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Tag: Leaving Christianity

Ten Things I Regret Not Doing as an Evangelical Christian Parent

life is a one time offer

My wife, Polly, and I will celebrate forty-four years of blissful, happy, serene, uneventful — wait for a minute while I get a hysterically laughing Polly off the floor — marriage. 🙂 Life has blessed us with six children, ages twenty-nine to forty-three — damn they are getting old — and thirteen grandchildren, ages two to twenty-one. And I must not forget our son-in-law and daughters-in-law. Without them there would be no grandchildren, and, though we don’t say it enough, we love and appreciate them. On balance we have lived a good life, blessed in every way.

Yet, as a slowly dying, frail sixty-five-year-old man with fibromyalgia, gastroparesis, osteoarthritis, and chronic, unrelenting pain, I can’t help but reflect on my life. My new counselor has told me that I have a good sense of self-awareness. This, of course, can lead to me thinking too much about the past and my culpability in things that did or didn’t happen in the lives of my wife and children. I’ve been faulted for dwelling too much on the past, but this is who I am. Besides, I wouldn’t have much to write about if I let the past be the past. The important thing for me is that I don’t live in the past. I use the past as a teaching tool, as a way to measure progress in my life; as a reminder of what not to do. Being a committed, devoted Fundamentalist follower of Jesus Christ, a man with a slavish devotion to the literal teachings of the Bible resulted in me making choices and decisions I now regret.

While not everything on the list below is religion-related, many of them are. For the nominal, cultural Christian, their faith doesn’t make much difference in their lives. However, for those of us who were saved, sanctified, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost believers; people who immersed themselves in the Bible, a book they believed was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God; people who governed their thoughts, words, and deeds by the Bible and the leading of the Holy Spirit; people who devoted themselves to the work of the church and the ministry; people who gave thousands and thousands of dollars to their churches and other ministries; people who witnessed to and evangelized unbelievers; people who separated themselves from the world; people who homeschooled their children or sent them to private Christian schools; people who put God/Jesus/church/ministry above their families, friends, and job — their faith and its attendant beliefs and practices made an incalculable mark on their lives. And now that we are no longer believers or have moved on to less demanding expressions of faith, it’s hard not to look back on our lives without regret. In my case, I spent fifty years of my life in the Christian church, and half of those years pastoring churches full-time. It’s hard not to conclude, then, that I spent much of my life devoted to a lie, sacrificing my wife and children for an imaginary deity.

Ten Things I Regret

  1. I regret not teaching my children to swim. We spent very little time at places where our children could swim and I had no time due to my commitment to Jesus and the church to take them to swimming lessons.
  2. I regret not letting my children play organized sports. There was one hard, fast rule in the Gerencser household: the church always, and I mean ALWAYS, came first. Since practice and game schedules conflicted with the church calendar, there was no discussion to be had: no sports for the Gerencser children. Why play baseball when you can go soulwinning and street preaching with your preacher father, right? While I played baseball and basketball in school, I didn’t afford my children that same opportunity.
  3. I regret not taking my family on vacations. The only “vacations” the Gerencsers took were trips to events or churches where I was preaching.
  4. I regret not taking off time from toiling in God’s vineyard to enjoy nature with my children. We lived in a lot of beautiful, wildlife-filled places, yet I was too busy to take the time to enjoy what was right in front of me. Hell was hot, death was certain, and Jesus was coming soon! Who had time for trees, flowers, hills, rivers, mule deer, and bobcats? Souls needed saving and Jesus was fixing to split the Eastern Sky as he returned to earth to judge the living and dead.
  5. I regret using disciplinary methods with my three older children that I now think are child abuse. While I moved away from such disciplinary practices later in life, there’s no other way to view the whippings and beatings my older sons received as anything other than ritual, Bible-inspired, Jesus-approved child abuse. I would not blame my oldest sons if they hated me and wanted nothing to do with me. That they still come around and we have good relationships is a testimony of love and forgiveness.
  6. I regret using my children as unpaid laborers for the churches I pastored. My children spent countless hours working with their father on church projects. While they learned many skills that they still use today, I can’t help but regret viewing my children as construction workers janitors, and groundskeepers. They were never given a choice. Preacher Dad said ______________. End of discussion.
  7. I regret not letting my kids be kids. Certainly, my sons and daughters did plenty of kid stuff — especially when I wasn’t around — but they lived in a glass house where appearance and perception were everything. God, church members, and the “lost” were always watching, I told my children, so we must always be kind and polite — even to assholes — and on our best behavior.
  8. I regret not exposing my children to a secular worldview. Instead, I built a bubble around them, protecting my children from the big, bad, evil world. While they have recovered nicely from the Fundamentalist indoctrination and conditioning of their youth, I can’t help but think these things harmed them as young adults.
  9. I regret not telling my children I loved them. I blame this directly on growing up in a dysfunctional home where my mom or dad rarely, if ever, expressed love for me. While I am a lot better with this now, I still could do even better. When I first embraced my youngest daughter and told her that I loved her, she had a shocked look on her face that said, “are you dying”? I can’t emphasize this enough: emotional distance between parents and children is often generational. I know it was for me. I look at my grandparents and parents and I clearly see this distance. They passed this on to their children. The only thing I know to do is to recognize this and do better.
  10. I regret being a hypocrite. As a pastor, to church members and the world, I was a pillar of morality and virtue, a man who always had his life under control; a man who rarely expressed anger. Behind closed doors, I could be a different man, far more temperamental, more easily provoked to anger. Oh, the stories that could be told to illustrate this point. I hope to get some of my children (and Polly) to come on my podcast and talk about these things someday.) Today, I want to focus on why I was this way. I was a loving, kind, generous man, especially towards church members and unbelievers. Yet, when it came to my family, I could, at times, be unloving, unkind, and lacking in generosity. Granted, I’ve come to this opinion thanks to hindsight. At the time, I thought I was just being a good Christian husband and father. Why was I this way? My version of Christianity demanded that I deny self, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. In doing so, I lost all sense of self. Thus, when I was behind closed doors, pent-up frustrations would come out, often in anger. If I had had a healthy view of self, I suspect things would have been different. I know that TV (which I deemed sinful) wouldn’t have gone flying out the front door. 🙂

The past is the past. There are no do-overs. At best, we get second chances to right the wrongs of the past or at least model and show that we have learned from the bad things we did previously. I know that’s the case for me. I see my grandchildren as an opportunity to do things differently, and I hope in the latter years of my life to forge better relationships with Polly and my children.

Does this mean that I was a bad man, unfit to pastor churches? I am sure some will come to that conclusion — thus finding yet another reason to dismiss my story out of hand — but I see myself as a broken, flawed man, someone deeply affected and scarred by his upbringing and immersion in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christianity. It would take me five decades before I realized how much harm IFB (and later Calvinistic) beliefs and practices had caused me, harm I passed on to Polly and our children (and Polly had her own dysfunction to deal with). I see that growing up with a mentally ill mother who tried to kill herself numerous times, constantly living in new houses and attending new schools, being sexually abused as a boy, and being left to fend for myself during the most formative years of my life, extracted a horrific price from me. Sure, I survived, but not without lasting scars. All I know to do is make an uneasy peace with the past and try to do better. I will leave it to those I love to decide if I have successfully done so. If not, I will keep trying. What else can any of us do?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Quote of the Day: Listening to Those Who Have Left the Faith by Rick Pidcock

rick pidcock

One of the ways evangelicals have processed a growing awareness of religious abuse has been through starting conferences. The Exiles in Babylon Conference offered many helpful insights to racial trauma but continued to advance narratives that have caused sexual trauma in the church. The Restore 2022 Conference brought complementarians like Karen Swallow Prior and egalitarians like Scot McKnight together to discuss topics such as where God is during abuse, healing from religious trauma, and how churches enable abuse. Their goal was to address these issues within the framework of “restoring faith in God and the church.”

….

But too often with these conferences, there are underlying theological assumptions that fuel power dynamics that do not get questioned to the degree that they should. And when your stated goal is to restore faith in the church, you have theological territory to protect and are invested in a certain outcome that people who have been traumatized by the church may not be ready for or interested in.

Many people are having enough and deciding to leave evangelical churches while mourning the loss of their communities and hoping to discover a healthier experience of Christianity.

But many are leaving Christianity altogether.

Because conservative evangelical media outlets such as The Gospel Coalition continue to bloviate about those who are either deconstructing or deconverting, one has to wonder: Are conservative evangelicals at all willing to sit quietly and listen to those who have left?

And are progressive evangelicals any healthier at silent listening?

Imagine a space for processing such religion-fueled trauma that is led by formerly religious people for formerly religious people. Would it be possible for religious people to sit in silence and learn from atheists and agnostics about how their religion has caused deep trauma, consider how the formerly religious are healing, and learn from their insights in order to heal themselves?

Or must Christians always be leading and talking?

….

Theology by definition is concerned about the ultimate questions in life: questions about whether there is a God, why there is something rather than nothing, the purpose of life, our relationship with ourselves and everyone around us, and what happens after death.

As children, we long for the love and affirmation of our parents. And yet, we’re afraid of how big the world is and how insufficient our understanding of it feels.

In some ways, we’re asking, “Are we OK? And are we safe?”

….

[Janice] Selbie told BNG: “People embrace religions because they were born into them or turned to them during times of transition and vulnerability. Religion promises certainty, security, order and community. People remain religious for those very reasons, as well as fear of hell.”

For the formerly religious to walk away from their certainty, security, order and community can be one of the most vulnerable decisions anyone ever makes. “Divorcing religion means loss of family, community, support and identity. It is too hard for many even to consider,” Selbie said.

To walk away from the certainty of heaven is to embrace the possibility of hell. To walk away from the theology of your family is to embrace the disapproval that you spent years trying to avoid. To walk away from the support of your church community is to embrace the possibility of nobody being there for you when you face a life-threatening illness or when you simply want to hang out with familiar friends.

Deconstruction and deconversion can be like Pinocchio leaving the identity-forming, punishment threatening world of Pleasure Island and moving toward Monstro the whale — the ultimate danger everyone around you fears — for the sake of being present with who you’re learning to love, namely yourself and your neighbors.

But abusive theology preys on our mental, social, spiritual and sexual longings and infuses within us an identity that we’re fundamentally a problem and that we’re forever going to be punished.

Darrel Ray, founder and president of Recovering From Religion, explained during his session, “It’s like you can’t utter the word ‘sex’ without the word ‘sin’ coming out within the same sentence in almost any religious environment, especially if it’s conservative or fundamentalist. … The ideology itself plays a role in the trauma you experience.”

Of course, many kinder, gentler evangelicals might object, thinking that somehow you can hold to theologies that form negative self-identities and that celebrate justice through violence without being abusive, or suggesting that Christians are much kinder than in centuries past. To that defense, Ray asserts: “We may not be lopping people’s heads off. But I’m telling you, I’ve met plenty of Baptists who have been traumatized by the ideology of their Baptist faith and their church because there’s nowhere for a child to escape if they’re in that church and they’re constantly being told the outside is dangerous.”

In a recent podcast episode, author and former megachurch pastor Rob Bell said: “The water, if you’re a fish, is so difficult to see. The reason it’s so difficult to see is because everyone around you is swimming in it. There’s no observance of it because it’s the thing everybody’s immersed in. It’s too close to see.”

Formerly religious people have had the experience of swimming in the water that religious people exist in, yet currently have the perspective from standing on the beach.

According to [Janice] Selbie, it is not merely enough for Christians to redefine the water they’re swimming in to a more progressive understanding. She believes true perspective and the fullest healing comes when people leave the water altogether.

“I think even progressive Christians are still ‘drinking the Kool-Aid.’ I don’t typically invite still-religious people to speak at CORT because I think continued affiliation with the Bible is unhealthy when it comes to the LGBTQ community, safety of children and women’s rights.”

Progressive Christians tend to object. “In public and private, I receive angry input from ‘progressive’ Christians for not inviting them to speak at CORT. I won’t risk further traumatizing attendees by doing so, although I do still have Christian family. I do not think it’s possible for evangelicals or other religiously entrenched people to be trauma sensitive with regard to religious trauma, although they vehemently disagree.”

While Selbie would admit that not even all her conference speakers would agree with her belief in the necessity of leaving the water altogether, her assertion that religion encourages “fantasy over reality and often creates massive division (in family and nation) and trauma (individual and collective)” has been demonstrably true.

Atheists and agnostics who spend significant time invested in the church are especially positioned to bring clarity to how theology fosters abuse because they know the theology, they’ve experienced the power dynamics involved, and because they are free to question every facet of Christian theology and power.

— Rick Pidcock, Baptist News Global, What I Learned Listening to Others Who Have Left the Faith, May 25, 2022

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Why Are So Many Evangelical Preachers Arrogant and Full of Themselves? — Part Two

humble pastor

Part One

Part Two

Why are so many Evangelical preachers arrogant and full of themselves? While it would be easy to answer this question simply by saying that these so-called “men of God” are narcissistic Assholes for Jesus®, the correct answer is more complex and nuanced. In both yesterday’s and today’s posts, I will use the fifty years I spent in Christianity and the twenty-five years I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan as a backdrop in an attempt to answer this question. While no two life stories are exactly the same, I am confident that I can pick things out of my own story that can also be found in the life stories of many Evangelical preachers.

In the 1960s, my parents moved to San Diego, California hoping to improve their lives financially. Unfortunately, their California dream proved to be an illusion. Two years later, Mom and Dad packed up our earthly belongings and moved back to Ohio. The Robert and Barbara Gerencser who left Ohio for the promised land of California were very different people when they returned to Bryan, Ohio. While in California, my parents and I were saved at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church — Scott Memorial Baptist Church. Overnight, Mom and Dad became devout followers of Jesus. Not long after I asked Jesus into my heart, I told Mom that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. I was six years old.

At the age of fifteen, during an Al Lacy revival meeting at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, I made another public profession of faith in Christ. I remember feeling a deep sense of conviction over my sin, and once I prayed to Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me, the shame and guilt I felt over my sins was gone. Several weeks later, feeling, yet again, a deep sense of God working in my heart, I went forward during an invitation — a time at the end of church services where people are asked to come forward to the altar to do business with God — and publicly confessed to the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. At that moment, I became the latest member of a special group called “preacher boys.”

Preacher boys, called by God to do the most important job on earth, are viewed by pastors and churches as the future of Christianity. Without a steady supply of preacher boys, churches wouldn’t have pastors, new churches wouldn’t be started, and the lost would go unsaved. Thus, preacher boys are treated in ways that make them feel unique and special. Pastors love to brag about how many preacher boys were called to preach under their ministry. Similar to gunslingers putting notches on their six-shooters’ wooden grips every time they killed someone, pastors see preacher boys as notches on their ministerial guns.

After announcing my call to the ministry, I spent the next four years being handled by pastors who took it on themselves to prepare me for the work of the ministry. In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I packed my meager belongings into the back of my rust-bucket of a car and moved from my Mom’s trailer three hours northeast to Pontiac, Michigan. Pontiac was the home of Midwestern Baptist College — an IFB institution started in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone (who pastored a nearby megachurch, Emmanuel Baptist Church). Midwestern was established specifically for training preacher boys for the ministry. Midwestern was an unaccredited school, so students received no financial aid. Most of the preacher boys had to work full-time jobs while attending classes. These future pastors were also required to work in one or more of the ministries at Emmanuel, along with being in attendance for Sunday school, two worship services, and midweek prayer meetings. Students were busy seven days a week, with little time for relaxation. It should come as no surprise, then, that many students washed out after their freshman year. Men who endured until the end were viewed as battle-tested preachers ready to enter the hard work of the ministry. Filled with pride and given the approval of IFB titan Tom Malone, these newly minted men of God fanned out over the world establishing new churches and pumping new life into older, established IFB churches. Forty years later, most of the men from my class are still plucking grapes in God’s vineyard. I am, as far as I know, the only person who attended Midwestern and later pastored churches who is now an atheist. (Please read The Midwestern Baptist College Preacher Who Became an Atheist.)

