Menu Close

Tag: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist

Gossip: The Things Preachers Say Behind Closed Doors

men gossip

Several years ago, Southern Baptist pastor Rick Patrick faced public outrage over comments he made in a private forum about women, sexual assault, and the #metoo movement. His words made it out into the wild, and Patrick was forced to apologize several times for his offensive statements. I am sure that Patrick thought his words would be protected, but offensive words said in private often make their way to the Internet. Such is the nature of the digital age. I abide by the rule: don’t say anything privately that you wouldn’t want others to read on the Internet.

Evangelical pastors are noted for preaching sermons against gossip and crude speech. Growing up in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, I heard numerous sermons about gossip, off-color humor, swearing, and even the use of bywords. (See Christian Swear Words.) My pastors told me that Jesus heard everything I said, and that come judgment day, he would hold me accountable for my words. What these men of God didn’t tell me is that when they were behind closed doors with their colleagues in the ministry, they routinely failed to practice what they preached.

Years ago, I was a participant in a Reformed Baptist discussion group. The group was private and had pastors and elders in its membership. It was common for group members to talk — Greek for gossip — about problems in their churches or the difficulties they were having with particular members. We talked about and said things that would have proved to be embarrassing had they been made public. This group, at that time, was the Reformed Baptist version of the Catholic confessional. What was said was considered sacrosanct.

One day, as I was searching the Internet, I came across the “private” discussions from the group. Evidently, a programming mistake had made the group’s posts public instead of private. Horrified, I immediately notified the group administrators, and they fixed the technical problem. I thought, at the time, if church members and non-group clerics ever saw what we said, why, there would be all sorts of outrage and calls for discipline. Fortunately, my find saved the group’s collective bacon.

I was a pastor for twenty-five years. During my teenage years and my years in the ministry, I attended numerous pastor’s fellowships and conferences. These events allowed men of God to hang out with their own kind, giving them opportunities to talk shop and air their grievances. Most of these events featured a meal, either lunch or before the evening session. It was during these meals that pastors would gather in smaller groups and “talk.” I have heard and shared countless stories about church problems. The gathered pastors were expected to commiserate with gossipers, and, if warranted, offer advice.

Thanks to being in the ministry for so long, I had a lot of preacher friends, including a few men I considered BFFs. I would often visit my friends at their church offices or we would arrange to meet somewhere for a meal. Without fail, our conversations would turn to this or that problem, this or that contrary member, or one of the never-ending problems facing IFB and Evangelical churches. These discussions were often chock-full of information disclosed in private counseling sessions by church members or things overheard on the grapevine. The thinking was that sharing private information with colleagues in the ministry was okay. Who’s going to know, right?

Of course, I would know, and when I would later be asked to preach at the churches of my friends, I would have thoughts of what they shared with me over lunch or at one of our fellowship/prayer times. One pastor friend kept a dossier on every church member he talked to. He had become the pastor of a church filled with conflict and strife. The previous pastor had been accused of sexual assault (he later left the church and pastored elsewhere) and his wife had been accused of dressing seductively. The deacons ran the pastor off, and in came my friend. As is often the case, when young, inexperienced pastors — it was his first and only pastorate — take on troubled churches, they become sacrificial lambs. There was so much lying and deception going on that my friend decided to write reports of every conversation he had with church members. Much like James Comey did with his discussions with President Trump, my pastor friend kept intricate records of every conversation. He would share some of these conversations with me. This, of course, colored my view of these people. I knew many of them by name, so when I was in the presence of such-and-such person, I thought of what my friend had told me about them.

Another pastor told me about a conversation he had with an engaged couple. They wanted to know if having anal sex was a sin. They wanted to “save” themselves for marriage, so they thought having backdoor sex would be okay. No hymen was broken, so the woman would still be a “virgin” when she walked down the aisle. My pastor friend told them that they had to stop what they were doing; that anal sex was indeed a sin against God. My problem, of course, was every time I saw this couple (they never married) I thought of them having anal sex.

I could spend hours giving anecdotal stories about private things I heard and said when I was in the safe circle of my ministerial colleagues. Some of these men would come and preach for me, so I am sure they had the same thoughts I did. Oh, there’s the couple Bruce said hasn’t had sex in five years. Oh, there’s the man who confessed to having secret homosexual desires. Oh, there’s the teenager who got caught getting drunk and having sex in a motel room.

Christian church members should be aware of this fact: most pastors are gossips; most pastors are going to talk out of school; most pastors think sharing secrets with colleagues is all part of effectively “ministering” to others. Unlike professional counselors, pastors are not prohibited from repeating what was said behind closed doors. Many readers of this blog have likely heard sermons that made use of what was said to their pastors in private. Their pastor might not name names, but there’s no doubt about who was the subject of his sermon/illustration. IFB preachers, in particular, are noted for preaching passive-aggressive sermons using information shared with them in private. Smart, attentive congregants know when the pastor in his sermon is talking to or about them. Going through a tough time in your marriage and pondering divorce, and you talked to your pastor about your feelings? If, on the next Sunday, he preaches a thundering sermon on the sin of D-I-V-O-R-C-E, who do you think he is talking to? Pastors often use their pulpits as whipping posts, attacking rumors, allegations, and private conversations. In the pastor’s mind, God is “leading” him to share the truth. In fact, he is a gossip or rumormonger sharing things said in private.

I hope you will keep what I have written here in mind the next time you think about unburdening yourself to your pastor. Your troubles may be gossiped about, talked about among his ministerial colleagues, or turned into sermon illustrations come Sunday. While not all pastors have loose lips, many of them do, and since there is nothing that prohibits them from “sharing,” people should weigh carefully what they say to a pastor, understanding that he may not protect their privacy or he may consider shooting the breeze with his pastor friends as a safe way to share secrets and get advice about how best to handle problems. It is on this issue that the Roman Catholics are right. What’s said in the confessional is privileged. When I first started seeing a counselor, I asked him about how he treated our discussions. He told me they were privileged, and he would never divulge what I said to him (and when several of my children saw him, he never divulged to me what they said).

Did you ever have a pastor use what you said in private as fodder for a sermon, or did you find out later that he gossiped about you to his pastor friends or other church leaders? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Is Bruce Gerencser Demon Possessed?

demon
The “real” Bruce Gerencser

Twice in the past week, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers have told me that I am demon possessed; that I never was a Christian; that I was a deceiver and false prophet. Today, in an article for The Christian Post titled Can Christ-worshipers turn into demon-worshipers? Evangelical Calvinist John Piper had this to say about people like me:

No genuinely called and justified Christian ever falls away into demon worship — not permanently, anyway.

….

[Piper said the question pertained to people] who’ve been in the church for years and are outwardly identifying as Christian and yet are not truly born again and end up being swept away into the teaching of demons.

….

The danger of seduction by deceitful spirits and teachings of demons is always present throughout this fallen age, from the time of Jesus till Jesus comes back. They’re always there. But there will be a greater temptation as the end of the age approaches and the Lord draws near.

….

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

In other words, the mystery of lawlessness will have a huge impact on nominal Christians, whose love for Christ is shallow and unreal. They will grow cold. Their resistance to the deception of demons will give way and they will not endure to the end.

Devout followers of Jesus are leaving Evangelicalism in droves; people who were pastors, evangelists, missionaries, youth leaders, worship leaders, and college professors, to name a few. These folks dedicated their lives to worshipping and serving Jesus. Everything in their lives said to the world, “I am a born-again child of the living God.” When critics are asked for evidence to justify their harsh criticisms, none is provided. Instead, unsubstantiated accusations are leveled against former servants of the Most High.

The root problem is theological. The IFB preachers mentioned above believe that once a person is saved, he can never, ever lose his salvation. Piper, a Calvinist, believes this too, but with this caveat: a believer must endure (persevere) to the end (death) to be saved. The first fifty years of my life testify to faith in Christ; to devotion to God, the Word, and the church. Years ago, a family member said to another, upon hearing of my deconversion, “If Butch isn’t a Christian, nobody is.” I have had former congregants tell me that they could no longer be friends with me; that they find my story disconcerting, causing them to doubt their own salvation. Fourteen years ago, a dear preacher friend of mine begged me to keep quiet about my loss of faith. He feared that some people upon learning of my deconversion, could become so troubled that they too would lose their faith.

People who knew me are left with an irreconcilable conundrum. They listened to my preaching and observed my behavior. They know I was a Christian in every way. Yet today, I am an outspoken atheist; an enemy of God; a mocker of all things holy and true. My writing repudiates everything I once believed. Some former associates believe I am still saved — just backslidden; that I will either one day return to the faith or God will severely chastise or kill me. Other associates, those of Arminian persuasion, believe I have fallen from grace; that I once was saved, and now I am not.

Preachers such as the aforementioned IFB pastors and John Piper take a different tack. Instead of acknowledging my past devotion to Jesus and the testimony of scores of people about my love for God, they dismiss my story out of hand, saying that I was never what I and others say I was. These critics only know me from afar, yet they feel more than qualified to render judgment. What they are, in effect, saying is that I am lying about my past and that the people who speak glowingly about my preaching and love and care for others are misinformed or deceived. In their minds, I have always been a deceiver, someone who, at the very least was and is influenced by the Devil and demons, or actually possessed by demons.

I get it. My story and those of other ex-preachers and church workers are troubling and challenge the assumptions many Evangelicals have about people who leave Christianity. “How can these things be,” they say to themselves, and instead of taking a hard look at their theological beliefs and presumptuousness, they take the easy way out by calling former believers names or claiming they are demon-possessed. Anything except wrestling with why an increasing number of devoted followers of Jesus are exiting the church stage left, never to return.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Black Collar Crime: IFB Missionary Jordan Webb Convicted of Sexual Abuse and Incest, Gave Victim Gonorrhea

jordan webb

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.

Jordan Webb, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) missionary to the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, was convicted of one count of second-degree sexual abuse with persons under the age of 12, a Class B felony; incest, a class D felony; and child endangerment, an aggravated misdemeanor. Webb was sent out as a missionary by Harvest Baptist Church in Fort Dodge, Iowa. The church also operates Harvest Baptist Bible College.

The Messenger reports:

It took a Webster County jury just under two and a half hours late Friday afternoon to convict a former Christian missionary of sexual abuse.

Jordan Dee Andrew Webb, 30, of Fort Dodge, was found guilty of one count of second-degree sexual abuse with persons under the age of 12, a Class B felony; incest, a class D felony; and child endangerment, an aggravated misdemeanor.

“We are pleased with the outcome and that the jury provided justice in this matter,” Assistant Webster County Attorney Bailey Taylor told The Messenger.

Taylor, along with Assistant Webster County Attorney Brad McIntyre, prosecuted the case.

Webb was arrested in April 2022 following an investigation by the Webster County Sheriff’s Office and Webster County Attorney’s Office that was prompted by “some health concerns involving a juvenile,” the WCSO reported at the time.

During the investigation, a search warrant was executed at 1940 225th St. in Webster County, which is owned by Harvest Baptist Church and is used for its Harvest Baptist Bible College.

From 2019 to February 2022, Webb served as a missionary in the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia. According to a now-deleted Facebook page and website for Webb’s “Christ in the Caribbean” missionary work in St. Lucia, Harvest Baptist was the “sending church” for his mission work.

Webb’s alleged victim, who will be known as Jane Doe, was diagnosed with gonorrhea in early April 2022. The Messenger does not identify victims of sexual assault. Just days before Jane Doe was diagnosed, Webb was also diagnosed with gonorrhea, Taylor said during trial. The state alleged that Webb committed a sex act on the victim, infecting her with the STD.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gonorrhea is a “very common” sexually transmitted disease that infects the mucous membranes of the reproductive tract, mouth, throat, eyes and rectum.

Over the course of the three-day trial, the jury heard testimony from a range of witnesses, including Dr. Regina Torson, an expert in child abuse pediatrics with UnityPoint Health — St. Luke’s Child Protection Center in Hiawatha. On Friday afternoon, the jury heard the closing arguments from the parties.

Taylor began her closing argument acknowledging that the state did not have any direct evidence of how the defendant allegedly infected the victim with an STD, but that she believes the sheer volume of circumstantial evidence proves Webb’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Among that circumstantial evidence is the timeline of when Webb was infected with gonorrhea and when the victim would have become infected.

Taylor poked holes through the defense’s suggestions that the infection could have been spread in a non-sexual manner — through using the same towel, or taking a bath together or helping a child clean up after using the toilet.

During Torson’s testimony, she stated that it is possible to contract gonorrhea by non-sexual means, but it is extremely rare.

“It’s possible, but is it reasonable?” Taylor asked the jury in her closing. “If this is so possible, why aren’t we seeing it more? … There is absolutely nothing reasonable about getting gonorrhea from a bathtub. That’s not a thing, because if it was, there’d be a lot more cases of gonorrhea. It wouldn’t be a sexually-transmitted disease, but it is.”

During his closing argument, defense attorney Dean Stowers challenged Torson’s credibility as a witness.

“She is a child abuse advocate,” he said. “She is not a neutral, unattached witness. Let’s get that straight.”

Stowers also emphasized that Torson’s expertise is not in infectious diseases and that she used words like “generally” and “typically” when describing how gonorrhea is spread.

“This case is a walking, talking, living, breathing reasonable doubt,” he said. “Every one of their witnesses is a reasonable doubt.”

In her rebuttal, Taylor again highlighted the amount of circumstantial evidence the state has presented.

“You put those pieces together to come to a conclusion,” she said. “Don’t ignore what happened to this child. Don’t ignore all of the evidence that you have seen.”

Just prior to the jury announcing its verdict, Stowers motioned for a mistrial based on something Taylor had said during her final rebuttal. After a brief conference, District Court Judge Christopher Polking denied the motion.

A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for June 5 at the Webster County Courthouse. Webb is facing a maximum of 32 years in prison if all three counts are ordered to be served consecutively.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Short Stories: I Did It for You Jesus — Crank Windows and Vinyl Floor Mats

1984 chevrolet cavalier
1984 Chevrolet Cavalier

In the late 1980s, while I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I purchased a 1984 Chevy Cavalier for $2,900. It had 19,000 miles on the odometer. The car was spartan in every way: crank windows, vinyl mats, AM/FM radio, and no air conditioning. I used the car for my ministerial travels, and we also used it to deliver newspapers for the Zanesville Times-Recorder and the Newark Advocate. If this car could be resurrected from the junkyard, it would have stories to tell about Bruce and Polly Gerencser zipping up and down the hills of Licking, Muskingum, and Perry Counties delivering newspapers. All told, we put 160,000 miles on the car without any major mechanical failures. Tires, brakes, and tune-ups were all the car required.

If the car could talk it would certainly speak of being abused:

  • Polly hit a mailbox, denting the hood and cracking the windshield.
  • Polly hit some geese, damaging the air dam.
  • Bruce hit a concrete block that had been thrown on the road on a dark fall night.
  • Bruce hit a black Labrador retriever who was sleeping on the road, causing damage to the front of the car.
  • Bruce hit a deer, causing damage to the bumper and radiator.
  • A tree limb fell on the car, further damaging the hood.
  • A woman drove into the back of the car while it was parked alongside the road in Corning, Ohio. We found out later that this accident broke the rear frame member.

By the time we were finished with the car, it looked like it had recently been used in a demolition derby. We carried personal liability insurance on the car — no collision — so no repairs were performed after these accidents. We certainly extracted every bit of life we could out of the car. It went to the happy wrecking yard in the sky knowing that it faithfully served Jesus and the Gerencser family.

Our Chevy Cavalier is a perfect illustration of our life in the ministry. Unlike Catholics, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers don’t take a vow of poverty. That said, the eleven years I spent as pastor of Somerset Baptist can be best described as the “poverty years.” I put God, the ministry, and the church before my wife, children, and personal needs. We did without so the church could make ends meet, thinking that God would someday reward us for our voluntary poverty.

Pastoring Somerset Baptist was a seven-day-a-week job. I was always on call, with rarely a day off. And as a workaholic, I liked it that way. During the late 1980s, for example, I was preaching on the street two days a week, teaching Sunday school, preaching twice on Sunday and once on Thursday. On Wednesdays, I would preach at the local nursing home. On Saturdays, I would help visit the homes of bus riders and try to round up new riders. I also helped start a multi-church youth fellowship. We had monthly activities for church teens. And then there were revival meetings, special services, Bible conferences, watch night services, pastors’ conferences, and the like. Throw in visiting church members in their homes and when they were hospitalized, and virtually every waking hour of my day was consumed by the work of the ministry.  And lest I forget, we also took in foster children, many of whom were teenagers placed in our home by the Perry County Court. I believed, then, I could “reach” these children and transform their lives through the gospel and regular church attendance. I was, in retrospect, quite naïve.

But, wait, there’s more! — I am beginning to sound like a Billy Mays commercial. In 1989, I started a tuition-free private Christian school for church children. I was the school’s administrator. I also taught a few classes. Polly taught the elementary-age children. Many of these children have fond memories of Mrs. Gerencser teaching them to read. Students have no such memories of me, the stern taskmaster they called Preacher.

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2
Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720-square-foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

For the last five years at Somerset Baptist, we were up at 6:00 AM and rarely went to bed before midnight. When I started the church in 1983, we had two children, ages two and four. Eleven years later, we had six children, ages fifteen, thirteen, ten, five, three, and one. Our home was patriarchal in every way. Polly cared for our home — a dilapidated 12×60 trailer — cooked meals, and changed thousands of diapers — and not the disposable kind either. Polly used God-approved cloth diapers with all six children. She also breastfed all of them.

Why did Bruce and Polly live this way? The short answer is that we believed that living a life of faith on the edge poverty was how Jesus wanted us to live. After all, Jesus didn’t even have a home or a bed, so who were we to complain?  If God wanted us to have more in life, he would give it to us, we thought. Much like the Apostle Paul, we learned to be content in whatever state we were in — rich or poor, it mattered not.

I left Somerset Baptist Church in 1994. I am now a physically broken-down old man. Some of the health problems I now face were birthed during my days at Somerset Baptist. There’s no doubt, had I put my family first and prioritized my personal well-being above that of the church, that we would be better off financially and I would be in better health. As it was, I spent years eating on the run or downing junk food while I was out on visitation. I know we surely must have sat down to eat as family, but I can’t remember doing so. Of course, I can’t remember us having sex either, and our children are proof that we at least had sex six times. 🙂 All I know is that I was busy, rarely stopping for a breath, and so was Polly. It’s a wonder that our marriage survived the eleven years we spent at Somerset Baptist. It did, I suppose, because we believed that the way we were living was God’s script for our marriage and family. We look back on it now and just shake our heads.

I am sure some readers might read this post and not believe I am telling the truth. Who would voluntarily live this way? Who would voluntarily sacrifice their economic well-being, health, and family? A workaholic madly in love with Jesus, that’s who. A man who believed that whatever he suffered in this life was nothing compared to what Jesus suffered on the cross. A man who believed that someday in Heaven, God was going to say him, well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord. I viewed life as an endurance race, and it was my duty and obligation to keep running for Jesus until he called me home. No one can ever say of Bruce and Polly that they didn’t give their all — all to Jesus I surrender, all to him I humbly give.

beater station wagon
$200 beater. Polly HATED this car. What’s not to like, right?

Of course, my devotion to God, the church, and the ministry was a waste of time and money. One of the biggest regrets I have is that I wasted the prime of my life in service to a non-existent God. While certainly I helped many people along the way, I could have done the same work as a social worker and retired with a great pension. Instead, all I got was a gold star for being an obedient slave. I am not bitter, nor is Polly. We have many fond memories of the time we spent at Somerset Baptist Church. But, both of us would certainly say that we would never, ever want to live that way again. We loved the people and the scenery, but the God? No thanks. We feel at this juncture in life as if we have been delivered from bondage. We are now free to live as we wish to live, with no strings attached. And, there’s not a dilapidated Chevrolet Cavalier sitting in our driveway. No sir, we have electric windows, electric seats, air-conditioning, and the greatest invention of all time for a back ravaged by osteoarthritis — heated seats. We may be going to Hell when we die, but I and misses sure plan on enjoying life until we do.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Short Stories: Do You Want Some “Rose of Sheridan”?

somerset baptist church 1989

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

One spring, a woman who attended our church with her husband and three children asked Polly if she would like some “Rose of Sheridan.” The year before, we had moved a 12’x60′ trailer onto the church property, parking it fifty feet from the main church building. The first thing we did was put a chain link fence around our small yard so Bethany, our toddler daughter with Down syndrome, couldn’t wander away and get hit by a car in the parking lot or fall down the cement stairs to what was commonly called the basement building. After the fence was installed — we paid $400 for the fence out of our income tax refund — we set out to beautify our yard as best we could. Knowing this, Mrs. M made the offer of the “Rose of Sheridan.” We had no idea about what “Rose of Sheridan” was. All we knew is that we wanted “stuff” to plant in our newly fenced yard.

Several days later, Mrs. M brought us three “Rose of Sheridan” bushes. We planted them on the northeast corner where our yard met the basement building. The bushes didn’t bloom that much the first year, but the next summer they were in full bloom. Another church member asked Polly what the bushes were and she replied, “Rose of Sheridan.” The church member got a quizzical look on her face and said, you mean “Rose of SHARON,” right? You see, what Mrs. M gave us was Rose of Sharon and not “Rose of Sheridan.”

phil sheridan somerset ohio

How did Mrs. M confuse the name? Oh, that was easy. You see, nearby Somerset was home to Civil War general Phil Sheridan when he was a child. His boyhood home sits on the south edge of town on State Highway 13. A statute of Sheridan on a horse — the only equestrian Civil War monument in Ohio — adorns the center of town where two state highways meet. The local high school was named Sheridan High School. In Mrs. M’s mind, she confused Sharon with Sheridan, so that’s why the bushes she gave us in the spring of 1990 were called “Rose of Sheridan.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Short Stories: Bruce, the Baptist Goes to a Charismatic Faith Healing Service

somerset baptist church 1989

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — one of the northernmost counties in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

I grew up in a religious monoculture. The only churches I attended were Evangelical/Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations. I attended a Methodist church one time, but that was only because I was chasing a girl who went to that church. I was twenty-six years old before I attended the services of any other church besides a Bible-preaching Evangelical church.

One of my responsibilities as an IFB pastor was to preach against false pastors and their teachings. On Sundays, I would preach against Catholics, Southern Baptists, Charismatics, mainline churches, and any other sect I deemed heterodox or heretical. As a fully certified, circumcised, and lobotomized IFB preacher, I had a long list of things I was against. The goal, of course, was to make sure that congregants didn’t stray. They were members of the “best” church in town. Why go elsewhere, right? I saw myself as a gatekeeper, a divinely called man given the responsibility to protect people from false teaching. And protect them I did — from every false, harmful teaching but my own.

One Sunday afternoon, I decided to attend a Charismatic faith healing service at the Somerset Elementary School gymnasium. I thought, “if I am going to preach that Charismatic movement is from the pit of Hell, I’d better at least experience one of their services.”

I arrived at the service about fifteen minutes early. I brought one of the “mature” men of the church with me, a man who wouldn’t be swayed by the false teachings we were going to hear. There were 50 or so people in attendance. Songs were sung, a sermon was preached, and an offering was collected. Pretty standard Baptist stuff. But then it came time for people to have the pastor lay hands on them and deliver them from sickness and demonic possession. People started speaking in tongues as the preacher walked down the front row “healing” people. According to the preacher, numerous people were being healed, though I saw no outward evidence of this. This so-called man of God would stand in front of people, ask them their needs, lay his hand on their heads, and pray for them. And just like that, they were “healed.”

Near me was sitting a dirty, scraggly woman. Her black hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks. It had a sheen that said, “last washed with used motor oil.”  When it came time for the preacher to lay his hand on top of the woman’s head, he refused to touch her greasy, dirty head. Instead, he held his “healing” hand just above her head, prayed for her, and quickly moved on to the next mark. I thought, “What a fraud. Why not put your hand on this woman’s head? What’s a little grease on your hands?”

I attended other Charismatic services during my eleven years as pastor of Somerset Baptist, but there’s nothing like your first one, right?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Short Stories: A Perry County Septic Tank

somerset baptist church 1989

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

Perry County was coal-mining country. Several large underground mines were in operation during my eleven years at Somerset Baptist. Also scattered across the county were open-pit (strip) mines. These mines, in particular, caused great ecological harm to the beautiful rolling hills of Perry County. Companies were required to “reclaim” land used for mining, but their reclamation efforts often left denuded landscapes and polluted streams and lakes. This land was practically worthless except for recreational use. A southern man by the name of Sidney Hurdle — a lawyer by trade — found a way to monetize this land by selling it on land contract to poor people looking to own a place of their own. Sectioned off in five-, ten-, and twenty-acre lots, Hurdle sold former strip ground land (and non-strip ground land) for $395 down and low payments over the next twenty to thirty years. Sidney Hurdle died a few years back. His son, I believe, continues to sell land as his father did before him:

For nearly half a century Hurdle Land & Realty has conducted business with the philosophy that owning your own property is an essential part of the American Dream. That is why three generations of Hurdles have enabled thousands of people just like you to purchase land hassle free.

….

We do things a bit differently than a traditional lender. We promise to finance you, if you promise to pay us. We believe in a hand shake. We take a man for his word. We feel too many people have lost this type of service. If one of us ends up not living up to our agreement, then there are practices in place to resolve that. But in the beginning, we trust our customer. Besides, this saves you money overall, eliminates the complicated process of securing a mortgage from a bank and it all works with just a small amount of cash up front.

When purchasing real estate there are costs involved that are above the cost of the property itself. You have probably heard terms regarding these fees like document prep, attorney cost, title service, deed stamps, survey, application fees, points, commissions and the list goes on. However, when you buy from us, we cover all associated fees with the transaction for you. We will NEVER ask you to pay for any of these fees before or after the sale!

Here is how it works: You pay a total down payment of $295. We currently have a set fixed interest rate of 7.9%. We are flexible with the term of the loan. We will finance to you for as short as 12 months or extend it as long as 360 months–whatever fits your budget! Our office will prepare all the necessary closing documents for you to sign . . .

The website for Hurdle’s Ohio land for sale can be accessed here.

Some people took issue with Hurdle selling reclaimed land to poor people, profiting from their poverty. While I once thought that too, I came to see that Hurdle enabled the working poor to own that which they would never be able to own otherwise. Several congregants owned Hurdle Land, as it was commonly called. One family owned a twenty-acre parcel. Most of the families purchasing Hurdle Land couldn’t afford to build a home, so they bought mobile homes instead. On several lots sat school buses that were converted to year-round homes.

The church family with the twenty-acre plot bought a dilapidated trailer and had it towed up to the top of their hill.  Drinking water was provided by a spring at the bottom of the hill. Sewage was handled by what was called a Perry County Septic Tank. There was no zoning, and locals routinely ignored licensing and permitting requirements. Perry County had septic tank regulations, but many of the people buying Hurdle Land couldn’t afford to have a commercial septic system — complete with tank and leach bed — installed, so they installed a makeshift septic tank instead. A Perry County Septic Tank consisted of running plastic pipe from the mobile home to a fifty-five-gallon oil drum buried downhill in the ground. The drum had two holes, one where the sewage entered and the other where the liquids (gray water) exited and ran down the hill. Yes, down the hill where the spring was! (There was no leach bed.) On more than one occasion I expressed my concern that sewage runoff might contaminate the spring. I was told, Oh, preacher, don’t worry, we will be fine. Over time, the oil drum would fill up with solids. This, of course, posed quite a problem. The tank either had to be emptied, or raw sewage would run down the hill. Far too often, the drum overflowed, and down the hill went raw sewage. In time, the tank would get emptied by bailing out the drum with a rope attached to a five-gallon bucket. The sewage would be dumped on the back side of the property — out of sight out of mind.

The eleven years I spent in Perry County taught me a lot about the struggles of the poor, the working class; of their desires to have and own just like their more affluent brethren. The family in this story could proudly say they owned twenty acres of land and a mobile home; an achievement, to be sure. Their children learned from these hardships, went to college, and built their middle-class lives upon the memories of Hurdle Land, a ramshackle mobile home, and a Perry County Septic Tank.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Short Stories: My Gay IFB College English Teacher

gary keen bruce mike fox greg wilson midwestern baptist college 1978
Gary Keen, Bruce Gerencser, Mike Fox, Greg Wilson, Midwestern Baptist College, 1978

Forty-seven years ago, I loaded my meager belongings into my rust bucket of a car and drove two and a half hours northeast of Bryan, Ohio to enroll for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Founded in 1954 by Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby megachurch Emmanuel Baptist Church, Midwestern was an ardent Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. Malone was an alpha male who had little tolerance for weakness. From time to time, I would play basketball with Malone after Sunday evening church. Malone loved playing rough and tumble, no-blood-no-foul basketball, as did I. Students showing weakness such as complaining about getting fouled were ridiculed and, on occasion, sent to the showers.

Malone’s manliness appealed to me. I played baseball and basketball in high school and would continue to play competitive sports into my thirties. I loved hiking, hunting, and working on cars. As a dorm student, I was known for playing practical jokes and horsing around. I was, to a large degree a normal heterosexual man — typical for my generation. Malone’s brand of masculine Fundamentalism and that of my pastors appealed to me. As a young pastor, I became what was modeled to me — a masculine, authoritarian preacher.

A man I will call Bill to protect his identity was the chairman of the English department. Bill was an educated man, holding degrees from secular institutions — a rarity among Midwestern professors. Many of my professors held degrees from Fundamentalist Bible colleges, including degrees from Midwestern. (The music department was an exception. Most of the women in the music department had advanced degrees from secular institutions.)

Bill was gay. I mean 100% flaming gay. The first time I met him, my Gaydar® pegged to the right. I remember thinking, at the time, “How is it possible that one of my teachers is a faggot?” Even my naive girlfriend, Polly, knew he was gay.

Bill lived in the dormitory, on what was commonly called the spiritual wing. There were three male dormitory wings: the spiritual wing, the party wing, and the pit. I, of course, lived on the party wing. 🙂 It was common knowledge among male dorm residents that Bill was gay (though we did not use the word “gay” to describe him at the time.) A shy, backward freshman student lived with Bill, an “odd” relationship to say the least.

I have often wondered how Bill came to be a teacher at Midwestern. I assume he had some sort of IFB cred. Gay was not a thing in the IFB church movement of the 70s, nor is it today. I am just speculating here, but I wonder if Bill’s willingness to work for the peanuts Midwestern paid professors was such that they were willing to ignore his sexuality for the sake of gaining a credentialed teacher.

Bill was Polly’s English professor for two classes. I, on the other hand, only took one of Bill’s classes — freshman English. Bill’s effeminacy rubbed me the wrong way. Quite frankly, I despised the man. I have no idea whether he was a good teacher. After two weeks in his class and numerous conflicts with me, Bill told me that he didn’t want me in his class anymore; that he would give me a passing grade — a B — for not attending the class. For the remainder of the semester, I worked on my jump shot in the school gym during class time. Awesome, right?

Several years later, Bill moved on to greener pastures. This is the path most Midwestern professors took. Starvation wages without benefits led many good men and women to leave Midwestern’s teaching ranks. Midwestern wanted teachers to treat their jobs as a ministry. They were working for God, not man, the thinking went. This didn’t change the fact that these professors had rent, utilities, transportation expenses, medical bills, and other normal, everyday expenses to pay. All the God in the world doesn’t change the fact that rent is due on the first.

If alive, Bill would be in his eighties. I tried to locate him on the Internet and social media, without success. As I pondered writing this post, I thought, “What would sixty-six-year-old Bruce say to Bill?” Nineteen-year-old Bruce was an alpha male homophobe. Sixty-six-year-old Bruce, still somewhat of an alpha male, is a defender and supporter of LGBTQ rights; a man whose youngest son is gay; a man who has numerous LGBTQ acquaintances and friends, many of whom read this blog.

The first thing I would do is embrace Bill and tell him, “I am sorry for judging and demeaning you. I am sorry for disrupting your class. I am sorry for whatever pain I caused you.” I wish I had gotten to know Bill, the person, instead of thinking I “knew” him based on a homophobic stereotype in my head. Of course, I can’t undo the past. All I know to do is to be a kinder, gentler, more compassionate man today; a man who loves and accepts people as they are, even when I may not necessarily understand them. I have spent the past twenty+ years undoing a lifetime of Evangelical indoctrination and conditioning. Change is hard. Flushing one’s mind of all the Fundamentalist junk is an arduous process. I certainly haven’t arrived. My life is a fixer-upper that will require continual renovation.

I am sure some of the readers of this blog understand the sentiments I have expressed in this post. It is not easy to look back at what we once were and the harm we caused. Even though we have become better people, the scars remain.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Evangelizing the Lost: Do You Have Blood on Your Hands?

bloody-hands-of-christians

Liberal and Progressive Christians tend to let their “little lights shine” through their good works. Evangelicals, on the other hand, believe they are commanded by God to verbalize the Christian gospel to every human being. (And I am not saying Evangelicals don’t do good works. They do. However, their focus is different from that of non-Evangelical Christians.) The Bible says in Matthew 28:19,20:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Mark 16:15 says:

And he [Jesus] said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

These verses are commonly called the Great Commission.

Let me chase a rabbit for a second, and then return to the subject at hand. Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. When Jesus says, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” they believe his words to be a command they are expected to follow.

Regardless of how often Evangelicals say they believe EVERY WORD OF THE BIBLE, none of them really does. Evangelicals pick and choose which Bible verses to believe. Mark 16 interpretation is a wonderful example of Evangelical selectivity. The three verses immediately following the Great Commission say:

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Please note what the precious, holy, perfect Bible says:

  • You must be baptized to be saved
  • Signs will follow those who believe and are baptized
  • True believers will cast demons out of other people
  • True believers will speak with new tongues
  • True believers will handle venomous snakes and not be hurt
  • True believers will drink poison and not be hurt
  • True believers will lay hands on the sick, and they will be healed

Let me ask readers this: based on the seven marks of a True Believer® above, how many Christians do you know? Context sure can be a bitch! Okay, rabbit sufficiently chased now; let’s return to the Great Commission.

Evangelicals believe every human being, past and present, belongs in one of two categories: saved or lost. Evangelicalism is exclusionary by nature and design. Either you are a True Christian®, or you are not; either you are bound for Heaven, or you are bound for Hell. Our eternal destiny is black and white: either you are saved or you are lost. The goal, then, is to move as many people as possible — including people who “say” they are Christians — from the lost category to the saved category. That’s the essence of the Great Commission, and it is for this reason some Evangelical churches, pastors, and congregants aggressively push their version of the Christian gospel on other people. Unbelievers are supposed to view their rude impositions as love. “I love you so much that I am going to annoy until you realize you are a hell-bound sinner in need of the salvation freely offered by Jesus through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead three days later.” Countless Evangelical zealots have come to this blog and attempted to evangelize me and thee. They believe that their boorish harassment is “love.” “I love you enough, Bruce, to tell you the truth,” Evangelical soulwinners tell me. Evidently, the fifty years I spent in the Christian church and the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry wasn’t enough to educate me on the finer points of the Evangelical gospel. That’s sarcasm, by the way. It’s been a long, long time since an Evangelical has told me something I haven’t heard before. Trust me, I know everything there is to know about what is necessary to be saved. I just can’t do snake handling and drinking poison. Sorry, but I will just have to go to Hell. 🙂

einsteins witnesses

I spent many years in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. IFB churches are known for their hyper-evangelism efforts. Success is measured by souls saved. Yet, most IFB church members rarely, if ever, verbally share their faith with non-believers. Oh, they will give them religious literature or invite them to church, but sharing the Evangelical gospel face-to-face with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers? They leave that to their pastors, evangelists, and on-fire-for-God soulwinners. Why do most congregants keep the Evangelical gospel to themselves? Much like the rest of us, they like to be respected and well thought of. What’s a sure way to piss people off? Get in their faces, preaching your peculiar brand of Christianity. Few of us like pushy religious zealots. That’s why I was never very good at confrontational evangelism. I was content to do my evangelizing through my preaching — be it in church or on the street. Now, that doesn’t mean I never won any souls for Christ while out on visitation; I did. It’s just that I was never comfortable with bugging and harassing people, especially when I knew that they were not the least bit interested in what I had to sell.

Why, then, did I, week after week, knock on doors, hoping to save sinners and add them to our church membership? One word: FEAR. I was afraid that God would hold me accountable for not doing everything in my power to reach the lost. One Bible passage, in particular, fueled this fear, Ezekiel 3:17-19:

Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

“But his [the sinner’s, the wicked man’s] blood will I require at that hand.” As an Evangelical pastor, I didn’t want to have the blood of sinners on my hands. I didn’t want Jesus on judgment day parading before me the sinners I failed to evangelize. I didn’t want to hear their screams in Hell, knowing that I never told them the truth! Let this kind of thinking get deep down into your psyche; it can change how you view others. Instead of seeing my Catholic neighbor as a good man, a kind man, who helped me on many occasions, I saw him as a sinner in need of saving; a good lost man. Such thinking ruins one’s ability to see people as they are, and to understand the boundaries that decent, thoughtful people respect. That’s why the most obnoxious people at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other Evangelical high holy days such as Mother’s Day are Christians who feel duty-bound to evangelize everyone they contact. Nothing else matters except standing before Jesus someday free of the blood of sinners.

I used Ezekiel 3:17-19 and Ezekiel 33:7-9 in my sermons to guilt congregants into showing up on Tuesdays and Saturdays for visitation and soulwinning. In the weeks leading up to revivals, I would passionately remind church members of their duty to their families, friends, neighbors, and workmates. “Do you want to stand before God on judgment day with blood on your hands?” I’d ask. Heads would bow, and congregants would grimace. “Point made,” I thought. Yet, come revival time, most of the evangelizing was done by me, the evangelist, and a handful of sold-out, on-fire, bug-the-Hell-out-of-people members. No matter how much I tried to shame congregants into verbalizing the gospel to others, most church members left evangelization to the hired help.

Did you attend a hyper-evangelistic church? Did your pastor try to guilt church members into witnessing? Were you a soulwinner? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

How to Break Free From “Sin”

go and sin no more

Note: I am well-schooled in all the various Christian beliefs on sin and salvation. The statements that follow generally reflect what Evangelicals believe. I know that not all Evangelicals believe these things without exception. Please don’t bitch, moan, and complain about my generalizations. I get it, you are special. You, and your denomination and church, are True Christians.®

Sin. According to Evangelicals, sin is transgressing against God; breaking the law of God. We daily sin in thought, word, and deed, preachers say. We commit sins of omission (neglecting to do something we should) and commission (doing things we shouldn’t). Evangelicals believe that all humans are sinners; that we were born with sin natures; that we don’t become sinners, we are sinners. The first human beings, Adam and Eve were created perfect, without sin. However, they ate the forbidden fruit from a tree and plunged the entire human race into sin. We have no choice in whether to be sinners. The first Adam sinned, and as his progeny, we are, by nature, sinners too.

According to Evangelicals, The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Moses, the prophets, Jesus, the apostles, and Paul had a lot to say about sin; what human behaviors are sins against the God of the Bible. And for the past 2,000 years, preachers, evangelists, youth pastors, missionaries, and Sunday school teachers have been hitting believers over the head with the sin stick, reminding them this or that behavior will harm their relationship with God, bring his judgment upon their heads, and cost them loss of rewards in Heaven after they died. Preachers and their fellow congregants go out into the highways and hedges, reminding the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world that they too are sinners. And unless they repent of their sins and become Evangelical Christians, they will go to Hell/Lake of Fire after they die, facing eternal punishment and torture for their sins.

Sin is a religious construct used by Evangelical clerics and churches to induce guilt and fear in people. These same clerics tell fearful sinners that they have the solution for their sin problem: Jesus. If sinners will repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus, he will save them from their sins and give them eternal life in Heaven. In other words, sects, churches, and preachers invented a problem (sin) and invented a solution for their problem (salvation, new birth).

Salvation supposedly breaks sin’s hold on Evangelicals. No longer are they in bondage; no longer are they controlled by Satan and demons. Week after week, Evangelicals hear sermons about sin, grace, and victory in Jesus. Yet, despite all of this, most Evangelicals still feel fearful and guilty. They often wonder, “Am I right with God?” I spent my entire Christian life, as did my wife, feeling that we never measured up; that God was not pleased with us; that no matter what we did for Jesus and the church, it was never enough; that we fell short. So we did what all Evangelicals do: we tried harder. We read the Bible more; we prayed more; we gave more; we witnessed more; we devoted more and more time to loving and serving Jesus and faithfully, and selflessly working in God’s vineyard — the church.

I don’t remember a day when I didn’t feel less than. I certainly believed in and cherished the grace of God, yet I continually struggled with thinking God wanted more from me; that if I just committed more of my time, energy, talent, and money to God’s kingdom that I would one day arrive. Alas, there was always more to do. So many sinners who needed Christ. So many church members who lacked spiritual maturity. Why were they so lazy? Why didn’t they care about the things of God? With evil all around me, I believed I had to do everything possible to protect not only my wife and children, but also the church — the people who looked to me to teach them, shepherd them, and provide them with a shining example of a successful Christian.

Of course, I wasn’t a successful Christian. No Evangelical is. For all their talk about Jesus and deliverance from sin, Evangelicals sin just like the rest of us. Spend enough time in an Evangelical church, and you learn how to play the game. You learn the lingo. You learn that perception matters, so you present yourself as one who has found victory in Jesus, knowing that away from the church and behind closed doors, reality is much different. The Apostle Paul said that the Christian life was one of struggle with sin; not doing what we should; and doing what we shouldn’t. Evangelicals believe the Holy Spirit lives inside of them. He is their teacher and guide, giving them everything they need that pertains to life and godliness. Yet, Evangelicals also believe that they have a sin nature; that life is a constant struggle between the spiritual and the flesh. Jesus may have saved them, but sin remains.

Unfortunately, when Evangelicals deconvert, they leave the faith with minds filled with harmful beliefs. There is no Men in Black mind wipe when you deconvert. That’s why it often takes years to reprogram ourselves; to flush our minds of damaging beliefs and practices. I was part of the Evangelical church for fifty years. I may have left Christianity in November 2008, but a lifetime of indoctrination and conditioning remained. My counselor told me years ago that my life was like an onion that had to be peeled one layer at a time. I am where I am today because of that peeling process. This process has been painful, with many tears and self-reflection. I suspect many readers know exactly what I am talking about.

Five decades of being hit with the sin stick caused a lot of harm. Just because I became an atheist doesn’t mean that a lifetime of being told this or that human behavior was a sin went away. Every aspect of my thinking had been corrupted by Evangelical Christianity. After leaving Christianity, I knew that I had to rebuild my life and thinking from the foundation up. This was not an easy process, and it continues to this day.

The first thing I did was get rid of all my Bibles, except for my leather-bound Oxford King James Version preaching Bible. Second, I stopped reading the Bible. It was part of the problem, containing many verses that were immoral and anti-human. As secular humanism took root in my life, I came to see how harmful to not only myself but to other people were many of the things I once believed. I already knew the central claims of Christianity could not be rationally sustained (please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense). My struggle was with morality and ethics. While certainly, the Bible contains some wisdom and moral teachings, most of it was irrelevant and contrary to modern sensibilities, so I shelved it, where it remains to this day.

gluttony is a sin

The next thing I did was abandon the concept of sin. Sin was a religious construct, not a humanistic one, so I stopped using the word. Instead of judging myself and others through a sin paradigm, I looked at myself and fellow humans from a good and bad behavior perspective. I made lists on paper and in my mind of behaviors that I thought were good and bad. I also made a list of behaviors that are indifferent or situational. Life became much harder for me. I actually had to reason and think instead of just saying, “The Bible says . . . end of discussion.” Over time, I noticed my bad behavior list becoming smaller and smaller; that some behaviors could be wrong for me, but right for someone else. I concluded that I had been a judgmental prick most of my life; that the way forward for me was one of non-judgmentalism. I still struggle with being judgmental. Damn, if I don’t have an opinion about everything. 🙂

I certainly think certain human behaviors are bad. I subscribe to the notion that my goal should be love, kindness, and goodness; that human flourishing and care for other animals and the world we share is best. My focus is on what I can do to make the world a better place. A cheap cliche? Perhaps, but imagine if all of us focused on making the world a better place; on loving our neighbors as ourselves; on promoting love, kindness, and prosperity for everyone, and not just our tribe or country. Imagine if we stopped calling countless human behaviors sins punishable by death and eternal punishment. Imagine if we kept our noses out of the private lives of others; that who people love, marry, and fuck is none of our business.

homosexuality is a sin

The concept of sin and redemption categorizes and divides us; in and out, us vs. them; saved or lost; Heaven or Hell. Religion, especially Evangelical Christianity, is antithetical to unity and peace. Jesus himself was divisive:

Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Luke 12:51-53)

How did you deal with the concept of sin, post-Jesus? Do you still struggle with “sin?” Please share your “sinful” thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser