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Tag: Friendship

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.

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.

The Absurdity of the Billy Graham-Mike Pence Rule

jesus alone with a woman
Jesus, alone with a woman, violating the Billy Graham-Mike Pence Rule. Shame on you, Jesus! I am surprised you escaped with your virginity intact.

Embedded deep into the thinking of Evangelical pastors is the notion that women to whom they are not married are dangerous creatures who must be kept at a distance, lest they tempt men of God to commit sexual sin. As a young ministerial student, I was taught that there were Jezebels in every church, and that I must never, ever allow myself to be alone with any woman who was not my wife. According to my professors and chapel speakers, there would always be women lurking in the shadows of the steeple, ready and willing to “steal” my sexual purity. Men, including pastors, were, by nature, weak-kneed, visually stimulated horn dogs. Allow the doors of your office or study to be shut with you and a woman alone, and, why, anything could happen! This kind of thinking, of course, teaches men a warped view of women and human sexuality. While I agree that humans are sexual beings — a trait necessary for our species’ propagation — it does not follow that every time two people of the opposite sex are alone with each other, sexual intercourse is a real and distinct possibility. Common sense tells us otherwise.

This view of women and human sexuality found its nexus with Fundamentalist Baptist evangelist Billy Graham. Graham had three rules he lived by when it came to women who were not his wife. Graham would not travel alone with a woman, meet alone with a woman, or eat alone with a woman. These rules, over time, were called “The Billy Graham Rules.” While Graham was viewed as a liberal by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers, his three rules were taught and preached in IFB churches and colleges alike. Simply put, stay away from women who aren’t your wife. Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!  Abstain from the very appearance of evil, the Bible says. Eating a meal with a woman who is not your wife, offering her a ride in your car, or counseling her alone with the door closed, all give forth the appearance of evil. I knew of some pastors who wouldn’t even counsel female church members out of fear that their ministry could be compromised.

Most non-Evangelicals had never heard of the “Billy Graham Rule” until Vice President Mike Pence let it be known that he, too, avoided being alone with any woman who was not his wife. Moderns were astounded by the Vice President’s Puritanical view of women, but to my ears his words were what I had heard over and over again as an Evangelical pastor.

Recently, John Ellis wrote a post for PJ Media extolling the virtue of the “Billy Graham-Mike Pence Rule.” In a post titled, Can Men and Women be Friends? Ellis wrote:

After reading that mega-pastor Bill Hybels has been accused of sexual misconduct, I commented to some friends that we (Christian men) need to be extra diligent in what we say and do around women. I said that because I believe that it’s imperative that Christian men protect themselves and the women around them while serving women. Unfortunately, that’s an increasingly difficult tightrope to walk in today’s climate, to the point that it’s appropriate to wonder if men and women can be friends.

….

Most people within conservative Christianity get that. Most would shake their heads in suspicion if it were discovered that I frequently hung out alone with a female pal, just the two of us shooting the breeze. But the claim that men and women can’t be friends brings with it the charge of patriarchalism from some of the same people who believe it unwise for a married man to hang out alone with a woman who is not his wife (or vice versa).

Often, the disconnect in conversations like this one comes down to how terms are defined. I contend that men cannot be friends with women in the way that “friend” is defined when I’m speaking of my buddies. However, Christian men can and should count Christian women as their sisters in Christ.

….

Sadly, desire for personal purity in the pursuit of holiness often brings with it the accusation of patriarchalism. Vice President Mike Pence was assigned that pejorative after it was revealed that he doesn’t dine alone with women not named Karen Pence. The vice president was accused of creating an environment that makes it harder for women to succeed.

However, as Pence continued to suffer the slings and arrows of those who despise his desire to interact with women “in all purity,” the #MeToo movement was created, as powerful men began to be exposed as sexual predators. Sadly, even in the face of the expanding #MeToo movement, many of Pence’s critics still fail to see the wisdom of the vice president’s personal standards of interaction around women.

….

Serving our sisters in Christ in all purity requires acknowledging the truth that because of sin the issue of sex will always be within reach when it comes to members of the opposite sex. Once again, that’s why most conservative Christians would look askance at me going on an overnight fishing trip alone with a woman who was not my wife. But even beyond obvious examples of overnight trips, men need to be careful about how they interact with women in our day to day lives.

Among other things, Bill Hybels has been accused of giving “lingering hugs.” It’s a good thing that I’m an introvert and don’t like being touched or touching people. If I were a “hugger,” I can’t imagine how I would defend myself against an accusation of a lingering hug.

And that’s not to defend Hybels or to claim that women who are made to feel uncomfortable by the actions of men are wrong for speaking up and defending themselves. My point is that it is incredibly difficult to know exactly how a word, a look, or a touch, even if meant innocently, will be taken.

Because men often view women as little more than objects of pleasure and take advantage of them, many of our sisters in Christ have been deeply hurt in the past. What we as their brothers in Christ say or do can have the unintended consequence of being perceived within the context of past abuse. Among other things, loving our sisters in Christ demands that we be careful not to cause more hurt and harm.

On a lesser scale, it’s also important that Christian men guard ourselves. Since it is easy for our motivations to be incorrectly assumed, we need to make sure that we are acting above reproach around our sisters in Christ.

….

According to Ellis, all men should live according to “Billy Graham-Mike Pence Rule.” I say all, and not just married men, because Ellis, who describes himself as a conservative Christian, likely believes that it is a sin for unmarrieds to have sex. Thus, not only should married men abstain from being alone with women who are not their wives, so should unmarried men. Women, for married and unmarried men alike, are the problem. If married men want to keep themselves morally pure, then they must never, ever put themselves in positions where they are alone with women. For married men, the wife of their youth awaits, legs spread wide, ready and willing to satisfy their sexual needs. Unmarried men have no such fire extinguisher awaiting them — the Apostle Paul said it is better to marry than to burn — yet they, too, are implored to avoid being alone with the opposite sex. So what are these young men to do? Many of them, if they marry at all, do not marry until their late twenties. This means that they must wrestle with unsatisfied raging hormones for twelve to fifteen years. And remember, masturbation — lustful self-gratification that leads to homosexuality — is verboten too. (Please read Good Baptist Boys Don’t Masturbate, Oh Yes, They Do!)

This kind of thinking breeds immature, juvenile men; men who are weak; men who are not in control of their sexuality; men who see women primarily as objects of sexual gratification. Ellis, Graham, and Pence would likely object to my characterization of their beliefs, but it seems clear, at least to me, that women are treated as dangerous, seductive beings who must be avoided lest being alone with them leads to intercourse on office and study floors. This kind of thinking objectifies women, turning them into chattel used for male sexual gratification. Since the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God condemns all sexual behavior except married heterosexual vaginal intercourse, (preferably in the missionary position, and primarily for human propagation), any relationship or circumstance that could, even remotely, lead to moral compromise must be resolutely avoided. (A separate discussion is whether consensual adult sex with someone other than your wife or sex between unmarrieds is necessarily “wrong.”)

As I have stated time and again on this blog, Evangelical men need to grow up and own their sexuality. If they can’t control themselves when around physically and sexually attract women, the fault is theirs. Plenty of men are around women publicly and privately, yet they, somehow, keep themselves from having sex with them. These men have learned how to control their thoughts and behaviors. I have viewed countless women whom I have found attractive. My wife and I, now that we no longer concern ourselves with thoughts of God, judgment, and hell, are free to say to the other, that’s an attractive man/woman. Both of us have found it interesting the type of people the other is attracted to. Men I thought Polly would consider hot often elicit a meh from her — she really likes gay guys. Similarly, the kind of woman Polly thinks I would be attracted to often elicits a shrug from me. It’s liberating to be able to express my thoughts, interests, and desires without worrying that it could lead to adultery — a sin, according to the B-i-b-l-e, that lands offenders in the Lake of Fire.

Polly is around other men at work, yet I don’t worry that she might stray. It would be crazy for her to do so, having a stud muffin like me at home. As a photographer, I am often up close and personal with women, yet my wife doesn’t fret over this. She knows that for Bruce, Polly is his one and only. Now, this doesn’t mean that neither of us has ever been tempted to break our marital vows. We have, but we value our lives with each other and our family far more than we do three minutes and twenty seconds of pleasure. For us, it’s a matter of what’s important to us. There are going to be times when we are alone with people of the opposite sex. That’s life. If someone is flirtatious or even comes on to one of us, we expect the other to exercise maturity and wisdom and handle things appropriately. During the Christmas season, my Santa Claus alter-ego often has women who are quite friendly towards him. I have had more than a few women, young and old, want to get up close and personal and have a photo taken with Santa. In my mind, it’s all fun and games. I’ve found, now that I am in my sixties and have a white beard, that women, in general, are more friendly towards me. I suspect it is my grandfatherly look that says to them I am safe. Certainly looks can be deceiving, but in this case, the only fear anyone should have of this Santa Claus is him getting stuck coming down the chimney.

Men need in their lives women who are not their wives. Men NEED female friends, even the buddy type of friends Ellis says men cannot have. I was well into my late forties before I had female friends. I spent most of my adult life living according to the “Billy Graham-Mike Pence Rule.” Not perfectly, of course. In one church, I picked up a woman for services every Sunday for a decade. She was twenty years older than I, and due to a severe vision problem, she couldn’t drive. One couple who left the church in a huff let it be known that they thought this woman and I were having an affair. We both laughed when we heard this. I gave this couple, in my mind anyway, a “go freak yourselves.”  Several years later, I learned that the male of this couple had repeatedly sexually violated his daughter when she was young. I have no doubt that his wife knew that it was going on too. Yet, they were “concerned” over me driving a woman to church. Child, please.

It took me leaving the ministry and Christianity to realize the value and importance of having female friends. Over the past decade or so, I have been privileged to befriend a number of women. Having them in my life has forced me to change my view of the opposite sex. Evangelicalism is inherently patriarchal and misogynistic — let the screaming and whining begin. Thus, I had a warped, deficient view of women for many years. Much like my views of LGBTQ people, my beliefs about women were largely shaped by what Evangelical men and the women-are-property Bible said about them. Divorcing Jesus — we were in a same-sex marriage — and throwing aside the authority of the Bible allowed me to take a fresh look at my relationships with women. This blog and social media have brought into my life a cornucopia of women, along with LGBTQ people too. My editor is a woman. I doubt, had I been an Evangelical blogger, that our relationship would have worked. Now, not only have my grammar and style improved, but her input has helped me mature as a person. Other women have challenged some of things I have written, asking me to consider their perspective. I remember one woman taking issue with my use of the word pussy. I used the word to imply weakness. However, to women, my use of this word said, women are weak. Once this was pointed out to me, I stopped using it – well, except in the privacy of my bedroom, that is.

And my wife? She loves the new and improved Bruce Gerencser, the man who now views her as an equal, as a partner, as someone whose opinions and ideas have value. Most of all she loves the fact that this man of hers has gone from being the head of the home to being her friend. Not only are we lovers and confidants, we are best friends. We trust each other, each believing that the other will honor, even when alone with the opposite sex, the commitment we made forty years ago. No fling is worth what we have built together over the past five decades. Why in the world would I want to trade the best cooking in the world for a romp in the sack with someone I don’t really know? Polly makes the most awesome sloppy joes I have ever eaten. Better than sex — oh yes they are! Since she tried this new recipe out the first time a few weeks ago, I’ve asked her to make it again several times. Heaven? Oh, my Gawd, it’s on my plate, thank you very much. If given the choice between an illicit relationship and Polly’s sloppy joes, I know which one I am taking. Well, that and the fact that she now does all her cooking with cast iron pans. I can only imagine (to rip off the title of the latest Evangelical porno to hit the big screen) what one of the pans would do to the side of my head.

I hope both men and women will share their thoughts and experiences in the comment section. Are women really as dangerous as Graham, Pence, and Ellis say they are? Comment away!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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