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Tag: First Baptist Church Bryan Ohio

Frankly, Pastor MacFarlane, I Just Don’t Give a Damn

frankly my dear I dont give a damn

John MacFarlane is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. First Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. I’ve known John since he was a child running the aisles of First Baptist. While we had a distant, but cordial relationship when I was an Evangelical pastor, that is no longer the case.

MacFarlane writes a daily blog post for the church’s website. Typically, MacFarlane takes a story/date in the news and uses it to preach the gospel or make some sort of spiritual application. Several days ago, MacFarlane used the classic movie Gone With the Wind to admonish his congregation about swearing. Titled The Slippery Slope of Swearing, MacFarlane states:

On June 30, 1936, Margaret Mitchell’s book Gone With The Wind was published.

….

Now, for those of us who have never watched the movie, there is one iconic line that everyone seems to know.  The movie version was released in 1939 and on today’s date, that famous scene was filmed.  The scene was shot using two different lines.  The alternate version featured Rhett Butler telling Scarlett O’Hara, “Frankly, my dear, I just don’t care.”

Film censors were on hand to preview the filming.  There was nothing wrong with this line.  However, film director Victor Fleming wanted the scene to have more bite and he threw in the infamous curse.  He was accessed [sic] a $5,000 fine by the censors.

….

I have to admit that this little piece of history surprised me.  Cursing is common in commercials today but who would have thought that it was something found in books and movies to that era?  We tend to think of the early-20th c. being a little bit more pristine – or, at least, I do.

We are told in Philippians 3:17-19, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.  (18)  (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:  (19)  Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)”

Swearing should be shameful.  It’s certainly not today, though, and it evidently wasn’t shameful then.  Instead, there is “glory” in it.  Mr. Fleming had to pay $5,000 just to slip in one cuss word.  And what did that do for the movie?  Nothing!  Even if he could argue that it increased the sales, that is taking glory in something that is sinful and shameful.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”  Cursing is corrupt communication.  Nobody denies that.  Yet, it’s done freely and the movie/television industry is doing its best to desensitize young people to the shamefulness of the words.

As kid-friendly movies are released, you will notice that more and more are incorporating a blatant swear, plenty of slang swears, and the obligatory misuse of God’s name.  What is the point?  Did it make the movie better in any way?  Absolutely NOT!

June 27, 1939 put the budding movie industry on a slippery slope.  The last few years have angled the slippery slope towards the kids.

As Christians, we can take a stand against this.  We can refuse to watch or buy any movie with profanity – even if it is just one.  And we can (we must!) guard our own tongues to make sure nothing rolls across our lips that would be shameful.

MacFarlane is outraged over the use of the word damn in movies, along with other words he has deemed curse words. He calls on church members to take a STAND against movies with profanity. MacFarlane believes saying swear words is sinful and shameful.

MacFarlane is right, in one regard, there IS more swearing in movies and by people in general. I swear multiple times every day. As I write this post, I am listening to the Cincinnati Reds game on 700 WLW. The Reds give me ample opportunities to curse. On the other hand, broadcasters announced that Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos, corner outfielders for the Reds, both made the National League All-Star team. My response was a hearty “fuck, yeah!”

MacFarlane is obsessed with the language of others. In a May 2021 post, MacFarlane said that people who swear have “dirty hearts.” (Please see People Who Swear Have “Dirty Hearts” Says IFB Pastor John MacFarlane.)

MacFarlane is waging a losing battle. Swearing is common in our culture, including by fine, upstanding pastors and members of IFB churches.

In 2020, I wrote a post titled Evangelical Swear Words. Here’s an excerpt from this article:

A dear friend of mine from back in the days when we both were part of the Trinity Baptist Church youth group, laughs every time she hears me utter a swear word. She often replies, “I never thought I’d see the day when Bruce Gerencser said a swear word.” From the time I was saved at the age of 15 until I left the ministry, I never uttered one swear word, outwardly anyhow. I thought plenty of swear words but never verbalized them. To do so would have branded me as a sinner and as a man who didn’t have his emotions under control.

Evangelicals are every bit as emotional and angry as their counterparts in the real world. Knowing that telling someone to “fuck off” would bring them rebuke and shame, Evangelicals have developed what I call Christian swear words. Christian swear words are expressions such has:

Shucks

Shoot

Darn

Dangit

Freaking

Crap

Gosh darn it

Son of a gun

Frigging

Shucky darn

As you can easily see, these words are meant to be replacements for the real swear words. This way, angry or emotionally upset Evangelicals can express themselves without running afoul of God’s FCC.

Years ago, a preacher who considered himself totally sanctified (without sin), was known for using the phrase, taking it to the hilt. He and I were quite good friends, and one day when he repeated his favorite phrase, I told him, you know that taking it to the hilt can be used as a sexual reference for sticking the penis all the way in up to its base (hilt). He was indignant that I would dare to suggest such a thing. He later learned I was right and apologized (Do you suppose it ever dawned on him that he had sinned by using this phrase after he said he no longer was a sinner?)

….

Many of us who use curse words use them when we are angry or upset. Sometimes, we use swear words to ameliorate a serious pain that we are having. After hitting my finger with a hammer, I’ve learned that saying “Goddammit!” really loud tends to lessen the pain. According to research presented to the British Psychological Society, swearing is an emotional language, and using it can make a person feel better. Perhaps the use of 506 expletives in 179 minutes as actors did in the movie Wolf of Wall Street is a tad bit excessive, but I know firsthand that cursing can, and does, have a cathartic effect on a person. While certainly, those who swear must be aware of proper social conventions, swearing at the referee on TV who just hosed your favorite football team can be emotionally satisfying, and I highly recommend it.

….

Swear words are just that: words. Social conventions dictate their use. I am a card-carrying member of the Swearers Club. I make liberal use of curse words, especially when speaking to officials from afar on a televised sporting event. Even Polly, sweet, sweet Polly, my wife, has devolved to my level. While I am careful when using swear words in public or around those who are easily offended, I refuse to be bullied into submission by the word police. I rarely use swear words in my writing, but I do so on occasion. It’s up to the individual readers to decide if a well-placed malediction is offensive enough to stop them from reading.

MacFarlane is free to swear or not swear. However, when he says that people who swear have “dirty hearts,” and that swearing is “sinful” and “shameful,” I am not going to let it slide. Instead of policing the language of others, perhaps he might want to focus on things that matter. MacFarlane is outraged over the word “damn” in a movie, but he had no problem preaching my rapist uncle into Heaven a few years ago.

In 2020 post titled Dear Pastor, Do You Believe in Hell?, I wrote about my uncle’s funeral at First Baptist:

I have come to the conclusion that most preachers really don’t believe in Hell. Preach as they might about Hell, when it comes time to put their theology into practice, they cower and refuse to proclaim their Hell belief.

….

Let me tell you a story about a man named Bob. (Bob is a pseudonym, but all the details that follow are real.) Bob was raised in a Fundamentalist Baptist home. His parents were stern, devout, Christians who helped start several local Baptist churches.

At the age of 17, Bob attended a revival meeting at the local Baptist church. When the invitation was given, Bob walked down the aisle, knelt at the altar, prayed the sinner’s prayer, and at that moment became a born-again Christian.

A short time after his conversion, Bob had a falling-out with his family and moved out of his parents’ home. Bob never attended church another day in his life apart from an occasional funeral or wedding.

Bob lived to be 83 years old. From the time Bob was 17 until he died, he lived a life of sin and infamy. Bob was a child abuser. Bob beat his wife. Bob was a drunk. No woman was safe from Bob’s leering eye and his groping hands.

Bob was a nasty, vulgar kind of drunk.

Bob raped a woman while her 12-year-old son was home from school sick. He was never prosecuted because his victim was a mentally troubled family member.

Bob died recently.

Bob’s funeral was held at the same Baptist church he once attended.  His family still attends the church. The funeral was the first time that Bob had been to church in over 60 years.

The preacher mentioned what an ornery man Bob was. And then the preacher spent the next 20 minutes preaching AT Bob’s friends. The funeral service was not about Bob at all, it was all about Jesus. Maybe that was better because it was probably hard to find much good to say about Bob.

Mercifully, the preacher brought his Jesus talk to a close with an invitation to trust Jesus as savior.

Why? So they too could be in Heaven someday with Bob. The Bob, who at age 17 walked down the aisle, knelt at the altar, prayed the sinner’s prayer, and became a Christian.

….

According to the preacher at First Baptist, Bob is safe in the arms of Jesus. Pity all the women he raped, abused, and molested over the years. Pity all those he terrorized when he was drunk. The fire insurance Bob bought at age 17 covered everything he would ever do. This gave him immunity from prosecution for all his debauchery.

It matters not that he did not attend church in the past 60 years. He never prayed; never read the Bible. In fact, he cursed God, hated God, and lived as if there is no God.

But, at age 17 . . . well, you get the gist of the story.

The pastor in this story? John MacFarlane. Instead of being worried about people saying damn, fuck or shit, he might want to focus on things that matter.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Students God “Led” to Attend Midwestern Baptist College

bruce and polly gerencser 1976
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976

Polly and I were reminiscing the other night about some of the people we attended college with from 1976-1979 at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in 1954 by Tom Malone, pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Both the college and the church were diehard Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institutions. In its heyday in the 70s, Midwestern had 400 or so students. Today, the college has a handful of students, and rumor has it that Midwestern might be closing its doors. At one time, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the United States. Beginning in the 1980s, the church and the college faced precipitous attendance declines, so much so that the church went out of business and sold its campus. While the college remains on life support, its campus was sold to developers, and the dormitory Polly and I called home for two years was converted into efficiency apartments. Currently, Midwestern holds classes at Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. Its website has not been updated since early 2020.

While Midwestern required students to have a high school diploma to enroll, what mattered most was two things:

  • A recommendation from the student’s pastor (often a graduate of Midwestern himself)
  • A testimony of personal salvation

I was a high school dropout. Some day, I will share why I dropped out of high school after the eleventh grade. Midwestern accepted me as a “provisional student.” I had to prove my freshman year that I could do college-level work. My provisional status was never mentioned again. I had a grudging recommendation (another story for another day) from Jack Bennett, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — the church I attended before enrolling at Midwestern. What mattered the most was my personal salvation testimony. Further, I testified to the fact that God had called me to preach at age fifteen as a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio (an IFB congregation affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship).

Outside of the high school diploma requirement, there were no other academic prerequisites. None. No entrance exams, no English proficiency requirements. All a student needed was a good word from his or her pastor and a correctly constructed testimony of faith in Jesus Christ.

The paucity of academic requirements resulted in Midwestern enrolling students that were unable to do college work. What made matters worse was the fact that Midwestern was an unaccredited institution. This meant that students either had to have enough money to pay their tuition and room and board (such students were called “Momma Called, Daddy Sent”) or they had to secure employment to earn enough money to pay their college bills. I did the latter, working full-time jobs during my three years at Midwestern. Polly worked a combination of part-time jobs. We lived — literally — from hand to mouth. While Midwestern had a rudimentary cafeteria, it served one meal a day, lunch. The dorm had what was commonly called the “snack room.” It was here that students “cooked” their meals, not on a stove, but in a microwave. Students were not permitted to have cooking appliances of any kind in their rooms. Cafeteria aside, dorm students had three options: fine dining in the snack room, eating junk food/out of a can in their rooms, or going out to eat at a fast-food restaurant. Most students, if they had the money, chose the latter.

Midwestern enrolled students from IFB churches all across the country. Many of the students came from churches pastored by men who were graduates of Midwestern. Churches within the IFB church movement often congregate along tribal lines — namely what colleges pastors attended. Thus, Bob Jones-trained pastors sent their students to Bob Jones University, Hyles-trained pastors sent their students to Hyles-Anderson College, and Midwestern-trained pastors sent their students to Midwestern Baptist College. (Please see Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps.) Pastors who sent lots of students to their alma mater were often rewarded with honorary doctorates. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor.) Pastor loyalties changed if they had some sort of falling out with the college that trained them. Polly’s uncle, James Dennis, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark, Ohio, was sending students to Midwestern, Hyles-Anderson, Massillon Baptist College, and Tennessee Temple when Polly and I married in 1978. Jim had an honorary doctorate from Midwestern — a candy stick award for supporting the college. He later had a falling out with Tom Malone and stopped sending students to Midwestern. Today, prospective college students from the Baptist Temple typically go to Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, or The Crown College.

As Polly and I reminisced about our fellow college students, we couldn’t help but notice how many students we knew that were not socially or academically qualified to take college classes. Often, such students came from churches where their pastors were pushing people to attend Midwestern. It was not uncommon to hear IFB preachers say that young adults should have a Bible college education. Secular colleges were denigrated, labeled as Satanic institutions of higher learning. IFB pastors believe that men must be “called” by God to be pastors, evangelists, youth directors, or missionaries. If a man said he was called to preach, as I did at age fifteen, his pastor would tell him he needed to attend Bible college. If the pastor was a Midwestern man, he would “suggest” that the young person attend Midwestern. In the IFB church movement, “suggestions” have the force of law.

Sometimes, older single men or married men would feel called to preach and head off to Midwestern to study for the ministry. They would often leave behind well-paying jobs, hoping to find employment after enrolling at Midwestern. Some married students left their families behind, living in the dorm with men who were 20-30 years younger than them. Remember, if God calls, he provides. If God orders, he pays. Or so the thinking went, anyway. As you shall see in a moment, God was a deadbeat dad who didn’t pay his bills.

Several married men lived in the dorm while I was a student at Midwestern. They left their families at home as they chased their dream of becoming a pastor. These men, later labeled failures by Malone and other chapel preachers, washed out after a few months. Loneliness, along with an inability to do college work doomed them from the start. The Holy Spirit was no match for a man’s longing for the embrace of his wife and children. Knowing the Bible was no substitute for actually being able to do college-level work (and Midwestern was NOT a scholastically rigorous institution).

One older student lived with a woman before coming to Midwestern. He had gotten saved and his pastor told him he needed to go to Bible college. Imagine eating ice cream every day at Dairy Queen and then going off to a place where there’s no Dairy Queen. Get my drift? This man had an active sex life, and that allegedly stopped when he started living in the Midwestern dorm. The college had a no-contact rule between couples. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.) I suspect it was difficult for sexually active students to play by the rules. Polly and I were virgins on our wedding day. I know how hard it was for us to stay “pure,” so I can only imagine how hard it was for students who had tasted the sinful fruit of fornication. Some of these “immoral” students quit or were expelled. Others learned how to hide their sin.

One student was developmentally disabled. He was a great kid, but I suspect his IQ was in the 70s. He had suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child. He could barely read or write. He left Midwestern after his first semester. He, too, was labeled a quitter.

Many single and married students worked full-time jobs to pay their way through college. Imagine working forty hours a week, attending church three times a week, going on visitation on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and working a bus route on Sundays. Pray tell, when were students supposed to do their school work? I knew dorm students who were working 60-70 hours a week at one of the local truck/auto plants. Often, overtime was mandatory. Many of these students either washed out or left college and rented an apartment. The money was too good, so they chose their jobs over God’s calling. I know more than a few students who followed this path, spending the next thirty years working for the man before retiring with a good union pension.

Quitters were savaged by Midwestern’s president, Tom Malone, his son Tommy, Jr, school administrators, and pastors who preached during daily chapel services. Quitters were weak, and God didn’t use quitters. Midwestern advertised itself as a “character-building factory.” Most students who enrolled as freshmen never graduated. Is it any wonder why? Sure, I learned “character,” but once Polly became pregnant and I was laid off from my job, all the character in the world wasn’t going to keep a roof over our head or our utilities on. No help was coming from our parents or churches.

I don’t fault these men (and a few women) who failed to navigate the “character” gauntlet. The system was set up to ensure their failure. Of course, those who made it to graduation think otherwise. Unasked is where was God for these students who sincerely wanted to preach and teach others? When they truly needed help, neither God, nor their churches and pastors, was anywhere to be found.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

A Person Who Doesn’t Have Jesus Has Nothing, Says IFB Pastor John MacFarlane

mansion in heaven

John MacFarlane, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation — writes a daily devotional for True Christians®. Recently, MacFarlane wrote a post about the worthlessness of the life of Hank Williams and that of everyone who does not worship his peculiar version of the Christian God.

MacFarlane wrote:

There is immeasurable sadness of a life lived having been exposed to the Lord through church, the preaching of God’s Word, and even through the lyrics of songs – yet so far from God that a dying man [Hank Williams] says, “There ain’t no light.” How can a person be so close and yet so far away?

….

By the admission of his friends, Hank had nothing to do with “religion,” in spite of his mother’s attempts to persuade him. We can only hope that he had trusted Jesus and was just in a very backslidden condition. However, all indicators point otherwise. Williams himself said, “There ain’t no light.”

A person who has all the success, fame, and fortune that this world can provide and yet doesn’t have Jesus, this person has nothing and ends with nothing.  If you have Jesus but very little of this world’s goods, that’s okay because you have everything.

Here’s what MacFarlane is saying: billions of people have “nothing” lives. Every Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Shintoist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, atheist, agnostic, and pagan has a “nothing” life. MacFarlane believes only a small percentage of earth’s residents worship the one true God. Only this select few, the chosen ones, have “everything” lives. MacFarlane arrogantly tells his fellow Fundamentalists that while they may be poor, with Jesus they have E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. MacFarlane never explains what “everything” means. Pain? Hemorrhoids? Suffering? Heartache? Loss? A favorite sports team that sucks? What is this “everything” MacFarlane speaks of?

Evangelicals-turned-atheists are familiar with the “everything” word. It’s not that True Christians® have everything in this life — they don’t. Life is filled with pain, suffering, heartache, and death for many, if not all Christians. There is nothing inherent to Christianity that makes life “better.” Jesus is not the cure for what ails people. No, what MacFarlane is actually talking about is one of his favorite subjects: God’s salvation lotto payout — a mansion next door to Jesus.

The foundation of MacFarlane’s post is perfectly illustrated in the gospel song, Build My Mansion Next Door to Jesus (sung by Dottie, Buck, and Reba Rambo). Give it a listen. 🙂 You will be sure to regret it.

Video Link

Unfortunately, MacFarlane sees no value in the lives of most human beings (except zygotes and fetuses, of course). Instead, he reduces the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world to a caricature, sermon illustration, or a cautionary tale. MacFarlane demonizes, marginalizes, and condemns “sinners.” Yet, he wants “worthless” locals to come join his merry band of Baptists at the corner of Union Street and Fountain Grove Drive in Bryan, Ohio.

I plan to join Hank Williams, Frank Sinatra, and the rock bands MacFarlane preaches against in Hell. Awesome music, better company (Steven Hawking, Christopher Hitchens, to name a few), and lots of Devil’s food cake and Devil’s brew. Why would anyone want to join the good pastor in Heaven?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Short Stories: My First Brush With Death

1970-nova-ss
1970 Nova SS, I bought it in 1975 for $600

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

When did you first realize that you were not invincible? As I attend baseball and softball games this summer, I can’t help but notice how full of life the players are, ready and willing to face all the challenges that come their way. I, too, remember a time when I thought I had the world under my thumb, bending it to my will. I was fearless, arrogant, and full of life, taking on risks that this older version of me would never undertake. From narrowly dodging a semi-truck with my bicycle to climbing under a stopped freight train on a dare, I was known as a boy who loved to push limits, with no thought of what might happen if I miscalculated and came up short. As daredevils know, every successful dare makes one more brazen and willing to push beyond limits. On one hand, such people often accomplish great things, but they are also those who, when coming up short, find themselves needing medical treatment or bail money to get out of jail. There’s a fine line between foolhardy carelessness and taking risks in hope of great reward. Even after successfully making it to age sixty-three, I readily admit that I am not always sure where that line is. I suspect that my tombstone will say, He Died of One Stupid Decision Too Many. There used to be a television program titled, 1,000 Ways to Die. This show detailed the numerous, sometimes humorous, and often foolish and bizarre ways humans have met their ends. Some of my foolish stunts would have made for a great episode or two.

In the summer of 1975, I turned eighteen. I had returned to Bryan, Ohio, from Arizona, and moved in with my mom. I quickly found employment at Foodland, a local union grocery store. To avoid providing me insurance and full-time benefits, the grocery scheduled me to work forty hours one week and thirty-nine hours the next week. I didn’t care. Who needed insurance and benefits, right? My job as the dairy manager was just a means to an end — providing the money necessary for me to keep my car running and spend every night and weekend running around with my friends. My mom rarely saw me. After work, I was out with friends until late, and weekends were often spent doing group activities. Having recently had a bitter breakup with an Arizona college girl whom I was certain was going to be my wife, I had no interest in dating, so group social activities with my friends provided a balm for my hurting emotions.

After moving back to Ohio, I bought a 1960 Mercury Comet — black with a white top — for $200. Over the course of the summer, I put thousands of miles on the car, traveling all over the tri-state area. One Saturday, a bunch of my friends and I decided to go Clear Lake, a nearby body of water in Indiana. I drove, packing eleven friends in a car meant to hold five or six. With nary a thought for safety, off we went to the lake, spending the afternoon swimming and engaging in non-stop horseplay and flirting. Soon it was time to return home. I deposited each of my riders safely at their homes until only a boy named Kenny and I were left in the car.

Kenny was a couple of years younger than I. I knew Kenny through our attendance at First Baptist Church in Bryan. As we were headed towards Kenny’s home, he asked if he could drive my car. Now, I knew he didn’t yet have his license, but the fact that Kenny had grown up on a farm had, I thought, provided him with the necessary skills to drive an automobile, so I said yes! My car had a six-cylinder motor — 144 cubic inch displacement. Top speed was seventy miles per hour. Off we went with Kenny behind the wheel. As Kenny pulled the car onto Williams County Road 15.75, it began to fishtail a bit in the loose gravel. I thought, at the time, no big deal, Kenny will straighten out the car. Instead, as the car increased its side-to-side motion, Kenny panicked, lost control of the car, and drove it headlong into a ditch bank, rolling the car over twice. In a split second, everything around me turned upside down, and when the car finally came to a stop, Kenny’s head was sticking out of the space once occupied by the front windshield and I, having been thrown from the front to the back seat, found myself with the detached seat lying on top of me. Both of us were, surprisingly, unhurt, though I was so disoriented from the crash (perhaps I had a concussion?) that I went to a nearby farmhouse and walked in without knocking, asking if I could use their phone to call the Highway Patrol. Outside of a few scratches and bumps, Kenny and I were unscathed. Unfortunately, my car was totaled.

When the patrolman asked who was driving the car, I, knowing I would get a ticket for letting Kenny drive, lied, telling the officer that I was behind the wheel. This lie, along with four speeding tickets I would accrue in the coming months, caused my insurance rates to rise to $100 a month. Not only did I have an accident and four moving violations on my record, my replacement car for the Mercury was a 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS — 350 cubic inch displacement and 375 horsepower. I went from a car that couldn’t go faster than seventy miles per hour to a car in which I buried the speedometer needle on more than one occasion at one hundred and forty miles per hour.

This accident was my first real brush with death — at least the first one that impacted me psychologically. The car didn’t have seat belts, so Kenny and I could have easily been ejected from the car. We were lucky to have escaped serious injury. Of course, at the time, our luck was attributed to the providential care of the Christian God. I have often wondered what might have happened if I had let Kenny drive while ten other teenagers were beside us in the car. I can only imagine how much carnage there would have been had the car been stuffed full of happy, I’ve got the world by the tail teens when it rolled over twice. Imagine how much differently this story might have ended had everyone who had gone to the lake still been in the car. Fortunately, they weren’t, and all of them graduated from high school, married, and had children (and now grandchildren) of their own. This would not be my last brush with death, but it was my first — that moment in time when all of us come to realize for the first time how mortal and frail we really are.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

People Who Swear Have “Dirty Hearts” Says IFB Pastor John MacFarlane

evangelical by words

As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) youth in the 1960s and 1970s, I was taught by my parents, preachers, and Sunday school teachers that uttering ANY curse word was “taking God’s name in vain.” In the eyes of the thrice Holy God, cursing was every bit as bad as adultery, murder, lying, lusting after your neighbor’s wife, or worshiping false gods. This is why I was in hot water as a fourteen-year-old boy when I told a Trinity Baptist Church youth leader to “fuck off.” Such words were just not allowed. Never mind the fact that “taking God’s name in vain” had NOTHING to do with saying words such as shit or fuck.

While Independent Baptist preachers thundered and screamed against cursing, they generally were indifferent to the use of what I call Baptist swear words — bywords used in place of saying the actual word. In 2020, I wrote a post titled Evangelical Swear Words. Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote:

A dear friend of mine from back in the days when we both were part of the Trinity Baptist Church youth group, laughs every time she hears me utter a swear word. She often replies, “I never thought I’d see the day when Bruce Gerencser said a swear word.” From the time I was saved at the age of 15 until I left the ministry, I never uttered one swear word, outwardly anyhow. I thought plenty of swear words but never verbalized them. To do so would have branded me as a sinner and as a man who didn’t have his emotions under control.

Evangelicals are every bit as emotional and angry as their counterparts in the real world. Knowing that telling someone to “fuck off” would bring them rebuke and shame, Evangelicals have developed what I call Christian swear words. Christian swear words are expressions such has:

Shucks

Shoot

Darn

Dangit

Freaking

Crap

Gosh darn it

Son of a gun

Frigging

Shucky darn

As you can easily see, these words are meant to be replacements for the real swear words. This way, angry or emotionally upset Evangelicals can express themselves without running afoul of God’s FCC.

Years ago, a preacher who considered himself totally sanctified (without sin), was known for using the phrase, taking it to the hilt. He and I were quite good friends, and one day when he repeated his favorite phrase, I told him, you know that taking it to the hilt can be used as a sexual reference for sticking the penis all the way in up to its base (hilt). He was indignant that I would dare to suggest such a thing. He later learned I was right and apologized (Do you suppose it ever dawned on him that he had sinned by using this phrase after he said he no longer was a sinner?)

In the mid-1960s and again in the 1970s, I attended First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. After its pastor Jack Bennett retired, John MacFarlane became pastor of the church. MacFarlane was a young boy when I was a teenager (I am ten years older than John). In the summer, I baled straw for MacFarlane’s father. (Please see the ongoing series The Making of a Fundamentalist: First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio — Part One and The Making of a Fundamentalist: First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio — Part Two.) MacFarlane continues to preach the “old-fashioned” Baptist Fundamentalism he grew up in. I told Polly the other day that MacFarlane and I have a lot of similarities. Both of us were born into Baptist Fundamentalism. As children, we were deeply indoctrinated in the “one true faith” by our parents, pastors, youth leaders, and Sunday school teachers. We knew nothing but IFB Christianity. Taught that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God, we were certain that our beliefs perfectly aligned with God’s mind. Both of us went off to IFB colleges (Tennessee Temple and Midwestern Baptist College), later pastored IFB churches, and now live five miles apart from each other, both pastoring local IFB churches. Okay, scratch that last part. MacFarlane still pastors an IFB church. On the other hand, I left the IFB church movement in the 1980s, pastoring a variety of Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House, a non-denominational church in West Unity, Ohio (fifteen miles north of where I now live). After a short stint at a Southern Baptist church in 2003, I left the ministry (2003) and later walked away from Christianity (2008). MacFarlane is right where he was when we both were Jesus-loving youths at First Baptist in the 1970s. His favorite hymn is “I Shall Not be Moved.”

Video Link

Based on my reading of MacFarlane’s blog — and I personally like John and his wife — I have concluded that his thinking hasn’t evolved much over the years. He is still a strident Baptist Fundamentalist who preaches transactional salvation — believe certain propositional truths, pray the sinner’s prayer, viola! you are forever saved — with a steady emphasis of “living right.” Take MacFarlane’s latest blog post titled, And They All Came a Tumbling Down:

You have to paint a mental picture of this story to get the full affect.  A dad named Frank lives at the top of a hill.  The incline is a quarter of a mile long.  You make a left-hand turn at the top of the hill to turn into Frank’s house.  Even the driveway is sloped downward toward the steep road.

A video from a Ring doorbell captures a hilarious event.  Frank’s daughter plays softball.  All of her equipment is in the back of dad’s SUV, including a couple of buckets of softballs.  Unbeknownst to dad, the buckets must have shifted on the ride home.

Later in the day, dad realizes that he needs something from the back of his SUV.  As he opened the rear hatch, 30 softballs pour out the back, race down the drive and down the quarter mile of inclined road leading to the house.  Dad’s shock stuns him into a moment of inaction before he frantically tries to stop the cascade of balls.  His valiant attempt is useless.  Those balls are long gone!

On the video, you hear dad yelling, “No, no, no, no, no!” before using other words that I will not print.  Had it not been for his language, the entire scene would have been hilarious.  However, Ed Mazza, the writer of the article said that after the stream of “no’s”, Frank used “situational appropriate profanity.”

Isn’t it remarkable how people justify their use of profanity?  Maybe someone will say, “Pardon my French.”  The French language is a beautiful, romantic-sounding language.  What you just heard coming out of someone’s mouth was neither beautiful NOR romantic.  And it definitely was not French!

Years ago, I remember hearing someone declare that the use of foul language was evidence that the individual obviously didn’t have much of an education.  However, I remember the first time I heard a school teacher swear and the first time I heard a doctor swear.  I was in high school for the first one but I was an adult (and a pastor) when I heard the second one come from the mouth of a doctor storming out of the ER at Bryan Hospital.  He acted pretty sheepish when he saw me.

That’s been a number of years ago.  Today, people have no filter and no conscience about what they are saying or who is around when they say it.

James 3:10-12 says, “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.  (11)  Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?  (12)  Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”

Through the years, some have lamented that they just can’t seem to put a lid on the vulgarities.  Why do I say these things? they ask.  The answer is simpler than you might think but it’s probably not the answer we want.

“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.  (19)  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:  (20)  These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.” (Matthew 15:18-20)

Whatever is in the heart WILL come out.

There is no such thing as situationally appropriate profanity.  Instead, there are hearts that need to be cleaned up.  Clean up the heart and the mouth will clean up.

According to MacFarlane, people use profanity because they have “dirty hearts.” Clean up their “hearts” and people won’t swear anymore. How, of course, are “hearts” cleaned up? Drum roll, please. The answer, are you ready for it? is J-E-S-U-S. In MacFarlane’s world, Jesus is the answer to every question, the fix for every problem. The unstated problem here is that lots of Christians swear, especially when you consider bywords too. I suspect more than a few members of First Baptist, on occasion, use words that would cause the good pastor to blush or find offense. MacFarlane, ever a presuppositionalist, presupposes that certain words are sinful; that it is always morally wrong to say these words. In MacFarlane’s world, there’s no such thing as situational swearing — or situational anything, for that matter. MacFarlane lives in a black and white world of absolutes. Never mind that curse words are found in the Bible and that devout followers of Jesus can and do curse. MacFarlane elevates curse words to the level of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Say Goddamn, shit, hell, or fuck, and you might as well be having sex with your neighbor’s wife. In the IFB world, all sins are the same, and the cure is the same too: J-E-S-U-S. Thinking this way turns people into Word Nazis, people who get offended if they hear a school teacher or doctor utter a swear word or hear someone at a store or restaurant using language they deem “sinful.” It is not uncommon for IFB Christians to publicly chastise people for cursing. I know I did it back in the day. Such people believe that they are the protectors of God’s sensibilities, that the God of the universe who knows, sees, and hears everything can’t bear to hear people swear.

Let me conclude this post with another excerpt from Evangelical Swear Words:

Many of us who use curse words use them when we are angry or upset. Sometimes, we use swear words to ameliorate a serious pain that we are having. After hitting my finger with a hammer, I’ve learned that saying “Goddammit!” really loud tends to lessen the pain. According to research presented to the British Psychological Society, swearing is an emotional language, and using it can make a person feel better. Perhaps the use of 506 expletives in 179 minutes as actors did in the movie Wolf of Wall Street is a tad bit excessive, but I know firsthand that cursing can, and does, have a cathartic effect on a person. While certainly, those who swear must be aware of proper social conventions, swearing at the referee on TV who just hosed your favorite football team can be emotionally satisfying, and I highly recommend it.

….

Swear words are just that: words. Social conventions dictate their use. I am a card-carrying member of the Swearers Club. I make liberal use of curse words, especially when speaking to officials from afar on a televised sporting event. Even Polly, sweet, sweet Polly, my wife, has devolved to my level. While I am careful when using swear words in public or around those who are easily offended, I refuse to be bullied into submission by the word police. I rarely use swear words in my writing, but I do so on occasion. It’s up to the individual readers to decide if a well-placed malediction is offensive enough to stop them from reading.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: IFB Pastor John MacFarlane Says Atheists Are Gods

fool says no god

This is April Fool’s Day.

….

When a person believes that there is no God, they become a god unto themselves.  They determine what is right and wrong.  They set the standards for their life.  They live as if they have all the answers for when they die and eternity.  Such a person is going to be very unpleasantly surprised. [MacFarlane reveals he knows very little about atheists. Call me, John. You know where I live.]

“And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:  (17)  And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?  (18)  And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.  (19)  And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.  (20)  But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?  (21)  So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)

This April Fool’s Day, be careful not to cross any Biblical lines as you prank someone.  And remember those who are fools by the Biblical definition.  There’s nothing funny about their day and certainly nothing funny about their future.

— John MacFarlane, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio, Don’t Be a Fool, April 1, 2021

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear John MacFarlane, Pastor of First Baptist in Bryan, Ohio

first baptist church bryan ohio

John MacFarlane is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. First Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. I attended First Baptist in the 1960s and 1970s. First Baptist was my home church when I left to attend Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the fall of 1976. John, at the time, was a young boy.

I have written several posts about First Baptist Church and its present pastor, John MacFarlane:

Last month, MacFarlane wrote a blog post titled, When Is An Atheist Really Not An Atheist?

I do not believe that the average person claiming to be an atheist is really an atheist at all.  Their venomous attacks and rantings against God, Christians, and churches betrays their heart.  Let me illustrate.

There are some very interesting people out there who believe in UFOs.  They believe they’ve seen UFOs hovering in the sky and that the sudden appearance of a light in the sky is the lights on their spaceship.  They believe the government has covert hangers in the desert somewhere, housing their alien ships and that there are laboratories where experiments are being performed on alien bodies.  There are even some who believe they have personally been abducted by aliens into their spaceships and returned.

These UFO experts are more than willing to share their story and experience with anyone who listens.  They write books about it and reputable bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble or Amazon will carry them.  If UFO believers find other believers out there, they quickly join forces in sharing what they “know”.

Now, I hope I’m not shocking anyone with this confession but I’m an “a-UFO-eist.”  I am not a believer – in UFOs, extraterrestrials, little green men, or any such thing.  There’s nothing in me that wonders, questions, ponders, or is remotely concerned that all of a sudden, E.T. is going to ride a bicycle across my night sky and want me to phone home.  And, while I love a good Star Trek marathon, I have no concerns that there just might be a shred of reality to their fictional, Hollywood portrayals of life in other galaxies.

Am I bashing the UFO believers?  Am I attacking them at every opportunity?  Do I blog or write against them?  Do I have a website dedicated to the demolition of their belief system?   Is their hatred or animosity in my heart towards them?  Not in the least! 

Why? Because I do not believe extraterrestrials exist, therefore, there is no rhyme nor reason to rail against those who do, wasting time and precious energy

In Psalms 14:1, David writes, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God…”  The definition of atheism is the belief that there is no God.  If a person is truly an atheist, they will live a life reflecting this.  The Psalmist goes on to say, “… They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”  The atheist will do what they want without regard to some “moral code” established by an invisible, intrusive God.   They will do “that which is right in their own eyes.”

If you ask a professing atheist if there is a God, they will tell you that there is no God.  But the moment that the “atheist” starts a diatribe against a God that they believe is non-existent, are they not revealing what’s really in their heart?  Are they not expressing that, deep down, they know the truth?  They KNOW God is real.  Why else would they get all bent out of shape over something they say they do not believe really exists?  The content of their heart has been exposed.

….

Rather than feeling threatened, offended, or embittered against those who would claim to be atheists and would attack us, let us look on them with love and compassion. They are fighting a battle they cannot win. Pray that God would give us a tender heart towards them and wisdom in winning them to the Lord. Be like the Apostles and continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Where, oh where, do I begin? I am the most outspoken atheist in this area, and I wrote a letter to the editor of the Bryan Times which was published shortly before MacFarlane wrote his post (please see Letter to the Editor: The Rotting Corpse of American Capitalism), so I think I can safely assume that the atheist in question is yours truly. If so, why not just call me out by name? That’s exactly what I am doing in this post. When public figures make negative (and ignorant) statements about atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers, I think it is important to attach their names to said beliefs.

Out of the gate, MacFarlane says that “atheists aren’t really atheists at all.” How does he know this? Well, he doesn’t, he just believes it to be true.

In MacFarlane’s Bible-sotted mind, atheist “attacks and rantings against God, Christians, and churches betrays their heart.” MacFarlane believes we only talk about that which we believe to be true. Evidently, he’s never met any Trump supporters. They are totally disconnected from reality, yet they believe everything the president says, buying into countless conspiracy theories that are demonstratively false. I suspect MacFarlane, along with his congregation, will likely vote for Trump come November. Using the good pastor’s “logic,” I can conclude that most of his church believes things that are untrue.

MacFarlane says he doesn’t spend time talking about UFOs because he knows there’s no other life out there beside what’s on the earth created by his peculiar version of God, 6,023 years ago. He just KNOWS this to be true. As is common among Evangelicals, THE BIBLE SAYS kills scientific curiosity. It is likely there is life beyond our planet, yet MacFarlane rejects such a notion because it conflicts with his literalistic interpretation of the Protestant Christian Bible.

But, I could also say that just as MacFarlane doesn’t spend any time talking about UFOs and aliens because he KNOWS they don’t exist, I could say the same about God. I see no evidence for the existence of MacFarlane’s God, so I don’t spend any time talking about it/him/her. Wait a minute, Bruce, you talk about God all the time. Nope, my focus is on organized religion; not the said deities they worship. There is no God, so why would I waste my time talking about him? However, billions of people worship some sort of deity, be it Allah, Jehovah, or Jesus. My focus is on the beliefs and practices of believers, not God itself. (Please see Never Underestimate the Power of Jesus.)

MacFarlane believes that because I write about God, Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible, deep down in my little ‘ole heart-of-hearts, I still believe in God. I am surprised that MacFarlane doesn’t think I am still a Christian. Surely, his once-saved-always-saved soteriology demands that the unrepentant atheist Bruce Gerencser go to Heaven when he dies. Or maybe that is just a theological bridge too far for MacFarlane. Several years ago, I attended a funeral service of a family member held at First Baptist. MacFarlane did his darndest to preach the man into Heaven, all because he walked the aisle at a revival meeting as a teen. This man hadn’t attended church in 40 years. He was a misogynistic pig and a rapist. Yet, Pastor MacFarlane rolled the man right up to the pearly gates, helped him out of his wheelchair, and escorted him into Heaven. Surely, if this piece of shit made it into Heaven, I should make it too, right?

MacFarlane quotes Psalm 14:1: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” MacFarlane believes atheists and other unbelievers are:

  • Fools
  • Corrupt
  • Do abominable works
  • Do not do good

This claim, of course, is absurd. Atheists, agnostics, humanists, pagans, Buddhists, and other “unbelievers” are every bit as moral and ethical as Evangelical Christians. If MacFarlane has evidence to the contrary, he should provide it. Quoting a Bible verse doesn’t count.

MacFarlane makes an unsubstantiated moral claim:

“The atheist will do what they want without regard to some “moral code” established by an invisible, intrusive God. They will do “that which is right in their own eyes.”

MacFarlane, of course, believes morality is established and defined by the Bible God. How many times have Evangelicals used this argument? More times than I can count.

Dr. John Messerly writes:

Lacking good reasons or armed with weak ones, many will object that their moral beliefs derive from their Gods. To base your ethical views on Gods you would need to know: 1) if Gods exist; 2) if they are good; 3) if they issue good commands; 4) how to find the commands; and 5) the proper version and translation of the holy books issuing commands, or the right interpretation of a revelation of the commands, or the legitimacy of a church authority issuing commands. Needless to say, it is hard, if not impossible, to know any of this.

Consider just the interpretation problem. When does a seemingly straightforward command from a holy book like, “thou shalt not kill,” apply? In self-defense? In war? Always? And to whom does it apply? To non-human animals? Intelligent aliens? Serial killers? All living things? The unborn? The brain-dead? Religious commands such as “don’t kill,” “honor thy parents,” and “don’t commit adultery” are ambiguous. Difficulties also arise if we hear voices commanding us, or if we accept an institution’s authority. Why trust the voices in our heads, or institutional authorities?

For the sake of argument though, let’s assume: that there are Gods; that you know the true one; that your God issues good commands; that you have access to those commands because you have found the right book or church, or had the right vision, or heard the right voices; and that you interpret and understand the commands correctly—even if they came from a book that has been translated from one language to another over thousands of years, or from a long-ago revelation. It is almost impossible that you are correct about all this, but for the sake of the argument let’s say that you are. However, even in this case, most philosophers would argue that you can’t base ethics on your God.

To understand why you can’t base ethics on Gods, consider the question: what is the relationship between the Gods and their commands? A classic formulation of this relationship is called the divine-command theory. According to divine command theory, things are right or wrong simply because the Gods command or forbid them. There is nothing more to morality than this. It’s like a parent who says to a child: it’s right because I say so. To see how this formulation of the relationship fails, consider a famous philosophical conundrum: “Are things right because the Gods command them, or do the Gods command them because they are right?”

If things are right simply because the Gods command them, then those commands are arbitrary. In that case, the Gods could have made their commandments backward! If divine fiat is enough to make something right, then the Gods could have commanded us to kill, lie, cheat, steal and commit adultery, and those behaviors would then be moral. But the Gods can’t make something right if it’s wrong. The Gods can’t make torturing children morally acceptable simply by divine decree, and that is the main reason why most Christian theologians reject divine command theory.

On the other hand, if the Gods command things because they are right, then there are reasons for the God’s commands. On this view, the Gods, in their infinite wisdom and benevolence, command things because they see certain commands as good for us. But if this is the case, then there is some standard, norm or criteria by which good or bad are measured which is independent of the Gods. Thus all us, religious and secular alike, should be looking for the reasons that certain behaviors should be condemned or praised. Even the thoughtful believer should engage in philosophical ethics.

So either the Gods commands are without reason and therefore arbitrary, or they are rational according to some standard. This standard—say that we would all be better off—is thus the reason we should be moral and that reason, not the Gods’ authority, is what makes something right or wrong. The same is true for a supposedly authoritative book. Something isn’t wrong simply because a book says so. There must be a reason that something is right or wrong, and if there isn’t, then the book has no moral authority on the matter.

At this point, the believer might object that the Gods have reasons for their commands, but we can’t know them. Yet if the ways of the Gods are really mysterious to us, what’s the point of religion? If you can’t know anything about the Gods or their commands, then why follow those commands, why have religion at all, why listen to the priest or preacher? If it’s all a mystery, we should remain silent or become mystics.

Several years ago, I shared my view on objective morality:

Geoff asked, What are your views on objective morality?

The question asked by Geoff is complex and filled with nuance. Anytime I have addressed morality in the past, my writing has elicited all sorts of comments from atheists and Fundamentalists alike. It seems few people like or appreciate my worldview and my understanding of morality. As a Christian, I believed that the issue of morality was settled for me: God hath spoken. Shut the hell up and do what he commands! As a dutiful follower of Jesus, I attempted to follow not only the teachings of the Bible, but the direction of Holy Spirit who lived inside of me (or so I thought at the time). Once I deconverted, I had to rethink my worldview. What was it I believed about morality in general? What was I I believed about specific moral statements and standards? My understanding of morality has evolved over the past decade. I am, in no way, a finished product. I still have many questions about morality, and it is impossible to fully answer them in a blog post.

I readily admit that Christianity has deeply affected my understanding of morality. I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches. As a result, Evangelical morality has seeped deeply into the dark recesses of my mind. While I try to distance myself from my past, its effects linger. Thus, there are times my moral views line up with those of Christians. This doesn’t mean, then, that I am a Christian. My views also, on occasion, line up with Buddhism and other religions. All this tells me is that religions have, in the past, played a big part in the evolution of human morality.

When someone asks me whether I believe in objective morality, what I hear them asking is whether I believe there are moral standards or moral absolutes. In the strictest sense, my answer is no. Morality is always subjective. Now that doesn’t mean countries, states, and tribes can’t have absolute moral standards. They can and do. All I ask is that believers in objective morality admit that their absolutes have changed over time, and that, in fact, the changing nature of their absolutes suggests that their morality is actually subjective. For example, there is a push in the United States to make eighteen the minimum age for marriage. This law, if passed, would be considered an objective moral standard. However, in the past, people were permitted to marry as young as age thirteen, and in some countries, children are betrothed to one another when they are still primary school age. If there’s such a thing as objective morality, then shouldn’t the age for marriage have been fixed from day one? That it hasn’t been shows the subjectivity of moral beliefs.

Morality is affected by tribal, cultural, and sociological influences. This means that all morality changes with time, including absolute, never-changing, God-said-it, it’s-in-the-Bible Evangelical morality. Evangelicals now do things that were considered sins — violations of objective morality — fifty years ago. Even Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) morality continues to change and evolve. Only those who are deliberately deaf, people with fingers in their ears who say, nah, nah, nah, I can’t HEAR you, fail to see that morality is inherently subjective.

All of us belong to certain countries and tribes. As a U.S. citizen, I live in a country that supposedly values the rule of law. I say supposedly because Donald Trump’s abhorrent behavior and his penchant for ignoring the rule of law makes me question whether we indeed are still such people. Fascism is on the rise, and when it comes in full force it brings law by force, instead of WE THE PEOPLE deciding the laws that will govern us. For now, though, we are still a nation governed by laws shaped and enacted by legislators elected by voting Americans. These laws establish what we as a people believe is moral. These laws, over time, change. For example, at one time it was illegal to have an abortion; then in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized most abortions. Today, with the prospect of a right-wing Catholic being added to the Supreme Court, it is possible that laws regulating abortion will change, and women will be forced to revert to the days of coat-hanger, back alley abortions. The same can be said for much of the progress made on social and church/state issues over the past six decades. And the same can be said about slavery. There was a time when Christians believed it was permissible to own other people, and even had BIble verses they used to justify their immoral ownership of Blacks. Even worse, slaves were considered 3/5ths of a person for census purposes. This ebb and flow of moral beliefs shows that morality is subjective.

Theocrats, of course, despise the give and take of the legal process in democratic countries. They want a dictatorship, with the Christian (or Muslim) Holy book as the objective standard for morality. Theocrats demand that laws reflect their Fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible (or Koran). In their minds, their interpretations are one and the same with God’s will and commands. But, even for theocrats, their interpretations change over time, thus proving, once again, that morality is subjective.

Not only do governments establish moral norms, so do the tribes to which each of us belong. Whether at the group or family level, certain moral standards govern behavior. Now, keep in mind I am using the word moral in as broad of a way as possible. Divorce your mind from the religious constructs you have been taught, and see morality as the rules/laws/precepts by which we govern behavior. I suspect your family has certain moral standards, and those standards may or may not be different from mine. For example, I have lost readers over my refusal to stop using curse words in my writing. In their tribes, cursing is verboten or is considered in poor taste. In my tribe, it is okay to curse, except when young children are present or Polly’s IFB parents are visiting (though there have been times when a few damns, shits, and assholes have slipped out). When it is only adults in the room? Cursing is permitted, and be prepared to be schooled in sexual innuendo. Were the readers who demanded that I sanitize my writing “wrong”? Who determines what words are appropriate and what words are not? It should be clear to everyone that the words writers choose to use are subjective. Each tribe to its own.

My children are known for having what is called the Gerencser work ethic. This ethic was taught to them by their parents. Work hard. Eight hours pay for eight hours work. Do your best. Do it right the first time. Never accept good enough as a standard for acceptance. The reasons for these maxims are many, but regardless of how they came to be, they are deeply ingrained into the psyche of my adult children. My oldest son has taken one personal day at work in twenty years. His mom has taken zero. My younger children are not as zealous as their older siblings, but they still are known for being no-nonsense hard workers. This tribal ethos often brings them into conflict with other employees who have different work standards. For example, one son works in a department where the majority of the workers have already used half or more of their personal days. My wife supervises people who are already out of personal days with six months to go before they accrue new days. Years ago, my two oldest sons were asked by their fellow employees to slow down. Why? They were making less industrious employees look bad. My sons ignored their critics, choosing instead to follow the Gerencser work ethic (an ethic that can be found in many families, by the way). Both now hold management positions with their respective employers, as do their younger brother and mother. Does this make the Gerencsers better than other people? Depends on how “better” is defined, I suppose. All I know is that this very subjective work ethic is deeply embedded in my tribe. We behave this way because that what we have been taught to do.

Each of us also has personal moral standards; certain things we will and won’t do. I don’t expect other people to live by my moral standards. These rules of behavior — ever-changing — help me navigate the road of life. As a humanist, I look to the humanist ideal to provide moral guidance. This ideal, crafted by men and women, is inherently subjective, but it does address and support my worldview. I have no problem with Evangelicals wanting to live by their personal interpretations of the Bible. Go with God, I say. It is when Evangelicals demand that others live by their interpretations I have a problem.

As a post-Evangelical, I have been forced to reexamine my morality and worldview. For example, I am a pacifist. More specifically, I am a proponent of non-violent resistance. Sounds like a moral absolute, right? I would like it to be, but the world is too messy for it be so; too gray, too challenging for me to say that I am, without reservation, a pacifist. Generally, I oppose violence, yet I love and support American football — organized violence. I wouldn’t take up arms to defend the United States, but I would defend my family against attack and harm. I face this same struggle with most moral issues. It’s too easy to write Ten Commandments and say obey. I choose, instead, to think about each issue, and then come to a reasoned conclusion.

Most people agree that we should avoid harming others. I think that’s a good place to start. But, even here, it is impossible to ever live a life that does not, at some point, harm others. Take vegans. They don’t eat meat for moral reasons. They don’t want to cause animals pain and suffering. Yet, providing vegans a non-animal diet still causes pain, suffering, and death. Earthworms, insects, and other animals die so farmers can provided vegans with yummy (I am being sarcastic here) soybeans. The goal, then, should be to promote the greatest good while at the same time causing the least harm. We can then build on this foundation, asking “what is the best way for humans to govern themselves and live lives of love, peace, and harmony — pass me a joint, bro.”

Human morality is inherently subjective; a work in progress; a work that will never be completed; a work that will hopefully lead to a kinder, gentler tomorrow; a work that places great value on justice and kindness. Nirvana, it will never be, but we can have a better tomorrow if we want it badly enough. Unfortunately, internecine warfare between countries and tribes leaves me wondering if human progress is but an illusion, a pipe dream. Perhaps it is, but I see no other option than to work towards a better future for my progeny. This work requires of us hard discussions and debates about morality. Holy books or trade paperbacks are not the answer. We the people remain the captains of our ships, the masters of our destinies. God’s not coming to save us.

Now that I have dispatched with MacFarlane’s ignorant claims about atheist morality, I want to address his uninformed definition of atheism. MacFarlane defines atheism this way:

The definition of atheism is the belief that there is no God.

….

If you ask a professing atheist if there is a God, they will tell you that there is no God. 

If MacFarlane had consulted God (Google), he would have learned:

Atheism is in the broadest sense an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.

Had MacFarlane researched atheism a bit further, He would have learned about The Dawkin’s Scale:

the dawkins scale

I am an agnostic and an atheist. On the God question, I am an agnostic. I can’t know if some sort of a deity exists. The extant data tells me there is no God, and I am confident that the deities presently worshiped by humans are human creations and no gods at all. I am confident that MacFarlane’s God is a myth, that the claims made for God and Jesus are untrue. It is “possible,” but unlikely — based on probabilities — that a deity of some sort exists. Maybe we will learn one day that what we call “life” is a game simulation played by an advanced alien species, or that somewhere “out there” — right Mulder? — lives our creator, a deistic sort of God. Again, unlikely, but since I don’t possess absolute knowledge — and neither does Pastor MacFarlane — I remain agnostic on the God question.

Since it is improbable any sort of God exists, I live my day-to-day life as an atheist — as if there is no God. In fact, the only times I think about God/Jesus/Bible is when I am writing for this site. Contrary to MacFarlane’s claim, I don’t spend my waking hours raging against the Christian God and attacking Christian churches.

MacFarlane claims that the fact I talk about God is proof that I believe in said God. Really? I talk about big penises too. Trust me, all the talk in the world ain’t going to change average into John Holmes. The focus of my writing is on organized Christianity — specifically Evangelicalism and the IFB church movement. You see, what matters to me is what is done in the name of God/Jesus/Christianity. What matters to me is the damage done to our society, government, and individuals by Fundamentalist preachers who believe God talks to them and the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God; preachers with theocratic tendencies who demand non-Christians bow in fealty to their God and follow their interpretations of the Bible. What matters to me is the psychological, at times, physical, harm caused by “Biblical” preaching. And finally, what matters to me is the clergy sex abuse scandal roiling over Evangelical churches: the denials, the cover-ups, the justifications.

MacFarlane implores his congregants to look on “those who claim to be atheists” (he just can’t accept people really ARE atheists) with love and compassion. You mean fake, means-to-an-end, love and compassion? No thanks. What atheists want is respect. We want the right to tell our stories and have them accepted at face value. We ask that you let atheists define atheism. We won’t decide who is and isn’t Christian, and we ask you do the same for atheists.

MacFarlane says atheists are fighting a battle they can’t win. Evidently, he is unaware of the fact that atheism and agnosticism are on the rise in the United States; that the NONES, those who are indifferent towards religion, is the fastest growing religious demographic. It seems that we are winning the battle, Pastor MacFarlane, and it is expected that the United States will become increasingly secular in the years to come.

Let me conclude this post by saying John MacFarlane and I actually have something in common: both of us are atheists. That’s right, John MacFarlane is an atheist. He, indeed, believes in the existence of the Christian God, but what about the other extant deities? MacFarlane confidently preaches that these Gods are no gods at all, that there is one true God, and his name is Jesus (actually MacFarlane is a polytheist, believing in three deities: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The only difference between Pastor MacFarlane and ex-pastor Bruce Gerencser is that I just believe in one less God than he does. Well, one more thing, I am more handsome too. ?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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The Making of a Fundamentalist: First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio — Part Two

first baptist church bryan ohio
First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio

My memories of Christian Fundamentalism began in the 1960s as a member of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. Established in 1954, First Baptist was originally affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, but later become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. The pastor I remember most is Jack Bennett. Bennett was married to the sister (Creta) of two of my uncles (Ed and Paul Daughtery who married two of my dad’s sisters, Helen and Mary Gerencser). Bennett would pastor First Baptist for thirty-one years. After retiring in 1999, Bennett handed the reigns to John MacFarlane, who currently pastors the church. Bennett died in 2002. His wife died in 2017.

To say that I had a complicated relationship with Pastor Bennett would be a gross understatement. Bennett, who had difficulties walking as a result of polio, always made a point to talk to me at church, but his conversations seemed perfunctory and distant. This could have been a result of his personality, but as a boy who grew up under his ministry, I never felt we were close. What few serious interactions we had were, from my perspective, were quite negative.

Bennett drove a white Cadillac. Every two or years he would by a new car, always a white Cadillac. It became clear to me that Bennett didn’t want to call attention to his new car purchases, so he always bought automobiles that looked the same as his previous car. There were on and off rumbles in the church over how much money Bennett was making, so I am sure he didn’t want to draw attention to himself.

Bennett was a topical/textual preacher. I can’t remember a time when he preached an expositional sermon. On this point, Bennett was typical of his generation. I didn’t hear an expositional sermon for the first time until the early 1980s. IFB pastors are known for topical/textual preaching. This, unfortunately, leads to theological ignorance. When the Bible is never systematically taught and preached from the pulpit, how can it be otherwise?

As I mentioned in Part One of this series, I moved in and out of First Baptist Church several times. When I returned to Bryan from Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio in May, 1974, I had been saved and called preach 18 months previously. I thought, after my return to First Baptist, that Pastor Bennett would be proud to have another preacher boy in the church. Unfortunately, Bennett went out of his way to discourage me from acting on my calling. Why?

I have often pondered the Why? question. Why did Bennett nurture other young preacher boys in the church, but not me?

Two reasons stand out to me.

First, Bennett didn’t like my mom’s way of life. Mom and Dad had divorced in the spring of 1972. We were living in Findlay at the time. Mom later moved back to Bryan, renting an apartment on Center Street, two blocks from First Baptist. I lived with mom from the age of 17 until I left for Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in 1976, at the age of 19.

After Mom and Dad divorced, both of them stopped attending church. While they claimed to be Christians, church was never a part of their day-to-day lives. Mom lived what we called in IFB circles a promiscuous life. A steady parade of men came through Mom’s life. I suspect this fact upset Pastor Bennett, so much so that one Sunday after church, he sent his wife to Mom’s apartment to set her straight.

I typically walked to and from church. That Sunday, I noticed Bennett’s white Cadillac sitting in front of our apartment. Jack was sitting in the car while his wife, Creta, went upstairs to preach at my mother. Before I could even make it to door, out came Creta angry and flustered. She said to me, “Your mom needs to get right with God!” And with that she stormed off. By the time I got upstairs, my mom was in a fit of rage. I mean rage — and rightly so. Here’s a pastor and his wife who hadn’t had any interaction with my mom, yet they took it upon themselves to attack her for her way of life. I have often wondered what Mom said to Creta while she was pontificating about morality. I wonder if she mentioned the fact that Creta’s fine Christian brother had raped her five years before?

Second, Pastor Bennett thought of me as wild. “Wild” was a label given to IFB teens who were perceived to be worldly or loved to have fun; those who didn’t play by the rules. In Bennett’s eyes, I was wild because I didn’t participate in the church’s Word of Life youth program, ran around with fellow wildlings Dave Echler and Randy Rupp, drove my cars way too fast, and I loved the girls. In other words, I was a typical boy in the 1970s. Never mind the fact I attended church every time the doors were open, daily read my Bible and prayed, and regularly witnessed to non-Christians.

On several occasions, Pastor Bennett called me into his office and lectured me about my alleged bad behavior. One time, I reminded him that I planned on going to Bible college the following year. I asked him for advice concerning which college to attend. To this day, I remember what he said to me, “Bruce, I have no advice to give you.” And that was that, end of discussion.

A year later,I left Bryan and enrolled in classes at Midwestern. Pastor Bennett had no parting words, no words of encouragement for me. At the time, his indifference and coldness towards me really hurt. Fortunately, a deacon in the church, Bob Boothman, threw a going-away party for me and had me preach to my friends. This would be the only time I would ever preach at an event associated with First Baptist.

The next two summers I returned to Bryan, worked summer jobs, and regularly attended First Baptist. Unlike other young preachers who were afforded opportunities to preach, Pastor Bennett never asked me to do so. Why?

In 1983, I started an IFB church in Somerset, Ohio. Wanting to foster a better relationship with Pastor Bennett, I asked him to come preach for me for a few days. (Yes, I am sure Freud would have fun with the WHY behind me asking Bennett to preach for me.) The few days we spent together were uneventful. Again, Bennett cool and distant. We shared no meals together, and Bennett cloistered himself his motel room each day until it was time to come to the church. Needless to say, I was disappointed that we couldn’t find a way, as fellow pastors, to forge a meaningful relationship.

During my time at Somerset Baptist Church, First Baptist celebrated one of its anniversaries. The church threw a big party at the local school. One of the church families I was close to, Marv and Louise Hartman, called and invited me to the party. We gladly made the four-hour trip from southeast Ohio to attend the gala.

During the program, the church recognized all the preachers in attendance, fawning over those who had been called to preach while attending First Baptist. Guess whose name wasn’t mentioned? That’s right, mine. It was only later, after Louise Hartman said something about my omission that I was recognized. Quite frankly, that embarrassed me more than not being mentioned in the first place. I was an afterthought, an inconvenience that wouldn’t go away.

And why didn’t I go away? I think, deep down, I wanted to accepted and respected by the church and Pastor Bennett. I so wanted to be one of them. Alas, that was never going to happen.

This series will continue to focus on my experiences with First Baptist Church and its pastor Jack Bennett. I’m sure daring to tell these stories out loud will upset some current/former members and pastors of the church. How dare I speak ill of the dead — or the living, for that matter? These stories need to be told, and now is the time.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Why People Have a Hard Time Leaving the IFB Church Movement

ifb

Several months ago, I was interviewed by Eric Skwarczynski for his Preacher Boys Podcast. Eric is a Christian, formerly a part of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I had a delightful time talking with Eric, sharing my story, and giving my opinion about the health and future of the IFB church movement.

You can listen to the podcast here. You can also find the podcast on Acast, Spotify, and Apple.

https://redcircle.com/shows/preacher-boys-podcast/episodes/066f596b-0340-444f-8254-13fbcffd5f1e

Preacher Boys has a private Facebook group made up of people who profess to have left the IFB church movement. I say “profess” because some members are still very much IFB in their thinking and beliefs. I liken them to people who convince themselves that they are living in a brand-new home when in fact all they have done is painted the house a different color. A recent discussion about homosexuality revealed that some in the group are still hanging on to the IFB way of thinking, even if they think they are free from Fundamentalism’s harm.

Christian Fundamentalism is psychologically harmful, as countless posts on this site have shown. While it is certainly true that some people can escape without being harmed, most people who spend any length of time in an IFB church find themselves wrestling with all sorts of psychological and emotional baggage. Simply put, swimming in the sewer called the IFB church movement will fuck you up.

Why is it so hard for people to leave IFB churches?

For many IFB congregants, the churches they are members of are the only churches they have ever known. Their entire lives have revolved around their churches. From shared beliefs and practices to close social connection, IFB churches become the equivalent of family. In fact, many IFB preachers promote the idea that the church family is superior to flesh and blood family. Congregants buy into this thinking, often shunning their “unsaved” or non-IFB families. Several years ago, my wife and I tried to get her parents to move to our area so we could care for them. Moving made perfect sense in every way, yet Polly’s parents said no. Why? Their IFB church, the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. They couldn’t bring themselves to leave their church family. Being told this crushed Polly — their own living child. In her mind, her parents loved their church family more than they did her.

IFB church members are taught that their pastor is the purveyor of truth — a God-called preacher of the gospel. Certainty of belief is the lifeblood of IFB churches. Congregants are warned that other churches are liberal or heretical. Want the truth? Only OUR church has it! Imagine spending a lifetime having that kind of thinking pumped into your mind. Disaffected church members want to leave, but they can’t, out of fear that they will become liberals or heretics; or out of fear that if they leave, God will judge and chastise them.

Despite the family and truth barriers to leaving, many IFB congregants do, in fact, leave their churches, seeking out a new church that will better meet their needs. IFB churches have a significant amount of membership churn. Many congregations turn over their membership every five to ten years. For example, I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio and First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio for years. Today, I know very few people in these churches. Granted, many of the people I knew years ago are now dead, but I find it astounding how little continuity there’s been between generations. In 1994, I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas — a Sovereign Grace IFB church. Fast forward to today. The church posted a photo of its congregation on its website. I was surprised by how few people I knew, and by how much smaller the congregation was today. I calculated that I knew less than 10 percent of the people in the photo.

People can and do move on from IFB churches. However, as some of the discussions on the Preacher Boys Facebook group made clear, moving on doesn’t necessarily mean leaving IFB thinking, belief, and practice behind. I see this very thing played out in the lives of Christians (and pastors) who were my classmates at Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. As far as I know, I am the only outspoken atheist who attended Midwestern. The rest of my classmates are either still preaching the IFB way, truth, and life or have moved on to what I call IFB-adjacent churches.

I have one former friend who thinks that he is an enlightened Christian. He proudly claims, “I am no longer a Fundamentalist.” The justification for his claim? His wife wears pants, they drink alcohol, and use Bibles other than the KJV. In every other way, his beliefs and social positions are IFB. Over the years, I have had countless Evangelical commenters chide me for throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. In their minds, I should be like them: enlightened Evangelicals who have jettisoned many of the IFB church movement’s social Fundamentalist practices. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) However, when I poke and prod their beliefs a bit, I almost always find IFB thinking lurking below.

IFB thinking is hard to escape. It’s a disease that infects every aspect of your life. Truly abandoning and forsaking the IFB church movement takes work — lots of it. For many of us ex-IFB church members (and pastors), it took years of therapy to truly break the bondage Fundamentalism had on our lives. And even then, deep scars remain.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser