let the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God answer for them:

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I John 2:18-20

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools …For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections:… And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind…. Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. Romans 1:16 –32

My defection from Christianity is proof I never “really” was a Real Christian®. Real Christians® persevere to the end. Real Christians® keep going to church, reading the Bible, praying, tithing, and living according to the Christian social code until the end. Real Christians® believe, walk, act, talk, and live like Christians. And the standard for this believing, walking, acting, talking, and living? Each Christian’s interpretation of the Bible, thus reminding all who are paying attention that there is no such thing as Christianity; just Christianities, with each believer having their own form of the faith once delivered to the saints.

According to Romans 1, I have the clear marks of a reprobate. A reprobate is one whom God has condemned to Hell while still in this life, unless you are a Calvinist, then God condemns some people to Hell before they are even born.  To the reprobate, God says “ I am done with you, do what you will.”

Supposedly, since I am now a reprobate, this is how I live my life:

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. Romans 1:26-32

In other words, I am now supposed to a homosexual, a murdering, evil, hater of God, among other things. Never mind that I live a better, more wholesome (whatever the hell that word means) life than most Christians. Never mind that I love my neighbor as myself. Never mind that I am faithful to my wife, love my children and grandchildren.  All that REALLY matters is whether I prayed THE prayer, where I park my ass on Sunday, what ancient religious text I read, and whether I pray, tithe, witness, oppose abortion rights, think homosexuality and same-sex marriage is a sin, and vote Republican.

Here’s how I see it: this is one of those did he resign or was he fired? moments.

Did I leave God or did God leave me?

Matters not.

The divorce is final.

The relationship is over.

All that is left is the scars and memories.

Telling me I was never a Real Christian® denies the life I lived for almost fifty years. On the other hand, telling me that I am still a Real Christian® denies the life I have been living for over a decade. The ONLY explanation for my life is that I once was a Christian and now I am not. I once was saved and now I am not. I once was a follower of Jesus and now I am not. But, Bruce . . . the Bible says . . .

And therein lies the problem. Most Evangelicals are incapable of seeing what is right in front of them. The Bible has become the blinders that keep them from seeing and understanding anything that does not fit their narrow, Fundamentalist worldview.

I continue to mention this subject because Evangelicals-turned-atheists often complain about the refusal of Evangelical family, friends, and acquaintances to accept their stories at face value. It gets old, I mean really, really, really old, after a while having people deny/discredit my story or smear my character. I know that nothing I say will change this boorish behavior by arrogant, self-righteous Evangelicals, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’ve been blogging for fourteen years, and over that period of time, I have received scores of emails and comments from Evangelicals who refuse the plain reading of my story. These zealots are unable to square my story with their theology or personal experiences, and instead of pondering why that might be a problem, they choose, instead, to discredit, demean, and dismiss. This bad behavior on their part does Christianity no favors. Who wants to be part of a religion that refuses to accept and embrace people as they are? I know I don’t.

I suspect that my deconversion story scares the shit out of some Evangelicals. I’ve had former church members tell me that they couldn’t be friends with me because they find my unbelief unsettling. One former preacher friend of mine begged me not to publicly share my story. Why? He thought doing so would cause people to lose their faith. Now, this preacher wanted to keep sharing his story and keep preaching the gospel, but he wanted me to shut up, go away, and mind my own business.

As long as I continue writing, I know I will have to deal with people who lack imagination; people unable or unwilling to accept people at face value. Do you have family, friends, and acquaintances who refuse to accept your deconversion story? How do you handle them? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Questions From an Evangelical Pastor

i have a question

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Several years ago, Joel Yoon, the Covenant Theological Seminary-trained pastor of Gospel City Church in Seoul, South Korea, sent me a thoughtful email containing several questions. Since Joel was polite, I thought I would take a stab at his questions. Joel wrote:

I find your blog fascinating! I am a pastor and I stumbled across your website through a random google search. I would like to ask you a question and I believe it doesn’t fall in the category of any questions you wouldn’t want to discuss.

I read that your walk away from Evangelical Christianity was largely based on you understanding of Scripture. In addition, it seems that not only did your faith unravel due to your view of Scripture, but your blog also seems to reveal that you now have resentment towards Christianity. My question to you is twofold:

Are there parts of Evangelical Christianity that you still appreciate? If so, could you share why?

As an agnostic and practical atheist, is there any part of life that makes you question your views or at least makes you curious about a deity? If so, what would that be?

In order to better understand where I’m coming from, let me share why I ask this: Granted, my theological beliefs give me a bias, I’ve always found it hard to believe the world we have now was created simply by chance. I’m not even arguing against The Big Bang theory or evolution. I’ve just saying that in some sense, I’ve found it harder to be an atheist when I see and experience this world. For example, learning more about the complexities and the beauties of this world, or thinking about and experiencing love, or just even the whole idea of pregnancy, birth and life, these areas of life have made me feel like one needs more faith to not believe in God than to believe in him. So I was wondering, with your journey from being so deeply embedded in a Judeo-Christian worldview — and now a staunch agnostic/atheist —  is there anything that makes you even a little bit curious?

My abandonment of Christianity primarily rests on my rejection of the Bible as an inspired, authoritative text. I think it is impossible to be a Christian and not, to some degree, believe the Bible is God’s Word. Since I came to understand that the Bible was an errant, fallible, contradictory text, there was no possible way I could continue to call myself a Christian. I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically reject all the beliefs that are the foundation of Christian orthodoxy.  I realize that some people are able to reduce the Bible to God is love and Jesus love me too, but I was unable to do so. Christianity is a text-based religion. I can’t imagine a Christianity without some sort of fidelity to the written Biblical text.

That said, my deconversion certainly had an emotional component. This was not clear to me at first, but I now can see that my loss of faith started when I began looking for a Christianity that mattered. Over time, I became disaffected, realizing that regardless of what name might be over the door, churches are all pretty much the same — social clubs focused on meeting the needs of their members and improving club enrollment. Does this mean, as Joel suggests, that I have resentment towards Christianity? Not in the least.

Not all Christianities are created equal. I generally think that liberal and progressive Christianity is benign, doing little to no harm to others. While I have a different set of problems with liberal Christianity, I don’t think being part of such churches harms people. I cannot say the same for Evangelicalism. Evangelical Christianity is inherently Fundamentalist, and Fundamentalism is a cancer that must be excised wherever it is found. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)  I am well aware of the fact that Evangelicalism is a broad tent, but I am of the opinion that Evangelical belief and practice can and does cause psychological harm and results in intellectual stagnation. Does this mean I am resentful? I don’t think so. It does mean, however, that I do have strong opinions about Evangelicalism. When doubting Evangelicals ask for my advice I usually encourage them to seek kinder, gentler forms of faith. There are sects and churches that promote diversity and tolerance. These sects often encourage unencumbered intellectual inquiry. Evangelical churches cannot do so because they are bound by their interpretations of the Bible. Since I place great value on reason and intellectual pursuit, I could never in good conscience recommend people attend Evangelical churches. Both McDonald’s and the local gastropub serve hamburgers, but that’s where the similarity ends. I view Evangelicalism as McDonald’s. If you have never eaten any other hamburger but a Big Mac, you will never know how good the burgers are down at the gastropub. Once people eat a real hamburger, they will never want to eat a Big Mac again. So it is for Evangelicals. Until they venture outside of the safe confines of their little box, they have no idea about the wonders (and dangers) that await them. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it  and What I Found When I Left the Box.) Once free of the constraints of their Bible box, people rarely return. They don’t necessarily become atheists, but they also don’t return, to use a bit of Biblical imagery, to Egypt — the land of onions and bondage. Once freed, Evangelicals realize that the potential paths to freedom, happiness, and fulfillment are many, so they rarely return to their former beliefs.

Joel asks “Are there parts of Evangelical Christianity that you still appreciate?”  I think what he means to ask is, are there aspects of Christianity that I miss? Professionally, I miss preaching and teaching. Personally, I miss the communal aspects of being part of a church —  things such as dinners, banquets, and social activities. As atheists, my wife and I are, at times, lonely. We are two pebbles in the Evangelical Sea. While my wife is quiet about her lack of faith, I am not. I regularly write letters to the editor of the local newspaper, challenging Evangelicals who write letters about evolution and creationism, homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Christian nationalism, or whatever “sin” is stuck in their craw. I am a public figure who is widely known as THE atheist. Local Evangelical outrage over my letters has proved to be quite an eye-opener, a reminder of the fact that Christian food, fun, and fellowship are predicated on right beliefs. Because we are unwilling to bow to Jesus, my wife and I must live with the fact that we are not going to have very many local friends. We are, however, grateful for the countless people we have met and befriended through this blog and social media.

I will assume that Joel is using the word “God” to signify the Christian God or the Evangelical God. Do I have any doubts or questions about my rejection of THIS God? No, not in the least. I have weighed this God in the balances and found him/her/it wanting (Daniel 5:27). I have been an atheist for almost fourteen years. During this time, scores of Evangelicals have tried and failed to show me the error of my way. I think I can safely say that I have heard every Christian argument there is for the existence of God and the veracity of Christianity and its supposedly supernatural religious text. None of these arguments has proved to be compelling. I have concluded that the Christian God is a human fiction, brought to life centuries ago by men attempting to explain their understanding of the world. Science has reduced the Bible to a Cliff Notes-sized book of interesting ancient stories and spiritual sayings. It has very little to say regarding life in the twenty-first century. I certainly would not use the Bible as some sort of road map or blueprint. Does the Bible have value? Sure, but having spent most of my life reading and studying the Bible, I can’t imagine what more I could possibly glean from its pages. Unlike Evangelicals, I do not think the Bible is an inexhaustible well of wisdom and truth. Having read the Bible from cover to cover more times than I can count, I think I can safely move on to other books. Evangelical Rousas Rushdoony once said, most books aren’t worth reading once let alone twice. So it is with the Bible.

I have numerous acquaintances and friends who are liberal Christians, universalists, and deists. I readily admit that I think someone can look at the biological world and the wonders of the cosmos and conclude that some sort of deistic God set things into motion. However, I fail to see any possible way to get from there being A GOD to that deity being the God revealed in the Christian Bible. Any attempts made to bridge these two only raise more questions. Why the Christian God and not any of the other Gods humans worship?  Perhaps some unknown God created everything. Maybe, just maybe, earth is some sort of lab experiment for an unknown advanced alien race. Why do Evangelicals so quickly shut off their minds to any possible explanations but the ones they hear Sunday after Sunday at their houses of worship? (Please see Why Most Americans are Christian.) As atheists such as myself point out, Evangelicals are every bit as godless as atheists when it comes to other religions. I will assume that Joel thinks certain religious beliefs are false — say Mormonism, Islam, or Buddhism. If so, doesn’t this mean that he is atheistic towards these no-God religions? The only difference between Joel and me is that I am atheistic towards one God more than he is.

Neither Christians nor atheists can give a satisfactory answer to the various questions that have plagued man from the first moment he looked skyward and pondered the question, where did THAT come from? Evangelicals believe that their God is the first cause of everything. They can provide no empirical data for this claim. Either you believe it or you don’t. Evangelicals, by faith (Hebrews 11), believe their God is everything. Atheists look to science to give them answers about the universe and human existence. As the Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate made clear, science is willing to say, we don’t know, but we keep looking for answers. Evangelicals, on the other hand, appeal to the Bible. God said _______________, end of discussion. Ham repeatedly appealed to the Bible, a book that he believes teaches the universe was created in six twenty-four-hour days, 6,024 years ago. Science says the universe is billions of years old and that it likely came into existence through what we call the Big Bang. This, of course, is not a definitive, final answer. That’s what is so great about science: questions continue to be asked and theories are constantly being rejected or modified as scientific knowledge grows. I know of no better way to understand our world. Saying, God says or the Bible says no longer works. We now know too much to return to the ignorance found within the pages of the Bible. That Evangelicals continue to reject what science tells us about our world is troublesome and a hindrance to human progress.

I have often wondered how differently things might have turned out for me had I been raised in another manner. Suppose I had been raised a Presbyterian and went to Harvard instead of an Evangelical Bible college? What if I had been taught to value the sciences and rigorous intellectual inquiry? Would I still have ended up where I am today? I don’t know. Alas, little is to be gained from pondering what might have been. I am where I am and I am comfortable with the path that has led me to this point in time. I have many fond memories from the fifty years I spent in the Christian church and the twenty-five years I spent pastoring Evangelical churches. I am grateful for the many opportunities I had to help other people. In many ways, I am still a pastor, doing what I can to help others. The difference, of course, is that there are no threats of Hell or promises of Heaven. The humanist ideal now motivates me to help all living things. No longer concerned with what lies beyond the grave, my focus is on helping fellow travelers make the best of this life. As a father of six children and grandfather to thirteen munchkins, I want to use the time I have left to make this world a better place in which to live. Things such as global warming, climate change, war, and Donald Trump threaten my progeny’s future. I owe it to them to do what I can to leave to them a better world, one not ravaged by religious ignorance, hubris, and greed. I also want to leave for them a testimony of sorts; of a man who lived a good life without God; a man who was loving, respectful, and kind. If I accomplish these things, it will be said of me, he did what he could.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

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.

The Fear of Losing Face: Why Many Evangelical Pastors Refuse to Change Their Minds

i am right

Evangelical preachers are known for being obstinate, bullheaded, arrogant creatures. Rare is the preacher who changes his mind or admits he is wrong. My wife’s uncle, the late James Dennis (The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis), pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark, Ohio, stated more than once that his beliefs had never changed; that the beliefs he had when entering the ministry were the same beliefs he had fifty years later. Polly’s mom, a member of the Baptist Temple, was proud of the fact that her pastor was resolute in his beliefs. In her mind, certainty of belief is a desired trait — well, as long as the beliefs were the “right” ones.

I entered the ministry in the 1970s as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. My beliefs were almost identical to those of James Dennis. While Jim’s beliefs remained static over the years, mine did not. Over time, many of my beliefs changed — sometimes dramatically. This, of course, should be the norm. Every preacher leaves college with a borrowed theology — that which was taught to them by their pastors and professors. We all have to start somewhere, right? However, over time studious reading habits should lead to careful examination of borrowed theological beliefs. I know it did for me. I spent thousands and thousands of hours reading and studying the Bible, along with voraciously reading theological tomes. As time went along my beliefs evolved. By the late 1980s, I abandoned my IFB beliefs and embraced Calvinism, and in the early 2000s, I shelved Calvinism for a liberal Mennonite view of theology and practice. The same can be said for my eschatological beliefs. I entered the ministry as a pretribulational, premillennial dispensationalist (borrowed theology). In the mid-1980s, I embraced Marv Rosenthal’s midtribulational position, and by the 1990s, I had abandoned my former eschatological beliefs for posttribulational, amillennial beliefs (a common eschatological position among Calvinists). Over the years, virtually every one of my beliefs changed to one degree or the other. I shared with my counselor today how my beliefs about family and children had evolved over the years. Polly and I planned to have three children. By 1984 we had accomplished our goal. Five years later, firmly Calvinists who believed in the absolute sovereignty of God, we stumbled upon the Quiverfull movement. This led to us having three more children before we finally saw the light (out of medical necessity) and rediscovered rubbers. 🙂

Several years after I deconverted, I received a scathing email from Keith Troyer, an IFB preacher who was my best friend back in my days pastoring in southeast Ohio. I hadn’t heard from Keith in years. He made no attempt to reconnect or find out how we were doing. No, in classic IFB-fashion, Keith laid into me, saying I was mentally unstable and under the influence of Satan. In Keith’s mind, my history of changing beliefs was proof that I had a screw loose. Keith, on the other hand, is still preaching the same stuff he was preaching in the late 1980s. I have listened to a number of Keith’s sermons on Youtube. I was struck by how little his beliefs and preaching have evolved.

In most professions, intellectual growth and maturity are encouraged. Not in Evangelicalism (and I speak broadly). Why is this? Why do so many Evangelical preachers refuse to change their minds about their beliefs and practices? Let me posit several reasons why this is so.

First, Evangelical preachers believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Its words are perfect, without error. This leads preachers to believe that their interpretations of the Bible are perfect, without error too. They pass this certainty on to their congregants through their preaching and teaching. This is why it is almost impossible to have thoughtful discussions with Evangelicals. There is no room in their worldview for being wrong. In their minds, if they are wrong, God is wrong, and since God is never, ever wrong about anything — including slavery, genocide, treating women as chattel, and drowning children for their parent’s sin — they can’t be wrong either. If this blog has done anything over the past fourteen years, it has provided rich documentation for the fact that many Evangelicals are intractable, unable to consider any belief or worldview but God’s, I mean their own. I promised not to talk about TEWSNBN in 2022, but I can’t miss this opportunity to present him as the poster child for Evangelical intractability and arrogance. He is not, in any way, special or unique. Countless TEWSNBNs have commented on this blog or sent me emails over the years. All of them have one key character trait: certainty. They are absolutely certain that their beliefs are right, and anyone who believes differently from them is wrong and could end up in Hell for their wrong beliefs.

Second, Evangelical preachers are viewed as men of God, oracles and dispensers of divine truth. Their churches expect them to be certain about their beliefs. No one wants a pastor who isn’t confident in his beliefs. Why? Most church members have borrowed theologies — their pastors. Most church members believe whatever their pastors believe. In the late 1980s, I embraced Calvinism. The church I was pastoring at the time had nary a problem with my radical change of beliefs. One family left the church, but everyone else went along for the ride. You see, my church implicitly, and without reservation, trusted me. “Preacher would never lead us astray,” church members thought. Little did they know that, according to my critics, I was a godless false prophet the whole time.

Third, standing in the pulpit and saying to the church “I was wrong” is viewed as a sign of weakness and lack of faith. Evangelical church members want preachers who are “winners,” men who know what they believe and stand firm on those beliefs. I can’t remember a time when I ever heard an Evangelical preacher admit from the pulpit that he was wrong about something. Imagine a preacher telling his church that the voice in his head that he said was “God” was actually his own. Imagine him abandoning all the “spiritual” language about the Holy Spirit’s leading and admitting that the reason he wants to do X is that he wants to. “God is leading us to put blue carpet in the auditorium,” the preacher tells his church. Imagine him being honest: “We are putting blue carpet in the auditorium because blue is my favorite color.” Why, this preacher would be run out of town on a rail!

Fourth, the Bible says in James 1:8 a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. According to my former friend Keith Troyer, I am a double-minded man. My double-mindedness has made me unstable in all my ways. How else can he explain how I went from being a sold-out follower of Jesus to an atheist? There must be something wrong with me. Not the religion, not the beliefs, me. If I could ever get Keith to honestly and openly and with intellectual rigor examine the central claims of Evangelical Christianity, I know he would see he is wrong about many things — especially King James-onlyism. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that will happen. Sunk costs keep my former friend tethered to the Old Ship of Zion. Years ago, after learning I was no longer King James-only, Keith told me that even if I could show him an error in the King James Bible he wouldn’t believe it (and I provided him a list of errors in the KJV). Keith went on to tell me that by faith he believes the KJV is the perfect words of God. Imagine what would happen if Keith finally admitted that KJV-onlyism cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained. Why admitting this out loud would destroy his career. This is why many Evangelical preachers do have doubts and questions about their belief, yet never say they do to anyone.

In Evangelical churches, perception is everything. Preachers are expected to portray strength and certainty. Church members want to see confidence, not doubt. Preachers who display these character traits do well, and those who don’t end up working at Radio Shack or selling used cars. Evangelical churches continue to thrive and grow because they present themselves as dispensers of absolute truth. Greg Locke, a bat-shit crazy Evangelical preacher in Tennessee, attracts hundreds of people to his church. Why? He preaches the gospel according to QAnon and Donald Trump. In a world that is ever-evolving, Christians want certainty, and Locke and others like him give them the certainty they crave.

Of course, an increasing number of Evangelical preachers do have questions and doubts. Unable to reconcile their evolving beliefs with those carved in stone, these men (and women) have three choices: openly share their changed beliefs with their churches and get fired; say nothing, hiding their changing beliefs, hoping to make it to retirement age; or quietly resign. I chose the latter of these. When I could no longer rationalize the central claims of Christianity, I walked away. I make no judgment of preachers who chose a different path. For me personally, I found it impossible to keep my mouth shut and fake it.

Please share your thoughts on this subject in the comment section. Are you an ex-Evangelical preacher? I would especially love to hear from you.

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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.

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.

Why I Never Used the Word “Religious” When I Was a Christian

born again or religious

Several years ago, I participated in a two-and-half-hour phone interview on the subject of the labels we use to identify ourselves. The man doing the interview was working on his master’s thesis. One label he asked me about was the label religious. Focusing on my days as an Evangelical pastor, he asked if I ever considered myself religious. I told him, absolutely not. The “religious” label was reserved for Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other mainline groups. THEY were religious, WE were Christians. This was especially true back in my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days.

I viewed most other Christian sects with a good bit of skepticism. Catholics were immediately dismissed as fish-eating, beer-drinking believers in works salvation. Catholics were prime evangelistic targets, even though I found them almost impossible to evangelize. Protestants such as Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians were far easier to lead to saving faith in Christ. I considered such people, as a whole, to be religious, but lost. I found these kinds of people to be ignorant of what the Bible taught concerning salvation. Using the soulwinning (salesmanship) techniques I was taught in college, I would show them what the Bible “really” said about life, sin, God, Jesus, salvation, and life after death. Often astounded by what I showed them in the Bible, these prospects for Heaven would pray the sinner’s prayer and become born-again Christians. These new converts went from being religious to new life in Jesus Christ. Or so I thought, anyway.

Of course, I now know that the only difference between Bruce, the Baptist preacher and those I targeted for evangelization was our religious beliefs. I was every bit as religious as Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. My refusal to use the word “religious” allowed me to view myself as superior to others. I was a True Christian®, a devoted follower of Jesus. Christian people outside of my cult lacked the right beliefs and commitment to God. It took me a number of years to realize how arrogant I was, thinking that my God, my beliefs, and my way of living were the right/only way, truth, and life. When modern-day Bruce Gerencsers stop by this blog to regale us with their infinite and absolute understanding of truth, I am reminded of the fact that I once was just as they are. I remember when “absolute truth” fit within the confines of whatever Baptist church I was pastoring at the time. Like the prophets and apostles of the Bible, I was a man of God who was given a message by God to share with saints and sinners. My goal was to turn religious people into Christians/Baptists/people who thought just as I did.

Over the years, scores of Christian commenters have attempted to show readers of this blog how exalted their reasoning is compared to that of ignorant atheists, agnostics, and, well, anyone who doesn’t think as they do. These men have even self-described themselves as brilliant. These preachers of TRUTH are certain that their interpretations and beliefs are right. As I read their words, I say to myself, Bruce, you said the very same thing years ago. Thinking I was a True Christian®, I considered everyone else outside of my little corner of Christianity to be religious, but lost. I had such a small view of the world, with every person fitting into one of two categories: saved or lost. True Christians® were saved, everyone else, including billions of people who worshiped some other sort of God, was lost. As a younger pastor, thanks to my IFB training, I even viewed many Evangelicals as religious, but lost. Calvinism later did the same for me, allowing me to cast aspersions and doubts upon those dirty Arminians who believed in salvation by works.

I still have moments when I think that I have an exalted intellect and understanding of the world, but tripping over the cat or a misplaced Lego (Goddammit, Ezra!) quickly brings me back to earth. I am not suggesting that all worldviews and beliefs are the same or equally valid. I reject attempts to smooth out the edges of the public space. But, at the end of the day, all of us are feeble, frail people who will soon find ourselves six feet under or the smoke wafting up from a crematorium smokestack. Knowing this should teach us humility, a reminder that none of us is an all-knowing deity.

How about you? Did you consider yourself “religious?” How did you view people who were not a part of your sect?  Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

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.

Evangelical Pastor Questions Whether I Preached the “Real” Jesus

bruce gerencser false jesus

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Regardless of what I do to ward off bloodsucking Evangelical vampires, they continue to send me emails detailing their opinions about my past and present life. The notice on the Contact page makes it clear that I am not interested in receiving such messages. I even wrote posts titled Dear Evangelical and Simple Contact Form for Evangelicals in an attempt to reduce the flow of preachy and judgmental emails. I also added a page titled WHY?, hoping that Evangelical zealots would read the posts listed on this page and as a result have no need to email questions that have already been answered. Despite doing all these things, Evangelicals STILL feel duty-bound to contact me. I suspect many of them think God is “leading” them to email me or they feel it is important to put in a good word for the Man Upstairs. Wayne from California is one such man. I think Wayne is an Evangelical pastor — based on his email address, IP address, and Google name search — but since he didn’t call himself a pastor, I won’t either.

What follows is the complete text of Wayne’s email. My response is indented and italicized. Enjoy!

Bruce, thanks for sharing your heartfelt sentiments, etc. I do want to ask you a very pertinent question however as it relates to your defection from Christianity. What “JESUS” did you preach when you were pastoring churches for over 25 years? Was it the Jesus of the Holy Scriptures? Or the Jesus of your own theology?

First, you really should have spent some time reading more than four of my posts. If you had, you would never have asked such silly questions. That said, I want you to be fully educated concerning Bruce Almighty, so I will answer your questions.

I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Thousands of people heard me preach. I also held special meetings in churches affiliated with the Nazarene, Christian Union, Free Will Baptist, Assembly of God, Charismatic, Southern Baptist, Reformed Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist, General Association of Regular Baptist denominations/groups, along with numerous meetings held for Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches (IFB). Not one person ever questioned the Jesus or the gospel I was preaching. Not one time, ever!  You will search high and low to find one person who would say to you, Bruce preached a false gospel. Dozens of colleagues in the ministry will tell you that my gospel preaching was Evangelical and orthodox in every way.

I ask because if you really knew JESUS as Savior and Redeemer, how is it that you can walk away from HIM? Wasn’t HE real in your life? Didn’t HE minister to you as you ministered to others? Did you believe anything that you preached? Or was it all a lie…or a show?

Yes, I really knew Jesus, and yes he was real in my life. Yes, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, led me, spoke to me, and ministered to my spiritual needs. However, I now know that just because I had experiences such as these, they in no way “prove” the existence of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit.

I preached the Jesus of orthodox Christianity. I preached the Jesus found within the pages of the Christian Bible. And yes, I preached the Jesus who saved me from my sins.

If you would like, Wayne, we both can unzip our pants and have a Jesus-measuring contest. Unlike that of Donald Trump, my Jesus was pretty big. I was an expositional preacher. Preaching in this manner afforded me the opportunity to make much of Jesus each and every Lord’s Day.

Any suggestion that I preached some sort of defective or false Jesus is ludicrous. I understand WHY you think this might be so. You can’t square my story with your theology, so you must find a way to dismiss my life: I was an unsaved false teacher who preached a truncated gospel and a false Jesus. Here’s the problem. You will search in vain for even ONE person who would agree with you. Having never heard me preach, you are in no way qualified to judge the quality of my preaching.

I took my calling seriously, spending countless hours evangelizing the lost, ministering to those in need, and studying for my sermons. My faith was the essence of my life, as it was for my wife and children. Again, you will search in vain for even one person who will tell you that I was anything but who I say I was during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

Were you ever really a TRUE Believer in Christ from day one? I know you said that your life had been inundated with the “Church,” but not a lot was said with what you did with JESUS! That is perhaps where your problem arised [sic]. The Bible does speaks [sic] very clearly of “APOSTATES,” those that merely “professed” faith in Christ…but they never ever “possessed” real faith in Christ? Could that have been you?

No, I was not, at that time, an apostate. Your inability to comprehend my life comes from your superficial reading of my story. No need to dig in and try to understand. You picked out of my story those things that said to you I was unsaved or an apostate and that is all you needed to know.

Again, I “possessed” Jesus every bit as much as you do.

Biblically speaking, no true believer/follower of Christ could ever walk away from HIM as believers are “SEALED” by the HOLY SPIRIT until the day of Redemption. So my friend, perhaps you were hurt and that caused you to turn away, but the JESUS of the Scriptures would ALWAYS be there for you if you really had a genuine faith in Him. I pray that the God of the Scriptures will bring you to a place of true repentance and faith, and that the hurt/wounds that have caused you bitterness in your soul, will be healed and you can really begin living for Christ!

Ah, now we get to the crux of the matter. You can’t square your once-saved-always-saved theology with my life, so it is evident to you that I was never a true Christian. What an easy way to dismiss my story. With one wave of your hand, you say, Bruce, you never were a Christian! This one thing I know: I once was saved and now I am not. I defy you to find one chink in my Evangelical armor. I checked all the boxes, Wayne, and if I wasn’t a Christian neither are you.

I spent most of my life following, serving, and living for Jesus and his Church. Quite frankly, I find inquiries such as yours to be patently offensive. I suspect you would feel the same way if I “doubted” the sincerity of your faith.

Many Evangelicals have come before you. Armed with Cracker Jack armchair psychology degrees, they determine that I am an angry, hurt, and bitter man. Here’s the problem with this line of inquiry: let’s assume I am now angry, hurt, or bitter. How is this relevant to the veracity of my past religious faith? When I was a Christian I was not angry, hurt, or bitter. And believe me, I know what anger and bitterness look like. I spent twenty-five years wading through the Evangelical sewer, coming in contact with countless angry and bitter “followers” of Jesus.  Again, I defy you to find one person who would say that I was an angry, hurt, or bitter Christian.

Now, if you are asking me if I am NOW angry or bitter? Sure, sometimes. These are normal human emotions, emotions that were buried under teachings about the fruit of the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. If I am angry about anything it is that I continue to receive emails such as yours from Evangelicals who refuse to listen and allow me to tell my own story. I know that as long as I am willing to publicly talk about my life as an Evangelical Christian and pastor that I will have to deal with people like you — people who show me little to no respect because they think they have me all figured out.

Years ago, I told my counselor that I was miffed over people not allowing me to tell my own story. I naively thought that if I explained myself, people such as yourself would understand. My counselor chuckled and told me that my mistake was thinking that Evangelicals cared one whit about what I think. He said, they don’t give a shit about what you think!

I now know my counselor was right. And here’s the good thing . . . I no longer give a shit about what Evangelicals think about my past or present life. My goal is to help Christians who have doubts about Christianity or who have recently left the faith. Over the past eight years, I have corresponded with scores of people who had doubts or questions about their faith. I am pleased that I have been able to lend a small measure of support. In some instances, I was able to help people gently unhitch their lives from Evangelicalism — a belief system that often causes untold psychological damage. I am, in many ways, still a pastor. I sincerely want to help people. The difference now, of course, is that my focus is on helping people walk the path of life with honesty and integrity. While I have been instrumental in helping numerous people — including pastors — embrace atheism, chalking up deconversions is not my goal. This blog is my pulpit and the world is my parish. Thousands of people regularly read my writing. I must be doing something right, yes? I still have a hard time accepting that people actually WANT to read what I write, but they do, and I appreciate their support.

By all means pray. It won’t do any good, but praying surely will make you feel like you are doing something anything to silence my voice and bring me to Jesus.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser