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Tag: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist

Bruce and Polly, My Final Wish is That You Come Back to the Lord

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

For Bruce and Polly Gerencser, 2020 has gushed into 2021, washing over virtually every aspect of our lives. Now that an adult is president, we are confident better days lie ahead. We watched the White House press briefing today. Oh my, what a refreshing difference from the insanity of the Trump years. Dr. Tony Fauci spoke about the Coronavirus Pandemic and how the Biden Administration plans to address a virus that will likely kill over 500,000 Americans by the first of March. So refreshing (and sobering), to say the least.

While it is nice to see a glimmer of hope here and there, I can’t help but be physically reminded that I am very sick and there seems to be no end in sight for my struggles. I saw a gastroenterologist yesterday, hoping that he might have some sort of magical cure. Alas, none is forthcoming. The bile reflux problem I am having is the direct result of having my gallbladder removed last August. Bile reflux is a known complication of the surgery — which was never explained to me by my surgeon — and all that can be done now is to treat and manage the symptoms: bowel pain, weight loss, lack of appetite, intermittent constipation/loose stools. Currently, I am on three medications. The doctor wanted to add one more drug, but the cost was so prohibitive I couldn’t fill the prescription. Our insurance doesn’t have a drug plan, per se (outside of life maintenance drugs). Thus, we have to pay the full cost for prescriptions until we reach our $3,400 deductible. Then we pay 80/20 until we reach our maximum out of pocket, $6,700. In 2020, our total medical costs were almost $10,000.

If these drugs don’t work as expected, then the next step is having a procedure where the doctor injects the pylori sphincter muscle in the stomach with Botox, paralyzing the muscle. This treatment typically lasts 3-4 months. When the doctor was explaining this procedure to me, I couldn’t help but make a joke about getting Botox injections for the wrinkles on my face. When I want to cry, I try to look for a joke — somewhere, anywhere — to take my mind off my afflictions. Some days, nothing stems the flow of tears. To use a worn-out cliche, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

And if that was not enough to deal with, Polly’s 85-year-old mom had a heart attack on Tuesday and was rushed to the hospital. You might remember, Polly’s dad suddenly died several months ago. We also found out that Mom has stage three/four kidney failure — something she has known for a year but ignored because she “felt” fine. Mom has had congestive heart failure for years, and while in the hospital this time, the doctor put in a stent. This made a big difference for Mom, but the long-term prospects for her don’t look good.

Polly called her mom just before she went in for her heart catheterization procedure. Mom, short of breath and having difficulty speaking, told her only daughter, “my wish for you is that you come back to the Lord.” I suspect Mom knows the end is near and she wants to be sure she makes her dying wish known to us. Polly thanked her mom, changed the subject, and told her that she loved her. This is the second time in twelve years that Mom has said anything to Polly (or me) about our loss of faith. Outside of telling us that she is praying for us, our unbelief has remained THE elephant in the room. We have not had one meaningful discussion with Polly’s mom (or dad when he was alive) about why we left the ministry and later walked away from Christianity.

We certainly want Mom to have her every need met as she nears the end of her life. We have no desire to cause her unnecessary pain or disappointment. However, her wish is one we cannot fulfill. Had she taken the time to understand why we deconverted, she would have known that mere wishing will not bring us back to the faith. If only wishing would change our lives, right? In a humorous moment last night, I told Polly, “I wish for strippers and millions of dollars!” We both had a good laugh, not at Mom, but the idea that wishing can make anything happen.

Mom is a lifelong Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). Her late husband was an IFB preacher for many years. I pastored several IFB churches, and Polly was right there beside me every step of the way. I am sure Mom sincerely thinks that if we would just return to those days, that all would be well. She could die happy, knowing that we would someday join her in the IFB version of Valhalla. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen — ever.

As much as we want Mom to leave this mortal life with a smile on her face, we can’t dismiss our beliefs and come back to Jesus just to make her (and other family members) happy. As with many atheists and agnostics, the only thing that will possibly change our minds is evidence; evidence for the existence of the Bible God; evidence that the central claims of Christianity are true; evidence that Jesus is who Evangelicals claim he is. We cannot and will not just “faith-it until we make it.”

I fear that after Mom dies, we will face one last effort by IFB family members and Mom’s pastor to reel us in for Jesus. “Don’t you want to join your mom in Heaven?” “Don’t you want the family circle to be unbroken?” Maybe we will hear one last warning about God’s judgment and the Lake of Fire or Pascal’s Wager will be trotted out for the 10,000th time. None of these tactics will work. As confirmed as IFB family are in their beliefs, so are we in our unbelief. Trying to guilt us into believing will not work.

As Polly and I prepared for bed last night, I told her of my concerns about settling Mom’s affairs after she is gone. It’s going to be a mess, but as the only daughter, it falls on Polly to take care of everything. We live almost 4 hours from Mom’s home, so, in the midst of a pandemic, we will have to risk our health to take care of everything from the funeral to paying bills to clearing out her apartment. This is certainly not something that we are looking forward to. But, when you are an only child, the burden is yours. And as the dutiful child she has always been, my dear wife will take care of things.

I reminded Polly that once all these things are done, we will get in our car and drive home, never to return to Newark, Ohio — a place of so much heartache. We will lament Mom’s passing, but seeing Newark in the rear view mirror? We will rejoice, knowing that we no longer have to deal with a church and (some) IFB believers who have caused us harm. I am sure it will be a sad, but liberating, moment.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Bruce, the Fixer

fix it man

Earlier today, my good friend Brian Vanderlip said:

Hey Bruce, Practice resting and see if you can beat me at it! I have this theory that all those damaged by the fundy virus are unable to relax without guilt making it impossible to sustain or nearly so. I sit and read for a while and then get up because I feel guilty… Just for taking it easy with a book! That guilt-free time of rest and reading is what I wish for you, my friend, and the strength to venture forth with your camera. Pope Brian has absolved you of your ignorant disdain for cheese with burgers and your foolish nonsense about toilet paper rolls being hung any old which way. (Comment on the post Living with Fibromyalgia.)

Brian is the son of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, and, much like myself, a crusty curmudgeon. I love Brian’s numerous turns of phrase, while at the same time making thoughtful points and observations.

In today’s post, I want to build on what Brian said about how our former religious beliefs and practices made it almost impossible to rest; that attempts to rest and relax often brought feelings of guilt. Spend decades and decades in such an unhealthy environment, and it leaves deep, lasting psychological scars. Even after divorcing Jesus and walking (running) away from Evangelical Christianity, some of us have trouble getting away from the pathological need to be perpetual motion machines. In my case, I spent my life fixing things that were broke: churches, marriages, and relationships. When I was looking for a new church to pastor, why was I so drawn to dysfunctional churches that would require herculean efforts to fix? I hope to answer this question and others in this post.

One question that comes to mind, at least for me, is how much obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) plays a central part in my restless need to fix things. Was I always this way? Did my staunch Fundamentalist Baptist upbringing fuel my OCPD? I am not sure I can adequately answer these questions. All I know for certain is that from my teen years forward I’ve been a restless person, always looking for the next conquest. I can look back over my life and it is not hard to see a man who was a wanderer, someone who was never satisfied. Of course, it was my religion that taught me to never be satisfied with self. I was taught and then taught others that we sinned daily in thought, words, and deeds. There could never be a good day, a sin-free day, a day when I felt that Jesus wasn’t lurking around the corner, ready to punish me for my indiscretions and failures. Even as a Calvinist — a sect that speaks much of and glories in God’s grace — I never had a day where I felt that everything between me and Jesus was a-okay. Calvinism is inherently a works-based religion. True Christians® must persevere until the end to be saved, and even then God could say to you, “HA! the jokes on you! You never were one of the elect. It’s Hell for you, buddy.”

As a pastor, I believed most Christians were quite lazy. How dare they fritter their lives away while there was work to do building the Kingdom of God. Hell is hot and Jesus is coming soon, I thought at the time. How dare we lounge around and relax while there were souls to save! So I was quite driven to labor in God’s vineyard. Didn’t Jesus say:

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. (John 9:4)

I suspect my personality made it easy for me to work myself to death serving Jesus. I carried the same work ethic into my secular employment. I worked hard, never missed work, and rarely took days off. I was drawn to management jobs that allowed to me to work, work, work. For many years, between my church and secular employment, it was not uncommon for me to work 60+ hours a week. Polly not-so-fondly remembers the days when I would go to work in the morning, come home, shower, and head for the church, returning late at night. Day in day out; six, often seven days a week. I am not looking for a medal here (or condemnation). I recognize that my driven personality caused harm to my family, and materially affected my health. But, you can’t understand the man Bruce Gerencser without understanding what I have shared thus far.

This behavior when on for decades. The churches I pastored loved me because I was willing to be a full-time pastor while working a full-time job outside of the church. Churches loved my passion and zeal, my commitment and devotion. And I did it all for Jesus. Well, that and the fact that I really craved being busy. I was, in every way, a textbook workaholic. It certainly wasn’t for the money. Our family made more in 2020 than I made in eleven years pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Now don’t read too much into that. It’s not that we are well off. We’re not. It just that the churches I pastored didn’t pay well, and not one church I pastored provided insurance or retirement. I don’t blame these churches, per se. After all, I was the CEO. Why didn’t I ask for (demand) a better salary and benefits? On the other hand, why did the deacons/church board/congregants never raise the issue and demand the church take better care of its preacher?

Truth be told, I would have worked for free. I was so in love with Jesus and the work of the ministry that I practically took a vow of poverty. When the churches I pastored had money problems, I was first in line to say, “don’t worry about it. Just don’t pay me this week.” Of course, I never thought I would be a broken-down sixty-three-year-old man unable to work. Choices made decades ago have now extracted their due in the sunset years of my life.

Since how much money I was to be paid was never the object for me, I focused on the work of the ministry: preaching, teaching, evangelizing, street preaching, teaching Christian school students, cutting firewood, shoveling snow, working on church vehicles, remodeling church buildings, and daily ministering to the needs of church members. My motto? Better to burn out than rust out.

Over the course of twenty-five years, I pastored/worked for seven churches. My pastorates were either long in tenure, or quite short: 8 months, 2 1/2 years, 11 years, 7 months, 7 months, 7 years, and 7 months. (What was it about the number seven, right?) What I do know is that I wasn’t very good at determining “God’s will for my life.” I have always had a hard time saying no. Take my short time at Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan — a now-defunct Southern Baptist congregation. After I sent my resume out to Southern Baptist area missionaries, it was only a matter of days before my phone was ringing off the hook — calls from churches looking for a pastor. I was thirty-five years old at the time, with three children still at home. And, my wife played the piano, and both of us sang special music. Woo hoo! Just what churches were looking for! You would think that I carefully considered each of the 15+ churches that contacted me. Surely, I did that, right? Sadly, I did not. Victory Baptist was the first church that contacted me. First come, first served.

We traveled to Clare and I preached for the church one Sunday. Nice people. Friendly. But, oh my God, dysfunction was on display everywhere I looked. I should have run away, but instead, I agreed to come back and preach for them again in two weeks. Afterward, the church asked me to become their pastor (and the former pastor remained in the church). I should have said no. Everything in Polly’s reaction said to me, “just say no, Bruce.” But I ignored my intuition and my smart and sensible wife, choosing instead to come and “help” these really, really nice people. Victory Baptist was a church I was sure I could “fix.”

