Menu Close

Tag: LGBTQ

Anti-Trans Bigotry at Bryan, Ohio City Schools

bryan city schools

“It’s just really, disrespectful. I just want them to call me Jay when I walk across the stage in front of everyone so it’s not really embarrassing.”

Jay Rober

“The consistent practice has always been to utilize the student’s legal name that matches with the legal name on the diploma.”

“If they decide to apply for employment or if they decide to attend higher education, we on the school side are bound to ensure that the legalities are followed with the legal document.”

— Bryan City Schools Superintendent Mark Rairigh

Letter to the editor of the Bryan Times.

Dear Editor,

Graduating from high school is a seminal moment in a student’s life; a time of arrival and entrance into adulthood. Graduation should be a day of happiness and joy as family and friends congratulate a student on a job well done. It is not a day for moralizing or political statements. Unfortunately, Bryan City Schools superintendent Mark Rairigh did just that for one transgender student, Jay Rober. And now Rober won’t be walking with his fellow students on graduation day.

Rober asked school officials to please call him by his preferred name when awarding him his diploma. Rairigh says this can’t happen for “legal” reasons. What “legal” reasons, exactly? I can understand requiring a student’s legal name to be printed on his or her diploma, but that’s not what is going on here. All Rober wants is to be called by his preferred name when his name is announced. Doing so is just a matter of respect for the student. Countless students are daily addressed by their teachers with preferred names. My dad’s name was Robert, but his teachers called him Bob. The same goes for my mother, whose legal name was Barbara, but wanted to be called Barb.

Accommodating preferred names require no effort on the part of Bryan City teachers, administrators, and the superintendent. It’s hard not to conclude, then, that there is either a political or religious agenda behind Rairigh’s refusal to accommodate Rober’s name request. Hiding behind “this is the way we have always done it” is the mantra of people resistant to social progress and change; the same mantra used by southern white supremacists to block school integration.

School officials threw Rober a lifeline, of sorts: legally change your name (in less than two weeks, at a cost of hundreds of dollars). Are Bryan City teachers required to call every student by their legal name? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. Shouldn’t students who have preferred nicknames be required to legally change their names? Absurd, right?

At the end of the day, “Jay” is just a name. Out of respect for Jay and his family on the biggest day of his young life, he has earned the right to be called by his preferred name. I can’t think of a rational or logical (or legal) reason why Jay just can’t be “Jay.”

Bruce Gerencser

Ney, Ohio

Why Do Evangelical Preachers Tend to Sexually Assault Girls Instead of Boys?

jack schaap
Jack Schaap, an IFB pastor who served twelve years in prison for repeatedly sexually assaulting a church teen he was counseling

I am talking with a man about being on his podcast later this year. The focus of his podcast is the sexual abuse of boys. As we were talking, it dawned on me that the overwhelming majority of predatory Evangelical preachers prey on girls, teen girls, and older females. In the Catholic church, pedophile priests tend to go after boys, but in the Evangelical and IFB churches, the focus is on females. Why is that?

In Evangelical churches, homosexuality is considered perversion, the sin above all sins. Further, many Evangelicals believe that most child molesters are homosexuals. Does this aversion toward homosexuality ward preachers off from molesting boys? Or is it, as my counselor suggested today, that boys are less likely to talk about being molested due to their church’s hatred of all things LGBTQ? Or is it a combination of things?

What are your thoughts on this subject? I do want to hear from you. I am also looking to talk to Evangelical men who were molested by preachers and other church leaders as children or teenagers. If you know someone who would be willing to talk with me or share their story, please contact me via email.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Let’s Talk About Transgenderism and How We View Transgender People

christians attack lgbt people

Summit Ministries, an Evangelical group (their list of faculty will tell you everything you need to know about their theological orientation — definitely straight, white, Republican Evangelical) dedicated to “equipping and supporting rising generations to embrace God’s truth and champion a Biblical worldview,” recently conducted a survey of 1,000 Americans on their views about transgenderism. Here are the “(anally) probing” questions they asked (in the order they were asked):

  • Do you believe it is possible to distinguish between men and women?
  • Do you believe a person’s biological sex and their gender are two separate things?
  • What are your personal opinions about transgenderism? 1) I believe it is a healthy human condition that should be celebrated. 2) I do not believe it is a healthy human condition, but I stay silent on the issue to not offend others. 3) I do not believe it is a healthy human condition, and I am willing to say so.
  • What is your opinion of schools teaching about sexual identity and sexual behavior with elementary-age students? 1) It is a perfectly appropriate use of instruction time. 2) It is inappropriate in a school setting. 3) It is dangerous because it could be used to groom children for sexual encounters at a young age.
  • Should underage minors be encouraged to undergo permanent gender alteration, or wait until they are adults?
  • Should medical professionals performing gender-altering be required by law to disclose the common, long-term medical, and psychological impact of such procedures?

According to Dr. Jeff Myers, President of Summit Ministries:

Everywhere Americans look, the media and education culture is bombarding us with relentless, daily messages in support of transgenderism without limits. Despite this intensity, these stunning numbers show plainly that the vast majority of Americans aren’t buying what they’re being sold. A huge majority of Americans don’t think this issue belongs anywhere near our kids. Yet, we also see a powerful chilling effect that this propaganda is having on society, as this research shows that tens of millions disagree with what they see, but are afraid to say anything about their views. We trust this poll will spark all-important conversations so we can properly address these issues as a nation.

Summit Ministries believes this study tells us:

  • 64% of American voters who have an opinion about the issue do not believe transgenderism is a healthy human condition
  • 34% stay silent on the issue to not offend others
  • 30% are willing to speak out on the issue
  • 36% of American voters who have an opinion about the issue believe transgenderism is a healthy human condition
  • 72% of American voters who have an opinion on the issue do not believe schools should teach about sexual identity and sexual behavior with elementary-age children
  • 42% believe it is inappropriate in a school setting
  • 30% believe it is dangerous and could lead to children being groomed for sexual encounters at a young age
  • 28% of American voters who have an opinion on the issue believe it is a perfectly appropriate use of instruction time
  • 93% of American voters who have an opinion on the issue believe it is possible to distinguish between men and women.
  • 7% of American voters who have an opinion on the issue don’t believe it is possible to distinguish between men and women
  • 90% of American voters who have an opinion on the issue say minors should be required to wait until they are legal adults before undergoing permanent gender alteration
  • 10% of American voters who have an opinion on the issue say minors should be encouraged to undergo permanent gender alteration
  • 90% of American voters who have an opinion on the issue believe that medical professionals performing gender-altering procedures be required by law to disclose the common, long-term medical and psychological impact of such procedures
  • 10% of American voters who have an opinion on the issue believe that medical professionals performing gender-altering procedures should not be required by law to disclose the common, long-term medical and psychological impact of such procedures.

All based on loaded questions. All based on narrow question constraints. All are based on demographics that conveniently ignore religious identification. And most of all, all based on 1,000 Americans — sixty-seven percent who are forty and older — out of a population of 333,000,000 people (260,000,000 if you remove children from the mix).

Further, Americans are largely ignorant about science in general, and sex and gender specifically. This is another issue where Evangelicalism, Mormonism, and Conservative Catholicism have inhibited or prohibited meaningful discussion on these issues. As a society, we must come to terms with the fact that transgender people exist; that they are family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. We must come to terms with the fact that gender and sex are far more complex than we would like to admit; that it’s time to put our Adam and Eve view of the world into the dustbin of history with the Bible from whence this belief came.

That said, we need to have a vigorous debate about when it is appropriate to teach children about sex and what they should be taught when they are. We need to have a national discussion about gender reassignment surgery and puberty blockers. Sadly, current discussions are dominated by extremes. So let’s discuss this issue folks — politely, openly, and honestly. I know that a number of my readers are LGBTQ. Some of the most active commenters on this site are transgender. I consider them my friends. I have long been a supporter of LGBTQ rights, though, I must admit, that I am troubled by some of the things I hear in some corners of the LGBTQ world. I have six adult children and thirteen grandchildren. It is likely (in fact, I know this to be true), that one or more of my children or grandchildren might not fit neatly in the gender/sex categories which I grew up with and dominate the society I live in. As these issues come closer to home for me, my liberal sensibilities have been challenged. It’s easy to support LGBTQ people from a distance, but when it’s one of your own? I pride myself in being supportive of all people, regardless of their sex or gender. I am a fiery advocate for LGBTQ rights. I am proud of the fact that I have LGBTQ friends. Yet, fifty years of religious indoctrination and social conditioning are hard to shake. I wish I could have a Men in Black mind-wipe, as I’m sure many of you wish too. However, that’s not going to happen. We must confront our biases and prejudices head-on. And make no mistake about it — we all have them. Even Jesus, Christians. Just look at how he treated Gentiles. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bishop’s Roulette

guest post

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Today I am going to make a confession.  (How Catholic of me, right?)

As I’ve mentioned in earlier guest posts, I was raised a Roman Catholic and, in my late adolescence and early adulthood, “gave my life to Jesus” and became an Evangelical Christian. My belief was eroded, if you will, by a combination of reading, study, and experiences that included finally coming to terms with my gender identity, sexuality, and the sexual abuse I experienced from a priest. I didn’t have a moment when I blurted, “I am an atheist!” or even “I don’t believe.” Rather, I realized that, somewhere along the way, I’d lost whatever faith I had.

Even so, I made one final attempt to be part of a “faith community.” For about a year and a half, I attended services at a church that would have appalled both the Catholics among whom I grew up and the Evangelicals to whom I professed my devotion to “the Lord.” (When I say that, I think of all of those African-Americans and women I’ve heard referring to “The Man.”) At the suggestion of someone whom I esteemed, and still do, I attended the services and participated in the programs of an “accepting” congregation.

I worked with someone I’ll call “Jenna” in helping to feed un-housed people. She told me she was an atheist but got involved with the church for “social reasons.” One day, I asked her to explain. The church did charitable work in areas that were of particular interest to her, she said. That work included in LGBTQ equality and helping folks in places like the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia. Doing it under the auspices of the church “signaled” — she used that word — that she was “walking the walk.” Jenna’s family and friends didn’t take her work seriously — or believe she was doing it, especially the LGBTQ outreach — out of anything more than self-interest or money — never mind that she was a volunteer and used her own money to go to those places where she helped people, and to buy food, clothing and other items for the un-housed in our city — until she started working with the church. But she also admitted that being involved with the church spared her from having to explain her atheism to family members, co-workers, and others who wouldn’t have been sympathetic.

Likewise, that church legitimized, at least in the eyes of some people, the volunteer work I did in animal welfare, adult literacy, and LGBTQ equality. About the latter: I hadn’t yet come to affirm (or, in the parlance of the time, “change” or “transition”) my gender identity. But the church, which was among the first to hold funerals for victims of the HIV outbreak, gave me the “cover,” if you will, I wanted and needed in order to help people like me and to claim that it wasn’t about self-interest. Not only did my church involvement legitimize the work I was doing; but it also deflected the suspicions some people had about me. Hey, I didn’t even try to set some of my relatives and in-laws right (I almost said “straight” but the pun would have been too obvious!) when they expressed the hope that I would “meet somebody nice” and get married right on my second try.

Well, there would be no second try for marriage. Later, I did get involved in a relationship with a woman — whom I didn’t meet at church — and we lived under the protections of that document people associated with gay couples — the domestic partnership agreement — for several years. One funny thing, in retrospect, about that partnership is that it, like my church involvement, gave me “cover,” even among my conservative relatives and in-laws, at least for a time.

After being an atheist for, probably, about 30 years — roughly half of my life — I have come to realize how much legitimacy is conferred on all sorts of things done in the context of a church or other faith community by someone who professes his or her belief but is denied to those who do the same work without the imprimatur of religion. Also, there are some ceremonies and passages that are legitimized, by societal standards and even the law, by a declaration of faith or the “witness” of the faithful. Have you ever seen anyone take an oath of office without placing his or her hand on a Bible and ending his or her pledge with “So help me God” or words to that effect? And, even though conservative religious folks howl when cities, states, or countries tell people they can marry whomever they want as long as they are of age, those couples-to-be, whether they are two of the traditionally-defined sexes or nonbinary, are as likely as not to exchange their vows in a place of worship. Why? Sometimes they are trying to make their unions more palatable to prospective in-laws. Or one or both members of the couple may have grown up in the church and it is, therefore, the one place where everyone whom they’d want at their ceremony can gather. Another reason is convenience: while one can be legally married by a county clerk or some other secular official, getting married in a church or synagogue or other worship sites “kills two birds with one stone”: it sanctifies the union in the eyes of some and, in most places, makes the marriage legal, as, typically, the minister, priest or other officiating clergy member signs, along with other two other witnesses, the marriage license certificate shortly after the ceremony ends.

Knowing what I’ve just described, I am especially worried that far-right Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians, as well as conservative Catholics and their counterparts in other churches and religions, will try to make their churches — and, possibly, baptisms or professions of faith — the only way to give or receive charitable gifts or works. This is more or less the case already in Utah, where public benefits are among the lowest and most difficult to obtain in the US. As in most other states, caseworkers refer people who’ve been denied benefits to other organizations — including churches.

 In the Beehive State, most roads to such assistance lead to the Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons).  People in need are thus subject to “bishop’s roulette.” Some officials are generous with their help.  Others, however, are more rigid and judgmental, especially with LGBTQ people and single mothers, who are often assumed to be “sinners” who had their children out of wedlock. Or, if they are willing to help, it’s on the condition that the person in need reads aloud from texts, attends church, or even sets up a date to be baptized. 

When the intentions of churches and other religious institutions are assumed to be noble or pure, they lend legitimacy, in the eyes of many, to charitable work — or the denial of charity. Never mind that prelates and others in the church use their power to bully those same people they help, or choose not to help, or those who do the helping.  For now, I am living in a safely “blue” state where, while some religious groups have political influence, they don’t hold nearly as much power as the Mormons have in Utah—or religious conservatives, whether on the Supreme Court or in local school boards, want.  And for now, at least, most young people want little or no truck with religious institutions. Still, I worry that while the proportion of religious conservatives in the total population is shrinking, their influence is growing as they become more virulent and vicious.  I hope that one day I won’t have to proclaim faith I don’t have, join a church whose motives I can see all too clearly, or simply deny who I am, to get help I may need—or just to be allowed to rescue cats. And I hope those young people won’t have to be similarly duplicitous in order to get education, jobs, or housing because they ran into an admissions officer, HR Department, or loan provider who believes it is more important to “save souls” than to help. In short, I hope none of us become unwilling subjects in “bishop’s roulette.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Evangelical Plan to Return the United States to the 1950s

prayer in school

Many atheists, humanists, and progressives look at the declining attendance numbers for Evangelical churches and wrongly conclude that Evangelicalism as a movement is dying. Numerically, Evangelicalism is dying, as an increasing number of younger adults exit stage left never to be seen again. As baby boomers continue to die off, their numbers are not being replaced by younger people. Instead, more and more people in their 20s and 30s are self-identifying as atheists, agnostics, or nones (people who are indifferent towards organized religion). Based on the sheer volume of articles I see on this subject from Evangelical “experts,” it is clear that churches and pastors are alarmed over attendance losses.

If we wait long enough, Evangelicalism will die from self-inflicted wounds. Unable to leave off their penchant for waging war on people different from their tribe, there will come a day when Evangelicalism as we know it will no longer exist. However, by then the damage caused by these Evangelical culture warriors, along with their Catholic and Mormon compatriots, will be irreversible. Evangelicals have traded piety, holiness, and commitment to preaching the gospel for raw, naked political power. Evangelicals are the power and money behind Trumpism, Qanon, 1/6 Insurrection, and countless attempts to destroy sixty years of social progress. The goal is to return the United States to the 1950s.

Evangelicals harnessed incrementalism to advance their agenda This fact is aptly illustrated in their frontal assault on reproductive rights. It is widely believed by conservatives and liberals alike that the Supreme Court will soon reverse Roe v. Wade, giving states the right to totally outlaw abortion. This outcome was birthed forty years ago when Jerry Falwell and Paul Wyrich started the Moral Majority. Year by year, Evangelicals chipped away at reproductive rights, using an incrementalist approach to strip women of their right to choose.

Next on the Evangelical agenda are issues such as legally recognizing fertilized human eggs as persons, outlawing same-sex marriage, banning interracial marriage, criminalizing homosexuality, and a host of other culture war hot button issues. Who do you think is behind the outrage over LGBTQ-friendly books in schools, critical race theory, Disney, and socialism? Evangelicals, that’s who. No longer believing there is a separation between church and state, Evangelicals, if left to their own devices, fully intend to establish a Christian theocratic state. Your Evangelical neighbors might be friendly, smile when they see you, and seem to all around nice people, but make no mistake about it, behind closed doors and at church on Sundays, they shout hallelujah and amen when their preachers call on them to take back America for the Christian God.

one nation under god

I was born in 1957, an era drastically different from today. Evangelicals look at the 50s and sigh, wistfully wanting a return to the “good old days.” Knowing they currently control the levers of power, Evangelicals are working tirelessly to return us to the days when President Dwight Eisenhower and the U.S. Congress added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and put “In God We Trust” on our money. And make no mistake about it, this “God” is the Christian God of the Bible.

I grew up in a world where there was one God — the Christian God — homosexuality, abortion, and birth control were illegal, LGBTQ people were deeply closeted, Blacks knew their place, and the only thing Mexicans were good for was picking our crops. Christian morals and ethics were expected and demanded. School days began with the Pledge of Allegiance, Christian prayer, and readings from the Protestant Christian Bible. Patriarchalism and complementarianism were the norms. Divorce, sex before marriage, and pregnancy outside of marriage were frowned upon. This is the world Evangelicals want to return to.

It remains to be seen whether the Evangelical horde at the gate can be repelled. I am not optimistic. Liberals and progressives seem clueless about the real and present danger we face from Evangelicals. Our constitutional republic is weak, if not failing. Evangelicals know this and are using this weakness to advance their theocratic agenda. Their goal is Jesus on the throne in Washington D.C. and the Bible as the lawbook of the land. And when this happens, freedom is lost and people die.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Is Every Sin the Same, Regardless of What the Sin Is?

homosexuality is a sin

Christianity, especially in its fundamentalist expressions, teaches that every human is a sinner in need of redemption. Sin is the problem and Jesus is the solution. From Adam and Eve forward, we humans have faced the consequences of sin. Every problem the human race faces can be reduced to our sin against God. Calvinists, Arminians, Mormons, and Catholics, all agree that the stain of sin has ruined the human race and only the blood of Jesus can wash that stain away.

When asked if some sins are worse than other sins, Christians will likely say no. Sin is sin, in God’s eye, they say, but are they really being honest when they say this? Take David Lane, a political activist and founder of the American Renewal Project. In a Charisma interview, Lane stated:

“Sin is sin, whether it is homosexuality, adultery or stealing candy bars at the local 7-Eleven. God gave us the recipe in 2 Chronicles 7:14. We as Christians must understand that. He will forgive us and heal our land, but only if we humble ourselves, pray and turn back to Him. I wholeheartedly believe in prayer, and that’s what it’s going to take. Our only hope is in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

According to Lane, “homosexuality, adultery or stealing candy bars at the local 7-Eleven” are all the same in God’s eye. Really? If that is so, why haven’t I heard of any Christian outrage over adultery or stealing candy bars?  I checked out the American Renewal Project website, looking for action alerts, feature articles, or campaigns against the sin of stealing candy bars. I found none.

The truth is this: Evangelicals, Mormons, and conservative Catholics, have raised the sin of homosexuality to a sin above all others. In their minds, it is the sin above all sins, the one sin that will destroy the United States and bring the judgment of God. These prophets of God, who seem to be profiting nicely off of America’s sin problem, need to stop with the “sin is sin” schtick. No one is buying it.

Look at the message of the above graphic. When’s the last time you’ve seen a graphic, read an Evangelical news article, or heard a sermon that said:  Stealing a Candy Bar is a Perversion! Repent or Burn, You Choose! I suspect your answer is never or not since Sister Judith’s Sunday school class in 1968.

I spent fifty years in the Christian church. As a child and youth, I never heard one sermon about the sin of homosexuality. Not one. In fact, it was well into the 1980s before I started hearing sermons about fags, queers, and sodomites. Why all the sermons and outrage now? Simple. LGBTQ people, as a class, want the same civil protections and rights that heterosexuals have. They want equal protection under the law. They want to be treated fairly and justly. Most of all, they want to love whom they want, without the government or anyone else telling them they can’t.

And it is these demands that have Evangelicals, Mormons, and conservative Catholics upset. Why can’t the homos stay in the closet, they screech. Everything was fine, before THOSE PEOPLE wanted the same rights as everyone else, says the local Baptist preacher, forgetting that his ancestors made similar statements when opposing equal rights for Blacks.  Fearing the gay horde, they express their outrage couched in Bible verses and pronouncements from God, but in doing so they unwittingly expose the homophobia and bigotry that lies just under the surface of much of American conservative and fundamentalist Christianity. The problem isn’t sin; it’s homophobia and bigotry. It’s preachers who are afraid to find out how many of their church members are actually gay or bat from both sides of the plate. It’s evangelists and conference speakers who are afraid that their supporters will find out that they have a man in every city. As scandal after scandal has reminded us (see Black Collar Crime Series), those who roar the loudest against a particular sin are often doing that which they condemn.

The next time some lying Evangelical like David Lane tells you “sin is sin, whether it is homosexuality, adultery or stealing candy bars at the local 7-Eleven,” ask them for proof of their claim. From my seat in the atheist pew, all I see is wild eye homophobia and bigotry, and lots of candy bar thieves.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

He’s a Woman Now!

gay pride flag

Seven years ago, I wrote a post titled The Jonathan Nichols Story: Growing Up Gay in the IFB Church about a young gay man who was a member of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) in Newark, Ohio pastored, at the time, by my wife’s uncle, James Dennis (please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis). Jonathan’s parents, along with Polly’s mother, are active members of the Newark Baptist Temple. Polly and I attended the Baptist Temple for a year or so in the early 1980s.

Jonathan wrote a two-part story about his life on BJ [Bob Jones University]Unity website. Here’s an excerpt from what he had to say:

I grew up in Newark, Ohio and attended an independent fundamental Baptist church since I was born. That church was more conservative than Bob Jones, and my parents were more conservative than the church. My mom, the church pianist and school music teacher, was forever busy taking the “sensual” triplets out of songs like “Some Trust in Chariots” and campaigning against songs like “As The Deer” and “Bow the Knee.” As you can probably deduce from that, practically no modern music was allowed in our household either. I grew up on classical music and only classical music and quickly learned that there was no such thing as likes and dislikes when it came to music. There was just good and bad. You are to listen to good music and not to listen to bad music. What music you “like” has nothing to do with anything.

That mentality was carried into every area of life.

I suppose being the music teacher’s son allowed me to be a little gay boy without thinking anything of it or being called out about it. I was totally into music and art and pretty things, and nothing was weird. I would play with scarves without feeling odd. Well, without feeling too odd. I knew that none of the other guys my age were playing with scarves. Fortunately, I didn’t think about it too much.

Ok, so I can’t really credit my discretion for keeping me in the closet for eighteen years… Like I said, I played with scarves and wasn’t careful about making it known that I was a musician and not like those “other” guys. The atmosphere was so anti-gay that no one even bothered to think that there could be a gay kid growing up there, regardless of how obvious I made it. Besides, I was still a kid. I didn’t even know what it meant to be gay. Heck, I didn’t even know that it meant anything besides “happy.” So in the minds of the church and my parents, there was no way I could have chosen to be gay yet. And since being gay is a choice, that meant that I was a good, straight little boy. Just like God intended. Right? Totally.

When I said I didn’t know what “gay” meant, I wasn’t exaggerating. It wasn’t until I was in 7th or 8th grade that I figured out that the word referred to two men or two women together in a romantic or sexual relationship. Of course, I still didn’t know about the romantic side of it. Gay relationships were all about sex. They weren’t meaningful.

Sometime in my junior-high or early high-school years, I had a direct brush with a self-proclaimed gay person. A former classmate visited my youth group at church one Wednesday night and brought her friend. Her friend made no qualms about the fact that he was gay. He was totally fine with it and evidently was from an accepting family. Looking back on that, my heart goes out to that boy. He would have been my age: a young teenager just starting to figure life out—just starting to find himself and truly live his life. I couldn’t help but stare at him. I thought he was beautiful. Of course, I would never have admitted that to myself. I was too busy judging him for his sin. I don’t remember much about that sermon, but I remember enough to know what it must have been like for him. Pastor Overton made direct references several times to the “abomination of homosexuality,” even though it had really nothing to do with his chosen topic. It was obvious even to me that he was going out of his way to make the poor boy uncomfortable—to “draw him to Christ” by any means necessary. In this case, the “necessary means” was to rant about how all gays are going to hell because they’ve chosen an abomination over the love and grace of God. It’s sad, but I believed every word of it. I painfully remember the time after the meeting. Pastor Overton talked with the boy alone, no doubt reinforcing in his young mind that the theoretical “he” was loved incredibly much by God, but as a person, God hated everything about him. I don’t know how things worked out with him. I do remember, though, my former classmate sobbing and repeating “I’m scared _________ will go to hell because he’s gay. . . .” I’m ashamed to say it, but in my mind I was replying “Well, yes. He will. Because if he were a Christian, he wouldn’t be gay. And non-Christians go straight to hell.”

The boy never came back to the Newark Baptist Temple. I’m glad. I hope he found real love away from judgment. I hope he’s now going to college as a proud gay man, trying to make the world a better place. I hope he has found happiness instead of hate.

I must continue with my story, though, since I don’t know his. My parents were of the opinion that dating was to be used only for finding a wife or husband, so they strongly discouraged it in my life. I resented that. While I was never sexually attracted to women, I was an incurable romantic and longed for a lady to be chivalrous to. There was one time, however, that I went behind my parents’ backs and “dated” a girl at church. We saw each other twice a week, at the most, and always with many other people around. We kissed once, and I remember thinking after that that kissing is terribly overrated. That was it. A little later, there was a girl at school that had a crush on me, and I had a crush on her. We never were officially “together,” though.

I guess I should clarify something here. . . When I say I had a “crush” on someone, which I did fairly regularly, I don’t mean in the typical high-school want-to-get-together type way. I was a reader, and I could simply imagine myself as their knight in shining armor. Just like I was supposed to be. My personal desires didn’t come into play. . . They were girls that I wanted to see happy, and I was nice and would try to make them happy. The end. Until my senior year.

Every year, my school would send groups to BJU for two weeks, once in November for the BJU Fine Arts Festival, and the other in April for the AACS National Competition, the national tier competition for winners of their state fine arts competitions. I went to Festival every year I was in high school and made it to AACS my first three years. Thursday night at Festival my senior year, I met someone that I had seen from afar years before. Let’s call him Ryan. I had seen him some years before at a BJU summer music camp. I thought he was beautiful. Just absolutely gorgeous. Not that I admitted it or anything, but still. Here he was, talking to a friend of mine right after the final concert. She introduced us officially, and we started talking. He was now a freshman at BJU. We all were going to grab coffee and our friend had to get ready, so Ryan and I waited outside her dorm for her. We got to talking. I felt so free around him– like I could be totally myself and not have to try to make him like me or be scared of saying the wrong thing. We all got coffee, then headed back to our rooms. His turned out to be on the same hall that I was staying on, just a few doors down. We talked until midnight, when we were both shooed into our rooms. Right before he went into his room, he turned around and hugged me. That was the most electrifying moment of my life up to that point. I can’t begin to describe the mental sensation of that second. I wasn’t any closer to admitting anything to myself, but I couldn’t sleep for awhile – the only thought running through my head was “He hugged me!” I now had my first real crush.

….

I wanted so much to be able to be honest with someone that I was actually in contact with. I hinted to my closest friend that my friendship with Ryan wasn’t just a friendship. She was, naturally for someone in our atmosphere, worried for me. So, despite her promises that she would trust me to do what I felt was right, she went to my youth pastor for help. He promptly told the senior pastor, who is superintendent of the school. The next day, I was called into Pastor Dennis’s office for questioning. Pastor Overton was also in the room, sitting to my left with a legal pad and a pen, taking notes. Dennis tried to start off nice enough, but it was obvious that they found out. I decided that a clean breast of the issue would be best, and went into my research on the matter, hoping at least to get an opposing rebuttal and at best to convince them. How naive I was. . . I don’t remember much of that conversation, but one thing rings vividly in my mind. I mentioned that the Greek word malakoi in I Cor. 6:9 was never elsewhere, in the whole of Greek literary writings, translated “effeminate.” It carried a whole different connotation. His response? He turned around, pulled his Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance off the shelf, looked up the word, and pointed to the definition. He never for one second imagined that Dr. James Strong was not infallible and that his concordance was not holy writ. In those several hours, my pastor beat me down. Hard. I was totally conquered, save in one regard. I would not tell him who I was “dating.” I did not see that it was my place to get someone else, especially someone I loved, in trouble like this. Dennis found out anyways. He had me break up with Ryan. I cried all night.

The next day, I woke up to the realization that Ryan blocked me on Facebook and wasn’t responding to texts. I was devastated. Then I was called into the church office again. Pastor Dennis, Pastor Overton, the principal, vice-principal, and my mom were there. I was curtly informed that I was being expelled. I was to call Ryan and tell him that he had an hour to turn himself in or Dennis would call BJU administration and get him expelled. After that, I wasn’t to have any contact with him. My mom was placed on paid leave to homeschool me for the remaining two and a half months.

This all happened the day before my state fine arts competition. All of my prepared speeches and music entries were now worthless, and my mom, who, by the way, fully supported the school’s decision, needed to carry on for two stressful days as if nothing had happened. Dennis told me to tell no one about why I had been expelled. He said it was for my own good. Like a fool, I believed him. If I had gone looking for help or support then, I might have been better off. It would have exposed some of the underhandedness, at least. At the time, though, I was far too scared to do anything like that. I was totally beat down, and reverted back to being as much of a non-person as I could. That worked for about a month. At that point, I realized that they had never provided refutations to any of my points. They had simply refused to consider them. They had used their position of power to crush me. I had never been on the wrong side of any authority figures before then, and I was quickly cowed. I also realized that I had been more fulfilled in my time with Ryan than any other time in my life, especially that month. I decided then that I would go with what I had researched rather than blindly follow the men that cared only to see me bent to their will. I decided, furthermore, that even if I was wrong, any god sadistic enough to make me who I am and then hate every ounce of it did not deserve my worship. I would rather live in eternal torment knowing that I lived by love towards all than spend paradise with the being of hatred who is infuriated by my just being me.

I messaged Ryan and asked him if he would have me back. He said yes. By now, attending BJU was out of the question for me. I had no idea when I would see Ryan next. He mentioned, though, that he would be staying on campus over the summer to work. I immediately determined that I would be there for the two summer music camps, as no one else knew that he would be there. I managed to convince my parents to let me drive myself there, so we would have a car at our disposal. All that was soon to change. Two events left me devastated. Late at night on July 3rd, Ryan ended our relationship. He needed someone who could actually be there with him, and I couldn’t do that. July 4th, 2011, was probably the worst day of my life. Everything was closed and everyone was doing something. I had no distractions from the fact that the one person in the whole world that I most wanted to be with didn’t want to be with me anymore. I made it through, though. I was still going to go down to the camps, though. He still had, and still has, a special place in my heart. If it weren’t for him, I would not yet have come to grips with reality. He helped find me, and I am eternally grateful for that.

Well, camp time came. I drove down from Ohio to South Carolina, and things were going wonderfully. Despite the emotional wounds, I was happy to be with him. Then, on Tuesday night, my mom called. She had decided to do me a favor and clean my room for me, which evidently included rifling through the papers in the bottom of my desk. There, she found a note I had written to myself shortly after July 4th as a way to get some of my feelings somewhere, anywhere, outside of my head. She now knew that Ryan was on campus and I was seeing him. She called the camp director, and he had us separated with the threat that I would be sent home if I tried to contact him again. At the end of the week, my mom flew down to Greenville to accompany me back. After this, though, I wasn’t having any more. I knew that I couldn’t change again. I tried it, and it didn’t work. I had spent sleepless nights crying to God for help. No change. Either God was (1) fine with me being me, (2) powerless to change anything, or (3) sadistically watching me flounder in my sin. Under none of those possibilities did I feel obligated to try to change this second time.

The above story was excerpted from Part One and Part Two of Jonathan’s story (links no longer active).

Years later, I still weep as I read Jonathan’s story. No one should have to go through the abuse Jonathan did at the hands of Jim Dennis, Jamie Overton (Polly’s cousin), and his parents. Jonathan’s story is a reminder that Fundamentalism harms everything it touches.

Polly talks to her mother every Sunday evening at exactly 10:00 pm for one hour, unless providentially hindered. 🙂 Yesterday, Mom mentioned that Jonathan’s dad is seriously ill, in the hospital, and possibly dying. And then, out of the blue, she mentioned Jonathan, saying, He’s a woman now! That’s it, he’s a woman now! Evidently, Jonathan has transitioned since the publishing of the story mentioned above. I chuckled a bit when I heard Mom say this, thinking she likely finds it impossible to wrap her mind around the fact that a boy who was raised in her church is now a woman. This does not compute in her world. 🙂

In IFB churches, there’s no such thing as LGBTQ people. Oh, they exist, but such people are never free to be themselves, never free to be at peace with who and what they are. Imagine going to church on Sundays, knowing you are going to be the target of homophobic sermons from your pastor, youth pastor, and guest preachers; and that if the “truth” ever got out you would be immediately excommunicated from not only your church, but your family. I can only imagine the pain men and women such as Jonathan have suffered in their lives, all because they are “different.”

Polly’s mom, nor her fellow church members at the Baptist Temple, will ever accept Jonathan for who he is (I don’t know if he has changed his name and pronouns, so I continue to say “he”). As the Jonathans of the world learn, they must go outside of the church to find love and acceptance.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

When I Continued Believing By Other Means

guest post

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Just after my mother died, I started seeing the therapist, again, who helped me during my gender identity affirmation process.

Some would argue that I should’ve found a different therapist. In fact, I asked her whether she thought working with me again was a good idea. Mind you, she didn’t need me: She is well-regarded in her areas of specialty (which include gender identity and expression) and so does not lack for people — some of whom could pay more than I ever could — who want to avail themselves of her insights. But she assured me that as long as I felt our working relationship was beneficial, she had no qualms about it.

If you spend any amount of time with a therapist — a good one, anyway — you find yourself discussing experiences and issues that you might not have thought were related to the ones you wanted to work on, but you come to realize are related, if not root causes. And so it was during a recent session with Carol (not her real name).

Not surprisingly, she knows things about me that not even members of my family or all except a couple of my closest friends know. (She is the second person I told about my sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.) In one of my early sessions with her, years ago, I mentioned that I didn’t drink or do drugs. She asked whether I was attending any twelve-step programs or other similar support groups. I said that I wasn’t, but I wasn’t drinking or using — which was the truth. Also true — which I revealed later: I stopped attending meetings about three years after my second sponsor died — like my first, from HIV-related illnesses.

Being the therapist she is, she expressed neither approval nor disapproval. In fact, she didn’t mention it again — until a few months after I started working with her again. It came up in relation to something else — I forget what, exactly, but it probably had to do with my mother’s death and what it stirred up in me. I admitted that I drank, but not as a result of my mother’s passing: I’d resumed a few years earlier, a couple of years after my gender affirmation surgery. I wasn’t suffering from the “crash” some people are said to experience after any long-anticipated experience. Rather, I’d taken a celebratory trip and, in a place where nobody knew me, had a couple of drinks.

I didn’t wake up under a bridge or in the hallway of a seedy building — or in another place where nobody knew me. I didn’t wake up beside someone I’d never seen before and would never see again. I didn’t want “the hair of the dog” and in fact felt no pain or regret. If anything, I felt as I might’ve had I spent the evening in any number of other ways and didn’t want much besides waffles, fruit preserves, and coffee.

Since then, I’ve re-discovered an old taste for wine, beer, or hard cider with supper. But I uncovered no hidden craving for hard liquor, which I enjoy once in a great while, on special occasions, and with other people. (A bottle of whiskey, cognac, or vodka lasts me for months, or even more.) And I don’t feel that those libations are a “must” with a meal or other people.

After hearing these revelations, Carol asked a question that surprised me only because I didn’t expect to hear one so direct from her, or any other therapist: Have you thought that you aren’t an alcoholic or any other kind of addict?

When the props around you are pulled out, you might flail about. But then you might re-orient yourself to your new surroundings. For a moment, I wanted to scream at Carol: She had knocked out one of the last blocks of a wall that I confused with my identity. Being someone who’d undergone a gender affirmation (what people used to call a “change” or “transition”) and an atheist, I didn’t think I still had any such structure—especially since my belief in a supreme being was all but gone by the time I started to attend AA and NA meetings.

More than a few people in those programs — and outside them — told me not only did I need to believe in a “Higher Power,” but that it was simply impossible to remain clean and sober without “turning it over” to that “HP.” (If you speak Spanish, the HP monogram is particularly ironic.) While they denied that there was any “religious” connotation to their assertion, the way they talked about it, and the very thinly-disguised prayers they said at meetings, said otherwise.

While my first sponsor grew up Catholic and my second knew the Book of Common Prayer forwards, backwards, and sideways, they—fortunately for me — didn’t try to convince me that I needed a God, I mean Higher Power, to whom I could “turn over” my problems. On the other hand, they also didn’t downplay the need to “make amends,” though they emphasized that I shouldn’t blame myself for the ways I harmed others, or simply made mistakes. “Use whatever works to keep you sober,” my first sponsor told me.

So, while both of my sponsors didn’t convey the most toxic aspect of twelve-step programs—denying the religiosity of the program while premising one’s sobriety on it — I came to realize, with the help of my therapist, that I was also clinging, in some way, to the shame and guilt my Catholic upbringing and my later Evangelical Christianity had inculcated in me. Despite my sponsors’ assurances, I sometimes wondered whether I could stay clean and sober without a god or some other “higher power.”

What I realized, after working again with Carol, is that fear is exactly what enabled the priest in my old church to prey upon me: He understood, with a perverse kind of intuition, that I wanted a strong, protective authority figure — or, at least, something that would make me feel protected. And he knew that a child, or anyone who is vulnerable, can very easily mistake an authoritarian or manipulator for a source of strength, or at least safety — and could surrender his or her sense of him or herself to a promise and illusion of protection against the very dangers to which the church or he himself — or any other institution and its representatives–exposes him or her.

In other words, just as the churches to which I belonged and their representatives sold the belief that as long as I surrendered to them, I would attain “salvation” — which meant a life free of sin and damnation — the twelve-step programs claimed that as long as I “gave it over,” I would be on the “right” path. And the churches and programs said that straying from their God or Higher Power would lead to the road to death, damnation, and despair.

“So, even though I didn’t believe in God, I believed I was an alcoholic and addict because I still had the need to feel weak, helpless, worthless.”

My therapist didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser