Tag Archive: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist

Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Cameron Giovanelli Charged with Sexual Assault

cameron giovanelli

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.

In May 2018, I wrote a post about the sexual assault allegations made against Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher and college president Cameron Giovanelli. (Please see Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Cameron Giovanelli Accused of Sexual Assault)  Giovanelli resigned from Golden State Baptist College and did what disgraced IFB preachers often do: moved across the country, joined up with one of his preacher buddies, and continued on in the ministry as if nothing happened.

In May 2019, I received word that Giovanelli was in Florida working as the associate pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Giovanelli planned on helping Immanuel Baptist’s pastor, Greg Neal, start a new unaccredited IFB secondary institution called North Florida Baptist College. Neal, himself, was caught up in a sex scandal in 2011 when he was accused of video voyeurism. You can read more about Neal’s brush with the law here and here. Neal, unfortunately, escaped prosecution. (Please see Black Collar Crime: Pastor Cameron Giovanelli Resurrects From the Dead, Found in Florida)

cameron giovanelli charges

Earlier this week, Giovanelli was charged by Baltimore, Maryland County police with sexual abuse of a minor and several other sex crimes. If convicted, Giovanelli faces up to thirty-six years in prison. (Case Information)

WBAL-11 reports:

Police charging documents claim Giovanelli initially tried to teach her how to kiss which turned into a daily encounter and eventually sexual assault. Police say an associate pastor at the church became suspicious. The associate said he confronted Giovanelli and told him to stop and the associate got an email later that night from Giovanelli thanking him.

“[Thanks] for saving his life and saving his ministry …. He thought God sent him to stop him from doing something,” said Giovanelli in police charging documents.

An investigation was opened in May 2018 when the victim reported the abuse to police. The completed investigation was submitted to the office of the state’s attorney, at which time the decision was made to charge Giovanelli.

An arrest warrant was obtained and served on Monday. Giovanelli voluntarily turned himself in to police Tuesday. He was released on his own recognizance at an initial bail hearing under the condition that he have no contact with any minor.

Based on information provided by the victim, police believe it is likely there are additional victims who were abused by Giovanelli during his time as pastor at the church [Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, Maryland] and school located in the 7300 block of Manchester Road.

 

Steve Van Nattan Ignorantly Says Atheists Never Sing

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How many Christian Fundamentalists view “secular” music. Cartoon by Royston Robertson

Evangelical apologists often say stupid, ignorant, clueless things about atheists. Sometimes, God’s chosen ones even take to lying about atheism in general and certain atheists in particular. Over the years, numerous Evangelicals have lied about me or distorted my past/present life. Evidently, “thou shalt not bear false witness” is absent from their Bibles. Then there are occasions when Evangelical zealots outdo themselves, saying things so absurd that even God says, Dude, really? One such person is Fundamentalist Baptist Steve Van Nattan.

Recently, Van Nattan wrote:

There is no music in Atheism.

They never sing. It is characteristic of all humans around the world that they make music and sing together in some way. Atheism cannot explain the zeal of song and dance. They have no idea where it came from.

….

The other thing Atheists do not have is hope. They have no forward look in their life. The vast majority of the worlds tribes and cultures believe they move on from this life to a better one. The Bible has this theme all the way through, and to this hour millions of Christians look eagerly for the day Jesus Christ returns and takes his Church out of this world and to their “heavenly home.” Atheists mock at this act of faith by Christians. not because it is unreasonable, but because these Atheists know they have no future. They have cussed God out, and they NEED to mock at anyone who believes they will see God one day.

Here is a classic example of hope. If you are an Atheist, and if this makes you mad, SO WHAT? I do not give diddle what you think about it. The fact is, you know your destiny….. HELL. Every Atheist has a deep fear down inside his soul that he may turn out to be wrong, and he can do nothing about it but scream in rage at Christians

Now, perhaps Van Nattan thinks atheism is a religion, and unlike Christianity, we don’t sing hymns and songs of praise to the atheist deity. Duh, right? Atheism isn’t a religion. Atheism is simply: disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. The American Atheists’ website states:

Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.

Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

Older dictionaries define atheism as “a belief that there is no God.” Clearly, theistic influence taints these definitions. The fact that dictionaries define Atheism as “there is no God” betrays the (mono)theistic influence. Without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read “there are no gods.”

Atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion.

While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. To put it in a more humorous way: If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.

Despite the fact that atheism is not a religion, atheism is protected by many of the same Constitutional rights that protect religion. That, however, does not mean that atheism is itself a religion, only that our sincerely held (lack of) beliefs are protected in the same way as the religious beliefs of others. Similarly, many “interfaith” groups will include atheists. This, again, does not mean that atheism is a religious belief.

Some groups will use words like Agnostic, Humanist, Secular, Bright, Freethinker, or any number of other terms to self identify. Those words are perfectly fine as a self-identifier, but we strongly advocate using the word that people understand: Atheist. Don’t use those other terms to disguise your atheism or to shy away from a word that some think has a negative connotation. We should be using the terminology that is most accurate and that answers the question that is actually being asked. We should use the term that binds all of us together.

If you call yourself a humanist, a freethinker, a bright, or even a “cultural Catholic” and lack belief in a god, you are an atheist. Don’t shy away from the term. Embrace it.

Agnostic isn’t just a “weaker” version of being an atheist. It answers a different question. Atheism is about what you believe. Agnosticism is about what you know.

Atheism requires nothing of its adherents except an affirmation of disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. From this affirmation, atheists move in a variety of directions. Speaking of the eclectic nature of atheism, American Atheists writes:

The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods. Some of the best debates we have ever had have been with fellow atheists. This is because atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas. Atheists come in a variety of shapes, colors, beliefs, convictions, and backgrounds. We are as unique as our fingerprints.

Atheists exist across the political spectrum. We are members of every race. We are members of the LGBTQ community. There are atheists in urban, suburban, and rural communities and in every state of the nation.

Now that I have dispatched with the “atheism is a religion” canard, let’s return Van Nattan’s central claim: there’s no music in atheism.

According to Wikipedia’s woefully incomplete list titled “atheists in music,” numerous musicians, across a wide spectrum of music genres, publicly profess to be atheists. Evidently, Van Nattan has never heard of Google. Had Van Nattan done a cursory web search, he would have found the Freethought Music website, “A Website for Atheist and Humanist Musicians, Composers and Leaders,” and the Freethought Band.

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Perhaps Van Nattan is ignorant of the fact the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Dan Barker, is a musician.

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And then there’s outspoken atheist Tim Minchin.

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Then there’s Shelley Segal.

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And finally, let me share music from Monster on Sunday.

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Van Nattan might also want to check out the Songs of Sacrilege series. He will find plenty of atheists who love to sing.

Here’s the BIG point Van Nattan doesn’t seem to get: atheists have at their disposal all of humanity’s music. (Conservapedia misses that point too with their Atheist Music entry.) I am an avid user of Spotify.  When I am in working in my office, Spotify is playing, and it is not uncommon for me to sing along with whoever is playing at the time. Currently, I am listening to Natalie Hemby. Yesterday, I was listening to classic rock. My music tastes are wide, including, from time to time, religious music. You see, it is Van Nattan who has a paucity of music. Due to his narrow Fundamentalist view of the world, Van Nattan is forced to listen to only certain genres of music — and only if the songs have lyrics that comport with his beliefs. Let me illustrate Van Nattan’s worldview. He lives in world of 500 television channels, yet he only tunes into one channel — that which is approved by his version of the Christian God. Van Nattan loves Mayberry RFD — as do I — but that’s the only show he watches. Just think of all the awesome TV shows Van Nattan is missing. So it is with music.

I lived in Van Nattan’s world for most of my life. Imagine coming of age in the 1970s and NOT listening to rock music. Oh, I guiltily caught a few tunes on my car’s AM radio, but most of the time I listened to explicitly Christian music. I was in my 40s before I bought my first “secular” CD — The Carpenters. Today? I am free to listen to whatever tickles my fancy. I am quite eclectic when it comes to music. And that’s what Van Nattan is missing — freedom. He’s in bondage to his God, the Bible, and a lifetime of Fundamentalist dogma.

Van Nattan believes that after he dies, he will go to Heaven — a hotel in the sky for people with the right religious beliefs. Most Fundamentalists believe that they will spend hours each day singing praises to Jesus. Wouldn’t it be great if on his first day in Heaven, Van Nattan heads to praise time — ready to belt out praises to God — only to find out the service is being led by KISS. Well played, Satan, well played.

I will let atheist rockers Monster on Sunday have the final word on this matter. Enjoy!

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Black Collar Crime: IFB Pastor Richard Micks Second Rape Trial Declared a Mistrial

richard mick

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.

(Previous posts about Richard Mick: Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Richard Mick has Rape Conviction Overturned and Black Collar Crime: IFB Pastor Richard Mick Faces New Trial, Out on Bond and Black Collar Crime: IFB Pastor Richard Mick on Trial Again for Rape)

Earlier this week, Richard Mick, the former pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Sandusky, Ohio — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation — was on trial again, facing 12 felony accounts for crimes allegedly committed against three children. Mick was previously convicted on these charges and sentenced to life in prison. During his trial, his attorney, K. Ronald Bailey, refused to participate in Mick’s defense. An Ohio appeals court, citing ineffective counsel, overturned Mick’s conviction and ordered a new trial. Surprisingly, K. Ronald Bailey is still Mick’s attorney.

Today, Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Tygh Tone declared a mistrial, saying evidence withheld from the defense the prosecution could hurt Mick’s right to due process.

The Sandusky Register reports:

On Thursday, following two full days of testimony, including from all three victims, the trial came to an abrupt halt.

Defense attorney Meredith O’Brien made a mistrial motion in the morning after speaking to a Sandusky police detective who was about to be called as a defense witness. The detective provided the defense copies of police reports related to the investigation.

Included in those reports was a March 2019 Sandusky report detailing the detective’s interview with a relative of one victim, who already testified. That report was not given to defense attorneys by the prosecution during the evidence discovery process, O’Brien said.

During the interview, the relative provided information that was apparently inconsistent with the victim’s testimony in the trial. Tone said he also read the report, and said it details “more serious accusations than what the defendant was charged with.” Mick was indicted across two cases, merged into one for trial, in 2014 and 2016.

O’Brien argued that if the defense had that police report prior to the trial, it would have changed their entire strategy.

“Every witness would have been questioned differently,” O’Brien said. “This entire trial is now infected.”

Assistant Erie County prosecutor Paulette Lilly did not deny that the report wasn’t provided to the defense but argued the report shouldn’t be grounds for a mistrial as the allegations of one victim don’t affect those of the other two victims.

“The report is not an interview with a victim,” she said. “It’s the recollection of (the relative’s) conversation with (the victim) three years earlier. It’s not a statement of (the victim’s.)”

After hearing arguments from both sides, Tone decided that the incident hurt Mick’s right to due process and ruled a mistrial. He said they will eventually set a pretrial hearing to discuss details of the new trial.

Currently, Mick is out on bond. Hopefully, the third time is a charm, and once the iron jail doors finally clang shut on the “good” pastor, they will remain shut.

Previous Sandusky Register article about the trial.

Is Evangelism All About Winning Souls?

knock on door

Neil Carter recently wrote a post about evangelism that piqued my interest. Neil talked about how most evangelistic efforts do little to reach the “lost,” and are really more about tribal identification than saving sinners from the flames of Hell. Neil illustrated this with a question and answer that was posted on Quora.

Someone asked: “Why do people get angry when I try to share the word of God with them?”

A man by the name of Doug Robertson responded:

The entire process is not what you think it is.

It is specifically designed to be uncomfortable for the other person because it isn’t about converting them to your religion. It is about manipulating you so you can’t leave yours.

If this tactic was about converting people it would be considered a horrible failure. It recruits almost no one who isn’t already willing to join. Bake sales are more effective recruiting tools.

On the other hand, it is extremely effective at creating a deep tribal feeling among its own members.

The rejection they receive is actually more important than the few people they convert. It causes them to feel a level of discomfort around the people they attempt to talk to. These become the “others.” These uncomfortable feelings go away when they come back to their congregation, the “Tribe.”

I pondered, for a moment, my past evangelism efforts, and I concluded that Neil and Doug are right; that my soulwinning efforts and those of the churches I pastored did little to save sinners. The majority of the people converted under my ministry voluntarily came to church, heard me preach, and then walked down the aisle to be saved after I psychologically and emotionally manipulated them, and not through community evangelistic outreaches.  (Emotionally Manipulating IFB Church Members through Music and Preaching Styles, Walking the Aisle — A Few Thoughts on Altar Calls, and Why Evangelical Beliefs and Practices are Psychologically Harmful — Part One)

I grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I attended an IFB college to train for the ministry, and while there I married the daughter of an IFB preacher. IFB churches and preachers are known for their aggressive approaches to evangelism, and I was no exception. The IFB churches I pastored typically had several evangelistic outreaches each week. Year-round, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, we would go door to door — much as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do — and try to evangelize people. On Saturdays, we would also go on bus visitation. While our purpose was primarily to bribe children with candy/toys so they would ride one of our busses the next day, we did have occasional opportunities to “share” the gospel.

Several times a year, I would invite evangelists to come hold meetings at the churches I pastored. These meetings ran five to fifteen days in length. The goal was to “revive” the congregation and “evangelize” the community. When we had an evangelist in town, we went door-knocking every day. These concentrated evangelistic efforts gave the hired guns an opportunity to WOW us with their soulwinning skills. The pressure was on them to birth new babies for Jesus.

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Front page photo, Times-Recorder, September 7, 1990, preaching on a downtown street corner, Zanesville, Ohio

In the 1980s and 1990s, IFB evangelist Don Hardman would come to our country church and hold fifteen-day protracted revival meetings. (Please see The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review, Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review, and My Life as a Street Preacher) Don was a street preacher, and it wasn’t long before he turned me into a street preacher too. Instead of going door to door, we would go to nearby communities, stand on a street corner, hand out tracts, and preach as loud as we could. After Don moved on to his next gig, I continued preaching on the street. I tried, without success, to get my colleagues in the ministry to go along with me. To the man, these preachers of the gospel told me that they weren’t “called” to preach on the street. At the time, I saw their refusal as cowardice, an unwillingness to preach like Jesus, the disciples, and the Apostle Paul did in the early days of the Christian church.

I stayed in hyper-evangelism mode well into the 1990s. Even after embracing Calvinism, I continued to busy myself evangelizing sinners. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I finally threw in the towel and abandoned my aggressive evangelism tactics. Why did I stop? The short answer is this: knocking on doors and preaching on the street resulted in very few, if any, converts. The overwhelming majority of salvation decisions were made by people who voluntarily attended one of our church services. Every so often, knocking on doors resulted in someone getting saved, but as I look back on these experiences, I have concluded that the only thing these supposed new converts got saved from was us! Not wanting to be seen as impolite, they prayed the sinner’s prayer, asking Jesus to save them, so we would leave them alone and move on to someone else. Praise Jesus, preacher! I have been delivered . . . from YOU!

For the most part, my evangelistic efforts were failures. Sure, I shared the gospel with hundreds of people, but few of them got saved. My soulwinning techniques were perfect — those I was taught at Midwestern Baptist College. I was passionate and zealous, devoting countless hours to evangelizing the lost. Why, then, did I fail so miserably? The short answer is that people found my methods offensive and wanted nothing to do with me, my church, or what I was peddling. Of course, this played right into my martyr’s complex. You see, as Neil made clear in his post, my soulwinning efforts were never really about saving souls. What knocking on doors and preaching on street corners did was separate me and the churches I pastored from the “world.” Their rejection only reinforced the notion that what we preached was the truth; that our tribe was the one true church. The more sinners rebuffed my soulwinning efforts, the more I felt that I was right. There’s nothing like persecution to “prove” the rightness of your beliefs and practices.  When people slammed doors in my face or cursed at me, I felt closer to Jesus. When a man tried to hit me with his truck while I preaching on a street corner in Zanesville, Ohio, I felt glad that I was worthy to suffer for the Lord, and even die for him. Mockery and cursing only made me glad that I could “suffer” for Jesus. The Apostle Paul suffered great indignities as he publicly evangelized sinners. (2 Corinthians 11) Suffering in like manner put me in the company of the greatest Christian ever known. What an honor, I thought at the time.

Over the past decade, I have engaged in countless discussions with Evangelical Christians. Many of them came to this site hoping to evangelize me. (Please see IFB Evangelist’s Wife Says She Loves Me, And God Does Too! and Dear Charlie, I’m Only Going to Say This Once) Despite their efforts, I remain an unrepentant, apostate atheist. I have often wondered, did these zealots really think that I was a promising prospect for Heaven? Did they really think their cliché-laden, Bible verse-filled shticks would cause me to drop on my knees, repent, and ask Jesus to save me? Think of all the possible targets for evangelization. Why go after someone like me? There’s no chance in Heaven or Hell that I would ever return to Evangelical Christianity. Yet, they continue to try. Why is that?

Most apologists know deep down that I am not going to repent and return to Christianity. It’s not going to happen . . . However, by trying to evangelize me, they feed their martyr complex; they reinforce their belief that the world hates God, Jesus, the Bible, their church, and them personally. Foundational to Evangelical faith is the belief you are absolutely right, and that all other religions are false. My rejection of their evangelistic overtures reminds them that their tribe is God’s chosen people; that their beliefs and practices are the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). The more that the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world turn them away, the more certain they are that their beliefs are the right. Our hostility and dismissal just prove to them that out of all the religions in the world, they chose the right one; that someday soon Jesus is coming again, and then all the people who said NO to their evangelistic efforts will pay the price for rejecting their efforts. Picture in your mind millions of smiling Evangelicals surrounding you as you are cast into the never-ending flames of the Lake of Fire. Their last words to you? See, I told you . . .

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Black Collar Crime: Former IFB Principal Laverne Fox Charged with Sex Crimes

busted

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.

(Previous posts about Faith Baptist Church in Wildomar, California and its pastor Bruce Goddard: Black Collar Crime: IFB Youth Pastor Malo Victor Monteiro Accused of Sexual Abuse, Black Collar Crime: IFB Youth Pastor Victor Monteiro Pleads Not Guilty to Sex Crimes, Black Collar Crime: IFB Youth Pastor Malo “Victor” Monteiro Sentenced to Five Years in Prison, and Pastor Bruce Goddard and His Bait and Switch Tactics)

Former Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian school principal Laverne Fox was arrested on July 1, 2019, in Erie, Pennsylvania.  Fox faces extradition to California, where he will face two counts of lewd acts with a child and two other sexual misconduct charges.

Fox was the principal at the private school operated by Faith Baptist Church in Wildomar, California.  The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:

After his [Laverne Fox] accuser, Kathy Durbin, told pastor Bruce Goddard in 1992 about the sexual abuse and grooming she faced over a span of two years by Fox, Goddard moved Fox to First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana.

….

Durbin told the Star-Telegram that Fox began grooming her for sex at a young age. In public Facebook posts, she wrote how she thought she had a father-daughter type relationship with Fox.

She realized later that was part of the grooming, she wrote. Fox began having sex with her when she was 15.

During the 1992 conversation with Goddard, Durbin said she dramatically told him that Fox and her had kissed so he would know something more was happening. She was disturbed and confused by the encounters.

Durbin was later forced to attend counseling and write an apology to Fox’s wife.

 

Black Collar Crime: IFB Pastor Richard Mick on Trial Again for Rape

richard mick

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.

(Previous posts about Richard Mick: Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Richard Mick has Rape Conviction Overturned and Black Collar Crime: IFB Pastor Richard Mick Faces New Trial, Out on Bond)

Richard Mick, the former pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Sandusky, Ohio — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation — is on trial again, facing 12 felony accounts for crimes allegedly committed against three children. Mick was previously convicted on these charges and sentenced to life in prison. During his trial, his attorney, K. Ronald Bailey, refused to participate in Mick’s defense. An Ohio appeals court, citing ineffective counsel, overturned Mick’s conviction and ordered a new trial. Surprisingly, K. Ronald Bailey is still Mick’s attorney.

The Sandusky Register reported today:

The trial for Castalia resident Richard Mick, 58, who previously served as the pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church, entered its first day of testimony Tuesday in Erie County common pleas court under Judge Tygh Tone. He faces 12 felony charges — two counts of rape and 10 counts of gross sexual imposition — for crimes allegedly committed against three children.

The first victim to testify, a woman, said that on separate occasions, Mick forced her to perform oral sex on him and raped her. All of the alleged crimes occurred in or near the church, at its former location on Milan Road.

She testified the sexual misconduct occurred between 1999 and 2002, when she was younger than 8 years old. She testified she felt Mick was an authority figure over her, and told a person, not related to her, about the alleged abuse years before police became involved, but nothing was done.

“I believe I went to (Mick’s) office to ask about salvation,” she testified, in regards to the alleged oral sex incident. “He, in a way, said that if I would do that I would be forgiven for my sins.”

The woman’s former therapist also testified, stating he diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Another victim, a man, testified that Mick inappropriately touched him when he was about 10 years old. The man testified Mick told him he was looking for rashes after he’d urinated himself.

The alleged sexual conduct involving the man occurred at the church’s current Cleveland Road location.

 

Why Am I the Only One Who Changed My Beliefs?

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

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

Dr. Bart Ehrman, a former Evangelical Christian and now an agnostic, writes:

Two things have happened to me this week that have made me think rather intensely about the path I’ve taken in life, and how radically it has swerved from the paths of others who were like me at the age of 20. I emphasize “who were like me.”   The reality is that the path I was on already at 20 was (now I see) extremely weird, and to outsiders looks more than a little bizarre. I was a hard-core evangelical Christian dedicated to ministry for the sake of the gospel. Not exactly what most 20-year-olds (including any of my many high school friends) were doing at the time.  If ever I want a conversation-stopper at a cocktail party, all I need do is say something about my past.

Still, given that as my starting point, what happened next is even more highly unusual. And I was abruptly reminded it of it this week, twice.   First, on Monday I had a radio/podcast debate here in London on “Premier Christian Radio” (it is the leading Christian radio station in England) (not that it has a lot of competition, but it is indeed a high class operation) with another scholar of the New Testament, Peter Williams, one of the world’s experts on ancient Syriac as it relates to the Bible (both OT and NT), former professor at the University of Aberdeen and current head of Tyndale House in Cambridge.

I have known Pete for years; he is a committed evangelical Christian with a view of the infallibility of the Bible. Our debate was on the question of whether the Gospels are historically reliable (a topic of frequent recurrence on this blog, obviously) (some bloggers may think “interminable” recurrence). He thinks there is not a single mistake in the Gospels, of any kind.  I think there are. You’ve heard this kind of debate before, so I won’t be recounting the ins and outs (although they were quite different from those you’ve seen before; still, it won’t matter for this post).

The second thing that happened is that I received a Facebook post from a former friend (I emphasize “former” since we apparently are no longer friendly) and classmate of mine from my Moody Bible Institute days (mid 70s), in which he lambasted the fellow alumni from my graduating class for holding me in any kind of esteem. The implication of his lambast was that I’m the enemy of the truth and no one should respect me or my views. I haven’t talked with this fellow for over 40 years, but last I knew we were friends, on the same floor in the dorm and the same basketball team. OK, I couldn’t hit a jump shot, but still, is that reason to be upset four decades later?

In any event, these two events made me think hard about one issue in particular, one that I keep coming back to in my head, in my life, and, occasionally, on this blog: why is it that some people are willing to change their minds about what they hold most dear and important in their lives and other people retain their same views, come hell or high water?    Why do some people explore options and think about whether they were originally “right” or not (about religion, personal ethics, social issues, politics, etc.), and other people cling tenaciously to the views they were given when they were 14 years old? It’s an interesting question.

Because I changed my views on something near and dear to me and my then-friends, I’m a persona non grata in the circles I used to run around in. And granted, I have zero desire (OK, far less than zero) to run around in them now. But I don’t feel any animosity toward my former friends, or think they’re going to roast in hell because of their views, and wish that torment would begin sooner than later. I understand why they do (toward me), but it’s sad and disheartening.

….

What I’m more interested in is why I would have changed my mind and others like him absolutely don’t. Even scholars.  Their views significantly deepen, become more sophisticated, more nuanced – but the views don’t change. (My sense of my former classmates at Moody – at least the ones I hear about – is that their views don’t even deepen or grow more sophisticated; they literally think pretty much the same thing as they did when they were mid-teenagers, only now with more conviction and passion).

The reason I find the whole matter sad is almost entirely personal (I guess sadness by definition is). My former evangelical friends and current evangelical debate partners think I’m an enemy of the truth, when I’ve spent almost my entire weird journey trying to come to the truth. And so far as I can tell, they haven’t. I’m not trying to be ungenerous, but it does seem to me to be the reality.

I’ll try to put it in the most direct terms here: how is it at all plausible, or humanly possible, that someone can question, explore, look into, consider the beliefs they were taught as a young child (in the home, in church, in … whatever context) and after 40 years of thinking about it decide that everything they were taught is absolutely right? The views *they* were taught, out of the sixty trillion possible views out there, are absolutely right? The problem with these particular views (of evangelical Christianity) is that if they are indeed right, everyone else in the known universe is wrong and going to be tormented forever because of it.

I know most Christians don’t think this: I’m just talking about this particular type of Christian. And they don’t seem to see how strange it is that they are right because they agree with what they were taught as young children. Yes, they don’t see it that way. They think they are right because they agree with the Bible which comes from God so they agree with God and I (and everyone else on the planet) disagree with God. But the reality is that this is the view they were handed as young kids.

Dr. Ehrman brings up a question that I have long pondered “why am I different from my former Evangelical friends, parishioners, and colleagues in the ministry?” I spent most of the first fifty years of my life in the Evangelical church. I attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Yet, in November 2008, I divorced Jesus. Several months later, I sent a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners to several hundred people who knew me well. From that point forward, I became known as Bruce, the Evangelical pastor who became an atheist. As a result of my deconversion, I lost scores of lifelong relationships. I learned quickly that what held our relationships together was the glue of fidelity to orthodox Christianity; that once I repudiated the central claims of Christianity and rejected the notion that the Bible was, in any way, an inspired, inerrant, infallible text, all pretense of friendship was gone. Today? I have two Evangelicals friends (and former parishioners), and even with them, I find that our relationships are strained due to their utterances on social media about the evils of atheism and not believing in Jesus. I ignore the things they post and say, but I do take it personally. And that’s it, for me, when it comes to connections to my Evangelical past.

I have known a number of Evangelical pastors over the years, and without exception, all of them say that they still believe and preach the truths we all held dear decades ago. Several of them have retired or left the ministry, but I have searched in vain for one ministerial colleague who lost his faith and is now an atheist or an agnostic. One is a lonely number, and I am it!  A handful of these “men of God” have moderated their Fundamentalist beliefs and practices, but the majority of them still hew to the old-time gospel. Many of these men still believe the same things they did when they were in Bible college over forty years ago. Dr. Ehrman has written numerous books about the nature of the New Testament text, and in doing so he has shredded the notion that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. (I don’t mention inspiration here because it is a faith claim, whereas claims of inerrancy and infallibility can be empirically tested.) Either these Bible-believers — most of whom believe the King James Bible is the perfect, preserved Word of God for English-speaking people — have never read one of Dr. Ehrman’s books or they have, ignoring, discounting, or denying what he had to say.

I remember having a discussion years ago with a dear friend and colleague of mine about the notion that the King James Bible was inerrant. I provided him a list of words that had been changed in the 1769 revision of the KJV. I thought that telling him there were word differences between the 1611 and 1769 editions would open his eyes to the folly of translational inerrancy. Instead, he doubled-down and said that he wouldn’t believe the KJV had errors even if I could prove it did!  This conversation took place in the late 1980s. Thirty years later, this man, of course, is no longer friends with me, and he still believes that the KJV is inerrant and infallible. And based on a perusal of his church’s website, he still holds to the same doctrinal beliefs he had when he graduated from a small Ohio-based IFB Bible college in the early 1980s. I fondly remember the conversations we had over lunch about hot topics such as: Calvinism, pre-wrath rapture, divorce, and countless other subjects. My ex-friend always struck me as a man who valued and appreciated knowledge and intellectual integrity. Yet, despite decades of reading books and studying the Bible, he remains unmoved from his Fundamentalist beliefs. Why is that?

As long-time readers know, my wife’s father graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — the same college Polly and I attended — and worked for and pastored IFB churches until he retired. Polly’s uncle, Jim Dennis, attended Midwestern in the 1960s and pastored the Newark Baptist Temple for almost fifty years. Jim’s children are all in the ministry. His two daughters married Pensacola Christian College-trained preachers, and his son — also trained at Pensacola — is a pastor. And now, Jim’s grandchildren are heading off to Bible college. The third generation is attending institutions such as The Crown College and West Coast Baptist College. As I look at my wife’s family, I want to scream. Why is it that no one can see the error of Fundamentalist thinking; that no one can see that Evangelical beliefs cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained; that no one can see the psychological damage done by Fundamentalist thinking? What made Polly and me different from her Jesus-loving family? Why could we see what they cannot?

I do know that many Evangelical preachers take great pride in believing the same things today that they believed twenty, thirty, or fifty years ago. It’s almost as if they believe that God (and their pastors/professors) told them everything they needed to know in their twenties, and there’s no reason to revisit past beliefs. It’s as if these preachers are proud of the fact that “ignorance is bliss.” It’s not that these men don’t read books, they do. However, a quick inventory of their libraries reveals that they rarely, if ever, read books by non-IFB or non-Evangelical writers. These preachers know what they know, and there’s no reason to read anything that might change their beliefs. In fact, anything that might cause the least bit of doubt is suspect and considered the work of Satan.

For whatever reason, I was never one to sit still intellectually. I blame this on my mother. She taught me to read at an early age and helped me learn that the library was my best friend. Even as an IFB pastor, I read authors who were on the fringe of the movement, and my reading expanded well beyond Christian orthodoxy in the latter years of my time in the ministry. As a pastor, I devoted myself to reading books, studying the Bible, and making sure my beliefs aligned with what I was learning. This process, of course, led to numerous theological and lifestyle changes over the years. The boy who enrolled at Midwestern at age nineteen was very different from the man who walked away from the ministry at forty-seven, and Christianity at age fifty. In between these bookends were thousands and thousands of hours spent in the study. Whatever my critics might say about me, no one can accuse me of not taking my studies and preaching seriously. Noted IFB evangelist “Dr” Dennis Corle told me that my ministry would be best served if I just spent a few hours a week preparing my sermons, and spent the rest of my time soulwinning. I didn’t follow his advice. I believed then that the people who called me “preacher” deserved to hear quality, educated, well-crafted sermons. I could do this and STILL have time for soulwinning. I have since come to the conclusion that Evangelicalism is littered with lazy preachers who have little regard for their congregants; who barf up pabulum week after week, rarely spending significant time in their studies. And why should they, I suppose? If you KNOW that your beliefs are straight from the mouth of God, there’s no need to read books that might challenge said beliefs.

Several years ago, a former church member wrote to me about my loss of faith. She was sure she knew what the problem was and how I could get myself back on the proverbial sawdust trail. You see, according to her, all those books I read over the years were the problem. If I would just go back to reading only the B-I-B-L-E, then my faith would somehow magically reappear. In her mind, I knew too much, and that what I needed was some good old Baptist ignorance. Did not the Bible say about Peter and John in Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

Peter and John were thought to be unlearned, ignorant men, yet their lives revealed that they were men who had been with Jesus. Surely, being known for having been with Jesus is far more important than being known as a learned, educated man, right?

And at the end of the day, I can’t unlearn what I know. I refuse to limit my intellectual inquiries. I refuse to rest on what I know today being the end-all, the zenith of wisdom and knowledge. No, in fact, leaving Christianity has shown me how much I don’t know; that despite the countless hours I spent reading books, I have not yet scratched the surface of human knowledge and understanding. The best I can say is this, “I know more today than I did yesterday.” And to quote Buzz Lightyear, “To Infinity and Beyond!”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Black Collar Crime: Gary Wiggins and Blessed Hope Boys Academy

pastor gary wiggins

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.

In December 2016, The Alabama Department of Human Resources and Baldwin County law enforcement raided and removed 22 children from Blessed Hope Boys Academy in Seminole, Alabama. Blessed Hope, at the time, advertised itself as a Christian boarding school for “troubled” teens.  Operating as an unlicensed, unregulated “ministry,” Blessed Hope  was operated by Pastor Gary Wiggins and his wife Meghann.  After the raid, the school moved its location to Missouri.

According to a 2016 Al.com report, Blessed Hope was a growing and lucrative business:

The Blessed Hope Boys Academy opened about four years ago. It was granted status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2013.

The school has grown steadily since it opened. The school’s revenue grew from $232,524 in 2013 to $289,655 in 2014. The National Center for Charitable Statistics listed the school’s 2015 total revenue at $430,159.

Thomas Cox, a former student at Blessed Hope, recounted to the The Statesman what happened to him:

Thomas Cox, 18, said he clearly remembers the punishment he and other boys faced two years ago at Wiggins’ boys home in Alabama.

Cox, who now lives in Pennsylvania, said that when he attended the Blessed Hope Boys Academy near Seminole, Ala., in 2016, Wiggins made him and other boys stand and face a wall for hours and exercise excessively, and that Wiggins also hit students with a wooden paddle for punishment.

Boys would be slammed to the floor and several people would “pile on top of them” for minor infractions, such as refusing to say Bible verses, said Cox, who would not discuss why his parents sent him to the academy. Many times, he said, Wiggins would take students out of classes and make them work at his moving company and lawn care company without pay.

In May 2018, Wiggins shuttered Blessed Hope in Missouri and moved to Bertram, Texas to set up a new “ministry.”  Wiggins changed the name from Blessed Hope to Joshua Home, but the scam was still the same: “fix” broken teens and make lots of money while doing so.

In 2018, Joshua Home was raided, and eight boys were removed on allegations of abuse, neglect, labor violations, fraud, licensing violations, and human trafficking. Investigators believe Wiggins may have been using the boys illegally for a lawn care service and a moving company.

In 2017, Wiggins and Blessed Hope were investigated by 20/20. Wiggins told an undercover reporter that with the Bible and a belt, he could beat the gay out of a boy. What follows is the 20/20 investigation of unlicensed, unregulated religious group homes, including Blessed Hope. The report is shocking, to say the least. That this kind of stuff STILL goes on in the United States is mindboggling.

Video

According to Pastor Gary Williamson, pastor of Seminole Baptist Church in Seminole, Alabama, Gary Wiggins is a “good Christian man” who has done nothing wrong.  Wiggins, along with his wife and three children, were members of Seminole Baptist while operating the Blessed Hope Boys Homes. According to  Williamson’s bio on his church’s website:

At this same time his wife Becky, who had been saved at the age of 13 at a Billy Graham Crusade but was living life as a backslidden, undercover Christian, began praying for him [Gary Williamson]. She came across a TV broadcast on the local cable access channel called “Drawing Men to Christ”. The program was being aired by Victory Bible Baptist Church under the leadership of Pastor Jesse Smith.

Drawing Men to Christ is a ministry of Christian Video Ministries and features televised broadcasts of renowned Preacher and Chalk Talk Artist Dr. Peter S. Ruckman.

After watching several successive broadcasts of Dr. Ruckman’s preaching, Ray Williamson became “Brother Ray Williamson” the 19th of July 1987 upon watching and listening to a sermon entitled “The Wasted Life”. Since the time of his new birth in Christ, Brother Ray has determined to preach and defend the faith that he once sought to destroy.

Pastor Williamson graduated from Pensacola Bible Institute in 1992 while still serving in the Coast Guard in Mobile, AL and then started and pastored Bible Believers Baptist Church for three years in Petaluma, CA. Subsequently he has received a Bachelors of Theology Degree from Andersonville Baptist Theological Seminary and also earned an Associates degree from the University of Phoenix all still while serving his country in the U.S. Coast Guard.

As of this date, Gary Wiggins has not been charged with a crime. The latest news report on Wiggins and Joshua Home, dated May 2019, says Wiggins is still under investigation and charges will “soon” be filed. We shall see . . .

HEAL report on Gary Wiggins

Let the Fun Begin: Baptist Church Business Meetings

church meeting

Most Baptist churches practice congregational government. This means that the church membership has the final say on what happens in the church. Some Baptist churches are truly congregational. No one can even fart without it being voted on first by church members. However, many Baptist churches are congregational in name-only. Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, in particular, are known for having dictatorial, controlling pastors. The congregation may vote on big money issues, but the day-to-day operation of the church is left up to the pastor. This is especially true when the church was started by the pastor. The church becomes his fiefdom, his personal plaything, and no one, including his charges, is going to take it away from him. As long as the pastor doesn’t diddle little boys or use church offerings to play the ponies, he likely can remain the pastor until “God” calls him elsewhere.

Some Baptist churches — believing congregationalism puts power in the wrong hands — are governed by elders. All this does is concentrate power and control. Elders can and do abuse their authority, often acting in their own best interests. One need only look at megachurches with their corporation-style boards to see what happens when stakeholders no longer have any control. That’s not to say that congregationalism is the best form of church government. As long as people are people, there will be conflicts. What elevates these conflicts in Baptist churches, however, is that both sides believe that the Holy Spirit (God) is leading and speaking to them! I participated in numerous church business meetings where people metaphorically duked it out over who would get his way. I found it interesting then, and still do, how “God” can be so unclear about his good, acceptable, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Perhaps, the problem is that there is no God, and what you have are people with competing wants, needs, and desires.

What follows is a handful of stories from my days as a Baptist church member and pastor. These stories are a highlight reel of sorts from the countless church business meeting I attended.

As a teenager, I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. It was the 1970s, and, thanks to Trinity’s aggressive evangelistic efforts, the church was one of the fastest-growing churches in the area. Attendance became so large that big attendance days such as Easter were held in the auditorium of nearby Findlay High School. Finally, church attendance reached a place where Pastor Millioni and the deacons decided it was time for a larger building. They would later move from their Trenton Avenue location to a spacious, modern round edifice near the Findlay Mall.

Church leaders decided to sell bonds to church members to finance construction. Such bond programs were quite popular at the time. They were later deemed to be fraudulent, little more than Ponzi schemes. One Sunday evening, church leaders called for a business meeting to discuss the new building. I attended the meeting. I was very much a committed follower of Jesus, one who took seriously the standards by which Christians were expected to live their lives. One rule was NO CUSSING! Imagine my surprise then when the church’s song director got into a verbal argument with someone and swore at him! Boy, was I shocked! Here was a man I deeply repected and he said some bad words. Such was my naiveté at the time.

In the early 2000s, while between pastorates, I attended Frontier Baptist Church in Frontier, Michigan. Frontier was a small, needy, dysfunctional congregation. I have concluded that I sought out such churches because I see myself as a “fixer.” I pastored several churches who needed Pastor Bruce to ride in on a white horse and “save” them. While Frontier had an elderly pastor, the congregation was most certainly in need of my help. Or so I thought anyway.

Once a month, the church — a Southern Baptist congregation — would hold a business meeting. The pastor was a strict congregationalist. He refused to make ANY decision without the church voting on the matter. The church was in desperate need of a new refrigerator. I just so happened to have a like-new fridge in storage. I told the pastor I would like to give a refrigerator to the church, thinking he would quickly and graciously say, sure. Instead — I kid you not — he said, “I can’t accept your gift, Bruce. The church will have to vote on it first.” And they did a month later. To this day, I don’t understand this kind of passive leadership, an unwillingness to make decisions on your own lest the congregation get upset with you.

I lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona for a time in the 1970s. I attended Sierra Vista Baptist Church — a Conservative Baptist congregation. In this church, no one could become a member unless the congregation voted on their admission. At one business meeting, congregants discussed several people who were prospective members. When one woman’s name came up, the church matriarch asked, “is she divorced?” “Yes,” the pastor replied. “Then I vote NO on her membership.” And that was that. This church may have had a congregational form of government, but when Granny spoke everyone listened and fell in line.

In 1980, Polly and I attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark, Ohio for a time before leaving to help start an IFB church in Buckeye Lake. The Baptist Temple was trying to raise money to build a gymnasium, along with some additional classrooms for their Christian school. The church’s pastor and deacons had agreed to pay cash for the construction. They believed that by “trusting God,” congregants would cough up the necessary money for the new building. Months and months went by, and then one Sunday an “important” business meeting was called for. At the appointed time, the church’s pastor told congregants that church leaders, with soon-to-be-given congregational approval, had decided to borrow the money necessary to build the building. I thought at the time, wait a minute! I thought we were going to trust “God” to provide the money?” No one said a word. It seemed like everyone was falling in line behind the Pied Piper. When asked if there were any more questions, I nervously stood and said, “Why are we changing horses now? I thought we were trusting God to provide the money.” Silence. You would have thought I had cut a raunchy fart in a crowded elevator. Keep in mind, the pastor was my wife Polly’s uncle. Nearby sat her preacher father and his wife. Needless, to say, my “out of the will of God” words were not appreciated. It wouldn’t be the last time Pastor Uncle and I would clash.

In 1994, I moved my family from southeast Ohio to San Antonio, Texas so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Imagine my surprise at the first church business meeting when I learned that women were not permitted to speak at public meetings. Now, I was quite an authoritarian at the time, but I was egalitarian when it came to business meetings. Worse yet, if a woman had a question, she was to whisper it to her husband or another man, and he would ask their question. I kid you not. The only time women were permitted to speak out loud during public meetings was when they were singing or praying.

Finally, I want to share a story from the eleven years I spent as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. One Sunday evening, the congregation gathered for a business meeting. During the meeting, a man stood up and said, “I have a real problem with So-and-So” — a fellow church member. He proceeded to air his grievances against this man and his family. Then So-and-So’s wife stood up and began listing all the problems she had with the first man and his family. The business meeting quickly turned into a shouting match between these two families. The meeting became so contentious that I just sat down and let these two families verbally duke it out. There was a moment when I thought it might turn into a physical altercation, but fortunately, it didn’t.

Finally, their war of words ended. I stood up and let them know what I thought of their childish behavior. These two families had been sitting on an increasing number of offenses for so long that when given a chance to air them, boy oh boy, did they! The good news is they were able to work out their differences. Both families were devoted, faithful church members, people who would go out of their way to help others. But, on this night, I was reminded of the fact that they were very much human, as we all are.

This post is not meant to demean the churches and parties mentioned. I hope by sharing these stories — and I could spend days writing about church business meetings — that readers would see that Baptists, for all their talk about following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, are just as human as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. All of us want our way, whether it is in our marriages, places of employment, or houses of worship. It’s normal to think that our viewpoint is the right one — no Holy Ghost needed. What’s harder for us to do is surrender our viewpoints to those of others, to admit that perhaps we just might not be right.

Do you have a favorite church business meeting story — Baptist or not? Please share them in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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Stop with the “Few Bad Apples” Rationalization When Excusing Clergy Misconduct

a few bad apples

Sixteen months ago, I posted the first story in the Black Collar Crime Series. Yesterday, I posted the six-hundredth post in the series. Focused primarily on clergy sexual misconduct, the sheer level of reports puts to rest the notion that such crimes are committed by a “few bad apples.” Numerous times a day, I receive notices from Google Alerts, notifying me that a new report of alleged clergy crime has been posted to the Internet. I look at every notification, choosing to only publish the stories that are publicly reported by reputable news sites. I am often contacted by victims who are looking to expose their abusers. I do what I can to help them, but if there’s no public news reports or other information that can corroborate their stories, I am unable to do anything for them. Believe me, I WANT to help them, but it would be legally reckless of me to post a story without sufficient evidence. I generally also only publish reports about clerics from the United States — mostly Protestant, Evangelical, Southern Baptist, and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). While I post stories featuring Catholic priests from time to time, I usually leave such reporting to others. The same could be said of widespread clergy sexual misconduct in Africa. The point I am trying to make here is this: 600 published reports is just the tip of the iceberg.  As of today, I am also sitting on over 300 clergy sexual misconduct stories I have not published due to a lack of sufficient evidence or a shortage of time to do so.

Not only are there more than just a “few bad apples” preying on church members, when you add to the total the number of pastors and other religious leaders who have consensual sexual relations with congregants, it is clear for all to see that so-called “men of God” are hardly the pillars of moral virtue they claim to be. In 2015, I wrote a post titled, Is Clergy Infidelity Rare? Here’s an excerpt from the post:

In October 2013, Doug Phillips, president of the now-defunct Vision Forum Ministries confessed to church leaders that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a woman who is not his wife. Defenders of Phillips took to their blogs, websites, Twitter, and Facebook to do damage control on the behalf of Phillips and the patriarchal movement. One such defender is Independent Baptist pastor Voddie Baucham, a man who is widely viewed as the African-American version of Doug Phillips.

A Christian woman by the name of Julie Anne posted an article on the Spiritual Sounding Board blog about the Doug Phillips scandal. Her post mentioned the following quote by Voddie Baucham:

Dennis, You ask, “How many times do we see this in Christian leadership?” The answer may surprise you, but it is actually quite rare. There are hundreds of thousands of churches in America. We hear of these types of things on a national basis when they happen to high profile people. However, considering the number of people in Christian leadership, the numbers are quite small. As to your other point, most men who go through something like this never recover. Of course, there are exceptions. Moreover, there are some circles wherein things like this, and much worse, are merely swept under the rug. However, in circles where leadership is taken seriously, it is very difficult for a man to come back from things like this. People have long memories, and tend to be rather unforgiving. (emphasis mine)

Baucham repeats the oft-told lie that clergy sexual misconduct is quite rare. I have heard this line more times than I can count. It is an attempt to prop up the notion that clergy are more moral and ethical than most people; that they are pillars of virtue and morality.  Such claims are patently false.

In 2007, Dr. R.J. Krejcir of  the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute, wrote a post detailing his recent study of clergy infidelity. Krejcir stated:

  • Of the one thousand fifty (1,050 or 100%) pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
  • Three hundred ninety-nine (399 or 38%) of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • Three hundred fifteen (315 or 30%) said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.

So much for clergy sexual infidelity being rare.

Numerous studies have been conducted concerning sexual infidelity among married people. The percentage varies widely, but it is safe to say that between ten and twenty percent of married people have been sexually unfaithful to their spouse. The percentage is higher for men than it is women.

We know that men of the cloth are not morally or ethically superior. In the United States and Canada, there are approximately 600,000 clergy. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion and Research, this total includes active clergy and “retired clergy, chaplains in hospitals, prisons and the military, denominational executives, and ordained faculty at divinity schools and seminaries.” This number does not include clergy who are affiliated with independent churches. If between ten and twenty percent of married people commit adultery, and clergy are no different morally from non-clergy, then this means that between 60,000 and 120,000 clergy have committed adultery.  Again, so much for clergy sexual infidelity being rare.

Keep in mind, this is only the number of CONSENSUAL sexual relationships.

….

Most people in the United States profess to be Christians. Taught to think that their churches are safe havens and their pastors have only their best interests at heart, many of them have a hard time believing and accepting that bad things happen, and far too often the perpetrators are pastors, deacons, elders, youth leaders, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, church janitors, evangelists, missionaries, bus drivers, Christian school teachers, and principals. Wherever Christians have authority over others, you will find sexual misconduct — both legal and criminal.

What makes churches and clergy so dangerous is that congregants are trusting. It’s the world they need to worry about, or so church leaders tell them anyway. Led to believe that Christians — thanks to salvation and the Holy Ghost — are above the fray and oh-so-humbly morally superior, church members naively trust those who have “God-given” authority over them. Even after their pastors and other church leaders have been exposed as the predators, many congregants refuse to believe that the men and women they looked up to abused others. You who read the Black Collar Crime Series regularly know that it is not uncommon to have congregants comment, defending their pastor or suggesting that the police or district attorney are out to get their preacher.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for church members to blame victims instead of putting the blame where it belongs: on their ministers, youth pastors, and other church leaders. Even after church leaders are found guilty in criminal court, congregants will often line up to testify at sentencing hearings; letting courts know that their pastors are good men who made a momentary mistake (never mind the fact that most pastors convicted of sex crimes are repeat or habitual offenders). Worse yet, on way too many occasions, once incarcerated clerics are released from prison, they find their way back to churches looking for pastorates or they start new churches — hiding from their new congregations their decadent past. One of the reasons I continue to publish Black Collar Crime stories is that this blog becomes a database of sorts for people doing their due diligence before accepting as fact the “testimony” of prospective pastors.

And to churches who hire registered sex offenders, knowing what they did at their last churches, don’t be surprised when your new God-fearing pastor treats your church as a hunting ground. Get your head out of your ass and protect the children, teens, and vulnerable adults in your churches. “But, Bruce, as Christians, we are supposed to “forgive and forget.” It’s forgetting I have a problem with. Forgetting what clergy have done in the past invites and encourages new abuse and harm. Just yesterday, a family member who is a Fundamentalist pastor, mentioned in a positive light the “ministry” David Hyles has devoted to “fallen” preachers. (Please see Disgraced IFB Preacher David Hyles Helping Fallen Pastors Get Back on Their Horses and Is All Forgiven for David Hyles? and David Hyles Says My Bad, Jesus and UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored) I thought, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!  But, when you believe in 1 John 1:9 Christianity (If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness), it is easy to dismiss past bad behavior as being “under the blood” and “buried in the depths of the sea of God’s forgetfulness.” No matter what Christians do — including rape, murder, and fraud — wiping their slates clean is but a prayer away. (Note: I later talked to the family member. He genuinely didn’t know about David Hyles’ past. He was a child in the 1980s when the Biblical Evangelist published its expose on Jack and David Hyles. I guess I am officially an old man.)

Years ago, a former colleague of mine in the ministry, told me that at his church they believed in forgiveness, and that’s why they didn’t run criminal background checks on church workers. “Bruce,” this pastor said, “when a person gets saved, their past ‘sins’ are forgiven and remembered no more. If God doesn’t remember their sins, neither should we.” In his naive, Bible-sotted mind, once a person is really, really, really “saved,” — one really each for the Father, Son and Holy Ghost — there’s no reason to not “trust” them, even if, in the past, he or she was a murderer, rapist, serial adulterer, or child molester. “Either our sins are under the blood, or they are not, Brother,” this preacher told me. Many years ago, I warned him that one of his daughters was in a sexual relationship with a teen boy in my church. He told me, “oh, they would never do that!” Right, two horny kids, all alone on a back-country road? What are they doing, studying the Bible and praying? A month or so later, he came home early from his church’s midweek prayer meeting, only to find his daughter and her boyfriend naked and having sex on the living room floor. Sadly, in far too many churches, trusted church leaders are assaulting and abusing congregants, and everyone around them is saying, “oh, they would never do that.” As the Black Collar Crime series makes clear, such thinking is not only naive, it’s dangerous. Throw in pastors who psychologically manipulate congregants and use those who trust them as a means to an end, and I can safely say that churches are some of the most dangerous places in the United States; that parents who “trust” church leaders with their children and teenagers risk their charges being misused, abused, and assaulted.

No, I am not saying all church leaders are bad people, but I am saying a large enough percentage of them are — more than a few bad apples, to be sure — that wisdom and prudence demands keeping children right by your side when attending houses of worship. Better safe than sorry, I say. (Dear Evangelical Church Leaders: It’s Time to Get Rid of Your Youth Pastors and Youth Departments) Suppose you went to the local grocery with your children to buy some groceries. Suppose there were 200 shoppers in the store, and ten of them were child molesters or registered sex offenders. Knowing this, would you let your children wander through the store unattended? Of course not. Why, then, should churches and preachers be treated any differently?

Let me leave you with one poignant thought: countless Christians have prayed for God to deliver them from the hands of their abusers, and without exception, God ignored their prayers. If left up to “God,” predator church leaders will, with impunity, cause untold harm. It is up to us to put a stop to clergy sexual misconduct. All I can do is write about the subject. But if you are a church-going Christian, you have the responsibility and duty to make sure the children, teens, and vulnerable adults are safe when attending church, school, or church events. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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The Danger of IFB Summer Youth Camps

youth camp

Many former Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church members can remember attending summer youth camps during their teenage years. (Please see Camp Chautauqua, Miamisburg, Ohio.) I attended camp every summer between my seventh and tenth grade school years. The summer after seventh grade, I attended an Ohio-based Bible church youth camp. The next year, I attended Camp Patmos — a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) camp. The following two years, I attended Camp Chautauqua in Miamisburg, Ohio — a camp facility owned and operated by the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship.

I always looked forward to attending camp. It was one week out of the summer when I could get away from home and meet up with friends from other churches, meet new acquaintances and, most of all, fall in love. While there were plenty of girls to date at my home church, camp afforded me the opportunity to meet and pursue new loves. At the end of every camp, my new girlfriend and I traded addresses, promising to write one another. Surely, our “love” would survive until next year’s camp, right? Alas, such relationships died by the time the church bus turned out of the camp’s driveway headed for home. Forty-five years later, I am still waiting for that beautiful black-haired girl from Elyria to write me. Something tells me that she won’t be writing, and much like her redheaded flame, she found that absence does not make the heart grow fonder, and a nice-looking boy at church is a lot more appealing than the promise of letters to come.

In 2016, I wrote a post detailing my experiences at Camp Chautauqua:

I have many fond memories of the two summers I spent at Camp Chautauqua. The spiritual emphasis was intense and played an instrumental part in my call to the ministry. A number of the big-gun Baptist preachers preached at the evening chapel services. I can still remember Peter Ruckman’s sermons, complete with his famous chalk drawings. I also remember John Rawlings, then pastor of Landmark Baptist Temple (now Landmark Church) in Cincinnati, preaching one night, and during his sermon he told an illustration about cleaning shit out of the barn when he was young. He actually said the word SHIT!! Needless to say, I was stunned. Later in life, I learned that some Christians didn’t think shit was a curse word, especially when used to describe animal manure.

Camp brought upwards of a thousand youth together for one week. Camp Chautauqua had a lot of real estate for meandering teens to get lost in. Follow me for a moment…It’s the 70s. A thousand teenagers, ninth through twelfth grades. Lots of real estate in which hormone-raging teens could get lost. Well, use your imagination. The highlight of youth camp for me was the girls.

….

The first year I went to Camp Chautauqua, Gene Milioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist, was our cabin counselor. He was pretty easy to outwit. The next year, the youth pastor, Bruce Turner, was the cabin counselor, (please see Dear Bruce Turner) and he proved to be every bit our match. He was not so far removed from his own youth that he had forgotten the dangers of putting a bunch of teenage boys and girls in proximity to one another.

Practical jokes were an everyday occurrence. The jokes were fun to pull on others, but payback could be brutal. From stolen bedding and purloined light bulbs to shaving cream in sleeping bags, practical jokes were a part of what made camp a great experience. And besides, I was a pretty good joke perpetrator.

The music was another highlight of camp. Most of the churches that brought their teens to camp were mid-size to large churches, so the music talent level was superb. Wonderful music. To this day, I think some of the best singing I have ever heard was at Camp Chautauqua.

If I had a negative experience at camp, I don’t remember it. Perhaps, this is the wistful remembering of an old man trying to recall what happened 45 years ago during the glory days of his youth. Perhaps my fond memories are a reflection of the fact that camp, for me and for many others, was a respite from our fundamentalist churches and family dysfunction. Camp was the one week out the year that I got to hang out with my friends and meet new people without having adults watching my every move.

This summer, thousands of IFB teenagers will go to camp. Some teens will attend camps at the facilities mentioned above. Others will attend camps such as the Bill Rice Ranch or The Wilds. My wife’s family is deeply ensconced in the IFB church movement. Many of her relatives send their teens to the Bill Rice Ranch — an uber-fundamentalist camping program. Some IFB churches, wanting to preserve their INDEPENDENT status, hold their own camps. I did this for several years in southeast Ohio. We would rent a camp for a week, and then invite like-minded churches to attend. The last camp I participated in featured a preacher from Fort Wayne who believed Christians could be demon-possessed. He spent the week excusing all sorts of bad behavior as demon possession. By the time the week was over, I wanted to strangle the man. Come the next Sunday, I made sure the teens and adults from my church who attended the camp knew that I totally disagreed with the notion of Christian demon possession.

Over the weekend, I pondered my experiences attending IFB youth camps, and whether my feel-good camp experiences covered up something insidious; that these camps, regardless of how much fun campers have, are tools used by IFB churches and pastors to indoctrinate children and teenagers. IFB church leaders know that they must draw in children and teens before they can be indoctrinated. Thus, camp advertising materials focus on all the fun campers will have, and not the fact that there will be hours-long Bible studies, devotionals, church services, and afterglows (highly emotional after-service campfires). High-powered IFB evangelists, youth pastors, and conference speakers are brought in to evangelize the lost and indoctrinate the saved. Most camp attendees will return to their home churches “on-fire” for God. Perhaps former IFB church members will remember the Sundays after camp when attendees were paraded in front of their churches and asked to give testimonies about what God had done for them over the past week. Passionate testimonies of conversion or getting right with God, complete with tears, are often heard. Adults shout “AMEN!”, praising God for the work he has done in the lives of church teenagers. Yet, in a matter of weeks or months, life for these “changed” teenagers returns to normal, just in time for the church’s annual youth revival or other event meant to stir religious passions.

Many IFB teenagers become immune to indoctrination, enjoying the fun and enduring the Jesus stuff. Others, such as myself, become caught up in a constant cycle of sinning and getting right with God; a continual striving for holiness and perfection. The ultimate goal of camps, youth revivals, youth rallies, and youth conferences is to thoroughly indoctrinate teenagers so they will actually “feel” God calling them to full-time service as pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and Christian school teachers. Those feeling “called” will be further indoctrinated, hopefully leading them to “feel” God calling them to attend an IFB college. (Many IFB preachers see teens called into the ministry as the highwater mark of their ministries, the passing on of the Fundamentalist Baptist torch.) Countless IFB preachers felt the “call” of God at youth camp. While I felt the “call” during a service preached by IFB evangelist Al Lacy, there’s no doubt summer youth camp played an instrumental part in my decisions to become a preacher, attend Midwestern Baptist College, and pastor Evangelical churches for twenty-five years.

How about you? Did you attend IFB summer youth camp? Please share your experiences in the comment section. Non-IFB church camp stories are welcome too!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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