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Tag: Friendship

Is it Possible for an Unbeliever to Have Christian Family and Friends?

problem of evil

Many of the readers of this blog are former Evangelical Christians. Some readers find themselves somewhere between faith and faithless, while others label themselves as spiritual, pagan, agnostic, or atheist. One thing is for certain, many of us are far, far away from the Evangelical churches we once called home.

As we move away from Evangelical Christianity, we leave behind family and friends who are still Christians. One of the most difficult things we face is how to deal with Christians family and friends now that we are no longer a part of the Christian faith. Is it possible to have Christian friends? Is it possible to maintain good, mutually satisfying relationships with Christian, particularly Evangelical, family members?

Many of us remember the exuberance we had when we first trusted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. New converts often have a spiritual high that lasts for a long time. New converts are much more likely to witness to non-Christians than people who have been Christians for a long time. So it is when a person leaves the Christian faith.  Often they are angry, filled with regret. Many times they have been spiritually abused by a pastor or a church. Sometimes, after careful study of the Bible, they come to the conclusion that they have been lied to, that the Bible is, at best a work of fiction, and at worst a book that has been used to manipulate, harm, and destroy. To some degree, the new non-Christian has had a born-again experience. I tell people that I have been born again into humanity. Often, people are excited about their newfound non-faith faith. And just like newly-minted Christians, they want to share their newfound unbelief with others.

Granted, there are some differences between the new Christian and the new non-Christian. The new Christian believes in Heaven and Hell. The new Christian believes there is one God, one book, and one salvation, and unless unbelievers embrace the new convert’s faith Hell awaits them. The new non-Christian has a broad worldview. It is a “live and let live” worldview. While the new non-Christian is excited about what they have come to believe, they don’t think people who believe differently will be eternally punished for believing the wrong things. There’s no atheist hell, or heaven, for that matter.

The Christian, young or old, is duty-bound to share their faith with others. Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to EVERYONE, and everyone includes those who used to be practicing Christians. The non-Christian is not under any compulsion to evangelize. The non-Christian is often quite content to live out their life without ever sharing what they believe.  The Christian often shares their faith whether asked or not,  but as long as Christians do not force their beliefs on the non-Christian they often are not likely to say a word.  Each to his/her own, the non-Christian says.

Unfortunately, Christians are often not content to live and let live. Believing they have a mandate from God, they push their religious beliefs into every sphere of life, public and private. Many Christians are theocrats. They believe America is a Christian nation and that the Bible should be the divine law-book for all — including atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians.

Thanks to the U.S. Constitution, church and state are separate. Non-Christians usually demand that Christian beliefs play no part in government. While many Christians, in public, support the separation of church and state, in private they espouse a no king but Jesus worldview. While they dare not expose their theocratic intent, behind the scenes they work to dethrone the God of this world and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. As one who follows the Evangelical church scene closely, I find the abandonment of the separation of church and state by Evangelicals and the rise of dominion theology to be quite troubling and dangerous.

It is in the arena of church and state issues that non-Christians and Evangelicals butt heads. Non-Christians are determined to keep the Christian beliefs out of government, while many Christians think that there is not enough Christianity in government. The non-Christian desires a secular state where everyone is free to worship any god they wish, or worship no god at all. Many Christians believe a secular state is an abomination and an affront to God. So the battle lines are drawn. As much as non-Christians just want to live and let live, they are forced into a battle with Evangelical, Conservative Catholic, and Mormon Christians. They cannot idly sit by while Christians attempt to turn the United States into a Christian theocracy. And for this reason, it is very hard to maintain productive relationships with Christian family and friends once we leave the Christian faith.

I am pro-choice.  I support gay rights. I oppose the teaching of creationism in schools. I oppose teacher-led prayer in public schools, and I oppose the recitation of the pledge of allegiance. I oppose Presidents and government officials being sworn in with their hands on the Bible. I am a democratic socialist and I oppose consumer-driven capitalism. I support stripping churches and pastors of their tax exemptions. I oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools or government buildings, and I oppose any and all attempts to make the Bible the law of the land.

I am a liberal and a progressive. I support the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I am so far to the left that I often meet the ghost of Jerry Falwell coming around the corner. Yet, I support religious freedom. I want every person to be free to worship or not worship according to their conscience.

As you can see, my life is an affront to Evangelicals. No matter how they look at me, my life is in direct contradiction and opposition to what they believe and practice. This is why it is very hard for a non-Christian such as myself to have meaningful relationships with Evangelical family and friends.

Several years ago, a friend of mine from many years ago found my blog. I met this man in the 1990s when he became a member of an Evangelical Christian Discussion mailing list, CHARIS, that I sponsored and moderated. I  had not heard from him in a long time. He left a comment for me. He didn’t try and be nice. He didn’t try to find out how I was. There was no attempt to catch up. Nope, he just left me two questions:

  • Is Jesus Christ the Son of God?
  • Is there any other way to God?

And so it goes . . .

Personally, I have given up any hope of trying to maintain relationships with Evangelical Christian friends and family. Those who read this blog see the emails/comments that are sent to me by Christian family and friends of mine. After fourteen years of emails and comments from arrogant, self-righteous, closed-minded Evangelicals, I am flat worn out by their words.

It seems that many of my Christian family and friends can’t or won’t leave me alone. They think they can somehow, someway, win me back to Jesus. They think if they argue with me long enough I will see the “light.” They seem to think that after twenty-five years in the ministry, I am still lacking some sort of knowledge about the Christian faith, and that if they share that with me, I will come running back to Jesus.

A decade ago, I  had one friend try to bully and badger me back to Jesus. Those who read my blog at the time likely remember what I call the Iggy Meltdown. This so-called friend bullied and badgered me until I finally had an epic emotional meltdown. I proceeded to launch an f-word laced tirade that left the air quite blue. Readers might remember that Iggy was the man who repeatedly told me that he knew me better than I knew myself. It never dawns on some Christians that their abusive behavior is anything BUT Christ-like. They try to win me back to Jesus using methods that Jesus would not approve of. And even if Jesus did approve of these methods, most thoughtful, decent people don’t. Badgering and bullying someone is never appropriate and it typically angers people and drives them away.

I am very pessimistic about being able to maintain relationships with Christian family and friends, especially those who are Evangelical or part of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Over the past thirteen years, I have lost every Christian friend and ministerial colleague save two. I didn’t leave them, but they sure left me.

From time to time, former parishioners will contact me, wondering what Polly and I are up to. When they find out we are no longer Christians and I am an outspoken public atheist with a blog dedicated to exposing and critiquing Evangelicalism, they often are so traumatized by this that they unfriend us on Facebook or never talk to us again. One former church member told me that she couldn’t be friends with me because she found my story too disconcerting. This is a common response to hearing of my unbelief.

Years ago, I scanned a number of old photographs from several of the churches I pastored. I put them up on Facebook and tried to let those who were in the photos know that I had posted them. Only one person bothered to respond to me. I suspect some of them didn’t even view the photos. These were people I often had a very close relationship with. With some of them, I had relationships that went beyond the professional pastor/parishioner relationship. Why didn’t they respond? While I can’t say for certain, it is well-known that the Evangelical pastor named Bruce Gerencser is now an atheist, an enemy of God, and I suspect many of them have done a web search on my name and found this site or the other sites for which I have written guest posts. I can only imagine their shock when they find out I am an atheist.

Having said all of this, it is theoretically p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e to have meaningful relationships with Christian family and friends. The only way such relationships work is if there is mutual respect and there are no attempts to evangelize.  Honest, open discussion is one thing.  I am quite open about my unbelief. I enjoy talking about the Bible, God, Jesus, theology, atheism, agnosticism, and politics.  But, when discussions turn from friendly banter to attempts to convert me or reclaim me for Jesus, I quickly lose any interest in talking to such people. Time to get the check and go home.

I am quite willing to accept Christians where they are and as they are. Rarely can Evangelical Christians do the same. As I have said before, I want friends who are willing to let me go to Hell in peace. I want relationships based on honesty, openness, and mutual respect. If I can’t have that then I really don’t want to be someone’s friend. While family relationships are a bit more dicey, okay A LOT more dicey, I am at a place in life where I am quite willing to distance myself from family who can’t go five minutes without putting in a good word on for Jesus or trying to win me back to Jesus.

Life is too short, and since this is the only life I will ever have, I want to spend it doing things that matter and doing things that I enjoy. Arguing with Christians is not on my list of things I enjoy. I realize, at times, my blog provokes and angers Christians, and I know my words can be sharp and to the point. That’s the how I write, It’s who I am. That said, I am not looking for an argument. This blog is my attempt at sharing with others my journey.  Those who find my blog most helpful are those who are on a similar path.

To my Christian family and friends, I say this:

If you want to be my friend, if you want me to be a part of the family, then you are going to have to take me as I am.  Just as I am, without one plea from you. And If you can’t do that? It’s been good knowing you.

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 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.

Questions: Bruce, Do You Know Any Evangelical Preachers Who Are Thoughtful, Decent, Kind Human Beings?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Becky asked:

Bruce, did you ever meet any truly lovely fundamentalists/evangelicals…besides yourself? That is, people that loved their fellow man and actually tried to follow that directive to care about the sinners, and not to just preach and be power mad?

I have been exposed to the best and worst that Evangelicalism has to offer. Do I know thoughtful, decent, kind Evangelical preachers? Sure. That said, to a person they believe that God will punish all non-Christians in the Lake of Fire after they die. Few of them are able (or willing) to form friendships outside of their club. And all too often, what friendships they do have with unbelievers have an ulterior motive: salvation of sinners. Rare is the Evangelical who can befriend someone and let them go to Hell in peace. They exist, but I haven’t met one lately.

If I used how Evangelical preachers have treated me since I left Christianity in 2008 as the measure by which to judge, I would conclude they are an irredeemable lot of judgmental assholes. One need only read emails from them I have published over the years to see that there are a lot of arrogant, nasty Jesus-loving men pastoring Evangelical churches — especially Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. That said, I am sure there are preachers who self-identify as Evangelicals who are thoughtful and kind people. I just haven’t met any lately.

Unfortunately, Trumpism and Christian nationalism have infected a large swath of Evangelical churches, interjecting coarseness and nastiness into the public square. Whatever goodwill Evangelicals once had, it is now gone. They are now one of the most hated sects in America. (Please see Letter to the Editor: Evangelicalism is One of the Most Hated Religious Sects in America, And They Only Have Themselves to Blame.)

Becky wants to believe that I was a “lovely” Evangelical — thanks — but I must be honest: my preaching was inherently harmful. I was a separatist who divided the world up into us vs. them categories: saved vs. lost. I taught church members to separate themselves from the “world,” and I practiced the same. While I treated my neighbors and strangers with kindness and respect, my Evangelical theology was always lurking in the shadows.

Growing up in poverty and having a parent with mental health problems certainly affected how I viewed others. I spent most of my years in the ministry helping the poor, homeless, and marginalized. I was sympathetic to their plight. That said, my Evangelical theology was never far from me. I cannot overestimate how my theological beliefs materially and deeply affected my thinking.

I have a poor view of myself. I have spent the past decade trying to regain a sense of self-worth. My counselor told me that I was not as bad a person as I thought I was. I know his statement is true, but I still struggle with seeing myself as a good person. Evangelicalism will do that to you. All I know to do is to try to be a better person today than I was yesterday.

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 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.

Pastor Rusty George’s Five-Step Friendship Evangelism Plan

cant we be friends
Cartoon by Paco

Recently, Rusty George, pastor of Real Life Church in Valencia, California, wrote a blog post (republished on Charisma News) detailing five things people can do when they want to invite someone to church. His post can also be titled “How to Harass and Stalk Your Non-Christian Neighbors in Five Easy Steps.”

Just for Heaven of it, I thought I would briefly respond to George’s post. My response is indented and italicized.

1. Begin with prayer.

I don’t mean pray as you are walking up to ask them to come to Easter service. I mean pray for that person every single day. Pray for their health; pray for their job; pray for their marriage; and eventually, you’ll wonder how you can pray with even more specificity for them.

This will lead to a great conversation of “Hey, anything I can be praying about for you?” I find that people are very open to this. Then do it; pray for them, and ask them how it’s going in a few weeks.

If all Christians do is privately pray for unbelievers, I would have no objection. Have at it. Pray to the ceiling God to your heart’s content. However, George encourages Evangelicals to ask people what their “needs” are. Remember, Evangelical zealots almost always have ulterior motives. In this case, the motive is to get people to attend your church. More asses in the seats = more money in the offering plate.

Imagine how much different this suggestion might sound if George had said to ask people about their needs and then do everything in your power to meet that need. Instead, George told Christians to literally do the least they could do: pray.

2. Listen to them.

When they talk, don’t just wait to speak. Listen. When they post, don’t just react. Listen.

Why are they saying this? What is going on in their life? What might God be up to that you can join Him in.

Again, if Evangelicals just engaged in non-religious, friendly talk with people, who am I to object? However, there is an ulterior motive lurking behind their banner: attending their church. They are no different from a door-to-door salesman talking you up, looking for an opening to plug their product.

3. Eat with them.

Invite them to dinner before you ever invite them to church. Listen to them. Find out about their lives. Don’t see them as a project, but as a person. They have hopes and dreams. They have hurts and hang ups. They want their kids to be safe and successful. Just like you.

Find commonality in that before you ask about their soul.

Must I say it again? George is encouraging Christians to feign friendship (you know that cheap, shallow, fake friendship I talk about), hoping that their defenses will be lowered and they will be more amenable to being invited to church. The goal is getting the person inside the four walls of the church so the pastor can preach at him and hopefully getting the mark to pray the sinner’s prayer.

4. Serve them.

Now that you know them, find a way to serve them. It might be taking them dinner. It might be helping them get trash out to the corner or their dumpsters back to the house. It might be dropping donuts off at their door.

Just be the kind of neighbor you’d like to have.

I want a neighbor who doesn’t see me as a means to an end. I want a neighbor to buy me donuts without expecting anything in return. How about just being a good person, no strings attached?

5. Share your story.

When a big event at your church comes up, or when they ask about your weekend plans, or when they might even ask why you are so kind, share your story about church. Not what they should think, believe or do. Instead, share how church has helped you, how this service is always fun for your family or how following Jesus has changed your life.

No one can argue with your story, so share it.

In other words, use your story as a means to an end. Not so your neighbor can know more about you. Is there anything more fake than someone sharing their life’s story with you, knowing that their goal is get something from you? (Please see Evangelical Zealot Tries to Evangelize Us with a Picture of Bloody Jesus.)

If George really believes that “no one can argue with your story,” he really needs to get out more. George wrongly thinks that subjective personal testimonies cannot be criticized. They can, and they should be. Why should I accept an Evangelical Christian’s personal testimony as true? Do George and others like him accept my story at face value? Of course not. When people tell us things that can be objectively examined, they can’t expect us to just take their word for it. I can accept that they believe what they are saying is true, but that doesn’t make it true. Granted, I rarely dissect the personal testimonies of Evangelicals. If someone says “I am a Christian,” I accept their profession of faith at face value. However, when they begin to use their testimony as to tool to evangelize me or lure me to church, I will likely object and pick apart their claims.

Notice that in that whole list, we haven’t even mentioned inviting that person to church. But when you do, remember these things:

— Most people don’t even know a Christian, so be a kind one.

Really, Rusty, really? Most people don’t even know a Christian? What data do you have that suggests that most people have never met a Christian? The majority of Americans are Christians. Eighty percent of your tribe voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. Trust me when I say, we ALL know a Christian — lots of them.

— Most people don’t know where to go to church, what to wear, if they need to pass an entrance exam … So invite them to watch online first. Share a recent service with them, and ask them what they thought about it.

Again, in what world is the good pastor living? We live in a CHRISTIAN nation. There are CHRISTIAN churches on virtually every street corner in America. Here in rural northwest Ohio, there are hundreds and hundreds of CHRISTIAN churches — many of which are Evangelical.

— Most people are just waiting for an invitation, so just ask! And if they don’t come, no worries. One day they will, and they’ll thank you for being so patient with them.

No, really they are not. Evangelicalism is in numerical decline. The number of NONES, atheists, and agnostics continues to climb. We are not sitting around just waiting for a Christian zealot to show up on our doorstep or on our Facebook wall to invite us to church.

“One day we will come”? Sure, buddy, keep telling yourself that. George is not stupid. He knows that most church growth comes from transfers, and not conversions. Churches are seeing fewer and fewer converts, fewer and fewer baptisms. Their numerical growth comes from megachurches pillaging smaller churches or Christians leaving one church/sect to join another.

George is peddling what is commonly called “friendship evangelism.” I have written extensively on this subject:

fake friends

Sadly, George is encouraging Evangelicals to be fake “boobs.”

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

A Moment of Kindness Remembered for a Lifetime

kindness

It’s early spring in Northwest Ohio, the year is 1972.

A fourteen-year-old boy is playing with his Lionel trains in the basement of a rented house on Cherry St. in Findlay, Ohio.  He loves playing with the trains, a love picked up from working at his dad’s hobby store, G&B Trains.

The boy hears footsteps coming down the basement stairs. It’s his dad.

His dad says, I need to talk to you.

This is strange, the boy thought. Dad never talks to me about anything.

Your Mom and I don’t love each other anymore, says the boy’s dad, and we are getting a divorce.

And just like that, whatever shred of family the boy had was destroyed.

It wasn’t long before the divorce was final.

The boy is in ninth grade, and it is graduation time. His parents both want to come to his graduation but the boy says, I am not going to graduation, and that was that.

Tenth grade. High School. All the ninth graders from Central, Donnell, and Glenwood would join the older students at Findlay High School, making the school one of the largest in Ohio.

The boy’s friends would all be there, his school friends, his church friends, and the boys he played baseball and basketball with.

The boy’s dad remarried — a 19-year-old girl. She has a baby. In a few short years, the boy would be dating women the age of his dad’s new wife. She was never more than dad’s new wife to him. The boy had a mother, and he only needed one of those.

Fall turned to Winter, and then one early Spring day the boy’s dad says, we are moving to Arizona.

What? the boy thought. You can’t do this to me. All my friends are here. You promised, no more moving. Two and a half years, the longest the boy ever lived in one place, and now he has to move.

Upset, angry, bitter, and no one seemed to care.

On a Saturday in March, 1973 the auctioneer’s voice rings out, and everything but essentials are sold to strangers who came to gawk at household goods.  And with auction proceeds in hand, the Gerencsers pile into two cars and move to Tucson, Arizona. Later the finance company would track down the boy’s dad and repossess the cars. When the boy became a man, he then understood why he had to move so suddenly and quickly 1,900 miles from his home.

The boy, despite hating his dad for taking him away from his friends, is excited about the prospect of traveling across the country. So many things to see, so many new experiences to be had.

The first thing the boy does is find a new church to attend. Isn’t it amazing, the boy thought, right in our backyard is the Tucson Baptist Temple, a Baptist Bible Fellowship church! Just like the church in Findlay, this must be God working things out, the boy quietly hopes.

The Tucson Baptist Temple is a large church pastored by Louis Johnson, a preacher from Kentucky. The boy joins the church and starts attending youth group. But, try as he might he can’t make friends. It isn’t like his church home in Findlay where the boy had all kinds of friends, and even a few girl church friends. He feels very much alone.

With the move, the boy has to ride a city bus to his new school, Rincon High School. Right away he notices that some of the kids from the youth group attended Rincon, but they pretend they don’t know him. He feels quite alone.

Rincon has what is called open lunch. Every day the boy would go outside and sit on the grass and eat his lunch. One day, a beautiful Asian girl comes near the boy and sits down to eat her lunch. She is warm and friendly, and treats the boy like she has known him for years. And for the next ten weeks, on most days, she eats lunch with the boy from Ohio. Outside of the fat boy everyone made fun of who rode the bus, this would be the only friend the boy would make.

And then came summer, and the boy hopped a Greyhound bus and moved back to Ohio. With the help of his church and friends, the boy is able to go back to his old school, his old church, with his old friends. Life for the next year is grand, just as if he had never left.

Unfortunately, the boy would have to move to his mom’s home at the end of the school year. This move brought great unrest and turmoil to the boy’s life, but that is a story for another day.

The boy is an old man now, and as he watches a musician on a reality show, he sees a girl that brings to his mind a time long ago, when a beautiful young woman took the time to befriend a friendless boy from Ohio. It reminds him that moments of kindness are often remembered for a lifetime.

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Why Ex-Christians Don’t Trust Evangelicals

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

Evangelicals get upset when ex-Christians such as I question, deflect, or reject their “love” and “friendship.” Several years ago, on a post that is no longer available, the following discussion took place:

TW: @John & Erin, Hi. I also have a Pentecostal background (A/G to be exact), and was a youth pastor & worship pastor (not at the same time, youth for 13 years, worship for 10 years). I would very much love to talk to both of you and share experiences. I left the A/G at the end of 2011 (out 2 years now), and while I am still a believer, I completely denounced all of the BS nonsense that the A/G promotes, like speaking in tongues, faith healing, etc.

If you are both amenable to chatting further, Bruce (if he doesn’t mind doing this), can forward my email address to you both and you can contact me, just let him know. And Erin, I know exactly what you mean when you say you can still “speak in tongues on demand”, haha!

Erin: TW: I appreciate the offer and respect that you’ve left the AG, but because you are still a believer, I would want to know a little more what you’d like to “chat” about.  As a former-Christian-now-atheist, I’ve run into these “chats” a few times before that really only have one ulterior motive. I’m not assuming this is true of you, but I’d like to know more about what you’re thinking first. Thanks!

John: I am glad that you have managed to escape the Pentecostal movement.

You say that you are still ‘a believer’. Does this mean that you are a Fundamentalist or an Evangelical or have you moved to some form of non-Evangelical Christianity? If the latter, I am open to the idea of chatting with you further about the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements.

I have informed Bruce that he can pass my email address on to you and you can contact me. Even if you are some kind of open evangelical, I am willing to discuss the ‘tongues movement’ with you further.

What I am not open to is any subtle or direct attempt to try and reconvert me to Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism. If you do try to attempt this, I will close off further discussion. I consider both Fundamentalism and most of Evangelicalism to be religions of psychological, emotional and intellectual oppression and don’t wish to be sucked back into those camps, ever again.

So, if you are willing to stick to topics related to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements and their problems, I am open to further discussion with you.

Why are Erin and John so hesitant to correspond with TW? The answer is this: they have had many of these kinds of conversations already, and rarely, if ever, do they turn out well. Now, let me explain why they don’t turn out well.

Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God. They believe people must have a personal relationship with Jesus to go to Heaven when they die. Everyone who does not have a saving relationship with Jesus will go to Hell when they die. Evangelicals believe the Bible/God/Jesus has commanded them to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person, whether the latter wants to hear it or not. They believe all other Gods are false Gods, and all other religions are cults. In their minds, Jesus is THE WAY, not a way, THE TRUTH, not a truth, and THE LIFE, not a life. Simply put, it is Jesus or Hell; choose!

People such as Erin, John, and I know that Evangelicals have a deep-seated pathological need to evangelize. While they may say they just want to be friends or get to know us better, what they really want to do is win us back to Jesus. How could it be otherwise? If Evangelicals really believe the Bible is what they say it is, that Jesus really is the only way, truth, and life, and Hell awaits those who refuse to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, how can they not attempt to evangelize everyone they come in contact with? In fact, I would say if they DON’T evangelize, they are being disobedient to the clear teachings of the Bible (as read through the eyes of an Evangelical).

When Evangelicals want to be my friend, get to know me, correspond with me, etc. I immediately wonder what their real motive is. When I ask them about their motives, they almost always assure me their motives are pure, that they really just want to be my friends. However, after twelve years of having Evangelicals sincerely tell me they just want to be my friend, the truth is, in EVERY instance, over time, their true motive became known, and it wasn’t friendship. While I am sure there are Evangelicals who can be friends with ex-Christians without trying to evangelize them or win them back to Jesus, I just haven’t met any.

One man, a preacher and the brother-in-law of a dear friend of mine, friended me on Facebook a few years ago. While he was quite disturbed by my deconversion — having visited the church I pastored in West Unity — he told me he just wanted to be my friend. When his sister-in-law found out about it, she warned him to NOT try to evangelize me or be preachy. Our friendship didn’t last for two weeks. I wrote something on Facebook that infuriated him. He double-barrel blasted me with his Bible gun, told me I was a bad influence on people, and unfriended me (picture a toddler picking up his toys and stomping off to his room). He later told his sister-in-law and brother-in-law that they should avoid me and not be friends with me because I was a tool of Satan and a bad influence. Fortunately, they ignored his advice and they remain my friends to this day. (They are my only Evangelical friends.)

Another man, a local Evangelical preacher, tried a few years ago to befriend me. He and I corresponded a bit and he would comment from time to time on this blog (in one of its previous iterations). He friended me on Facebook and we began having more serious discussions in private. But, as with all such friendships, it quickly came to an end when he began having doubts about his call to the ministry and even his faith. My discussions with him were quite unsettling, so instead of honestly dealing with his questions and doubts, he determined I was the problem and unfriended me, stopped answering my emails, and stopped commenting on my blog.

Who can forget Evangelical Baptist preacher Marty? Marty was a regular reader of this blog and commented frequently. He had me questioning whether I was wrong about Evangelicals being able to be friends with someone like me. I thought maybe Marty was “the one!” Marty’s friendliness went on for several months until I began to notice an increased level of hostility in his comments. And sure enough, one day the shit hit the fan and Marty went full-bore Fundamentalist Baptist on me. He told me — well, told everyone since it was in a blog comment — that he knew the REAL reason I was not a Christian. When pressed to disclose this reason, he refused to do so. The discussions became more shrill, Marty became defensive and preachy, and eventually I had to ban Marty from commenting. In one of his last comments, Marty whined and complained about being persecuted by me and other atheists who responded to his comments.

I could share dozens of similar stories that illustrate why many ex-Christians rebuff attempts by Evangelicals to befriend them. Here are a few things I have learned from all of these failed pseudo-friendships:

  • Evangelicals are certain they are right and I am wrong
  • Evangelicals are certain there is some “secret” reason I am no longer a Christian
  • Evangelicals are certain I have been hurt or abused and that is why I am no longer a pastor or a Christian
  • Evangelicals are certain that they are the one who can bring me back into the fold, thus gaining a notch on their gospel gun for doing so
  • Evangelicals are certain my intellectual reasons for deconverting are a façade hiding the real reason(s) I am no longer a Christian.

In other words, they can never be my friend because they are unable to love me and accept me as I am. They love Jesus too much to leave me in my present state. I am like a beautiful woman who is constantly chased by suitors. As soon as a potential suitor comes sniffing around, she asks them, do really want to woo me, love me and marry me or, pardon the bluntness, do you just want to fuck me? Quite honestly, a lot of Evangelical zealots just want to spiritually fuck me. When I wake up in the morning, they will be gone, off to fuck other sinners for Jesus.

Perhaps today will be the day that an Evangelical befriends me, accepts me as I am, and loves me so much that he will let me go to Hell. I doubt it, but like my lack of belief in God, it is “possible” there really is an Evangelical somewhere who values personal relationships more than right beliefs. I just haven’t met one yet.

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 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.

We Love People and Are the Friendliest Church in Town

we love people

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Have you ever read an Evangelical or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church advertisement or sign that says, First Baptist Church, The Friendliest Church in Town or We LOVE People? No one ever bothers to ask, so are all the other congregations in town churches that hate people and are unfriendly?

Churches who talk about their love for people and how friendly they are sincerely think these advertising slogans are true. To them, shaking hands with visitors, making them feel at home, and letting them know where the nursery and bathrooms are shows that they are a people-loving, friendly church. The question I ask is this: WHY does this or that church love people and befriend newcomers? What is their motive for being so loving and friendly?  Most often, their motive is to win lost souls to Jesus, resulting in increased attendance. And more people=more money in the offering plate. Like any business, their goal is to gain customers, increase revenues, and expand the business.

Ask any Evangelical pastor or church member if their church loves people and they will say, Of course we do! We love people like Jesus loved people. We love our neighbors just like we love ourselves. But this is no disinterested love. This is a love that has an ulterior motive. It is a love that has conversion and assimilation as its goal. Just ask them if a lesbian woman in a same-sex marriage can join their church or teach Sunday school and you will find out quickly how little they actually love other people.

Their Jesus is a Jesus who loves people so much that he does not leave them where they are or as they are. Their Jesus changes and transforms people, so their objective is to love and befriend people so that they might be saved (changed and transformed) and become a part of their church. That’s what their Jesus is all about, making more church members. (Matthew 28:19,20)  Sounds crass, but any Evangelicals pastor who tells you church attendance numbers don’t matter is lying.

Compare Evangelical love for people to love that accepts people as they are, where they are. There’s a big difference between the Evangelical love for people and loving and befriending people with no expectation of return. In some liberal/mainline churches such an approach to love and friendship exists, but I’ve never seen it in Evangelical or IFB churches. And I just know a commenter is going to scream that THEIR church is different. Sure it is.

Once an unaware newcomer is friended and loved to Jesus and made a part of the church, it is on to new people to pretend-friend. For those taken in by the friendliest church in town advertising campaign, they quickly learn that the church is no more or less friendly than any other church or social group. In every church there are kind, decent, friendly people. There are also people, sometimes the pastor, who are mean, nasty, and unfriendly. Sadly, in churches that are Fundamentalist, their initial friendliness quickly dissipates and is replaced with legalism, demands to conform, and a quick unfriending if you do not fall in line. Ask anyone who has deconverted: what happened to all the friends they had while attending the friendliest church in town? Once people leave their churches, they often find out how unfriendly their churches really are. They find out that friendship was a lure, a scam. The true nature of a church is revealed by how it treats those who leave the church, regardless of their reason for leaving.

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 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.

Beware of Evangelicals Coming in the Name of “Friendship”

lets be friends

I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for many Evangelicals to befriend people just for the sake of friendship. Much like Amway or Herbalife peddlers, zealous Evangelicals always have an ulterior motive when talking to and interacting with the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. The good news for us heathens is that many Evangelicals aren’t good Christians. They are content to let us go to Hell in peace. That said, there are plenty of Evangelicals who believe they are duty-bound to irritate, bug, and harass non-Christians, all in the name of evangelizing the lost.

Take Larry Dixon, professor of theology at Columbia International University Seminary and School of Missions in Columbia, South Carolina. Dixon is “convinced that there is a major element missing in many Christian’s lives.” That element, you ask? Befriending sinners as Jesus did. Dixon implores his fellow Evangelicals to leave the Christian Ghetto® and “develop meaningful relationships with those who are still outside of Christ!”

Dixon is so excited about annoying unbelievers that he wants to send pastors a free copy of his book “Unlike Jesus.” Dixon hopes his book will spur pastors to invite him to their churches to give a seminar on “friendship evangelism.” Dixon knows that the vast majority of Evangelical church members never share their faith with anyone — all praise be to Loki for this small favor. He’s hoping to guilt more Evangelicals into feeling contrite over their indifference to the plight of the “lost.” I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches. I browbeat congregants in my sermons over their lack of evangelistic zeal, and when that didn’t work, I taught evangelism classes or had special speakers come in to teach church members the best ways to “reach” their family, friends, and neighbors with the Evangelical gospel. Despite all of this, most church members kept their faith to themselves. Outside of leaving tracts at restaurants or in bathroom stalls, most of them were content to go to their graves keeping the “good news” to themselves. Sure, I made them feel guilty over their indifference towards the plight of the lost, but the fact remained, most of them were unwilling to make fake friendships with people they didn’t know.

Then there is Katy Morgan, a writer for The Gospel Coalition. Morgan believes in an especially pernicious form of friendship evangelism. In an article titled Three Reasons to Visit an Elderly Person Soon, Morgan gives several reasons why Evangelical zealots should prey on old people.

  • They’re probably lonely
  • They’re probably wiser than you are
  • They definitely need Jesus

There it is, the “real” reason for Morgan and her ilk to “befriend” the aged: they definitely need J-E-S-U-S.

Morgan writes:

After years of faithful but seemingly fruitless witnessing, my mother saw both of her parents become Christians in their 90s. From my perspective, it seems two aspects of old age were among the things the Spirit used to bring them to faith in Christ. 

First, age had stripped them of all their old routines and ways of doing things. Becoming dependent on others gives people a chance to rethink what’s important. The stereotype is that elderly people are deeply entrenched in their ways. But age also forces many people to relinquish what they once valued most. And, like my grandparents, they may come to reconsider faith. 

Second, they were coming face-to-face with death. They were confronted with the question of what would happen when illness became terminal. They began to number their days (Ps. 90:12) and asked the Lord for his compassion (v. 13). He had mercy on them.

I pray he’ll have mercy on increasing numbers of seniors. Recently, I saw some cards designed to help start conversations about Jesus with elderly people. Each one had a picture, a Bible verse, and a prayer. I’m hoping I can take these as a gift for my elderly friend around the corner. “What do you think about Jesus?” I’ll ask. “What do you think of these verses?” We’ve spoken a little about God before, and I know she’ll be willing to talk. And what a hopeful opportunity it will be!

There’s a mission field in our own streets: in lonely apartments and quiet care facilities. These men and women have not been forgotten by God. Let’s be his hands and his feet to them: visiting, befriending, learning, and proclaiming.

I am all for genuinely befriending and helping people, be they young or old. However, I despise Evangelicals who come bearing gifts of friendship when what they really want to do is “save” people from the wrath and judgment of their mythical God. Old people, in particular, are in the sunset years of life. Yes, we “feel” our mortality. We sense the specter of death lurking in the shadows. We know that someday, sooner than later, it will be our names on the obituary pages of our local newspapers. We don’t need fake friends reminding us of our frailty. My wife and I have lived in the same rural Ohio town for thirteen years. There are six Evangelical churches within five miles of our home. Want to know how many times the pastors of these churches have knocked on our door to introduce themselves, invite us to church, or share with us that wonderful salvation they prattle on and on about on Sundays? Zero. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, now there’s a Christian sect that takes the Great Commission seriously. Evangelicals? Why, they are too busy worshiping and getting (metaphorically and literally) fat to bother with the temporal or eternal needs of their neighbors.

Evangelicals love to talk about evangelism, reaching the “lost,” and all the other metaphors they use to describe those God will torture for eternity in the Lake of Fire if they don’t repent and believe the gospel. But the fact remains, most of them, including pastors, deacons, and Sunday school teachers, seem to have no interest in evangelizing unregenerate sinners. Why is that? I suspect that they really don’t like bugging people. Who among us loves having door-to-door salespeople knocking on their doors? None of us. And isn’t that exactly what Dixon, Morgan, and their fellow zealots do: without invitation, inject themselves into the lives of others? Believing that they have a mandate from headquarters to go into the highways and hedges and compel sinners to come to Jesus, evangelizers will the bug the hell out of family, friends, and strangers. Never content just to be decent, thoughtful, genuine human beings, Dixon, Morgan, and company scour the countryside looking for “opportunities” to become fake friends with young and old alike.

After I divorced Jesus in 2008, I lost all of my Evangelical friends and colleagues in the ministry, save one man and his wife. I have been friends with this man since third grade — fifty plus years. I just saw him at a basketball game last night. We chatted as I photographed the game. Both he and his wife attend a Nazarene church. Why did my relationship with this couple survive my deconversion? We agreed that we had many things in common, and instead of focusing on our disagreements over politics, God, and religion, we decided to focus on things such as family, grandchildren, enjoying good food, and taking road trips. My friends are willing to let me go to hell in peace. Sure, my loss of faith bothers them, and they wish I were still a club member. I was, after all, their pastor at one time. They have heard me preach countless times. We have shared numerous spiritual experiences together. However, they also know that I am not lacking in knowledge when it comes to the claims of Christianity. What could they possibly say to me that I haven’t heard or said myself? Instead of focusing on things we will never agree on, we choose, instead, to focus on the love and history we have with one another. None of us is in very good shape, health-wise. I suspect that death is going to claim one or more of us sooner, and not later. When that time comes, I have no doubt that one couple or the other will be at the bedside of their dying friend, offering the comfort that only true friendship provides. Perhaps stories of yesteryear will be shared, as the last breath is drawn. Sure, tears will flow. How could it be otherwise?

I know what true friendship looks like. In a 2017 post titled Why Our Christians Friends Leave Us When We Deconvert, I wrote:

As a teenager, I had lots of friends, male and female. Most of my friends were fellow church members, though I did have a few friends in the “world.” I always found it easy to meet new people and make friendships. I had no qualms about talking to complete strangers, a gift that suited me well as a pastor. As a nineteen-year-old boy, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I quickly made a lot of new friends, including one who sleeps beside me to this day. I lived in a dorm room with three other men. Virtually every waking hour of my life was spent with fellow students — at church, school, and social events. As anyone who has ever lived in a college dormitory will tell you, dorm life is busy and full of activity. Practical jokes were an everyday occurrence, and, as an expert joker, I found great satisfaction in pulling one over on my fellow students. I lived on a dormitory wing that was labeled the “party” wing. The other dormitory wing was called the “spiritual” wing. My fellow party-wing residents loved Jesus, but they loved having a good time too. The spiritual wing? They loved Jesus too, but frowned on doing anything that might be perceived as bawdy or mischievous.

One day, a pastor by the name of A.V. Henderson preached at chapel (students were required to attend chapel five days a week). I have preached and heard thousands of sermons in my lifetime. I remember very few of them. I do, however, vividly remember Henderson’s sermon, even forty years later. Henderson was the pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Detroit. Temple was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) megachurch founded by Baptist luminary J. Frank Norris and later pastored by G.B. Vick. The 1970s were the zenith of the IFB church movement. Most of the largest churches in the United States were IFB churches. Churches such as Temple Baptist were pastored by men who were great orators and pulpiteers. Henderson was no exception. Henderson’s chapel sermon was from the book of Job. It was, by all counts, a thrilling, rousing sermon. However, Henderson said something during his sermon that I didn’t, at the time, understand. He said, with that distinct Texas drawl of his, that people will go through life with very few true friendships; that most people were fortunate to have two or three lifelong friends. I thought at the time, what’s he talking about? I have lots of friends! Forty years later, I now know that A.V. Henderson was right; that true friends are rare indeed; that if you have two or three such friends, you should consider yourself fortunate.

“Friends” such as Dixon, Morgan, and their fellow evangelizers, will come and go in our lives. When they don’t get what they want from us — our salvation — they move on to other marks. A common cliché found over the mission board in Baptist churches says, “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?” Rebuff their attempts at friendship and Evangelical soulwinners will leave you in your “need” and seek out other needy sinners. And that’s fine with me. I am quite happy to be left alone in my debauchery and apostasy. I just wish the purveyors of friendship evangelism would leave others alone too. Want to truly help the elderly? Meet their temporal needs. Stop by their homes and volunteer to rake their leaves, paint their houses, or shovel their drives. Make them meals, and sit down and break bread with them. Ask them about their children and grandchildren. Ask them to share stories with you. Genuinely enter into their lives, not as Evangelical carpetbaggers looking at “selling” them Jesus, but as human beings who genuinely love others. Want to make friends with your neighbors? Try being like Wilson or Tim Taylor on the TV show Home Improvement. Wilson and Taylor spent countless hours and years talking to one another over a fence. That’s what friends do. Invite your neighbors over for a cookout. When you see they have a need, try and meet that need. We have a plethora of opportunities to befriend others. We share a common humanity, regardless of our political or religious beliefs. If you are a Christian and a neighbor asks about your beliefs/faith, by all means share them. However, attempting to befriend people as a means to an end — salvation — is repugnant. None of us like being used, and that is exactly what Evangelicals do when they target people for evangelization.

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.

Are you on Social Media?  Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

I Can’t Believe Bruce Doesn’t Believe in God

bruce-doesnt-believe-in-god
1989, Somerset Baptist Academy. A bit of levity. I’m wearing one of the teachers’ coats, earmuffs, armed with a squirt gun and stuffed animal. That fat face sure needs a beard. No wonder I lost my faith!

This is a post I started years ago and never finished until now.

Several years ago, friends of mine, Dave and Newauna,  drove to Fort Wayne, Indiana to attend a concert at Sweetwater Sound, a combination music store/recording studio/private lesson venue/instrument repair shop/performance venue. The brother of a man whom I was close to as a young man is an executive with Sweetwater. His name is Troy. My friends and Troy talked for a bit, shooting the breeze as rural folks do. Eventually, the discussion turned towards Bruce Gerencser, the Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist. My friends did not relay the entire conversation to me. They did let me know, however, that Troy was perplexed over my loss of faith, saying, “I can’t believe Bruce doesn’t believe in God.” I am sure my friends replied, “we can’t believe it, either!”

I can’t believe it.

Did you know?

How long has he been like this?

Shouldn’t we confront him?

Shouldn’t we pray for him?

I just don’t believe he is not a Christian anymore.

Such are the consternations of my former Christian friends and acquaintances. They are genuinely shocked and bothered by my defection from Christianity.

Surely, Bruce must have had a mental breakdown.

Maybe his medical problems have caused him to lose his mind.

 Bruce read too many books. He needs to get back to just reading the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The Bible is the cure for what ails him!

Some think this is a temporary state for me. I’ll be back! (Said as only Arnold Schwarzenegger could say it.) It is hard for them to comprehend that Elvis really has left the building. Come November, it will be eleven years since I walked out of the back door of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. (Please see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.)

I don’t like the fact that I cause others mental anguish. I genuinely want to be liked and respected by others. There is little, however, I can do, to alleviate their distress. People can and do walk away from Jesus — even pastors.

Sometimes, people are troubled over my defection because they must then consider the fact that “if Bruce can leave the faith anyone can.” I am well-grounded in the Bible and the teachings of the Christian church. If I can reject Jesus after knowing what I know, what is to be said for those not as well schooled as I in Christianity?

When it comes to Christianity, the less you know the better. Just believe. Don’t question anything. Just have faith. Don’t doubt.

Here’s what I want to say to the people who know me well. “Please don’t lose any sleep over my deconversion. I am at peace with where I am in life. I have no desire to wreck your faith in God, but, at the same time, I am not going to hide where I am in life. If you can live with my infidelity to God, we can be friends. If my faithlessness causes you pain and heartache, it is probably better for you to stay away from me.” (2019? All of my former friends have left me, save Dave and Newauna. Dave and I have been friends since third grade. He was right by my side when Polly was in the hospital. A true friend, indeed.)

When Christians friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter feed, or read this blog, they need to understand that they are getting the unvarnished Bruce Gerencser. I am not pretending to be anyone other than who I am. Christian Bruce, Pastor Bruce, Preacher Bruce, Rev. Bruce, Conservative Bruce — all have died a slow, agonizing death.

In a sense, I have been reborn. Liberal Bruce. Agnostic Bruce. Atheist Bruce. Old, tired, worn-out Bruce. In my previous life, I thought I had reached the end of the journey. Jesus was the end-all, and I was waiting for the big payday in the sky. Now life is an unscripted journey. It remains to be seen where I’ll end up. And I am fine with that. I no longer have to have all the answers. Some days, I am just happy if I can find where I left the TV remote the night before.

Bruce, aren’t you afraid of Hell? No, I’m not. The only Hell that exists is on this earth — caused by the machinations of wicked men and women, and not devils, demons, or gods.

I see no evidence for a hands-on, personally involved, “He has a wonderful plan for your life” God. I refuse to embrace a deity who thinks a “wonderful” plan includes pain, suffering, loss, and death. I much prefer the “shit happens” approach to life; life that happens whether I am ready for it or not; life that is as much luck as it is planned.

I know I am a great disappointment to many people. I am indeed sorry for disappointing them. That said, I’m sure none of my former Christian friends or acquaintances wants me to embrace a lie. To say “I believe” just to soothe the consciences of those bothered by my loss of faith is something I can’t do.

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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

Just Remember, Evangelicals Always Have an Agenda

fake friendsEvangelicals talk a lot about loving their neighbors and doing good to others. Pastors and parachurch leaders encourage Evangelicals to befriend their neighbors, workmates, and anyone and everyone they come in contact with. Sounds like a good idea, right? I am all for kindness and compassion towards others. I am all for doing good and loving my fellow humans (and dogs, cats, possums, squirrels, and raccoons). We only get one trip through this thing we call life, so why not be a good person, helping others and making the world a better place to live? The problem when it comes to Evangelicals doing these things is that they almost always have an agenda. Lurking behind practically every act of kindness lies an ulterior motive. That’s not to say that non-Evangelicals, including atheists and agnostics, don’t do the same, but Evangelicals have turned subterfuge into an art form.

Every year, thousands of American Evangelical churches have what is called Friendship Day (or Friend’s Day). Held on a Sunday, Friendship Day is an evangelistic effort meant to inspire Evangelicals to befriend their neighbors and invite them to church. The goal is not to meet new friends, but to evangelize people who have been labeled as “lost.” Congregants are encouraged to scope out their neighborhoods and workplaces, looking for people who need to be born again. Once targeted, church members are asked to invite these sinners to the Friendship Day service. Unwary “lost” people will be told that the church is having a special day just for them, complete with food and entertainment. What they won’t be told is that while they are there, the pastor of that church will preach AT them about their need for salvation. You see, the offer of friendship isn’t genuine. Evangelicals, according to their interpretation of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Protestant Bible, believe they are commanded by God to distance themselves from the “world.” James 4:4 says:

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Evangelistic endeavors such as Friendship Day have one goal in mind: evangelizing non-Evangelicals. And once someone is successfully won to Christ, the next step is to incorporate them into the Borg collective, also known as the church membership; and once made part of church, they will be taught that the God who saved them expects them to attend church on Sundays, daily read the Bible and pray, and donate a portion of their income to “the church that loved them enough to tell them about J-E-S-U-S.”

You see, the goal was never for Evangelicals to be friends with non-Christians. In their minds, Jesus and his gospel are so important that it is okay to act deceitfully towards their neighbors. If, through outreaches such as Friendship Day, souls are saved, what’s a little deception among friends, right? The end justifies the means.

Yesterday, The Gospel Coalition published an article by Christy Britton titled 3 Ways to Show Up—and Speak Up—to the Lost.  Here’s an excerpt:

When Christians fail to show up, those around us remain unreached. Complacency is a sickness that keeps us from loving our neighbors. In fact, we misrepresent the gospel when we fail to bring it to our unbelieving neighbors. This proves our lack of love for them, our lack of gratitude for our own salvation, our underestimation of its primacy in our lives, and our rejection of God’s call to go.

But Christ’s love is the antidote to complacency, and it compels us to go to the lost. Jesus spent his life among the needy, and that’s where he sends us (John 17:18). We shine his light in the darkness. We speak up where the truth is silenced. We welcome when the world abandons.

….

We think strategically about how we can live out our mission to make disciples of the nations (Matt. 28:19). The global refugee crisis has, in many cities in both the United States and across the world, brought the nations to our neighborhoods. They’re coming to us. We have an unprecedented opportunity to show up.

My local church, Imago Dei Raleigh, cares for refugees who live in an apartment complex in our city. We seek to build friendships as these families transition to life in Raleigh. Recently we facilitated a vacation Bible school inside the complex. The gospel was shared with the children and their parents through Arabic and Burmese translators. My boys played soccer with new friends who speak multiple languages and have multiple skin tones.

I also met a Syrian woman with her four children. She lives in isolation, because she speaks little English. One tangible way I can love her is to help her practice conversational English. We exchanged phone numbers so that we can make plans to visit together. I’m committing to show up—not to exegete Romans, but to love her by helping her to learn English. Hopefully, as we become friends, I’ll have the opportunity to share Christ with her.

God orchestrates the placement of his people for his purposes. Our presence in our neighbors’ lives creates space for us to share the gospel. Engage your relational networks with gospel intentionality. Who’s better equipped to reach your neighbor than you are?

We’re not bound by one playbook for how to reach our neighbors. Be creative! For example, my friend hosts a neighborhood book club. Ladies come to her house to spend time with their friends as they discuss the latest bestseller.

Over time, as they get to know each other better, the group begins to see the genuineness of my friend’s affection for them and her love for God. They see gospel fruit displayed in and through her life. Planting a church presents opportunities to think creatively about reaching the lost. It forces us to ask questions that push us to create new spaces for people to encounter Christ.

….

We don’t show up to invest in the lives of others because we’re “do-gooders” or “super Christians.” We invest in people for their good and God’s glory. As churches are planted across the globe, God’s kingdom advances, and God’s fame is magnified.

Britton succinctly illustrates what I call agenda-driven evangelism. She makes it clear that the motive for Evangelicals engaging non-Christians is not to be “do-gooders,” but to give them what they need — Jesus. Never mind what non-Christians might really need physically, emotionally, financially, or socially. These things are but red meat waved in front of hungry lions; distractions meant to soften unbelievers up for evangelization. The agenda, as Britton makes clear, is to evangelize the lost.

lets be friends

Over the past decade, I have had numerous Evangelical pastors, evangelists, college presidents, and Holy Spirit-led laypeople attempt to befriend me. They have offered me breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and/or beer. Some of them have even sent me generous donations through PayPal. In every instance these friendly Evangelicals had an agenda: to win me back to Jesus. They weren’t interested in me as a person. All these evangelizers saw was a man in need of saving; and if they could win the former Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser back to Jesus, why, they could then put another notch on the wooden grip of their gospel revolver. These deceivers never wanted to be friends with me. Their goal was evangelization, not friendship. One preacher swore up and down that he just wanted to be friends with me. After repeatedly saying his motives were pure, I said, fine. Let’s meet for dinner at the strip club in Fort Wayne. Just two guys out on the town, right? Of course, he declined my invitation. I suspect he knew that semi-nude women dancing near us might negate his attempt to evangelize me. Jesus can’t compete with naked women.

I have no problem befriending Christians, even Evangelicals. I have plenty of things in common with Evangelicals: family, grandchildren, sports, good food, to name a few. If a prospective Evangelical friend is willing to not speak of Jesus/Christianity unless I ask them to do so — and I will do the same with my atheistic beliefs — then we can be friends. I want to be left alone. I know almost all there is to know about Jesus/Christianity/the Bible. I am a godless heathen by choice. I have weighed Christianity in the balances and found it wanting. If an Evangelical is willing to let me go to Hell in peace, then maybe, just maybe, we can be friends. Unfortunately, Evangelical zealots have a pathological need to talk about Jesus; to share the “good” news; to evangelize anyone and everyone deemed unsaved. This need to proselytize keeps Evangelicals from being friends with people just for friendship’s sake.

I want friends who love and accept me as I am. I want friends who can revel in the things we have in common and ignore the things we don’t. I want friends who see me as a good person; as a man who loves his family, neighbors, and friends. That’s why Evangelicals can’t really be friends with me “as I am.” The Bible tells them that I am broken; an enemy of God; a man whose father is Satan. Ponder all the atrocious things the Bible says about non-Christians. Why would I want to be friends with someone who thinks I am fundamentally a bad person; a man whose behavior warrants eternal punishment in Hell? No thanks.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Bruce Gerencser