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Tag: Evangelicalism

Certainty

certainty erich fromm

CERTAINTY

  1. The fact, quality, or state of being certain: the certainty of death.
  2. Something that is clearly established or assured.

SYNONYMS certainty, certitude, assurance, conviction. These nouns mean freedom from doubt. Certainty implies a thorough consideration of evidence: “the emphasis of a certainty that is not impaired by any shade of doubt” (Mark Twain). Certitude is based more on personal belief than on objective facts: “Certitude is not the test of certainty” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.). Assurance is a feeling of confidence resulting from subjective experience: “There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life” (John Stuart Mill). Conviction arises from the vanquishing of doubt: “His religion . . . was substantial and concrete, made up of good, hard convictions and opinions. (Willa Cather).

Ah yes, Certainty.

One of linchpins of Evangelical Christianity is certainty.

I KNOW in whom I have believed, said the Apostle Paul.

I have a KNOWSO salvation, a line spoken by countless Baptist on Sunday mornings.

Doubt is of the Devil.

Saved or Lost.

Heaven or Hell.

Truth or Error.

Infallibility.

Inerrancy.

A supernatural God who wrote a supernatural book that speaks of a supernatural salvation.

You can know for sure_______ (fill in the blank with a theological premise).

If you died today would you go to Heaven?

If there is one error in the Bible then none of it is true.

Yet, for all the Christian-speak about certainty, real life suggests that certainty is a myth.

We live in a world of chance, ambiguity, and doubt.

Will I die today?

Will I have a job tomorrow?

Will I be able to walk a year from now?

What does the future hold for my spouse, children, and grandchildren?

Climate change?

War?

Environmental degradation?

Pandemics?

Who will win the Super Bowl?

Will my garden flourish?

Will I get lucky tonight?

Life is anything but certain.

Evangelical Christians offload the uncertainties of this life to a certain future in Heaven with Jesus. No matter how uncertain the present is, Evangelicals can, with great certainty, KNOW Heaven awaits them.

One problem though . . .

No one KNOWS for sure there is a Heaven.

No one has been to Heaven and returned to earth to give us a travel report (and those who say they have are either lying or out to make a quick buck).

The Heaven most Evangelicals believe in isn’t even found in the Bible. Most Christians have a mystical, fanciful, syrupy, non-Biblical view of Heaven.

Grandma really isn’t in Heaven right now running around praising Jesus. According to the Bible, Grandma is presently rotting in the grave awaiting the resurrection of the dead.

I don’t know if there is a Heaven.

I have my doubts, lots of doubts.

I’m inclined to think Heaven is a state of mind. Or West Virginia.

We all want to believe life matters.

Many of us want to believe that there is more to life than what we now have.

We want to believe there will someday be a world without pain, suffering, or death.

But, what if there is not?

What if this is it?

What if we truly only have hope in this life?

Should we not make the most of what we have NOW?

Perhaps we should take seriously the Bible admonition not to boast about tomorrow because we don’t know what the day will bring.

Heaven will wait.

Live.

You and I are given one life and it will soon be past.

Live.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Bramwell Retana Faces 59 Sex Crime Charges

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 fifty-nine 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.

In January 2020, 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.

The 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.

Last Thursday, Rentana was indicted on four charges of lewdness with a child under 14.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports:

A Las Vegas pastor accused of sexually abusing young girls is facing new felony counts in connection with alleged acts that date back almost 13 years.

Bramwell Retana, 44, who remains jailed on $800,000 bail, was indicted Thursday on four charges of lewdness with a child under 14. Prosecutors said the charges, linked to a ninth victim, stemmed from encounters Retana had with a girl between August 2007 and October 2008.

He now faces a total of 59 felony counts.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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?

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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.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Deacon Nathan Qualley Charged with Sexual Abuse

busted

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.

Nathan Qualley, a newly appointed deacon at GracePoint Church in New Brighton, Minnesota, and a former teacher at Chisago Lakes Baptist School, now called Chisago Christian School, in Chisago City, stands accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl.

The Star Tribune reports:

According to the criminal complaint, filed March 13, Qualley “groomed” and then sexually abused the girl, who had been sent to him for speech therapy.

Qualley was appointed as a deacon and a member of the church council at GracePoint Church in New Brighton in 2019, according to the church’s website from that year. That had been on hold pending the outcome of the case, but this week GracePoint Senior Pastor Jared Carlson said the church will appoint someone else to the position.

The church congregation has not been informed of the Qualley lawsuit, Carlson said. However, church leadership has been notified and were exercising oversight, he said.

“Everything has its appropriate response at its appropriate time,” said Carlson, noting that Qualley has the right to due process.

Qualley did not respond to several Star Tribune requests for comment. However, in the complaint, he denied inappropriately touching the girl.

Plaintiff Melissa Stewart, now 29, who contacted media with her story, said the abuse started when she was 10 years old in the fall of 2001.

She was receiving enunciation lessons after school from Qualley in a classroom where just the two met.

At the time, Qualley was one year out of high school, according to his profile in the career networking website LinkedIn, which shows no professional training in speech therapy.

According to the complaint, Qualley’s contact with Stewart started small, “such as him placing a hand on her knee in class or while they prayed, or holding hands with her while praying.”

But the contact advanced. Stewart stated that during one session, Qualley unzipped his pants and showed her his genitals.

During another session, Qualley had her touch his genitals, the complaint said.

On another occasion, Qualley inappropriately touched the girl under her dress, the complaint said.

