Tag Archive: Leaving the Ministry

Why Am I Different From My College Classmates?

bruce gerencser 2002

Bruce Gerencser, 2002

During the 1970s, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. It was there that I met my wife, Polly. Started in the 1950s by Tom Malone, Midwestern was a school known for turning out preachers. Most women attending Midwestern were there to snag themselves a man. My wife was no exception. She believed she was called to be a pastor’s wife. I was studying to be a pastor, so I suppose you could say our divine callings matched and our marriage was made in Heaven — or something like that, anyway. (We celebrated 40 years of marriage last July.) All we knew for sure was that God called us to build churches and evangelize the lost. Everything we were taught at Midwestern had these two things as their goal. We left Midwestern in 1979 and embarked on a twenty-five-year journey that took us to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Virtually everything we did was in fulfillment of God’s call upon our lives, yet, today, we are no longer Christians and it has been more than ten years since we darkened the doors of a church. What happened to us?

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

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

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

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

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 My Life Noticeably Better or Worse Now That I’m Not a Christian?

guest post

Guest post by John

I don’t remember the exact date when I decided that I would not label myself as a Christian anymore. It’s probably been a couple of years — a gradual process, not a one-time event. Ironically, my deconversion was mainly due to a very in-depth, two-year study of the Bible and its history. Don’t get me wrong, I had studied the Bible for years previous to this. But it was always with the denominational glasses I had on at the time, and the theology books about the Bible that were written by authors within that same camp. Once I started studying with an open mind (at least as open as I could manage at the time) and read books by many different authors, wow! . . . I finally came to a place where I just couldn’t believe it anymore.

Recently, for some reason, I started thinking about my life when I was part of the Christian religion versus where I am now. Back then, I was happy where I was. I didn’t leave the church because of some hurt or disappointment, it was just what I thought I was supposed to do at the time. Once away from the influence of the church, I was able to study and ponder more freely, using my own mind to decide what I believed, and not what I was told to believe.

Now that I don’t hold to any of those beliefs, I’m also happy. It’s nothing that I can quantify, so it’s just my experience. I think I’m happier and better equipped to handle life now. I’ve learned a lot about the human brain and my own personality. Through that understanding and some meditation practice, I was able to come out of a four-year depression. I prayed and prayed for my depression to be lifted from me, but it wasn’t until I gained some understanding of how my brain works that I was able to take steps to head out of it.

I have some level of pain in my body most days. It’s from various things such as scoliosis, arthritis, years of running, karate, weight lifting, etc. I was very active in my youth and always just pushed through the pain. I eventually got to the point where I had to abandon most of my athletic activities. During this time, I prayed and prayed for healing. Nothing changed. I eventually found a tai chi instructor and started doing yoga. I was also able to find a good chiropractor. These helped me greatly! It could be argued that these were “answers” to my prayers. I guess that could be, right? But I did go looking for these tools hoping for some kind of relief. I am now relatively pain free compared to several years ago.

I am better off financially than I was when I was in church. I faithfully gave ten to twenty percent of my gross income to the church, trusting that God would take care of my needs. I didn’t go broke or anything like that. In fact, I had some pretty amazing things happen along the way to keep me going financially. But after I quit giving all that money to the church, I was able to come out of debt for the first time since graduating from college in 1991. I’m all for giving to charitable organizations. I still give to organizations that I believe in. But when I took some time and started saving and/or paying my debts with the money I gave to the church, I was able to pay off stuff and have the money to give without putting myself in a bad financial situation.

What about all those friends that I left behind? Good question. I enjoyed the fellowship that I had with lots of people in the church. But once I left, I realized that those were task-based relationships. And there is nothing wrong with that. We all have them, whether at work, our kids’ activities, or people we meet while doing our hobbies, etc. When I left the church, I did not hear from one church member. Again, they were task-based relationships, and I get that.

I have fewer “friends” now than I used to, but the friendships that I have now are deeper and more real and they let me be myself, and vice versa.

That’s something I really don’t miss! Putting on the “church face,” especially if you are on staff. “How are you today, pastor?”  “Blessed and highly favored, brother. Ha ha ha haaaa.”  I rarely felt the freedom to be real with people. And I rarely felt that they were real with me.

Remember all those bad things that we thought would happen to us if we didn’t do what we were told to do? Well, guess what? I don’t attend church anymore, I don’t read the Bible anymore, I don’t pray anymore (I no longer believe that there is a god to pray to, at least not the Christian version of god), I don’t tithe anymore . . . and nothing tragic has befallen me because I don’t do any of these things. Oh sure, I have to deal with the occasional cold or unexpected expense or the death of a loved one. But that’s just life! I had all those things going on when I was a Christian. Now that I’m away from religion, I feel as if I can see a little clearer. I have non-religious friends and religious ones, and they all deal with life, just as I do. Sometimes tragedy befalls us. No one is exempt. But, oddly enough, I feel like I handle the difficulties of life better now than I did in my religious days. I’ve learned to flow with life better — the good and the bad. Instead of wondering why a prayer wasn’t answered or why God would let something happen, I just realize that everyone has ups and downs. Sometimes people make good decisions and sometimes they make bad ones. I’ve learned a lot from secular Buddhism and Taoism over the last few years, and that helps me. I’m not saying I never get down or frustrated or angry. But I much prefer my current mindset and outlook on life to the way I used to see things.

I rarely feel bad about myself. Depending on the flavor of Christianity people come from, they are constantly told that they are sinners; worthless crap that Jesus had to die for so they don’t go to hell. Man, that just sounds weird to me now! I’m not saying that I’m always what people would call a saint. But I try not to be a dick, choosing instead to treat people the way I would like to be treated. Oh, by the way, that’s in the Bible. LOL! And sometimes, I do act like a dick, but I do my best to treat people decently. I remind myself that life can be really hard and people are just trying to get through their day. so I try to be kind. Not for any future heavenly reward, and not for any medals, or a better life next time around. Just because . . . It feels good to be kind with no hook or ulterior motive. (Like, if I’m nice to this person, maybe they will come to church with me. Gag!!!)

Anyway . . .

Overall, my life is better now than when I was a Christian. At least my outlook on life and the way I handle things seem to be better. I wouldn’t go back to the religious days.

Questions: Bruce, Do You Miss Being A Preacher?

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.

Victor asked: Do you miss being a preacher?

I preached my first sermon at age fifteen. While attending Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, I preached on Sunday afternoons at the SHAR House in Detroit — a drug rehab center. I pastored Evangelicals churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan for twenty-five years. All told, I preached thousands of sermons to tens of thousands of people. If the ministry were just about preaching and teaching, I would say, without reservation, that I miss being a preacher. I thoroughly enjoyed preaching and teaching congregants the Word of God. I enjoyed the intellectual work that went into crafting a good sermon. I suspect, if I could choose a career in the secular world, that I would want to be a college professor.

Of course, the ministry entails a lot more than just preaching. I spent countless hours counseling people, performing weddings, conducting funerals, attending congregational/board meetings, and ministering to the social needs of congregants and the community at large. Over the years, I developed a real distaste for internecine warfare and conflict. Behind the scenes, I had to deal with squabbles and fights. I so wanted to scream, WILL EVERYONE PLEASE GROW UP! Evangelicals can be loving and kind one moment and nasty, vicious, and judgmental the next. I was so tired of conflict that I warned the last church I pastored — Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan — that I had no heart for conflict. Evidently, they didn’t believe me, so imagine their surprise when a church business meeting turned into open warfare that I said, I quit! I told you that I had no stomach for church squabbles. And with that, I packed up my family and we moved back to Northwest Ohio.

Two years later, I tried one last time to pastor a church, candidating at several Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia. I found that I no longer had the emotional strength necessary to pastor a church. And with that, my career as a pastor came to an end — three years before I left Christianity. I have many fond memories from my days as a pastor. I also carry deep psychological scars too. The ministry is an admixture of peace, grace, and happiness and disunity, conflict, and loss. Thankfully, the former outweighed the latter for me. I know more than a few men who were savaged by their first congregation, never to pastor again.

I miss, of course, the love and respect I received from congregants. Who doesn’t want to be told week after week how wonderful you are? Pastors stand at the back of the church and shake hands with people as they leave. Church members and visitors alike praise them for their sermons and tell how much what they said helped them. I miss that feeling of connection with my fellow Christians. Of course, many of those same believers turned on me upon finding out that I was no longer a Christian. In some ways, I don’t blame them for their anger and hatred. I broke the bond we had with each other. In their minds, I was Pastor Bruce or Preacher; the man who helped their families, both spiritually and temporally. Now I am, in their eyes, a hater of God, living in denial of everything I once said was true.

If you know of a church looking for an unbeliever just to preach on Sundays, please let me know. I’m your man! I would love to whip up a few post-Jesus sermons.

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, What Was Your View on the King James Bible?

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.

Richard asked: During your time in in the IFB what was your particular view on the KJV? Did you change this view prior to leaving Christianity?

I grew up in Baptist churches that only used the King James Bible. These churches weren’t King James-only per se. It just that the King James was the only Bible version these churches used. I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon on why church members should only use the KJV. This all changed with the publishing of the New International Version (NIV) in 1978 and the New King James Version (NKJV) in 1982. This forced Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches and pastors, along with IFB college and seminaries, to stake out positions on English Bible translations. The college I attended in the 1970s, Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, was decidedly King James-only. Professors and students were required to use only the KJV, and chapel speakers were required to do the same. Using a different translation was grounds for immediate expulsion. At the same time, however, the KJV extremism of Peter Ruckman was also banned, I suspect out of trying to avoid the infighting that Ruckmanism tended to foment. (Please read Questions: Bruce, In Your IFB Days Did You Encounter Peter Ruckman?) That said, Ruckman’s teachings found fertile ground in which to grow, and more than a few Midwestern graduates are Ruckmanites. They proudly advertise their beliefs about Bible translations by displaying on their church signs and literature KJV 1611. (Back in the day when Polly and I were looking for a church to attend, we took KJV 1611 on a church sign to mean: Danger! Infected with incurable disease. Do not enter!)

I entered the ministry a defender of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Word of God; “Word of God” being the King James Bible. While I was never a follower of Peter Ruckman — I despised his nasty, vulgar disposition and that of his disciples — I generally believed as he did: that the King James Bible was God’s perfect word for English-speaking people. I wasn’t one to spend much time preaching about Bible translations. Everyone knew that at the churches I pastored we ONLY used the King James Bible.

In the late 1980s, I read several books that called into question my belief that the King James Bible was inerrant. I concluded that no translation was without error, and that inerrancy only applied to the original manuscripts. I took the approach that the KJV was the best and most reliable translation for English-speaking people. I held this position until the late 1990s.

In 1995, I started a non-denominational church, Our Father’s House, in West Unity, Ohio. I would pastor Our Father’s House for seven years. It was here that my theology, politics, and social values began to change. In 2000, I decided to change which Bible translation I used when preaching. I had already been reading other translations in my studies, but using anything but a KJV for preaching was a big deal, at least for me. Congregants? They couldn’t care less. I used the New American Standard Version (NASB) for a year or so, eventually moving to the English Standard Version (ESV). I was still preaching from the ESV when I left Christianity in November 2008. Devotionally, I read Eugene Peterson’s masterful translation, The Message. I found great joy and satisfaction when reading The Message translation. It was a Bible that truly spoke the language of the common man.

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.

Bruce, Did You Choose to Become an Evangelical?

headed for church 1960s

The Gerencser Family Headed for Church, Circa 1961-1962. I am the sharply dressed boy with a massive comb-over.

I was born in June 1957. My parents had me baptized in a mainline Protestant church (Lutheran or Episcopalian), but they moved to San Diego, California in the early 1960s, and I became a saved, baptized member of a Fundamentalist Baptist congregation — Scott Memorial Baptist Church, Tim LaHaye, pastor. From that time to my exit from Christianity in 2008, I was to some degree or another an Evangelical Christian. I say to some degree or another, because towards the end of my sojourn in Egypt I escaped Evangelicalism for a time. My wife and I visited numerous mainline churches, ranging from Greek Orthodox to United Methodist and from Roman Catholic to Lutheran. (Please read But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) The last church we attended before exiting out the back door never to return was a United Methodist church pastored by an Evangelical man who received his seminary education at Ohio Christian University.  So while I have visited and attended for a short while non-Evangelical churches, my pedigree is solidly Evangelical.

The question, then, is this: did I choose to become an Evangelical? The short answer is no. My religion (and politics) was chosen for me by my parents. From the 1960s to 2008, I was very much a part of the Evangelical church, its politics, and its subculture. Early on, the churches I attended were on the far right of the Evangelical spectrum. In the mid-1990s I abandoned the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and embraced generic Evangelicalism with a Calvinistic twist. Towards the end of time in the ministry, I found myself on the other end of the Evangelical spectrum. If I had continued on the leftward path, I have no doubt that I would have left Evangelicalism altogether. I suspect the only thing that stopped me from doing so was my lack of education. Leaving Evangelicalism to pastor liberal/progressive Christian churches was of interest to me, but having three years of Bible college education with no post-college seminary training barred me from walking that path. And just as well, I suppose, because the more I studied and learned the more I doubted the central claims of Christianity. It was only a matter of time before I came to the conclusion that Christianity no longer made sense. (Please read The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.)

My parents were attend-church-three-times-a-week Evangelical Christians. From the age of five through the age of fifty, I attended Sunday worship services at the Evangelical churches our family called home. As a fifteen-year-old boy, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, was baptized, and called into the ministry. For the next thirty-five years, I considered myself a God-called preacher. When I was a teenager, most of my friends were Evangelicals, and those who weren’t I tried to evangelize. Every girl I dated was an Evangelical. The college I attended was Evangelical. The girl I married was an Evangelical. Her parents and extended family were Evangelical. The six churches I pastored were Evangelical — IFB, Sovereign Grace Baptist, Christian Union, Non-denominational, Southern Baptist. All of my ministerial colleagues were Evangelical. In other words, I was, in every way, an Evangelical.

While I certainly made numerous choices as far as my theological beliefs and practices were concerned, I never strayed far, if at all, from the confines of the broad Evangelical tent. I may have thrown off the strictness of my IFB youth and early years in the ministry, but theologically I remained an Evangelical. Till the end, I believed the Bible was the Word of God. Till the end, I believed Jesus was the virgin-born, miracle-working, resurrected-from-the-dead son of the one true God. Till the end, I believed that Jesus was the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. Till the end, I worshiped the triune God of Christianity. Till the end, I tried my best to live according to the commands, precepts, and laws of the Bible. Till the end, I modeled Christian faith to my children. Till the end, I was not ashamed to call myself a Christian.

As I look back over my life from a psychological and sociological perspective, it is evident that my religion was chosen for me; first by my parents and later by the pastors, teachers, church members, and friends I looked up to. No one ever suggested that faith might exist outside of Evangelicalism. No one ever recommended that I read the religious writings of other religions or consider whether Christianity was true. My life, in every way, was one long presupposition. Outlandish, irrational beliefs were accepted as facts because, well, everyone I knew believed these things. When your family, friends, pastors, and teachers all have the same beliefs (in a broad sense), it is unlikely that you are going to believe differently. At least, that was the case for me. As a true-blue believer, I was all-in. Even after my parents divorced and my entire family stopped attending church, I held on to the family God. In fact, I became more devoted to Jesus and his church. Is it any surprise that I was saved and called into the ministry the same year my parents divorced (and remarried)? I think not. In the church, I found a familial connection. In the church, I found purpose, meaning, and direction. No matter how much turmoil there was in my life, the church was always there for me. Well — until I said I was an atheist, anyway. THAT was a bridge too far, even for more “enlightened” Evangelicals.

Evangelicalism is bubble, the bubble where I found love and safety for many years. The beliefs and practices that now seem irrational, delusional, and psychologically harmful, made perfect sense to me as long as I remained in the bubble. When you grow up in and spend most of your life in a monoculture, it is hard to imagine life outside of the bubble. Danger, damnation, and hell await those who stray from the fold, I was told countless times, and I warned others of the same when I was a pastor. It was only when I dared to consider that the Bible might not be an inspired, inerrant, infallible text that I had thoughts of life outside of the bubble. I could be wrong, I thought. What if Christianity is not what I believed it to be all these years? What if all paths lead to God? What if no paths lead to God because there is no God? Questions pushed opened the door, and once it was open, I was free to wander and roam; free to read whatever I wanted; free to have non-Christian friends; free to love the world and the things of the world; free to finally, for myself, choose whether I wanted to be an Evangelical or whether I wanted to be a Christian. And the choice I made, of course, was NO, I don’t want to be an Evangelical; I don’t want to be a Christian. But even here I have to admit that, to some degree, this choice was forced upon me. I could have ignored the voices in my head and remained a Christian, but I chose, instead, to listen to questions and challenges percolating in my mind as I, for the first time, looked at Christianity with a skeptical, critical eye. And once I dared to accept the full weight of the implications of what I learned, my house of faith came tumbling down.

I have spent the last decade building a new house, one that sits on a foundation of reason, freethought, and the humanistic ideal. I didn’t choose to become an Evangelical. But I have now chosen to become a humanist. I feel liberated from the bondage of past beliefs, and while humanism is not the end-all Christianity professes to be, it does provide me a solid moral and ethical foundation by which to live my life. And here’s the good news, I am free to change and adapt as my thinking evolves, and no one is going to threaten me with humanist hell if I do. I can’t begin to express how wonderful it is to to ponder and think about what we call the big issues of life without fearing that I have offended the God or one of his earthly messengers. Simply put, I am free to be me.

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.

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.

signature

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.