Tag Archive: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist

Why Baptists Let President Trump Sign Their Bibles

Bible signed by President Donald Trump

While touring tornado-ravaged Alabama last week, Donald Trump visited Providence Baptist Church (a Southern Baptist congregation) in Opelika. According to the Washington Post, the President received a hero’s welcome:

The president was granted a hero’s welcome in the corridor of a state that overwhelmingly supported him in 2016.

Inside a Baptist church, the president autographed at least two Bibles for an adoring horde of volunteers, who were packed eight-deep around tables of recovery supplies. Thousands waved and cheered along the roadways, some paved and some not, with nary a protester in sight. Crowds greeted him in a wrecked neighborhood with MAGA (Make America Great Again) signs, Trump chants and a mannequin decorated with Trump merchandise outside a crushed home.

“I’d vote for him again,” said Ada Ingram, a local resident, in the annex of Providence Baptist Church serving as a shelter. She said proudly that Trump had signed Bibles belonging to her sister and a 12-year-old volunteer, who drew uproarious cheers when he posed for a picture with Trump. She called the president a “godsend.”

“He signed his Bible!” she exclaimed

Many people were upset over Trump signing his name on Bibles. “Is he the author of the Bible?” one man rhetorically asked. Of course not, but neither are the men this man thinks ARE the authors. Most of the books of the Bible are written by unknown authors. Of course, this fact is not preached from Evangelical pulpits. Preachers mustn’t ever say or do anything that would cause parishioners to doubt that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God.

Those upset over Trump “defacing” the Word of God are ignorant of Evangelical Baptist church culture. It is not uncommon for Bible owners to write inside their Bibles: the date/time/place they were saved, the date/place they were baptized, and their life verse.

Life verse? “What the hell is a life verse?” liberal and progressive Christians ask. A life verse is a passage of Scripture that is your governing statement. My life verse was Proverbs 3:5,6:

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

This passage of Scripture set forth how I wanted to live my life:

  • Trust in the Lord with my whole heart
  • Don’t trust my own reasoning and understanding
  • In everything I do, I will acknowledge God

And if I did these things, God would direct my path.

Congregants — especially children and teens — are also encouraged to have famous preachers sign their Bibles. I wasn’t into having my Bible signed, but I knew countless people who would wait in long lines to have a famous pastor or evangelist shake their hand and sign their name to the person’s Bible. This practice was common in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist and Southern Baptist churches. There was nothing about what Trump did that was out of the ordinary. If blame rests on anyone, it rests on the people asking him to sign their Bibles. Having Trump sign their Bibles is like having King David sign their Bibles right after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. Trump is a despicable human being, yet some of the Evangelicals at Providence Baptist think differently.

Trevor Noah, of The Daily Show fame, perhaps summed it up best when he said:

I’m just slightly confused why anyone would want him to [sign their Bible]. Because seeing Trump’s autograph on a Bible should be like seeing a picture of your own mom on the cover of a Penthouse magazine. It should render the whole thing useless, and if you keep reading after discovering it, you’re going directly to hell.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Twenty-Six Questions From the Search Logs

good question

Twenty-Six Questions From the Search Logs

What follows is a list questions from the search logs. These questions are a handful of the thousands of Google search queries people use to get to this site. In this post, I plan to “answer” these “important” questions. Let these search questions remind you of how Evangelical beliefs can and do psychologically harm people. If this is not the case, then why-oh-why would a rational person ask such questions? No, my friend, Evangelical beliefs hinder critical thinking. How could they not? When a Bronze Age religious text is your go-to book, is it any surprise people end up fretting over the things mentioned in these questions?

Snarkiness and cussing ahead! You have been warned. Now, go and sin!

Is Bethel Church in Redding, California a cult?

Yes, Bethel Church in Redding is a cult. Every crazy, irrational Evangelical/Charismatic belief and practice can be found at Bethel. Bethelmania has spread far and wide, it seems.  A nearby church pastored by Tim and Lisa Hacker has changed its name to Bethel. The Hackers, members of the Bethel Leaders Network, believe God wants them to “make things on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

My advice to people wanting to hook up with the nutters at Bethel Church in Redding is simple: RUN!

Please read Bethel Redding: A Dangerous Evangelical Cult.

Why are Evangelicals so mean?

Evangelicals are mean because their God is mean. All one needs to do is read the Bible to find the ‘Mean God.” This God is the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the universe; meaner than Satan himself. Not that God or Satan exists, but if they did . . .

Evangelicals preach up love, joy, peace, and tithing, but their behavior suggests that they don’t practice what they preach.

Why are Evangelicals so hateful?

Evangelicals are hateful because their God is hateful. All one needs to do is read the Bible to find the ‘Hateful God.” This God is the most hateful asshole in the universe; more hateful than Satan himself. Not that God or Satan exists, but if they did . . .

Evangelicals preach up love, joy, peace, and tithing, but their behavior suggests that they don’t practice what they preach.

Where is David Hyles today?

Hopefully, David Hyles is under a rock somewhere, fearing further exposure of his vile and criminal behavior. Why would anyone want to know where Hyles’ is today? Passionately unrepentant, Hyles is attempting a comeback of sorts.  My goal in life is whack him on the head every time he pops his head up from the rock he is currently hiding under.

Please read UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been RestoredDavid Hyles Says My Bad, JesusIs All Forgiven for David Hyles?Serial Adulterer David Hyles Receives a Warm Longview Baptist Temple Welcome, and Disgraced IFB Preacher David Hyles Helping Fallen Pastors Get Back on Their Horses

Is kissing your boyfriend a sin?

Think about this question for a moment. Humans are naturally sexual beings. It is very human to desire to kiss someone you are attracted to. If God is your creator, why did he give you sexual desire and then expect you not to act on it? Silly, right?  Any church/sect that demands you refrain from kissing before marriage is a cult. My advice? RUN!

Please read Is it a Sin to Kiss Your Boyfriend? and Hey Girlfriend: Is it a Sin to Kiss Your Boyfriend?

What is the name of the Ohio preacher who became an atheist?

Bruce Gerencser. You can find everything you would ever want to know about him here. Beware! Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers believe Gerencser is a tool of Satan, a destroyer of the faith once delivered to the saints. His writing has been known to cause fear, doubt, gas, and loss of faith.

How do atheists handle death?

Every atheist is different, so I can’t speak for all atheists. That said, death is inevitable. It stalks all of us, and will one day — all too soon — catch us. Worrying about death is a waste of time. Here’s the advice I give to people to ask such questions:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Please read How Does an Atheist Handle the Death of a Loved One?

Who won’t make it to Heaven?

No one will make it to Heaven. Heaven (and Hell) are fictional places used by clerics to ensure congregants remain faithful. They use a carrot-stick approach. Heaven is the carrot, and Hell is the stick. Without the promise of eternal life in Heaven (or the threat of Hell) after death, most churches would close. Why bother with getting up on Sundays, giving ten percent of your income to the church, and listening to boring sermons if there’s no life after death?

Why are black women more loyal to their pastors than their husbands?

I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that black female Evangelicals are quite devoted to their pastors and churches. Pastors can commit all sorts of crimes, yet there is Sister Bertha and the Missionary Union standing behind them, faithful unto the end. I suspect this has to do with being taught to submit to male religious authorities.

Perhaps someone who spent years in a black church can better answer this question.

Why do some pastors stop believing in God?

Where oh where to I begin? Please read the posts on the WHY page for more information on why I divorced Jesus in 2008.

Is Christopher Hitchens in Hell?

Of course not. There is no such thing as Hell, silly boy. Please read Christopher Hitchens is in Hell

Is it a sin for a man to have long hair?

I see IFB preachers are still preaching against long hair on men. Any man focused on your physical appearance is a cultist (and a creep). His goal is to control you though demanding you look and dress a certain way. Please read Is it a Sin for a Man to Have Long Hair?

Was Jack Hyles a false prophet?

The short answer is yes.  Please read The Legacy of Jack HylesThe Scandalous Life of Jack Hyles and Why it Still MattersThe Mesmerizing Appeal of Jack Hyles, and Sexual Abuse and the Jack Hyles Rule: If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen

Is the IFB a cult?

Yes. All churches and sects, by definition, are cults. That said, IFB churches and pastors often use psychological manipulation and religious indoctrination to control congregants. My advice is simple: RUN! There are plenty of kinder, gentler, human-affirming flavors of Christianity. Check them out. You need not stay in the IFB cult.

Here’s the dictionary definition of the word cult:

  • An interest followed with exaggerated zeal.
  • A system of religious beliefs and rituals.
  • A religion or sect that is generally considered to be unorthodox, extremist, or false.
  • Followers of an unorthodox, extremist, or false religion or sect who often live outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.
  • Followers of an exclusive system of religious beliefs and practices.

Need I say more?

Should IFB wives obey their husbands without question?

Back in my IFB days, I would have said yes, with one qualification: wives do not have to obey commands that are contrary to the Bible. That said, men are far smarter than women, stronger too. I read that in the Bible, so it must be true, right? (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

Should churches get rid of their youth programs?

Yes, immediately. Don’t pass GO, don’t collect $200. Please read Dear Evangelical Church Leaders: It’s Time to Get Rid of Your Youth Pastors and Youth Departments

Why are Baptists not allowed to play cards?

Many Baptists think playing cards of any kind is a sin. The first church I worked in almost had a split over card playing. Here’s how one Fundamentalist site explains why card playing is sinful:

Playing cards, like reading your horoscope, has become a joke or just a game. However, the Lord does not look at it as a joke or game. There are serious consequences for reading your horoscope as well as using cards or just having them in your home. It has been said that nicknames for a deck of cards is “The Devil’s Bible” and “The Devil’s Picture Book”. At one time the church took a strong stand against the card game. Until recently preachers and churches warned about the dangers of cards.

Some of the most common places you will find a deck of cards (besides our homes) will be with prostitutes, gamblers, thieves, murderers, in taverns, brothels, prisons, insane asylums, gambling dens, etc., but never at a prayer meeting.

The king represents Satan, Prince of Darkness, usurper and foe of our Lord Jesus Christ. The ten card is for the Spirit of lawlessness, in opposition to the moral law in the Word of God. In 1300, clubs were the chief weapons used by murderers, therefore this suit represents the Spirit of Murder and death by violence. The jack represents the lustful libertine, from pimp to adulterer and whoremonger, a moral leper whose chief ambition is to gratify sensual fleshly lusts. The queen represents Mary, Mother of Jesus, but in the card language she is called Mother of Harlots. The joker represents Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Joker means fool and therefore Jesus is held up to ridicule. The joker is said to be the offspring of licentious jack and the queen, Mother of Harlots.

All other cards also have hidden obscene and blasphemous meanings. Nine-tenths of all gambling today is done with these cards. Witches, psychics, and satan-worshipers use playing cards for divination and to cast spells and curses. Born-again believers should not want to be in contact with such a tool of Satan. In Deuteronomy 7:26 we are told not to have abominable things in our homes. It will bring a curse on you and your household. It is time that Christians clean house and destroy the hidden works of darkness.

Is it ever okay to lie?

Yes. Please read Is it Ever Okay to Lie?

Is masturbation a sin?

Many Evangelicals believe masturbating is sinful. In their “clean” minds, since masturbation requires “lust” for matters to rise to the occasion, it is a sexual sin rooted in pride. Not pride over penis size. Everyone knows Evangelical men have small dicks (and Evangelical women never, ever ring the Devil’s doorbell). Since masturbation is generally a solo act, it is wrongly focused on prideful self-gratification. Besides, masturbation will make you blind.

Again, such beliefs are all about control. Evangelicals hold to Puritanical beliefs on sex. No sex before marriage, and that includes masturbation. Silly, I know, but many people believe masturbation to be every bit as sinful as fornication.  If this is so, skip spanking the meat and go straight to intercourse. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun!

Please read Good Baptist Boys Don’t Masturbate, Oh Yes, They Do!

Is Game of Thrones pornographic?

No, and only people who have never seen porn think it is. Yes, GOT has a good bit of nudity (and dragons). But, pornographic? Nope. Want to see REAL porn? Ask your pastor for a list of his favorite porn websites. Maybe, the both of you can check them out together. Nothing better for the soul than searching YouPorn with your preacher.

What religion approves of incest?

Christianity. It is, after all, in the Bible.

How do you witness to an atheist?

You don’t. True-blue atheists are NOT good evangelistic targets, especially if they were previously Christian. There are so many souls in need of saving. Why not go after the low-hanging fruit instead of wasting your time with people who know the score and have zero interest in your Gods?

Please read How to Witness to an Atheist

Is wearing leggings a sin?

No. Now, it may not be becoming for you to wear them. Spend an evening at the local Walmart and you see women who should never, ever attempt to put their size 22 ass in a size 12 pair of leggings. That’s just my personal opinion, so if you want to wear leggings, go for it. Don’t let ANYONE tell you how to dress, especially religious authority figures. Remember, their goal is not social propriety, it’s control.

Please read Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Wearing Leggings is a Sin

Why do liberals hate Evangelicals?

I am a liberal and I don’t hate Evangelicals. I do, however, hate Evangelical beliefs. I know a lot of nice, kind, thoughtful Evangelicals who have horrible, anti-human, anti-progress, anti-science beliefs. Such beliefs deserve a swift death, and I plan to do my part in smothering the life out of them. To use a common Evangelical cliché: I love the Evangelical, but hate the beliefs.

Why doesn’t God stop abortion?

Good question, why doesn’t he? Keep asking yourself that question until you exit the church doors into the fresh air of reason and freedom. God doesn’t stop abortion because he can’t. God doesn’t exist, so how can he stop anything? That why there is war, starvation, sexual violence and other calamities. It’s up to us to fix these problems, not God.

Where is Bruce Gerencser?

Right here. Not dead. Not in Hell. Seek and ye shall find. And please, God dammit, spell my last name correctly when you are using a search engine to locate me. Gerencser, how hard can it be? It’s Hungarian by the way, not that I am, in any way, Hungarian. I am the milk man’s son.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

The Four Ws of the IFB

four-ws-ifb

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement began in the 1950s as a response to theological liberalism among American and Southern Baptists. Pastors pulled churches out of their respective denominations and declared themselves INDEPENDENT. In the 1960s and 1970s, many of the Top 100 churches in America attendance-wise were IFB churches. The largest church in the country was an IFB church — First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, pastored by Jack Hyles. All across America, IFB big-shots held conferences to motivate and inspire preachers to do great exploits for God. A lot of emphasis was placed on church attendance. John R. Rice, an IFB evangelist and the editor of  The Sword of the Lord, is famous for saying, there’s nothing wrong with pastoring a SMALL church — for a while. Rice, Hyles, and countless other big-name IFB preachers believed a sure sign of God’s blessing on a church and a pastor’s ministry was increase in attendance — especially a steady stream of unsaved visitors filling the pews.

IFB churches used poor children as a vehicle by which to drive up attendance. Bus ministries were all the craze in the 1960s-1980s. IFB megachurches ran hundreds of buses, bringing thousands of people — mostly poor children — to their services. Churches ran all sorts of promotions and gimmicks to attract bus riders — world’s largest banana split, hamburger Sunday, and free bike giveaway, to name a few. Once at church, children were shuffled off to junior church programs. Teens and adults usually attended the main worship service. IFB churches often had programs to “reach” deaf people and the developmentally disabled (or “retard church,” as it was called back in the day). The goal of all of these programs was to bring hordes of unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines to the church so they would hear the gospel and be saved.

I pastored the Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio for over eleven years. I started the church in 1983 with sixteen people. By the end of 1987, church attendance neared 200 — quite a feat in a poverty-stricken rural area. Somerset Baptist was the largest non-Catholic church in the county. At the height of the church’s attendance growth, we operated four Sunday bus routes. Each week, buses brought in a hundred or so riders, mostly poor children from the surrounding four county area. We also ran a bus route on Sunday night for teenagers. For several years, Somerset Baptist Church was THE place to be. There was a buzz in the services as visitors got saved and baptized. All told, over 600 people put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. And that was the primary goal. A good service was one during which multiple sinners came forward to be saved and repentant Christians lined the altar getting “right” with God.

During my IFB years, I attended numerous soulwinning conferences. These meetings were geared towards motivating pastors and churches to win souls for Christ. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s. One of the songs we sang in chapel went something like this:

Souls for Jesus is our battle cry
Souls for Jesus we’ll fight until we die
We never will give in while souls are lost in sin
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry

Midwestern held annual soulwinning contests. The student bagging the most souls for Jesus received an award. Founded by Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church in the 1950s, Midwestern’s goal was to turn out soulwinning church planters. Students were required to attend church at Emmanuel. This provided the church with hundreds of people to run their bus routes, Sunday school, and other ministries. During the 1970s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the United States, with a high attendance of over 5,000. (Today, Emmanuel is defunct.) Everything about the church and college revolved around evangelizing the lost. Students were required to evangelize door-to-door, seeking out lost sinners needing salvation. My favorite story from my days pounding the pavement in Pontiac came one Saturday when a young couple decided to give the two young men banging on their door a surprise. You never knew how people might respond to you when you knocked on their doors, but this couple so shocked us that we literally had nothing to say. You see, they answered the door stark naked!

What follows is the Four Ws plan many (most) IFB churches followed – Win them, Wet them, Work them, Waste them.

Win Them

The goal was to evangelize unsaved people. “Unsaved” included Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and countless other liberal or non-IFB sects.  My goal as a pastor was to go out into the community and knock on every door, hoping that I could share the gospel.

Wet Them

The first step of “obedience” we told new converts was to be baptized by immersion. New converts were encouraged to be baptized right away. Typically, IFB churches had/have a lot more new converts than they do new baptisms. There was a joke that went something like this: why do IFB churches baptize people the same Sunday they are saved? Because most of the new converts will never attend church again! IFB churches go through a tremendous amount of membership churn. It is not uncommon for churches to turn over their entire memberships every five or so years. I was taught not to worry about the churn. Just make sure more people were coming in the front door than were leaving the out the back door.

Work Them

Once people were saved and baptized, they were given a to-do list: pray every day, read the Bible every day, attend church every time the doors are open, tithe and give offerings, witness, and find a “ministry” to work in. Many IFB congregants were pilloried over not working hard enough for Jesus. Pew warmers were subjected to guilt-inducing sermons, reminders that Christians would want to be found busy working for Jesus when he comes again. No matter how much I tried to get congregants to join me in the work of the ministry, most of them showed up on Sundays, threw some money in the offering plate, listened to my sermons, and repeated the same things week after week. There was, however, a core group of people who drank the Kool-Aid, so to speak. Along with their pastor, they worked, worked, worked. The same group attended every service, gave most of the money, and staffed the church’s ministries. They were, as I was, True Believers®.

Waste Them

Eventually, the work, work, work pace wore out even the best of people, myself included. I have no doubt my health problems began back in the days when I believed it was “better to burn out for Jesus than rust out.” I worked night and day, as did the people who followed in my steps. Over time, preacher and parishioners alike ran out of steam. Ironically, the steam venting happened at Somerset Baptist around the time I embraced Calvinism. It was Calvinism, in many ways, that rescued me from the drive and grind of the IFB church movement. Over time, church attendance declined as we stopped running the buses and people moved on to other, more “exciting,” churches. Instead of being focused on evangelization, I set my sights on teaching congregants the Bible through expository preaching. We still were evangelistic, but gone were the days when we were focused on numbers. It was Calvinism that allowed me to take a deep breath and relax a bit — that is, until I moved to Texas be the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf. For the short time I was in Texas, it was Somerset Baptist all over again, with a Calvinistic twist. I hit the ground running, starting new ministries and churches. Seven months later, I crashed, moving back to Ohio to lick my wounds.

People aren’t meant to be worked night and day. Eventually, they burn out. That’s what happened to me. I truly thought Jesus wanted me to work non-stop for him. However, I learned way too late that we humans need rest and time away from the grind. Many of my pastor friends figured this out long before I did. I considered them lazy, indifferent to the lost in their communities (and some of them were). However, they understood the importance of maintaining their health and spending time with their families. While I eventually came to understand the importance of these things, I wasted the better years of my life.

Were you an IFB pastor or church member? Did your church follow the four Ws? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Why Southern Baptist and IFB Churches Will Never Fix Their Sex Abuse Problem

jd greear

J.D. Greear, current president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) said:

Having an SBC database places pastors in an investigative role that we do not have the expertise or objectivity to fill. Managing the database alone poses significant problems. In fact, pushing for any kind of ‘internal investigation’ from a church level has proven to be one of the main problems in cases of abuse within the church.

We best protect by leaving investigation to people qualified to fulfill that role. The most effective thing we can do right now is educate pastors about the problem and the resources to deal with it and hold them accountable for doing so. [Since this quote, Greear has been calling for training videos, but still no database.]

And therein lies the reason Southern Baptist, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), and other “independent” denominations/churches will NEVER fix their sex abuse problem. Greear SHOULD be calling for the immediate establishment of database that lists every pastor, deacon, Sunday school teacher, youth pastor, choir director, children’s church pastor, evangelist, and congregant who has been accused of, arrested for, convicted of, or imprisoned for a sex crime, using their position of authority to sexually manipulate a woman, or any other crime that makes them unfit to be a church leader (or a Christian, for that matter). Instead, he hides behind the notion that pastors/churches are unqualified to “investigate” such claims. And I agree. All allegations of sexual misconduct or criminal behavior should be immediately reported to law enforcement, and not to the pastor or other church leaders. This does not, however, negate the necessity of having a database. If someone has been accused of a crime, his or her name should go in the database — especially if he or she is accused of a sex crime. Then, if the accused decides to move on to a new church, at the very least the new congregation will know that person has been accused of criminal behavior. Leave it to the prospective new church to investigate past allegations — you know, by talking to leaders in the former church, law enforcement, doing a comprehensive background check and, the simplest of all things to do, DO A DAMN GOOGLE SEARCH ON THE PERSON! One the reasons I maintain the Black Collar Crimes series is to create a database of sorts of religious leaders who have been accused or found guilty of sex crimes, theft, and even murder. By publicizing these stories, I hope to keep cockroaches from scurrying away in the dark of night to new digs; that is if church leaders bother to search the internet.

Just because someone isn’t prosecuted doesn’t mean he or she is innocent. I can point to numerous preachers who were accused for decades of criminal behavior and even investigated by law enforcement, yet they escaped prosecution. What a database does is show conscientious church leaders that there may be a problem with this or that prospective pastor; that where there is smoke, there may be fire.

I realize that IFB churches and autonomous Evangelical churches might find it harder to have such a database. However, those churches are able to cooperate on all sorts of other issues, so appealing to their independent ecclesiology doesn’t fly with me. To preachers and church leaders I says this: doing nothing, and then blaming it on your theology, is an abdication of your responsibility to love, care, and protect your flock; especially the least of these — children. You owe it to your congregations to make sure there aren’t pedophiles, perverts, child molesters, and rapists in your midst. And you owe it to other churches to warn them when these same people move on to new hunting grounds.

The right path forward is clear, but I seriously doubt that SBC, IFB, and other Alphabet Denominations® will do much of anything to cleanse their temples of criminals. There are souls to save, empires to build, and ministries to protect, so there’s no time for “suffering the little children.” (Matthew 19:14)

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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The Roman Catholic Church, IFB Churches, and Southern Baptist Convention: Who’s Next?

mandatory reporting

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

The Roman Catholic Church sex-abuse scandals have been centuries in the making. They were first reported in the US media in 1985 but didn’t garner widespread attention until 2002, with the Boston Globe exposé. Since then, media coverage and public awareness of the church’s “dirty little secret” has snowballed, turning into an avalanche with the “Me-too” movement.

It doesn’t surprise me that it took so long for the problem to come to light. After all, decades would pass between the abuse I suffered and the day I finally talked about it. Many other people have similar stories. Also, as we have seen from the church’s own reports, individual parishes, not to mention dioceses and the Vatican itself, did everything they could to keep knowledge of wrongdoing “in the family,” if you will.

In this matter, church officials were like the proverbial Dutch boys with their fingers in a crumbling dike: They could hold back the tide of truth, but only for so long. Now the dam is breaking and the revelations are flooding in, not only from the Roman Catholic Church, but from other religious organizations.

The only thing that surprises me about recent reports of abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and other sects such as the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is that it took so long for them to come out, even though they’ve come just months after the Pennsylvania grand jury report. As a matter of fact, I am surprised that there haven’t yet been revelations of sexual abuse in other churches or religions.

Then again, it probably won’t be long before we learn about such things, because nearly all religions are built on hierarchical power structures. The most orthodox or fundamentalist, or the most institutionalized, have the most rigid hierarchies. All such power structures present ample opportunities for the powerful—who are usually, but not always, male and of at least some degree of privilege—to use sex as a means of controlling the less senior or more vulnerable members.

Naturally, such things can be said about a corporation or university, or the military or a gang, as well as a church. There are, however, two things that make religious institutions particularly fertile ground for sexual exploitation. One is that clergy members’ and other officials’ authority is amplified by their putative relationship with God, or whatever they call their supernatural authority. The other is that everyday worshipers, volunteers and other members of the church, synagogue or other house of worship tend to bring their vulnerabilities to the forefront to a greater degree than they would in a workplace, classroom or platoon. In other words, they are looking for acceptance they might not find in their communities or stability that might not exist in their families. Members of the clergy, whether by inclination or training, are very good at finding those vulnerabilities.

I am, of course, talking about my own experience. One of the reasons I became an altar boy (how odd it is for me to say that as a transgender woman!) is that I was looking for (and found) a circle of friends, or at least peers, that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Also, I was frankly looking for something that would keep me out of the house, away from an emotionally and mentally unsupportive family. I spent more time with the Fathers in black collars than with my biological male parent. That gave one of the Fathers his opportunities.

And those opportunities for a predatory cleric or authority figure to prey on a vulnerable child or lay person come, not only in the context of in-church activities such as being an altar boy or acolyte, but also in camps, retreats and other off-site gatherings. Even more exposed are those who are sequestered in a convent, seminary or other place where they are preparing for what they believe to be a life of service to God and humanity but which, too often, turns out to be a life of servitude to an institution. While such people may genuinely want to give of themselves to their fellow humans and give themselves over to God, they also see being or becoming a priest, nun, minister or even a deacon as their purpose, even their raison d’etre, to an even greater degree than people who are, or are training to be, accountants or lawyers or other professionals or tradespeople.

That is why, in the weeks and months ahead, I fully expect to hear more revelations of sexual abuse from other churches, and from religious entities outside of Christianity. I can’t say that such revelations will make me happy, but I can at least be satisfied that some victims will find some measure of justice, if not peace. Still, I can only wish that others could have had the opportunity I’ve had to name my abuse and abuser. It is for them, as much as for anyone else, that the truth about sexual exploitation in religious entities—wherever, whenever and however it was perpetrated, and by whom—must, and will, continue to come out. The only question is: Which church or religion will be exposed next?

I’ve Always Lied to Tell the Truth, A Guest Post by Brian

guest post

Guest Post by Brian

Reality is a complicated matter. Three people who appear to have been in the same place at the same time can easily produce three completely different stories about it. Words, then, have a pretty tough time, as they are the means by which we share, as simply or not, as we can, our Reality. I’ve always lied because I learned in the beginning that telling the bald truth was punishable, that it brought pain. Lying allowed me to avoid, or at least delay, the pain.

I was born into a family that served the Lord. First and foremost, beyond all else, the Master was served. It was Jesus-God who gave me life as he had given life to my parents, and of course my siblings. In the beginning, God . . . He created and sustained all and everything, me included.

How was I to know, when my mother pushed me from her womb, that all this was a big fucking lie from beginning to end? She was pregnant for the third time and when she attempted to sit up after delivering, the doctor told her to lie back down: “Please, please lie down! We aren’t finished yet. There’s another one coming . . .”

So it was that either myself or my brother joined his twin that day in 1952.

My mother had already given birth to my eldest sister a few years before, a toxic birth that put her into convulsions at home. Dad called an ambulance and they rushed her to the hospital and filled her with narcotics, severely compromising the whole process and leaving her firstborn brain-damaged, with a failure to thrive. She did appear somewhat as a normal baby but never developed as time passed and eventually had to be taken into full-time care at a provincial hospital. That was after my older brother was born more than year or so later, a robust baby who demanded what all babies do: mommy’s attention. After another pregnancy (me and my brother) it was clear that my older sister would not be getting the care she needed at home so the decision was made to give her over to provincial care. She lived more than fifty years, completely compromised, never able to speak or walk or use her arms. She died tragically in her fifties when a care worker, having routinely raised her in a sling for a bath, lowered her into scalding hot water. She did not die immediately but suffered third degree burns over two-thirds of her body. It took her a few days to finally give in and pass away.

Merciful Jesus. God in Heaven. My father had been preaching for a few years when my sister was born, and he trusted God with the experience of his fathering a toxic child whose life would be lived totally in-care, helpless. So, fifty-some years on, when she was lowered into the bath that would be her last, he said in the midst of his horrible pain, that God’s will is indiscernible, unknowable, and that we must realize that all things work together for good for those who know the Lord.

I was an adult when I lost my sister in this crazy and tragic accident, and I kind of went nuts over it. How could this ever happen? It was wrong, every way I looked at it. I phoned my mom and gently told her that I was calling a lawyer because . . . because . . . because . . . She listened and said that they would follow up. As a result of the death, new provincial legislation was passed to make it less likely that another killing would occur. My parents were given some money for their suffering and I claimed a settlement for myself, for a short term of therapy to deal with the loss.

But let me get back closer to my beginnings as a twin in the early fifties. When my brother and I were born, we had each other’s names. I was him and he was me. When my maternal grandma came to visit with my Baptist preacher grandfather, she changed our names, saying that my brother should be me and I should be my brother. My poor mother, after having remained unaware she was carrying twins, didn’t, by that time, give a rat’s ass who had what name and so I became my brother that day and he, me. This has always seemed to me somehow terribly significant, terribly symbolic of something or other but, as I have tried to share, reality is a mystery, a lifelong theater.

Let me leave this conundrum and go back a bit further, to approximately the ‘20s — the 1920s. It began on farms, both my mom and dad growing up fairly near one another, in rural Southern Ontario, Canada. My dad was the son of a farmer who had himself a large family and then eventually had to work off the farm to scrape together a living, leaving my barely-a-teen dad with the farm work. There were brothers but they found ways to leave so that dad was left with chores he did not enjoy at all. This might be partly a lie, as he refused to confirm or deny it. He would not talk to me much about his early farm life, only to say it was not good and that as he manned the horse-driven plow, the only thing that kept him going was searching the plowed earth as it was turned over, searching with all his might for Indian arrowheads. (Much of that part of the province was settled long before the white man by Natives, then called Indians, and dad collected many arrowheads in his hours of labor.) The years I am referencing here were pre-WWII, and life consisted of farm work, basic schooling and church attendance.

It was the church that offered my dad his freedom, and he enrolled in a Bible school to become a Baptist preacher. I am not sure what became of the farm when he made the choice to leave for the ministry, but I think it managed to carry on for several more years before it was given up. I don’t think my grandfather ever returned to work the land in any big way.

My maternal grandfather was a Baptist preacher, so mom grew up in a preacher’s home. The decades before the WWII were full of school and church life for my mom. She was a middle child and had both brothers and sisters. She left a diary from her high school days that my brother found among her things after she died last year and the diary revealed a young woman with strong feelings and a well-trained skill in writing around dangerous subjects and not revealing outright that which would be sinful and wrong. (My dear mother taught me to lie, I would say, taught me survival. My father withheld to survive, kept quiet and moved carefully.) In her diary, mom made it clear that any boy interested in being her friend in school would be vetted first by daddy and judged for his worthiness primarily by how much faith he showed and lived for all to see. People who did not attend church were unlikely to be good company at all and though they were part of the crowd at public school, they were always viewed through a Christian lens and kept at a safe distance.

Mom knew dad in those school days. He was a Christian, she thought for sure, but he was apparently not very social and kept pretty much to himself and a few other young men. (I think his time was fairly dominated with farm chores!) Even in those early mentions of my father in my mom’s diary, he revealed himself a loner and my mom applied her romantic wishes to that fairly blank slate. Dad fit the bill because he was a Christian. She thought he was smart-looking and when he chose ministry, mom set her sights on him. She made her own way toward independence by choosing the nursing profession, a perfectly acceptable choice for a young, unmarried Christian woman. It was a life of service that was acceptable and somewhat approved in the church, especially as it became clearer that war was coming again. Dad finished bible school — about three years of study. It was a rigorous teaching in Protestant doctrine with proud Baptist colors.

This was a time after the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy that swept America and resulted in Canadian Baptists choosing one side — the Convention — or the other side — ours, the true faith of the Union: those who held faithfully to the matters of inerrancy of scripture, the Atonement, the Resurrection and so forth, those essentials which, should they be abandoned, would lead us all down those dark path to eventual Satanic Atheism. In earlier Canadian history, we believers endured other splits too, and my dad clung to the Calvinist leanings of the old Regular Baptist days in his Bible school training. I surmise this from my memory of listening to his sermons, not from his sharing with me, because he refused to talk about his life. I made it clear to him by my rebellion as a teenager that I did not have a sincere interest in serving the Lord and so would use any information he shared with me regarding his history and ministry work, as fodder to attack what was not to be attacked but worshipped and adored.

Well, I certainly was morose and angry as a teen, depressed quite a bit and unable to feel free. My dad, being an isolated man, found it easier and better all around to remain a loner. He couldn’t help me — I knew that early on. He never really had a best male friend in his adult life and spent his time alone, reading. He collected religious books so that our simple home life was lined with them — cases and cases of mostly religious books, with a bit of literature thrown in, along with the popular cowboy writing of the time: Zane Grey and some Louis L’amour. I never did, and never have, read the cowboy stuff. We had a huge sculpted-cover, gold-page-edged Bible that was a job to even lift and marvel over. It had pictures too. I saw Daniel in the lion’s den!

Dad joined the air force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, just before the war and at the tail end of Bible School. He served on the prairies as an airplane technician, testing planes that had been serviced there. He did ground testing and hardly flew, though as a child he had spent time cutting out newspaper pictures of planes and collecting them in a scrapbook we discovered among his things as he aged. After his service, he married mom and they went into ministry and raised six kids.

My dad’s first church was one that he built himself, with the assistance of other men of faith. Dad had become a fine carpenter in his farm days and his skill was utilized fully in this new vocation. The church in its heyday had over a hundred members in a town that never broke ten thousand in population.

Mom worked as a nurse to supplement a lousy living in the ministry. I’m quite sure my dad never felt free to ask for a decent wage, nor would he believe God wanted him to ask. Instead, we lived by faith, and Mom’s hard work as a nurse.

It is my belief that God hates women and wants them eternally punished. I know this from watching how women are treated in churches, even those who call themselves modern and open. (I jest of course about God’s hate, because as far as I have seen, there is not now and never was a God. There are myriad concoctions called Gods invented by myriad people over time but I cannot believe in any of them.) As for women and God, things have changed for the better over the years but there are plenty of throwback Baptists and others out there busily holding to the Bible and routinely abusing women because they are well aware of God’s judgment on females from Eden onward. True love is following God’s will first and foremost. That which today I call open and blatant abuse of women, throwback religious men call the only true love in the world, the love of God for the weaker sex.

Even though dad took full advantage of God’s hatred for women, he did not relish bullying behavior. He believed in corporal punishment because he understood the scriptures as supporting it but he rarely exercised the option. Dad was not a physical abuser. He was not a man who raised his voice much beyond the pulpit, or even in the pulpit. My father’s failings had to do with what I would call ‘lack in life,’ what he did without, how he coped by being alone, being a loner.

I think of preachers as people who are communicators and who work on language and expression in order to convey the “message,” but my dad was not a communicator. He did not willingly talk much at all and preferred silence. He adored words — don’t get me wrong — words on a page that he could devour in silence. He never listened to music and had only an acceptable singing voice, not pleasing but not tone-deaf. Mom played the piano, somewhat unevenly, as her family grew, and she sang well too.

But what am I trying to do here by sharing these bits and pieces, this overview of life before and then during the time when I came along? It’s complicated. Some of it is probably lies I have told to survive. Reality is fluid and so we aim at a moving target in sharing our lives.

Mom and dad died last year, not more than a month or so between their exits into the ether. Dad was already quite demented but still smiling sometimes and it took him several weeks to realize mom was gone. He would look at me and his forehead would furl: “Mom’s gone to heaven now?” he would ask again and again and I would tell him that yes, she was gone, that she had died. Reality is a mysterious thing; have I said that too much? So how did he just up and die himself once the truth of mom’s passing was set in his head? Was his death, so close to hers, a fluke? Reality is not a simple thing to keep up with and those who say the Bible is a book God made simple enough for all to understand merely display their ignorance, and perhaps their inner wish that they had a clue about it. They are liars, startlingly similar to myself.

I am now retired, several years to seventy and an atheist without Jesus and his promise, and without his dad too. Being honest is not easy because I learned to lie in childhood to survive. I learned to parrot the correct words. I learned to hate myself for being bad.

I’m a ways down life’s road now and still too much a cliché, still not enough myself, not able to simply be. I watch children, little children being themselves and I marvel. I see in their free flight why we harm them, clip their wings and send them to training school.

I don’t believe in magic Jesus and sometimes wonder if more than half of the historical Jesus ever really lived at all. I wonder if there was a guy who drew attention, was bright and said some remarkable things, then drew the attention of bullies and was killed by them . . . and became a blank slate for humankind to write on. Perhaps the Bible is mostly graffiti. A lie too. Perhaps the Bible lies like I do or — no — better, much, much better.

But the Bible does not bear much attention in my life now and lacks pragmatic purpose, to say the least. We live in a time when our politics have become comic to the point of tragedy. Unless we can move beyond delusion and belief, we cannot allow ourselves to love our neighbors because we do not allow a basic love of self. There. I said it. I have played my card. We are not the selfish and fallen but the hated and abandoned and we finally have ourselves to answer for that lack. At what age in our lives do we finally become the author of our lives?

The man behind the curtain is finally only that one we see when we glance in a mirror.

I have come to believe that religion is not helpful. It is, as is often suggested, misguided and subject to human error. But that is because it is invented by imperfect beings who are always changing. Religion, or Belief, is not something that saves, but that depletes and spends uncontrollably, without reasonable balance. It demands that we admit we are basically evil and cannot help ourselves, and it has such power in our lack, the baggage of lack we carry with us, that we fully entertain outright abuse in our lives. We will listen to the first commandments and not balk and cry out a healthy “Bullshit!”

One of the most compelling proofs of our learned lack is the fact that children who are routinely beaten cannot even stand with themselves in their heart of hearts and have learned, through our lack as their elders, to take responsibility for the actions of the abusers who injure them. We have not been able as people to engender in our kids a basic right to own themselves and be free of taking responsibility for those who harm them. A beaten child always admits he is bad and so get beaten more. Children almost always share this when asked about being harmed. They believe they caused it and if they could only be better, then it would stop. We teach this in church every bit as much as we teach it from the bottom of a bottle of whiskey, every bit as much as an adult who punches to the head of a six-year-old child. Men do this harm far more than women, but it is not about gender, but about self-respect. Religion has been around far longer than any of us, and yet it has not accomplished the most fundamental and integral outcome. It has not modeled for us a basic, life-giving self-respect. It has co-opted our language and redefined words to fit “scriptural”’ ends but it has not looked after our innocence. We have been abandoned, and so have learned how to abandon ourselves. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Mohammed. Thank you God. There are so many religions that we have religions containing religions ad nauseum and all of them requiring our sustenance, our food and money, and all of them depleting our respect for ourselves and others.

Religion lies for a living. All religion. All Gods. Magicians are liars too but far more honest than any Pope. They trick your eyes and ears and make an honest living from it. Religion purports to be something other than what it is in pragmatic reality. It purports to save while in fact it spends, hoards and depletes. It purports to define and display the essence of love while it remains full of falsehood and deception.

My mom and dad loved me, loved all six of us kids with all the heart they could muster and it was good. It was far better than most experienced nearby us and I am forever thankful for what they accomplished. My parents loved us as all parents love, to the utmost, to the very best they can do, with everything they have . . . .

Now it must be acknowledged that everything my parents had included what they lacked in their own lives. I see as I get older that my father and much of his family suffered depression, untreated. My loner father treated his condition by becoming a preacher and my mom coped with being a Christian woman by marrying a preacher like her own father. The same subterfuge of her high school diary was perpetuated by finding a like structure in adulthood to carry on carrying on.

Both my parents were given over to God and in turn, they gave over their children. Of their five remaining children, only two were able to turn away from religion at all. The rest carry on the tradition with some variations in flavor but the basic ingredients the same old same old . . . .

And my journey? I was saved as a youngster, barely school-age, terrified and having nightmares about hellfire. I believed in God because I was told to and that was all there was as far as I could see. I learned at a very young age that I was a sinner and had to keep asking for forgiveness because I could hear swear words in my head and I stole some candy or did any of a million innocuous things that proved I was bad.
As I grew older, I grew more depleted and more sullen. I felt such anger, a generic misery that I understand now as my own body protesting the harm being done by our way of life. But then, back then I understood none of it. As a teen, I rebelled as much as I could, smoking dope and listening to Hendrix and Dylan. I tried like hell to drop out but could not quite accomplish it and always ended up at home again feeling dragged along and horrible.

Then, I figured it out. I realized that Jesus needed me to be myself and to follow only him and not any religion or way. I began my own private church, Brian’s church, and began to cherry-pick scriptures to be comfortable, to be able to still have Jesus and yet be done with the church as I knew it.

Honestly, really, in our heart of hearts, don’t we all invent our own church and our own God when we choose to throw the Faith dice? I think we do. I recently heard somebody say there are as many Christianities as there are Christians and that strikes me as on the mark.

As I grew tired with my own church inventions, I changed them up and continued on. I stopped attending churches except for the odd wedding or funeral. I found myself spending less time — less and less time — obsessing about these matters and even one day entertained the idea that I might not really believe in God at all. It was only for a second, though, and it haunted me so that I steered clear of it for years.

One day more than halfway through my life and long after I had fallen in love, married and had kids, I said quietly to myself, “I don’t believe.” Again, as before, I prepared to feel a blow to my sternum and to be flooded with fear. But nothing happened. Somehow, in the interim, in time passing, Elvis left the building and I stood there quite alone with my breath. The world glowed as I stood there and I tried it again: “I really just plain don’t believe.” Silence, normal pregnant silence, and the world was alive in my eyes. I stood there and felt a huge weight gone, just gone. Holy Jesus! This is honesty. I am being honest!

I once wrote a found-poem from a McDonald’s paper placemat. The placemat was targeting children and was simply numbered instructions that led the child to form a smile on their faces. At the end of the poem, the last point was the statement: “You are Happy!” I was indeed. Honest truth . . . I had been released!

I am free to honor myself and to honor innocence in all things. I declare wholeness and that we are not fallen creatures. I declare abandonment of restrictions on our vision, our journey in life. I declare that what the whole church has been unable to accomplish for centuries, Norm Lee has accomplished! (Norm was a teacher, an abused child almost killed by his dad, beaten to a pulp. He went on to dedicate himself to being a dad who would never harm his kids, never punish them but stay in healthy relationship with them and let them take the lead in their own lives. I had the great good fortune to know this man, who wrote a book called “Parenting without Punishing.”)

One person can change the direction of the world by saying the buck stops here. I will not harm as I was harmed. The basic message, perhaps, of Jesus’ Beatitudes was to live fully. When one strips away the references to the time and to a God, one is left with a very symbolic expression: feel truly and with passion. Honor yourself and others. Be blessed with life. Perhaps the Christ did just that, I don’t know, and if he said, Follow me, he meant live your life free and clear, without fear and without harming yourself and others. Be Norm Lee.

Know what I mean? Reality is a mystery to me.

Clergy Sex Crimes: The Stunning Number of Black Collar Crime Reports

black collar crime

It should be clear to everyone by now that Evangelicalism has a huge problem with sexual abuse and sexual misconduct. Hopefully, the Black Collar Crime series has forever shut the mouths of those who self-righteously claim that Evangelicals don’t have the same sort of sexual abuse problem as the Catholics do. I hope, anyway — but way too many Christian zealots are oblivious to their flies being unzipped. Bob Gray, Sr, the retired pastor of Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Texas, loved to rail against the Catholics over their sexual abuse scandal. Gray, Sr, blindly believed that Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches didn’t have such problems. Evidently, in the mind of Gray, Sr, IFB doctrine is a condom of sorts that protects preachers, evangelists, missionaries, youth pastors, and deacons from committing sex crimes. Of course, we now know that the condom has a hole in it, and IFB leaders are just as likely to molest children, assault teenagers, and sexually manipulate congregants as are Roman Catholic priests. Gray, Sr, knows this, but he ignores it, choosing instead to protect serial adulterer David Hyles and fellate a blow-up doll of accused adulterer Jack Hyles. Countless sex scandals have rocked the Hyles wing of the IFB church movement, yet little is said publicly by men such as Gray, Sr. Wouldn’t it be great if IFB newspaper The Sword of the Lord ran a regular Black Collar Crime column? You know, calling sin, sin, as IFB preachers are wont to do. It should be thoroughly embarrassing to Evangelicals that an atheist’s blog and the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s monthly newsletter do more good in this regard than The Sword of the LordChristianity Today, and CHARISMA Magazine combined.

Recently, Marja asked:

Thank you for your diligence with this [Black Collar Crime] series. You have collected so many examples of black collar crime it’s stunning. Did you have any inkling of this while you were a pastor? Do you think there is something uniquely Christian about this, as it were, or do you think this is a dynamic that is prominent in any community in which you have strong patriarchalism tied to imperatives of religious obedience?

The Internet has fundamentally and forever changed how the public hears of and responds to allegations of sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other sex-related crimes. The same can be said for offending pastors, evangelists, missionaries, professors, and traveling singers. Before the Internet, a preacher could commit all sorts of crimes, and, if not caught red-handed or reported to the police, he could escape punishment. Why? First, many parishioners simply refused to believe that THEIR pastor could ever do such things! This kind of thinking remains a problem to this day. I have posted more than a few stories about offending pastors that have attracted people heaven-bent on protecting their pastor. They will demand I take the post down, saying their pastor couldn’t have committed the crimes he is accused of. I try to remind them of the fact that, according to the Bible, King David was a “man after God’s own heart,” yet he had a sexual affair with Bathsheba and later had her husband murdered. Rarely does this work — these preacher-worshipers refuse to see the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Second, before the Internet, a God-loving, sin-hating predator could quietly leave one church and move on to fresh hunting grounds. His old church was glad he was gone, end of story. A good example of this is the sordid story of David Hyles. David was the youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. His father, Jack, was the pastor. At the time, First Baptist was the largest church in the United States. David was accused of having sex with teen girls and adult members. When his behavior reached a level where it could not be ignored, David was shipped off by his father to Garland, Texas to pastor Miller Road Baptist Church. The elder Hyles said nothing to people at Miller Road — a church he himself once pastored — leaving them in the dark about his son’s sexual proclivities. And, as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, David Hyles returned to his predatory ways, fucking his way through the church.

Third, IFB preachers/church leaders were taught to protect their church’s “testimony” at all costs. “There are souls in need of saving,” the thinking went. “If people find out about what our pastor/deacon/youth pastor/bus driver/school principal did, why they might not want to come to our church!” I know of countless scandals that were swept under the rug, all in the name of protecting the church’s reputation. Victims were often disbelieved and, far too often, blamed for what happened to them. Sometimes, church leaders would withhold from congregants allegations against their pastors. I know of one church which has had three sex scandals over the past twenty-five years, yet the pastor and church board have never given congregants a full accounting of what happened. The pastor, from the pulpit, encouraged people to “trust” him, that he was taking care of matters. This resulted, of course, in one man committing crimes TWICE at the same church over the course of two decades. So much for taking care of things.  Fortunately, the second offense landed the offender in prison.

Fourth, it was hard to get to local law enforcement and prosecutors to take seriously allegations of criminal sexual misconduct against clergymen. Pastors were often viewed as pillars of their communities, men of virtue, character, and moral integrity. Sadly, some legal authorities who should have known better, believed that clergymen were above the fray; that it was impossible for such “godly” men to commit such crimes. Case in point is the late Mack Ford. Ford operated IFB boys’ and girls’ homes — detention centers — in Louisiana. He was repeatedly accused of criminal behavior, yet he astoundingly escaped prosecution. (Please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls.) Countless children were harmed by Ford and people employed by him, yet local authorities refused to investigate or prosecute.

These four things, and others, provided cover for clergy sexual misconduct — and other crimes too. Over the years, I would hear whispers about this preacher or that preacher, or hear that Pastor so-and-so suddenly resigned from his church in Ohio and moved in the night to Florida. Such men were accused of everything from molesting children to running off with their secretary, yet I know of only two men who were arrested, prosecuted, and served time in prison for criminal behavior. Sadly, far too many offending preachers had a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

While I don’t think such behaviors are uniquely a “Christian” problem, I believe that certain Evangelical beliefs and practices make such things more likely. First, Evangelicals are known for preaching against sex — any and all sex except for married, one man/one woman, monogamous, missionary-position sex. Puritanical views on sex breed sexual dysfunction and deviancy. It has been my observation that the louder some preachers preach against certain sexual sins, the more likely it is that they are doing the very things they preach against. One such preacher I know spent years having sex with his secretary every Saturday in his office. Bus workers would gather on Saturdays to visit their routes and canvass for new riders. After everyone left the building, the pastor and his lover would hit the carpet. Imagine this! Prior to having adulterous sex, this pastor would lead workers in prayer and give them a short devotional from the Bible. And then on Sundays, he would rain Holy Hell down on the heads of congregants, warning them that God hates sexual sin. (All pastors are hypocrites, but this man took the cake.)

bob gray jacksonville

Bob Gray, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, still clutching his King James Bible as he leaves jail

Second, Evangelical pastors wield great power — authoritarian and patriarchal in nature — over their congregations. Most churches are pastored by one man. In some Evangelical circles, pastors have total control over their churches, deciding everything from who can/can’t be a member to how the money is spent. (There are, by the way, Biblical proof texts supporting this kind of “rule,” but I’ll leave that to another day.) Suffice it to say that way too many churches are controlled and lorded over by their pastors. Now, this in and of itself doesn’t necessarily lead to criminal behavior, but some authoritarian pastors, drunk with power, do cross moral boundaries and commit crimes. It is not uncommon for Fundamentalist churches to be pastored by narcissistic men or sociopaths. Take for example the other Bob Gray — the former pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. This Gray molested children and preyed on women for fifty years. His church was one the largest in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. I considered him to be one the best pulpiteers I ever heard. I loved to hear him preach. (I vividly remember a sermon he preached on being filled with the Holy Spirit.) Gray was not found out and arrested until near the end of his life. He died awaiting trial for sex crimes. Gray ruled his church with a rod of iron. I have no doubt that there were whispers about “Bro. Gray” over the years, yet out of fear or not wanting to cause a scandal, people said nothing. Authoritarianism will do that, silencing people who see and know that their pastors are perverts or abusers.

Thanks to the Internet and to countless victims unwilling to be silenced, it is now much harder for Evangelical preachers to escape punishment for their crimes. With great courage, victimized men and women share their stories, even when the statute of limitations precludes their abusers from being prosecuted. Light dispels darkness, and as long as I am among the living, I intend to write about clergy sexual misconduct, publish first-person stories about clergy abuse, and publish Black Collar Crime posts. The Evangelical sex scandal is in its infancy. I have published over 500 Black Collar Crime stories. This, I am certain, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Black Collar Crime: IFB Youth Pastor Jacob Coyle Accused of Sex Crimes

jacob coyle

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Jacob Coyle, a youth pastor at Averyville Baptist Church in East Peoria, Illinois, stands accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a male church teenager.

The Journal Star reports:

Jacob Lee Coyle, 36, remained in custody Tuesday, one day after $100,000 bond was set on charges of criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

A Tazewell County prosecutor’s court affidavit stated Coyle, of Peoria, acknowledged committing the acts the affidavit described.

Coyle remained employed at Averyville Baptist Church as of Friday, when police interviewed and arrested him, the affidavit stated. The church’s pastor was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

The young man first told police in October that Coyle had sexual contact with him on “multiple occasions” over four years beginning in January 2006 when he was between ages 13 and 17, the affidavit stated.

He said that after joining the church on Spring Bay Road at age 12, he and other young parishioners worshipped on Sundays and took part in youth activities with the church’s “teen unit” led by Coyle, the affidavit stated.

The alleged victim said Coyle “began a frequent practice of ‘cracking’ or rubbing youths’ backs during youth program activities,” the affidavit stated.

By age 13, he’d developed a close friendship with Coyle, who often asked him to come to the church alone to help him with various projects, the young man said. Soon the back massages led to sexual activity, the young man said.

All of the encounters took place at the church, mostly in a guest bedroom known as the “prophet’s chambers,” except for one Coyle allegedly committed at a church camp, the man said.

The church’s website is currently offline. You can access their Facebook page here.

According to cached pages of the church’s website, Averyville Baptist is a:

…an Old-Fashioned, Independent, Fundamental, Premillennial, Bible-believing Baptist Church, like the Church your Grandparents attended, and like the Church your parents were raised in.

Jacob Coyle is the son of Averyville Baptist pastor David Coyle. Jacob graduated in 2004 from Averyville Baptist School. Typical of many IFB churches, Averyville Baptist is operated by the pastor and his family. Averyville Baptist formerly operated Fellowship Baptist College.

The Curse of Cain: Why Blacks Have Dark Skin

megyn kelly quote white jesusHave you ever wondered why blacks have dark skin? Back in the days of my youth, my pastors believed it an important question to answer. Now, no one ever asked, “have you ever wondered where whites get their light skin?” What was vitally important was sussing out a definitive answer for why some people had black skin. The easy answers, of course, were melanin and proximity to the equator, but when you believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, the right answer to this question must come from the Bible. After all, the Bible is God’s supernatural answer book. Whatever the Bible says about history and science is true. Now, the Bible never explicitly explains why blacks have dark skin, but since Adam and Eve were white, well, where did blacks come from?  No amount of white-on-white breeding will produce black children, so there must be a “Biblical” answer to why so many people have dark skin, right?

As a young Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, I was taught that Genesis 4 clearly revealed to any racist who wanted to know why blacks had dark skin. Genesis 4:15 says:

 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

Genesis 4 details the story of Cain murdering his brother Abel. One of God’s punishments of Cain was setting a “mark” upon him. More than a few Baptist preachers, especially Southern Baptist segregationists in the South, believed that this mark was God turning Cain’s oh-so-European white skin black. These Jesus-loving racists went to great lengths to trace the lineage of Cain down through history, showing — in their minds anyway — that Cain’s descendants had black skin. Of important note was the fact that Noah’s son Ham married a black descendant of Cain, thus continuing the curse down through human history. I knew of Baptist preachers who spent countless hours tracing the genealogy of Cain through the pages of the Bible. These preachers believed that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites, and were best suited for manual labor. Slavery in the United States was justified by Christian pastors who believed the Bible taught that blacks were a cursed race in need redemption. Slavery, then, was an act of benevolence — white slave owners giving their black charges a far better life than they would have had in Africa. This wretched thinking continues to drive how the United States interacts with countries with populations that are primarily non-white — you know, Trump’s “shit-hole countries.” These poor, inferior, ill-bred, ignorant people need our benevolence and help, even if it is given to them through military force or coup.

By the time I left Midwestern Baptist College in the mid-1970s, I had cleansed my mind of the racist training of my youth. Sadly, Midwestern was rife with students and professors who believed that blacks were inferior/cursed. I don’t believe the founder of the college, Tom Malone, held these views. After all, the college had a handful of black students, far more than Bob Jones University had at the time. Malone, by the way, was a graduate of Bob Jones College and came of age in Alabama in the 1920s. If he was racist, it wouldn’t have surprised me, but I never saw anything from him that suggested he was. The same couldn’t be said for the man who was in charge of the bus ministry. Under his watch, he cancelled all the bus routes to and from Detroit. These routes normally ran in the afternoon, bringing riders to what was called “B Sunday School.” Since most of the riders from Detroit were black, students considered the afternoon “B Sunday School” to be “Black Sunday School.”

All freshman students were required to work on a bus route. After I returned to college for my sophomore year, I quit the bus ministry, choosing instead to preach on Sundays at a drug rehabilitation center in Detroit. The bus director cornered me one day as I was leaving school and chastised me for quitting my bus route. He told me I had a bad attitude — no shit, Sherlock! The bus director got more than he bargained for. I replied, “And you are a racist! I know why you cancelled “B Sunday School!” We parted company, never to speak to one another again.

In the late 1980s, I attended a Street Preacher’s Conference in Washington, DC. While there, I met a man who was a rabid follower of IFB preacher Peter Ruckman. As we were fanning out from the Washington Mall, the man told me that he didn’t bother witnessing to blacks. “They don’t have souls, you know, so there’s no reason for us to witness to them.” I couldn’t believe what this many was saying. He was condemning to Hell a vast portion of the human race, all because they had the wrong color of skin. I told him I didn’t believe such nonsense, and then I quickly walked away.

Racism is alive and well in the IFB church movement, the Southern Baptist Convention, and Evangelicalism as a whole. Thanks to our White-Supremacist-in-Chief, President Donald Trump, racists driven deep into the closets of Evangelicalism have now found the light of day and are quite willing to vocalize their racism and bigotry. That a Christian member of Congress can ponder out loud his wonderment over white supremacy being a “bad” thing, and Christian Fox News hosts can say that there’s no racism in the United States, tells me that we are far from living in a post-racial world. And if God is for racism and bigotry, who are we to argue with the white Jesus, right?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Evangelicals Love to Fuss and Fight

evangelical betrayal of jesus

Cartoon by Bob Englehart

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 15:34,35)

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. (1 Peter 3:8-11)

These Bible verses and others present a strong argument for unity and love being essential to Christian faith. The writer of 1 John makes it clear that anyone who does not love his brother is not a Christian. Several times in the New Testament, the Law and the Prophets is summed up thusly: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In the Gospels, professing followers of Jesus are commanded to love even those who hate them. And speaking of unity, the writer of Proverbs 6 lists seven things God hates, one of which is “sowing discord among the brethren.”

Love and unity are essential to Christianity, yet rarely, if ever, demonstrated by Evangelicals. Instead, Evangelicals are known for fussing and fighting over everything from theology to music styles. Countless internecine wars have been fought over matters as trivial as hair styles, wearing jewelry, women wearing pants, which Bible translation to use, whether to give altar calls, and how often churches hold services. No matter is too trivial for Evangelicals to fight over. One need only look at how many Evangelical denominations there are and how fragmented individual churches are to see that Evangelicals never received the ‘Love and Unity” memo. And thanks to the Internet, the MMA machinations of Evangelicals are on display for all to see, complete with violent personal attacks on fellow Christians deemed heretics.

What’s heresy? In the Evangelical world, heresy is any belief different from mine. One need only watch Arminians and Calvinists go toe to toe over who has the “true” gospel. Each side casts the other as heretical, calling into question the opponent’s salvation. As a long-time Calvinist, I met numerous pastors who believed Arminianism was a false gospel and anyone who believed it was unsaved! And now that Calvinism has made huge inroads within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and has infected numerous SBC colleges and seminaries, non-Calvinistic Baptists are saying that John Calvin’s progeny are preaching a false gospel. Some go even so far to suggest that Calvinism leads to atheism!

Years ago, I pastored a church affiliated with the Christian Union (CU) denomination. In the early 1900s, CU suffered a schism over the doctrine of sanctification. This led to the establishment of a new denomination called the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. Both denominations have a strong, but aging/dying, presence here in Ohio. As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I witnessed numerous conflicts and church splits. While all Evangelicals are Fundamentalists theologically, (see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) some sects, pastors, and churches take it to the extreme. Such is the case with the IFB church movement. The narrower beliefs become the more likely it is that there will be division. One oft-told joke about how the IFB church movement got its start comes from a story about Abram and Lot in Genesis 13:

And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south . . . And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land. And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.

Much like Abram and Lot, the IFB church movement came to be when they said to their former denominations or churches, you go your way and I’ll go mine. The IFB church movement was birthed from denominational battles over various points of doctrine and practice. Scores of churches and pastors left denominations such as the SBC and the American Baptist Convention, establishing their own fellowship groups or quasi-denominations. In the intervening sixty years, IFB churches and pastors have continued to squabble, resulting in a plethora of church splits and new, more “pure” groups. Each group believes they have the truth, and those who believe differently are either deemed heretics or erring brethren. This infighting is the main reason IFB churches tend to turn over their memberships every few years. The IFB churches I pastored had a steady stream of members from other churches visiting our services — church hoppers, I called them. These devoted followers of Christ were disgruntled or upset with their current churches, so they left, looking for greener pastures. One church I pastored took in over twenty-five members from one nearby IFB church. They loved my preaching, that is until they didn’t, and off they went to find a new church to attend. Many of them returned to their old church once the offending pastor left. Some of them were instrumental in starting new IFB or Bible Fellowship churches in the area.

I follow and read numerous Evangelical blogs and news sites. One thing is certain: Evangelicals continue to fuss and fight, not only with liberal/progressive Christians, mainline denominations, but amongst themselves. Proverbial blood runs in the streets, a never-ending stream thanks to perceived offenses and heresies. The last three decades have given rise to what is called “discernment ministry.” These ministries believe God has called them to be gatekeepers or monitors of the Book of Life. They alone know what the “truth” is, and they aren’t shy about calling out anyone and everyone who violates their standard of orthodoxy. Long-time readers — all the way back to 2007-2008 when I was still a Christian — might remember a previous iteration of this blog attracting the attention of “discernment” preachers such as the late Ken Silva and a man who called himself Pastor Boy (he is now divorced and no longer in the ministry). (Please see the post, Rob Bell and Homosexuals on Silva’s “discernment” blog.) I was working my way through what it was that I actually believed theologically, and these esteemed discerners of “truth,” and others like them, decided that I was a false prophet and a heretic. My later deconversion was proof to them that they were right about me; that I never was a True Christian®.

It seems to me that there is a huge disconnect between what the Bible says about love and unity and how Evangelicals practice their faith. Evangelicals are roundly condemned as preachers of hate, even more so since they climbed into bed with the Republican Party and Donald Trump. Millennials and Generation Z are leaving Evangelical churches in record numbers. Many of them are abandoning organized religion altogether, and an increasing number of them have become agnostics and/or atheists. Why are Evangelical churches hemorrhaging young adults? Separatism and anti-culturalism, along with social Fundamentalism — anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-public schools, anti-science, to name a few — are driving the train as it leaves the station. Evangelicalism is losing two generations of potential congregants, leading to widespread panic among church leaders and church growth gurus. Of course, Evangelical extremists see such departures as a good thing; that doctrinal purity is far more important than love and unity. Quality rather than quantity, they say.  We need to love what God loves and hate what God hates! Of course, the beliefs and practices they love and hate are, so ironically, the very things they say their God loves and hates.

I am well aware of what the Bible does and doesn’t say on these issues. I long ago concluded that the Bible can be used to prove anything, and that when asked which sect has the “truth,” I reply, all of them. They all have proof texts to support their versions of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Thus, everyone is right. Here’s my advice to Evangelical truth seekers.  Want to find the “true” church? Choose the one which has the best potlucks.

Christianity in general, and Evangelicalism in particular, is split into thousands of sects, and countless independent congregations, each believing that they are the holders of the one true faith. Lost on Protestants and Catholics and Evangelicals and Mainline Christians alike is what their fussing and fighting says to the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Where’s the love and unity? worldlings ask. Where are the believers who practice what the Bible says about love in 1 Corinthians 13?

What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others. What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others. Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails! (CEV)

Where, oh where, can we find such faith? Not among Evangelicals, that’s for sure. I am an atheist for many reasons, one of which is the lack of love and unity among Christians. If I looked at Christianity as a whole and saw people loving God and loving their neighbors, I perhaps would pause and reconsider the value of being a follower of Jesus. If I saw a group united in doctrine and practice, I might, at the very least, ponder the historic claims of Christianity. However, all I see is the fussing and fighting, and this tells me that whatever Christianity might have been twenty centuries ago, THAT version of Christianity no longer exists. What we have today is a religious version of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). While it is unlikely that anything or anyone will successfully “save” me from atheism/agnosticism/humanism, if I truly saw love and unity in action, I might, at the very least, admire those who follow after Jesus. Until then, I will continue to treat Evangelicalism as a blight on the human race, a worldview that causes great harm. Want to change my opinion of you, Evangelicals? Repent.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

“Normal” is a Just a Setting on a Washing Machine

normal

I have always had a contentious relationship with my wife’s mother. She never wanted me to marry her daughter, and she went to great lengths to frustrate our dating relationship. It was not until Polly told her mother we were getting married with or without her blessing that she grudgingly gave in and helped Polly plan our wedding. We’ve been married for forty years. Polly’s mom was certain that marrying someone from a divorced family led to divorce. I assume, by now, we have put that bit of nonsense to rest. Over the years, Polly and I butted heads with her mom over how many children we planned to have, how we raised our children, ministerial moves, choices of secular employment, how we celebrated Christmas, and a host of other things.

Polly’s mom is now on the last leg of life. She’s has congestive heart failure and has been give six or so months to live. In 2005, Polly’s younger sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash (If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All) leaving Polly alone responsible for her aged parents. In 2004-2005, we lived in Newark, Ohio, not far from Polly’s parents. Our plan was to live there and care for Polly’s parents as they got older. Unfortunately, they made it clear that our help wasn’t needed. Message received. We returned to northwest Ohio so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. Two years ago, Polly’s dad had botched hip replacement surgery that left him crippled. We offered to move them up here so we could help care for them. Our offer was rebuffed. Polly’s mom told her that they couldn’t move because their church — the Newark Baptist Temple — was very important to them. This sentiment is strange considering that their church has pretty much ignored them since Dad’s hip surgery. Out of sight, out of mind.

It will be left to Polly to take care of everything after her mom dies. Common sense says that Polly’s parents should have a will, but, unfortunately, common sense seems hard to find these days. Polly’s mom refuses to have a will drawn up, leaving Polly a colossal mess to deal with after her mom dies. Polly calls her mom every Sunday at 10:00 PM. They talk for one hour. In recent weeks, I have listened to Polly gently try to explain to her mom why having a will is important. Finally, I had enough and asked to Polly to put the phone on speaker. Bruce, the son-in-law she wishes she never had, is more blunt and direct than his wife. I let my mother-in-law know exactly what she was leaving behind for her daughter if she died intestate. In no uncertain terms I let her know that her view of the family was naïve. (She believes everyone will just get along after her death and there will be no problems settling the estate without a will.) She said nothing, thinking, I’m sure, “here’s another one of Bruce’s lectures.” Polly told me later that her mom let her know that she was putting her dad in a nursing home in Newark BEFORE she dies! I suspect she heard from one of her local grandsons that Polly and I had been talking about what to do with/for her dad after Mom died. One idea was to put him in a nursing home near us so we and children could provide for his needs. It seems that, even to the end, Mom intends to maintain the wall between us and her church and “godly” grandchildren in central Ohio. Her behavior has broken Polly’s heart, but there’s nothing she can do about it. Polly has always been the dutiful daughter, yet it seems her mom has chosen the rebellious daughter’s family over hers — much like in the Bible story about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). In the end, it’s Mom’s loss. She has an awesome daughter, and we have wonderful children and grandchildren; people with great empathy and compassion; people who value family. She doesn’t know this, of course, because she has chosen her dead daughter’s family over Polly’s. Such is life . . .

I realize that if Polly had married a “normal” Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher boy things might be different. Instead, Polly married a “bad boy,” a man who has always marched to the beat of his own drum, a man who has rarely been afraid to make hard, controversial decisions. In Mom’s eyes, I am an “odd duck”; I’m “different.” Why couldn’t I have been like other IFB preachers? Why couldn’t I have kept the faith? You see, the underlying issue is my unwillingness to hew to IFB belief. We left the IFB church movement years before we deconverted. Polly’s mom was upset with me numerous times during my years in the ministry; upset over decisions such as: me not wearing the IFB preacher uniform (white shirt, tie and suit), letting Polly wear pants, allowing my children to listen to Christian rock, not preaching from behind a pulpit, not sending my children to a Christian college, removing the name “Baptist” from our church name, using praise and worship music during church services, and not using the KJV when I preached, to name a few. Nothing was as bad, though, as me leaving the ministry and the two of us walking away from Christianity. I suspect that Mom believes that if I were out of the picture, Polly would come running back to Jesus and the family faith. Little does she know how independent her daughter really is and how anti-religion she has become. She may not be as vocal as her husband, but Polly has no use for anything associated with organized religion. She is, in every way, her own woman. The days when Bruce, the IFB Patriarch, ruled the home are long gone. Most of all, Mom blames me for what our children have become. According to her, I have RUINED them! Actually, what I really did was set them free. Each of them is free to be whoever and whatever he or she wants to be. Yes, to a person each has abandoned IFB/Evangelical Christianity, and some don’t believe in gods at all. Yes, they have abandoned the social strictures of their Fundamentalist youth. OMG! They drink beer and cuss. They are so “worldly,” and it is all MY fault. I am, after all, in her IFB worldview, the head of the home, even though all my children are out on their own with families, well-paying jobs, and own their homes. Mom might lament their worldliness, but I am quite proud of who and what ALL my children have become.

It’s Thanksgiving 2005. We are living in Bryan, Ohio, five miles from where we now live. Polly’s parents came to our home to join us for the day. Mom, as she often did, blew into our home like a tornado, moving furniture and changing meal preparations. It was noticeable to me that Polly was quit stressed by her mom’s behavior. She, however, said nothing. As the day wore on, I became increasingly agitated by Mom’s behavior, so much so that I reminded her that she was a guest in our home and asked her to please STOP micromanaging everything. Well, that went over well. Mom and Dad didn’t stay long that day. A day or so later, Mom called to apologize. During our conversation she said, “Bruce, we have always accepted you. We knew you were ‘different.'”

Different? Sure, but does that make a bad husband, father, grandfather, or person? Since when is being different a bad thing? My mother had many faults, but she taught me to think for myself and be my own person. I carried her teachings into my life and they continue with me to this day. I refuse to follow the well-trodden path. I refuse to do something just because everyone is doing it. I choose, instead, to walk my own path, even if that means I am walking alone. I realize that Mom will go to the grave saddened by what has become of her daughter and her son-in-law. Instead of seeing that we are happy and blessed, all she can see is our ungodly disobedience and lack of faith. Instead of seeing what awesome children and grandchildren we have, all she can see is their faithlessness and worldliness. Her religion keeps her from truly embracing and enjoying our family. In mom’s world, the wash can only be cleaned if the washing machine is set to “normal” and Tide is used for detergent.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Is It a Sin to Go to the Movie Theater?

mary poppinsBack in the days of my youth, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches I attended banned their members from going to indoor and outdoor movie theaters. Their logic went something like this:

  • By attending movies, you were supporting evil, immoral Hollywood.
  • By attending movies, you might cause other Christians to think poorly of you. What if they saw you leaving a multiplex theater that offered G-rated and R-rated movies? They could wrongly assume that you were watching an R-rated movie and not a God-approved G-rated movie. This would lead to you having a bad testimony in the eyes of other believers.
  • By attending movies, you could cause spiritually weaker Christians to stumble. If these spiritually immature believers saw you attending a movie, they would assume that it was all right for them to watch a movie too. And their spiritual immaturity could result in them watching non-G-rated movies.

This same logic was applied to watching television and eating in restaurants that served the Devil’s brew, alcohol. (Please see Catch-All Bible Verses: I Will Set No Wicked Thing Before My Eyes) Several years ago, I wrote a post titled, The Preacher and His TV. Here’s an excerpt from this post that best explains how IFB churches view things such as movies and television:

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it.  How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps.  What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.

….

In the early 1990s, I would, from time to time, rent a television from a local rent-to-own business. Two times come to mind: the World Series and the 1991 Gulf War. Outside of that, my oldest three children grew up in a television-free home. They were teenagers: 18, 16, and 13, before they watched TV (except for watching Saturday cartoons when they were little). Well, this isn’t entirely true. When they visited their grandparents, they were permitted to watch TV (even though I wasn’t happy about them doing so). Like Amish children, they were mesmerized by Disney movies and cartoons.

After our family attended their first movie, I decided I would buy a television, setting in motion seven years of what any competent psychologist would call bizarre behavior. While what I am about to share will sound hilarious to those who never spent any time in Christian Fundamentalism, at the time, there was nothing humorous about my actions.

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions? you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life: I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.

My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

….

In the late 1990s, I came to the conclusion that it was not a sin to watch a movie as long as it was G or PG-rated. One Saturday evening, Polly and I loaded our children into our car and drove to a nearby drive-in theater. Polly was fearful, thinking that God would judge or kill us for going to the theater. I told her that I was confident that God wouldn’t judge us for watching Air Bud and George of the Jungle. Not that I knew this, of course. I had concluded that some of our Fundamentalist phobias were legalistic nonsense, and the prohibition against movie attendance was one such phobia. Over time, we, however, proved that IFB preachers were “right” about movies; right in the sense that once you start watching movies, you are on a downhill slide that leads to R-rated, NC17-rated, and even X-rated movies. Over the years, our viewing habits did change, especially once we moved away from Evangelicalism. We didn’t, however, turn into vile, evil people who thirsted for the things of the flesh. Today, we watch what we want to watch, regardless of the rating. We generally prefer PG-13 or R-rated movies or M-rated TV programs.

Over the holidays, a monumental event took place with Polly’s parents; one that we NEVER, EVER thought would happen. Polly grew up in a home where movie attendance was verboten. Well, almost verboten. Her family had a dirty little secret. When they went on vacation to Florida, they would go to the movies. Their logic, if you call it that, was that no one from their church would see them. This same logic was played out at the college we attended. Female students were not permitted to wear pants. Students were also not permitted to travel more than ten miles from the school. One Saturday evening, while out on a double-date, Polly and I stopped at a mall that was outside of the ten-mile radius. Imagine our surprise when we saw the college president’s wife and her daughter strolling through the mall wearing pants! They never expected to run into students, so they felt safe wearing sinful, wicked, immoral pants. So it was with Polly’s family and movies while they were on vacation: out of sight, out of mind.

While at home, Polly’s family NEVER attended the movies. Doing so was a sin. But Bruce, weren’t Polly’s parents (and preacher uncle and aunt) being hypocritical; living one way at home and a different way while on vacation? Sure they were, but such inconsistencies were common among IFB preachers and congregants. As the case for almost all Evangelicals, they made it up as they went along. Behaviors that were sins in the 1970s became approved actions in the 1990s. In the late 1970s, the church Polly’s parents attend believed having facial hair was a big, fat s-i-n. Today? It is not uncommon to see male church members sporting mustaches and beards — but no long hair. I have concluded that IFB churches, standard-wise, are about 20 years behind the “world.” Just wait long enough, and things that once were sins will no longer be so.

Back to the monumental event that took place during the holidays. My oldest son and his children visited Polly’s parents over Christmas. While there, he and his cousins and their children got together and went to a movie. While the cousins claim varying degrees of Evangelical Christianity, none of them has a problem with movie attendance. The shocking part of this story is that Polly’s mom and dad went with them! This is the first time in over fifty years that they have attended a movie on their home turf. All told, twenty-two of them went to see a racy, violent movie — Mary Poppins Returns.

Only one family member held to the IFB standard: Polly’s recently widowed aunt. Her husband had been a hardcore IFB preacher for over fifty years. She couldn’t bring herself to violate the standard her husband had preached over all those years. Of course, once the movie comes out on DVD or Netflix, well then it will be okay to watch it. I remember having a “discussion” with her preacher husband back in late 1980s about the inconsistency of his stand on movies. He preached against attending movie theaters, mainly because doing so supported Hollywood and could lead to a bad testimony. However, he had no problem renting movies at the local video store; a store which, by the way, had a special room where they stocked explicit X-rated movies. Hypocritical? Yep, but that’s the norm in Evangelical churches, including IFB congregations. If a preacher or congregants want to do something that violates the law of Medes and Persians, well they will find a way to get around the law. My problem was that I was a perfectionist who demanded strict obedience to the law. If going to a movie theater was a sin, so was renting movies from a video store. In the early 1990s, I tried to live — quite comically — according to the standard of not doing business with any concern that sold alcohol. I found that it was IMPOSSIBLE to do so. Every grocery store and most gas stations sold alcohol, as did upscale restaurants. Thus, I had to — dare I say — compromise my beliefs. Purity of belief was impossible.

Today, things are far different for Polly and me. God and the Bible no longer have any authority over us. We are free to do what we want. Having such freedom makes for living a peaceable life. We no longer worry about God raining fire from Heaven down on our heads or afflicting us with leprosy. We are free to live our lives as we wish. This doesn’t mean we are hedonists, doing as we will without compulsion or fear of consequences. We still live our lives according to personal standards and cultural norms, but we no longer let Christian belief determine how we live.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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