Tag Archive: Leaving Christianity

Escaping the Closet: Secret Unbelief While Living in an IFB Home

monster in the closet

Over the years, I have had numerous Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) teenagers and young adults contact me. A handful of them wanted to evangelize me, but the rest of them wanted advice. Many of these letter writers were the children of IFB pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and church leaders. What these young people wanted was advice on what to do about their increasing doubts and unbelief. There they were, the children of devoted Fundamentalists, yet they had serious doubts about Christianity in general, and IFB beliefs in particular. Some of these letter writers told me they were atheists or agnostics. Most of them wanted to know whether they should “share” their beliefs with their parents, pastors, siblings, or friends. Raised in an environment that values zealotry, these doubting Thomases thought that, at the very least, people would appreciate their openness and willingness to speak honestly about their doubts and struggles. I told them that I thought it was a bad idea to tell anyone about their loss of faith. While I know that hard-core atheists will likely object to me silencing their coming-out, I hope in the remainder of this post to explain why these closeted unbelieving young people should, for now, keep quiet.

I grew up in the IFB church movement. I am, by all accounts, an expert on its doctrines, practices, and culture. I attended an IFB college, worked as an assistant pastor in two IFB churches, and planted a new IFB church which I pastored for eleven years. My wife’s father is a retired IFB pastor, and Polly’s late uncle, Jim Dennis, was an IFB pastor for over fifty years. Polly has cousins who are IFB pastors, an evangelist, and a missionary. I’ve spent the last decade writing about Evangelicalism in general, and have focused good bit of my attention on the IFB church movement. I spend several hours every day reading Evangelical and IFB blogs, websites, and news sites. From time to time, I even listen to sermons. While some might say that I am appealing to authority here, in the case of the IFB church movement, I know what I’m talking about. Having been both a congregant and a pastor, I have a well-rounded understanding of IFB churches. Many IFB preachers despise the work that I do because I dare to share the movement’s secrets. As a mobster-turned-snitch might say, I know where the bodies are buried.

IFB pastors, churches, and educational institutions do not value doubt, skepticism, or intellectual inquiry. The goal, instead, is obedience and conformity. What is fellowship? IFB pastors ask. It’s fellows in a boat rowing in the same direction. Dare to disagree with the pastor or oppose his teachings, and you will quickly find yourself thrown overboard. While a certain level of doubt is acceptable — as long as it is within the four walls of the IFB box — doubters are expected to resolve their questions by reading and studying the Bible. But what happens when you stop believing that the Bible is the word of God; when you stop believing that Jesus is a virgin-born, miracle-working, resurrected-from-the-dead Savior? What happens when you find IFB moral standards and personal behavior regulations a millstone around your neck? What happens when you want to experience the things teenagers and young adults in the “world” experience? What if you want to smoke a joint, drink a beer, have sex, or dress the way people outside of the church dress? What if you want listen to secular music or enjoy the entertainments of the “world?” What if you just want to be yourself? What if you want be an out-of-the-closet gay or attend a public high school or college? What if you want to date the Catholic boy next door or skip church so you can play sports or attend a rock concert? While all of these behaviors and questions might seem silly to people outside of the IFB church movement, people raised in Fundamentalism know what can happen if you refuse to play by the rules and toe the line. Some readers of this blog were shipped off to IFB group homes when they were teenagers in the hope that their rebellion — a favorite IFB word — would be cured. Once imprisoned in these indoctrination camps, they were psychologically and physically abused. Some of them were sexually assaulted and raped. What was their crime? Rebellion, which the Bible says is as the sin of witchcraft. Once “cured” they were expected to return home and do what they were told.

During my time in the IFB church movement, I saw teenagers assaulted and beaten for refusing to obey. In one church, I had a family come to me and tell me that they were considering cutting off all the hair from the head of their rebellious teenage daughter’s head. Appealing to the Bible, this couple believed that cutting off her hair would teach her a lesson. Fortunately, I was able to persuade them not to do this. And I am hardly without fault. As I look back over how we disciplined our children — or better put how “I” disciplined our children — the only conclusion I can come to is that I, at times, physically abused my three older boys. Fortunately, I saw the error of my ways when it came to my three younger children, and I abandon corporal punishment as a way to demand obedience. While I can say that I was only modeling that which I experienced in my own life and saw in the lives of men I admired, the fact remains that I used violence as a means of discipline. I know that corporal punishment is still common in IFB homes. I also know that it is not beyond many IFB parents to use draconian methods to drive the devil from the hearts of their children. I’ve spent countless hours reading the stories of adults who were savaged by their IFB parents as children and teenagers. These parents believed they were just following the Bible when they harshly attempted to drive the rebellion out of the hearts of their children. And they were. The Bible is clear on the matter. Parents who love their children should righteously and frequently use the rod of correction, driving rebellion and disobedience from their hearts.

It is knowing all of these things that causes me to advise doubting IFB teenagers and young adults to keep their unbelief to themselves. Bide your time. Play the game. Fake it until you make it — make it being out of the house and on your own. It’s not hard to fake belief. I suspect that most IFB churches have congregants who are just playing the game; that they are attending church, with Bible in hand, praying when asked, and doing all the things good Christians are supposed to do, without believing a word of it. Some IFB pastors think that they can spot frauds from a mile away, but I know better. Truth be told, some of those frauds are their own children and spouses. Yes, I’ve even heard from pastor’s wives who are secret unbelievers.

I can only imagine how difficult it must be to be an unbeliever in a sea of Fundamentalist faith. But, due to the serious and real risks involved in publicly announcing unbelief (or that one is gay), I strongly advise that doubting IFB teenagers and young adults keep their lack of faith to themselves. Go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, and play the game. You can do it. In the meantime, seek out people who can privately encourage and support you. Those who have written me over the years know that my email inbox is always open. I encourage them to not only read my writing, but also to read the stories of other people who have left Christianity. But even here, they must be careful. IFB parents can be quite controlling. I remember my youngest daughter being a pen pal with another pastor’s daughter. I never read my daughter’s letters, but her pen pal’s mother read every one of my daughter’s letters before giving them to her daughter. She also read every letter her daughter wrote to mine before it was sent. After word got out that Pastor Gerencser and his family were no longer attending church, the letter writing stopped. I wish I could say that the IFB teens and young adults who write me should go to their parents for support and understanding. The problem is that I doubt whether their parents would be okay with their unbelief. How could they? Allowing an unbelieving child in your home, especially if you are a pastor, is a sign that you do not have your children under control. Remember, IFB churches thrive on conformity, obedience, and control. Imagine what would happen if IFB parents let their children think for themselves. Why, in their minds, rebellion, heresy, and sin would abound.

I know the advice I’m giving here is hard to take, but I do have the best interests of these teenagers and young adults at heart. I wouldn’t want to tell them to be out and proud, knowing that doing so could cause them great harm. I know that when you are fifteen, time moves oh, so slowly, but if these doubters will just play the game, before they know it they will be graduating from high school and will then be free to the tell the world they are not believers. And shouting it from the mountaintops will certainly cause continued stress and conflict, but it’s on IFB parents and churches to deal with the fact that they had unbelievers in their midst; that an increasing number of teenagers and young adults are no longer buying what preachers are selling; that what these unbelieving adults want most of all is acceptance for who they are, and the freedom to think for themselves and follow the path wherever it leads.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Questions: Bruce, If You Had It to Do All Over Again, Is There Anything You Would Do Differently?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Tony asked, “When looking back at the events when you revealed to your family and friends your loss of faith would you change any of the way you navigated that? If so, what and why?”

Come November, it will ten years since I left Christianity; ten years since I attended a public worship service; ten years since I prayed; ten years since I studied the Bible; ten years since I abandoned that which had been the hub, the center, the focus of my life.

In April 2009, I sent a letter to family, friends, and former parishioners. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question is, what now?

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

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

  • Here is what I don’t want from you:
  • Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?
  • Constant reminders that you are praying for me. Please don’t think of me as unkind, but I don’t care that you are praying for me. I find no comfort, solace or strength from your prayers. Be my friend if you can, pray if you must, but leave the prayers in the closet. As long as God gets your prayer message, that will be sufficient.
  • Please don’t send me books, tracts, or magazines. You are wasting your time and money.
  • Invitations to attend your Church. The answer is NO. Please don’t ask. I used to attend Church for the sake of family but no longer. It is hypocritical for me to perform a religious act of worship just for the sake of family. I know how to find a Church if I am so inclined, after all I have visited more than 125 churches since 2003.
  • Offers of a church to pastor. It is not the lack of a church to pastor that has led me to where I am. If I would lie about what I believe, I could be pastoring again in a matter of weeks. I am not interested in ever pastoring a church again.
  • Threats about judgment and hell. I don’t believe in either, so your threats have no impact on me.
  • Phone calls. If you are my friend you know I don’t like talking on the phone. I have no interest in having a phone discussion about my religious or political views.

Here is what I do want from you:

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

That’s it.

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

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

You are free from me if that is your wish.

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

Thank you for reading my letter.

Bruce

As you can see, when I wrote this letter I was still hanging on to the hope that there was a deistic God of some sort. By the fall of 2009, I had abandoned any pretense of belief and I embraced the atheist moniker. I hope readers today can sense my rawness and pain as I wrote those words a decade ago.

Writing this letter was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. I knew that my letter would cause some controversy, but I naively believed that the Christians in my life would understand and appreciate me being honest about where I was in life. The fallout was immediate. I received numerous angry, judgmental emails and letters. No one was interested in understanding my point of view. Instead, people told me I was under the control of Satan and I needed to immediately repent. A handful of people couldn’t wrap their minds around my new life, so they said I was mentally ill and needed help. One woman wrote and told me that my problem was that I was reading too many books. She advised me to only read the Bible, believing that if I did so all would be well and Pastor Bruce would return to the faith.

A close pastor friend of mine drove three plus hours from southern Ohio to pay me a visit. Afterwards, I wrote him a letter:

Dear Friend,

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a 100.00 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a 100.00 bill in the offering plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and me a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I being a Calvinist.

One day you came to place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become (whether I view it as good or bad).

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced, I had no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace.

Do you know what troubled me the most? You didn’t shake my hand as you left. For 26 years we shook hands as we came and went. The significance of this is overwhelming. You can no longer give me the right hand of fellowship because we no longer have a common Christian faith.

Over the course of three hours you constantly reminded me of the what I used to preach, what I used to believe. I must tell you forthrightly that that Bruce is dead. He no longer exists, but in the memory of a distant past. Whatever good may have been done I am grateful, but I bear the scars and memories of much evil done in the name of Jesus. Whatever my intentions, I must bear the responsibility for what I did through my preaching, ministry style, etc.

You seem to think that if I just got back in the ministry everything would be fine. Evidently, I can not make you understand that the ministry is the problem. Even if I had any desire to re-enter the ministry, where would I go? What sect would take someone with such beliefs as mine? I ask you to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a pastor again. Does not the Bible teach that if a man desires the office of a bishop (pastor) he desires a good work? I have no desire for such an office. Whatever desire I had died in the rubble of my 25 plus year ministry.

We talked about many things didn’t we? But I wonder if you really heard me?

I told you my view on abortion, Barack Obama, the Bible, and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ.

You told me that a Christian couldn’t hold such views. According to your worldview that is indeed true. I have stopped using the Christian label. I am content to be a seeker of truth, a man on a quest for answers. I now know I never will have all the answers. I am now content to live in the shadows of ambiguity and the unknown.

What I do know tells me life does not begin at conception, that Barack Obama is a far better President than George Bush, that the Bible is not inerrant or inspired, and that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven (if there is a Heaven at all).

This does not mean that I deny the historicity of Jesus or that I believe there is no God. I am an agnostic. While I reject the God of my past, it remains uncertain that I will reject God altogether. Perhaps…

In recent years you have told me that my incessant reading of books is the foundation of the problems I now face. Yes, I read a lot. Reading is a joy I revel in. I read quickly and I usually comprehend things quite easily (though I am finding science to be a much bigger challenge). Far from being the cause of my demise, books have opened up a world to me that I never knew existed. Reading has allowed me to see life in all its shades and complexities. I can no more stop reading than I can stop eating. The passion for knowledge and truth remain strong in my being. In fact, it is stronger now than it ever was in my days at Somerset Baptist Church.

I was also troubled by your suggestion that I not share my beliefs with anyone. You told me my beliefs could cause others to lose their faith! Is the Christian faith so tenuous that one man can cause others to lose their faith? Surely, the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than Bruce (even if I am Bruce Almighty).

I am aware of the fact that my apostasy has troubled some people. If Bruce can walk away from the faith…how can any of us stand? I have no answer for this line of thinking. I am but one man…shall I live in denial of what I believe? Shall I say nothing when I am asked of the hope that lies within me? Christians are implored to share their faith at all times. Are agnostics and atheists not allowed to have the same freedom?

I suspect the time has come that we part as friends. The glue that held us together is gone. We no longer have a common foundation for a mutual relationship. I can accept you as you are, but I know you can’t do the same for me. I MUST be reclaimed. I must be prayed for. The bloodhound of heaven must be unleashed on my soul.

Knowing all this, it is better for us to part company. I have many fond memories of the years we spent together. Let’s mutually remember the good times of the past and each continue down the path we have chosen.

Rarer than an ivory-billed woodpecker is a friendship that lasts a lifetime. 26 years is a good run.

Thanks for the memories.

Bruce

I saw my former friend a couple of years ago at the funeral of an ex-parishioner. The family had asked me to conduct the funeral. We traded pleasantries and went our separate ways. Whatever friendship we once had was gone.

Polly’s family — which included, at the time, three Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers, an IFB missionary, and an IFB evangelist — said nothing to me, but I heard all sorts of negative stuff through the family grapevine. One of the aforementioned preachers did contact me via email. We had an honest, friendly discussion; that is, until the family patriarch told him to stop talking to me. He, of course, complied. Polly’s parents (her dad is a retired IFB pastor) took the “we are praying for you” approach. To this day, her parents have never talked to us about why we left Christianity. I do know they have, in the past, read my blog.

I am often asked about how my children responded to my deconversion. Keep in mind that I was a pastor their entire lives. They spent thousands of hours in church. They also had a firsthand look at the ugly underbelly of Evangelical Christianity. Over the years, I have had varying degrees of discussion with my children about why I left Christianity. For a time, some of them were confused. Imagine your dad being a pastor your entire life, and then one day he says, “I am no longer a Christian!” For a time, some of my children didn’t know what to do with their new-found freedom. I was criticized for “cutting my children free.” I was told that this was cruel; that I should have provided them support and guidance. Perhaps. At the time, I wanted them to have the same freedom I had; the freedom to walk the path of life without Dad saying, “this is the path, walk this way.” I leave it to my children to tell their own stories. I can say this: none of them is Evangelical. And for this I am grateful. The curse has been broken.

What about Polly? As with my children, I can’t and won’t speak for Polly. She has a story to tell, and perhaps she will one day tell it. I can say that Polly and I walked together out the back door of the church, and neither of us believes in God. Our primary difference, of course, is that I am an outspoken Evangelical-turned-atheist, whereas Polly — consistent with her quiet, reserved nature — prefers to quietly live her life, keeping her thoughts about God and religion to herself.

Knowing all that I have written above (and countless other experiences I haven’t shared), if I had it to do all over again, would I do anything differently? I have often pondered this question. Was it wise to send everyone a letter? Should I have started blogging about my loss of faith? Should I have named names and used my real name in my writing?  I certainly can argue that I should have done none of those things; that by doing them I turned myself into a target; that by doing them I quickly and irrevocably destroyed numerous personal relationships. Would it have been better for me to die by a thousand cuts, or was it better to cut my jugular vein and get it over with?

The answer lies in the kind of person I am. I have always believed in being open and honest. I have never been good with keeping secrets. I love to talk; to share my story; to share my beliefs and opinions. In this regard, Polly and I are quite different from each other. I have always been outgoing and talkative, a perfect match for a vocation as a preacher. Leaving Christianity took me away from all I held dear, but I remained the same man I always was. This is why my counselor tells me that I am still a preacher; still a pastor. The only thing that’s changed is the message. I suspect he is right, and that’s why, if I had to do it all over again, I would have still written a letter to family, friends, and former parishioners. I would, however, have made a better effort at explaining myself to my children and extended family. I am not sure doing so would have made any difference, but it might have lessened some of the family stress and disconnect.

For readers inclined to follow in my steps, please read Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist. Don’t underestimate what might happen when you say to Christian family and friends, I am an atheist. Once you utter those words, you no longer control what happens next. In my case, I lost all of my friends save one. People I had been friends with for twenty and thirty years — gone.

Being a pastor was how I made a living. One thing I have learned is that being an atheist, disabled, and fifty to sixty years old renders one unemployable (I have had a few job offers over the past decade, but the physical demands of the jobs made employment impossible). Two years ago, I started a photography business. This has provided a little bit of income, for which I am grateful. Come June 2019, I will start receiving social security. This will hopefully alleviate some of the financial difficulties we’ve faced in recent years. I mention these things because I did not consider how being a very public atheist (and socialist) in a rural white Christian area would affect my ability to make a living. In recent years, I have met several local atheists who, for business and professional reasons, keep their godlessness to themselves. I don’t blame them for doing so. It is at this point alone that I pause and consider whether my chosen path out of Christianity was wise. Would things have been better for me had I kept my “light” to myself? Maybe. All I know is this: there are no do-overs in life, and all any of us can do is walk the path before us. I intend to keep telling my story until I run out of things to say. And people who know me are laughing, saying, “like that’s going to happen anytime soon!”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Lies Evangelicals Tell About Being Former Atheists or Evangelizing the Godless

calvin hobbes atheist

It seems these days that every Evangelical preacher, evangelist, and apologist has a story about an atheist who saw the truth of Fundamentalist Christianity and got saved. Some of these zealots have personal testimonies of their own atheism before they became Christians. After listening to or reading dozens of such stories, I have concluded that many of these storytellers are liars for Jesus; that careful examination of their stories reveal ignorance of what atheism is and isn’t.

Many Evangelicals believe that all non-believers are atheists. Of course, when I argue that all babies are born into this world atheists, Evangelicals object, saying that all humans are born with a God-given conscience. So which is it? Non-believers are atheists or non-believers have a God-given conscience? Are humans naturally blank slates upon which tribal religion must be written or are they born with God-shaped holes in their hearts? If no one is born Christian, then what is the nature of a newborn baby?

Atheism is not the human default. Atheism requires an act of volition. An atheist, then, lacks belief in the existence of Gods. Claiming the atheism moniker requires a person to actually think about the existence of God(s). Sadly, far too many people use the atheist label to cover up intellectual laziness or indifference towards religion. I prefer such people use the NONE label. Atheists, on the other hand, have weighed religion in the balance and found it wanting. Many atheists are actually quite conversant on matters of religion, having spent some or much of their lives believing in God. It should come as no surprise that many atheists know the Bible better than practicing Christians. It was the Bible that ultimately led them into unbelief and atheism.

So when I hear Evangelical talking heads speak about being atheists before they became Christians, I want them to explain how they are using the word “atheist.” More often than not, they are using the word incorrectly. The word “atheist” is not a placeholder for unbelief. When an Evangelical tells me he was an atheist before becoming a Christian, I want to know exactly how he became an atheist. If he says, oh, I always was an atheist, I then know that he was a NONE and not an atheist. The same goes for people who say they were Evangelicals, became atheists, and then later returned to Evangelicalism. While it is certainly within the realm of possibility for someone to follow such a path, I have a hard time believing someone who says he was a studied atheist, realized the error of his way, and became an Evangelical. Knowing first-hand what goes into someone leaving Evangelicalism and embracing atheism, I can’t imagine someone rejecting all he knows to be true for a belief system that he has already deemed incoherent and false. It leaves me wondering, what is the real reason for returning to the Evangelical cult

Evangelicals-turned-atheists go through great intellectual and psychological struggles before divorcing themselves from Jesus. Rarely do such people have an atheist version of the Evangelical born-again experience; where a person instantaneously goes from unbeliever to believer. Most atheists I know spent months and years deciding whether Christianity was true. And even then, they often didn’t embrace atheism right away. Desperately wanting to hang onto some version of God and life after death, many atheists dabble with liberal/progressive Christianity, Unitarian-Universalism, or other religions before concluding that all extant deities are false gods. In my own personal experience, I stopped numerous times along the slippery slope towards unbelief, hoping that I could find a religion and a God I could live with. Ultimately, I hit bottom, realizing all the deities in the extant panoply of Gods are powerless mythical beings.

The next time a Christians tells you that he was an atheist before Jesus gloriously saved him from his sins, ask him to explain the word atheist to you. Ask him, how and why did you become an atheist? If he can’t give a clear-cut testimony of how he came to a lack of belief in the existence of Gods, then it is likely that he was never an atheist or he was, at best, a cultural atheist (as is the case in some European countries where most people are born into atheist homes or who have never had any form of religious experience).

Some atheists want the attach certain philosophical, political, or social beliefs to the word atheist. I see this happening with social justice issues. Godless social justice warriors demand atheists embrace their causes if they plan on claiming the atheist label. While I agree with them on the issues, I refuse to make adherence to certain political or social issues a litmus test for being a True Atheist®.

I see atheism as a big tent. Yes, most atheists I know are politically liberal/progressive. But I do know a few atheists who are libertarians, and I even know — I shudder to think how it is possible — several atheists who voted for Donald Trump. I must live with the fact that some of my fellow atheists have different political beliefs from mine. We agree when it comes to religion, holy books, and gods, but when it comes to economics, abortion, and the designated hitter rule, our beliefs diverge.

Christians rightly object when ill-informed atheists define Christianity/Evangelicalism differently from the way that the cult members do. The followers of Jesus have every right to define what it means to be a Christian; they have every right to define what their beliefs are. The same respect should be granted atheists. It irritates the Heaven out me when a Christian zealot refuses to allow me to define who and what I am. Among atheists, there’s a common definition of atheism: the lack of belief in the existence of Gods. Any beliefs beyond that do not require atheism. For example, I am a humanist. While many (most?) atheists are humanists, humanism does not require a lack of belief in the existence of Gods. More than a few believers consider themselves Christian humanists or religious humanists. Atheism, then, is simply my belief about the existence of gods. Humanism is the moral and ethical framework by which I govern my life. It is, in effect, my Ten Commandments, my law of God.

I wish Evangelical pastors would invite atheists to their churches to educate congregants about atheism. Far too many Christians are ill-informed about atheism, having only heard what their preachers say on the matter or read what Dr. Rev. Blow Hard says in his polemical rant against atheists (and the same could be said about atheists who are ignorant of Christian doctrine and practice). Atheists, contrary to what Evangelicals have been told, don’t worship Satan, nor do they deny God’s existence just so they can behave immorally. Atheists are not evil God haters who want to imprison Christians and burn down house of worship. The caricature most Evangelicals have of atheists is every bit as mythical as their God.

Have you met Christians who claim they were atheists before getting saved, or who once were Christians but who deconverted and later returned to the faith?  If you are an Evangelical-turned-atheist, how did your pastor define atheism? If you are currently a Christian, how does what you hear from the pulpit about atheists/atheism compare with what I have written here?  Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Bible Says Obey Those Who Have the Rule Over You

hebrews-13-17

Have you ever wondered why many Evangelicals blindly believe and submit to whatever their pastors utter from the pulpit? During the last Presidential election, Donald Trump said “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Candidate Trump is now President Trump, so reasonable people can conclude that tens of millions of Americans, including eighty-two percent of white Evangelical voters, weren’t bothered by his committing-murder comment. Think of all the offal that has fallen from the man’s lips, yet millions of Republicans still think he is a Christian or, at the very least, a man God is using to restore Fundamentalist Christianity to its rightful throne.

These Trump voters are more often than not the same people who bow in reverence to self-appointed men of God; men who say they are called by God to preach and lead churches — yet their calling comes not from a deity, but from their own wants, needs, desires, and that of the churches they pastor. Skeptics wonder why these people don’t see though the con and think for themselves. All any of us needs to do is listen to what these preachers are saying to conclude that they are spouting harmful nonsense. Yet, otherwise intelligent people check their minds at the church door and give themselves over to men who will purportedly teach them truth and provide a blueprint for living. No need to think, just believe. No need to wrestle with questions and doubts, just have faith. Belief and faith, not just in the Christian God and the Protestant Bible, but also the words of pastors and evangelists who are given almost absolute power over congregants.

Evangelical churches are generally pastored by one man. This is especially true in Southern Baptist and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. Some churches have a plurality of pastors (elders), but I have found that despite this plurality, there is always one man who has the final say. Most Evangelical churches have a congregational form of government. This means that the church membership has the final say on how the church is run, including who their pastor will be. The thinking goes, then, that if congregants want a new pastor, all they have to do is vote him out of office. However, rarely is getting rid of a pastor so simple, especially in churches that aren’t part of a denomination. If a church is a member of a particular denomination, the congregants can, if need be, call on denominational leaders to help remove a pastor from office. In independent churches, the congregation has the final say; that is, if the church hasn’t ceded its control to a board of elders or, as is the case in many megachurches, an outside board of directors (much like the corporations such church are patterned after).

Churches have governing documents, one of which is a constitution. The constitution details who is a voting member and how/when votes can be called. If a church wants to dismiss its pastor, it must follow the process detailed in its constitution. Many constitutions state that removing a pastor requires a two-thirds or three-fourths vote of the membership. This high standard makes it hard for congregations to fire their pastor. Even worse, pastors — if they are at a particular church for a long time — will attract loyal church members who will oppose attempts to remove him. The longer a man pastors a church, the harder it is to get rid of him. Over time, he becomes the hub around which everything turns. The pastor is viewed as God’s mouthpiece;  a man called by God to pastor that particular church. Is it any surprise then, that long-tenured pastors tend to become authoritarians?

Baptist pastors, in particular, are fond of talking about pastoral authority — the power by which they control the church. Bruce, I thought Evangelicals were people of the Book; that the Bible was sole rule for faith and practice? It is, and the Bible does indeed grant pastors authoritarian control over their churches.

The Bible says:

And he [God] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11,12)

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. (Romans 13:1)

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:7, 17)

I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth. (1 Corinthians 16:15, 16)

And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12,13)

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be ….One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Timothy 3:1,2,4,5)

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:17-19)

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; (1 Peter 5:1.2)

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

(And yes, I realize these verses can be interpreted many different ways. But this is my sermon, so I decide what these verses mean!)

These verses and others have been interpreted to mean that God-called pastors have rule over the churches they pastor. Church members are obligated to submit to their pastor’s authority. Not doing so is considered rebellion and could bring judgment from God or excommunication. Most often, rebellious congregants are shown the door and told to find a church that meet their “needs.” It is not uncommon to find Evangelical churches that have high membership churn rates. Members who become tired of eating McDonald’s quarter-pounders leave and hit the drive-thru at Wendy’s. And on and on it goes. I pastored people who had been members of numerous churches before they came to one of the churches I pastored. These church-hoppers rarely stay for long. Initially, they will find their new churches to be delightful, but given enough time, they will find faults with their pastors and move on to greener pastures. The one thing that church hoppers never do is consider that they might be the problem. They place blame on the pastor or the congregation, often couching their objections in theological verbiage, but more often than not, they are difficult people or they easily bore.

Most Evangelical churches are a mix of new and old members. The longer someone stays in the church, the more they become conditioned to their pastor’s preaching, teaching, and leadership. This conditioning allows pastors to gain authority over congregants that in any other setting would be considered cultic. When you are taught their entire lives that the man standing behind the pulpit is called by God to deliver divine messages to them, it should come as no surprise that, bit by bit, they surrender their will and critical thinking skills. In time, pastors amass great power and control, and once this happens these leaders can and do muddle the minds of their charges, rendering them powerless to resist.

Worse, many Evangelicals want to be told what to believe and how to live their day-to-day lives. They come to church on Sundays to be inspired and taught the ways of God. This is why, when Evangelicals are quizzed about their beliefs, more often than not they either can’t give an answer or they simply regurgitate the beliefs of their pastor. As a pastor, I was often asked, what does your church believe? I would respond, I don’t know what the church believes. This is what I believe, and it is these beliefs that are the foundation of my preaching and teaching. Most congregants are not going to spend significant time studying the Bible. This does not make them bad Christians. The truth is, pastors have the freedom and luxury to read and study the Bible. Church members have full-time jobs, families, and countless responsibilities that limit the amount time they can devote to theological learning. Thus, most Evangelicals have a theology they have borrowed from their pastors. They know what their pastor knows, and unfortunately many Evangelical pastors are poorly educated. When a man believes God speaks through him, why should he study? When he believes that God puts His words in the pastor’s mouth and all he has to do is speak them, why bother with the words of mere humans? And if members dare to think for themselves and challenge something their pastor has said, they can expect to reminded that Pastor So-and So has authority over what is taught and members are expected to believe as he does or leave.

Church aisles are littered with the bodies of those who dared to challenge the man of God’s authority. Their deaths are their own fault. Don’t they remember their pastor quoting 1 Chronicles 16:22:  Saying, Touch not mine anointed [Hebrew for pastor], and do my prophets [Hebrew for pastor] no harm? Surely, they have heard the Bible story about some children who mocked the prophet Elisha?  2 Kings 2:23, 24 says:

And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

Mess with the man of God, rebellious church members, and God might send bears to eat you alive, just like he did to the children who mocked Elisha. Simply put, mess with the pastor and he will have God fuck you up!

Is it any wonder that many people need therapy and counseling after extricating themselves from Evangelical churches? Those of us who spent most of our lives under the thumbs of authoritarian religious figures often spend years regaining a sense of self-worth. What’s worse for someone such as myself is that I not only was victimized by my pastors and teachers, I was also a victimizer. I taught and practiced what my pastors and professors taught me. I passed on to a new generation the dysfunction of my generation. The only good news in this sordid story, at least for me, is that I got off the crazy train and abandoned the damaging religious nonsense that controlled my mind for almost fifty years. Better late than never, I suppose, but I still lament the fact that I lovingly and sincerely caused untold harm to my family and the churches I pastored. By owning my past, I am in a better position to help people avoid a similar path. While I grudgingly and doubtfully admit that some religious expressions are less harmful than others, I can’t help but think that until the world reaches a place where it no longer has a need for deities, religion will continue to cause harm. This is especially true of Evangelical Christianity. It will be a good day when Fundamentalist Christianity draws its last breath. I will long be dead, but perhaps one of my grandchildren will have the privilege to hold a pillow over the Evangelical God’s face as it struggles to breathe. Good riddance, I say.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Songs of Sacrilege: Goodbye, for Now by Derek Webb

derek webb

This is the one hundred seventy-fourth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Songs of Sacrilege is Goodbye, for Now by Derek Webb. Webb, formerly part of Contemporary Christian Music group Caedmon’s Call, is now an unbeliever.

Video Link

Lyrics

the reason it’s been so long since we talked
i’m not ready to show up and feel nothing
i don’t even feel sad anymore
i’m just always looking for your replacement

i still believe in love
like i believe in just war
i think it’s possible
but maybe just not anymore

so i say goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
so i say goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now

so i’m back in the corner of this bar
just studying a glass and these faces
i’ve been looking for the one i lost
and for eternity in the wrong places

so either you aren’t real
or i am just not chosen
maybe i’ll never know
either way, my heart is broken

as i say goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
as i say goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now

so you left me here to document the slow unraveling
of a man who burned the house down
where he kept everything
excommunication never made much sense to me
like abandonment to demonstrate how you’ll never leave
and yet you say

and i say goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
oh, i say goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now
goodbye, for now

Why It’s Hard for Evangelicals to Change Their Beliefs

goodbye hello

Have you ever wondered why so few Evangelicals walk away from the faith? Have you ever wondered why many Evangelicals leave one toxic, harmful church, only to join another pestiferous church that continues the damage and harm of the previous church? Have you ever wondered why, no matter how much evidence skeptics and atheists provide to the contrary, Evangelicals will still hang on to the belief the Bible is a supernatural book written by a supernatural God; and that no matter how many Bart Ehrman book recommendations former believers make to them, Evangelicals will still cling to Jesus, the old rugged cross, and the empty tomb?

Nellie Smith, a writer for Religion Dispatches and a former Evangelical, recently wrote about why it is almost impossible to argue Evangelicals out of their faith:

And here’s the thing: it was the dissolution of a world. People who didn’t grow up in the American evangelical bubble often don’t realize what they’re demanding when they ask an evangelical to accept a fact that is contradicted by their church’s interpretation of the Bible. To those bought in—excepting, perhaps, that small demographic of Christians who identify as evangelical and are truly progressive—evangelicalism is not a collection of facts. It is an entire reality, based not on logic but on a web of ideas, all of which must be wholeheartedly accepted for any of it to work. It is complete unto itself, self-contained, self-justifying, self-sustaining. It’s your community, your life, your entire way of thinking, and your gauge for what is true in the world. Evangelicalism feels so right from the inside.

And, for an evangelical, there are no small doubts: growing up in many evangelical churches means to be told, repeatedly, that the devil will always seek a foothold, and once you give him one you’re well on the road to hell, to losing your faith, to destroying your witness. That’s scary stuff. To begin to doubt evangelicalism is not simply a mental exercise. For many like me, it’s to feel a void opening, the earth dropping out from beneath you. It’s to face the prospect of invalidating your entire existence.

So know this when you talk to an evangelical: in attempting to persuade them to your point of view—even on a topic that seems minor to you—you’re not asking for them to change their mind, you’re asking them to punch a hole in the fabric of their reality, to begin the process of destroying their world. And, as anyone who has had the experience knows, world-destroying is not fun. It is, frankly, terrifying.

That’s not to say that realities can’t change. Mine did. But few individuals can be argued out of an entire worldview. Realities shift when ideas bloom and ideas are slow and patient, creeping in through unguarded portals and establishing themselves without much fanfare. However well-intentioned you are, bludgeoning people with fact after argument after fact will only entrench them in their position and reinforce a perception of being persecuted by the world.

As Smith said, realities can and do change, but change is hard and the older people become the harder it is for them to abandon their faith.

Many of the readers of this blog were once devoted followers of Jesus, members of sin-hating, Bible-believing, soul-saving Evangelical churches. More than a few of you were once pastors, elders, deacons, evangelists, missionaries, Christian college professors, or Christian school teachers, yet there came a time when you renounced your faith and walked away from Jesus and the church. While scores of church-going Evangelicals deconvert in their teens and twenties, by the time people reach their forties and fifties, it is less likely that they will abandon their faith. I have corresponded with numerous unbelievers in their forties and fifties who still attend church every Sunday. In some instances, these unbelievers are still in the ministry. They no longer believe the Christian narrative, yet they give the appearance that they are tight with Jesus. Why do these faux-saints believe one thing, but say another? I know of several Evangelical churches that are currently pastored by unbelievers. How can these men, week after week, lie and pretend?

Years ago, the secular counselor I see told me that someone walking away from not only Christianity, but their life’s vocation, at the age of fifty is almost unheard of. Why is that? What makes it almost impossible for older Evangelicals to make a one-hundred-eighty degree turn and walk out of the church, never to return?

Imagine, for a moment, how much of my life I invested in Evangelical Christianity. Imagine how many thousands of hours I spent in worship, devotion, and service for the Christian God. Imagine spending thousands of hours studying the Bible and reading Christian tomes. Imagine preaching thousands of sermons and leading numerous souls to Christ. Imagine a life consumed by the things of God. For most of my adult life, I tried my best to follow the teaching of Christ and to lead others to do the same. Yet, almost a decade ago, I abandoned everything I held dear and started what essentially amounted to a new life sans Jesus, the church, and the ministry. Why would anyone blow up his life as I did?

I know that my story is an outlier, that most fifty-year-old preachers stay the course until Jesus takes them home to glory. Most older doubting Thomases bury their doubts and motor on, giving the appearance that they are still one of the faithful. Why? Why not proclaim your unbelief far and wide as I did with a letter titled, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners?

Smith, as I and other former Evangelicals do, views Evangelicalism as a self-contained bubble:

It is an entire reality, based not on logic but on a web of ideas, all of which must be wholeheartedly accepted for any of it to work. It is complete unto itself, self-contained, self-justifying, self-sustaining. It’s your community, your life, your entire way of thinking, and your gauge for what is true in the world. Evangelicalism feels so right from the inside.

Everything makes perfect sense when you are in the bubble. Attacks from the outside are viewed as Satan’s attempt to destroy your faith. I spent almost fifty years in this bubble. My life had design, structure, and order. My calling gave my life purpose and meaning. All of my friends and many family members lived in this bubble too. I was married to a woman who was a lifelong bubble-dweller. Together, we brought six children into the world, and the only life they knew was within the bubble. Life, from a holistic point of view, was grand, exactly as God wanted it to be. And yet, one day, after days, weeks, and months of anguish and heartache, I walked out of the bubble and said, I no longer believe. A short time later, my wife left the bubble too. Over time, our children made their own peace with the past, with each of them going their own way. The good news is that none of them are Evangelicals. The curse has been broken.

In a matter of months, I lost almost everything I held dear: my career, my ministerial connections, and my purpose and direction. Most of all, I lost friendships decades in the making. The losses I suffered were great, and even today I lament all that was lost; not because I want back that which was lost, but because there’s now a huge hole in my life that was once filled by God, Jesus, the church, and the ministry. At my age, I don’t know if I will ever fill this hole. Perhaps the best I can do is shovel in some backfill and construct a bridge that carries me to the other side.

The next time you find yourself frustrated by an Evangelical who refuses to see the “light,” just remember what you are asking him or her to give up. Consider, for a moment, the great price he (or she) will pay if his doubts or loss of faith are publicized. I know what divorcing Jesus cost me, and I would never say to anyone, follow in my steps. While I am convinced that Christianity cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained, I understand why people hang on despite their doubts or loss of faith. Ask yourself, are you willing to lose everything you hold dear? I know I am fortunate in that my wife deconverted when I did and that my children accepted and embraced my abandonment of Christianity. I have corresponded with numerous ex-Evangelicals who lost their marriages and families when they deconverted. When their spouses were asked to choose between them and Jesus, they chose the latter. I know of children who have abandoned an unbelieving mother or father, choosing instead to follow after Jesus. And the same can be said of children who abandon their family’s faith, only to then find themselves excommunicated from their parents’ homes. Evangelicals love to talk about the high cost of being a Christian, but the same can be said for those of us who were once saved and now we are lost.

How old were you when you left Christianity? Did you find it hard to leave the bubble? If your family is still believers, how is your relationship with them? If you had to do it all over again, would you have still left the faith? Or would you have “played the game,” choosing instead to hang on to family and societal connections? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Quote of the Day: The High Cost of Fleeing Fundamentalist Religion by Andreea Nica

 

preaching anti abortion gospel lexington kentucky (3)

According to a recent study, those who have a stable religious or secular identity generally report greater well being; however, those who consider leaving religion but stay, tend to experience poorer mental health over time, compared to those who are more consistent in their religious and nonreligious identities. Which begs the question of how leaving impacts well being—particularly for those raised in a religion.

By now many of us are familiar with the data on the “nones.” Nearly four in ten (39%) young adults (18-29) are religiously unaffiliated, and they’re nearly four times as likely as young adults a generation ago to identify as religiously unaffiliated. The primary reasons are skepticism in the teachings of religion (60%), a less religious upbringing (32%), or issues with religious teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people (29%).

But a subset of these growing religious nones has lacked examination—those who have left fundamentalist religions. Underexplored is how disaffiliation from fundamentalist groups impact family relations and friendships, as well as the stressors involved in ‘coming out’ as a nonbeliever.

Important to clarify, is that strict, fundamentalist, or “high-cost” religious groups have distinct characteristics of absolutism, fanaticism, and conformity. Absolutism means that religious individuals have a high commitment to and willingness to sacrifice on behalf of the religious group’s goals or beliefs; Conformity entails obedience and discipline of religious members; and Fanaticism is conceived of as one-way communication versus a dialogue between leadership and members.

Leaving fundamentalist, strict religions can have negative health consequences, both perceived and actual, that manifest in the body and mind. Research shows that individuals who come out to family members, specifically as an atheist—a strongly stigmatized identity in the U.S., only slightly more popular than Muslims—report that families often react with anger and rejection, as communication deteriorates and distrust grows. While research is somewhat limited on individuals’ experiences leaving religion more broadly, and coming out to family and friends, it’s generally assumed that there are significant stressors involved that impact well being.

I interviewed individuals who left fundamentalist religious groups, or, what I call, ‘exiters,’ and found that they all have complex stories of ‘exiting’ and ‘coming out’ out to their families. These individuals left religion for different reasons, but some common themes included pursuit of personal freedom not found in the religion, shifts in ideological values that put them at odds with religion, and lack of acceptance for who they were or who they wanted to become in their religious communities.

Religious immersion

The ‘exiters’ I interviewed described their experience in religion as immersive, consisting of a significant time commitment, a high degree of participation, and intense involvement.

Heather, a 29-year-old female exiter of evangelical Christianity, explains her religious experience as deeply connected to family and friends in the community:

I was raised in the church, attending services as far back as I can remember. As a child, we would attend Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and mid-week services. As a teenager, I became highly involved in the youth ministry and served on the leadership team, where I continued to attend Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and mid-week services. The church was a significant part of my family’s identity. It was our primary form of community and where I built many lasting friendships.

Lena, a 29-year-old, female, and exiter of The Church Universal and Triumphant, a new age religious cult, echoes:

There were three weekly important Church services of about 2-3 hours each that I attended with my parents. My school was run by the Church so every day was started with a 30-minute services. I took Holy Communion classes every Sunday afternoon for 2 months one summer when I was 8 or 9. There were four major holy events—“Conferences”—when everyone would gather on the main Church campus and spend a week purely in Church praying and listening to the Church leader. On my own, I prayed every night before bed, blessed my food, prayed whenever I was driving in a car, and did rosaries every night for a good 6 or 7 years. I listened to the Church leader on audiotape in the background when doing homework or falling asleep after about 10 years old and the sound of prayer was constant.

Katie, a 34-year-old, female, exiter of a charismatic, non-denominational Christian religious group highlights:

The church services were known for extreme emotional highs. Worship would last several hours and would be used to work the church members into an emotional frenzy. Often people would dance while waving large flags, some would kneel, some would openly cry, some would be seized with uncontrollable laughter. These behaviors were thought to be the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Losing family and friends

A 30-year-old male, former devout member of an evangelical Christian community, as well as former music leader and church staff member, shares his experience leaving religion and coming out as gay. Ted expressed that although most of his family members are no longer religious, his friendships were deeply effected.

I experienced a certain degree of shunning from several very close friends. We still communicate, but they have definitely put a wall between our relationship. They no longer include me as one of their own. I’m familiar with that guarding because I used to put similar walls up with people who were not part of my religious community as well, so I recognized it right away.

Lena described for me coming out as a nonbeliever to family and friends as a gradual process:

I still haven’t come out to my mother though I imagine she suspects or knows…We used to be close and talked every day into my twenties. Now I call her maybe every three months and talk to her for less than 30 minutes. I find that talking to her and hearing the language of the Church in all her sentences produces a great deal of anxiety. I talk to my sister even less. Whenever I speak with my mother at any length she tells me I am on the wrong path…Lots of microaggressions that often devolve into crying. My sister has let me know that she’s given up on me and she hopes someday I wake up. I think she pities me… I told my father never to speak to me again when I was 24 and have had no contact with him since then, though every few years or so I Google his name to see what he is doing.

Lena’s experience coming out to friends shared a similar sentiment with Ted’s narrative:

I have lost contact with an entire friend group of 10 years. I simply stopped contacting them and not a single one of them has reached out to me either by phone or Facebook to see how I am. There were a good 5 people in that friend group that I thought I was very close to, but since I stopped attending Church events, none of them have contacted me though I know they are all still involved in the Church.

Heather describes her coming out as a nonbeliever to family as “difficult and still a work-in-progress” and further explains:

During my several years [in] transition from religious to nonreligious, I didn’t feel comfortable talking about my beliefs with family and friends. Since discussing matters of faith had been a focal point of these relationships (i.e., praying for each other, encouraging each other with scriptures, etc.), my silence created feelings of distance among family members where strong connections used to exist. My mother expressed disappointment that she could no longer pray with me and longingly recalled the days when I would share scriptures and words of encouragement with her.

Katie shares her departure from a charismatic, non-denominational Christian religious group:

In the last two years that I was a Christian, I struggled with depression and panic attacks. I often received prayer and anointing of oil for my depression and panic. I found myself crying at church, not because I was feeling the ecstasy of God, but because I was overwhelmed with the fact that God would not heal me. I tried everything, including paying hundreds of dollars to have one-on-one healing sessions to expel demons and cut demonic ties from and my family’s past sins. These things still didn’t work and I began to have suicidal thoughts, which I eventually admitted to my primary doctor. I was started on anti-depressants, and for the first time in years, I felt happy. My faith was shaken. God didn’t heal me but these pills did. I quit going to church.

Katie’s relational losses echoes others’ narratives:

The majority of my friend network was from my church and when I stopped going to church, my Christian friendships stopped. I just stopped hearing from them, and it was as if I did not exist at all. I lost most of my friends, and that was extremely painful. I realized that the friendships, based on deep spiritual experiences together, had no foundation like a normal friendship did…I was able to come out to friends who had also left their faith, and we were able to create an actual friendship based on our mutual experiences.

….

— Andreea Nica, Religion Dispatches, The Forgotten Nones: The High Cost of Fleeing Fundamentalist Religion, March 12, 2018

I KNOW What Jesus has Done for Me

struggling with faith

Cartoon by David Hayward

Subjectivity:The quality of being based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. An explanation for that which influences, informs, and biases people’s judgments about truth or reality; it is the collection of the perceptions, experiences, expectations, personal or cultural understanding, and beliefs specific to a person.

Objectivity:The state or quality of being true even outside a subject’s individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings. A proposition is generally considered objectively true (to have objective truth) when its truth conditions are met without biases caused by feelings, ideas, opinions, etc., of a sentient subject. A second, broader meaning of the term refers to the ability in any context to judge fairly, without partiality or external influence.

Faith, by design, is inherently subjective. Even the writer of the book of Hebrews understood this, as evidenced by the words found in chapter eleven and verses one and three:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

Hebrew 11 details the faith of Biblical luminaries such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, David, the prophets, and even the wandering children of Israel. Believing these people had great faith requires even more faith because none of them exist outside of the pages of Christian Bible. Hebrews 11 goes on to detail what these people of faith supposedly faced as earthly voices of the one true God:

Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.  Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

I say supposedly, because there’s no evidence outside of the Bible for these things actually happening. Believing them to be true requires faith. And that’s the essence of faith: believing without evidence. Now intellectuals among the faithful love to argue that their faith is reasonable, but I find their arguments unpersuasive. Is it reasonable to believe a man who was cruelly executed on a Roman cross resurrected himself from the dead three days later? Is it reasonable to believe that this same man was born of a virgin, turned water into wine, walked on water, walked through walls, teleported out of the midst of a crowd, healed blindness with spit and dirt, and fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and even fewer fish? Of course not. Believing these things to be true requires faith, a faith that rejects what we know objectively to be true. We know that virgins don’t have babies, water can’t be turned into wine (though my wife wishes this were true), people can’t walk on water or walk through walls, blindness can’t be healed through spit and dirt, and it’s impossible to feed five thousand men, and an unspecified number of women and children with five loaves of Wonder Bread and two perch filet. (Now, Jesus teleporting out of a crowd without being seen; that’s possible. SYFY channel, people. It’s all real.)

Imagine me telling you that over a twenty- or so year period I was beaten almost to death five times by Buddhists, beaten with wood rods by jihadists, stoned by ISIS, and spent thirty-six hours treading water in the Pacific. Not only that, the Chinese attempted to arrest me in Hong Kong, but I escaped by climbing over a wall. Would you believe my story? Of course not. A reasonable person would ask for some sort of corroborating evidence. Live long enough and you learn that when a story sound too good/bad to be true, it is likely a lie.

Yet, when a similar tale is told by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11, countless Christians believe it to be true:

Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. … In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.

The Apostle Paul knew that readers would doubt his story, so he offered up proof for its truthfulness. Are you ready for some mind-blowing truth? Here it is: The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.

God knows I am not lying.  Paul’s Sunday night testimony is absurd, and most reasonable people would reject it as the rantings of a man who has spent too much time in the third heaven. You know you are in trouble when you have to call a mythical God as your witness. Yet, is this not what countless Evangelicals do when they argue that they know God/Jesus/Christianity is true because of what they have experienced in their lives? God did it, they say. Just ask him! Pray tell, how is this any different from Elwood P. Dowd’s six-foot three-and-half-inch tall pooka friend, Harvey the rabbit?

Dowd believed Harvey was real, taking him to the bar for drinks and even introducing him to his friends. Dowd even believed that Harvey had the power to stop time:

Did I tell you he could stop clocks? Well, you’ve heard the expression ‘His face would stop a clock’? Well, Harvey can look at your clock and stop it. And you can go anywhere you like, with anyone you like, and stay as long as you like. And when you get back, not one minute will have ticked by. You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space, but any objections.

What an awesome, science/reason defying rabbit, right? Maybe we should start a religion.

Harvey existed only in Dowd’s mind. He believed Harvey was real, so that means Harvey existed — even though no one actually saw him. Dowd rightly ended up in an insane asylum, yet when Evangelicals make similar claims about their God and religion, they are considered fine, upstanding citizens, every bit as rational as hardcore skeptics and rationalists.

The world has a collective cognitive dissonance when it comes to deities and religion. Instead of objectively examining and testing religious claims, billions of people accept them at face value. By faith, they just believe these things to be true. The United States is one of the most religious country on Earth. While the U.S. is religiously diverse, Christianity is the primary belief system of most Americans. Approximately one out of four Americans claim he or she is Evangelical. Ponder that for a moment — one out of four. In some places, such as where I live in rural Northwest Ohio, the percentage of Evangelicals is even higher yet. This is why a century of scientific knowledge has done little to change the minds of Americans about evolution. Three-fourths of Americans either believe God created the universe pretty much as it is described in Genesis 1-3 (creationism), or God used evolution to bring our biological world to life (theistic evolution). For hundreds of millions of Americans, when it comes to understanding the world they live in, they are content to say, God did it!

I recently had a brief discussion with an Evangelical man who wanted to know how and why I no longer believe in God. This man wanted me to know that his relationship and experiences with the Jesus were real. Here’s some of what he wrote:

I am not being critical. I am talking from a heart of simple faith in my life. I became a Christian in 1979 as a young boy running away from home. I had never been to church, my parents had never been to church. I sat in class during a bible lesson and had the most incredible encounter, which at that stage I had no clue what it was. Today, I know it had to have been the Holy Spirit. I went home that day, sat on my bed, Gave my life to Christ and have never looked back.

Since then I have had the most incredible experience of Christ’s love, forgiveness, prophecies and jobs through prophecy and leading in Christ. I have seen live [sic] transformed in him.

I am now 55, serving in a Christian school and seeing lives touched. Kids from broken homes, destitute families, youngster in very difficult situations being healed. This is not a hyped experience. Our school has seen raped young girls have coming to incredible healing under Christ, girls wanting to abort their babies, deciding not to and producing awesome children and loving them, boys abused and abusers who have turned their lives around because of the love they have found in Christ and testimonies of students from our school who are making a difference in their work place because of their faith. We do not have extensive bible programs, bible lessons, etc…but simple faith in Christ.

….

For whatever has happened in your life, I know what I have received in Christ. Maybe for me it has to do with the fact that I truly met Christ, not in a Church, that I have a personal experience of His touch.

I politely responded to the man, and a short time later he sent me this:

Thanks for the honest reply. I have read some of the articles already [I sent him links to several posts, along with a link to the WHY page] . Every single article I have already read still does not disprove or prove the existence of God to me. The only proof of God to me is what I have experienced in Him.

The bible of course makes no sense in many areas! That’s what makes it so tangible for me. Only an idiot would write such rubbish trying to lead someone to believe in him regarding faith, what’s in the bible, the “stories” etc…… , unless that idiot happened to be God who knows infinitely more than I could ever understand. I cannot presume to know God’s thoughts behind what was written in the sometimes seemingly ridiculous writing’s. That’s okay for me.

Once again all I can answer to is my own experience. I have experienced Him personally.

If I am wrong in my belief then I have lived an incredible life of serving others, in my opinion, to a better life where they can live in peace (referring back to the lives I have seen transform from despair to hope). If I am right in my belief in God’s word and plan then I spend eternity with him. What you call life “anecdotes” based on scientific principles I call awesome God events. It is a matter of choice. One of us is going to be wrong at the end of the day. I think I would rather be in my shoes. That however is a matter of personal opinion.

This Evangelical man knows that what he believes is true through emotional, subjective experiences. Essentially, he is saying, I know I am right because I know I am right, no proof needed. I assume he believes that there is only one true God — the Evangelical Christian God — and that all other Gods are false. But people of others faiths have similar experiences. Shouldn’t their beliefs be accepted at face value? If this man expects me to accept his claims without evidence, shouldn’t he do the same for people who worship Gods other than his?

I appreciate this man being honest about the Bible:

The bible of course makes no sense in many areas! That’s what makes it so tangible for me. Only an idiot would write such rubbish trying to lead someone to believe in him regarding faith, what’s in the bible, the “stories” etc…… , unless that idiot happened to be God who knows infinitely more than I could ever understand. I cannot presume to know God’s thoughts behind what was written in the sometimes seemingly ridiculous writing’s.

you might be wrong

Only an idiot would write such rubbish, he said. Now, that’s an objective statement if there ever was one. Believing the fantastical claims in the Bible requires the suspension of rationality and critical thinking skills. The only way to believe the Bible is true is to faith-it. Remember what I said earlier? That when a story sounds too good/bad to be true, it is likely a lie. The Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is the greatest lie ever told. At best, it is a historical novel; a work of fiction interspersed with enough historical facts to give it a sense of believability. Until Evangelicals understand this, there is little that can be done to reach them. No matter what I told the aforementioned man, he was going to continue to believe; he’s going to continue to believe that he has had and continues to have a supernatural encounter with a supernatural God (much like being probed by aliens while you sleep); he’s going to continue to believe that God speaks to him; he’s going to continue to believe that his life’s story was written by God from time immemorial; he’s going to continue to believe that the Bible is a supernatural inerrant text written by a supernatural God, and given to fallible humans so they can know how to live their lives (without any updates or corrections for two thousand years).

But, Bruce, you were once an Evangelical. My God, man, you were even a pastor for twenty-five years! You changed your mind and now you are an atheist. See, people can and do change! Sure, I changed my beliefs concerning God, Jesus, Christianity, and religion in general. Many of the thousands of people who read this blog have done the same. But, change is hard, and the first step towards change is admitting that you possibly could be wrong. It wasn’t until I considered that maybe, just maybe Rev. Bruce Gerencser was wrong, that my mind was ready to know the truth (not in an absolute sense, but the truth about Christianity in particular). Once my mind was open to the possibility of errancy, both on God’s part and mine, I was then able to begin the journey I am still on to this day.

For a time, faith kept me from openly and honestly considering my fallibility. What if you are wrong? my inner Bruce said. Most ex-believers went through times when their lives were like a game of Pong. Conditioned by church/pastor-induced fear, it’s hard for Evangelicals to even ponder not being who and what they are. After all, thoughts of eternal torture in a pit of brimstone and fire will do that to you. I frequently receive emails from people who recently deconverted, yet are having what I call a God hangover. They objectively know that they are right about God and Christianity, but a lifetime of religious conditioning causes them to fear. This fear is palatable, and can cause great emotional unrest. Evangelicals, of course, say that such feelings are God trying to woo us back to himself. The Holy Spirit is saying, don’t doubt. I am real. God is real. Jesus is real. Everything the Bible says is true! Of course, these thoughts and feelings are not God at all. They are vestiges of a former life, and over time they will go away, never to be remembered again. Once our minds are open to objective rational thought, there is no going back. The proverbial horse has left the barn, never to return.

Let’s go trail riding.

A Relationship Gone Bad

burning house

A guest post by Ian

Music plays a large part in my life. It is something that evokes my strongest memories and feeling. This morning, I had the song Funhouse, by Pink, running through my head.

Suddenly, the lyrics hit me, and I realized that they were appropriate for those of us who are ex-evangelicals — wherever we are at in the process.

She is singing about a relationship that has gone bad. Our relationship with evangelicalism has gone bad. Maybe not with God or the people we worship with, but with the thought process and constraints of those religious practices.

Now, we are breaking away from the abusive state we were in. We were told we were happy and all was good. Finally, we understand that all was not well.

Here’s the chorus:

This used to be a funhouse 

But now it’s full of evil clowns

It’s time to start the countdown

I’m gonna burn it down, down, down

I’m gonna burn it down

I can think of a lot of evil clowns that I have known through the years. I’ve been working on burning down those constraining walls for several years. I don’t know if they will ever be gone, but they are nowhere near what they used to be.

The song is worth a listen with the thought of getting away from poisonous religion in mind.

Video Link

Bruce, If God Isn’t Real, Who is to Blame for Your Life as a Pastor?

never question god

My recent post titled Dear Jesus, I Want a Refund has really made a mark and is getting a lot of attention. As I pondered what I had written, I thought about what questions people might ask me. This post is an attempt to answer one of the questions that came to mind: Bruce, If God Isn’t Real, Who is to Blame for Your Life as a Pastor?

The Dear Jesus post is written from the perspective that Jesus is God, and that he is alive and well somewhere in the Christian God’s heaven. Now, I don’t believe that to be true, but I wrote the post from that perspective because it allowed me to share with readers the emotional struggles I have faced coming to terms with how I lived my life as a devout, committed pastor. Dear Jesus allows readers to see my struggles and perhaps, in doing so, it might help them to understand their own battles with the past.

Let me be clear, I am an atheist. Anyone suggesting otherwise has failed to understand my story. If you happen to be one such doubting Thomas, I would love to know what in my journey leads you to conclude that I am not what I claim to be. Over the years, countless Evangelicals have attempted to cast doubt, suggesting that I am still a Christian; that deep down in my heart of hearts I still believe; that my writing reveals that I still yearn for a relationship with Jesus. None of these things, of course, is true. Who knows me better than yours truly? So, when I say I am an atheist, I am telling the truth. There’s no ulterior motive here, neither is there a yearning for the good old days when me are J.C. were best buds. These days, the only bud I want grows on a leafy green plant.

Ultimately, I am to blame for the decisions I made during my years as a Christian and as an Evangelical pastor. All of us are responsible for the choices we make. The issue then, is what influenced my decision-making? Why did I make these decisions? God, of course, had nothing to do with it — he doesn’t exist. Yet, for fifty years I believed God was speaking to me, directing my life, and leading me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. If God wasn’t speaking to me, who or what were the voices I heard? If it wasn’t God impressing on my mind certain Bible verses or decisions, who was?

I grew up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) home. I was raised by parents who believed, at least outwardly, that the Christian deity was the one true God and the Bible was his revealed will for mankind. The Gerencser family attended church every time the doors were open. This stopped for the rest of my family when my parents divorced. I was fifteen at the time. Unlike my family, I continued on in the faith, attending church every time the doors were open. I believed every word in the Bible was the words of God. I believed in a God who was personally and intimately involved in my life. My parents may have forsaken the way, but I was determined to stay the course. Church friends from my high school days will tell you that I was a true-blue believer, as will my heathen friends whom I attempted to evangelize.

From my preschool years forward, my mind was bombarded with sermons and Sunday school lessons. By the time I was eighteen, I had heard almost four thousand Evangelicals sermons and lessons. Those whom I listened to had several motivations. First, they wanted to lead me to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Second, they wanted to teach me the way, truth, and life found within the pages of the King James Bible. Third, they wanted to indoctrinate me in the one true faith. Week after week and year after year, these promoters of what they believed was the old-time religion assaulted my mind with Biblical “truth.” They wanted to make sure that I was steadfast in the faith, and that when I entered the “world” my faith would stand; and it did until I was fifty years old.

At the age of fifteen, I believed God spoke to me, saying that he wanted me to be a preacher. At the age of nineteen, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was known as a première IFB preacher training school (and it was cheaper than many other IFB schools). While there, I met a pretty dark-haired girl who believed God had spoken to her too. God wanted Polly to be a pastor’s wife. Both of us had minds open wide for whatever it was these great men of God were going to teach us. And for three years, our minds were pummeled with preaching and teaching that only reinforced the beliefs we entered college with.

This is not to say that I was blind to the contradictions that surrounded me; not textual contradictions, but failures of preachers and teachers to practice what they preached. During my three years at Midwestern I noticed that there was a do as I say, not as I do mentality. Girls weren’t allowed to wear slacks, but the college president’s wife and daughters were allowed to do so as long as they were away from the college. The president’s youngest daughter was permitted to single-date, while the rest of the single students were required to double-date. Dating students were not allowed to physically touch each other; that is, unless they were in one of the college’s Shakespearean productions. Then touching, kissing, and even cursing was permitted. Students were not permitted to listen to secular music, yet at the annual Valentine’s banquet, secular songs such as I’m on the Top of the World by the Carpenters were performed by college students. Silly stuff, right? But there were serious contractions too. One of the teachers was a homosexual. He lived in the dorm and often had students as his “roommates.” Homosexuality was considered a sin above all sins, yet the college administration turned a blind eye to this man’s “sin.”

During my sophomore year, a huge scandal broke out. The college basketball coach and drama department chair had an affair with the wife of the college dean. The matter was quietly and discreetly handled, with the offenders being dismissed from their jobs. Not one word was said to the student body. Gossip and complaining (griping) were swiftly and severely punished. After three years at Midwestern — having experienced and seen behaviors that were contrary to the company line — you would think that I would have had doubts about Christianity. Sadly, I didn’t. I developed a people are people approach to moral and ethical failures. The Devil and the flesh were the problems, not God and the Bible.

I left Midwestern in the spring of 1979 with a pregnant wife in tow. My faith was stronger than ever, and I was ready to make my mark as a God-called, spirit-filled preacher of the gospel. Over the course of the next four decades, my beliefs and practices would change, but my commitment to God endured. While I considered myself a progressive when I left the ministry in 2005, I still believed the basic tenets of Christianity were true.

When I look back over my life, the only conclusion I can come to when attempting to understand why I made certain decisions is that I had been deeply and thoroughly indoctrinated by Evangelical preachers and teachers. Even as a pastor, I continued to immerse myself in books that validated my beliefs. I attended conferences and special meetings that only reinforced my beliefs. Worse yet, I took my beliefs and passed them on to thousands of other people; people who saw me as a man of God; people who believed my sermons and teachings were straight from God; people who wanted someone to stand between them and God and tell them what to believe and how to live. That the churches I pastored prospered (until they didn’t) was evidence of God’s blessing. This was especially true during the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Southeast Ohio.

The question then, based on how I was raised and what I was taught in the churches I attended and as a college student, how could I have turned out any other way? If I were to psychoanalyze myself, I suspect I would conclude that the church became stand-in for my parents after my mom and dad divorced. I would also likely conclude that Evangelicalism fed my perfectionist, OCPD tendencies. I had a deep-seated need to be right. I also had a need to be wanted, loved, and respected. The ministry gave me all these things.

So yes, the decisions I made as an Evangelical pastor were mine, but they were not made in a vacuüm. The only way to understand how and why I made the decisions I did, including the ones the harmed me personally and my family, is to view them from a sociological or environmental perspective. The sum of my experiences affected how and why I made certain decisions. The decisions were mine, of course, but now you know why I made these choices (ignoring here, for now, discussions about whether any of us has free will).

My Christian faith rested on a Bible foundation. I believed the Bible was a supernatural book written by a supernatural God.  The Bible was God’s roadmap or blueprint for my life and the lives of my wife and children. It was only when I learned that the Bible was not what Evangelicals claim it is that my Christian house came tumbling to the ground. Once I understood that the Bible was written by fallible, errant men, and that it was not in any way inspired, inerrant, or infallible, I was then free, for the first time, to seriously and thoroughly investigate the claims of Christianity. And when I did, I found out that the emperor had no clothes, and that the wizard behind the screen was self, not God. Understanding this ripped my life to shreds, forcing me to rebuild it from the ground up. Every former belief and presupposition was investigated and tossed aside. At the age of fifty, I was forced (or better put, had the opportunity) to build my life anew. I am blessed to have my wife and children walking along with me as I find my way through this wild, woolly world. My writing is my way of helping those who may be where I once was or who have recently exited the cult. I am not an expert or an authority, but I am one man who knows that it is possible to live a wonderful, abundant, satisfying life post-Jesus. I hope, by telling my story, that people will see that a good life is possible without all the religious baggage. And sleeping in on Sundays? Priceless….

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Dear Jesus, I Want a Refund

dear-jesus-i-want-a-refund

Dear Jesus,

I was five-years-old when I remembered praying to you for the first time. My mother expressed to me the importance of praying every night before I went to bed, and for the next forty-five years, not a day went by that I didn’t bow my head, close my eyes, and utter one or more prayers to you. All told, I prayed tens of thousands of prayers, each uttered with sincerity and faith, believing that you, Jesus, would answer them.

For most of my life I believed, Jesus, that the Bible was your words — the Words of God. I believed you were a kind, loving, compassionate God who had my best interests at heart. When I prayed, I believed that you would answer my petitions according to your will, purpose, and plan for my life. There were times, Jesus, when you answered my prayers right on the spot, and other times when you answered after a short season of trial and testing. But most of the time, my prayers to you went unanswered. I wondered, did I say the wrong words or ask for the wrong things? Why, when it came to big-ticket prayers of life and death proportions, did you never say a word? I prayed and prayed and prayed, and all I got from you was silence.

As I read through the pages of the Bible, I came across promises you made to me and my fellow Christians. If we would have faith the size of a mustard seed — that’s a really small seed, Jesus, just in case you’ve forgotten its size — we could move mountains. You promised that your followers would do greater works than you, yet I never raised the dead, healed the sick, or fed five-thousand people with three Big Macs and a large order of French fries. Every dying person died, despite my prayers. Every sick person either died, stayed the same, or got better. Those who got better had doctors, nurses, and medications to thank, not you, Jesus. Yes, a lot of those sick people did give you credit for their healing, but everyone knew that without modern medicine they would have died. We all kept silent about this, not wanting to ruin your reputation.

I also read where you said that you would be with me through thick and thin; that you would never, ever leave or forsake me. Yet, why were you nowhere to be found during the darkest moments of my life? I wept countless tears, Jesus, calling out to you, begging you to please come to my rescue. I was devoted to you, an on-fire, sold-out preacher of the gospel. I lived and breathed the gospel. I tried my best to live according to what you said in the Bible, even when I found some of your sayings to be perplexing, stupid, or hard. Despite my devotion, you ignored me, choosing instead to help countless Christian grannies find their car keys or hearing aids. What gives, Jesus?

From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, I read about a hands-on God who was intimately involved with his creation, including with Bruce Duane Gerencser. I am the only Bruce Duane in the world, so I know you couldn’t have confused me with someone else. Verse after verse — your words, remember? — made promises to me. Surely, God keeps his promises, right?  And the biggest promise of all was the one where you promised that when I died I would receive a new/perfect body and spend eternity living in the snazziest city ever built — the New Jerusalem. Granted, no one has ever come back to earth to tell us what lies beyond the grave, but, hey, you are Jesus, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Surely, whatever the Bible says is true. You wouldn’t have just been making stuff up, would you?

All told, Jesus, I spent fifty years in the Christian church. Twenty-five of those years were spent gathering up disciples for you. I devoted my life to you, forsaking my family and harming my health. Hundreds and hundreds of people punched their tickets to heaven in the churches I pastored. While my colleagues in the ministry were busy golfing, taking vacations, or banging their secretaries, I was preaching on street corners, planting churches, and doing all I could to win the lost. Even when I decided you were a Calvinist, Jesus, I still did what you commanded me to do: work while it is yet day, for night comes when no man can work. Even though I knew that you had predetermined through some sort of divine lottery who would and wouldn’t go to Heaven when they died, I didn’t know who got the winning tickets, so I treated everyone as a potential golden ticket winner.

For most of my life, I lived in poverty, rarely making enough money to provide for the needs of my family. You told me, Jesus, that I would never have to beg for food, so it was good that Food Stamps didn’t count, right? The Gerencser family never missed a meal, but I do wonder: which of our meals did you provide? I worked and my wages helped buy groceries. For a few years, we received Food Stamps and made ample use of government food stuffs. And on more than a few occasions, kindly church members gave us groceries. It seems, to me anyway, Jesus, that you didn’t have a hand in feeding us. I know that you take credit for the sunshine and rain that causes crops to grow, but everyone now knows, Jesus — thanks to science — that you have nothing to do with where food comes from. Maybe, you should take those verses out of the Bible. Taking credit for something you didn’t do is lying. You don’t want to be a liar, do you?

My wife and I gave thousands and thousands of dollars to you Jesus, just like you commanded us to do. We gave tithes, offerings above the tithe, mission offerings, and revival offerings, along with giving money, cars, clothing, and food to people you told me to help. You never told Polly to do any of this giving, but she trusted that you and I were on good speaking terms. I wonder if I should tell her the truth, Jesus? Should I tell her that all those times I said you were talking to me, leading me, or prompting me, it was really just me doing what I wanted to do; that I wanted to help others, even if it meant hurting my wife and children?

You told me in the Bible, Jesus, that all my giving was being recorded and that every dollar I gave on earth was being stored in Heaven’s First National Bank of New Jerusalem; that someday, once I arrive at my heavenly mansion, I will have vast treasures at my disposal. I wonder, Jesus, would it be possible for me to get a refund? Since you never answered my prayers about my health problems, I have had to deal with chronic pain and illness. Twenty years now, Jesus, with no end in sight. I now know that you are never going to do what you promised you would do. The least you can do, then, is make a wire transfer from my Heavenly account to First Federal Bank of the Midwest, account number 6666666. I have lots of medical bills to pay, and now that my wife is having her own health problems, it would sure be nice if you would refund all the money I’ve deposited in your bank.

Bruce, Bruce, Bruce. Yes, Lord. I can’t give you a refund. Imagine what would happen if Christians everywhere started asking for refunds. Why, there would be a run on the bank and before you knew it, I would be penniless. How will I be able to give all my followers rewards and gift cards on judgment day if I refund everyone’s money? Besides, didn’t you read in the Bible where it says, ALL SALES ARE FINAL? Where does it say that, Jesus? Well, you kind of have to read between the lines. Remember when I was dying on the cross — for YOUR sins, by the way? Remember what I said? It is FINISHED! That’s Greek for ALL SALES ARE FINAL.

Thanks for nothing, Jesus. I hope you won’t mind if I let everyone know that not only are you a liar, but you also are a hoarder; that any monies dropped in church offering plates will disappear into the heavens; that any requests for financial help will be met with silence.

Thanks for nothing, Jesus

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

How “Thirsting” for God Led to Dehydration and Almost Killed Me

thirsting for god

I grew up in churches that believed Christians were to give their hearts, souls, and minds to God. Followers of Christ were implored to lay their lives on the altar and give everything to Jesus. The hymn I Surrender All aptly illustrated this:

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

Refrain:
I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Humbly at His feet I bow;
Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power,
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Now I feel the sacred flame;
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

“I surrender my life to you, Jesus,” I often prayed. “I’ll say what you want to say, do what you want me to do, and go where you want me go.” Jesus commanded his followers to take up their cross and follow him. Those who were unwilling to do so were not his disciples. The book of First John had this to say about what Jesus expected of people who said they were Christians:

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:3,4)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:6-10)

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John 4:7,8)

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4,5)

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. (1 John 5:18)

If these verses are taken literally, one thing seems clear: most people who profess to be Christians are what some preachers call “professors and not possessors.” These people have prayed a prayer and embraced cultural Christianity, but they know nothing of True Salvation®. These verses, taken at face value, show that God sets an impossible standard of living.

Evangelical pastors have all sorts of explanations for these verses:

  • There are two classes of Christians: spiritual and carnal. Both are saved, but carnal Christians still live according to the dictates of the “flesh.” Carnal Christians are “babies” in Christ. Readers might remember that this is how some Trump-supporting Evangelicals justified the President’s un-Christian lifestyle. He is just a babe in Christ who needs to mature in the faith, these pastors said. Thus, spiritual people will live according to these verses, and carnal Christians won’t.
  • People become Christians by believing a set of propositional truths. What truths must be believed vary from sect to sect. After they are saved, these newly minted Christians are encouraged to attend church every time the doors are opened, tithe, pray, give offerings above the tithe, study the Bible, give to the building fund, and follow the church’s teachings. Not doing these things will result in a lack of blessing from God in the present and a lack of future rewards in Heaven. Once people mentally assent to the gospel and pray to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, they are forever saved. (This is why some Evangelicals believe I am still a Christian.) These verses are a lofty goal Christians should strive to achieve, but if they don’t, no worries, they are still saved.
  • Saved people have two natures: the spirit and the flesh. The spirit cannot sin, but the flesh can. The verses that talk about not sinning refer to the spirit, not the flesh. Christians still sin in the flesh, but the spirit is sin-free.
  • These verses must be interpreted in ways that give them nuance, harmonizing them with the rest of Scripture. It’s hard to not conclude with this approach to these verses, that what pastors are saying is that God didn’t mean what he said.
  • These verses are to be taken literally. The Bible commands us to die to self, crucify the flesh, etc. Salvation is conditional. Do these things and thou shalt liveDon’t do these things and you will perish and go to hell. No one can know for sure if he or she is saved. Calvinists say that followers of Christ must endure to the end to be saved. And even then, God, on judgment day, will be the ultimate judge of whether a person’s good works reached the enter into the joy of the Lord (Heaven) level.
  • Some Christians believe that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in people’s lives the moment they are saved, but that there is a separate, special baptism or infilling of the Spirit that can take place at a later date. Often called being baptized with Spirit or a second definite work of grace, those who receive this second filling of the Holy Spirit live lives wholly consecrated to God. Some Christians believe in what is called entire sanctification — a state of sinless perfection. People who are entirely sanctified no longer sin. When doubters point out certain less-than-Christian behaviors by the sanctified, they are often told these bad behaviors are mistakes, not sins.

thirsting for god 3

I spent much of my Christian life seeking to love Jesus with all my heart, soul, and mind. I didn’t know, at the time, that there’s no such thing as a heart or a soul, but I took the commands to live this way as saying that I was to give everything to Jesus. I was to die to worldly pleasures and desires. I was to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. My desires, wants, and needs didn’t matter. All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give, I told myself. My life belonged wholly to God, and he had the right to do whatever he wanted with me. I was, as the Apostle Paul said, God’s slave.

Add to these beliefs my conviction that the Bible is the very words of God and that I had an intimate relationship with God where I talked to him (in prayer) and he talked back to me (through the Holy Spirit), it is not surprising that my life was in a state of constant turmoil. Peace? How could I have peace when there were sins to be confessed and eradicated. Remember, Evangelicals believe that all of us of daily sin in thought, word, and deed. Unlike Catholics who seemly to only sweat the big stuff, Evangelicals believe any thought, word, or behavior that does not conform to teachings of the Bible (and the leadership of the Holy Spirit) is a sin. Jesus, himself, taught this when he said in Matthew 5:28, But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Imagine how difficult life was for me when virtually everything I did in life was potentially a sin. Worse yet, I had to judge my motives for doing anything. Giving $50 to a homeless person was considered an act of compassion, but if I gave the money so people would think well of me, I had sinned against God. And then there were sins of commission and omission. Not only could thoughts, words, and deeds be sins, but failing to do something could be a sin too. Murdering someone was certainly was a sin, but so was not trying to stop abortion doctors from murdering zygotes (Greek for babies).

What I have written above about my spiritual quest can be summed up this way: I had a thirst for God. I needed God more than anything. I wanted his presence and power in my life. I read Christian biographies of great men who were devotes seekers God, men such as Hudson Taylor, E.M. Bounds, C.T. Studd, John Wesley, David Brainerd, D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Adoniram Judson, George Whitfield, George Muller, Nate Saint, and Jim Elliot. These stories stirred a yearning in me that, for many years, could not be quenched.

Of course, living this way is impossible, despite what preachers might tell you. Trust me, there’s not a preacher on earth, dead or living, who met the mark.  But Bruce, what about the Christian biographies that suggest otherwise. Like all biographies, Christian ones are an admixture of truth and fiction. Unfortunately, Evangelicals only want to hear stories about winners; stories about people who were victorious; stories about people they could aspire to be. The recent death of Billy Graham has brought out all sorts of fantastical stories about the barely human Graham. Much like the Beatles decades ago, Graham has been made out to be bigger than Jesus. For those of us who don’t buy the Graham myth, we know the rest of the story. All we need to do is look at his two children, Franklin Graham and Anne Graham Lotz. Both of them are hateful, mean-spirited, caustic Fundamentalists. Where did their beliefs come from? The notion that Billy was not a Fundamentalist is laughable.

It took me until I was in my 40s before I realized that striving for holiness and perfection was a fool’s errand; that no matter how much I devoted myself to God and the ministry, my life was never going to measure up. Decades of denying self had destroyed my self-worth. Jesus was preeminent in my life, but Bruce was nowhere to be found (and my wife, Polly, could tell a similar story). I spent a decade trying to be a “normal’ Christian, but I still battled with thoughts about not doing enough for the cause of Christ; not doing enough to win souls; not doing enough to advance God’s kingdom to the ends of the earth. By the time I left the ministry in 2005, a lifetime of thirsting for God had led to dehydration and almost killed me. I have no doubt that my commitment to serving God day and night; to burning the candle at both ends; to working while it is yet day, for night is coming when no man can work, played a part in my declining health. And, at some level, I knew this, but I told myself, it’s better to burn out than rust out.

Come November, it will be ten years since I walked away from Christianity; ten years since Jesus and I divorced; ten years since I realized that the Bible was not what Christians claim it is; ten years since I concluded that the Christian narrative was false. Once the Bible was no longer central in my life, I was forced to build, from the ground up, a new moral and ethical framework. This, of course, required me to abandon or set aside the countless beliefs, commands, and laws that had governed my life for fifty years. Most of all, I had to find the life that had been swallowed up by God, the Bible, and the ministry. Somewhere along the way, Bruce Gerencser died, and I had to find where and start over. I had to answer two crucial questions: who are you and what are you?  For a few years, this process was quite painful, and without regular counseling sessions with a secular psychologist, I doubt that I would have been able to undergo it. Not that I have, in any way, arrived. I am still reconnecting with who I really am. I am still learning about my emotions; emotions that I had, at one time, surrendered to Jesus by laying them at the foot of his cross.

Rebooting your life at age fifty isn’t easy, as anyone who has done so will tell you. This is why most people who leave Christianity do so at much younger ages. By the time one reaches one’s fifties, it is hard to abandon a lifetime of beliefs, practices, and experiences. On one hand, I felt, and continue to feel, a great sense of freedom. I am now free from the bondage of religion. Much like the Israelites and their flight from the bondage of Egypt to the Promised Land, my Promised Land journey has been fraught with uncertainty and doubt. I wish I had come to the light decades before, but crying over what might what have been accomplishes nothing. I live in the here and now. My present life is all I have, and once it is gone, that’s it. No heaven, no hell, no afterlife. This is why I encourage people who leave Christianity to focus on the here and now. Evangelicals are fond of saying, only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. For the atheist, this little ditty goes this way: only one life, twill soon be past, and once it’s past you’re dead, so you best get to living.

In 2008, I was psychologically dehydrated, near death. It was only when I realized I was doing this to myself that I began to find strength and healing. I remain a work in progress. I will never arrive, but as the old gospel song says, I’ve come too far to turn back now. This blog will remain one man telling his story; a running biography of my former life as a Christian and my present journey as an atheist and a humanist. I have a story to tell, a story of death and resurrection. Thank you for continuing to walk along with me.