Menu Close

Tag: Friendship

Why Our Christians Friends Leave Us When We Deconvert

church is a family

One thing being a part of a church does for us is give us a community through which we find meaning, purpose, and identity. I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Christian church. For many years, I attended church twice on Sunday and on Wednesdays or Thursdays for prayer meeting. These church families I was a part of were central to my life. Most of my friendships were developed in connection with the church and my work as a pastor. I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I developed scores of friendships, not only with congregants but also with colleagues in the ministry. As a pastor, I would attend pastor’s conferences and meetings. It was at these meetings that I had opportunities to talk with my preacher friends, sharing with them my “burdens.” We would laugh, cry, and pray together, knowing that the bond we had as fellow followers of Jesus and God-called preachers of the gospel was rooted in loving each other as Christ Jesus loved us.  A handful of preachers became close, intimate friends with my wife and me. Our families would get together for food, fun, and fellowship — hallmarks of Baptist intimacy. We saw vulnerabilities in each other that our congregants never would. We could confide in each other, seeking advice on how to handle this or that problem or church member. When news of church difficulties came our way, we would call each other, or take each other out for lunch. These fellow men of God were dear to my heart, people that I expected to have as friends until I died.

As a teenager, I had lots of friends, male and female. Most of my friends were fellow church members, though I did have, thanks to playing sports, 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 in 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 a consummate jokester, 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-five 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-five 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.

It has been almost fifteen years since I last attended church; fifteen years since I have listened to preaching; fifteen years since I have sung the hymns of the faith; fifteen years since I have dropped money in an offering plate; fifteen years since I broke bread with people I considered my family. In early 2009, I sent a letter to my family and friends detailing my loss of faith. You can read the letter here: Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. I grossly underestimated how people would respond to my letter. In a matter of days, I received angry, venomous emails, letters, and phone calls. One ministerial colleague drove four hours to my home, hoping to turn me back towards the faith. You can read the letter I sent to him here: Dear Friend. I was shocked by how hateful and vitriolic my friends were to me. And here I am fifteen years later, and I still, on occasion, hear from someone who knew me and is shocked over my betrayal of all that I once held dear.

The friendships of a lifetime are now gone — all of them, save my friendship with an Evangelical man I have known for fifty-seven years (we walked to elementary school together). A.V. Henderson’s words ring true. I have one friend who has walked with me through every phase of my life. The rest of my “true” friends have written me off (2 Corinthians 6:14), kicked the dirt off their shoes (Mark 6:10, 11), or turned me over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (I Corinthians 5). I was naive to think that it could be any other way.

Many people believe in unconditional love. I know, at one time, I did. I have learned, however, that unconditional love is largely a myth. (Please read Does God Love Us Unconditionally?) Unconditional love suggests that nothing we do to those we love can break the bond we have with them. Many people carry the notion of unconditional love into their friendships. We think, these people love me, no matter what. They will always be my friends. And then something happens. In my case, I spit in the face of God, pissed on the blood of Jesus, and used the pages of the Bible to wipe my ass, so to speak. I repudiated everything I once believed, and in doing so called into question the beliefs of my friends. The glue that held our friendships together was our fealty to a set of theological beliefs. Once these beliefs were questioned and discarded by me, that bond was irreparably broken. If the connection Christians have with their churches is akin to family, then when people walk away from the beliefs and practices of these families, they are, in effect, divorcing themselves from their families.

Marital divorce tears the bond between husband and wife. When Christians divorce themselves from Jesus, the bonds they have with their friends are ripped asunder. While this divorce can be amicable, most often it is not. My divorce from Jesus and the church was very much like a high-profile tabloid divorce. And even though the judge signed the divorce decree fifteen years ago, repercussions remain to this day.

I have learned that few friendships last a lifetime. Most friendships are dependent on time and location. Remember all your friends who signed your high school yearbook? Are you still friends with them today? Remember the best-buds-for-life from your college days? What happened to those friendships? Were these relationships true friendships? Sure, but they weren’t meant to last a lifetime. And that’s okay.

I don’t blame my former friends for the failure of our friendships. I am the one who moved. I am the one who changed his beliefs. I am the one who ripped apart the bond of our friendship. I do, however, hold them accountable for their horrendous treatment of me once I deconverted. They could have hugged me and said, I don’t understand WHY you are doing this, but I appreciate the good times we had together. I wish you, Polly, and the kids well. Instead, I was treated like dog shit on a shoe bottom; a person worthy of scorn, ridicule, and denunciation. By treating me this way, they destroyed any chance of restoration. Why would I ever want to be friends again with people who treated me like the scum of the earth?

I have spent the past decade and a half developing new friendships. These days, most of my friendships are digital — people who I will likely never meet face to face. This has resulted in Polly and me becoming closer, not only loving each other, but also enjoying each other’s company. For most of my marriage, Jesus, the church, and the ministry were my first loves. (Please see It’s Time to Tell the Truth: I Had an Affair.) It’s not that I didn’t love my children and wife, I did. But they were never number one in my life, and Polly and the kids knew it. I was a God-called man who devoted his life to Jesus and the church. Polly knew that marrying a preacher meant that she and the kids would have to share me with the church. (And her teachers in college and fellow pastor’s wives told her that’s how it had to be. God came first.) Little did she know that she would spend way too many years getting leftovers from a man who loved her but was worn out from burning the proverbial candle at both ends. Now that religion no longer gets between us, Polly and I are free to forge an unencumbered relationship. We have always loved each other, but what has now changed is that we really like each other too and are best friends. And in Polly, I have found one of the true friends A.V. Henderson preached about forty-five years ago. I am indeed, blessed.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Dear Evangelical, Here’s The Number One Reason We Can’t be Friends

cant we be friends
Cartoon by Paco

It is not uncommon for me to receive emails from Evangelicals who really, really, really want to be my friend. These What a Friend We Have in Jesus Christians think that the reason I am no longer a follower of Jesus is that I never had good Christian friends. In fact, during my fifty years as an Evangelical church member and pastor, I had countless friends, including several men I would have considered my BFFs — best friends forever. (These best friends of mine had a different definition of forever, abandoning me once I started having doubts about Christianity and my faith.)

In November 2008, my divorce from Jesus was final, and those who once called me friend turned to praying for me, preaching sermons about me, gossiping about me, and sending me caustic, judgmental emails. Into this friendless void jump Evangelicals eager to be “real” friends with Bruce Gerencser, the Evangelical pastor-turned-atheist. Why do these friendship seekers want to be friends with me?

Some of them naïvely think that if I am just willing to be exposed to their kind, compassionate, loving version of Christianity, I will somehow, some way, be drawn back into the Evangelical fold. Their goal is the restoration of Bruce Gerencser. In other words, their offer of friendship has an ulterior motive — to win me back to Jesus.

Such attempts to be friends with me irritate the hell out me. I hate it when people, regardless of the reason, have ulterior motives when contacting me. Generally, I can spot ulterior motives a mile away. Depending on my mood, I might respond to these secret agents for Jesus by asking, what is it that you REALLY want? Cut the bullshit and tell me what it is you really want from me.

I have zero interest in having meaningful friendships with Evangelicals. I am fine with being acquainted with or doing business with Evangelicals, but I have no desire to have them over for dinner or to get our families together on the Fourth of July. And the reasons for this are not what Evangelicals might think. No, I don’t hate God, Christianity, or the Bible. None of the reasons Evangelicals think atheists are “unfriendly” apply here. Not that I am unfriendly. People who know me — saved or lost — know that I am a kind, compassionate, loving man with, when provoked, a bit of a quick-to-rise-and-recede redheaded temper. I am kind to animals, don’t step on ants, and don’t kill spiders. I lovingly endure my grandchildren jumping on me as if they are fighting in an MMA match, even though my body screams in pain. I love my friends, neighbors, and family. I get along well with others, even when put in circumstances made difficult by the airing of political and religious viewpoints I oppose. Simply put, on most days, I am a good man, brother, husband, father, and grandfather. Like everyone, I fall short in my relationships with others. When I hurt those who matter to me, I do my best to make things right. So whatever stereotype these friendship seekers might have of atheists, I don’t fit the bill.

The one and only reason I don’t befriend Evangelicals is their belief about Hell. Evangelicals believe that all humans are sinners, and without putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ they will go to Hell — a place where all non-Christians spend eternity suffering eternal damnation in utter darkness and searing flames. Knowing that the high temperatures in Hell (and later, the Lake of Fire) would turn unsaved humans into sizzling grease spots, the Evangelical God of “love” gives them bodies capable of enduring never-ending pain and suffering. What a wonderful God, right?

lets be friends

I will soon be sixty-five years old. Sometime beyond this moment, I will draw my last breath. According to Evangelicals, the very next moment after I close my eyes in death, I will awake in Hell, ready to begin my eternal sentence of unimaginable pain and suffering. (A theological point in passing: most Evangelicals believe what I just wrote; however, according to orthodox Christian theology, God doesn’t give the saved and lost new bodies until Resurrection Day. So, I am not sure what it is that suffers when I land in Hell, but it won’t be my body. Maybe my suffering will come from my mind being subjected to a never-ending loop of Evangelical sermons and praise and worship ditties.)

Why, you ask, will I be tortured by God in Hell for eternity? One reason, and one reason alone — I do not believe Jesus is anything Christians say he is. And since Jesus is not God, not a Savior, and not divine in any way, and I see no evidence of his eternal existence in the present world, I have no reason to worship him. No matter how good a man I might be, all that matters when it comes to an eternity spent in Heaven or Hell is if I have checked the box on the Evangelical decision card that says: Yes, I prayed the sinner’s prayer and asked Jesus to forgive me and save me from my sins.

So, I ask you, WHY in the names of all humanity’s gods would I want to be friends with anyone who thinks I deserve to be put on the Evangelical God’s rack and stretched for years without end? You see, dear friendship seeker, it is your belief about Hell and my eternal destiny that makes it impossible for me to be your friend. No, Hell isn’t real, and I don’t fear what may come of me after death, but you believe these things to be true and they stand in the way of us having a meaningful friendship. I am thoroughly convinced that in this life and this life alone I have immortality. Once death claims me for its own, I will cease to be. Those who were friends with me will hopefully toast my life, telling their favorite Bruce stories. In time, as is the case for all of us, I will be but a fading memory, a mere blip on the screen of human life.

Bruce, surely you can ignore their beliefs about Hell and accept their offer of friendship. Sure, I could, but why should I? Why would I want to be friends with someone who thinks I deserve eternal punishment, who thinks I have done anything to deserve being endlessly tortured by God. Life is too short for me to give my friendship to people who believe their God plans to eternally roast me in the Lake of Fire if I don’t believe as they do.

Well, fine, Bruce, I WON’T be friends with you!!!  Okey dokey, smoky, don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out. I am too old to care whether someone is my friend or likes me. These days, my friend list is short, but those who are on it love and support me “just as I am,” and I am grateful for them being in my life. To Evangelicals who are butt-hurt because I won’t play in the sandbox with them, I say this: pick a new God who is not a violent, murderous psychopath and worship her. Then maybe, just maybe, we can be friends. As long as you hold the company line concerning sin, death, judgment, and Hell, I will not be your friend.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

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, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

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, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

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, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

A 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, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Why 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, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

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, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

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.

Bruce Gerencser