Tag Archive: Judging Others

Why I Don’t Tell People I Was a Pastor

somerset baptist church 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

I have worked many different jobs over the years; everything from selling vacuüm cleaners and life insurance to pumping gas and working as an auto mechanic. I worked more factory jobs than I can count. Well, I can count them, but I prefer not to bring up memories of mindless drudgery. Factory jobs paid good wages, but I couldn’t stand the repetitiveness of the work. Two years into our marriage, I applied for a restaurant management position with Arthur Treacher’s. Starting salary? $155 with flex overtime for every hour over forty-five. I instantly fell in love with the restaurant business, and six months after starting with Arthur Treacher’s I was promoted to general manager and transferred to the Reynoldsburg, Ohio store.

While I worked numerous and varied jobs over the years, I considered them a means to an end: making money and providing for my family. My true calling and ambition in life was to be a pastor. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. For the most part, I loved being a pastor. I enjoyed preaching and working with people. I suspect that in another life I might have been a college professor or a social worker.

Early on, I noticed that many pastors used their position for material gain and upward social status. One of Polly’s young preacher cousins provides a good example of this. One day I called my in-laws and he answered the phone. This is Reverend James Overton. How may I help you? I snickered to myself, and said, Hey Jamie, this is Bruce. Is Mom or Dad there? I thought, Reverend James Overton? Really? I never played the Reverend game. I was comfortable with congregants calling me Bruce or Preacher. I also never asked for the “preacher discount” or special treatment. I had no regard for pastors who weren’t shy about announcing their clerical status, hoping that they would be granted discounts, free meals, or other special considerations.

I never told people out of hand that I was a pastor. Granted, a lot of people knew I was a preacher, but I never told strangers what I did for a living. I wanted to be considered an everyday guy.  The reason for this was simple. As soon as I told someone I was a pastor, a snap judgment was made about me. After I stopped pastoring churches in 2005, we looked for a church we could call home. All told, we visited over one hundred churches. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) At virtually every church, the first or second question I was asked was “what do you do for a living?” Early on, I would tell people I was a pastor, but I noticed that people treated me differently if I did: reverently, respectfully, with careful distance. One Sunday after visiting yet another new church, I told Polly, I am sick of being asked what I do for a living. I think the next time someone asks me I am going to say, I’m sorry, but I don’t have sex on the first date!  Of course, I never did. I was too polite to ever say such a thing.

These days, I NEVER tell someone who doesn’t know me that I was a pastor. I don’t want to have to explain why I am no longer in the ministry. Yes, if someone does a web search on my name he or she will quickly find out I was once a pastor. However, I am not going to volunteer that information. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by my former life as a pastor. I have many fond memories of the years I spent in the ministry, along with a boat load of dark, harmful experiences too. What I want to avoid is being judged by people who don’t know me. Last night, I had a delightful discussion with the local high school principal. I don’t think he knows I was a pastor. We were talking about leadership and being visionary. I shared several stories from my ministerial past, but I did so without saying I was a pastor.

I just want to be an everyday country bumpkin. If I dare mention I was a pastor, well, people act differently. Like it or not, people see ministers as God’s representatives. People might use swear words, but let a pastor be nearby, all of a sudden the cursing stops — God is present! Same goes for racy or colorful stories. Even if I tell people I am an ex-preacher, they tend to act differently from the way they would if I were a farmer or factory worker. Of course, the same goes for telling people I am an atheist. My atheism is well-known, but I never tell anyone that I am an unbeliever. I prefer to live my life without being judged by my labels. I am being naïve, to be sure, but my life is much more than my labels: atheist, humanist, democratic socialist, etc. How about you? Are you more than your labels? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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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The Sounds of Fundamentalism: J.D. Hall and Fred Phelps, Two Peas in a Pod

jd hall

Pastor J.D. Hall

This is the one hundred and nineteenth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip produced by one Baptist (Peter Lumpkins) showing that two other Baptists (J.D. Hall and Fred Phelps) are one and the same when it comes to judging the salvation of others. Phelps says Baptist Billy Graham is headed for hell and Hall says Baptist Ergun Caner will soon split hell wide open too.  Or just another day among the Baptists.  Everyone knows Fred Phelps, the deceased leader of the Westboro Baptist Church cult. J.D. Hall?  Hall, a Calvinistic wanker, pastors Fellowship Baptist Church in Sidney, Montana and blogs at Pulpit & Pen.

Lumpkins, Hall, Phelps, Caner, and Graham all have one thing in common: they emphatically believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God.

Video Link

I Hope You (Fill in the Blank)

meaning of life

Well meaning people have all kinds of expectations and desires for me. Their expectations and desires for me often reveal how they view my life and me as a person. Often, they view me as hurt, broken, damaged, angry, bitter, disillusioned, unhappy, pessimistic, or jaded. Instead of allowing me to define who and what I am, they use their own version of who and what I am and then come to certain conclusions about me. It’s like me saying I am a cat and someone saying no you are a dog and then all their subsequent judgments about me are based on their belief that I am a dog. No matter how loud I meow, they still think I am a dog.

These kind of people think there is something wrong with me. Take my friend Bill. Here is what he said in a blog comment:

But in my not very humble opinion as a person who has known your thinking for more than 20 years (?), the topic of “god” is disturbing your mind to no good end.

Now, on one hand, Bill has known me for a long time. He lives thousands of miles away from me and we have met face-to-face one time in the late 1990’s. Years ago, I sponsored the CHARIS discussion list and Bill was a regular participant. He has, on and off, read my writing for almost 20 years. He has followed my evolution from a Calvinistic pastor to an atheist. Surely, he should “know” me, right?

While I consider Bill a friend, I would never say that Bill “knows” me. In fact, the number of people who really know me can be counted on one hand. And even then, can someone ever really completely “know” me? During the course of our friendship, Bill has mentally developed his own version of Bruce Gerencser. While this Bruce bears some resemblance to the real Bruce, it is not the real Bruce and if Bill doesn’t understand this he will likely, like in his comment above, come to a wrong conclusion about me.

I think Dale summed up things quite well when he said to Bill:

What Bruce is doing is therapeutic for him and for many of us.

Dale precisely summed up why I write. I am not sitting here raging at God. I am not, on most days, hurt, broken, damaged, angry, bitter, disillusioned, unhappy, pessimistic, or jaded. Outside of the constant pain I live with, I am quite happy. I have a wonderful marriage and family and I love interacting with my internet friends through this blog. Yes, I can go through bouts of deep depression, but people like Bill wrongly assume that my depression is driven by my questions about god and religion.  It’s not. My health problems are what drive my depression. Feel better=less depression. Lots of pain=more depression.

These days, the only time I think about God and religion is when I am writing. There are no unanswered questions for me when it comes to God. I don’t think there is a God, so this pretty well answers all the “God” questions for me. My interest in religion has more to do with sociology, philosophy, and politics, than it does anything else.

I frequently get emails, blog comments, and comments on other blogs that start with, I hope you _____________________. These people have read something I have written and have made a judgment about me. They think I am lacking in some way, and if I would just have what they are hoping I will have, then all would be well for me.  They hope I find peace, deliverance, salvation, or faith. They are internet psychiatrists who think they can discern who I really am and what my life consists of by reading a few blog posts.

I know that this is the nature of the internet. People make snap judgments about a person based on the scantiest of information. They think they “know” you after they have read 1,500 words, and they are then ready to pass judgment on what you need.  Everyone who writes in the public space faces this problem, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

This is me saying, I don’t like it. I am not a problem in need of solving. I am not a broken toy that needs fixed. I don’t need what my critics are hoping for me. I am quite happy with who and what I am. It is atheism that has allowed me the freedom to be who I am. I realize this presents a real problem for Evangelicals because they believe that a person can not be happy, satisfied, or at peace without Jesus. But, here I am.

One commenter stated:

Dear Bruce, I hope you are delivered from your delusions of a happy, satisfied, peaceful life. You are living in denial of how things REALLY are for you.

All I can say to this is that I am enjoying every delusional moment of this life and I suspect many of my fellow atheists are doing the same.