Tag Archive: Evangelicalism

A Former Parishioner Asks: Please Help Me Understand Why You Stopped Believing

why

Originally posted April 2015. Edited, updated, and expanded.

A former parishioner asks:

I just don’t understand how you could just decide you don’t believe any longer. I as you know am a Christian and I could never or would never lose my faith in God, but if I did I would like to think that it would be some type of horrible thing that happened to me to cause me to lose my faith in God. I am not judging you  I am just curious as to what happened to cause you to question and then lose your faith. You were such a good preacher, I learned so much from you I just don’t understand what happened. Please help me to understand.

I am quite sympathetic to those who once called me pastor/preacher. I know my deconversion causes them great pain as they attempt to reconcile the man of God they once knew with the atheist I am today. In some cases, the pain and cognitive dissonance is so great that they can’t bear to write or talk to me. One former pastor friend, the late Bill Beard, told me that I should keep my deconversion story to myself lest I cause others to lose their faith. (Please read Dear Friend.)

I try to put myself in the shoes of former parishioners. They listened to me preach, interacted with me on a personal level, and considered me a godly man. Perhaps I won them to Christ or baptized them or helped them through some crisis in their life. Maybe I performed their wedding or preached the funeral of their spouse, parent, or child. My life is intertwined with theirs, yet here I stand today, publicly renouncing all I once believed to be true; an atheist, an enemy of God. How is this possible, the former parishioner asks?

The email writer asks if some horrible thing happened to cause me to lose my faith. The short answer is no. Eleven years removed from deconverting and fourteen years since I preached my last sermon, I can now see that there were many factors that led me to where I am today. As with all life-changing decisions, the reasons are many. I could point to my disenchantment over the deadness, shallowness, and the emptiness of Evangelicalism; I could point to my loss of health and the poverty wages I earned pastoring churches. I could point to how fellow pastors and parishioners treated me when I left the ministry and later began to question my faith. (Please read Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.) I could point to my knowledge of lying, cheating, adulterous pastors. I could point to my anger towards those who readily abandoned me when I had doubts about the veracity of Christianity. I could point to the 100+ churches we visited as we desperately tried to find a church that took seriously the teaching of Jesus. (Please read But Our Church is Different.) I could point to the viciousness of professing Christians, people like my grandparents, who put on a good front but were judgmental and hateful towards my family and me. (Please read Dear Ann.) I could point to my bitter experience with Pat Horner and Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. (Please read I Am a Publican and a Heathen.) All of these things played a part in my deconversion, but the sum of them would not have been enough to cause me to walk away from Christianity.

Several years ago, I wrote a post titled Why I Stopped Believing. I think an excerpt from this post will prove helpful in answering the question of why I no longer believe:

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 three years before I deconverted, I suffered no economic consequences. In fact, life has gotten much better economically post-Jesus.

Freed from the ministry, my wife and I spent several years visiting over a hundred Christian churches. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered, a Christianity that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. During this time period, I read countless books written by authors from a broad spectrum of Christendom. I read books by authors such as Thomas MertonRobert Farrar CaponHenri Nouwen, Wendell BerryBrian McLarenRob BellJohn Shelby SpongSoren Kierkegaard, and NT Wright.  These authors challenged my Evangelical understanding of Christianity and its teachings.

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 beliefs: the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. 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 turned to the internet to find help. I came upon sites like exchristian.net and Debunking Christianity. I found these sites to be quite helpful as I tried to make sense of what was going on in my life. I began reading the books of authors such as John LoftusHector AvalosRobert M. PriceDaniel DennettChristopher HitchensSam HarrisJerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins.

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 reinvestigate 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 onto 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.

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 eleven 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. 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.

For a longer treatment of my path from Evangelicalism to atheism, please read the series From Evangelicalism to Atheism.

If I had to sum up in two sentences why I no longer believe I would say this:

I no longer believe the Bible is an inspired, infallible, inerrant, God-given text. I no longer believe as true the central claims of Christianity; that Jesus is the virgin-born, miracle-working son of God, who came to earth to die for our sin, resurrected from the dead three days later, and will someday return to earth to judge the living and the dead.

The email writer comes from a Baptist background. A conundrum for her is to theologically square my past with the present. There is no doubt that I was a Christian for fifty years. I was a devoted, sincere, committed follower of Jesus. I preached to thousands of people during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. Not one parishioner or colleague in the ministry ever doubted that I was a Christian. I was far from perfect, but I was, in every way, a believer.

Those who say I never was a Christian make a judgment based on their theology and not by how I lived my life for fifty years. Baptists must do this because they believe that a person, once saved, cannot fall from grace. The doctrine of eternal security/once-saved-always-saved/perseverance (preservation) of the saints requires them to conclude I am still a Christian or I never was. The few former parishioners and colleagues in the ministry who are Arminian in belief have no problem explaining my trajectory from Evangelicalism to atheism. I once was saved and I fell from grace.

Here’s what I know: I once was a Christian and now I am not. For those who once called me pastor/preacher, they should know that when I was their shepherd I was a Christian. What good I did and what benefits my ministry brought them came from the heart of a man who was a devoted follower of Jesus, a man who loved them and wanted what was best for them. Those experiences, at the time, were real. While I have written extensively on how I explain my past and the experiences I had, former parishioners should content themselves with knowing that I loved and cared for them. While I had many shortcomings, my desire was always to help others. This desire still motivates me to this day.

Much like the Israelites leaving Egypt and heading for the Promised Land, so it is for me. My Promised Land is atheism, agnosticism, and humanism. While I will always have great fondness for many of the people I once pastored, I will never return to Egypt, the house of bondage. Christianity and the ministry are distant sights in my rearview mirror. While I will always appreciate the love and approbation of the people I once pastored, I am not willing to “repent” of my atheistic beliefs. My mind is settled on the nature of the Bible and the claims of Christianity. I fully recognize that billions of people find value, meaning, and purpose in religion, but I do not.

I have no desire to cause believers to lose their faith. I am just one man with a story to tell. Over the past eleven years, I have not even once tried to “evangelize” believers in the hope that they will lose their faith and embrace atheism. Yes, I do write about Evangelicalism and atheism, but people are free to read or not read what I write. If they have doubts about Christianity or have recently left Christianity, then my writing is likely to be of some help to them. If they write me asking questions or asking for help, I do my best to answer their questions and help them in any way I can. Over the years, hundreds of such people have written to me. Have some of them deconverted? Yes, including pastors, missionaries, and evangelists. But, deconversion has never been my goal. Instead, I view myself as a facilitator, one who helps people on their journey. It’s their life, their journey, and I am just a signpost along the crooked road of life.

Former parishioners need to understand that Bruce and Polly Gerencser are the same people they have always been, except for the Christian part. We are kind, decent, loving people. We love our children and our grandchildren. We strive to get along with our neighbors and be a good influence in the community. We are now what we were then: good people.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Why I Stopped Believing

why

Originally posted in February 2015. Edited, updated, and expanded.

Jason, an Evangelical Christian, asked:

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?

While I deal with this question at length in the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series, today I want to give a short, condensed answer to this question.

People like Jason are often perplexed by how it possible for someone with my background and training to one day walk away 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, former ministerial colleagues, 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 cannot or will not believe the reasons I give for my deconversion. Instead, they try to divine some other reason to explain why Bruce Gerencser, the man of God, the pastor, the preacher, their 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, that 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, humanism, and liberal politics, they think there must be some other reason I drastically changed my mind and life. Let me be clear, I am the same man, a man who thinks that beliefs matter.

My mother taught me, from my youth up, that it was important to stand up for what you believe. Now, this doesn’t 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 in which I spent most of my life, I have found a rich, diverse, and contradictory world that continues to challenge me and force me to be more accepting and tolerant.

When I entered kindergarten I could already read. My book-loving mother taught me to read, and she developed in me an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, since I was raised in a Fundamentalist environment that is known for its ignorance. However, 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 sufficient to pay me (all too often, they were not).  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 three years before I deconverted, I suffered no economic consequences. In fact, life has gotten much better economically post-Jesus.

Freed from the ministry, my wife and I spent several years visiting over a hundred Christian churches. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered, a Christianity that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. During this time period, I read countless books written by authors from a broad spectrum of Christendom. I read books by authors such as Thomas Merton, Robert Farrar Capon, Henri Nouwen, Wendell Berry, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, John Shelby Spong, Soren Kierkegaard, and NT Wright.  These authors challenged my Evangelical understanding of Christianity and its teachings.

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 beliefs: the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. 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 turned to the internet to find help. I came upon sites like exchristian.net and Debunking Christianity. I found these sites to be quite helpful as I tried to make sense of what was going on in my life. I began reading the books of authors such as John Loftus, Hector Avalos, Robert M. Price, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins.

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 eleven 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 free 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 kinds of books. I still read every new book Bart Ehrman publishes, along with the various Christian/atheist/humanist blogs and publications I read, and this is enough to keep me up-to-date with American Christianity and American atheism/humanism.

I hope this post adequately answers the question of WHY I stopped believing.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Us vs. Them World of Fundamentalist Christianity

us vs them

Recently, my friend Bob Felton wrote:

Certainly, I do not mean to relieve Christian cultists of their moral responsibility for their sometimes very bad behavior. It does bear mention, however, that those who are raised in this nonsense live in an environment where cult ethics are the norm — and the New Testament affirmatively does cultivate cult ethics (see Matthew 12:46-50 for a famous example). Such people are reared with an Us (People of God) vs. Them (the wicked, wicked, world) worldview. They are incapable of seeing themselves as skeptics see them, and very often do sincerely believe their bad behavior pleases an Invisible Friend.

Maybe Bruce could weigh-in and let us know what he taught on this subject when he was preaching?

I was raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I made a public profession of faith and was baptized as a fifteen-year-old boy at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Several weeks later, I announced to the church that God was calling me to preach. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon from 2 Corinthians 5:20:

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

Four years later, I left Bryan Ohio and moved to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll in classes at Midwestern Baptist College. While there, I met and married the daughter of IFB preacher and Midwestern grad Lee Shope. In the spring of 1979, Polly and I left Midwestern and moved to Bryan, the home of my birth. A few weeks later, I was asked to be the assistant pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church — a fast-growing General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) congregation. Thus began my official entrance into the ministry. The next twenty-five years would take us to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. While my theology and practice would evolve over the course of my ministerial careers, how I viewed the “world” and its opposition to Evangelicalism remained constant. While it is certainly true that I was far more ecumenical at the end of my career than at the start, my opinion of the “world” remained the same.

From start to finish, I believed the Bible was the inspired Word of God. Yes, my view on Bible inerrancy and infallibility evolved over the years, but I always believed that the Bible was a supernatural book; a book different and above all other books. Thus, I took seriously the teachings of the Bible.

In 1 John 2: 15-17, the Bible says:

 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18 states:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

Ephesians 5:11 says:

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

As a Bible-believing man of God, I found these verses clear: Christians were to separate themselves from the world, and avoid contact with unbelievers. This Us vs.Them view of the world theme runs throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. In the Old Testament, God picked Israelis (Jews) as his chosen people. They were commanded to separate themselves from the heathen nations of the world. God even commanded the Israelites to murder nearby worshippers of false Gods so that they wouldn’t influence and infect God’s chosen ones. Even in the book of Revelation, we find God winnowing the Us from the Them. Separation, then, from the world, has always been God’s standard of conduct for those who worship him. How this separation is practiced varies from sect to sect, church to church, and Christian to Christian.

I taught congregants that they were to separate themselves from the world as much as they could. It would be impossible to totally separate one’s self from the world, but interaction with the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world should be limited to necessary acts of commerce. And even here, Christians should seek to distance themselves from the taint of the world. I remember a time when I tried to find a grocery store that didn’t sell alcohol. I found one store, a Mennonite-owned store in Muskingum County. Things were horribly expensive, and the store carried a limited supply of goods. After a few weeks of shopping there, I gave up and went back to the “world.” Notice that I use the “I” pronoun, and not “we.” This was back in our patriarchal days. I was the head of the household. Deciding where we shopped was up to me, not Polly. How “separated” Polly wanted to be didn’t matter. She was going to be as separated from the world as I was — at least outwardly.

Separation from the world affected every aspect of our lives, from the clothes we wore to where we went for entertainment. It was not uncommon for me to ask, “what would Jesus say or think if we went here or did this or that?” WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) deeply influenced my thinking, decision making, and preaching. “Would Jesus go here?” “Would Jesus associate with this person?” This kind of thinking fueled my Us vs. Them mentality. I frequently preached sermons on separation and holiness; how True Christians® separate themselves from the world and abstain from the very appearance of evil. Evil, of course, being any behavior deemed sinful by one Rev. Bruce D. Gerencser, man of God. Years ago, I attended a Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship Meeting for preachers in Columbus. Such meetings were times for likeminded preachers to get together and gossip, break bread, and listen to preaching. One preacher preached from Ephesians 4:27: “Neither give place to the Devil.” After reading his proof text, this man spent the next 40 or so minutes listing every behavior he deemed “giving place to the Devil.” He hit all the big sins, getting raucous AMENS from many of the preachers in attendance. In 2015, I wrote a post titled, An Independent Baptist Hate List. I listed some of the people and things IFB preachers hate:

  • Roman Catholics
  • Charismatics
  • Pentecostals
  • Arminians
  • Calvinists
  • Denominational Baptists
  • MTV
  • Television
  • HBO
  • Secular radio
  • Contemporary Christian music
  • Christian TV
  • Pagan holidays
  • Rock and Roll music
  • Long hair on men
  • Short skirts on women
  • Pants on women
  • Shorts on women
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Hollywood
  • Atheism
  • Secularism
  • Humanism
  • Pluralism
  • Socialism
  • Communism
  • Liberals
  • Progressives
  • Democrats
  • Bill Clinton
  • Liberal Christian colleges
  • Female preachers
  • Effeminate male preachers
  • Effeminate men
  • Hen-pecked men
  • Haughty women
  • Church members who disagree with the pastor
  • Premarital sex
  • Extramarital sex
  • Christmas
  • World Council of Churches
  • National Association of Evangelicals
  • Billy Graham
  • NIV
  • The Living Bible
  • Dancing
  • Card Playing

This list is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the people and things hated by Fundamentalist Christians. The goal of all this “hating” is to create a vast space between Us and Them; between the saved and the lost; between True Christians® and Christians in name only. While certainly many Fundamentalists just go along with the rules to fit in, many of them are really true believers. I know I was. James 1:27 described “pure religion” this way:

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Want to have “pure religion” and be undefiled before God? Keep yourself unspotted from the world. Unspotted means unblemished, irreproachable, unsullied, free from vice. A sure way to accomplish this is to stay away from the “world.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 commands Christians to be holy in all manners of “conversation” (lifestyle). Why? Because as God is holy, we should be also. How many Christians do you know who keep themselves unspotted from the world; who are holy in all manners of conversation? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. The answer is NONE. No matter how hard Fundamentalists try to keep a clear, distinct difference between Us. and Them, they generally have the same wants, needs, and desires as unbelievers. Certainly, Christian Fundamentalists try their damnedest to be and stay “right with God,” but the fact remains that they sin, according to the Bible, in thought, word, and deed. No matter how hard they try to distance themselves from the “world,” the world and its wonders creep in.

butch-hartman-midway-speedway

Late Model driver Butch Hartman, 1980s, Midway Speedway, Crooksville, Ohio

While I became more liberal and progressive in the latter years of my ministerial career, I don’t know that I ever shook Us vs. Them thinking. I did, in retrospect, conclude that I was quite the hypocrite. I would stand behind the pulpit on Sundays and preach against the world, calling on congregants to separate themselves from evil works of darkness. But on Saturday, I would load my family into our car and drive to a nearby dirt race track so we could watch the races. If there was ever place that the “world” and its vices were on full display, it was the race track. Yet, Pastor Bruce, his dress-wearing wife, and their children attended races at tracks such as RR Speedway, Midway Speedway, KC Speedway, and Skyline Speedway. Sometimes, we would attend races on Friday and Saturday night. One Saturday, we attended a big S.T.A.R.S. race at Midway. All the big-name dirt track racers would be there. Unfortunately, it rained, and the race was postponed to the next day, Sunday. “What I am going to do?” I thought at the time. The “right” thing to go was to go to church just like we did EVERY Sunday night. But creative Bruce schemed a way to do both. Rather than preach Sunday night, I, instead, planned for us to have a “special” communion service after our afternoon church meal. By doing this, we were able to make it to the races on time. I battled guilt for a bit, but once I smelled wafts of racing fuel and heard the thundering noise of late model race cars, my mind quickly turned to racing. And boy, what a night of racing it was, as my older sons can attest.

I am sure by telling this story, and others I have told over the years, that my critics see evidence that I was never a True Christian®. However, on balance, I really tried to keep myself unspotted from the world. I really tried my best to avoid contact with unbelievers outside of commerce and evangelization. But try as I might, the world, the wild, wonderful world, sometimes called out to me, and more often than not, I gave in and indulged my so-called “fleshly” desires.

We left Christianity in 2008, which afforded my wife and me the freedom to live in the “world” without feeling sinful or guilty. We do what we want to, no regrets. While Us vs. Them can still affect my thinking, especially when it comes to politics, I try my best to be “worldly.” I missed out on a lot of life during the first fifty years of my life. No longer. It’s wonderful to have the freedom to do whatever you want, with no thought of what God (or others) might say. I only wish I had the young, healthy body that I had in my preaching days. Some race tracks have what are called “run what you brung” races. No rules, just race the car you pull off your trailer. That’s life for me these days. My life may be a banged-up street stock on its last leg, but I intend to race it as hard and as fast as I can until I reach the finish line.

How about you? Were you taught to view the “world” as Us vs. Them? Did your church or pastor preach against the world? What behaviors were considered “worldly?” Were you a hypocrite? Did you try to abstain from the appearance of evil, but fail to do so? Please share your stories in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

If You Don’t Believe What the Bible Says You Can’t Be Saved

word of god

Originally written March 2015. Updated, expanded, and edited.

An anonymous commenter left the following comment (no longer publicly available) on the Galatians 4 blog:

if the Bible is not truth; the Word of God – then NO ONE can be saved. If we do not believe the Bible, we cannot be saved.

This comment was left on a post on a blog entry titled, The IFB Pastor Turned Atheist: Those Who Fall Away. The post is about my defection from Christianity. The author of the blog post agrees with the anonymous commenter’s view: that if we do not believe the Bible we cannot be saved. (Interestingly, the owner of the Galatians 4 website is now an unbeliever.)

Here’s the problem with this view:

First, it makes salvation dependent on reading the right words and believing the right things.

Second, the first-century Christian church had no Bible. They had the Old Testament, a text that makes no mention of Christian salvation and Christian oral traditions. Besides, most early Christians could not read or write.

Third, the gospels were not written until decades after Jesus Christ died and resurrected from the dead. The writings of the Apostle Paul were written first, and they are quite sparse when it comes mentioning Jesus and clearly articulating the Christian gospel. Paul’s writings need the gospels for the Christian/Pauline gospel to make sense.

Fourth, the printing press was invented 1500 years AFTER the death of Jesus. What Bible did people read before the invention of the printing press?

Fifth, illiteracy and the cost of a printed Bible meant that most Christians did not own a copy of the Bible. They relied on others to read the Bible to them or pass on the oral stories of Christianity.

Sixth, it took centuries to complete the canon of the Christian Bible. Prior to this, Christians had “incomplete” Bibles, often containing only a few books of the Bible.

The anonymous commenter does what a lot of Christians do: he takes how things are now and reads it back into Christian Church history. You know, if the Oxford, Calf-Skinned KJV Scofield Bible was good enough for the Apostle Paul it is good enough for me.

Most Christians have little knowledge about the long, complex, and contradictory history of the Bible and the Christian church. This lack of historical knowledge allows them to make absurd statements like the anonymous commenter made on the Galatians 4 blog.

The bigger problem is the way Fundamentalists read the Bible. When they read the phrase “word of God” they assume it means “the Bible.” This, however, is not the case. Most of the instances in the Bible where we find the phrase “word of God” refer to spoken words or to Jesus Christ himself.

The phrase “word of God” appears 49 times in the Bible. As you can easily see, the phrase has several different meanings:

  • 1 Samuel 9:27 And as they were going down to the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul, Bid the servant pass on before us, (and he passed on,) but stand thou still a while, that I may show thee the word of God.
  • 1 Kings 12:22 But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying,
  • 1 Chronicles17:3 And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying,
  • Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
  • Mark 7:13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
  • Luke 3:2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
  • Luke 4:4 And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.
  • Luke 5:1 And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
  • Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
  • Luke 8:21 And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.
  • Luke 11:28 But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
  • John 10:35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
  • Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.
  • Acts 6:2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
  • Acts 6:7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
  • Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:
  • Acts 11:1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
  • Acts 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
  • Acts 13:5 And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.
  • Acts 13:7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.
  • Acts 13:44 And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.
  • Acts 13:46 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
  • Acts 17:13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.
  • Acts 18:11 And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
  • Acts 19:20 So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
  • Romans 9:6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:
  • Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
  • 1Corinthians14:36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
  • 2 Corithians 2:17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
  • Ephesians 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
  • Colossians 1:25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
  • 1 Timothy 4:5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
  • 2 Timothy 2:9 Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.
  • Titus 2:5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
  • Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
  • Hebrews 6:5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
  • Hebrews 11:3 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.
    Hebrews 13:7  Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
  • 1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
  • 2 Peter 3:5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
  • 1 John 2:14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
  • Revelation 1:2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
  • Revelation 1:9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
  • Revelation 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
  • Revelation19:13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
  • Revelation 20:4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

The word “scripture” appears thirty-two times in the Bible. Most of the time, the word scripture refers to the Old Testament, a text that is devoid of any mention of the Christian gospel, or ANYTHING Christian, for that matter.

The Bible states in John 1:1-2 that Jesus was the Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. (The rest of John chapter 1 makes it clear that the “Word” John 1:1-2 is speaking of is Jesus, not the Bible.)

With this thought in mind, that Jesus is the Word, let’s look at Hebrews 4:12-14:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

Raise your hand if you have heard Hebrews 4:12-13 quoted in reference to the Bible, the Word of God? Anyone raised in a Baptist church has heard this countless times. However, look closely at Hebrews 4:12-14. Is the word of God here the Bible or Jesus? Notice the male pronoun in the phrase manifest in HIS sight? Verse 14 makes the “who” of the text very clear when it says, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God…”

The whole point of this exercise is to show that it is important to NOT read preconceived ideas and beliefs into the Biblical text. Pastors breed ignorance when they quote verses to “prove” a point and do not actually convey to the congregation what the text actually says. They also breed ignorance when they refuse to say, not “the Bible says” or “God says,” but “our Church says,” or “I say.” Far too many preachers are like Al Shannon, Jr, a fifty-year member of the Church of Christ. Shannon says about himself:

I adhere to the principle of speaking where the bible speaks, and remaining silent where the bible is silent. I do not add to or take from God’s Word nor do I go beyond that which was written. I prove all things by the scripture, and by no other source. This site is designed to preach the gospel and doctrine of [the Churches of] Christ unto all the world.

This kind of thinking is common in every sect that believes the Bible is an inerrant, infallible text. They think THEIR interpretation is the one, true, exact interpretation, and they alone are preaching the pure word of God. They are naïvely or deliberately ignorant about the influence of geography, culture, environment, and tribal affiliation on what one believes. (Please see Why Most Americans are Christian.) In their minds, they believe exactly what was written on parchment 2,000 years ago. In Shannon’s sect, many of the churches have a building cornerstone that says AD 33. That’s right, just like the Catholic and Landmark Baptist sect, they believe they are the one true church, established by Jesus to propagate the true gospel to the ends of the earth.

This kind of intransigence closes the mind off from any other belief or idea. Until people can dare to think that they might be wrong, that their sect might be wrong, or that the claims they make for the Bible might be untrue, there is no hope of reaching them. They are intellectually walled off from any voice but their own.

Want to know more? I encourage you to read several of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God: the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Understanding Religion from An Economic Cost-Benefit Perspective

cost benefit

Many of my fellow atheists and agnostics have a hard time understanding why, exactly, people are religious. In particular, many godless people are befuddled by Evangelicals. How can anyone believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant; believe the earth was created in six twenty-four-hour days; believe the universe is 6,024 years old; believe Adam and Eve were the first human beings; believe the story of Noah and Ark really happened; believe that millions of Israelites wandered in desert for forty years, and believe a Jewish man named Jesus was a God-man who worked miracles, was executed on a Roman cross, and resurrected from the dead three days later. I could add numerous other mythical, fanciful, incredulous Bible stories to this list; all of which sound nonsensical to skeptical, rational people. Here we are living in 2020 — an age driven by technology and science — yet millions of Evangelicals and other conservative Christians flock to Kentucky to tour Ken Ham’s monuments to ignorance: the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum. These same people helped to elect Donald Trump, the vilest, most unqualified man to ever sit in the Oval Office. Why is it that Evangelicals continue to believe, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

From a rational perspective, none of this makes any sense. Most Evangelicals have at least a high school education, and many of them have college degrees. Many of them are successful business owners, with more than a few of them amassing wealth most unbelievers covet. Many atheists and agnostics wrongly believe that the typical Evangelical is a poorly educated white hillbilly from Kentucky or Mississippi. Pan the crowds gathered at countless American Evangelical megachurches and you will find all the markings of well-off, educated people. Why, then, do Evangelicals believe the nonsense mentioned previously?

The best way to understand Evangelicalism is to view it from an economic cost-benefit perspective. Think of Evangelicalism as a club. To join the club, certain things are required. Every prospective club member must agree with the club’s stated principles and beliefs and pay annual dues to their local club. Once a prospective member publicly affirms the club’s stated principles and beliefs, undergoes a rite of initiation (baptism), and pays his annual dues, the prospect is granted entrance to the club. Membership in the club comes with several benefits:

  • Weekly instruction in the club’s principles and beliefs
  • Answers to life’s pressing questions
  • Classes for every age group, from infants to senior citizens
  • Opportunities for entertainment, often called fun, food, and fellowship
  • Access to counseling services
  • Wedding and funeral services
  • Support for conservative Christian social and political views
  • Bumper stickers, shirts, and other swag that advertises your membership in the club
  • Promises of forgiveness, happiness, and life after death

As long as these benefits outweigh the costs, people will continue to embrace Evangelical beliefs. Rationalists think that truth is all that should matter, and when it comes to truth, atheists/agnostics/humanists/skeptics/freethinkers have it, and Evangelicals don’t. True, but what do we offer besides truth? I’m waiting . . . Therein lies our problem. Yes, truth is on our side, but we lack appealing social structures (clubs), and, to many questioning/doubting Evangelicals, the cost of saying, “I am an atheist/agnostic” far outweighs the benefits. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist.) If we want to attract people to truth, to our cause, we must find ways to change the cost-benefit dynamic. “Dammit, Bruce, truth should be enough!” Yep, and I agree with you. Unfortunately, you and I are not like most people. “What’s in it for me?” many people ask. “What are the benefits of joining your club?” Fuss and fume all you want about this, but the fact remains that most people want to belong to things that benefit them; that give them something tangible.

As a pastor, I learned that people look for perceived value. Our church would sponsor a free concert with a contemporary Christian artist and fifty people would show up. Charge $5 admission for the same concert and hundreds of people will attend. Same artist, just a different perceived value. As long as Evangelicals think that the benefits of club membership outweigh the costs, they will continue to be members. Our goal should be to make rationalism and progressive politics appealing. We must develop social structures that advance the humanist ideal. And then, we must become the public face of our club, a face that says, “you are welcome here!” Constantly fighting with Evangelicals on social media does what exactly? Sure, it feels good to drown Evangelicals in seas of truth, but what have we gained? Engaging in shit-throwing contests on Twitter with Evangelical trolls might make for good entertainment and provide a brief dopamine rush, but what is really accomplished by doing so?  In 2012, tens of thousands of atheists, agnostics, humanists, and freethinkers gathered on the National Mall for the Reason Rally. What an awesome moment, a coming-out party, of sorts. Eight years have passed since this rally. What progress have we made towards coalescing into a credible, appealing club for likeminded people? If we truly want to give Evangelicalism the death it so richly deserves, we must offer to people a better way. We must offer them benefits that outweigh the costs of publicly saying “I’m an unbeliever” in a country that is still dominated and controlled by Christianity. We may laud recent upticks in polls for our kind, but this growth pales when compared to the sheer numbers of religious people. Yes, as a block, we now outnumber Evangelicals, but make no mistake about it, they still hold political and cultural power.

After the 2012 Reason Rally, I told readers that it was time for rationalists, skeptics, and freethinkers to move beyond skirmishes with Evangelicals. I still believe that today. That doesn’t mean we stop exposing Evangelical beliefs and practices for the nonsense they are. But we must find ways to build social connections; ways to build clubs that are appealing to, particularly, younger Americans. Trying to reach Evangelical Baby Boomers and the Great Generation is unlikely to succeed. It is with young people that the future of, not only the United States, but the world, rests. We oldsters have a lot of wisdom to offer, but as long as we sit silently in our homes, that wisdom goes to waste. Imagine how different our country might be if every county had a local humanist/skeptics club; a place where young and old alike meet to plan ways to Make America Rational Again; a place where atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers can gather and feel at home. Until we figure this out, people are going to continue to gather at local Evangelical clubs to worship the dead Jesus.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: The Paranoia of Bill Muehlenberg and His Fellow Evangelicals

persecution

If you are a Christian or a conservative, your days are numbered.

It is no longer business as usual. Gone are the days when Christians and conservatives who publicly affirm their beliefs and values are left alone, or tolerated. Now they are being hunted down. It is as if they are all walking around with large targets affixed to their backs.

It is now open season on anyone who dares to identify as a conservative or a Christian. And if you identify as both in any sort of public fashion, that is especially going to result in you being targeted by the secular left. Every day things are getting worse in this regard.

It is not full-blown persecution – yet. But it certainly is moving in that direction.

….

As I said, if you are a conservative or a Christian in today’s West, your days are numbered. They ARE after you. And they will not stop until all of us are finally and forever silenced.

— Bill Muehlenberg, Open Season on Christians and Conservatives, January 31, 2020

Quote of the Day: Are Militant Secularists Trying to Take Over the United States?

Appearing on a radio show hosted by New York Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan last week, Barr tore into church-state separation once more, this time blaming “militant secularists” for a host of problems.

“I feel today religion is being driven out of the marketplace of ideas, and there’s an organized, militant secular effort to drive religion out of our lives,” Barr said. “To me, the problem today is not that religious people are trying to impose their views on non-religious people. It’s the opposite. It’s that militant secularists are trying to impose their values on religious people, and they’re not accommodating the freedom of religion of people of faith.”

When you read something like this, you really can’t help but ask yourself a pertinent question: What planet does Barr live on?

For the past three years, the Trump administration has been laboring to turn religious freedom into an instrument of discrimination, a device to treat some people (LGBTQ folks, women, Muslims and other religious minorities, nonbelievers, etc.) as if they have second-class status.  

This administration has repeatedly sought to deny people access to contraceptives because some bosses claim it offends their religious beliefs. It has backed religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption programs. It has issued rules that put the most vulnerable members of our society – the poor, the homeless, those grappling with addictions – at risk by stripping away their protections in “faith-based” programs. It has traded in crude stereotypes against Muslims and undermined their right to travel to the U.S. It has argued that government has the right to display towering crosses, the central symbol of the Christian faith, on public property, and charge the taxpayer for it. It kicked transgender people out of the military because the Religious Right doesn’t like them. It supports immersing houses of worship in partisan politics. It has worked to end reproductive freedoms. It told the Supreme Court that taxpayers should be compelled to support religious groups and religious schools.

The administration did these things – yet we’re to believe that “militant secularists” are the problem? That “militant secularists” are the ones trying to force their views onto people?

Please.

Barr, like his boss Trump, is a master gaslighter. He repeatedly asserts that things are the opposite of the way they really are. In his strange world, up is down, black is white and you can’t believe the evidence of your own eyes. 

Key to this is Barr’s use of words – and how he defines them. To Christian nationalists, “militant” is anyone who dares to stand up to them and expose their theocratic agenda for the freedom-crushing miasma that it is. And a “secularist” to Barr and his allies must be someone who hates religion.

— Rob Boston, We Are All ‘Militant Secularists’ Now, February 3, 2020

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Michael Sperou Found Guilty a Second Time

michael sperou

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In 2015, Michael Sperou, pastor of North Clackamas Bible Community (previously named Southeast Bible Church) in Happy Valley, Oregon, was convicted on three counts of first-degree sexual penetration of a child under twelve and sentenced to twenty years in prison. In 2019, the Oregon Supreme Court:

ordered a new trial for Sperou after concluding that witnesses had improperly referred to the accuser as a victim. The court found that the reference may have undermined Sperou’s presumption of innocence and affected his right to a fair trial.

Last Friday, Sperou was convicted a second time.

Fox-12 reports:

Michael Sperou was convicted by a jury Friday on two counts of first-degree unlawful sexual penetration.

The victim was under the age of 12 when the assaults occurred on two separate occasions between 1993 and 1996, according to investigators.

….

The district attorney’s office states the members gathered and lived among rental homes they shared and, as part of its evidence presentation, the state reported Sperou had a sexual interest in children; that he allowed minors to spend time with him in his bed; that he provided alcohol to minors; that he emotionally and financially manipulated church members; that he abused alcohol; and controlled nearly every aspect of church members lives, including how they raised their children.

Two other women testified in court that Sperou had sexually assaulted them while they were children in the church, but prosecutors said the statute of limitation has passed in those cases.

Sperou’s congregants still believe he is an innocent man. Of course, they do. (News story from Sperou’s first trial reveals the steadfast devotion of his fellow church members.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Bramwell Retana Accused of Numerous Sex Crimes

bramwell retana

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Bramwell Retana, pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Oasis De Paz in Las Vegas, Nevada, was arrested on December 20, 2019 on sexual abuse charges. Since then, Retana has been charged with forty felony counts, including lewdness with a child younger than fourteen, first-degree kidnapping, child abuse and luring a child with a computer to engage in a sexual act.

Monday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported:

While investigating new claims that led to a third criminal case against a local pastor facing a growing list of sexual abuse allegations, Las Vegas police apparently discovered that the pastor sometimes left pornography up on his church computer, which he often allowed the children to use.

An adult church member who spoke to police in early January said she once witnessed a child using 44-year-old Bramwell Retana’s computer, which had “pornographic materials” on the screen, according to his most recent arrest report released Monday. Another churchgoer, asked by Retana to take a look at an issue on the computer, opened the internet browser and also found “numerous open pages of pornography.”

When he confronted Retana about the porn, according to the report, the pastor suggested that one of children had opened the pages.

Retana, who was arrested Dec. 20, remains held without bail at the Clark County Detention Center. The Metropolitan Police Department began investigating him last year after a girl told her parents that the pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Oasis De Paz had been sexually abusing her for more than a year.

The most recent criminal case against Retana, charging him with five felony counts of lewdness with a child younger than 14, was opened Jan. 15, after Metro detectives identified two more potential victims, bringing the total number of accusers to at least six.

Earlier this month, Metro News reported:

Bramwell Rentana, 44, was originally arrested on child abuse and kidnapping charges concerning one alleged victim on December 20. Four more girls have since come forward to tell police in Las Vegas about twisted abusive roleplay said to have taken place at Rentana’s church, Iglesia Cristiana Oasis De Paz. According to police reports, Rentana took one girl who was ‘eight or nine years old’ and her friend to his home because he wanted to play a ‘role playing’ game where he acted like a dog or a horse. One detective wrote: ‘It should be noted, during Retana’s post-Miranda interview he explained he has a fetish and likes to be dominated and treated like a dog for sexual gratification.’

The parent of one victim spoke to her children after learning of Retana’s arrest. The children reportedly told their parent that ‘Rentana would play a game with them that they did not think was bad however, Rentana would tell them not to tell anyone,’ police wrote, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Days before Retana’s arrest, one parent overheard her daughter speaking with Retana’s wife on the phone. In police reports, Retana’s wife is referred to as ‘Gabby.’ ‘(Redacted alleged victim’s name) overheard Gabby say “sorry for talking to you that way, I thought you were trying to steal my husband.”‘

The girl later told investigators that Retana began abusing her over a year ago, when he ‘began kissing and licking her bare feet’ in his office while another child was in the room. She also said that the pastor once sent her a pornographic image. During a police interview, Retana’s wife said that she learned in May 2019 that her husband had kissed the girl and she knew they talked on the phone every day, but she never reported the incidents because she did not have proof.

Authorities say the abuse had been happening since 2016 and his alleged victims and their families believe there are more victims. One woman told investigators that she ‘believes they are afraid to come forward in fear of retaliation or immigration issues.’ An alleged victim said the abuse began when she was ‘six or seven’ years old. The four alleged victims that recently came forward said the abuse happened in Retana’s office at the church and at a home on the church’s property. One girl reportedly told police that Rentana had forced her into his office multiple times and once scratched her, leaving a scar.

How Evangelicalism Attempts to Supplant Family Relationships

family of god

Many Evangelical preachers promote the idea that the bond Christian church members have with one another is better than the one people have with blood relatives. Blood is thicker than water, the old saying goes, but not in Evangelical churches. The water of baptism unites fellow believers together into what is called “the family of God.” In this sense, water is indeed thicker than blood. One of the selling points of Evangelicalism is that it provides people with unique relationships with not only God, but also their fellow members.

Years ago, a popular song among Evangelicals was The Family of God by Bill and Gloria Gaither:

For I’m part of the family,
the family of God.

You will notice we say “brother
and sister” ’round here-
It’s because we’re a family
and these folks are so near;
When one has a heartache
we all share the tears,
And rejoice in each victory
In this family so dear.

I’m so glad I’m a part
of the family of God-
I’ve been washed in the fountain,
cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus
as we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family,
the family of God.

From the door of an orphanage
to the house of the King-
No longer an outcast,
a new song I sing;
From rags unto riches,
from the weak to the strong,
I’m not worthy to be here,
But, praise God, I belong!

I’m so glad I’m a part
of the family of God-
I’ve been washed in the fountain,
cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus
as we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family,
the family of God.

Yes I’m part of the family,
the family of God.

You will notice we say “brother and sister” around here, the Gaither’s wrote, and we greet one another this way because “we’re a family.” Gaither goes on to say that when brothers and sisters have troubles, the church is there for them, just as the church rejoices with them when they have victories. From the outside, the notion of church members all being one, big happy family is appealing. One of the common things ex-Evangelicals miss is the social connection and camaraderie they had with fellow Christians. And not just during Sunday services either. The churches I pastored over the years had frequent potluck dinners, dinner on the grounds, and banquets, along with social events that drew congregants together.

If you come from a dysfunctional family as I did, it is not hard to see how the church could supplant your blood relatives. “I don’t need my parents, siblings, and extended family! I have my church family. They love me unconditionally and are always there for me!” Or so the thinking goes anyway. What ex-Evangelicals learned is that, unlike blood relatives whom you are related to no matter what, the “family of God” has certain requirements for participation. Don’t play by the rules, don’t have the right beliefs, or don’t march in lock-step with the preacher’s edicts, and you will find that that “unconditional” love is anything but, and the people who promised to always be there for you are nowhere to be found.

Those of us who left Evangelicalism and became atheists/agnostics quickly found out that the “family of God” was not what we thought it was; that the people we called friends distanced themselves from us or turned on us. I was part of the “family of God” for fifty years. I had scores of intimate relationships with fellow Christians and colleagues in the ministry. I naively believed that if I were honest about my loss of faith these people would at least “understand” and continue to be friendly. Instead, once word of my unbelief became common knowledge, it was not long before my church family turned on me. I received countless emails and letters from former congregants and colleagues in the ministry decrying my atheism. The very people who loved and respected me set me on fire with angry, hateful words. I wish I had saved their correspondence, but their words hurt me to such a degree that I threw them away after receiving them.

One letter, in particular, came from a couple I had known since I was a teen. Their older boys were my age. I spent countless hours at their home hanging out. They were instrumental in me becoming the pastor of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in 1995. We were close, to say the least. In early 2009, I sent out Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. After, receiving my letter, this couple sent me a scathing letter that, in essence, told me I was possessed of the Devil. Their words were beyond hurtful. Several months later, I received another letter from them — an apology of sorts. Unfortunately, the damage was already done. I tend to believe that people say what they mean the first time, and usually apologies are just them feeling guilty about being assholes.

What my post-Jesus experiences taught me is that the beliefs I had about the “family of God” were largely untrue; that membership in the family required fidelity to certain beliefs and practices. From a sociological perspective, I understand why this so. All of us are drawn into relationships with people who have similar beliefs, experiences, hobbies, and the like. As social creatures, we like to hang out with likeminded people. When I divorced Jesus, I broke the bond I had with congregants and colleagues. Fine, but you’d think that, at the very least, they would treat me with love, kindness, and respect, if for no other reason than the possibility that my loss of faith was temporary. Instead, they burned our relationships to the ground. “No Jesus? Rot in Hell,” their sentiments seemed, at the time. My best friend so savaged me that I am not sure I have emotionally recovered to this day. When he first emailed me, I couldn’t believe how nasty he was. I hadn’t heard from him in several years. I replied, “Really? How about asking how I am doing?” We traded several emails after that, but it was clear, at least to me, that all that we had shared together over the years mattered not to him. All that mattered was fealty to Jesus and the Bible.

I was fifty years old when I left Christianity; when I lost a lifetime of friendships and social connections. This, I suppose, was the price I paid for being open and honest. If I were to repudiate atheism and swear allegiance to Jesus again, I have no doubt that I would regain many of these lost relationships. That’s not going to happen. It’s too late, age-wise, for me to build new social connections and friendships. Sure, I have a few heathen friends and I am grateful for the relationships I have through this blog. Maybe, if I live long enough, I will write a song called The Family of Reason.  Deconversion has forced me to focus on the family that really matters: Polly, my children, grandchildren, and my siblings. Contrary to what I believed for fifty years, blood really is thicker than water.

Please share your experiences with the “family of God,” both as a Christian and as an ex-believer in the comment section. Do you still have close friends from your church days? If not, what have you done, if anything, to build relationships with likeminded unbelievers?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

%d bloggers like this: