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Tag: Forgiveness

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, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

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, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

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:

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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.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

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