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Tag: Fundamentalism

Why Do People Attend Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Churches?

ifb preacher phil kidd
IFB Preacher Phil Kidd

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches are known for their commitment to literalism, Biblical inerrancy, and strict codes of personal conduct. Demographically, IFB churchgoers tend to be white, Republican, and middle to lower class. IFB churches also have anti-culture tendencies, as revealed in their support of the Christian school and home school movements. The IFB church movement has spawned numerous colleges, including Hyles-Anderson College, Tennessee Temple, Midwestern Baptist College, Baptist Bible College, Pensacola Christian College, Clarks Summit Baptist Bible Seminary, Maranatha Baptist University, Massillon Baptist College, Crown College of the Bible, Faith Baptist Bible College, Fairhaven Baptist College, Pensacola Bible Institute, and West Coast Baptist College. Though not explicitly IFB institutions, Bob Jones University, Liberty University, Cedarville University, and Cornerstone University are sympathetic to IFB beliefs and practices, and attract a number of IFB students.

Millions of Americans attend IFB churches. Add to this number Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches who hold similar Fundamentalist theological and social beliefs (please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?), and you end up with a sizeable minority within the broad Evangelical tent. While some IFB apologists trace the movement’s genesis to the Modernist-Fundamentalist battle of the 1920s, most would say that the IFB church movement was birthed out of opposition to liberalism in the Southern Baptist Convention and American Baptist Convention in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the fathers of the movement were Southern Baptist or American Baptist pastors who pulled their churches out of their respective conventions. I attended numerous Sword of the Lord conferences in the 1970s and 1980s where big-name IFB preachers trumpeted the astronomical numerical growth of their churches while delighting in spouting statistics that showed the SBC was in decline. I heard Jack Hyles, then the pastor of the largest church in the world — First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana — run down the list of the largest churches in America, pointing out how many of them were IFB churches. Hyles, along with countless other IFB preachers of that era, believed that their churches’ growth and the SBC’s decline were sure signs of God’s approval and blessing.

Today, the IFB church movement is in steep numerical decline. Churches that once had thousands of members are now closed or are shells of what they once were. IFB colleges have also seen drops in enrollment due to the fact that the feeders for these institutions — IFB churches — aren’t sending as many students to their schools. The Southern Baptist Convention, on the other hand, has been reclaimed from liberalism, and many of the largest churches in America are affiliated with the Convention. (The SBC is the first denomination that I am aware of that has reversed its course and returned to its Fundamentalist roots. The Convention is now home to a burgeoning Calvinistic movement. Many liberal/progressive SBC churches broke away in 1991 (1,800 churches) and formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Liberals who remain will either seek out friendlier associations or be excommunicated.)

For countless Christians, the IFB church movement is all they have ever known. Their entire lives, from baby dedications to graduations from IFB colleges, have been dominated and controlled by Baptist Fundamentalism. In many ways, the IFB church movement is a cult (please see Questions: Bruce, Is the IFB Church Movement a Cult? and One Man’s Christianity is Another Man’s Cult) that shelters families from the evil, Satanic outside world. All that congregants are required to do is believe and obey. Is it any wonder that the hymn Trust and Obey is a popular hymn in many IFB churches? Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. For those born and raised in the IFB bubble, all they know is what they have been taught by their parents, pastors, and teachers. Encouraged to make professions of faith at an early age, these cradle Baptists know little about the world outside of the IFB bubble. The bubble protects them from outside, worldly influences and helps to reinforce IFB beliefs and practices. (And when IFB youths run afoul of the strict rules found in IFB churches, they are sometimes sent off to IFB group homes and camps so they can be “rehabilitated.”)

The video below graphically (and beautifully) illustrates how deeply and thoroughly Fundamentalist beliefs dominate the thinking of those raised in Fundamentalist churches. Sung by Champion Baptist College’s (now Champion Christian University) tour group, the song I Have Been Blessed, is a compendium of IFB beliefs. The indoctrinated young adults singing this song really believe what they are singing. Outsiders might label these singers ignorant — and they are — but I choose to be more charitable, knowing that this song is simply a reflection of the tribal religion they have been a part of their entire lives.

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I have great sympathy for people who know only what they have been taught in IFB churches and institutions. From the early 1960s to the mid-1990s, I was one such person. My parents were saved at an IFB church in the 1960s, and from that day forward we religiously attended IFB churches. When my parents divorced in the early 1970s, I continued to attend IFB churches. In many ways, these congregations became my family, giving me love and structure. After high school, I attended an IFB college, and from 1979 to 1994 I pastored IFB churches. (One church I co-pastored, Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, would not call itself an IFB church due to its Calvinistic beliefs, but its social practices and anti-culture beliefs put it squarely in the IFB camp.) I was, in every way, a true-blue believer, never questioning my beliefs until I was in my late 40s. I know firsthand how IFB indoctrination affects a person intellectually and psychologically.

Not everyone, of course, is born into the IFB church movement. Others become members due to the movement’s aggressive evangelistic efforts and methodology. Particular targets are people who have messy, unhappy lives or have drug/alcohol addictions. Wanting deliverance from their present lives, these people are often quite receptive when they come in contact with IFB preachers and church members who promise them that, if they will believe the IFB gospel, then Jesus will make their lives brand new and deliver them from their chaotic, broken lives. Once saved, these newly minted Christians are encouraged to join the churches that cared enough about them to share the Good News® with them. And many of these people do indeed join IFB churches, but unlike those raised in such churches, these outsiders often have a harder time accepting IFB social strictures. More than a few of them stop attending church or seek out congregations that aren’t as extreme.

And then there are the people who deliberately seek out IFB churches to attend. Drawn to such churches by their need for doctrinal purity, certainty, or a safe haven from the world, they are thrilled to find churches that believe the Bible from cover to cover (even though, as anyone who has studied the IFB church movement knows, IFB preachers and congregants pick and choose beliefs just as non-IFB Christians do). Perfectionists, in particular, find IFB churches quite appealing. If IFB churches and their pastors are anything, they are certain that their beliefs and practices come straight from the mouth of the Christian God (God wrote the Bible, so its words are his). Perfectionists — as I know firsthand — love structure, control, and order.

Perfectionists make the perfect members. They joyously buy into the go-go-go, do-do-do, work-for-the-night-is-coming-when-no-man-can-work, better-to-burn-out-than-rust-out thinking that permeates IFB churches. There’s no time for rest and comfort. The Bible is true, judgment is sure, hell is real, and there are billions of lost souls who need to hear the IFB gospel. How dare anyone who truly loves Jesus live a life of ease while sinners are dying in their sins and going to hell. On and on go the clichés. I suspect that most successful IFB preachers have perfectionist tendencies.

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Some IFB church members were once members of Evangelical or mainline churches. Concerns over perceived liberalism drive them to seek out churches that still believe in the Book, the Blood, and the Blessed Hope. Tired of pastors who refuse, they believe, to preach the whole counsel of God or to stand against worldliness, these disaffected Christians often find that IFB churches believe what they believe, so they leave their churches and join with the Baptists.

While I could give other reasons people attend IFB churches, those mentioned above cover the majority of people who attend Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

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

Fundamentalist Nancy Campbell Warns Christian Women About Showing Cleavage in Church

cleavage
Cartoon by Chris Slane

Nancy Campbell, a Fundamentalist Christian, warned women today about the “sin” of showing cleavage in church. That’s right, with everything that is going on in the world, Campbell is worried about cleavage.

Campbell writes:

Isaiah 61:10 says: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God, for He hath CLOTHED me with the GARMENTS of salvation, he hath COVERED me with the ROBE of righteousness.” When we accept the salvation God gives to us, He washes away our sins, covers us with the precious blood of Jesus, and clothes us with a robe of righteousness. It’s not our righteousness for we have none of our own, but it’s His righteousness.

This is something that happens to us spiritually. However, everything that happens in the inward man should be revealed in the outward man. Our physical body emanates what goes on in the “hidden man of the heart.” I believe that if we are truly covered with a robe of righteousness inwardly, we will also reveal this work of righteousness within us by covering our physical bodies.

A robe is not a scanty dress; it covers the body. It doesn’t have to cover head to foot, but at least a robe usually covers the top to below the knee. I grieve as I observe women who confess they are Christians and yet blatantly display cleavage, some a little, some as much as they can! It has become so normal in the Christians church that some young Christians think it is standard clothing!   Why would women want to take that which is sacred to the bedroom out into the public market place? And why would husbands. who are the covering of their wives, allow them to leave their home with so much flesh showing? Why do they want the world to see what belongs to them alone (Proverbs 5:15-19).

First, Campbell rips Isaiah 61:10 out if its context and uses the verse to prove her anti-cleavage point. As Campbell aptly shows, the Bible can be used to prove anything.

Second, Campbell believes women should cover their bodies from their necks to below their knees. Why, if Evangelical women don’t do this, horn-dog preachers, deacons, and other church males will be tempted to lust. Think about what she is saying. Showing ANY cleavage is a sin. The slightest glimpse of a woman’s breasts in church will lead hapless, weak, pathetic men astray. As always, women are to blame when men can’t keep their minds out of the gutter.

I call on women to protest Campbell’s anti-cleavagery. 🙂 Proudly show your cleavage. Seriously, Campell’s and Lori Alexander’s obsession with women’s breasts is silly and absurd. Personally, I am a big fan of cleavage. That said, I am not worried that I will want to sexually have my way with women who show theirs. For fuck’s sake, grow up.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

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

Not All Evangelicals, But I’m Probably Speaking to You

whining evangelical

I have been writing about Evangelical Christianity for thirteen years. The most common criticism I receive from God’s chosen ones is that I paint with too broad a brush, that Evangelicalism is not a monolithic group, that there are all sorts of beliefs and practices within the Evangelical tent. When I am critical of Evangelicalism, some Evangelicals self-righteously tell me that what I wrote doesn’t comport with their flavor of Evangelical Christianity. My beliefs are different! My church is different! My pastor is different! And on and on it goes.

Mention that all Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalists, why, the defenders of the one-truth-faith will scream in outrage, saying that they are NOT Fundamentalists. However, a careful examination of their beliefs and practices shows that they are indeed Fundamentalists. In 2020, I wrote a post titled, Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? In this post, I conclusively showed that all Evangelicals are theological Fundamentalists, and most of them are also social Fundamentalists. If a person/church/pastor/sect walks and talks like a Fundamentalist, it is one. If Evangelicals don’t like the Fundamentalist label, I suggest they either leave Evangelicalism or change their beliefs and practices.

Yes, Evangelicalism is a broad tent, and anyone can claim the Evangelical moniker regardless of beliefs. However, central to Evangelicalism are certain fundamental/cardinal beliefs. To be an Evangelical, you must believe these things. That some people don’t believe these things shows that Evangelicalism has no vehicle to police its ranks. The same can be said for social practices. It was not that long ago that all Evangelicals believed homosexuality was a sin. Today, LGBTQ people are welcome in some Evangelical churches — a good thing, by the way. However, at what point does a person/church/pastor/sect stop being Evangelical?

One of the problems is that many people claiming the Evangelical label are Evangelical in name only. Their reasons for wearing the label are many: lifelong identity, family, an affinity for Evangelical worship practices, comfortableness, to name a few. Further, Evangelicals look outside of their tent and see nothing in mainline/progressive Christianity that appeals to them. I still “fondly” remember attending the local Episcopal church and enduring unsingable music and incoherent sermons. Give me Victory in Jesus and three points and poem every time.

Since Evangelicalism is the subject of virtually every post on this site (almost 4,000), I don’t have the time to modify the word “Evangelical” every time I use it. To those who whine and complain about my broad-brush painting, if the shoe fits, wear it. You may think your designer label brand of Evangelicalism is different, but I suspect when the fancy label is removed, we will learn that your brand was made in China, just like Walmart’s brand. You just aren’t that special. I know that hurts, but after analyzing the beliefs and practices of hundreds of “special” Evangelicals, I have concluded, if you’ve seen one Evangelical, you have seen them all (almost).

If what I write about Evangelicalism really doesn’t accurately describe you, fine. Move on and nurse your hurt feelings somewhere else. However, I suspect that what is really going on here is that I am getting too close to nailing who and what you really are. The Fundamentalist label may hurt your feelings, but maybe you should take a hard look at your beliefs and practices. Maybe, it is time for you to swear off Evangelicalism. Surely the January 6, 2021 insurrection was enough to tell you that Evangelicalism is terminally diseased. You didn’t vote for Donald Trump, did you? Really? I mean, really?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

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

1957-2020: Christmas Memories

christmas tree new lexington 1985
Our Christmas Tree, 1984, New Lexington, Ohio

Christmas has played a part in my life ever since I entered the world in June of 1957. In this post, I want to detail some of my memories about Christmas.

As a child, Christmas at the Gerencser home was a typical American Christmas. Family, food, and gifts. While there were never many gifts, my siblings and I always received several presents from our parents. My Dad filmed many Christmases with his 8mm movie camera. Sadly, after Dad died in 1985, the movies were either lost or destroyed.

In the 1960s Christmas at our home changed, and not for the best. My grandfather on my Mom’s side remarried. My grandmother remarried several times, but was divorced by the late 1960s. My grandparents on my Dad’s side died in 1963. Grandpa Gerencser died February 1, 1963 and Grandma Gerencser died a month later on March 5. I was left with Grandpa and Grandma Tieken and Grandma Rausch for Christmas, and they didn’t get along.

robert gerencser 1950's
Christmas, Dad with his 8 mm Movie Camera

In the 1940s, Grandpa Tieken and Grandma Rausch went through an acrimonious divorce — a divorce that resulted in neither parent being deemed fit to raise their children. They had two children, my mother Barbara and her brother Steve. Their hateful acrimony was on full display in the 1960s when Bob and Barbara Gerencser gathered for Christmas with their three children — Butch (that’s me), Bobby, and Robin. Into our family gathering would come the grandparents, teeth bared, hateful towards each other — likely fueled by alcohol. The fighting got so bad that it became necessary for us to have two Christmas gatherings, one for each grandparent.

In the summer of 1970, we moved from Deshler, Ohio to Findlay, Ohio. In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced. Dad would marry a 19-year-old girl a few months later, and Mom would marry her first cousin — a recent Texas prison parolee. From this point forward until I entered college, I have no recollections of Christmas. I am sure we celebrated Christmas. I am sure we had a tree, perhaps gave gifts, etc., but I have no recollection of it.

In the fall of 1976, I left Bryan, Ohio, and moved to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll at Midwestern Baptist College, a Fundamentalist Christian college noted for training men for the ministry. In September of 1976, I began dating a beautiful 17-year-old freshman girl named Polly. She would be the last girl I dated, and two years later, in July of 1978, we married.

My first Christmas with Polly was in 1976. I drove from Bryan, Ohio, to Polly’s parent’s home in Newark, Ohio. Polly’s Dad, the late Lee Shope , was the assistant pastor at the Newark Baptist Temple, an IFB church pastored by her uncle Jim Dennis. The Shope/Robinson/Dennis family Christmas was a multifamily affair, with two sisters joining together to have the celebration. Christmas of 1976 was held at the home of Jim and Linda Dennis.

Being Polly’s boyfriend, I was a topic of discussion and inspection. Needless to say, I failed the inspection, and I am still the topic of discussion all these years later. I vividly remember Polly’s uncle letting the whole church know that I was there visiting Polly. He said, “Bruce and Polly have a shirttail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirttail is.” While I have no doubt Jim was trying to be funny, Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed. This coming year we will celebrate 43 years of marriage –so the shirttail has proven to be quite long and resilient.

As I entered the Dennis home, I was taken aback by how many gifts there were. Underneath the tree and flowing out from its trunk were countless gifts, more gifts than my siblings and I received our entire childhood. The number of gifts– what I would later label an “orgy to consumerism” — continued unabated for many Christmases.

Polly’s family was littered with Fundamentalist preachers — her Dad, Uncle, and Grandfather, and later others. They made sure they put a good word in for Jesus before the gift opening commenced. Every Christmas, one of the preachers, which later included Polly’s cousins and nephew, gave a short devotional reminding everyone that the birth of Jesus was the real meaning of Christmas. Interestingly, even though I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years, I was never asked to give the devotional. Make of that what you will.

After Polly and I married in 1978, we began to develop our own Christmas traditions. We spent Christmas Eve with Polly’s parents and Christmas Day with either my family in Bryan, Ohio, or with my Mom at her home in Rochester, Indiana, and later Columbus, Ohio. Polly’s family Christmas continued to be marked by the gift-giving orgy and lots of great food. Christmas with my Mom and family was a much more measured affair. Mom made sure her grandkids got several gifts, as did my grandparents and Aunt Marijene. Christmas at Mom’s house continued until around 1990 when she and her husband Michael moved to Michigan. The move was sudden and unexpected, and I came to understand later that they likely moved due to Michael’s shady business dealings with people who threatened to kill him.  Mom would commit suicide in April 1992, while living near my sister in Quincy, Michigan. Please see Barbara.)

Christmas 1983. Polly and I decided to have Christmas with my extended family at our home in Glenford, Ohio. I only remember two things from this Christmas: Grandpa and Grandma Tieken being their usual judgmental, pushy selves and Mom being upset with me because I made her go outside to smoke. This would be the first and last time my extended family came to our home. For the next decade, not one member of my extended family came to our home, save several visits by the Tiekens — whose visits were excruciatingly unpleasant and psychologically harmful. (Please see Dear Ann and John.)

Over time, I drifted away from my extended family. I began to see them as outsiders — people in need of salvation. I regret distancing myself from my family, but as with everything in the past, there are no do-overs. We continued going to my Mom’s for Christmas until she moved to Michigan. We continued going to Polly’s parents’ home for Christmas until circumstances forced us to stop going. I will detail those circumstances in a moment.

In the late 1980s, I came to the conclusion that Christmas was a pagan holiday, a holiday that no sold-out, on-fire Christian should ever celebrate. I unilaterally gave away all our Christmas decorations and we stopped giving our children gifts for Christmas. It’s not that we didn’t buy our children anything, we did. Our children, to this day, will joke that Christmas for them came when the income tax refund check showed up. Living in poverty with six children resulted in us, thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit, receiving a large income tax refund. When the check arrived — an annual large infusion of cash into our bank account — we bought our children everything they needed — with “needed” being the operative word. While we bought our children clothes, shoes, underwear, and the like, we bought them very few toys. We left it to grandparents to buy those. We did make sure they had bicycles, BB guns, and firearms, but very few toys. Living as we did, 8 people in a 720-square-foot, battered, old trailer, required our children to spend a significant amount of time outside. Toys became whatever the kids picked up in the yard or woods. I have often wondered, looking at the wealth of toys our grandchildren have, if our children are not compensating for their childhood. I know, as we buy for our grandchildren, that we are.

During my “Christmas is a Pagan Holiday” years, I routinely disparaged the gift orgy that went on at Polly’s parent’s home.  At the time, I thought the money being spent on gifts could be better spent on evangelizing the lost. While I would later move away from the view that Christmas is a pagan holiday, I never lost the belief that many Christians are quite hypocritical when it comes to Christmas. Jesus is the Reason for the Season and Wise Men Still Seek Him, devout Christians tell us, but their orgiastic celebration of the true meaning of Christmas — consumerism — betrays what they really believe. After all, conduct reveals what we truly believe, right?

Over time, I allowed — remember, we were patriarchal in family structure — Polly to resume a low-key celebration of Christmas in our home. We had to buy new decorations because I gave all away our old antique decorations given to us by our mothers. For a time, we had an artificial Christmas tree. Since we moved back to rural Northwest Ohio in 2005, we have bought our tree each Christmas from the Lion’s Club in Bryan.

With my parents being dead, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Polly’s parents. This abruptly changed in 2010. I left the ministry in 2003 and we abandoned Christianity in November 2008. In early 2009, I sent out my family-shattering letter, Dear Family Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter fundamentally changed our relationship with Polly’s IFB family.

Christmas of 2009 was best remembered by a huge elephant in the middle of the room; that elephant being Polly and me and the letter I sent the family. No one said anything, but the tension was quite noticeable.

2010 found us, just like every year since 1978, at Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. This would be the last Christmas we would spend with Polly’s parents and her extended family. We decided to blend into the background, and besides short pleasantries, no one talked to us. Not that they didn’t want to. We found out later from one of our children that Polly’s uncle wanted to confront me about our defection from Christianity. Polly Mom’s put a kibosh on that, telling her brother-in-law that she had already lost one daughter and she was not going to lose another (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005. Please see If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All.)

I appreciate Polly’s mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family (and a bully). I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people, and I couldn’t ask for better in-laws.

Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and throughout the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism behind it made for an uncomfortable evening.

Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephews had bought on the cheap at Big Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, “to go poo-poo on” — poo-poo being the Fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life with James Dennis.)

On our way home the next day, I told Polly that I couldn’t do it anymore and she said neither could she. We decided to stop going to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. We do try to see her parents during the holiday season, but we no longer attend the family gathering on Christmas Eve. Making this decision saddened us, but we knew we had to make it. (By the way, our children still attend the Christmas Eve gathering.)

We moved back to Northwest Ohio in July of 2005. Since then, our family has gathered for Christmas at our home on the Sunday before Christmas. Doing this allows our children to avoid conflicts with their spouses’ family plans for Christmas.

These days, Christmas for Polly and me is all about family, especially the grand kids. For us, Christmas has become a celebration of love, a celebration of the gift of a wonderful family. While we do not believe in the Christian God, we still enjoy Christmas music and all the other trappings of the Christmas season. It’s a cultural thing — no need to complicate things with religious demands and obligations. When twenty-three people pile into our grossly undersized living room to open presents, we are reminded of how good we have it.

This Christmas, thanks to a raging pandemic, our children and grandchildren will not be at our home celebrating with us. We have all our shopping done, and we plan on Christmas Eve to deliver our grandchildren’s gifts to their homes. Well, their driveways, anyway. It’s hard not to feel lonely this holiday season, but I hope by next Christmas COVID-19 will be behind us.

How about you? How has the way you celebrate Christmas changed over the years? If you are now a non-Christian, how do you handle your Christian family? Please leave your experiences in the comment section.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

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

A Letter to My Friends: There is Peace Without Certainty

guest post

Guest post by Bill Mathis. Bill retired from careers in YMCA camps and foster care. He is the author of four novels with two more in progress. The following is a revised letter he once sent.

Dear Friends,

Some of you asked how—after years of being an evangelical Christian, after being raised in a fundamentalist/evangelical pastor’s home, after raising my own children in the faith—how can I now call myself a secular humanist? An atheist. What happened to me?

The answer is a long one. I am working on an essay that goes into more detail, but it is taking some time. So, let me first address the comments that some of you were praying for my repentance.

Listen. My siblings and I were bred, born, suckled, weaned, and raised on a diet of Biblical literalism. We had no choice. We were not the only ones raised this way and I do not hold it against my loving parents. However, critical thinking about the Bible was not a part of our upbringing. And sadly, it rarely is in fundy-evangelical homes.

I’m a slow learner. (Save your comments, please.) Now, at age 72, my past 10 years have been a journey of personal exploration. In the process of recognizing and accepting I am gay, I sincerely investigated the Bible. At first, about homosexuality. However, the more I investigated, the broader my search became. You may not know or remember that in high school and college I was a journalist. One of my degrees is an associate’s in journalism. In my explorations about the Bible, I tried to keep the five W’s and an H in mind: who, what, when, where, why and how.

The more I read and the wider I researched, the more I came to recognize the importance of the writer’s culture and the context from which they were writing. This became even more meaningful when I began writing novels. Authors and editors write and arrange things to fit their point of view or desired message. I am now persuaded that the mostly unknown Biblical writers were not writing for us today, two to three thousand years later. And that applies to way more than just about homosexuality.

Some of you have prayed for my repentance. I have repented, but differently than what you prayed for. I must be honest and blunt. I am not repenting for being gay or living with a man I love.

However, over time, I have repented for the years I worshipped the Bible—for not recognizing it was written by bronze and iron-age men trying to figure out life while they clung to their tribalism. By men who were trying to survive occupation, who often were trying to control others as they passed down myths and legends. Some stories were mythologies from other cultures and past centuries. Some were from word of mouth shaped to tell a story, prove a point, and were not based on the evidence, or the lack thereof. Naturally, their god had to be the greatest and the most miraculous.

I regret never questioning how those writers, and they alone, could define God. I didn’t ask myself why our religious beliefs are primarily dependent upon where we are born in the world. I never thought about why an all-powerful god didn’t reveal himself/herself to the entire world in a message each person could understand and then choose to accept or reject. I stuffed my concerns about the evidence of science proving the ignorance of the Bible’s authors. Ignorance not because of their stupidity, but because they didn’t have the information that has since accumulated. I never questioned that the New Testament writers may have had differing agendas, even what years their works were written or in what order chronologically. Why did I trust and consider the words of ancient writers over the proven results of science, medicine, archeology, anthropology, history, and all the other ‘ology’s that explain our solar system, our earth and our history?

More so, why did I assume the theologies and precepts of fundamentalism and evangelicalism were the only way to God?

Lastly, why was my sense of judgmental, evangelical superiority of knowing the only way to God so strong? For that I am truly sorry.

I came to realize that most of my beliefs were just that. My beliefs.

I no longer take the Bible literally. There’s too much evidence to take it literally. However, I do try to take some of it literately. Literately, it contains beautiful, inspiring collections of poetry, history, dreams, myths, truths and stories written by men based upon their lives and experiences at their time in history. The Bible is also filled with immorality, prejudice, genocide, and it supports slavery and theocracy—to name a few negatives. Those ideas, visions, superstitions and stories were eventually compiled through a political process to become a religion enforced by government and power.

Valerie Tarico, an author and blogger I highly recommend, writes that moving away from fundamentalism is like peeling an onion. And that’s what I’ve been doing. Slowly stepping away a layer at a time from idolizing something man made. Today, for me, we have too much information, knowledge, and facts to blindly cling to and insist on millennia old beliefs and fears.

So, again, that’s where I’m at. Even with my layers of fat and lack of former beliefs—with one foot on a banana peel and the other near the grave—I am at peace and content with my life. More so than ever. And I’m not done learning!

That’s why it is my desire for fundies and evangelicals to peel their fingers away from their eyes and step back – just a little– from the intensity and certainty of some of their beliefs.

There is peace without certainty.

Take care,

Love,

Bill

Bruce Gerencser