Tag Archive: Leaving the Ministry

Josh Harris Renounces Christianity: Will Acronyms Send You to Hell?

josh harris

Josh Harris, the best-selling author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (Harris’ repudiation of the book) and former pastor with Sovereign Grace Churches (formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries, formerly People of Destiny), recently announced that he and his wife were separating. Not long after announcing his separation from his wife of twenty-one years, Harris — a one time five-point Calvinist — announced to the world that he was no longer a Christian. Harris wrote:

I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.

Harris’ admission of unbelief has caused all sorts of controversy, and True Christians® have been quick to not only condemn Harris, but also consign him to the flames of Hell. As long-time readers of this blog know, cross True Christians® and they will eviscerate you from their pulpits and on their blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I left the ministry almost fourteen years ago, and left Christianity altogether in November 2008 — before social media was widely used by zealots to strip naked those who leave and parade them through the public square. My detractors took to their pulpits and blogs (please see Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser), along with endlessly stoking gossip about me at preacher’s meetings. Harris, unfortunately, comes out of the proverbial unbelief closet in a day when critics have seemingly endless ways to abuse, attack, and gaslight those who dare to leave the True Christian® club.

Grayson Gilbert — who considers himself relevant and reformed — writes:

For Joshua Harris, this journey didn’t lead to an embrace of Progressive “Christianity”–not yet at least. In the end, it looks much the same, sans the false notion one can deny the text and remain a Christian. For that, I earnestly think he is more forthright than many of his predecessors who have left the Evangelical world. His embrace of the sexual anarchy that is homosexuality, departure from men’s roles in ministry, etc., is but the cherry on top of his apostasy. Surely, if one departs wholly from “all the measurements [they] have for defining a Christian,” it is little wonder they would likewise depart from the biblical sexual ethic, or any biblical ethic.

Nevertheless, it is an incredibly sad thing to witness. Here you find a man married for twenty plus years announce his divorce amicably, as if the separation of what God joined together is as low-key as returning an unwanted grocery item to the store. Just a few days later we then find the stoic picture by a serene lake and scenic mountains, announcing his departure from the faith. Truly, it is a breathtaking view of the handiwork of our Creator and one who stands before it as if to say, “It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

I look upon it, read, and grieve for how casually he has thrown away the preciousness of the gospel. Here we have the opposite of Matt. 13:44-46, where a man experiences the blessings and benefits of living amongst the wealthy sojourners who sold all they had in order to gain riches eternal, all the while not tasting the goodness of Christ. He may have chewed upon it; his mouth may have even salivated–yet he spit it out, all the while never tasting of it. He labored, toiled even, for years–yet never for the sake of the gospel or out of a love for Christ.

This is where it gets particularly difficult for those who remain as they reconcile with the fact that the worst part about being deceived is that the deceived are never truly aware they are deceived. They acted like a Christian. They looked like a Christian. They did and said Christian things; and yet the apostle John just simply says of them, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19, NASB). Surely, they might, “…feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful,” yet they are dead, sleepers, and without any hope at all.

If you’ve never witnessed someone apostatize firsthand, this episode involving Joshua Harris is but a minor twinge of sadness. Surely, we can grieve from afar–but none will grieve as much as those close to him who will continue on in Christ. We can lament the fact that he dangles over the pit of hell by the slenderest of threads, held only by the stablest of hands in the Sovereign One. We can contemplate the significance in the difference a single breath can make, as it is but one breath to the next that holds the distinction between salvation and damnation. But we will never contemplate those truths with as much gravitas as the young man who looked up to Joshua Harris as his pastor, or the blossoming young couple he led through pre-marital counseling, or the elderly widow he took the time to speak to on Sunday mornings prior to service.

There is a vast difference between knowing of the apostate and knowing the apostate–and these are those whom should be the focus of our prayers. If you didn’t know, these are the same people who dealt with the fallout of sexual abuse amongst their midst, under the leadership of CJ Mahaney. Mahaney caught the most media attention for these scandals, but as many have come to reveal years afterward, former leadership is likewise culpable for mishandling abuse victims (and criminals). Pray for these people. They have surely endured the crucible in many ways and this simply piles on top of an already burdened people. Nonetheless, we still need to be in prayer for others under his influence, that they do not follow in his example of making a shipwreck of their faith.

In other words, Harris is an LGBTQ-loving apostate who was never a Christian. Boy, I sure have heard that refrain a time or two. Okay, more times than I can count. But that’s what True Christians® do. As soon as someone strays outside of the narrow confines of their peculiar box, out comes 1 John 2:19:

 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Josh Harris leaving the confines of the box proves he never was a true box-dweller; his departure reveals to those still in the box who the True Christians® really are. (Please 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.)

Yesterday, an Evangelical zealot named Marcus Pittman — who uses the ImKingGinger handle on social media — unleashed the following tweet:

tweet from imkingginger marcus

For readers who live outside of the Evangelical bubble, you might not be aware that Southern Baptists, Fundamentalist Calvinists, and other Evangelical groups are currently embroiled in controversies over social justice (definition of social justice warrior) and the recognition and acceptance of LGBTQ people. On one hand, it is hilarious to watch saved, sanctified, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost “followers” of Jesus devour one another, fighting amongst themselves like toddlers over toys. On the other hand, however, people are being hurt by these skirmishes. While I have mixed emotions about Josh Harris and I think he has much to atone for, I do sympathize with him as he attempts to move on with his life post-Evangelicalism. It remains to be seen to where Harris ends up. He may end up an atheist in the style of Bart Campolo, or he may follow a path similar to that of Rob Bell. Who knows? It’s Harris’ life, and he’s free to follow the path wherever it leads.

As Evangelicalism faces increasing pressure from within by Christians who believe in social justice and reject Evangelicalism’s rightward political bent, True Christians® such as Pittman respond by painting such people as “fake Christians.” According to Pittman, Harris’ embrace of social justice and LGBTQ people shows without a doubt that Harris was never a Christian, and unless he repents he will burn in Hell for eternity. In taking this approach, Pittman reveals what many of us have long known: Evangelical salvation is based on right beliefs. BELIEVE THIS, and thou shalt live is the gospel preached by Pittman and others like him. For Calvinists, believe the right things and persevere to the end and you will make it to Heaven. Believe the wrong things, and Hell is your final destination. Now, Pittman will argue that the real issue is the authority and teachings of the Protestant Bible — THE BIBLE SAYS! However, the Bible is hardly unambiguous in its teachings, as 2,000 years of Christian church history clearly shows. Calvinists and Arminians have been fighting for hundreds of years over what the Bible teaches about salvation, and neither side has budged an inch. Christian sects constantly fight amongst themselves, with each sect believing it has the truth. Rarely does a week go by without another internecine battle breaking out among God’s chosen ones. Pittman likes to think that his beliefs are the one true faith, but at best all they are is his personal interpretation of an ancient religious text. That he is willing to condemn Harris to eternal pain, suffering, and torture at hands of his angry, righteous God says more about him than it does Harris. In Pittman’s mind, there’s coming a day when he and his fellow Evangelicals will gather along the rim of the Lake of Fire to watch as God throws everyone they tweeted against into pit. With smug smiles on their faces, these self-righteous servants of God will say, see, motherfuckers, we told you what would happen if you crossed us!

I wish Josh Harris nothing but the best. His books and work in the pastorate hurt a lot of people. I hope he will deeply reflect on his past and do what he can to make amends. As a former Evangelical pastor myself, I can tell Harris that coming clean about the past and being honest about the damage Evangelicalism causes can go a long way in undoing the damage you caused. Can’t make the past go away, but at very least you can apologize to those you harmed and help others who are trying to extricate themselves from Evangelicalism.

Note

Here’s an excellent takedown of Grayson Gilbert (and others) by David Davis. Gilbert expressed a similar view about the late Rachel Held Evans as he does Harris.

Pittman uses the CRT acronym in his tweet. I have no idea what it means. Cathode Ray Tube? Critical Race Theory? Cadaveric Renal Transplant? You choose one.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Evangelical Twitterer Says God is Losing Patience with Me

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Warning! Bucket loads of snark ahead.

Recently, I engaged in a short-lived Twitter discussion with an Evangelical man going by the handle atheismbut. His goal, I believe, was to sling lies, half-truths, and religious clichés at atheists. I am not sure what he hoped to accomplish by doing so, but I decided to play his game for a bit. After failing to drag me into a mud-fight, this man unfollowed me. He then refollowed me, and a day or so later unfollowed me again. He has now blocked me, so I am unable to see his tweets, respond to him, or notify him of this post.

This man doesn’t use his real name on Twitter, choosing instead to list his name as Atheism Be Damned. Catchy, right? *sigh* After unfollowing me the first time, this man sent me a direct message (DM). I had in our Twitter conversations called the man an apologist and a zealot, both of which offended him. His DM, however, only proved that my assessment of him was spot-on. Here’s what he had to say:

I’ll take this offline. I say what God directs. See, I absolutely do not care what people think of me, say about me or say to me. What I truly care about is what My Lord sees of me. His good and perfect will is what I care about. Here’s His word to you: (I have given you the time you sought. I have been patient. I have stood near all this time. I have not abandoned you. My patience wears thin son. The time has come to choose. Return to the anointing I have placed on you and fulfill the call or forfeit your inheritance. I wait no more.)

Bruce…as your brother created in His image…please stop what you are doing. Repent of your apostasy and declare your faith in Him for all to witness. Your 25 years of faithful service only counts if you reclaim it. Do not allow the enemy to steal what God has given to and through you. Sto [sic] listening to the lies of the world. There is no true wisdom in the fallen ones [sic] domain. Anyhow, that’s it. It’s on you sir. Your call. I pray and hope you make the right decision.

As is common among zealots, they believe that God speaks directly to them. This man certainly did, telling me that he just says what God tells him to say. And how can any of us know this to be? ‘Cuz he says so. He says that he doesn’t care what people think or say about him, yet for no good reason, he unfollowed me twice and blocked me. Evidently, he DOES care about what people say about him.

Supposedly, this man’s God gave him a message he wanted to be delivered to me. Here’s what it said:

I have given you the time you sought. I have been patient. I have stood near all this time. I have not abandoned you. My patience wears thin son. The time has come to choose. Return to the anointing I have placed on you and fulfill the call or forfeit your inheritance. I wait no more.

First, why didn’t God deliver this message herself, instead of using a middleman? Have you noticed that God always uses middlemen to deliver his missives; that he never, ever speaks directly to the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world? Come on God, just send me an email or a text message.

Second, I didn’t ask God for time to consider my past/present/future life. God and I have not spoken to one another since November 2008. Since then, I have concluded that the God I thought I was speaking to for fifty years was just a voice in my head; that I was the God I was speaking to.

Third, if God was standing nearby, I never saw him. This leads me to believe that Atheism Be Damned is seeing things — a common Evangelical malady. The only place this man’s God can be found is within the pages of the Bible — a bestselling storybook. Jesus said, seek and ye shall find. Sorry, Jesus, but everywhere I look you, are nowhere to be found. Perhaps Jesus is much like Baal in 1 Kings 18: 25-29:

And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.

The prophet Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal saying: Cry aloud: for he [Baal] is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. In modern English, Elijah mocked Baal’s non-appearance, saying” perhaps Baal is busy talking to someone else, taking a shit, on vacation, or sleeping. Elijah, of course, was right about Baal, but these same words aptly describe the non-existence of the Christian God too.

Fourth, Atheism Be Damned warns me that God is running out of patience with me; that he’s tired of me not listening to the Baalam’s donkeys he has sent my way. (Numbers 22:21-39) Again, if God is upset with me, he knows where I live. No need for Atheism Be Damned to deliver a message that God is supposedly capable of delivering himself.

Fifth, according to Atheism be Damned, God wants me to return to Christianity; to return to the “anointing” and “call” he has placed on my life. In other words, God wants me to return to peddling the Evangelical gospel — or else! Or else what?

Sixth, Atheism Be Damned claims some sort of familial connection with me — spiritually, I suspect. Sorry, but I have no interest in having such a relationship. I am quite content being a part of the fallen one’s family. That’s Satan/the Devil/Lucifer/Beelzebub for you unaware of Evangelicalese. If given a choice of spending eternity with the Atheism be Damneds of the world or spending eternity in Hell with Christopher Hitchens and my dear friend Steve Gupton, along with my wife, children, and the fine folks who frequent this blog, give me HELL every time. Sorry, but there’s nothing appealing about kneeling as if giving a blow job before God and worshiping for all eternity. Imagine how much fun Hell will be compared to the Evangelical Heaven. Who in their right mind, save those who have been scared with fear and threats of judgment, would want to spend every day and night for a million years singing praises to a narcissistic deity? No thanks. Bring on the whiskey, beer, and cigars, and let’s have a rip-roaring time fishing the Lake of Fire.

Finally, Atheism Be Damned says, he has said all that God intended for him to say, and now, it’s up to me to choose between the Evangelical God and reality. He signs off by saying, “I pray and hope you make the right decision.” I thought it was God who saved sinners? I thought that salvation depended on God giving sinners ears to hear and eyes to see. I tried to tell Atheism Be Damned that I was an apostate and a reprobate. I even quoted Bible verses from Romans 1 and Hebrews 6, proving that I am beyond hope; beyond the saving grace of God. Hebrews 6:4-6 says:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

I was once enlightened, having tasted of the heavenly gift and having been made a partaker of the Holy Ghost for over thirty-five years. I had tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, yet in November 2008, I fell away, renouncing Jesus and Christianity. Thus, according to the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, it is IMPOSSIBLE to renew me again unto repentance.

Hebrews 10:29 says of apostates like me:

Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

Evidently, I believe the Bible more than Atheism Be Damned does. I am sure zealots shudder at my impudent treatment of their God and the Bible. However, I am not a believer, nor shall I ever be. The believing, preaching days are long gone. I have no intention of returning to slavery, to the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic of Egypt (Numbers 11) . I have found the Promised Land. Its streets are paved with reason and freedom, and an endless buffet feeds my every intellectual want and need. Why in the world would I ever want to become a Christian again?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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

The Fundy World Tales — Part One

the-fundy-world-tales

One of the questions I am often asked is how I went from being an Evangelical pastor to an outspoken atheist. It is not uncommon for people to drift away from Evangelicalism as young adults, only to return years later with spouses and children in tow. And it is not uncommon for adults in their 20s and 30s to become so disaffected that they abandon Evangelicalism, never to return. Religious trends in the United States show that an increasing number of Millennials are self-described “nones” — people who are atheists, agnostics, pagans, or indifferent towards organized religion. Study after study reveals that for U.S. people under the age of 50, religion increasingly plays a less and less important role in their lives. However, for people over the age of 50, particularly Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, religion remains vital to their day-to-day lives. Once people reach the latter stages of life, they are less likely to abandon religious beliefs and practices. While older people certainly have questions and doubts about their chosen faith, thoughts about death and whether there is an afterlife often keep them from seeking answers for that which troubles them. One old southern gospel song talks about coming “too far to turn back now.” That sentiment is what keeps countless older Evangelicals in the pews, regardless of the level of their disaffection. Throw in the fact that being a member of a church is similar to being part of a flesh and blood family, and it is not surprising that many older people cannot or will not leave Evangelicalism.

By the time Evangelicals reach their 50s, they have experienced decades of religious indoctrination. How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe the earth is 6,023 years old and accept as fact absurdities such as the virgin birth of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead? How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe that an ancient religious text written thousands of years ago by sheepherders and fishermen was supernaturally written by God and is without errors or contradictions? How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe that Jesus walked on water, magically turned water into wine, walked through walls, and worked the miracles attributed to him in the New Testament? One of the thoughts people who deconvert from Evangelicalism often have is this: how in the world could I have ever believed such bat-shit crazy stuff? The answer is quite simple: intense, long-term religious indoctrination. Starting as toddlers in the nursery and going all the way to the silver-hair-dominated Senior Saints Sunday school class, older Evangelicals systematically and repeatedly have their beliefs reinforced. Told Sunday after Sunday for four, five, or six decades that their beliefs are the “way, truth, and life,” is it any surprise that older Evangelicals are certain that they are right, and are unwilling to entertain anything that challenges said beliefs?

Here in rural northwest Ohio, we have what are commonly called “weed trees.” These weeds grow quickly and are almost impossible to kill. One of the reasons for their hardiness is that they have rugged, deep roots. The only way to kill them is to remove the roots. I have had to dig down four feet to reach the root end of some weed trees. Cutting them off at ground level takes care of the immediate problem, but the following spring they return. Older Evangelicals are quite similar to weed trees. Their religious roots run deep, and unless they are willing to dig deep into the ground to remove the tap root, their worldview will continue to flourish. Thus, the older Evangelicals become, the less likely it is that they will ever abandon their beliefs. Why, then, did I, at the age of 50, walk away from the ministry and later file for divorce from Jesus? What made me different from other older Evangelicals?

Let me clear. I was in no way “special” or of superior intellect. That said, I can look back over my 62 years of life and see how certain circumstances and experiences set me on a path that ultimately led to atheism. While the ultimate reasons for my deconversion were intellectual in nature, I would be amiss and less than honest if I did not say that other considerations played a part in my loss of faith. Live long enough and you will experience things that make a mark upon your life. Some of these things make deep, lasting, and even painful scars on our psyche. I know, at least for me, these scars altered my thinking and the trajectory of my life. Many of you know what I am talking about. Your lives were on a certain path, yet something or many somethings happened that changed your direction. If you had asked me in 2005 if there was anything that could happen that would result in my wife and me walking away from Christianity, I would have laughed in your face. You are kidding, right? I would have said, I may be frustrated with Christianity as a whole, but I love Jesus and I would never, ever leave or forsake him! Yet, here I am in 2019, explaining to thousands of blog readers why I am now an apostate, a godless heathen, a hater of God, an atheist — people I once considered no better than murderers and child molesters. Who in their right mind would abandon a way of life that had given him purpose, meaning, and personal satisfaction? Yet, on a late November day in 2008, I walked out the door of the church house, never to return. Thousands of sermons preached, yet I would never again stand before a group of people and say, Thus saith the Lord . . . Fifty years of Sundays dominated by worship, singing, praying, and preaching, yet now I sleep in on the Lord’s Day, enjoying the comfort of godless living. From my teen years until age 50, I read and studied the Bible, humbly putting into practice that which I learned. Today, I live a life governed by self and the humanist ideal. How did I get to the place where the Bible no longer mattered to me? Is my life a cautionary taleas IFB preacher Ralph Wingate, Jr, said it was? Is my life a warning to Evangelicals who dare consider walking a similar path? Perhaps. I would like to think, however, that my story is in some way helpful to people with doubts and questions about Christianity; that perhaps in a small measure some people might find the account of my life encouraging or inspiring. I can’t control how people respond to my writing. All I know to do is tell my story, leaving people to do with it what they will. I hope you will find this series instructive.

The Fundy World Tales will be a cogent examination of my life, from my ignoble birth in Bryan, Ohio in 1957 to my present blessed life as a husband, father, grandfather, and atheist. From this series will FINALLY come my book. I am “feeling” my mortality these days more than in times past, so if I intend to leave behind for my grandchildren a written accounting of my life, I best get to it. Here’s to hoping I complete this series before death calls my name.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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.

I Wish Evangelical Christians Would Quit Treating Me Like an Abused Puppy

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The telling of my deconversion story brings all sorts of responses from Evangelical Christians. Some of my critics comb through my life with a head-lice comb, hoping to find something that invalidates my past life as a pastor. If they can find doctrinal error or heresy, this allows them to declare that I was a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, someone who never was a True Christian®. These interlocutors bring me before the tribunal of their peculiar beliefs, asking questions meant to suss out my true spiritual nature. If they can determine that I was never saved, it allows them to dismiss my life out of hand. People wanting to discredit me in this manner almost always find sufficient evidence to warrant them saying, Bruce Gerencser was never a Christian. (Please see Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser.)

Other Evangelical Christians, unable to square my past devotion to Jesus with their once-saved-always-saved soteriology, critically examine my life inside and out, looking for signs of trauma. I often get emails from Evangelicals apologizing for whatever psychological harm was caused to me by churches and other Christians. They wrongly think that I am not a Christian today because of some hurt in my past; that I left the ministry and Christianity because of hurtful things done to me by mean-spirited Christians. These “loving” critics — armchair psychologists — view me as they would an abused puppy. I pee all over the carpets of my life because someone or a group of someones repeatedly beat me with a rolled-up Columbus Dispatch. My deconversion is the result, then, of the harm caused to me by these unloving, unkind Christians; and that what I really need is to find a church congregation that will scoop up my broken spirit and sweetly love me back to Jesus. Ack! Gag me with a spoon!

Early on, I framed my loss of faith in purely intellectual terms. I knew that admitting that there was an emotional component to my deconversion would give people cause to say that the only reason I wasn’t a Christian is that I got my feelings hurt. I wanted people to see me as an intellectual who weighed the claims of Christianity and found them wanting. And of course, that’s exactly what I did. The primary reason I am an atheist today is because I came to believe that Christianity was false; that God, Jesus, and the Bible were not what Christian preachers and apologists claimed they were. (The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) Once the Bible lost its authority and hold over me, I was free to rationally and skeptically examine, analyze, and judge its teachings. I owe much to Dr. Bart Ehrman for showing me that what I had been taught about the Bible and what I had preached for decades was a lie. Once the Bible was rendered human and errant, the slide down the slippery slope of unbelief was quick, leading to a sixty-six-car pile-up at the bottom of the hill. Try as I might to find solace in Christian liberalism or Christian Universalism, I found these way stations intellectually lacking. In the end, agnosticism and atheism were the only labels that honestly and adequately explained my beliefs or lack thereof.

Today, I can look back over the past two decades and I can see that there was certainly emotional harm caused to me by fellow Christians, colleagues in the ministry, and Evangelical family members. The twenty-five years I spent in the ministry brought me in contact with numerous Jesus-loving abusers and sociopaths. By the time I left the ministry in 2005 — three years before I divorced Jesus — I was burned out. I was tired of having to deal with hateful, mean-spirited, self-centered church members. I was more than tired of church business meetings and board meetings that were little more than bloody, violent boxing matches sandwiched between invocations and benedictions. By the time I reached the end of my career, all I wanted to do was show up on Sundays and preach and then go home. The ministry had extracted a tremendous amount of emotional capital from me, a debt that has taken almost a decade of secular counseling to recover from. That said, I am not an oft-beaten puppy cowering in the corner of life. I embrace and own the past damage caused by Christianity, and I, with weeping and lamentations, bemoan the psychological harm I caused to my family and church congregants.

Today, I now know that the reasons I am not a Christian are legion. To focus on the psychological aspects of my loss of faith alone paints an incomplete picture. For those determined to view me as an abused puppy, all I can do is try to explain through my writing how and why I left my marriage to Jesus and became an atheist. It’s my story after all. Who better to tell it than I, right?

Are you an Evangelical-turned-atheist? Do you have former Christian friends and family members who attempt to psychoanalyze your deconversion? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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.

Grandpa, You Were a Pastor?

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Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s

As many readers know, my wife, Polly, and I have six children. Our oldest child will turn forty in May, and our youngest will be twenty-six. We have two distinct families: the oldest three, a space of five years, and then the youngest three. The first group grew up in a strict Fundamentalist Baptist pastor’s home. Economically, during their childhoods, we lived from hand to mouth, and sometimes the hand didn’t quite reach. The latter grew up in a less-strict, more inclusive Evangelical pastor’s home. Economically, things greatly improved — especially from the late 1990s forward. What remained the same for both groups was the fact that their lives revolved around the church and my work as a pastor. It is in this context that my six children know me.

I left the ministry in 2005, and deconverted from Christianity in 2008. For the first time, my children, then ages fifteen through twenty-nine, experienced family life that did not revolve around the church. For the first time, Dad wasn’t the law by which they had to live. In 2009, I sent a letter to family, friends, and parishioners, that said, in part:

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 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.

The best thing I ever did for Polly and our children is to say to them, you are free. Choose your own path. At the time, I received quite a bit of criticism for doing this. “How dare I cut them loose and ask them to choose their own path when I had, for the most part, dictated their path for them!” While I understood where my critics were coming from, I saw no way to handle things other than setting everyone free. It was time for everyone to fly on his or her own, much like the fledgling kicked out of the nest,

Each of my children has plotted his or her own course. None of them stayed in the Evangelical church, and neither are they all atheists. Some of them are religious/spiritual, and others are indifferent towards religion. Now, this doesn’t mean I agree with all of the choices they have made. What’s different is that they no longer have to conform to Evangelical beliefs/practices/morality/ethics. They don’t have to bow to Bruce Almighty’s authority and interpretation of the Bible. They are, in every way, FREE. Of course, the same goes for their parents. In the Gerencser family, freedom is a two-way street. We may disagree on specifics, but we put our family relationships first. Too bad we didn’t choose this way of life sooner, but crying over the past is a waste of time. What we have is the present and each and every day ahead until we meet our end.

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Bruce Gerencser, 2016

Polly and I are blessed to have twelve grandchildren — ten girls and two boys — ages nine months to eighteen years. Our grandchildren only know us post-Jesus, post-church, post-ministry. They have never seen us pray or read the Bible, attended church with us, nor heard me preach. They know Nana as a woman who makes them awesome food and works at Sauder’s Woodworking. Grandpa they know as the man who takes lots of photographs and comes to their games. They know nothing about our previous lives as Pastor and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser. They know nothing about our travels and the churches I pastored. We bought our home in 2007. This is the only house our grandchildren will ever know us to live in. And that’s okay. We hope to live long enough for our grandchildren to grow up, become adults, and have families of their own. We hope that they will have wonderful memories of spending time with Nana and Grandpa. We hope after we are gone that they will drive by our home and have fond memories of playing in our big jungle of a back yard. Maybe they will wistfully say to their own children, “I remember when Nana and Grandpa planted this tree, that bush, or flowers.” Regardless, unlike our children, they will NOT have any memories of Grandpa preaching and Nana playing the piano. That part of our life is foreign to them. All of them, in time, will stumble upon this blog. They will read stories that deeply resonate with their grandparents and parents, but have no connection to them.

A couple of days ago, one of my sons required a letter from me stating that he had been baptized. He and his wife are becoming more active in church, and he wants to become a member. While I was typing up the letter, my son explained to his oldest daughter that I used to be a pastor and that I had baptized him at nearby Harrison Lake. She quizzically looked at me and said, “Grandpa, you were a pastor?” I replied, “Yes. I was for twenty-five years. Someday, when you are older, we will talk about it!”  My granddaughter pondered for a moment what I said, and then moved on to other things. Someday, she will know the story of the life and times of Bruce Gerencser. For now, I am content to leave things as they are.

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.

I Thought Jesus Would Take Care of Me When I Got Old

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I started preaching at age fifteen, enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College to study for the ministry at nineteen, married my wife at age twenty-one, and took my first church job a few months before I turned twenty-two. I was young, full of life, and raring to go for Jesus. I also was clueless about what awaited me in the ministry. Little did I know, that life would not turn out as Polly and I envisioned; that our fairy tale would not be one of love, peace, and potluck dinners; that our vision of a future with a white two-story home with a boy named Jason, a girl named Bethany, and a white picket fence would turn into a 12’x60′ trailer, six children, food stamps, and a $200 station wagon.

It’s common for young marrieds to have all sorts of hopes and dreams. Polly and I thought that God would surely use us in a mighty way to bring countless people to Christ; that we would be respected and rewarded for our hard work; that our children would grow up, get married, and follow in our footsteps. As a young man, I believed Jesus would always take care of me. He, after all, gave me a wonderful wife, blessed us with children, and favored the work we accomplished in his vineyard. Though Jesus never personally appeared to me, I saw all my ministerial success as coming directly from him. Boy, was I wrong!

One Tuesday in the early 1980s, I attended a Buckeye Baptist Fellowship Meeting at High Street Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. I thoroughly enjoyed the monthly pastors’ fellowships I attended at various Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. These meetings were a time for me to shoot the breeze with my ministerial colleagues and listen to what I considered, then, to be great preaching. On this particular Tuesday, one of the speakers was Charles Mainous, the pastor at High Street. Mainous was known for his virulent anti-government sermons. At the time, the steeple of his church was red, white and blue, church members carried firearms, and posted warnings on the doors warned government agents of this fact. I had heard him several times before, so I knew what to expect. During his harangue, Mainous said that it was a sin for pastors to pay into Social Security; that it was up to God to take care of his preachers, not the government. If Catholic priests could take a vow of poverty and be tax exempt, so should Baptist preachers. I thought, “he’s right. God called me, God leads me, God talks to me, and God gives me my sermons to preach. Surely, God can take care of me when I get old.” And so, following Mainous’ advice, I filed for exemption from paying social security taxes on my ministerial income (and housing) (IRS Form 4361). I was twenty-five years old. Still physically fit, playing competitive basketball in the winter and softball in the summer, I looked good, felt good, and thought of myself as downright invincible. Jesus and Bruce were ready to take on the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world!

I thought that I would one day set up a retirement plan and the churches I pastored would pay into it, providing for my care when I retired. Not that I ever planned on retiring. My goal was to keep preaching until I died. I even thought it would be an awesome sermon illustration if my appointed time to die (Hebrews 9:27) was right at the end of one of my sermons. What a way to punctuate my message, right?

I am, however, still here, and the only thing that died was my relationship with Jesus. What did change was that the youthful preacher named Bruce Gerencser came down with mononucleosis in 1991 and almost died. For the first time, there was a chink in my supposedly invincible armor. I was sidelined from preaching for over a month, and mono left me with physical problems that I deal with to this day.

In 1997, after a year of unexplained fatigue and muscle pain, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. This forced me to reconsider the naïve notion that Jesus was going to take care of me. In 2000, I decided to opt back into Social Security. Unfortunately, the paltry wages I received from this point to 2005 when I left the ministry didn’t do much to improve the level of social security I would receive at retirement. My health continued to decline, and by 2005 I was totally disabled, unable to find meaningful, paying work that meshed with my disability. Since that time, we have been a one-wage-earner family.

I looked in vain for Jesus. He was there when I was healthy, but nowhere to be found when I was sick. Of course, he was just a figment of my imagination, but I really did believe he was a friend who would stick closer to me than a brother; a supernatural being that would take care of me no matter what I faced in life. You see, religious beliefs are not benign. They can and do have consequences; they can and do cause psychological and physical harm; they can and do make a mess of your life. At least, that was the case for me. Thanks to not paying Social Security for twenty years, the only retirement income I’ll have will be based on the secular work I did on and off while pastoring churches.

In seventeen days, I will file for early Social Security. Come June, I will draw my first check for about $600. I sent a message to Jesus, asking him to make up the difference, but he did not respond. “I know I am an atheist and all that now, but come on Jesus, I worked seven days a week for you, month in and month out for over two decades. Surely the laborer is worthy of his hire, as the Bible you wrote says!”

Jesus is too busy building imaginary mansions in Heaven (John 14:1-6) to be bothered with my needs. He owes me, as he owes billions of people before me, but he’s never paid on his promises. He promised, at least in my IFB-addled mind, to take care of me, and to be my BFF. Instead, as he is wont to do, Jesus left me to fend for myself. And that, my friend, is the point of this post. Each of us is responsible for our own lives. Deep down, at some level, I knew that, but I convinced myself that Jesus would come through for me in the end. The responsible thing for me to have done was to pay into Social Security. The responsible thing for me to have done was to demand the churches I worked for do a better job at providing for my future needs, and those of my family. Of course, I was Head Cheese® at most of the churches I pastored, so to some degree I am to blame for them not taking care of me. I allowed myself to become a cheap whore for Jesus. I allowed myself to be paid poverty wages with no promises for tomorrow.

During my time at Somerset Baptist Church, a man who had pastored a nearby church for decades died. He and his wife (and children), had lived in the church’s parsonage for thirty years. There was an unspoken promise — an assumption — made to the pastor’s wife: “we will take care of you.” Much to her horror, “we will take care of you” meant “you can live in the parsonage for two months and then you will have to move. Our nice, new, shiny young pastor will need the parsonage for him and his wife and children,” And just like that the aged preacher’s wife was out on the street, forced to move in with one of her children. I thought, at the time, “how awful,” but I never considered why she was in that position. Her husband was a church slave. He worked for paltry wages, supplementing his income with side hustles. Living in the church parsonage allowed him and his family to live frugally, yet keep working in God’s coal mine for slave wages. I am sure they had no thoughts of retirement. Jesus promised to care for them too. Imagine the dead preacher’s wife’s surprise when she found out that the people they had labored with and cared for had no interest in reciprocation. “Our pastor is dead. Time for a new one!” End of story.

Over the years, I have given numerous young preachers advice. I tell every one of them the same thing: be bivocational. Get a “real” job, one that allows you to adequately provide for your family’s needs. Don’t let paltry wages from the church keep you on the bread line. Expect the church to pay you a decent salary and provide the same benefits you would have in the secular world. If a church won’t pay you, then don’t pastor that church. (In retrospect, I should have been far pickier about the churches I pastored.) If a church can’t pay you as much as you need due to its size, then get a job and pastor the church part-time. And above all, DON’T let anyone convince you to opt out of Social Security. The government is NOT your enemy!

If I had it to do all over again, I would have been a bivocational pastor. I would have worked jobs that adequately provided income for my family. I would have put my wife and children first, not God. It’s not God who suffers when there’s no money. It’s not Jesus who suffers when the cupboards are bare and your children are wearing bread bags on their feet to keep them from getting wet in the winter. And don’t even get me started on the Holy Spirit. Why that dumb ass “led” me to do all sorts of stupid things, things that caused harm to my health and the financial well-being of my family. I should have listened for the beep-beep-beep of a Brink’s truck backing up to my house instead of just, with a wing and a prayer, “trusting” the triune God of Evangelicalism to take care of 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.

Why I Don’t Tell People I Was a Pastor

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

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

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

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

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

These days, I NEVER tell someone who doesn’t know me that I was a pastor. I don’t want to have to explain why I am no longer in the ministry. Yes, if someone does a web search on my name he or she will quickly find out I was once a pastor. However, I am not going to volunteer that information. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by my former life as a pastor. I have many fond memories of the years I spent in the ministry, along with a boat load of dark, harmful experiences too. What I want to avoid is being judged by people who don’t know me. Last night, I had a delightful discussion with the local high school principal. I don’t think he knows I was a pastor. We were talking about leadership and being visionary. I shared several stories from my ministerial past, but I did so without saying I was a pastor.

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

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.

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

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

Polly’s mom is now on the last leg of life. She’s has congestive heart failure and has been give six or so months to live. In 2005, Polly’s younger sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash (If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All) leaving Polly alone responsible for her aged parents. In 2004-2005, we lived in Newark, Ohio, not far from Polly’s parents. Our plan was to live there and care for Polly’s parents as they got older. Unfortunately, they made it clear that our help wasn’t needed. Message received. We returned to northwest Ohio so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. Two years ago, Polly’s dad had botched hip replacement surgery that left him crippled. We offered to move them up here so we could help care for them. Our offer was rebuffed. Polly’s mom told her that they couldn’t move because their church — the Newark Baptist Temple — was very important to them. This sentiment is strange considering that their church has pretty much ignored them since Dad’s hip surgery. Out of sight, out of mind.

It will be left to Polly to take care of everything after her mom dies. Common sense says that Polly’s parents should have a will, but, unfortunately, common sense seems hard to find these days. Polly’s mom refuses to have a will drawn up, leaving Polly a colossal mess to deal with after her mom dies. Polly calls her mom every Sunday at 10:00 PM. They talk for one hour. In recent weeks, I have listened to Polly gently try to explain to her mom why having a will is important. Finally, I had enough and asked to Polly to put the phone on speaker. Bruce, the son-in-law she wishes she never had, is more blunt and direct than his wife. I let my mother-in-law know exactly what she was leaving behind for her daughter if she died intestate. In no uncertain terms I let her know that her view of the family was naïve. (She believes everyone will just get along after her death and there will be no problems settling the estate without a will.) She said nothing, thinking, I’m sure, “here’s another one of Bruce’s lectures.” Polly told me later that her mom let her know that she was putting her dad in a nursing home in Newark BEFORE she dies! I suspect she heard from one of her local grandsons that Polly and I had been talking about what to do with/for her dad after Mom died. One idea was to put him in a nursing home near us so we and children could provide for his needs. It seems that, even to the end, Mom intends to maintain the wall between us and her church and “godly” grandchildren in central Ohio. Her behavior has broken Polly’s heart, but there’s nothing she can do about it. Polly has always been the dutiful daughter, yet it seems her mom has chosen the rebellious daughter’s family over hers — much like in the Bible story about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). In the end, it’s Mom’s loss. She has an awesome daughter, and we have wonderful children and grandchildren; people with great empathy and compassion; people who value family. She doesn’t know this, of course, because she has chosen her dead daughter’s family over Polly’s. Such is life . . .

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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