While the church had its largest attendance while I was their pastor, seven months later I was out the door. My idea of what the church needed to do to grow and prosper was very different from that of the entrenched, indolent power base. The former pastor’s wife said in a public business meeting before I left, “Bruce, your vision for the church was never our vision.” I warned the church that I would not fight with them, but they wanted to fight anyway, so I resigned. THE issue? Toys in the nursery. Toys in the nursery? Yep. A long-time member of the church hauled into the nursery a bunch of outside yard toys, many of which were dangerous for toddlers. I told her it was not a good idea and removed them. (Our insurance agent would have told her the same thing.) Livid, she took the matter to the deacons. Three days later, we were sitting back in Ohio. Not one church member said goodbye or helped us load our moving truck. This would be the last church I pastored. I was done.

Underneath the story of my life courses a restlessness that drives me to work, work, work. No time for rest, not because of God or some sort of divine calling, but because it’s who I am. I am happy to report that I do rest and relax more now than I ever have. Good news, right? Progress. Not really. You see, my health problems are what have forced me to take it easy. I don’t want to, but I really have no choice. That is, IF I want to live. So, I crawl kicking and screaming to the couch, fretting over what I call the tyranny of the to-do list. Every week and month I get farther and farther behind. Maybe I just need to set my to-do list on fire! Problem solved.

I have, in the past year, rediscovered my love for Lionel O-Gauge electric trains. With the help of two of my sons and Polly, I am building a layout in one of our unused bedrooms. And I promise — I really, really do — that once this is done, I am going to rest.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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.

An Email From a Fundamentalist Christian

grumpy cat

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Several years ago, I received an email from a Christian man by the name of Mike Gallagher. Here’s what he had to say:

I’ve noticed in your articles that you have a bitterness toward so-called Baptists. (Hyles, Swaggart, etc.)  I’ve never considered these men to actually be true men of God. ( “by their fruits, ye shall know them”).  If I may, please allow me to state some observations; and I shall make them brief.  I will not preach to you (tho preaching is a form of communication; and in my experience people are afraid to listen to preaching because they are not secure in their core beliefs.)

1.  I perceive that what you had was religion. Sure, you knew about God and all the doctrines and teachings associated with it. (tho I can’t understand how a serious Bible student could get the doctrine of Calvinism out of it. Calvin wasn’t even a Baptist- yet he persecuted them)  You knew about the Bible and studied it and crafted sermons from it. You looked up to and deified(?) men that you admired; even mentored a few. You were also strongly influenced by them, yea, molded by them.  You had the mechanics of all what a Christian life should be – except for one thing..

2.  Relationships.  You know what they are.  You’ve had one with your wife for 37 years.  No doubt you’ve had strong friendships with others for years.  You have a  relationship with your children and grandchildren;  each one individually (I hope).

Relationships consist of 3 essential elements – Trust, Honesty, Commitment.  Long lasting relationships must consist of these.  But the One whom you have not had a relationship is – God. Sure one can study all about Him, know about Him, what men say about Him – but to know Him, ahh is different.  That’s why salvation always comes

First; it’s the actual meeting; the face to face (by faith) contact.  From that point on you get to know Him more (just as the more time you spent with your wife, you got to know her better; and your friends; and your children; etc.).  You’ve always known He was out there but always distant.  You prayed but didn’t know if He answered or not until you saw results – disappointing or otherwise.

He’s a person.  This is why prayer is a  2-way street;  not one sided.  He’s not there just to listen to you – He wants you to listen to Him.

3.  God didn’t forsake you; you forsook Him. The Bible is not a law book – it’s a guide book.  God isn’t the One who’s changed all these years (especially in our generation in America) We are the ones who have “gone astray”.  Can you HONESTLY say we are better off as a society than we were 50 years ago?

Well, I said I would keep it brief.  Hope we can become friends, Bruce. Some of the things you said about our flesh and humanity is true. The Apostle Paul had trouble with his; and David; and Peter; and Samson; and….. you get the idea. If I’m honest with myself, with others and most importantly, with God;  then I feel secure in what I believe. I don’t think that you do.  write soon, come on you know you can’t let this go without a response!

Mike

I will leave it to you to judge the merit of his letter. My response was short, sweet, and to the point:

You are kidding right? Be friends? Why would I want to be friends with someone who is a judgmental, arrogant ass who refuses to allow me to tell my own story on my own terms?

So no, I am not interested in being friends, hearing from you, or anything else. After hundreds of emails just like yours, I hope you will forgive me when I say to people like you, go to Hell.

Bruce

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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 Gods Have Clay Feet: A Few Thoughts About Evangelical Pastors

pastors gods with feet of clay

The Evangelical Christian church has many gods. While Evangelicals will profess to worship the true and living God — the God of the Bible — often their true object of worship is human and not divine. Most Evangelical churches have a congregational form of church government. Some churches have adopted an elder rule form of government. Regardless of what form of government a church adopts, there can be no doubt about who really runs the church. The CEO, the boss man, the head honcho is the pastor — also known as the senior pastor, executive pastor, and prophet, priest and king.

The pastor is the hub upon which the wheel of the church turns. He (there are very few she’s) is the man who runs the show. He sets the course for the church. He is a modern-day Moses leading the church to the Promised Land. He is the visionary with a vision that the church is expected to follow. He is, after all, the man of God. He is divinely called by God, a call that cannot be explained with human words. He is the man of God, given a message by God, to speak to the people of God.

He is a man not to be trifled with. He has been anointed by God. He has been set apart by God to do the most important work in the world. His calling is higher than even that of the President of the United States. The congregation is reminded that the Bible says “touch not mine anointed.” They are also told the story about the Elisha, the mocking boys, and the bears:

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. (2 Kings 2:23, 24)

You have been warned, says God’s man. Say anything negative about the pastor and you run the risk of bears eating you; or cancer, heart attack, accident, or death.

The pastor is the Lone Ranger’s Tonto. He is the Green Hornet’s Bruce. He is Batman’s Robin. God and the pastor are joined at the hip. After all, the pastor has a divine calling; a calling that can’t be explained or revoked. In fact, the only way anyone knows for sure a pastor is God-called is because he says he is.

Most Evangelical churches are independent. Even those who belong to denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention are independent. Each church is a local, autonomous entity, accountable to no one but themselves. The Southern Baptist Convention has a HUGE sex abuse problem, yet little is done by the Convention because each church governs itself. The convention has no power over churches or pastors, or so they conveniently claim.

Since most Evangelical churches are independent, there are few, if any, standards or requirements for starting a church. Anyone can start a church. Anyone can claim to be a pastor. Anyone, Anyone, Anyone. In most states, there are no legal requirements for starting a church. The Federal government, by default, treats churches as exempt from taxation. By default, they receive most of the benefits of 501(c)(3) status without actually applying for it. Starting a church is a con artist’s dream. Just tune into a Christian TV channel for proof of this. There are no educational requirements; no ordination requirements. Anyone can become a pastor. It really is that easy. (Please see What is a Church According to the IRS) and You Can do It: How to Start an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church.)

In charismatic/Pentecostal circles, some pastors have added titles to their name. Not content to be called pastor, they demand that they be called bishop or apostle. Several apostles have set up shop right here in the county I live in. Once again, a man is an apostle or bishop because he says he is. God has imparted to the man a special anointing, a special dose of Holy G-h-o-s-t power that raises the man to a higher level in the church. Or so he says.

Now let me try to tie all this together. I am writing under the anointing right now, so it is hard to put this all together for you common folks. But I will try.

We have independent churches with independent pastors without any checks or balances. A man can start a church whenever and wherever. The church becomes his church, the religious equivalent of a corporation. The pastor is considered divinely called by God because he says he is. How dare anyone question GOD!

This type of religion flourishes in America. We are a people who applaud the entrepreneurial spirit. Starting a church is akin to starting a business. We worship personalities: entertainers, sports figures, preachers, playmate of the month, et al. We are a lazy people, content to let others think for us.

So what do we have? Churches operated by entrepreneurial pastors. These churches are often filled with people who love to worship personalities, and in this case the personality is the pastor. Content to let the pastor think for them, run the show, and speak to them on God’s behalf, many Christians have surrendered their autonomy for a seat at the feet of the most awesome, most handsome pastor in town. And man, does he have a hot wife!

The pastor, then, becomes a god. He is given so much control and power that it is almost impossible to unseat god when the church finds out the pastor has feet of clay. I said almost… Daily news reports of pastors committing crimes, seducing church members, sexually abusing children, and stealing money are too common to be just aberrations. I could write for hours about pastors I know who have scandalous pasts, yet they are still pastors. They just moved down the road and started a new church or they stood their ground and ran off their accusers. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.)

In the 1980s Jack Hyles, at the time pastor of the largest church in the United States, was accused of sexual improprieties with a married woman in his church. The evidence against him was overwhelming. Yet, he successfully withstood his accusers, and when he died two decades later he was still pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. The church that Jack built lost thousands of members, but he remained god until he went the way of all humans. (Please see The Legacy of Jack Hyles.)

Jack Hyles’ son David was also accused of sexual improprieties. He left First Baptist and moved on to another church in Texas — a church his father previously pastored. Not one word of his past peccadilloes was shared with the new church. David Hyles continued his sexual exploits and conquests. He had sex with women in the church and was only exposed after compromising photos were accidentally found by someone in the church.

After Jack Hyles died, his son-in-law, Jack Schaap became the Pastor CEO of  Hyles Industries. Like his father-in-law and brother-in-law, Schaap had a problem with fidelity. Schaap was accused of having sex with a church teenager. He was later convicted, and is now serving a twelve-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.

Aberration? Hardly. In many churches, the pastors have incredible power and control. They become gods. The pastor does the preaching, does the counseling, and is the chairman of the board. Everything goes through him. In some churches, the pastor even checks the tithing records to see who is giving and how much they are giving. One pastor I know well was told by the church treasurer that many of the Christian school teachers were not tithing. The next Sunday he publicly berated the teachers and told them that he was going to have their tithes taken out as a payroll deduction if they didn’t start tithing. Never mind the fact the church paid the teachers poverty wages, and if they tithed, they would be well BELOW the poverty line. I know this to be true because my wife worked for the school in the 1980s (this was back in the day when the church paid male teachers more than female teachers).

One pastor here in northwest Ohio decided one Sunday to preach against the evils of attending the prom. When it came time to preach, he instructed the ushers to lock the sanctuary doors so no one could leave. Everyone was going to hear what he had to say. This same pastor had the deacons secretly follow church members to see what they were up to. Young couples considering having children were encouraged (required?) to counsel with the pastor first before engaging in procreation.

Another pastor in Columbus, Ohio had a portrait of him and his wife hung over the water fountain in the church foyer. He joked “that way every time someone gets a drink they have to bow to me.” Funny? Not when you consider the horrific mental and emotional damage caused by these megalomaniacs.

Children who grow up in Evangelical churches are conditioned to accept that the pastor is the final authority. Even in matters of faith, the Bible is not the final authority, the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible is. The church believes whatever the pastor says the church believes. If he started the church, he likely wrote the church’s doctrinal statement, constitution, and bylaws. He determines what is truth and what is error. Remember he is God-called; God speaks through him. End of discussion.

