Tag Archive: Leaving the Ministry

It’s My Story and I’m Going to Tell It

this is my story

It is not uncommon for Evangelicals to question my motivations for blogging. I have the audacity to share club secrets; to point to where the bodies are buried. Worse yet, I call into question club beliefs and practices, daring to suggest they are irrational, mythical, or harmful. I am viewed as an enemy of Jesus and a hater of Christianity. Some Evangelicals even say that I hate Christians themselves — a Trumpian falsehood if there ever was one.

I have been called a liar, a man filled with pride who wants, needs, desires, and craves the approbation of my fellow atheists, non-Christians, and liberal Christians. On a few occasions, I have been accused of “being in it for the money.” I snarkily addressed this accusation recently in a post titled, Christian Man Attacks Me Because I Ask Readers to Monetarily Support My Work. Some Evangelicals have said over the years that my life story is fabricated; that they know people who know people who know people who say I never pastored ____________ church or lived in ______________ community. These conspiracy theorists — all Trump supporters, I suppose — ignore all evidence to the contrary and unjustifiably label me a liar.

Then there are the Evangelicals such as my former pastor friend Bill Beard, who oh, so politely ask me to not to share my story. Why? It’s harmful to people of faith, especially those who were once congregants in the churches I pastored. This concern is indeed valid, but if me telling my story causes loss of faith, what does that say about the staying power of their faith? Many Evangelicals find my unbelief disconcerting. One former congregant — who told me that he couldn’t be friends with me any longer because my deconversion caused him too much angst — said to me, Bruce, if YOU can lose your faith, anyone can. This congregant knew I was a mature follower of Jesus; a man who studied and knew the Bible; a man who lived out his faith day by day; a man whose family was governed by the complementarian, disciplinarian teachings of the Bible; a man who wasn’t afraid to stand for truth. Yet, I walked away from Christianity and I am now an outspoken atheist. My loss of faith causes doubt and questions, and the typical Evangelical answer for such things is to close your eyes, plug your ears, and repeatedly sing Jesus Loves Me.

I have been blogging for ten years now. I was a Christian when I started blogging, and readers who have been with me from the beginning have watched me journey from Progressive Christianity to atheism. They have watched me start and stop blogging several times, aware of how painful for me deconversion has been. They have watched as Evangelicals savaged me in their churches, on their blogs, and former iterations of this blog; watching as this savagery cut me so deeply that I bled out before their eyes. In time I would arise as a phoenix from the ashes, only to abandon my blog twelve or eighteen months later. Long-time readers will remember blogs such as Bruce Droppings and The Way Forward.

In the fall of 2014, I had yet again another meltdown and stopped blogging. Close friends waited to see if I would rise from the dead. In December 2014, I indeed — unlike Jesus who remains buried in a forgotten grave in Palestine — arose from the dead, ready once again to tell my story. In December 2018, this blog will be four years old. Imagine that, long time readers, FOUR YEARS OLD! Evangelicals haven’t stopped attempting to silence me, so why no classic Bruce meltdowns, why no running from the battle bruised and bleeding?

There are five reasons why this blog has survived:

  • I finally stopped giving a shit about what Evangelicals said or thought of me.
  • I finally understood that a lot of people really do love and support me and enjoy and appreciate my writing.
  • I finally stopped giving Evangelical zealots a platform in the comment section. The one comment rule for Evangelicals dramatically reduced stress levels. (See Comment Rules) Want to take Bruce Gerencser to the woodshed? Want to expose him as a liar, a fraud, or a servant of Satan? Get your own blog. (See Dear Evangelicals.) Keeping the comment section relatively free of Evangelical excrement has allowed a community to develop. Yes, this policy reduced the number of comments, but it allowed thoughtful unbelievers and doubters to comment without being savaged by Evangelicals. it also allowed me to focus on being a help instead of battling intransigent Fundamentalists.
  • A woman by the name of Carolyn came into my life. Almost three years ago, I received an email that basically said, I love your writing, but it needs some help; “help” being editing. From that point forward, Carolyn has edited most of the posts on this site, including old posts (if you see a post with a date — say 081615 — on the bottom, that means you are reading an old post Carolyn has edited.  Not only has her editing improved my grammar and overall writing, she has encouraged me to keep at it even when I feel like throwing in the towel. I will likely never meet her face to face, but she has become a dear friend. By the way, she edits my writing free of charge, a true act of friendship and kindness.
  • Several readers decided to take an active role in dealing with Evangelical comments. Their willingness to respond to these commenters has dramatically reduced my need to do so. Often, I just reply *sigh* — which means in the Greek “not this shit again!” — and leave it to them to challenge and engage Evangelical commenters.

Fundamentally, this blog remains a place for me to tell my story. I am one man with a story to tell, and I intend to keep telling it as long as I am physically able to do so. For Evangelicals who wish I would shut up and go the hell away, I say, sorry, it ain’t gonna happen. Evangelical churches frequently feature testimony segments, or they have big-name preachers and con-artists come to their churches to tell how God led them out of atheism and saved their souls. Some of these exaggerators-for-Jesus recount their lives as witches, new agers, mobsters, porn addicts, or homosexuals, and describe how Jesus delivered them from their sin and gave them eternal life. Some Evangelicals write books or start blogs with the express purpose of testifying to what Jesus has done for them. Other Evangelicals take to the streets, their places of employment, or go door-to-door, telling all who will listen about the wonderful, matchless grace of God. All of these people are doing what, exactly? Telling their story. And that is all I am doing.

Some Evangelicals don’t like how I have portrayed them in my writing. How dare you say that about me! How dare you say that about my pastor! How dare you say that about my church! How dare you air our past interactions! Why, Bruce, you make me look bad! Well, you should have treated me better, then. If you weren’t such a bully or an ass, the story I tell would be different. To the degree that you play a part in my life story, I am going to share that with readers. Instead of bitching, moaning, and complaining, either pray and ask Jesus to silence me or admit that you, much like yours truly, said and did things that were harmful to our congregants and families. I have found it cathartic to admit and own past bad behavior, and I challenge you to do the same. Your mileage may vary, but I plan to keep on writing. Consider my writing about you akin to you using me as a sermon illustration or a cautionary warning. Me writing about you is a cautionary tale of what happens when a man becomes a Fundamentalist sot; when one’s ability to reason and think critically is smothered by religious dogma, arrogance, and certainty. What’s good for the atheist is good for the Baptist preacher, yes?

I know it infuriates some preachers that this blog ranks first page for their name or the name of their church/ministry. (Polly’s family HATES that this site is prominently featured when people search for them or their church/ministry.) Sometimes, this site is first on the first Google page. That’s what four years of blogging have given me — increased readership, page views, email subscriptions, social media sharing, and high search ranking. I appreciate that people are willing to support and publicize my writing. As with all writers, I write to be read. All writers (and public speakers such as preachers) have a bit of narcissism in them. I want people to read my writing, even if they are raising Holy Heaven about what I have written.

The name of this blog is The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser: One Man’s Journey From Eternity to Here. I plan to keep telling my story until either Jesus comes again or I lose the ability to reason and write. My money is on dementia claiming me before Jesus does.

Thank you for being a reader of my writing. I find it humbling that anyone except Polly would want to read what I write. I will do my best in the days ahead to put out writing that is worthy of your support.

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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.

Is Your Husband a Pastor?

pastorMy wife and I live in the rural Northwest Ohio community of Ney. Anyone driving US Highway 15 from Bryan to Defiance passes through the village of Ney. I am sure these passers-through are as irritated as I am by Ney’s lone traffic light. While there may have been a need at one time for the traffic light, that need lies buried in Ney’s long-forgotten past. There’s nothing more irritating than coming home late at night, knowing that there is not a car coming in either direction for miles, and sitting for what seems forever at Ney’s traffic light. There are times that I have had thoughts of ignoring the red light and continuing on to our home two blocks away. I don’t do so out of fear that the Highway Patrol or the Defiance County Sheriff is lurking nearby, waiting to pounce on disobedient drivers.

Ney, population 354, has two bars/restaurants, a hair salon, a gas station/convenience store, a smattering of businesses, including Defiance County Photo, and a post office. Ney does not have door-to-door mail delivery. This means that every resident has a post office box. Every day, Monday through Saturday, the postmaster and her assistant stuff the daily mail into the correct mailboxes. Items too large for the boxes are kept on a table near the service counter. Residents who have received such items find a yellow card in their mailbox. This card lets them know that there is a package or some sort of mail item requiring their signature waiting for them at the service counter. The post office service counter is open six hours a day during the week and three and a half hours on Saturday. Residents can access their mailboxes twenty-four hours a day.

Polly typically leaves for work around 4:15 PM each day. She is the one who normally gets the mail before she goes to work. Her almost-daily trips to the post office put her in contact with other locals. Ney is a friendly town, so it is not uncommon for people to strike up conversations while retrieving their mail. Today, Polly had someone ask her if I was a pastor. Polly, not wanting to engage the person in discussion about my loss of faith, replied, Bruce is retired. The woman went on to ask Polly if I would pray for her; that her significant other was sick and could die. I can think of no more difficult place for Polly or me be placed in than that of being asked to pray for someone who is going through a difficult time in her life. We want to be empathetic and caring, but at the same time we know that praying to a mythical God will accomplish nothing. In this particular case, Polly quickly changed the focus of the discussion from praying to having the woman share what she was going through. Polly, a pastor’s daughter and the wife of an Evangelical preacher for twenty-five years, knows that what most people really want and need is for someone to listen to them. The woman shared her anger towards God for letting her partner go through life-threatening suffering and pain. She wanted to know WHY this is happening to them. Some atheists might see the woman’s anguished questions as an opportunity to evangelize, but her pain was such that what she really needed was hearing someone say, I understand. Trying to evangelize someone at their lowest point is a common evangelistic method used by Evangelicals, but it shouldn’t be one used by atheists. What hurting people need is love, compassion, and genuine empathy. By choosing to empathize with the woman, Polly left the door open for further interaction. Perhaps there will come a time when she will have an opportunity to share her testimony; to share her story of losing her faith and how that loss has changed how she views the world. If not, that’s fine. Kindness towards others is always acceptable and appreciated.

I haven’t pastored a church since 2003, yet I still have locals ask me where I am pastoring. One man, every time I see him, asks, where are you pastoring these days? Not wanting to get into a discussion with him about my loss of faith, I quickly say, I’m not pastoring anywhere right now. While my answer is technically correct, I do feel a bit guilty about misleading him; as if there will EVER be a time when I pastor a church again. My pastoring days are over, yet no matter how vocal I am about atheism on this blog, and no matter how many letters I write to the editors of the local newspapers extolling atheism, humanism, and liberalism, there are still people who think I am Evangelical pastor. Their ignorance of my current state is made worse when they ask me or my wife to pray for them. I so want to say, God and I are not on speaking terms. Ten years ago, Jesus and I went through divorce, and we haven’t spoken to each other since. I do draw line at actually saying a prayer to just make someone happy. I won’t do it. But, it is not beneath me to show compassion towards religious people who naïvely think that their God is going to deliver them from whatever they are facing. God can’t help them any more than any of the TV doctors can help me with my medical problems. While Polly and I can’t offer anyone prayer, we can offer them love, compassion, and empathy. We generally care about the suffering of others. We can visualize how either of us might respond if one of us died. I can only imagine our grief, anguish, and heartache. And knowing how we might respond to similar circumstances, helps us — dare I use the word? — minister to others. When our lives are overwhelmed with chaos and grief, what we really need are people who understand. One needn’t be a pastor or even religious to be compassionate and understanding. One need only be human to understand the plight of others. On this particular day, Polly was given an opportunity to help someone who is going through a difficult patch. All the woman really needed was someone who would listen to her.

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.

Questions: Bruce, How Do You Handle Fear of God’s Wrath and Hell?

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.

Mary asked, “Bruce, How Do You Handle Fear of God’s Wrath and Hell?”

Those of us raised in Evangelical and Catholic churches heard countless Sunday school lessons and sermons on God’s judgment and wrath and the hell  that awaits those who refuse to repent of their sins and follow after Jesus. From preschool forward, well-meaning adults threatened us with Bible stories about God’s judgment and wrath. By the time we reached our teenage years, we had been thoroughly indoctrinated in Christian theology with its beliefs that humans are broken and in need of fixing; that those who refuse to be fixed by Jesus will spend eternity being tortured in a fiery lake of fire and brimstone. Most of us can remember feeling fear and terror when evangelists would warn us of the danger of not believing in Jesus Christ and following the teachings of the Bible. Most of us made numerous professions of faith and faced uncounted struggles over the surety of our salvation. Our pastors would preach on this or that sin — the very sins we were committing! — and fear and dread would fill our hearts. We would wonder, “am I really a Christian?” Every time we took communion we were reminded to examine ourselves and make sure we were in the faith. Not being “in the faith” exposed us to the wrath and judgment of God, our pastors said. God was not one to be trifled with, we were told. The safest thing any of us could do was immerse ourselves in the church and his teachings.

Many people exposed to Fundamentalist Christianity abandon it in their teenage years or when they go off to college. Others, such as myself and many of the readers of this blog, spent decades dutifully and faithfully serving the Christian God. I was part of the Christian church for fifty years, and I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five of those years. Every crevice of my mind was saturated with Evangelical belief. The Bible said it is a fearful thing to fall under the hands of the living God, and I certainly feared God. In times of feeling guilt over my “sins” I felt that God was just around the corner waiting to mete out his wrath upon my life and my family. God lurked in the shadows, ready, able, and willing to chastise me for my sins. I may have been saved, but there were days I felt as if I was dangling over the pit of hell, and the only thing that kept me from falling in was God’s long-suffering patience.

It should come no surprise then, that people who grow up this way are indoctrinated and conditioned in such a manner that they have a deep reverence and fear of God. He was touted as the creator of all things who holds the entire universe in the palm of his hand. God was not one to be messed with. Yet, despite all of this, many of us left Christianity and embraced atheism, agnosticism, humanism, or some other non-Christian religion. We are so glad to be free from the bondage and chains of our Christian past. You couldn’t pay us enough money to return to our religious past. We are free! Thank Loki, we are free, free at last! And yet, despite knowing we are free, many of us find that we are in bondage to our past because of residual thoughts about God’s wrath and hell. These thoughts are most often coupled with the question, what if I am wrong?

It’s natural for us to have doubts about the rightness of our divorce from Jesus. Our minds are flooded with snippets of sermons we’ve heard and Bible verses we have read about the existential and eternal danger of unbelief. We remember the stories preachers told us about people who refused to believe that Jesus was the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. One story sticks in my mind, even to this day. Charles Keen, a graduate of the same college I attended and the pastor for many years of First Baptist Church in Milford, Ohio, told a story about a man he repeatedly witnessed to. One day, the man was standing on a downtown street corner in Cincinnati. Shortly before this, Charles Keen had, yet again, witnessed to this man. As he took a step off of the street corner, the man had a massive coronary and dropped dead right in the street. He had heard the gospel for the last time, Pastor Keen said. And now, he is in hell! Stories such as this made a deep impression upon my life, and even today I remember them. I know that most, if not all, of these stories were lies or exaggerations, but they were told in such a way that caused me never to forget them.

Those of us who are unbelievers rationally know that fear of God’s wrath and hell are vestiges from our past; irrational leftovers from our days as followers of Jesus. When people first deconvert, it is not uncommon for them to struggle with fear and doubt. Did I make the right decision? What if the Christian God really is the true and living God? Man, if I’m wrong, I am going to burn forever in hell! If your deconversion was based on an honest examination of the claims Christians make for their religion, God, and the Bible, there is nothing to fear. As time goes on, thoughts of God’s wrath and hell will become less and less. It’s been ten years since divorce papers were served on Jesus. At first, I had more than a few sleepless nights when I struggled with the ramifications of my unbelief. But as time went along, these struggles became less and less. Now, Evangelical zealots will tell me that my struggles were the Holy Spirit trying to draw me back into the fold. Just remember, the Spirit of God will not always strive with man, these zealots say. There’s coming a day when God will stop talking to you and when that happens you have committed the unpardonable sin, crossing a line of no return. You have become the reprobate of Romans 1 and 2. Such warnings and threats no longer work with me. Once the Bible lost its authority over me, the spell was broken. Once I realized that the Bible was not what Christians claim it is and that their God was a myth, Jesus’ hold on me was forever severed. Once I was disconnected from the Borg collective, my mind was free to wander and roam the wonders of human knowledge and existence. Once I successfully scaled the walls of the box and fell over the side, I was free of the clutches of Evangelical Christianity. (See The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it  and What I Found When I Left the Box.) All that’s left is my KJV Oxford preaching Bible on the shelf. Well that, and a passel of regrets.

It has been ages since I have had a thought about God’s wrath or hell. As a sixty-one-year-old man who daily battles chronic illness and unrelenting pain, I do have thoughts about death, but not in a religious context. My thoughts tend to focus on the brevity of life and human existence. I have thoughts about going to sleep one night and never waking up; the loss of family and friends and all the things that matter to me. My thoughts are about how much more I wish I had accomplished and how much of my life I wasted chasing after a nonexistent God and hallucinatory eternal life. No one can reach my age without a few regrets. Nothing I can do about them except turn them into blog posts. The past has nothing for me, but today, tomorrow, and next year, if fate allows, are everything — the land of hope and promise. I choose to focus on seven things: my relationship with my wife, my children and grandchildren, my friends, my photography, this blog, and eating good food — in that order. I have no time for thoughts of a Bronze Age God’s wrath. I have no time for thoughts of a mythical heaven or hell. And when, on those rare moments in the dark of night when I have a stray thought about how much the Christian God is pissed off at me and how he is going to make me pay in hell, all I can do is chuckle and remind myself that such thoughts are residuals of a life I have long left behind; no different from thoughts of an old girlfriend I dated in high school or a car I once owned. I know my mind is filled with all sorts of clutter and detritus, and, at times, this junk might make a passing appearance in my thoughts. Nothing to worry about.

If you have similar feelings, just laugh, and then utter an atheistic prayer of gratefulness and thankfulness; grateful that you are no longer in bondage and thankful that your mind is no longer in shackles. Ponder how good you have it. Billions of people are enslaved by religion, yet you are free. Free! Free to wander the path wherever it leads. Free to love whomever you want to love. I can think of no better life than one built upon the humanistic ideal. Focusing on the awesomeness of the life you now have can and will drive fear of God’s wrath and hell away. Live long enough, and your religious past will become a distant memory.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

Bruce, 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.

Did My Philosophy of Ministry Change Over the Years I Spent in the Ministry?

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

My editor recently asked me a question about how my philosophy of ministry had changed from when I first began preaching in 1976 until I left the ministry in 2005. I thought her question would make for an excellent blog post.

I typically date my entrance into the ministry from when I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in the fall of 1976. I actually preached my first sermon at age 15, not long after I went forward during an evening service at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, and publicly declared to my church family that God was calling me into the ministry. My public affirmation of God’s call was the fulfillment of the desire I expressed as a five-year-old boy when someone asked me: what do you want to be when you grow up? My response was, I want to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never had any doubts about what I wanted to do with my life. While I’m unsure as to why this is so, all I know is this: I always wanted to be a preacher.

Trinity Baptist Church was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). From my preschool years forward, every church I attended was either an IFB church or a generic Evangelical congregation. When I entered Midwestern in 1976, all that I knew about the Bible, the ministry, and life itself was a result of the preaching, teaching, and experiences I had at the churches I was part of. These churches, along with my training at Midwestern, profoundly affected my life, filling my mind with theological, political, and social beliefs that shaped my worldview. These things, then, became the foundation of my philosophy of ministry.

The fact that I grew up in a dysfunctional home also played a big part in the development of my ministerial philosophy. During my elementary and high school years, I attended numerous schools. The longest spell at one school was the two and a half years I spent at Central Junior High School and Findlay High School in Findlay Ohio. All told, I attended four high schools, two junior high schools, and five elementary schools. Someone asked me years ago if I went to a lot different schools because my dad got transferred a lot. I laughed, and replied, no, dad just never paid the rent. While my father was always gainfully employed, the Gerencser family was never far from the poorhouse, thanks to nefarious financial deals and money mismanagement. I quickly figured out that if I wanted clothing, spending money, and, at times, lunch money, it was up to me to find a way to get the money to pay for these things. There were times that I sneaked into my dad’s bedroom and stole money from his wallet so I could pay for my school lunches. Dad thought that the local Rink’s Bargain City — which I called Bargain Shitty — was the place to buy clothing for his children. I learned that if I wanted to look like my peers that I was going to have to find a way to get enough money to pay for things such as Converse tennis shoes, platform shoes, and Levi jeans. In my early junior high years, I turned to shoplifting for my clothing needs. From ninth grade forward, I had a job, whether it was mowing grass, raking leaves, shoveling snow, or holding down a job at the local Bill Knapp’s restaurant. I also worked at my dad’s hobby shop, for which he paid me twenty-five cents an hour, minus whatever I spent for soda from the pop machine.

My mother, sexually molested by her father as a child and later raped by her brother-in-law, spent most of her adult life battling mental illness. Mom was incarcerated against her will several times at the Toledo State Mental Hospital. She attempted suicide numerous times, using everything from automobiles, pills, and razor blades to bring about her demise. One such attempt when I was in fifth grade left an indelible mark, one that I can still, to this day, vividly remember. I rode the bus to school. One day, after arriving home, I entered the house and found my mom laying in a pool blood on the kitchen floor. She had slit her wrists. Fortunately, she survived, but suicide was never far from her mind. At the age of fifty-four, mom turned a .357 Magnum Ruger revolver towards her heart and pulled the trigger. She bled out on the bathroom floor.

It is fair to say that we humans are the sum of our experiences, and that our beliefs are molded and shaped by the things we experience in life. I know my life certainly was. As I reflect on my philosophy of ministry, I can see how these things affected how I ministered to others. The remainder of this post will detail that philosophy and how it changed over the course of my life.

When I entered the ministry, my philosophy was quite simple: preach the gospel and win souls to Christ. Jesus was the solution to every problem, and if people would just get saved, all would be well. I find it interesting that this Jesus-centric/gospel-centric philosophy was pretty much a denial of what I had, up until that point, experienced in life. While the churches I attended certainly preached this philosophy, my real-life experiences told me that Jesus and salvation, while great, did not change people as much as preachers said they did. But, that’s the philosophy I was taught, so I entered the ministry with a burning desire to win as many souls as possible, believing that if I did so it would have a profound effect on the people I ministered to.

I also believed that poor people (and blacks) were lazy, and if they would just get jobs and work really, really hard, they would have successful lives. I would quickly learn as a young married man that life was more complex than I first thought, and that countless Americans went to work every day, worked hard, did all they could to become part of the American middle class, yet they never experienced the American dream. I also learned that two people can be given the same opportunities in life and end up with vastly different lives. In other words, I learned that we humans are complex beings, and there’s nothing simple about life on planet earth. I also learned that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. I would much later in life conclude that life is pretty much a crapshoot.

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. Somerset Baptist was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. I pastored this church for almost twelve years. During this time, the church grew from a first service attendance of sixteen to an average attendance over two hundred. The church also experienced a decline in membership over time, with fifty or so people attending the last service of the church. Somerset Baptist was located in Perry County, the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. Coal mines and stripper oil wells dotted the landscape. Unemployment was high. In the 1980s, unemployment exceeded twenty percent. It should come as no surprise then, that most of the members of Somerset Baptist were poor. Thanks in part to my preaching of the Calvinistic work ethic (also known as the shaming of people who don’t have jobs), all the men of the church were gainfully employed, albeit most families were receiving food stamps and other government assistance. During the years I spent at this church, I received a world-class education concerning systemic poverty. I learned that people can work hard and still not get ahead. I also learned that family dysfunction, which included everything from drug/alcohol addiction, domestic violence, child abuse, and even incest, often was generational; that people were the way they were, with or without Jesus, because that’s all they knew. I pastored families that had never been more than fifty miles from their homes. At one point, some members of our church took a church auto trip to Virginia, and I recall how emotional some members were when they crossed the bridge from Ohio into West Virginia. It was the years I spent in Somerset Ohio that dramatically changed how I viewed the world. This, of course, led to an evolving philosophy of ministry.

bruce gerencser 1990's

Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s

While I never lost my zeal to win souls for Christ, my preaching, over time, took on a more comprehensive, holistic approach. Instead of preaching, get right with God and all would be well, I began to teach congregants how to apply the Bible to every aspect of their lives. I stop preaching textual and topical sermons, choosing instead to preach expositionally through various books of the Bible. I also realized that one way I could help the children of the church was to provide a quality education for them. Sure, religious indoctrination was a part of the plan, but I realized that if the children of the church were ever going to rise above their parents, they were going to have to be better educated. For my last five years at Somerset Baptist, I was the administrator and a teacher at Somerset Baptist Academy — a private, tuition-free school for church children. My wife and I, along with several other adults in the church, were the primary teachers. Our focus was on the basics: reading, English, writing, and arithmetic. Some of the students were years behind in their education. We used a one-room schoolhouse approach, and there were several instances of high school students doing math with third-grade students. We educated children where they were, regardless of their grade. Polly taught the younger students, and was instrumental in many of them learning to read. Most of the students, who are now in their thirties and forties, have fond memories of Polly teaching them reading and English. Their memories are not as fond of Preacher, the stern taskmaster.

During the five years we operated the school, I spent hours every day with the church’s children. I learned much about their home lives and how poverty and dysfunction affected them. Their experiences seem so similar to my own, and over time I began to realize that part of my ministerial responsibility was to minister to the temporal social needs of the people I came in contact with. This change of ministry philosophy would, over time, be shaped and strengthened by changing political and theological beliefs.

In 1995, I started a new church in West Unity, Ohio called Grace Baptist Church. The church would later change its name to Our Father’s House — reflecting my increasing ecumenicalism. During the seven years I spent in West Unity, my preaching moved leftward, so much so that a man who had known me in my younger years told me I was preaching another gospel — the social gospel. My theology moved from fundamentalist Calvinism to theological beliefs focused on good works. I came to believe that true Christian faith rested not on right beliefs. but good works; that faith without works was dead; that someday Jesus would judge us, not according to our beliefs, but by our works. While at Our Father’s House, I started a number of ministries which were no-strings-attached social outreaches to the poor. The church never grew to more than fifty or sixty people, but if I had to pick one church that was my favorite it would be this one. Outside of one kerfuffle where a handful of families left the church, my time at Our Father’s House was peaceful. For the most part, I pastored a great bunch of people who sincerely loved others and wanted to help them in any way they could.

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000

In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. He would be the last Republican I voted for. As my theology became more liberal, so did my politics, and by the time I left the ministry in 2005, I was politically far from the right-wing Republicanism of my early years in the ministry. Today, I am as liberal as they come. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the last presidential primary election. Politically, I am a Democratic Socialist. To some people, depending on where they met me in life, my liberal beliefs are shocking. One man was so bothered by not only my politics, but my loss of faith, that he told me he could no longer be friends with me; that he found my changing beliefs and practices too psychologically unsettling.

I’m now sixty years old, and come July, I will be married to my beautiful bride for forty years. Much has changed in my life, particularly in the last decade, but one constant remains: I genuinely love people and want to help them. This is why some people think I am still a pastor, albeit an atheist one. I suspect had I been born into a liberal Christian home I might have become a professor or a social worker, and if I had to do it all over again I probably would have pursued these types of careers, choosing to be a bi-vocational pastor instead of a full-time one. But, I didn’t, and my life story is what it is. Perhaps when I am reincarnated, I will get an opportunity to walk a different path. But, then again, who knows where that path might take me. As I stated previously, we humans are complex beings, and our lives are the sum of our experiences. Change the experiences, change the man.

I hope that I’ve adequately answered my editor’s question. This post turned out to be much longer than I thought it would be, much like my sermons years ago.

bruce and polly gerencser 2017

Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2017

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 Pastor Russ Dean, Let Me Explain to You Why so Many Atheists Are Angry

pastor russ dean

Pastor Russ Dean and Family (and dog)

Dear Pastor Dean,

You recently wrote the following for Baptist News Global:

For a couple years I’ve been having an intellectual battle with atheists. Not all of them, but the people I refer to as “evangelical atheists.” They are angry and passionate and just as religiously cocksure as the fundamentalist believers they despise.

Or maybe it’s all believers they despise. To them we are all weak-minded and superstitious and pathetically out of touch. If only we’d grow up. If only we’d get an education. If only we had a fraction of their intellectual depth, we would give up our tribal, backwoodsy notions of “God.”

As you can tell, I’m a little passionate about this.

I’m not so much offended by their insulting condescension — though it wouldn’t hurt them to be a little nicer — if only for tactical purposes. As we say in the South, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

More to the point, I’m disappointed by their argument against God. While purporting to be so intellectually superior, too many atheists take on only the worst of religion. If I positioned an argument against only 5th-grade science or against those scientists who had used their knowledge to master the atomic bomb or build Internet viruses or promote biological warfare, I could make a pretty good argument against the inanity and wickedness of science, too.

So it is either disingenuous to argue only against religious fundamentalism, or it’s embarrassing for such smart people to be so uninformed about the true variety and richness of religion. Too often atheists ignore the traditions of vigorous intellectual pursuit which can be found in the theological explorations of all of the world’s religions.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe in the same god many atheists don’t believe in!

….

Between these two disheartening poles, angry atheists on one hand and fundamentalist Christians on the other, it’s not the muddled mush of some middle ground I’m seeking — which makes staking a claim to “free and faithful” even more difficult.

I want to take a few moments to respond to some of the things you mention in your post about angry atheists.

American atheists tend to respond to the dominate religion of their culture — Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicalism dominates everything from state and federal governments all the way down to local school boards and city councils. Groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, American Humanists, and Americans for Separation of Church and State spend countless hours dealing with Evangelical breaches of the wall of separation between church and state. Often, these groups are forced to sue schools and governments to stop their violations of the U.S. Constitution. I live in rural Northwest Ohio, a place dominated by God, Guns, and Right-Wing Republican politics. The aforementioned groups could spend the next year here litigating church and state violations. Imagine, for a moment, being an atheist in such a place. Imagine having to sit and watch as Evangelicals trash the Constitution. Imagine not being able to find employment because many businesses don’t want to employ an atheist. Imagine a place where every officeholder is a Republican who loves Jesus, the Bible, and Friday night football. Imagine hearing of sermons where atheists are described as haters of God, child molesters, possessed by demons, and tools of Satan. Imagine being one of only a few atheists who are willing to push back against Evangelical zealots, standing in for others who fear loss of employment, family, and friends if they dare say they don’t believe. Imagine being forced to be a secret atheist lest it ruins your marriage. Imagine pretending to be a Christian and attending church so your spouse and family won’t question your beliefs and judge you harshly.

What I have described above is real life for many atheists. You might want to walk in their shoes before you slap the “angry” atheists label on them. I wonder, would you be angry if you had to live in denial of who and what you are? What if the shoe were on the other foot, and it were Christians who were treated in this manner. How would you respond then? You speak from a seat of privilege. While that privilege is increasingly being challenged, Christians still have the seat at the head of the table. Last fall, I attended a secular coffee house concert where a Christian musician started to tell a faith-based story. She paused for a moment, perhaps pondering the appropriateness of her evangelizing, and then said, well, we are all Christians here, right? I wanted to shout, HELL NO, WE ARE NOT ALL CHRISTIANS. Instead, I mumbled something to my wife and kept quiet. The musician’s statement reflects commonly held sentiment here in Northwest Ohio. I suspect the same could be said of the South and Midwest. Jesus is the king of the hill, and if you want to be fully embraced by your community you better at least pretend to be a Jesus Club® member.

You object to atheists responding to what you call the “worst of religion.” I assume that you think your version of Christianity is a better version, and perhaps it is. You and your church are progressive socially and politically. You have many beliefs that I admire. Yes, I said admire. I’m sure we could work together in turning back Donald Trump’s Evangelical followers as they attempt to establish a theocratic government. While I am not sure of your view of the culture war, I suspect on this front too we could find common ground to work together. I am pro-choice, yet I am more than willing to work with people of faith who object to abortion for moral reasons. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a Christian willing to accept my help. Instead, I am labelled a murderer who is worthy of death.

I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I grew up in the Independent Baptist/Evangelical church. I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I even pastored a Southern Baptist church for a time (not a pleasant experience). I am quite conversant in Christian theology, in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Progressive Christians tend to paint themselves as different from Evangelicals. Often they are, but I have also found that if I dig a bit I will sometimes expose Evangelical beliefs at their core. For example, take the doctrine of eternal punishment. This is the one doctrine that many of my fellow atheists and I have a problem with. Not that we think there is Hell, but that there are Jesus-loving people who look at us and say, unless you believe as I do, unless you are saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, you will spend eternity in a lake of fire being tortured by God day and night. Worse yet, the God whom Evangelicals say loves everyone plans to give all non-Christians a new body after death so they can withstand endless burning and torture.

Whatever your beliefs might be, Pastor Dean, the only doctrine that really matters to me is whether you believe that I will spend eternity in Hell (or be annihilated) because I am an atheist; because I do not find the evidence for Christianity compelling. If you believe that, yes, I will spend eternity in Hell, then I have a hard time seeing you as a decent person. I am a kind, loving, thoughtful man. I’ve been married for forty years. I love my wife, six children, and eleven grandchildren. While I am far from perfect, I would be more than happy to compare good works with the best of God’s chosen ones. Yet, if there is a Hell, none of this matters. All that matters is that I have the “right” beliefs — as if Christians themselves even know what these right beliefs are. Belief in Hell, then, is the standard by which I judge Christians. If they believe only certain people will go to Heaven after death, then I have zero interest in being friends with them. Thinking your neighbor deserves to be tortured for wrong beliefs or human behaviors deemed “sinful” is offensive. Surely, you can see how atheists might become angry over Christians dismissing their lives in this manner. Granted, atheists aren’t worried about going to Hell because Hell doesn’t exist, but like most humans, we do desire to be well thought of by others. We very much want to part of the communities we live in.

Most of the atheists I know aren’t angry. They just want to live and let live. They want to live authentic lives filled with meaning and purpose (and not have Christians tell them there is no meaning and purpose in life without the Christian God). Unfortunately, literalism and certainty drive many Christians to evangelize anyone and everyone who doesn’t believe as they do, atheists included. Readers of this blog know that I am not an evangelist for atheism. I write about my past experiences as an Evangelical pastor. I also critique Evangelical Christianity, calling into question beliefs and practices they swear are straight from the mouth of God. I know Evangelicalism inside and out, and readers tend to trust my opinions. That said, I don’t care one way or the other if someone becomes an atheist. I consider any move away from Fundamentalism (and Evangelicalism is inherently Fundamentalist) a good thing. I view myself as a facilitator who helps people as they journey along the road of life. To use a worn-out cliché, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

My writing is widely read by religious and non-religious people, and it attracts legions of Evangelical zealots. These zealots call me names, attack my family, and even threaten me with death. These “loving” people of God are hateful and mean-spirited, some of them going so far as to attempt to hack my site or crash it with DDOS attacks. You see, Pastor Dean, your backyard has plenty of shit in it too. How about we both agree that angry Christians and angry atheists do not represent Christianity and atheists as a whole? How about we agree not to use social media as the measuring stick for determining the demeanor of Christians and atheists as a whole? I am sure that, like me, you can become angry. Anger is, after all, a human emotion. After leaving Christianity, I actually had to reconnect with my emotions. I had to learn that it was normal to be angry. What mattered is what I did with my anger. I spent fifty years dying to self/crucifying the flesh. The real me was swallowed up by Jesus and the ministry. It was refreshing, post-Jesus, to be human again. I am still in the process of reconnecting with the real Bruce Gerencser.

Rarely does a week go by where I don’t receive an email or a blog comment from Christians who think they can psychoanalyze me by reading a few blog posts. These mind readers just know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am bitter, angry, and hate God. No matter how much time I spend responding to them or explaining myself, they still heap judgment upon my head. Years ago, I told my counselor that I was perplexed by this treatment. Here I would share my journey and answer their questions and these followers of the thrice holy God would still heap judgment and condemnation upon me. Why? I wondered. My counselor laughed and told me, Bruce, you wrongly think they give a shit about what you believe. They don’t. He, of course, was right. Evangelicals, for the most part, aren’t interested in my story or what I believe. What matters is winning me back to Jesus. What matters is winning a victory for Team Jesus®. What matters is vanquishing the atheist preacher and his “followers.”

Perhaps, by now, Pastor Dean, you can sense and understand why I might be justifiably angry if I chose be. However, I choose not to be angry. Life is too short for me to spend it arguing with people who aren’t really interested in what I have to say.  Let me concludes this post with the advice I give to everyone who stumbles upon my blog:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Please feel free to contact me when you have a question about atheists and their beliefs. You and I are never going to agree on the God question and the veracity of Christianity, but we can both do our best to understand each other. When given the opportunity, I do my best to call out atheists when they wrongly represent Christian belief. Facts matter, and atheists should be factual in their representations of Christian belief and practice. I ask that you do the same. I am considered by more than a few atheists to be too friendly with religious people. Since most people worship some sort of deity, it would be foolish for me not to be friendly to people of faith. All I ask is that religious people grant me the same courtesy.

Be well, Pastor Dean.

Bruce Gerencser

P.S. I also could have written thousands of words about how I was treated by colleagues in the ministry and former congregants after they found out l left the ministry and left Christianity.  Needless to say, these so-called men of God and sanctified church members revealed for all to see the ugliness and hate that lies just under the surface of Evangelical Christianity. I find myself asking, why in the hell would I ever want to be a Christian again? Why would I want to around people who treat people in such dehumanizing ways? Forget whether the Christian narrative is true. If Christians can’t be people of love, compassion, and peace, they have nothing to offer unbelievers.

Note

Pastor Dean’s bio states:

Russ Dean is co-pastor of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. A native of Clinton, S.C., and a graduate of Furman University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he earned a D.Min. degree from Beeson Divinity School. He and his wife, Amy, have been in church ministry for 30 years, and they have served as co-pastors of Park Road since 2000. He is active in social justice ministries and interfaith dialogue, and when he isn’t writing sermons or posts for Baptist News Global you’ll find Russ in his shed doing wood working, playing jazz music, slalom or barefoot water skiing, hiking and camping, or watching his two teenage boys on the baseball field.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of almost 40 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.

Living With OCPD

garfield ocpd

I have battled Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) for most of my adult life. While OCPD and OCD have some similarities, there are differences, namely:

  • People with OCD have insight, meaning they are aware that their unwanted thoughts are unreasonable. People with OCPD think their way is the “right and best way” and usually feel comfortable with such self-imposed systems of rules.
  • The thoughts, behaviors and feared consequences common to OCD are typically not relevant to real-life concerns; people with OCPD are fixated with following procedures to manage daily tasks.
  • Often OCD interferes in several areas in the person’s life including work, social and/or family life. OCPD usually interferes with interpersonal relationships, but makes work functioning more efficient. It is not the job itself that is hurt by OCPD traits, but the relationships with co-workers, or even employers can be strained.
  • Typically, people with OCPD don’t believe they require treatment. They believe that if everyone else conformed to their strict rules, things would be fine! The threat of losing a job or a relationship due to interpersonal conflict may be the motivator for therapy. This is in contrast to people with OCD who feel tortured by their unwanted thoughts and rituals, and are more aware of the unreasonable demands that the symptoms place on others, often feeling guilty because of this.
  • Family members of people with OCPD often feel extremely criticized and controlled by people with OCPD. Similar to living with someone with OCD, being ruled under OCPD demands can be very frustrating and upsetting, often leading to conflict. (OCPD Fact Sheet)

I have been considered a perfectionist most of my life, a badge I wore with honor for many years, and one I still wear on occasion. As we age — I am now sixty — we tend to reflect on our lives and how we got where we are today. Self-reflection and assessment are good, allowing us the opportunity to be honest about the path we have taken and choices we have made in life.

When I first realized fifteen or so years ago that I had a problem, a BIG problem that was harming my wife and children, the first thing I did was try to figure out how I ended up with OCPD. While my mother had perfectionist tendencies, she was quite comfortable living in the midst of clutter and disarray (but not uncleanliness). I concluded that it was my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing with its literalistic interpretations of the Bible that planted in me the seeds of what would one day become OCPD. I spent most of my adult life diligently and relentlessly striving to follow after Jesus and to keep his commandments. But try as I might, I still continued to come up short. This, of course, only made me pray more, study more, give more, driving me to allot more and more of my time to God/church/ministry. In doing so, the things that should have mattered the most to me — Polly, our children, my health, and enjoying life — received little attention. Polly was taught at Midwestern Baptist College that she would have to sacrifice her relationship with me for the sake of the ministry. I was, after all, a divinely called man of God. Needless to say, for way too many years, our lives were consumed by Christianity and the work of the ministry, so much so that we lost all sense of who we really were.

ocd santa

Perhaps someday several of my children will write about growing up in a home with a father who had OCPD. The stories are humorous now, but not so much when they were lived out in real time. My children are well versed in Dad’s rules of conduct. Granted, some of these rules such as “do it right the first time” have served them well in their chosen fields of employment, but their teacher was quite the taskmaster, and I am certain there were better ways for them to learn these rules.

My oldest sons fondly remember helping me center the church pulpit, right down to a one-sixteenth of an inch. Did it matter if the pulpit was slightly off center? For the world — of course not; but, for me it did. I felt the same way about how I prepared my sermons, folded the bulletins, cleaned the church, and countless other day-to-day responsibilities. When I took on secular jobs, employers loved me because I was a no-nonsense, time to lean, time to clean manager. (Is it any surprise that most of my adult jobs were either pastoring churches or management jobs?)

People walking into my study were greeted by a perfectly cleaned and ordered office. The desktop was neat, and the drawers were organized, with everything having a place. My book shelves were perfectly ordered from tallest to smallest book and then by subject. Dress-wise, I wore white one-hundred-percent pinpoint cotton shirts and black wingtip shoes. My suits were well-kept and matched whatever tie I was wearing. My appearance mattered to me. Congregants knew they would never find me shopping at the local Walmart wearing a tee shirt and sweatpants.

What I have mentioned above sounds fine, right? Surely, I should have a right to order my life any way I want to. And that would be true, except for the fact that I live in a world populated by other people; people who are not like me; people who are happy with clutter, disarray, and OMG even dirt! It is in their personal relationships that people with OCPD have problems, and, in some instances, they can drive away the very people who love them.

For the first twenty-five years of marriage, my relationship with Polly was defined by Fundamentalist/patriarchal thinking. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that such beliefs play well in the minds of people with OCPD. I had high expectations not only for myself, but for my wife and children too. We all, of course, miserably failed, but all that did was increase the pressures to conform to silly (at times harmful) behavioral expectations. It didn’t help matters that I was an outgoing decision-maker married to a passive, always-conform-to-the-wishes-of-others woman. While we put on quite a dog and pony show for most of our time in the ministry, behind the scenes things were not as they outwardly appeared to be.

Towards the end of my time in the ministry — the early 2000s — I began to see how harmful my behavior was when it came to my familial relationships (and to a lesser degree my relationship with congregants). While it would be another decade before I would finally seek out professional secular counseling, I did begin to make changes in my life. These changes caused a new set of conflicts due to the fact that everyone was used to me being the boss, with everything being according to my plan. While Polly and the kids loved their new-found freedom, there were times where they were quite content to let me be the stern patriarch. As with all lasting change, it takes time to undo deeply-seated behaviors.

I am not so naive as to believe that I am “cured” from OCPD. I am not. My counselor is adept at pointing out to me when certain behaviors of mine move towards what he calls my OCD tendencies. I have had to be repeatedly schooled in the difference between good/bad and different. For example, young people today generally discipline their children differently from their baby-boomer parents. Read enough memes on Facebook and you will conclude that young parents have lost their minds when it comes to raising their children. What that brat needs is a licking, right? What I continue to learn is that people who act differently from me, look different from me, or have beliefs different from mine are not necessarily wrong/bad. Most often, what they really are is different. Learning to be at peace with differences has gone a long way in muting my OCPD thinking.

Both Polly and I agree that the last decade or so of married life has been great. One of the reasons for this has been my willingness to realize where my OCPD is causing harm and making the necessary changes to end the harm. The first thing I learned is that everyone is entitled to his or her own space. I have every right to order my office, drawers, and cars as I want them to be. I no longer apologize for having OCPD. All that I ask of others is that when they invade my space, that they respect my wishes. And that works for others too. I have to respect the personal boundaries of Polly and our children. This is why I do not meddle in the lives of my children. I give advice when asked, but outside of that, they are free to live as they please. Do my children make decisions I disagree with; decisions that leave me mumbling and cussing? Yep, but it’s their lives, not mine, and I love them regardless of the choices they make.

The second thing I learned is that it important for Polly and me to have times of distance from each other. It is okay for each of us to do things without the other. We don’t have to like all the same things. Understanding this has allowed Polly’s life to blossom in ways I could never have imagined. If you had known Polly in 1999 and then met the 2018 version, why you would wonder if she is possessed. From going back to college and graduating, to becoming an outspoken manager at work, Polly is an awesome example of what someone can become once the chains of Fundamentalism and patriarchal thinking have been broken.

ocd cartoon

The third thing I learned is that my OCPD can be productively channeled, with my personal relationships surviving afterward. Polly loves it when she comes home and finds that I have emptied the cupboards, cleaned them, and replaced everything neatly and in order. The joke in the family is that people want me to come clean their house for them but they can’t stand being around me when I do. In the public spaces where our lives collide, Polly and I have had to learn to give and take. I have learned that it is okay to leave the newspaper on the floor until tomorrow, and Polly has learned, come holidays, that I am going to clean every inch of the house — with her help of course. She will never understand why my underwear drawer needs to be straightened up for company, and she will likely never understand the need to clean under the stove/refrigerator for four times a year. But, because she loves me, she smiles and says, what do you need me to do next?

My chronic health problems and chronic, unrelenting pain have forced me to let go of some of my obsessions. I can’t, so I don’t. I don’t find this giving in/giving up easy to deal with, but I have come to see that life is too short for me to not enjoy the moment even if everything is not in perfect order. That said, I still have OCPD moments, and I suspect I always will. Several years ago, I had a dentist appointment. The dental assistant had me have a seat in the exam room. When she returned, she found me tapping the valance on the blind with my cane. I told her, I have been sitting here for years with that crooked valance driving me crazy. There, it’s fixed! She laughed. Later, she returned and told me that the all the valances in the other rooms were off-center too. She said, I never noticed that until you pointed it out to me. I likely will always have an eye for when something is crooked, especially wall hangings and sign lettering. Why can’t the doctor’s office get notices straight when they tape them on the wall, right? Dammit, how hard is it to do the job right the first time! Sigh, you see, OCPD never completely goes away, but it can be managed and controlled, allowing me, for the most part, to have satisfying and happy relationships with the people I love.

Enough of this. I have two monitors on my desk, and the right one is an eighth-inch higher than the left. Time to fix this glaring, earth-shattering mismatch, right? Dammit, where’s my level and tape measure?

Do you have OCPD or OCD tendencies? Please share your experiences in the comment section. I am especially interested in hearing of how Fundamentalism affected your behavior.

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.

Why Our Christians Friends Leave Us When We Deconvert

church is a family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.