Tag Archive: Leaving Christianity

Jose Maldonado Says I Never Was a Christian

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner 1994

Jose Maldonado. Bruce Gerencser, Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church

Bruce Gerencser again says, “Since I do not believe the Bible to be the Word of God, and I no longer embrace the beliefs and teachings of the Christian faith, I am no longer a Christian. My deconversion came at the moment where I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believed the Bible to be the word of God.” He has consciously sealed his doom!

Pastor Jose Maldonado, from 2010 Sermon Series about Bruce Gerencser

Jose Maldonado is the pastor of Hillburn Drive Grace Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. I met Joe in 1993 when I preached at  the annual Sovereign Grace Bible conference held at Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. In the fall of 1993, Jose came to Ohio with Pat Horner, pastor of Community Baptist. The purpose of their visit was to hold a Sovereign Grace Bible Conference at the church I was pastoring, Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio.

In late October of 1993, Horner called me and asked me to consider coming to Elmendorf to help him pastor Community. After a week or so of “seeking” the will of God on the matter, I turned his offer down. Several weeks later, in what can only be described as an emotional breakdown that I called, at the time, God speaking to me, I changed my mind, and in March of 1994, I packed up my family and we moved to Elmendorf, Texas.

In 2010, thanks to a member of Community Baptist Church alerting people about my defection from the faith, Maldonado preached a four-part sermon series about my deconversion. What follows is a short audio clip from Maldonado’s sermons. Enjoy!

If you have the stomach for it, you can listen to Apostasy and It’s Awful Consequences! on the Sermon Audio website.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

If you would like to read the sermons and not listen to them, here are PDF transcriptions of the sermons.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

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Why I Retired from the Ministry

i quit

What follows is a post I wrote detailing the reasons why I retired from the ministry in 2005. When I wrote this I had not yet declared myself an atheist/agnostic. As you will see, I was still clinging ever so precariously to my Christian beliefs.

Originally written in 2008. Slightly edited and corrected.

I am often questioned about why I retired from the ministry. I started preaching as a teenage boy and I pastored my first church at age 24. Since then I have pastored churches in Ohio, Texas and Michigan, with my last pastorate being in 2003 (I candidated for several churches in 2005). I have been married over 30 years and I have spent my entire married life in the ministry.

Acquaintances, family and friends are often miffed about why I walked away from the ministry. Why quit preaching? I am often asked. Surely there’s a church somewhere for you to pastor? Surely you still “want” to pastor? If God called you how can you walk away from his calling?

Good questions and quite frankly I have more questions these days than I do answers. What follows is my attempt to shed some light on the “why” question.

Why did I retire from the ministry?

  • I retired because the word retire is a better word than quit. I don’t want to be known as a quitter. I was told my whole life by my peers that God hates quitters. I can still hear the scathing words of Tom Malone and Jack Hyles ringing in my ears as they skinned quitters alive in their sermons. So I use the word retire but, truth be told, I have just plain quit.
  • For health reasons. I have Fibromyalgia. I am in constant pain. Last year I was tested for MS and the tests were inconclusive. I have numbness in my face , hands, and legs. My doctor ruefully told me that he is uncertain as to what my actual neurological problem is. I’ll just have to wait to see what “breaks.” I am a type A, perfectionist workaholic. I worked myself into a physical collapse, foolishly thinking that anyone cared how hard I worked. God didn’t and neither did the people I pastored.
  • For family reasons. I sacrificed my family and my marriage for a mistress called the Church. I lived for the Church. I was willing to die for the Church. I worked long hours for lousy pay. I allowed my family and my wife to become an appendage to the work I was doing. They were the default clean-up, tear down crew and did all the jobs no one else wanted to do. Our family was so wrapped up in the Church that we lost our self-identity. I want my children to know me for more than just being a pastor. I want my wife to have a husband who doesn’t always put her second to the Church. Whoever said “you must sacrifice your family for the sake of your calling” is not only wrong but also a destroyer of families. If there is one thing I have learned it is that family comes first.
  • Changing theology. My theology is undergoing a complete and through overhaul. I entered the ministry as a Fundamentalist Baptist. I have become, over time, progressive in my thinking and I now identify with liberal causes and beliefs. I am not the man I once was, but neither am I the man I want to be. As my friend Tammy Schoch told me recently, “it is normal in mid-age to reevaluate one’s beliefs and to readjust or change your beliefs accordingly.”
  • Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry. These two writers have fundamentally changed how I look at the world and how I view my place in it. I have come to realize that I spent most of my adult life wasting my time with a religion that made no difference in the world I live in and a religion I have increasingly come to believe doesn’t do much to prepare us for the next life either.
  • The meaninglessness of vast parts of American Christianity. I have come to realize that most of what we do in Christianity doesn’t amount to much of anything. We seem to spend most of our time and effort making sure we have things to spend most of our time and effort on. We collect money so we can spend the money so we can collect money so we can spend the money…It seems that much of our work is simply done to keep the Titanic floating. Little progress is made in truly making a difference in the world.
  • Changing understanding of the Bible. I started out in the ministry as a King James Only, every-word-of-the-Bible-is-inerrant, believer. I have come to understand that such a belief is not only unsustainable theologically but absolutely irrational. I no longer use the Bible as a science or history textbook and I no longer need to read any particular systematic theology into the text in order to enjoy reading the Bible. I simply enjoy reading the Biblical narrative for its own sake. It now speaks to me in ways I never thought possible.
  • Meeting people of other religious faiths or no faith at all. I was blessed with Catholic daughters-in-law. They forced me to come to terms with my deep-seated hatred for any religion but my own. As you may well know, we as Baptists hate Catholics. The big change for me was when I attended a Midnight Christmas mass with my wife and some of our children. What a beautiful and powerful service. It shook my bigoted bones right down to my core.
  • Gandhi. Gandhi showed me the way of peace, of non-violent resistance. Of course, according to my Baptist beliefs Gandhi is burning in hell right at this moment. I no longer believe that and I do not believe such vengeful hate by God is consistent with His love and mercy. I have abandoned the classic Baptist understanding of hell and I believe in annihilation. My beliefs are becoming more and more universalist as I go along. I will leave it to God to sort out the “who is in and who is not.”
  • For mental health reasons. I came to the realization that I was full of fear and regret. I feared God and I regretted wasting my life serving a deity I only served out of fear. No matter how perfect I was, no matter how much I did, I simply couldn’t meet God’s  standard (or that of the men who spoke for God). I despaired for my life. I have since been introduced to a God who loves and has mercy and who does not use fear in his dealings with his children.
  • For my kids and grandkids. I want to know my kids and grandkids. I want to be more than just a religious guru to them. I want to be able to enjoy THIS life with them without everything revolving around the NEXT life. I struggle with the “dad doesn’t go to Church any more”….but I hope in time I can have a relationship with my kids and grandkids that doesn’t revolve around religion. Yes, I still want to talk about God, but I also want to enjoy the day-to-day things of life and I want to share those things with my kids and grandkids.
  • Guilt. This is the biggest problem I face – guilt over how I have lived my life, how I wasted my life, and how I hurt my family. I am sure some pious soul is going to tell me “Get over it and move on with life.” I wish I could but I can’t . Until I can come to terms with the past 30 or 40 years, I cannot move forward from here. I am sure my wife is tired of me living in 1985 or 1994, but I must resolve the issues that plague me before I can move forward. I am making progress in this area and I plan to start on a book in the New Year titled “From Eternity to Here”.  Several people I respect greatly have suggested that writing a book might be cathartic, just what I need to move my life forward.
  • I simply don’t want to be in the ministry any more. I have no desire for it and I do not want to give the requisite time necessary to be a “good” pastor. I believe I still have good teaching skills and I have a sincere desire to be a help to others, but I do not want to exercise my gifts in a traditional Church setting. I have wasted enough time already and I don’t want to waste any more.

I could pastor a church tomorrow if I wanted to. Thousands of churches are without pastors. Most of them don’t deserve to have another pastor. They have chewed up and spit out the previous 20 pastors and they will do the same to the next one. Quite frankly, many Churches just need to die. As I look back at how willing I was to sacrifice so small Churches could have a “full time” pastor, I am ashamed of myself. Living on food stamps, with my kids wearing hand-me-down clothes, all so people could say “we have a full time pastor and he has kids” The most I ever made in the ministry, counting housing, salary and reimbursements, was $26,000. While everyone one else progressed economically, my family was supposed to settle for welfare wages and a chicken or two. I never pastored a church that took it upon themselves to offer me a raise. I had to ask, and often plead and beg, to get a raise. I saw their cars and houses. I saw their material stores, yet I was just supposed to sing “Oh how I love Jesus, thank you for keeping me poor.”

The most prosperous times of my life came when I was bi-vocational. I managed restaurants, sold insurance, delivered newspapers, pumped gas, and managed government programs. In retrospect, I should have always been bi-vocational. I should not have allowed the church to keep me poor. My problem was that I could never do anything half-way. I still can’t. So while I worked a full-time secular job, I also worked the church job full-time. I often worked 60 or 70 hours a week, rarely taking a day off. Vacations? We only took them if I was preaching a conference somewhere. Dates with my wife? Only if it was a church outing.

I realize some of this sounds like the grousing of a bitter old man. I shall plead guilty to that charge. I am bitter at times, and as the Dixie Chicks said “I am not ready to make nice.” I fully accept my own culpability in the affairs of my life. I write for the sake of my family and for the sake of my own mental health. I also write this as a warning to young pastors who are tempted to take the same path I took.

I will stop writing this with the sharing of the biggest breakthrough in my life over the past few months. I spent my life “living for Jesus and Living for Others.” I bought into the mantra of Jesus First, Others Second, and Bruce doesn’t matter . I spent far too much time worrying about what others thought of me, of how they viewed my ministry and family.

My big breakthrough is pretty simple. I have come to the place where I don’t give a shit about what others think of me or what I believe. I don’t give a shit that you are upset that I wrote the word shit. I simply don’t care. Things matter to me, but what someone thinks of me personally or what they think of my beliefs, I don’t care. It has been liberating to be delivered from the judgments of others.

Have you said WOW yet? I heard you!  Let me paraphrase Thomas Merton. People were upset with Merton because his beliefs were always changing, always in motion. He said he frustrated his critics because just when they thought they had him pinned down on an issue they found out he had already move on to something else.

That’s me, always moving, until the heart stops beating.

040816

Why Many Christians Aren’t Interested in What I Have to Say

i just don't care

As many of you know, I see a secular counselor from time to time. More than once, he has challenged me over what he considers my naïveté about my fellow humans. For the longest time, I sincerely believed that if I just explained myself to people, they would at least understand where I am coming from.  While they might not agree with me, they would at least understand my viewpoint. I now know that many people, especially Evangelical Christians, aren’t interested in understanding where I am coming from. They are not interested in my beliefs, explanations, or story. Armed with certainty, God living inside of them, and an inspired, infallible, inerrant text in the crooks of their elbows, they already know who and what I am. Nothing I say will change their opinion of me.

These kinds of people think they know the REAL reasons I left the ministry and left Christianity. They are certain they know exactly why I became an atheist. If my telling my story contradicts their conclusions, then I am lying, deceived, delusional, or a con-artist. Because their mind is already made up, anything that does not fit into the narrative they believe to be true is rejected out of hand. One commenter told me years ago, Bruce, I know you better than you know yourself. I think there are a lot of Evangelical Christians who think this way about me. They think their special relationship with God gives them an understanding of me that other people might not have. Most of these people have never met me and the only things they know about me are what they read on this blog. They are quite certain that they know me inside and out.

When I tell them I left Christianity primarily for intellectual reasons they don’t believe me. There must be some other reason, perhaps a “secret” reason why I am no longer a Christian. They cannot imagine how anyone, having all the training and experience I have, could ever intellectually reject Jesus Christ. They are like people who drive Fords. They love driving a Ford, and because they love driving a Ford, everyone else should too. They can’t imagine ever driving any other car but a Ford. When asked what kind of car their parents drove, they will proudly say, a Ford! It never dawns on them that perhaps the reason they drive a Ford is because their parents drove a Ford. They are convinced they drive a Ford because it is better than every other automobile make, even though they have never driven any other make of car but Ford.

Most of the atheists/agnostics I know were Christians before they became an atheist/agnostic. Many of them were serious, devoted followers of Jesus Christ. They attended church regularly, were active in the church, read and studied their Bible, prayed regularly, and financially contributed to the church. In every way they were true-blue Christians.

These atheists, like myself, reached a place where they began to have doubts questions about the Bible and Christianity. These doubts and questions led to more doubts and questions. They never intended to not be Christian, but as they read and studied they came to the conclusion that they could no longer believe the tenets of Christianity. They lost their faith in God, the Bible, and Christianity. Few people can understand the pain and heartache that they faced and continue to face as they walked away from that which was once most precious.

Many of my critics assume that I jumped from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism. They refuse to take a careful look at the path that led me to where I am today. It goes something like this:

  • Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christian
  • Evangelical Christian (Calvinistic)
  • Emerging/Emergent Christian
  • Progressive/Liberal Christian
  • Universalist
  • Agnostic
  • Atheist/Humanist

I tried to find a natural stopping point as I slid down the slippery slope, but I couldn’t. No matter how much I tried to shut off my mind to the questions, they would continue to come to the forefront of my thinking and demand answers. It is the seeking of answers that finally led me to where I am today, and will lead me to where I will be tomorrow.

Many of those who refuse to accept my story at face value are sure that there is some other underlying motive for my unbelief. Brad, a  commenter on a post I wrote about Steven Furtick, is an excellent example of this. Here is what he had to say:

I’m sorry to hear that you left the ministry and even more that you decided to leave Christ for a life of Atheism. I do agree with some of your comments about Furtick and his financial lifestyle.

I actually relate more with the approach of Francis Chan, as described in his book Crazy Love, which I’m assuming that you are probably familiar with. The reason I wanted to comment is because the bigger picture that you are missing is salvation. No matter if Furtick is making poor decisions regarding his finances, that does not change his salvation.

I’m concerned for you Bruce. I understand that I came on your website and read your blog, but as a Christian and believer in Christ, I feel like that someone needs to simply remind you of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and unfailing love. I wonder if you were hurt somehow in the church?

Why did you serve God for so many years and then decide to leave from the protection and shadow of his ‘wing’? If you were hurt in the church, I’m sorry for that. You can’t however, hold God accountable for something one of his crazy kids may have done! I had a bad experience at Wal-Mart one time, but I still go back and buy my groceries there!

I will pray for you and believe that you will come back to Christ. I am a licensed therapist (Masters in Counseling) and an ordained minister and I own a private practice and work with hurting people everyday. My experience is that hurt people, hurt people! I think there is a possibility that you are hurt and bitter. Maybe not. I do know that you are confused because you left God’s calling for your life! Peter Pan, you have forgotten how to fly! Don’t worry, God still loves you more than you could ever imagine. Prodigal son, when are you going to return to your Father?

Brad thinks there is an underlying reason for why I am no longer in the ministry and no longer a Christian. He made no effort to read anything else I wrote but the Steven Furtick post, and based on that post he read he “intuited” that I must be hurt.

I want to conclude this post by dealing with the notion that the reason I deconverted was due to some underlying emotional issue. For the longest time, I refused to see my deconversion as anything other than an intellectual pursuit. I knew that admitting that I was angry, jaded, cynical, or hurt would allow critics to dismiss everything else I wrote. All that would matter to them is that I left Christianity for some other reason than an intellectual one.

This coming September, it will been thirteen years since I pastored a church and seven years since I walked away from Christianity. As I continue to analyze and understand why I no longer believe, I now know the reasons are many. While the intellectual reasons are certainly the main reason I no longer believe in God, I now know that there was/is an emotional component to my deconversion.

Was I hurt in some way? No. There was no crisis event that led me to renounce my faith. There were five years between pastoring my last church and my loss of faith. During this five-year period, I had numerous opportunities to pastor. I could have started a new church, and as late as 2007,  Polly and I had discussions about starting a church. I even contacted the Quaker/Friends denomination about starting a church in the Defiance, Ohio area. Until the last Sunday in November 2008, when I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, I still thought of myself as a Christian pastor. I knew I was hanging on by a thin thread, but I still thought I could intellectually make it work. In the end, I couldn’t. No one hurt me, no church so injured me that I had no other choice but to leave Christianity. If anything, my deconversion was more like a married couple who loved each other dearly but couldn’t stand to be around each other. My lifelong marriage to Christianity ended, not only for intellectual reasons, but because I could no longer stand to be around American Christianity.

Anger came after I deconverted. For the longest time, I was angry at myself for wasting so much of my life in the ministry. I was angry over how the ministry hurt my wife and children and how my preaching hurt other people. I was angry over what Evangelical Christianity was doing to America. But, most of all, I was angry at Evangelical Christians who refused to take me at face value and who refused to allow me to authentically tell my story.

While I can still get angry at belligerent, self-righteous, arrogant, cement-headed Christians, most of the time I just sigh and shake my head as they deconstruct my life or let me know that they know the REAL reason(s) I am not in the ministry or why I am no longer a Christian. I now know that I cannot make the blind see or the deaf hear. While I can readily accept their confession of faith in Jesus Christ at face value, they cannot grant me the same respect. I suspect this is because of who I am.

I am not just a generic, run-of-the-mill Christian turned atheist. I am not someone who was raised in the church and then when I became an adult, rejected the faith of my parents. I am a man who spent fifty years in the Christian church. I am a man who started preaching when he was fifteen. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Even among the apostate pastors who are prominent today, I have more time on the job than most. Many pastors who deconvert do so after five or ten years in the ministry. Rare is the man who spends fifty years in the Evangelical church and walks away from it all.  I think this is the real reason many of my most vocal critics try to reduce me to dog shit on the bottom of their shoes. I wonder if they, deep down, fear that if someone such as I can lose my faith, that it is possible they can too? Perhaps when the doubts and questions they say they never have come to the surface in the still of the night, those doubts and questions have my face. Perhaps they are like a few former parishioners who cannot talk to me anymore because they find my deconversion so unsettling? They wonder, how can this be? How can Pastor Bruce be an atheist? He led me to Christ, he baptized me, he taught me the Bible, he loved me, cared for me, and prayed for me. If Bruce is an atheist, is the faith of anyone safe?

070216

You Are Wrong!!

garfield never wrongOver the past 8 years, various people have taken it upon themselves in an email, blog comment, Facebook comment, tweet, letter to the editor, sermon, or blog post  to emphatically tell me “Bruce, You Are Wrong!!” Be it my liberal politics, the teams I root for, or my humanistic, atheistic beliefs, these beacons of absolute truth are infallibly certain that I am wrong.

Let me confess right away that I have been wrong many, many, many times. I bet you didn’t know that did you?  In fact, there is not a day that goes by that I am not wrong in some moment, circumstance, or detail.

Over the past eight years, various people have taken it upon themselves in an email, blog comment, Facebook comment, tweet, letter to the editor, sermon, or blog post  to emphatically tell me ”Bruce, You Are Wrong!!” Be it my liberal politics, the teams I root for, or my humanistic, atheistic beliefs, these beacons of absolute truth are infallibly certain that I am wrong.

Let me confess right away that I have been wrong many, many, many times. I bet you didn’t know that, did you?  In fact, there is not a day that goes by that I am not wrong in some moment, circumstance, or detail.

Usually, when someone writes me to tell me I am wrong they have a deeper, more sinister meaning for the word wrong. For the most part, I write about religion. Occasionally, I write about politics, education, sports, photography, and other sundry subjects, but religion and all its trappings is my main focus. I spend a great deal of time telling my story, detailing my journey, as only a good, humble, narcissistic ex-pastor can.  This blog, whatever else it may or may not be, is “Bruce’s Story, Told by Bruce, According to Bruce, the best he can remember it.”

When I am telling my story, my understanding of the journey I am on, I have little patience for those who tell me I am wrong. They dissect my life with the razor knife of their own experiences and beliefs and determine that I am/was not what I say I am/was. They tell me I was never saved, never a Christian, never a real pastor, and I suspect someday someone will even challenge my circumcision.

These kinds of people want to control my storyline. They want to set the standard by which my life, the one I lived, the one I am living now, is judged and it infuriates them when I won’t let them do so. I refuse to allow my story to be co-opted, controlled, or judged by any other standard than my own experiences. It is my life and I know what I believed, how I lived, and I am certain I know my life better than anyone who only had this blog to judge me by. My dear wife of 36 years is my best friend and she knows me pretty well, but she doesn’t know every part me.

garfield liarFoolish is a person, armed with only printed words on a computer screen, who judges a person’s life in any meaningful way. I certainly want people to enter into my story, in fact I invite them in. But, my readers are just visitors. They only know what I am willing to let them know. If my wife or my counselor can not pierce the inner sanctum, don’t think for a moment any visitor can.

Sometimes, charges of being wrong are hurled my way because of something I have written about Christianity, the ministry, the Bible, or some other facet of Western, organized Christianity. They vehemently disagree with my interpretation of a particular verse in the Bible or they object to particular word usages, words like Christian, evangelical, or fundamentalist.

What is the foundation of their charges against me? Why their own beliefs and interpretations or the beliefs and interpretations of their particular sect. Ultimately, the Bible becomes the focus of these kind of accusations.

I am wrong because I have misread, misunderstood, misapplied, or distorted what the Bible teaches. How do they know this? Because the accuser reads, understands, and applies the Bible differently from myself and we all know that every Evangelical (and Catholic and Muslim zealots) is infallible in his or her understanding of a book written by many, unknown people thousands of  years ago.

I could be wrong. In fact, I am quite certain that some of my interpretations are wrong. I have no way of proving whether they are. All I have is my mind and my ability to read, and using these skills, I try, to the best of my ability, to discern what a particular text in the Bible says. People are free to differ with me, but why should it be assumed that I am wrong and my critic is right? How do we make such a determination?

The Bible has the unique ability to be whatever a person wants it to be. Most people have a bit of Thomas Jefferson in them, scissors in hand, cutting out the things they disagree with or the things that weaken their positions or beliefs. The short of it is this…if you need to prove something, go to the Bible. You will likely find the answer you are looking for.

I am quite aware of the fact that I read the Bible differently from the Christians who think I am wrong. The one-up I have on them is that I used to read the Bible as they do. I understand their hermeneutics and theology and I am well aware of their interpretations. That said, I have no compulsion to read the Bible as an Evangelical or a progressive/liberal Christian would read the Bible. I have no great need to make the Bible fit in a systematic theology grid. Instead, I try to read the Bible like the average, unenlightened Bruce would read the Bible. I try to transport myself back in time in hopes of getting a historical and cultural perspective on the passage I am reading.

In the book of Genesis God says “let us make man in our image.”  When I read this passage I say to myself this says there is a plurality of Gods. Let US. As I read the Old Testament it is very clear to me that the Israelites were polytheistic and over time became monotheistic (or as oneness-Pentecostals would assert about Trinitarian Christians, they still ARE polytheistic).

Of course, those who think I am wrong say, but the New Testament says______ and they import their Trinitarian theology into the Genesis text. That’s all well and good if you are Christian, but I am not. I am quite free to read the Bible as it is written without forcing myself to put all the pegs in the right holes. The Christian has the burden to make it all fit, not I.

I may be wrong, but it is a leap of faith to assume that because I am wrong, you are right. There is no way to “prove” who is right or who is wrong when it comes to the Bible. Baptists and Campbellites (Church of Christ) spar often over one Greek word, eis, in Acts 2:38. Who is right? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all the arguments from both sides of the fence. Who is right? All people have to determine for themselves what they believe about God, the Bible, truth, and religion. This blog is simply my take on these things.

Seriously, the amount of skin I have in this game gets less and less every day. Talking about the Bible and what it purportedly teaches is all fun and games. Since the Bible no longer has a mystical hold on me, I am quite free to ignore it at will. I am free to be wrong because being wrong about the Bible is like being wrong about picking the wrong players for a fantasy football league (not the end of the world).

My bigger focus is on those who are considering leaving Christianity or who have already left Christianity. I try to be a good example of a person who successfully broke free and left Christianity. I do not call on people to follow me or to do what I did. All I am is one guy with a story. If my story helps someone, if it gives them the strength to take the big step they need to take, then I am grateful and humbled by being a small measure of help. However, if all I do is piss you off and make you think you have scabies, perhaps your short life would be better served reading other things besides this blog. Telling me I am wrong will not bring the effect you desire. I will gladly admit to being wrong. Next?

Perhaps you are really hanging out here because, deep down, uncertainty is pulling at you, and you are trying to suppress it by lashing out at the poor, deluded, deceived, ignorant Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist named Bruce.  Beware of uncertainty, for uncertainty is the path to my world.

042916

Dear Ann

blood of jesus

What follows is a letter I wrote to my Fundamentalist Christian step-grandmother, Ann Tieken, in 2012. She was married for many years to my grandfather John Tieken. They lived in Pontiac, Michigan and attended Sunnyvale Chapel. As with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

Dear Ann,

Grandchildren don’t get to choose who their grandparents are. When we are born they just show up and we have to accept them.

My Dad’s parents died when I was five. I really don’t remember very much about them at all. I remember the Gerencser farm, the outhouse, the wood cook stove, and the funny language Grandma and Grandpa spoke.

My Mom’s side of the family “blessed” me with two sets of grandparents, Grandma Rausch and Grandma and Grandpa Tieken.

I don’t know how old I was before I realized that Grandma Rausch used to be Grandma Tieken.

For most of my life, Grandma Rausch was the only grandparent I had. She wasn’t perfect but she loved me. I was, after all, grandson number one. She taught me to love baseball and to be passionate about life. She had her faults, but I never doubted for one moment that she loved me.

Here is what I remember about you and Grandpa Tieken.

I remember every Christmas being a day of anxiety and turmoil. I remember the fights, and you and Grandma Rausch not being able to be in the same room together. This was resolved by having two Christmases, two of every holiday

I remember Grandpa’s nasty and violent temper.

I remember Grandpa slugging your son David, my teenage uncle, knocking him off his chair onto the kitchen floor. I saw Grandpa hit him more than a few times.

I remember Grandpa beating the shit out of my brother and me because we took apart an old telephone that was in the garage.

Wonderful childhood memories.

Do I have any good memories of you and Grandpa Tieken?

I have two.

I remember Grandpa taking us up in an airplane he had just overhauled, and I vividly remember Grandpa taking me to a Detroit Tigers vs. Cleveland Indians game at Briggs Stadium in 1968. I got to see Mickey Lolich pitch. He bought me a Tiger’s pennant.

That’s it.

You were always a church- going Christian. What were you thinking when you married the drinking, carousing John Tieken? But you won, and Grandpa Tieken found Jesus.

For the next 30- plus years you and Grandpa were devoted followers of Jesus. I remember going to Sunnyvale Chapel every time we came to visit you. I remember singing the Countdown song (see notes)  in junior church.

As I got older I began to understand things from my Mom’s perspective. Her relationship with you and her Dad was always strained. Lots of turmoil, lots of stress. Lots of angry words and cussing.

She showed me the letters you and she traded. So much anger, so little Jesus.

Mom told me about her younger years. She told me about what went on and what happened to her. Awful things. Shameful things. She told me about confronting Grandpa about these things and he told her that God had forgiven him and they were under the blood. Not one word of sorrow or admission of guilt, not even a sorry. A new life in Christ wiped the slate clean.

I have often wondered if Mom’s mental illness found its root in the events that took place on a Missouri farm when she was but a youth. I know she felt she could never measure up and you, and Grandpa had a real knack for reminding the family of their shortcomings. After all, we were Bob Gerencser’s kids.

When I went to college I lived a few miles away from you. For the first time I learned how controlling and demanding you and Grandpa could be. Now I know I wasn’t the perfect grandson; I remember charging to your home phone some long- distance phone calls to Polly. That aside, you did your best to manipulate and control my life.

When I started pastoring churches you and Grandpa started sending us money through the church. We really appreciated it and it was a big help. And then it stopped. Why? The church treasurer didn’t send you your giving statement when you expected it and just like that you stopped sending the money. Did our need change?

When I was pastoring in Somerset, Ohio you and Grandpa came to visit a few times. Polly and I will never forget these visits. How could we?

I remember you and Grandpa sitting in the last pew in the back, on the left side. The building was packed. This was during the time when the church was growing rapidly. After I preached and gave an invitation, I asked if anyone had something to share. Grandpa did. He stood and told the entire congregation what was wrong with my sermon. I wanted to die. He thoroughly embarrassed and shamed me.

I remember when you came to visit us in Junction City. Again, how  can I forget the visit? This was your last visit to my home, twenty-three years ago.

Grandpa spent a good bit of time lecturing me about my car being dirty. Evidently, having a dirty car was a bad testimony. Too bad he didn’t take that same approach with Mom.

After dinner — oh, I remember it as if it were yesterday! — we were sitting in the living room and one of our young children got too close to Grandpa. What did he do? He kicked  him. I knew then and there that, regardless of his love for Jesus, he didn’t love our family, and he would always be a mean son-of-a-bitch.

I think we saw you and Grandpa once or twice after that. I remember driving to Pontiac to see Grandpa after his cancer surgery. He was out of it. If I remember  correctly, you took us to lunch at a buffet.

For his seventy-fifth birthday you had a party for Grandpa. You called a few days before the party and told me that if I was any kind of grandson at all that my family and I would be at the party. Never mind Polly would have to take off work. Never mind the party was on a night we had church. All that mattered to you was that we showed up to give Grandpa’s birthday party an air of respectability.

I remember what came next like it was yesterday. The true Ann rose to the surface and you proceeded to tell me what a terrible grandson I was and how terrible my family was. You were vicious and vindictive.

Finally, after forty years, I had had enough. I told you that you should have worried about the importance of family twenty years ago. I then told you that I was no longer interested in having any contact with you or Grandpa. Like my mother, I decided to get off the Tieken drama train.

And that is where things remained for a long time.

In 2003, I moved to Clare, Michigan to pastor a Southern Baptist church. In what can only be a cruel twist of fate, our family moved to the same gated community that you and your new husband lived in. What are the odds? You lived less than two miles from my home.

You came to visit the church I pastored and invited us over to dinner. I didn’t want to come, but I thought, what kind of Christian am I? Surely, I can forgive and let the past be the past.

And so we went. Things went fairly well until you decided to let me know, as if it was a fact that everyone knew, that my father was not really my father. I showed no reaction to this revelation, but it stunned me and cut me right to the quick. I knew my Mom was pregnant when she married Dad but I had never  before heard what you were telling me.

Why did you tell me this? What good could ever come of it? Believe me, I still have not gotten past this. I have come to see that what you told me is probably the truth, but to what end was the telling of this truth?

Church members were excited to find out that I was the grandson to Gramma Clarke (her new married name) , a fine, kind, loving, Christian woman if there ever was one, they told me. All I ever told them is that things are not always as they seem.

Of course I understood how this dualistic view of you was possible. You and Grandpa were always good at the smile real big, I love Jesus game, all the while stabbing your family in the back. It is a game that a lot of Christians play.

Nine years have passed since I last saw you in Clare, Michigan. Life moves on. I have a wonderful wife, six kids, and eight grandchildren. And I am an atheist.

You must have done a Facebook search for me because you “found” me. You sent me an email that said:

What ? An athiest ?? Sorry Sorry Sorry !!!What happened ? How’s Polly & your family??

Nine years and this is what you send me?

Ann, you need to understand something. I am not interested in reviving any kind of relationship with you. One of the things I have learned in counseling is that I get to choose whom I want to associate with, whom I want to be friends with.

My counselor and I spend a lot of time talking about family and the past. He told me, Bruce it is OK to not be friends with people you don’t want to be friends with. No more loving everyone because Jesus loves everyone. I am free to love whom I want.

I don’t wish you any ill will. That said, I don’t want to have a relationship with you, especially a pretend Facebook friendship. Ooh Look! Bruce got reconnected with his estranged Grandmother. Isn’t God good!!

Not gonna happen. I have exactly zero interest in pursuing a relationship with you. It is too late.

My “good” memories of you and Grandpa are few and far between (and I haven’t even mentioned things that I am still, to this day, too embarrassed to mention). You really don’t know me and I don’t know you. And that’s okay.

Life is messy, Ann, and this is one mess in aisle three that no one can clean up. I have been told that I have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. This is perhaps a true assessment of me. I told Polly tonight that I am quite willing to forgive but it is hard to do when there is never an admission of guilt or the words I am sorry are never uttered. How can there be since the blood of Jesus wipes away every shitty thing a person has ever done? Talk about a get out of responsibility for sin card.

I am sure you will think I am just like my mother. I am.

You know what my last memory of my Mom is? After I tearfully and with a broken heart concluded  my 54-year-old Mom’s graveside service, Grandpa Tieken took the “opportunity” to preach at us and tell us that Mom was in heaven. Just days before she had put a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger. We all were reeling with grief and pain and Grandpa, in a classic Grandma-and-Grandpa-Tieken moment, decided to preach instead of love.

Bruce

Notes

The Countdown Song

Somewhere in outer space
God has prepared a place
For those who trust Him and obey
Jesus will come again
And though we don’t know when
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

CHORUS:

10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5 and 4,
Call upon the Savior while you may,
3 and 2, coming through the clouds in bright array
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
BLAST OFF!

Jesus was crucified, suffered and bled he died,
But on the cross He did not stay
He made this promise true, I will come back for you,
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

CHORUS

Soon will the trumpet sound, and we’ll rise off the ground
With Christ forever will we be
Children where will you be, throughout eternity?
The countdown’s getting lower every day!

CHORUS

072116

Dear Bruce Turner

bruce turner

Bruce Turner

Bruce Turner was my youth pastor in the early 1970s. Bruce played a very important part in my life, from my profession of faith in Christ to my call to the ministry. I have published this letter before. As with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

Dear Bruce,

I see you found my blog. I am sure the current state of my “soul” troubles you. My “spiritual” condition troubles many as they try to wrap their theological minds around my twenty-five years in the ministry and my present atheistic views.

I plan to address the comment you left at the end of the letter, but before I do so I want to talk about the relationship you and I had and about the influence you had on my life.

You came to Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, fresh out of Baptist Bible College. Trinity was looking to hire a full-time youth pastor and you were the one they hired. You joined the staff of a busy, growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church.

You were there when I put my faith and trust in Jesus. You were there when I was called to preach. You helped me prepare my first sermon (2 Corinthians 5:20). You and I worked a bus route together and went out on visitation.

My parents had recently divorced and you became a surrogate father to me. When my Dad remarried and moved us to Arizona I was devastated. In a few months, I returned to Ohio, and in late summer of 1973, I moved from Bryan to Findlay.

You helped me find a place to live, first with the Bolanders, and then with Gladys Canterbury. For almost a year I went to school, worked a job at Bill Knapp’s, and immersed myself in the ministry of Trinity Baptist Church.  You were there to guide me every step of the way.

When I first moved to Findlay a divorcee and her young daughter wanted to take me in. You wisely made sure that didn’t happen, knowing such a home would not be healthy for me.

When I became enamored with Bob Harrington ( I loved his It’s Fun Being Saved record) you warned me about worshiping big name preachers and you told me to pay attention not only to what they preached but what they didn’t.

You even catered to my personal desires. In the summer of 1973, I had a whirlwind romance with Charlotte Brandenburg. Charlotte was the daughter of the couple who came to hold a Super Summer Bible Rally (VBS) at Trinity. For one solid week, we spent every day with each other. I was smitten with Charlotte.

Later that same year you planned a youth outing to the Troy Baptist Temple, the church Charlotte attended. We went to see the movie, A Thief in the Night, but my real reason for going was to see Charlotte.

bruce gerencser 1971

Bruce Gerencser, 1971, Ninth Grade

When it came time to leave I lingered as long as possible, I didn’t want to leave Charlotte. Finally, I heard a voice the said, Gerencser, get on the bus (for some reason you liked to call me by my last name). As I came hand-in-hand with Charlotte to the bus you turned a way for a moment and told me to get it over with. I quickly kissed Charlotte goodbye and that was the last time I saw her. We wrote back and forth for a few months but, like all such relationships, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity.

You were my basketball coach. Trinity sponsored a team in the ultra-competitive high school age Church Basketball League. One game I had a terrible night shooting the ball. I was frustrated and I told you I wanted out of the game. You refused and made me play the whole game. My shooting didn’t get any better but I learned a life lesson that I passed on to all my children years later.

I remember when this or that person in the youth group got in trouble. You and Reva were there to help them pick up the pieces of their lives. You were a kind, compassionate man.

I remember you helping us get a singing group started. I still remember singing the song Yesterday during a church service (YouTube video of Cathedral Quartet singing this song). I also remember you singing Fill My Cup Lord. Polly and I sang this same song for many years in most every church I pastored.

Who can ever forget your Youth Group survey? You surveyed our attitudes about alcohol, drugs, music and sex and then you dared to use your findings in a sermon. I remember what a stir your sermon caused. You peeled back the façade and revealed that many of the church’s youth were not unlike their non-Christian peers. (it was the ‘70s)

I saw your bad side too. I remember the youth canoe outing where Reva lost her teeth. Boy were you angry. I felt bad for Reva, but in a strange way I loved you even more. I saw that you were h-u-m-a-n. I already knew Gene Milioni and Ron Johnson, the other pastors, were human, having seen their angry outbursts, and now you were mortal too. (Remember I am writing this from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy.)

In May of 1974, I abruptly left Findlay, one week away from the end of school (a move that resulted in Findlay High School denying me credit for my entire 11th grade year). Subsequently, I dropped out of high school.  My Mom was in a world of hurt mentally and she needed me (and I needed her). In the fall of 1974 she would be admitted to the state mental hospital and my Dad would come and move my siblings and me back to Arizona.

In 1976 I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I met my wife at Midwestern, and after leaving there in the Spring of 1979, we embarked on a twenty-five year journey in the pastorate, a journey that took us to seven churches.

bill beard bruce turner 1986

Bill Beard and Bruce Turner, 1986

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. I put to use the things I learned from you, Dr. Tom Malone, and my professors at Midwestern. I put soul-winning first. I committed myself to being a faithful preacher of the truths found in the King James Bible. And “God” blessed the work I did. Somerset Baptist Church grew from a handful people to over two-hundred. We were the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County.

You and I reconnected and I had you come and preach for us. I believe it was a special service and the church was packed with people. The people loved you and I was thrilled to show off my mentor to them. I suppose, deep down, I needed your approbation.

You invited me to come and preach at your church, Braintree Baptist Temple in Braintree, Massachusetts. I now know that the real reason you had me come and preach was because you saw some things that concerned you. My workaholic, Type-A personality was good for growing a church but not so good for me or my family. Sadly, it took me many more years before I realized this.

We stayed in your home in Massachusetts and spent a few days traveling around the area. This was the first “vacation” our family had ever taken and it would be the last one for many years. I was too busy and thought I was too important to take any time off.  Even when I later took vacations, I never took them just to be taking one. I always had a church or conference to preach at while we were on “vacation.”

bruce turner 1986

Bruce Turner with our three oldest children, 1986

You and your dear wife treated us well. You gave us some “run-around” money and we went out to the Cape. My oldest children still remember dipping their feet in the cold waters of the Atlantic.

We parted, promising to keep in touch, but as with Charlotte and me years ago, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity. I suspect my later adoption of Calvinism ended any chance of a continued relationship.

I did write you several times in the 1990s. I read somewhere that you had Fibromyalgia, and when I was diagnosed with the same I wrote you. You never responded. I was disappointed that you never wrote back, but I chalked up to you being busy.

Bruce, I wrote all of this to say that you had a profound effect on my life. I will always appreciate what you did for me.

Now to your comment.

You wrote:

Sorry to see your blog and obvious bitterness toward Baptists. Not all of us preached an easy believing Gospel and certainly not all of us lived a perverted life. These King makers you blog about have never had my respect.

Reva and I have been happily married for 44 years. I am sorry your health is so bad and though you apparently have rejected what you once professed, I am praying for you to the God (not preachers) that I trust.

I sincerely hope your health improves and remember some good times in the old days. Stay healthy friend.

Bruce Turner

I am often accused of being bitter, angry, or some other negative emotion. On one hand, I have every reason to be bitter and angry, but my rejection of Christianity is not ultimately defined by anger or bitterness.

I rejected Christianity because I no longer believe the claims made about the Bible and its teachings. I came to see that the Bible was not inspired, inerrant, or infallible. I came to see that a belief in the God of the Bible could not be sustained rationally (this is why faith is necessary), and even if it could be, I wanted nothing to do with such a capricious, vengeful, homicidal God. I later came to see that the Biblical claims for Jesus could not be sustained. While I certainly think a man named Jesus roamed the Judean hillside during the time recorded in the Bible, the Jesus of the Bible is a myth. At best he was a revolutionary, a prophet who was executed for his political and religious beliefs (and I still, to this day, have a real appreciation for the sermon on the Mount and a few other sayings attributed to Jesus).

My journey away from Christianity and the ministry took many anguish-filled years.  I didn’t arrive to where I am today overnight. I looked at progressive Christianity, the Emergent church, liberal Christianity, and even universalism. None of these met my intellectual need. None of them rang true to me. I made many stops along the slippery slope until I came to the place where I had to admit that I was an atheist (and I still think saying I am a Christian means something).

I am not a hater of Christianity. I have no desire to stop people from worshiping the Christian God. I am well aware of the need many people have for certainty. They want to know their life matters and they want to know that there is life beyond the grave. Christianity meets their need.  Who am I to stand in the way of what helps people get through life?  It matters not if it is true. They think it is true and that is fine by me.

The Christianity I oppose is the Evangelical form of Christianity that demands everyone worship their God, believe what they believe, and damns to hell all those who disagree with them. I oppose their attempts to turn America into a theocracy. I oppose their hijacking of the Republican Party. I oppose their incessant whining about persecution and their demands for special status. I oppose their attempts to deny some Americans of the civil and legal rights others have. (What happened to Baptists believing in a strict separation of church and state?) I oppose their attempt to infiltrate our public schools and teach Creationism or its kissing cousin, Intelligent Design, as science (this is what Christian schools are for). I oppose their attempt to make the Ten Commandments the law of the Land.

The kind of Christianity I mentioned above hurts people and hurts our Country politically and socially. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has harmed countless people, sometimes scarring their lives so severely that recovery is almost impossible (and telling people to get over it is not the answer). I weep often as I read emails from people whose lives have been destroyed by the extremes found in the IFB church movement. My blog exists because I want to help people like this. I want them to have a safe place to work through the wreckage of their lives, lives ruined by their involvement in Evangelical and IFB churches.

In many ways, I am still a pastor.  I want to help other people. The difference now, or course, is that I don’t have an agenda. I don’t have a list “truths” that must be believed. If I can help people walk the journey they are on with openness, honesty, and integrity, I am happy. I am concerned with their journey not their destination (since I think we are all headed for the same final destination, death).

I too, Bruce, have prayed thousands of times to the Christian God and yet, like the universe itself, he yawns and remains silent. Instead of hoping for a God to fix what ails me, I have chosen to embrace my life as it is. I have chosen to try to change what I can and accept what I can’t. Above all, I have learned that it is what it is.

Through this blog I try to flesh out my understanding of the past and examine the path I am now on. I try to be open and honest. I don’t have all the answers and, for that matter, I don’t even know all the questions. All I know to do is continue to walk forward, however halting my gait may be.

I shall always remember our days in Findlay and I will always appreciate what you did for me. When I write my autobiography someday there will be a chapter titled Bruce Turner.

Thank you.

Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Turner’s website

013116

Dear Friend

bill beard lighthouse memorial church

Bill Beard, pastor Lighthouse Memorial Church

This is a letter I sent to a dear friend of mine, Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church in Millersport, Ohio. I was Bill’s pastor several times in the 1980’s, I baptized him, and I took part in his ordination with the Church of the Nazarene. After Bill received the letter Dear Family, Friends, and Parishioners in April 2009, he drove from is home near Lancaster, Ohio to my home here in Ney. This letter explains my understanding of our conversation and where I thought our friendship was headed. I have published this letter before. Like with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

I saw Bill again recently at a funeral service I conducted this past summer in New Lexington, Ohio for a former friend and church member. After exchanging pleasantries, he made an offhand snide comment about his car. Evidently, he did not appreciate the one line in this letter mentioning that he drove to my house in a Lincoln. I meant nothing by it, but he must have thought I did. We chatted for a bit and then it was time for the service. I am sure he curious about what I would say or do and I have no doubt that the non-religious service disappointed him. This was but another reminder of how far his former friend has fallen.

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 I 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 have 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 a Ivory-billed woodpecker is a friendship that lasts a lifetime. 26 years is a good run.

Thanks for the memories.

Bruce

somerset baptist church 1983

Somerset Baptist Church, Landmark Building 1983

This is the place where I first met Bill and Peggie Beard

somerset baptist church 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, 1985

Bill and Peggie Beard gave us 5,000.00 to buy this building

somerset baptist church 1985-2

Somerset Baptist Church, First Church Bus, 1985

Bill and Peggie Beard helped us buy our first church bus

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners

bruce and polly gerencser 2008

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Summer 2008

What follows is the letter I sent in April, 2009 to my family, friends and former parishioners. This letter came after Polly and I attended church  on the Sunday before Thanksgiving  in 2008. I am republishing it here so it is part of the historical narrative of my life. I know many of you have read this before but I hope you will read it again. As I reread this, I am reminded that what I wrote here is still, almost seven years later, the motivating factor of my life.  The rough, sharp edges are gone, but I remain a man in love with his wife and family and a seeker of truth.

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question is, what now?

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

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

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

Here is what I do want from you:

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

That’s it.

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

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

You are free from me if that is your wish.

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

Thank you for reading my letter.

Bruce

slightly edited for grammar 021616