In 1995, after two short stints pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas and Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio, I started Grace Baptist Church in West Unity, Ohio. We would later change the church’s name to Our Father’s House to better reflect our inclusiveness.
When I started Grace Baptist Church, I was a five-point Calvinist, not much different theologically from my description in post number three. I remained a Calvinist until the late 1990s, at which time my theology and political beliefs began lurching leftward. The church changed its name and I began to focus more on inclusivism and good works. During this time, my theological beliefs moved from a Calvinistic/Reformed perspective to more of a Mennonite/Good works perspective. Much of my preaching focused on the good works every Christian should be doing and the church’s responsibility to minister to the sick, poor, and marginalized.
As my preaching moved leftward, so did my politics. By the time I left Our Father’s House in July of 2002, I no longer politically identified as a Republican. The single biggest change in my beliefs came when I embraced pacifism. The seeds of pacifism were sown years before when the United States attacked Iraq in the first Iraq War. I opposed the war, and as I began reading authors like Thomas Merton,Dorothy Day, John Howard Yoder, Gandhi, and Eileen Egan, I concluded that all war was immoral.
By the time of the Y2K scare:
I was preaching inclusivism, encouraging interaction and work with all who claimed the Christian moniker.
I was preaching a works-centered, lifestyle-oriented gospel. Gone was the emphasis on being “born again” or making a public profession of faith. In particular, I focused on the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
I believed the institutional, organized Christian church was hopelessly broken.
I was a committed, vocal pacifist, opposing all war.
In 2003, I pastored Victory Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church, in Clare, Michigan, for seven months. Both Polly and I agree that we never should have moved to Clare. It was a wasted seven months that ended with me resigning from the church. This was the last church I pastored.
While I was pastor of Victory Baptist, a friend of mine from Ohio came to visit us. From 1991-1994, he had been a member of the church I pastored in Somerset, Ohio. After listening to me preach, he told me that he was astounded by how much my preaching had changed, how liberal it had become. And he was right. While my preaching was orthodox theologically, my focus had dramatically changed.
In 2004, Polly and I moved to Yuma, Arizona. We lived in Yuma for almost seven months. We then moved to Newark Ohio, where we lived for ten months. In July of 2005, we moved back to the NW Ohio community of Bryan. In May of 2007, we bought a house in Ney, Ohio where we currently live.
As you can see, we did a lot of moving over the course of four years. We were restless seekers. Every place we lived, we diligently, Sunday after Sunday, Wednesday after Wednesday, visited local churches in hopes of finding a spiritual home. Instead of finding a home, we increasingly became dissatisfied and disillusioned. We came to the conclusion, regardless of the name over the door, that churches were all the same. Dysfunctional, incestuous, focused inward, entertainment/program driven, resembling a social club far more than the church Jesus purportedly built. This would prove to be the emotional factor that drove me to investigate thoroughly the theological claims of the Christian church and the teachings of the Bible. This investigation ultimately led to my deconversion.
From 2004-2007, Polly and I visited over a hundred churches of numerous sects:
Some Sundays, we attended three different churches. We also attended Wednesday prayer meetings (all poorly attended) and a fair number of special services such as revival meetings during the week.
The most astounding thing that came out of our travels through Christendom is that most pastors don’t care if people visit their churches. Less than 10% of the churches we visited made any contact with us after we visited. Only a handful visited us in our home without us asking them to do so.
I am often asked, when did you first begin to doubt? This is not an easy question for me to answer. As I look back over my life, there were many instances where I had doubts about a theological or political belief. If there is one constant about life, it is change. Over time, our understanding, beliefs, and ideologies change. Sometimes, the change is so subtle that we are not really aware of it until we look back on our lives years later. Anyone who says that he has never changed his beliefs–and I know several pastors who say this about themselves–is either intellectually lazy, a liar, or living in denial.
Every preacher leaves Bible college with a borrowed theology. His theology is the theology that his parents, church, pastor, and college professors taught him. He believes what he believes because of the influence of others. Only when he is free of these influences does he begin to develop his own theological beliefs.
I have always been an avid student and reader. One of the frustrating things about the health problems I have is that I can no longer read as I used to. For many years, it was not uncommon for me to read 500 or more pages a week of theological and biographical books. To his day, I rarely read fiction. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I accumulated a large library of books. These books were my constant companions and friends. When I left the ministry in 2003, I sold off my theological library on eBay.
While I learned many things as a student at Midwestern Baptist College, most of my theological education came from the countless hours I spent reading theological books and studying for my sermons. It was in the study that I began to come to theological conclusions different from what I had been taught by my parents, former churches, former pastors and college professors. The most dramatic theological changes took place while I was pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, (later Mt. Perry) Ohio.
I started the Somerset Baptist Church in July of 1983 and pastored the church for eleven years. At that time, I was a typical Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor and remained so until the Jack Hyles scandal rocked the IFB world in 1986. As I waded through the Hyles scandal, I began to question the gospel preached by many IFB pastors and churches. Noted preachers such as Jack Hyles, Curtis Hutson, and many of the preachers associated with the Sword of the Lord, believed that repentance was a change of mind. Simply put, the unconverted sinner was against Jesus and now he was for him. Around this time, John MacArthur came out with his book, The Gospel According to Jesus. MacArthur attacked the easy-believism gospel preached in many Evangelical/Baptist churches. MacArthur stated that repentance was not only a change of mind but also a change of conduct. If there was no turning from sin, then there was no true repentance, and without repentance there was no salvation.
The Hyles scandal, my careful assessment of the gospel preached by many in the IFB church movement, and MacArthur’s book, led me to conclude that the gospel I had been preaching was a truncated, shallow gospel. I began preaching a gospel that demanded a repentance that included a turning from sins. I believed that if Jesus was not Lord of all your life then he was not Lord at all. I believed that if people said they were Christian, then they should act like it. Unless they were willing to turn from their sin and fully embrace Jesus, there was no salvation for them.
In the late 1980s, I began to reconsider my eschatological beliefs. I was taught dispensational, pre-tribulational, and premillennial eschatology (end times) in college and every church I attended growing up preached the end times scheme. As I restudied the various eschatological positions, my beliefs gradually shifted and matured until I became post-tribulational and amillennial. At this point, I was clearly theologically wandering outside the boundary of my IFB heritage. This shift in eschatology resulted in some people leaving the church; however it also attracted new members who held a similar eschatological view.
It was also in the late 1980s that my theological beliefs dramatically shifted from the one-point Calvinism (eternal security, once saved always saved) of the IFB church movement to five-point Calvinism. My introduction to Calvinism came through the preaching tapes of Rolfe Barnard, a former Southern Baptist and Sword of the Lord evangelist who died in the late 1960s. Barnard’s sermons were powerful declarations of the gospel according to Calvinism. As I listened to these tapes, it was like a light went on in my head. For a time, I was angry because I thought those who had taught me theology had lied to me. Why had no one ever told me about Calvinism? All they told me at Midwestern is that they were against Calvinism and anyone caught promoting Calvinism would be expelled.
I began devouring books about Calvinism. I opened a book account at Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service and bought countless Calvinistic, Puritan, Sovereign Grace Baptist books. I read the books of Puritan/Calvinist authors from the 17th,18th, and 19th centuries. I discovered that Baptists, at one time, were quite Calvinistic, and some of my heroes in the faith, including Charles Spurgeon, were five-point Calvinists. I even learned that there were Calvinists, such as the late Bruce Cummons, pastor of the Massillon Baptist Temple, in the IFB church movement.
From the late 1980s until the early 2000s, I was a committed, zealous five-point Calvinist. My preaching style changed from topical sermons to expository sermons. I stopped giving altar calls and I began transforming the Somerset Baptist Church into a Calvinistic church. This move cost me 99% of my IFB pastor friends, a handful of church members, along with almost all of my Arminian friends.
For several years, I published a newsletter called The Sovereign Grace Reporter. I sent the newsletter to hundreds of IFB pastors and this caused quite a shit-storm. Surprisingly, Polly’s uncle, James Dennis, pastor of the IFB Newark Baptist Temple, was quite supportive. Keith Troyer, then pastor of Fallsburg Baptist Church, was also quite supportive. I would later be accused of leading Keith astray with the pernicious doctrines of John Calvin. (At the time, I considered Keith my best friend.)
Probably by now, some readers are wondering, Why the history lesson, Bruce? I think it is important for me to establish several things:
I am an avid reader of books
I am an avid student of whatever subject I am reading about
I am willing to go where the evidence leads me
I am willing to change my beliefs even if it costs me or makes me unpopular
Truth matters more to me than being accepted by my peers, friends or family
When I was a pastor, pastor friends and parishioners loved me for these traits. They applauded my willingness to be true to the Word of God, even if they disagreed with me. Now these same people think I read and study too much. I have been told that the reason I am an atheist is because of books (and there is some truth in this statement)! If I would only stop reading all these books and read THE BOOK, all would be well, one former parishioner told me.
Just as the leopard can’t change its spots, I can’t stop reading and studying. Fifty-plus years ago, my mother created an intellectual monster when she taught me to read. She wanted her eldest son to be like her, a devourer of literature, a person who valued truth above the approbation of men. I owe her a great debt of gratitude.
Notorious child abuser and molester, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher Mack Ford is dead. Ford, for many years, operated New Bethany Home for Girls in Louisiana, along with group homes for boys in other states. If you do not know anything about Ford, please read Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls.
I have mixed feelings about the death of Ford. On one hand, I am glad the son of a bitch is dead. Others like him, Olen King, Ron Williams, and Jack Patterson, to name a few, are getting old, and death will soon come calling for them too. Lester Roloff, the man who taught these abusers everything they know, died in a plane crash in 1982. Death will someday come for all of these abusers and the world will be better off without them.
I feel sorry for the dear friends of mine that were abused by Mack Ford and the staff at New Bethany. Like hound dogs on the trail of a rabbit, they have done all they could do to bring Mack Ford to justice. Now, he is beyond their reach. Like Bob Gray, a lifelong child molester and pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, Ford died before he could know what it was like to be locked up with no hope of escape. I want my friends to know that I appreciate their doggedness, their willingness to continue to go after those who abuse and molest in the name of God.
There is still much work to do. As long as there are unregulated, unlicensed Christian group homes open for business, we must continue to expose their evil work. We MUST convince state and federal legislators and regulators that these type of homes are dangerous and a threat to the safety and welfare of anyone sent to them. While no one would suggest that licensing and regulation is a cure-all, it is the first step in cleansing the land of abusive group homes. We can do better, and we must! (please read Is a 34 Year Old Murder Case Connected to New Bethany Home for Girls?)
The man who founded New Bethany Home for Girls, where some former students said they were victims of abuse, has died.
Mack Ford, 82, was found dead inside his home shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 11) by a relative, Bienville Parish Coroner Don Smith said.
Ford’s death appears to be from natural causes, but Smith said his office will be conducting an autopsy.
Ford, a high school dropout turned Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher, opened New Bethany in 1971 on a former penal farm turned convalescent home off Louisiana Highway 9 in Arcadia, La., about 50 miles east of Shreveport.
Over three decades until it closed its doors in 2001, New Bethany took in sometimes hundreds of girls a year, according to newspaper accounts and court documents. Ford marketed the school as a home for wayward youth — “a mission project to the incorrigible, unwanted rejects,” he told attorneys in 1997. “Destitute, lonely, prostitutes, drug addicts.”
But many of the former residents who found themselves behind the barbed wire gates of the compound have relayed — to police, media, social workers and others — stories of harsh, physical and mental abuse that included beatings, solitary confinement, and, more recently, sexual abuse…
…Simone Jones, 47, one of the women who said Ford molested her when she was a teenager, said that she learned of his death late Wednesday from Michael Epps, the Louisiana State Police investigator who spent a year looking into the sexual abuse allegations that he took to a grand jury.
“I’m angry,” Jones said. “No justice … There are hundreds of people who are never going to see any type of justice be done.”
The woman, now known as “Bossier Doe,” was wearing shoes and socks not unlike those required of New Bethany residents at the time. A name, “D. Davies,” was written inside her shoes with marker, just as former residents say they had to do.
State officials attempted to close the school in 1980 after Ford refused state inspection. They later raided New Bethany in 1988 and again in 1996 following complaints of abuse at the home — efforts that Ford fought in court, maintaining the state was violating his civil rights because it opposed his fundamentalist Christian views.
“The bureaucrats don’t want us to teach them our faith,” he said in a 1988 sermon following the state’s removal of 28 residents from the home.
But neither he nor anyone else at the girls’ home was ever prosecuted for any of the reported abuse, despite numerous confirmed reports documented by state social workers.
In addition to the girls’ home, Ford opened several boys homes, including in Longstreet, La., and Waltersboro, SC. In both of those locations, abuse allegations resulted in criminal charges, though not against Ford.
In 1981, Longstreet school manager L.D. Rapier was arrested and charged with cruelty to children after four boys ran from the home and told authorities they’d been beaten. The charges were eventually dropped.
In 1983, South Carolina authorities closed the Waltersboro home after they found a 14-year-old sleeping in a windowless padlocked cell, where he had been for several days. Two employees there were charged with unlawful neglect of a child and kidnapping, and they eventually pleaded to a lesser charge of false imprisonment.
Ford continued to live at the former New Bethany compound, located at 120 Hiser Road, in Arcadia, until his death…
…Ford’s estranged son-in-law, former Louisiana College vice president Timothy Johnson, said that Ford’s wife, Thelma Ford, resides in a nursing home.
Thelma and Mack Ford would have been married 66 years this year, according to court documents. Together, they had seven daughters, and adopted two more children, a boy and a girl.
Johnson said that Ford’s family members are unlikely to speak publicly about Ford or his legacy largely because of the great backlash they may face by former New Bethany residents and other critics.
“To do so gets you written about as being complicit or protecting a rapist,” Johnson wrote in an email message…
…Teresa Frye, 47, a resident at the home in 1982, said she was still processing news of Ford’s death on Thursday morning.
For years, Frye has been involved in an ongoing effort to help reconnect former New Bethany students and to raise awareness about the conditions so many children faced in similar boarding homes.
“I’m numb,” Frye said. “But I’m starting to get angry.”
Charles Spurgeon, 19th Century English Baptist Preacher
God pity you people who call yourselves Christians and wear your long hair, beard and sideburns like a bunch of heathens. God, clean you up! Go to the barber shop tomorrow morning, and I am not kidding. It is time God’s people looked like God’s people. Good night, let folks know you are saved! There are about a dozen of you fellows here tonight who look like you belong to a Communist-front organization. You say, “I do not.” Then look like you do not. You say, “I do not like that kind of preaching.” You can always lump anything you do not like here.
Jack Hyles, sermon Satan’s Bid for Your Child
Where do Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers get the idea that it is a sin for a man to have long hair?
It is in the B-i-b-l-e.
In 1 Corinthians 11:14 the Bible says:
Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
According to this verse:
It is a shame for a man to have long hair
That nature teaches us that a man having long hair is shameful
Most Evangelicals believe that homosexuality is a sin, a sin against nature. In Romans 1:26, 27 the Bible says:
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
It is clear from Romans 1:26, 27 that when homosexuals engage in homosexual sexual activity they are going against nature. Preachers scream from the pulpit, homosexuality is an abomination. It is unnatural!
The word nature that appears in Romans 1:26,27 is the same Greek word that appears in 1 Corinthians 11:14. According to the Christian Bible, human nature tells us that homosexuality AND a man having long hair is a sin.
Why is it Evangelicals are so focused on homosexuality but rarely say a word about men having long hair? Both are against nature. Surely, the good Bible believers that they are, they would not want to neglect preaching about what the Bible calls s-h-a-m-e-f-u-l.
John Wesley, 18th century English preacher
The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, a subset of Evangelicalism, is not ashamed to preach against homosexuality AND long hair on men.
I Corinthians 11:14 says, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” The Greek word for “shame” in this verse is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “dishonor,” “vile,” “disgrace.” In Romans 1:26 the same word is translated “vile”, “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” You will notice that these “vile affections” have to do with homosexuality.
It is very interesting that as the trend toward long hair increases, the acceptance of homosexuality increases. This is not to say that long hair and homosexuality always go together, but it is to note the fact that both are on the rise in our generation. Several of the major denominations have now accepted homosexuals. In some cities there are churches for homosexuals pastored by avowed homosexuals. At least one major denomination has ordained a homosexual preacher and others are considering following suit.
Answering the question, Did Jesus have long hair?, Hyles wrote:
The paintings of Christ are simply artists’ conceptions and have no Scriptural authorization. At least one historian of His day described Him as being a tall man with chestnut-colored hair, parted in the middle, with short hair which turned up at the end. In the book, THE MODERN STUDENT’S LIFE OF CHRIST by Irving Vollmer, published by Fleming H. Revell, the author says, “Archeologists object to the conventional pictures of Christ because they are not true to history.”
A German painter, L. Fahrenkrog, says, “Christ certainly never wore a beard, and His hair was beyond a doubt a closely cut. For this we have historical proof.” The oldest representations going back to the first Christian centuries and found chiefly in the catacombs of Rome all pictured Him without a beard.
All the pictures of Christ down to the beginning of the first century and even later are of this kind. Students of the first century and of Roman history are aware of the fact that the time of Christ was characterized by short hair for men. This author has seen many coins and statues which bear the likenesses of emperors who reigned during and after the time of Christ. Such likenesses reveal that the Caesars and other rulers and emperors had short hair, and of course, the subjects followed the example set by the emperor.
The plain simple truth is that during the life of Christ, short hair was the acceptable style. That Jesus wore the conventional style of His day is proved by the fact that Judas had to kiss Him to point Him out to the soldiers. Had Jesus been somewhat different, as a long-haired freak, Judas could have simply told the soldiers that Jesus was the One with the long hair. This, of course, is not true, as Judas had to place a kiss on Him in order to identify Him.
Answering the question, What should a Christian’s attitude be about long hair?, Hyles wrote:
The only long haired person other than a Nazarite mentioned in the Bible was Absalom, a son of David. It was he who rebelled against his father. It was he who started a revolution. It is worth noting that even in Bible days rebellion, revolution, disobedience to parents, and long hair were associated.
Now what should the Christian’s attitude be concerning male hair styles? First, we men should follow the admonition of the Scripture and have short hair. It should be short enough as to be obviously contradictory to the revolutionary symbol. Many Christians allow their hair to become longer in an effort not to be identified as fundamental believers. Why shouldn’t a Christian be just as proud of his identity with the Word of God as the hippie is to identify himself with the revolution? Men, let us wear our short hair with pride as a symbol of our belief in the Bible and its Christ.
Parents, start your son with haircuts and short hair when he is a baby. With discipline and, if needs be, punishment, see to it that as he grows up he uses his hair as a symbol of patriotism and Christianity, thereby following the admonition of the Scripture that says in Romans 12:2, “And be not conformed (fashioned) to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Hudson Taylor, 19th century missionary to China
Hyles’ booklet reflects the standard IFB thinking about long hair on men. As a youth in an IFB church, a student at an IFB college, and an IFB pastor for many years, I heard a lot of preaching against men having long hair. Ironically, I heard very little preaching about short hair on women which the Bible also condemns,
IFB men are taught:
Long hair is a sign of rebellion against God
Long hair is effeminate
Long hair is worldly
What hair styles are considered godly?
Hair off the ear
Hair off the collar
Tapered, and not block cut
The preaching against long hair on men finds its impetus in the rebellion against authority of the 1960’s and 1970’s. IFB preachers were alarmed that church youth were being drawn into the hippie culture. Preachers spent many a Sunday preaching against premarital sex, rock music, mini-skirts, and long hair.
Their preaching did little good.
John Bunyan, 17th century English Baptist preacher
Fast forward to today. Many IFB pastors still preach against premarital sex, rock music, mini-skirts, and long hair. And just like their bellowing fathers in the ministry, they find their preaching largely ignored.
IFB preachers who preach against long hair have a real problem on their hands when it comes to suggesting that long hair is a sign of rebellion against God. While some men still have long hair, many of the rebellious worldlings now have short hair or shave their head. This conundrum is what happens when a preacher determines what is Biblical or “godly” based on the whims and trends of culture.
Besides, how l-o-n-g is long? Where does the Bible state exactly how short or long a man’s hair should be? If long hair on a man is “against nature,” why were Nazarite priests forbidden to cut their hair in the Old Testament? Was their long hair a “shame” against nature? Some of the most revered preachers of the past were men with long hair. Was their long hair a “shame,” against nature?
This whole subject might seem silly to many Christians and most non-Christians, but, let’s not forget, it IS in the B-I-B-L-E.
Lest you think this is a silly issue, every day I see “is long hair a sin” search (or a variation of it) requests in the logs.
The pictures in this post are of men who are revered in the IFB church. Yet, according to Jack Hyles and others who preach against long hair on men, these men are worldly and in rebellion to God.
One of the questions I am often asked is, Why did you become an Evangelical or Why did you become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?
This is the wrong question. The real question is, how could I NOT have become an Evangelical or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?
Every child born into this world is an atheist. Not one of them knows one thing about god or religion, nor about sin, salvation, or morality. As far as god and religion are concerned, every newborn is a blank slate.
Belief in god must be taught and learned. This teaching is done by parents, extended family, and the culture/society the child grows up in. Children taken to a church, temple, or synagogue, are taught to KNOW god, to know their parents’ religion.
Most children embrace the religion of their parents. Parents who worship the Christian god generally raise children who are Christian. This is especially the case when it comes to Evangelical children. From the toddler years forward, Evangelical children are taught that they are sinners in need of salvation. They are taught that unless they ask Jesus into their hearts, they will end up in hell when they die. Every Sunday at church, at home during the week, and at school, if they attend a Christian school, Evangelical children face an onslaught of manipulative evangelistic methods geared to help them accept Jesus as their Savior.
It should come as no surprise then that most Evangelical children make a salvation decision when they are quite young. This initial salvation experience usually carries them into their teenage years. They are safe and secure in Jesus until they are thirteen or fourteen years old.
During their teenage years, it is not uncommon for Evangelical children to either make another salvation decision or rededicate their lives to Christ. Why is it that so many Evangelical children make another decision during their teenage years?
Think about it. What happens during the teenage years? Children reach puberty and they begin to discover they have sexual desires. They start wanting to do things that their pastor, church, and parents say are sinful. Most, Evangelical teens, if not all, give in to sinful desires. They feel guilty for doing so and they conclude that they must not “really” be saved or that they need to rededicate their lives to Christ.
Many Evangelical teenagers find themselves caught in a constant cycle of sinning, getting saved/rededicating their life to Christ, sinning, getting saved/rededicating their life to Christ, etc. As much as Evangelicals deny it, this cycle becomes the Protestant version of Catholic confession.
In the early 1960s, my Dad moved us from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego on the west coast. California was the land of opportunity in the 1960s and my Dad was certain his pot of gold was in San Diego. He ended up selling patio awnings and driving a truck, and three years later we moved back to Bryan.
While living in San Diego, our family attended Scott Memorial Baptist Church. The pastor at the time was Tim LaHaye. Both of my parents made public professions of faith in Christ at Scott Memorial. I also asked Jesus into my heart in Junior Church. I was five years old.
Politically, my parents were right-wing extremists. They were members of the John Birch Society, hated Martin Luther King Jr, and supported the war effort in Vietnam. Their salvation decision at Scott Memorial fit well with their political ideology.
From this point forward, until my parent’s divorce in April of 1972, the Gerencser family was in church every time the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday night, prayer meeting, and revival meeting, we were there. When I became a teenager, attending youth group after church was added to the schedule, along with regular youth group activities.
In the fall of 1972, Evangelist Al Lacy came to our church, Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio, to hold a revival meeting. On Sunday Morning, during Lacy’s sermon, the spirit of God came over me, telling me that I was a sinner in need of Christ. When it came time for the public invitation, I quickly stepped out of the pew, came down the aisle, and knelt at the altar. There, a church deacon took me through the plan of salvation and I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart. I was fifteen. I was baptized that night, and a week or so later I went forward during the altar call and let the church know that God was calling me to be a preacher. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon.
As a first grader in San Diego, I told people that when I grew up I was going to be a preacher, and now, as a fifteen year old boy, I was telling the world that God was calling me to be what I wanted to be my entire life. From this point forward, most of the preachers I came in contact with worked with me and steered me towards fulfilling my calling. It came as a shock to no one that I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in 1976 to study for the ministry.
All told, I preached for thirty-two years, spending twenty-five of those years pastoring seven churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I preached over four thousand sermons and taught countless Sunday school classes. For many years, I also preached on the street and at the local nursing home.
So, when someone asks, why did you become an Evangelical or why did you become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, I counter that the real question, based on what I have written here is, how could I have become anything else?
All dates are to the best of my recollection. I have done my best to remember where I was and when. If I am off a bit on a date, it is not because I am deliberately being imprecise or trying to hide something. I am an old man with dying brain cells. Enough said.
Ask the average Christian to explain the doctrine of sanctification and you will likely get a deer in the headlights stare. At best, a good Baptist might be able to tell you that sanctification means being set apart, that a Christian has been set apart by God for service and worship. The average Christian has a hard enough time explaining salvation, so they usually leave doctrines like sanctification, regeneration, justification, etc. to the experts. They know they’re saved and their ticket to heaven has been punched. Now, what’s for dinner.
Every Christian sect would agree that a person is sanctified when God saves them. Baptists believe that after the initial act of sanctification, God through the work of the Holy Spirit progressively sanctifies the saved person throughout their life. In theory, the saved person should become more and more like Jesus the older they become. As God continues his sanctifying work, sins are revealed and the saved person repents and matures spiritually. The sins that so easily swayed them when they were first saved are no longer an issue. They have “deeper” sins to deal with, the sins that no one but God knows about. Sanctification then, is a progressive work by God throughout the saved person’s life, a work that is designed to make them spiritually mature.
Nice theory, right? If progressive sanctification is how God sanctifies people, why are there so many people who have been Christians their entire life that are still so sinful, carnal, and worldly? If one looks at the Baptist church, it would be easy to conclude that many Baptist church members are actively resisting the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. No matter how often the preacher threatens them with judgment and chastisement from God, they still continue to be infantile in their faith and worldly in their lifestyle.
Baptist preachers would likely say that their people are worldly and carnal because they are not listening to their preaching and applying it to their lives. (missing the point that Baptist preachers are often just was worldly and carnal as the people they preach to/at) If the Holy Spirit actively, progressively sanctifies the saved person, why do Baptist preachers spend so much time preaching on what I call the “first” works:
Attending church regularly
Tithing and giving an offering
Tithing and giving an offering
Reading and studying the Bible on a daily basis
Tithing and giving an offering
Tithing and giving an offering
It is not uncommon to find Baptist church members who have been saved for years still having problems doing these “first” works. In fact, only a very small percentage of the average Baptist church membership ever moves beyond these “first” works. Most church members go to church on Sunday, listen to the sermon, throw some cash in the offering plate, and go home, only to repeat the process again next week. They will “try” to read the Bible and pray during the week, but life often gets in the way, and before you know it, they need to go to Wednesday night prayer meeting, which is rarely a prayer meeting, to get their spiritual battery recharged. This is the typical life of a Baptist church member.
If the Holy Spirit lives inside of the Christian, why is the Christian able to easily thwart the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work? Surely, the Holy Spirit, who is God, should be able to lead/force/demand the Christian to progress in sanctification? Why is it that so many Christians stubbornly refuse to cooperate in the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work?
Perhaps the real issue is that there is no Holy Spirit living inside the Christian, and that Christians are human just like the rest of us unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines. Christians behave like the humans they are. They work all day and come home tired. All they want to do is eat dinner and collapse in the recliner. Pray? Read and study the Bible? Yeah, they know they “need” to, but they are so damned tired that they don’t/can’t “commune” with God.. The Holy Spirit has never been able to successfully overcome sleepiness. As we know from the Bible, the disciples fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus was praying. If Peter, James, and John couldn’t stay awake, what hope is there for normal, run of the mill Christians.
Perhaps the bigger problem is that preachers expect too much out of people. The preacher has the luxury of being paid for praying and reading the Bible. He can schedule his life in such a way that it makes it easy for him to pray, meditate, and study the Bible. That is if he is not too busy playing golf or attending a pastor’s conference. Towards the end of my ministerial career, I realized I was putting too much pressure on people to perform, to do the “first” works. I realized they had a life, and they had little time to devote to what I could spend hours and days doing.
Now, on to the real focus of this post, entire sanctification. Many Wesleyan, Holiness, and Pentecostal sects, believe in entire sanctification. While they agree with the Baptist that every saved person is sanctified at the moment God saves them, they reject that post-salvation sanctifying life is progressive.
The proponents of entire sanctification believe in what is commonly called a second definite work of grace. A Christian reaches a certain place in their Christian life where God does a mighty work in their life and they are entirely sanctified. From this point forward, they no longer sin. Yes, that’s right, they no longer sin.
When people who have been entirely sanctified are confronted with behaviors that certainly “look” like sins, they will often say that their behaviors are mistakes not sins. Entirely sanctified Christians think that they are so connected to God and his Spirit that perfect love flows in, through, and out of them, and they lose all desire to sin. Again, all one has to do to disprove this is to look at the lives of those who “say” they are entirely sanctified. Their lives betray the fact that indwelling, original sin remains. They may cover their sins with lofty, flowery religious garb, or redefine them as mistakes, but when the real person is exposed, they are no different from the Baptists I mentioned above.
Years ago, I visited a Holiness church near the church I pastored in Somerset, Ohio. Holiness churches were quite common in the area, so I decided to attend a service to see for myself what they did. The church was holding a revival meeting, held by a Holiness pastor from another church.
Before the preacher started preaching, various church members stood up and gave testimonies. One lady was quite emotional, and as she wept she told the congregation that at such and such a time she had finally gotten victory over sin and was entirely sanctified. The church voiced their approval. Another member had received the second blessing.
The evangelist began his sermon with an illustration. He told a story about buying a teapot. Inside the teapot was small tag that said: Wash twice before using. He thought this was a perfect illustration of entire sanctification. For a person to truly be used by God, they had to be washed twice, sanctified at the moment of salvation and entirely sanctified at a point later in life.
The evangelist’s wife stood off to the side as he preached. Every time he needed a verse from the Bible, he had his wife read it. It finally dawned on me halfway through his sermon that the evangelist couldn’t read. Lest you mock and ridicule such an uneducated man, many sects believe a lack of education is a plus. In their minds, it is better to be known as a man who has been with Jesus:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4;13)
An elderly man, who I assumed was a leader in the church, was quite vocal during the testimony time and the evangelist’s sermon on entire sanctification. At the close of the service, the evangelist had an altar call and a young man came forward to get saved. This church believed that a person had to keep praying (praying through) until God saved them. Numerous church members knelt around the young man encouraging him and helping him to pray through. The elderly man I mentioned? He went home. After watching the praying through spectacle for a few minutes, I decided to take my decidedly not entirely sanctified body home. I do not know if the young man successfully prayed though.
As I mentioned before, I met secular university evangelist Jed Smock in the late 1980’s. Jed was a big proponent of Charles Finney’s teaching of perfect love. (entire sanctification) According to Jed, he and his wife Cindy hadn’t sinned in years. One could argue that Jed is deluded, since every time he opens his mouth to preach hate and judgment on a university campus he sins.
Jed was the first sinless Christian I met, but he wasn’t the last. In every instance, the sinless person called their “sins” mistakes. When they lost their temper it was a mistake not a sin, even though the Bible calls anger a sin. I had one sinless man get so angry with me that he threw me out of his house. We were good friends and we had gotten into an argument about eternal security. He was an Arminian and I was a Calvinist. I thought we were going to get into a fist fight. At that moment, I was definitely not very sanctified and neither was my friend.
Sanctification allows Christians to hide their true nature. The believer in progressive sanctification says when they sin, “well God isn’t finished with me yet.” They see themselves as a work in progress. The believer in entire sanctification still sins like the Baptist does, they just find a way to explain away their sin. Both think that God, through the Holy Spirit, is working in, through, and out of them. Why then, do sanctified Christians behave, for the most part, just like everyone else? It’s not enough to aspire to spiritual greatness. Surely, if God lives inside a person, they should act and live like God would, right? Why is there such a disconnect with the doctrine professed and the life lived?
I think Greek dualism and Gnosticism have left a huge mark on American Christianity. As a result, many Christians have a warped view of their humanity and this results in them living frustrated, contradictory lives. While all of us should desire to live a better life, we remain human, and as long as we are human we will be prone to live like humans live. I have met a number of “sinless” Christians who were quite fat. Surely, an entirely sanctified person wouldn’t be overweight, especially since the Bible calls gluttony a sin.
I want to invite Christians back into to the dirty water of humanity. We need you. We don’t need your sanctimony or your superior airs. We know who and what you are. You may be able to play the sanctified game while you are among your fellow Christians, but eventually you must venture out into the world where the rest of us live. We see you at work, at the store, at the doctor’s office, and at the ballgame. We see your humanity and we smile. We know that you are just like the rest of us.
What would cause someone with your Biblical education and years of preaching the Word of God not just claiming to be a Christian but also living it one day decide to not believe and do a 180 and turn your back on it?
People like Jason are often perplexed by how it possible for someone with my background and training to one day walk away from the ministry and Christianity. Most of the clergy who deconvert do so at a much younger age, often in their 20s and 30s. In my case, I spent fifty years in the Christian church and I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years before I deconverted. When I started going to counseling, my counselor told me that it was quite rare for someone my age and with my experience to walk away from a lifetime of belief and work. It happens, just not very often.
Jason is not alone. A number of my ex-friends, family members, and former parishioners can’t understand how it is possible that the man they called Preacher or Pastor is now an atheist. Often they can not or will not believe the reasons I give for my deconversion. Instead, they try to find some other reason to explain why Bruce Gerencser, the man of God, the pastor, the preacher, their fellow colleague in the ministry, is now an apostate, an enemy of God. Is there some secret past I am hiding, some secret sin? they ask themselves. They wonder if I have mental problems, or if I am unstable. They rack their brains trying to come up with a plausible explanation, anything but accepting the reasons I give for my deconversion.
Christian fundamentalism taught me to stand firm on my beliefs and convictions. When I was a pastor, people appreciated and applauded my willingness to resolutely defend my beliefs and convictions, But now that I do the same with atheism and liberal politics, they think there must be some other reason I drastically changed my mind and life. I am the same man, a man who thinks that beliefs matter.
My mother taught me, from my youth onward, that it was important to stand up for what I believe. Now, this does not mean that I am not now tolerant of the beliefs of others, because I am. As I get older, I realize that tolerance is an important virtue. Stepping outside of the box I spent most of my life in, I found a rich, diverse, and contradictory world that forced me to be more accepting and tolerant.
When I entered kindergarten I could already read. My mother taught me to read and she developed in me an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This may seem counterintuitive at first, since I was raised in a fundamentalist environment that is not known for promoting a thirst for knowledge. But, by becoming a proficient and avid reader, I had at my disposal countless opportunities to expand my knowledge. Sadly, my quest for knowledge became quite stunted as a pastor because I rarely read books that would conflict with my Christian beliefs. However, when I began to have doubts about Christianity and its teachings, my thirst for knowledge kicked into high gear and I began reading books that I once would have considered heretical.
I never made a lot of money pastoring churches. I never had church-provided health insurance or a retirement plan. The only benefits I received were a check I got once a week IF the offerings were enough. Outside of the time I spent pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, every other church I pastored paid a part-time or poverty-level wage for the full-time work I gave the church. I often worked outside of the church, as did Polly when I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I am not pointing a judgmental finger at the churches I pastored. Most of the churches were either small or in poverty-ridden areas. Over the years, I was privileged to pastor many gracious, giving poor people. They gave what they could.
About now you are thinking, what in the world are you talking about, Bruce?I thought this post was about WHY you stopped believing! It is, and what I have written above can be distilled down to these three important statements:
I was taught to stand firm on my convictions and beliefs
I was taught to read at an early age and I developed a thirst for knowledge
I never made much money in the ministry
Since I never made much money in the ministry, there was no economic reason for me to stay in the ministry. I always made more money working outside of the church, so when I decided to leave the ministry, which I did five years before I deconverted, I suffered no economic consequences.
I decided I would go back to the Bible, study it again, and determine what it was I REALLY believed. During this time, I began reading books by authors such as Robert Wright, Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, These three authors, along with several others, attacked the foundation of my Evangelical belief in the inerrant, inspired word of God. Their assault on this foundation brought my Evangelical house tumbling down. I desperately tried to find some semblance of the Christianity I once believed, but I came to realize that my faith was gone.
I tried, for a time, to convince myself that I could find some sort of Christianity that would work for me. Polly and I visited numerous liberal or progressive Christian churches, but I found that these expressions of faith would not do for me. My faith was gone. Later, Polly would come to the same conclusion.
(I make a few shekels if you click on the above links and buy the books)
I read many authors and books besides the ones listed here. I say this to keep someone from saying, but you didn’t read so and so or you didn’t read _______, So, if I had to give one reason WHY I am no longer a Christian today it would be BOOKS. My thirst for knowledge – a thirst I still have today, – even though it is greatly hindered by chronic illness and pain – is what drove me to re-investigate the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible. This investigation led me to conclude that the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible could not rationally and intellectually be sustained. Try as I might to hang on to some sort of Christian faith, the slippery slope I found myself on would not let me stand still. Eventually, I found myself saying, I no longer believe in the Christian God. For a time I was an agnostic, but I got tired of explaining myself, so I took on the atheist moniker, and now no one misunderstands what I believe (see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and Dear Friend).
The hardest decision I ever made in my life was that day in late November of 2008 when I finally admitted to myself, I am no longer a Christian, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God. At that moment, everything I had spent my life believing and doing was gone. In a sense, I had an atheist version of a born-again experience. For the past six years, I have continued to read, study, and write. I am still very much a work in progress. My understanding of religion and its cultural and sociological implications continues to grow. Now that I am unshackled from the constraints of religion, I am free to wander the path of life wherever it may lead. Now that I am free to read what I want, I have focused my attention on history and science. While I continue to read books that are of a religious or atheist nature, I spend less and less time reading these kind of books. I still read every new book Bart Ehrman publishes, along with various Christian/atheist/humanist blogs and publications, and this is enough to keep me up to date with American Christianity and American atheism/humanism.
I hope this post adequately answers the WHY I stopped believing question.
I also spent some time investigating other religions and gods that humans have created (a study I still find quite fascinating).
There is also a political aspect to my deconversion. I will talk about this in the aforementioned series.
Jason asked if I believed in evolution. The answer is yes. I am no expert when it comes to science, but I have done enough reading to be comfortable with saying that I believe evolution/natural selection best explains the natural world.
In the following series, I intend to explore my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism. In future posts I plan to look carefully at the process that took me from a card-carrying member of the Evangelical church through a loss of faith that ultimately led to atheism. In this post I want to define the words Evangelicalism and atheism.
Ask an Evangelical to define Evangelical or Evangelicalism and it is unlikely that he or she can do so. In fact, it is doubtful that any two Evangelicals would give you the same definition of their shared heritage.
We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.
We are a vibrant and diverse group, including believers found in many churches, denominations and nations. Our community brings together Reformed, Holiness, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic and other traditions. Our core theological convictions provide unity in the midst of our diversity. The NAE Statement of Faith offers a standard for these evangelical convictions.
Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:
Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity
These distinctives and theological convictions define us, not political, social, or cultural trends. In fact, many evangelicals rarely use the term “evangelical” to describe themselves, focusing simply on the core convictions of the triune God, the Bible, faith, Jesus, salvation, evangelism, and discipleship.
I know of NO true Evangelical who would dispute any of the above statements. I say TRUE Evangelical, because there are many Evangelical church members, pastors, parachurch leaders and institutions that are Evangelical in name only. They say they are Evangelical, when their beliefs make it clear they are actually a liberal or a progressive.
It is important to understand that ALL Evangelicals are fundamentalists. I’ve had countless Evangelicals object to me calling them fundamentalists. However, if they believe the statements above then they are fundamentalists. If it walks, talks, and quacks like a fundamentalist it is a fundamentalist.
Some Evangelicals are confused about fundamentalism or they want to distance themselves from the crazy, extreme right-wing fundamentalists that are common in Evangelicalism. However, their lack of understanding their theological and historical heritage or their dislike of the crazy uncles within Evangelicalism does not mean they are NOT fundamentalists.
Within Evangelicalism there is two lines of fundamentalism:
Many Evangelicals wrongly think that because they are not like the fundamentalists found in sects such as the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church (IFB), that they are not fundamentalists. However, when it comes to theology, there is little difference between a mainstream Evangelical and an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.
Social fundamentalism focuses on how a person lives the Evangelical Christian life. Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, along with many Holiness and Pentecostal groups, are noted for all the rules and regulations they have dictating how a professing Evangelical Christian should live. These kinds of sects strictly control everything from how a person dresses to whether or not a church member can watch or own a TV.
Many Evangelicals consider such rules and regulations legalism, and, wanting personal freedom, reject many of the rules and regulations as extra-biblical or works-salvation. These theological fundamentalists make a concerted effort to distance themselves from social fundamentalism.
However, can it really be said that an Evangelical can be a theological fundamentalist but not a social fundamentalist? Strictly speaking, the answer is no. Because Evangelicals believe the Bible is “the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God” and have “a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority,” at some point every Evangelical is a social fundamentalist.
If you doubt this, ask Evangelicals, Do you think a Christian must live according to the precepts, commands, and teachings of the Bible? They will resoundingly say Yes. They are, then, by definition, social fundamentalists . Evangelicals who do not believe the Bible is the standard of living for the Christian are not really Evangelicals. They are liberals or progressives dressed up in Evangelical clothing.
in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist.
When I say I am an atheist, this is what I mean:
I do not believe in the existence of deities.
Since I cannot know with 100% certainty that there is not a god of some sort, technically I am an agnostic. But, I live my life according to what I currently know and understand, and based on that I live my day-to-day life as an atheist.
Now that I have made clear what I am talking about when I use the words Evangelical/Evangelicalism and atheist/atheism, I am now ready to start telling my story.
Here’s one thing that atheists and agnostics need to understand. A person becoming an Evangelical Christian has never been JUST about the evidence. We mistakenly think that if we just show a Christian the evidence that they will abandon their Christianity and embrace atheism or agnosticism. How’s that working for us?
The truth is, Christianity as a belief system is all about faith. Hebrews 11:1-3 says:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
How does a person become a Christian? Ephesians 2:8,9 says 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.
The Christian, by faith, decides to believe certain things. By faith, he believes the Bible is the word of God and what it says is truth. By faith, he believes that the central teachings of Christianity found in the Bible are true regardless of the fact that they contradict what we otherwise know to be true.
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, that he was born of a woman named Mary who was impregnated by God. It is common knowledge that virgins can’t have a baby. Unless a woman is impregnated by a man’s sperm there can be no baby forthcoming. The Christian knows this, but chooses to disregard it because, by faith, he believes the story in the Bible about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
It is also common knowledge that when people die they stay dead. I know of no evidence that suggests that a person laying dead in the grave for three days has any hope or possibility of coming back to life. When you’re dead you stay dead. The Christian knows this, but chooses to disregard it because,by faith, he believes the story in the Bible of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. By faith, he believes that God will someday resurrect his body from the grave and make it brand new.
The Virgin birth of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead are two essential doctrines of the Christian faith. There is absolutely no evidence for these two events outside of the Bible. It requires faith to believe these two cardinal Christian doctrines. The same could be said for the Bible stories about Jesus walking on water, walking through walls, turning water into wine, and walking though a crowd of people without being detected. Reason demands we reject such stories, but by faith the Christian believes them to be true.
Christians do a great disservice to their religion by attempting to argue for Christianity on an evidence alone basis. This is an argument that they cannot win and they only hurt their own cause when they attempt to argue faith claims in an evidence arena. Outside of the Bible, there is no proof that virgins can have babies or dead people can get out of the grave and live again. These are stubborn facts that cannot be refuted.
Does this mean that Christians are stupid or ignorant? Of course not. I recognize that Christianity has never been just about the evidence. Christianity purports to answer what we call the big questions of life. Where did we come from? What is the purpose of life? Is there life after death? The Christian Bible answers these questions and more. For atheists and agnostics, the answers to these questions seem empty and of little value, but we need to remember not everyone is like us.
Who am I to stand in the way of what helps someone get through the night? It matters not whether I think their beliefs are a flight of fancy. All that matters is whether their Christian beliefs meet the need they have in their life. We often forget that many people come to the Christian faith in a time of crisis. Let’s face it, atheism doesn’t do a very good job of comforting people when they are hurting, sick, or dying. Often, all we have to offer is love and compassion wrapped in the reality that life is shitty and hard and everyone dies in the end. Brutal I know, but it is the truth.
Ask yourself, when is the last time you have won over a Christian by argument and evidence? Doesn’t happen much does it? Christianity is much more complex than that. It’s not the end of the world if a Christian dies thinking they will go to heaven. At the end of the day who cares? For whatever reason, the Christian needs faith to make it through life and they need to think that there is something better awaiting them after they die. I don’t fault them for believing these things.
But, as an atheist I cannot believe the things that Christians believe. Why? I don’t have faith. All I have is a Bible that Christians tell me is the truth, but I find no persuasive evidence for its truth claim. I know that faith would fix the lack of evidence problem for me, but I’m not willing to relegate matters of life and death to such a subjective thing like faith. I wish I could, but I can’t.
A composite drawing from LSU FACES Laboratory shows what investigators believe a woman found dead on Jan. 28, 1981, may have looked like before she was stabbed to death four to six weeks before her body was located in a wooded area in east-central Bossier Parish.
Her stab-pocked body was found in the woods off a public logging trail in north Louisiana on Jan. 28, 1981. She was in her late teens or early 20s and had been dead for four to six weeks, a coroner determined. There were scribbles on her sneakers, including a name written on the inside: “D. Davies.” It looked like she had removed the braces from her teeth.
In 34 years, no one has identified the body of the 5-foot-6 blonde found off Louisiana Highway 157. But now Bossier Parish law enforcement officials are investigating a potential link between the woman they now call “Bossier Doe” and a notorious girls home 40 miles away.
Lt. Shannon Mack, lead detective in Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office cold case No. 81-018329, said she first learned of New Bethany Home for Girls in Arcadia, after creating a public Facebook profile for Bossier Doe on Friday (Feb. 6) in an attempt to generate more leads. She has since reached out to former New Bethany residents for help.
Open from 1971 to 2001, New Bethany marketed itself as a boarding school for troubled girls. Youth came from across the country, some court-ordered, others by request of parents or guardians. Bienville Parish law enforcement and nearby residents became accustomed to encountering runaways from the strict, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist home, located behind barbed wire fences in a rural area off of Louisiana Highway 9.
Simone Jones, 47, a former resident who herself scaled the fences and ran to law enforcement seeking an escape, said that when Mack reached out to her about the 1981 case Sunday, her mind started spinning.
Jones, who was at the home from 1981 to 1984, said that while she doesn’t remember anyone by this name or description, details about Bossier Doe’s case were reminiscent of New Bethany:
Girls were required to write their names in marker on the insides of their shoes and on all their clothes, as it appeared someone did inside the victim’s shoes. When Bossier Doe was found, she was wearing size 7 Evonne Goolagong brand, a washable canvas sneaker sold by Sears. Other names were scribbled in ink on the outside of the shoes, including “Resha,” “David” and “Dena & Michael Brisco.”
Bossier Doe was wearing white athletic socks with blue and yellow stripes, Mack said. The New Bethany uniform at the time included white athletic socks with stripes on them. Jones said the uniform required the stripes be red or blue. “But there were other colors around,” she said.
To date, law enforcement has found no indication anyone by this young woman’s description was ever reported missing. It’s well-established that many of the girls of New Bethany were often disconnected from their families — either by force of the school’s rules, by circumstance that led them there, or both. In 2013, for example, Bienville Parish Sheriff John Ballance told NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune that after he encountered an 18-year-old runaway from New Bethany in 1975, he contacted her father by phone and was told the man wanted nothing to do with her.
Here’s another detail that raised interest of the former New Bethany residents.
Bossier Doe had bonding residue from braces on her teeth, Mack said, which led investigators to believe either she or someone else had removed her braces without the help of a professional.
Teresa Frye, 47, another former resident who Mack reached Sunday, said that detail stood out to her. When Frye arrived at New Bethany in 1982 from North Carolina, she was taken to have her braces professionally removed earlier than her orthodontist had instructed. Frye said she believes it was done so that she wouldn’t require additional medical care while at the home.
Many former New Bethany residents interviewed by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune since 2013 have described being denied medical care, a complaint that was also documented in a child welfare investigation in the 1980s. It would not be implausible, said Jones and Frye, for a resident to attempt to remove her own braces.
Mack said she is looking to speak with anyone whose memory might be jogged by the details of this girl’s death…
Today you stumbled upon The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. You did a Google or Bing search and The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser was on the first page of search results. You are shocked and upset by what this Bruce Gerencser guy writes. You want to give him a piece of your mind, in Jesus’s name, so you went to the contact form page to do so. On the page you read:
If you would like to contact Bruce Gerencser, please use the following form. If your email warrants a response I will respond as soon as possible. Due to persistent health problems, I cannot guarantee a timely response. Sometimes,I am several weeks behind on responding to email. My delay doesn’t mean I don’t care. It does mean I can only do what I can do. I hope you understand.
If you are an Evangelical Christian that has a pathological need to evangelize, I am not interested in hearing from you. Threats of hell, God’s judgment, and the like are not welcome. Neither are “I’m praying for you” emails or emails with Bible quotes. Whatever you think God wants you to tell me, I have already heard it. Thousands have come before you, so there is no need for you to email me. If you ignore my request, please be advised that I reserve the right to make your message, name, and email address public.
I do not accept unsolicited guest posts. Please do not email me about writing a guest post. I will not respond to your request.
I have no need of help with SEO, Google ranking, or web design. I use a managed WordPress service and my ranking on Google is first page on most subjects I write about. I do NOT need your help, so please do not email me trying to selling me the latest, greatest way to improve my Google ranking.
I have no interest in buying Facebook likes, Twitter followers, or anything else you might be selling. Please do not email me with your sales pitch.
Everyone else? I would love to hear from you.
You thought, who cares what this Bruce Gerencser guys thinks? GOD wants me to send him an email. GOD wants me to set him straight!! And so you furiously type away and click SEND.
Your email will be just like the email of hundreds of Evangelicals (Fundamentalists) before you. In an effort to help Evangelical readers save some time so they will have more time to pray, read their Bible, and evangelize people who don’t want evangelized, I have made the following Simple Contact Form for Evangelicals:
Name: (Put in fake name because you are so fearless)
Email Address: (Put in fake email address because God knows who you are)
Reason for Contacting Bruce Gerencser (Check all that apply)
_____To tell him he is wrong
_____To preach to him
_____To quote Bible verses to him
_____To evangelize him
_____To tell him he doesn’t know anything about the Bible
_____To let him know God still loves him
_____To let him know I am praying for him
_____To tell him he never was a Christian
_____To tell him he is going to hell
_____To tell him he is still saved and can never be un-saved
_____To tell him he was/is a false prophet
_____To tell him he was/is a wolf in sheep’s clothing
_____To tell him he is angry
_____To tell him he is bitter
_____To tell him his writing shows he has been hurt
_____To tell him he is fat
_____To tell him I hope he burns in hell
_____To tell him that I am praying God will kill him
_____To tell him that he has a meaningless, empty life
_____To tell him he is going to die soon and then he will find out THE TRUTH!
_____To tell him that I know THE TRUTH about him!
Once you have completed the form, please click the send button below.
What? You can’t send it? This must be an atheist conspiracy to keep you from exercising your Christian nation Constitutional right to say whatever you want to Bruce Gerencser. By all means, please continue to click the send button. After you have done so a few hundred times and are thoroughly frustrated and irritated, then you will know how I feel after hundreds of Evangelicals have sent me repetitive emails saying one or more of the things listed above.
Here are a few things you need to understand about me:
I likely know more about the Bible and theology than you do
You are not going to tell me anything I have not heard before
I am an unrepentant apostate
I have no interest in Christianity, Jesus, or your interpretation of the Bible
I am immune to threats of harm or death, in real life I would probably kick your ass
I am a committed and circumcised atheist
I am a happy if you know it say amen humanist
I do go to church every Sunday in the fall and winter, the church of the NFL
I am a good, decent, kind, caring man, husband, father, grandfather, and friend
I love my neighbor as myself
Now, go in peace, and find someone who really wants to buy what you are selling. I don’t.
In communities where Christianity dominates the culture, it is often hard to find a counselor/psychologist that is not a Christian. It stands to reason, that in a predominantly Christian culture most counselors would be a Christian. This is not a problem if the counselor is able to compartmentalize their religious beliefs, but many counselors who are a Christian can’t or won’t do this.
When a counselor believes the Bible is an authoritative text and the standard for moral and ethical conduct, it is impossible for them to counsel a person objectively. No matter how much they tell themselves otherwise, sooner or later their religious beliefs will affect the advice they give a person.
Back when I was still an Evangelical pastor, I started taking classes to become a licensed social worker. It wasn’t long before my Bible-based beliefs were conflicting with what I was being taught in class. I asked the dean of the department:
Suppose I am a licensed social worker and I am working for the Department of Human Services. The client is pregnant and is thinking about getting an abortion. Since I am a Christian and I think abortion is morally wrong, would I be able to counsel the woman according to my pro-life beliefs?
The department head made it very clear, based on my religious and moral beliefs, that I would have a hard time working in a secular/state environment. She suggested that I might be able to work for a private, religious service provider, but my religious beliefs would likely preclude me from working in a secular setting.
Of course, this offended me. I thought that I should be able to push my religious beliefs on others, but I now see that the department head gave me sound advice. Evangelical Christians often demand they be permitted to work any job in any profession and not be forced to compartmentalize their beliefs. But, there are some professions where a person’s religious beliefs would preclude them from working in that field because their beliefs would not allow them to provide a client or a customer certain services or goods. (like in a pharmacy)
Many pastors provide counseling services. Here in Ohio, a pastor is not required to have ANY training before counseling someone. The fact that the counseling is done through the church exempts the pastor from any governmental oversight. I knew several pastors who were high school dropouts, with no theological or counseling training, that regularly counseled people. In the twenty-five years I pastored churches, I never had one person ask me if I was qualified to be a counselor.
Many pastors don’t think they need specialized training to counsel people. After all, the Bible has the answer to every question and problem. All the pastor needs to do is figure out what the problem is and find the appropriate Bible verse that addresses the problem. Every problem is reduced to obedience/disobedience, sin/righteousness, God/Satan, flesh/spirit. These kind of pastors are very dangerous because they give simplistic answers for complex problems.
Before seeing a pastor for counseling, a person should ask about their training and qualifications. Even if a pastor has college-level training, the value and extent of that training depends on where they got the training. Many Evangelical colleges have counseling programs that are little more than programs that teach pastors how to proof-text any problem. Many Evangelical colleges teach some form of nouthetic counseling:
Nouthetic counseling (Greek: noutheteo, to admonish) is a form of pastoral counseling that holds that counseling should be based solely upon the Bible and focused upon sin. It repudiates mainstream psychology and psychiatry as humanistic, radically secular and fundamentally opposed to Christianity. Its viewpoint was originally articulated by Jay E. Adams, in Competent to Counsel (1970) and further books, and has led to the formation of a number of organizations and seminary courses promoting it. The viewpoint is opposed to those seeking to synthesize Christianity with secular psychological thought, but has failed to win them over to a purely Biblical approach. Since 1993, the movement has renamed itself Biblical counseling to emphasize its central emphasis on the Bible. The Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling states that “The aim of Nouthetic Counseling is to effect change in the counselee by encouraging greater conformity to the principles of Scripture.”
Some Evangelical pastors go so far as to say that mental illness is the result of demonic oppression or possession. Again, the Bible becomes the solution to whatever problem a person may be having. Whether the person’s problem is due to sin or a demon, God and the Bible are always the cure for whatever ails the person. This approach rarely addresses the core issues and, in some cases, can lead to more problems and even suicide.
Imagine for a moment, an Evangelical woman going to her pastor for help. He listens to her “confession” and then he prescribes whatever Bible verse is appropriate. The woman profusely thanks the pastor and leaves his office determined to put the Word of God into practice. Perhaps this works for a day, a week, or a month, but, sooner or later, the problem returns. She goes back to the pastor and he reminds her of what the Bible says. He tells her that she needs to repent, walk in the spirit, be filled with the spirit, put on the whole armor of God, or withstand the devil. The message is clear. If you are still having a problem it is YOUR FAULT!
I know some pastors will be offended by what I am about to say next, but I need to be clear: Most Evangelical pastors are unqualified to counsel people. They lack the necessary training to competently counsel people and their commitment to the Bible keeps them from being able to help people. It’s one thing if a person has a question about the Bible or is questioning their faith. Certainly, they should seek out their pastor’s counsel on spiritual matters. However, many so-called “spiritual” problems are mental/physical/emotional problems dressed up in religious garb. An untrained pastor has no business counseling people who have mental/physical/emotional problems.
Sadly, many people think that pastors are experts on everything. Little do they know that many pastors aren’t even an expert on the Bible let alone anything else. Many Evangelical colleges have turned their pastor-training program into a business and marketing program. Actual training in the fundamentals of the ministry and the Bible are often quite limited. Many pastors-in-training will graduate from college without ever studying most of the books of the Bible. (and OT or NT survey classes don’t count) Many Evangelical pastors-in-training only take one or two of counseling classes. Yet, because the pastor has taken a counseling class, he thinks he is qualified to be a counselor. He may not be a counselor but he did stay at a Holiday Inn. I know several pastors who got counseling degrees from Christian mail order diploma mills. They proudly let everyone know that they have a degree in counseling and are qualified to counsel all comers.
Over the years, I counseled hundreds of people. Not one time did I tell a person that they needed to see a medical professional or a psychologist. I firmly believed the Bible had all the answers. My judgment was further clouded by the fact that my mother was mentally ill, was on all kinds of drugs, was treated by psychiatrists, and attempted suicide numerous times before eventually killing herself at age 54. I considered psychologists and psychiatrists to be enablers who encouraged people to continue in their sin.
In the late 1980’s, I was visiting with a fellow pastor in his office when a severely agitated young man came into the office. The man was either high on drugs or mentally disturbed. I thought my pastor friend would try to calm the man down and offer him some Biblical counsel. Instead, he told the man that he needed medical help. My pastor friend took him to the hospital in Zanesville and dropped him off. I was shocked he did this. When I questioned him, he told me that he was unqualified to help the man. He was the first pastor I ever heard say such a thing. I now know he was right.
I did have two members end up seeking treatment at a stress center. I had tried to help them, and when I couldn’t they had sense enough to seek out competent help. Both of these women stopped going to church after they got out of the stress center. At the time, I saw this as an example of what happens when you go to the “world” for help.
Most of the people I counseled learned to play the game that long-time Evangelicals are expert at playing; they learn to pretend. The Bible, God, praying, confession, and self-denial, are little help to them; they can’t seek help outside the church, so they learn to fake having the “victory.” This leads to living a schizophrenic life. Sadly, the person’s spouse, parent, or children know that their loved one doesn’t have the “victory” because, at home, they can’t or won’t hide their mental health problems. It is one thing to pretend for an hour or two on Sunday; rarely can a person pretend every hour of every day.
I spent most of my adult life playing the pretend game. I struggled with depression, perfectionism, and OCPD, and while I could hide it while at church, it was impossible to hide it at home. My wife and children suffered because I couldn’t get the “victory” over my sin, the flesh, or whatever else the Bible and preachers said I needed to get the “victory” over. I lived this way until 2010 when I finally decided that I needed to see a counselor. Next to marrying Polly, it was the single most important decision I ever made.
The psychologist I see has not “cured” me, but he does help me deal with the depression and the mental and emotional struggles I have as a result of being chronically ill and in constant pain. I consider him to be a lifesaver. He has helped me to embrace my life as it is and he has also helped me come to terms with my religious past. I know that I can talk to him about anything. He listens, and then tries to constructively help me. Sometimes, he listens and says nothing. He knows that sometimes the help I need is just having someone to talk to. He doesn’t view me as a problem that needs fixing and he allows me the space to be my authentic self. If I have learned one thing in counseling, it is who Bruce Gerencser really is. Before this could happen, layer after layer of religious belief and thinking had to be peeled away. At the heart of my difficulties was religion and the Bible and they had to be confronted head on. Even now, as an atheist, my religious past and the beliefs I once held affect how I think and reason. I now realize that the scar of my religious past will always be there. The longer I live without religion and the Bible, the easier it becomes, but these things can, when I least expect it, come to the forefront and cause emotional and mental problems.
I know that some readers of this blog have a similar past and are all too familiar with pastoral counseling and how the Bible is not the answer for whatever ails a person. If you are able to do so, please share your thoughts in the comment section. I know that others will be helped by you sharing your story.