Tag Archive: Evangelicalism

Why Are Some Evangelicals Obsessed With My Weight?

bruce gerencser 2015-002

Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Some Evangelicals who stumble upon this blog or find my page on Facebook take a look at my profile picture and, based on what they see, personally attack me by making derogatory comments about my weight or physical features. (see Did You Atheism Will Make You Fat?) Let me give you a good example of this. Several years ago, I received an email from a man named Bill Higgins. Higgins came to this blog via a Google search for “David Hyles Scandal.” His search gives away his religious preference; he is likely a Fundamentalist Baptist, the meanest and nastiest of the Christian species. Here’s what Higgins had to say:

I’m not that good of a Christian so I don’t mind saying this.

Why would you put a picture of you fat face on your website. I don’t respect fat people unless they have an excuse. I think you are just fat because you are lazy and spend to much time on your computer.

I don’t dare respond via email to people like Bill Higgins. To do so means I am giving a low-life like Higgins my email address and once I do that the emails never end.

I want to be clear about a few things. I know I am overweight, I am fat, obese, a lard-ass, whatever term people want to use for people like me. On most days, I am not ashamed of this fact. I don’t try to hide who I really am by using a picture of me taken 35 years ago. I am quite comfortable in my own skin, even if I have a lot more of it these days.

I wasn’t always overweight. When  I was 18 I was 6 foot tall and weighed 160 pounds. I played competitive sports all through school and continued to do so until I was in my early 30s. When Polly and I married in 1978 I weighed 180 pounds. After a few years of marriage, my weight reached 225 pounds and as long as I was physically active my weight stayed in the 225-250 pound range.

I have what people call a fire-plug build. My weight is pretty well-distributed from top to bottom. I don’t have a huge pot-gut like many men my size do. Ironically, because of my physical build, people often underestimate my weight. When I stopped playing competitive sports and started spending more time in the study, my weight began to climb. As I reached middle age, it became harder and harder to lose weight.

24 years ago, I came down with mononucleosis. My doctor treated me for months before he decided to do a mono test. By then, I was in big trouble and I ended up in the hospital. My liver and spleen were swollen, my tonsils and adenoids were white from the infection that was overrunning my body, and the internist told me there was nothing he could do for me. Unless my immune system kicked in and started fighting the infection, I would likely die. Well, it’s 2015, so it looks like I made it.

Mononucleosis in older adults is a serious matter. It can kill you. While I survived, the mono did a number on my body.  Mono left me with a severely compromised immune system and oddly it altered my  normal body temperature from 98.6  to 97.0. A few years later, I began to have widespread muscle and joint pain and I was fatigued all the time.  After a few years of seeing  specialists, they determined I have Fibromyalgia.  I was officially diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 18 years ago.

In 2006, I began to develop neurological problems; numbness in my thighs, face, arms and hands; loss of motor skills; memory problems. After tens of thousands of dollars of tests, several brain scans, MRI’s, CT scans,  and multiple specialists, it was determined that I have “we don’t know what the hell is wrong with you.”   While many of my symptoms point to multiple sclerosis, no doctor has been willing to say I have MS.

Last month, I wrote:

Earlier this week I saw the orthopedic doctor. He told me my body is like numerous wildfires. Put one out and others pop up. He gathered up my x-rays and MRI scans and we looked at them. He was quite blunt, telling me that I have arthritis in EVERY joint and that some of the damage is severe. Knees, shoulders, feet, hands, and back, all have arthritis that is causing joint damage. The why is unknown. Some days, the pain from the arthritis is severe, some days it is tolerable. Added to this is the muscle pain I have from Fibromyalgia. Every day is a pain day with some days worse than others. I haven’t had a pain-free day in almost twenty years.

We talked about options. He was quite frank with me, saying that because the arthritis is so pervasive that I was not a good candidate for surgery. Even with my knees and shoulders, scoping them could actually make things worse, resulting in more pain. I like this doctor because he doesn’t bullshit me. His advice? Live with it. Unless I want to have total joint replacements, surgeries that have a huge risk of complications for someone like me who has a compromised immune system, I must learn to live the pain, debility, and the ever so slow loss of function. All that he and other doctors can do for me is help manage the pain and try to improve my quality of life.

bruce 2015

Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Earlier this year I had an endoscopic ultrasound and a colonoscopy done in the hope that doctors could pinpoint why I have no appetite and why I am losing weight. (I’ve lost 50 pounds since Christmas 2014). While the weight loss has leveled off, I still have days where I have no appetite.  The tests found a lesion on my pancreas, and stones in my gallbladder. Good news? No cancer, though the lesion on my pancreas must be carefully monitored.

And then there’s my battle with skin cancer. Two months ago, I had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from my hip. In 2007, I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my nose. I am currently going through topical chemotherapy treatment for cancer and precancer on my lower lip. My lower lip is a bloody, ugly mess, but it beats having to have invasive, disfiguring surgery done on my lip. Thanks to being a fair-skinned redhead  and repeated blistering burns as a child and young adult, I suspect I will be battling skin cancer the rest of my life.

As you can see, my health plate is full. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that unless someone comes up with a cure things won’t get better for me. I choose to embrace my life as it is. Wishing things were different doesn’t change how things are. The pervasive pain, muscle problems, and neurological problems, have debilitated me to such a degree that, on most days, it is all I can do to get up, do a little work in the office, and then spend the rest of the day in the recliner.

On the days when I think I am feeling better, I try to do some of the projects that need to be done around the house or yard. These activities tend to wear me out quickly and I often pay a heavy price for overdoing it. A few hours of work in the garage or yard often results in me having to spend a couple of days in bed or sitting in my recliner. Part of my problem is that I have never been good at doing anything halfway. Moderation? Not in my dictionary. Unfortunately, my inability or unwillingness to pace myself often extracts a hefty physical price from me. Like my friend Michael Mock told me, Bruce you are just one of those kind of people who just have to crash and burn. Out of the ashes I rise again only to start the process all over again.

An inability to do much of anything physically means I don’t burn off a lot of calories. I am not a glutton and Polly and I, for the most part, eat healthily. Because I am quite sedentary, it’s hard to have meaningful weight loss. It is not that I don’t do anything physically, but due to the physical problems I have I simply cannot do the physical things I want or need to do. It doesn’t help that I have to use a wheelchair or a cane to get around. I have turned into a slow-moving vehicle. I do what I can, but there are days and weeks that the pain is so severe that all the mind over matter pep talks in the world won’t help me move.

karah and bruce gerencser 2015

Karah and Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Some days, I can’t even bear to have anyone touch me. It just hurts too much. I love it when the grand kids come over, but by the time they are done tramping by my recliner, bumping into me, and jumping in my lap, I feel like the day after a bruising football game. I love having my grand kids around and they are one of the big reasons I get up in the morning and face another day. When they are here I grin, grit, and bear it, giving praise to the gods, of Vicodin, Tramadol, Naproxen, and Zanaflex. I would rather die than not be able to have my grandchildren sit on my lap. (see Please, Don’t Touch Me)

Back to Bill Higgins and his comments about my weight. Yes, I am overweight and there is little I can do about it. I try to watch what I eat, limit my carbohydrate intake, and eat my veggies. Yes, I do spend a lot of time in front of the computer and I watch a lot of TV. I also spend hours a day blogging, answering email, and reading. I would probably do less of these things if I could, but I can’t, so I am grateful for being able to read, write, watch TV, and search the internet.

Of course, Higgins, and others like him, don’t care about any of these things. In their mind, I am a fat, lazy, worthless human being and they enjoy trying to destroy me with their words. Do Higgins’s words hurt? Sure. Like most people, I want to be liked and respected. No one like being verbally assaulted. The internet protects people like Higgins from being held accountable for what they say. There is nothing I can do about this. As long as I am a public figure and write about the things I do, I know I am going to attract people who take great pleasure in demeaning me. Little do they know that their hateful words say more about them than they do me.

Thanks for reading. This is not a plea for understanding or support or a request for links to the latest, greatest cure-all or diet. This is me talking out loud. Maybe someone will find a bit of encouragement or understanding from what I have written.

Two Male Patrick Henry College Students Blame Female Students for Their Lust

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As I have shared before, Evangelical young men are taught that they are weak, pathetic creatures easily led astray by mere exposure to too much female flesh. A little cleavage or a tight blouse has led many an Evangelical man to the slaughter.  Instead of being taught to own and control their sexuality, many Evangelical men whine, moan, and complain about women “tempting” them to sin. Well, the moaning part is them masturbating after seeing too much of Sister Sue. Let me give an example of this kind of thinking. A year ago, Homeschooler’s Anonymous published a 2006 letter written by two Patrick Henry College (PHC) male students to the female students of the college. For those not familiar with PHC, it is fundamentalist Christian college in Purcellville, VA. Michael Farris, of Home School Legal Defense Association fame, is the chancellor. According to Wikipedia, PHC has 320 students.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

…We rejoice to say that the women at Patrick Henry are, overall, some of the most conscientiously-dressed ladies it has ever been our joy to meet. And we have seen a number of our sisters here grow in this area over the past few years. However, we must in honesty say that there are many who could do better. We do not believe that there is a general wicked desire to “cause a brother to stumble”—quite the contrary. You all show great love and care for us. But many Christian women, probably a large majority, simply do not understand the depth and extent of the foul perversity of the male mind. (If you’re a man and some part of this doesn’t apply to you personally, just assume we’re only talking about ourselves at that point.)

We have a duty as brothers in Christ to guard the purity and holiness of our sisters, which means restraining how bluntly we speak. On the other hand, part of that duty is to help you understand the problem. To avoid causing offense for our own sake, all the most explicit bits are taken directly from Scripture. Anyone who finds God’s authoritative written revelation inappropriate is advised to skip this section.

You’ve heard this before, but we’ll say it again: men are visually wired. A man notices a pretty female walking by. His eyes lock on, his brain clicks in (we mostly tend toward one-track minds). He is attracted to her. Attraction, when left undirected, leads naturally to desire.

If she’s his wife, all is well. In itself this visual attraction is a good thing. A man is supposed to look upon his wife and be drawn to her beauty. Please, please, ladies, don’t confuse the abuse of the thing with its good and proper and holy purpose in God’s plan. Husbands are not merely allowed but commanded to take pleasure and fulfillment in their wives’ physical beauty: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18-19). This intoxication is a blessed fact and should be a cause for great rejoicing. As C. S. Lewis says in a very similar context, “God likes it. He made it.”

But there is a great deal of abuse. If the attractive female wandering by is not the man’s wife (and mathematically, the odds tend that way), then there’s a nifty Biblical phrase for desiring her: “lusting after her in your heart.” We’ll leave out the details; you don’t want to know. Suffice it to say that he wants to be intoxicated and filled with delight too. As Solomon says in that passage we declined to quote from earlier: “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.” It’s all right for Solomon, he’s talking about his wife, but many of us are not married. Of course most men—here at least—are decent enough not to actually do anything much; but that’s beside the point. The man has spoken these words to himself. He has made the act of volition…

…We are not trying to blame you for our sin. Rather, as a warrior with many wounds, on behalf of ourselves and these our brothers, we are asking for allies. This is a cry for reinforcements, lest the battle go to the enemy. We are sorely pressed on every side. This is no exaggeration: we need all the help we can get. We don’t need to be struck down from behind by friendly fire.

Remember, Adam’s sin was Adam’s, but that doesn’t mean God held Eve guiltless in the affair.

Eve tempted her husband, and God cursed her for it.

If we give in to temptation, we are judged; but if you deliberately tempt us, you are judged, whether we give in or not—even whether we notice or not. The sin is not in successfully tempting a brother, but in trying to do so. The immodest swimsuit is still immodest and sinful even if there happen to be no guys on the beach that day—if you decided to wear it because you hoped there would be. Deliberately choosing the barely-too-tight top is still immodest and sinful, even if the RA catches you before you make it out the door…

…But let us also offer a warning. Although women almost never completely realize the extent to which (or the ways in which) they can affect men, most women are aware on some level that certain things attract men. And women like to feel attractive. This is natural; we have already said that you are created to be beautiful. But we have also said that the purpose of attraction is enjoyment.

Please be careful of this desire to attract. It is a good thing; but it is easy to misuse. Many females drive us to ask some pretty unpleasant questions.

If a woman does not want to be the subject of wicked imagining, why does she provide so much scope for the imagination? If she does not intend to be suggestive, why does she tantalize with hints, peeks, glimpses, suggestions?…

…Some articles of clothing are just irredeemably scandalous (in the Greek sense of “causing to stumble”), but many others may be immodest on one woman and perfectly modest on another, and not simply because of physical differences. (Just be careful of the “Well, it could be immodest, but I’m not wearing it like that” argument.) Any woman can be immodest “by accident,” but she is far less likely to do so if she has sisterly love in mind as a deliberate daily goal. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Modesty flows from a heart devoted to the service of God.

“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to Godliness.” (I Timothy 2:9-10)…

You can read the entire letter here.  These two men took over 4,000 words to tell the women of Patrick Henry College that they are making them lust. Lest you think that PHC women are running around half-naked, here’s the dress standard for women:

  • Women should not wear clothes that are too revealing, (e.g., spaghetti straps, halter tops, tube tops, see-through tops, or tops that reveal bare midriffs, that strap at only one shoulder, or that strap below the shoulder).
  • Shorts: Shorts should extend mid-thigh.
  • Skirts: Skirts and skirt slits should end no higher than 2 inches above the top of the knee when standing.

Under the Business Dress section for women, the Student Life Handbook states:

  • Shirt: blouses and nice tops are to be worn.
  • Skirts/Slacks: Women are to wear skirts, dresses, or slacks (dress slacks or Dockers style).
  • Shoes: Women are to wear dress shoes; sandals that would be considered professional business attire may also be worn. Tennis shoes and flip-flops are not allowed.
  • Appearance: Excessive or gaudy jewelry or make-up should be avoided.

These standards, when compared to those of other fundamentalist institutions, are quite liberal.

not my fault

This letter reflects the common notion among Evangelicals that if a man lusts after a woman it is her fault. While the letter writers try to distance themselves from the suggestion that they are “blaming” PHC women for their lust, their argument loses its force when they demand that the women dress in ways that will not cause them to be tempted. Based on the Student Life standard for female dress, what could PHC women possibly be doing and wearing that would cause these poor, weak men to lust?

These men have likely been schooled in a Puritanical form of morality that requires women to be the moral gatekeepers. It is up to women to keep men from lusting after them.  After all, men will be men and they can’t help themselves; it’s just how they are wired. Instead of embracing their sexuality and realizing that it is quite normal to be physically attracted to women and to admire their beauty, they are taught that such feelings and desires outside of marriage constitute sin (even though these very desires will likely draw them to the woman they will someday marry).

These men need to be taught to look but not touch and if they are being tempted to touch then it is their problem, not the woman’s. They need to grow up and take control of their sexuality and not blame others for their own perceived weakness. I say perceived weakness because I think this weakness is a manufactured one brought on by a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible and fundamentalist moral/social standards.

So what do you think, you slutty temptresses? Is it your fault these men are tempted to lust?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Notes

New Republic article on Patrick Henry College

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God Killed Our Baby: Isn’t God Awesome?

romans 8 28

Evangelical Christians believe that their God is the giver and taker of life and that he controls the universe. As the old song goes, he’s got the whole world in his hands. Everything that happens in their lives  is according to the purpose and plan of their God. When tragedy comes their way, they turn to prayer and the Bible to find hope and comfort. The Bible says in Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

and in I Corinthians 10:12,13:

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.  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.

According to the Bible, everything that happens in the Evangelicals’ lives is for their good and God will not  create any burden in their life without making  a way for them to bear it.

The Bible says in Hebrews 13:5:

…I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

and in  Matthew 28:20:

…lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

and in Psalm 37:25

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.

According to the Bible, God/Jesus promises to always be with the Evangelical, even to the end of the world. He promises to never forsake them. No matter what, God will always be there for them.

It is important to understand what I have written above in order to make any sense of what I am about to write next. Jason Williams is the assistant pastor of High Street Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. (See church’s blog here.) High Street is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church that was once pastored by one of the most hardcore IFB pastors I ever met, Charles Mainous.

A year or so ago, Williams and his wife lost their unborn child. Williams wrote a post for the Old Path’s Journal about the loss of his child. He wrote (page no longer active):

How many of you have been in a relationship and lost someone you love? Maybe it was because of a break up and you are hurting badly and feel rejected. Maybe you even lost someone dear to you because of death. If so, then perhaps you are like me and you are asking God, “Why did you take this person from me?”…

…It was during this very difficult time in my life when I was asking God why He took my child, that He showed me Psalm 61. Psalm 61 is a Psalm of healing. It details all the things that God gives us. As I read this chapter, it was as if God was saying to me. “Yes, I did take your baby, but look at all of the things that I have given you.”…

…Your loss is a gift from God! He looked down from Heaven and deemed you worthy to glorify Him! What a gift! To think that God would think I am worthy to praise Him blows my mind! I am just a sinner, but He looked past my sin and gave me a trial so that I can stand in front of others and tell them that He is good!

Because God took our baby, I have been able to stand in front of our church and praise Him! So many people came to me afterwards and told me that the testimony made them realize just how good God is! That night a politician texted me and told me our testimony caused his faith in God to grow! What a gift God gave me! The chance to glorify Him!…

Williams believes that God killing his baby was good for him and his wife, and that God used the death of their baby to advance his purpose. Through the death of their child, other people can see how GOOD, how AWESOME, God is! Only those indoctrinated in the Evangelical worldview could ever take the tragic death of a baby and turn it into an awesome event. Since God is good and only does what is good for the Evangelical, whatever happens in the Evangelical’s life is g-o-o-d. This kind of thinking forces the Evangelical to accept a warped view of the world, a view that has no place for bad things to happen.

Now, an Evangelical might object and say, bad things do happen, but God turns them into good. This is nothing more than semantics. Since the Evangelical must never call a good work of God bad, how can anything REALLY be bad? No matter what happens, God will turn it into good and Evangelicals must never, ever forget that God is always good and only does that which is good for them. Over and over they are told this, so when bad things happen in their  lives, they dismiss, discount, and reject how they really think and feel about the tragedy or circumstance they are going through. They are never permitted to say, what has happened to me is bad and nothing good can come from it.

Ten years ago, my sister-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident. I vividly remember how Polly’s Evangelical family went through the mental gymnastics necessary to turn Kathy’s death into good. During the invitation at her funeral, a person raised their hand and said that God had saved  him. Polly’s family thought, If one soul gets saved then Kathy’s death was worth it. At the time, I was still a Christian, but I made it very clear that I didn’t accept such thinking. I told them If I was asked to choose between the life of my sister-in-law and a soul getting saved, the whole world could go to hell. Nothing good has come from Kathy’s death. Polly lost her only sister, Polly’s parents lost a daughter, and she left behind a husband, children, and grandchildren who love her and miss her.

Look, I understand why people like the Williamses, Polly’s family, and many Evangelicals think like this. Bound by their literal interpretation of the Bible, they are forced to embrace a way of looking at life that is a complete denial of how life REALLY is. If thinking like this helps them to find peace and sleep through the night, then who am I to object, right? Fine, but they should not expect people like me to think the same way. I subscribe to the ‘you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse’ way of looking at life. I am a realist who tries to see the world as it is. This forces me to see that bad things do happen, things that lack any sort of goodness. Of course, seeing the world this way is part of the reason I am an atheist.

I want nothing to with a God who afflicts (tortures?) people so he can teach them a lesson, punish them for sin, or remind them of what an awesome God he is. Such a God is a psychopath  who derives pleasure from the suffering of others, a God who delights in tormenting and killing people. If such a person were my neighbor, I would quickly decide to move somewhere else.

Some Evangelicals think my refusal to accept that God is working all things for my good, in light of my pain and suffering, has turned me into a person who hates God. If such a God exists, then YES, I hate him. If the pervasive pain I have every day of my life is God teaching me a lesson then YES, I hate my tormentor. No decent human beings would treat someone they love this way, yet I am expected to believe that I am in pain tonight because God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life? Not a chance.

Yes, my pain and suffering informs and powers my writing. I doubt I could be the writer I am today without it. But, if you asked me to choose between being a writer and having a life free of the debilitating pain I am in, I would gladly not write another word. The only way for me to come to terms with where I am in my life is for me to realize that shit happens. Due to genetics, choices I have made, choices others have made, environmental exposure, and luck, my life is what it is. I accept my life as it is. If Polly and I were in the Williamses shoes, we would surely grieve as they have. However, we would not cling to the notion that God killing our child was somehow for our good. Instead, we would recognize that some babies die in the womb. Death is the one constant in our world. Every day, people die. When my sister-in-law died, she died because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. When the woman in front of the motorcycle made a quick u-turn, there was no way to avoid hitting her.  Just like that, Kathy was thrown from the motorcycle, struck her head  on the pavement, and she was dead. I can still remember the anguish in my mother-in-law’s cries as she got the news while at our house on Memorial Day. Just like that, everything changed.

This is the reality of life. I understand why people use religion to escape this reality, but I cannot do so.  Bad things happen, and all the prayers and all the religious-speak in the world won’t change this fact. How about you? As a former Christian, how do you now view and understand the world and the bad things that happen? Do you ever wish you still had God and faith to hold on to when bad things happen?  If you are a Christian, how do you deal with the bad things that happen in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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Bruce, Are You Hostile Towards Religion?

proud american christian

I’ve been accused of being hostile toward religion. Am I? Yes and no.

A hostile person is one who is antagonistic in action, thought or principle. Am I antagonistic in action, thought or principle toward all religions? No. Am I antagonistic in action, thought or principle toward some religions? Yes.

I have a number of friends and acquaintances who have all sorts of spiritual and religious beliefs. Do I think some of their beliefs and practices are strange? Sure. But, their beliefs are theirs and they have every right to believe them. I am indifferent towards their beliefs. For these friends and acquaintances, spirituality and religion is personal. They have no desire or need to convert other people or argue about whose religion is the “true” religion. For the most part, they live according to the Live and Let Live maxim. I would be an arrogant fool to be hostile toward this kind of religion. I know that, for many people, religion and spirituality serve a purpose. Those people benefit from their beliefs and practices and many of them find meaning, purpose, and direction through their religion. It’s their life and I am content to let them live it without me bothering them.

However, there IS a kind of religion I am hostile towards. Religions that try to convert. Religions that purport to KNOW the truth. Religions that say they are the ONE TRUE RELIGION. Religions that invade the lives of others and attempt to force others to believe like they themselves believe. Religions that divide people into groups: saved/lost, believer/unbeliever, elect/non-elect.  Religions that tout their holy book as a divine message to humanity from their God. Religions that kill, rape, steal, and pillage to advance their cause. Religions that try to engender social strife to advance their cause. Religions that try to brainwash children at an early age, be it at home or in the school. Religions that stir up hatred towards others because of who and what they are.

It is these kind of religions I am hostile towards. I make no apology for this. I see the hurt and damage done by these religions and I want to strangle the life out of them, liberating those who are ensnared, oppressed, and controlled. How can I, as a sentient, caring being, ignore beliefs that cause such mental, emotional, and at times, physical harm? Perhaps the real question is how can I NOT be hostile towards such religions. Bruce, which religions are you talking about? You know which ones. They are not hard to spot. You don’t need a lot of schooling to know which religions fit the above description. If you need a little more insight on my hostility, please read Why I Hate Jesus.

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Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

everything happens for a reason 2

The Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Muslim, and Mormon, along with many new-agers and spiritual people, believe EVERYTHING happens for a reason. They all believe that God or the Universe or some sort of divine energy/consciousness orchestrates our lives and that nothing happens by chance or accident.

According to people who think like this, everything that happens in our lives is part of a bigger purpose or plan. No matter what happens to us, it happens because it was meant to happen.  In keeping with  this way of thinking, the irresponsible, dumb-ass, youthful driver who pulled out to pass a slow-moving truck on a double yellow line and missed hitting Polly and  me head-on by a few feet was acting according to some greater purpose or plan. If he had hit us, our deaths would have happened for a reason.

As I think back through my life—my Mom’s suicide at age 54, my Dad’s death from surgery complications at age 49, my sister-in-law’s death from a motorcycle accident, my wife’s favorite uncle’s death at age 51 from a rare heart virus, my wife’s younger cousin’s recent death from Myasthenia gravis—these all-too-soon tragic deaths had no positive effect on those left behind, and their deaths certainly, outside of releasing several of them from pain, had no positive effect on them. If these deaths had some greater cosmic purpose, I’d sure love to know what it is.

When Polly sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005, several family members suggested that if one soul got saved through Kathy’s death then her death would not have been in vain. While I still a Christian at the time, I made it clear to everyone standing there that if the choice was between Kathy still being alive and someone getting saved and avoiding hell, I’d choose Kathy living every time.

As I look at the world, I see pain, suffering, and death. I see hunger and thirst. I see violence and deprivation. I see poverty, animal abuse, and environmental degradation. Yet, I am told that all these things happen for a reason. Pray tell, what is the bigger purpose or plan for these things? What reason could there be for children starving, a woman being raped, and a family having no means of support?

Two years ago, a horrific, violent storm ripped through NW Ohio. People and animals were killed, buildings and trees were destroyed, and millions of people were left without electricity for days, all during a time when temperatures were setting new record highs. Again, what is the bigger purpose or plan for these things?

War rages across the globe. The United States has troops stationed all over the world and is currently waging war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. U.S troops, bombs, and bullets are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths of innocent civilian men, women, and children, along with enemy combatants. Again, what is the bigger purpose or plan for these things?

It is not enough to say that the Christians God has a perfect plan and we must not question him. It is not enough to quote Romans 9:20:

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

Or Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

everything happens for a reasonI not only question this God, I charge him with gross negligence and malfeasance. Any human acting as this God does would be considered a manic, cruel, serial abuser of his fellow human beings. Such a God we would or should not want as family or a friend, yet billions claim this God as their friend, confidant, family member, and lover. They fawn over and worship this God who is so inept that he can’t even feed a hungry girl in Africa or quench the thirst of a homeless family in India. While this God always seems to come through for Granny when she can’t find her car keys, he is AWOL when it comes to relieving his creation from pain, suffering, and death. Forgive me for saying this, but this God is not worthy of obeisance and worship. If I’m going to worship anyone, it is going to be my fellow humans who devote their lives to reducing the suffering of others. They are the gods who are worthy of worship.

I prefer the agnostic, atheist, deist way of looking at life. Shit happens. Good and bad happens to one and all and often what comes our way has no purpose or reason. It just h-a-p-p-e-n-s.

This does not mean that I cannot learn from the bad things that happen in my life. My own physical debility and life of pain has been quite instructive. My past experiences have indeed helped to make me into the man I am today (good and bad).

But, to suggest that God or the universe or some divine energy/consciousness is behind how my life has turned out?  I reject any such notion. I gladly embrace what my life is and all that helped to make it what it is, but I have no place in my life for some sort of divine puppeteer pulling the strings of my life. Seven years ago, I reached up and cut the puppeteer’s strings, and from that day forward my life has been my own.  It is an admixture of my own choices, the choices of others, genetics, and random events and circumstances.  I need no other explanation, nor do I need a God to make my life more palatable. It is what it is until it isn’t.

Note

A good read on this subject is Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens.

12082015

 

Jesus Died On the Cross to Save Us From Game of Thrones

game of thrones

That’s what fundamentalist Christian pastor John Piper thinks. In a post titled 12 Questions to Ask Before You Watch Game of Thrones, Piper answers a question from a Christian about watching Game of Thrones. Here’s the question: Pastor John, what would you say to a Christian who watches the cable TV show Game of Thrones?”

Piper responded:

…The closer I get to death and meeting Jesus personally face to face, and giving an account for my life and for the careless words that I have spoken (Matthew 12:36), the more sure I am of my resolve never intentionally to look at a television show or a movie or a website or a magazine where I know I will see photos or films of nudity…So here are 12 questions to think about, or 12 reasons why I am committed to a radical abstention from anything I know is going to present me with nudity.

1. Am I Recrucifying Christ?

Christ died to purify his people. It is an absolute travesty of the cross to treat it as though Jesus died only to forgive us for the sin of watching nudity, and not to purify us for the power not to watch it.

He has blood-bought power in his cross. He died to make us pure. He “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession” (Titus 2:14). If we choose to endorse or embrace or enjoy or pursue impurity, we take a spear and ram it into Jesus’s side every time we do. He suffered to set us free from impurity.

2. Does It Express or Advance My Holiness?

In the Bible, from beginning to end, there is a radical call for holiness — holiness of mind and heart and life. “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15). Or 2 Corinthians 7:1, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Nudity in movies and photos is not holy and does not advance our holiness. It is unholy and impure.

3. When Will I Tear Out My Eye, If Not Now?

Jesus said everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away (Matthew 5:28–29). Seeing naked women — or seeing naked men — causes a man or woman to sin with their minds and their desires, and often with their bodies. If Jesus told us to guard our hearts by gouging out our eyes to prevent lust, how much more would he say: “Don’t watch it!”

4. Is It Not Satisfying to Think on What Is Honorable?

Life in Christ is not mainly the avoidance of evil, but mainly the passionate pursuit of good. Remember Philippians 4:8, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

My life is not a constrained life. It is a free life. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

5. Am I Longing to See God?

I want to see and know God as fully as possible in this life and the next. Watching nudity is a huge hindrance to that pursuit. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). The defilement of the mind and heart by watching nudity dulls the heart’s ability to see and enjoy God. I dare anyone to watch nudity and turn straight to God and give him thanks and enjoy him more because of what you just experienced.

6. Do I Care About the Souls of the Nudes?

God calls women to adorn themselves in respectable apparel with modesty and self-control (1 Timothy 2:9). When we pursue or receive or embrace nudity in our entertainment, we are implicitly endorsing the sin of the women who sell themselves to this way and are, therefore, uncaring about their souls. They disobey 1 Timothy 2:9, and we say that’s okay.

7. Would I Be Glad If My Daughter Played This Role?

Most Christians are hypocrites in watching nudity because, on the one hand they say by their watching that this is okay, and on the other hand they know deep down they would not want their daughter or their wife or their girlfriend to be playing this role. That is hypocrisy.

8. Am I Assuming Nudity Can Be Faked?

Nudity is not like murder and violence on the screen. Violence on a screen is make-believe; nobody really gets killed. But nudity is not make-believe. These actresses are really naked in front of the camera, doing exactly what the director says to do with their legs and their hands and their breasts. And they are naked in front of millions of people to see.

9. Am I Compromising the Beauty of Sex?

Sexual relations is a beautiful thing. God created it and pronounced it “good” (1 Timothy 4:3). But it is not a spectator sport. It is a holy joy that is sacred in its secure place of tender love. Men and women who want to be watched in their nudity are in the category with exhibitionists who pull down their pants at the top of escalators.

10. Am I Assuming Nudity Is Necessary for Good Art?

There is no great film or television series that needs nudity to add to its greatness. No. There isn’t. There are creative ways to be true to reality without turning sex into a spectator’s sport and without putting actors and actresses in morally compromised situations on the set.

It is not artistic integrity that is driving nudity on the screen. Underneath all of this is male sexual appetite driving this business, and following from that is peer pressure in the industry and the desire for ratings that sell. It is not art that puts nudity in film, it’s the appeal of prurience. It sells.

11. Am I Craving Acceptance?

Christians do not watch nudity with a view to maximizing holiness. That is not what keeps them coming back to the shows. They know deep down that these television shows or these movies are shot through with the commendation and exaltation of attitudes and actions that are utterly out of step with the death to self and out of step with exaltation of Christ.

No, what keeps those Christians coming back is the fear that if they take Christ at his word and make holiness as serious as I am saying it is, they would have to stop seeing so many television shows and so many movies, and they would be viewed as freakish. And that today is the worst evil of all. To be seen as freakish is a much greater evil than to be unholy.

12. Am I Free from Doubt?

There is one biblical guideline that makes life very simple: “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:32). My paraphrase: If you doubt, don’t. That would alter the viewing habits of millions, and oh how sweetly they would sleep with their conscience.

So I say it again. Join me in the pursuit of the kind of purity that sees God, and knows the fullness of joy in his presence and the everlasting pleasure at his right hand.

Is there nudity in Game of Thrones? Sure. Is it gratuitous at times? Sure. Should a Christian watch Game of Thrones? That’s up to them. Polly and I love the show and think it is one of the best dramas on TV. While we think there is a double standard at HBO when it comes to nudity, (HBO has no problem showing female frontal nudity, but rarely does so for men) this is not enough to keep us from watching Game of Thrones. We think tasteful nudity can add to a program. After all, sex and nudity are a part of the human experience.

Piper plays the classic fundamentalist card…death is coming for us and then the judgment. What will we tell Jesus about our binge watching Games of Thrones and other shows like Orange if the New Black on HBO Go?  Something tells me that many Christians aren’t listening to the John Pipers of the world.

Since I don’t think the Christian God exists, I have no worries about being judged for my TV viewing habits. I watch what I want to watch. I love some programs and hate others. I’m glad that I no longer have to feign outrage when there is a nude scene. Polly, Change the channel! But, please change it s-l-o-w-l-y. Of all the problems facing the human race, Game of Thrones doesn’t even make the list.

The Casey Black Story: How a Praise and Worship Song Led to a Loss of Faith

its all about me

In a post on The Nashville Scene titled How a Terrible Worship Song Drove Me From Christianity, Casey Black details one of :

The year was 2001. A traveling worship band took the stage and began singing to the Christians gathered in the large sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Nashville. I was there with my girlfriend, a country singer, and when the band’s song became familiar enough she raised her hands, closed her eyes, and started singing along. Everyone else did too, so there were nearly 1,000 hands raised, 500 voices singing, 1,000 eyes closed.

I used to admire this unselfconscious abandon in my Christian brothers and sisters. I even found it beautiful. I was accustomed to the subdued, scripted and ritualistic worship of the Catholic Church I was raised in, and this display of emotion and affection toward God didn’t come naturally to me (insofar as the things that we are taught to do when we are young seem “natural” to us when we’re older). And even though my first encounter with this type of worship — which sometimes escalated to jumping up and down, even crying — was through the window of a church, making me wonder what sort of cult was inside, eventually the approach felt fresh and freeing to me; like it was a much more appropriate way to worship the creator of everything. So I followed along as best I could, though I could never do it without feeling extremely self-conscious, or like I was doing it wrong.

It so happened that as I stood in First Baptist beside the country singer, I was severely depressed, and had been for years. Everything back then, in my very early 20s, was an exercise in tortured acting and painful perseverance. Going to church and singing the songs were no exception. But the voice of my guilty Catholic conscience — which I suspect was partly responsible for my depression in the first place ­— was louder than ever, and it urged me to keep going, to keep raising my hands and singing. It had convinced me long before I was conscious that there could be no other life but for God, and it seemed to say now that maybe, just maybe, if my soul were pure enough, if I closed my eyes hard enough, if I sang truly enough, maybe I might meet God and find some relief in Him from my sadness. So heavy as my heart and hands were that day, I raised them up to God and sang along with the crowd…

…A few songs into the service, the singer stopped and told the gathering that the band had written a new song out on the road. He said they felt the song was pretty special, anointed even (!) — which I thought was a pretty cocky thing to say, even if I did admire his confidence, even if I did think it was pretty cool that Jesus Himself had blessed the song. He said they’d like to play it for us, and he went into the chord progression.

It seemed like a typical worship song to me, and after multiple repetitions of the chorus, everyone was back to the routine of singing along with hands raised and eyes closed, as if they’d been taught the song at birth. For a chorus or two, so was I. I was hanging in there, trying to worship my Creator as best I could, sad creation as I was. (“But that isn’t the Creator’s fault!” said the Catholic voice. “If you’re unhappy you’re just not trying hard enough!”) I sang like I’d sung to Him hundreds of times before. I sang to get closer and I sang for some relief and I sang to praise.

But then I stopped. I had to stop. There was something about the lyric that bugged me. I opened my eyes.

Let our song be like sweet incense to your heart, Oh God

This seemed an awful lyric. And the songwriter that I am, I had to take it apart while everyone else kept singing:

Let our song,

…which is a sound,

be like sweet incense,

…which is a smell, or something that produces smell,

to your heart,

…which is an organ that can neither hear nor smell!!!!!

Good Lord, are you hearing this?

I knew I was being a bit harsh on the writer. But come on, it was garbage. It was throwaway stuff. I looked around to see if I could spot anyone else who might feel the same way. We were in the songwriting capital of the world, after all. Maybe I’d see someone with her mouth agape, or someone holding his ears and crying. But what I saw were hundreds of my peers with closed eyes and raised hands singing those absolutely nonsensical words.

It was then that I felt the opening of my first true and conscious schism with religion, and with my religious self. The sight scared me. “This is not good. This is dangerous. This is really weird. These people are singing words that literally make no sense; which would be fine if they were singing along to some dumb song on the radio, but they’re not just singing along to some dumb song on the radio, they’re offering this nonsense directly to God. Giving it as a gift! How can they do this? How could they not think before they sing? Doesn’t God deserve better? Something that makes logical sense at least? Sweet as the singers are, might God be holding His ears and weeping right now?”

When I got done looking at the crowd I thought of myself, and I saw myself as one of those people and it frightened me. I had sung a million songs like this without thinking. Maybe not as horrendously nonsensical as this one, but close enough. And if I had sung songs like this without thinking, what else had I done without thinking? What else had I been taught to do that I had never questioned? What did I believe, what had I professed, that I didn’t actually understand? How come I am singing nonsense with all these other people? Such profane questions got my good heart to racing, and for the first time in my life my Catholic voice had no good answers…

…The Catholic voice got me to go to church and sing a few more songs. But its power faded. The questions the horrible lyric provoked were seismic enough to shake my religion, and when those led to bigger and tougher questions, my religion crumbled. Within a year after hearing the song, I stopped singing worship songs, and I stopped calling myself a Christian altogether…

It was not that long ago that virtually every church in America sang hymns from a hymn book.  Now, it is hard to find a church that does sing hymns. What happened? As I look back over the 50 years I spent in the Christian church, I can see a slow movement away from singing hymns. It started with what I call youth group/camp fire songs, songs like Do Lord and Give Me Joy in My Heart. I’m sure more than a few readers remember making new verses for Give Me Joy in My Heart, verses like:

Give me wax on my board, keep me surfing for the Lord,
Give me wax on my board, I pray,
Give me wax on my board, keep me surfing for the Lord,
Keep me surfing ’till the break of day.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna to the King of kings!
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna to the King.

Give me soles on my shoes, help me witness to the Jews,
Give me soles on my shoes, I pray,
Give me soles on my shoes, help me witness to the Jews,
Help me witness ’till the break of day.

Give me gas in my Ford, keep me driving for the Lord,
Give me gas in my Ford, I pray,
Give me gas in my Ford, keep me driving for the Lord,
Keep me surfing ’till the break of day

Ah, such memories. These songs were meant to be fun and most of all they were meant to be sung. As a Baptist, singing was very much a part of the worship experience. I was taught to singing lustily and loudly unto to the Lord. Songs like Do Lord were easy to remember and quite singable, so it is no surprise they caught on with Evangelical church members. To this day, I have fond memories of the chorus singing time during Sunday night devotions at Midwestern Baptist College. My favorite song was a medley of songs called the Hash Chorus:

Isn’t He wonderful, wonderful, wonderful
Isn’t Jesus my Lord wonderful.
Eyes have seen ears have heard – it’s recorded in God’s Word
Isn’t Jesus my Lord …

Wonderful, wonderful Jesus is to me,
Counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God is He.
Saving me, keeping me, from all sin and shame.
Wonderful is my Redeemer praise His name.

Precious name, O how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of Heav’n;
Precious name, O how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of . .. .

Heaven is a wonderful place
Filled with Glory and Grace
I want to see my Savior’s face
Heaven is a wonderful place

But until then, my heart will go on singing,
Until then, with joy I’ll carry on,
Until the day, my eyes behold that city,
Until the day God calls me home.

This world is not my home – I’m just a passin’ through
My treasures are laid up – somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world any . . .

More, more about Jesus – more, more about Jesus
More of His saving fullness see –
More of His Love who died for me.

Out these singable ditties, came praise and worship music. The first time we sang a praise and worship song in a church I pastored was in the late 1980’s. While hymns still dominated the singing, bit by bit praise and worship songs became a more prominent part of Sunday worship. Sometimes, on Sunday evening we would just sing choruses and praise and worship songs. I remember there were preachers who opposed this practice. They believed that these songs were theologically shallow, rarely stopping to consider how shallow and often heretical the Stamps Baxter/Southern Gospel songs were that they sung at their church.

While there are a small number of churches that have refused to embrace praise and worship music, most churches have succumbed to the latest fad and have made praise and worship music central to their worship experience. Some churches use a blended worship approach, weaving hymns and praise and worship songs together, while others have packed up their hymn books, put up an overhead, recruited a band and worship leader, and have joined the praise and worship revolution.

Casey Black’s reaction to praise and worship music is quite understandable. I know Polly and I had a similar reaction when we began to seriously look at our faith. We loved singing praise and worship songs, owning dozen of praise and worship CD’s. Our three oldest children played in our church’s worship band and continued to play in another church’s band after I left the ministry. (They are quite proficient guitarists and I miss hearing them rock out for Jesus) But, as we started analyzing every aspect of our faith, there came a time where we focused on music, particularly praise and worship music.

While we found praise and worship music quite singable and emotionally stirring, unlike the Episcopal church we attended that used unsingable songs, we came to the conclusion that most praise and worship songs were little more than mood setters meant to stir the emotions. Evangelical baby boomers in particular, having grown up on classic rock and roll, love praise and worship music. Why? Having heard numerous sermons about the evils of secular music, especially rock and roll, praise and worship music allows baby boomers  to sing Christian lyrics set to music with a rock and roll sound and not feel guilty for it.  (For you who are my age and older. 50 years ago, did you ever think that some day the typical Evangelical church would have a band, complete with those straight out of Africa drums?) Some churches now put Christian lyrics to secular music, songs like Bridge over Troubled Water become Jesus is the Bridge over Troubled Water.

These days, many Evangelical churches focus on what is called ‘felt needs.’ While they sing songs that say it is All About You Jesus, the truth is it is all about the flet needs of the Christian; it’s all about me, Jesus.  The focus is on feeling a connection to God and having the deep, longing desire (felt need) of your heart met. Add to this that many Evangelical pastors now preach relational sermons, messages meant to appeal to the emotional needs of parishioners, it’s no wonder that many Evangelical worship services are little more than a religious version of a Tony Robbins seminar.

Go to a nearby Evangelical megachurch and observe the worship service. Pay attention to the music, particularly the lyrics. Gone are the deep theological lyrics from yesteryear. In their place are lyrics that often can be described as boyfriend/girlfriend songs, songs that just as easily could be sung to a lover. Watch as parishioners close their eyes and emotionally embrace the moment. Some churches even dim the lights during this time, giving the service a more intimate feeling. To put this in secular terms, the music and the lighting is used to set the mood. Soon Jesus will be coming by to pick you up for a date. If you are lucky, you and Jesus will have a sweet, intimate experience, not unlike a sexual orgasm.

The typical praise and worship time at the corner Evangelical church is like what I call spiritual masturbation in a group setting. Eyes closed, everyone start pleasuring, praising Jesus. It’s feel good music that is meant to stir emotions and lead to a spiritual orgasm. Instead of the focus being of God, the focus is on the individual parishioner. It’s their needs that matter. Even the notion of a communal experience is gone. The focus has moved from corporate worship to individual worship.

On one hand, there’s nothing wrong with what I have described above. Anyone who has ever gone to a secular concert knows how emotionally stirring the music can be. Polly and I attended a Darius Rucker concert two years ago and halfway through the concert I leaned over to Polly and said, this is just like a church service. Everywhere I looked people were in the moment, singing along with Rucker. Some were standing, others were dancing, and a few of the Baptists in the crowd had their hands raised praising Jesus. There was an emotional electricity in the building, every bit as powerful as anything I ever felt in church.

Here’s the danger of praise and worship music. If it is was just about a group of people singing, enjoying the music, and then going home, that’d be fine, but in many Evangelical churches the music is used to set the mood and to put the parishioner in an emotionally vulnerable frame of mind. The music is just a pretext. The goal is drive home the pastor’s message. Many churches now use tightly scripted programs, with each part of the program meant to prepare parishioners for hearing the words of God from the man of God. The goal is always the sermon, with every sermon meant to elicit some sort of response from the parishioner. It is in this kind of setting that a person can be easily manipulated.

casey black

Casey Black

Casey Black had a ‘what is this shit I’m singing’ moment. I can relate to his experience because that is exactly how I felt not long before I deconverted. Both Polly and I grew tired of the shallowness, monotony, and repetition of praise and worship music. This is one of the reasons we attended the Episcopal church for a time. There, we found lofty, soaring hymns, so soaring that no one could sing them. While the deepness, richness, and the antiquity of the liturgy appealed to us, the music was downright awful, so much so that we stopped singing. We went from ‘what is this shit I’m singing’ to ‘who can sing this shit’.

I suspect Black was looking for substance. Most of the people I know who were once committed Christians tell of their desire to find substance. Yet, no matter where they looked, they found emptiness, and it is that emptiness that set in motion their deconversion. Polly and I spent several years trying to find a church that took seriously the teachings of Christ. In the end, what we found is that most churches are the same, different name, same lack of substance. It is this lack of substance that opened up our mind and gave us the freedom to reconsider the veracity of the claims of Christianity. (Please see But, Our Church is DIFFERENT!)

Black’s article elicited the usual response from Evangelicals:

  • It sounds like the enemy (satan) has won you over. There is spiritual warfare and a tug of war for our minds everyday. I personally have been where you are and researched every religion and worldview there is because of my shaken world. However, it wasn’t until I decided to find pure truth no matter what it was, even if I didn’t like it, that I came to my senses and came back to Jesus. You will come to yours I am sure, just don’t give up so easily. If you let other people, who are fallen, influence you that much then strengthen your mind. You don’t have to be so easily manipulated by the fallen condition of the world around you.
  • I wish for you this..BIG …understanding..it’s really..a large way..worship…Hope you soul is lifted with meaningful verses of old traditional hyms..the words!! And you know.. God lives our critical mind. He created it! It’s perfectly ok. To ask..question..doubt..Look at John Macarther..he tested Christianity as an atheist as did Cs Lewis!! Read these brilliant minds..who thought as you..Go Seek..Question..Ask God to reveal himself to Your Mind!!I know..I am a scientist
  • If you believe any part of your thrown away faith, I plead you to look at this. According to this verse you cannot end up in Heaven when you die because you have thrown Jesus to the side. You will sit in hell, eternal torment and think, I am here because of a song lyric…I pray that does not one day become reality for you.  
  • I read your story, and what strikes me is that your story speaks loudly that you haven’t met the Person of Jesus… possibly seen Him from a distance, but certainly not connected with Him directly and relationally.
  • You’ve definitely got bigger problems than the lyrics of a worship song. Hope you find yourself before it’s too late! I’m disappointed that you would choose to publicize and ridicule the place of worship. FBC Nachville is a fine church and I question the entire article. Good luck, but I won’t be buying any of your work!
  • Wow…you are really messed up to “leave” Christianity over a song written by a mortal. Makes me wonder whether you were ever “there” (how can one leave a place he has never been?) And methinks you were never there…you don’t seem to know that God’s heart is not an organ. His heart is all-sensing. And as for a song being incense, read Revelation. The prayers of the saints (believers) are incense unto God. It’s stated over and over again. And the song was a prayer. If the writer liked it, let him like it. Why are you acting petty and competitive?

You can read more of the wonderful comments from Evangelicals here.

I plan to give a shout out to Casey Black. I am curious about where he is today and where his journey out of Christianity has taken him. While he is roundly criticized by Evangelicals, I appreciate his willingness to take a hard look at his faith. His journey out of Christianity may have begun with a song, but I suspect that there is much more to the Casey Black’s loss of faith than his reaction to a praise and worship song.

I’ve Spent My Whole Life, by Casey Black

Things Are Not as They Seem: A Legacy of Immorality

guest-post

Guest post by Ian.

Since my wife and kids are still actively involved with this group, I am going to use pseudonyms instead of actual names. Other than name changes, this a true story, learned through observation and stories from the pulpit. I use terms like sin and immorality because I am holding this church up to the standards they claim to follow.

Once, there was a man named Charlie. From what I heard about him, Charlie was a good man, kind and hardworking. Charlie met a young girl named Beth sometime in the early 30’s. Charlie’s desire was to become a pastor and Beth seemed to be inclined to go along with this dream. Friendship blossomed, and at the ripe old age of 15, Beth became pregnant. Oops, Charlie and Beth weren’t married. This was easily fixable; so, off to the wedding altar they went. Charlie became a preacher who, from all accounts, was a well-loved and all around good guy. His grandkids, who I know well, loved going to see him. They never remember him being angry or saying a bad word against anyone. Charlie had several children, the oldest one named George.

George lived in Missouri most of his life. He grew up in church, learning all the things a pastor’s child should. As George grew older, he met a girl named Sue. As far as I know, George didn’t have any desire to become a pastor in his younger years. I do know that George attended a local college for some time. I also know that George and Sue fell in love, got married and had a son. Wait, actually, George and Sue had sex, Sue got pregnant and then George and Sue got married, because that will immediately fix the problem. George ended up joining the US Army and served a little over 20 years. He was awarded the Silver Star among other medals and retired a Sergeant Major.

George doesn’t talk much about his Army days. From the pulpit, he would tell us, as a cautionary tale,  that he did smoke and drink, though he doesn’t do these things now. He told how friends would try to get him to “commit sins”, but he was able to keep himself separate. Interestingly, George’s stories of personal commitment come from the time period when he had achieved rank, in the rowdy days of the 50’s and 60’s, I often question how an outspoken Christian was able to gain promotion. Back then, life in the military was much different from now.

While in the Army, George “surrendered” to the call to preach. Upon retirement, George returned to Alaska to pastor a church he had once attended. At this church, George raised his 4 children. By all accounts, the middle two did OK. The oldest got involved with drinking and partying and the youngest followed the same path. These children, along with other children that attended the church, became known throughout the community as partiers. At this time, although we weren’t attending the church, I was in a Christian school that had several of the church’s kids enrolled. My aunt hung out with one, in particular, who I personally knew as a party hound. This legacy of immorality seemed to flow through this church. Child abuse of all kinds happened there, many drunks were dealt with, as well as other stories best left for another day.

George’s oldest son eventually moved away. Stories of his problems floated around the community, continuing the legacy of immorality. George’s youngest daughter, Mary, continued the legacy close to home. Mary married a man who continually accused her of adultery. My feeling is that this is because Mary was quite promiscuous before marriage. Mary ended up getting a divorce from him. Mary spent time in at least one out-of- state alcohol rehab clinic and I think she went to a second one, but it was quietly dealt with; she was the pastor’s daughter after all.

Mary was caught red-handed, more than once, sleeping with a man she wasn’t married to. She was put out of the church several times for it, but was quickly restored to fellowship; mommy wasn’t about to be deprived of her daughter. These occurrences were quickly put to rest by sweeping them under the rug.

Finally, Mary got pregnant by Doug,who was another pastor’s son. Doug and Mary were married, which is a story unto itself. Doug and Mary finally divorced because Mary finally couldn’t keep up with Doug’s “worldly” lifestyle. Which is funny, because Mary did the same kinds of things Doug did, only now she couldn’t keep up with Doug’s worldly pace.

Mary finally married for a third time. After a time, Mary’s oldest daughter Paula married a guy and continued to go to church. During the church going, Paula and her husband started down their road into debauchery. I won’t name everything; suffice it to say drunkenness and sexual sins were part of their life. Paula and her husband split up, with the husband being the one who stayed in the good graces of their church.

The husband was welcomed into Paula’s mom’s house. He would stay the night so the kids could play with Grandpa and Grandma and the other kids. One night, Mary had a funny feeling something was wrong. Upon investigation, she discovered her second daughter, Julie was sleeping with Mary’s estranged husband and had been doing so for a while. ALL of the blame was put on the husband since Julie was just 18 and had obviously been seduced. Julie was quickly forgiven by the church and all was buried under the rug, once again. I don’t believe for one minute that the husband was innocent, but the pastor’s granddaughter was given a pass just like his children were.

So, this is the legacy of Charlie, a man of God. I have some suspicions that another of George’s daughters got caught up in the sex trap, but that story is never mentioned and questions are discouraged. At least two of George’s other grandchildren were sexually active before marriage and have had multiple marriages. In the interest of full disclosure, I am married to one of George’s granddaughters. Before we were married, there was a lot of kissing and petting, but no intercourse. I will even admit to being the one who instigated things. I only say this to let everyone know that I am not perfect.

I write this because people speak of a spiritual legacy. This story tells of another kind of legacy. This is the legacy of problems being swept under the rug and never dealt with. This is 70+ years of the same kinds of problems in one family. And the reason nothing was done is because this was the pastor’s family. Both of the deacons in this church had similar things go on with their families.  Again, these “incidents” were quickly and discreetly dealt with. Criminal actions were quickly and quietly dealt with. One of these deacons was on the verge of going to jail for fraud and theft, but the charges disappeared and no mention was ever made of this again.

My father, along with several others, were marginalized and driven from this church because they dared to call these people to account for their actions. If people had been forced to confront their actions, maybe these problems would have been stopped in the first generation. Instead, multiple generations have been affected and the problems persist.

This is just one IFB/Sovereign Grace church. I’m not saying this is the only church that has had these problems. I know there are many others like this. This is just my experience with family and one church.

How Will People Know Our Home is a ‘Godly’ Home?

spider-man

Snark ahead. If you are an easily offended Evangelical, please leave now before you feel a wedgie coming on.

Fundamentalist Nancy Campbell, blogger extraordinaire for the Above Rubies website, asks the question What Goes on in Your Home?  Campbell wants to know if people “feel” the presence of God when they come into a Christian’s home:

Do the people who come into your home feel the presence of God? Are your neighbors and those around you aware that your home belongs to God?…

…How will folks know your home is truly God’s home? It will be a house of prayer. Jesus said, “My house will be called a house of prayer.” Sadly, not much prayer happens in Christian homes today, but if our home is called by God’s name it will be filled with prayer. It will be filled with confessing the name of the Lord throughout the day. It will be filled with the riches of His Word. It will be filled with joy, singing, and God-inspired music. It will be filled with the inspiration of a mother who delights to be in her home, nurturing, feeding, and training her children to be God-seekers and God-lovers.

How are people on the earth going to know the name of the Lord? When they see our homes called by the name of the Lord. When they see that He lives in our homes. Everything comes back to the family and the home. We can get involved in all kinds of ministry, but if God doesn’t fill our homes, we miss the boat. It grieves my heart to see many people serving the Lord in different organizations and yet their families are in disarray…

Campbell thinks that a Christian’s home can give off some sort of God vibe, a feeling that resonates with the person entering the home. Evangelicals are taught that they have some sort spidey-sense that allows them to discern whether a person is a Christian. While their interpretation is out of context and does violence to the text, many Evangelicals think Romans 8:16 is a proof text for their Christian spidey-sense:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God

According to Evangelicals like Campbell, a Christian should be able to walk into a home and “sense” that they are in a bought by the blood, filled with the Holy Ghost, followers of J-E-S-U-S home. (please emphasize the word Jesus like Oral Roberts or Robert Tilton would) Here’s the problem with this kind of thinking; if the standard for a Christian home is that it exudes love, joy, peace, and kindness, well…I know of many homes that are like this and none of them are remotely Christian. I also know of uncounted Christian homes where the pretend game is on full display when other Christians are around, but as soon as their fellow Christians walk out the door the home reverts to some sort of Simpsons/Girls Gone Wild/Animal House/One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest  home.  Anyone can fake it. I guarantee you that Polly and I could, come Sunday, put on our Sunday-go-to meeting clothes, dust off our KJV Bibles, and visit a nearby Evangelical church and everyone would think we are a wonderful Christian family; especially if we have Bethany the love magnet with us.  Everyone would “sense” that we are super-duper Christians on fire for Jesus, especially once they hear Polly and I lustily sing harmonies on whatever song the band is playing.  And their sense would be dead wrong.

The infallible marks of whether one is part of the Evangelical club is not some sort of seventh sense, can’t say sixth sense since six is the first number in the mark of Obama, 666. Evangelicals recognize one another by the clothes they wear, what bumper stickers are on the back of their car, what euphemisms a person uses in their speech, and how much Jesus Junk® is on display in a person’s car, home, and work place.  Ask any former Evangelical, they can spot an Evangelical family or a homeschooling family from a mile away.  Polly and I can be shopping at Meijer and we will see a family in the distance and both of us will say, homeschoolers. We will then laugh, remembering that we were, for many years, THAT family.

How do you know which car in the parking lot belongs to an Evangelical? It’s the car with a faded Ronald Reagan bumper sticker, Obama is the Anti Christ sticker, a partially removed George W Bush bumper sticker, a Ted Cruz 2016 sticker, an Abortion Stops a Beating Heart sticker, and a bumper sticker that advertises what church they attend. If you look closely, you will likely see a Bible in the back window, right where it landed when it was chucked there after church last Sunday. If you don’t see it in the back window, move closer to the car, acting like you are trying to steal it, and look down on the floor. You might see a Bible stuffed under the front seat, partially covered by a McDonald’s Big Mac wrapper.

Drive by their house and what will you see? Wind chimes with a small Christian cross as the chime ringer, a brightly colored gnome holding a sign that says Welcome! This is a Christian Home; a Jesus is Lord doormat, and out by the front of the house a sign that says Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, A Christian Lives Here, or Protect Religious Freedom, or some other sign recently purchased from one of the fear-mongering Evangelical parachurch groups.

Once inside their home, what will you see? Everywhere you look you’ll see Jesus kitsch, likely made by child labor in China or some third world country. From Bible verse signs and paintings by Christian alcoholic Thomas Kincade to clock chimes that play Sweet Hour of Prayer and potholders with Christian slogans, Jesus will be on display everywhere you look. In the bookcase you will notice deep intellectual books by Tim LaHaye, Kay Arthur, Joyce Meyer, and Beth Moore and dusty, well worn copies of The Prayer of Jabez and The Purpose Driven Life. (What!! Harry Potter? Starting to wonder what kind of Christian home this is.) Even in the bathroom there will be no escaping Jesus. Try as you might to defecate in peace, Jesus and the trappings of 21st century Christianity will be staring you in the face. J-E-S-U-S is everywhere. (please say Jesus in the voice mentioned above)

team jesus

Visit them at their office, what will you see? You will likely  see a picture of their family sitting on the desk, but the picture will be housed in a frame that says. As For Me and My House, We Will Serve the Lord. The calendar on the wall will bear the name of the church they attend or an Evangelical parachurch group they support. Perhaps there will be a Bible or the latest Christian get rich quick book sitting next to the family portrait.  The screen saver on their computer will have a picture of Jesus or a Bible verse. Everywhere you look you will see visible proof that the person who works in this cubicle is on Team Jesus.

And here’s the thing, all the things I’ve mentioned in this post that are meant to say to other Evangelicals, Hey, we are on the same team, mean nothing. I suspect the home Josh Duggar grew up in had plenty of Jesus Junk®. I suspect the homes of Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard, Eddie Long, Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, David Hyles, Paula White, David Loveless, and Tullian Tchividjian, to name of few of the Evangelical pastors who have run into sexual “sin”, gave the appearance that they were devoted, spirit filled followers of Jesus. Yet, in real life they were fornicators, adulterers, abusers, and child molesters.

All that the Jesus Junk® tells you is that family has enough disposable income to invest in the trappings of Evangelicalism. The clothing and the outward appearance of a person tells you nothing about the what kind of person they really are. Anyone can play the Evangelical game. Give me a few days and I can take a Muslim family and turn them into Bob and Marsha Evangelical. The Evangelical shtick is easy to reproduce, so much so that anyone can do it. I regularly correspond with closeted atheists who attend an Evangelical church every Sunday with their believing spouse. Everyone thinks the atheist is a Jesus-loving, praise and worship singing Baptist.  I also correspond with several closeted atheist pastors. Everything about their life, including their demeanor, says to others, I am a follower of Jesus, Yet, if an Evangelical knew they were an atheist they would say the person is a follower of Satan.

Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t know what a person is made of.  While we can never know all there is to know about a person, we can, over time, observe their life, and come to a conclusion about the kind of person they are. Here’s what Evangelicals need to understand. Non-Christians are not interested in or wowed by the consumer culture on display in your home, car, or workplace. They aren’t interested in what takes place on Sunday Morning at the church you call home. They are not interested in your Ken and Barbie pastor. What does interest them is the words you speak and your behavior, not only in public, but also when no one is looking. How do you treat your spouse, children, and grandchildren? How do you act towards minorities, the weak, the defenseless, and the marginalized? How do you treat those who are not your flavor of Christianity or vote differently than you do? How do you respond to those who have no interest in your God and have told you please don’t? What do your non-Christian coworkers say about you?

These days, when I see an Evangelical whose life is a walking billboard for the Christian Ghetto, I immediately doubt they are what they say they are. They are trying too hard to be viewed as a Christian. They are like the car dealer who tells you he is the most honest dealer in town or the husband who tells everyone around him how faithful he is to his wife. I don’t trust those who have to publicize their virtuous character. Just live it and everyone will notice.

Polly and Bruce, Two Godless Peas in a Pod

bruce and polly gerencser 2015

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Summer 2015

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Kenneth asked:

I am currently married to a Southern Baptist woman who is likely never going to change her mind about her beliefs. I deconverted late last year and am now an atheist. I’m curious as to how your wife ended up an atheist seemingly around the same time as you? I guess deep down I want her to see my views as an atheist but if anyone knows how hard it is to talk to a Christian as an atheist, it is you. My question is, can you tell us more about how Polly came to the same conclusions as you during the time of your deconversion? Maybe she can give us some input too. In a lot of scenarios, one spouse is still stuck as a believer while both the atheist and theist struggle with now being in a “mixed” marriage — I’m in one of them now. Thanks!

I think the best way to answer this question is to explain what took place during the months before we stopped attending church.  When we stopped attending the Ney United Methodist Church neither of us would have said, I am not a Christian. After we decided we no longer wanted to be Pastor and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser, we spent a few years trying to find a church that took seriously the teaching of Jesus. Not finding such a  church frustrated us and led us to conclude that the Christianity of Jesus no longer existed and most churches were just different flavors of ice cream; same base ingredients with different added flavors. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!)

For most of 2008, I had been doing quite a bit of reading about the history of Christianity and the Bible.  From Bart Ehrman to Robert M. Price to Elaine Pagels, I read dozens of books that challenged and attacked my Christian beliefs. Polly and I spent many a night discussing what I had read. I often reading large passages of this or that book to her and we would compare what we had been taught with what these books said.  While Polly was never one to read nonfiction, she did read several of Bart Ehrman’s books. Over time, both of us came to the conclusion that what we had been taught wasn’t true. We also concluded that we were no longer, in any meaningful sense, a Christian. It was at this point I wrote the infamous Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.

For a time, both of us were content calling ourselves an agnostic. I soon realized that the agnostic label required too much explanation so I embraced the atheist label. While Polly still will not say she is an atheist, her beliefs about God, Christianity, and the Bible are similar to mine. She’s not one to engage in discussion or debate, content to go about her godless life without having to define herself. I often wish I could be like her.

When left Christianity I feared that Polly’s deconversion was a coattail deconversion; that she was following after me just like she was taught to do in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. Some of my critics, unwilling to give Polly credit for doing her own thinking and decision-making, have suggested that Polly was/is being led astray by me.  Fundamentalist family members have voiced their concern over Polly being drawn into my godlessness, rarely giving her credit for being able to think and reason for herself. Their insinuations only reinforce her belief that she made the right decision when she deconverted. Polly graduated second in her class and is quite capable of thinking for herself. Granted, this ability was quashed for many years thanks to being taught that she should always defer to me as the head of the home. That I was also her pastor only made things worse.

Where our stories diverge a bit is the reasons why we deconverted. While both of us would say we had intellectual reasons for abandoning God and Christianity, Polly’s deconversion had a larger emotional component than mine did. We’ve spent uncounted hours talking about the past, this or that church, and the experiences each of us had. Polly spent most of her married life under the shadow of her preacher husband. Now free to speak freely, I’m amazed at how differently she views our past. While I was the center of attention, heaped with praise and love, she was in the shadows, the afterthought, the one who had to do all the jobs church members had no time for. It should come as no surprise that her view of the 25 years we spent in the ministry is much different from mine.

As I’m writing this post I am thinking to myself, Polly needs to be telling this story. I can’t tell her story. While I can give the gist of it, I think it is better is she tells her story, that is if she is willing to do. I do know that she has no desire to relive the “wonderful” ministry years. She’s quite content to be free of God, the church, and the Bible, free to be just be Polly. Not Polly, the pastor’s daughter, not Polly, the preacher’s wife, just Polly. And I can say the same for myself. While I am noted for being a preacher turned atheist, an outspoken critic of Evangelicalism, I am content just to be Bruce. Most of our life was swallowed up by the ministry, so we are quite glad to be free and we enjoy the opportunity to live our lives on our own terms.

In many ways, our story is not typical. I’ve received uncounted emails from people who deconverted and are now in a mixed marriage. Like Kenneth, they want to share their unbelief with their spouse, but are unable to do so because of their spouse’s belief or because they fear outing themselves will destroy their marriage. (please see Count the Cost Before You Say I Am an Atheist.) Polly and I  fully realize that if one of us had remained a Christian it could have ended our marriage. We are grateful that we’ve been able to walk this path together hand in hand. The farther away we get from the years we spent in the ministry, the more we realize how good we have it. Our deconversion could have destroyed our marriage and alienated us from our children, but it didn’t. Instead, we’ve been given a new lease on life; the opportunity for each of us to seek our own path. We deeply love one another, have six wonderful children and ten grandkids, and are, in every way, blessed.

Notes

I will ask Polly to share her own thoughts about our deconversion process. No promises.

A few readers might remember that I started blogging in 2007 as a emergent church/progressive Christian. I wish some of those posts were still available because they would help trace that intellectual process that led to our deconversion.

An Ex-Pastor’s Dilemma

bruce gerencser 1983

Bruce Gerencser, age 25, Ordination 1983, Emmanuel Baptist Church Buckeye Lake, Ohio

Contrary to what some of my critics say, I have no great need to convert others to what they derisively call the atheist religion. I’m quite content to live and let live. I fully recognize that many people find great value in believing in God and the afterlife. I even understand the deep emotional need such beliefs meet. Who am I to rob someone of anything that gives their life deeper meaning and purpose? It doesn’t matter whether their belief is true or if I think their belief is true. All that matters is that THEY think their belief is true and I have no pressing need to deliver people from their fantasies, delusions, or irrational beliefs.

As much as I think that I am a rational person driven by evidence and knowledge, I know I can, like any other human being, be led astray by false or misguided beliefs. No human being is a god when it comes to rational thinking. We all can and do fall off the wagon of rational thinking. As long as a religious person does not try to convert me,  I am inclined to leave them well enough alone. I suspect if the Christian religion was a private, pietistic religion practiced quietly behind the closed doors of homes and houses of worship, I would have little to blog about. Since it is anything but these things, I have plenty to blog about and I am inclined to push back at those who believe their beliefs should be the required beliefs for all, whether believed voluntarily or under threat of law.

For twenty-five years I was pastor to hundreds of people in churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I was their friend, counselor, and confidant. I married the young and buried the old. A few times, I buried the young and married the old. I led to them to faith in Christ. I baptized them. They looked to me to give them certainty and hope and a message from God that he loved them and cared for them.  Through every phase of life, I was there for them. That’s the life of a pastor. I cared for them, loved them, and even to this day I want only what is best for them. And this puts me in a real spot, what I call An Ex-Pastor’s Dilemma.

I pastored my last church in 2003. In 2005 I left the ministry and 3 years later I left the Christian faith. By late 2009, I was self-identifying as an atheist. I am not a person that is hard to find. I have a unique last name. I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world. (ain’t I special)  My Google, Facebook, Twitter, and email contact information is readily available via any search engine. I guess what I am saying here is this; I am not an ex-Pastor in hiding. I am not trying to forget a past life and make a new life for myself. It’s not the simple.

Here’s my dilemma…

Former parishioners and Christian friends often try to touch base with me . They haven’t found this blog yet or read any of the other things I have written that are posted on the internet, so they assume I am still a pastor. A middle-aged woman, a woman I first met when she was a troubled teen, contacted me to let me know what a wonderful difference God was making in her life. She just knew I would want to know that FINALLY God was using her to help other people. Quite frankly, I AM glad God is using her to help other people. I am glad God has made her life better. I remember the tough time she had growing up, the great sorrows and difficulties she faced.

I didn’t respond to her inquiry. I didn’t want to open the door to her being discouraged or disillusioned. It is one thing if she stumbles upon this blog. If she dares to search a bit she will find the truth, but I would rather she come to it on her own and not by me telling her. I am not being a coward. Those who know me know I don’t play the coward’s part very well. But, at the same time, I still have a pastor’s heart. I don’t want to see people hurt. Maybe she will never find out I am an atheist. Maybe she will live a good life, thinking that Pastor Gerencser is proud of her. Such a small deception is one I will gladly commit if someone like her finds peace and purpose as a result of it.

It is one thing if an ex-parishioner or Christian friend comes after me like a hungry lion chasing a bleeding deer. Those who find out about my defection from Christianity and become angry, combative, defensive, and argumentative will find that I am quite willing to meet them in the middle of the road and do battle. If I am forced to do so, I will speak my mind and pointedly share what I believe. (or don’t believe) However, for those who are only looking for the man who loved them and nurtured them in the faith, I am not inclined to hurt them or cause them to despair.

The Mesmerizing Appeal of Jack Hyles

jack hyles 1973

Jack Hyles, 1973

Jack Hyles was pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana from 1959-2001. For many years, the church was the largest congregation in America. The church held a Pastor’s School and Youth Conference each year that brought thousands of people to Hammond to see first hand what God was doing through Dr. Jack Hyles. (See post The Legacy of Jack Hyles.)

In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, no one was bigger than Jack Hyles. IFB churches and pastors measured success by:

  • Church attendance
  • Offerings
  • Souls saved

In these three areas Jack Hyles and First Baptist Church were the king of the hill.

jack and beverly hyles statute

Jack and Beverly Hyles statue

Like most IFB churches, First Baptist Church was owned and operated by Jack Hyles. No, Hyles didn’t literally own the church, but there was no doubt about one thing, this was the house Jack built. Hyles had unlimited power to rule the church as he saw fit, and even when caught in an inappropriate sexual relationship with his secretary, he was able to wiggle free, and remained pastor of First Baptist Church until he died on February 6, 2001.  A statute of Jack and Beverly Hyles can be found in the church courtyard, an ever-present reminder that First Baptist Church owes its existence to Jack Hyles.

People not raised, schooled, and indoctrinated in the IFB church movement often have a hard time understanding how Jack Hyles could wield such power over people.  It seems so “cultic” to them, and truth be told, there are elements of IFB belief and practice that are “cultic.” While the IFB church movement is not a cult in the classic sense, it does have beliefs and practices that are harmful to people emotionally and mentally. Because it is a movement built on a foundation of anti-intellectualism, pastors are given an inordinate amount of power over people. The pastor becomes the resident intellectual, even though he is likely no more educated than the people in the pew. The pastor is considered God’s chosen man, the man of God who speaks on God’s behalf. He is uniquely called by God to the ministry and he is to be obeyed. Failure to obey will bring judgment from God, at least according to IFB preachers. (Sermons on pastoral authority are quite common in IFB churches.)

Jack Hyles was considered a god in IFB church circles. He was also revered by many outside of the IFB church movement. People read his sermons in the Sword of the Lord, and cassette recordings of Hyles’ sermons made their way around the globe. He was the Big Kahuna, and when he spoke everybody listened. It is important to understand how popular Hyles was.  People would drive hours to hear him preach at a Sword of the Lord Conference. They would hang on his every word. After all, look at the size of his church. This is PROOF that Hyles and God were on a first name basis.  When it came time for the invitation, hundreds of penitent Baptists would stream down the aisle to the altar and prostrate themselves before Hyles, praying that God would forgive them of their sins and give them Holy Ghost power to do whatever Hyles was telling them to do.

It is hard for me to admit, even to this day, that I was a part of this; that the  churches I pastored participated in this. (I left the IFB church movement in the late 1980s.) It is hard to admit that I was caught up in a religion that encouraged worshiping men as gods. Hyles, like Bob Jones, even had a college named after him: Hyles-Anderson College.

Granted, any time a group of people gather together under a common belief or ideal, there is the tendency to elevate certain people to god-like status within the group. IFB churches do it, Evangelicals do it, and yes, even atheists do it. Look at the typical Atheist/Humanist conference and you see the same speakers over and over. To some degree, it is human nature to fawn over those we think are in some way unique, successful, or who have some sort of special insight.

It has been thirty years since I heard Jack Hyles preach. I heard him preach many times during the heyday of the IFB movement — the late 1960s to the late 1980s. I would attend Sword of the Lord conferences whenever I could . Sometimes, I drove several hours just so I could sit at the feet of great IFB luminaries such as Jack Hyles, Lee RobersonLester Roloff,  Bob Gray of Florida, Curtis HutsonJohn R. Rice and Tom Malone. (Malone was the President of Midwestern Baptist College, the college I attended from 1976-79. Lester Roloff was accused of promoting child abuse, and Bob Gray of Florida was arrested for molesting children.)

the captain of our team jack hyles

A poem written by a devoted follower of Jack Hyles

What was it about Jack Hyles that drew people to him (and God is not the right answer)?

Jack Hyles was a superb orator. He knew how to use words, cadence, volume, and inflection to deliver sermons that most preachers could never deliver. As oratorical specimens, his sermons were flawless.  His sermons rarely had much Bible in them since he typically preached textual or topical sermons, but his sermons were perfectly scripted, with each point and sub point in perfect harmony. When Hyles chased a rabbit down the rabbit trail, he did it on purpose. He was methodical and disciplined in his preaching.

Hyles told a lot of stories about himself, his mother, and his feats as a pastor-god. His stories often made up the bulk of his sermon. Young preachers such as myself hung on every word, every story. Here was a man mightily used by God. It was many years before I could divorce myself from my worship of Jack Hyles enough to see his sermons for what they really were; grandiose brag sessions of a narcissist. I also came to see that the stories Hyles told were often lies or distortions of the truth, though I am inclined to think that Hyles really believed his own narrative.

The IFB church movement prides itself on being anti-cultural. The movement is known for what it is against and not for what it is for. In his sermons, Hyles would rail against Southern Baptists, The National Council of Churches, Evangelicals, pants on women, alcohol drinking, sex, and any other ill he deemed “worldly” or contrary to the received truth of the IFB church movement.

hyles baptist church

Yes, there really is a Hyles Baptist Church in Chesterfield, Virginia, pastored by Ron Talley.

When Hyles would preach against these things, his words elicited deep emotional and physical response. People would shout or say Amen or Preach it, Brother Hyles. People would stream down the aisles to confess their sin, their disobedience to God. The Sword of Lord would report the “number” of people  who came forward. (The IFB follows a corporate model, dominated by numbers.) If you want to see how the numbers racket works, read Bob Gray of Texas’s blog. A Hyles disciple, trained at Hyles-Anderson College, he knows exactly how many souls have been saved under his ministry. He is the ultimate IFB bean-counter.

When preaching at a conference, Hyles would often have an afternoon Question and Answer time for preachers. Young, aspiring preachers, along with old struggling preachers, could ask Hyles questions about building a great church. I can’t tell you the number of times I saw Hyles eviscerate a preacher because he asked the wrong question. One time, a young preacher asked a question about how to choose a good youth director — not that Hyles would know since his son, serial adulterer, David Hyles was the youth director at First Baptist. Hyles asked the young man how big his church was and after the young preacher told him, Hyles belittled him and accused him of being lazy. The young preacher should have felt humiliated, but he more likely felt that “God” was speaking to him through Brother Hyles. Hyles, like many top shelf IFB preachers, could be a bully.

Hyles liked to give off an air of invincibility. His illustrations made him seem like a man who could charge into the flames of hell and come out without one hair singed on his head. He told illustrations such as:

There were two men playing tennis and at the end of the game, the loser graciously shook the hand of the winner.

Bro. Hyles, how do you handle losing (code for failure)?

Hyles would thunder, I don’t know, I’ve never lost.

And then he would preach forcefully and loudly about not being a loser, a quitter.

When you take all these things together, it is easy to see why Jack Hyles was, and still is, worshiped. Some consider him the greatest preacher since the Apostle Paul. I understand how people become mesmerized by the Hyles mystique. However, when a person puts some distance between himself and the IFB church moment, he starts to see that the movement is a man-centered, man-worshiping religion. Are their good, decent people in IFB churches? Sure. For whatever reason, they cannot or will not take off their blinders so they can see things as they really are. IFB-preachers-turned-atheists such as myself have little influence over them because they see us as traitors and God haters.

I wonder what it will take to finally bring the IFB house crashing to the ground? Evidently, sexual scandal won’t do it. Maybe it is too much to ask for. After all, the Roman Catholic Church has pedophiles running amok, yet faithful Catholics still show up for mass and give their money to the church.  It seems that we as humans quite easily ignore what is right in front of us.

Shrine built after Jack Hyles died, as always bigger than life.

Shrine built after Jack Hyles died, as always bigger than life.

For further information:

Read Andrew Himes’ book, The Sword of the Lord, The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family.

Read Bryan Smith’s Chicago Magazine article, Let Us Prey: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church

Read the Legacy of Jack Hyles

Read the 1980s Biblical Evangelist story on the Jack Hyles scandal

During the uproar over Hyles’ illicit affair, loyal Hyles followers wore “100% Hyles” buttons to show their support for Hyles.

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