Tag Archive: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist

Bruce, What was Your View on Homosexuality When You Were a Pastor?

god hates lgbtq people

I came of age in the early 1970s — an era when LGBTQ people were savaged if they dared to step out of their closets. The Stonewall riots, June 28-29, 1969, outraged my parents and their fellow Fundamentalist Christians. How dare the queers/faggots/sodomites/dykes/homos/perverts show their faces in public. How dare they demand to be treated as humans. Don’t they know that the Bible condemns sodomy? Why it even says that God has given homosexuals over to reprobate minds. My pastors and other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers deeply influenced what I believed about LGBTQ people. Supposedly, all sins were the same, but their preaching betrayed the fact that they believed homosexuality was a sin above all others. I can’t tell you the times I heard preachers rail against homosexuality, calling for the arrest, incarceration and, in some cases, execution of such “sinners.” LGBTQ people were widely considered child molesters. the worst of the worst.

In 1976, I packed up my meager belongings and headed off to train for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Nothing I heard in my classes or from the chapel pulpit changed my view of homosexuals. I lived in the college dormitory. I was shocked to learn that one of my teachers — a single man who lived in the dorm — was a homosexual. Not only that, several students who had effeminate tendencies were his roommates. Why didn’t the college do anything about this? I wondered at the time. As I now look back on the two years I spent in Midwestern’s dorm, I have concluded that there were more than a few gay men and lesbian women. Deeply closeted, these devoted followers of Jesus suffered all sorts of indignities at the hands of heterosexual Jesus-lovers. I wish I could say that my hands are clean, but they are not.

In the early 1980s — as I was busy pastoring IFB churches — I heard that a high school acquaintance of mine had died of AIDS. I remembered the “rumors” about him. His employment and close friendship with his deeply closeted gay boss troubled me, but I thought, “John seems ‘normal’ to me. He’s not a faggot.” John, not his real name, was indeed gay, and sadly, he was one of the early casualties of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This angered me, and along with several of my friends, we blamed his gay boss for his death. “He preyed on John and turned him to a queer,” we thought at the time.  I now know different. John was a gay man, not because of his boss, but because that’s who he was.

I entered the ministry a homophobe. I preached against homosexuality, labeling it as my pastors and professors had done: a heinous crime against human nature. My view of homosexuality was only reinforced by a pedophile homosexual man who started attending our church so he could prey on young boys. I was unaware of his predatory ways until a church member told me that the man was inviting church boys to spend the weekend with him out on his farm. I went nuts when I heard this, and in short order, I confronted the man and told him that I knew what he was and he was no longer welcome at our church. In retrospect, I should have called law enforcement. Instead, Pastor Bruce, the moral enforcer, took care of things.

In the late 1980s, I started a private, tuition-free school for the children of church members. Bruce, the moral enforcer, made sure that Biblical morality was taught to every student. It was bad enough that these children had to listen to my moralizing on Sundays, now they had to put up with it Monday through Friday too. Of course, I failed in my mission. Years later, I learned that some of the students were “fornicating.” I know, shock, right? Teenagers, with raging hormones, having sex! Here’s the kicker, out of fifteen students, today two of them are gay men and one woman is a lesbian. That means the twenty-percent of the study body was gay. WTF, Bruce, all that anti-homo preaching, and they STILL turned out gay! Since de-converting, I have had the privilege of reacquainting myself with several of these students. I apologized to them for what they heard me say about LGBTQ from the pulpit. My words were hurtful, yet they quietly suffered, knowing that the day was coming when they would escape the grip of Bruce, the moralizer.christians condemn gays

My view of LGBTQ people began to change in 1995. I was between pastorates, so I took a job with Charley’s Steakery as the general manager of their Zanesville, Ohio location. Located in Colony Square Mall, we offered mall employees free refills on their soft drinks. Several times a week, a gay man would come to the restaurant to get a free refill. The first time he handed me his cup, I panicked, thinking, I am going to get AIDS! For the first few times, after I refilled his cup, I would vigorously wash my hands after doing so. Had to wash off the cooties, I thought at the time. After a few weeks of this, I began being more comfortable around this man. He and I would chat about all sorts of things. I found out that he was quite “normal.” This, of course, messed with my view of the world.

While I am sure numerous LGBTQ people came through my life before I refilled this man’s drink cup, he was the first gay man I had really engaged in friendly, meaningful discussion. And it was at this point in my life that my view about homosexuality began to change. I didn’t stop being a homophobe overnight, but step by step over the next decade, I stumbled away from the homophobic rhetoric that had dominated my life for many years.

Today, I am loathed by local Evangelicals for my support of LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage. I am sure former congregants hear of my pro-gay views and they wonder what happened to hellfire and brimstone homophobe Pastor Bruce? All I can say is that a chance meeting at a fountain machine in a fast food restaurant between Bruce, the moralizer, and a gay man changed my life forever. And isn’t that how most moralizers become more temperate? When you personally know a gay person, it’s hard to condemn him to the fires of Hell. It’s easy to preach against homosexuality when everyone — as far as you know, anyway — is heterosexual. It’s when you have some skin in the game, when you actually know an LGBTQ person, that things change. Exposure to people different from you and cultures different from yours remains the best cure Fundamentalist Christianity.

How about you? Are you a former homophobe? What caused you to change your mind? Please share your thoughts 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.

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.

Prayer: Asking and Receiving

asking-and-receiving

Evangelicals believe the words printed in red in the New Testament were uttered by Jesus himself. Thus, in John 14:13, Jesus says to his followers: whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. Jesus’ unambiguous statement makes it clear that whatsoever Christians prayerfully ask in his name, he will do. Awesome, right? Mark 11:24 records Jesus saying: Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. Jesus’ statement in Mark 11:24 is even more extreme. Whatsoever Christians desire and pray for, if they will really, really, really believe that God will give it to them, Jesus will affirmatively and fully answer their prayers. If only this were true, why I might become a Christian again. I have a lot of things that need fixing in my life. I am more than happy to let Jesus take the wheel! But, alas, the Jews buried the steering wheel with Jesus in an undisclosed location, so I am on my own.

Decades ago, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist John R. Rice wrote a book titled, Prayer: Asking and Receiving. Rice, the long-time editor of the Sword of the Lord newspaper, believed that “getting” what you wanted from God was as simple as praying and asking God to deliver. Granted, Rice, and others who followed in his footsteps, had all sorts of explanations for “why” God failed to come through, but these Fundamentalist men of God sincerely believed that getting what they needed in their ministries and personal lives was but a prayer away. Rice believed that the primary hindrance to answered prayer was “sin.” He advocated praying for forgiveness as soon as you became aware that a behavior or action was sin. “Keep your sin lists short,” Rice said.  The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: Pray without ceasing. Rice believed that Christians should always be in a spirit of prayer, ever-ready to shoot a prayer up to God. In Asking and Receiving, Rice wrote:

The normal Christian life is a life of regular, daily answer to prayer. In the model prayer, Jesus taught His disciples to pray daily for bread, and expect to get it, and to ask daily for forgiveness, for deliverance from the evil one, and for other needs, and daily to get the answers they sought.

For many years, IFB churches, parachurch ministries, and education institutions grew numerically and financially. In the minds of many IFB Christians, this proved Rice’s contention that prayer was believers asking and God delivering. Today, the vast majority of these churches, ministries, and schools are shells of what they once were. Many of them have closed their doors. What are we to make of their precipitous decline? Did Rice’s prayer formula no longer work? Or, perhaps, it never did work, and answered prayers came from and through human instrumentality, not God.

In the 1980s, I pastored a rapidly growing IFB congregation. Starting with 16 people, in four years the church grew to 200. I thought, at the time, that God had answered my prayers. I pleaded with God to save the lost, stir the saints, and cause Somerset Baptist Church to be a lighthouse in the community. And for five or six years, it seemed God was coming through every time I asked him to do so. Not that I was ever satisfied. I remember Rice saying, “It is not wrong to have a small church — for a while.” I attended numerous IFB preacher’s conferences and Sword of the Lord conferences in the 1970s and 1980s. The theme was always the same: building large churches for the glory of God. I was never, ever happy with the numbers. I took it personally when people skipped church. How dare they miss out on what Bruce — uh, I mean God — was doing at Somerset Baptist. I would learn, over time, that it wasn’t God that “blessed” my ministry, it was me and a handful of dedicated volunteers. One day, I looked behind the vending machine IFB preachers called God, and I noticed it was unplugged. Prayer wasn’t asking and receiving. At best, it was asking, asking, and asking, and then acting accordingly. I found that it was humans, not God, who answered prayers; that I was asking “self” for this or that, and “self” gave me what I asked for.

Rice went to his grave believing: “According to the Bible, a genuine answer to prayer is getting what you ask for.” If he had any doubts, he never uttered them in public. While John 14:13 and Mark 11:24 are clear – that if Christians ask, they will receive – evidence on the ground is clear: God doesn’t answer prayer. Either God can’t answer prayer because he doesn’t exist, or Christians live such sinful lives that their God has turned a deaf ear to their petitions. My money is on the former.

The next time an Evangelical says to you, THE BIBLE SAYS __________, ask him about John 14:13 and Mark 11:24. Do your own version of THE BIBLE SAYS __________. Ask him if Jesus meant what he said in these verses. The answer that comes next will likely prove to be long on obfuscation and theological gymnastics and short on, The B-i-b-l-e, yes that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-i-b-l-e. BIBLE!

How did your pastors and churches handle verses such as John 14:13 and Mark 11:24? Please share your thoughts 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.

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.

Things That Make Your Non-Evangelical Friends Say WTF? — Part Three

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Guest post by ObstacleChick

I hope you all have enjoyed Parts one and two of the WTF series. It has been fun remembering these rituals and practices from my evangelical childhood, and I am able to experience again how ridiculous these things seem to outsiders. Evangelical Christianity really is a subculture with its own in-group practices and rituals designed to indoctrinate and control its members. Please share with us any of your stories of WTF religious practices in the comments!

Rededicating One’s life to Christ

This was a popular occurrence as pastors would preach about sin, evil, and the necessity of living one’s life for Christ in order to glean the rewards intended for the faithful. During the Altar Call some people would come forward to declare before the congregation that they were committed to putting away their sinful ways and rededicating their lives to Christ. Whatever that means. Occasionally, if the person really thought he or she was bad (and the church needed to inflate its baptism numbers), the person would be rebaptized to show their commitment.

Prayer Requests (“Unspoken”)

Christians really, really, really count on the “power of prayer.”. They will pray for anything from the mundane (Lord, please help me find my car keys as I am going to be late to work) to the catastrophic (Lord, please cure my mom of cancer). Most churches will publish in the weekly Sunday morning bulletin a list of people for whom to pray, typically people who are ill or who just lost a loved one. Often at some point in Sunday school or in the service, there will be an opportunity for people to offer up prayer requests. Those who are shy about saying what it is they are requesting prayer will often say “unspoken” which means that they want people to pray for so-and-so’s unnamed issue, but God, being omniscient, will be able to determine what that is. (I felt like there were certain people who would ask for an “unspoken” prayer request because they just wanted attention and didn’t want to have to make up something).

Door to Door Canvassing

The primary way church find new members is to birth them from within. The secondary way is through recruiting new members from the community. In places like the Bible Belt, where I grew up, almost everyone was already a member of a church, so recruiting new members really meant poaching members from other churches. Larger churches with more resources have an easier time poaching new members than smaller churches. When a church has multiple programs for children and youth, along with modern facilities, that church is more attractive to families. The church I was in scheduled door-to-door canvassing occasionally, where there was typically a pot-luck lunch served after church to entice members to stay, and afterward we would be sent out in teams to knock on doors, hand out fliers, and invite people to our fantastic True Christian church. (I hated it.)

Witnessing/Testimony

All Christian converts were encouraged to formulate and share their conversion story, which was called a “testimony.” Those of us who had been in church our entire lives had a pretty boring testimony. The testimonies that were the most impressive were from people who had been big sinners, like former alcoholics or drug addicts. These were people who were really encouraged to talk about how finding Jesus had totally saved them from lives of sin and debauchery and destruction and had brought them to a place of peace and light. Whether our testimony was grand or not, we were encouraged to share it with sinners in order to bring them to the saving grace of Jesus (and save them from eternity in hell).

Laying on of Hands

This was something done during prayer, either in a church service or in Sunday school or on a retreat. The higher-ups in the church (pastors, deacons, etc.) would lay their hands on the person being prayed over, and sometimes the entire congregation would come forward and touch the person and pray. The touching supposedly conveyed extra Jesus Power.

Foot Washing

This was a symbolic gesture to show servanthood. In the Old Days, people traveling on foot and wearing sandals (as one would do in the Middle East) would get pretty nasty, so when they arrived at their host’s home, the host would offer water and supplies so they could cleanse their feet. A really great host would wash the guest’s feet. There was a story in the Bible of Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and drying them with her hair as a sign of submission and love. Jesus supposedly washed the feet of his disciples as a sign of servant leadership. People who want to appear to be super Jesus-like will wash the feet of others, and typically it’s one in a position of leadership who will wash the feet of their underlings.

Baby Dedication

Because Baptists practice believer baptism and not in infant baptism (like the evil hell-bound Catholics) but still want to acknowledge when a child is born, Baptist churches will hold a baby dedication service. In our church, one Sunday per year all the parents of babies born within the year were asked to come forward to show off their future (revenue stream) soul for Jesus to be prayed over and shown off to the congregation. Parents were warned about eternity in hell and the importance of (indoctrinating) raising their child in the church.

Eschatology/the Rapture

The resurrected Jesus told his followers he would return to earth one day, only the Father knows when, so since 33 CE, Christians have been waiting for him to come back. Christians over the centuries have searched through Old and New Testaments to try to piece together what they think the timeline will be preceding, during, and subsequent to his return. There are disagreements about what will happen when, but it’s all scary to children/teens who are told they better be for SURE and for CERTAIN that they are saved or else they will be left behind with all the evil heathens if they aren’t ready and Jesus comes back and takes all the True Christians out of the world. Tim LaHaye’s popular “Left Behind” book series sums up one of the primary eschatological timelines known to (and devised by) True Christians®.

IFB Church Planting and How Church Planters Convinces Themselves Their Churches are “Special”

pale blue dot

We live on a small, insignificant rock, surrounded by countless galaxies, stars, and planets. We know very little about what lies beyond the Milky Way, and despite our progress, there is still much we don’t know about Earth and its inhabitants. Yes, we humans continue to push into the unknown, but despite our inquisitiveness, we remain insignificant creatures with itty-bitty brains living on what Carl Sagan famously called a “pale blue dot.”

Video Link

It’s 2019. We supposedly live in the age of science and technological advancement. Yet, the majority of U.S. people believe God created the universe and the Bible is the Word of God. Young earth creationism flourishes and Evangelical Christianity dominates the political scene. How enlightened and advanced are we really if the majority of people worship as if their lives depended on a Jewish man named Jesus who died 2,000 years ago? Ponder for a moment Christian theology; the core beliefs that millions of people believe are true. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) Sunday after Sunday, church houses are filled with people singing praises to a dead man; promising to obey the teachings of a Bronze Age religious text. Pray tell, how enlightened are we really?

According to a 2017 Christianity Today story, there are almost 400,000 Christian churches in the United States. Many of these churches are Fundamentalist, falling broadly under the Evangelical tent. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) The farther to the right you move, the more shrill the Fundamentalists become. One group you will find on the extreme fringes of Evangelicalism is the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Numbering millions of congregants in thousands of churches, the IFB church movement is fiercely separatist, believing that they preach the One True Faith®, and all other sects are either heretical or heterodox. (Please see What is an IFB Church?)

I grew up in the IFB church movement. I attended an IFB Bible college in the 1970s, pastored several IFB churches, and was deeply invested in IFB doctrine and practice. In 1983, I started an IFB church in the southeast community of Somerset, Ohio. It wasn’t that Somerset needed another church — it didn’t. Somerset had five churches within its village limits, and countless more in surrounding communities. Somerset was, in every way, Christianized, yet Rev. Bruce Gerencser, IFB preacher extraordinaire, believed that Somerset needed one more church — a church that preached the One True Faith®. Ponder, for a moment, the arrogance it took to come to this conclusion. Every time I see a newspaper story about yet another Evangelical church coming to the county I live in, I shake my head and say, “just what we need, another fucking church.” All church planters think “God” is leading them to plant a new church, regardless of how many churches already exist. Church planters convince themselves that they are “special,” and that their church will be different and unique. And as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, over time their churches become just like every other church in town.

Think of the arrogance and lack of awareness required for an IFB preacher — who takes up a square foot or two on this insignificant planet of ours — to think that his church is “right” and all other churches are wrong; to think that his church is a solitary beacon of light in a world he believes is filled with darkness; to think that virtually everyone outside of that particular church has wrong beliefs, worships the wrong God, and is headed for eternal damnation and hell unless they see, know, and embrace the “truth.” Truth being, of course, the God-given beliefs of the One True Faith®.

In the grand scheme of things, we are little more than specks of dirt on a pale blue dot. We live and die, and before long are forgotten, a footnote in the history of humankind. What better way to drive away insignificance than to convince yourself that you are special; that God speaks to you and has a divine plan for your life. I planted five churches during my time as an Evangelical pastor. There’s nothing more thrilling than starting a new church. Every Sunday is filled with excitement and anticipation. Over time, you attract people who like you as a person or are drawn to your preaching or personality. As the church grows, you begin to think, “I’m special. God is really using me!”  In 1986, the IFB church I was pastoring at the time became the largest non-Catholic church in the county. I proudly advertised, “Perry County’s Fastest Growing Church.” I just knew that I was right and every other church/pastor was wrong. My church was growing, and other nearby IFB churches were not, so I began to think that there was something wrong with them; that maybe there was some sort of defect in their beliefs and practices; that maybe they didn’t work as hard as I did. Isn’t that the American dream? Work hard, and good things will happen. Yet, when I resigned from Somerset Baptist Church in the spring of 1993, the glory days were long over. I had moved on from the IFB church movement, embracing Calvinism and starting a private Christian school. My credo was quality over quantity. Did leaving the IFB church movement make me more ecumenical? Not at first. You see, Calvinism is its own special club. Ironically, most of the Calvinistic Baptist — Reformed Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist — preachers I knew were former IFB pastors. Much as I did, these preachers had a Paul-like Damascus Road experience and converted to the One True Faith® — Evangelical Calvinism. What this merry band of predestinarians did was just move one more step to the right. Certain that they finally had found THE “truth,” these preachers of John Calvin’s gospel derided their previous beliefs, doubting that those still in IFB churches were really Christians.

The next time you drive by an IFB church or a Sovereign Grace/Reformed Baptist church, just remember that the pastor of the church and his congregation believe that their church is right and every other church is wrong. And remember most of all the insignificant part they play on planet earth. Oh, they believe otherwise, that God is doing a mighty work in and through them, but the fact remains that they are just another speck of dust on a pale blue dot.

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.

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.

Things That Make Your Non-Evangelical Friends Say WTF? — Part One

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Guest post by ObstacleChick

Until the past couple of years, I didn’t talk about my Evangelical Christian upbringing very much with my husband and kids. My husband’s family attended Catholic Mass on Christmas and Easter, and while he went through First Communion, he and his brothers didn’t really attend Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes very often. He and his two brothers were never confirmed as teens. As we stopped attending church when our children were seven and five, they don’t really know much about Christianity and barely remember going to Sunday school at the open and affirming Congregational United Church of Christ that we attended. But a couple of years ago, when my daughter announced that she wanted to leave New Jersey to attend college in the South, I started remembering some of the things that happened in Southern Baptist Church or in Fundamentalist Christian school where most of the staff were members of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches.

Here are some of the things that I have told my family that elicited the WTF? response.

Salvation

The concept that we are all sinners due to Original Sin brought onto the entire human race because Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating a fruit they were told not to eat. Therefore, all humanity is doomed to toil and suffering on earth and eternity in hell. But wait! God decided he would impregnate an ignorant Middle Eastern teenager with himself/his son, preach, do some miracles, and stir up trouble for three years, get arrested, tortured and hung on a Roman cross, spend a weekend in hell (roughly a weekend depending on which gospel you read), rise from the dead and show himself to some people (how many and which ones depends on which gospel you read), and ascend back to heaven where he sits at the right hand of his father/himself along with the Holy Spirit/themselves and will come back to earth at some unknown point. Whew!

Making a Public Profession of Faith

When someone realizes that they need salvation in order to escape eternity in hell, they are required to show publicly that they accept the doctrine of salvation and that they are ready to be baptized and to become members in good standing of the church. Some people will say something, others will leave it to the pastor to introduce them. In any case, it is a REQUIREMENT that the person be seen publicly declaring that they’re a filthy, dirty sinner in need of the sacrifice of Jesus in order to be saved (from eternity in hell, don’t forget that part). The primary time that one makes one’s public profession of faith is during the Altar Call at the end of the service.

Altar Calls

Every service concluded with an Altar Call in which the congregation would sing an appropriate hymn such as “Just As I Am” to encourage people to come forward to “make their profession of faith” or to “rededicate their lives to Christ.” If no one was coming forward, often the singing would stop, the organist would play, and the pastor would command, “Every head bowed, every eye closed” to encourage the shy to come forward without everyone looking at them. Sometimes I felt like someone would just go forward so the pastor wouldn’t feel bad that no one was going forward.

Baptism by Immersion

One of the hallmarks of being any brand of Baptist is to be baptized by immersion as (supposedly) practiced by John the Baptist of gospel fame. When people publicly make a profession of faith, meaning that they confess to being a worthless sinner in need of salvation by accepting that the sinless son of God, Jesus, came to earth to minister, die, and be resurrected as sacrifice for the sins of the world, and they promise to renounce sin, then they will be baptized. Baptism is a symbolic gesture that our sins are washed away by the precious blood of the slain Lamb of God and that we are clean creatures in Christ.

Biblical Inerrancy/Literalism

When the conservatives took over the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1970s and cleared house in their seminaries, the concept of Biblical inerrancy/literalism took hold. This meant that pastors must teach that the Bible was the inspired Word of God, that everything written in the Bible was literal and historical fact, and that the entire writings were indisputable. End of story. So improbable concepts are considered historical fact, such as a six-day creation of the universe and two human beings from whom every other human being descended; a worldwide flood that destroyed all living creatures and plants except eight humans and two of each living land creature (plus seven pairs of each “clean” creature) were saved and were the sources for repopulation of the entire earth; a talking donkey; a talking snake; a man who lived inside a whale’s digestive tract for three days; three men who survived after being inside a fiery furnace; a virgin birth; a couple of resurrections from the dead. Any findings from science or history that contradict what is found in the pages of the (King James Version of the) Bible are considered to be false deceptions from Satan. Of course.

My Baptist Salvation Experience

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Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade, 1971-72

Over the past twelve years, I have received countless emails from Evangelicals wanting me to share with them my salvation testimony. Some of these interlocutors sincerely want to understand my past and how it is I became an atheist. Others are looking for discrepancies or errors — from their theological perspective, anyway — in my testimony. Finding these glosses allows them to dismiss my story out of hand, saying, Bruce, you never were a Christian. I used to take great offense when Evangelical zealots dismissed my past life of love, faith, and devotion to Jesus, but I no longer do so. I now realize that many Evangelicals must neuter my story lest it force them to consider and answer uncomfortable questions about their own lives and theology. It’s far easier to just dismiss me out of hand, saying that I never was a Christian; that I was deceived, a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or any of the other epithets Evangelicals throw my way. I have never said to a Christian, I don’t believe your testimony of saving faith. I accept what they tell me at face value. You say you are a Christian; that Jesus is your Lord and Savior? Who am I to doubt your story? Unfortunately, many Evangelicals don’t seem similarly inclined when it comes to my story or those of other Evangelicals-turned-atheists.

What follows my Baptist salvation testimony. Instead of writing out my testimony every time some asks me for it, I will now send them to this post.

I was raised in the Evangelical church. My parents were saved in the early 1960s at Scott Memorial Baptist Church (now Shadow Mountain Community Church)  in El Cajon, California, pastored at the time by Tim LaHaye. From that time forward, the Gerencser family attended Evangelical churches — mostly Bible Southern Baptist,  or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations.

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Evangelist Al Lacy

In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced after 15 years of marriage. Both of my parents remarried several months later. While my parents and their new spouses, along with my brother and sister, stopped attending church, I continued to attend Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. In the fall of 1972, a high-powered IFB evangelist named Al Lacy came to Trinity to hold a week-long revival meeting. One night, as I sat in the meeting with my friends, I felt deep conviction over my sins while the evangelist preached. I tried to push aside the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart, but when the evangelist gave the invitation, I knew that I needed to go forward. I knew that I was a wretched sinner in need of salvation. (Romans 3) I knew that I was headed for Hell and that Jesus, the resurrected son of God, was the only person who could save me from my sin. I knelt at the altar and asked Jesus to forgive me of my sin and save me. I put my faith and trust in Jesus, that he alone was my Lord and Savior. (That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamedRomans 10:9-11)

I got up from the altar a changed person. I had no doubt that I was a new creation, old things had passed away, and all things had become new.  (Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The next Sunday, I was baptized, and several weeks later I stood before the church and declared that I believed God was calling me to preach. For the next thirty-five years, I lived a life committed to following after Jesus and the teachings of the Bible. While I failed many times as a Christian, there was never a time where I doubted that Jesus was my Lord and Savior. I loved him with all my heart, soul, and mind, and my heart burned with the desire to preach and teach the Word of God, evangelize the lost, and help Christians mature in their faith. No one doubted that I was a Christian. Not my Christian family; not my Christian friends; not my colleagues in the ministry; not the people who lovingly called me preacher. I was, in every way, a devoted Christian husband, father, and pastor. As all Christians do, I sinned in thought, word, and deed, but when I did, I confessed my sin to the Lord and asked for his forgiveness. (If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)  And then I got up from my knees and strived to make my calling and election sure. (Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. (2 Peter 1:10)

This is my testimony.

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.

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.

How to Evangelize Evangelicals

whining evangelical

I am of the opinion that Evangelical Christianity is, overall, psychologically, socially, educationally, and politically harmful. This has become increasingly clear now that Evangelical beliefs are front and center in debates over global warming, same-sex marriage, LGBTQ civil rights, abortion, immigration, and a host of other issues. If Evangelicalism were all about personal salvation and piety, I would have no need to write this post, but since many Evangelicals are Heaven-bent on establishing the Kingdom of their God on earth and forcing the moral and immoral teachings of the Bible on all of us, it is imperative that atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-Evangelicals find effective ways to combat Evangelical influence, dominance, and control.

Far too many atheists think that the best way to reach Evangelicals is to argue with them, post anti-Christian memes, or engage in monkey-esqe shit-throwing contests on social media. While these types of activities might make atheists feel good or elicit laughs, they do nothing when it comes to turning back the Evangelical horde. The primary reason this is so is that Evangelicals are conditioned to believe that attacks and harassment from unbelievers are persecution. Evangelicals are taught to view such persecution as the normal part of living a godly life in a wicked, sin-filled world. 2 Timothy 3:12 says: Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Remember this the next time you feel inclined to put an Evangelical in his place. You are just feeding his persecution complex when you do. While it might make you feel good in the moment to gut a creationist on social media, ask yourself, what is it that I have accomplished by doing so? If the goal is societal transformation, then rational freethinkers and secularists must find effective ways to evangelize Evangelicals.

The purpose of this blog is to help people who have doubts about Christianity or who have already left Christianity. My goal has NEVER been to evangelize Evangelical zealots or apologists. I see myself as a facilitator, helping people on this journey we call life. If I can help someone move away from Fundamentalist thinking (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? ) then I have done my job, even if that person ultimately doesn’t become an atheist. I feel no compulsion, as Evangelicals do, to make atheists of all nations. That said, it would be dishonest of me to not admit that I desire to see bloom an atheistic, humanistic, secularistic world; one devoid of religious superstition. The question then, for me, is how best to evangelize questioning, doubting Evangelicals. And believe me, Evangelicalism is a huge mission field, one with millions and millions of people who have serious questions and doubts about their beliefs and practices. The percentage of Americans who are atheists, agnostics, or indifferent towards organized religions (nones) continues to grow. Younger Americans, in particular, have had enough of Evangelicalism and its incessant moralizing and culture war. Recent revelations about sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement have caused countless young and old Evangelicals to leave their churches. Spilling onto the internet, these doubting, questioning, disaffected Christians are looking for help and answers. I want this blog to be one place where such people can find help.

Evangelical zealots and apologists find my writing offensive. Their minds are closed off to any view but their own. That’s why I don’t spend time engaging diehard Evangelicals. Doing so is a colossal waste of time. Such people arrogantly believe that they are absolutely right. Armed with supernatural truth — the Bible — given to them by a supernatural God, Evangelical zealots believe it is their duty to take the word of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible to the ends of the earth. Years ago, I told my counselor that I didn’t understand why Evangelical zealots didn’t accept my story at face value. I naively thought that if I just told my story they would understand where I was coming from. My counselor chuckled and replied, “Bruce, you assume they give a shit about what you think. They don’t!” Needless to say, my naiveté was forever shattered. And it is for this reason, I don’t argue with Evangelical zealots. Per the comment rules, such people are given one opportunity to say whatever it is they want to say. After that, it is time for them to move on. It’s people with doubts and questions that interest me, not people who are taking daily intravenous injections of Fundamentalist Kool-Aid.

I have found that the most effective way to evangelize Evangelicals is for me to simply tell my story. I was part of the Christian church for fifty years, and spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I pastored churches affiliated with the IFB church movement, Southern Baptist Convention, Sovereign Grace Baptists, Christian Union, along with a nondenominational church. I trained for the ministry in the 1970s at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an IFB institution. I attended countless preacher’s meetings and conferences, and after I left the ministry in 2005, my wife and I visited over 100 churches. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) My life experiences have given me a story to tell, and it is that story that resonates with doubting, questioning Evangelicals. I am humbled that that thousands of people read this blog each day, most of whom will never leave a comment. I know of numerous other non-Evangelical writers who have taken a similar tack, and they, too, attract a large number of readers. If my email is any indication, the story-telling approach is working.

If you are a former Evangelical and you want to help people who have doubts and questions, I encourage you to tell your story. Either start a blog or write a guest post. Your story matters. Thousands of people lurk in the shadows of this blog. Telling your story just might be the thing that helps them to finally see the bankruptcy of Evangelicalism. If you need help setting up a blog or would like to write a guest post, please send me an email via the contact page. I am here to help.

Another way to effectively reach Evangelicals is to get them to read books that challenge their core beliefs. Personally, I try not to get into doctrinal debates with Evangelicals, choosing instead to attack the foundation upon which their house stands: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Protestant Christian Bible. Successfully destroy the foundation, and down comes the house. Take debating creationists. It’s almost impossible to deliver them from their delusions, from the notion that the universe is 6,023 years old. Why? Biblical inspiration and inerrancy demand that they accept Genesis 1-3 as “science,” and reject anything that doesn’t conform to the creationist worldview. Ken HamAnswers in GenesisCreation Museum, and the Ark Encounter — a colossal monument to Evangelical ignorance — all testify to what happens when one embraces inerrancy (and literalism). Challenge their beliefs about the Bible, interjecting questions and doubts, and it then becomes easier to rebuff their creationist beliefs. Once this is accomplished, other beliefs can then be successfully challenged.

I have found that Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books are often effective in disabusing Evangelicals of their beliefs about the nature of the Bible. Once an Evangelical doubts that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, the church door is open and he has taken his first step towards freedom.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

Let me leave you with one more way we can evangelize Evangelicals. As Evangelicals, we were taught the importance of our “testimony” before the world. Think of all the nasty, arrogant, hateful Evangelical zealots who have visited this blog and commented over the years. Have their words not testified to the worthlessness of that which they preach? Their words speak volumes, do they not? The same can be said of the preachers who are featured in the Black Collar Crime series. What’s the takeaway here? That how we live is far more important than what we say. If we fail to practice what we preach, our words are worthless. Atheists, who typically follow the humanist ideal, need to understand that Evangelical doubters and questioners are watching how we live our lives. They want to see if atheism/humanism has made any difference in our lives. They want to see what it is that moves us, gives us purpose and meaning, and helps us get through the day. If we truly want to evangelize Evangelicals, then our lives must testify that there is a better way; that love, kindness, happiness, and fulfillment can be had without kowtowing to a mythical deity; that freedom rests not in religious dogma, but in rational, skeptical living.

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.

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.

What’s the Point of the Black Collar Crime Series? — Nobody’s Perfect

christians arent perfect black collar crime series

A man who lives not far from my home left the above comment on my Facebook page (if you have not yet LIKED the Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser page, I would appreciate you doing so.) Based on a bit of social media stalking, I have determined the commenter is retired and is a King James-Only Baptist. That he is a Baptist gave me a bit of context as I determined how best to respond to his comment. Last year, emergent church guru Brian McLaren said:

I feel that the role of Baptists — not Cooperative Baptist Fellowship but other Baptists — in doing harm to our nation and world is so great. I really feel well-meaning, sincere people who are deeply committed to the term ‘Baptist’ are often at the forefront of being careless about the environment. They are often at the forefront of being hateful towards Muslims. They are often at the forefront of promoting — unconsciously very often — white supremacy and continuing harm being done to racial minorities. We don’t even need to mention the harm being done to LGBTQ persons.

….

I think one of our great challenges in the Christian religion at large is for Christianity to grow up, to be a world religion meaning not just an American religion and certainly not just a southern or rural American religion, but a religion that grapples with all the challenges of our interconnected world.

In my mind, the underlying issue is actually patriarchy. We could talk about white Christian supremacy, but at the core of this is white, Christian, patriarchal supremacy. It’s a way of organizing life around powerful men.

A whole lot of people are wondering, can the Christian religion extract itself from patriarchy, or is belief in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit so inherently patriarchal that Christians actually believe in a patriarchal universe?

….

Watching the success of Donald Trump win over especially white people, and especially white Christians and especially white evangelical and Baptist Christians, in my opinion this is a pivotal moment.

Baptists, those damn Baptists. Their theology fuels the continued support of the pussy-grabbing, adulterous president of the United States, Donald Trump. Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress — both are Baptists — continue to defend Trump against accusations of rape, sexual assault, and adultery. It was primarily the Baptists who held the line of defense for Independent Fundamentalist (IFB) Baptist pervert Roy Moore. (Keep in mind, many generic Evangelical churches are Baptist in everything but their name.) According to Baptist theology, there’s no sinful act that can kick you out of the family of God once Jesus has saved you and the Father has adopted you into his family. This is why more than a few Evangelicals believe that I am still a Christian. Once saved, always saved; once married to Jesus, no divorce. This is why serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy went to heaven when they died. No matter the sin, if your soul has been washed in the blood of Jesus, you are forever a child of God.

Thus, for the aforementioned commenter, there’s no good reason for publishing the Black Collar Crime Series. Yes, Evangelical pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, and church congregants can and do rape women, sexually assault children, and commit all sorts of sexual crimes, and as long as these saved-by-grace Christians are in the flesh, they can and do sin. But, no matter what they do, God will forgive them. That’s what so w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l about Evangelical soteriology; forgiveness is only a prayer away.

Evangelicals are frequently reminded of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” No matter what Evangelicals do, the most-awesome-God-ever stands ready and willing to grant forgiveness. Awesome, right? No matter how heinous the crime or behavior, Evangelicals are just a prayer away from a clean slate.

The commenter reminds me that all of us are sinners, and that Christians often continue to sin after they are saved. If this is so, why bother to get saved; why read the Bible, pray, tithe, and attend church on Sundays if the new birth doesn’t turn sinners into new creations (as the Bible says it most certainly does)? Of course, according to the commenter, sinning Evangelicals aren’t really to blame for their sinfulness — Satin is. Those damn satin sheets I just knew that they would lead to the fall of the human race. Humor aside, I’m sure the commenter meant SATAN was to blame for the sexual sins and crimes detailed in the Black Collar Crimes Series. Doesn’t the Bible say of believers, “greater is he (God) that is in us than he (Satan) that is in the world?” Doesn’t the Bible say that Christians are overcomers and have victory in Christ? Doesn’t the Bible say that Evangelicals who sin are of the Devil and Christ does not abide in them? Doesn’t the Bible say that faith without (good) works is dead (and I assume sexually assaulting children and raping women are not good works)?

It seems, then, that the commenter has a problem with the Bible. Perhaps his bankrupt Baptist theology has warped his thinking, leading him to believe that Christians can be perverts and adulterers and still make it to God’s Trump Hotel in the Sky®. I wonder if he has read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

And such were (past tense) some of you, the Apostle Paul says.

Revelation 21:27 and 22: 14,15 says:

And there shall in no wise enter into it [New Jerusalem] any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

But, what do I know, right? According to the commenter, Satan has deceived me, bringing me down to the level of Evangelical Christians — his words, not mine. Say it isn’t so! How dare the commenter drag me into the Evangelical gutter. My humanistic morality teaches me that raping women, sexually assaulting church teens, and abusing children are bad/harmful behaviors. I value people and, as such, I would not abuse/assault/harm others. I don’t need salvation, and I sure as hell don’t need forgiveness from a mythical deity. I’m more in the Tony Baretta school of life: Don’t do the crime if you don’t want to do the time. (Too bad Robert Blake didn’t follow his own advice.) To the Evangelical sexual abusers, child molesters, and rapists I say this: if you don’t want to be featured in the Black Collar Crime SeriesDON’T DO THE CRIME! It’s really that simple.

Why, then, is there an ever-widening Evangelical sexual abuse scandal? The short answer is this: Baptist theology; the very theology espoused by the aforementioned commenter. When people believe they are weak, helpless sinners in need of God’s power and forgiveness to make it through the day, what do you expect? Churches are filled with people who believe they can’t help themselves; that the flesh and Satan keep them from doing right. Their lives consist of a constant cycle of sin/forgiveness. You might remember what one Catholic priest said when he was arrested for abusing boys: I asked for forgiveness after every time I abused a boy. Evangelicals do the same when they pray for forgiveness AFTER they have harmed others.

God, I have an idea. How about getting the Holy Spirit — who supposedly lives in every believer, teaching, guiding, and directing them in righteousness and holiness (talk about bad job performance!) — to stop believers from harming others BEFORE they do so! Surely, an all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing, always-present God can act like a pre-crime bureau for Christians, stopping them from committing crimes before they do them. How hard can it be, God?

As for the WHY of the Black Collar Crime series, let me conclude this post with an excerpt from a previous post titled, Why I Write The Black Collar Crime Series :

I realize that these reports are often dark and depressing, but the only way to dispel darkness is to turn on the lights. Clergy who prey on congregants — especially children — must be exposed, prosecuted, convicted, and sent to prison. By leveraging this blog’s traffic and publishing these reports I am serving notice to law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges: we are paying attention, and if you fail to provide justice for victims, we will hold you accountable.

Sadly, many clerics have enormous power over people. How else do we explain that repeat abusers of children and sexual predators such at Lester Roloff, Jack Patterson, and Mack Ford — to name a few — never spent a day in jail for their crimes? Mack Ford, in particular, spent decades physically and psychologically destroying teenagers, yet, thanks to his connections in the community, he was never prosecuted for his crimes.(Please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for GirlsTeen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your SinWhat Should We Do When Religious Freedom Leads to Child Abuse?)

Sometimes these seemingly untouchable predators are brought to justice, but not before the public puts pressure on law enforcement and prosecutors, forcing them to act. The sordid story of abuse at Restoration Youth Academy is case in point. Decades of reports about abuse were filed with local law enforcement, yet nothing was done. Yes, they finally acted and the perpetrators are now in prison, but what do we say to the hundreds of children and teenagers who were ritually abused before prosecutors got around to doing their job?

I am sure that this series will bring criticism from Evangelical zealots, reminding me that accused/charged clerics are innocent until proven guilty. While they are correct, all I am doing is sharing that which is widely reported in the news. In the nine years I’ve been writing about clergy misconduct, I can count on two fingers the number of pastors/priests/religious leaders who were falsely accused. Two, out of hundreds and hundreds of cases. The reason for so few false accusations is that no person in his or her right mind would mendaciously accuse a pastor of sexual misconduct.

People often believe that “men of God” would never, ever commit such crimes. One common thread in the crimes committed by Jack Schaap, Bill Wininger, Josh Duggar, David Farren, and a cast of thousands, is that family and fellow Christians were absolutely CERTAIN that these men of God could/would never commit the crimes with which they were charged. Even when presented with overwhelming evidence, their supporters, with heads in the sand, refuse to believe that these servants of Jesus did the perverse things they are accused of. (Please see What One IFB Apologist Thinks of People Who Claim They Were AbusedEvangelicals Use ‘We Are All Sinners’ Argument to Justify Sexual Abuse)

Secondary reasons for this series have to do with exposing the lie that Evangelicalism is immune to scandal. I remember when the Catholic sex scandal came to light. With great glee and satisfaction, Evangelical preachers railed against predator priests and the Catholic Church who covered up their crimes. Now, of course, we know that Evangelicalism is just as rotten, having its own problem with sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups. Evangelicals love to take the high moral ground, giving the perception that their shit doesn’t stink. Well, now we know better. Not only does Evangelicalism have a sexual abuse problem, it also has big problem with pastors who can’t keep their pants zipped up. (Please see Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?)

To the commenter I say, instead of getting all peachy-preachy about the Black Collar Crime Series, how about focusing your outrage on the sex crimes and cover-ups that are being committed by pastors, deacons, evangelists, missionaries, choir directors, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, janitors, bus drivers, preschool teachers, school principals, high school teachers, and church board members in scores of Evangelical churches, including Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregations. Instead of being all worked up over the messenger, how about focusing on the message? Ask yourself, what would Jesus do? Don’t know what Jesus would do? Let me leave you with Jesus’ words in Mark 9:42: “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

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.

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.

Public Expressions of Faith and the Future of American Evangelicalism

altar call

Cartoon by Jeff Larson

I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. At the age of fifteen, I was saved, baptized, and called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Gene Millioni, Ron Johnson, and Bruce Turner were my pastors at the time. (Please see Dear Bruce Turner.) Trinity Baptist was a hyper-evangelistic church affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. My pastors gave a public altar call at the end of every service. I later would attend Midwestern Baptist College to study for the ministry. Students were required to attend nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, pastored by college chancellor Dr. Tom Malone. Altar calls were given at every service. Most IFB churches sang Just as I Am during altar calls, but Emmanuel used There is a Fountain Filled With Blood (Drawn from Immanuel’s Veins), by William Cowper. Sinners needing salvation were asked to step out of their seats and walk down the aisle to the front of the church. Once at the altar, a trained soulwinner would kneel with them, share the IFB gospel, and help them pray the sinner’s prayers. This act of faith was called “making a public profession of faith.” Sinners evangelized during the week were expected to come to church the next Sunday and made their conversion public by walking down the aisle.

Baptism was treated in a similar manner. Being immersed in three feet of water in a church baptismal was considered a public declaration of faith. By being baptized, the sinner was saying, “I publicly identify with Jesus.” Many IFB converts are baptized right after the service or the next Sunday. Preachers would often joke that the reason Baptists baptized new converts right away is that they feared never seeing them again. I was saved one week and baptized the next. And several weeks after that, I went forward during the altar call and confessed to Pastor Millioni that I believed God was calling me to preach. I stood before my friends and fellow church members and told them what God was doing in my heart. My declaration was greeted with hearty amens from older congregants. I am sure more than a few of my friends thought, Bruce Gerencser, a preacher? Yeah, right. This too shall pass!  It didn’t, and for the next thirty-five years, I preached some version or the other of the Christian gospel, seeking to help sinners see their need for salvation.

Over the first fifty years of my life, I watched thousands of people walk down church aisles and ask Jesus to save them. Often, high pressure, manipulative tactics were used to coerce sinners into getting saved. I heard countless preachers say, “the hardest decision you will ever make in your life is to step out of your seat, walk down the aisle, and make a public profession of faith.” The same line was used when cajoling people into getting baptized. “Publicly identifying with Jesus in baptism is the hardest decision you will ever make!” I later concluded that there was nothing “hard” about these decisions. Here you were among Christians. How “hard” could it be to get saved and baptized? And “public?”  What’s “public” about going through the IFB salvation and baptismal ritual in the safety and privacy of a local church filled with likeminded believers?

baptism by immersion

Cartoon by John Parker

Later in my ministry years, I stopped baptizing new converts at the church. Instead, we would go to a nearby public lake and hold a baptismal service. While not as “public” as the baptisms of first century Christian converts in the book of Acts, being exposed to the gazes of worldly vacationers helped cement the importance and cost of publicly identifying with Christ. Few churches, it seems, are willing to ask much, if anything, from new converts. As long as their asses are in the seats and their Benjamins are in the plate, all is well. It is not uncommon for IFB churches to leads hundreds of sinners to Christ each year, with few of them obediently following the Lord in baptism. Some megachurches these days have pretty much given up on baptizing converts. Once or twice a year, they will “offer” baptism to the unbaptized, but rarely, if ever, stress the importance of the rite.

These days, much to the consternation of IFB preachers and Evangelical pastors, cultural Christianity rules to roost. Christians have “personal” relationships with Jesus, and most of them never share their faith. Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest Protestant denomination in the United States — reported that their membership and baptism numbers continue to decline. Scores of SBC churches didn’t take in one new member or baptize one new convert. IFB churches, who still think they live in the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s, also face precipitous membership and baptism declines. One-time IFB megachurches now are a shell of what they once were, that is, if they are still in existence. In the 1970s, Polly and I attended Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan. Emmanuel was considered one of the largest churches in America. One Sunday, they had over 5,000 people in attendance — a rare feat at the time. Today, its doors are shuttered. The same could be said for numerous other IFB churches — churches that once proudly proclaimed that they were one of the top one hundred churches in America.

It is not uncommon these days for IFB and SBC churches to go weeks and months without “public” professions of faith or a “public” baptisms. More than a few churches, attempting to ward off algae growth or smells that come from stagnant water, have drained their baptismals and use the space to store Christmas decorations or old VBS materials. The best and brightest among such churches will come up with new programs and outreaches they are sure will stop the bleeding and import new life into their churches, but if the past is any indicator, they are doomed for failure. Perhaps, it’s time to admit that Americans are really not that into Jesus anymore; that all people want is eternal life insurance and a place to get married and hold funerals. In other words, IFB and SBC congregants are well on their way to becoming Roman Catholics — morning glories who only bloom on Easter and Christmas.

In one regard, the testimony of such Christians is indeed “public.” The unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world “see” how these people live out their faith, and find themselves saying, “no thanks.” My wife and I visited over a hundred Christian churches after we left the ministry. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered; a congregation that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. While we met all sorts of decent people, we didn’t find one church congregation that was different from the rest. We didn’t find one church that earnestly took Jesus’ commands, teachings, and way of life — as we then understood them — to heart. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We decided that despite differences in liturgy and denominational affiliation, these churches were all pretty much the same. In retrospect, I have no doubt this fact played a part in our eventual abandonment of Christianity. We came to understand that for all their talk about commitment, public professions of faith, and publicly identifying with Jesus, most Evangelical churches were little more than private social clubs for likeminded people; that such clubs attract people who need “forgiveness” and need someone to tell them what to believe and how to live. Sadly, the sheeple underneath the steeple far outnumber people who think for themselves. Those who are able to rationally and critically examine religious beliefs and practices usually end up outside of the churches they once called home.

Conservative Christianity still dominates the American social and political scene. Evangelical culture warriors continue to wage war against secularism, atheism, humanism, socialism, and a culture they believe is going to Hell in a handbasket. Try as they might, these crusaders are fighting a losing battle. Oh, they might win a few skirmishes in the short term — say over abortion — but history suggests that their days are numbered. One need only look at the arc of history in Europe and other Western countries to see where the United States is headed. Old curmudgeons such as myself are unlikely to see secularism and reason vanquish the Devil in our lifetimes, but we hold out hope for our grandchildren and their children. Thanks to global warming, their world will be very different from ours, but we have high hopes that their world will be one where religion has finally been driven back into the four walls of churches where it belongs.

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.

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.

How the Christian Practice of Absolute Forgiveness Harms Others

mennonite-child-molester

The Toledo Blade recently published a story about how some Amish and Mennonite communities expect victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and other crimes to forgive their attackers and forget the crimes ever happened. Practicing absolute forgiveness, these faith communities expect congregants to forgive regardless of what harm is caused and whether perpetrators are truly sorry for their crimes. The Toledo Blade story focuses on a woman who was excommunicated from her conservative Mennonite church because she refused to forgive her husband — a man who repeatedly sexually molested their daughters over the years. Astoundingly, the Sunday after this woman was excommunicated, her church, with arms opened wide, welcomed her husband back into the church.

After local law enforcement became aware of the husband’s criminal sexual behavior, he confessed his “sins” and was sentenced to five years of probation and 15 years on Pennsylvania’s sex offender registry. You would think that the husband would be penitent and understand why his wife no longer wanted her children anywhere near him. Unfortunately, as is often the case with sex crimes that have a religious component, the husband didn’t truly see the depth of harm he caused:

They held a seminar, and they talked about how that is sin, and I did want to be free before God and confess it and get freedom, Shirk, now 50, said in an April interview. I didn’t want something hid that should have been confessed and taken care of.

I did confession in church and made the confession in church and everybody stood and said they forgave me. I thought it was all good, but I found out that doesn’t make everybody happy.

[He laughed.]

After that, I found out a lot of people carry a lot of hatred for that sin and it’s hard for people to forgive.

….

This got way out of hand. For a little bit of touching that I did wrong. I know that it can be a big emotional thing for the girl, and it can affect their life ever after and stuff like that, and I don’t want to belittle what I did.

“There is no forgiveness for one thing. The state has no forgiveness, and therefore the church has no forgiveness, because the state is on their case that they’ll put the preacher in jail if they don’t report it.

I believe what they’re [the state] doing to men is way far worse. I mean, my daughters that I molested, yeah, as far as I know they are living a normal life. But I sure am not.

The husband continues to try to reconnect with his wife, saying:

I wouldn’t expect a woman to live with a man who is drunk and beating on her. I wouldn’t expect that. But when the church has gotten together and said this man [a convicted child molester] needs forgiveness, it would have been in her place to do that.

As you can see from the husband’s comments, he lacks remorse and contrition, and when it comes right down to it, he doesn’t think what he did is so bad. Hey, at least he didn’t beat his wife and the daughters he molested are living “normal” lives, right? The husband even went so far as to question his wife relationship with God, saying, “I just don’t understand how that [not being reconciled] is going to work out on Judgment Day.” The wife joined another conservative Mennonite church, and while she has been encouraged by them to reconcile with her husband, they have not pressed the matter with her. I am sure some readers are thinking, “WHAT THE FUCK! Why doesn’t she divorce her child-molester husband?” Well, the answer is quite simple: conservative Mennonite congregations do not permit divorce, and doing so would be immediate grounds for excommunication.

Generally, forgiving others is a good idea. Forgiveness fosters peace and helps reconcile people who are at odds with one another. However, practicing absolute forgiveness can and does cause harm, and as this story shows, it allows people to escape responsibility for their behavior. Our goal in life should be to live in ways that don’t require forgiveness, and when we do cause harm to someone, to quickly make amends or restitution. It is up to the person harmed, then, to grant forgiveness. Absolute forgiveness wrongly requires absolution regardless of whether the offender makes things right.

I saw this kind of forgiveness expectation practiced numerous times over the fifty years I spent in the Christian church. Private “sins” were expiated simply by the penitent confessing their bad behavior to God. The Bible says in 1 John 1:9If we [Christians] confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God promises to cleanse Christians from any and all sin if they will but ask him to do so. And if Christian’s ask, God wipes their sin slates clean, giving them the equivalent of a divine do-over. A sweet deal if you can get it, right?

When Christians commit public “sins” — behaviors that cause public shame to Jesus and his church — they are often brought before congregational leaders or fellow church members and expected to publicly confess their sins. Once the sinner has confessed his sins, he is absolved, and as in the case of private sins, his sin slate of wiped clean.

Whether a person is forgiven by Jesus of private or public sins, it matters not. Once forgiven — and exactly how is that determined? — congregants, including family, spouse, and children, are expected to absolutely forgive the person. Failing to do so is seen as bitterness or pride. I know of several instances where husbands abused their wives, confessed their “sins” before the church, and were granted forgiveness. Their wives were expected to forgive them and move on with life, living with men who just weeks before physically and psychologically abused them. In at least two instances that I know of, abusive husbands were welcomed back into their churches, while their wives were excommunicated for having bitter, judgmental spirits.

Even heinous crimes such as sexual abuse and rape are far too often covered over with expectations of absolute forgiveness. A recent story in the Houston Chronicle revealed that there are dozens of Southern Baptist churches who welcomed sex offenders back into their membership after their convictions. These churches KNEW these men were sex offenders, yet with arms open wide, they said, We forgive you, brother. Welcome to our church. I saw this same behavior on several occasions with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. One man, a church bus worker, was caught sexually abusing a teen boy in the church’s basement. He was forgiven by the church and escaped jail time for his crime. Twenty years later, the man was given access to children again, and as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, he sexually abused another child. This time, the man did time for his crime. While the church forgave him, they would not permit him to continue attending their services. With the blessing of his pastor and church leaders, the man joined a nearby IFB church, and to this day can be found there “faithfully” serving Jesus. Astoundingly, his wife — taught by her pastors that there are no grounds for divorce — is still with him.

Whether to forgive should be up to the person harmed. While forgiving others is generally a good idea, churches that demand forgiveness in all circumstances cause harm to people who cannot or are not ready to do so. The act of forgiveness rests with the person harmed. In the case of spousal abuse, child abuse, and sex crimes, churches which demand that victims absolutely forgive their attackers often revictimize and inflict further pain on women and children (and in some instances, men). Victims must be given the space to process what happened to them on their own terms. And if they, for some reason, cannot or will not absolve abusers of their crimes, churches and pastors should accept their decision.

I grew up in a religious culture where absolute forgiveness was expected, regardless of the seriousness of the bad behavior or crime. One of the freeing moments of my life was realizing that I didn’t have to forgive my grandparents (my mother’s father and stepmother) for what they did to me personally, and to my mother and our family in general. My grandparents were go-to-church-three-times-a-week Fundamentalist Christians. Grandpa was a violent drunk before he got saved. After asking Jesus to forgive him of his sins, Grandpa was transformed into a “wonderful” Christian who still was quite violent. And Grandma was not without her own demons. (Please see Dear Ann) Publicly, they were viewed by others as super-duper Christians who loved Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind. And maybe they did, but underneath their religious veneer lived people prone to psychological and physical abuse.

blood of jesus

Years before my mother’s tragic suicide (Please see Barbara), she tried to confront her dad over him sexually abusing her as a child. He told my mom that his past had been forgiven by Jesus and his sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus. He intimated to Mom that if Jesus had forgiven him, so should she. Needless to say, Mom was in no mood to forgive her child molester father. Nor did she plan to forgive his wife, a woman who caused untold heartache and pain. Years later, I reached a place where I had enough of my grandparents’ passive-aggressive behavior. I made it known that I was no longer interested in having a relationship with them. And with that, my grandparents were excised from my life and that of my family. Or so I thought anyway.

In 2003, I moved to Clare, Michigan and became the pastor of a small, struggling Southern Baptist church. One Sunday, as I was preaching, I glanced up and looked out the windows at the back of the building. I was shocked to see my grandmother sitting in her car with her new husband. (Grandpa had miserably died several years before of colon cancer.) I had a Christian version of a WTF moment, and sure enough, after the service my grandmother came up to me as if nothing had ever happened and told me she was living near me with her new hubby and asked if my family and I wanted to have dinner with them sometime. At that moment, I was dying inside, wanting to verbally reduce her to the pile of shit she was. Unfortunately, congregants were standing nearby, so I said, “sure.” Always play the part, Bruce. Always play the part. Several church members told me that they used to attend church with my grandmother. She is a wonderful Christian woman, they said. I responded, there are two sides to every story. Later, I would feel guilty over not forgiving her, so I spent time in prayer asking God to forgive me for being angry and bitter towards my grandmother.

Cleansed of my “sin,” I decided to try to forge a new relationship with my grandmother and her new husband. Polly dreaded doing so, remembering how awful my grandparents were towards her and our children. I played the “what would Jesus do” card, and off to my grandmother’s home we went — which was, ironically, a mile or so away from our home. During our dinner discussion, my grandmother decided to share a family secret that had laid buried for over fifty years: that my father was not my biological father. Granted, I had begun to question my paternity, and have since concluded that my “real” father was likely my mother’s cousin, but it was not my grandmother’s place to share this secret over dinner and in the presence of my wife and children. Why she decided to do this, I’ll never know. This was the last time I ever talked to her. Several months later, we moved back to Ohio, and outside of my grandmother trying to contact me on Facebook, I have had no contact with her. I sent her my Dear Ann article. She never responded. Of course not, it is all under the blood, buried in the deepest seas, never to be remembered again.

As an atheist and a humanist, I have learned that it is okay to not forgive some people; that some people, such as my grandparents, don’t deserve forgiveness; that them going to their graves unforgiven is just punishment for their crimes and ill-behavior. When my grandfather died, I felt nothing and shed not a tear. I was faulted for not attending his funeral, but I didn’t care. I knew it would be an act of Fundamentalist masturbation over his rotting corpse. I would hear wonderful tales about the man, the myth, the legend; the soulwinner who daily sought to evangelize the lost; the man who loved Jesus more than the world. We would not be told, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”

I am fine with people thinking I am unforgiving; that I should make peace with my grandparents. My grandparents are bad people. No matter how many times they attended church, sang hymns, won souls, and gave money to the church, they were still, at least to family, nasty, judgmental, mean, and violent; guilty of behavior that would land them in jail if they did these things today. Life is too short to spend it around such people. If they need forgiveness, let them ask God for it. As their grandson and the son of the dear woman they physically and psychologically brutalized, I have no intention of granting them pardon. My grandfather is dead. Good riddance. Soon, my grandmother will meet her end too. I shall not weep, except, perhaps, for those harmed by their behavior. Too bad there’s not a Hell. If there were, I know two people who deserve first-class accommodations.

Were you taught that you must, in all circumstances, absolutely forgive? Please share your experiences 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.

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

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

Black Collar Crime: Pastor Cameron Giovanelli Resurrects From the Dead, Found in Florida

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, Cameron Giovanelli, the president of Golden State Baptist College — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution operated by Pastor Jack Trieber and North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, California, was accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a church teenager when he was the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, Maryland. Giovanelli denied the allegations and exited stage right to points unknown. ( Please read the previous post titled, Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Cameron Giovanelli Accused of Sexual Assault)

You can read Giovanelli’s side of the story here.

Today, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Giovanelli is now the associate pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Giovanelli also plans to help 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.

Video link to North Florida Baptist College announcement.

I have no doubt that a number IFB pastors and churches will recommend North Florida Baptist College to its students. Neal is a graduate of Hyles-Anderson College. Deeply influenced by disgraced pastor Jack Hyles, I am sure that both Neal and Giovanneli subscribe to the Hyles rule: If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen. (Please see Sexual Abuse and the Jack Hyles Rule: If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen)

Giovaneli’s college bio page states:

Cameron Giovanelli was born on June 29, 1977. He was saved on September 20, 1990, while living in Rohnert Park, CA. In 1994, he surrendered to preach while attending a youth conference in Santa Clara, California. Following his graduation, he attended Golden State Baptist College where he met his wife, Sarah, and they both graduated in 2000.

After graduating from Bible college, Cameron Giovanelli served as a youth pastor for several years in Napa, CA; as an associate pastor in Manteca, California; and then, as a pastor in the fall of 2003. He pastored a growing church on the east coast for eleven years before accepting a position at his alma mater as the president. In 2018, he and his family moved to Jacksonville, Florida, and began serving as an assistant pastor at the Immanuel Baptist Church under the leadership of Pastor Greg Neal. Now, with the announcement of North Florida Baptist College, Cameron Giovanelli has been asked and has accepted the role of president.

Cameron and Sarah Giovanelli have three children. Together, the Giovanelli family has seen the Lord work in remarkable ways, and they are excited about this next phase of their ministry life. Cameron Giovanelli is a seasoned servant and soldier of the cross, and it is with great excitement that North Florida Baptist College has called him to lead the way of training up the next generation of church leaders.

No mention of the allegations against him. I wonder why?  Sadly, the IFB church movement tends to be a shameless lot, and the latest escapades of Neal and Giovanelli only reinforce that notion. As I perused North Florida Baptist College’s twitter account, I noticed that IFB luminary Bob Gray, Sr. is a follower. No shock there. Gay is a Hyles loyalist, and has stood by several IFB preachers accused of sexual misconduct. I followed North Florida Baptist, and it took less than sixty-seconds for them to do the following:

north florida baptist college twitter

They also reported my account and got it temporarily blocked. I wonder what Giovanelli, Neal, and Company are trying to hide?

Sorry boys, but I ain’t going away.

Getting Right with God: The Endless Pursuit of Holiness and Perfection

cs lewis perfection

Evangelicals believe that humanity can be neatly divided into two classes: saved or lost; in or out; Christian or not. There’s no ambiguity. Either a person has been born-again (born from above) or he is lost, dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1), the enemy of God (James 4:4). Either a person is on God’s side or he is a follower of Satan (John 8:44). Either a person is headed for Heaven or he is bound for Hell. Granted, Evangelical fight amongst themselves over what exactly is required for someone to be saved, but once the deed is done, new converts enter an exclusive group of humans — the redeemed.

Most Evangelicals believe that once a person is saved, his salvation is forever; that there is nothing that can separate him from the love of God. Romans 8:31-39 says:

 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In John 10: 27-29, Jesus allegedly said:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

According to this text, it is Jesus who gives to sinners eternal life, and once this is given to them it can never, ever be taken away. Calvinists and Arminians endlessly bicker with each other over what these verses “really” mean, but both sides agree that Jesus grants salvation and eternal life to all those who “confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead.” (Romans 10)

Once a person is saved, he begins living out an endless cycle of being in and out of the will of God; of being on-fire and lukewarm. Evangelical preachers spend countless Sundays encouraging Christians to do the basics: read/study the Bible, pray, attend church, witness to unbelievers, and financially support their local churches. Sometimes, preachers try to guilt congregants into doing these things. Remember what Jesus did for you! Surely, you can do these things for him! Jesus is portrayed as someone who gave his all to save lost sinners, and if he was willing to die on the cross for them, surely his followers can devote themselves to the basics of Christian faith.

I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Saved, baptized, and called to preach at the age of fifteen, I was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. I attended church three times on Sundays and once on Wednesdays. I also attended youth group after church on Sunday nights, and participated in extracurricular youth activities during the week. On Tuesdays, I went on church visitation, hoping to either evangelize the lost or encourage Christian deadbeats to get back into church. On Saturday mornings, I went on bus visitation, contacting bus riders to remind them that we would be by to pick them up the next day and canvassing for new riders. Once a month, area IFB churches would get together and hold a youth rally, one of my favorite events due to the larger pool of dateable girls it afforded me. And if this wasn’t enough to keep me busy, the church held a week-long revival meeting several times a year, an annual missions conference, and periodic two- or three-day preaching meetings. One week each summer was devoted to youth camp, a time when church teens were assaulted with Bible preaching morning, noon, and night.

The goal of this immersive religious indoctrination was two-fold: to evangelize the lost and to reclaim backsliders. As I mentioned above, once a person is saved, he begins living out an endless cycle of being in and out of the will of God; of being on-fire and lukewarm. In most Evangelical churches, out-of-the-will-of-God, lukewarm Christians vastly outnumber those who are on-fire. Most Evangelical congregants are passive church attendees. The bigger the congregation the more this is so. Pastors will try all sorts of methods, programs, and vaudeville gimmicks to motivate congregants, but they rarely, if ever, result in long-term, lasting change. Revivals, youth rallies, and youth camps were used as tools to stir the emotions of those of us deemed “not right with God.” And these tools worked — for a while.

I attended countless services where I felt Holy Ghost “conviction” over “sin” in my life. Evangelists — who were experts at emotionally manipulating people and extracting outward demonstrations of repentance and contrition — focused on sin, calling all those not right with God to come to the church altar and do business with God. I responded to countless such altar calls during my years in the Evangelical church. I sincerely believed that the Holy Ghost was speaking to me and convicting me of my sins. I’d kneel at the altar, weep and pray, and then arise feeling cleansed from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) These moments were oh-so-special. Why? Because at that moment I felt close to God. I felt that everything was right in my world and between me and my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Alas, much like taking a bath, this feeling didn’t last. Sometimes, I didn’t even make it out of the church building before sinning again.

I tried really, really, really hard to maintain a holy walk before the Lord, but temptations were everywhere. And try as I might to not give into them, eventually I would succumb, requiring me to yet again walk the proverbial sawdust trail, kneel at the altar, and confess my sins. My pastors taught me that Christians and sinners alike sinned in thought, word, and deed. Boy, were they right, or so I thought at the time. In a world where everything matters and sin lists are endless, it shouldn’t be surprising that righteousness and holiness were illusive, if not impossible to find. This environment, of course, drove me to embrace perfectionism. After all, Jesus purportedly said in Matthew 5:48You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. I thought, at the time, that if, as the Bible says, God gives Christians everything we need pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and the Holy Spirit indwells every believer (1 John 4:12-14 and Ephesians 1:13, 14) and is their ever-present teacher and guide (John 14:26 and 1 John 2:27 and John 16:13), perfectionism should be achievable — or pretty close anyway. And so, day after day, month after month, and year after year, I ran the race set before me (1 Corinthians 9:24 and Hebrews 12:1,2), striving for holiness, without which, the Apostle Paul said, no man shall see the Lord.

Several months ago, Polly and I spent considerable time talking about how driven we were as Christians to find the faith and way of life we heard preachers preach about, inspirational books talked about, and Christian artists sing about. We wanted Jesus in our lives 24-7, just like these preachers, authors, and musicians supposedly had. Try as we might, we never reached the peak of spiritual Mount Everest. No matter how much effort and energy we put into reaching the summit, we failed. It was not until the tail end of our time as Christians that we realized that we had spent the best years of our lives chasing after the unattainable; that we were, in every way, just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Yes, we were Christians; yes, we loved Jesus, but we were also flesh-and-blood human beings. Once we came to understand this, it was as if a huge weight of guilt was lifted from us. Of course, those who were still chasing righteousness and holiness thought differently of us. We were considered backsliders, out of the will of God; carnal Christians who loved the things of the world more than the things of God. (1 John 2:15)

It was during this period of my life I started blogging — circa 2007. I was drinking deeply from the emergent/liberal Christian/Thomas Merton well. My writing attracted Evangelical and IFB preachers who wanted to set me straight about my new-found “sinful” way of life. One man, a Christian Missionary and Alliance preacher, endlessly hounded me, questioning whether I was even a Christian. This preacher, in his life, was where I once was. Fast forward to today, this man is now divorced, remarried, and no longer in the ministry. This story has been repeated over, and over, and over again by countless preachers, evangelists, and other Christians who thought it their mission in life to correct, condemn, or chastise me. Few of them have been able to keep on the straight and narrow. Oh, they might give the outward appearance of godliness, but they know and I know that their lives are little more than a charade. How do I know this? Experience tells me that endlessly striving for perfection leads to psychological and physical harm; that such motivation harms those you love and care about the most. Even Fundamentalist Baptist John Piper, a proponent of Christian hedonism, found he couldn’t practice what he preached, leaving the pastorate due to marital “problems.”

If atheism has done anything for me, it has freed me from the endless pursuit of righteousness, holiness, and perfection. Abandoning the Bible and Christianity as my authoritative standard for morality has allowed me greatly reduce the number of behaviors I consider “sins.” As a Christian, my sin list was pages and pages long. Today, my sin list messily fits on a 3×5 index card and is getting smaller every day. So many of the “sins” I spent countless hours weeping and wailing over, were, in fact, normal, healthy human behaviors. Much of the preaching I heard focused on sexual sins. Preachers reminded me and I later reminded congregants that Jesus said in Matthew 5:28: But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Imagine how freeing it was to learn that sexual want, need, and desire were normal, and that considering a woman who is not your wife as sexually desirable was not necessarily wrong. I learned the same about anger. I spent most of my life holding in anger, only to have angry outbursts towards my spouse and children when no one but they could see me. As a Christian and a pastor, I was never allowed to be angry. Of course, this only led to me living a double-faced life: “always in control Pastor Bruce” while in public, and “angry out of control Pastor Bruce” when behind closed doors. Imagine how refreshing it was to learn through counseling that anger was a normal, healthy human emotion and that the important thing was what I did with my anger. I have learned over the past decade that most of the behaviors called “sin” in my Evangelical past were, in fact, anything but. And that instead of constantly striving for perfection, it was okay to just be Bruce Gerencser. Now, this doesn’t mean I never act inappropriately. I do. I am, after all, human. If you doubt this, just ask Polly. She will set you straight on the matter. When I find that I have harmed someone else with my words or deeds, I try, if possible, to make restitution. My goal as a humanist is to be a good person, to love and respect others, and treat them with kindness. Simply put, I strive every day to not be an asshole.

How has your life changed post-Christianity? Please share your story in the comment section. I would love to especially hear from former fellow perfectionists.

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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