Tag Archive: Evangelicalism

On the Road Looking for God’s True Church

You can tell a lot about a church without ever attending a service. All you have to do is read the sign in front of the church and it will tell you all you need to know. I love taking photographs of church signs, and now that I have an iPhone, I no longer need to take my DSLR with me every time we go out to eat or shop.

The iPhone camera is quite adequate for snapping photographs of church signs, so I plan to publicize, through my blog, the theology and message of some of the Evangelical churches Polly and I drive by on our trips to here and there.

Tonight, we drove to Findlay, Ohio to eat at Texas Roadhouse. After we finished our meal, we drove over to Dietsch Brothers Fine Chocolates and Ice Cream, an establishment I first frequented in 1970. Here’s three of the signs we saw along the way. Enjoy!

The first sign is from Ottawa Missionary Church 2031 E Main St. Ottawa,Ohio. Marshall Metzger is the pastor. The church is affiliated with the Missionary Church denomination.

ottawa missionary church

Ottawa Missionary Church, Ottawa, Ohio

The sign begs the question, how can we know God, not just any God, but the God of the Ottawa Missionary Church, inhabits our future? No one has ever seen or lived the future, much like no one has ever seen God. All we have to go on is words written down in a book by unknown authors thousands of years ago.

The next church, Faith Assembly of Believers, located at 1604 E Main St Ottawa, Ohio has a double-faced sign that catches passerbys coming and going.  The church has no website.  Larry Bibler pastors the church.

faith assembly of believers 3

Faith Assembly of Believers, Ottawa, Ohio

This sign is believable only if you think the earth is 6,000 years old and believe it didn’t rain for the first several thousand or so years. Noah was 600 years old when he entered the ark. Noah’s father Lamech was 182 years old when Noah was born, lived 777 years , and died 5 years before the worldwide flood of Genesis 6-8. Noah and his father account for almost a millennium. And we still have to account for the ages of Methuselah, Enoch, Seth, Cain, and Adam to name a few.  So quit your whining Californians. Your drought? Nothing compared to no rain for over two millennia.

faith assembly of believers

Faith Assembly of Believers, Ottawa, Ohio

While I couldn’t find a church website, God, also known as Google, did tell me a few things about Faith Assembly Believers and its pastor, Larry Bibler.

From a 2009 Putnam Sentinel article:

In George Washington’s farewell address, he declared that two pillars were sustaining the nation, keeping it strong and free; one is religion and one is morality.

Pastor Larry Bibler, of Faith Assembly of Believers, sees this sentiment as absolutely true, yet something the country has gotten away from. That’s why he and his wife Jan, along with other concerned citizens, have formed the Ottawa Patriots and held a Tea Party on the Courthouse lawn July 4.

“People are frustrated about what’s happening in America and this gives them an opportunity to do something about the condition of America,” said the Pastor. “We wanted to come up with something local going out to communities” in and around Putnam County.

Bibler said the whole purpose was to make the people realize that they need to get back the Constitution, back to God and back to prayer…

Bibler says the efforts of the group are based on the principles and values of Glenn Becks 912 project, found at theglennbeck912project.com. The project promotes the sacredness of family, justice, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, faith, and values like honesty, charity, courage and personal responsibility to name a few.

So, if you are lost, Pastor Bibler and Faith Assembly of Believers have just the road map for you. For those who want to freely travel down the road of life without Jesus GPS (gospel positioning system) plotting your way…beware…the road you are on leads to death, judgment, and hell. But, the ride sure is fun.

Smile God Loves You — Just Kidding!

Imagine a story that goes like this…One day a young man walks up to a young woman and says:

I love you and I want to marry you. I know we have never met before but I really, really, really love you and if you will love me back I have a wonderful plan for your life. I will be by your side 24 hours a day. In fact, you will never be free of me because I promise to never leave you or forsake you. I know you don’t know me from Adam, but if you will love me and never forsake me, I will be your BFF.

Suddenly, the young man’s face turns dark, and with a stern, threatening voice he says to the woman:

And if you don’t accept my proposal of love and lifelong commitment, I promise to make your life miserable. I will afflict you, burn your house down, and reduce you to Job’s ash heap. I will make your life so bad that you will wish you never had been born.

Any normal woman would recoil and run from such a man. Who would ever want to love such a person, one who offers conditional love, a love that promises violence and death if not requited? Yet, this is exactly the love that many Evangelicals try to sell to non-Christians.

Let me illustrate this with a tract from Osterhus Publishing House in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I picked this tract up at Dietsch Brothers Fine Chocolates and Ice Cream in Findlay, Ohio.

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Osterhus Publishing Tract, Front

osterhus publishing tract

Osterhus Publishing Tract, Back

Is this not the essence of the gospel many Evangelicals preach?  God says, Love me or you’ll wish you had.

042616

You Are Wrong!!

garfield never wrongOver the past 8 years, various people have taken it upon themselves in an email, blog comment, Facebook comment, tweet, letter to the editor, sermon, or blog post  to emphatically tell me “Bruce, You Are Wrong!!” Be it my liberal politics, the teams I root for, or my humanistic, atheistic beliefs, these beacons of absolute truth are infallibly certain that I am wrong.

Let me confess right away that I have been wrong many, many, many times. I bet you didn’t know that did you?  In fact, there is not a day that goes by that I am not wrong in some moment, circumstance, or detail.

Over the past eight years, various people have taken it upon themselves in an email, blog comment, Facebook comment, tweet, letter to the editor, sermon, or blog post  to emphatically tell me ”Bruce, You Are Wrong!!” Be it my liberal politics, the teams I root for, or my humanistic, atheistic beliefs, these beacons of absolute truth are infallibly certain that I am wrong.

Let me confess right away that I have been wrong many, many, many times. I bet you didn’t know that, did you?  In fact, there is not a day that goes by that I am not wrong in some moment, circumstance, or detail.

Usually, when someone writes me to tell me I am wrong they have a deeper, more sinister meaning for the word wrong. For the most part, I write about religion. Occasionally, I write about politics, education, sports, photography, and other sundry subjects, but religion and all its trappings is my main focus. I spend a great deal of time telling my story, detailing my journey, as only a good, humble, narcissistic ex-pastor can.  This blog, whatever else it may or may not be, is “Bruce’s Story, Told by Bruce, According to Bruce, the best he can remember it.”

When I am telling my story, my understanding of the journey I am on, I have little patience for those who tell me I am wrong. They dissect my life with the razor knife of their own experiences and beliefs and determine that I am/was not what I say I am/was. They tell me I was never saved, never a Christian, never a real pastor, and I suspect someday someone will even challenge my circumcision.

These kinds of people want to control my storyline. They want to set the standard by which my life, the one I lived, the one I am living now, is judged and it infuriates them when I won’t let them do so. I refuse to allow my story to be co-opted, controlled, or judged by any other standard than my own experiences. It is my life and I know what I believed, how I lived, and I am certain I know my life better than anyone who only had this blog to judge me by. My dear wife of 36 years is my best friend and she knows me pretty well, but she doesn’t know every part me.

garfield liarFoolish is a person, armed with only printed words on a computer screen, who judges a person’s life in any meaningful way. I certainly want people to enter into my story, in fact I invite them in. But, my readers are just visitors. They only know what I am willing to let them know. If my wife or my counselor can not pierce the inner sanctum, don’t think for a moment any visitor can.

Sometimes, charges of being wrong are hurled my way because of something I have written about Christianity, the ministry, the Bible, or some other facet of Western, organized Christianity. They vehemently disagree with my interpretation of a particular verse in the Bible or they object to particular word usages, words like Christian, evangelical, or fundamentalist.

What is the foundation of their charges against me? Why their own beliefs and interpretations or the beliefs and interpretations of their particular sect. Ultimately, the Bible becomes the focus of these kind of accusations.

I am wrong because I have misread, misunderstood, misapplied, or distorted what the Bible teaches. How do they know this? Because the accuser reads, understands, and applies the Bible differently from myself and we all know that every Evangelical (and Catholic and Muslim zealots) is infallible in his or her understanding of a book written by many, unknown people thousands of  years ago.

I could be wrong. In fact, I am quite certain that some of my interpretations are wrong. I have no way of proving whether they are. All I have is my mind and my ability to read, and using these skills, I try, to the best of my ability, to discern what a particular text in the Bible says. People are free to differ with me, but why should it be assumed that I am wrong and my critic is right? How do we make such a determination?

The Bible has the unique ability to be whatever a person wants it to be. Most people have a bit of Thomas Jefferson in them, scissors in hand, cutting out the things they disagree with or the things that weaken their positions or beliefs. The short of it is this…if you need to prove something, go to the Bible. You will likely find the answer you are looking for.

I am quite aware of the fact that I read the Bible differently from the Christians who think I am wrong. The one-up I have on them is that I used to read the Bible as they do. I understand their hermeneutics and theology and I am well aware of their interpretations. That said, I have no compulsion to read the Bible as an Evangelical or a progressive/liberal Christian would read the Bible. I have no great need to make the Bible fit in a systematic theology grid. Instead, I try to read the Bible like the average, unenlightened Bruce would read the Bible. I try to transport myself back in time in hopes of getting a historical and cultural perspective on the passage I am reading.

In the book of Genesis God says “let us make man in our image.”  When I read this passage I say to myself this says there is a plurality of Gods. Let US. As I read the Old Testament it is very clear to me that the Israelites were polytheistic and over time became monotheistic (or as oneness-Pentecostals would assert about Trinitarian Christians, they still ARE polytheistic).

Of course, those who think I am wrong say, but the New Testament says______ and they import their Trinitarian theology into the Genesis text. That’s all well and good if you are Christian, but I am not. I am quite free to read the Bible as it is written without forcing myself to put all the pegs in the right holes. The Christian has the burden to make it all fit, not I.

I may be wrong, but it is a leap of faith to assume that because I am wrong, you are right. There is no way to “prove” who is right or who is wrong when it comes to the Bible. Baptists and Campbellites (Church of Christ) spar often over one Greek word, eis, in Acts 2:38. Who is right? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all the arguments from both sides of the fence. Who is right? All people have to determine for themselves what they believe about God, the Bible, truth, and religion. This blog is simply my take on these things.

Seriously, the amount of skin I have in this game gets less and less every day. Talking about the Bible and what it purportedly teaches is all fun and games. Since the Bible no longer has a mystical hold on me, I am quite free to ignore it at will. I am free to be wrong because being wrong about the Bible is like being wrong about picking the wrong players for a fantasy football league (not the end of the world).

My bigger focus is on those who are considering leaving Christianity or who have already left Christianity. I try to be a good example of a person who successfully broke free and left Christianity. I do not call on people to follow me or to do what I did. All I am is one guy with a story. If my story helps someone, if it gives them the strength to take the big step they need to take, then I am grateful and humbled by being a small measure of help. However, if all I do is piss you off and make you think you have scabies, perhaps your short life would be better served reading other things besides this blog. Telling me I am wrong will not bring the effect you desire. I will gladly admit to being wrong. Next?

Perhaps you are really hanging out here because, deep down, uncertainty is pulling at you, and you are trying to suppress it by lashing out at the poor, deluded, deceived, ignorant Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist named Bruce.  Beware of uncertainty, for uncertainty is the path to my world.

042916

Al Mohler Upset Over Newsweek Article About the Bible

newsweek the bible

Fundamentalist Al Mohler has his panties in a knot a-g-a-i-n. This happens so often that Mohler recently had to have a pantiedectomy to remove over a dozen pairs of panties that were permanently ensconced in his rectum. It is always something with Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  This time, Mohler is upset about a Newsweek article on the Bible.

The feature article, The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin, is written by Kurt Eichenwald. Mohler notes that Eichenwald has, in the past, written for The New York Times and Vanity Fair. In other words, Mohler wants his followers to know that Eichenwald is a l-i-b-e-r-a-l.

Mohler contends that Eichenwald is out of his element in writing about the Bible. Evidently, being an investigative reporter is not sufficient to write about the Good Book. I suspect Mohler thinks that only theologians and people who actually believe the Bible is anything more than a fiction book should be the only ones worthy of writing about the Timeless Word of God®.

It always amuses me when people like Mohler play the “you are not qualified” card. Mohler is quite the hypocrite. He routinely writes on subjects he is not qualified to write on; subjects like politics, medicine, art, and science. According to Mohler’s website:

A native of Lakeland, Fla., Dr. Mohler was a Faculty Scholar at Florida Atlantic University before receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He holds a master of divinity degree and the doctor of philosophy (in systematic and historical theology) from Southern Seminary. He has pursued additional study at the St. Meinrad School of Theology and has done research at University of Oxford (England)

Best I can tell, Mohler has no serious training in science, politics, medicine, or art, yet he is somehow “qualified to write on these issues.  Of course, I understand why. Evangelical pastors have the ear of God and are qualified to pontificate on any issue “God” wants them to. Evangelical pastors are noted for knowing everything there is to know about anything and everything. Doubt me? Just ask one of them.

I think Mohler is more than qualified to write on a variety of subjects. He is an older man with a lot of education. But then, so is Eichenwald, and that’s my point. Just because Eichenwald is not an Evangelical Christian or a college trained theologian doesn’t mean he is not capable of writing an article about the Bible. He can read and is an investigative reporter and he is well equipped to write on most any subject he puts his mind to.

Here are a few excerpts from the Newsweek article:

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.

This is no longer a matter of personal or private faith. With politicians, social leaders and even some clergy invoking a book they seem to have never read and whose phrases they don’t understand, America is being besieged by Biblical illiteracy. Climate change is said to be impossible because of promises God made to Noah; Mosaic law from the Old Testament directs American government; creationism should be taught in schools; helping Syrians resist chemical weapons attacks is a sign of the end times—all of these arguments have been advanced by modern evangelical politicians and their brethren, yet none of them are supported in the Scriptures as they were originally written.

The Bible is not the book many American fundamentalists and political opportunists think it is, or more precisely, what they want it to be. Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is well established. A Pew Research poll in 2010 found that evangelicals ranked only a smidgen higher than atheists in familiarity with the New Testament and Jesus’s teachings. “Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it,’’ wrote George Gallup Jr. and Jim Castelli, pollsters and researchers whose work focused on religion in the United States. The Barna Group, a Christian polling firm, found in 2012 that evangelicals accepted the attitudes and beliefs of the Pharisees—religious leaders depicted throughout the New Testament as opposing Christ and his message—more than they accepted the teachings of Jesus.

Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God. Rather, it is designed to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others. When the illiteracy of self-proclaimed Biblical literalists leads parents to banish children from their homes, when it sets neighbor against neighbor, when it engenders hate and condemnation, when it impedes science and undermines intellectual advancement, the topic has become too important for Americans to ignore, whether they are deeply devout or tepidly faithful, believers or atheists.

This examination—based in large part on the works of scores of theologians and scholars, some of which dates back centuries—is a review of the Bible’s history and a recounting of its words. It is only through accepting where the Bible comes from— and who put it together—that anyone can comprehend what history’s most important book says and, just as important, what it does not say.

Later in the article, Eichenwald writes:

“These manuscripts were originally written in Koiné, or ‘common’ Greek, and not all of the amateur copyists spoke the language or were even fully literate. Some copied the script without understanding the words. And Koiné was written in what is known as scriptio continua—meaning no spaces between words and no punctuation. So, a sentence like weshouldgoeatmom could be interpreted as ‘We should go eat, Mom,’ or ‘We should go eat Mom.’ Sentences can have different meaning depending on where the spaces are placed.For example,godisnowhere could be ‘God is now here’ or ‘God is nowhere.’”

If you are interested in reading all of Mohler’s objections, you can read them here.

Mohler concludes his article by saying:

But Kurt Eichenwald’s essay is not ground-breaking in any sense. These arguments have been around for centuries in some form. He mixes serious points of argument with caricatures and cartoons and he does exactly what he accuses Christians of doing — he picks his “facts” and arguments for deliberate effect.

Newsweek’s cover story is exactly what happens when a writer fueled by open antipathy to evangelical Christianity tries to throw every argument he can think of against the Bible and its authority. To put the matter plainly, no honest historian would recognize the portrait of Christian history presented in this essay as accurate and no credible journalist would recognize this screed as balanced.

Oddly enough, Kurt Eichenwald’s attack on evangelical Christianity would likely be a measure more effective had he left out the personal invective that opens his essay and appears pervasively. He has an axe to grind, and grind he does.

But the authority of the Bible is not the victim of the grinding. To the contrary, this article is likely to do far more damage to Newsweek in its sad new reality. Kurt Eichenwald probably has little to lose among his friends at Vanity Fair, but this article is nothing less than an embarrassment. To take advantage of Newsweek’s title — it so misrepresents the truth, it’s a sin.

Mohler thinks Eichenwald has an axe to grind. And Mohler doesn’t? His weekly missives are one long lesson in the art of axe grinding. How about we all admit we each have axes to grind? Let’s look beyond what may be over the top characterizations by Eichenwald and deal with the one salient fact he makes clear; the Bible is a horribly misrepresented, misunderstood book. Most Christians are ignorant about the history of the Bible and its teachings. Most Christians spend very little time reading and studying the Bible. Even among Evangelicals, people who love to claim they are people of the Book,  Bible literacy and serious study of the Bible is lacking.

I suspect Mohler yearns for the day when churches, pastors, colleges, and seminaries controlled the flow of information. Before the internet, people didn’t have access to websites that dismantle, discredit, and obliterate the arguments pastors and theologians make for the Bible and its teachings. Unbelief is on the rise, the none’s continue to grow, and Bart Ehrman’s books are New York Times bestsellers. Information about the history of the Bible and its teachings can no longer be contained within the four walls of the church or seminary.

The bigger problem is that Christians, especially of the Fundamentalist and Evangelical stripe, now know that their pastor has been lying to them. Their pastor knew that the Bible is not an infallible, inerrant, or inspired book, he knew it contained errors, mistakes, and contradictions, yet he hid these things from parishioners. Conscientious Christians are right to wonder about what else their pastor isn’t telling them? Maybe it is time to check out other expressions of faith that don’t denigrate people over their gender, sexuality, or politics.

The internet will be the death of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity in America. Certainly Christianity will survive, but its future form will be much different from the Bible thumping days of the19th-20th century. Evangelicalism is dying. Mohler’s own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), continues to lose members. Actual church attendance and baptisms are in decline and the average  congregation is filled with those over 50. On any given Sunday, over half of the people who are on the membership roll of a Southern Baptist church are nowhere to be found. (check the bed or the lake)  SBC leaders fear they are losing a whole generation of young people. Instead of looking inward for the reason this is so, they blame it on American culture, Hollywood, emergent theology, etc. They seem unable to see that the real problem is irrelevance and an inability to answer the hard questions presented by science.  Young adults continue to seek truth but they no longer look to the church for the answers.

Men like Al Mohler will continue to rage against the machine, blaming anyone and everyone but himself. At his funeral he will be eulogized as a stanch defender of the faith and the nursing home crowd in attendance will feebly say Amen.

Like everything that is of human construction, death, change, and rebirth are sure to come to American Christianity. It remains to be seen what Christianity will look like when my grandchildren are my age. That is, if the rapture hasn’t happened and carried all the real Christians® away.

In Any Other Setting This Would Land You in the Psych Ward

dreams and visions

When it comes to the insane babbling of the religious, anything goes. No matter how outrageous and nutty a person sounds, because it is uttered in a religious context, we are expected to view the person as s-a-n-e. In any other context such utterances would land a person in a psych ward with a 72 hour hold.

Laura Harris Smith, author of Seeing the Voice of God: What God is Telling You Through Dreams & Visions, recently shared with the world a vision “God” had given her:

It was like any other family vacation for us: rare, restful and too short. Three generations piled into adjoining condos that my father had booked; four generations if you count that my daughter was pregnant and making me a grandmother. We were all gathered to visit and then go with her to the big ultrasound. The result? Twin boys, now almost 8 years old.

But one afternoon, I decided to lay down and take a nap before the big family meal. Since I never nap, and since I believe God speaks through dreams, I decided to take advantage of this extra sleep cycle and see if He might speak to me in a dream. I laid down, asked the Lord what He wanted to say, and drifted off. Surely I would dream about those precious twins. Or maybe about how the generations of the righteous are blessed. But that wasn’t at all what God needed to say that day.

I saw an American city destroyed by terrorist bombing. There was carnage in the streets, smoke everywhere, and utter pandemonium. It looked like a desolate wasteland. I somehow knew a “holy war” had been incited by Middle Eastern terrorists, and that the city they’d bombed was my hometown, Nashville, Tennessee. Not that there wouldn’t be other cities targeted, but this attack was different.

In the dream, Nashville had been strategically selected by them because of its religious history. The city is known by many names, such as “The Buckle of the Bible Belt,” “The Protestant Vatican,” and “Worship City.”  The Lord showed me that in deciding to launch a “holy war,” they’d chosen what their research had shown would surely be America’s “holiest” city, in terms of the Christian faith.

The bombings were to send a message that terrorism was about more than just power, it was about holiness. They murder in the name of holiness. They commit suicide in the name of martyrdom. They believe eternal rewards await both.

I awoke and asked the Lord why on earth He would ever allow this to happen to Nashville. I don’t know about it being America’s holiest city, but there certainly are more Christian ministries, industries, colleges, publishers, broadcasters and universities here than in any other American city, and so from the outside looking in, a strike against Nashville would be a blatant strike against Christianity itself. There are even more churches here per capita than in any other American city.

When I reminded God of all the work accomplished here for Him, I sensed that He wanted to prevent this holy war but that He wasn’t getting much help in doing so. Help from His own elect. Not the politicians and the entertainers but those with direct Christian influence: His shepherds. But how could that be?

I knew that this blanket statement did not implicate “all pastors in the city,” but that it represented a psychographic of Christian leaders who were rejecting the greatest ammunition we have against holy war: the Holy Spirit. Not rejecting Him to woo us toward Jesus, and not rejecting Him to seal our salvation, but rejecting Him by keeping Him at an arm’s length and not allowing Him to be fully operational in more than just creed at our churches and in our personal lives. Basically, it was as if God was saying that where the Holy Spirit is not fully welcomed, a holy war cannot be fully won.

When I awoke, I opened my Bible and it fell open to the book of Jeremiah. I waited there and prayed. The Holy Spirit led me to several Jeremiah passages which could be interpreted to personify what I’d just seen, including chapters 4-6 which mentions a coming “disaster from the north, even terrible destruction” (Jer. 4:6), which I felt symbolized (in this context) bombs coming from the skies, like I’d just seen. It also mentions “a distant nation against you—an ancient and enduring nation, a people whose language you do not know” (Jer. 5:15) and references our sins including having ears and yet not hearing Him (Jer. 5:21), something that Nashville intercessors have long warred against in prayer, referring to it as a “religious spirit” or a “deaf and dumb spirit.”  It manifests itself spiritually by preventing people from praying, prophesying, praising, speaking in tongues and just hearing from God period…

…Waging holy war on the buckle, Nashville, but targeting the entire belt to destroy its influence. The Bible Belt is said to stretch from Florida through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, North and South Carolina and into Virginia, and then southwest through Mississippi, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas. This is the hour for believers in these 15 states—and their shepherds—to walk fully in the Holy Spirit so that we might be conduits of revival to the other 35 states of America. It is why the enemy desires to make the Bible Belt unfit for use.

After my dream and my time in the book of Jeremiah, I immediately contacted three of my spiritual mentors, James Goll, Don Finto and Cindy Jacobs, asking them what to do with this grave dream that had totally highjacked my blissful vacation. The answer was to pray and wait. Then, with the release of Rick Joyner’s video this September, which described terrorism finding its way deeply into America and specifically mentioned “the southeast,” and then with Cindy Jacob’s follow-up video with her mama’s voice reminding us that if we pray and partner with God for change we can avoid these disasters and protect America, I asked the Lord if it was time to release my 2006 dream and to “blow the trumpet” (Jer. 6:1).

On a Sunday shortly thereafter, I got my answer. While at the church we pastor in Nashville—Eastgate Creative Christian Fellowship—a fiery young man named Seth approached me. He claimed that during worship He’d been taken away in the Spirit and that he saw bombs going off in Nashville. Later, the Lord had shown him several Scriptures to give to me, and he handed me a tiny piece of paper which listed them.

I noticed immediately that it was all Jeremiah passages, and sure enough, it included the same main Jeremiah 5 passage God had shown me on that 2006 afternoon when He beckoned with me to pray for repentance and revival in America’s Bible Belt.

What I saw in my dream was holy terror. Holy war. But I perceived that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we—the church—could do what no government or military could do, which is pray, repent, and rewrite the unfolding future. And as of late, God has also been showing me that neglecting the Holy Spirit is the chief cause of the decline in holiness in the Church, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit’s chief job is to make you holy since “without holiness, no one will see the Lord!” (Heb. 12:14)…

At the very least, Smith’s public utterances of bombings and terrorist attacks warrant a visit from Homeland Security. And then maybe the guys all dressed up in white, driving a white panel truck from the Evangelical Insane Asylum, need to stop by the Smith home and pick up the prophetess. She’s delusional, to say the least.

These kind of prophetic utterances are quite common in some Evangelical circles. If you write a book with a title Seeing the Voice of God: What God is Telling You Through Dreams & Visions, it stands to reason that you MUST have dreams and visions to share.

Smith is the co-pastor with her husband of Eastgate Creative Christian Fellowship, a small full gospel church,  in Nashville, Tennessee.

Pastor Ron Adkins and the Agnostic

letter to the editor

Republished from August 2010 with slight grammatical corrections.

The Sunday edition of the Defiance Crescent-News has the first, of what I am sure will be many more, letters to the Editor concerning my recently published rebuttal letter.

My youngest son asked me today if anyone has ever written a letter to the editor in support of my views about religion. I laughed and said No. As far as I know, I am the only person who has  written to the newspaper and said “I am an agnostic.” (Some days I wonder, “what was I thinking”?) I hope my willingness to stand up and be counted will encourage others to do so. I know I am not alone. I have received their letters and email. They fear what might happen to them socially or economically if their agnosticism or atheism were made public. Their fears are well-grounded and I would not encourage anyone to take the same path as I have.

My children have to live with the fact that their dad is “the man who writes in the newspaper”. They have to field questions like “are you related to Bruce Gerencser”? If they answer yes, what often follows is a queer look, a look that says I want to tell you what I think or I want to ask you a question or two. Usually, once my children affirm their connection to me a nervous silence ensues,. It’s like, the questioner, all of a sudden, finds out he has been working alongside a spawn of Satan.

The first letter to the editor response I want to deal with is written by Ron Adkins, pastor of the Ney and Farmer United Methodist churches. I know Ron personally. Our family attended the Ney church for a number of months and it was the last Church we ever attended. One might say our last experience proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. (though we met many wonderful people at the Ney church)

Ron is a young man. This is his first pastorate. Prior to this he was a professor at Ohio Christian University. Ohio Christian University is a fundamentalist institution affiliated with the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. (I am sure Ron will chafe at the fundamentalist label but he also knows what my response is to that)

Ron has pastored the Ney/Farmer churches for about 2 years. When I asked him what his philosophy of ministry was he told me it was “loving on people”. Evidently, as you shall see from his letter, that doesn’t include me. Some of what Ron writes in his letter reflects personal, private discussions he and  I had during the time we attended the Ney church. One could object saying “I told you that in private” but one thing I know about preachers, “don’t tell them anything you don’t want others to know.” (I take privacy far more seriously NOW than I did when I was a pastor)

From reading Ron’s letter to the editor it is safe to assume that my rebuttal letter upset some people in his church. Here I am, almost two years removed from attending church, and I am still causing trouble. I realize my letter put Ron in a no-win situation. He is a great guy and he doesn’t like conflict. He has a wonderful wife and great kids. The last thing he needs is to tangle with Bruce. But, my heresy demands an answer, so Ron penned typed a reply to my letter.

As you shall see in a moment, Ron tries to avoid making this personal. He never calls me by name. Instead he calls me THE agnostic. Since the is a definite article and I am the only agnostic that has written to the paper, it is safe to assume that THE agnostic=Bruce Gerencser.

Now to Pastor Adkin’s letter. Ron’s letter appears as normal type. My response appears as bold italics.

To the Editor:

I have been averse to reading the latest letter to the editor from the agnostic because I personally find agnosticism trite for two major reasons.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. Ron is writing about my letter, and since I am the only agnostic who has written to the newspaper, he is directing his response to me and what I have written. Of course, his greater objective is to cheer on the faithful.

My response is personal. I guess I could hide my response target by saying I am responding to THE pastor, but, I am not one known for such subterfuge so I want to make it clear that my response is directed to Pastor Adkins and his letter to the editor. I do hope that the faithful will be challenged and forced to ask hard questions about Christianity, the Bible, and their certainty that what they say they believe is the truth is really the truth. I also hope my fellow atheists and agnostics will be encouraged to continue on the path of intellectual freedom.

I am amused somewhat that Ron considers agnosticism trite, yet he expends quite a bit of verbiage in his attack of the agnostic view. Perhaps it was not as trite as he thought is was.

First, agnosticism is predicated on the premise of skepticism concerning the existence of God. The agnostic doubts the absolute truth about God (although some may believe in a First Cause), yet states an absolute truth by claiming God does not exist and that the answer is a humanistic worldview. If consistent, the agnostic would doubt his own statements, and furthermore, would doubt his own doubt that God does not exist, thus resulting in the probability that God could exist.

I don’t believe I have ever said God does not exist.  I am, after all, an agnostic. In fact, Ron might be surprised to know that I have quite a bit of room in my agnostic worldview for a god (or gods). (much to the consternation of some hard-core atheists) I am fairly certain that the gods that man has created so far are not gods at all. I can not state categorically or infallibly (I’ll leave that to the Pope) there is NO God. Even Christopher Hitchens does not say there is No God.

The best answer,the best philosophy of living, in my humble opinion, is humanism. With humanism the focus is on reality, the here and now. Surely, Ron, the history major that he is, knows that many humanists have a spiritual or religious dimension to their beliefs. But, the humanist always comes back to what they can see. The humanist does not have time to spend on pining about a future in heaven, the rapture, and the many other events in the eternal future that preoccupy and keep Christians from engaging a suffering, hurting, and dying world.

What is humanism? The best statement I have found comes from the Humanist magazine:

“Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. Free of theism and other supernatural beliefs, humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.”

Christians often prop up the straw man of absolute truth. Everyone believes in absolute truth, they claim.  Evidently Ron needs to meet a few real agnostics and atheists before he claims such a thing.

Personally, there are many things I believe to be true or factual. Based on what knowledge and information I have at hand, I have concluded that certain things are factual and true. I know that the earth revolves around the sun and that the earth is not flat. I am relatively certain the science behind these claims is true. If I was left with only the absolute truth of the Bible, I would have to ignore what science teaches and I would be forced to accept that the sun revolves around the earth and the earth is flat. (among countless other incredible, yet false claims found in the Bible)

Ron writes of the absolute truth of God, and by God, lets be clear, Ron means the Christian God. Where does one find this absolute truth? The Bible. Ah, finally a concrete piece of information we can weigh in the balances. And that is exactly what I have done. I have weighed the claims of the Bible in the balances and found it wanting.

I find the claims made by academics like Bart Ehrman and Robert Price to be compelling. I find Richard Wright’s book The Evolution of God to be a fascinating  alternative story to the monotheism of orthodox Christianity.

My agnosticism rests squarely on the belief that the Bible is not what it claims to be and that it is not inspired, divine truth. At the end of the day it all boils down to the Bible. If I do not accept the claims of the Bible, or the claims of what Churches, denominations, popes or pastors say the Bible says, then I can not believe in the God that the Bible presents.  I may still believe in a god  but not the god of the Christian Bible.

Ron, I am sure, will appeal to nature and conscience as proof of God, but I would counter  how can one necessarily conclude that the God who gave us nature and a conscience is necessarily the Christian God? Would a person not initiated in Christian thinking come to the conclusion, by looking at nature, that there is a God and that that God is the triune God of the Christian religion? Doubtful. In fact, I can say impossible. Such a faith requires the Bible to give it structure.

Second, if then, the agnostic is not a true agnostic,because of the self-defeating premise, then there is another motivation behind his self-proclaimed agnosticism.

Answered above, so I assume this makes mute the next point Ron makes. But, Ron gets personal (divulging a bit of inside information about me) in what follows so I want to deal with it.

I have found that agnostics, who are not true agnostics,typically are angry at God because God does not operate the way they think God should operate. At other times they are angry because they have not received what they wanted from God. Like the undisciplined child who is angry at a parent using their only means of power, knowing they are powerless, will proclaim, “I hate you!” Nothing could hurt a parent more, and they know this.

The agnostic stands before God and proclaims in anger,‘”You don’t exist!” Isn’t it interesting then that humans, created beings, desire God to act the way they perceive God should act? Furthermore, I find it pathetic to claim a humanistic worldview in which there is nothing, or no one, greater than ourselves to rely.

Anger. Ron, is right about my anger but he is wrong about the focus of my anger.

The Christian God, the God of Ron Adkins does not exist. Why would I be angry at a fictional being?

No, my anger is directed towards organized religion.  My anger is directed at Evangelical Christianity. I am angry over what was taken from me over the 25 years I spent in the ministry.  I am angry over the wasted time and effort spent “doing  Church”. I am angry over my own selfish ambitions and my attempts at building a kingdom in my own name. (as all pastors do, after all why is their name on the church sign?)

I am angry over what the ministry and the church did to my wonderful wife and children. I am angry over countless parishioners whose lives are now shipwrecked because they drank from the well of organized religion.

Yes, I am angry and it feels good. For 33 years I lived in denial of my emotions, serving a God who was no god at all, a god that demanded self-sacrifice and self-denial. It feels good to be out from under such a burdensome weight.

Ron may consider humanism pathetic, and I might be tempted to say back at ya, but what humanism provides for me is reality. It is rooted in the common humanity we all share. I no longer have need to pray, fast, tithe, and attend. What humanism demands of me is doing, It demands of me the very things Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. Humanism calls me to be fully human, in an imperfect, marred world. It calls me to use what talents I have for the betterment of my fellow man.

Becoming an agnostic and a humanist has forced me to admit that most of the supposed altruistic works I did as a pastor had an ulterior motive. I didn’t love people  for who they were. I loved them because I wanted Jesus to change them . If Jesus changed them then they would become a part of the church I pastored . End result? Bigger attendance and bigger offerings. (Trying to get a pastor to admit this is nigh impossible.)

It is an exhilarating experience to truly love people as they are.

Last, I would like to briefly answer the question which became the title for the agnostic’s editorial, “Writers espoused different views.”

I am glad of one thing……..Ron used the word last. I despise the use of the word lastly. Ron gets 1 brownie point for using last instead of lastly.

I hope Ron is aware that the newspaper determines what the letter title is. I have been writing letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, etc for over 28 years and I have yet been allowed to write my own title.

First, let me give some advice to all of those wonderful Christians who have been troubled by THE Agnostic. Remember an agnostic asks questions based on skepticism. Don’t feel as though you are in a corner. The quote at hand read, “Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America”.

Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way. It is obvious that one comes to the truth of Christianity or more generally religious truth, differently than one would come to scientific truth. God is not an object to be observed. God has made himself known. Faith, therefore, is a response in obedience, the thing agnostics hate.

I find Ron’s statement here astounding. Ron writes “Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way”. Ron certainly believes the Bible to be absolute truth.  I would love to  know if he really, really, believes the Bible is absolute truth. (I have my doubts) Ron, without any evidence, believes that what the Bible teaches is objective fact.

How does one know this? By a subjective experience with God. God has made himself known. How do we know that? Because the Christian says so. Because Ron says so. Ultimately, it is a matter of faith.

If it is a matter of faith, why  do so many Christians try and prove the truth of Christianity? Why do they attempt to use scientific methods to prove the veracity of the claims the Bible makes?

If it is a matter of faith then why write letters to the editor attempting to discredit and refute my rebuttal letter? Would it not be better to rest in the belief that the God of faith, through the holy Spirit will take care of things? Surely God can take care of one lowly, insignificant, pimple on the ass, agnostic named Bruce?

Ron might be surprised to know that I still have faith. I have faith in the gods I can see, my fellow human beings. In my Christian days I put my faith in a God who I said  was always there, but quite honestly I never really could find him. God was all-knowing and all-powerful. He was supposedly intimately involved in the minutia of my life, yet when it came to things that mattered, matters of life and death, God was nowhere to be found.

I would assume that Ron considers his weekly sermons to be subjective? After all he is preaching absolute truth in a subjective manner, yes? I don’t know of any preacher that would embrace such a claim, especially  an Evangelical preacher. After all, the preacher is the man of God who speaks the word of God to the people of God. Not much subjectivity  here.

I find no conflict in the different responses to the agnostic because the different individuals have expressed their belief and experience (“Pascal’s Wager”) in the one, absolute God in different ways. Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world is truth and is experienced by individuals.

Ron is being disingenuous here OR his two years in the Methodist church has worn down his Evangelical resolve. I realize he is preaching to the choir here, but any cursory reading of the letters written in reply to either of my recent letters will reveal full-blown heresy. Is Ron suggesting that subjective heresy is fine as long as it is done with the right intention? If so, it is time to give all the heretics of the past a place at the orthodox table once again. Each of them had sincere intentions. They loved their version of Jesus. Welcome Brother Pelagius!

It is clear for all  who are willing to see……….no two Christians have the same version of Christianity. Christianity for most Christians is akin to going to a buffet, taking what you want and leaving the rest. I don’t have a problem with this approach, but I would, at least, like Christians to admit it. They speak of orthodoxy and common belief, but such singularity does not exist except in  denominational or church confessions or theological texts. Real world experience tells me that every Christian believes what they want to believe and ignores the rest. (any righteous men out there that want to offer their virgin daughter to the men of the city as righteous Lot did?)

This is why all Christians can describe some kind of personal experience, or relationship, with God through the Holy Spirit. Christian faith is an assent and obedience to the revelation of God.

On  this point  I  agree with Ron. It is all about the revelation of God. In other words it is ALL about the Bible. As I have said time and time again, there is no Christianity without the Bible. I am an agnostic because I reject the truth claims of the Bible. I reject its claim that it is a supernatural, divine book that reveals God to humankind. It is  a spiritual book written by men thousands of years ago.  Certainly the Bible has much to offer in way of personal spiritual guidance, but it is just a  book and it has no authority in my life. It has as much authority, and is just as inspired, as the writings of Mark Twain. (And no Christian can prove otherwise because the doctrine of inspiration is presupposed and can not be empirically proved.)

Ron knew I was heading down the slippery slope towards agnosticism. Surely he can recall our discussions about the Bible. He, at one time, read my blog. Yet, when I stopped attending his church that ended our interaction. Evidently time was better spent rescuing those who wanted rescued.

Yet, one would think that over the course of two years, in a town of 325 people, Ron or someone from the church would have stopped by and looked in on us. As I have struggled with debilitating neurological problems, problems Ron was well aware of, one would think that a visit might be in order. How can we help? Is there anything you need? One never knows what love and kindness might accomplish.

As is always the case…why spend time helping people who have no intentions of joining the happy band. If their ass is not in the seat why bother?

This is my subjective experience of the objective truth called the Church.

There are six churches within a few miles of the home where my family and I reside. Prior to my recent coming out as an agnostic, our family would have been a great catch for any church. We are clean-cut, clean-livers. We look like Christians. We are talented. We have skills that any church would be grateful to use. We are loyal, faithful people. We are loving and kind. We are great non-Christian Christians.

But, not one pastor, one church leader, one church member, ever knocked on our door to invite us to their church. Even after we visited four of the six churches, no one bothered to try to befriend us and love us as Jesus would.

No, the truth is……..no one gave a shit.

And then one day………neither did we.

Ron Adkins
Ney

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

Dear Friend

bill beard lighthouse memorial church

Bill Beard, pastor Lighthouse Memorial Church

This is a letter I sent to a dear friend of mine, Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church in Millersport, Ohio. I was Bill’s pastor several times in the 1980’s, I baptized him, and I took part in his ordination with the Church of the Nazarene. After Bill received the letter Dear Family, Friends, and Parishioners in April 2009, he drove from is home near Lancaster, Ohio to my home here in Ney. This letter explains my understanding of our conversation and where I thought our friendship was headed. I have published this letter before. Like with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

I saw Bill again recently at a funeral service I conducted this past summer in New Lexington, Ohio for a former friend and church member. After exchanging pleasantries, he made an offhand snide comment about his car. Evidently, he did not appreciate the one line in this letter mentioning that he drove to my house in a Lincoln. I meant nothing by it, but he must have thought I did. We chatted for a bit and then it was time for the service. I am sure he curious about what I would say or do and I have no doubt that the non-religious service disappointed him. This was but another reminder of how far his former friend has fallen.

Dear Friend,

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a 100.00 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a 100.00 bill in the offering plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and I a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I being a Calvinist.

One day you came to place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really  see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become. (whether I view it as good or bad)

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced I had  no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace.

Do you know what troubled me the most? You didn’t shake my hand as you left. For 26 years we have shook hands as we came and went. The significance of this is overwhelming. You can no longer give me the right hand of fellowship because we no longer have a common Christian faith.

Over the course of three hours you constantly reminded me of the what I used to preach, what I used to believe. I must tell you forthrightly that that  Bruce is dead. He no longer exists, but in the memory of a distant past. Whatever good may have been done I am grateful, but I bear the scars and memories of much evil done in the name of Jesus. Whatever my intentions, I must bear the responsibility for what I did through my preaching, ministry style, etc.

You seem to think that if I just got back in the ministry everything would be fine. Evidently, I can not make you understand that the ministry is the problem. Even if I had any desire to re-enter the ministry, where would I go? What sect would take someone with such beliefs as mine?  I ask you to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a pastor again. Does not the Bible teach that if a man desires the office of a bishop (pastor) he desires a good work? I have no desire for such an office. Whatever desire I had died in the rubble of my 25 plus year ministry.

We talked about many things didn’t we? But I wonder if you really heard me?

I told you my view on abortion, Barack Obama, the Bible, and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ.

You told me that a Christian couldn’t hold such views. According to your worldview that is indeed true. I have stopped using the Christian label. I am content to be a seeker of truth, a man on a quest for answers. I now know I never will have all the answers. I am now content to live in the shadows of ambiguity and the unknown.

What I do know tells me life does not begin at conception, that Barack Obama is a far better President than George Bush , that the Bible is not inerrant or inspired, and that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven. (if there is a Heaven at all)

This does not mean that I deny the historicity of Jesus or that I believe there is no God. I am an agnostic. While I reject the God of my past it remains uncertain that I will reject God altogether. Perhaps…

In recent years you have told me that my incessant reading of books is the foundation of the problems I now face. Yes, I read a lot. Reading is a joy I revel in.  I read quickly and I usually comprehend things quite easily. (though I am finding Science to be a much bigger challenge) Far from being the cause of my demise, books have opened up a world to me that I never knew existed. Reading has allowed me to see life in all its shades and complexities. I can no more stop reading than I can stop eating. The passion for knowledge and truth remain strong in my being. In fact it is stronger now than it ever was in my days at Somerset Baptist Church.

I was also troubled by your suggestion that I not share my beliefs with anyone. You told me my beliefs could cause others to lose their faith! Is the Christian faith so tenuous that one man can cause others to lose their faith? Surely, the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than Bruce. (even if I am Bruce Almighty)

I am aware of the fact that my apostasy has troubled some people. If Bruce can walk away from the faith…how can any of us stand? I have no answer for this line of thinking. I am but one man…shall I live in denial of what I believe? Shall I say nothing when I am asked of the hope that lies within me? Christians are implored to share their faith at all times. Are agnostics and atheists not allowed to have the same freedom?

I suspect the time has come that we part as friends. The glue that held us together is gone. We no longer have a common foundation for a mutual relationship. I can accept you as you are,  but I know you can’t do the same for me. I MUST be reclaimed. I must be prayed for. The bloodhound of heaven must be unleashed on my soul.

Knowing all this, it is better for us to part company.  I have many fond memories of the years we spent together. Let’s mutually remember the good times of the past and each continue down the path we have chosen.

Rarer than a Ivory-billed woodpecker is a friendship that lasts a lifetime. 26 years is a good run.

Thanks for the memories.

Bruce

somerset baptist church 1983

Somerset Baptist Church, Landmark Building 1983

This is the place where I first met Bill and Peggie Beard

somerset baptist church 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, 1985

Bill and Peggie Beard gave us 5,000.00 to buy this building

somerset baptist church 1985-2

Somerset Baptist Church, First Church Bus, 1985

Bill and Peggie Beard helped us buy our first church bus

Clay Yarborough and the Evangelical Fear of Breasts

angela strassheim naked pregnant woman

Angela Strassheim Photo of of Naked Pregnant Woman

For those of us raised in the Evangelical/fundamentalist church, we are quite familiar with the fear preachers and church leaders have of exposed breasts and cleavage. Women are oft reminded to cover up, lest the weak, pathetic men of the church throw them down in the middle aisle of the church and ravage them. As the recent GRACE report on sexual abuse and rape at Bob Jones University reveals, women are viewed as temptresses out to beguile helpless men. This kind of thinking is found in the Bible:

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adultress will hunt for the precious life.Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. (Proverbs 6:23-29)

For at the window of my house I looked through my casement,And beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, Passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house,In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night: And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart. She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house: Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.) So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him, I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows. Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee. I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves. For the goodman is not at home, he is gone a long journey: He hath taken a bag of money with him, and will come home at the day appointed. With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him.He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life. Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:6-27)

Clay Yarborough, 33,  is president of the Jacksonville, Florida city council. Yarborough, an Evangelical, attends First Baptist Church, a  Southern Baptist congregation. Fundamentalist Mac Brunson is his pastor,  Recently, Yarborough objected to the city providing funding for an art display that included a picture of a naked pregnant woman on a couch. Yarborough stated:

“I am trying to promote a positive moral climate in our city and though some will defend the pornography by labeling it ‘art,’ we need boundaries in order to be healthy, especially where it concerns our children.”

Ah yes, think of the children.

Yarborough’s puritanical objection resulted in a threefold increase in attendance at the Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit.

The 14 photographs in the exhibit were shot by photographer Angela Strassheim. Asked her opinion of Yarborough’s objection, Strassheim said:

“The man is entitled to his own opinion,But I don’t think it in any way is pornography. Maybe he hasn’t seen enough porn.”

The more enlightened in Jacksonville rightly poked fun at Yarborough’s fear of breasts. Here’s a picture of a protester that was posted on The Folio Weekly:

ban boobs

Picketer Supports Exhibit with a Ban Boobs from City Hall Sign

As a photographer, I think the photo celebrates the beauty of womanhood and pregnancy. It was tastefully done and in no way is it pornography. Unlike Yarborough, I have seen porn and this ain’t it. (though I highly doubt, being the good Baptist boy that he is, that Yarborough has never, ever seen porn)

The Museum of Contemporary Art issued a press release stating:

The Cultural Council stands ready to defend the artistic and curatorial choices of our cultural service grantees.

Council President Yarborough’s objection to a photography exhibit featuring the human form, which has been present in museums, homes and galleries since the dawn of time, is unfortunate and could be viewed as an effort to stifle artistic expression. This particular exhibit, which celebrates the “transitional points” in life – “the precious, fleeting nature of childhood and adolescence” – opened to rave reviews last week. We’re proud to have an organization of MOCA’s caliber in our community and we stand behind it, it’s executive and the artist behind this amazing exhibit.

Mark Woods, writing for the Florida Times-Union, sums it up best when he writes (link no longer active);

It was almost noon on Black Friday. While many people undoubtedly were busy doing something wholesome, like preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ with a new big-screen TV, I headed downtown, paid my $8 and went inside a building to see some porn.

Or at least that’s how the president of the Jacksonville City Council views what’s in the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville these days…

…We do know this: There is an image in MOCA of a nude woman lying on a couch, her breasts and pregnant belly visible.

That’s right. A female nude with bare breasts and a round belly. In a museum. Shocking, right?

From the Cummer to the Louvre, pretty much every museum in the world has more than a few nudes, male and female, sometimes even together, sometimes holding naked babies. And have you seen that chapel in Italy? Nudes everywhere. Even the ceiling. Not sure what porn-peddler was responsible for that.

Even by itself, without any context whatsoever, it’s hard to imagine the photo in MOCA coming anywhere close to the legal definition of pornography. And the photo isn’t hanging by itself. It is one of 14 in a new exhibit on the towering atrium wall. The basic themes of this exhibit are — please cover your young one’s eyes — childhood and motherhood…

…I’m not exactly sure what Yarborough wants to see hanging in the atrium, what will avoid his personal version of the “I know it when I see it” definition of pornography. Something without nudity, I presume. Maybe a giant still life of fruit. (Well, as long as there’s not two bananas together. That clearly would be wrong.) Or better yet, how about some nice velvet art? But, please, no dogs playing poker. That only would glorify the issue we have with canine gambling.

In all seriousness, this City Council and its president had been on such a roll. I was preparing to come back to the paper and heap praise on them for doing a lot of hard, serious work and avoiding the kind of silliness that has marred the past. But now it appears we’re taking a detour back down Silly Street.

It would be one thing if Yarborough wanted to argue that tax dollars shouldn’t be used for anything related to the arts. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, but I’d be able to respect that position more than the idea that tax dollars should be pulled from this museum because of this photo.

If the councilman wants to bemoan taxpayer-funded titillation, he might want to check out a football game or concert or a lot of other things that, while still far from pornography, might not send the best message to kids…

When this story first came out I posted it to my wife’s Facebook page, complete with the photo of nude pregnant lady. Within seconds, several people reported the posting to Facebook. We suspect that the offended are several of our fundamentalist extended family members. Go back and look at the photo again. Is there anything that suggests impropriety or that a teenager seeing it would be harmed (since the minimum age for a Facebook account is 13)? This is silly, isn’t it? Yet, countless Evangelicals have this irrational fear of breasts. Preachers have spent endless hours reminding women to cover up lest the poor, pathetic men of the church be led astray. Perhaps it is time to teach men to embrace their sexuality. Stop treating men like they are helpless and stop treating women like they are temptresses out to bed any man who dares to gaze upon her comeliness. We do live in the 21st century, yes?

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The Outrage Culture

outrage

Last Saturday, Ohio State thumped Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Conference football title game. This impressive win was enough to propel Ohio State into the National Championship playoff. They will play Alabama on New Year’s Day. Texas Christian University, along with Baylor University are outraged that their teams did not make it into the final four. Before the Big Ten Conference game, Texas Christian held the number 3 spot. Ohio State bumped them out of the playoff. Fans of Texas Christian, Baylor, and the Big 12 Conference took to social media, blogs, and sports news sites to express their outrage over their team and conference being slighted. The outraged pointed out why Ohio State didn’t deserve a playoff spot, often using abusive, childish, and derogatory language.

Last night, Dan Barker appeared on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show to register his outrage over a restaurant giving patrons who say a prayer a discount. Barker’s Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a threatening letter to the restaurant demanding they stop their prayer discount immediately. Jordan Klepper made a mockery of Barker and the Freedom From Religion Foundation and I, as a member of the Foundation, was quite embarrassed.

President Obama can’t break wind in a White House bathroom without Fox News being outraged over his fartiness. Fox has expressed indignant outrage over everything from the President’s wardrobe to his children acting like teenagers. Every day, there is a new outrage at Fox News, end of the world wars on Christmas and Christianity.

MSNBC gets in on the outrage game too. Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, Pete King, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin seem to demonstrate their stupidity every time they open their mouth and MSNBC is right there to let their viewers know exactly what these dimwitted hacks said. Let the outrage begin.

And then there’s the Evangelicals. Is there anyone more offended, upset, and outraged than Evangelicals? From Worldnet Daily to James Dobson to Franklin Graham to John Piper to John Hagee to Phyllis Schlafly, Evangelical talking heads take to social media, their blogs, and ministry websites to express outrage over same-sex marriage, abortion, birth control, immigration, Xmas, the minimum wage, and countless other things that they are sure are condemned in the Bible. Why God is outraged and so are they! They have even convinced themselves that they are a persecuted remnant. Atheists, humanists, socialists, communists, secularists, and Democrats have taken a secret blood oath to destroy Christian America. Why any day now, Evangelicals will be rounded up and send off to concentration camps, or so the paranoid among them think.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of all the fake outrage. It seems we have lost all sense of proportion. Even when there is an element of truth in a person or groups outrage, like in the case where the restaurant IS violating the law by only offering a discount to those who say a religious prayer, it seems that many people give every outrage equal weight. Result? Someone mentioning the Christian God at a high school graduation is equivalent to Mexican immigrants dying in the Sonoran Desert because of draconian, immoral immigration policies.

Everyone is so busy showing their outrage by posting to Facebook or Twitter and asking their friends to click like or retweet that they never consider how insignificant and petty their outrage is. As our climate warms and corporations continue to buy Congress, countless Americans are outraged over the series ending finale of Sons of Anarchy.  As we fight a global war against a ginned up enemy called terrorism and countless civilians continue to be slaughtered in the Middle East and Africa, far too many Americans spend their time being outraged over their singer not winning The Voice.

Count me as one person who is outraged over the outraged. Is this what we what become, a petty populous indifferent and ignorant of our surroundings, more concerned over posting a bad restaurant review on Yelp than we are the future of the human race? If this is so, I wonder if there will even be a future for us to hope for. We are going to kill ourselves one tweet and like at a time.

Response to Local Christian Fundamentalists

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, published September 14, 2014.

Dear Editor:

Over the past several weeks, local fundamentalist Christians have voiced their objection to my recent letter to the editor. While I cannot adequately answer all of their objections in the space of 500 words, I would like to address several issues.

I am not anti-religion. I know most people have some sort of religious belief they find beneficial. I am not the slightest bit interested in disabusing them of their belief. Yes, I am an atheist. I am also an agnostic, secularist, humanist, liberal, and Cincinnati Bengals fan. I am many things, but I am not one who wants to stop people from worshiping God.

My objection is to ignorance, especially the kind of ignorance that thinks ancient writings by unknown authors thousands of years ago make for good science. Fundamentalists are free to teach in church, private Christian schools, and home schools that the entire body of scientific evidence can be summed up by saying the Christian God did it. They are free to promote thoroughly discredited notions like the universe is 6,000 years old and was created in six days. They are free to deny all that science tells us about the world we live in. And yes, sadly, they are free to cripple their children intellectually. This is the price we pay for religious freedom.

However, when it comes to the public schools my 10 grandchildren attend or will some day attend, I expect them to be taught the scientific method. I expect them to be taught about facts and evidence without the taint of theology and fundamentalist ignorance.

The scientific method remains the best way for us to understand the universe. It is a method that relies on testing, verification, retesting and, if need be, admitting error. When is the last time that has happened at a local church? (That’s a rhetorical question) Fundamentalists think they have all the answers to all of life’s questions. Their view can be summed up this way, the Bible says, end of discussion. Do we really want local public school children being taught to think like this? Can we afford to cripple them intellectually, robbing them of the skills necessary to think rationally and critically? I think not.

Recent letter writers are like petulant children screaming for attention. For them it is not about science; it is about their belief system increasingly being marginalized and ignored. So when they gin up the non-controversy controversy over biological evolution, the age of the universe, or global climate change, I have no interest in giving their ignorance the air of respectability. After all, doesn’t the Bible say, don’t answer a fool according to his folly

There is, in the main, little controversy over biological evolution, the age of the universe, or global climate change. Denial is simply a refusal to see things as they are.

For the record, I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years, pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I am not ignorant of what the Bible teaches.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

What Happened to Ohio?

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. Published July 13, 2014

Dear Editor:

What has happened to Ohio, a state once known for its progressive politics and values? In a few short decades, religious and political fundamentalists have taken over the state government and are now attempting to take over the state board of education. Ohio is now being compared to backwater states like North Carolina and Mississippi.

The Ohio House of Representatives is considering HB 351, a bill that would effectively make abortion and birth control difficult to obtain. This bill has no abortion exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Evidently, women impregnated through rape or incest are supposed to realize their pregnancy is God’s wonderful plan for their life. Rep. John Becker, the sponsor of HB 351, made it clear that this bill is all about his personal religious convictions when he stated “This is just a personal view. I’m not a medical doctor.”

The Ohio Board of Education now has several Christian fundamentalists on its board. Mark Smith, the president of Ohio Christian University, is one such member. Smith, in a recent speech at the 2014 Road to Victory conference, made it clear that he is part of a movement that is determined to take the schools back for God. According to Smith, “it’s no secret that our educational system is full of teachers and professors who desire to obfuscate truth, and these individuals are effectively (deconstructing) our nation.”

Truth to Mark Smith and other Christian fundamentalists like him is the Bible. Smith stated “You see I’m excited to lead the cause for the rebirth of faith values in America, the rebirth of embracing a love for God, the love for family, and a love for our nation. I like traditional marriage. I’m for traditional marriage. Let’s embrace traditional marriage … .” Rather than focusing on education, Smith wants to focus on inculcating our children with his brand of Christianity. Our children may not learn to do algebra but at least they will know which God is the right one and which holy book is truth.

Sadly, most Ohioans are clueless about what goes on in Columbus. They continue to send Republicans to the state house without ever considering what they might do when they get there. The only way to stem the tide of religious extremism is to vote the extremists out of office. As it stands now, the Ohio Democratic party is weak and here in rural northwest Ohio it is almost non-existent.

The solution remains the same. We must stand up and fight. We must vote. We must support candidates that want to return Ohio to the days of its progressive greatness. We must be willing to make our voice heard. The editorial page of this newspaper is filled with letters from right-wing political and religious extremists. Surely there are Defiance County residents who are willing to stand up for the liberal/progressive values? Perhaps it is time to write a letter to the editor.

Bruce Gerencser

Ney

God and Global Warming

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. Published May 28, 2014.

Dear Editor:

A recent letter to the editor stated that the main reason for global climate change and the escalation of global temperatures is that this is how the Christian God wants things to be. The letter writer is not concerned one bit about climate change because God is on the job. We can collectively take a big sigh of relief knowing that the Christian God is in complete charge of the weather.

I wonder if people who make an argument like this understand the implications of their argument. If God is in control of everything, if he is the first cause, if he is the sovereign ruler of all, if there is nothing that we can do to stop the Christian God from doing his thing, then God must then bear the responsibility for everything that goes on in the world.

Katrina, Sandy, every hurricane, every typhoon, every mudslide, every forest fire, every natural disaster, must be laid at the feet of this micromanaging God. Since God is perfectly working out his will in the affairs of the human race, he then is accountable for war, starvation, disease, and death. If God is as the letter writer says he is, then God is culpable for everything that happens.

Of course, most fundamentalist Christians will object to what I have written here. They will say that humans have free will and that the bad things that happen are the result of humans exercising their free will. Wait a minute, I thought God was in charge of everything? Isn’t it God that gave humans free will? There is no way for God to avoid culpability since all power, authority, and control, rests with him.

This kind of fatalism is of no consequence if it is kept in the church house. If someone wants to believe that there is some sort of divine puppet master controlling their life, I couldn’t care less. But, when this kind of thinking bleeds into public policy, the result can be catastrophic.

The world doesn’t have the luxury or the time to just sit back and let God do his thing. Global climate change, along with ever-increasing global temperatures, is the greatest threat we face today. Doing nothing is not an option. As temperatures and seas rise, costs are sure to soar as global climate change disrupts growing seasons and forces the mass relocation of millions of people. As competition for earth’s dwindling, finite resources increases, affluent nations will turn to war to maintain their standard of living.

Our best days may be behind us and thinking that God is going to deliver us or is working out his plan only makes things worse. Why? Because it breeds inaction. Why worry about global warming? The rapture is just around the corner. Most global climate change deniers are also right-wingers religiously and politically. What is it in right-wing ideology that keeps people from seeing the world as it is? Answering this question would take more words than the Crescent-News allows.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney