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Tag: Leaving Christianity

Bruce and Polly, My Final Wish is That You Come Back to the Lord

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

For Bruce and Polly Gerencser, 2020 has gushed into 2021, washing over virtually every aspect of our lives. Now that an adult is president, we are confident better days lie ahead. We watched the White House press briefing today. Oh my, what a refreshing difference from the insanity of the Trump years. Dr. Tony Fauci spoke about the Coronavirus Pandemic and how the Biden Administration plans to address a virus that will likely kill over 500,000 Americans by the first of March. So refreshing (and sobering), to say the least.

While it is nice to see a glimmer of hope here and there, I can’t help but be physically reminded that I am very sick and there seems to be no end in sight for my struggles. I saw a gastroenterologist yesterday, hoping that he might have some sort of magical cure. Alas, none is forthcoming. The bile reflux problem I am having is the direct result of having my gallbladder removed last August. Bile reflux is a known complication of the surgery — which was never explained to me by my surgeon — and all that can be done now is to treat and manage the symptoms: bowel pain, weight loss, lack of appetite, intermittent constipation/loose stools. Currently, I am on three medications. The doctor wanted to add one more drug, but the cost was so prohibitive I couldn’t fill the prescription. Our insurance doesn’t have a drug plan, per se (outside of life maintenance drugs). Thus, we have to pay the full cost for prescriptions until we reach our $3,400 deductible. Then we pay 80/20 until we reach our maximum out of pocket, $6,700. In 2020, our total medical costs were almost $10,000.

If these drugs don’t work as expected, then the next step is having a procedure where the doctor injects the pylori sphincter muscle in the stomach with Botox, paralyzing the muscle. This treatment typically lasts 3-4 months. When the doctor was explaining this procedure to me, I couldn’t help but make a joke about getting Botox injections for the wrinkles on my face. When I want to cry, I try to look for a joke — somewhere, anywhere — to take my mind off my afflictions. Some days, nothing stems the flow of tears. To use a worn-out cliche, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

And if that was not enough to deal with, Polly’s 85-year-old mom had a heart attack on Tuesday and was rushed to the hospital. You might remember, Polly’s dad suddenly died several months ago. We also found out that Mom has stage three/four kidney failure — something she has known for a year but ignored because she “felt” fine. Mom has had congestive heart failure for years, and while in the hospital this time, the doctor put in a stent. This made a big difference for Mom, but the long-term prospects for her don’t look good.

Polly called her mom just before she went in for her heart catheterization procedure. Mom, short of breath and having difficulty speaking, told her only daughter, “my wish for you is that you come back to the Lord.” I suspect Mom knows the end is near and she wants to be sure she makes her dying wish known to us. Polly thanked her mom, changed the subject, and told her that she loved her. This is the second time in twelve years that Mom has said anything to Polly (or me) about our loss of faith. Outside of telling us that she is praying for us, our unbelief has remained THE elephant in the room. We have not had one meaningful discussion with Polly’s mom (or dad when he was alive) about why we left the ministry and later walked away from Christianity.

We certainly want Mom to have her every need met as she nears the end of her life. We have no desire to cause her unnecessary pain or disappointment. However, her wish is one we cannot fulfill. Had she taken the time to understand why we deconverted, she would have known that mere wishing will not bring us back to the faith. If only wishing would change our lives, right? In a humorous moment last night, I told Polly, “I wish for strippers and millions of dollars!” We both had a good laugh, not at Mom, but the idea that wishing can make anything happen.

Mom is a lifelong Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). Her late husband was an IFB preacher for many years. I pastored several IFB churches, and Polly was right there beside me every step of the way. I am sure Mom sincerely thinks that if we would just return to those days, that all would be well. She could die happy, knowing that we would someday join her in the IFB version of Valhalla. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen — ever.

As much as we want Mom to leave this mortal life with a smile on her face, we can’t dismiss our beliefs and come back to Jesus just to make her (and other family members) happy. As with many atheists and agnostics, the only thing that will possibly change our minds is evidence; evidence for the existence of the Bible God; evidence that the central claims of Christianity are true; evidence that Jesus is who Evangelicals claim he is. We cannot and will not just “faith-it until we make it.”

I fear that after Mom dies, we will face one last effort by IFB family members and Mom’s pastor to reel us in for Jesus. “Don’t you want to join your mom in Heaven?” “Don’t you want the family circle to be unbroken?” Maybe we will hear one last warning about God’s judgment and the Lake of Fire or Pascal’s Wager will be trotted out for the 10,000th time. None of these tactics will work. As confirmed as IFB family are in their beliefs, so are we in our unbelief. Trying to guilt us into believing will not work.

As Polly and I prepared for bed last night, I told her of my concerns about settling Mom’s affairs after she is gone. It’s going to be a mess, but as the only daughter, it falls on Polly to take care of everything. We live almost 4 hours from Mom’s home, so, in the midst of a pandemic, we will have to risk our health to take care of everything from the funeral to paying bills to clearing out her apartment. This is certainly not something that we are looking forward to. But, when you are an only child, the burden is yours. And as the dutiful child she has always been, my dear wife will take care of things.

I reminded Polly that once all these things are done, we will get in our car and drive home, never to return to Newark, Ohio — a place of so much heartache. We will lament Mom’s passing, but seeing Newark in the rear view mirror? We will rejoice, knowing that we no longer have to deal with a church and (some) IFB believers who have caused us harm. I am sure it will be a sad, but liberating, moment.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Bruce, I Was an Atheist Like You Before I Found Jesus

adam savage quote

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Over the years, countless Evangelical Christians have told me, “Bruce, I was an atheist like you before I found Jesus.” Typically, my pithy answer is this: “No, you weren’t.”

Usually, this line is used by Evangelical apologists trying to get me to see that they “understand” where I am on the God issue. However, when pressed, they usually reveal that they were not as atheistic as they claimed to be, or they wrongly believed that not being a Christian means you are an atheist. Each of us was born into this world without any religious belief or moral framework. No one is born a Christian. This is the clear teaching of the Bible and every Christian denomination. To become a Christian, a person must commit to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. One must embrace the Christian gospel and profess a desire to follow Jesus. This profession of faith is different from sect to sect. Some require a person to be baptized, while others require the person be confirmed or make a public profession of faith.

These rituals do not take place in a religious vacuüm. The United States is predominantly Christian, so it should come as no surprise that most Americans embrace the Christianity of their family and culture. Religion is inherently tribal, as can clearly be shown by looking at what the dominant religion is in a particular place. There are historical, geographical, and sociological reasons why, in a certain locale, most people are a certain flavor of Christianity (or a different religion altogether). For example, most Christians in the South are Evangelical and Baptist, while here in the North, Methodists and mainline sects have a greater foothold. Even at the local level, we see dominate sects, such as in nearby Archbold, Ohio where the Mennonite sect has numerous churches, or parts of rural northwest Ohio where Lutheran churches dominate the religious landscape.

The atheist-turned-Evangelical-Christian and I began life the same way, but our stories are very different from there. Like the Evangelical apologist, I too became a follower of Jesus Christ. For almost 50 years I was a devoted follower of the Lord, but at the age of 50, I left Christianity and embraced atheism and humanism. This was an open, honest, and sincere intellectual choice of mine, unlike many people who are Christians because they grew up in the Christian faith, and not because of any intellectual choice of theirs.

Most Evangelicals who say they once were atheists never made honest intellectual choices to become atheists. They were non-believers by default, and at some point in their lives, they decided to become followers of Jesus Christ, or their parents decided for them. They took off their non-believer clothing and put on the robes of Jesus Christ’s righteousness. One day they were unbelievers, and the next day they were Christians. This is not how the process worked for most of the atheists I know.

Many atheists were at one time, like me, devoted followers of Jesus. Our deconversions weren’t a matter of taking off the righteousness of Christ and putting on shirts with a scarlet A. Most of us spent months and years reading and studying before we concluded that the claims of Christianity are false and the Christian God is fiction. For some atheists, due to family and social pressures, they spent decades in the atheist closet, unwilling or unable to declare their godlessness.

While I can point to a definite place and time — on the last Sunday of November in 2008 — when I dared to say out loud I no longer believe, I spent years getting to that point. My journey took me from the strict Fundamentalism of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement through Calvinism and generic Evangelicalism to emergent Christianity and liberalism, and on to universalism, agnosticism, and atheism. Every step along this path was laden with emotional and mental anguish. The hardest decision I’ve ever made came at the moment when I was willing to say that I no longer believed. Making this decision meant I was saying that my previous life as a Christian was based on a lie.

So, I say this to Evangelicals who say they once were atheists: Yes, you may have been an unbeliever, but you were not an atheist like me. Until you can show me that you have done your homework, then I am going to assume that you were what I call a default atheist. If you are going to comment on my blog and claim you were an atheist before you became a Christian, then it is fair for me to ask you to demonstrate how and why you became an atheist. It is not enough for you to say that you didn’t believe in God and then you became a Christian. ALL of us didn’t believe in God at one time. That’s the normal human condition, according to the Bible.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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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.

An Ex-Pastor’s Dilemma

bruce gerencser 1983
Bruce Gerencser, age 25, Ordination 1983, Emmanuel Baptist Church Buckeye Lake, Ohio

Contrary to what some of my critics say, I have no great need to convert others to what they derisively call the atheist religion. I’m quite content to live and let live. I fully recognize that many people find great value in believing in God and the afterlife. I even understand the deep emotional need such beliefs meet. Who am I to rob someone of anything that gives their life deeper meaning and purpose? It doesn’t matter whether their beliefs are true. All that matters is that THEY think their beliefs are true, and I have no pressing need to deliver people from their fantasies, delusions, or irrational beliefs.

As much as I think that I am a rational person driven by evidence and knowledge, I know I can, like any other human being, be led astray by false or misguided beliefs. No human being is a god when it comes to rational thinking. We all can and do, at times, fall off the wagon of rational thought. As long as religious people don’t try to convert me, I am inclined to leave them well enough alone. I suspect if the Christian religion were a private, pietistic religion, practiced quietly behind the closed doors of homes and houses of worship, I would have little to write about. Since it is anything but, I am inclined to push back at those who think their beliefs should be required for all, whether believed voluntarily or under threat of law.

For twenty-five years, I was pastor to hundreds of people in churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I was their friend, counselor, and confidant. I married the young and buried the old. A few times, I buried the young and married the old. I led them to faith in Christ. I baptized them. They looked to me to give them certainty and hope, and a message from God that said he loved and cared for them. Through every phase of life, I was there for them. That’s the life of a pastor. I cared for them, loved them, and even to this day I want only what is best for them. And this puts me in a real spot, what I call An Ex-Pastor’s Dilemma.

I pastored my last church in 2003. In 2005, I left the ministry, and 3 years later I left Christianity. By late 2009, I was self-identifying as an atheist. I am not a person who is hard to find. I have a unique last name. I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world (ain’t I special?!).  My Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blog email contact information are readily available via any search engine. I guess what I am saying here is this; I am not an ex-pastor in hiding. I am not trying to forget a past life and make a new life for myself. It’s not that simple.

Here’s my dilemma . . .

Former parishioners and Christian friends often try to touch base with me. They haven’t found this blog yet or read any of the other things I have written that are posted on the Internet, so they assume I am still a pastor. A middle-aged woman, a woman I first met when she was a troubled teen, contacted me to let me know what a wonderful difference God was making in her life. She just knew I would want to know that FINALLY God was using her to help other people. Quite frankly, I AM glad God is using her to help other people. I am glad God has made her life better. I remember the tough time she had growing up, the great sorrows and difficulties she faced.

I didn’t respond to her inquiry. I didn’t want to open the door to her being discouraged or disillusioned. It is one thing if she stumbles upon this blog. If she dares to search a bit, she will find the truth, but I would rather she come to it on her own and rather than me telling her. I am not being a coward. Those who know me know I don’t play the coward’s part very well. But, at the same time, I still have a pastor’s heart. I don’t want to see people hurt. Maybe she will never find out I am an atheist. Maybe she will live a good life, thinking that Pastor Gerencser is proud of her. Such a small deception is one I will gladly commit if someone such as she finds peace and purpose as a result.

It is one thing if an ex-parishioner or Christian friend comes after me like a hungry lion chasing a bleeding deer. Those who find out about my defection from Christianity and become angry, combative, defensive, and argumentative will find that I am quite willing to meet them in the middle of the road and do battle. If I am forced to do so, I will speak my mind and pointedly share what I believe (or don’t believe). However, for those who are only looking for the man who loved them and nurtured them in the faith, I am not inclined to hurt them or cause them to despair. It was never my intent to hurt anyone intentionally, both as a pastor, and now as a preacher of the one true God, Loki. (Please see Dear Wendy, Dear Friend, and Dear Greg.)

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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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.

It’s Been Fifteen Years Since I Preached My Last Sermon

It’s been fifteen years since I preached my last sermon. Well, according to my counselor, it’s been fifteen years since I preached my last CHRISTIAN sermon. He thinks I am still very much a preacher and a pastor. I’m playing for the other team, but I’m still playing the game. While I certainly continue to preach the good news of reason, secularism, godlessness, and scientific inquiry, I am no longer driven to make converts lest they die in their sins and go to Hell. I wish more Americans would heed my preaching, but I know they won’t until there is some sort of crisis of faith. So, I preach, but I no longer concern myself with the outcome. To use parable of the sower, all I can do is sow the seed. Most of the seed will fall on barren ground, but some will fall on fertile ground, and up will sprout a person of reason, skepticism, and science.

In the fall of 2003, I resigned as pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. Victory Baptist was a dysfunctional, dying Southern Baptist church — the perfect church for Bruce Almighty to work a miracle. When I took the church, I told the congregation that I was not a fighter, and I would resign if there was any substantial conflict. Twenty-three years of pastoring churches had taken the fight out of me. All I wanted to do was preach three times a week, visit the sick, marry the young, bury the dead, and help the church grow and mature. Unfortunately, conflict came anyway, and true to my word I resigned. Two years later, the church closed its door.

We moved back to Ohio and rented a house in Stryker. We lived in Stryker for about six months. In February of 2004, my sister, who lived in Yuma at the time, offered to move us to Arizona. She thought the weather would be physically good for me. So, we packed up our household goods and moved 2,000 miles to what many consider the armpit of the southwest. My sister and her cardiologist husband bought a beautiful house for us to live in and we quickly settled into our new life in the desert. It was a fun time for us, but the pull of family became such that we moved back to Ohio in late September. We decided to relocate in Newark so we could be near Polly’s parents. It was during this time that Polly’s sister Kathy was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident.

In the spring of 2005, I got the hankering to once again pastor a church. I sent my résumé to several Southern Baptist area missionaries and it wasn’t long before my phone was ringing off the hook. It was a repeat of what I went through in 2003. Once churches knew I was available, I was quickly inundated with inquiries. At this juncture, Polly and I decided that we were no longer willing to pastor a church that couldn’t pay me a fair salary, complete with benefits. This requirement quickly winnowed the field since most of the churches were small and unable or unwilling to pay a pastor a living wage.

I did candidate at two churches, Hedgesville Baptist Church and New Life Southern Baptist Church, both in West Virginia. While both churches were interested in me being their pastor, I decided not to proceed. A month or so later, a pastor friend of mine tried to entice me to start a Christian Union church in Zanesville, Ohio, but I decided I no longer wanted to go through the rigors necessary to plant a new church.  I came to conclusion that the fire had died and I no longer wanted to pastor a church.

My sermon at Hedgesville Baptist was the last time I stood before a group of people, opened up the Bible, and preached to them the unsearchable riches of Christ. For the three years that followed, Polly and I tried to find a church to call home. (Please see But, Our Church is Different!) We moved from Newark back to northwest Ohio so we could live near our children and grandchildren. We diligently continued to seek a church that took seriously the teachings of Christ. Alas, our search was in vain. As we became more disenchanted with Christianity, our doubts and questions grew. Long-held beliefs were challenged as we attempted to determine what we really believed. In the end, we concluded that the claims of Christianity could no longer withstand rational inquiry and investigation. We attended church, Ney United Methodist Church, for the last time in November of 2008. From that point forward we no longer considered ourselves Christians.

I preached my first sermon at the age of 15, and I was 48 when I preached my last. I entered the ministry as a fire-breathing, sin-hating, soulwinning Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). I left the ministry as a Progressive Christian who was sympathetic towards the Red-Letter Christian and Emerging church movements. When I started preaching, I subscribed to Christianity Today, The Biblical Evangelist, and the Sword of the Lord. When I stopped preaching I subscribed to Sojourners and Mother Jones. In the late 1970s, my library consisted of books by John R. Rice, Jack Hyles, Harry Ironside, and other Fundamentalist writers. Twenty-five years later, the Fundamentalist books of my youth had been donated to charity and in their place stood books by Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Dorothy Day. In between, hundreds of  Calvinistic, Mennonite, Baptist, and Reformed tomes came and went, offered up to Christians on eBay. Time and experience had fundamentally changed me. I have no doubt that I would not be the man I am today without experiencing the joys and heartaches of the ministry.

I miss preaching and teaching. I wish I had been younger and in better health when I deconverted. I could have gone back to college and gotten a degree so I could teach at the college level. I think I have the requisite skills necessary to do so, but without a degree there’s no hope of me teaching. I’d love to teach a World Religions class at the nearby community college. Since that path is no longer open to me, I content myself to write for this blog, hoping that I can, in some small way, be a help to others. Perhaps, my counselor is right: Always a preacher, always a pastor.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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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.

Bruce, You Have Become a Victim of Sorcery Because You Take Ambien and Love Your Wife

peanut gallery

Over the weekend, Frank L. Givens, Jr., allegedly the senior pastor of Orting Christian Church in Orting, Washington, left a comment on the post, I Know That Demons are Real, alleging that I am a victim of sorcery; that taking Ambien has opened me up to Satanic influence. (I say allegedly because I found no Internet/social media presence for a Frank Givens, Jr., and Orting Christian Church does not have a website.)

What follows is my public response to Pastor Givens, Jr’s comment.

Bruce, the picture that heads this article is the exact same demon that I saw in the second grade in 1972!!!!

Givens believes that at the age of six or seven, he saw the EXACT demon used in the graphic at the top of the post, I Know That Demons are Real. Amazing, right? And I am sure Givens really, really, really believes he saw a demon then, and, I suspect, plenty of demons after that. Once you see a demon or an angel or Jesus or Lucifier, you tend to keep on seeing otherworldly, mythical beings. It was said of 1950s anti-communist crusader Joseph McCarthy that he saw reds under every bed. The supporters of our insurrectionist-in-chief, Donald Jesus Trump, tend to see ANTIFA everywhere they look. In the vein of Frank Perretti, Givens sees things the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world cannot see.

What evidence does Givens have for his claims? None. Claiming something is true without evidence proves nothing. Last night, Polly and I listened to a debate between atheist Matt Dillahunty and Evangelical apologist Jonathan McClatchie. Matt tried repeatedly, without success, to get the uber-educated McClatchie to understand the difference between a claim and evidence. McClatchie wrongly asserted that claims are evidence. Givens wants the readers of this blog to believe he saw a demon in second grade because he says so. We skeptics say to Givens, “pictures, please.”

Remember the devil attacks and strikes your most vulnerable points to bring confusion, pain, and frustration. My brother your vulnerable spot and opening is the love that you have for your wife.

Givens thinks that I believe Satan and demons are real. I don’t. I have seen no satisfactory evidence for the existence of Lucifer and her henchmen. I can say the same about God and angels. Sorry, but I refuse to believe something just because a preacher says it is true. If Satan and demons are real, how about they stop by my house so we can sit down and talk. I would love to hear what Satan says about his self-righteous brother Jesus.

Givens thinks I am “vulnerable,” and the reason I am is because of the love I have for my wife of forty-two years. Polly has tempted me to so a lot of things over the years, but a demon she is not. Of course, Givens doesn’t know me or my angelic wife — having read a total of one post on this site — but he’s certain that that his addled opinions are indeed true. Maybe he’s the one on drugs.


If you were a pastor as stated in this article I do not know what made you step away but remember the biggest trick that the devil ever pulled off is to convince people that he doesn’t really exist.

“If you were a pastor,” Given says. Yes, Virginia, I really was a pastor. I pastored Evangelical church in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan for twenty-five years. I was raised in an Evangelical home, attended an Evangelical Bible college, married an Evangelical pastor’s daughter, and spent most of my adult life faithfully and devotedly loving, serving, and following Jesus.

Whether Satan exists never entered the equation when it came to why I left the ministry and later left Christianity. I can’t remember one time when I pondered the existence of the Devil. I doubted and later denied the existence of God. Thus, it stands to reason, no God, no Satan.

Givens seems unable to understand when atheists and agnostics say they don’t believe in the existence of the Christian God or the Christian Devil. I refer Givens to what I wrote about evidence. Just because the Bible says there’s a Devil doesn’t mean she exists. Sorry, I just don’t buy it, and neither do my atheist brothers and sisters. To Givens I say, “put up, or shut up.”

I refer Givens and others like him to the WHY? page. There you will find everything you need to know about the Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser. I am an open book — well with a few pages redacted, anyway.


For it is written, Strike the shepherd and you scatter the sheep. You my brother became a victim of sorcery. Ambien is A Product of Phamekia. You know this!!! I wonder what condition your former flock are in that counted on your protection and covering because clearly you were struck and never made it back.

I have not been a “shepherd” since 2003 — almost eighteen years ago. I suspect that Givens has been influenced by Charismatic theology. He thinks that my presence in the churches I pastored provided some sort of spiritual “cover” for congregants. Shit, I could hardly cover myself let alone anyone else. As a pastor, I preached the gospel, taught the Word of God, and ministered to the church and the community. That’s it. As a Evangelical, I believed all Christians were responsible for their relationship with God. I was not some sort of spiritual guru that congregants needed to keep them safe from Satanic attack. Oh, I met plenty of demons in church, but they were flesh and blood and walked on two legs. Some of the nastiest people I have ever met sat in the pews of the churches I pastored.

Givens tries to connect my Ambien use with what the Bible allegedly says about sorcery and drug use. In the New Testament, the word sorcery is translated from the Greek word pharmakeia. Get it? Sorcery and pharmaceuticals are connected.

A writer in the Courier-Tribune wrote:

“The Bible has a lot to say about drug abuse because the word for “sorcerer” in the Bible has a lot to do with drug addiction. If you look at the Greek, the word itself is derived from the word we get our modern word “pharmacy” from.

In the book of Revelation the world is deceived by sorcery. In our world today, seemingly innocent drug habits such as abusing oxycodone and adderall twist the mind in the worst way: acceptance of things that are contrary to the Word of God.

Like on alcohol, you become indifferent to the sin around you, tolerate it in your own life and give into it just as easily. I don’t think it’s absurd to say that an indifferent attitude towards sin is cultivated under the numbing effects of adderall and oxycodone, two chemicals I abused.

I am ashamed to say I know this because as a functional drug addict, while I was defending my drug addiction to myself, I at the same time accepted nearly everything the Bible says is wrong. I am not ashamed to say that the Lord did not let me go to Hell (“all sorcerers have their part in the lake of fire”) and that the Lord saved me from that.

When you begin to see sorcery as having more in common with drug addiction than what we commonly associate it with, it changes your perspective. But there is hope. If you’re an addict, quit (repent).

Don’t be found a sorcerer when you stand before Jesus.”

[endof quote]

I suspect this is what Givens believes; that is, unless he has a headache, high blood pressure, diabetes, or needs surgery. Then all that sorcery can be life-saving.


I just prayed for you and will continue to pray for God’s covering to be over you and your family.

Givens’ prayers are much like demon sightings — works of fiction. Givens can provide no satisfactory evidence for the existence of God, the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, so to whom, exactly, is he praying? My money is on the ceiling God.

Evangelical zealots love to tell me that they are praying for me, even though I ask them to keep such nonsense to themselves. Why do they continue to tell me that they are storming the throne room of Heaven on my behalf? Here’s what I think. These zealots know they can’t provide the necessary evidence to prove their claims –over twelve years, and I am still waiting — so they do the only thing they can do, pray.

Will Givens continue to bug his mythical God about the atheist Bruce Gerencser. Of course not. He will utter a prayer of two, maybe put me on the church prayer list for a while, but in time, he will move on to more receptive marks. You see, I know the game, and I suspect Givens knows that. If he didn’t when he commented, he sure as hell does now. I am not a good prospect for conversion. That ship has sailed. That horse has left the barn, never to return. Hundreds and hundreds of Evangelicals have tried to evangelize me since 2018, without success. It’s clear, at least to me, that my holy trinity: Skepticism, Reason, and Common Sense, is superior in every way to the mythical deity of the Protestant Christian Bible. And to my God I say, all praise to your name!

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Bruce, Are Your Wife and Children Atheists?

gerencser family 2018

Bob asks:

I had been wondering about this question and since you touched on it in this blog I wanted to ask, and it is about your wife’s stand on Christianity in general and her standing today for herself.

You mention that she walked away from church when you did. So my questions are:

Has she turned towards atheism as well? If she did, was it at the same time as you or later on?

If she did turn away from Christianity, how much of an influence were you with her denying her faith in Christ?

If she has become an atheist, doesn’t it seem odd that two completely committed Christians in the same family like this would just walk away and become atheists? I can see one, but I think the odds of two would be very high. I’m thinking this only because of the depth of commitments people make to their Christian faith. Walk away from church? Yes. But both turn to atheism?

These questions are only being asked if she has become an atheist.

Also, where do your kids stand with Christianity at this point?

Typically, I don’t answer questions about what my wife and children believe about God/Jesus/Christianity/Atheism. This blog is simply one man with a story to tell. Where the lives of my family intersect with the telling of my story, I am comfortable writing about them. However, when it comes to what they specifically believe and how they live out those beliefs, I leave it to Polly and our children to tell their own stories. And the same goes for me too when they are asked about or confronted over something I have said or written. My family has been accosted at work, college, and while shopping by Christian zealots demanding that they answer for something I have written on this blog or for the local newspaper. Typically, my family tells such people that they don’t answer for me, and the best way to get their questions answered is to contact me directly.

That said, I would like to briefly answer Bob’s questions.

Yes, Polly and I walked away from Christianity together. This should come as no surprise since Polly and I have been doing virtually everything together for the past forty-four years. We not only love one another, we also really like each other, 98.9 percent of the time, anyway (inside joke).

We have been married for more than forty-two years. I can count on two hands the days we have been apart from one another. While each of us has hobbies and the like that the other isn’t interested in, for the most part we have shared interests. Polly is my best friend. Why would I want to spend time with anyone else? Our marriage certainly isn’t perfect. Stick around for a fight and you’ll think we really don’t like each other. However, disagreements quickly come and go, and then we sit down, eat dinner, drink a glass of wine, and watch whatever TV show is currently our favorite. The Bible says to not let the sun go down on your wrath, and we have practiced this maxim for almost five decades.

Thus, when we began to seriously question the central claims of Christianity, we spent countless hours talking about our beliefs and the Bible. I would read passages from books and we would discuss what I had read. While I certainly read a lot more books than Polly did — which has, until recent years, always been the case — she did a good bit of reading herself.

Our discussions were honest, open, and forthright. No demands were made of the other. Neither of us, at first, knew exactly where we were headed. We knew that we were done with organized Christianity, but the future remained volatile and uncertain.

A week or so after we left the Ney United Methodist Church, we gathered our children together to talk with them about where we were in life. Remember, our six children were raised in a devout Evangelical Christian home. Their father and mother had been in the ministry their entire lives. Their father was the only pastor they had ever known. When we told our children that we were leaving Christianity, they were aghast over what that meant. I had been the family patriarch. Our children never had the freedom to decide whether or not to go to church. It was expected. Now they were being told that there were no expectations; that they were free to go to church, not go to church, worship God, not worship God, etc. In other words, I cut my children loose from their ties to their patriarchal father (though our three oldest sons had already begun to move away from the control I had over their lives).

I must admit that those first few months after this meeting were difficult, as our children tried to imagine life for their parents post-Jesus. Twelve years later, I wish I could say that all these difficulties are gone, but there remains some tension over my outspokenness on matters of God, Bible, and faith. While my family is happy to be free of the family patriarch, some of them don’t seem to want to grant their mother and me the same freedom. Such is the tension that will always be there when a family is an admixture of religious beliefs and unbelief.

In early 2009, I sent out the widely circulated letter, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you has an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and decisions I made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually every fiber of my being.

I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the church was my life would be an understatement.  As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress, and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known this for a long time, but now everyone will know.

The church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies have led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. Particularly, I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is.

I have no time to invest in the blame game. I am where I am today for any number of reasons and I must embrace where I am and move forward.

In moving forward, I have stopped attending church. I have not attended a church service since November of 2008. I have no interest of desire in attending any church on a regular basis. This does not mean I will never attend a church service again, but it does mean, for NOW, I have no intention of attending church services.

I pastored for the last time in 2003. Almost six years have passed by. I have no intentions of ever pastoring again. When people ask me about this I tell them I am retired. With the health problems that I have it is quite easy to make an excuse for not pastoring, but the fact is I don’t want to pastor.

People continue to ask me “what do you believe?” Rather than inquiring about how my life is, the quality of that life, etc., they reduce my life to what I believe. Life becomes nothing more than a set of religious constructs. A good life becomes believing the right things.

I can tell you this…I believe God is…and that is the sum of my confession of faith.

A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.

I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones. I am a committed progressive, liberal Democrat, with the emphasis being on the progressive and liberal. My evolving views on women, abortion, homosexuality, war, socialism, social justice, and the environment have led me to the progressive, liberal viewpoint.

I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, She is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye opener.

Polly is free to be whomever and whatever she wishes. If she wants to start attending the local Fundamentalist Baptist church she is free to do so, and even has my blessing. For now, she doesn’t.  She may never believe as I believe, but in my new way of thinking that is OK. I really don’t care what others think. Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you living a good, productive life? Do you enjoy life? Yes, to these questions is good enough for me.

I have six children, three of whom are out on their own. For many years I was the spiritual patriarch of the family. Everyone looked to me for the answers. I feel somewhat burdened over my children. I feel as if I have left them out on their own with no protection. But, I know they have good minds and can think and reason for themselves. Whatever they decide about God, religion, politics, or American League baseball is fine with me.

All I ask of my wife and children is that they allow me the freedom to be myself, that they allow me to journey on in peace and love. Of course, I still love a rousing discussion about religion, the Bible, politics, etc. I want my family to know that they can talk to me about these things, and anything else for that matter, any time they wish.

Opinions are welcome. Debate is good. All done? Let’s go to the tavern and have a round on me. Life is about the journey, and I want my wife and children to be a part of my journey and I want to be a part of theirs.

One of the reasons for writing this letter is to put an end to the rumors and gossip about me. Did you know Bruce is/or is not_____________? Did you know Bruce believes____________? Did you know Bruce is a universalist, agnostic, atheist, liberal ___________?

For you who have been friends or former parishioners I apologize to you if my change has unsettled you, or has caused you to question your own faith. That was never my intent.

The question is, what now?

Family and friends are not sure what to do with me.

I am still Bruce. I am still married. I am still your father, father in-law, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and son-in-law. I would expect you to love me as I am and treat me with respect.

Here is what I don’t want from you:

Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?

Constant reminders that you are praying for me. Please don’t think of me as unkind, but I don’t care that you are praying for me. I find no comfort, solace, or strength from your prayers. Be my friend if you can, pray if you must, but leave the prayers in the closet. As long as God gets your prayer message, that will be sufficient.

Please don’t send me books, tracts, or magazines. You are wasting your time and money.

Invitations to attend your Church. The answer is NO. Please don’t ask. I used to attend Church for the sake of family, but no longer. It is hypocritical for me to perform a religious act of worship just for the sake of family. I know how to find a Church if I am so inclined, after all I have visited more than 125 churches since 2003.

Offers of a church to pastor. It is not the lack of a church to pastor that has led me to where I am. If I would lie about what I believe, I could be pastoring again in a matter of weeks. I am not interested in ever pastoring a church again.

Threats about judgment and Hell. I don’t believe in either, so your threats have no impact on me .

Phone calls. If you are my friend you know I don’t like talking on the phone. I have no interest in having a phone discussion about my religious or political views.

Here is what I do want from you:

I want you to unconditionally love me where I am and how I am.

That’s it.

Now I realize some (many) of you won’t be able to do that. My friendship, my familial relationship with you is cemented with the glue of Evangelical orthodoxy. Remove the Bible, God, and fidelity to a certain set of beliefs and there is no basis for a continued relationship.

I understand that. I want you to know I have appreciated and enjoyed our friendship over the years. I understand that you can not be my friend any more. I even understand you may have to publicly denounce me and warn others to stay away from me for fear of me contaminating them with my heresy. Do what you must. We had some wonderful times together and I will always remember those good times.

You are free from me if that is your wish.

I shall continue to journey on. I can’t stop. I must not stop.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Bruce

This letter, of course, caused a firestorm of epic proportions, one that is burning to this day. My life and career went up in smoke, with countless Evangelical friends, family members, and colleagues in the ministry, standing on the sidelines cheering as I burned.

As you can tell from the letter, I still believed in some sort of deity — a deistic God, perhaps? However, by the end of 2009, I was calling myself an atheist. Polly, on the other hand, embraced agnosticism. Her reasons for leaving Christianity are very different from mine, but that story is hers to tell.

I read in Bob’s question an accusation of sorts, one I have heard countless times: that Polly doesn’t think for herself; that’s she is an unbeliever today because I am. Out of all the things that people have said about us over the past twelve years, this by far is the most offensive (and perhaps Bob didn’t mean to be offensive, so I am going give him the benefit of the doubt). For the record, Polly is a college-educated woman. She graduated second in her high school class. To suggest that she is a lemming following in my footsteps is absurd. Granted, Polly is quiet and reserved, and I am not. This fact might lead people to false conclusions. Here’s what I know: Polly knows exactly why she no longer believes in the Christian God. Her reasons for deconverting are somewhat different from mine, but she is far more hostile towards organized religion than I am. Again, perhaps she will share why this is so someday.

We have six children and thirteen grandchildren. Currently, one of our sons attends a Fundamentalist Baptist church, one son attends the Catholic church with his family, and the rest of our children are largely indifferent towards religion. I suspect the NONE label best describes them. While none of our children has publicly said they are an agnostic or an atheist, they are certainly anti-Evangelical and generally adverse to the machinations of American Christianity. Politically, outside of the son who attends a Fundamentalist Baptist church, our children are progressives and liberals, with a smidge of conservatism and libertarianism stirred in. This is as specific as I can be without trampling on their right to control their own storyline. I respect the boundaries we have set, and if one of them ever decided to tell their story, I hope they will let me publish it here.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Bruce, What’s Your View of the “Atheist Community?”

lone ranger

It’s been twelve years now since my wife and I walked out of the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. From that day forward, we stopped calling ourselves Christians. We were uncertain as to exactly what we were becoming, but we knew for sure that we were no longer Christians.

In early 2009, I sent out a widely circulated letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. This was my coming-out letter. A decade later, we have no Christian friends, save two. Our relationship with Polly’s Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) family is strained, and the men who were once close ministerial colleagues view me as either mentally ill, a servant of Satan, or both. From time to time, I will hear from former parishioners who are trying to figure out how it is possible that their preacher — the man who led them to Jesus, and taught them the unsearchable riches of Christ — is now an atheist, a false prophet, deceiver, tool of Satan. Please see Dear Wendy, Dear Greg, and Dear Family and Friends: Why I Can’t and Won’t Go to Church.)

I remain a conundrum for Evangelical Christians. Unable to wrap their minds around why someone might deconvert, they concoct all sorts of explanations for my loss of faith, including that I never had salvation to begin with. Instead of accepting my story at face value, Evangelicals have spent the past twelve years deconstructing my life, looking for that fatal flaw that gives them the liberty to say that I never was a Christian. I suspect that this sort of behavior will continue as long as I write for this blog.

After leaving Christianity, I wandered the Internet looking for atheist groups that would replace the communal aspects of Christianity; that would provide me opportunities to use my particular skill set — dare I say “gifts”? Unfortunately, I have found that atheism is lacking when it comes to social and communal connections. Over the years, I have tried to make meaningful connections with various organized atheist groups, but I have come away with a membership card, a magazine, annual dues bill, and little else. I even reached out to freethought groups in Toledo and Fort Wayne, but they showed no interest in me at all.

Atheists will argue amongst themselves over whether there is anything such as an “atheist community.” Sure, there are atheist, freethought, and humanist groups scattered here and there, but for the most part individual atheists are on their own. And here in rural America? Atheists are typically lone rangers. Is this how atheists want it to be?

Part of the problem is that American atheist groups are dominated by college educated white men. One of the things that irritated me during my Evangelical days was that the conferences I attended featured the same “stars” every time. These big-name preachers became the face of Evangelicalism. So it is with atheist groups. Year after year, the same people are featured at conferences. As a result, these people become the face of American atheism. While there has been an increase of non-white speakers in recent years, the fact remains white dudes rule the roost.

These conferences also tend to be prohibitively expensive for working-class people, and for those of us who live in the heartland, these conferences are often thousands of miles away. Thus, atheist conferences tend to attract the same people over and over and over again.

The future of any atheist group depends on attracting new members. If all godless outsiders see are the same people as the face of the various atheist groups, there’s not much incentive for them to want to join. On a previous iteration of this blog, I wrote about this issue, and boy oh boy, did I stir up a hornet’s nest. This was back in the day when Atheism+ was all the rage. An exclusionary group if there ever was one, Atheism+ caused untold harm to the atheist community. Instead of trying to unite atheists, Atheism+ demanded allegiance to a particular set of political beliefs. It didn’t help that several of the lead spokespeople for Atheism+ were arrogant, verbally abusive troglodytes whom I wouldn’t walk across the street to hear speak. And no, I won’t give you their names. I remember the last time I mentioned these people by name. OMG, they and their acolytes acted like the worst of IFB preachers. No thanks. And besides, you likely know who I am talking about.

Perhaps there will some day be what we call an “atheist community.” For now, I am content to live out my life in my little corner of the atheist wasteland. I am grateful for the friends and acquaintances I have made through this blog — that’s YOU, by the way. That said, I do yearn for a day when I am truly part of the atheist community.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Leaving the Ministry: Dealing with Guilt and Regret

no regrets

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

A friend of mine, a former devoted, committed Evangelical pastor’s wife, wrote me and asked:

I’ve been struggling a lot lately. re: all the wasted years, harm my kids experienced, folks I hurt as a pastor’s wife and later as a homeless shelter for women, fundamentalist BS I taught and lived. I know you’ve talked about how you deal with such stuff before. If you can direct me to previous links or have any advice I would be oh so grateful! Thank you!

Over the years, I have corresponded with a number of people who were at one time Evangelical pastors, pastor’s wives, evangelists, youth pastors, missionaries, or college professors. Having walked or run away from Evangelicalism, they are left to deal with guilt and regret. For those who were true-blue, sold-out, committed, on-fire followers of Jesus, their past lives are often littered with the hurt and harm they caused not only to themselves, but to others. The more former Evangelicals were committed to Jesus and following the teachings of the Bible, the more likely it is that they caused hurt and harm.

Literalism and certainty — two hallmarks of Evangelical belief — often cause untold mental, emotional, and physical harm. It is often not until people deconvert or move on to kinder, gentler forms of religious faith that they see how much damage they caused.

I was in the Christian church for fifty years. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring Evangelical churches. I think I can confidently say that Evangelicalism made me the person I am today. Every aspect of my life was touched and shaped by Evangelical beliefs and practices. No area of my life was unaffected. Any sense of self-worth was sacrificed at the altar of self-denial. I sang with gusto, All to Jesus I surrender, All to him I freely give. I lived and breathed Jesus. Everything, including Polly, my children, my parents, my siblings, and my extended family, was secondary to Jesus and his call to follow him.

I was, in every way, a fanatic. A fanatic is one who is intensely, completely devoted to a cause. No matter how Christian apologists try to say that I never was a real Christian, those who knew me well in my pastoring days know that I was part of the 100% club. (See You Never Were a Christian and Jose Maldonado Says I Never Was a Christian.) My ministerial work ethic put most pastors to shame. While they were busy taking vacations, going to Cedar Point, playing video games, or golfing, I was working night and day trying to win souls and raise up a God-fearing, Christ-honoring church. I had little tolerance for lazy preachers who gave lip service to their calling, or Christians who thought coming to church on Sunday was all that God required of them.

As I look back on the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, I see that I caused great harm to my family and parishioners. I expected everyone to work for Jesus as hard as I did. Polly will tell you that I hounded her about reading her Bible more and spending more time in prayer. Never mind that she had six children to care for and taught in our Christian school. Never mind that I was the one paid to pray and read/study the Bible. Devotion to Jesus always came first.

Setting impossible expectations, not only for myself, but for my family and the church, resulted in a constant feeling of failure. No matter what I did, no matter what my family did, no matter what church members did, it wasn’t enough. Hell was hot and Jesus was coming soon. The Bible taught that we were to be watchmen on the wall, ever warning the wicked to turn from their sinful ways. Since the Bible contained everything necessary to life and godliness, every Christian had a duty and obligation to, without hesitation, obey its teachings. Pity the person who was not as committed as I was.

Guilt and regret are the products of living life in this manner. Let me be clear, I am not saying that this was the wrong way to live life. If one believes the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Words of God, how can he NOT live in this manner? If Evangelicals really believe what they say they believe, how can they NOT give every waking moment to the furtherance of the gospel and the Kingdom of God? If God is who and what the Bible says he is, and eternal judgment awaits every one of us, how can any Evangelical idly sit by and let the world go to Hell?

Guilt. I had little time for Polly and the kids. No time for vacations. No time for leisure. No time for enjoying nature. No time for relaxation. No time for anything that took away from my ministerial calling. I even scheduled the one big vacation we took around preaching for a friend of mine. Road trips were to visit churches or attend conferences. The old acronym for Joy: Jesus First, Others Second, Yourself Last, had no place in my life. It was Jesus first, period. Polly and the children were along for the ride, mere appendages to my ministerial work.

Regret. As the old gospel song goes: wasted years, oh how foolish. I gave the best years of my life to Jesus and the work of the ministry. I worked night and day building churches, winning souls, and preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. While most of the people I pastored and many of my colleagues in the ministry were living the American dream, accumulating wealth, houses, and land, and preparing for the future, I was living in the moment, busily waiting for Jesus to split the eastern sky. Thousands of hours were spent doing God’s work, God’s way, and to what end? Here I am with a broken body and most of my life in the rear-view mirror. No chance for a do-over. No chance to make things right. No chance to correct the harm and hurt I caused.

Bruce, you sound bitter. I know this post might sound like the acerbic whining of an old man, but it’s not. It’s just me being honest. I know I can’t undo the past. It is what it is. I am simply reflecting on how life was for my family and me. Who among us doesn’t look back on the past and wish they had the opportunity to do things differently? Unfortunately, there are no time machines. All we can do is make peace with the past and try to move forward.

A few years ago, a man who was raised in one of the churches I pastored came to visit me. This man attended our Christian school and sat under my preaching for almost a decade. He had the full Bruce Gerencser experience. This man is gay. I’ve often wondered when he realized he was gay. I preached a lot of sermons on the sin of homosexuality. Thinking about the pain I might have caused this man still grieves me to this day. As he and I talked, I apologized to him for my homophobic, harsh, judgmental preaching. I told him I had guilt and regret and wished I could go back in time and make things right. I’ll never forget what he told me:

Bruce, everyone who sat in the church was there because they wanted to be or their parents made them. The truth is, a lot of people want someone to tell them what to do. A lot of people don’t want to think for themselves. You were that someone. If it wasn’t you it would have been someone else.

His words have greatly helped me as I continue to battle with guilt and regret. As I told someone several years ago, I was a victim and a victimizer. I was schooled in all things Evangelical from kindergarten to my days at Midwestern Baptist College. I was indoctrinated, much like a cult indoctrinates its members. That I turned out as I did should surprise no one. It should also be no surprise that I then took what I had been taught and taught it to others. How could it have been otherwise?

What my pastor’s-wife friend really wants to know is how to deal with the guilt and regret. If she is like me, she wants it to go away. Sadly, it doesn’t. A person can’t spend his or her life deeply immersed in something such as the ministry and not come away with scars. While I have found atheism and humanism to be transformative, I still bear the marks and scars of a life spent slaving away for the Evangelical God.

Two things greatly helped me post-ministry and post-Jesus. The first thing that helped me was this blog (one of the many iterations of this blog, anyway). When I started blogging, I cared little if anyone read what I wrote. My friend Zoe has written about this, as have many of my other heathen friends. Putting feelings into words is therapeutic. Over time, other former Evangelicals began to read my writing, and my words resonated with them. They saw that I understood, having experienced many of the things they were going through. Now, twelve years later, the raw, painful emotions that filled me as I walked away from the ministry and God have faded into the background. They are still there and can quickly be resurrected in the wrong circumstance, but my focus is now on helping others who are at the same place I was a decade ago.

Second, I sought out professional, secular counseling. When I left the ministry and later left Christianity, I burned the house to the ground. Now what?  All I have is a heap of ashes, the sum of a life that no longer exists. It took seeing a counselor for me to rebuild my life and rediscover who I really am. Self had been swallowed up by Jesus and the ministry. After I deconverted, I had no idea who or what I was. My entire being was wrapped up in being a pastor. The same can be said for Polly. She spent most of her adult life being a devoted pastor’s wife. Now all of that was gone. Bit by bit, my counselor helped me reconstruct my life. That process continues to this day.

As I answer the emails of those who were once in the ministry, I encourage them to put their thoughts and emotions into words. Even if it is just a journal — write. I also encourage them to seek someone to talk to, someone who will listen and not judge. If nothing else, correspond with someone who will let you vent. Over the past twelve years, I have entered into email discussions with countless hurting former Evangelicals. Some of them still believe in God, others are not sure what they believe, and still others have lost their faith. Their letters are filled with mental and emotional pain and anguish. Writing me provides them with a sounding board, a secular confessional. Sometimes all a person needs is to know someone cares and is willing to listen.

Are you a former pastor or pastor’s wife? Are you a former on-fire, sold-out follower of Jesus? How did you deal with guilt and regret? What advice would you give to my friend? Please leave your wise thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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