Evangelical young men who enter the ministry most often spend their entire lives in what I call “the Evangelical Bubble.” Within this bubble, pastors are sheltered from the world; within the bubble, Evangelical theology and practices make perfect sense; within the bubble, pastors are rarely challenged concerning their beliefs; within the bubble, pastors are viewed as God-called authority figures; within the bubble, pastors receive the praise and adulation of congregants; within the bubble, pastors are revered and treated as demigods; within the bubble, pastors answer only to God; within the bubble, pastors have no equal; within the bubble, pastors put into motion their agendas, their God-given visions for their churches; within the bubble pastors’ birthdays and ministerial anniversaries are celebrated; and within the bubble, God allegedly uses pastors in unique ways to supernaturally advance His kingdom.

Pastors who remain in this bubble are surrounded by like-minded people who believe the same things, sing the same songs, and generally live cookie-cutter lives (at least outwardly). Exposure to the outside world is limited, especially for those who are full-time pastors. I have long advocated for churches forcing pastors to be bi-vocational. Doing so exposes pastors to a world far different from that of the Evangelical bubble. Unfortunately, few churches see the value of having part-time pastors. Churches which, out of economic necessity, pay their pastors part-time wages often demand their pastors give them full-time attention.

Safely ensconced within the Evangelical bubble, pastors go about doing the work of the ministry. These sheltered men frequent pastors’ fellowships and conferences — meetings where pastors get together to whine about how evil the world is and how hard it is to be a pastor. These meetings provide pastors yet another opportunity to have their right beliefs and right practices reinforced and approved by fellow clergymen. Such meetings are pep rallies meant to rally and energize the generals of God’s army.

On Sundays, pastors mount the pulpit and preach sermons they believe God has laid upon their “hearts.” Congregants gather to hear the Word of God from the man of God, showing their approval by shouting “amen,” nodding their heads, and raising their hands. After services, pastors stand at the back of their churches, shaking hands and listening to members tell them how wonderful their sermons were. In the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, I never had a church member shake my hand and say, Preacher, that sermon sucked or Pastor Bruce, are you sure God told you to preach that sermon?  I preached plenty of bad sermons over the years, but congregants still praised me for giving to them the Word of the Lord. Imagine being in an environment where no matter what you do, everyone tells you what a great job you are doing. Spend enough time being praised and never criticized, and you will begin to think — to speak bluntly — your shit don’t stink.

Taking what I have written above, is it any wonder that many Evangelical pastors become arrogant and full of themselves, especially when their churches grow numerically? Outwardly, these men of God are (sometimes) humble, but inwardly they think, Wow! Look at what God is doing through me — ME! ME! ME! being the operative word. Praised by congregants and peers alike, preachers find it is easy for them to lose touch with reality.

Rare is the man who can withstand a lifetime of praise and adoration without negatively being affected. Over time, pastors start to believe their press clippings, thinking that they have arrived. Sunday after Sunday, congregants file into services to hear THEIR pastor preach. It is not too much of a stretch for me to say that many pastors begin to develop bigger-than-life personalities, thinking that congregants are there to see them perform. Credence is given to this when pastors leave their churches for new ministries. What happens?  Many congregants stop attending services. If Pastor Ain’t He Awesome isn’t preaching, I’m not going, they say. Let pastors take a sabbatical or vacation and what happens? Church attendance declines. Evidently, while the proverbial cat is away, the mice play.

Throw in certain personality and psychological traits pastors tend to have, and it should come as no surprise that many Evangelical pastors are insufferable, arrogant, full-of-themselves assholes — especially in the view of those who live outside of the Evangelical bubble. Does this mean that Evangelical pastors are inherently bad people? Of course not. But years spent in the Evangelical bubble can change pastors, often for the worse. I have no doubt that some pastors will whine, complain, and howl over what I have written here, saying I AM NOT LIKE THIS!  Others, however, will admit that what I have written here hits too close to where they live.

Pastors can become so immersed in the work of the ministry that they lose all sight of reality. The solution, of course, is for pastors to leave the ministry and devote themselves to reconnecting with humanity by wallowing in the pigsty of the world. As long as they remain in the Evangelical bubble, pastors will not see things as they are. Of course, pastors aren’t going to listen to me. The calling of God is irrevocable, they will tell me, God has CALLED me, and I must not disappoint or disobey Him!  And therein lies the problem. Evangelical pastors believe that God is behind their call into the ministry, and that every sermon preached and every decision made is done by the mighty power of the Spirit of God. Until these Gods become men, I fear there is little that can be done to deliver them from the other-world, rarefied air of the Evangelical bubble.

For me, once I finally admitted that I was not what I claimed to be, that the wizard behind the curtain of Bruce Gerencser’s life was not the Evangelical God, but Bruce himself — then, and only then, could I make sense of a lifetime spent in the ministry. Every decision I claimed was made according to God’s leading was, in fact, influenced not by God, but by my parents, pastors, peers, and my own wants, needs, and desires. I now know that I genuinely want to help other people; that I love trying to fix things that are broken; that I love the thrill of building things from scratch. And yes, I now know that I loved receiving the praise and adoration heaped on me by congregants. I loved being the center of attention, the decision-maker, the man with all the answers. Does this mean I was a bad person? I will leave that to others to decide. All I can do is give an honest accounting of my life. In doing so, I hope ex-Evangelicals and those trying to extricate themselves from the Evangelical bubble will gain a bit of understanding about what they have experienced at the hands of God’s men. While I did many good works as a pastor, things that I am proud of, I must also admit that I was not always a good person; that I was, at times, filled with pride and arrogance. Am I better man today than I was as a pastor? Most certainly. I now know what it means to be human. And in reconnecting with my humanity, I have found that I still have much to offer, without, of course, the baggage of Christianity.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear Frank, Is Bruce Backslidden or Was He Never Saved To Begin With?

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Rick, 1996, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

Several years ago, I received a Facebook notification about approving something Rick, a friend of mine, wanted to post to my wall. Rick is a long-time friend, former parishioner, and frequent reader of this blog. What’s interesting about his request is that he meant his message to be a private one sent to a friend of his by the name of Frank. The reason I got the notification is that he inadvertently tagged me. Here’s the message Rick sent to Frank — also a man I have known for many years.message to frank

Don’t be put off by Rick’s poor language skills. Several years ago, Rick had a major stroke. This affected his ability to write sentences. Best I can tell, the stroke has not affected his ability to study and read the Bible, nor has it affected his ability to read religious materials.

I met Rick in the late 1990s. At the time, I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Rick, a Calvinist, was looking for a Calvinistic church to attend and someone recommended that he check out Somerset Baptist. Rick joined the church, happy in knowing that he had found a man who was conversant in the doctrines of grace (the five points of Calvinism). For the next five years, I would drive two times a week — thirty miles round trip — to New Lexington to pick Rick up for church.

rick and frank (2)
Frank and Rick, 1993, Somerset Baptist Church, Sunday Dinner

One Sunday night, while on our way to the church, Rick was waxing eloquently about double predestination and whether children who die in infancy and developmentally disabled people are automatically a part of the elect — those whom God, from before the foundation of the world, has chosen to save. I told Rick, with a slight irritation in my voice, that Calvinistic Baptist great Charles Spurgeon believed such people were numbered among the elect. Rick, not the sharpest tool in the shed when it came to social cues, continued to defend God having the absolute right to eternally torture anyone, including infants and developmentally disabled people, in the Lake of Fire. I could feel anger welling. I thought to myself, has Rick forgotten that I have a developmentally disabled two-year-old daughter with Down syndrome? Doesn’t he care how hurtful his words are? I slammed on the brakes and told Rick to get out of the car. He could walk to church, I told him. I quickly cooled down, telling him, I didn’t want to hear another word from him about whether infants and developmentally disabled people are elect. Rick complied, moving on to other hot button Calvinistic issues.

Let me share another Rick memory, one that I think readers will find funny. Rick worked third shift at a residential home for the developmentally disabled — Mount Aloysius. Unsurprisingly, Rick was quite tired by the time he arrived for Sunday morning church. Try as he might to stay awake, Rick would often fall asleep. Rick snored, so the entire congregation knew when Rick was sleeping. Sunday after Sunday I watched Rick fight sleep, his head bobbing back and forth during my hour-long sermons. One Sunday, Rick bobbed his head back and then forward just as he did Sunday after Sunday. This time, however, Rick’s head traveled forward farther than he intended, smacking the pew in front of him. I stopped preaching and went to Rick to make sure he was okay. Fortunately, the only thing harmed was his pride. After the service, I told Rick that perhaps he should skip the Sunday morning service when he worked the night before. That way he could be rested and mentally fresh for the Sunday evening service. By the way, this was the only time in twenty-five years of pastoring churches that I told someone, please don’t come to church.

I haven’t been Rick’s pastor for over twenty-seven years, and the last time I saw him was in 1996 when he and Frank drove to West Unity, Ohio to attend services at a new church I had planted. Since then, I have traded a few emails with Rick, but nothing of substance.

rick and bruce
Rick, Bruce, Greg, and boy, 1993 , Somerset Baptist Church, Sunday Dinner

Rick’s message is a reminder to me that people still talk about my deconversion. People who knew me well — as Rick and Frank once did — are still trying to square the pastor they once knew with the atheist named Bruce Gerencser. In Rick’s case, he wonders if am just backslidden, or is it possible that I never was saved. I am sure Rick prefers the backslidden explanation. I am sure trying to wrap his mind around the possibility of me never being saved is too much for him to emotionally and intellectually handle. If I was never saved, this means that Rick was taught for five years by an unsaved pastor, a man he heard expositionally preach hundreds of times; preaching that he believed was empowered by the Holy Spirit. I am sure he remembers the countless hours we spent after church talking theology. I am sure he remembers my love, kindness, and compassion, and my willingness to, week after week, drive to New Lexington and pick him up so he could attend church. I am sure he asks himself, how is it possible that the Bruce I knew was never a true Christian.

The easy out for Rick is for him to embrace Arminianism with its belief that saved people can and do fall from grace. Doing so would mean that I once was saved, but now I am not. Of course, Rick’s Calvinism keeps him from believing I have lost my salvation, so he is forced to psychologically torture himself with thoughts about whether I am backslidden or was never a Christian to start with.

I wish Rick nothing but the best. I hope he will, in time, come to terms with my current godless state. I chose to be exactly where I am today. Or did I? Perhaps all of this has been decreed by God, and the person ultimately responsible for my lost condition is the divine puppet master, John Calvin’s God.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

What Possible Motive Would I Have for Falsely Claiming to be an Atheist?

easy believism

On occasion, an Evangelical commenter will suggest that deep down in my heart of hearts I KNOW that I am still a Christian; that my claiming to be an agnostic/atheist is a ruse or some sort of misdirection meant to lead people away from finding out the truth about what and who I really am. Such a conclusion is derived from reading my writing through blood-of-Jesus-colored glasses, seeing faith where there is none. Several years ago, one commenter even went so far as to suggest that my capitalization of words such as Bible, Heaven, and Hell, was proof that I am, despite my protestations, still a Christian. Taking this approach, of course, allows once-saved-always-saved Baptists to square my past with the present. Once saved by the miracle-working power of Jesus, no matter what I say or do, I cannot be separated from the love of God. No matter how hard I try to divorce myself from God or run from his presence, I remain eternally married to Jesus. Jesus is the epitome of the abusive husband in a no-divorce state. The only way to be free of Jesus is to kill him. I wonder . . . is it possible to kill Jesus twice? 🙂

Most thinking people will recognize that the aforementioned argument is absurd and makes a mockery of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Salvation is reduced to intellectual assent to a set of propositional facts about the nature of God, the human condition, the need of redemption, the threat of judgment, and the promise of eternal life. If someone, as I did when a fifteen-year-old boy, sincerely believes these facts, then he or she is instantly and eternally saved. After being instantaneously saved, it matters not how the saved sinner lives. He SHOULD desire to live right. Indwelt by the Holy Spirit, those born from above SHOULD desire to attend church, pray, read the Bible, and follow the commands and precepts of God. But if they don’t, they are still saved, no matter what! In other words, a Christian could renounce Jesus, reject the teachings of the Bible, embrace atheism, and live a life of debauchery; it matters not, he is still saved. Supposedly, such a life would bring God’s judgment and chastisement, but if it doesn’t, the Christian is still saved. Several Christians have suggested my health problems are God’s chastisement of me for my rebellion against him. The problem with this line of argument is that my health problems started years and decades before I divorced myself my Jesus. What was God up to then?

If I am still, way down in the depths of my imaginary soul, a Christian, why would I claim to be an agnostic/atheist now? Point to one good thing that comes from me professing to be an atheist. I live in rural Northwest Ohio. The Evangelical Jesus is on public display everywhere I look. In the Williams/Defiance/Fulton/Henry County area, three hundred churches dot the landscape. Almost all of them skew to the right theologically and politically. I am not only an atheist, I am also a pacifist and a Democratic Socialist. I am everything most people in the quad-county area are not. Being an outspoken atheist has resulted in social ostracization. While I have in recent years tried to pick my battles more carefully, I am still labeled by Christian zealots as an immoral tool of Satan. I continue to despise the preferential treatment given to Christianity and I deplore attempts to promote theocratic thinking and scientific ignorance. I have concluded that locals can live with my godlessness as long as I don’t shove it in their faces. Of course, there is this little problem called The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. Anyone who bothers to do a search on my name — I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world — will quickly find out my views about God, Christianity, the Bible, Evangelicalism, Trump, right-wing politics, asphalt auto racing, and the designated hitter. I am not hiding my lack of belief as much as I am being more careful in choosing when, where, and how I want to take a stand against God and his anointed ones.

eternal security

It seems to me that it would an easier path for me if I said I was a Christian and lived as most local Christians do — as practical atheists, espousing a cultural Christianity that is trotted out for holidays, weddings, funerals, and periodic outbursts of self-righteousness over perceived secular attacks on the baby Jesus. I would, in effect, live as if God doesn’t exist. Such living is hypocrisy at its best — saying one is a Christian, yet living as if God is a myth. Surely, if people say they are Christians, shouldn’t they make a good faith effort to live according to teachings of the Bible? Shouldn’t their lives reflect their beliefs?

I can’t think of one rational reason for me to still be a Christian, yet claim to be an atheist. Being a Christian, even in name only, is a path of ease, one that requires nothing from me. Atheism, on the other hand, brings social and cultural criticism, ostracism, and attack. I do my best to be an example of a good atheist, someone who lives according to the humanistic ideal. I try to let my good works show the kind of man, husband, father, and grandfather I am. I want local Christians to know that people can be unbelievers and still live moral and ethical lives. Most of all, I want my life to be a glaring contradiction when how I live is compared to presuppositions and stereotypes about atheists. A Christianity worth having is evidenced not by beliefs, but by how a follower of Jesus lives. So it is with atheists. How we live our day-to-day lives is vitally important. People are watching us, trying to figure out what kind of people we really are. I want to be the best atheist in town, one who loves his fellow man and, when needed, lends his care and support to those in need. Surely, atheists and Christians alike should desire what is best not only for their progeny, but also for their friends and neighbors.

If you can come up with a reason for someone to still be a Christian, yet claim to be an atheist, please share it in the comment section below.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Why Our Christians Friends Leave Us When We Deconvert

church is a family

One thing being a part of a church does for us is give us a community through which we find meaning, purpose, and identity. I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Christian church. For many years, I attended church twice on Sunday and on Wednesdays or Thursdays for prayer meeting. These church families I was a part of were central to my life. Most of my friendships were developed in connection with the church and my work as a pastor. I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I developed scores of friendships, not only with congregants but also with colleagues in the ministry. As a pastor, I would attend pastor’s conferences and meetings. It was at these meetings that I had opportunities to talk with my preacher friends, sharing with them my “burdens.” We would laugh, cry, and pray together, knowing that the bond we had as fellow followers of Jesus and God-called preachers of the gospel was rooted in loving each other as Christ Jesus loved us.  A handful of preachers became close, intimate friends with my wife and me. Our families would get together for food, fun, and fellowship — hallmarks of Baptist intimacy. We saw vulnerabilities in each other that our congregants never would. We could confide in each other, seeking advice on how to handle this or that problem or church member. When news of church difficulties came our way, we would call each other, or take each other out for lunch. These fellow men of God were dear to my heart, people that I expected to have as friends until I died.

As a teenager, I had lots of friends, male and female. Most of my friends were fellow church members, though I did have, thanks to playing sports, a few friends in the “world.” I always found it easy to meet new people and make friendships. I had no qualms about talking to complete strangers, a gift that suited me well as a pastor. As a nineteen-year-old boy, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I quickly made a lot of new friends, including one who sleeps beside me to this day. I lived in a dorm room with three other men. Virtually every waking hour of my life was spent with fellow students — at church, school, and social events. As anyone who has ever lived in a college dormitory will tell you, dorm life is busy and full of activity. Practical jokes were an everyday occurrence, and, as a consummate jokester, I found great satisfaction in pulling one over on my fellow students. I lived on a dormitory wing that was labeled the “party” wing. The other dormitory wing was called the “spiritual” wing. My fellow party-wing residents loved Jesus, but they loved having a good time too. The spiritual wing? They loved Jesus too, but frowned on doing anything that might be perceived as bawdy or mischievous.

One day, a pastor by the name of A.V. Henderson preached at chapel (students were required to attend chapel five days a week). I have preached and heard thousands of sermons in my lifetime. I remember very few of them. I do, however, vividly remember Henderson’s sermon, even forty-five years later. Henderson was the pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Detroit. Temple was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) megachurch founded by Baptist luminary J. Frank Norris and later pastored by G.B. Vick. The 1970s were the zenith of the IFB church movement. Most of the largest churches in the United States were IFB churches. Churches such as Temple Baptist were pastored by men who were great orators and pulpiteers. Henderson was no exception. Henderson’s chapel sermon was from the book of Job. It was, by all counts, a thrilling, rousing sermon. However, Henderson said something during his sermon that I didn’t, at the time, understand. He said, with that distinct Texas drawl of his, that people will go through life with very few true friendships; that most people were fortunate to have two or three lifelong friends. I thought at the time, what’s he talking about? I have lots of friends! Forty years-five later, I now know that A.V. Henderson was right; that true friends are rare indeed; that if you have two or three such friends, you should consider yourself fortunate.

It has been almost fifteen years since I last attended church; fifteen years since I have listened to preaching; fifteen years since I have sung the hymns of the faith; fifteen years since I have dropped money in an offering plate; fifteen years since I broke bread with people I considered my family. In early 2009, I sent a letter to my family and friends detailing my loss of faith. You can read the letter here: Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. I grossly underestimated how people would respond to my letter. In a matter of days, I received angry, venomous emails, letters, and phone calls. One ministerial colleague drove four hours to my home, hoping to turn me back towards the faith. You can read the letter I sent to him here: Dear Friend. I was shocked by how hateful and vitriolic my friends were to me. And here I am fifteen years later, and I still, on occasion, hear from someone who knew me and is shocked over my betrayal of all that I once held dear.

The friendships of a lifetime are now gone — all of them, save my friendship with an Evangelical man I have known for fifty-seven years (we walked to elementary school together). A.V. Henderson’s words ring true. I have one friend who has walked with me through every phase of my life. The rest of my “true” friends have written me off (2 Corinthians 6:14), kicked the dirt off their shoes (Mark 6:10, 11), or turned me over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (I Corinthians 5). I was naive to think that it could be any other way.

Many people believe in unconditional love. I know, at one time, I did. I have learned, however, that unconditional love is largely a myth. (Please read Does God Love Us Unconditionally?) Unconditional love suggests that nothing we do to those we love can break the bond we have with them. Many people carry the notion of unconditional love into their friendships. We think, these people love me, no matter what. They will always be my friends. And then something happens. In my case, I spit in the face of God, pissed on the blood of Jesus, and used the pages of the Bible to wipe my ass, so to speak. I repudiated everything I once believed, and in doing so called into question the beliefs of my friends. The glue that held our friendships together was our fealty to a set of theological beliefs. Once these beliefs were questioned and discarded by me, that bond was irreparably broken. If the connection Christians have with their churches is akin to family, then when people walk away from the beliefs and practices of these families, they are, in effect, divorcing themselves from their families.

Marital divorce tears the bond between husband and wife. When Christians divorce themselves from Jesus, the bonds they have with their friends are ripped asunder. While this divorce can be amicable, most often it is not. My divorce from Jesus and the church was very much like a high-profile tabloid divorce. And even though the judge signed the divorce decree fifteen years ago, repercussions remain to this day.

I have learned that few friendships last a lifetime. Most friendships are dependent on time and location. Remember all your friends who signed your high school yearbook? Are you still friends with them today? Remember the best-buds-for-life from your college days? What happened to those friendships? Were these relationships true friendships? Sure, but they weren’t meant to last a lifetime. And that’s okay.

I don’t blame my former friends for the failure of our friendships. I am the one who moved. I am the one who changed his beliefs. I am the one who ripped apart the bond of our friendship. I do, however, hold them accountable for their horrendous treatment of me once I deconverted. They could have hugged me and said, I don’t understand WHY you are doing this, but I appreciate the good times we had together. I wish you, Polly, and the kids well. Instead, I was treated like dog shit on a shoe bottom; a person worthy of scorn, ridicule, and denunciation. By treating me this way, they destroyed any chance of restoration. Why would I ever want to be friends again with people who treated me like the scum of the earth?

I have spent the past decade and a half developing new friendships. These days, most of my friendships are digital — people who I will likely never meet face to face. This has resulted in Polly and me becoming closer, not only loving each other, but also enjoying each other’s company. For most of my marriage, Jesus, the church, and the ministry were my first loves. (Please see It’s Time to Tell the Truth: I Had an Affair.) It’s not that I didn’t love my children and wife, I did. But they were never number one in my life, and Polly and the kids knew it. I was a God-called man who devoted his life to Jesus and the church. Polly knew that marrying a preacher meant that she and the kids would have to share me with the church. (And her teachers in college and fellow pastor’s wives told her that’s how it had to be. God came first.) Little did she know that she would spend way too many years getting leftovers from a man who loved her but was worn out from burning the proverbial candle at both ends. Now that religion no longer gets between us, Polly and I are free to forge an unencumbered relationship. We have always loved each other, but what has now changed is that we really like each other too and are best friends. And in Polly, I have found one of the true friends A.V. Henderson preached about forty-five years ago. I am indeed, blessed.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Four Major Reasons People Leave Christianity and Become Atheists

bible made me an atheist

According to Wintery Knight, an Evangelical blogger and apologist, there are four major reasons people leave Christianity and become atheists:

They want to do something immoral with impunity. This type of person wants to do something immoral that is forbidden by Christianity, like pre-marital sex or getting drunk in clubs with friends. They dump Christianity in order to have freedom to seek happiness in this life.

They want to make decisions based on their emotions, rather than wisdom. This type of person thinks that God’s job is to save them when they act irresponsibly. When God disappoints them by not make their recklessness “work out”, they leave the faith.

They want to be loved by people, not by God. This type of person thinks that Christianity is a tool that they can use to become popular. When they first try to articulate the gospel in public, they find that people don’t like them as much, and they feel bad about offending people with exclusive truth claims that they cannot back up using logic and evidence. So, they water down Christianity to get along with non-Christians. Finally, they jettison Christianity completely. This happens to a lot of young Christians the moment they hit college/university.

They don’t want to learn to defend their faith. This type of person is asked questions by skeptics that they cannot answer. Usually, this happens when people go to university after growing up in the shelter of the Church. The questions and peer pressure make them feel stupid. Rather than investigate Christianity to see if it’s true, they drop it, so they can be thought of as part of the “smart” crowd.

Sigh (please see Why I Use the Word “Sigh”).

Let’s see, I have been married for forty-three years and I’ve never fucked anyone but my wife. I have no “secret” desires to sin. In fact, I suspect my godless life is quite Christian. Outside of my use of swear words, my TV viewing habits, and my love of whiskey, I am as moral and ethical as any Christian (not a very high standard, to be sure). Does Wintery Knight really want to get in a dick measuring contest to see who is more moral and ethical? (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.) Wintery Knight thinks that Evangelicals-turned-atheists wanted to fuck with impunity (remember, it’s always about sex for Evangelicals) and that’s why they deconverted. Is that how it was for you? We can only wish, right? 🙂

Wintery Knight says Evangelicals-turned-atheists made decisions based on emotion, and when these decisions didn’t work out, they blamed God and deconverted. Was that the case for any of you? And let me be clear, all decisions are emotion-based. Humans are emotional creatures. “Wisdom” is a word used by Evangelicals to describe “thinking as God thinks” or “making decisions according to the Bible.” Atheists understand that we make the choices we do because we want to. Sometimes these decisions work out, sometimes they don’t. That’s life. I am almost sixty-five years old. I have made thousands of decisions in my lifetime. Good, bad, and indifferent. Unlike my wife, Polly, I have little problem making decisions. I spent most of my life working management-level jobs. Decision-making was expected of me. I have made some colossal mistakes over the years. Just ask Polly. 🙂 At no time as a Christian did I ever blame God when things didn’t turn out as I expected. (I asked WHERE was God in the post Dear Jesus, but I never blamed God for anything. I was a Calvinist, after all. Everything in my life was decreed by God, including my deconversion.) 🙂

Wintery Knight thinks Evangelicals-turned-atheists viewed Christianity as a way to become popular. Really? I mean, really? Does this remotely resemble your experience? Wintery Knight goes on to apply the slippery slope argument to Evangelicals-turned-atheists. We tried “to articulate the gospel in public,” found out [unsaved] people didn’t like us as much [duh, who likes someone who (unsolicited) interjects religion and politics in social settings?], and felt bad about offending people. So, we watered down Christianity to get along with unbelievers, and finally we “jettison [ed] Christianity completely.” I don’t know of one Evangelical-turned-atheist who would say Wintery Knight’s claim is true.

And finally, Wintery Knight says that Evangelicals-turned-atheists didn’t want to learn how to defend the faith; that they felt stupid when asked questions by unbelievers; so they deconverted so they could be considered part of the “smart crowd.”

Evidently, Wintery Knight hasn’t talked to many, if any, Evangelicals-turned-atheists. Most of the former Christians who read this blog are actually quite conversant in all things Christianity. They read and studied the Bible for years. In my case, I read the Bible from cover to cover numerous times. I spent thousands and thousands of hours reading and studying the Bible — roughly twenty hours a week. All told, I preached 4,000 sermons. I can safely say that I know the Bible inside and out. And I can say the same for the ex-Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, youth directors, worship leaders, college professors, and deacons, to name a few, who frequent this site. We left Christianity with full knowledge and eyes wide open.

Go read the full text of Wintery Knight’s screed on his site. His attempt to take down Dan Barker, a former Evangelical pastor and co-president of the Freedom of Religion Foundation, is a hoot.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser