One Sunday 15 years ago, several young families walked into the door of the church just before the start of the evening service. We rarely had visitors on Sunday evening, so their attendance was rather a surprise. After the service was over, I engaged one of the visitors, a young husband, in a bit of get-to-know-you banter. The man had little interest in chit-chat, immediately asking me several pointed theological questions. I did my best to answer the man’s questions, but I could tell that he didn’t approve of my answers.
Always the polite pastor, I told the disapproving man that I had a book that might prove helpful in answering his questions. The man curtly replied, I am not interested in reading a book. I just read the Bible and that is all I need. And with that, he said good night and his family walked out the door never to return.
Sadly, this kind of thinking is quite common in Evangelical churches, even among pastors. I know of one pastor who is proud of the fact that his study library consists of only a handful of books. In his mind, without any proper theological training, he is quite capable of properly interpreting the Bible. This pastor believes God, through the inner workings of the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, teaches him everything he needs to know. In other words, he is an Evangelical version of the Pope. God speaks to him directly as he reads and studies the Bible. However, when church members profess the same, and those members’ interpretations of the Bible differ with his, why they are deemed to be wrong. If it is the Holy Spirit who teaches and guides Evangelicals, wouldn’t he be teaching each Christian the same thing? Yet, Evangelical churches are awash in competing theological beliefs, with each adherent believing that his interpretations is are right ones.
Years ago, I attended a preacher’s meeting (a gathering of pastors for fellowship and to hear preaching) in Lancaster, Ohio. One of the speakers, a rather obese man, even by fat man Bruce Gerencser standards, fashioned himself to be what he called a “Biblical” preacher. His sermon had no form or structure. He would read a verse, stop, and then say what God was “leading” him to say. As with the two previous illustrations, this preacher thought his personal interpretations of the Bible were the equivalent of God’s.
Many Evangelical pastors love to hide behind flowery theological sayings which are meant to convey the thought that their sermons are straight from God’s Office of Sermon Distribution. The truth is, their sermons are just their opinion of what the Bible says. That they refuse to read any others books but the Bible (and often read only one translation of the Bible) actually increases the likelihood that their interpretation is errant. These Bible-only people have, in effect, turned themselves into the final authorities on what God has said.
If I were still a Christian and looking for a church to attend, the first thing I would do is take a look at the pastor’s library. You can tell a lot about a man by the books he reads. If looking at a pastor’s library reveals a paucity of commentaries and language aids, you can be sure that man is not fit to teach others a religious text that is, by all accounts, a complex, difficult text to interpret and understand. Only in Evangelicalism is ignorance praised as a virtue. This thinking will, in the end, prove to be the death of Evangelicalism.
At the age of 54, my mother turned a .357 magnum Ruger revolver toward her chest and pulled the trigger. The bullet tore a hole in her heart and in a few moments she was dead. Mom had tried to kill herself many times before. This time she succeeded (please see the post Barbara).
When I was 11, Dad had to call for an emergency squad because Mom had taken several bottles of prescription drugs. They rushed her to the hospital and pumped her stomach, and she survived to die another day. Later in the year, Mom and the neighbor lady were in a serious automobile accident in Lima. I say accident, because it is possible that Mom pulled into the other lane of traffic, allowing the truck to hit them.
Mom made a third attempt on her life that same year. I came home from school and found Mom lying unconscious on the floor with blood pooling around her body. She had slit her wrists. Yet again, the emergency squad came, and her life was saved.
As best I can tell, Mom had mental problems her entire life. She was bright, witty, and well-read, but Mom could, in a split second, lapse into angry, incoherent tirades. Twice she was involuntarily committed to the Toledo State Mental Hospital, undergoing shock therapy numerous times. None of the treatments or drugs worked.
In the early 1960s my parents found Jesus. Jesus, according to the Bible, healed the mentally ill, but, for whatever reason, he didn’t heal Mom. The mental health crises I have shared in this post, and others that I haven’t shared, all occurred after Mom put her faith and trust in the loving Jesus who supposedly had a wonderful plan for her life. Mom died believing Jesus was her Savior. To this day, I lament the fact that I didn’t do more to help her. Sadly, I saw her mental illness as an inconvenience and an embarrassment. If she just got right with God, I thought at the time, all would be well. If she would just kick her drug habit, I told her, God would be there to help her. What she really needed was for her eldest son to pick her up, hold her close, and love her. I will go to my grave wishing I had been a better son, that I had loved Mom and my family more than I loved Jesus and the church.
Mom was quite talented. She played the piano and loved to do ceramics. Her real passion was reading, a habit she happily passed on to me. (Mom taught me to read.) She was active in politics. She was a member of the John Birch Society, and actively campaigned, first for Barry Goldwater, and later for George Wallace.
My parents divorced when I was 14. Not long after the divorce, Mom married her first cousin, a recent parolee from a Texas prison (he was serving time for armed robbery). He later died of a drug overdose. Mom would marry two more times before she died. She was quite passionate about anything she fixed her mind upon, a trait that I, for good or ill, share with her. In the early 1970s, Mom was an aide at Winebrenner Nursing Home in Findlay, Ohio. Winebrenner paid men more than they paid women for the same work. Mom, ever the crusader, sued Winebrenner under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act. The Federal Court decided in her favor.
We moved quite often, and I have no doubt this contributed greatly to Mom’s mental illness. She never knew what it was to have a place to call home. Our family lived in one rental after another, never stopping long enough to buy a home. I lived in 16 different houses by the time I left for college at the age of 19.
I have always wondered if my parents were ever happily married. Mom and Dad were married by an Indiana Justice of the Peace in November 1956. At the time of their marriage, Mom was 18 and pregnant. I learned later in life that it is doubtful that Dad was actually my biological father. There is more to the story of who might be my father, but I have never, for his sake, publicly told the story. Dad meant well, but the instability of their marriage, coupled with us moving all the time, caused my siblings and me great harm. Dad thought moving was a great experience. Little did he know that I hated him for moving us around. New schools (seven different school districts). New friends. Never having a place to call home. No child should have to live this way.
From time I was five until I was 14, my parents were faithful members of a Baptist church in whatever community we lived in. The Gerencser family attended church every time the doors were open (I have attended over 8,000 church services in my lifetime). Mom would play the piano from time to time, though she found it quite stressful to do so. One time, much to my embarrassment, she had a mental meltdown in front of the whole church. She never played again. For a time, Dad was a deacon, but he stopped being one because he couldn’t kick his smoking habit. I suspect the real reason was that he was having an affair.
No matter where we lived or what church we went to, one thing was certain, Mom was mentally ill and everyone pretended her illness didn’t exist. Evangelical churches such as the ones we attended had plenty of members who suffered with various mental maladies. For the most part, those who were sick in the head were ignored or marginalized.
Two decades ago, I co-pastored a Sovereign Grace Baptist church in San Antonio, Texas. (See the I am a Publican and a Heathen series.) One day we were at a church fellowship and my wife came around the corner just in time to hear one of the esteemed ladies of the church say to her daughter, you stay away from that girl, she is mentally retarded. “That girl” was our 5-year-old Down Syndrome daughter. This outstanding church member’s words pretty well sum up how many churches treat those with mental handicaps or illness. STAY AWAY from them!
Many Christians think mental illness is a sign of demonic oppression or possession. No need for doctors, drugs, or hospitals. Just come to Jesus, the great physician, and he will heal you. After all, the Bible does say in 2 Timothy 1:7: For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. If someone is mentally unsound, it’s the person’s fault, not God’s. Get right with God and all will be well.
I have suffered with depression for most of my adult life. I am on the mountaintop one moment and in the valley the next. Plagued with a Type A personality, and being a consummate workaholic, I am often driven to despair. Work, Work, Work. Go, Go, Go. Do, Do, Do. I have no doubt that the way I lived my life as a Christian contributed to the health problems that now plague me. While I was busy burning the candle at both ends for Jesus, my body was screaming STOP! But I didn’t listen. I had no time for family, rest, or pleasure. Work for the night is coming, the Bible says. Better to burn out for Jesus than rust out, I told myself. And now, thanks to living this way for much of my adult life, I am a rusting 1957 Chevrolet, sitting on blocks, awaiting the day when the junkyard comes to tow me away.
For many years, I hid my depression from the outside world. While Polly and my children witnessed depression’s effect on husband and father, church members never had a clue. I have often wondered how parishioners might have responded had I told them the truth. I suspect some church members would have seen me as a fellow depressive, but others would likely have questioned whether I was “fit” to be a pastor.
In 2008, a few months before I deconverted, I told a pastor friend that I was really depressed. Instead of lending me a helping hand or encouraging me, he rebuked me for giving in to the attack of Satan. He told me I needed to confess my sin and get the victory over it immediately. A lot of Christians think just like this (former) pastor friend of mine. Depression is a sign of weakness, and God only wants warriors and winners.
Going to see a counselor was the single most important thing I have done in the last ten years. It took me leaving the ministry and departing from Christianity before I was willing to find someone to talk to. Several times, while I was still a Christian, I made appointments with counselors only to cancel them at the last minute. I feared that someone would see me going into the counselor’s office or they would drive by and see my car in the parking lot. I thought, My God, I am a pastor. I am supposed to have my life together.
Indeed, it took me leaving the church, the pastorate, and God to find any semblance of mental peace. I have no doubt some readers will object to the connection I make between religion and mental wellness, but for me, there was indeed a direct correlation between the two.
I still battle with depression, but with regular counseling and a slower pace of life I am confident that I can live a meaningful, somewhat peaceful life. As many of you know, I have chronic, unrelenting pain. I have not had a pain-free day in 15 years (my days are counted as less pain, normal pain, more pain, and off the fucking charts pain). The constant pain and debility certainly fuels my depression. My counselor says he would be surprised if I wasn’t depressed from time to time. Embracing my depression and coming to grips with the pain and debility is absolutely essential to my mental well-being. This is my life. I am who I am. I accept this, and I do what I can to be a loving, kind, and productive human being.
To my Christian readers I say this: sitting near you in church this coming Sunday will be people who are suffering with mental illness. Maybe they are depressed. They hide it because they think they have to. Jesus only wants winners, remember? Pay attention to other people. The signs are there. Listen to those who you claim are your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Embrace them in the midst of their weakness and psychosis. While I don’t think a mythical God is going to heal them, I do think that loving, understanding friends can be just the salvation the mentally ill need.
It is not easy being around those who are mentally ill. Let’s face it, depressed people are not fun to be with. We are not the life of the party. When I am in the midst of mental and emotional darkness, I am not the kind of person most people want to be around. I become withdrawn, cynical, and dark. These attributes, coupled with the physical pain I endure, can, at times, make me unbearable to be around. It is at these moments when I need the help of others. Sadly, most people, including my family and friends, tend to pull away from me when I need them the most. I understand why they do so, but the loneliest place on earth is sitting alone in the darkness of night wishing you were dead.
How do you respond to people who are mentally ill? How do you respond to those who are depressed? Perhaps you suffer with mental illness or depression. Do you hide it? How are you treated by others? If you are a Christian, how are you treated by your church and pastor? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
This post is not a cry for help. This is just me talking out loud with my friends.
This is the seventy-eighth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
bop pa di da pa di da da da da da… you don’t fool me and you know it what makes me nervous is you sound so sure there you go again i swear it never ends it’s starting to feel like i’m not even in this room with youuuu with yooouuuu oohh oh di dum di dum dum (ooh) di dum dim dum dum doo dum di dum oohhooh i’m not saying i won’t listen it’s just that i don’t seem to get through i won’t ask you to take me seriously as long as i don’t have to believe you hope you buy half of all the things you say but for now please save it for a sunday ba di dum pum da dum di dum
Evangelical preachers are a lot like Mary Kay consultants.
Rosa is a Mary Kay consultant. Thanks to showing her family, friends, neighbors, and fellow church members the Mary Kay way of salvation, Rosa has made lots of money and proudly drives a special Mary Kay pink Cadillac.
Now that Rosa has won everyone she knows over to the one true cosmetic faith, she has decided to take her wrinkle-saving show on the road. According to the Mary Kay home office (also known as Heaven), Rosa is the first consultant to go out into the highways and byways and compel strangers to put their faith in May Kay cosmetics. What follows is a transcript of one of Rosa’s sales calls.
Rosa parks her pink Cadillac several blocks away, not wanting to give away the fact that a Mary Kay evangelizer is in town. Smartly-dressed, Rosa gets out of her car and walks to a park she noticed while she was casing the neighborhood. Rosa saw lots of young women that she was sure would accept Mary Kay as their facial savior. All she had to do was tell them the good news of Mary Kay.
As Rosa enters the park she notices a woman sitting by herself near the swing sets.
Rosa: Hi! How ya doing today?
Woman: Uh…Hi. I’m fine.
Rosa: Beautiful day, isn’t it?
Woman: Yes, it is.
Rosa: Do you mind if I sit with you for a bit?
Rosa: My name is Rosa. What is yours?
Rosa: Really? Why, my grandmother’s name was Barb. Isn’t that a coincidence?
Barb says nothing
Rosa: Anyway, are you married? Do you have children?
At this point Barb is wondering whether Rosa is a lesbian trolling for a date or a serial killer.
Barb: I’m married, but I don’t have any children.
Rosa: Well, I’ve been married for 40 years and I have two wonderful children and five grandchildren. I just know that you too will some day have children.
Barb is thinking, no I won’t bitch. I had a hysterectomy last year.
Barb, taught by her mother to be polite, smiles and says nothing.
Rosa: You seem like a nice person, Barb. I am really glad that we could meet. I really should be going, but I would like to share something with you before I go. Is that okay?
Before Barb can say a word…
Rosa: Barb, I notice that you wear makeup. Where do you buy your makeup?
Barb: Walmart or Dollar General.
Rosa: I see. Well…those are okay places to buy makeup, but I know of a company that sells the best beauty products. And once women use this makeup, why they never go back to using their old stuff. Would you like me to share with you how you can know for certain that you are wearing the best makeup?
Before Barb can say a word…
Rosa: Let me tell you about Mary Kay, the face savior of the World.
The above sales technique, befriending people so they will let down their guard, is often used by Evangelicals to evangelize those they deem unsaved. Never forget that Evangelicals who use this technique really don’t want to be your friend. Their goal is to get you to buy their product: salvation.
And if you do buy salvation? Just remember that there is no warranty on the product unless you each week go to the warranty validation office: the church. If you get your salvation warranty validated weekly, you will certainly have a lot of friends: fellow salvation purchasers. However, if your salvation ever becomes defective and you decide to try another product, you will quickly find that all the friends you thought you had were just your friends because you had the same kind of salvation as they did.
This is the seventy-eighth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is The Skeptic in the Room by Eddie Scott.
I’m always amazed that some people believe things that defy common sense How do they accept the bizarre and the odd for which there is no evidence Sure, some people say that it’s harmless And I wish I could just let it go… But it’s not what we know that makes trouble It’s what we know – that just isn’t so.
It’s always such a drag to be the skeptic in the room I state my case and watch the room grow silent as a tomb ‘Cause I’m the one who always says “How’s that supposed to work?” Which makes me end up sounding like an overbearing jerk
Yes, it’s a drag to always be the lonely skeptic in the room I have to speak my mind when pseudo-science starts to bloom Although I try to hold my tongue sometimes I just can’t make it quit…, ‘Cause people sure believe some crazy shit!
I have a friend, her name is Laura, loves to talk about her aura Every time she’s off her game: her dented aura is to blame She says everybody’s got ‘em, cameras have been known to spot ‘em: Magic, mystic aural energy
One day I just had to ask her, Laura, make it clear… How’s it all supposed to work? Please tell me – I’m all ears!
How’s an aura get created?, tell me how’s it’s generated… is there a hypothesis for how an aura can exist? Maybe you’re just having mood swings, which you blame on magic woo things That’s the last time Laura talked to me!
My friend Dennis he’s a scholar; his tech skills earn him top dollar just a few short years ago, Dennis saw a UFO! Now he says they’re all around us; Aliens in fact surround us Probably they’re living right next door!
I say “Dennis, tell me buddy, help me understand…” How can there be flying saucers, buzzing ‘round the land?”
How come every single sighting seems to come in lousy lighting I guess I’d accept the truth, with valid photographic proof But when you saw those lights a blinking – had you maybe just been drinking? Dennis doesn’t call me anymore!
Britney is a modern lady, rather green and quite new-agey Claims her latest malady, was cured by homeopathy! She says it has magic rules, just take some wholesome molecules… dissolve them in the purest H2O!
Britney took this grand concoction, and her pain was fixed.” “Come again,” I had to say, “just what was in that mix?”
If it works well what would then be – water has selective mem’ry? Knows the good but not the shit, that ever was dissolved in it. Thanks to science here’s what we know, really it’s a big placebo… Britney told me just where I can go.
I have a friend, no doubting Thomas, quite devout and really honest, Says despite what we’ve been told, the Earth is really not that old. He will brook no whys or wherefores, that’s what holy books are there for Earth was born six thousand years ago.
To contradict you, Thomas, I admit to feeling grief But maybe there’s some evidence to counter your belief!
Like chemistry, biology, astronomy, anatomy, astrophysics, botany, geology, zoology… molecular biology, physics, physiology Thomas says “So what?” they’ll burn in Hell!
My young neighbors Dave and Tina, talked about how they had seen a Former Playboy pinup queen, shouting out about vaccines. Now they think its realistic – so that no one grows autistic Not to vaccinate their little kids.
Dave, please listen now before it really is too late Don’t take health advice from one to whom you used to masturbate?!
Beauty queens have certain assets; science really ain’t their strong set you should get a good assist – from a freaking scientist! Guys, I won’t speak gingerly – ‘cause this could cause great injury The right thing is what Dave and Tina did!
So…it’s…not… always such a drag to be the skeptic in the room Sometimes I state my case and find that people will consume Though I’m the one who always says “How’s that supposed to work?” It doesn’t have to mean that I’m an overbearing jerk
No it’s not bad to always be the lonely skeptic in the room Bu I’ll still speak my mind when pseudo-science starts to bloom Although I try to hold my tongue I know I’ll never quit…, ‘Cause people do believe … And man do they believe! Yes, people do believe some crazy shit!
This is the seventy-sixth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
[My church believes heaven and hell are real places.]
[Mmm. Uh huh.]
[And uh, guess which one you are going to if you keep this up?]
[I don’t know how we can fix a world where people have been so convinced that they are doing the right thing out of compassion and love and trying to help people when it is absolute poison. When it is absolutely destructive.]
Now who’s the one that is responsible for how the world is? Who’s the one that is responsible for how we all live? Who takes the negative influences and poisons all the kids So they just repeat the stupid shit that you and I did?
Who’s the species that wallows in this puddle of mud? Who’s the one that painted the planet in buckets of blood? Who’s the one that begs a god for forgiveness of sins, Then turns right around the next day and does it again?
Who’s the money hungry monsters that poisons the air, Kills his own kind and steals the land ’cause he can’t share? Who points the finger at a devil trying to shift the blame And hides his hands because he knows that they’re covered in blood stains?
Yeah it’s just as you assuming it’s nothing but these humans Would like to blame mythology for everything they doing. They pray for non-existient gods to clean up the mess, But never take responsibility just claim it’s a test.
See, that religion you’ve been given is shit and it’s all poison And it’s partially the reason we’re bleeding it’s all poison Yo, your worldview is poison and your outlook, is poison You can deny it all you want but the truth is it’s all poison
That religion you’ve been given is shit and it’s all poison And it’s partially the reason we’re bleeding, it’s all poison Yo, your worldview is poison and your outlook is poison You can deny it all you want but the truth is it’s all poison
See, as long we keep believing in demons, devils and goblins We’ll never see a reason to tackle problems and solve ’em ‘Cause we gonna keep on thinking it’s part of divine prophecy And we don’t have to solve is cause one day Jesus will stop it, see?
Many of y’all invested in living life after death And nobody’s ever proved that we even have a soul yet So while everybody’s speculating, lots of ya’ll are hesitating Praying with your fingers crossed and hoping there’s a heaven waiting.
So sky daddy’s only talking to your group, huh? And everything in your holy book is the truth, huh? And we gonna burn if we don’t listen to you, huh? Well, every other group is claiming that too bruh.
So don’t be coming at me unless you got some evidence And use some reason and logic to make it make sense. I think it’s evident that ever since I start asking for evidence They stuttered like they got a speech impediment.
See, that religion you’ve been given is shit and it’s all poison And it’s partially the reason we’re bleeding, it’s all poison Yo, your worldview is poison and your outlook is poison You can deny it all you want but the truth is it’s all poison
That religion you’ve been given is shit and it’s all poison And it’s partially the reason we’re bleeding, it’s all poison Yo, your worldview is poison and your outlook is poison You can deny it all you want but the truth is it’s all poison
Seven years ago, I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. While I still had a modicum of believe in the existence of a God, I was done with organized, institutional Christianity. Once free of the church, it was not long before I slid to the bottom of the slippery slope of unbelief. Since then, numerous Evangelicals have attempted to win me back to Jesus or restore me to good standing with the church. Try as they might, I remain an unrepentant atheist, an apostate and enemy of Christianity.
What follows is a list of seven things that Evangelicals have said to me over the years in their attempts to get me to renew my membership with Club Jesus. I have no doubt that every Evangelical-turned-atheist has heard the same things.
I’ll Pray for You
I’ll pray for you is the number one statement Evangelicals make to those who have left the faith. According to Evangelicals, prayer can fix any problem, including turning atheists into a believers. Here’s the problem with this kind of thinking. Prayer doesn’t work. For many former Evangelicals, unanswered prayer is one the reasons they deconverted.
During the deconversion process, I made a careful accounting of past prayers and their answers. I specifically focused on answered, big-need prayers. In every case, I was able to trace the affirmative answer back to human instrumentality. While I certainly had several I can’t explain it moments, these were not enough to lead me to believe that the Christian God answered prayer.
And here’s the thing, I don’t know of one Evangelical-turned-atheist who has ever returned to Evangelicalism. Despite all the prayers, those who leave don’t return. Wouldn’t it be a big boost for Evangelical stock if God reached down and saved Bruce Gerencser, the atheist preacher? Imagine what a splash it would make if someone such as I returned to the faith. But it doesn’t happen. Why is that? For many former Evangelicals, we deconverted because we learned that the Evangelical church is built on a faulty foundation: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. Once people realize and accept that the Bible is not what Evangelicals say it is, they are then free to examine more carefully the central claims of Christianity. In my case, I found that Evangelical beliefs could not withstand intellectual scrutiny.
No matter what I say, Evangelicals are going to continue to pray for me. Rarely does a week go by without several Evangelicals letting me know that they are storming the throne room of God on my behalf (or praying God will kill me). Fine, by all means pray. But there is no need to let me know that you are doing so. Surely God is able to hear and answer your prayer without me knowing about it.
Have You Ever Heard the Gospel?
The short, snarky answer is, of course not! I spent 50 years in the Christian church and pastored churches for 25 years, yet I never heard the gospel one time. Amazing, isn’t it? When Evangelicals take this approach with me, what they really want to know is whether I have heard their version of the gospel. You see, there is no such thing as THE Evangelical gospel. Evangelicals incessantly fight over whose gospel is true. Calvinists and Arminians are fighting a seven-century war over which group has the faith once delivered to the saints. The Bible says, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, yet Christians have spent 21 centuries proving God a liar. The Bible tells us that Christians will be known by their unity and love, yet these beliefs have been turned on their head by sectarians who believe that the only unity and love possible is with people who are part of their exclusive club.
When Christians ever figure out what the gospel is, I hope they will let me know. Until then, I plan to pop some popcorn and watch the comedy known as the internecine wars of Christianity. As one commenter on Facebook recently said, and I paraphrase, Evangelicals think that their battles over right doctrine are some sort of intellectual pursuit. They are not. From the outside, all the wrangling over doctrinal minutia looks a lot like toddlers fighting over toys.
God Laid You on My Heart
Several weeks ago, a former long-time friend and colleague in the ministry contacted me, out of the blue, on Facebook. A few years back, he contacted me and told me what he thought of my deconversion and its effect on my family. Needless to say, his words were not kind, and after we traded a couple of emails he stopped writing.
Now my former friend is back. Why? God laid me on his heart. This time, he decided to approach me in a kinder, more respectful way. We traded emails that talked about our families and that was the end of that. While this man was, at one time my closest friend, we no longer have anything in common. The elephant in the room will always be my atheism and intellectual assault of Evangelical Christianity. And I get it, I really do. It is hard to maintain a friendship with someone who thinks your beliefs are intellectual rubbish.
Over the years, numerous former church members and ministerial friends have contacted me because they believed God had laid Bruce Gerencser on their hearts. Instead of wanting to catch up or talk about old times, they thought God has a personal mission for them: contact Bruce Gerencser. In most cases, their message from God is preceded by them doing a web search on my name. In others words, they wondered what I was up to, so they fired up their browser, loaded Google, typed in my name, and were then presented with pages of links for Bruce Gerencser (I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world). Was it God who was leading them to do the search, or was it curiosity, wondering what Bruce is up to these days?
As an atheist, I don’t think God exists, so Evangelicals telling me that God laid Bruce Gerencser on their heart has no effect on me. Sometimes I want to ask Evangelicals how they KNOW God talked to them about me, but I already know all the stock answers for such a question. Evangelicals know what they know, and all the reason in the world won’t change their mind.
God is Trying to Get Your Attention
Evangelicals believe that their God, as owner of everything, is personally and intimately involved in his creation. Despite evidence to the contrary, Evangelicals believe that God is an everyday, real presence, not only in their lives, but the lives of every person, saved or lost. When Evangelicals read my story, they often focus on the health problems I have. See, Evangelicals say, God is afflicting you so he can get your attention. If I really believed this to be true, I would immediately become an Evangelical again. I would be quite willing to put time in at Club Jesus if it meant that my pain would go away.
However, when I take a careful look at the “health” of Evangelicals, I see that they are every bit as “afflicted” as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Well, the Evangelical says, God uses sickness to test, try, or punish Christians. Far more important than bodily health is spiritual health.
Each and every day is a struggle for me. I’ve detailed this many times over the years, so I won’t bore you with the details again. If I thought that the unrelenting pain I suffer with is God’s doing, I highly doubt knowing this would turn me into worshiper of Jesus. What kind of God hurts people so they will love and worship him? In the real world, such abusers are considered criminals, the scum of the earth. Yet, when God abuses people it is because he loves them and he has a wonderful plan for their lives. No thanks! I have no interest in worshiping such a God. I would rather burn in hell than worship a God who spends his days inflicting pain, suffering, disease, and death on not only humans, but all living things.
You’ll Go to Hell if You Don’t Accept Jesus
The more Fundamentalist the Evangelicals, the more likely they are to tell atheists and unbelievers that they will end up in Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. In others words, God is saying that if people don’t accept his ordained way of salvation, that he plans to torture them eternally in a pit of fire and brimstone. In what other setting does such an approach work? Hello, I am your local Kirby Sweeper salesman. If you don’t buy a sweeper from me, I will burn your house to the ground. Such a psychopath would quickly be arrested and locked up. Yet, God, who is every bit as psychopathic as the Kirby salesman, is given a pass.
When Evangelicals try the Hell approach, I quickly tell them that I don’t believe in the existence of Hell; that the only hell is that which humans inflict on each other. Sometimes, toying with them, I will ask them, exactly WHERE is hell? Most of the time, I let Evangelicals know that threatening me with Hell will not work. I am immune to being threatened into anything. I spent most of my preaching career threatening people, warning them of the suddenness of death and the surety of hell. Over the years, hundreds of people responded to my threats, embracing the wonderful, loving, psychopathic God of Christianity. I now know that such an approach mentally and emotionally harms people. Constantly being warned about impending eternal judgment often leaves a deep and lasting emotional scar. Consider me scarred.
I Know the Holy Spirit is Speaking to You
Some Evangelicals, those who are more liberal-minded and have kind hearts, read a few of my blog posts and then “discern” that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me. Such people often have a great affinity for my critiques of the Evangelical church, In fact, some of them, not paying attention to the fact that I am an atheist, think I am a member of their club. I have received numerous emails from “fellow” brothers and sisters in Lord. When I respond and let them know that I am an atheist, they often can’t believe that I am a child of Satan. How could the Devil’s spawn ever write the way Bruce does? they think to themselves.
I happen to be quite conversant in all things Evangelical. Even though I haven’t pastored a church in over a decade, I still follow the machinations of Evangelicalism quite closely. It is a subject that interests me, and I suspect this interest shows in my writing. However, my pastime should not in any way be confused with the Holy Spirit speaking to me.
Since I don’t believe in God, telling me that third part of the Trinity is speaking to me has no value. First, how can anyone possibly KNOW that the Holy Spirit is carrying on a conversation with me in my head? Isn’t such a thing beyond the purview of even the sharpest of God’s discerners? Telling me that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me is akin to telling me that aliens from a far-away galaxy are telepathically speaking to me. The only voices in my head are mine.
Do You Want Your Children or Grandchildren to Grow Up Without Knowing God?
Ah yes, the classic do it for the kids line of thinking. Here’s the thing: now that I am closing in on 60, I have had six decades to contemplate belief in God and its effect on the human race. That’s a long time. I have spent most of my life drinking deeply at the trough of Christianity. I now know that the water in the trough was a mirage. I thought the healing waters of the Christian God imparted morality and ethics to all who would drink, but these days I’ve come to see that, while religion can play part in dispensing morality and ethics, it often, thanks to rigid dogma, proves to be an impediment to moral and ethical development.
Evangelicals, in particular, think that morality and ethics ONLY come from the Christian God. No matter how many studies prove that such a claim is not true, Evangelicals continue to hang on to the belief that their God and the Bible are the sole sources of morality. This kind of thinking has turned into the culture war. Evangelicals demand that everyone live according to their moral code. They even go as far as using the government to force others to live by their peculiar interpretations of the Bible. If only the Ten Commandments were taught in school, America would be great again, the Evangelical says. However, when unbelievers take a close look at how Evangelicals live, they quickly find out that God’s chosen ones don’t practice what they preach. If the Evangelicals are anything, they are hypocrites.
My six children are all grown. All of them have made up their own minds about God. None of them worships the Evangelical God. For the most part, my children are indifferent to religion, ALL religion. My grandchildren? I hope they never see the inside of an Evangelical church. I think Evangelical belief often causes emotional and mental damage. In some cases, such beliefs can lead to abuse or turn people into abusers. Why would I ever want my grandchildren within a light year of an Evangelical church?
If I could script the lives of my grandchildren (and I can’t) I would love for them to take a World Religion class. I know that exposing them to other religions besides Christianity will dampen or destroy any affinity they might have for Evangelicalism. Exposure to knowledge is a sure cure for Fundamentalism. The more my grandchildren learn about religion (and humanism and atheism), the less likely they are to follow down the same pernicious path Nana and Grandpa followed decades ago. If they still decide to embrace some sort of religion, I hope they will embrace practices that affirm their self-worth and cause them to love others. Such values cannot be found in an Evangelical church because they are always secondary to right belief and rigid obedience.
As I watch my grandchildren grow up, I can’t help but see how different they are from their parents (and this is due to their parents allowing them wander down paths they were never allowed to go). I revel in their thirst for knowledge, knowing that satisfying this thirst will inoculate them from being infected by the mind-killing disease of religious Fundamentalism. Perhaps, in their generation the curse will finally be broken. While Polly’s parents lament what my (our) unbelief is doing to my children and grandchildren, I see things differently. I now know that intellectual and personal freedom lead to a life filled with meaning and purpose. Most all of all, I want those who bear my name to live lives filled with happiness. Shouldn’t that be our hope for everyone?
Originally written in 2012. Edited for clarity and grammar.
Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor Bob Gray, Sr. (not the pedophile pastor Bob Gray from Jacksonville, Florida) pastored the Longview Baptist Temple in Longview Texas for over thirty years. In 2009 Gray turned the church franchise over to his son and became a traveling preacher. He blogs at Solving Church Problems.
Bob Gray is a prototypical Sword of the Lord, Jack Hyles-loving IFB preacher. He preaches an Antinomian, one-two-three-repeat-after-me, pray-the-sinners-prayer, easy-believism gospel. Gray is of the opinion that winning souls to Jesus is the only thing that really matters. Well that and jetting all over the country so he can preach at conferences and special meetings (winning souls doesn’t pay the bills). Gray, a consummate bean counter, can tell you right down to the person how many people he has personally won to Christ and how many people were saved through his preaching.
Over the past 35 years, the Gray-cartel-led Longview Baptist Temple has won more souls to Christ than actually live in Longview Texas. While the Longview Baptist Temple grew to be quite large under the ministry of Gray, Sr, the number of souls saved far outnumber the number of people baptized and added to the church membership. Gray, like many of his ilk, is only concerned with “getting people saved.” If they never get baptized or become a part of the church? Regrettable, but hey, there are more souls to save (he was taught this philosophy by his idol, Jack Hyles).
Gray is a big supporter of Jack Hyles. He is insistent, to this day, that Jack Hyles was a tower of virtue and that he never did the things he was accused of in the 1980s. Gray, a graduate of Hyles-Anderson College, often takes to his blog to defend the IFB church movement over charges of widespread abuse and sexual misconduct. While Gray admits Jack Schaap, the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, who is now serving a 12 year Federal prison sentence for sexual misconduct, should not have had sex with a 16-year-old church girl, he is quick to suggest that Schaap’s behavior is not typical of what goes on in IFB churches.
Many a Fundamentalist preacher has become offended when I lay down the very first rule for saving Christian Fundamentalism: corporate repentance of the preachers. They are all tainted by the guilt of this religious movement upon whom God has shown the evidences of His disdain and contempt. They all need to repent openly, articulate the sins of Christian Fundamentalism before God and before man, attempt some form of restoration to victims, and institute the means to prevent such sins from happening again, if God should choose to spare this religion that they seem to love more than they love Him.
Massi, a former IFB church member and an acquaintance of mine, has made it her mission to hold IFB preachers accountable for abuse that goes on in their churches. Massi recently published The Big Book of Bad Baptist Preachers, a compendium of stories about Baptist sexual predators and abusers.
Bob Gray, Sr. despises Massi. Her post on corporate repentance caused Gray’s head to explode. Over the course of three blog posts, Gray, Sr. shows his true colors; that he is a misogynistic bigot who will go to great lengths to protect and defend the IFB kingdom. What follows are excerpts from these posts.
…Enter “Christian” forums and Blogs that attempt to copy the style of expose journalism. They make it their business to expose things that are really none of any ones business. I expect the lost world to gossip and slander, but I expect better of Christians.
Do not misunderstand me. I believe the internet is a wonderful place to fight error and to teach truth. However, when it comes to matters of a local church, many times they become a place to learn the latest “scoop.”
How is it that heathens like Tricia Lacriox or Jeri Massi can be “trusted” vehicles of information that they and their fellow demonettes desire ONLY for the purpose of destruction? Why would we go to them for our information? Worse yet why would we believe their information?
The answer to that question is troubling. I hear people say it is because that is the only place they find out what is going on. WAIT! Why do you need to find out what is going on and why would you trust avowed enemies to the cause of Christ to be your informers? That is nonsense! It is also evil! Let me help you with something. You do not need to know!
Allow me to give you an example. Where do these information streetwalkers receive their information? A church is dealing with a situation that is horrible. Someone on the inside has information and they give it to the proper authorities in their church and for their ears only. These authorities deal with the problem.
However, there are evil individuals with info who are moles and who will be judged of God for their wickedness. They garner information not for the purpose of helping, but for sharing with those in bloggers sphere who disdain soul winning independent Baptist churches.
Do they report the number of souls saved the previous week, the number of converts baptized, the Sunday school attendance, the lives salvaged, or any good being done? NO! They are like vultures who do not see the beauty, but rather only the carcases (sic) of the dead.
These are haters of soul winning churches. Their STATED goal is to destroy those soul winning churches. They want these churches to go away so they find the things they can use to condemn and twist in order to accomplish their goal. THEN, WE READ IT!?!?
These forums and blogs create arguments, bickering, slander, strife, and discord among the brethren. These demonettes rejoice because they have accomplished their goal of casting a curse on that which they despise. Anyone who questions them is then attacked for “covering sin” or “enabling sinners.” These demonettes are morons! They have no idea what they are writing about…
…I am appalled at the sins of those who besmirch the office of ministry as well as any one, man or woman, who do such despicable acts, but I refuse to indict a whole community because of a few.
I think we are all accountable in some respects because we do not walk closely enough with God to be able to spot such people. However, I know of no one who on purpose allows such things to occur. I only know of gossips who paint a picture without really knowing the truth.
Then people like you Jeri carry their water to incriminate good churches who are doing their best to deal with such wicked people. Get the facts Jeri.
Again, you did not call me. You did not seek the other side of the story and you made a BIG mistake by not doing so. Which makes me wonder about others who have been smeared by your lap top gossip.
If they are guilty lock them up! I have no problem letting people know who the predators are. But, do not indict everyone. Check out the Scriptures on being a false accuser Jeri!
Why do we go soul winning? Because of the fact that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Let me see if I understand you correctly…we should not go soul winning because of wicked men who do wicked things? Maybe that is why God does not call women to be pastors. Logic like yours deserves to be studied? Ha!
Jeri Massi, you are in this for you. I have been in the ministry for 40 years and have given my life to help the hurting while your claim to fame is living off of victims.
If you were an honest person you would have contacted me before running to your blog to condemn something you knew nothing of except through the eyes of those haters who lie and supply you with slop.
Why don’t you put out your cigar, shut your Hollywood movies off, put away your favorite beer, find a good Christian man to marry, have some babies, and get a real life!
“Run if you want to, hide if you will, but I came here to stay!”
Please forgive me Jeri! I was under a wrong impression and it really grieves me that I did not see the truth. I did not really know you and I was under a false judgment.
I did know your brother Vince for we graduated together at Hyles-Anderson College. I really liked your brother. I know you and him have had some misunderstandings, but let that be as it may.
I just want to make this thing right with you before it really got out of hand. You see this is a real problem among those of us who are independent Baptist people. IF we are not careful we assume facts not in evidence.
Of course, we are not a denomination and have no headquarters and our only rule of faith and practice is the King James Bible. This is what brings us together.
Thus, we are in loose association with each other organizational wise. We come together based on a Bible principle of “mutual faith.” As a result we are drawn together not by a political or corporate entity but by “mutual faith.” We have no elections and we have no president for we only have our mutual beliefs. Each church is independent of the others.
It is absolutely wrong of me to have entered into this with you at the level I did. Please forgive me! May we go back to the beginning and start over in our conversation. Maybe we can come to a consensus and help many of your friends in the internet forum world at the same time?
Many of these others, with whom you associate, I am just now starting to get my mind wrapped around who they are. I do sense that there is a longing and a searching among you and your friends for truth. I do not dispute that at all. I do however think we have all started off on the wrong foot. Hopefully we can rectify this.
May I begin with Scriptures please?
Romans 3:10, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:”
Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”
Romans 6:23a, “For the wages of sin is death…”
Revelation 20:14, “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”
Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 6:23b, “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Romans 10:9, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Now Jeri would you like to trust Jesus Christ to pay for all of your past sins, present sins, and future sins? If so would you bow in your heart and ask Christ to save you.
I can provide a prayer to help you if you would like, but remember a prayer is just words and a prayer cannot save you. A prayer is communication between you and Christ. Jeri, many people are saved before they ever utter a word or walk an aisle in church. So, if you in child like faith will open your soul and let Jesus know you want to trust Him He will save your soul.
Jesus is a perfect gentleman for He will not force His way into your soul. Jeri, it is not the shed blood, but the shed and applied blood that cleanses a man’s soul.
Jeri I again must apologize I did not realize until I saw your love for Buddha of your basic beliefs. I apologize for mocking your cigars, your love for beer, your love for the filth of Hollywood, and so on. No one can be saved by quitting cigars, movies, or liquor. It is faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that saves a person from going to Hell.
It did not dawn on me of your spiritual condition. Again, I am so sorry!
Matthew 15:14, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”
Jeri, you are blind and have a spiritual vail over your eyes and truly cannot see. Again, I am sorry I did not see this in the beginning. It appears I assumed something that was just not true about you. JUST A THOUGHT!
Gray concludes, based on what Massi has written, that she is not a Christian. But wait, Dr. Bob, Jeri previously prayed the sinners prayer. Doesn’t that make her a Christian no matter how she lives or what she writes? According to Gray’s soteriology (doctrine of salvation), even a Christian-turned-atheist like me is still a Christian. Once saved, always saved, right Bro. Bob?
Here’s the real issue in this story. Gray, an authoritarian control-freak, is upset because he has no control over what Massi writes. He is furious that he can’t force Massi to submit to his authority.
I love the “advice” Gray gives to Massi:
Why don’t you put out your cigar, shut your Hollywood movies off, put away your favorite beer, find a good Christian man to marry, have some babies, and get a real life!
In other words, shut up Babe. Cook dinner, get laid, and have lots of babies.
The internet has empowered writers to bring to light the dark secrets of the IFB church movement. Prior to the internet, the IFB gatekeepers could control the flow of information. Not any longer. Now there are countless writers airing the dirty laundry of the IFB churches, pastors, and institutions. IFB preachers are watching their kingdoms slip away and there is nothing they can do about it except throw childish temper tantrums as Gray did in the blog posts mentioned above.
Dr. Bob, if you are reading this, I have a message from God for you and the IFB church movement: Mene, Mene, Tekel u-Pharsin
Or to put it into English: God has numbered your kingdom and finished it. You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Your kingdom has been divided and given to churches and pastors who love people and don’t abuse them (Daniel 5 with a slight Bruce Gerencser twist).
Many evangelical preachers have what I call the Elijah syndrome. In First Kings chapter 18, we find the story of the prophet Elijah doing battle with the 450 false prophets of Baal. According to the Bible, Elijah decided to prove to Israel that Jehovah was the true and living God. Elijah did this by building an altar, placing a slaughtered bullock on the stone edifice, and calling fire down from heaven to consume the bullock. This all-consuming fire was so hot that it melted the altar’s rocks. According to modern science, melting rock into molten lava requires a heat of 1,000 to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Certainly, if Elijah did nothing else, he put on a good show.
After God demonstrated his power, Elijah told the people of Israel to gather up the false prophets and slaughter them. Nothing says I’m a loving God like some old-fashioned bloodshed and slaughter. When Queen Jezebel heard that Elijah and the Israelites had slaughtered Baal’s prophets, she sent a message to Elijah that said, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. Elijah, fearing for his life, ran away into the wilderness.
In First Kings chapter 19 we find Elijah camped out underneath a juniper tree. An angel appeared to Elijah and told him that he needed to eat because God had a long journey ahead for him. After eating, Elijah journeyed 40 days to Mount Horeb, the very place God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The Lord came to Elijah and asked him what he was doing at Mount Horeb (which is strange, because an angel, one of God’s celestial beings, told him to go to there). Here is what Elijah had to say:
I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
Elijah saw himself as the one remaining true prophet in the land. God reminded him in First Kings 19:18 that there were actually 7,000 prophets who had not yet bowed a knee to Baal.
Every time I think of this story I am reminded of the fact that a lot of Evangelical preachers see themselves as some sort of modern-day Elijah. And like Elijah, each thinks he is the one remaining prophet in the community standing up for God, the Bible, and Evangelical morality. Such preachers delude themselves into thinking that they alone are standing true, that they alone are preaching the right message. Some of these preachers, men such as Robert Lyte and AW Pink, think that the Christian church is so morally compromised that they can no longer in good conscience be a part of it (Susan-Anne White would another example of this, even though she doesn’t claim to be a preacher).
As readers of this blog know, the longer people steep their mind in waters of Fundamentalist belief, the more extreme they become. Over time, sin lists grow, beliefs harden, and certainty and arrogance convinces preachers that they alone are standing for God. While every community has numerous Christian churches, there are always a handful of churches that think they are above the murky waters of generic Evangelicalism. Like Elijah, they believe that they have been chosen by God to speak on his behalf to the world.
I remember thinking this of myself back when I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio. Everywhere I looked I saw churches and pastors who were not winning souls and waging war against Satan, sin, and godlessness. As the church began to grow, I convinced myself that people were attending the church because they wanted to hear a true man of God. What I understood later is that these people found me likable and enjoyed my sermons. So much for being a rugged, stand-alone prophet of God.
The next time you see a street preacher just remember he likely thinks that he is like Elijah, the lone prophet of God. After all, he is the only one standing on the street corner, right? If all the other neighboring churches and pastors really cared about America they too would be on nearby street corners preaching against sin, gun control, abortion, secularism, atheism, Barack Obama, evolution, liberalism, and any other issue deemed a moral affront to the thrice-holy God of Evangelical Christianity.
This I alone remain true to God way of thinking is what turns preachers into insufferable, arrogant, hypocritical pricks. Thinking that they have some sort of inside knowledge about God and the Bible, they are determined to share what they think they know with everyone, even if people don’t want to hear it.
Preachers like Jack Hyles and Fred Phelps did not start out as pontificating bloviators. Over time, they convinced themselves that they had been chosen uniquely by God to speak on his behalf. Once convinced of this, their pronouncements became more severe. These Elijah-like prophets of God, thinking that most churches and pastors are Biblically and morally compromised, withdrew from the larger Christian body.
Inherent to the nature of Fundamentalism is the need to separate and divide. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a good example of this. The IFB church movement was born out of rebellion against perceived liberalism in the American, Northern, and Southern Baptist conventions. Originally this separation was due to German rationalism and higher textual criticism. These days, IFB churches and pastors separate due to silly things like music, Bible translations, long hair on men, and whether women should wear pants. Recently, Bob Gray, Sr., the retired pontiff of the Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Texas wrote a blog post about the importance of being a prophet like Elijah. Here is some of the issues Gray thinks are important:(link no longer active)
In our fundamental churches, schools, and colleges we have some rules, regulations, and standards. We have rules about dating, dress, haircuts on the males, makeup on the females, hairstyles, clothing, smoking, dancing, bad music, Hollywood movies, speech, respect for authority, proper conduct, etc.
Immediately the accusations begin to come when such a stand is taken. The cry is always the same, and the charge is always the same. “Why, that is nothing but legalism with all those rules, standards, and regulations for they are nothing but promoting legalism!”
The truth of the matter is, when you associate legalism with rules, regulations and standards, people with neo-evangelical hearts who masquerade make such statements in fundamental Baptist clothing. Sometimes they are made by people who were real fundamental Baptist at one time, and yet have become weary of the battle and long to return to the onions, watermelons, leaks, cucumbers, and garlic of acceptance. Also, this cry of legalism often comes from the desks of colleges and seminaries built on fundamental foundations with walls of compromise and a leaking roof of pseudo liberty.
We have grown to desire that our truth be accredited by worldly educated error. We want a license from wrong to do right! My (sic) I remind all of us of that fundamental world we believed in and practiced before we had teenagers, home-schoolers, liberal fundamental colleges, Bill Gothard, Oral Roberts University, Benny Hinn, his girlfriend Evangelist Paula White, amusement parks, and before Jerry Falwell slid down a charismatic water slide!
…. This generation must not listen to the prophets of compromise who are silently bridging fundamentalism to a liberal Southern Baptist Convention in order to garner the crowds. No one is legalistic who insists on standards. When someone adds anything to salvation, other than the shed and applied blood of Jesus Christ, is by definition a legalist.
When you conveniently compromise you are not only betraying Billy Sunday, Sam Jones, Bob Jones Sr., Mordecai Ham, John Wesley, John R. Rice, Curtis Hutson, Lester Roloff, Lee Roberson, Tom Malone, and Jack Hyles, but you are betraying your own standards of just a few years back.
If we cannot have our padded pews with hell-fire and brimstone preaching, then let us go back to the sawdust trail and the store front buildings while sitting on wooden benches.
If we cannot have organs with trained choirs without the seven-fold Amens and the crusty anthems, then let us go back to the “pie-anar” and tuning fork.
If we cannot have a marriage of proper grammar and the mourner’s bench with preaching on Hell, Heaven, the rapture, the second coming, and separation, then let us go back to split infinitives, dangling participles, and hung gerunds.
If tiled restrooms and chandeliers are not conducive to the old-time religion, then let us mark off a path and build an outhouse. Let us screw a 60-watt light bulb in it and order a Sears & Roebuck catalogue for the outhouse and get right with God.
If we have to include Kierkegaard, Brunner, and Niebuhr in our required reading in order to be intellectual theologically, then let us go back to the Blue-black Speller, the ABC’s, the alphabet, and the simple preaching of thus saith the Lord God! We have listened too much to psychologists in the pulpit and not enough to leather lunged Baptist preachers. We have listened too much to philosophers and not enough to old-fashioned prophets of God. We have listened too much to so-called Christian TV and radio and not enough to men of God.
…. Legalism is not a godly mother who insists that her daughter dress modestly. Legalism is not parents enrolling their children in a Christian school that believes as they do about separation from the world. Legalism is not a dedicated aged godly dad who takes his son to the barbershop instead of a beauty shop every two weeks.
Legalism is not a faithful youth director who insists his teenagers dress appropriately. Legalism is not a hard working pastor who insists that his Sunday school teachers not smoke, not drink alcohol, no tobacco use, no movies, they visit absentees, and go soul winning.
Legalism is not the careful godly educator who forbids his students to dance or listen to bad music. Legalism is not the man of God who cries aloud against mixed swimming, in essence mixed nudity, against vampire lipstick promoting drugs, and young males with their Billy Idol bleached porky pine spiked chili bowl hair do! Right has not changed and wrong has not changed just because you enter into a different century. Black is still black and white is still white. Good is still good and bad is still bad. Legalism is not the faithful man of God who cries aloud against sin.
…. Most of the Scriptures are about rules on how Christians ought to live! I challenge you to take Genesis and try to show unsaved people how to be saved or redeemed from going to Hell. Now you will find types of salvation, but you will have a tough time finding the plan of salvation in Genesis.
…. Liquor, dope, elicit (sic) sex, Hollywood, cigarettes, bad music, etc., enslaves and is addictive. God’s do’s and don’ts builds walls of protection for his people!
The good news is this: the IFB church movement is dying on the vine. Their churches and institutions are but a shell of what they once were. Instead of taking a hard look at why IFB churches are dying and young adults are fleeing to the friendlier confines of “worldly” Evangelical churches, preachers like Gray, Sr. double down on legalistic standards and rules. Instead of considering whether their controlling, abusive behavior is to blame, these Elijah-like preachers blame those who rejected their moralizing and checklist Christianity. Gray, Sr. will go to the grave believing that if people would just follow the rules about “dating, dress, haircuts on the males, makeup on the females, hairstyles, clothing, smoking, dancing, bad music, Hollywood movies, speech, respect for authority, and proper conduct,” the shekinah glory (glory of God) would fall from heaven and all would be well.
Do you have an Elijah-like preacher where you live? Is there a preacher in your town who thinks he uniquely speaks for God? Perhaps you once attended a church that was pastored by a man who thought he was special or unique. If so, please share your observations in the comment section.
If there is one thing that eight years of blogging has taught me, it is that many Evangelicals are know-it-alls. Armed with a perfect Bible and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, these super-saints have life figured out. They KNOW they are right and they KNOW I am wrong. And based on having the ability to discern the thoughts and motivations of others, they stand in judgment over those who have left the Christian faith.
Take Britta, a local pastor’s daughter. Several years ago, Britta stopped by and left a comment that revealed she knew exactly what was wrong with Bruce Gerencser, the pastor-turned-atheist. What follows is her comment and my response (indented and italicized):
All grammar and spelling errors in the original.
Hi Bruce – I think I see how you ended up here. I’ve not read all of your posts, but it seems that your path is similar to a lot of folks: entrenched in some legalistic sect (borderline cults, really), then fleeing from that absurd burden you are comforted by those espousing that “the well is poisoned” (liberals of the old mainline groups), until finally you have to ditch it all. I can’t say I blame you too much – it’s exhausting to be tossed about on every wave.
Britta read all of about 15 posts on this site. Based on these posts, she was quickly able to discern what I was really all about. This is truly amazing, I must say. Many Christians have a magical gift of being able to pass judgment on most anybody, using the slimmest of information. Of course, this is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. Proverbs 18:13 states: He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. A Christian should never make any judgment before hearing (reading) the whole story.
But I don’t believe that you’re an athiest. Sure, you say you don’t believe in the God of the Bible, but you do believe in a god. You. Perfectly reasonable, actually. There is no other choice. I know that know other god is going to show up and pronounce himself as such — and you know it, too, despite your protestations — and so you get to stay god of your world. Tah-dah! (Atheism is really disingenuous.)
Britta evidently thinks that there is no such thing as an atheist. All people either believe in the Christian God or they are their own God. Atheists need not apply.
No matter how many times Christians like Britta assert that there is no such thing as an atheist — here we are. And our numbers are growing. Pretending something doesn’t exist doesn’t make it so.
If by God, Britta means the person in control, then yes, I am my own God. It is my life, who else would be in control of it but me?
Christians are no different. Oh, they “say” God is in control of their lives, but they, for the most part, don’t live any differently from atheists. Are Christians morally superior to atheists? The evidence suggests they are not. Day in and day out, Christians and atheists alike live their lives the best they know how. Christians are every bit as much the “God” of their world as is the atheist (contrary to what the Bible says). Christians speak about a God who is in control of everything, but then turn around and live their lives as if this God is not in control at all (except for an occasional winning touchdown or election win).
Maybe I’m being too harsh. Perhaps, despite your own time in the pulpit, you never understood the simplicity of grace. It really is foolishness to the perishing, but life to those being saved, so here ’tis, for good measure:
Britta finally gets down to what she really thinks about my life: despite 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years in the pastorate, I never really understood the simplicity of grace.
Of course the unstated point here is that Britta understands what I do not. She proves her point by loosely quoting a Bible verse. It is all foolishness to me because I am perishing (lost, headed for hell). It is life to her because she is one of the saved (or one that is being saved).
You (and me and all of us) are not perfect. A God worth worshiping IS perfect. Perfection rightly demands perfection, and since none of us can attain perfection, God offered himself in our place to be that perfection. Nothing we do merits his gift. All we have to do is accept it — that is, bend a knee and admit that we are lost without God and his gift of grace.
Britta and I agree on one thing: none of us is perfect. However, Britta’s comment betrays an arrogance found among many Christians. While their behavior may not be perfect, they arrogantly think that their interpretation of the Bible is.
Britta asserts that God is perfect. What proof does she have for her claim? The Bible? Surely not. By examining how God reveals himself through the Bible, we humans can quickly discern that God is far from perfect. In fact, God is quite capricious. He even changes his mind. I would think a perfect deity would get it right the first time. God fucked it up from the start. He couldn’t even get creation right.
Evidently Britta has not read the book of James. James contradicts Britta’s assertion that salvation is a free gift and that all we have to do is receive it. James says that faith without works is dead. So which is it? Faith alone? Faith plus works?
(And I should add that Britta does a poor job presenting the Christian gospel. Her presentation is incomplete, to say the least.)
It’s an easy burden — but the crank legalist won’t allow it, neither will an ersatz intellectual grasp it. I’m sorry both camps have been so hard on you. (Really, I am sorry – no snark.) It takes the Spirit of God to discern things of the spirit. I’ll pray that God will open His Word to you.
Britta betrays the true nature of much of modern Christianity. It is nothing more than good, old-fashioned Gnosticism. You see, a person can’t discern the Bible and the things of the Spirit unless the Spirit of God gives them the ability to do so. On one hand, people are told they must repent and believe the gospel, but on the other hand they are told they can’t even discern what God wants unless God gives them the ability to do so.
Britta thinks she has a special, inside track with God. She is praying that God will open up the Bible to me. What is God going to show me that I haven’t already seen? Is there some secret message, some special code that has somehow eluded me all these years? How will I know if God opens up the Bible to me? Will I start speaking Aramaic Greek?
I wish you the best, sir… Britta
What if “best” is where I am now? Does Britta genuinely wish me the best? Of course not. There is no “best” without Jesus (or Britta’s version of Jesus).
Next up is a comment from a young Christian named Jason. Jason commented on a post I wrote about the Bible teaching different plans of salvation. Here’s what he had to say:
I have no doubt that there are “Christians” that don’t understand a lot. Many of them, as you say, may be inclined to blindly follow. However, I don’t agree that this is true of most or any “real” Christians. Those actively reading God’s word and being involved in church groups would not follow these categories. The “Christians” you are referring to in these statements are the ones who are simply professing Christians.
Right away Jason lets me know that there are two types of Christians: professing Christians and REAL Christians. Of course, Jason is a REAL Christian. I find it interesting that every Christian who takes this approach always thinks he or she is one of the REAL Christians. Calvinists do the same. I have never met a Calvinist who didn’t say that he or she was one of the elect. Seems quite self-serving, if you ask me.
About this statement:
“Christians are confused about what salvation is. Of course this is understandable because the Bible teaches many different plans of salvation.”
I don’t quite understand what you mean by the Bible teaches many different plans of salvation. It says clearly that Jesus is the only way to God the Father in John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me’”. The Bible also explains in Romans 5:8 that Jesus did (sic) in our place and wiped our sin clean “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” It’s beyond me what other kind of “plan of salvation” could be.
Jason is perplexed by my statement that the Bible teaches many plans of salvation. I know that Jason has been “taught” that there is only one plan of salvation, but he might want to read the Good Book again.
In the Old Testament, how were people saved? By keeping the law.
In the New Testament, how were people saved? Paul said by faith. James said by faith and works. In Acts the early church concluded that certain works were required for Gentiles to be saved.
There are thousands of Christian sects. Each sect has its own take on salvation. Is it by faith alone? Is it by faith and works? Is it by baptism for the remission of sins? Must a person speak in tongues as evidence of salvation? Must a person persevere to the end to be saved?
Supposedly, the salvation message is so simple that even a child can understand it. If this is so, why is there so much confusion in Christianity over what is required for a person to be saved? If, as Britta says above, the Holy Spirit gives discernment, why is there so much confusion? Maybe the Holy Spirit needs to be relieved of his duties. Perhaps God should do away with the Bible and put out a Salvation FAQ. In the FAQ God should state very clearly his demands, using as few words as possible. Surely God wants everyone to know the simple gospel message, right? Oh wait, no he doesn’t, since he created some people so he could damn them, and he even makes some people spiritually deaf so they will not hear the gospel. What kind of God says to a deaf man, HEAR?
I understand that you, as a former pastor, may have been faced with many people that fell under the categories listed, but I reassure you that Christians, like myself, who, really in their hearts believe that Jesus is their savior and make that effort to learn more about Him, don’t really fit the description.
Jason wants me to know that he is not like other Christians. He is a sincere Christian®. He is a devoted Christian. He really, really believes in his heart and he makes an effort to know more about Jesus — not like those other “not real” Christians.
I am sure Jason means well. I have no doubt he sincerely believes. That said, my only advice to him is that he needs to read as many books as possible that challenge the version of Christianity he thinks is the “way, truth, and life.” Carefully read the Bible. Forget what you have been taught. What if Paul, Peter, and James really taught three different plans of salvation? What if there really are multiple Gods in the Old Testament? Instead of interpreting everything through a Trinitarian Protestant lens, let the Biblical author and text speak for itself. When the Bible says “Let US make man in our image” don’t assume US means the Trinitarian Protestant God. Maybe it means multiple Gods. Polytheism can be found all over the Old Testament if readers will take off their Trinitarian blinders.
All Evangelicals thinks that their beliefs are right and that their God is the true God. All other Gods are false Gods. Their plan of salvation is the one that will assure them a room in God’s Heavenly Motel Six, and their interpretation of the Bible is, without a doubt, exactly as God meant it to be. Uncertainty and doubt are the tools of Satan, so through life they plod armed with certainty, assured that their beliefs are superior to all others. Until they can at least entertain the possibility of being wrong, there is no hope for them.
How should churches handle allegations of abuse? Let me state right up front that I do not think churches shouldn’t “handle” anything. This is what gets churches, pastors, and church leaders into trouble to start with. Instead of immediately doing the right thing when someone makes an allegation of abuse, pastors and church members often:
Consult with the pastor
Consult with the deacons or some other church board
Call a denominational leader and ask what they should do
Consult with a few church members to chart a course of action
Pray about it
Seek out counsel from other pastors
Wait to see if the “problem” goes away
Interrogate the individual or the person making the allegation
Investigate the “character” of the person making the allegation
All of these things are the WRONG things to do. Far too often, the church or pastor is more concerned about protecting the church’s testimony in the community than protecting the person who might have been abused. As a result, it often appears to the community that the church is more interested in its own reputation than ending and prosecuting any abuse that might be going on.
In most states, pastors and church leaders are required by law to report suspected abuse. It is not up to the church or the pastor to decide if the allegation is valid. That’s what the police, prosecutor, and child protective services are for. They will investigate and act accordingly. Even in cases where the abuse took place years before, once a church or a pastor has knowledge of the allegation, both have a moral and ethical responsibility to report it. A failure to do so can, in many states, leave the church or pastor criminally liable (and I wish more prosecutors would charge and prosecute pastors and church leaders for failing to report).
Once an allegation has become common knowledge, it is in the church’s best interest to make a public statement about the allegation. Yes, it is up to the police and the courts to determine guilt, but the church can state exactly what has been done in response to the allegation. They can further state what they will do to make sure that abuse does not happen in the future. It is not enough to just tell the church, the board, or write a generic letter to church members.
I know of one church that has had several problems with sexual abuse in their bus ministry. The pastor of the church has never fully disclosed to the church the complete details of what happened. Outside of several news stories, the public has no idea about what the church did or didn’t do in response to the abuse. The pastor says to the church members, trust me and he says to the world, it is none of your business.
Churches like this want people to come to their church and they want people to trust them. However, the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church, the Evangelical church, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, and countless unaffiliated churches, are a poignant reminder that no one should, by default, trust a church or a pastor. I, for one, would not let my children or grandchildren out of my sight while attending church. I know too much and I have heard too many stories. If this makes me untrusting, cynical, or jaded, so be it. Better to be this way than naïvely turn people I love over to someone I don’t really know in the hope that they are what they say they are.
Some churches give the illusion that their place of worship is safe. They tell new families: we do criminal background checks on every worker in the church. While this is certainly a good idea, a one-time background check accomplishes what? If the person has never been arrested or convicted of a crime, his or her background check would come back clean. Background checks are little more than a band-aid over a festering sore.
I know of one pastor who refuses to do background checks. His rationale for refusing to do them? After a person is saved, past sins are “under the blood.” The person, no matter what he or she may have done in the past, is completely forgiven by God (after all, God forgave Paul, the murderer and David, the adulterer/murderer, right?). This kind of naïve thinking is why churches are havens for predators. It is not hard to stand before a congregation and give a wonderful testimony of God’s saving grace, yet be a predator. It is quite easy to learn religious lingo. My family and I could dress up this Sunday, go to church, and every one of us would likely be considered a wonderful Christian. We know the talk, the walk, the songs. We know how to do Evangelical. Yet, in real life we are atheists, agnostics, Catholics, and Buddhists, and most of us are ― shudder to think of it ― Democrats. Anyone who has spent any time at all in church can easily fake it.
But, Bruce, the Holy Spirit will let the church know they aren’t real Christians. Do you really want to trust the welfare of the church children and teenagers to the Holy Spirit? Are you really saying that a Christian could NOT be a pedophile, abuser, or predator?
I am often asked about how I handled abuse allegations when I was a pastor. Simple. I reported them each and every time. When I heard of an allegation of abuse, even if it was a second-hand report, I immediately called Children’s Services. Years ago, we had a couple with a baby living in our church basement (they had been homeless). One day, I came into the basement and the baby was screaming uncontrollably. I went to check on the child and I asked the mother why the child was screaming. She told me she didn’t know. I suggested she should take care of the child. Her reply? When she was done eating she would get around to it. This, along with several other things I had noticed, was enough for me. I called Children’s Services and they came out the next day to investigate. The couple was told that any further complaints would result in them losing the child. They knew I had reported them and they were furious. Me? I couldn’t have cared less about what they thought. It was the baby who mattered.
We operated a bus ministry for many years. There were several instances where abuse was suspected and I reported it. In one case, an older woman was throwing booze and sex parties for church teens. When I found out about it I told their parents and reported the woman. It was a no-brainer, even if every boy in the church thought the parties were wonderful.
Years ago ― well everything is years ago now ― I helped my father-in-law start a church. One day, the infant of one of our church families died suddenly. It was ruled as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Weeks after the death, the grieving father came to my father-in-law and confessed that he had shaken the baby to death. My father-in-law came to me and asked what he should do since the man told him this in confidence. I told him he had to report it to the police. He did, and the man went to prison.
When I was counseling people, I made it clear that if they were going to confess to abuse or a felony, I was obligated to report it. I have never believed that what is said in confidence must always remain so. When a young man confessed to me that he had murdered his girlfriend, I encouraged him to turn himself in, and then I let the police know what he had told me. I later gave a sworn affidavit in the case, Fortunately, the man pleaded guilty and I did not have to testify.
Granted, these are exceptional circumstances. The people I pastored knew that they could trust me with their secrets. As long as their secrets didn’t involve abuse or a felony, the secrets were safe with me. People often have a need to unburden themselves of past actions and “sins,” and they do so by talking to a pastor or a priest or a good friend. When people write me and tell me their stories I always let them know that their correspondence with me will be kept confidential. However, if they confess to murdering their spouse or molesting a child, I would report it immediately,
This does not make me a saint. However, when it comes to dealing with abuse and helping those who have been abused, I am always on the side of the abused. My mother was sexually abused as a child by her father, raped by a brother-in-law, and sexually molested by a Christian psychiatrist (and they all got away with it). I have a dear family member who was sexually abused by her IFB father. (her abuser has been in prison for over 20 years). Add to this the horror stories I heard while counseling church members and the emails I now receive from people who have been abused. I hope you will forgive me if I am passionate about this issue.
As far as I am concerned, it is quite simple for churches or pastors when it comes to how to handle allegations of abuse. REPORT IT IMMEDIATELY. Then take the necessary steps to make sure that abuse does not happen in the future. It is tragic that some churches are magnets for sexual predators. In these churches, lt seems that every few years a church member, pastor, deacon, youth pastor, bus worker, or a Sunday School teacher is being accused of abuse. Perhaps churches such as these should be forced to have the equivalent of what we have here in Ohio for drunk drivers. Some judges require people convicted of DUI to get yellow license plates. Perhaps repeat offender churches need some sort of yellow license plate that warns the public that the church has been a haven for abusers or predators.