It should come as no surprise, then, that some men aspire to be pastors for reasons other than serving others. It’s the perfect job. No one to answer to but God, and he seems to never have anything to say. Conscientious, faithful men do wonderful work, loving and serving the church; however, far too many men are corrupted by the power they are given. Some men have ulterior motives, and the pastorate becomes a safe place to hide. I know of men who had irregularities in their past and the pastorate allowed them to keep from being held accountable for their past deeds.

One pastor in Columbus had no social security number. He had not filed an income tax return in years. His church paid him in cash. When the IRS changed reporting requirements, requiring evangelists and special speakers to be given 1099s if paid over a certain amount, some churches began giving evangelists and special speakers (pastors) cash offerings. Many a pastor has received a brown-bag offering. Evangelical preachers have incredible, and quite legal, ways to avoid paying income tax. Some incorporate as a charity or a ministry. The ministry has a “board” that is made up of the pastor’s family or friends. By incorporating, they avail themselves of the tax benefits that corporations receive. Pastors buy cars, trucks, travel trailers, and houses and put them in the church’s name. They receive a tax-free housing allowance. Many pastors have little taxable income, even though they live quite comfortably. It is a great gig if you can get it.

One day, the inevitable happens. The pastor — the god — falls from his exalted throne. Over time, people become disillusioned with the pastor. They take issue with his preaching, his vision, his wife, his children, his theology, his suit, his hairstyle, his entertainments, etc. People tire of pastors just like they do the other gods they worship. Perhaps he commits a grievous sin. He has an affair, steals money from the church, or embraces a teaching that the power brokers in the church consider heresy; heresy being anything they disagree with.

All of a sudden, the church remembers that IT has power. Members recall they can take down their god and vote him out of the church. And so they do . . . The god may fight to keep his power, to keep his throne, but most often he negotiates a settlement package, the conditions of surrender, and moves on to another church. The church promises to never let another pastor have the power that he had.

But then a new god comes to the church. A new vision, a new inside track with God. He is a wonderful preacher. His wife and kids are adorable. He is given the reins of the church and once again a pastor is restored to the throne. And so it goes . . .

In no way do I wish to disparage good men and women who conscientiously serve their churches; people who sacrifice and work selflessly day in day out. But they, most of all, should know that what I write is true. The American Evangelical church is overrun with power-hungry, ambitious men who have an eye on their own kingdom and not God’s. They are the god of the church, not the God they preach about. Sadly it seems, in many cases, this is exactly what the church wants.

While I no longer believe in the Christian God, I did spend 50 years in the church. For many of those years, I was on the inside, knowing its secrets, knowing who did what and where the bodies are buried. I know whereof I speak.  I know what I have seen and what I have done myself in the name of God. I know too much and I have seen too much for it to be anecdotal or coincidental.

I am not sure I have any answers. We can’t look to the structured denominational churches for answers.  They too have their own power-hungry gods. They too have scandals, as is clear for all to see with the scandal-ridden Catholic church. It is hard not to at least question whether the Christian church is hopelessly corrupt. Regardless of the good men and women who serve selflessly, perhaps the church is irreparably broken.

Some people, realizing this, start new movements, but, over time, they most often become just like what they opposed and despised. They organize, men gain power, and over time there are new gods to worship. Perhaps the best we can hope for is individuals who take the ethical and moral teachings of Christ seriously and live accordingly. They steer clear of organized religion. They seek no place of power or authority. They seek only to love God and love their neighbor.

I am convinced that Jesus, real or not, has been lost in the mire and corruption of the modern Christian church. I have little confidence that he can be found. He has been swallowed by a Leviathan called Christianity, and if Jesus appeared today, he would most likely be nailed to a cross by those who say they worship him.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Bruce, You Are Blindly Following the Media

peanut gallery

I recently received the following email from David Hoffman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lowell, Indiana. First Baptist is a King James-only Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregation. Hoffman is a graduate of Hyles-Anderson College — Jack Hyles’ institution of lower learning.

Hoffman wrote:

I read your words about the death of your father-in-law. I am sorry for your loss and the conundrum that you are [sic] your wife try to rectify. I too discovered the hypocrisy, inconsistencies, and perversion of the fundamental Baptist movement. I did not blindly follow them and I do not blindly follow the media hype about the “pandemic.” Your fears of the virus appears [sic] to me that you simply switched from blindly following fundamentalism to the agenda of the media. One has had several months to discover the hypocrisy, inconsistencies, and perversion of the Democrats, leftists, and media outlets. The “pandemic” should be more accurately called the PLANdemic into a globalist society exactly as …. dare I say it …. as the Bible predicted and written by the Rockefeller Foundation in 2010. I am sure Rockefeller and his globalists have our best interest at heart.

I was directly involved with four fundamental pastors who turned out to be narcissists (Hyles, Hyles, Schaap, Miller), but I did not abandon my faith in the Book; in fact, it solidified my faith in the Book because the Book forewarned of these cheap charlatans.

I will leave it to readers to respond to Hoffman. I physically don’t have the energy to school Hoffman about the Coronavirus pandemic. Besides, I do wonder if he is a Christian. Hoffman puts his faith in the King James Bible, not Jesus. In his world, it’s the Bible that says, not Jesus. One wonders how people were saved before 1611 or before the invention of the printing press or before the New Testament was written and collated?

Want to learn more about Hoffman’s Bibliodolatry? Please read a letter written by him on HACAlumni.com.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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, Are Your Wife and Children Atheists?

gerencser family 2018

Bob asks:

I had been wondering about this question and since you touched on it in this blog I wanted to ask, and it is about your wife’s stand on Christianity in general and her standing today for herself.

You mention that she walked away from church when you did. So my questions are:

Has she turned towards atheism as well? If she did, was it at the same time as you or later on?

If she did turn away from Christianity, how much of an influence were you with her denying her faith in Christ?

If she has become an atheist, doesn’t it seem odd that two completely committed Christians in the same family like this would just walk away and become atheists? I can see one, but I think the odds of two would be very high. I’m thinking this only because of the depth of commitments people make to their Christian faith. Walk away from church? Yes. But both turn to atheism?

These questions are only being asked if she has become an atheist.

Also, where do your kids stand with Christianity at this point?

Typically, I don’t answer questions about what my wife and children believe about God/Jesus/Christianity/Atheism. This blog is simply one man with a story to tell. Where the lives of my family intersect with the telling of my story, I am comfortable writing about them. However, when it comes to what they specifically believe and how they live out those beliefs, I leave it to Polly and our children to tell their own stories. And the same goes for me too when they are asked about or confronted over something I have said or written. My family has been accosted at work, college, and while shopping by Christian zealots demanding that they answer for something I have written on this blog or for the local newspaper. Typically, my family tells such people that they don’t answer for me, and the best way to get their questions answered is to contact me directly.

That said, I would like to briefly answer Bob’s questions.

Yes, Polly and I walked away from Christianity together. This should come as no surprise since Polly and I have been doing virtually everything together for the past forty-four years. We not only love one another, we also really like each other, 98.9 percent of the time, anyway (inside joke).

We have been married for more than forty-two years. I can count on two hands the days we have been apart from one another. While each of us has hobbies and the like that the other isn’t interested in, for the most part we have shared interests. Polly is my best friend. Why would I want to spend time with anyone else? Our marriage certainly isn’t perfect. Stick around for a fight and you’ll think we really don’t like each other. However, disagreements quickly come and go, and then we sit down, eat dinner, drink a glass of wine, and watch whatever TV show is currently our favorite. The Bible says to not let the sun go down on your wrath, and we have practiced this maxim for almost five decades.

Thus, when we began to seriously question the central claims of Christianity, we spent countless hours talking about our beliefs and the Bible. I would read passages from books and we would discuss what I had read. While I certainly read a lot more books than Polly did — which has, until recent years, always been the case — she did a good bit of reading herself.

Our discussions were honest, open, and forthright. No demands were made of the other. Neither of us, at first, knew exactly where we were headed. We knew that we were done with organized Christianity, but the future remained volatile and uncertain.

A week or so after we left the Ney United Methodist Church, we gathered our children together to talk with them about where we were in life. Remember, our six children were raised in a devout Evangelical Christian home. Their father and mother had been in the ministry their entire lives. Their father was the only pastor they had ever known. When we told our children that we were leaving Christianity, they were aghast over what that meant. I had been the family patriarch. Our children never had the freedom to decide whether or not to go to church. It was expected. Now they were being told that there were no expectations; that they were free to go to church, not go to church, worship God, not worship God, etc. In other words, I cut my children loose from their ties to their patriarchal father (though our three oldest sons had already begun to move away from the control I had over their lives).

I must admit that those first few months after this meeting were difficult, as our children tried to imagine life for their parents post-Jesus. Twelve years later, I wish I could say that all these difficulties are gone, but there remains some tension over my outspokenness on matters of God, Bible, and faith. While my family is happy to be free of the family patriarch, some of them don’t seem to want to grant their mother and me the same freedom. Such is the tension that will always be there when a family is an admixture of religious beliefs and unbelief.

In early 2009, I sent out the widely circulated letter, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you has an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and decisions I made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually every fiber of my being.

I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the church was my life would be an understatement.  As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress, and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known this for a long time, but now everyone will know.

The church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies have led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. Particularly, I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is.

I have no time to invest in the blame game. I am where I am today for any number of reasons and I must embrace where I am and move forward.

In moving forward, I have stopped attending church. I have not attended a church service since November of 2008. I have no interest of desire in attending any church on a regular basis. This does not mean I will never attend a church service again, but it does mean, for NOW, I have no intention of attending church services.

I pastored for the last time in 2003. Almost six years have passed by. I have no intentions of ever pastoring again. When people ask me about this I tell them I am retired. With the health problems that I have it is quite easy to make an excuse for not pastoring, but the fact is I don’t want to pastor.

People continue to ask me “what do you believe?” Rather than inquiring about how my life is, the quality of that life, etc., they reduce my life to what I believe. Life becomes nothing more than a set of religious constructs. A good life becomes believing the right things.

I can tell you this…I believe God is…and that is the sum of my confession of faith.

A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.

I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones. I am a committed progressive, liberal Democrat, with the emphasis being on the progressive and liberal. My evolving views on women, abortion, homosexuality, war, socialism, social justice, and the environment have led me to the progressive, liberal viewpoint.

I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, She is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye opener.

Polly is free to be whomever and whatever she wishes. If she wants to start attending the local Fundamentalist Baptist church she is free to do so, and even has my blessing. For now, she doesn’t.  She may never believe as I believe, but in my new way of thinking that is OK. I really don’t care what others think. Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you living a good, productive life? Do you enjoy life? Yes, to these questions is good enough for me.

I have six children, three of whom are out on their own. For many years I was the spiritual patriarch of the family. Everyone looked to me for the answers. I feel somewhat burdened over my children. I feel as if I have left them out on their own with no protection. But, I know they have good minds and can think and reason for themselves. Whatever they decide about God, religion, politics, or American League baseball is fine with me.

All I ask of my wife and children is that they allow me the freedom to be myself, that they allow me to journey on in peace and love. Of course, I still love a rousing discussion about religion, the Bible, politics, etc. I want my family to know that they can talk to me about these things, and anything else for that matter, any time they wish.

Opinions are welcome. Debate is good. All done? Let’s go to the tavern and have a round on me. Life is about the journey, and I want my wife and children to be a part of my journey and I want to be a part of theirs.

One of the reasons for writing this letter is to put an end to the rumors and gossip about me. Did you know Bruce is/or is not_____________? Did you know Bruce believes____________? Did you know Bruce is a universalist, agnostic, atheist, liberal ___________?

For you who have been friends or former parishioners I apologize to you if my change has unsettled you, or has caused you to question your own faith. That was never my intent.

The question is, what now?

Family and friends are not sure what to do with me.

I am still Bruce. I am still married. I am still your father, father in-law, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and son-in-law. I would expect you to love me as I am and treat me with respect.

Here is what I don’t want from you:

Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?

Constant reminders that you are praying for me. Please don’t think of me as unkind, but I don’t care that you are praying for me. I find no comfort, solace, or strength from your prayers. Be my friend if you can, pray if you must, but leave the prayers in the closet. As long as God gets your prayer message, that will be sufficient.

Please don’t send me books, tracts, or magazines. You are wasting your time and money.

Invitations to attend your Church. The answer is NO. Please don’t ask. I used to attend Church for the sake of family, but no longer. It is hypocritical for me to perform a religious act of worship just for the sake of family. I know how to find a Church if I am so inclined, after all I have visited more than 125 churches since 2003.

Offers of a church to pastor. It is not the lack of a church to pastor that has led me to where I am. If I would lie about what I believe, I could be pastoring again in a matter of weeks. I am not interested in ever pastoring a church again.

Threats about judgment and Hell. I don’t believe in either, so your threats have no impact on me .

Phone calls. If you are my friend you know I don’t like talking on the phone. I have no interest in having a phone discussion about my religious or political views.

Here is what I do want from you:

I want you to unconditionally love me where I am and how I am.

That’s it.

Now I realize some (many) of you won’t be able to do that. My friendship, my familial relationship with you is cemented with the glue of Evangelical orthodoxy. Remove the Bible, God, and fidelity to a certain set of beliefs and there is no basis for a continued relationship.

I understand that. I want you to know I have appreciated and enjoyed our friendship over the years. I understand that you can not be my friend any more. I even understand you may have to publicly denounce me and warn others to stay away from me for fear of me contaminating them with my heresy. Do what you must. We had some wonderful times together and I will always remember those good times.

You are free from me if that is your wish.

I shall continue to journey on. I can’t stop. I must not stop.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Bruce

This letter, of course, caused a firestorm of epic proportions, one that is burning to this day. My life and career went up in smoke, with countless Evangelical friends, family members, and colleagues in the ministry, standing on the sidelines cheering as I burned.

As you can tell from the letter, I still believed in some sort of deity — a deistic God, perhaps? However, by the end of 2009, I was calling myself an atheist. Polly, on the other hand, embraced agnosticism. Her reasons for leaving Christianity are very different from mine, but that story is hers to tell.

I read in Bob’s question an accusation of sorts, one I have heard countless times: that Polly doesn’t think for herself; that’s she is an unbeliever today because I am. Out of all the things that people have said about us over the past twelve years, this by far is the most offensive (and perhaps Bob didn’t mean to be offensive, so I am going give him the benefit of the doubt). For the record, Polly is a college-educated woman. She graduated second in her high school class. To suggest that she is a lemming following in my footsteps is absurd. Granted, Polly is quiet and reserved, and I am not. This fact might lead people to false conclusions. Here’s what I know: Polly knows exactly why she no longer believes in the Christian God. Her reasons for deconverting are somewhat different from mine, but she is far more hostile towards organized religion than I am. Again, perhaps she will share why this is so someday.

We have six children and thirteen grandchildren. Currently, one of our sons attends a Fundamentalist Baptist church, one son attends the Catholic church with his family, and the rest of our children are largely indifferent towards religion. I suspect the NONE label best describes them. While none of our children has publicly said they are an agnostic or an atheist, they are certainly anti-Evangelical and generally adverse to the machinations of American Christianity. Politically, outside of the son who attends a Fundamentalist Baptist church, our children are progressives and liberals, with a smidge of conservatism and libertarianism stirred in. This is as specific as I can be without trampling on their right to control their own storyline. I respect the boundaries we have set, and if one of them ever decided to tell their story, I hope they will let me publish it here.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Short Stories: Anderson Honda

1976 honda civic

When I pulled into the driveway of the dorm at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in August 1976, I already had a job waiting for me at Kroger in Rochester Hills. I had worked for several small grocery companies before moving to Pontiac. I was excited about the opportunity I had to work for a large company. Unfortunately, the job was part-time, and I quickly learned that what I made at Kroger wasn’t enough to pay my bills.

I knew I could get a full-time union job at GM’s Truck and Coach plant. Someone in charge of hiring at Truck and Coach was connected with the college and Emmanuel Baptist Church — the megachurch pastored by Midwestern’s founder and chancellor, Tom Malone. All a male student had to do was go to the registrar’s office and put his name on a list. I hated factory work — though I would work in many factories during my time at Midwestern and the first two years of my marriage. Hoping to avoid repetitive manual labor, I looked for non-factory unemployment.

A professor at Midwestern also worked as a service writer for nearby Anderson Honda, as did the wife of the dean of men. One day, this professor asked me if I would be interested in working as a mechanic at Anderson’s. He had heard that I fixed cars for dorm students (and my own rolling wrecks), and thought I might be interested in turning a wrench for the local Honda dealer. The job was full-time and paid, if I remember right, $7 an hour. I quickly said, YES!

It didn’t take me long to learn that I was long on ambition and short on skill; that I was a minnow in a sea of sharks — men who had years of experience and tool boxes bigger than my car — or so it seemed, anyway. Due to my inexperience, I was given jobs such as oil changes, new car prep, and brake repairs. While I was disappointed that I was given the shit jobs, I did thoroughly enjoy the work.

I noticed several things that perplexed this naive country boy. First, the dean of men’s wife dressed very differently at Anderson’s than she did at school. It was not uncommon to see her in tight slacks and form-fitting blouses. Such clothing was forbidden at Midwestern. Her dress certainly caught the attention of the men in the shop.

Second, I noticed that this attractive woman and the college professor/service writer were overtly friendly with one another. I mean, really, really, really friendly. Do you see where I am going here? Yep, they were having an affair, and their “sin” would soon become public knowledge.

One day, I was summoned to Tom Malone’s office at the church. I had never been to his office before, I wondered what Malone could possibly want to talk to me about. I played basketball with “Doc” on Sunday nights after church — especially when Polly, my wife-to-be, was traveling with one of the college’s music groups. So I “knew” Malone, but really didn’t know him very well. In fact, I feared him.

Malone had me come into his office and asked me to sit down. After making a bit of chit-chat, he told me that he wanted me to quit my job at Anderson Honda. When Malone saw that I was puzzled by his demand, he told me that I was just going to have to take his word for it that quitting was “best” for me. Now, “Doc” wasn’t asking me to quit. This was an order from on high, and saying NO was not an option. No one said NO to Tom Malone.

I dutifully quit my job. After I did so, I learned about the aforementioned affair. I figured that Malone didn’t want me anywhere near these “sinners.” I also learned the owner of the dealership had a falling out with Malone. I suspect Malone didn’t want anyone associated with Midwestern working at Anderson’s. Petty? You bet it was.

I worked a number of jobs after working at Anderson Honda. None of them paid as well as the $7 an hour I made as a mechanic.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Short Stories: The Preacher Goes to the XXX Movie House

xxx

I grew up in rural Northwest Ohio. We didn’t have XXX movie houses or strip clubs. In Bryan, Ohio, only two establishments sold adult magazines. I was nineteen and a student at Midwestern Baptist College before I perused my first pornographic magazine. I suspect many of the young men studying at Midwestern had similar experiences. Our rural, small-town cultures sheltered us from the perversity found in big cities, as did the hellfire and brimstone preaching of the churches we came from. Sexual naïveté ran wild at Midwestern, and the college’s answer was to regularly preach against sexual sin, hoping that doing so would keep students from sexual temptation.

Pontiac, Michigan was a dirty, dying industrial town. Its downtown area had numerous adult entertainment establishments, including a XXX movie house that played the latest pornographic movies and hosted amateur night stripper contests. It was not uncommon to see a dozen or more prostitutes plying their trade on downtown Pontiac street corners. One woman who comes to mind was a rather large woman with huge DDDDDDDD breasts. She would briskly walk the streets braless, breasts bouncing chin to belly button. It was quite a sight to behold.

As you might surmise, downtown Pontiac was a magnet for young, virile, horny Baptist boys. The personal contact rules (please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule) at Midwestern forbade physical contact between dating couples. No hand-holding. No kissing. No hugging. No nothing. Students were required to stay six inches away from their boyfriends/girlfriends at all times. Of course, students broke the six-inch rule with impunity, causing all sorts of guilt and fear. The good news was that Jesus was only a prayer away. That’s the Baptist way: sin, ask for forgiveness, promise never to sin again — wash, rinse, repeat. It’s a great way to live.

One night, after much prayer and temptation, I decided to check out the fine art films at the XXX movie house. I parked away from the theater, thinking that if anyone who knew me drove by, they wouldn’t see my car. As I walked from my car to the movie house, I could “feel” the “Holy Spirit” telling me, Don’t do it, Bruce. God says it’s a sin. The Bible says it’s a sin. Your pastor says it’s a sin. Your dorm supervisor says it’s a sin. Your preschool Sunday School teacher says it’s a sin. All these voices in my head, but one voice stood above all others — mine. I wanted to do this. I was curious about what was behind the theater’s doors. And so I made my way to the theater’s entrance, paid my admission, and found a seat at the back of the theater.

The first act of the night was an amateur stripping contest. Local young women — some of them prostitutes — stripped and paraded back and forth on the stage. This was the first time I had ever seen a woman naked. I battled conflicting emotions. On one hand, I felt guilty. I was breaking the law of God, and I was violating college rules. On the other hand, I felt excitement — sexual excitement. It was my first time seeing a woman’s body in all its glory — as naked as Eve in the Garden of Eden. What more can I say? After all of the women had performed, judges determined the first, second, and third place winners. The winners were given cash prizes.

Then it was time for the feature film. As with the amateur contest, the movie definitely exposed me to sexual things I had never seen before. Needless to say, I was fascinated by what I saw. I am sure some readers of the Evangelical persuasion are thinking, Oh my God Bruce, you were taken in by Satan’s greatest temptation — lust. I bet you couldn’t keep from doing this again, right? Sorry to disappoint you. This was my first and last trip to the XXX movie house in downtown Pontiac. I would later marry a beautiful dark-haired girl who was a wonder to behold in her own right. Why look from afar when you can see, touch, and well, you know . . .

The highlight of the evening came not on the stage, but as I was leaving the theater. As I exited and turned my head to the right I saw, much to my surprise, a graduate of Midwestern and deacon at Emmanuel Baptist Church (the church college students were required to attend). Our eyes met, and then both of us quickly turned away, pretending that we had never seen the other. This man and his wife were good friends of Polly’s parents. When their names came up in family discussions years later, I so wanted to say . . . boy do I have a story to tell!

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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.