Tag Archive: John Birch Society

How My Political and Social Beliefs Evolved Over the Years

john birch society

A recent letter writer asked:

Were you always socially liberal and progressive “on the inside” or did that develop after deconverting? For example, were you always pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, and pro-transgender, and every time you read a bible verse got triggered, or did your social and political beliefs genuinely differ between being a Christian and being an atheist?

These are great questions. I believe the letter writer is asking if I always had liberal/progressive political and social beliefs or did these beliefs develop over time? I believe he is also asking if my political and social beliefs were different as a Christian from the beliefs I now have as an atheist? The best way to answer these questions is to share a condensed version of my life story.

In the early 1960s, my Dad packed up his family and moved from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego, California in search of riches and prosperity. While in California, my parents were saved at Scott Memorial Baptist Church, a Fundamentalist Baptist congregation pastored by Tim LaHaye. As members of Scott Memorial, Mom and Dad joined the right-wing, uber-nationalist John Birch Society. Mom, in particular, immersed herself in right-wing political ideology. She campaigned for Barry Goldwater, and would later actively support the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon and George Wallace.

As was common for people of their generation, my parents were racists. They believed Martin Luther King, Jr. was a despicable man, a Communist. Mom was an avid writer of letters to the editors of the newspapers wherever we happened to be living at the time. She considered Lieutenant William Calley — the man responsible for the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War — to be a war hero. She also thought that the unarmed Kent State students gunned down by Ohio National Guard soldiers got exactly what they deserved.

It should come as no surprise then, that their oldest son — yours truly — embraced their religious and political views. From the time I was in kindergarten until I entered college at age twenty-one, I lived in a right-wing, Fundamentalist monoculture. The churches I attended growing up only reinforced the political and social beliefs taught to me by my parents.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution founded in the 1950s by Tom Malone. While I don’t remember any “political” preaching, Biblical moral beliefs were frequently mentioned in classes and during chapel. I heard nothing that would challenge the political and social beliefs taught to me by my parents and pastors. While at Midwestern, I met a beautiful dark-haired woman who would later become my wife. She had similar political and social beliefs, so from that perspective we were a perfect match.

All told, I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. For many of these years, I was a flag-waving, homophobic, theocratic pro-lifer who believed Democrats, liberals, progressives, Catholics, mainline Christians, and a cast of thousands were tools used by Satan to attack and destroy Christian America. Over time, I theologically moved away from the IFB church movement and embraced Fundamentalist Calvinism. While my theology was evolving, my political and social beliefs remained the same — that is, until 1990.

In late 1990, American tanks, aircraft, and soldiers invaded Iraq, causing tens of thousands of civilian deaths. I was appalled by the universal support Evangelicals gave to the Gulf War. I remember asking congregants if it bothered them that thousands of men, women, and children were slaughtered in their name. Not one of my colleagues in the ministry opposed the Gulf War. None of them seemed troubled by the bloodshed and carnage. Try as I might to see the Gulf War through the eyes of the Just War Theory, I couldn’t do so. It was at this point in life that I became a pacifist. I didn’t preach pacifism from the pulpit, but I did challenge church members to think “Biblically” about war and violence — “Biblically” meaning viewing the Gulf War and other wars through the eyes of Jesus and his teachings.

From this point forward, my political beliefs began to evolve. By the time of the Y2K scare, I had distanced myself from groups such as Focus on the Family, the Moral Majority, and the American Family Association. I thought, at the time, that these groups had become political hacks, shills for the Republican Party. In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. He would be the last Republican I voted for. In 2004, I vote for John Kerry; 2008 and 2012 I voted for Barack Obama; 2016 I voted for Hillary Clinton, though I was a big Bernie Sanders supporter.

In 2005, I left the ministry, and in 2008 I left Christianity. At that time, my political and social beliefs were far removed from when I entered the ministry decades before. I began as a right-wing Republican and I left the ministry as a progressive. Embracing atheism, humanism, rationalism, and science has allowed me to challenge and rethink my beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, same-sex-marriage, LGBTQ people, sex, marriage, birth control, capital punishment, labor unions, environmentalism, and a host of other hot-button issues. As long as I was in the Evangelical bubble, these things remained unchallenged. Once the Bible lost its authority and control over me, I was then free to change my beliefs.

The Bruce Gerencser of 1983 would not recognize the Bruce Gerencser of today. A man who was a member of one of the churches I pastored in the 1980s and remained a friend of mine until 2009, told me that I had changed teams. And he’s right. My change of beliefs has been so radical that this man told me he could no longer be friends with me. Why? He found my atheism and political beliefs to be too unsettling.

I understand how the trajectory of my life, with its changing religious, political, and social beliefs, troubles people. I try to put myself in their shoes as they attempt to reconcile the Pastor Bruce they once knew with the atheist blogger I am today. How can these things be? former congregants, friends, and colleagues in the ministry want to know. How is it possible that Bruce Gerencser, one of the truest Christians they ever knew, is now an atheist? Some people think there’s some secret I am sitting on, some untold reason for my deconversion. No matter how much time I invest in explaining myself, many people still can’t wrap their minds around my current godlessness and liberal political beliefs. I’ve concluded that there is nothing I can do for them as long as they remain firmly ensconced in the Evangelical bubble.

My political and social beliefs are driven by the humanist ideal; that we humans should work together for the common good; that every person deserves peace, health, happiness, and economic security. I support political and social beliefs that promote these things and oppose those that don’t. I certainly haven’t arrived. My beliefs continue to evolve.

For readers not familiar with humanism, let me conclude this post with the Humanist Manifesto. Atheism doesn’t provide for me a moral foundation. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods. It is humanism that provides me the foundation upon which to build my life:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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What One Catholic Doctor Taught Me About Christianity

william fiorini

Dr. William Fiorini

In the 1960’s, the Gerencser family moved to California, the land of promise and a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. Like many who traveled west, my parents found out that life in San Diego was not much different from the life they left in rural NW Ohio. Like in Ohio, my Dad worked sales jobs and drove truck. For the Gerencser family, the pot of gold was empty and three or so years later we left California and moved back to Bryan, Ohio.

While moving to California and back proved to be a financial disaster for my parents, they did find Jesus at Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego, a fundamentalist church pastored by Tim LaHaye. Both of my parents made a profession of faith at Scott Memorial, as did I when I was five years old. From this point forward, the Gerencser family, no matter where we lived, attended a fundamentalist Baptist church.

Not only were my parents fundamentalist Baptists, they were also members of the John Birch Society. While in California, my Mom actively campaigned for Barry Goldwater, and later, back in Ohio, she campaigned for George Wallace. Right wing religious and political beliefs were very much a part of my young life, so it should come as no surprise that I turned out to be a fire-breathing right-wing Republican and a fundamentalist Baptist preacher.

If the Baptist church taught me anything, it taught me to hate Catholics. According to my Sunday School teachers and pastors, and later my college professors and colleagues, the Catholic church was the whore of Babylon, a false church, the church of Satan and the Antichrist. I was taught that Catholics believed in salvation by works and believed many things that weren’t found in the Bible. Things like: purgatory, church magisterium, Pope is the Vicar of Christ, transubstantiation, infant baptism, confirmation, priests not permitted to marry, praying to statutes, worshiping the dead , and worshiping Mary. These things were never put in any sort of historical context for me, so by the time I left Midwestern Baptist College in 1979, I was a certified hater of all things Catholic.

In 1991, something happened that caused me to reassess my view of Catholics. My dogma ran head-on into a Catholic that didn’t fit my narrow, bigoted beliefs. In 1989, our fourth child and first daughter was born. We named her Bethany. Our family doctor was William Fiorini. He operated the Somerset Medical Clinic in Somerset, Ohio, the same town where I pastored Somerset Baptist Church.  Dr. Fiorini was a devout Catholic, a post Vatican II Catholic who had been greatly influenced by the charismatic revival that swept through the Catholic church in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He was a kind and compassionate man. He knew our family didn’t have insurance or much money and more than a few times the treatment slip turned in after a visit said N/C. (no charge)

Bethany seemed quite normal at first. It wasn’t until she was sixteen months old that we began to see things that worried us. Her development was slow and she couldn’t walk. One evening, we drove over to Charity Baptist Church in Beavercreek, Ohio to attend a Bible conference. The woman watching the nursery asked us about Bethany having Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome? Out little girl wasn’t retarded. How dare this woman even suggest that there was something wrong with our daughter.

Bethany continued to struggle, reaching development stages months after infants and toddlers typically do. Finally, we went to see Dr. Fiorini. He suggested that we have Bethany genetically tested. We took her over to Ohio State University Hospital for the test and a few weeks later, just days before Bethany’s second birthday and the birth of our daughter Laura, we received a phone call from Dr. Fiorini. He told us the test results were back and he wanted to talk to us about them. He told us to come to his office after he finished seeing patients for the day and he would sit down and talk with us about the test results.

The test showed that Bethany had Down Syndrome. Her Down Syndrome features were so mild that the obstetrician missed it. Here we were two years later finding out that our oldest daughter had a serious mental handicap.  Our Catholic doctor, a man I thought was a member of the church Satan built and headed for hell, sat down with us, and with great love and compassion, shared the test results. He told us that many miscarriages are fetuses with Down Syndrome, and that it was evident that God wanted to bless us with a special child like Bethany. He answered every question and treated us he would a member of his own family.

This Catholic didn’t fit my narrow, bigoted picture of what a Catholic was. Here was a man who loved people, who came to an area that had one the highest poverty and unemployment rates in Ohio and started a one doctor practice. (he later added a Nurse practitioner, a nun who treated us when we couldn’t get in to see the doctor) He worked selflessly to help everyone he could. On more than one occasion, I would drive by him on the highway as his wife shuttled him from Zanesville to Lancaster, the locations of the nearest hospitals. Often, he was slumped over and asleep in the passenger’s seat. He was the kind of doctor who gave me his home phone number and said to call him if I ever needed his help. He told us there was no need to take our kids to the emergency room for stitches or broken bones. He would gladly stitch them up, even if we didn’t have an appointment.

Dr. Fiorini wasn’t perfect. One time, he almost killed me. He regularly treated me for throat infections, ear infections, and the like. Preaching as often as I did, I abused my voice box and throat. I have enlarged adenoids and tonsils and I breathe mostly through my mouth. As a result, I battled throat and voice problems my entire preaching career. One day, I came to see Dr. Fiorini for a-n-o-t-h-e-r  throat infection. He prescribed an antibiotic and told me to take it easy. He knew, like himself, I was a work-a-holic and would likely ignore his take it easy advice. Take the drug, wait a few weeks, and just like always I would be good as new.  However, this time it didn’t work. Over the course of two months, as I got sicker and sicker, he tried different treatments. Finally, he did some additional testing and found out I had mononucleosis; the kissing disease for teens, a deadly disease for a thirty four year old. Two days later, I was in the hospital with a 104 degree fever, a swollen spleen and liver, and an immune system on the verge of collapse.

An internist came in to talk with my wife and I. He told us that if my immune system didn’t pick up and fight there was nothing he could do. Fortunately, my body fought back and I am here to write about it. My bout with mononucleosis dramatically altered my immune system, making me susceptible to bacterial and viral infection. A strange result of the mononucleosis was that my normal body temperature dropped from 98.6 to 97.0. I lost 50 pounds and was unable to preach for several months.

Once I was back on my feet, Dr, Fiorini apologized to me for missing the mononucleosis. I was shocked by his admission. He showed me true humility by admitting his mistake. I wish I could say that I immediately stopped hating Catholics and condemning them to hell, but it would be several years before I finally came to the place where I embraced everyone who called themselves a Christian. In late 1990’s, while pastoring Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, I embraced what is commonly called the social gospel. Doctrine no longer mattered to me. Moving from a text oriented belief system, I began to focus on good works. Tell me how you live. Better yet, show me, and in the showing, a Catholic doctor taught me what it really meant to be a Christian.

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