During one of the last speech therapies with Qualley, a “Deacon Tim” opened the classroom door and saw Qualley holding her hands and sitting close, Stewart reported.

A Chisago County investigator contacted that deacon, Tim Montzka, “who immediately recalled the incident,” the complaint said.

Montzka told the investigator he was doing his rounds, checking rooms, and saw a door shut.

Looking through the window, he saw Qualley and Stewart “sitting nose to nose” and “appeared to be praying.” Opening the door, he saw that the two were holding hands, the complaint said.

Montzka told the investigator he was so upset by the incident that he “chased” the defendant out of the room and told Stewart’s mother what he saw.

The incident was never reported to police, said Stewart, nor did the school investigate it or interview her. She said she didn’t “recognize it as sexual abuse” until her early 20s.

Qualley denied showing his genitals to Stewart or touching her inappropriately, said the complaint. Qualley stated “that he may have had shorts on, and that maybe his fly had been down and he zipped it up.”

However Qualley said he and Stewart typically hugged when she came to class, and they may have held hands.

Stewart, now a student at Duke University School of Law, said she hadn’t planned to go public with the case.

But she did so after learning that Qualley was active in the church and had been named a deacon for a congregation that was uninformed about his past.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

Black Collar Crime: Baptist Church Worker Davin Waters Sentenced to Life in Prison

davin waters

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.

Devin Waters, a youth worker at First Baptist Church in Texico, New Mexico, a deputy with Parmer County, Texas Sheriff’s Office, and owner of a Tae Kwon Do (TKD) studio in Bovina, Texas, was sentenced to life in federal prison after pleading guilty to transportation of minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

The United States Department of Justice reports:

A former sheriff’s deputy who preyed on children at his church has been sentenced to life in federal prison, announced U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox.

Davin Seth Waters, 26, a former deputy with Parmer County, Texas Sheriff’s Office, was convicted in November 2019 for transportation of minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

“This life sentence confirms the important message that exploiting children in any form will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney Nealy Cox. “While this sentence will not repair the pain and damage done to the victims, it will ensure that Mr. Waters will never have the opportunity to prey upon children of our community again.”

“Today’s life sentence demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to holding sexual predators accountable for their crimes and removes a dangerous threat from our community,” said FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno. “We will continue working with our partners to ensure that children are protected from abuse and exploitation.”

During a two hour sentencing on Thursday, the court heard how Mr. Waters lured minor victims into engaging in sex acts by leveraging positions of power and trust as a sheriff’s deputy, childcare volunteer, and Tae Kwon Do instructor. Many of Mr. Waters’ victims that he sexually abused were “afraid” of him because he was “big” and thought he might “hurt” them, according to court documents.

Authorities began investigating Mr. Waters following a report from a member at Frist Baptist Church Texico, New Mexico that a fellow member, identified as Mr. Waters, had sexually abused a child. Mr. Waters who served in the children’s ministry as a volunteer, admitted to unlawfully touching a minor 8-year-old child on multiple occasions while in his capacity as a volunteer at the church.

Mr. Waters resided in Farwell, Texas and owned Tae Kwon Do (TKD) studio in Bovina, Texas where he instructed many young students. Mr. Waters admitted that he engaged in illicit sexual conduct at his studio with a 13-year-old minor and a TKD student between the ages of 9 and 10-years-old.

According to court documents, Mr. Waters also drove two minors from New Mexico to the Farwell, Texas to spend the night. At his home, Mr. Waters preformed sexual acts on the 11-year-old and 10-year-old while also after giving the 10-year-old pills to induce unconsciousness.

Through the course of the investigation, agents determined that Mr. Waters sexually exploited and abused seven children in the greater Amarillo-area.

The FBI’s Dallas Field Office, the Texas Rangers, and Curry County, New Mexico Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Sean Taylor prosecuted the case. United States District Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk handed down the sentence.

First Baptist Church of Texico was formerly affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. According to a 2019 news report, First Baptist plans to pull out of the SBC due to its unbiblical (non-Calvinistic) positions.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

John  Piper Says Holding Hands with God More Pleasurable than Getting Laid 10,000 Times

john piper

John Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, and the father of Christian hedonism, had this to say at the 2015 Desiring God Conference for Pastors:

“Look around in your life, in your church. How many Christians do you see bent with all their powers to know God more and more — more truly, more clearly, more sweetly? Or, rather, do you see thousands fighting graduate school sins with a grammar school knowledge of God?”

Some of you might say, ‘Wait, there are as many PhDs in theology who commit adultery as less-educated people.’ To which I would say, ‘Probably more.’ Why is it that people with PhDs in theology commit adultery? They don’t know God.”

“You can read theology 10 hours a day for 40 years and not know God as beautiful and all-satisfying — as the highest treasure of your life. Who cares about knowing God the way the devil knows God? He hates everybody. His knowledge of God helps him hate people.”

“We’re talking about knowing God here in 1 Thessalonians. They don’t know God. They don’t know God for who He is — infinitely valuable, infinitely beautiful, infinitely satisfying — why your soul was made. There are more pleasures at His right hand, more eternal joys in His presence, than you could have in 10,000 sexual trysts.

“The question is, do you know that? If you know that, sin will have lost its dominion in your life,”

No commentary from me. The headline is what came to my mind as I read the news story about Piper’s sermon. I know . . . so depraved.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Spaniard VIII Warns People to Not Take the Mark of the Beast

bruce-gerencser-worships-the-antichrist

Spaniard VIII (Sp8 for short) warns people such as myself that we can’t be saved if we take the mark of the beast:

Once the person receives the mark of the beast, there will be no more hope of salvation for him or her. The reason is, that the Bible clearly states that worship of the beast is involved with the acceptance of the 666.

Finally, a sure-fire way to let Evangelical zealots know that we are no longer saveable. Praise Satan!

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Sin and the Myth of the Slippery Slope

slippery slope

According to the Bible, sin is transgression of the law of God. (1 John 3:4) Evangelicals, as a general principle, believe this to be true. However, when it comes to what, exactly, is the law of God — well, let the battle begin. Every sect and every pastor has their own idea about what constitutes God’s law. None of them actually follow and practice ALL the laws found in the Bible. Every follower of Jesus picks and chooses, cafeteria-style, which laws to obey and which to ignore.

Several days ago, a local group posted on Facebook that they were having a Black Lives Matter/Pride rally this Saturday. An Evangelical woman responded by posting comments about the evil of homosexuality, complete with Bible verses. I responded, so, you believe LGBTQ people, adulterers, fornicators, non-virgins, and Mormons should be executed? After all, that’s what God commands in the Bible. Of course, she ignored my challenge to her hypocritical use of the Bible to condemn behaviors she doesn’t like, choosing, instead, to attack me personally.

This woman is not unique in any way. I don’t know of one Evangelical who believes and practices every law in the Bible. Granted, Evangelicals have all sorts of lame explanations for their duplicity, but the fact remains that Evangelicals practice pick-and-choose Christianity. (Please see Should Christians Keep the Old Testament Law?)

For the sake of this post, I am going to assume that every Evangelical extracts from the Bible certain laws, commands, and precepts to govern their lives; that transgressing these edicts are sins.

I grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, attended an IFB college, and pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years. Over the 50 years I spent in the Christian church, I heard a lot of preaching against sin — generally and specifically. I preached a number of sermons myself against this or that sin. Convincing people that they are sinners is the precursor to salvation. Without sin, there’s no need for salvation. Remove sin, fear, and guilt from the equation, and Evangelical churches will empty out overnight.

Once saved, Evangelicals continue to battle against indwelling sin. Surprisingly, having God as your father, Jesus as your BFF, the Holy Ghost living inside of you, and having at your fingertips the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God is not enough to keep Evangelicals from sinning daily in thought, word, and deed. In fact, it seems that Evangelicals sin just like their counterparts in the evil, Satan-controlled world. That’s why Evangelical preachers spend an inordinate amount of time preaching against sin to largely Christian crowds.

Supposedly, Evangelicals are to grow and mature in their faith. One would think that sin would become less of a problem as Evangelicals became more intimate with Jesus. However, as any honest Evangelical pastor will tell you, worldliness, carnality, and sinfulness are common among God’s chosen ones. Jesus is no cure for the human condition.

Evangelical preachers often warn congregants of the danger of the slippery slope. These so-called men of God believe that one behavior deemed sinful, if unconfessed and not forsaken, leads to more serious sinful behaviors. Let me give readers several examples.

Evangelicals believe that it is sinful to use street drugs. Marijuana is considered a gateway drug that opens people up to using harder, more addictive drugs. I came of age in the 1970s. I heard numerous sermons about the evils of drug use — especially marijuana. Numerous church teens were dope smokers. So were my classmates at Findlay High School. It was not uncommon to see people smoking marijuana is the restrooms. Anti-drug preachers posited that marijuana use led to more serious drug use. Start smoking marijuana, and down the slippery slope you will go, ending up a heroin addict. Don’t want to be a heroin addict? the thinking went, don’t smoke marijuana. Of course, few of my fellow youth group members or school classmates became mainline heroin users. I am sure more than a few of them tried LSD or or other psychedelics, but hardcore heroin users? It didn’t happen.

The IFB preachers of my youth loved to preach against sexual sin. I, of course, continued in their footsteps, spending significant time over the years condemning illicit, sinful sexual behavior. I embarrassingly told church teens in one sermon (1980s) that I never knew of a girl who got pregnant who didn’t hold hands with a boy first. The slippery slope . . .

slippery slope fallacy

When it came to sexual sin, the slippery slope argument went something like this. Couples who hold hands will tire of it and want more intimacy. Thus hand-holding leads to kissing, and kissing leads to petting, which leads to fornication. Want to avoid committing fornication? Never hold hands. (Never asked was WHY should we want to avoid fucking?) This thinking led the churches I grew up in and the college I attended to develop bizarre anti-human rules. I would later pass on those same rules to churches I pastored. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.)

A similar argument is used for pornography. People who view porn grow tired of it, seeking out more explicit content, ultimately leading to sexual assault and rape. That’s right. It is just a hop, skip, and jump from YouPorn to becoming a serial rapist.

The slippery slope is a tool used by Evangelical preachers to scare people into conformity. Remember, the goal is always obedience and conformity. Whatever a preacher thinks the law of God is, his goal is lock-step compliance with the teachings of the Bible.

Of course, this approach does not work. Outwardly, it does, but when Evangelicals are on their own, safe in the privacy of their homes and automobiles, no regard is paid to the slippery slope. Sure, sinning Evangelicals have to deal with fear and guilt, but these things are not enough to keep them from behaving in normal, healthy human ways. Any preacher is deluded who thinks that by railing against marijuana and hand-holding he is going to keep church teens and young adults from partying and fornication. Human want, need, and desire win every time.

But, Bruce, for some people, the slippery slope is a real problem. Yep, any of us can and do give in to excess. Most people can drink alcohol without becoming alcoholics. That some people become alcoholics is regrettable, but should we ban the sale and use of alcohol? The same can be said for drugs. Anything can be abused and misused. For example, Polly makes me an angel food cake every year for my birthday. I LOVE angel food cake. I mean really, really, really love it. I can, I kid out not, eat a whole cake by myself. And it is for that reason that Polly only makes me an angel food cake once a year.

We all have habits and desires that seem excessive to others not so inclined. When sin and the slippery slope are removed from the discussion, it becomes easier for us to understand why we do the things we do. Our three oldest sons grew up poor. Rarely, did they get new clothes or shoes. To this day, they talk of the ugly colored Converse tennis shoes I bought them on close-out at Big Lots. Virtually every bit of their clothing either came from their grandparents at Christmas, Goodwill, or hand-me-downs. The boys owned plenty of jeans adorned with iron-on patches. Such was life in the Appalachian hills of southeast Ohio. Fast forward to when the boys were older and had good jobs. Their closets were filled with expensive clothing and shoes. Why, they even had more than one pair of shoes! It’s not hard to draw a line from their upbringing to their extravagance as young adults. One of my sons refuses to let his children wear cast-off shoes to school. His ex-wife is fine with the children wearing $5 shoes from Goodwill. Not my son. It ain’t going to happen! Why? I suspect he remembers his days attending a private Christian school; how his shoes were old, cheap, and shabby compared to those worn by his classmates.

We have a new 2020 Ford Edge, by far the most expensive car we have ever owned. As I reflect on our evolving car-buying habits over the past decade or so, it is evident that decades of driving rust-buckets deeply affected our view of automobiles. We want, dare I say need, newer cars. I can give all sorts of reasons for buying newer cars, but the real reason is that we enjoy owning a new car. I suspect all of us have similar needs in our lives.

My point is this, once we are free of guilt- and fear-inducing sin, we are free to live life on our own terms. Each to his or her own, right? While I think the slippery slope argument has merit in some circumstances, for the most part it is little more than an attempt to control human behavior. Smart are those who recognize where in their life the slippery slope lurks. I am a retired professional photographer. Photographers must be aware of the slippery slope — also known as gear acquisition syndrome (GAS). Photography is not a cheap hobby. I have invested thousands of dollars in camera bodies, lenses, flashes, studio equipment, and miscellaneous equipment. It is really easy for me to want (need) new equipment. Every couple of years, Sony comes out with new camera bodies, always with higher resolution sensors and new bells and whistles. GAS really kicks in for me when they do. But I have learned to not give in to my wants, knowing that doing so sends me careening down the slippery slope that leads to a pile of debt. I know that it is the photographer, and not the equipment (generally), that makes the picture. Sometimes, I fail to reign in my desires. I suspect most of you know what I am talking about. We all have things we are passionate about, things we are willing to spend money on. Don’t get me started on my hats. God, I’m addicted.

For those of you who are ex-Evangelicals, did your pastors use the slippery slope analogy to demand obedience and conformity? Do you still have a problem with guilt and fear over human behaviors you know aren’t sinful, yet you can’t shake the voice of your pulpit-thumping preacher in your head? If you no longer buy into the Christian concept of “sin,” how do you order your life and make decisions these days? Please share your stories in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

You Can do It: How to Start an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church

start ifb church

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Warning! Lots of snark and sarcasm ahead!

John “Jesus Lover” Baptiste recently graduated from an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college. After three or four years of superficially studying the Bible, John received his degree in Jesus-Loving, Devil-Chasing, Sin-Hating Pastoral Ministry. Now what?

Graduates are encouraged to go into all the world — well mainly the United States — and win souls for Jesus. The best way to do this is to start a new church.

Here is what John “Jesus Lover” Baptiste needs to do to start a brand spanking new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church.

First, find a town where there are churches on every corner and convince yourself that ALL of those churches are liberal, apostate, using the wrong Bible translation, or using worldly music.

Second, confuse your own desire and ambition with the Holy Spirit leading you and God calling you to start a new church.

Third, rent a meeting place or building. Make sure you get the building as cheaply as possible. If the building owner is a Christian, lay a spiritual guilt trip on him to get him to lower the rent and then invite him and his family to the first service.

Fourth, put a puff piece in the newspaper telling locals why you are starting a new church in their community. DON’T tell them that you think ALL the other churches in town are liberal, apostate, using the wrong Bible translation, or using worldly music. You want to be able to poach members from other churches later, so it is important no one knows what you really think of every other church in town.

Fifth, every day pray that God will bless your endeavor. Convince yourself that God put you in the community to win everyone to Jesus, and that without you they will all go to hell.

Sixth, tell your wife and children that you love them, but they are going to have to understand that Jesus comes first, and you will have to neglect them in order for a GREAT church to be built. Also, tell them that they will have to mow the churchyard, clean the church, play the piano, work in the nursery, teach Sunday School, and anything else you ask them to do. Try to explain to them that, yes God called YOU, but he expects you to bring luggage.

Seventh, much like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, knock on every door in town and witness to everyone who dares to answer. Lie to them by saying, I am not here to take you from your church home. All that is important is that you know Jesus as your Savior. Don’t let them know that if they get saved you will expect them to come to the church that cared enough to lead them to Jesus. And get baptized. And attend services every time the church doors are open. And tithe. And obey every edit uttered by you from the pulpit.

Eighth, run some ads in the local newspaper and put up flyers on every public bulletin board. Church-hopping members (please see The Fine Art of Church Hopping) from nearby IFB churches will notice the ads and see this as “God leading them” to leave their churches. This is the quickest way to start a new church. And just remember, when they leave your new church a few years later for a newer church, that you were willing to sacrifice your integrity for numerical gain.You are now ready for your first service. Remember one thing: most new church plants fail, especially IFB churches. Perhaps, it would be better if you join up with one of the other churches in town and help them. Silly me, you will never do that. You are a God-called, Holy-Spirit-powered, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor, and such a calling deserves its own church, and a BIG sign that says, in BIG type, JOHN BAPTISTE, PASTOR.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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Should Churches be Tax-Exempt?

irs

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

If people give money, services, or property to a church, they can use the amount of their donation to reduce their federal income tax liability. Every year, billions of dollars of money, services, and property are given to churches. All churches, by default, are tax-exempt. Many people wrongly think that a church must be 501(c)(3)-approved to be tax-exempt. But that’s not the case. All a group needs to say to be tax-exempt is this: we are a church. That’s it. By 9:00 a.m. next Sunday, I could start a church that would be completely tax-exempt by IRS standards, even if only my family attended. (Please see How to Start an Independent Baptist Church.)

The IRS deliberately steers away from explicitly defining what a church is. In their view, if it looks and acts like a church, it is a church. Here are the main criteria the IRS uses to decide whether a church is tax-exempt:

  • a distinct legal existence and religious history,
  • a recognized creed and form of worship,
  • established places of worship
  • a regular congregation and regular religious services, and
  • an organization of ordained ministers

As you can see, it is very easy for a group to be considered a church by the IRS.

Churches are also, in many states, exempt from paying sales and real estate taxes. Ohio is one such state. Churches can even operate for-profit businesses that are tax-exempt. In the 1970s, churches were encouraged to start daycare centers as a way to maximize building use and generate income – uh, I mean, minister to the poor. Just because a church tacks the word “ministry” on the end of a business name doesn’t make it one.

The question I ask is this: Should church donations be tax-deductible? Should churches be tax-exempt?

Christians will quickly state that their church is a charity and does good in the community, so their church should be tax-exempt and members should get a tax deduction for their donations. Relative to the amount of money they take in, do churches really do a great amount of good in the community? If the average church closed its doors tomorrow, would anyone outside of the membership care? Take a look at a church’s budget. Where does MOST of the money go? Salaries, benefits, insurance, utilities, buildings, and programs that only benefit the congregation. If a “real” charity spent their money in this manner, the IRS would pull their tax exemption and donations to said charity would no longer be tax-deductible. Yet, the IRS and federal and state governments give churches a blind-eye pass.

I have written on churches and their finances many times over the years. If you are getting ready to object, here’s my challenge. Send me your church’s budget. Let me take a close look at it. I have eagle-like eyes for seeing through the budget secrecy and bullshit many churches practice. Let’s take a close look at the numbers. Not the annual generic summary, but the actual income and expenses, I have made this challenge many times over the years, and not one church, pastor, or Christian has taken me up on it. They whimper, whine, and complain, but they never produce their financial documents. Why? They know the emperor has no clothes. They know if they shared their financials that the truth would be revealed.

If a church wants to be considered a tax-exempt charity, then they should be required to apply for charity status. They should then be required to spend the bulk of their money on charitable services that benefit the community. No church should be tax-exempt just because they say we are a church.

Most churches are social clubs and the price of membership is what people give in donations. The club rightly spends the bulk of its money on things that directly benefit the membership. As a club — a for-profit business — a church should be required to pay taxes and fill out all the tax forms that other businesses do. Isn’t it about time churches start paying their own way, just as every other business does? Why should First Baptist Church or St Peter’s Catholic Church be tax-exempt and receive free fire and police service and free infrastructure improvements? Why shouldn’t Betty’s Coffee Shop or Bob’s Bar and Grill get the same tax treatment as a church?

I support the elimination of all church tax exemptions (sales, real estate, income, social security), church donation tax deduction, and the clergy housing tax allowance/deduction. A practical side effect of eliminating these exemptions is that churches would then be free to endorse political candidates. No more Christian whining about their “free” speech being stifled. Churches would be FREE to do what they want AND pay taxes just like everyone else.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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Baptist Campmeeting Time

faith baptist camp
Faith Baptist Campmeeting, Resaca, Georgia

A Campmeeting is a scheduled time when Christian people get together for a few days or a week of concentrated preaching and singing. Some campmeetings are held at churches, while others are held at campgrounds. People often stay at the campgrounds or rent motel rooms. Meals are often provided for attendees.

Most campmeetings take place south of the Mason-Dixon line. I attended my first campmeeting at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Rossville, Georgia. A pastor friend of mine from an IFB church east of Columbus invited me to go to the campmeeting with him and several men from his church.

Our trip from Columbus to Rossville was frightening, to say the least. My pastor friend was quite a control freak. He insisted on driving the entire 500 miles to the campmeeting. What was frightening, you ask? My friend knew one speed — fast — often driving in excess of 90 miles per hour. What made matters worse was the fact that my friend spent most of the trip with his head turned to the right, talking to me in the front seat. I spent most of the trip hanging on for dear life. Needless to say, I never went anywhere with him again. We later had a falling out. My friend took issue with some of my theology, and decided he could no longer “fellowship” with me. He is now divorced, and no longer in the ministry. (He replaced a pastor who was caught having sex with his secretary in the church office while congregants were out visiting their bus routes.)

Besides the white-knuckle ride to Rossville, several things stand out about the trip and campmeeting.

At the time, I was quite the Fundamentalist Baptist preacher. I had a long list of things I would not do out of wanting to maintain a pure testimony bAt the time, I was quite the Fundamentalist Baptist preacher. I had a long list of things I would not do because I  wanted to maintain a pure testimony before God and man. One thing I would not do is eat at restaurants that served alcohol. That meant, of course, the only place I could get a steak was at Ponderosa. Remember their streaks? Yeah. Not good. Thank God for atheism and Texas Roadhouse.

Several hours into our trip, my pastor friend decided it was time to stop for lunch. He, of course, didn’t have a problem eating at restaurants that served alcohol. So he and his fellow church members chose a restaurant that served booze. I explained my “conviction” to him, and asked that he choose an alcohol-free establishment. Instead, he laughed at me and said I could sit in the car. So, I did. Needless to say, our relationship went south from there.

What stood out the most to me was the campmeeting itself. The campmeeting featured numerous notable IFB preachers. The preaching itself was challenging, convicting, and quite entertaining. What was bizarre was the behavior of many the attendees. The services from start to finish were emotionally charged. Both the music and preaching stoked emotions, leading to behaviors I had never seen before (I was 31 at the time). I saw grown men (and a few women) running the aisles, standing on the pews, waving towels and Bibles, hooting and hollering, and egging the preachers on with shouts of AMEN! and PREACH IT, BROTHER! What I experienced was the Baptist equivalent of a Pentecostal/Charismatic church meeting — without the speaking in tongues. I found the first night to be quite troubling, but by night three, I had joined the nonsense.

The next year, I took a group of people from Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio to a campmeeting at Midway Bible Baptist Church in Fishersville, Virginia. This was, and still is, the home church of Evangelist Don Hardman.

Somerset Baptist was located in the Appalachian foothills of southeast Ohio. Some of the people who went to the campmeeting with me had never been out of southeast Ohio. One woman openly wept as we crossed the bridge over the Ohio River into West Virginia.

This campmeeting was more structured than the one in Georgia, but had similar preaching and music. One thing that stood out to me was how many of the church’s members had cancer and serious illnesses. I later wondered if the area was some of sort of environmental cancer cell.

I also attended one IFB campmeeting in Ohio, held at Fellowship Baptist Church in Lebanon. Fellowship Baptist owns and operates the Fellowship Tract League. As with the meeting in Rossville, the preaching and music at Fellowship Baptist’s campmeeting were emotionally stirring. This led to all sorts of crazy behavior. Normal for regular campmeeting attendees, but One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-crazy to first-timers.

Fellowship Baptist provided free housing and meals for those in Fellowship Baptist provided free housing and meals for those in attendance. I brought Polly and our children to the campmeeting. Her first night at the meeting was definitely an eyeopening experience for her, as she had never experienced worship southern-style. The churches I pastored were quite staid emotionally, so being around a bunch of people hollering, shouting, standing on pews, and generally acting like they were on crack was quite a phenomenon.

Two things stand out from this campmeeting. First, when we walked into our motel room, there was a used condom on the floor. Ugh. Second, the motel offered free HBO. I was quite anti-TV at the time, and fearful that I might be tempted to watch the Home Barf Office — as I often called HBO in my sermons. To keep myself from giving in to sin, I broke one prong off of the TV’s plug. Yeah, I know, bizarre behavior, but try to understand my actions in light of the Bible verses that say:

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)

In my IFB mind, breaking off the electric plug prong was the equivalent of plucking out my eye or cutting off my hand. The goal was to abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

By the early 1990s, I had moved on from IFB campmeetings to staid, emotion-free Reformed Baptist/Sovereign Grace meetings. While some attendees would say AMEN when agreeing with the preacher, everyone stayed in their seats. Overt emotional expressions were frowned upon.

It is clear, at least to me, that worship style and practices are driven by cultural and tribal norms, not God/Holy Spirit. Have you ever been to a campmeeting? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

My Experience with Religious Fundamentalism and Bipolar Disorder

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Guest post by Steve

For 18 years, I considered myself a Christian. My family raised me in the Disciples of Christ denomination, generally known as a progressive and inclusive branch of Christianity. Love, service, and respect for others were baked into the framework of my parents’ religious philosophy. So too were dysfunctional aspects of Christianity, such as taboos around sex, drugs, other religious frameworks, et cetera. For sixteen years I lived relatively peacefully under such a framework and the moderately strict rules it imposed.

That would all change shortly after my sixteenth birthday. For some reason, I felt the urge to dive deeper into the tenets of my faith. Enter the Internet, which, as of 2009, was a long way from the juggernaut it is today. Feeling as though my parents’ and grandparents’ explanations of biblical concepts were lacking, I turned to Internet websites and forums, as well as a teen study bible my grandparents had found on their doorstep one day and given to me as a gift.

That would turn out to be one of the most painful and consequential mistakes I would ever make. After reading through the study bible and its perverted explanations of biblical phenomena and excuses for genocide and murder committed in God’s name — which I didn’t notice at the time but can see oh, so clearly, now — I went down rabbit holes on the Internet, looking up the answers to important questions such as, “Is it a sin to listen to secular music?” among others.

My readings left me isolated from my family, feeling as though I had discovered the truth and could not admit it to them. This caused a great deal of tension in my relationship with them, as I began to believe that if I wanted to be a true Christian, I should cut myself off from my family and their liberal interpretation of the Bible and seek the companionship of others who believed as I did.

However, my beliefs did not usually translate to actions. There was a powerful dissonance between the person I was up until I stumbled upon all of this poisonous fundamentalist posturing and the person I was afterward. I did not think to question my beliefs, thinking that doing so would be a blasphemy towards God. Instead, I lingered in them and the conflict between my two selves — one a burgeoning fundamentalist and one a rational secularist — came to a head. It was truly as if the devil and god were raging inside me, and their warfare tore me apart.

I can vividly remember the crushing pressure in my chest from those early battles, a pain so fierce and unrelenting that I would fall asleep in the middle of class as my body started shutting down to escape it. I was stuck in a limbo, but I could feel the flames of hell eating away at my soul. I vividly believed that if I did not give up everything I once loved, the secular pursuits that did not glorify God, I was hell-bound.

My rational side fought like hell to keep my rising fundamentalist zeal at bay. For the most part, I excelled in school, bringing home As and Bs with every report card. Yet I felt isolated from my peers. I attempted to join the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but I am so grateful to say that they did not manage to get their claws into me and I bowed out after several meetings.

I cannot pinpoint when exactly my mood started to shift, but after several long and arduous months, I began to feel good again. I started to put myself out there and make friends. By doing my best to intentionally avoid the bible and all forms of fundamentalist rhetoric, I began to feel somewhat normal and happy. However, maladaptations would present themselves. I would become obsessed with certain girls as a coping mechanism, a way to cling onto the unstable safety of my current state. The flames of hell were further below, but I could still feel their heat. Magma still churned in my chest.

I had to cling to something for dear life, and as a male adolescent with a decent sex drive, I chose women. Now mind you, I was 270 pounds at the time, so I didn’t have a good shot at all at getting most of them. My social skills were also substandard. I was definitely what you would call a nerd, maybe a geek, and it showed. Still, for a few months, I felt good enough to resume a normal pattern of activity and engage in the secular pursuits I once felt so guilty about.

In the same vein, I cannot pinpoint exactly what pulled me down again. While this depressive episode was shorter and somewhat milder than the last, I desperately wanted to escape. That escape would come in the form of a forum one of my classmates showed me in the library one day where an “alien” delivered sacred knowledge to the world. After reading this, my mind latched onto it and used it as a weapon to beat back the flames that were once again searing my soul.

This time the depression may have been milder, but the high was even higher. I excelled in my last semester of high school. I visited seven colleges and got accepted to the college I wanted the most. I got all 5s on the three AP exams I took that year. My mind was as sharp as a tack, as clear as a bell. Everything clicked. Things just came to me. I was at my peak level of performance. It was an absolutely thrilling time to be alive and active in the world. I was filled with a spirit of hope and love. I graduated ready to take the world by storm, even if I had no clue exactly what it was I was going to do with my life.

Sadly, this wouldn’t last either. One Bible verse about not cursing later (I don’t remember which one it was and I don’t care to relive that again), I crashed hard. Instead of entering college feeling healthy and alive, I entered college a husk of the self I was just a few short months before, drained and lifeless and struggling to keep up with the myriad tasks and activities that come with the first few weeks of freshman year. I felt so alone and isolated, though I did try to reach out.

Several times, I was awfully close to embracing fundamentalism again, as the college I went to was in a fairly religious city in the southern United States and it was easy to find people who believed passionately in Christianity and to talk with them. I felt I would need to make a decision about what I was going to do soon, and I was leaning heavily towards embracing fundamentalism.

My lowest point in college came when I dropped a class without notifying my professor I was going to do so. I almost lost both my scholarships and had to pay back some $350 dollars to one of them. Thankfully, I was able to keep both of my scholarships all the way through college from that point on.

The end to all of this madness would come swiftly and miraculously. One day, after a three-hour class in which we had been watching a documentary, I decided to browse online to see what other documentaries were out there. That decision would change the course of the rest of my life. I was out of the house. I had my own laptop. I didn’t have parental figures hovering over my shoulder. I was angry as hell about being so depressed again, and felt I had nothing to lose. So I decided to watch the Youtube docuseries by a man named Evid3nc3, Why I became an Atheist.

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Approximately three hours later, my mind was shattered. Everything I had ever known was wrong. There were good, rational, justified reasons for not believing in God. There were good, kind people who did not believe. Hell, there were thousands of preachers who no longer believed! With this knowledge in mind, the knowledge that I did not need a god to be good or to live a good life, I gave Christianity and the toxicity of fundamentalism and evangelicalism the boot and I have never had good cause to look back since.

I am done with religion, even though religion’s effect on my psyche will always remain to some extent. I am free of the chains of dogma and ideology. I am free of the flames of hellfire, the judgement of a wrathful god, and the intercession of His son, who suffered a needless and preventable death on the cross for something nobody asked him to die for in the first place. Good fucking riddance.

The next time I was home from college, I came out as an atheist to my parents and destroyed the study bible that had sent me down this road to madness. Nobody will ever be infected with its poisonous interpretations again.

But my story is not done. For you see, nearly a decade later I have a new chunk of knowledge, a new insight that has rocked my world just as much as when I found out Christianity was not true.

A few days ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This is a mental illness in which your mood swings between a manic state (a euphoric, happy, joyful, blissful time) and a depressed state. I believe that my bipolar disorder was the cause of so much dysfunction in my life during my late high school and early college years. Looking back, my mood swings make so much sense when viewed through that context as I altered between hypomania (milder than manic) and depression.

One facet of bipolar disorder is that those who have this mental illness often suffer from delusions, which can come in both manic and depressed states. While I have never suffered from delusions in my manic states, I have in my depressive states.

And that has led me to ask myself: would I have been able to catch this disease earlier if not for the Christian framework that I believed for those last couple years of high school? I firmly believed I was in danger of going to Hell. I felt it so vividly. There was no way you could convince me that that belief was not a delusion. It was supported by the Christian cultural framework my life was based around at the time.

Did my Christian worldview mask my delusional depressive symptoms? That is definitely a question that deserves a lot more thought. Who else with undiagnosed mental illness is laboring under a Christian framework that amplifies and exacerbates it? Is it the preacher at the pulpit? The choir director? The youth pastor? The worship leader?

How many religious folks are undiagnosed simply because their worldview masks and adapts to their symptoms, leading them to believe that they aren’t ill in the first place while still struggling mightily through life and sometimes hurting those closest to them with their often inexplicable and unjustifiable actions? What if the true burden of mental illness is not fully known because of how well religion can adapt to it? These are all questions I hope to answer one day, or at least make progress towards answering.

Life after Christianity has not been easy. I’ve been to the psych ward, twice. I missed my college graduation after a major depressive episode that led to multiple suicide attempts before my roommate finally called the police and EMTs. I had a second stay in the ward this past September, due to another suicide attempt. No, life is not a cakewalk.

But that doesn’t mean I need to lean on God or religion to help me cope. I have friends. I have family. I have my own kind of faith in the world. I have myself and all the beauty and confidence I possess. And now I have closure about why I am the way I am and why I’ve gone through what I’ve gone through. I couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t need fundamentalism, evangelicalism, or any of the baggage they bring, any less than I do now. All I need is to love — to love myself and to love others zealously. The rest will take care of itself.

If you think you may have a mental illness, I encourage you to seek out a mental health professional and discuss your symptoms as soon as you possibly can. Living with mental illness, especially one as severe as bipolar disorder, is no joke and we must take the needs of those suffering from any mental health condition seriously. For so long, I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and now I do. You don’t have to suffer in silence. It may be a long road to finally get the treatment you need to live a relatively normal life again, but there is hope. And my hope for you is that you keep fighting and realize that you only have one life, one you and you alone can choose how to live.

Southern Gospel Music: Diesel Sniffers

happy goodman family

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) circles I ran in thought southern gospel music was God’s music. IFB churches are known for being anti-cultural, especially when it comes to music. Rock music? Contemporary Christian music (CCM)? Rap Music? Blues music? True Christians® don’t listen to such worldly, Satanic music, IFB preachers told their congregants. Yet, despite all the anti-music preaching, congregants — especially teens and college students — continued to listen to “worldly” music.

Reaction to country music was somewhat mixed. Many preachers divided country music into two categories: old style and new style. Old-style country was grudgingly permitted, but new style country was verboten — no different from rock music. Congregants were encouraged to listen to southern gospel music — country music with Jesus-y words.

As an IFB pastor, I regularly scheduled Southern gospel groups to sing at our church. Most of these groups were local/regional musicians who were willing to come sing for us for a love offering. Over the years, I had several well-known groups come to our church: Robbie Hiner and The Journeymen, to name two. In the 1990s, I went through a CCM phase, thinking that if I brought in name groups, doing so would attract people to our church. Groups who sang at our church included: David Meece, Sierra, Annie Herring (2nd Chapter of Acts), and NIA. As far as attracting new church members? A big, fat bust.

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Ever the marketer, I advertised these concerts, hoping to draw large crowds. (Largest crowd? 400 for Sierra. Lowest? 20 for NIA.) Often, Ever the marketer, I advertised these concerts, hoping to draw large crowds. (Largest crowd? 400 for Sierra. Lowest? 20 for NIA.) Often, people from outside of our area would attend the concerts. Typically, these people were what I called diesel sniffers. Many of the musical groups traveled using diesel busses. Some people would follow their favorite group’s bus wherever it went. For them, southern gospel music was a drug; something that gave them a “spiritual” pick-me-up.

While IFB preachers attempt to paint southern gospel music as something that is “spiritual,” it is, in fact, entertainment. IFB preachers are known for their anti-entertainment preaching. It is well known that Fundamentalists take the fun out of everything. But, when it comes to southern gospel music, these same preachers ignore the fact that this style of music is a spiritualized form of entertainment.

I had a friend who was a devoted southern gospel fan. He and his wife attended numerous southern gospel concerts every year. His love for the music changed after he heard the McKameys sing twice in one week. What upset him, you ask? The McKameys sang their hit song, God of the Mountain. The acts were identical, right down to the lead singer gesticulating at the exact same time and kicking off her shoes. It was all a show. My friend thought these groups were spirit-led, when, in fact, they were well-paid professional entertainers.

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Another friend of mine spent several years traveling with well-known southern gospel groups. He, too, thought doing so would be a spiritual endeavor for him. What he found, instead, was rampant alcohol consumption and immorality. Yes, southern gospel singers have groupies too.

I am fifteen years removed from preaching my last sermon. As I reflect on the decades I spent in the ministry, it’s hard not to conclude that entertainment played a central part in virtually every service. Whether it was my preaching or a quartet singing, the goal was to entertain people. Now, the word “entertainment” was never uttered. Such things were considered spiritual and supernatural. However, when the religious trappings are stripped away, what’s left is entertainment. People may have found my preaching helpful or profound, but make no mistake about it, they found me to be quite the entertainer. So it is with southern gospel music.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.