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Tag: Forgiveness

A Christian-Turned-Atheist Teen Asks, How Do I Forgive Myself for My Past Beliefs and the Harm I Caused to Other People?

forgiving yourself

Last month — I am thirty days behind on answering my email — I received a thoughtful email from an atheist teenager who attends a Christian school. At the time he started attending this school, he was a believer. Eventually, he began to doubt, and now he is an atheist. The school used him as a shining advertisement for what a good Christian should be. This young man is having a hard time forgiving himself for being deceived by such a dangerous, harmful theology; for being anti-LGBTQ. He asked me if I had any advice for him that would help him forgive himself.

I have struggled with this question myself over the years. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I directly affected thousands of people with my teaching, preaching, and expectations. I taught people all sorts of harmful beliefs. Worse yet, I modeled behaviors and practices that negatively affected both church members and my family. I was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher for many years, especially during the early years of my marriage to Polly and the formative years of our six children.

Polly and I had a patriarchal, complementarian marriage. These beliefs materially harmed Polly, for which she carries psychological scars to this day. The same can be said for our children. Our beliefs about family and discipline harmed our children. I was the primary disciplinarian in our family, using the rod of correction to beat our three sons into submission. Fortunately, I came to see that such discipline was child abuse, so our youngest son and two daughters were spared the ass-whippings.

We, of course, modeled to church members what we believed and practiced in our home. It’s not that I was deliberately abusive as much as it was that I believed the Bible taught a certain way of family structure and discipline; the same structure and discipline that was modeled to me by my parents, pastors, and the churches I attended. Attending an IFB college only reinforced these beliefs, convincing me they were right. Until I became persuaded that I was wrong, I continued to practice the “Biblical” way of family life, marriage, and discipline. How could I have ever done otherwise? Everything around me screamed that I was right. My literalist interpretation of the Bible said I was right. It would take me thirty years to reach a place where I could admit that I was wrong.

This young man talks about forgiving himself. While I was a true-blue believer a lot longer than he was, I do understand the struggle over trying to figure out how I could ever have believed what I did. It seems clear to me now that I had bat-shit crazy beliefs; that those beliefs materially harmed not only myself but also other people. I was fifty years old before I walked away from Christianity. Why didn’t I come to the light sooner? Indoctrination and social conditioning play a big part in training generation after generation about the faith once delivered to the saints — the Evangelical, IFB version of it, anyway. How could I have believed otherwise? The church was my life. I was largely insulated from the world, outside of playing sports and my work for various secular companies and government entities. There was nothing in my world that said to me that I was wrong. In fact, every preacher I heard preach and every book I read reminded me that I was right; that my beliefs and practices were in line with the Bible.

The best advice I can give to the letter writer is this: carefully, honestly, and openly examine your life and the experiences that led to your decision to believe in Jesus Christ and attend a Christian school. Look at these things from a sociological perspective. Self-examination and self-reflection are essential in understanding your motivations and desires. Once you have done this, forgive yourself, and determine that you will think differently going forward; that your life will be governed by reason, skepticism, and common sense. As I look at my life as a Christian, I see that I was not skeptical; I valued faith over reason, and this led to me having irrational beliefs and practices.

I have found it to be much harder to forgive myself for what I did to my wife, children, and church members. My beliefs caused them harm, both psychologically and physically. With these people, restitution is required before forgiveness can be given. So, over the past fifteen years, I have tried to make things right with Polly and our grown children and people who once called me preacher. When given an opportunity, I have apologized for the harm I caused them. The good news is that to a person they have forgiven me. They have shown me grace and forgiveness, understanding that I was a product of my environment; that I ignorantly taught and modeled the beliefs that were taught and modeled to me.

The letter writer is in a somewhat different position from the one I was in. He is a minor and lives at home. I don’t know how religious his parents are, what sect they are a part of, and how open they will be if he honestly shares with them his feelings. This is why he must tread carefully, lest he finds himself in trouble with his parents, or worse yet, thrown out of the home. I have advised some atheist minors in similar circumstances, to fake it until they make it; wait to fully share their lack of belief until they are out of the house and on their own.

The goal for this young man should be making restitution to people he feels he has wronged with his past religious beliefs. However, even here he must be careful. What will the administration of his school say when they learn he is an atheist; that he is apologizing for his past beliefs? I’m inclined to think that this will not go over very well with them, and could lead to discipline or expulsion. Making things right may mean waiting until after graduation to do so.

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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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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.

How Asking “Why?” Can be Wrongly Used to Absolve People of Bad Behavior

why

I typically talk with my counselor once a week. Today was my scheduled appointment. We spent most of our time talking about my Fundamentalist Baptist grandparents, John and Ann Tieken. Last week, I wrote a lengthy post about John and Ann. You can read this post here. Afterward, I received a vile, nasty comment from Dr. David Tee, whose real name is Derrick Thomas Thiessen. I responded to his comment here.

Writing about John and Ann was necessary, but doing so dredged up a lot of shit, some of which was buried deep in the recesses of my mind. I felt a sense of release and relief after writing the post. My counselor asked me, “so how do you feel today?” Before I answered that question, we talked about how my pastors, youth leaders, and Sunday school teachers taught me that I was obligated to always love and forgive people, no matter what they did to me. We talked about how the “blood of Jesus” was used as a cover for bad behavior, allowing perpetrators to escape personal accountability for their behavior. We also talked about that seminal moment in the late 1990s when I finally had enough of John and Ann and cut them out of my life; a decision I do not regret. I am glad that my children and grandchildren will never know John and Ann; never have to listen to their lectures and be demeaned by them; never have to watch their parents be berated and diminished by their Jesus-loving, family-hating grandparents. (Our three oldest children have vague memories of them, mostly from Christmases at my mom’s home in Columbus. Our oldest son likely saw John and Ann less than a dozen times in his first twenty years of life.)

“So how do you feel today?” my counselor, Melissa, asked. I replied, “I find myself asking ‘why?’ Why did John and Ann behave the way they did? Were they abused as children? What were their childhoods like?” In asking this question, I was looking for some way to justify their behavior or gain understanding that would allow me to forgive them.”

My counselor told me that the “why” question is a common question asked by trauma survivors. They are desperately looking for an explanation for why their abuser harmed them. I had convinced myself that if I only knew about John’s and Ann’s upbringing it would help me understand why they treated me the way they did. “Here’s the thing, Bruce,” my counselor softly said. “The ‘why” doesn’t matter, even if they were abused as children. They are responsible for their behavior.”

— Light goes on in my head —

Of course, my asking “why” gives John and Ann a way out; a way to avoid being held accountable for the harm they caused to me personally, to Polly, and to my mother. Regardless of their upbringing, John and Ann did what they did, and they must be held responsible for their behavior, including the rape of my mother as a child by John.

Our discussion turned to “forgiveness.” I told my counselor that had no plans to forgive John and Ann; that forgiveness, in my mind, is predicated on owning one’s behavior and making restitution. Since John and Ann spent my entire life hiding behind the blood of Christ and God’s forgiveness, I see no reason to forgive them. I am a forgiving person, but I don’t owe anyone forgiveness. Even if my grandparents had owned their bad behavior and made amends, I am not sure I would have forgiven them. As a Christian? Probably. But as an atheist and a humanist, probably not. I suspect I would have thanked them and walked away, thinking of my mom’s last moments before she killed herself. “John and Ann, you played an instrumental part in my beautiful mom’s death. May you rot in Hell.”

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.

Wash, Rinse, Dry and Repeat: What Happens When Jesus Doesn’t Fix What Ails You

blood of jesus

Jesus told his disciples in John 15:5, without me, ye can do nothing, and in Matthew 19:26, Jesus said with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. The Apostle Paul told Athenian idolaters that one true God was he who gives to all men not only life and breath, but all things (Acts 17). In his New Testament writings, Paul, the founder of Christianity, advances the notion that God is the sovereign of the universe and that everything that happens is according to his purpose and plan. Paul cautions Christians about trying to live life in their own strength, that doing so will end in failure. He wrote in Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. The negative inference is clear, I can’t do anything without Christ, echoing Jesus’s words in John 15, without me, ye can do nothing.

Evangelicals believe that humans are inherently broken, born with a sin nature, and at variance with the Christian God. According to Evangelicals, everyone, from fertilized eggs in the womb to infants and from children to centenarians, is predisposed to sin — sin being the transgression of the law of God in thought, word, and deed. Countless human behaviors, especially those of a sexual nature, are, according to the Bible — an ancient religious text supposedly written by the Christian God — violations of God’s law. Unbelievers — people who have not asked Jesus to save them from their sins — are told that God hates sin and those who do it, and the only way to gain God’s favor is to prostrate oneself before the thrice-holy God and confess that you are a worthless worm deserving of eternal punishment in Hell; that the only person who can save you from your sin is Jesus. If you humble yourself before God, begging him for deliverance from your sin, God will forgive you of your sins (but only if you are one of the elect, according to Calvinists). Once you have sufficiently humbled yourself before God and he has saved you, God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, takes up residence in your “heart.”

Once people have been saved, they are instructed to rely on God to lead and direct their lives. Their “sin natures” haven’t been eradicated, so Christians must rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them through a world bent on destroying them. Evangelicals are frequently reminded by their pastors about the importance of studying the Bible, tithing, praying, tithing, and faithfully attending church. Yet, despite all of these things, Evangelicals continue to sin, often at levels equaling or exceeding that of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

Even those who are called men of God — people who supposedly have a close relationship with God — are not immune from sinning. These preachers of righteousness and holiness often commit the very sins they thunder against each and every Lord’s Day. And as the Black Collar Crime series reveals, preachers can and do rape, steal, molest children, and murder. While defenders of all things Evangelical will say that while such reports are disturbing, most pastors don’t do such things; certainly they would be right, but what is never addressed is the how and why these things happen. If God is who Evangelicals say he is and the Holy Spirit lives inside every believer, why is there so much sinning going on among Christians and their leaders? Why does rarely a day go by without one or more Evangelical preachers appearing in the news for some sort of sexual crime? And these are just the ones caught with their pants down!

Evangelicals practice what I call wash, rinse, dry, and repeat. These followers of Jesus are commanded to daily confess their sins. I John 1:8-10 states:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Weekly, daily, and hourly Evangelicals plead with their sin-forgiving God to wash their “hearts” clean. Without any proof besides feelings of relief or words found in an ancient religious text, Evangelicals believe that sincere prayers of repentance are met with God’s forgiveness. With their sins forgiven, Evangelicals return to a world awash in sin, promising God that they will not succumb to temptation and the snares of Satan. Yet, moments or hours later, Evangelicals find themselves yet again in need of confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness from God. It is for this reason that Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) luminary John R. Rice encouraged Christians to “keep [their] sin lists short.” Rice suggested that when Christians become aware they have sinned they should immediately stop and confess the sin and seek forgiveness. Since Evangelicals sin in thought, word, and deed, following Rice’s admonition would require them to continuously pray. If only the Bible had something to say about this. Oh wait, it does! 1 Thessalonians 5:17 states, praying without ceasing.

Several years ago, a person I know well was arrested for DUI and sentenced to ninety days in jail as a repeat offender. This man has had numerous arrests for a variety of crimes. Father to numerous children with several women, this man has spent much of his life battling drug addiction. Having had and lost countless well-paying jobs and having ruined his relationship with his family, his life, a tragedy to behold, is a screaming example of the failure of Jesus to fix what ails the human race.

This man was raised in an Evangelical home, attended a private Christian school, and was surrounded by extended family who were preachers of the gospel. His parents lived what is best described as up-and-down lives, in and out of church as they dealt with familial, marital, and employment problems. Counseled by pastors to GET RIGHT WITH GOD, they would return to the church, often coming to the church altar to confess their sin and renew their commitment to Christ. And for months or years their renewed devotion would give the appearance of a family happily in love with Jesus. And then, as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, Satan and the lusts of the flesh — according to their pastors — would trip them up, causing them to fall headlong into sin. Often they would remain in the pigsty of sin for months or years before one of God’s men convinced them to return to church to do business with God. This endless cycle of sin, confess, repent, forsake, repeat was played out dozens of times over the years, leading to untold psychological and physical harm.

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The drug-addict son, following what has been modeled to him by his family, has run from Evangelical church to Evangelical church, hoping to find the forgiveness of sins and victory over his many addictions. At these churches, he is met at the door by preachers who promise him that Jesus can fix whatever ails him. GET RIGHT WITH GOD, he is told, by Evangelical family and strangers alike. If he will just confess his sins and seek forgiveness, Jesus will swoop in and give him victory over crack, PCP, meth, alcohol, and his love of sexual immorality. His devoutly Evangelical grandparents continue to pray, encouraging their sinful grandson to get back in church so he can get the help he needs.

This rolling train wreck has been going on for over a decade, with no end in sight. Those closest to him continue to encourage him to cast all his cares on Jesus, telling him that if he will do so, Christ will give him victory over his addictions. No one dares to suggest — I am not within his circle of influence — that Jesus and his deliverance peddlers are the problem; that Evangelical beliefs concerning human nature, sin, and forgiveness are actually hurting this man, not helping him; that the best thing he could do is get as far away as possible from Christian family members and preachers who are trying to “help” him; that the church and Jesus are in a codependent relationship with him, and are in no position to offering lasting help.

Those of us raised in the Evangelical church know well the wash, rinse, dry, and repeat way of living. Frequently reminded of our sins by preachers, evangelists, Evangelical writers, and the Bible, we spent countless hours confessing our sins and seeking God’s forgiveness. The churches we attended would call for special meetings where revivalist preachers would come in and stomp on our feet with old-fashioned hellfire and brimstone preaching. Countless time was spent on our knees crying out to God, pleading for forgiveness and deliverance from sins of commission and omission. Sufficiently revived, off we would go, ready to slay our adversary Satan, tearing down strongholds by and through the mighty power of God.

Over time, worldly complacency would set in, and we would need yet another reviving, another impartation of God’s mighty Spirit. Is it any wonder that many Christians weary of the sin, confess, repent, forsake, repeat process and give up or practice the time-honored Evangelical spiritual discipline of “fake it until you make it”? Spend enough time in Evangelicalism and you will learn expected behaviors, complete with a language code to be used to give the appearance of living life as a Jesus-loving, Satan-hating, sin-forsaking Christian. The Apostle Paul himself approved of this approach when he told the Church at Thessalonica to, abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

It is evident, at least to me, that Evangelicalism stands in the way of people truly dealing with and overcoming negative behaviors. Over its long history, the Christian church has used fear of judgment and punishment to keep people dependent on God for the forgiveness of behaviors deemed sinful by the church. Over time, the sin lists changed, but one fact remains: Evangelicals cannot find victory over sin in their own strength, and only God can forgive and deliver them. Failure to seek forgiveness results in God chastising (punishing) them for their sin. Want to avoid the punishment of the BDSM-loving God? Evangelicals are told to prostrate themselves before God and beg for forgiveness.

Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to tell God to take a hike. What has he done for them anyway? Instead of granting them victory over sin, he keeps them dependent on him, often allowing temptations that cause them to fail. What we would think of a person who left meth on the nightstand of his guest room while his recovering drug addict friend was staying with him. Yet, this is exactly what God does. He tempts and tries, and even causes people to fail. Why? Because he wants Christians to love him more and seek his forgiveness. In other words, he is the abusive husband who beats his wife so she will love him more. As is often the case in matters of domestic abuse, removal from the immediate circumstance and divorce is often warranted. Perhaps Evangelicals need to tell God See ya later and turn their attention to finding lasting solutions to issues such as drug addiction. Not only is Jesus not the solution, but he is also the problem. As long as Evangelicals refuse to see this, they will remain trapped in a constant state of wash, rinse, dry, and repeat.

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.

Evangelical MLM Evangelism

nude-evangelism
Cartoon by Chris Morgan

Several years ago, I wrote a post titled J.A. Medders Asks: What Do You Think Jesus is Doing Right Now?.

As I read the comments on this post, I had thoughts about how similar multi-level marketing (MLM) programs are to the various methods and programs Evangelicals use to evangelize people they deem unsaved/lost/unregenerate and headed for hell. This post will detail these similarities.

From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. During my tenure at this church, I had to deal with well-intentioned members and Christian friends who tried to recruit me into their MLM programs. I was an attractive candidate due to the fact that I had a name-filled Rolodex that could be mined for new marks. Always polite and respectful, I never said NO, so this made me an easy target for church members who were involved with selling everything from Amway to long-distance telephone service.

One day the telephone rang and it was Brother Bob (names changed to protect the guilty) calling to ask if he could come over and talk to me about something that he was SURE I would find interesting and exciting; an opportunity to help other people and make money too. I thought, Not again, but not wanting to upset Brother Bob, I said, sure, when would you like to come over?

The next night a new Cadillac pulled into our driveway. Unbeknownst to me, Brother Bob had brought someone else with him. Great, I thought, now I have to deal with Brother Bob AND a stranger. As they came onto our front deck, I opened the door, and putting on the biggest I love Jesus smile possible, I invited them into our spacious, palatial 14’x70′ home on wheels.

Brother Bob was wearing Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, while the intruder who came with him looked like he stepped out of the pages of a fashion catalog. After trading pleasantries, I invited Brother Bob and the now-I-know-your-name stranger into our expansive seventy-square-foot dining room. Brother Bob sat on one side of the table, I sat on the other side, and the stranger — let’s call him Dick — sat at the head of the table.

Dick relaxed into his chair, putting both arms on the table with hands clasped. In doing so, I couldn’t help but notice his Rolex watch and large diamond ring. These accessories were a perfect match for his calendar model look. From this point forward, Brother Bob didn’t say another word. Dick began talking to me about wants, needs, and desires, focusing on the accrual of wealth and material goods. At this point, he had not yet told me WHY he and Brother Bob were there. Having evangelized hundreds of people over the years, I knew Dick was trying to make me think that we were friends and that we had common wants, needs, and desires. He regaled me with stories about how his standard of living had mushroomed since he joined — are you ready? drum roll please —  AMWAY.

Dick asked if I had ever heard of AMWAY. I told him I had, but that didn’t stop him from giving me a well-rehearsed speech about the history and wonders of AMWAY. After thirty minutes or so, Dick thought it was time to close the deal. He asked me if I wanted to earn more money and improve my standard of living — offensively assuming that there was something wrong with my current lifestyle. Dick reiterated all that Amway had done for him, sure that I would want the same things. Imagine his surprise when I told him that I really wasn’t interested in accumulating material goods.

Dick had said he was a Christian, so I was somewhat surprised that he didn’t know that the Bible said:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)

I shared with Dick my view of wealth and material goods, and it became quickly clear to him that I was NOT a prospect for AMWAY. Dick quickly ended his attempt to hustle me, saying to Brother Bob that it was time for them to go to their next appointment. I shook hands with them, walked them to the door, and off into the night they went looking to suck the blood out of other friends of Brother Bob.

Over the course of fifty years in the Christian church and twenty-five years in the ministry, I knocked on the doors of thousands of homes as I followed the Bible mandate to preach the gospel from house to house. My goal, regardless of the church I pastored, was to knock on the doors of every home in the community, introduce myself, and, if possible, share the gospel. I also encouraged church members to get me into the homes of their lost loved ones so I could share with them the wondrous good news that Jesus Saves!

I believed throughout my years in the Christian church that every person in the world needed to hear the gospel. While my fervor waned in later years, I still considered it my duty and responsibility to put a good word in for Jesus whenever possible. It always troubled me that OTHER Christians (and pastors) didn’t seem as bothered as I was about the lostness of their family, friends, and neighbors. Despite hearing and knowing the gospel, most church members showed little interest in getting others saved. I suspect most members viewed me as some sort of hired gun trained in the art of winning souls. Content to invite the unsaved to church so they could hear me preach, church members busied themselves with building a kingdom on this earth. No matter how often I attempted to raise an army to wage war against sin and the devil, most members were content to let me and a handful of other zealots do all the evangelism.

Think for a moment about soulwinning Evangelicals and the preachers of the  various MLM gospels. The methodology, techniques and promises are quite similar:

  • Both attempt to befriend people in hopes of getting them to buy what they are selling.
  • Both attempt to manipulate emotions in hopes of making people sympathetic to their sales pitch.
  • Both attempt to bolster their sales spiel with stories of how wonderful their lives are since getting saved/joining MLM program.
  • Both attempt to appeal to prospective customers with promises of a better life.
  • Both promise lives of meaning, purpose, and helping others.
  • Both attempt to impress on people the importance of making an immediate decision.
  • Both leave literature if people want to think about it or are unwilling to make an immediate decision

I am sure there are other connections. If you think of any, please share them in the comment section.

I am sure that Evangelicals will object to how I have painted their evangelistic efforts, but the fact remains Evangelicals are salespeople with a product to sell: forgiveness of sin, salvation, and a home in Heaven. This product purportedly offers purchasers joy, happiness, meaning, and purpose. The difference between what Evangelicals are selling and what the MLM zealots offer is that Evangelicals attempt to sell an invisible product that may not pay off until after death. Those who buy into the Jesus Saves® program must exercise faith, believing that, in the end, the multi-level marketer in the sky — Jesus — will move them to the top of the MLM pyramid, granting them a beautiful new mansion along streets of pure gold. With AMWAY, at least, converts can — in this life — judge the quality and truthfulness of its claims. This is why most people drop out of MLM programs, while most Evangelicals stay in their program until the end. Imagine what might happen if people required Jesus’ soul-saving MLM program to pay out BEFORE death. Why, most people would abandon Evangelical churches in short order.

As long as Evangelical churches promise things that can only be gained AFTER death, people will hang on, hoping that after their demise, they will cash in their eternal lottery ticket. While religion certainly has (for some people) utilitarian value, I do wonder if people would spend time going to church, giving their money, and attempting to live according to the teachings of an ancient religious text if there were no divine payoff.

Think back to your Evangelical days. If there was no life after death, no eternal reward, would you have been a Christian? Would you have lived as you did? If this life is all there is, how differently would you have lived your life? Please share your thoughtful ruminations in the comment section.

God Forgives and Forgets and So Should We, Says IFB Christian

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Today, Constance, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian, left the following comment on a 2020 post about serial adulterer David Hyles’ latest sex scandal:

Hello, what God forgives of the past, and looks to what a man is in the present. I have enjoyed Dr. Jack Hyles sermon, “Being Thirsty.” It would be great to hear today, preachers like him. I think he died. That was from the CD collection of “Fundamental Voices.”

Over the past thirteen years, I have received numerous comments and emails from IFB Christians preaching the same perverse gospel of “forgiveness” as Constance does in her comment. In their minds, salvation and subsequent cleansing from sin are transactional — a simple prayer away. After all, the Bible says in 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. All David Hyles, Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, and every other miscreant needs to do is “confess” their sins — “I messed up Jesus, my bad” — and really, really, really, really mean it, and Jesus, through his magic blood will forgive them of their sins and cleanse them from ALL unrighteousness. By uttering the right words, their slates are instantaneously wiped clean; their sins are remembered by God no more. And if God has forgiven and forgets, so should we.

People not immersed in the practices of the IFB church movement know that this sin-repent-forgiveness process enables depraved, perverted behavior. If all one needs to do is pray-away-the-crime, there’s no motivation to change their ways. Over the twenty-five years I spent pastoring Evangelical churches, I witnessed countless followers of Jesus come to the altar, confess their sins with wailing and gnashing of teeth, and find cleansing from sinful and, at times, criminal behavior. Come Monday or maybe Wednesday, these same people returned as a pig to the mire, committing the same or similar sins, only to find themselves at the church altar again the next Sunday. Wash-rinse-repeat.

While I didn’t lower myself to join the penitent at the mourner’s bench, I did practice 1 John 1:9 every time I preached. It was my custom to say a silent prayer to God before entering the pulpit, asking him to cleanse me from all my sin, both acts of omission and commission. I wanted to be pure, holy, and right with God before I stood in front of my congregation to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. No matter what I had done the night before or even that morning, I knew that I had to have a clean sin slate if I expected God to use me to save souls and advance his kingdom.

According to Constance, no “sin” is unforgivable. David Hyles’ alleged crimes and sexual escapades are well known, yet Constance believes that as long as Hyles has said “my bad” he should keep on doing God’s work. Hyles doesn’t believe in restitution, nor does he think he owes anyone an apology. God has forgiven him, and that’s all that matters.

Several years ago, Hyles posted on Facebook:

Some would have us confess our sins endlessly. Instead we should confess them but once and then give thanks for His forgiveness endlessly.

I wrote at the time:

David Hyles believes if he says “my bad” to Jesus, that all is forgiven. No need to make restitution or publicly account for his vile behavior. I talked to God, Hyles thinks, and he said, Hey David, you are my son, I forgive you, end of discussion! Hyles wrongly thinks that his “sin” is between him and God. People such as myself — an atheist to boot — have no right to poke our noses into his sex life — past or present. Ironically, David Hyles supports attempts to legislate private sexual behavior between consenting adults. If Hyles supports government and religious intrusion into the sexual affairs of Americans, shouldn’t his sexual behavior be fair game — especially those acts that were criminal in nature? For Hyles, the blood of Jesus, applied in 1 John 1:9 fashion: if we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to cleanse us from sin and ALL UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, is his get-out-of-jail-free card. Pray, confess, and God wipes his slate clean. A sweet deal, I’d say. One that allows people to commit horrific acts and have them erased by saying a bit of religious mumbo jumbo.

….

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is rife with sexual abuse problems. I know of one church where a man was caught TWICE having inappropriate sexual relationships with minor boys, yet today he is faithfully serving Jesus in an IFB church. Evidently, IFB men are free to stick their dicks wherever they want, knowing that God will forgive such sins and wipe slates clean. Never mind the fact that these predators often continue to prey on unsuspecting people, no matter how many times their records are washed clean by Jesus.

Constance is a product of Fundamentalist indoctrination, a believer in grace and forgiveness while enabling child abusers, sexual predators, and all-around bad people. She fails to understand that abusers and predators don’t stop until they are caught and made to stop. God might forgive them, but here on planet earth, we have a duty and obligation to hold child molesters, rapists, and sexual predators accountable for their crimes. Further, it is in the best interest of churches to NOT employ pastors who sleep with congregants or psychologically manipulate vulnerable church teenagers so they can have sex with them. These things seem so fucking obvious to me, yet Constance believes that if God has forgiven an errant preacher, so should she. Preach the Word, brother! Stay Thirsty!

Other posts about David Hyles

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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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Blood Washing the Past

blood of jesus

Anyone raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church has likely sung numerous times the hymn There’s Power in the Blood. The lyrics reinforce the IFB belief that the forgiveness of sin, any sin, is but a prayer away. According to 1 John 1:9, if a Christian confesses his sin to God, he will find instantaneous forgiveness. This is only possible because of the atoning blood of Jesus. Through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, the sinning and confessing sinner’s transgressions are washed away, never to be remembered again. Sing with me now (shouting the word power):

Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.

Refrain:
There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide;
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow;
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.

Would you do service for Jesus your King?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Would you live daily His praises to sing?
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.

No matter what Christians do, the blood of Jesus washes their sin away. Many Evangelical sects believe that any sin committed BS — before salvation — is forgiven and forgotten once a person is saved. One pastor I know refuses to do background checks on church workers because crimes committed before the super-duper blood of Jesus washed away their sins are remembered by God no more. And if God doesn’t remember the sin, why should we?

Another man, an evangelist, was accused of having sex with minors. He refused to talk about his past, claiming his past behavior is under the “blood.” Unfortunately, there are allegations that he continued to prey on minors after Jesus washed away his sin. But, don’t worry, forgiveness is but a prayer and a blood-washing away. Young girls can rest easy, at least until the blood of Jesus loses its power and the evangelist seeks out new potential victims to molest. Why is it that a Jesus’ blood transfusion is only temporary? If he is who Evangelicals say he is, shouldn’t his miraculous blood protect children from Christian sexual predators? Evidently not. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.)

Consider how amazing the blood of Jesus is. No matter what Christians do, no matter how heinous their behavior is, a quick prayer to Jesus asking for forgiveness will unleash the sin-cleansing power of the blood of the Lamb. This supernatural blood allows Evangelical Christians to escape accountability for bad behavior. Just pray, Evangelicals are told, secretly confessing the sin to God, and forgiveness will be granted. This is no different, by the way, from what goes on in Catholic confessional booths. No matter the crime, Jesus will forgive. Even repeat offenders can find forgiveness if they sincerely plead for the blood of Jesus to be applied to their sin-darkened hearts. Dear Lord Jesus, please forgive me for watching porn. I know this is a sin. I ask you to forgive me and wash away my sin. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Two nights later . . . Hey Jesus, it’s me again, Pastor Billy Bob. The devil got a hold of me and I looked at porn again. I’m so sorry for my sin. I ask you to forgive me and wash away my sin. In Jesus’ name, Amen. A week later, Hey Jesus, it’s me again . . .

And so it goes. Evangelicals sin, feel guilty, pray for forgiveness, promising, with fingers crossed behind their backs, that they will never, ever sin again. Rather than being held accountable for bad behavior, Evangelical sinners are given get-out-of-jail-free cards to be used any time they “sin.”

Those of us who are agnostics or atheists have no way for our bad-behavior slate to be wiped clean. All we can do is admit what we did and make restitution. In some instances, we’ll carry the stain of our “sin” until we die. Unlike Evangelicals, we acknowledge that bad behavior can and does have lasting consequences.

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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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Evangelicals Use “We Are All Sinners” Argument to Justify Sexual Abuse

josh duggar

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

One would think decent, thoughtful people would agree that a fifteen-year-old teen boy touching the genitals of five little girls is criminal. One would think decent, thoughtful people would agree that we should do all we can to protect children from those who will use them for sexual gratification. One would think that decent, thoughtful people would agree that covering up and not prosecuting sexual abuse is not in the best interest of the victims or society.

One would think . . . and you’d be wrong. I have been astounded by Evangelical excuses, justifications, explanations, and dismissals of Josh Duggar’s criminal sexual assault of five girls. Consider for a moment the universal condemnation of Congressman Dennis Hastert over his decades-old sexual abuse of a student of his. According to Hastert’s indictment, he paid a male student $1.7 million “in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against” him. Hastert used money to cover up his criminal behavior just as Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar used their influence to cover up their son’s crimes. Why is one universally condemned and the other explained away as nothing more than a teenager “playing doctor,” a “youthful mistake,” or “that’s what boys do”?Let me illustrates this with three Facebook comments made by Fundamentalist Christian, Quiverfull defender, Duggar and Bill Gothard loving Rick Boyer:

rick boyer 1
rick boyer 2
rick boyer 3

Let me cut through all Boyer’s super spiritual, holier-than-thou, braggadocious, religious bullshit. He is using the “we are all sinners” argument to defend, excuse, justify, and explain away a 15-year-old boy putting his hands on little girls vaginas and a grown man who manipulated and sexually molested girls and young women.

It seems that any time a darling of Evangelicalism finds himself in a compromising or criminal position, the first excuse trotted out by his defenders is “we are all sinners.” While I don’t believe in the Christian concept of sin, for the sake of this post, I am going to accept as valid the notion of sin. I will then, in the rest of this post, gut the “we are all sinners” argument.

First, we may all be sinners, but most of us don’t sexually molest children or groom and assault girls and young women. Such behaviors are deviant and vile and deserve punishment. We the people, through our elected officials, have enacted laws that protect children and vulnerable adults from predators like Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard. Thanks to the statute of limitations and a big help from law enforcement, neither of them will be prosecuted. The fact that they are not being prosecuted doesn’t mean that they are not guilty. Both admitted their behavior, though their admissions leave a lot to be desired. One would think that this would be enough for people like Rick Boyer, but it isn’t.

Imagine if Richard Dawkins, who was abused as a child, was accused of molesting five little girls. Why the Evangelical outrage would be swift and earsplitting. Evangelicals would demand his prosecution and would write voluminous blog articles about Dawkins’s crimes against children being proof that there is no morality without God. And here’s the thing: atheists such as myself would demand Dawkins be prosecuted. Because the issue is CHILD ABUSE, and not obtuse, never-ending arguments about sin, God, and morality. We have laws, and we expect people to obey them. Both Duggar and Gothard broke the law. They got by with their crimes because people covered up their behavior. It wasn’t until a victim made her story public or an investigative reporter sussed out the facts, that the public learned about their crimes. And, as a person who thinks the rule of law is important, and that protecting children is a key part of a just society, I expect people like Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard to be prosecuted for their criminal behavior.

Second, Rick Boyer blames all the outrage on pagans and gullible Christians. This is blame-shifting extraordinaire, a game played by those who want to deflect criticism or judgment. Anyone who has raised children has seen this game played. Johnny gets caught throwing food at Sally and when his Mom confronts him he says, “but Rudy,” Johnny’s little brother, “was throwing food too.” Mom rightly replies, “but I am talking to you, Johnny, about what you did, not what Rudy did.” The wise parent does not let her children blame-shift. Those who do end up having children like Rick Boyer.

I thought Evangelicals were the personal-responsibility wing of Christianity. Since their politics are overwhelmingly right-wing, they have demanded Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accept responsibility for what was done on their watch. Yet, when it comes to Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard, many Evangelicals are strangely quiet about “personal responsibility.” (And don’t get my started on the immoral and criminal behavior of baby Christian Donald Trump.) Why is this? Why has this been the case my entire life? Big-name Evangelical preacher gets in trouble and his defenders flock to the Internet and protect their boy. No matter the crime, they are quick to justify and forgive. I wonder if they would be so understanding or forgiving if it were their daughter or granddaughter who was sexually molested by Josh Duggar or Bill Gothard? Something tells me that they would be calling for the perpetrator’s head to be cut off as swiftly as Geoffrey cut off Ned Stark’s head in Game of Thrones.

get out of everything free card

Third, it seems that no matter what an Evangelical superstar does, the God of forgiveness and the blood of Jesus provide a get-out-of-jail-free card. While Evangelicals will feign concern for the victims, their real concern is for the perpetrator. He’s a star, and is so important to God and his work here on earth that anything and everything he does must be forgiven. No matter the crime, the sin slate must be wiped clean. After all, King David, a man who committed adultery, was a polygamist, and had a man murdered so he could fuck his wife, is called in the Bible, a man after God’s own heart. If King David can have his slate wiped clean and be best buds with God again, surely the same can happen for Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard, right?

Sadly, Evangelical beliefs about sin, atonement, and forgiveness turn Evangelicals into lobotomized lemmings unable to see things as they are. What we have with Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard are clear cases of sexual abuse and abuse of power. Every non-lobotomized person knows this. The facts aren’t in dispute, yet many Evangelicals blithely preach up the love, grace, and forgiveness of God as an excuse for heinous behavior that is rightly condemned by Christian and atheist alike. It’s only Evangelicals who are defending these men. Why is this?

Most Evangelicals believe that the forgiveness of ANY sin is but a prayer away. The Bible says in 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.

Let me use an extreme example to explain Evangelical thinking about sin and forgiveness. There are eight people in the Roberts family. The Roberts are a Christian family, noted for their love and devotion to Jesus. Well, except for Becky. Becky is sixteen and she has a boyfriend who is not a Christian. Her parents demand that she break up with Clint and never see him again. They remind her that the Bible says that believers are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers and God says premarital sex is a sin. Becky continues to see Clint, often sneaking out of the house late at night, meeting Clint at their “special” place. Over time, Becky becomes so angry at her parents and their constant Bible-quoting and judgmental attacks on Clint that she decides to kill her family, all seven of them. Her boyfriend, enthralled with Becky and the sex they shared, says he would be willing to help her kill her mother, father, and six siblings. And one night, that is exactly what they did.

According to people like Bill Boyer and other grace-and-forgiveness Evangelicals, forgiveness for Becky is only a prayer away. She was a love-struck teenager, kinda like Josh Duggar, and even though she did horrible things, one simple, heartfelt prayer will wipe away the blood of her dead family. Isn’t God awesome?

Oh Bruce, such a fantastical story, one that would never happen in real life. Really? Then you have never heard of 16-year-old Evangelical teenager Erin Caffey who is serving two life sentences plus twenty-five years for the slaughter of her mother and two brothers and the attempted murder of her father in 2008. Let me ask you, dear readers, would you or could forgive your daughter for slaughtering your entire family? Yet, according to Evangelical belief, forgiveness is not only just a whispered prayer away, it is demanded by God regardless of the circumstance.

blood of jesus

Erin Caffey’s father Terry, being the good Christian that he is, forgave his daughter and the boyfriend and two friends that murdered his two children and wife. Here’s what Caffey had to say:

“I planned my own suicide. I decided that when I got well enough to travel, I was going back to my property, and I was going to end it. So when that day came, I went back there and stood on the ashes and began to cry to God. I said, ‘God, I don’t understand why you took my family. Why did you do this? I just don’t understand.’

“No sooner than I said that, I looked down and saw this scrap piece of paper from a book. It was burned around the edges. I picked it up, and it read, ‘I couldn’t understand why you would take my family and leave me behind to struggle along without them. I may never totally understand that part of it, but I do know that you are sovereign. You are in control.’ When I read those words, I was like, ‘Wow.’ It brought me to my knees.”

“People ask me, ‘How could you forgive your daughter and how could you forgive those who murdered your family?’ I am not trying to justify anything. This is my daughter.”

Sadly, because of Evangelical indoctrination, Terry Caffey has lost the ability to feel anger and hate. As a father, I understand the love a father has for his children, but every child can cross a line where no love and forgiveness remain for him or her. Evangelicals have had drilled into their heads the idea that they must love unconditionally and forgive any and all who transgress against them. Besides, someday, in the sweet by and by, Terry will be reunited with his murdered children and wife. And Erin will be there too, maybe with her fellow murderers who found Jesus while in prison. One big happy murdered family reunion. Until their reunion in God’s Big House, Terry Caffey travels America telling his story. Caffey has a ministry called A Cross America Ministries: Enabling Today’s Youth to be Tomorrow’s Christian Leaders. He has written a book, been the subject of a People Magazine feature, been on the Dr. Phil Show, and has a new wife and kids.

I wonder, if there were no Heaven, would Terry Coffey be so forgiving? Would Evangelicals be so willing to forgive and forget the crimes of Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard, and uncounted other Evangelical superstar abusers and perverts, if there were no divine payoff in heaven? (Please see Black Collar Crime Series.) Evangelicals are taught that forgiveness is mandatory. As God has forgiven them, so are they to forgive others. Now, in real life, the forgive-everyone requirement is often ignored. As those of us who were in the Evangelical church for many years know, some of the most mean, nasty, vile, unforgiving people can be found at First Baptist Church on Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. And some of them are standing at the pulpit.

Fourth, this post is getting way too long, but let me take some time to point out the hypocrisy of Evangelicals such as Rick Boyer. If two consenting adult men have sex, Evangelicals are outraged. If two consenting adult lesbian women get married, Evangelicals are outraged. From gay sex to non-married hetero-sex to teenage blow jobs, Evangelicals are outraged. Quoting a plethora of Bible verses that many of them secretly ignore, and calling on God to judge America, but just don’t judge them, they demand Biblical justice be meted out to these unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines. What happened to grace and forgiveness? Well Bruce, Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard confessed their sins, God forgave them, and they promised to never, ever, one time, I mean never, never ONE time, touch a little girl or young woman again. Those queers, adulterers, and fornicators refuse to stop their sin, so there is NO forgiveness for them!

Way too many Evangelicals naïvely believe that people such as Josh Duggar, Bill Gothard, Jack Schaap, Geronimo “Pastor G” Aguilar, David Hyles, Jimmy Swaggart, John Paulk, Jack Hyles, Paul Crouch, Douglas Goodman, Ted Haggard, Earl Paulk, Paul Barnes, Lonny Latham, Michael Reid, Todd Bentley, Tony Alamo, Eddie Long, Gilbert Deya, Coy Privette, Joe Barron, George Rekers, David Loveless, Isaac Hunter, Sam Hinn, Paula White and uncounted other Evangelical superstars, have stopped doing what got them in trouble.  Why should they stop screwing church members, abusing children, and acting in ways most respectable people would consider decadent? Just pray, be contrite, promise never to do it again, wink, wink, and all is well.

What these modern-day Elmer Gantrys have learned is that Evangelicals are gullible, always ready to love, forgive, and forget. Perhaps some of them have learned their lesson and stayed on the straight and narrow, but my gut and six decades of exposure to Evangelicalism tells me that what has really happened is that they have learned to be more careful. I am of the opinion that all the Jesus, praying, and forgiving in the world won’t fix a child molester. Those who desire and molest children will continue to do so until they are stopped. Anyone who thinks Josh Duggar’s or Bill Gothard’s behaviors are one-time events, never to be repeated, is either ignorant or fell on his head when he was a kid. This is why I support the incarceration (and treatment) of child molesters. Children will never be safe as long as we treat child molesters as sinners who can be fixed by God, prayer, and forgiveness.

Is Josh Duggar a pedophile? I don’t know. I do know he molested five girls and this is enough for me to say that he should never be allowed near children. Mark my word, in a few years Josh Duggar will write a book and start a ministry that will extol the wondrous grace of God; how that God forgave and delivered Duggar from his sins. And many Evangelicals will embrace him as the father did the prodigal son. All will be forgiven and no one will consider whether Josh Duggar might be a pedophile who should never, ever be allowed to be near children again.

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: Sex with Your Spouse Without Consent is Just a Mistake

lori and ken alexander

It was heartbreaking to see so many Christian women claim that this man who had sex with his wife in the middle of the night without her consent, agreeing with the masses that he had raped her. Where is grace in the marriage? Where is forgiveness, bearing with him, and enduring all things as clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 13? Where is a biblical marriage? This happens one time and most of the women jumped on the worldly train claiming he raped his wife.

Some women did get it, however. They love freely by giving their husbands sexual intimacy and wouldn’t mind if they were woken up in the middle of the night having sex with their husbands. They can’t understand the women who deprive their husbands sexually and claim that this man committed marital rape. These women are living sacrifices as God calls them to be and love being help meets to their husbands in every way. They truly love their husbands!

Some said that what this man did wasn’t marital rape but it was inconsiderate and wrong. Isn’t this the time that we, as God-fearing women, believe in showing grace and mercy for this one discretion? What if he did this several times a year? Then do we call it marital rape and help tear this marriage down? Let me ask you, how many times has God forgiven you? How many times are we told to forgive others? If you don’t know, please begin reading your Bible.

— Lori Alexander, The Transformed Wife, Showing No Grace in Marriage, October 9, 2019

How the Christian Practice of Absolute Forgiveness Harms Others

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The Toledo Blade recently published a story about how some Amish and Mennonite communities expect victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and other crimes to forgive their attackers and forget the crimes ever happened. Practicing absolute forgiveness, these faith communities expect congregants to forgive regardless of what harm is caused and whether perpetrators are truly sorry for their crimes. The Toledo Blade story focuses on a woman who was excommunicated from her conservative Mennonite church because she refused to forgive her husband — a man who repeatedly sexually molested their daughters over the years. Astoundingly, the Sunday after this woman was excommunicated, her church, with arms opened wide, welcomed her husband back into the church.

After local law enforcement became aware of the husband’s criminal sexual behavior, he confessed his “sins” and was sentenced to five years of probation and 15 years on Pennsylvania’s sex offender registry. You would think that the husband would be penitent and understand why his wife no longer wanted her children anywhere near him. Unfortunately, as is often the case with sex crimes that have a religious component, the husband didn’t truly see the depth of harm he caused:

They held a seminar, and they talked about how that is sin, and I did want to be free before God and confess it and get freedom, Shirk, now 50, said in an April interview. I didn’t want something hid that should have been confessed and taken care of.

I did confession in church and made the confession in church and everybody stood and said they forgave me. I thought it was all good, but I found out that doesn’t make everybody happy.

[He laughed.]

After that, I found out a lot of people carry a lot of hatred for that sin and it’s hard for people to forgive.

….

This got way out of hand. For a little bit of touching that I did wrong. I know that it can be a big emotional thing for the girl, and it can affect their life ever after and stuff like that, and I don’t want to belittle what I did.

“There is no forgiveness for one thing. The state has no forgiveness, and therefore the church has no forgiveness, because the state is on their case that they’ll put the preacher in jail if they don’t report it.

I believe what they’re [the state] doing to men is way far worse. I mean, my daughters that I molested, yeah, as far as I know they are living a normal life. But I sure am not.

The husband continues to try to reconnect with his wife, saying:

I wouldn’t expect a woman to live with a man who is drunk and beating on her. I wouldn’t expect that. But when the church has gotten together and said this man [a convicted child molester] needs forgiveness, it would have been in her place to do that.

As you can see from the husband’s comments, he lacks remorse and contrition, and when it comes right down to it, he doesn’t think what he did is so bad. Hey, at least he didn’t beat his wife and the daughters he molested are living “normal” lives, right? The husband even went so far as to question his wife relationship with God, saying, “I just don’t understand how that [not being reconciled] is going to work out on Judgment Day.” The wife joined another conservative Mennonite church, and while she has been encouraged by them to reconcile with her husband, they have not pressed the matter with her. I am sure some readers are thinking, “WHAT THE FUCK! Why doesn’t she divorce her child-molester husband?” Well, the answer is quite simple: conservative Mennonite congregations do not permit divorce, and doing so would be immediate grounds for excommunication.

Generally, forgiving others is a good idea. Forgiveness fosters peace and helps reconcile people who are at odds with one another. However, practicing absolute forgiveness can and does cause harm, and as this story shows, it allows people to escape responsibility for their behavior. Our goal in life should be to live in ways that don’t require forgiveness, and when we do cause harm to someone, to quickly make amends or restitution. It is up to the person harmed, then, to grant forgiveness. Absolute forgiveness wrongly requires absolution regardless of whether the offender makes things right.

I saw this kind of forgiveness expectation practiced numerous times over the fifty years I spent in the Christian church. Private “sins” were expiated simply by the penitent confessing their bad behavior to God. The Bible says in 1 John 1:9If we [Christians] confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God promises to cleanse Christians from any and all sin if they will but ask him to do so. And if Christian’s ask, God wipes their sin slates clean, giving them the equivalent of a divine do-over. A sweet deal if you can get it, right?

When Christians commit public “sins” — behaviors that cause public shame to Jesus and his church — they are often brought before congregational leaders or fellow church members and expected to publicly confess their sins. Once the sinner has confessed his sins, he is absolved, and as in the case of private sins, his sin slate of wiped clean.

Whether a person is forgiven by Jesus of private or public sins, it matters not. Once forgiven — and exactly how is that determined? — congregants, including family, spouse, and children, are expected to absolutely forgive the person. Failing to do so is seen as bitterness or pride. I know of several instances where husbands abused their wives, confessed their “sins” before the church, and were granted forgiveness. Their wives were expected to forgive them and move on with life, living with men who just weeks before physically and psychologically abused them. In at least two instances that I know of, abusive husbands were welcomed back into their churches, while their wives were excommunicated for having bitter, judgmental spirits.

Even heinous crimes such as sexual abuse and rape are far too often covered over with expectations of absolute forgiveness. A recent story in the Houston Chronicle revealed that there are dozens of Southern Baptist churches who welcomed sex offenders back into their membership after their convictions. These churches KNEW these men were sex offenders, yet with arms open wide, they said, We forgive you, brother. Welcome to our church. I saw this same behavior on several occasions with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. One man, a church bus worker, was caught sexually abusing a teen boy in the church’s basement. He was forgiven by the church and escaped jail time for his crime. Twenty years later, the man was given access to children again, and as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, he sexually abused another child. This time, the man did time for his crime. While the church forgave him, they would not permit him to continue attending their services. With the blessing of his pastor and church leaders, the man joined a nearby IFB church, and to this day can be found there “faithfully” serving Jesus. Astoundingly, his wife — taught by her pastors that there are no grounds for divorce — is still with him.

Whether to forgive should be up to the person harmed. While forgiving others is generally a good idea, churches that demand forgiveness in all circumstances cause harm to people who cannot or are not ready to do so. The act of forgiveness rests with the person harmed. In the case of spousal abuse, child abuse, and sex crimes, churches which demand that victims absolutely forgive their attackers often revictimize and inflict further pain on women and children (and in some instances, men). Victims must be given the space to process what happened to them on their own terms. And if they, for some reason, cannot or will not absolve abusers of their crimes, churches and pastors should accept their decision.

I grew up in a religious culture where absolute forgiveness was expected, regardless of the seriousness of the bad behavior or crime. One of the freeing moments of my life was realizing that I didn’t have to forgive my grandparents (my mother’s father and stepmother) for what they did to me personally, and to my mother and our family in general. My grandparents were go-to-church-three-times-a-week Fundamentalist Christians. Grandpa was a violent drunk before he got saved. After asking Jesus to forgive him of his sins, Grandpa was transformed into a “wonderful” Christian who still was quite violent. And Grandma was not without her own demons. (Please see Dear Ann) Publicly, they were viewed by others as super-duper Christians who loved Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind. And maybe they did, but underneath their religious veneer lived people prone to psychological and physical abuse.

blood of jesus

Years before my mother’s tragic suicide (Please see Barbara), she tried to confront her dad over him sexually abusing her as a child. He told my mom that his past had been forgiven by Jesus and his sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus. He intimated to Mom that if Jesus had forgiven him, so should she. Needless to say, Mom was in no mood to forgive her child molester father. Nor did she plan to forgive his wife, a woman who caused untold heartache and pain. Years later, I reached a place where I had enough of my grandparents’ passive-aggressive behavior. I made it known that I was no longer interested in having a relationship with them. And with that, my grandparents were excised from my life and that of my family. Or so I thought anyway.

In 2003, I moved to Clare, Michigan and became the pastor of a small, struggling Southern Baptist church. One Sunday, as I was preaching, I glanced up and looked out the windows at the back of the building. I was shocked to see my grandmother sitting in her car with her new husband. (Grandpa had miserably died several years before of colon cancer.) I had a Christian version of a WTF moment, and sure enough, after the service my grandmother came up to me as if nothing had ever happened and told me she was living near me with her new hubby and asked if my family and I wanted to have dinner with them sometime. At that moment, I was dying inside, wanting to verbally reduce her to the pile of shit she was. Unfortunately, congregants were standing nearby, so I said, “sure.” Always play the part, Bruce. Always play the part. Several church members told me that they used to attend church with my grandmother. She is a wonderful Christian woman, they said. I responded, there are two sides to every story. Later, I would feel guilty over not forgiving her, so I spent time in prayer asking God to forgive me for being angry and bitter towards my grandmother.

Cleansed of my “sin,” I decided to try to forge a new relationship with my grandmother and her new husband. Polly dreaded doing so, remembering how awful my grandparents were towards her and our children. I played the “what would Jesus do” card, and off to my grandmother’s home we went — which was, ironically, a mile or so away from our home. During our dinner discussion, my grandmother decided to share a family secret that had laid buried for over fifty years: that my father was not my biological father. Granted, I had begun to question my paternity, and have since concluded that my “real” father was likely my mother’s cousin, but it was not my grandmother’s place to share this secret over dinner and in the presence of my wife and children. Why she decided to do this, I’ll never know. This was the last time I ever talked to her. Several months later, we moved back to Ohio, and outside of my grandmother trying to contact me on Facebook, I have had no contact with her. I sent her my Dear Ann article. She never responded. Of course not, it is all under the blood, buried in the deepest seas, never to be remembered again.

As an atheist and a humanist, I have learned that it is okay to not forgive some people; that some people, such as my grandparents, don’t deserve forgiveness; that them going to their graves unforgiven is just punishment for their crimes and ill-behavior. When my grandfather died, I felt nothing and shed not a tear. I was faulted for not attending his funeral, but I didn’t care. I knew it would be an act of Fundamentalist masturbation over his rotting corpse. I would hear wonderful tales about the man, the myth, the legend; the soulwinner who daily sought to evangelize the lost; the man who loved Jesus more than the world. We would not be told, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”

I am fine with people thinking I am unforgiving; that I should make peace with my grandparents. My grandparents are bad people. No matter how many times they attended church, sang hymns, won souls, and gave money to the church, they were still, at least to family, nasty, judgmental, mean, and violent; guilty of behavior that would land them in jail if they did these things today. Life is too short to spend it around such people. If they need forgiveness, let them ask God for it. As their grandson and the son of the dear woman they physically and psychologically brutalized, I have no intention of granting them pardon. My grandfather is dead. Good riddance. Soon, my grandmother will meet her end too. I shall not weep, except, perhaps, for those harmed by their behavior. Too bad there’s not a Hell. If there were, I know two people who deserve first-class accommodations.

Were you taught that you must, in all circumstances, absolutely forgive? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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Bruce Gerencser