Tag Archive: Evangelicalism

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Youth Pastor Rodney Harmon Sentenced to 37 Years in Prison

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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.

Rodney Harmon, Jr, the former youth pastor at Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City, Maryland, was convicted in February 2019 on three counts of sexually abusing a minor. In January 2019, ABC-47 reported:

According to charging documents obtained by 47 ABC Harmon allegedly preyed on at least 7 teenage boys from January of 2018 to July of 2018 through his work as a youth group leader for Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City.

With at least three victims Harmon promised the teenage boys they could make money for shooting videos of themselves masturbating if they sent them to him. However, none of the victims ever received payment.

One of the victims, only identified as Juvenile 2, seemed to be the most involved with Harmon. According to charging documents Hardmon sodomized him with an adult toy at least once and performed oral sex on the 15-year-old several times at Harmon’s House in the car to and from a mission trip and at a house the 15-year-old was dog sitting at.

A November 2018 news story at Lancaster Online reported:

Rodney O. Harmon Jr., 33, of Stockton, Maryland, was youth director for Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City, Maryland, when he accompanied a church group to the Colerain Township retreat center, where the alleged abuse happened, the Lancaster County District Attorney said.

The alleged victims, ages 14 and 15, were part of the Maryland church group that attended the retreat between Aug. 1 and 4.

State police filed 12 charged against Harmon, eight of which are felonies, including statutory sexual assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Harmon is awaiting arraignment on the charges.

Harmon is already in prison at the Worcester County Jail awaiting a hearing on charges there for making and distributing pornographic videos, and other sex acts involving four people, including three minors, according to charging documents.

Bayside Community Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Charging documents posted here.

Friday, Harmon Jr. was sentenced to 75 years in prison, with all but 37 years suspended.

Black Collar Crime: Survivor of Evangelical Pastor John Schouten Tells Her Story

pastor john schouten

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

In October 2018, I wrote a post detailing the resignation of John Schouten, pastor of Vineyard Grace Fellowship (VGF) in Newark (Heath), Ohio His congregation found out that he had a sex crime in his past. While neither Schouten or VGF named the crime, an email sent to congregants stated Schouten did something that was “wrong, evil, and illegal.” The use of the word “illegal” narrows the field to: rape, sex with a minor, sexual assault of a minor, and a handful of other underage sex crimes.  According to the Newark Advocate, since the incident occurred thirty years ago, the statute of limitations has passed and Schouten cannot be prosecuted for his alleged criminal behavior.

In December 2018, the Newark Advocate published a story that reveals exactly what it was Schouten did thirty years ago:

The former pastor of VGF Church stepped down from the church he founded because about 30 years ago he had a relationship with a minor while he was a teacher.

John Schouten admitted to the relationship when confronted by church elders after the church received an email about the relationship during the summer, according to Advocate media partner 10TV.

Two people reached out to The Advocate corroborating the story.

While a teacher with Liberty Christian Academy in Pataskala during in the 1980s, Schouten had a relationship with a female teenage student. The two had a child together, according to 10TV.

….

You can read my original posts here and here.

Previously, Schouten told congregants that he had committed “rebellious and sinful actions” in the past. He never admitted that what he actually did was commit a felony for which he should have went to prison. The “good” pastor waited until the statute of limitations expired before coming clean about his past criminal behavior.

Yesterday, Jodi Priest, the woman Schouten preyed upon, published her story:

I am a survivor of sexual abuse. Calling myself a survivor does not mean I have moved on from all the effects of my trauma. It doesn’t mean that feelings of shame, disgrace and unworthiness never rear their ugly heads. Calling myself a survivor just means that I am still here to fight those feelings. So many tragically choose not to. If you have been abused and are reading this, you are a survivor. So often we are called victims and we were, but we are survivors. You are not to blame in any way. It took me a long time to understand, and more importantly, to believe this. The following is my journey.

….

I was a good student and well-liked by the teachers. The principal, Dave, even asked me to babysit his kids. Toward the end of my 8thgrade year, Dave asked me to leave school with his sick daughter and watch her at his sister’s house across the street until his wife could get off work. Joe and his wife lived so close to the school that I could walk there. And so could a teacher who wanted to “check on us.” Joe came to the house, and while his niece was asleep on the couch, he kissed me for the first time. I was thirteen.

….

Starting the next year, the targeting and grooming began in earnest. He was intentionally leading me down a path, which brought us to the same couch. This time it didn’t stop with a kiss. Fourteen-year-old me had no idea what was happening to my body, or exactly why I had to wash blood from my cheerleading skirt before I left.

Over the next four years the abuse continued. I thought I was in a relationship with Joe. He told me he loved me often. I wanted to believe that we would eventually be together. My entire high school life revolved around this abusive relationship. Even when his wife became pregnant, he somehow was able to convince me that it was me he loved. By my senior year, he was arranging meetings two-three times a week. We would meet in a variety of places. The park, my home, his home, and even at the school. Because of his hold on me, I couldn’t decide what to do about college. Even though part of me knew this “relationship” was wrong and I wanted help, I couldn’t make myself become unavailable to him. Over those four years, in a sub-conscious plea for help, I told some of my friends the truth. When Joe found out that I had told, he threatened to harm me and to get me in trouble with the school if I didn’t say it had been a lie.

Towards the end of my senior year, a classmate informed the principal that she heard a rumor about our “relationship.” Dave called me at home one evening in early May 1988. He said he needed to talk to me and asked me to meet him at the school. My father was not at home, and my mom would not allow me to go alone. When we arrived at the school, he asked my mom to wait in the lobby while he talked to me in his office. He told me he knew about my “relationship” with Joe. He told me I had a choice to make. If I admitted to the sexual relationship, I would get my diploma and Joe would just get fired and not go to jail. If I denied it, and he had to prove it, then I would not get my diploma and Joe would go to jail. At this time, I thought I loved him. I was scared and didn’t know what to do. I was hardly ever in trouble, and now I was being threatened with not graduating and being responsible for Joe going to jail. Of course, I now know this is not something an abused, seventeen-year-old girl should be faced with. The principal was required by law to report this to the authorities regardless of what I chose. I admitted to the relationship. Dave never asked me for any details. He left me alone in his office for a long time. My dad had arrived at the school, and my parents were the ones who came back in to get me. It was decided that I would not return to school. I would be taken to the Heritage USA compound in North Carolina, founded by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, until after school let out. I had to cancel my prom plans, miss my graduation ceremony, and leave all my friends abruptly. I was not allowed to call anyone to tell them anything. I later found out that no one was told what happened. I just disappeared, no one could get a hold of me. Not only was it before cellphones, but students were also explicitly told not to try to contact me. The teachers were told that Joe had been fired, and if anyone asked any questions they would be fired also. Dave and other leaders chose to break the law by not reporting. Defending family and reputation was more important than protecting me. The abuse was kept a secret from everyone, and the silence spoke volumes. The shame and unworthiness I felt came to the forefront and wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.

….

In November 1988, I made plans to move in with my older brother. The week before I moved, Joe called me and wanted to see me again. Because I still wanted to believe that he loved me, I agreed, and the abusive relationship started again. Five months later I found out I was pregnant. When I told Joe, he asked me 2 questions: “Is it mine?” and “Will you have an abortion?” The answers were yes and no. That was the last time I talked to him until after the baby was born.

Please take the time to read Jodi’s gut-wrenching, heartfelt story. It’s a long read, but worth the time spent reading it.

Independent Baptist Songs: Heaven Came Down by John W. Peterson

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From time to time, I plan to post lyrics from the songs we sang in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches I grew up in and pastored. Unbelievers and non-Fundamentalists might find some of these lyrics quite interesting, and, at times, funny or disturbing. Enjoy!

Today’s Independent Baptist Song is Heaven Came Down by John W. Peterson. I was able to find a video of this song being sung by the Temple Baptist Church congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Heaven Came Down was one of my favorite songs. The churches I attended and pastored would lustily sing this song, with congregants with higher pitched voices singing the last line right out of the ballpark.  Heaven Came Down reminded me, at the time, of the wonderful relationship I had with Jesus and Heaven that awaited me after I died.

I am many years removed from my church singing days, but songs such as Heaven Came Down still lurk deep within my mind. As I listened to the video below, I sang along, not missing a word. Using music to religiously indoctrinate people works, as I can surely attest. I suspect many readers can say the same; that try as we might to wash our religious past from our minds, songs and Bible verses live on.

Video Link

Heaven Came Down by John W. Peterson

O what a wonderful, wonderful day, day I will never forget;
After I’d wandered in darkness away, Jesus my Savior I met.
O what a tender, compassionate friend, He met the need of my heart;
Shadows dispelling, with joy I am telling, He made all the darkness depart.

Chorus
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul,  (filled my soul)
When at the cross the Savior made me whole;  (made me whole)
My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!  (filled my soul)

Born of the Spirit with life from above into God’s family divine,
Justified fully thru Calvary’s love, O what a standing is mine!
And the transaction so quickly was made, when as a sinner I came,
Took of the offer, of grace He did proffer, He saved me, O praise His dear name!

Chorus
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul,  (filled my soul)
When at the cross the Savior made me whole;  (made me whole)
My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!  (filled my soul)

Now I’ve a hope that will surely endure after the passing of time;
I have a future in heaven for sure there in those mansions sublime.
And it’s because of that wonderful day, when at the cross I believed;
Riches eternal and blessings supernal, from His precious hand I received.

Chorus
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul,  (filled my soul)
When at the cross the Savior made me whole;  (made me whole)
My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!  (filled my soul)

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul.

About John W. Peterson:

John W. Peterson (1921-2006) was born in Lindsborg, Kansas, and began his musical career while he was still in his teens. During World War II, he served as an Army Air Force pilot flying the famed “China Hump.”Later, he attended Moody Bible Institute and served on the radio staff there for a number of years. In 1953, he graduated from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and shortly thereafter settled in Pennsylvania to continue his songwriting career. He then moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where for over ten years he was President and Editor-in-Chief of Singspiration, a sacred music publishing company. He also served on the board of Gospel Films, Inc. of Muskegon, Michigan for several years. Later he moved to Scottsdale, Arizona where he continued his writing and co-founded Good Life Productions. A few years later, the John W. Peterson Music Company was established. During this time, he also served on the board of Family Life Radio Network in Tucson, Arizona. He had wide experience as a choral director, and throughout his career was in great demand as a guest conductor of his own works.

His music is loved and sung around the world. Mr. Peterson has composed well over 1000 individual songs, including titles such as: “It Took a Miracle,” “Over the Sunset Mountains,” “So Send I You,” “Springs of Living Water,” “Heaven Came Down,” “Jesus Is Coming Again” and “Surely Goodness and Mercy.” In addition, he has written 35 cantatas and musicals. Among these are “Night of Miracles,” “Born a King,” “No Greater Love,” “Carol of Christmas,” “Jesus Is Coming,” “King of Kings,” “Down from His Glory” and “The Last Week.” Approximately 10,000,000 copies of these cantatas and musicals have been published and sold.

In 1967, the National Evangelical Film Foundation presented Mr. Peterson with the Sacred Music Award in recognition of his accomplishments in the field of sacred music. In the same year, he received the honorary degree, Doctor of Sacred Music, from John Brown University. In 1971, he received the honorary degree, Doctor of Divinity, from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon; and in 1979, he received the honorary degree, Doctor of Fine Arts, from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1977, his autobiography, “The Miracle Goes On,” was published by Zondervan Publishing House, and a film by the same title was released by Gospel Films. In 1986, Mr. Peterson was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and in 1996 at MusiCalifornia, he received the prestigious Ray DeVries Church Music Award. He’s listed in “Who’s Who in America” and “Who’s Who in the World.”

The Road to Atheism is Littered with Well-Read Bibles

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One of the charges Evangelical apologists love to level against atheists is that they don’t really know what the Bible says and teaches; that atheists are ignorant of that which they criticize. While it is certainly true that some atheists know very little about the Bible, the same can’t be said of ex-pastors such as myself, John LoftusDan BarkerDavid Madison, and the members of the Clergy Project. Nor can it be said of countless atheists who were formerly devoted followers of Jesus Christ; former Evangelicals who daily read and studied their Bibles and attended church every time the doors were open; former Evangelicals who devoured books on Christian theology and loved to talk about the teachings of the Bible. Such people know the Bible inside and out. Their paths from Evangelicalism to atheism are littered with well-worn, dog-eared Bibles. (Please see the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series.)

Many Evangelical apologists believe that only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can one truly understand the teachings of the Bible. Thus, a one-time Evangelical such as Dr. Bart Ehrman may have an academic understanding of the Bible, but he can’t really “know” the depths and intricacies of its teachings. This line of argument, of course, is an attempt to dismiss out of hand criticisms of the Bible by atheists and other non-Christians. Evidently, the moment I said I was no longer a Christian, everything I learned about the Bible during the fifty years I spent in the church and twenty-five years I spent in the ministry disappeared in some sort of supernatural Men in Black mind wipe. Thoughtful Evangelicals realize the absurdity of this argument and refrain from using it, but alas many Evangelical zealots aren’t “thoughtful.” In their minds, atheists are the enemies of God, reprobates, apostates, and haters of God, the Bible, and Christianity. No matter what we might have known in the past, now that we are followers of Satan, our minds and intellectual processes are ruined. No atheist can know as much about the Bible as a Spirit-filled Evangelical, or so they think anyway.

Does it really take the Holy Spirit to know and understand the teachings of the Bible? Of course not. And it is absurd to argue otherwise. The Bible is a book, no different from the QuranBook of Mormon, or Huckleberry Finn. Any claims made for its supernatural nature require faith, a faith that is unnecessary to have when it comes to understanding the Bible. If a person can read, is he or she not able to understand what the Bible says? Don’t Evangelicals themselves admit this fact when Gideons hand out Bibles and non-Christians are encouraged to read the gospels? If the teachings of the Bible cannot be naturally understood without some sort of Holy Ghost magic, why challenge unbelievers to read the wrongly-called Good Book?

I suspect the real issue is that when atheists read the Bible, they are free from the constraints of doctrinal statements, systematic theologies, and hermeneutics. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard about reading the Bible came from Dr. Ehrman, who suggested reading each book of the Bible as a stand-alone text. Let the author speak for himself. Of course, such readings of the Bible destroy attempts by Evangelical apologists to harmonize the Bible — to make all the disparate, contradictory parts “fit.” Go back and read the first three chapters of the book of Genesis without appealing to parlor tricks used to make the text mesh with what Trinitarian Evangelicals believe about God and creation. A fair-minded reader might conclude that there are multiple gods. An excellent book on this subject is The Evolution of God by Robert Wright.

Over the course of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I read the Bible from cover to cover numerous times. I spent thousands of hours reading and studying the Bible, and thousands of more hours reading theological tomes. Even today, a decade removed from the last time I darkened the doors of a Christian church, I still have a mind brimming with Bible verses and things I learned as an Evangelical pastor. One of the ironies of the health problems I have, with its attendant memory problems, is that I tend to have problems with short-term memory, not long-term. Thus, I can’t remember that recent Christopher Hitchens quote I read, but I can remember a quote by Charles Spurgeon or John MacArthur from decades ago. Believe me, there are days when I wish I could flush my mind of all the religious nonsense that clutters up its space. So much wasted mental real estate . . .

The reasons I divorced Jesus are many. I have spent countless hours writing about why I am no longer a Christian. That said, the primary reason I am an atheist today is the Bible. As I began to have questions and doubts about the central claims of Christianity, I decided to re-read and study the Bible, determining what it was I really believed. I found that many of my beliefs were false or grounded in narrowly defined theological frameworks that could not be sustained intellectually. Once I let the Bible speak for itself, my Evangelical house came tumbling to the ground. I tried, for a time, to find a resting spot that allowed me to hang on to some sort of Christian faith. Alas, I did not find these things satisfying intellectually. Eventually, my slide down the slippery slope landed me where I am today — a committed agnostic and atheist.

At the very least, Evangelical apologists should grudgingly admit that many Evangelicals-turned-atheists know the Bible as well they do. Now if we could get apologists to know and understand atheism/agnosticism/humanism as well as many ex-Evangelicals know the Bible, that would be great. People such as myself have a distinct advantage over many Evangelical apologists. We have lived on both sides of the street. We have read atheist authors and Christian ones. That’s why, when an Evangelical wants to argue with me about the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, I ask them, have you read any of Bart Ehrman’s books? If they haven’t, I don’t waste my time with them. Their problem is one of ignorance, and until they are willing to do their homework, there’s really no hope for them.

I will forever, until dementia or death robs me of my mind, remain a student and reader of the Bible.  My reasons for doing so are different today from what they were when I was pastoring churches, but my goal remains the same: to help people see and understand the truth.

Books by Bart Ehrman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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The Daily Show: Ronny Chieng Explains How Some Churches Are Trying to Reach Millennials

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Church leaders are worried over the ongoing exodus of millennials from Christian churches. The Daily Show correspondent Ronny Chieng takes a look at some of the different ways churches and pastors are trying to reach young adults. Enjoy!

Video Link

 

What’s the Point of the Black Collar Crime Series? — Nobody’s Perfect

christians arent perfect black collar crime series

A man who lives not far from my home left the above comment on my Facebook page (if you have not yet LIKED the Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser page, I would appreciate you doing so.) Based on a bit of social media stalking, I have determined the commenter is retired and is a King James-Only Baptist. That he is a Baptist gave me a bit of context as I determined how best to respond to his comment. Last year, emergent church guru Brian McLaren said:

I feel that the role of Baptists — not Cooperative Baptist Fellowship but other Baptists — in doing harm to our nation and world is so great. I really feel well-meaning, sincere people who are deeply committed to the term ‘Baptist’ are often at the forefront of being careless about the environment. They are often at the forefront of being hateful towards Muslims. They are often at the forefront of promoting — unconsciously very often — white supremacy and continuing harm being done to racial minorities. We don’t even need to mention the harm being done to LGBTQ persons.

….

I think one of our great challenges in the Christian religion at large is for Christianity to grow up, to be a world religion meaning not just an American religion and certainly not just a southern or rural American religion, but a religion that grapples with all the challenges of our interconnected world.

In my mind, the underlying issue is actually patriarchy. We could talk about white Christian supremacy, but at the core of this is white, Christian, patriarchal supremacy. It’s a way of organizing life around powerful men.

A whole lot of people are wondering, can the Christian religion extract itself from patriarchy, or is belief in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit so inherently patriarchal that Christians actually believe in a patriarchal universe?

….

Watching the success of Donald Trump win over especially white people, and especially white Christians and especially white evangelical and Baptist Christians, in my opinion this is a pivotal moment.

Baptists, those damn Baptists. Their theology fuels the continued support of the pussy-grabbing, adulterous president of the United States, Donald Trump. Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress — both are Baptists — continue to defend Trump against accusations of rape, sexual assault, and adultery. It was primarily the Baptists who held the line of defense for Independent Fundamentalist (IFB) Baptist pervert Roy Moore. (Keep in mind, many generic Evangelical churches are Baptist in everything but their name.) According to Baptist theology, there’s no sinful act that can kick you out of the family of God once Jesus has saved you and the Father has adopted you into his family. This is why more than a few Evangelicals believe that I am still a Christian. Once saved, always saved; once married to Jesus, no divorce. This is why serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy went to heaven when they died. No matter the sin, if your soul has been washed in the blood of Jesus, you are forever a child of God.

Thus, for the aforementioned commenter, there’s no good reason for publishing the Black Collar Crime Series. Yes, Evangelical pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, and church congregants can and do rape women, sexually assault children, and commit all sorts of sexual crimes, and as long as these saved-by-grace Christians are in the flesh, they can and do sin. But, no matter what they do, God will forgive them. That’s what so w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l about Evangelical soteriology; forgiveness is only a prayer away.

Evangelicals are frequently reminded of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” No matter what Evangelicals do, the most-awesome-God-ever stands ready and willing to grant forgiveness. Awesome, right? No matter how heinous the crime or behavior, Evangelicals are just a prayer away from a clean slate.

The commenter reminds me that all of us are sinners, and that Christians often continue to sin after they are saved. If this is so, why bother to get saved; why read the Bible, pray, tithe, and attend church on Sundays if the new birth doesn’t turn sinners into new creations (as the Bible says it most certainly does)? Of course, according to the commenter, sinning Evangelicals aren’t really to blame for their sinfulness — Satin is. Those damn satin sheets I just knew that they would lead to the fall of the human race. Humor aside, I’m sure the commenter meant SATAN was to blame for the sexual sins and crimes detailed in the Black Collar Crimes Series. Doesn’t the Bible say of believers, “greater is he (God) that is in us than he (Satan) that is in the world?” Doesn’t the Bible say that Christians are overcomers and have victory in Christ? Doesn’t the Bible say that Evangelicals who sin are of the Devil and Christ does not abide in them? Doesn’t the Bible say that faith without (good) works is dead (and I assume sexually assaulting children and raping women are not good works)?

It seems, then, that the commenter has a problem with the Bible. Perhaps his bankrupt Baptist theology has warped his thinking, leading him to believe that Christians can be perverts and adulterers and still make it to God’s Trump Hotel in the Sky®. I wonder if he has read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

And such were (past tense) some of you, the Apostle Paul says.

Revelation 21:27 and 22: 14,15 says:

And there shall in no wise enter into it [New Jerusalem] any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

But, what do I know, right? According to the commenter, Satan has deceived me, bringing me down to the level of Evangelical Christians — his words, not mine. Say it isn’t so! How dare the commenter drag me into the Evangelical gutter. My humanistic morality teaches me that raping women, sexually assaulting church teens, and abusing children are bad/harmful behaviors. I value people and, as such, I would not abuse/assault/harm others. I don’t need salvation, and I sure as hell don’t need forgiveness from a mythical deity. I’m more in the Tony Baretta school of life: Don’t do the crime if you don’t want to do the time. (Too bad Robert Blake didn’t follow his own advice.) To the Evangelical sexual abusers, child molesters, and rapists I say this: if you don’t want to be featured in the Black Collar Crime SeriesDON’T DO THE CRIME! It’s really that simple.

Why, then, is there an ever-widening Evangelical sexual abuse scandal? The short answer is this: Baptist theology; the very theology espoused by the aforementioned commenter. When people believe they are weak, helpless sinners in need of God’s power and forgiveness to make it through the day, what do you expect? Churches are filled with people who believe they can’t help themselves; that the flesh and Satan keep them from doing right. Their lives consist of a constant cycle of sin/forgiveness. You might remember what one Catholic priest said when he was arrested for abusing boys: I asked for forgiveness after every time I abused a boy. Evangelicals do the same when they pray for forgiveness AFTER they have harmed others.

God, I have an idea. How about getting the Holy Spirit — who supposedly lives in every believer, teaching, guiding, and directing them in righteousness and holiness (talk about bad job performance!) — to stop believers from harming others BEFORE they do so! Surely, an all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing, always-present God can act like a pre-crime bureau for Christians, stopping them from committing crimes before they do them. How hard can it be, God?

As for the WHY of the Black Collar Crime series, let me conclude this post with an excerpt from a previous post titled, Why I Write The Black Collar Crime Series :

I realize that these reports are often dark and depressing, but the only way to dispel darkness is to turn on the lights. Clergy who prey on congregants — especially children — must be exposed, prosecuted, convicted, and sent to prison. By leveraging this blog’s traffic and publishing these reports I am serving notice to law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges: we are paying attention, and if you fail to provide justice for victims, we will hold you accountable.

Sadly, many clerics have enormous power over people. How else do we explain that repeat abusers of children and sexual predators such at Lester Roloff, Jack Patterson, and Mack Ford — to name a few — never spent a day in jail for their crimes? Mack Ford, in particular, spent decades physically and psychologically destroying teenagers, yet, thanks to his connections in the community, he was never prosecuted for his crimes.(Please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for GirlsTeen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your SinWhat Should We Do When Religious Freedom Leads to Child Abuse?)

Sometimes these seemingly untouchable predators are brought to justice, but not before the public puts pressure on law enforcement and prosecutors, forcing them to act. The sordid story of abuse at Restoration Youth Academy is case in point. Decades of reports about abuse were filed with local law enforcement, yet nothing was done. Yes, they finally acted and the perpetrators are now in prison, but what do we say to the hundreds of children and teenagers who were ritually abused before prosecutors got around to doing their job?

I am sure that this series will bring criticism from Evangelical zealots, reminding me that accused/charged clerics are innocent until proven guilty. While they are correct, all I am doing is sharing that which is widely reported in the news. In the nine years I’ve been writing about clergy misconduct, I can count on two fingers the number of pastors/priests/religious leaders who were falsely accused. Two, out of hundreds and hundreds of cases. The reason for so few false accusations is that no person in his or her right mind would mendaciously accuse a pastor of sexual misconduct.

People often believe that “men of God” would never, ever commit such crimes. One common thread in the crimes committed by Jack Schaap, Bill Wininger, Josh Duggar, David Farren, and a cast of thousands, is that family and fellow Christians were absolutely CERTAIN that these men of God could/would never commit the crimes with which they were charged. Even when presented with overwhelming evidence, their supporters, with heads in the sand, refuse to believe that these servants of Jesus did the perverse things they are accused of. (Please see What One IFB Apologist Thinks of People Who Claim They Were AbusedEvangelicals Use ‘We Are All Sinners’ Argument to Justify Sexual Abuse)

Secondary reasons for this series have to do with exposing the lie that Evangelicalism is immune to scandal. I remember when the Catholic sex scandal came to light. With great glee and satisfaction, Evangelical preachers railed against predator priests and the Catholic Church who covered up their crimes. Now, of course, we know that Evangelicalism is just as rotten, having its own problem with sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups. Evangelicals love to take the high moral ground, giving the perception that their shit doesn’t stink. Well, now we know better. Not only does Evangelicalism have a sexual abuse problem, it also has big problem with pastors who can’t keep their pants zipped up. (Please see Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?)

To the commenter I say, instead of getting all peachy-preachy about the Black Collar Crime Series, how about focusing your outrage on the sex crimes and cover-ups that are being committed by pastors, deacons, evangelists, missionaries, choir directors, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, janitors, bus drivers, preschool teachers, school principals, high school teachers, and church board members in scores of Evangelical churches, including Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregations. Instead of being all worked up over the messenger, how about focusing on the message? Ask yourself, what would Jesus do? Don’t know what Jesus would do? Let me leave you with Jesus’ words in Mark 9:42: “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

Why Evangelicals Can’t See People as They Are

sinner

Why Evangelicals Can’t See People as They Are

Evangelicals believe that people are either saved or lost. Every human being, past and present, fits into one of these two categories. There’s no middle ground, no choosing to follow a different path. Either you are a follower of Jesus or you are a follower of Lucifer. Either you are a child of God or you are a child of Satan. According to Evangelicals, most of humanity falls under the lost category. Muslims? Lost. Buddhists? Lost. Catholics? Lost. Humanists? Lost. Shintoists? Lost. Many Evangelicals believe that some of their own tribe is lost too. Calvinists, in particular, are fond of condemning everyone to the Lake of Fire except for the elect — whom all happen to be worshipers of John Calvin.

Evangelicals also believe that all humans are inherently sinful. People don’t become sinners, they are born that way, thanks to Adam and Eve’s fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. Thus, every human being is either a saved sinner or a lost sinner. God says it, end of discussion, or so Evangelicals think anyway.

These facts make it impossible for Evangelicals to see people as they are. Instead of judging people according to their character and behavior, Evangelicals measure them by what the Bible purportedly says about the human condition and human behavior. Many Evangelicals believe that unsaved people can’t truly love or do good works. Why? True love and good works require a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. While unsaved people might “love” others and do what seem to be “good” works, they have selfish, ulterior motives (as if Evangelicals can’t have selfish, ulterior motives). Only born-again, bought-by-the blood, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost Evangelicals can love and do good works that are pleasing to God. Does what Evangelicals can see with their eyes validate these beliefs? Of course not, but it matters not. The standard for judgment is the Bible, not what can be seen with the eyes and heard with the ears. This is why many Evangelicals believe that I am hiding some sort of secret sin; that the reason I became an atheist is that I wanted to freely indulge my sinful nature. I may keep these things hidden in this life, but someday I will stand before the thrice holy God and in “This Was Your Life” fashion, the Evangelical God will expose my sin for all to see. Some Evangelicals can’t wait to see on judgment day what I have been hiding. Boy, are they going to be disappointed!

The next time an Evangelical tries to befriend you, ask him to tell you honestly what he thinks about you as a person and how you live your life. Not wanting to offend you, many Evangelicals will go out of their way to keep from telling you the truth. Evangelicals figure if they can just make a connection with you, they will eventually be able to say what God thinks about you. Remember, Evangelicals believe they should love what God loves and hate what God hates. Thus, in their minds, they see things as God sees them. After all, the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:16 that Evangelicals have “the mind of Christ.” Based on what I know about Evangelicals, I can confidently say that if Evangelicals have the mind of Christ, Jesus is one warped, sick motherfucker.

Sadly, Evangelicals live in a narrow, truncated world that lacks the fullness and wildness found among the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Instead of accepting, loving, and enjoying people as they are, Evangelicals are forced to judge everyone according to their peculiar interpretation of the Protestant Bible. As an atheist, I am free to accept people as they are. I am friends with Christians and heathens alike. Our beliefs rarely perfectly align. I even have a few friends who voted for Donald Trump. I don’t understand how they could do this, but they did. I still have several Evangelical friends. They love posting Christian memes on Facebook, some of which are directly aimed at me, or people like me. I choose to ignore these memes, opting instead to focus on the things we have in common: family, grandchildren, and a love for good food. I could respond in kind, but I choose not to. I just want to love and appreciate them as they are, even if they can’t, deep down, do the same for me. I will always be, in their minds, a dear friend who needs saving. I would love to “save” them too, but at their age, I am content to let them go to the grave with their mythical Jesus.

When Evangelicals see homeless people, they don’t see people in need of housing or mental health care. The homeless are people who are dead in trespasses and sins; people who need the salvation and forgiveness of sins offered only through the Evangelical Jesus. The same could be said of every person struggling with bad choices and behaviors: prostitutes, alcoholics, drug addicts, and preachers, to name a few. Their personal, individual stories matter not. Every life must be filtered through what the Bible says. Thinking this way keeps Evangelicals from seeing people as they are; from enjoying their fellow bipeds, warts and all. The world is filled with audacious, colorful, strange people; people who can and do add much to our lives. Over the past decade, thanks to this blog, I have had the privilege of meeting countless people from all sorts of nationalities and backgrounds. As a Christian Fundamentalist, I lived in a closed-off, black-and-white, homogenous world where I rarely, outside of my evangelistic duties, ran into people different from me. This way of living gave me a stilted, false view of the world. It was only when I began meeting people different from me that my worldview began to expand. As many former Evangelicals can attest, it took actually meeting people different from me: i.e. gays, liberals, people of color, to cure me of bigotry, racism, and homophobia.

As long as Evangelicals view the world through Bible-colored glasses, they will never see people as they are. We face many serious trials in the coming months and years. Successfully tackling these issues requires a willingness for each of us to embrace the differences of others. I’m game, are you?

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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: Laura Lloyd Sentenced to 21 Months in Prison for Lying to Federal Prosecutors

laura lloyd

Laura Lloyd, former wife of convicted felon Cordell Jenkins (an Evangelical pastor) , was sentenced to 21 months in prison for lying to federal prosecutors.

The Toledo Blade reports:

After reading a multitude of explicit text messages that showed her then-husband was one of three pastors involved in sex-trafficking a teen girl, Laura Lloyd should have gone straight to notify authorities, a federal court judge said Tuesday.

Instead of helping the victim, the former Lucas County administrator was more concerned with protecting her own image, said Judge Jack Zouhary. He sentenced her to 21 months in prison for lying to federal investigators about her knowledge of the child sex-trafficking scheme at the hands of pastors Cordell Jenkins, Anthony Haynes, and Kenneth Butler.

….

Lloyd previously entered a guilty plea to lying to federal investigators after she lied about various details, such as not knowing the victim’s age, if the victim participated in Abundant Life Ministries youth programs, and if Jenkins was associated with Haynes.

She learned about her ex-husband’s involvement when she read a series of text messages for approximately 30 minutes during a March, 2017 meeting with the victim and her guardian. The next day, the victim disclosed the information to a school guidance counselor, starting the investigation.

Instead of notifying police after the meeting, Lloyd called her husband and Haynes to alert them of a likely investigation.

“How cannot that child, who is there with a guardian, be screaming in your ears to help? Yes, you should have done more. I appreciate that you recognize that now,” Judge Zouhary said.

While Judge Zouhary said he empathized with Lloyd that a person may not know how to handle a situation when first receiving shocking news, the victim was someone Lloyd knew and was a member of the same parish.

Additionally, federal investigators say Lloyd searched online for topics such as, “husband slept with 17 year old,” and “weiner Netflix,” referencing the U.S. congressman who pleaded guilty to federal child exploitation charges and went to prison.

“I’m frankly perplexed of you spending time online to look at how other people caught in a sex crime are able to survive publicly with that situation and continue with their lives,” the judge said. “The focus with you was, ‘How can I survive this situation?’ ”

Previous posts about pastors Cordell Jenkins, Anthony Haynes, and Kenneth Butler: Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Cordell Jenkins Accused of Sex Trafficking Children, Black Collar Crime: Another Toledo Evangelical Pastor, Kenneth Butler, Accused of Sex Trafficking, Black Collar Crime: Three Toledo, Ohio Evangelical Pastors Indicted on Child Sex Trafficking Charges, Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Kenneth Butler Pleads Guilty to Child Sex Trafficking Charges, Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Cordell Jenkins Pleads Guilty to Sex Trafficking, Black Collar Crime: Wife and Stepdaughter of Pastor Anthony Haynes Accused of Kidnapping Victim and Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Anthony Haynes on Trial for Child Sex Trafficking

Black Collar Crime: Pastor Naasón Joaquín García Charged with Human Trafficking and Child Rape

naason joaquin garcia

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.

Naasón Joaquín García, pastor of La Luz del Mundo, a Mexico-based Evangelical church with branches in the U.S. claiming more than one million members, was charged Tuesday with human trafficking, child pornography production, and child rape.  (Church website)

KTLA-5 reports:

García, 50, faces 26 felony counts that range from human trafficking and production of child pornography to rape of a minor. The charges detail allegations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County.

The fundamentalist Christian church, whose name translates to The Light of the World, was founded in 1926 by García’s grandfather. It has been the subject of child sex abuse allegations for years but authorities in Mexico have never filed criminal charges. It has more than 15,000 churches in 58 countries, according to its website. The church’s followers must adhere to a strict moral code in exchange for the promise of eternal salvation.

García — who was a minister in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California before becoming the church’s leader — coerced the victims into performing sex acts by telling them that refusing would be going against God, authorities said. He allegedly forced the victims, who were members of the church, to sexually touch themselves and each other. One of his co-defendants also allegedly took nude photographs of the victims and sent the pictures to García.

García told one of the victims and others in 2017, after they had completed a “flirty” dance wearing “as little clothing as possible,” that kings can have mistresses and an apostle of God cannot be judged for his actions, the complaint states.

La Luz del Mundo and Garcia have faced previous allegations of sexual misconduct.

David Correa, a spokesman from the headquarters of La Luz del Mundo in Guadalajara, Jalisco, said in a phone call:

We categorically deny those false accusations. We know him personally and he is an honorable and honest man.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Gordon Griffen Charged with DWI and Vehicular Homicide

pastor gordon griffen

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.

Gordon Griffen, pastor of Moore’s Creek Missionary Baptist Church (Website currently offline) in Currie, North Carolina, was charged Tuesday with driving while impaired and two counts of vehicular homicide. The News Reporter reports Griffen allegedly hit head on a car carrying Jolena Long Timmons, 51, and her husband, Donald Timmons, 41, killing them both. The Timmons’ daughter, Tiffany, and her fiancé Adrian Conley, were seriously injured and remain hospitalized.

Black Collar Crime: Street Preacher David Lynn Arrested and Charged with Disturbing the Peace

pastor david lynn

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.

David Lynn, a Canadian street preacher, was arrested Tuesday while out doing the work of the Lord and charged with disorderly conduct. Lynn is the founder of Christ’s Forgveness Ministries in Toronto, Canada.

CP-24 reports:

A pastor who was charged with disturbing the peace while preaching with a loudspeaker in the Church-Wellesley Village on Tuesday night is out on bail, and says he is the victim of state discrimination against Christians.

Police responded to a call about a disturbance in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday evening.

Video posted online shows pastor David Lynn speaking into a microphone at Church and Wellesley streets and saying that he is “coming out as a Christian.”

Through nearly two hours of footage, Lynn is seen saying that he doesn’t hate anyone, that some people hate Christians and that some people want him to “stay in the closet” as a Christian.

He begins approaching various people to ask if they would tolerate him. When one man asks him to go away, Lynn calls him a bigot.

When others approach to tell Lynn that he is disturbing them, he calls them “hateful.”

After more community members arrived, Lynn was seen arguing with them and his supporters, before police eventually arrested Lynn.

After his release, the 39-year-old pastor said being at Church and Wellesley was just another stop on his map of Toronto, and he and his supporters had been at Kensington Market and Queen and Sherbourne earlier.

….

He said he feels as if he is being discriminated against for being Christian.

“It’s unfortunate that I am subject to this kind of discrimination and bullying and marginalization simply for saying God loves you, there is hope for you, I accept you and tolerate you. I shouldn’t be in this position, I didn’t do anything illegal.”

He said that he was assaulted during the encounter Tuesday but police at the scene refused to hear his complaint.

“It looked as though they had an event waiting for me, and they had some form of hatred against me,” Lynn said.

….

The pastor spent the night in custody and appeared in court at College Park on Wednesday, where a judge released him on bail under conditions he not be anywhere in an area bounded by Bloor Street, Yonge Street, Carlton Street and Jarvis Street.

He also cannot use an audio amplifier that would allow his voice to be heard in that area.

He must also stay away from any location where a Pride Month event is taking place.

Lynn’s bio states:

David J Lynn is a Planting, Pastoral, and Evangelistic figure who has been used to ignite the fire of Evangelism amongst believers and plant Churches and Para-Church Ministries throughout the world.  He was born and raised in Toronto, ON, in Feb 1980 and is a 6th generation Canadian of both Irish and Jamaican lineage. David came from a non-denominational Evangelical background and has been in Planting ministries and Pastoral Ministry for 19 years.  He studied theology and pastoral care at both the University of Toronto and Tyndale University and Seminary, has obtained a Master’s Degree in Theology, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Religious Studies.  He also serves as a Chaplain within one of Toronto’s major Hospital’s.

Public Expressions of Faith and the Future of American Evangelicalism

altar call

Cartoon by Jeff Larson

I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. At the age of fifteen, I was saved, baptized, and called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Gene Millioni, Ron Johnson, and Bruce Turner were my pastors at the time. (Please see Dear Bruce Turner.) Trinity Baptist was a hyper-evangelistic church affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. My pastors gave a public altar call at the end of every service. I later would attend Midwestern Baptist College to study for the ministry. Students were required to attend nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, pastored by college chancellor Dr. Tom Malone. Altar calls were given at every service. Most IFB churches sang Just as I Am during altar calls, but Emmanuel used There is a Fountain Filled With Blood (Drawn from Immanuel’s Veins), by William Cowper. Sinners needing salvation were asked to step out of their seats and walk down the aisle to the front of the church. Once at the altar, a trained soulwinner would kneel with them, share the IFB gospel, and help them pray the sinner’s prayers. This act of faith was called “making a public profession of faith.” Sinners evangelized during the week were expected to come to church the next Sunday and made their conversion public by walking down the aisle.

Baptism was treated in a similar manner. Being immersed in three feet of water in a church baptismal was considered a public declaration of faith. By being baptized, the sinner was saying, “I publicly identify with Jesus.” Many IFB converts are baptized right after the service or the next Sunday. Preachers would often joke that the reason Baptists baptized new converts right away is that they feared never seeing them again. I was saved one week and baptized the next. And several weeks after that, I went forward during the altar call and confessed to Pastor Millioni that I believed God was calling me to preach. I stood before my friends and fellow church members and told them what God was doing in my heart. My declaration was greeted with hearty amens from older congregants. I am sure more than a few of my friends thought, Bruce Gerencser, a preacher? Yeah, right. This too shall pass!  It didn’t, and for the next thirty-five years, I preached some version or the other of the Christian gospel, seeking to help sinners see their need for salvation.

Over the first fifty years of my life, I watched thousands of people walk down church aisles and ask Jesus to save them. Often, high pressure, manipulative tactics were used to coerce sinners into getting saved. I heard countless preachers say, “the hardest decision you will ever make in your life is to step out of your seat, walk down the aisle, and make a public profession of faith.” The same line was used when cajoling people into getting baptized. “Publicly identifying with Jesus in baptism is the hardest decision you will ever make!” I later concluded that there was nothing “hard” about these decisions. Here you were among Christians. How “hard” could it be to get saved and baptized? And “public?”  What’s “public” about going through the IFB salvation and baptismal ritual in the safety and privacy of a local church filled with likeminded believers?

baptism by immersion

Cartoon by John Parker

Later in my ministry years, I stopped baptizing new converts at the church. Instead, we would go to a nearby public lake and hold a baptismal service. While not as “public” as the baptisms of first century Christian converts in the book of Acts, being exposed to the gazes of worldly vacationers helped cement the importance and cost of publicly identifying with Christ. Few churches, it seems, are willing to ask much, if anything, from new converts. As long as their asses are in the seats and their Benjamins are in the plate, all is well. It is not uncommon for IFB churches to leads hundreds of sinners to Christ each year, with few of them obediently following the Lord in baptism. Some megachurches these days have pretty much given up on baptizing converts. Once or twice a year, they will “offer” baptism to the unbaptized, but rarely, if ever, stress the importance of the rite.

These days, much to the consternation of IFB preachers and Evangelical pastors, cultural Christianity rules to roost. Christians have “personal” relationships with Jesus, and most of them never share their faith. Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest Protestant denomination in the United States — reported that their membership and baptism numbers continue to decline. Scores of SBC churches didn’t take in one new member or baptize one new convert. IFB churches, who still think they live in the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s, also face precipitous membership and baptism declines. One-time IFB megachurches now are a shell of what they once were, that is, if they are still in existence. In the 1970s, Polly and I attended Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan. Emmanuel was considered one of the largest churches in America. One Sunday, they had over 5,000 people in attendance — a rare feat at the time. Today, its doors are shuttered. The same could be said for numerous other IFB churches — churches that once proudly proclaimed that they were one of the top one hundred churches in America.

It is not uncommon these days for IFB and SBC churches to go weeks and months without “public” professions of faith or a “public” baptisms. More than a few churches, attempting to ward off algae growth or smells that come from stagnant water, have drained their baptismals and use the space to store Christmas decorations or old VBS materials. The best and brightest among such churches will come up with new programs and outreaches they are sure will stop the bleeding and import new life into their churches, but if the past is any indicator, they are doomed for failure. Perhaps, it’s time to admit that Americans are really not that into Jesus anymore; that all people want is eternal life insurance and a place to get married and hold funerals. In other words, IFB and SBC congregants are well on their way to becoming Roman Catholics — morning glories who only bloom on Easter and Christmas.

In one regard, the testimony of such Christians is indeed “public.” The unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world “see” how these people live out their faith, and find themselves saying, “no thanks.” My wife and I visited over a hundred Christian churches after we left the ministry. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered; a congregation that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. While we met all sorts of decent people, we didn’t find one church congregation that was different from the rest. We didn’t find one church that earnestly took Jesus’ commands, teachings, and way of life — as we then understood them — to heart. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We decided that despite differences in liturgy and denominational affiliation, these churches were all pretty much the same. In retrospect, I have no doubt this fact played a part in our eventual abandonment of Christianity. We came to understand that for all their talk about commitment, public professions of faith, and publicly identifying with Jesus, most Evangelical churches were little more than private social clubs for likeminded people; that such clubs attract people who need “forgiveness” and need someone to tell them what to believe and how to live. Sadly, the sheeple underneath the steeple far outnumber people who think for themselves. Those who are able to rationally and critically examine religious beliefs and practices usually end up outside of the churches they once called home.

Conservative Christianity still dominates the American social and political scene. Evangelical culture warriors continue to wage war against secularism, atheism, humanism, socialism, and a culture they believe is going to Hell in a handbasket. Try as they might, these crusaders are fighting a losing battle. Oh, they might win a few skirmishes in the short term — say over abortion — but history suggests that their days are numbered. One need only look at the arc of history in Europe and other Western countries to see where the United States is headed. Old curmudgeons such as myself are unlikely to see secularism and reason vanquish the Devil in our lifetimes, but we hold out hope for our grandchildren and their children. Thanks to global warming, their world will be very different from ours, but we have high hopes that their world will be one where religion has finally been driven back into the four walls of churches where it belongs.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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.