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Tag: Joy

Letter to the Editor: Local School District Violates the Separation of Church and State at Graduation

letter to the editor

A letter submitted to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News

Dear Editor,

Public education is foundational to success and progress. While parents are free to homeschool their children — as my partner and I did — or send them to a private school, we must not starve, neglect, or demonize public schools.

Public schools are government institutions, governed by local, state, and federal laws. Children from all walks of life attend public schools. Tolerance and inclusion are expected when our children or grandchildren attend school. My partner and I have sixteen grandchildren attending the Stryker, Tinora, Fairview, and Defiance school districts. We expect our grandchildren to receive well-rounded educations, taught by teachers who understand the importance of secular education and the concept of separation of church and state. Alas, a few teachers and administrators have attempted to proselytize our grandchildren or push their Evangelical beliefs. This, of course, should never happen. Christians are free to be school teachers and school administrators, but their personal beliefs should play no part in instructing students.

Recently, I attended a high school graduation — one sponsored and directed by a local school district. What a proud day for our family as one of our older grandchildren graduated with honors. In the space of three generations, we have gone from me being the first person to go to college, to our grandchildren going off to study at major universities. We owe their success to our public school system and its dedicated teachers.

As a non-Christian, I am accustomed to school districts trampling over the First Amendment and the wall separating church and state. I recently told a lawyer for the Freedom From Religion Foundation when speaking with her about the increasing encroachment of Lifewise Academy in Ohio’s schools, that there were enough church-state violations in rural northwest Ohio for FFRF to set up a full-time litigation office in this area.

The graduation ceremony featured a local clergyman who felt duty-bound to put in a good word for Jesus and his peculiar version of Christianity. Using the J-O-Y acronym, he reminded graduates of the importance of putting Jesus first. Never mind the fact that many of the graduates and attendees are not Christians. To be told that rightly ordering one’s life requires Jesus is beyond offensive. Such talk belongs in church, not secular public school graduations. I told a family member later that I live by the Y-O acrynym: yourself first, others second — no Jesus needed.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

The J-O-Y Acronym

joy acronymn

Yesterday, my partner, Polly, and I attended granddaughter number two’s graduation from Defiance High School. What a wonderful day! It seems like yesterday she was a preschooler running around our backyard, and today she’s a high school graduate and enrolled at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio to study business. Count me as one proud grandfather. Granddaughter number three graduated from Toledo Whitmer High School last week. She’s headed off to Ohio State University in the fall to study medicine (psychiatry). I couldn’t be prouder. In three generations, the Gerencser family has gone from me being the first person to attend college to our grandchildren excelling in their studies and going off to college. Over the next five years, five more of our grandchildren will graduate. Most of them, I suspect, will go on to college (not that this is their only path in life). With all my health problems, I feared I wouldn’t see any of my grandchildren graduate, so I am grateful to science and luck that I have been able to do so.

We live in an area dominated by conservative Christianity and Republican politics. It is common to observe and experience the separation of church and state being trampled underfoot, as was the case when John Schlicher, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church (an insecure site lacking HTTPS) in Defiance, gave a sermonette to the graduates, school staff, and those gathered to celebrate their family member’s graduation.

Schlicher assumed several things: either everyone was already a Christian or some of those in attendance needed to hear the truth about Jesus. I suspect he assumed both, thinking unsaved attendees such as my family needed to hear about the J-O-Y found in the dead Jesus.

If you were raised in Evangelicalism as Polly and I were, you have heard the J-O-Y acronym countless time: Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last. After spending fifty years as an Evangelical and twenty-five of those years as a pastor, I concluded that the J-O-Y acronym actually meant: Jesus first, Others second, You don’t matter.

For Evangelicals, Jesus is the end-all, the sum of all existence. A full, happy, productive life begins and ends with him. Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last, the ditty goes. This, of course, is patently untrue. Unbelievers, atheists, agnostics, pagans, and other non-Christians have done a plethora of life-transcending things — all without acknowledging or believing in Jesus. I know for myself that I choose to give credit to whom credit is due. When Polly cooks fine meal, who should I credit? Jesus, or the person who actually made the meal? When a doctor successfully treats me, who should I praise? Jesus, or the doctor who actually did my surgery or developed a successful course of treatment? I will gladly give Jesus credit for whatever he has done for me, but after a careful, painful examination of my life as a Christian, I concluded that the Son of God had nothing to do with my life. I searched in vain to find one answer to prayer that can ONLY be attributed to Jesus. And if you say that you KNOW Jesus answered your prayers or performed a miracle for you, I want to see empirical evidence for your claim before I believe you. Just saying “Jesus answered my prayer” doesn’t make it so.

After graduation, I had a short conversation with my oldest grandson. He just turned sixteen and got his driver’s license. Now there’s a reason to believe in the power of prayer! 🙂 My grandson, a skeptic in the making and a science geek, found Pastor Schlicher’s sermonette irritating. Evangelicals will say his irritation was Holy Ghost conviction, but it is more likely that my grandson found the pastor’s sermonette offensive and irrational.

We talked about the J-O-Y acronym for a bit, and then I shared with them that the acronym should actually be YO — yourself first, and others second. A proper understanding of life begins with a healthy understanding of “self.” Evangelicalism, of course, teaches the opposite: deny self, deny the flesh. Instead of promoting self-esteem, Evangelical preachers tell believers and unbelievers alike that they are broken, sinful people; that without Jesus their lives are meaningless, lacking purpose and direction. Even Christians are told that without Jesus they are no better off than unbelievers; that Jesus stands between them and the pit of Hell (the foundation of substitutionary atonement).

“Others” are certainly important, and I hope my grandchildren will not only have a healthy view of self, but also compassion for others. Focusing on self alone can and does lead to narcissism, but one can have love and compassion for others without Jesus. Jesus is not a prerequisite for being a good person. I don’t need Jesus/God/Christianity to treat others as I would want to be treated. We need to look no further than how Evangelicals often treat others. Where is Jesus in their behavior? By far, the nastiest people I have ever met were card-carrying followers of Jesus. Such hypocrisy is common, one of the primary reasons some people deconvert.

YO — the acroymn for skeptics, humanists, atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers. I like it! 🙂

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser