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Tag: Leaving Christianity

An Evangelical Pastor’s Wife Loses Her Faith and Finds Herself

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A Guest Post by Sarah

I was raised in a Fundamentalist Baptist church. I was saved and baptized at about the age of six. Throughout my youth, I remember being wholly devoted to Christianity. I remember family praising me as a young child for the example I set because I wouldn’t eat a bite at meals until I made sure everyone prayed together. I also remember being the “good Christian girl” through high school and college. I prayed, faithfully attended church — even by myself after I started driving — and read the Bible voraciously. I sought to be completely devoted to Jesus. I said all the right things and did all the right things. I sang, led Bible studies, and served God. All my extracurriculars were associated with the church or faith-based things, other than being involved in my community arts organization as a teenager, mostly acting in plays. I was so certain about Christianity until the moments in which I wasn’t. In my late teens, I began to incorporate the following story into my salvation testimony to prove I had truly been born again and to use it to allay any doubts I or anyone else might have about the authenticity of my faith.

Baby Sinner

My mom has always talked about how I was such a headstrong young child, so much so that she didn’t know how to parent me. Mom told me she once went to our pastor crying about me because she didn’t know what to do with me. Recently, she told me a story I had never heard before — that she remembers the first time she really connected with me was in a Pizza Hut when I was about four years old. It made me sad because my daughter is almost four.

My daughter is so much like me. My relatives who knew me as a child say being around my daughter is like being around me again when I was her age. Even though she’s headstrong and hard for me to manage sometimes, I feel we have more moments of connection than I can recount from my own childhood. To hear my mom say she distinctly remembers not having a real moment of connection with me until I was four years old makes me question what was really going on with me back then.

Mom said I was difficult until I “asked Jesus to come into my heart” then it was like a switch was flipped on in me and I became “better.” Now that I’m a parent of a toddler, I realize that my issues as a toddler and young child weren’t the spiritual issues of a hell-bent sinner, but that I was lacking something somewhere, stability or attention or love or something. I was well cared for as a kid and I had a good childhood. I don’t think I was neglected or abused, but whatever was lacking, the problem wasn’t spiritual or that I needed Jesus, but it was behavioral, that I needed something real from my parents, whatever it may have been.

Seeds of Doubt

In my teens, and especially college years, I struggled with doubt. I have a lot of questions. My mind dissects things, deconstructs things to the minutest details, and rebuilds them to understand what’s happening, how things work, and what is the logic behind them. But I’m also naturally loyal. I was loyal to the presuppositions of my faith that were ingrained in me since before I can remember. I questioned, but I never sought answers outside of my faith community, even in college.

One of my biggest regrets is that in college I did not lean into and explore all kinds of thinking. I dabbled in things because I went to a state school. I couldn’t get away from it in mandatory philosophy classes and English classes where I was introduced to secular ideas. I learned what ideas were out there, but I never truly considered them. I observed them from behind the hazmat suit of Fundamentalist Christianity I wore. In fact, I remember driving two hours to my home church to attend a special service where a visiting preacher preached a sermon he called “Babylon University.” He used the story of Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Babylonian captivity to set a principle for those of us going to college to be “in the world, but not of the world.”

Marriage Obsession and Denied Sexuality

As a teenager, I was obsessed with getting married. My church’s worldview, and being a child of divorce, as well as my dad dying from suicide two years after my parent’s divorce when I was 13, caused me to desire stability that was foundational to my obsession with marriage, along with my natural sexual desires that wouldn’t be satisfied until I got married.

Even though I was raised by a single mom who dated and had boyfriends with whom she was having sexual relationships, I was sexually and relationally conservative because I held so closely to the teachings of the church, even more so than to my mother’s parenting. I remained a virgin — mostly — until I got married at 28.

At 18, I began a “courtship” (think Josh Harris “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and Elisabeth Elliot’s romance with Jim Elliot) with a man in my church who was 15 years older than I. He was 33 at the time. This was my first serious relationship. This relationship was supposed to be a “courtship” overseen by our parents, but considering he was 33 and my only parent was a single mom who, along with her boyfriend, (eventually my stepdad), thought the whole thing was super weird, it was mostly overseen by my youth pastor and his wife and my church’s pastor and his wife. By the way, the whole thing top to bottom makes me cringe today and I’m so grateful I did not marry that guy.

I became engaged or “betrothed” (ugh!) but thankfully my mom, and eventually, my church, helped me end the relationship before it got to marriage. After our engagement, my husband-to-be began acting strange — overbearing and potentially abusive. My mom and youth pastor encouraged me to move away to live on campus at the college I was currently attending.

I didn’t want to move away, but I heeded my mom. Living on campus, this was the first time I became depressed. However, I got involved with a church and made good friends and when I left campus for the summer, I realized I was sad to leave and couldn’t wait to go back. I had a great college experience. My friend group grew beyond the church. I became a resident assistant and really enjoyed my friendships with my fellow housing employees. Looking back, I have some regrets about missed opportunities, but nothing that makes me hate my time there. I didn’t date anyone in college, but I wasn’t without my crushes. I literally fell in love with one man, but we never dated, surprisingly. At one point I did feel like God told me I would marry a pastor. Good to know, God.

Not long after college, I moved back to my small town because I missed my church. I eventually connected with a former high school classmate that ended in another broken engagement after three years of an on-and-off-again relationship. After one final rebound boyfriend to whom I nearly lost my virginity, I met my husband.

My husband and I have an amazing relationship and chemistry. If I have any belief left in miracles, then the one miracle I have in my life is Matthew. When I lost belief in God, I felt free to say, “I believe in Matthew and in our love,” but also, I believe in myself and my place in the world.

During that strange time, especially as an unmarried, 20-something, between graduating college and meeting Matthew at age 28, I fell into a deep depression that lasted years; I don’t think it ever fully lifted. This is when I started to lose my faith, though I didn’t talk about it. I had suicidal thoughts. The loneliness facilitated by my church’s beliefs as I waited for marriage was debilitating and I believe denying my sexuality gave me sexual frustration that contributed to my depression. I suspect if I had a different worldview at the time that would have allowed me healthy sexual expression outside of marriage, then I would have carried a lot less shame and guilt about masturbation, which I discovered in college.

Meeting my husband lifted my depression. We had a quick romance. We met and were married between February and November of the same year. I was so happy. Within three years we had two children. My life up until I met Matthew felt so slow and especially those last few years in my 20s felt like a slow grind. Since meeting Matthew, change keeps coming and coming. Big stuff — marriage, babies, becoming a pastor’s wife, losing my faith as a pastor’s wife, moving from a very rural area to a city. When we got engaged, we were looking at a decent combined annual income, but halfway through our engagement, we both lost our jobs. We started marriage and had babies living in extreme poverty and mutual depression over our situation. It was traumatic, but our relationship remained strong.

Loss of Faith

In October 2019, I remember really struggling with doubts about my faith, and that’s the first time the thought entered my head, “I’m not a Christian.” I thought God gave me that thought. The next day, I was emotionally moved by a sermon my husband preached to respond with a recommitment to my faith and I was baptized again.

But doubts resurfaced and I began struggling with deep depression again. Around January 2022, I told my husband that I wanted to take some breaks from attending church, like maybe one Sunday a month, I don’t go, or I visit another church. He was supportive of me doing that. However, I never followed through on it because someone in the church broke her back and I stepped in to fulfill her responsibilities. It put my plan to take a break from church on hold as I needed to be there for these things. I didn’t mind it. It helped me a little because I felt I had more purpose with church than just getting the kids dressed to go and wrestle them into a pew and fight to keep them quiet.

Then in May 2022, my stepdad asked my mom for a divorce after 15 years of tumultuous marriage. It was with this backdrop that I just got tired of pretending that prayer did anything, that faith had any meaning, that Christianity was true, or that maybe God was even real, and if he was real, that he (or she or them) even cared about things the way my church said God did.

At the end of July 2022 and with the help of Bruce’s blog, I told my husband I considered myself a Christian agnostic. Christian in that I am content to practice a social Christianity for the sake of his ministry. I sincerely don’t want my faith status to disrupt his profession and passion and I sincerely love my Christian friends. I don’t want to cause him controversy and pain within the church.

I would be socially Christian in the outward trappings, but I told him that I refused to pray privately. I decided to act as if God didn’t exist, and if he did, then let him reveal himself clearly to me. So far, God hasn’t. I haven’t been struck by lightning. I’m the same person I’ve always been. I cuss more and pray less. My thoughts on abortion and sexuality are changing. But I’m essentially the same person. Better, I think, in how I treat others and how I treat myself.

I’m happier and more at peace with myself and the world as I face depression as essentially an atheist. I would much rather face depression without faith than face it with faith, as if I’m thrown into a fight with a demon with a bag over my head.

Moving Forward


I don’t know what the future holds for me as a non-Christian married to a devoted Christian who still feels a special call to be in church ministry. We have toddlers so we have many years ahead of raising children. My husband has resigned from the ministry for the time being for reasons not related to me. He is excited about finding a new church to join in our new city. I told him that I don’t think I’m eligible to become a new member of a church and that I don’t intend to hide the truth about my faith status from people we meet in churches. I don’t mind attending church with him some, because I enjoy having that connection with the whole family, but I’m also looking forward to exploring slow Sundays with no expectations except to truly rest.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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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, I Pray You Will Experience a Relationship with Jesus

peanut gallery

An Evangelical woman named Candida left the following comment on the post titled Wasted Years, Oh How Foolish . . . (all spelling and grammar in the original):

It’s a pity you went through this Bruce. Quite sad. Abd you’re quite right about lots of people in church whose lives are as ‘wasted’ as that of those outside church. That’s a reality.

I must say though there are also countless people whose lives have been changed, transformed, made meaningful by their encounter with Jesus.

There’s a big difference between encountering Jesus and being in church. You can be in church singing about, hearing about, maybe also preaching about Jesus without really encountering or knowing Him. If you know Jesus, you have a relationship with him, like the one you have with a wife whom you love and cherish. It’s real.

Many confuse activities in church with relationship with Jesus. There’s no love like His. I pray you, and all others who have abandoned the faith experience this relationship and this love first hand.

The Lord bless you. And everyone. And us all too.

Candida read all of one post and concluded that I never had a relationship with Jesus. Boy, I’ve never heard that before! 🙂 How could Candida possibly know the depth and quality of my relationship with Jesus? She doesn’t know me. She was not a member of one of the churches I pastored. How could she possibly know that I had “churchianity,” and not Christianity? I could spend days telling Candida how deeply I loved Jesus; how I devoted my life to serving and following him; that I taught my children to do the same. Would it make a difference in how she views me? Of course not. All she sees is Bruce, the Evangelical pastor turned atheist. Since I am an atheist today, that means I never was a Real Christian®. The fifty years I spent in the Evangelical church and the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches are dismissed with a wave of the hand. What Candida is saying, then, is that I am a liar; that what I say about myself and give testimony to is a lie. Why do Evangelicals find it so hard to take former Christians at face value? When Candida says, “I am a Christian,” I believe her. It’s her story to tell. I wish Evangelicals would grant me the same respect.

I have experienced the love of Jesus firsthand, as have thousands of readers of this blog. Much like marriages where couples fall out of love and divorce, we fell out of love with Jesus, finding that he was not the person we thought he was. And so we divorced him, seeking love in people and places we had long denied (because Jesus told us to do so): spouses, families, and self. We reconnected with humanity and nature, and in doing so we found love. Why would any of us want to return to a jealous, demanding lover?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

There’s No Such Thing as a Former Christian

saved or lost

Like Hotel California, once you are in, you can’t get out.

Once you are saved, you can never be lost.

Once God’s hound dog, the Holy Spirit, tracks you down, you belong to God forever.

Or so says Charles Smith:

If you scour the world-wild-web for any amount of time using atheism as your search term, you will undoubtedly find pages and pages of sites laced with the famous proclamation, “I used to be a Christian.” While this may be intriguing to the seeker, desiring a glimpse at the testimony of a formerly professing believer turned cynic in hopes of discovering reasons to remain religiously repulsed by Christendom, or possibly the opposite – looking to see if their retroversion experience is sensible – one thing is certain…there’s no such thing as a former Christian.

Cultural Christianity is quite the phenomenon of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries…

After “leaving the faith,” these misguided, false-converts then find their voices in the blogosphere, social sites, chat rooms, discussion boards and every other form of digital media outlet known to man – exhaustively expatriating as many “cardboard Christians” as they can sink their flaw-full claws into. Ironically, if they would spend as much time truly investigating and begging with a contrite heart, “God, please show yourself to me!” they would discover that He is absolutely faithful to do so – and the door the Lord has once opened, can be closed by no man.

These poor misinformed “ex-Christians” were never truly reborn of the Holy Spirit of God. They followed the crowd in church, were dunked under water, consumed crackers and gulped grape juice, sang songs, talked the talk, looked the part, memorized verses and so many other religious acts, but never came to a saving faith found in a relationship with the only begotten Son of God. Like so many of their contemporaries who weren’t led to the foot of the blood-stained cross of Calvary, they never saw their sins in the mirror of the ten commandments and consequently, never realized the magnitude of their debt – owed to a God who, because of His perfect love and justice, must punish sin – and they never saw the spotless Lamb for who He was and is, the ransom payment – the sacrificial substitute – who carried their sins before the Father and said “I will take their punishment.” Their prideful hearts of stone never crumbled under the weight of such a love and therefore, they simply socialized and enjoyed the music and learned to get along. But, of course, anyone who goes through a “phase” knows, it wore off and they moved on and Jesus wept…

Let the reader understand, just as you can’t become unborn once you have evacuated the womb, you also cannot become un-born-again. It is impossible to un-ring a bell, un-cook an egg or un-kill the living. If you are a spiritual seeker, please know that there is no such thing as an ex-Christian and if you want the truth, please look in a good Bible teaching church for assistance. If after reading this you still claim to be a “former believer,” you just do not understand…

While Smith’s argument certainly might apply to cultural or nominal Christians, it falls flat on its face when it comes to people like me; those who were sincere, committed, devoted, sold-out, on fire, consecrated, dedicated, sanctified followers of Jesus. While it is quite easy to dismiss those who never really took Christianity seriously, what about those of us who did? Did I really spend most of my adult life deceived, never having come to faith in Jesus Christ? Only in the echo chamber of Smith’s mind is such a claim possible. The only way he can square his theology with the life of someone like me is to say I never was a Christian, and since theology always trumps reason, Bruce Gerencser never was a Christian.

Look, I understand. I really do. Christians such as Smith cannot fathom anyone walking away from their Jesus. Why would anyone want to walk away from J-E-S-U-S, the most awesome God-man in the world, the biggest, baddest God in the entire universe? Why would anyone walk away from a golden ticket to God’s Motel 6? No more pain, no more suffering, no more death . . . who in their right mind would turn down such an offer?

But I did, others have, and more will continue to do so. Evidently, God didn’t want us bad enough to keep us.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Better without God

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A guest post by John

I was having a meal with a friend recently. He is a really nice guy and fun to be around. We’ve known each other for at least 17 years. He grew up as a Southern Baptist, but is now an atheist. I’ve been an agnostic atheist for about 6 years. Prior to my deconversion, I had been a Christian for 36 years, mostly in the evangelical/charismatic world. It turns out that my friend and I went through our deconversion process basically at the same time, but neither of us knew about the other. Both of us are still mostly closeted atheists. My wife doesn’t even know the full extent of my “change in some beliefs.” As with my friend, most of my friends and family are Christians and, like him, I’m not ready to go full-on just yet.

It wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I noticed some of his posts on social media that made me go, hmmm. There weren’t many and they were subtle, but they made me think that he might be questioning his Christian beliefs as I had. I decided to ask him about it. I knew he was a Christian, but I also knew he was not really hardcore. So even if I was wrong and told him where I was in life, it would probably be fine. Once I brought it up and we both came clean, so to speak, we spent about 4 hours talking about our deconversion experiences. We still talk about them to this day as we proceed down this road.

One thing I noticed about my friend is that he is just as great a human being now as he was as a Christian. In fact, he is probably a better human in many ways. I feel the same about myself. I know I’m a better human being now as an atheist than I was as a Christian. I’ve found this to be a pretty common theme among people who used to believe in a God but are now atheists. I’m less judgmental, I have a lot less fear in my life, I don’t have any hidden agendas to get people to my church or my Jesus, I’m more compassionate and empathetic towards myself and others, and when I give (time, money, etc.) it’s because I want to, not because I feel like I have to. And not because I think I’ll get something in return. Yep, the prosperity gospel (BIG eye roll).

One thing that helped me become a better person is that now I feel free to study other ways of viewing life and the world. I enjoy learning about secular Buddhist and Taoist philosophy. I have picked up many tools from both philosophies that better help me navigate life. My overall mental and emotional state is better now than it ever was when I was a believer.

I can also say that life in general is better. I have more money because I’m not giving 10%-20% of my income to religious organizations. I’m free to focus on my job without thinking I am doing so until I can do full-time ministry. Ugh! It makes me cringe just typing that out! I’m much more chill now and worry less about things that used to worry me. Not praying anymore really helps! People pray because they want things to change or turn out a certain way. It’s an illusion of control. So much wasted energy. And, in my opinion, praying often takes the place of people doing things for themselves and others. Now, if I can change something that I think needs changing in my life, I do it. If I can’t change it, I adapt the best I can — using the tools that I have picked up along the way. Tools that I did not have when I just prayed about most things, hoping God would somehow fix them.

I was listening to a podcast a while back and the hosts were talking about what didn’t happen in their lives after they left religion. Their pets didn’t die, their cars didn’t break down, they didn’t get sick, their marriages didn’t fall apart, they didn’t lose their jobs, and life pretty much went on as normal. Even better than normal. I remember being told in multiple churches that if you decide to leave God, all kinds of bad things will happen to you. I’m not saying life is perfect, but most of those bad things I was told would happen never took place; not any more than they were happening when I was still a Christian. Cars break down, jobs change, pets die, loved ones die, people get bad news from the doctor, and people get divorced. Life happens to everyone, theist and non-theist alike.

Here is an example of what I believe is me being a better human now than I was as a believer. Not to toot my own horn, but simply an example of how I’ve changed since leaving religion. A close relative came to me recently and told me she was gay. I was thrilled for her! I was so happy that she had discovered this about herself. I pretty much knew, based on clues over the last couple of years, and was very humbled and happy that she trusted me with this news. She has been pretty careful about whom she shares this with, and I don’t blame her a bit for that. She did tell another close relative who happens to be a very devout Christian and it did not go well. I’m so glad that I have been away from religion long enough, and have grown as much as I have, that I could celebrate with my loved one instead of judging her for what I once considered to be wrong and “sinful.” I plan on continuing to change and to grow to be the best human I can be during the time I have here on this planet. No God needed.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

“Normal” is a Just a Setting on a Washing Machine

normal

Polly’s mom recently died. I always had a contentious relationship with my mother-in-law. She never wanted me to marry her daughter, and she went to great lengths to frustrate our dating relationship. It was not until Polly told her mother we were getting married with or without her blessing that she grudgingly gave in and helped Polly plan our wedding. We’ve been married for almost forty-five years. Polly’s mom was certain that marrying someone from a divorced family led to divorce. I assume, by now, we have put that bit of nonsense to rest. Over the years, Polly and I butted heads with her mom over how many children we planned to have, how we raised our children, ministerial moves, choices of secular employment, how we celebrated Christmas, and a host of other things.

In 2004-2005, we lived in Newark, Ohio, blocks away from Polly’s parents. Our plan was to live there and care for them as they got older. Unfortunately, they made it clear that our help wasn’t needed. Message received. We returned to northwest Ohio so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. Five years ago, Polly’s dad (who died in November 2020) had botched hip replacement surgery that left him crippled. We offered to move them up here so we could help care for them. Our offer was rebuffed. Polly’s mom told her that they couldn’t move because their church — the Newark Baptist Temple — was very important to them. This sentiment is strange considering that their church pretty much ignored them since Dad’s hip surgery. Out of sight, out of mind.

As readers are aware, Mom made sure that the Gerencser family had nothing to do with her personal affairs and funeral. Mom’s behavior hurt her devoted daughter beyond measure. Why would she do these things? Our atheism. That’s the reason she gave us the last time we talked to her face to face. (Which was odd since she never, ever, not one time talked to us about our beliefs.) We, of course, respected her wishes. Her life, her choices, end of story.

I realize that if Polly had married a “normal” Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher boy things might have been different. Instead, Polly married a “bad boy”; a man who has always marched to the beat of his own drum; a man who has rarely been afraid to make hard, controversial decisions. In Mom’s eyes, I was an “odd duck”; I was “different.” Why couldn’t I have been like other IFB preachers? You know, like Polly’s Dad, Uncle, and cousins? Why couldn’t I have kept the faith? You see, the underlying issue is my unwillingness to hew to IFB belief. We left the IFB church movement years before we deconverted. Polly’s mom was upset with me numerous times during my years in the ministry; upset over decisions such as: me not wearing the IFB preacher uniform (white shirt, tie, and suit), letting Polly wear pants, allowing my children to listen to Christian rock, not preaching from behind a pulpit, not sending my children to a Christian college, removing the name “Baptist” from our church name, using praise and worship music during church services, and not using the KJV when I preached, to name a few. Nothing was as bad, though, as me leaving the ministry in 2005 and Polly and I walking away from Christianity in 2008. I suspect Mom believed that if I were out of the picture, Polly would come running back to Jesus and the family religion. Little did she know how independent her daughter really iwas and how anti-religion she has become. She may not be as vocal as her husband, but Polly has no use for anything associated with organized religion. She is, in every way, her own woman. The days when Bruce, the IFB Patriarch, ruled the home are long gone. Most of all, Mom blamed me for what our children have become. According to her, I  RUINED them! Actually, what I really did was set them free. Each of them is free to be whoever and whatever he or she wants to be. Yes, to a person each has abandoned IFB/Evangelical Christianity, and some don’t believe in gods at all. Yes, they have abandoned the social strictures of their Fundamentalist youth. OMG! They drink beer, cuss, go to movies, watch R-rated programs, and have sex outside of marriage. I can don’t imagine what Mom would have thought had we told her our youngest son is gay. In Mom’s eyes, my children (who are grown-ass adults in their thirties and forties) were “worldly,” and it is all MY fault. I was, after all, in her IFB worldview, the head of the home, even though all my children are out on their own with families, well-paying jobs, and own their homes. Mom might have lamented their worldliness, but I am quite proud of who and what ALL my children have become.

It’s Thanksgiving 2005. We are living in Bryan, Ohio, five miles from where we now live. Polly’s parents came to our home to join us for the day. Mom, as she often did, blew into our home like a tornado, moving furniture and changing meal preparations. It was noticeable to me that Polly was quite stressed by her mom’s behavior. She, however, said nothing. As the day wore on, I became increasingly agitated by Mom’s behavior, so much so that I reminded her that she was a guest in our home and asked her to please STOP micromanaging everything. Well, that went over well. Mom and Dad didn’t stay long that day. A day or so later, Mom called to apologize. During our conversation, she said, “Bruce, we have always accepted you. We knew you were ‘different.'”

Different? Sure, but does that make a bad husband, father, grandfather, or person? Since when is being different a bad thing? My mother had many faults, but she taught me to think for myself and be my own person. I carried her teachings into my life and they continue with me to this day. I refuse to follow the well-trodden path. I refuse to do something just because everyone is doing it. I choose, instead, to walk my own path, even if that means I am walking alone. I realize that Mom went to the grave saddened by what had become of her daughter, her son-in-law, and her grandchildren. Instead of seeing that we were happy and blessed, all Mom could see was our ungodly disobedience and lack of faith. Instead of seeing what awesome children and grandchildren we had, all she saw was their faithlessness and worldliness. Her religion kept her from truly embracing and enjoying our family. In mom’s world, the wash can only be cleaned if the washing machine is set to “normal” and Tide is used for detergent.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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 I Don’t Tell People I Was a Pastor

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

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

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

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

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

These days, I NEVER tell someone who doesn’t know me that I was a pastor. I don’t want to have to explain why I am no longer in the ministry. Yes, if someone does a web search on my name he or she will quickly find out I was once a pastor. However, I am not going to volunteer that information. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by my former life as a pastor. I have many fond memories of the years I spent in the ministry, along with a boatload of dark, harmful experiences too. What I want to avoid is being judged by people who don’t know me.

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

How about you? Are you more than your labels? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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 Am I Different From My College Classmates?

bruce gerencser 2002
Bruce Gerencser, 2002

During the 1970s, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. It was there that I met my wife, Polly. Started in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone, Midwestern was a school known for turning out preachers. Most women attending Midwestern were there to snag themselves a man. My wife was no exception. She believed she was called to be a pastor’s wife. I was studying to be a pastor, so I suppose you could say our divine callings matched and our marriage was made in Heaven — or something like that, anyway. (We celebrated forty-four years of marriage last July.) All we knew for sure was that God called us to build churches and evangelize the lost. Everything we were taught at Midwestern had these two things as their goal. We left Midwestern in 1979 and embarked on a twenty-five-year journey that took us to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Virtually everything we did was in fulfillment of God’s call upon our lives, yet, today, we are no longer Christians and it has been more than fourteen years since we darkened the doors of a church. What happened to us?

I cannot and will not speak for Polly, but I can say, for myself, that the Christian narrative no longer makes sense to me. I wrote about this in a post titled, The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense. Most readers know my story, so I won’t retell it here. New readers are encouraged to read the posts found on the WHY? page for more information about my life as a pastor and my subsequent deconversion. My story has been deconstructed by countless Evangelical zealots determined to invalidate my past. Try as they might, the fact remains that I once was a committed, devoted, sold-out follower of Jesus Christ; a man who hungered and thirsted after righteousness for his name’s sake; a man who believed every word of the Bible was true; a man who preached the Christian gospel to countless people. Them there are the facts, regardless of what apologists might say. I know what I know because I was there when it happened. Who better to know and tell my story than me? That said, I do ponder the question, Why am I Different From the My College Classmates? Some of them have moved beyond the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) training they received at Midwestern, yet they still believe. Sadly, for most of my college classmates, their beliefs have changed very little, if at all. Many of them still attend or pastor IFB churches. Oh, they might agree with me about the crazy rules at Midwestern, (please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule) but their core theological beliefs are decidedly Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Why do they still hang on to these beliefs and I don’t?

The easy answer would be to call all of them stupid hillbillies, but that would be a cop-out. Many of my former classmates have wonderful families and ministerial careers. According to the theological and social standards of IFB Christianity, they are, in every way, successful. I have no doubt that many or even most of them are true-blue believers, completely and totally committed to IFB doctrine, thinking, and way of life. Yes, some of them now consider themselves garden-variety Evangelicals, but most of my classmates still believe the fundamentals taught to them by their pastors and their professors at Midwestern.

If I had to pick one reason for why my former classmates still believe, it is because they were taught to never, ever doubt the Bible and its teachings. All of them believe in some form of Biblical inerrancy, so the foundation of their lives is THUS SAITH THE LORD. Insulated from contrary or challenging thoughts, they see no reason to question their beliefs. Souls are lost, Hell is hot, and Jesus is coming soon. They have no time for doubting or questioning their beliefs. When Jesus comes again, they want to be found faithfully serving him, not reading Bart Ehrman’s latest book. For me, however, I reached a place in the late 1980s where I seriously questioned the doctrines I had been taught at Midwestern. I ultimately abandoned them and embraced Evangelical Calvinism. Calvinism allowed me to study theology and read books outside of the IFB rut. While the Calvinists I associated with were still quite Fundamentalist theologically and socially, they valued education and intellectual pursuit. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the more I studied and read, the more questions and doubts I had. This is why people who knew me well told me that BOOKS were my problem, and what I needed to do is stop reading books and only read the Bible. Of course, saying this to a book lover is akin to telling a cocaine addict to stop using drugs. I was addicted to intellectual pursuit, and I doggedly followed the path until it led me out of Evangelicalism, out of the Emergent church, out of progressive Christianity, and right on down the slippery slope to agnosticism/atheism and humanism. I ended up where I am today because I couldn’t stop my questions and doubts. I ended up where I am today because Christianity had no satisfactory answers for my questions. Oh, they had “answers” but I found them to be hollow, circular, and, at times, farcical; answers that might placate those within the Evangelical bubble, but unsatisfactory to anyone on the outside looking in.

There are days when I wish I could be like my former college classmates. I see much in their lives I admire. However, I am unwilling to forsake the meat and potatoes of intellectual and scientific inquiry for the pottage of Evangelical Christianity. I have read and studied too much to go back to the garlic and leeks of Egypt. I would rather be known as a Midwestern Baptist College-trained atheist than a coward who couldn’t face doubts and questions head-on. “One” may truly be the loneliest number, but I would rather stand alone for truth than embrace theological dogma. If Midwestern and Dr. Tom Malone taught me anything, it was the importance of standing for truth and principle and being willing to hold to your beliefs and convictions no matter what. So, in that regard, Midwestern played a crucial part in my deconversion from Christianity.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Knowing What You Know, Now What?

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Guest Post by Merle Hertzler

Where do you go from here? Perhaps you have been learning new and different viewpoints on the Internet. Perhaps the religion you inherited does not have the attraction it once had. You have found too many problems with it. Now what?

Many people find challenges to their faith interesting. They enjoy the debate. And for the first time they read that the case for their faith is not as clear cut as they had heard. There are strong and interesting arguments for other views.

Perhaps you also have found these challenges interesting, but you do not wish to continue. For many, the thought of reconsidering religion will be unacceptable. These people find comfort in their traditional beliefs, and they will not want to leave the comfort of those beliefs. A brief excursion into skepticism on the Internet (here, for instance) might be interesting to them, but they will return to safety when the challenges become troubling. It is too painful for them to think of changing their minds about religion. These people leave the debate if their side is not clearly winning. When it had appeared their side was winning, they had no problem continuing. But if the facts appear to lead away from the religion they always knew, the thought of considering that they might be wrong about religion is too painful to continue.

If this describes you, I can feel your pain. I have been there. I had once been able to go just so far in examining my faith, while always retreating back to safety when the going got rough. I understand the desire to stick with one’s current faith, regardless of what one learns. But is this the best way to live life?

If you cherish traditional beliefs, but your life is not closely sheltered from all outside sources, you will continually find challenges to your beliefs in areas such as biology, history, physics, ethics, and psychology. And you will find many sincere people who believe quite differently from you. It will be hard for you to force yourself to believe that all these people differ because they are evil, and that everything skeptics say is wrong.

If you retreat from the facts, you will face a constant struggle to avoid those facts. New observations will always come, and many new thoughts will cause dissonance with the thoughts that are already in your mind. Such cognitive dissonance can be quite uncomfortable. It is like living in an environment where folks are constantly shouting and arguing, except in this case the arguing occurs strictly within your own mind. One set of thoughts shouts at the other set of thoughts. Is that what you want to happen in your mind? If you refuse admittance to doubts and other competing thoughts, you will find yourself constantly needing to internally outshout those competing thoughts. You must decide if that is best for you.

By contrast, you could choose to freely explore beyond the box in which you now find yourself.

Some people will want to stop here, because their entire social structure is based on their existing religion. It is unbearable to think about the loss of social support that would occur if you were to change your mind about religion. It is one thing to tell a friend that you now like baseball better than basketball. It is quite another thing to say that your views are now more atheist than Baptist. Many friends will change their entire view of you if you say that.

Once more, I understand. I too was once bound by the need to conform in my beliefs–or at least in my actions–to the approved doctrines of the church. Once more I would ask, is this the way you want to live? Do you want to shut your mind to new knowledge in order to maintain friendships with people who oppose new knowledge?

And besides, if your friends are true friends, will they not love you even if you change your beliefs? If their love for you depends upon your theological persuasion, perhaps they are not the best of friends to begin with.

You will only go through life once. If you choose to live your life as though you believe a creed that you no longer believe, what kind of life is that? What value is a life if you can never share what is going on inside? What good is a life if you must pretend to be something you are not? You decide. Do you think that, years down the road, you will be glad that you lived in fear of what others might say and thus closed your mind to new ideas? If you decide to close your mind to skeptical ideas–or at least make it appear that your mind is closed–will you be able to hold your head high and walk forward with dignity?

Just in Case?

Some of my readers might see the value of moving on in their beliefs, but the fear of hell will stop them in their tracks. They might now see that their faith is implausible, but what if it is true? Will they be tormented in hell forever if they confess unbelief? Fearing hell, many will choose what they consider to be the safe path. They will stick with the faith as best they can even though they sincerely doubt it. They will try to believe just in case belief is necessary to escape hell.

If you are going to follow your existing faith just in case, should you not also follow other faiths just in case? Should you now become a Catholic, Mormon, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist, just in case they might be right? That would be impossible, for the faiths contradict each other. So which will you choose? The one you inherited? Suppose you had grown up in another faith. Would you now be choosing that faith just in case it might be right? If your choice is based only on the ideas you inherited, how can that choice be valid?

If you follow a faith without truly believing it, are you not being dishonest? If you confess to believe things you really don’t believe, will God honor that? If God honors such dishonesty, what kind of a being is he? How could you trust a God who honors dishonesty? If God honors dishonesty, he might be lying to you. If God honors dishonesty, would he not also be capable of turning his back on you and damning you, even if he had promised otherwise? So I don’t find much hope in dishonestly following a belief you don’t really think is true. Why dishonestly “believe” in case a God who honors dishonesty might approve?

If you honor God “just in case”–dishonestly claiming to believe–which God will you choose? Will you honor the God who favors dishonest support of Protestantism? Or will you honor the God who favors dishonest support of Catholicism, Islam, or some other way? So many Gods! Which will you choose?

May I suggest one more God? Suppose a God exists who honors honesty and integrity. If such a God exists, then he will be glad that you honestly admitted your unbelief. He would want intellectual honesty. And if such a God loved honestly, he could be depended on to keep his word. So if I must pick a God to serve (just in case one exists) then I would pick this God. And I would honestly admit my unbelief of certain religious dogmas. If a God who loved honesty existed, he would love my honesty. That seems like the best approach to me.

And so, if you find that neither the fear of a new viewpoint, nor the fear of the loss of friends, nor the fear of God’s condemnation for disbelief should stop your intellectual journey, why not lay aside those fears? Why not boldly go where you have never gone before, enjoying the path of discovery? Why not follow the facts wherever they lead, regardless of whether they lead away from or back to your original faith? Why not pursue truth?

As for me, I have found hope in secular humanism. Your explorations may lead you elsewhere. The important thing is not where the facts lead, but whether you are willing to accept and follow reality. Can you commit to the facts, regardless of where they lead?

The Mind Set Free

There is no experience quite like setting the mind free. Robert Green Ingersoll describes that experience:

When I became convinced that the Universe is natural — that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world — not even in infinite space. I was free — free to think, to express my thoughts — free to live to my own ideal — free to live for myself and those I loved — free to use all my faculties, all my senses — free to spread imagination’s wings — free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope — free to judge and determine for myself — free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past — free from popes and priests — free from all the “called” and “set apart” — free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies — free from the fear of eternal pain — free from the winged monsters of the night — free from devils, ghosts and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought — no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings — no chains for my limbs — no lashes for my back — no fires for my flesh — no master’s frown or threat — no following another’s steps — no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds. Source: Why I Am Agnostic – Robert Green Ingersoll

Doesn’t that sound refreshing? I think you can experience what Ingersoll experienced. But only you can decide if this is the path for you.

Bruce Gerencser writes of moving beyond the box of his original faith:

I do remember coming to a place where I felt completely free. I felt “born again.” I thought, I am a “born again” atheist. I no longer felt any pull to return to the box…People in the atheist box, the box I now call home told me that things would be better with time. They encouraged me to read and study. They told me “go where the data, the evidence leads you.” …That’s the greatest wonder of all . . . I now have the ability to freely choose the box(es) I want to be in. Source: What I Found when I Left the Box by Bruce Gerencser

Rob Berry described the result of his deconversion so well:

I felt a bit like a child, as though I was rediscovering the world. In particular, I remember a monthlong period in which I became flat-out fascinated with trees– there was something beautiful about the way they branched out, cutting a tangled silhouette against the sky. I also became enthralled with sunsets, and to this day I still love watching sunsets. Everything seemed fresh and new. It was as if in my enthusiasm for the supernatural, I had overlooked all the beauty the natural world has to offer. Now I was playing catch-up, discovering all the neat stuff I’d missed. I also read dozens of science books during this time– I decided it was time to find out how the universe really works, as I didn’t want to ever be fooled again. Source: Cited at Into the Clear Air, I can no longer find the original source.

Do you want to stand up and face the world without fear? Do you want to move beyond the box you find yourself in? Do you want this joy of discovery? It is your life. You must decide.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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