Tag Archive: Midwestern Baptist College

The IFB Blood Cult: I’m Not Brainwashed, I’m Bloodwashed

blood of jesus

Recently, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) man left a comment on a blog post about his pastor and church — Tony Hutson and Middle Tennessee Baptist Church. (I responded to his comments and emails here.) Tony Hutson is the son of the late Curtis Hutson — a popular IFB conference speaker and editor of the Sword of the Lord. In 1990, Tony Hutson, sensing a call from the IFB God, went to the mission field to establish a new church. Where was this mission field, you ask?  Why, in deep, dark, church-less Murfreesboro, Tennessee — the land of more Baptists than you can count and home to IFB publishing house and newspaper, Sword of the Lord.  According to Hutson’s church bio page, he is:

Rooted and grounded in the fundamentals of the faith and following the “old paths” in every aspect of his ministry, Bro. Tony has a soul winner’s heart and great vision.

….

He travels around the country preaching most Mondays and Tuesdays but is still available to his people and nearly always in the pulpit for regular services at Middle Tennessee Baptist Church. His preaching has been described as dynamic, exciting and convicting. His larger-than-life personality and tremendous sense of humor, combined with a sincere desire to serve the Lord and preach His Word without compromise, make Bro. Tony Hutson a preacher everyone should hear.

In other words, he is da bomb! He is physically and metaphorically bigger than life!

blood of jesus

The aforementioned commenter said in his comment that the people at Middle Tennessee Baptist were not brainwashed, they were bloodwashed. I would like to take up this cliché with the remainder of this post.

Independent Fundamentalist Baptists love talking about the blood, the precious blood, the miraculous blood, the sin-cleansing blood. Much like the Israelites in the Old Testament with their pagan-esque God-ordered blood sacrifices, Baptists revel in the bloody, violent sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Baptists LOVE Mel Gibson’s family movie, The Passion of the Christ — a porno/ snuff film. More than a few Baptist preachers whispered, the movie is even better than the book! (For the record, I have never seen the movie.)

Years ago, Fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur caused quite a controversy when we said that it was the DEATH of Jesus, not his blood, that provided atonement for human sin. Blood worshipers quickly denounced MacArthur, appealing to M.R. DeHaan’s classic forty page book, The Chemistry of the Blood, as proof for the necessity of Jesus’s blood sacrifice

In chapter five of the book, DeHaan — a medical doctor and Fundamentalist preacher — had this to say about Jesus’s miraculous, powerful blood:

There is a Second and a more potent reason still. The blood was God’s only purchase price of redemption. When man sinned, something happened to his blood, for “the life . . . is in the blood.” Instead of incorruptible and, therefore, deathless blood, Adam’s blood corrupted through sin and became subject to death. To redeem this DEAD sinner, life must be again imparted. The only remedy for death is LIFE. This life is in the blood and so blood must be furnished which is sinless and incorruptible. Now none of Adam’s race could do this. For in “Adam all died.” “All have sinned and come short.” The angels could not furnish that blood for they are spirit beings and have neither flesh nor blood. There was only one, yes, ONLY ONE, who could furnish that blood, the virgin-born Son of God, with a human body, but sinless supernatural blood, inseminated by the Holy Ghost. In a previous message we showed scientifically that every drop of blood in an infant’s body is the contribution of the male parent, while the mother furnished all the flesh of that little body. Jesus’ body was of Mary; His blood was by the Holy Ghost. This sinless, supernatural blood was the only price of redemption God could accept, without violating the integrity of His holy nature. Death can only be banished by life. A blood transfusion must be performed and provided.

….

This [modern blood banks] is not one millionth as wonderful as what God did nineteen centuries ago. Then there was one Man who gave ALL His sinless blood on the Cross of Calvary. There a BLOOD BANK was opened and into that bank went the blood of the Lord Jesus. It suits every type, avails for everyone and is free to all who submit to its “transfusion” by the Holy Spirit. All you need to do is apply for it by FAITH. We must add chemicals to the blood in our blood banks to preserve it, and then it eventually deteriorates just the same, but no preservatives need be added to His Precious blood, for it is INCORRUPTIBLE and sinless. Not one drop of that blood was lost or wasted. It is INCORRUPTIBLE.

“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with CORRUPTIBLE THINGS, as silver and gold. . . . But with the precious BLOOD of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” —1 Peter 1:18,19  That blood CANNOT PERISH I do not know where that blood is now but I suspect it is in heaven somewhere just as fresh and as potent as when it was shed nineteen hundred years ago. When I get to heaven I shall not be surprised to find a diamond studded, golden basin next to the throne with the very blood, the precious incorruptible blood which was shed at Calvary, and as we gaze upon it we will sing, “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood,” Revelation 1:5

Hallelujah for the Blood! Reader, do you know that blood is as fresh today as it ever was and will be. It cannot perish. There is a hymn which goes something like this, “Upon the Cross His blood was spilt, A ransom for our sins and guilt.”

One of the most oft-sung hymns in IFB churches is the song, Are You Washed in the Blood?

Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing pow’r?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Refrain:
Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
Oh, be washed in the blood of the Lamb!

Another classic from the Best Blood Hymns album is the song, There’s Power in the Blood:

Would you be free from your burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

Chorus:
There is power, power, wonder-working power,
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder-working power,
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide,
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow,
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

Would you do service for Jesus your King?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you live daily His praises to sing?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

there's power in the blood of jesus

In the mid-1970s, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in the 1950s by Tom Malone, the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac. Students were required to attend services at Emmanuel every time the doors were open. As was the church’s custom, a public invitation was given at the end of every service. Most IFB churches use the song Just As I Am for their invitation hymn. Emmanuel, however, used William Cowper’s eighteenth-century hymn, There is a Fountain Filled With Blood:

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away:
Wash all my sins away,
Wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed ones of God
Be saved, to sin no more:
Be saved, to sin no more,
Be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed ones of God,
Be saved to sin no more.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:
And shall be till I die,
And shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save:
I’ll sing Thy power to save,
I’ll sing Thy power to save;
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save.

Depending on the number of people responding to the invitation, the five verses of There is a Fountain Filled with Blood could be sung several times, leading to mass lethargy and sleepiness.

As you can see, the IFB church movement is a blood cult, as are many Christian sects. In their defense, the Bible does say in Hebrews 9:22, 26-28:

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

No blood, no remission of sin. No blood, no eternal life. No blood, no meaning, purpose, and direction in this life. The first church I worked in used the tagline, The Blood, the Book, and the Blessed Hope. Contemporary Christian artist Andre Crouch spoke of this powerful blood in his classic song, The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power:

The blood that Jesus shed for me,
Way back on Calvary;
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day,
It will never lose it’s power.

Chorus:
It reaches to the highest mountain,
It flows to the lowest valley;
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day,
It will never lose it’s power.

It soothes my doubts and calms my fears,
And it dries all my tears;
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day,
It will never lose it’s power.

So, when the aforementioned commenter says that the people at Middle Tennessee Baptist are not brainwashed, they are bloodwashed, my response is this: brainwashing is required before someone can accept bloodwashing. Children in IFB churches are taught from preschool forward that they are sinners who deserve God’s judgment and hell; and that the only way to avoid hell is to have the blood of Jesus applied to your life; and that the only way to Heaven and life eternal is through the blood of Jesus Christ. These children are frequently taught Bible stories about Old Testament blood sacrifice and the New Testament final blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. This training continues throughout their lives, even into adulthood. Is it any wonder, then, that IFB congregants believe, with nary a brain cell disturbed, that the forgiveness of sin, salvation, and eternal life all require blood sacrifice (and a miraculous raising of a dead person back to life)? This is all they have heard Sunday after Sunday their entire lives. Without the brainwashing, there would be no need for the bloodwashing. Apply rational, critical thinking skills, and the very notion of blood sacrifice fades into pages of history — a reminder of ancient cult beliefs.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

How the IFB Church Turned My Wife Into a Martyr — Part One

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before wedding.

My wife and I were raised by parents who believed Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches preached the true gospel and adhered to the right doctrinal beliefs. Both of us spent our preschool years in non-Baptist churches, but neither of us remembers anything about these congregations. Our earliest religious experiences were with IFB churches. Both of us made our first professions of faith as kindergartners. I asked Jesus into my heart during junior church at Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego, California. Polly gave her heart to Jesus by her mom’s bedside. As teenagers, both of us “really” got saved and/or committed our lives to Jesus. I believed, then, that God was calling me to be a preacher, and Polly believed her calling in life was to be a preacher’s wife.

During our high school years, I attended a large public high school in Findlay, Ohio — dropping out of school after my eleventh-grade year. Polly, at the time, lived in Bay City, Michigan. Her father, at the age of thirty-five, felt the call and moved his family to Pontiac, Michigan to attend Midwestern Baptist College.  During her father’s years at Midwestern, Polly attended Oakland Christian School — a large Fundamentalist institution. Polly’s father graduated from college in May 1976. He then moved his family to Newark, Ohio so he could become the assistant pastor for the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. The Baptist Temple — as it is commonly called — was an IFB church pastored by Jim Dennis, Polly’s uncle.

In August of 1976, a full-of-life redhead boy packed his meager belongings into his beater Dodge Dart and made his way north to enroll in classes at Midwestern. A beautiful dark-haired girl would do the same, making the five-hour trip north in a six-year-old AMC Hornet. God’s perfect will was aligning for both of us, and we soon began dating. It was not long before we both were smitten with the other. Six months later, on Valentine’s Day, I asked Polly to marry me. She said yes, and I put on her ring finger the $225 quarter-caret diamond ring I had recently purchased for her at Sears and Roebuck. We then wonderfully broke Midwestern’s rules forbidding physical contact between unmarrieds. (Please read Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule)

Polly and I threw ourselves into our studies, knowing that we couldn’t — thanks to a college rule forbidding marriage as freshmen — get married until the summer of 1978. Polly’s mom used the intervening eighteen months to try to derail our marriage plans, In February of 1978, Polly’s mom let her know that she would not be permitted to marry me. End of that, I am sure Mom thought. Little did she know that full-of-life Bruce had rubbed off a bit on quiet, reserved Polly. After giving serious thought to eloping, we decided to get married with or without her parents’ blessing. Polly told her mom that she wanted their blessing, and very much wanted to have the wedding at the Baptist Temple, but if not, she was marrying her red-headed bad boy anyway. This was the first time that Polly ever stood up to her mom.

In July of 1978, we tied the knot at the Baptist Temple on a ninety-five-degree July day (the church did not have air conditioning). Polly’s dad and uncle performed the wedding. Our wedding entourage was made up of friends from college, close friends, and family members. It was very much an IFB affair, with one exception, anyway. The soloist for our wedding was a college friend of ours. Two of the songs we asked him to sing were We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters and The Wedding Song (There is Love) by Peter, Paul, and Mary.  These were the FIRST secular pop songs ever sung at a Baptist Temple wedding, and they were most certainly the last. Forty years later, Baptist Temple couples are still required to have their wedding music approved before it can be used.

After our honeymoon, we returned to Pontiac to begin our junior year. The first week of classes, Polly informed me that she was pregnant. How could that be possible? We were using contraception! Of course, we never had any premarital counseling or instruction about birth control. We were just two dumb, naïve young adults who thought reading Fundamentalist Tim LaHaye’s 1976 book, The Act of Marriage, was a comprehensive sex education.

Polly, Jason, Chevrolet Impala, 1979

Polly was quite sick during her pregnancy. She was also being treated by a country doctor who thought it was good for her to gain as much weight as she wanted. All told, she gained sixty-eight pounds, some of which is still with her today. Polly’s health problems forced her to reduce her class load. I maintained a full schedule of classes while also working a second shift job at a Detroit-area machine shop — Deco Grande. In January of 1978, I lost my job, and we were immediately plunged into a financial crisis. Polly and I sought counsel from the college dean, thinking that it might be best for us to drop out of school for a semester. The dean told us that it was God who led us to Midwestern and he never uses quitters (we would hear the “God never uses quitters” many times during the next few weeks). He suggested we borrow money to pay our tuition bill. We did, but that only staved off destitution for a short while. In February 1979, we dropped out of college, packed up our belongings in a small U-Haul and towed them with a 1967 Chevrolet Impala to the place of my birth, Bryan, Ohio. I was twenty-three and Polly was twenty-one.

Our experiences at Midwestern generally reinforced what we had been taught as youths. We were taught a John R. RiceThe Home: Courtship, Marriage, and Children, complementarian view of marriage. The Sword of the Lord website describes Rice’s book this way: Too long have people had to depend on lewd and crude books, written by ungodly men or women, people who think more of the body than of the soul, writers who study more to excite human passions than to make godly homes. This book shows the normal plan of God about marriage, about children and the Christian principles of a happy home.) I was the head of the home and all decisions were to be made by me. Polly’s role was to care for our home and children. A greater burden was placed on Polly due to the fact that she was taught that since her husband was a pastor, she and her children would always come second to the church. Polly was often reminded, both in classes and from the pulpit, that she would have to make great sacrifices for the sake of the ministry; that she must never complain about her preacher husband’s tireless service to Jesus; that men greatly used by God always had wives who understood their husbands’ supernatural calling; that if she would humbly walk in her husband’s shadow, God would greatly reward her after death. Polly, being naturally passive and reserved, adapted well to her calling, as did I, an outspoken, passionate, quick-to-make-decisions pastor. These teachings would, over time, turn Polly into a martyr.

Please read Part Two.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Good Baptist Boys Don’t Masturbate — Oh Yes, They Do!

trading eternal life for an orgasm

People raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches have heard countless sermons on what the Bible says about sex. Teenagers are warned about the dangers of petting, and many IFB church forbid unmarrieds from having any physical contact with each other. Young men are characterized as weak horn-dogs and young women are viewed as gatekeepers who are responsible for any untoward sexual advances made by sexually aware boys. Young women are given strict orders concerning how to dress and behave to ward off church boys from having sex with them. One thing is certain: if a young IFB woman has sex with a boy, it is almost always her fault.

IFB churches often have lengthy and complex rules that are used to keep unmarrieds from having sex. These rules follow young adults to the IFB colleges they attend. Here we have institutions filled with eighteen- to twenty-five-year-old men and women who, with hormones raging, are expected to refrain from physical contact with the opposite sex. This includes: no holding hands, no kissing, no hugging, no putting one’s arm around another, or sitting too closely to someone of the opposite sex. My wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. We were expected to maintain a six-inch distance from each other at all times. Even after we married, we were expected to refrain from public displays of affection lest we cause unmarried dorm students to “sin.”

One would think that IFB pastors and college leaders would approve of masturbation as a way of dealing with pent-up sexual frustration. Unfortunately, masturbation is also a sin. As an IFB teenager, I heard pastors who warned church teens about the dangers of masturbation, including, — oh yes they did! — warning that masturbation will make you blind. Now lest you think it’s just crazy IFB preachers who have a problem with masturbation, consider this quote by Evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll:

First, masturbation can be a form of homosexuality because it is a sexual act that does not involve a woman. If a man were to masturbate while engaged in other forms of sexual intimacy with his wife then he would not be doing so in a homosexual way. However, any man who does so without his wife in the room is bordering on homosexuality activity, particularly if he’s watching himself in a mirror and being turned on by his own male body.

And then there’s this excerpt from The Village Church’s website:

If one was [sic] to scan the horizon of current evangelical thought he or she would find a number of conclusions on the matter of masturbation. There are some who would claim that it is inherently neutral or even innately good and thus would teach that it is an appropriate way to express gratitude for sexual desire. Others would say that it is a veiled form of homosexuality, or that it is a clear violation of God’s law and thus always sinful. The spectrum is wide and the positions are quite varied.

Scripture never overtly addresses the issue of masturbation and thus any non-careful treatment of this topic must be avoided. If we define sin merely as transgression of God’s law then we might conclude that since Scripture does not explicitly prohibit the particular act of masturbation, it must therefore be non-sinful. However, sin is not merely transgression of the Scriptures, but also a transgression of the character and intent of God. As marriage is the only God-ordained means of expressing sexual intimacy, it would seem perfectly acceptable to declare masturbation a sinful act. This paper will seek to specify some common wisdom regarding masturbation and then commend a few questions which must be considered to faithfully examine the act.

  • Sexual immorality is specifically declared to be sinful.
  • Lust is specifically declared to be sinful.
  • Masturbation does not typically quench sexual desire, rather it intensifies it. As with most things, the more you feed it, the more it grows. In general, masturbation becomes habit forming and enslaves us to desires for greater sexual relief through greater self-indulgence rather than greater self-control. While the Spirit produces in us the fruit of self-control, the flesh desires indulgence and release. Self-control is not ascetic discipline, but is instead the response of a proper understanding of God’s creative design for our bodies.
  • Masturbation is outside of God’s intended design for sexual relations. Sex was created to be experienced between a man and woman who are joined together into the one flesh relationship of marriage; masturbation is taking the sexual desire reserved for this relationship and seeking to fulfill it through our own means. Masturbation sets a very destructive pattern for marriage. It places the emphasis on self pleasure rather than the desire for two to experience the fulfillment of sexual union together.
  • Masturbation is typically lustful – whether that be overt lust direct toward another or a lustful desire for relief.
  • Masturbation does not typically stir our affections for the Lord, rather it robs them.

….

It seems to the pastors and elders of The Village Church that masturbation is prohibited for a couple of reasons. First, we would prohibit the act based upon the provision of marriage as the only appropriate institution in which to express sexual intimacy. If you burn with lust or desire sexual intimacy, get married (1 Corinthians 7:9). Such is the gracious and holy prescription for sexual desire, the only prescription afforded by the Creator of all good desire. Second, we would counsel abstinence due to the overwhelming and innate relationship between masturbation and lust. Lust is extremely serious and not to be taken lightly, dismissed, or played with.

The Village Church is a Southern Baptist megachurch pastored by Matt Chandler. Chandler is also part of the The Gospel Coalition — a Fundamentalist group with Calvinistic leanings. Men such as Danny Akin, Alistair Begg, Bryan Chapell, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Kent Hughes, Erwin Lutzer, Albert Mohler, Russell D. Moore, David Platt, John Piper, Philip G. Ryken, and Sam Storms are members, as were the infamous Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney. I can safely say that all of these men likely approve of Chandler’s anti-masturbation message.

Jason DeRouchie, an associate professor of Old Testament and biblical theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary, also believes masturbation is sinful. DeRouchie, writing for the Desiring God website, says:

Many medical professionals treat masturbation as a natural part of human development, and some church leaders have attempted to supply practical and theological reasons to masturbate. From a biblical perspective, however, I do not believe this approach pleases God, and I have seen the devastation that such a practice brings to both singles and marrieds alike.

….

When people reach orgasm outside the covenant-confirming act of lovemaking in marriage, the act becomes solely self-seeking, divorced from its purpose of creating intimacy. Sexual expression through orgasm should be an overflow of a desire for a spouse, not merely for a feeling or experience.

….

As noted, orgasm outside the marriage bed removes the relational, intimate nature of sexual expression, which is at the core of its purpose (1 Corinthians 7:2–3, 5). Refraining from masturbation helps to purify one’s appetites (1 Corinthians 9:27). It helps to ensure that a person’s desire to make love with his or her spouse is for nurturing covenantal intimacy through service and honor, and through receiving love from him or her (Matthew 20:28; John 13:14–16). It reminds couples that their spouse is not given as an object to be exploited, but rather as a covenant partner to be provided for, protected, and respected (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 33; see also Genesis 2:24).

….

Masturbation outside the marriage bed does not glorify God because evil desire always fuels it.

Whatever we do — including all forms of sexual expression — we are to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whether tagged as covetousness, lust, or sensuality, misplaced and mistimed desires do not glorify God, and failure to glorify God is always sin (Romans 3:23; 14:23). Paul thus charges, “Glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

In God’s good design, marital love is the only justified context for one to enjoy a sexual craving for orgasm, for only in this sphere does one glorify God by pointing to the beautiful union of Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:31–32). From this perspective, evil desire fuels all sexual expression outside the marriage bed, including masturbation, so we must treat all such acts as sinful and as deserving of hell (Matthew 5:29–30; Mark 7:20–23; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Galatians 5:17, 19–21; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5–6).

….

Jesus urged his followers to guard themselves from lustful masturbation, and Paul called Christians to control their sexual parts in holiness and honor.

Only “the pure in heart . . . shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Jesus appears to link masturbation with lust when he declares that looking at a woman with lustful intent is sin, and then charges his disciples to take extreme measures with their eyes and hands, so that they will preserve themselves unto life (Matthew 5:27–30). Similarly, Paul stressed that holiness seen in sexual purity was God’s will for every person, and then he urged believers to control their sexual parts in holiness and honor rather than in lust.

Masturbation outside the marriage bed witnesses a lack of self-control and is therefore sin.

Self-control is a new-covenant fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), a discipline that pleases God, nurtures hope for eternal life, and frees one from fear of future punishment (Romans 8:6–9, 13; 2 Timothy 1:7). Lack of self-control is sin and enables greater influence by the evil one (Proverbs 25:28; 1 Corinthians 7:5). Intentional orgasm outside the marriage bed through masturbation witnesses a lack of self-control and is therefore sin.

….

In light of these realities, I believe that anyone who masturbates outside the marriage bed sins and insults God’s glory in Christ. As men and women of God, therefore, may we not engage in it. Instead, may we look to our Lord for help and seek to honor him with our bodies by allowing our only outlet for sexual desire to be the covenant-nurturing intimacy of marital lovemaking (Job 31:1). May we also intentionally lead our children in such paths of righteousness for Christ’s name’s sake.

….

Please do look up all the Bible verses given by De Rouchie. I’m sure you’ll want to immediately refrain from masturbating lest God’s tosses you in hell for doing do.

ted cruz masturbation

And finally, here’s what Focus on the Family has to say about masturbation:

The point, as we see it, is the larger meaning and purpose of human sexuality. The Bible has two important things to say about this: first, sex is central to the process by which husband and wife become one flesh (Genesis 2:24); and second, sex and marriage are intended to serve as a picture or symbol of the union between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:31, 32). Sex, then, isn’t intended to be “all about me.” Rather, it’s designed to function as part of the give-and-take of an interpersonal relationship.

These theological perspectives should inform and shape our approach to the practical problem of masturbation. It’s important that we avoid heaping guilt on teenagers who find the urge to masturbate almost uncontrollable, and who might be driven to spiritual despair as a result. At the same time, we should do everything we can to help adolescents, young adults and married couples see that self-gratification is inconsistent with the purpose, goal and basic nature of sex. We shouldn’t condemn anyone for masturbating, but neither should we encourage them to continue in the habit. Why not? Because God has created men and women to experience sexual fulfillment on a much higher level – within the context of a marital relationship – and we don’t want anything to jeopardize their chances of knowing that joy to the fullest extent.

In connection with this last thought, it’s important to add that masturbation, due to the powerful hormonal and psychological components of human sexual behavior, can often become extremely addictive. Individuals who fall prey to this addiction may end up carrying it with them into adult married life, where it can become a serious obstacle to healthy marital intimacy. Further, masturbation is frequently involves indulging in sexual fantasy; and fantasy, if we are to believe the words of Jesus (Matthew 5:28), does represent a very serious breach of a person’s mental and spiritual purity.

What can be done to break this pattern? In many cases, masturbation originates as a self-soothing behavior. In other words, it’s a way of coping with pressures and seeking to meet the basic human need for peace, security, comfort and reassurance. If you have a problem with masturbation, you may want to keep this in mind and ask yourself whether it might be possible to replace this negative behavior with a more legitimate method of addressing the underlying need. For example, by talking things over with a friend, reading an engaging book, listening to music, pouring yourself into a constructive project or serving other people. Ultimately, the pain a person is trying to anesthetize through the practice of masturbation is just another manifestation of the “God-shaped vacuum” that exists at the center of every human heart. Only a relationship with the Lord can fill that empty space in a deep, lasting and satisfying way.

….

sin of masturbation

Yet, for all their preaching against the sin of Onanism, virtually all Evangelical teens, young men, and even married men, masturbate. I can’t speak to the level of masturbation about Evangelical women, but I suspect there is a lot more ringing of the devil’s doorbell going on than church leaders think there is.

Being raised in an anti-masturbation church environment caused quite a bit of problem for me as a teen and unmarried adult. Despite all the preaching against touching the opposite sex, when given the opportunity to make-out with my girlfriend (or fiancée), I did so lustily. While I was a virgin when my wife and I married, I found myself rounding third and heading for home not only with Polly, but also with a girl named Anita. (The rest of my dating relationships were casual and of short duration.)

I was eighteen years old when I started dating Anita. She was twenty, a college student at a Conservative Baptist college in Phoenix, Arizona. Anita and I, for five short months, had a torrid relationship. She was much more experienced sexually than I was. On more nights than I can remember, we would park along a dark, rarely-travel back road and watch the night sky. Of course, we also did a lot of necking too. Our intimacy stirred my sexual passions to such a degree that I would go home after dates and spend time praying to God for forgiveness, thanking him for not allowing us to give into our sexual desires. For me, not giving in included not masturbating. Anita and I later went our separate ways, but I’ll never forget the time we spent together.

Polly and I met as freshmen at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I was nineteen, she was seventeen. I planned on playing the field at college, but meeting Polly changed everything. I was quickly smitten by her beauty and her quiet demeanor, and thus began our two-year battle with Midwestern’s Puritanical dating and physical contact rules. We refrained from breaking the rules until I went to visit Polly at her parent’s home in Newark, Ohio, over Christmas break (1976). It was there, in Polly’s parent’s apartment complex laundry room, that we had our first kiss. Dating students were expected to keep the rules even during Christmas and summer break. No one, and I mean no one, did so.

Once back at Midwestern, Polly and I were faced with a dilemma. We wanted to continue touching and kissing each other; you know, as dating teens and young adults are wont to do. This meant we would have to secretly break the rules. We sought out couples to double-date with who were not averse to physical contact on dates. The vast majority of dating students — with but a handful of exceptions — broke the rules. Some students even slid into home and had sexual intercourse.

The Midwestern dorm was a den of raging hormones. With masturbation forbidden and touching the opposite sex grounds for expulsion, what were dating students to do? Why, they broke the rules with impunity, causing a repeating cycle of “sin,” guilt, repentance, and promises to God. I don’t know of anyone who successfully stopped breaking the rules once they started. IFB young adults were very much like their counterparts in the world — the 1960s-1970s world. We, like our peers, wanted sexual intimacy without fear and guilt.

Masturbation, then, was common among male students in the Midwestern dorm. Each dorm room had two or three students, so “secretly” masturbating was out of the question (and there were enough dysfunctional Pharisees around that doing so would have been reported to the dean of men). With masturbating in their rooms out of the question, many male dorm residents used the privacy of the men’s showers to get sexual relief. More than one IFB luminary suggested quick, cold showers to ward off masturbatory temptations. Each dorm room had a periodic responsibility to clean the dorm bathrooms, including the showers. We used to joke about the sticky, slimy “stuff” in the showers. Yuck, I know, but have you ever been in a male dormitory shower room? You don’t want to go there!

IFB preachers and their Evangelical counterparts continue to preach against the sin of masturbation. Despite all their preaching, masturbation remains widely practiced. Why? Masturbation is a harmless, effective way to find sexual release. Wanting to obey God (and their preachers), Evangelical unmarrieds do their best to refrain from sexual intercourse before marriage. It’s cruel to say no sex before marriage and, at the same time, say masturbating is a sin.

how to stop masturbating

What really should happen, of course, is for Evangelical churches and colleges to begin endorsing safe, responsible sexual intimacy among unmarrieds. With the average age for young people marrying in their late 20s, it is absurd to expect them to refrain from sex for ten to fifteen years before they tie the knot.  Bruce, that’s FORN-I-CAT-ION, a horrible sin in the eyes of the thrice holy God.  Whatever “it” is or isn’t, preaching abstinence doesn’t work. Much like non-believing young adults, Evangelical unmarrieds, more often than not, have had sex before marriage. Instead of heaping guilt upon their heads, preachers, how about teaching young adults to embrace their, as you say, “God-given” sexuality. Maybe then, young adults might be less likely to flee the confines of Evangelical Christianity. I know, I know, the Bible says. Perhaps, it is time to rewrite or update the Good Book, striking from its pages all the sexually repressive rules and regulations. Imagine how much more attentive young adults might be on Sundays if they were able to have guilt-free sex the night before. And you too, Preacher Man. Think of how much easier your job will be if you don’t have to spend time railing against normal human sexual behavior — you know the behavior you engaged in back when you were a virile young man.

Were you raised in the IFB or Evangelical church? How did your church/college handle the subject of masturbation? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Bruce, If God Isn’t Real, Who is to Blame for Your Life as a Pastor?

never question god

My recent post titled Dear Jesus, I Want a Refund has really made a mark and is getting a lot of attention. As I pondered what I had written, I thought about what questions people might ask me. This post is an attempt to answer one of the questions that came to mind: Bruce, If God Isn’t Real, Who is to Blame for Your Life as a Pastor?

The Dear Jesus post is written from the perspective that Jesus is God, and that he is alive and well somewhere in the Christian God’s heaven. Now, I don’t believe that to be true, but I wrote the post from that perspective because it allowed me to share with readers the emotional struggles I have faced coming to terms with how I lived my life as a devout, committed pastor. Dear Jesus allows readers to see my struggles and perhaps, in doing so, it might help them to understand their own battles with the past.

Let me be clear, I am an atheist. Anyone suggesting otherwise has failed to understand my story. If you happen to be one such doubting Thomas, I would love to know what in my journey leads you to conclude that I am not what I claim to be. Over the years, countless Evangelicals have attempted to cast doubt, suggesting that I am still a Christian; that deep down in my heart of hearts I still believe; that my writing reveals that I still yearn for a relationship with Jesus. None of these things, of course, is true. Who knows me better than yours truly? So, when I say I am an atheist, I am telling the truth. There’s no ulterior motive here, neither is there a yearning for the good old days when me are J.C. were best buds. These days, the only bud I want grows on a leafy green plant.

Ultimately, I am to blame for the decisions I made during my years as a Christian and as an Evangelical pastor. All of us are responsible for the choices we make. The issue then, is what influenced my decision-making? Why did I make these decisions? God, of course, had nothing to do with it — he doesn’t exist. Yet, for fifty years I believed God was speaking to me, directing my life, and leading me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. If God wasn’t speaking to me, who or what were the voices I heard? If it wasn’t God impressing on my mind certain Bible verses or decisions, who was?

I grew up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) home. I was raised by parents who believed, at least outwardly, that the Christian deity was the one true God and the Bible was his revealed will for mankind. The Gerencser family attended church every time the doors were open. This stopped for the rest of my family when my parents divorced. I was fifteen at the time. Unlike my family, I continued on in the faith, attending church every time the doors were open. I believed every word in the Bible was the words of God. I believed in a God who was personally and intimately involved in my life. My parents may have forsaken the way, but I was determined to stay the course. Church friends from my high school days will tell you that I was a true-blue believer, as will my heathen friends whom I attempted to evangelize.

From my preschool years forward, my mind was bombarded with sermons and Sunday school lessons. By the time I was eighteen, I had heard almost four thousand Evangelicals sermons and lessons. Those whom I listened to had several motivations. First, they wanted to lead me to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Second, they wanted to teach me the way, truth, and life found within the pages of the King James Bible. Third, they wanted to indoctrinate me in the one true faith. Week after week and year after year, these promoters of what they believed was the old-time religion assaulted my mind with Biblical “truth.” They wanted to make sure that I was steadfast in the faith, and that when I entered the “world” my faith would stand; and it did until I was fifty years old.

At the age of fifteen, I believed God spoke to me, saying that he wanted me to be a preacher. At the age of nineteen, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was known as a première IFB preacher training school (and it was cheaper than many other IFB schools). While there, I met a pretty dark-haired girl who believed God had spoken to her too. God wanted Polly to be a pastor’s wife. Both of us had minds open wide for whatever it was these great men of God were going to teach us. And for three years, our minds were pummeled with preaching and teaching that only reinforced the beliefs we entered college with.

This is not to say that I was blind to the contradictions that surrounded me; not textual contradictions, but failures of preachers and teachers to practice what they preached. During my three years at Midwestern I noticed that there was a do as I say, not as I do mentality. Girls weren’t allowed to wear slacks, but the college president’s wife and daughters were allowed to do so as long as they were away from the college. The president’s youngest daughter was permitted to single-date, while the rest of the single students were required to double-date. Dating students were not allowed to physically touch each other; that is, unless they were in one of the college’s Shakespearean productions. Then touching, kissing, and even cursing was permitted. Students were not permitted to listen to secular music, yet at the annual Valentine’s banquet, secular songs such as I’m on the Top of the World by the Carpenters were performed by college students. Silly stuff, right? But there were serious contractions too. One of the teachers was a homosexual. He lived in the dorm and often had students as his “roommates.” Homosexuality was considered a sin above all sins, yet the college administration turned a blind eye to this man’s “sin.”

During my sophomore year, a huge scandal broke out. The college basketball coach and drama department chair had an affair with the wife of the college dean. The matter was quietly and discreetly handled, with the offenders being dismissed from their jobs. Not one word was said to the student body. Gossip and complaining (griping) were swiftly and severely punished. After three years at Midwestern — having experienced and seen behaviors that were contrary to the company line — you would think that I would have had doubts about Christianity. Sadly, I didn’t. I developed a people are people approach to moral and ethical failures. The Devil and the flesh were the problems, not God and the Bible.

I left Midwestern in the spring of 1979 with a pregnant wife in tow. My faith was stronger than ever, and I was ready to make my mark as a God-called, spirit-filled preacher of the gospel. Over the course of the next four decades, my beliefs and practices would change, but my commitment to God endured. While I considered myself a progressive when I left the ministry in 2005, I still believed the basic tenets of Christianity were true.

When I look back over my life, the only conclusion I can come to when attempting to understand why I made certain decisions is that I had been deeply and thoroughly indoctrinated by Evangelical preachers and teachers. Even as a pastor, I continued to immerse myself in books that validated my beliefs. I attended conferences and special meetings that only reinforced my beliefs. Worse yet, I took my beliefs and passed them on to thousands of other people; people who saw me as a man of God; people who believed my sermons and teachings were straight from God; people who wanted someone to stand between them and God and tell them what to believe and how to live. That the churches I pastored prospered (until they didn’t) was evidence of God’s blessing. This was especially true during the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Southeast Ohio.

The question then, based on how I was raised and what I was taught in the churches I attended and as a college student, how could I have turned out any other way? If I were to psychoanalyze myself, I suspect I would conclude that the church became stand-in for my parents after my mom and dad divorced. I would also likely conclude that Evangelicalism fed my perfectionist, OCPD tendencies. I had a deep-seated need to be right. I also had a need to be wanted, loved, and respected. The ministry gave me all these things.

So yes, the decisions I made as an Evangelical pastor were mine, but they were not made in a vacuüm. The only way to understand how and why I made the decisions I did, including the ones the harmed me personally and my family, is to view them from a sociological or environmental perspective. The sum of my experiences affected how and why I made certain decisions. The decisions were mine, of course, but now you know why I made these choices (ignoring here, for now, discussions about whether any of us has free will).

My Christian faith rested on a Bible foundation. I believed the Bible was a supernatural book written by a supernatural God.  The Bible was God’s roadmap or blueprint for my life and the lives of my wife and children. It was only when I learned that the Bible was not what Evangelicals claim it is that my Christian house came tumbling to the ground. Once I understood that the Bible was written by fallible, errant men, and that it was not in any way inspired, inerrant, or infallible, I was then free, for the first time, to seriously and thoroughly investigate the claims of Christianity. And when I did, I found out that the emperor had no clothes, and that the wizard behind the screen was self, not God. Understanding this ripped my life to shreds, forcing me to rebuild it from the ground up. Every former belief and presupposition was investigated and tossed aside. At the age of fifty, I was forced (or better put, had the opportunity) to build my life anew. I am blessed to have my wife and children walking along with me as I find my way through this wild, woolly world. My writing is my way of helping those who may be where I once was or who have recently exited the cult. I am not an expert or an authority, but I am one man who knows that it is possible to live a wonderful, abundant, satisfying life post-Jesus. I hope, by telling my story, that people will see that a good life is possible without all the religious baggage. And sleeping in on Sundays? Priceless….

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

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

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce gerencser 1990's

Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s

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

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

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

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity

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

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

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

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

bruce and polly gerencser 2017

Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2017

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis

pastor jim dennis

Pastor Jim Dennis at a family outing in the early 1980s

Last week, James Dennis, the retired pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark Ohio, died from complications of myasthenia gravis at the age of seventy-five. Jim was my wife’s uncle, married to her mother’s sister. Jim attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1960s, the same college Polly and I attended in the 1970s. Jim pastored the Baptist Temple for forty-six years. Known as a staunch Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Jim’s ministry was well-known in the IFB community. Jim’s three children are all in the ministry. His son Andy is an Evangelical pastor in Newark, his oldest daughter is married to IFB evangelist David Young, and his youngest daughter is married to missionary James (Jamie) Overton.

Jim came into Polly’s life as the young single pastor of the Kawkawlin River Baptist Church in Bay City, Michigan — the church attended by Polly’s parents. He later married Polly’s aunt, Linda Robinson. I first met Jim in 1976 during college Christmas break. Jim, along with Polly’s father, would marry us in a wedding held at the Baptist Temple on July 15, 1978. From that moment, Jim Dennis and I had a complicated relationship. There were times that I admired the man and coveted his advice. There were other times when I despised the man, especially after Polly and I left the ministry and later left Christianity. In the past decade, I talked to Jim a handful of times, never more than exchanging pleasantries.

The story that follows is my understanding of the past and my relationship with Jim Dennis. I am sure that others will object to my telling of this story or be offended that I dare to air Jim’s (and mine) dirty laundry. Their objections are duly noted, but I am a writer and this is a story I must tell. Readers are free to make their own judgments about what follows.

There was a time when Jim Dennis and I, theologically, were of one mind. Both of us were IFB preachers. Both of us were raised in IFB churches. Both of us attended IFB preacher Tom Malone’s “character building factory” — Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan.  Both of us believed we were proclaimers of old-fashioned, Biblical Christianity. Our theological sameness, however, did not last. Jim would pride himself in believing the same things his entire life. Polly’s mom has remarked on more than occasion that she was proud of the fact that she had in her pastor Jim Dennis a man who never changed his beliefs. In her mind, he began the ministry with the right beliefs and he died holding on to those same beliefs. Bruce Gerencser’s beliefs, on the other hand, were constantly changing and evolving. Jim never read books outside of his theological rut, whereas I was willing to read authors who held different beliefs from mine. My reading habits are what took me from the IFB church movement to Fundamentalist Calvinism to generic Evangelicalism to Progressive Christianity, and finally, to agnosticism, atheism, and humanism. In Jim Dennis’ eyes, my life’s trajectory is a warning to those who dare to dabble in the world’s knowledge and goods. And in my eyes, Jim is a tragic reminder of what happens when someone refuses to read widely or investigate their beliefs.

Jim Dennis was known as the patriarch of the family; the wise sage who freely dispensed wisdom and knowledge to all, requested or not. Early on, I had conflicts with Jim over all sorts of issues, ranging from child rearing to whether it was okay to pick my wife up from work wearing gym shorts (Polly, at the time, worked for the Baptist Temple’s daycare. She was paid less wages than male employees because she wasn’t our family’s breadwinner.) In October of 1979, we moved from Northwest Ohio to Newark. We attended the Baptist Temple for 18 months. During this time, Jim and I had numerous conflicts — some minor, some major. Jim concluded that I had a rebellious streak, a view widely held by Polly’s parents and family, and I thought Jim was a closed-minded, authoritarian legalist. Our opinions about each other would only become more settled through the forty-two years we knew each other.

In 1981, Polly and I left the Baptist Temple to help her father start a new IFB church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. Polly’s father had been the assistant pastor at the Baptist Temple for almost five years. He wanted to stay in the Newark area and pastor his own church. There were conflicts between my father-in-law and Jim that precipitated Dad’s resignation, but those stories are his to tell, not mine. Needless to say, Dad was happy to be on his own. I was the assistant pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake until July, 1983, when I left to start the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio.

I believed that it was vitally important for a pastor to live in the community in which his church was located. Polly and I moved to Buckeye Lake — a rundown former amusement park/lake cottage rental community — so we could effectively minister to congregants. (I would also work for the village for several years as a grant writer/program manager/building code enforcement officer.) Buckeye Lake proper was street after street of rundown houses. The poverty rate was the highest in the area. My kind of people, but not the type of people Polly’s parents wanted to be living next to. Our willingness to live among them, endeared us to many people, especially local teenagers. This led to the church growing rapidly. After we left, church attendance declined, and Dad later closed the church.

bruce gerencser 1983

Bruce Gerencser, age 25, Ordination 1983, Emmanuel Baptist Church Buckeye Lake, Ohio

I don’t want to make myself out to be a saint, because that would be a falsehood. Living in Buckeye Lake, living in marginal housing, wasn’t something we would have done had it not been for the importance, in my mind, of living where you minister. During our time in Buckeye Lake, Polly’s uber-rebellious sister came to live for us a short while. One day, Jim Dennis showed up at our door wanting to talk to Polly’s sister. (Please read If One Soul Get’s Saved It’s Worth it All, a short post about Polly’s sister’s tragic death in a motorcycle accident.) Jim quickly became adversarial with Kathy, especially over the fact that she was wearing pants. Jim was an anti-pants crusader his entire life. Women who worked for the church or served in any official capacity were required to sign a statement that affirmed their obedience to his no-pants edict. As his anger towards Polly’s sister rose, Jim decided to physically grab a hold of her so he could “shake some sense into her.”  His physical assault of her quickly came to an end when I threw him out of our home. Sadly, Polly’s sister would later repent of her “sin” and returned shamefaced to Jim Dennis and the Baptist Temple. She would do this repeatedly over the years up until her death in 2005.

From that point forward, I had an off-and-on relationship with Jim. Despite our conflicts, there was a part of me that still desperately wanted (needed) his approval. I had Jim come preach meetings at several of the churches I pastored. As I continued to move leftward politically, theologically, and socially, our relationship became distanced, with us only seeing each other on Christmas Eve for family Christmas. We used to go out to their spacious country home for Christmas Day, but word one year was passed down to us that we were no longer invited to their home. The reason given was the size of our family. This, of course, deeply hurt Polly. These were her uncle and aunt. Why would they shun her like this? No answer was forthcoming.

I could spend hours talking about the various conflicts between Jim Dennis and Bruce Gerencser, but for the sake of this post I want to share just one that I detailed in a post titled Christmas, 1957-2014:

With my parents being dead, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Polly’s parents. This abruptly changed in 2010. I left the ministry in 2003 and abandoned Christianity in November 2008. In early 2009, I sent out my family-shattering letter, Dear Family Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter radically changed our relationship with Polly’s fundamentalist family.

Christmas of 2009 is best remembered by a huge elephant in the middle of the room, that elephant being Polly and me and the letter I sent the family. No one said anything, but the tension was quite palpable.

2010 found us, just like every year since 1978, at Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. This would be the last Christmas we would spend with Polly’s parents and her extended family. We decided to blend into the background, and other than exchanging short pleasantries, no one talked to us. Not that they didn’t want to. We found out later from one of our children that Polly’s uncle wanted to confront me about our defection from Christianity. Polly Mom’s put a kibosh on that, telling her brother-in-law that she had already lost one daughter and she was not going to lose another. (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005)

I appreciate Polly’s Mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family. I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people.

Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and through the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism made for an uncomfortable evening.

Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephews had bought on the cheap at Odd Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, to go poo-poo on, poo-poo being the fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us.

On our way home the next day, I told Polly that I couldn’t do it any more, and she said neither could she. So, we decided to stop going to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. We do try to see Polly’s parents during the holiday, but we no longer attend the family gathering on Christmas Eve. Making this decision saddened us, but we knew we had to do it. (BTW, our children still attend the Christmas Eve gathering)

Jim’s funeral was last Saturday. I did not attend, though Polly and two of our sons made the four-hour trip to Newark to represent the Gerencsers at what the Baptist Temple called Jim Dennis’ Graduation Service. Unlike Polly and our older sons, I have a hard time biting my tongue when I am around Fundamentalists. I wear my emotions on my sleeve and my face generally tells others what I think. While my health precluded me from making the trip, I suspect that deep down I simply did not want to go. I knew exactly how the service would go — two hours of praising Jesus and deifying Jim Dennis, complete with lies about where Jim went after death. Similar to their Evangelical brethren, IFB preachers often lie when preaching funerals. According to orthodox Christian theology, Jim Dennis is lying in the grave, waiting for his body to be resurrected from the dead. However, traditional IFB preaching says that the deceased is, instead, running around Heaven praising Jesus for his glory and grace.

Jim was an avid hunter. In his younger years he would take trips out west to hunt big game. I suspect more than a few funeral attendees thought that Jim was now hunting the mountain ranges of God’s Heaven. This, of course, led me to ask my son, so, there will be violence in Heaven? Ah the illogical lunacy that makes an appearance at funerals. The man, Jim Dennis, was glorified and presented as one without blemish or fault. The man, the myth, the legend. Those of us close to him know better. Yes, in many ways Jim was a good man. He loved his wife, children, and grandchildren. But, we dare not forget that he was also an authoritarian brute, a man who attempted to dominate and control the lives of others; a man who thought his advice to others was straight from the mouth of God; a man who believed he knew the will of God for others (a will of which he repeatedly reminded me). I have fond memories of us spending holidays at the lake with them. I also have good memories of the few times we went hunting together. These memories, however, do not erase the great psychological damage his preaching and behavior inflicted on countless congregants and church members. Polly and I bear deep scars from being excoriated by him over this or that “sin.” How could we ever forget him telling us that it was not God’s will for us to be poor or that it wasn’t God’s will for us to have more children (even though his own children now have large families). We can’t forget the lectures or the sermons that seemed directed right at us. You see, Polly married a man that NO ONE in the family wanted her to marry, and our current state of the affairs, to them anyway, is proof that they are right. If Polly had only married an obedient IFB preacher, why she might still be in the ministry today. Both Polly and I have made peace with the fact that we will always be on the outside looking in with her family. In the last decade or so, we have finally reached a place where we no longer give a shit about what family members think about us. We are who we are.

Let me conclude this tome with one more story. Seven or so years ago, one of the family’s preachers decided to try and understand our deconversion. We talked privately for a few days until Jim got wind of our discussions. The preacher was told to stop talking to me. I was a dangerous man, one given over to evil and false doctrine. The preacher, of course, complied. Jim was the family patriarch, and when he issued an edict everyone was expected to obey. That Polly and I were living in open defiance of his authority was not something that could be tolerated. Unfortunately, for Jim, we were safely beyond his reach, no longer caring about what came out of his mouth.

The patriarch is dead, but his religion lives on.

Notes

James Dennis’s obituary:

James Dennis

Newark – A funeral service for Pastor James Russell Dennis will be held at 11am on Saturday, January 13, 2018 at Newark Baptist Temple, 81 Licking View Dr, Heath, OH 43056. Dr. Charles Keen will be officiating. Family will greet friends from 4pm-8pm on Friday, January 12, 2018 and for one hour prior to the service at the church. Following the service, Pastor Dennis will be laid to rest at Newark Memorial Gardens.

Pastor Dennis, age 75, of Newark, passed away on January 9, 2018 at Licking Memorial Hospital. He was born on November 3, 1942 to the late Russell and Grace (Welsh) Dennis in Pontiac, Michigan.

Pastor Dennis was an avid hunter, but more than anything, he loved being a preacher. He loved to help people in his community and church family. In 1968, Pastor Dennis became the pastor of Newark Baptist Temple, until he retired in 2015. Following retirement, he continued to proudly serve his Lord until his death. He was a pioneer in Christian education; he founded Temple Tots Day Nursery School in 1970 and Licking County Christian Academy in 1972.

Pastor Dennis is survived by his loving wife of 51 years, Linda (Robinson) Dennis. He also leaves behind his children, Cilicia (David) Boelk, Bethlie (David) Young, Andrew (Jenny) Dennis, and Toree (Jamie) Overton; 19 grandchildren; 3 great grandchildren; and sister, Betty Freeman.

In addition to his parents, Pastor Dennis is preceded in death by his grandson, LCPL James Boelk, KIA Oct 10, 2010.

The family would like to give special thanks to Licking Memorial Hospital, 2nd Floor doctors, nurses, and staff, for all their care and compassion over the past month.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Newark Temple Baptist Missions, 81 Licking View Dr, Heath, OH 43056.

To sign an online guestbook, please visit www.brucker-kishlerfuneralhome.com.

Published in the Advocate on Jan. 11, 2018

The Newark Advocate had this to say when Jim retired in November 2014:

It’s been 46 years since Pastor James Dennis began leading Newark Baptist Temple Church.

Although he still has an overwhelming passion for his role in the church, Dennis has decided to retire in November. It was a difficult decision to make, but he said he understands the need to bring new life into the church as it heads into the future.

“It has been a privilege to serve almighty God, to see people accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. … It’s just a blessing to see how God can change the lives of people,” Dennis said. “But I also understand the need to get a fresh breath of air in here.”

Dennis was born and raised in Michigan, and after attending seminary school, he started a church in Bay City, Michigan. It was there that he met his wife, Linda, after her family began attending the church.

The two were happily married and living in Michigan when Dennis received a call from one of his friends who told him Newark Baptist Temple was looking for a new pastor. At the time, he had no plans to leave his home, but he felt God pushing him out of Bay City.

He accepted the position and moved to Newark in 1967. At that time, the church was still young, having been formed only five years earlier, and there wasn’t much for Dennis to do outside preaching. But through the years, the church expanded, adding multiple ministries and launching the Licking County Christian Academy.

The school was founded in response to what the church saw as a need for an educational experience grounded in morality and God’s word, Dennis said. Although it has remained small, the school provides an important component to education, and Dennis thanks the Lord for every student who leaves a graduate.

Newark Temple Baptist has very active youth and children’s ministries, and six years ago, it started Reformers Unanimous, a ministry that helps people with dependency issues.

“The Lord has been kind to us,” Dennis said of how the church has grown.

….

Although he is retiring, Dennis plans to stick around. He will continue to attend church at Newark Baptist Temple and said he might take on some speaking opportunities if needed.

One thing is for sure: He’s not done sharing God’s message.

“You may step down from a certain aspect of the ministry, but you never stop ministering. It’s an eternal calling,” Dennis said. “I know that God has a plan and a will for me.”

Why Many IFB Preachers Don’t Have Peaceful, Contented Lives

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac

For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a subset under the broad banner of Evangelicalism. IFB pastors and congregants tend to be theological, political, and social extremists. While their theological beliefs differ little from garden variety Evangelicals, how they engage and interact with the broader religious and secular cultures sets them apart from other Evangelicals.

Millions of Americans attend IFB churches. Millions more attend IFB-like churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. In the late 1960s through the early 1980s, many of the largest American churches were IFB congregations. As our society moved leftward socially and morally, IFB pastors and institutions dug in their heels and refused to adapt or change. Thinking the methods they used were timeless truths that must be religiously practiced, IFB churches hemorrhaged members, losing them to churches that were not as intolerant or extreme. By the 1990s, once-filled megachurch auditoriums were empty, resulting in more than few IFB churches filing for bankruptcy or closing their doors.

In the mid-1970s, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in the 1950s by Alabamian pulpiteer Tom Malone. Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, which at the time was one of the largest churches in America, boasting thousands each week in attendance. Midwestern was never a large college, but the institution was noted for turning out preachers and church planters. By the late 1980s, Midwestern and Emmanuel Baptist were in serious numerical and financial free fall. Eventually, Emmanuel closed its doors and Midwestern became a ministry of an IFB church in Orion, Michigan.

What happened to Emmanuel Baptist continues to happen to IFB churches today. IFB pastors, with few exceptions, are Biblical literalists who refuse to believe anything that contradicts their Fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. IFB pastors, to the man, believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Some pastors even go far as to say that only the King James Version of the Bible is the Word of God; that other translations are the works of Satan. Literalism and inerrancy are considered cardinal doctrines of the faith. This has resulted in IFB pastors and churches believing all sorts of absurdities. IFB pastors are, without exception, creationists. Most of them are young earth creationists, believing that God created the universe in six twenty-four-hour days, 6,022 years ago. Bible stories meant to illustrate greater spiritual truths are often taken literally, resulting in IFB adherents believing, among a host of absurdities, that the earth was destroyed by a universal flood 4,000 or so years ago, the sun and moon stood still (Joshua 10:13), and all humans trace their lineage back to two people — Adam and Eve.  Their commitment to literalism forces IFB pastors to defend fantastical things. If the Bible says it, it’s true. End of discussion!

While there is some eschatological diversity within the IFB church movement, literalism demands that pastors believe and teach that the events recorded in the book of Revelation will one day literally take place. Most IFB church members believe that the return of Jesus to earth is imminent. A wide, deep apocalyptic river runs through the IFB church movement, leading to an extreme love and devotion to God’s chosen people, Israel. President Trump’s plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol is sure to excite IFB preachers — yet another “sign” that the return of Jesus is nigh. That this move could ignite the entire region and lead to war, is of little concern to IFB preachers. They believe that things must continue to get worse; that Jesus won’t come back to earth until the world stage is set for his triumphal return. This means that a war of epic proportions must occur, ending in Armageddon. While IFB preachers might not admit it out loud, I am certain many of them would welcome nuclear war, believing that such a war will make the world ready to embrace first the anti-Christ and then later Jesus when he returns to earth on a literal white horse to defeat the anti-Christ and Satan.

IFB pastors and churches are politically right-wing. If a survey were conducted with IFB adherents, I suspect surveyors would find that church members overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, and are anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-same sex marriage, and very much in favor of returning prayer and Bible reading to public school classrooms (even though many of them either home school or have their children enrolled in Christian schools). In earlier years, the IFB church movement believed there was a strict separation of church and state. Today, many IFB pastors and churches no longer believe the wall of separation exists, and that the United States is a Christian nation — a country chosen by God. This thinking can be traced back to the late 1970s when IFB megachurch pastor Jerry Falwell, along with Paul Weyrich, started the Moral Majority. Since then, scores of IFB pastors have used their pulpits to advance certain (almost always Republican) political policies and candidates.

Bruce, I thought this post was about why IFB preachers (and many within their congregations) don’t have peaceful, contented lives. It is, but I felt it necessary to show how IFB pastor think and view the world before explaining why so many of them lack peace and contentment in their lives. If the IFB church movement is anything, it is anti-culture. IFB pastors see themselves as prophets or watchmen on the walls, warning all who will listen that God is real, the Bible is true, and hell awaits all those who reject the IFB way, truth, and life. IFB preachers think it is their duty to wage war against Satan and the enemies of God. I can only imagine how hysterical IFB preachers are over LGBTQ acceptance, same-sex marriage, and the increasing prominence of atheism. Anything that challenges their beliefs must be refuted and turned back. Add to this the internecine warfare IFB churches are famous for, and it should come as no surprise that pastors find themselves constantly battling the “forces of darkness and evil.”  Every dawn brings a new day with new battles that must be fought. Not only must IFB preachers wage war against Satan, cults, false Christianity, liberalism, and secularism, they must also fight against those in their own movement who want to make IFB churches more “worldly.”

The battles, then, never end. Day in and day out, IFB pastors are in fight mode. And those who are not? They are labelled compromisers and hirelings who are only concerned with money and prestige. Is it any wonder then that IFB preachers rarely have peaceful, contented lives? Their lives are in a constant state of turmoil. Satan and the world are pushing against their beliefs and values at every turn. Not fighting back is considered cowardly, a betrayal of everything IFB believers hold dear. Go to any town in America where there is an IFB church and ask mainline pastors how they view the local IFB pastor and church. In most instances, mainline pastors will say that local IFB churches have extreme beliefs and seem to thrive on controversy. IFB pastors are viewed as outliers on the fringe of Christianity — haters and dissemblers who have no tolerance for anyone but those who adhere to their narrow beliefs and practices.

Separation from the world and separation from erring Christians is a fundamental doctrine within IFB churches. This too leads to never ending angst and stress. Concerned over encroaching “worldliness,” IFB pastors often have long lists of rules (church standards) congregants are expected to follow. (please read The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) While the rules vary from church to church, they are meant to inoculate church members from becoming infected with “worldly” ideas.  The Apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Corinth, said:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)

1 John 2:15-17 states:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Verses such as these fuel IFB separatist beliefs and practices. The world is evil and must be, with few exceptions, avoided at all costs. This is why IFB pastors and institutions are the forefront of the Christian School and home school movements. What better way to avoid worldliness than to wall off families and children from the influence of “worldly” schools?

I am sure that many, if not most, IFB preachers would disagree with me when I say they don’t have peaceful contented lives. However, I would ask them to consider whether their constant battles against sin, worldliness, liberalism, and compromise have robbed them of the goodness, peace, and contentment life has to offer; that constantly being at odds with not only the “world,” but also fellow Christians, is bound to exact an emotional toll. Thinking you alone stand for God, truth, and righteousness requires constant diligence lest compromise and “worldliness” creep in. Aren’t you tired, preacher, of being constantly at war with everyone and everything around you? Maybe it is time for you lay down your weapons of war and rejoin the human race. Countless former IFB pastors and church members have done just that. Tired of the constant turmoil and unrest, they finally said, ENOUGH! and walked away. Most of them found kinder, gentler forms of faith, and a handful of ex-IFB believers have embraced agnosticism or atheism. Scary, I know, but not having to constantly be on guard lest Satan gain the advantage is worth the risk of judgment and hell. I am sure God will understand. A wild, wonderful world awaits those who dare to lay down their Fundamentalist beliefs and walk away. If you are ready to say ENOUGH! and want help plotting a life of peace and contentment, I would love to help you do so.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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Why Our Christians Friends Leave Us When We Deconvert

church is a family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Just Remember Girls, No One Ever Got Pregnant Who Didn’t Hold Hands With a Boy First

angry preacher

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (I Corinthians 7:1-2)

The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth that unmarried men should not touch women. Touch not, want not, right? If men couldn’t contain their sexual desires, then to avoid fornication they were to marry. In other words, marriage was a considered a cure for horniness. Countless Evangelicals have been taught that if they cannot contain their sexual desires — remember masturbation is a sin — then they should seek out someone of the opposite sex to marry. Hey Betty, I am horny. Will you marry me? 

Many Evangelical preachers use I Corinthians 7:1-2 as justification for the Puritanical rules they use to regulate physical contact between unmarried teenagers and young adults. I came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s. I was a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). Public displays of affection were forbidden. This prohibition forced church teens to turn to secretive means to show their “love” to their boyfriend or girlfriend. We learned how to hold hands in church or on the church bus so no one could see us. There was something exciting about flaunting the rules, even more so when we spent time necking in out-of-the way church hallways or in the shadows of the parking lot. My favorite necking time was Wednesday evenings when the adults were having choir practice. Church teens were left to their own devices, and many of us used the time to fornication-lite. One girl I dated for a short time told me recently that I was the first boy who kissed her — in the back of the church while the adult choir was practicing Bill Gaither’s song, He Touched Me.

I had many such dalliances, but that is as far as they went. I was a true believer, so I limited my physical intimacy with the opposite sex to hand-holding and kissing. I was one of the few flower children who didn’t get laid before marriage. Conversations in recent years with people who were in the youth group with me have revealed that there was a lot of fucking and sucking going on, but none involving preacher boy Bruce Gerencser. I assumed, at the time, that everyone was on the straight and narrow as I was. I now know that their spirits were willing, but their flesh was weak.

In the fall of 1976, I entered Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. A dark-haired beauty by the name of Polly also enrolled for classes. Polly’s goal was to find herself a preacher to marry. I thought of college as being a place of plentiful dating opportunities, and I planned to play the field. I dated a girl by the name of Peggy for several weeks and then turned my romantic interest towards Polly. We quickly hit it off, even though we had little in common. She was a quiet, shy preacher’s daughter. I was a motormouth with a bit of a rebellious streak. Polly would tell me later that she thought of me as her “bad boy.” Polly’s parents saw me as a bad boy too; bad as in not good for their innocent daughter. They spent the next eighteen months trying to discourage our relationship, even going so far as to tell Polly that she couldn’t marry me. A short time after this papal edict, Polly informed her parents that we were going to get married with or without their blessing. This was the first time Polly stood up to her parents.  If my mother-in-law had to sum up her son-in-law in one sentence, I suspect she would say, Bruce is “different” and he ruined our daughter.

Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist institution. Established by Dr. Tom Malone in the 1950s, Midwestern had a strict code of student conduct. Single students were required to live in the dormitory, and every aspect of dorm life was strictly regulated. Students could only date on the weekends and had to double-date. Dating couples were not permitted to touch each other — no hand-holding, kissing, snuggling, or other displays of affection. Keep in mind, most of the dorm students were ages 18-30 — the raging hormones years. And it was the 1970s, the freaking 1970s!

i would rather be fornicating

Single students were expected to keep at least six inches distance from the opposite sex — six inches being the width of a church hymnbook. (Please read Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule) Breaking the six-inch rule brought severe punishment. Repeated infractions resulted in expulsion. While there were a handful of couples who self-righteously obeyed the letter of the law, most students quickly learned who they could double-date with without getting in trouble for holding hands with or kissing their date. More than a few students rounded third and slid into home, with several girls becoming pregnant — or so it was rumored anyway. Students caught fornicating were immediately expelled from school.

Polly and I married after our sophomore year. A year later, we left Midwestern and moved to Bryan, Ohio — the place of my birth. A few weeks after our move, I became the assistant pastor at Montpelier Baptist Church — a young, growing IFB church. After spending seven months at Montpelier Baptist, I resigned and we moved to the Central Ohio community of Newark. Polly’s dad was the assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. Her uncle, James Dennis was the pastor.  We joined the Baptist Temple, and when Polly’s father decided to start a new church in nearby Buckeye Lake in 1981, we joined him. I became his pastoral assistant (primarily working with the youth of the church), a position I held until June of 1983.

In July of 1983, I started a new IFB church in Somerset, Ohio — thirty miles south of Newark. I would pastor Somerset Baptist Church until March of 1994. At every stop along my young ministerial career, I was exposed to and worked with men who believed it was a grave sin for unmarried teens and young adults of the opposite sex to touch each other. I carried this belief into my first full-time pastorate. Church teens likely remember Pastor Bruce preaching against all forms of physical/sexual intimacy between unmarried people. I am sure they remember me famously saying — oh how I wish I could forget — “no girl ever got pregnant who didn’t hold hands with a boy first!” (Yes, I really did say this, and I did so many times!)

I viewed hand-holding as a sexual gateway drug. I thought, if I could shame teens and young adults into not touching one another (or touching themselves), then there would be no fornicating going on and no teen pregnancies. I pastored Somerset Baptist for eleven years. During that time, no unmarried church female became pregnant. Does this mean that none of the church unmarrieds was having sex? Of course not. Having talked with a handful of church teens who are now in their 30s and early 40s, I now know that they were lustily ignoring my preaching. I am grateful that there were no unwanted pregnancies that I knew of, though I suspect several girls might have gotten pregnant and secretly had abortions.

Is it any wonder that so many IFB married couples have sexual dysfunction? What in my preaching taught these couples a healthy, scientific, rational view of sex? Nothing that I can think of. Instead, I used guilt and shame in my attempts to get them to conform to an anti-human, irrational view of human sexuality. Thousands of Evangelical preachers continue to preach the Thou Shalt Not Touch gospel to church teenagers. Ironically, these preachers didn’t heed this gospel when they were teens, and they surely have to know that neither will their church teenagers. Hormones, need, and desire win every time. Wouldn’t it be far better to teach church unmarrieds how to own their sexuality, preparing them for the day when they engage in sex for the first time? I know, the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says, but Christians have been trying to live by Puritanical beliefs about sex for centuries. How is that working out? Perhaps it is time to shelve the Bible with its archaic sexual prohibitions and embrace a healthy, natural view of sex. Sorry preachers, but everyone IS doing it. You can live in denial all you want, but the fact remains that by age nineteen, seven out of ten teenagers have had sex. And now that people are waiting until their mid-twenties to marry, I can safely say that most of the singles listening to your antiquated sermons have likely engaged in some form of sexual activity.

Were you raised in an Evangelical/IFB church? How did your pastor handle I Corinthians 7:1-2? What do you remember your pastor saying about necking and premarital sex? Did you feel shame and guilt when your pastor preached about sex? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

The Day I Stuffed an Atheist in a Trash Can

devil in trash canI attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution noted for its training of preachers. Midwestern was an unaccredited college. As a result, no student loans were available, and students had to work secular jobs to pay for room and board and tuition. During my sophomore year and part of my junior year, I worked full-time for a large grocery company called Felice’s Market. The Felice brothers were great people to work for. They gave Polly and me $200 as a wedding gift, and when I needed to buy a car one of the Felice brothers loaned me the money. I have worked for over fifty companies/businesses in my lifetime. I consider Felice’s Market one of the best places I’ve ever worked.

I worked in the dairy department. Prior to enrolling at Midwestern, I was the dairy manager at Foodland in Bryan, Ohio. It made sense, then, for me to continue in this line of work. I also worked in the meat department at Kroger’s in Rochester Hills and stocked shelves for La Rosa’s Market in Orchard Lake. Next to managing restaurants, working in grocery stores was my favorite job.

As was common among Midwestern preacher boys, I was quite outspoken about my faith. When given an opportunity to do so, I would share the gospel with my fellow employees. I also made sure I read my Bible during breaks and prayed over my lunch. Having a good testimony before the world was very important. I wanted everyone I worked with to be saved. I am sure more than a few of them wanted to be saved too — from me!

One particular evangelistic target was an atheistic high school boy who worked part-time in the frozen food department. This boy was a science geek, knowing far more than I did about biology, geology, and cosmology. I took two science classes in high school — biology and earth science — and one class in college — biology. I was, to put it mildly, quite ignorant about science. As a high school student, I would take tests in biology class, giving the required answers, but then I would add Bible verses and comments meant to show the teacher that what he was teaching was wrong. I was quite proud of myself — taking a stand for God and his inspired, inerrant Word. My college biology class was a joke. Midwestern didn’t have a lab, so class time was devoted to lectures on creationism and why people should only marry their “kind.”

This high school boy and I would go around and around about how the universe came into existence. He would pepper me with science questions I couldn’t answer, and I would trump his questions — or so I thought — with Bible verses. One day, we got into a heated discussion about creationism. The boy, seizing on the weaknesses of my Biblical answers, asked me, if everything has a creator, who created God? We went back and forth for a few more minutes, me quoting the Bible and the boy repeatedly asking, who created God?  I reached a point where I had enough of his impertinent dissing of God. I told him he was ignorant, and he replied, who created God? Suddenly, I grabbed a hold of the boy and stuffed him — butt first — in a nearby trash can. I then walked away, quite proud of myself, thinking I sure showed that atheist!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Eight Years Later — Part Three

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

On the last Sunday of November 2008, my wife and I attended a Christian worship service for the last time. This series details how things have changed for us over the past eight years.

Polly and I will celebrate our thirty-ninth anniversary in July. We first met as college freshman at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly was seventeen and I was nineteen. Both of us enrolled at Midwestern to pursue God’s calling on our lives. At the age of fifteen, I felt God calling me to be a preacher. Polly had a similar teenage experience — not to be a preacher, but to be a pastor’s wife. On July 15, 1978, Polly and I stood before family and friends at the Newark Baptist Temple and confessed that we would love each other unto death. In joining together as husband and wife, we were also saying to God and to the church that we were committed to fulfilling God’s calling upon our lives. This commitment of ours to the ministry would take us to seven churches in three states over the next twenty-five years. This post will begin to detail our marriage during our years in the ministry and how it has changed — dramatically so — since we left the ministry in 2005 and left Christianity altogether in 2008. Adequately telling our story will require several posts.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978, Two Months Before Their Wedding

Both Polly and I were quite naïve about life and the ministry when we married. Our idea of being Pastor and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser proved to be a fantasy. We thought we would, after graduating college, move to a rural Midwestern community so I could either pastor a church or start one. I would be a long-tenured, adequately paid minister, while Polly would be the keeper of our two children — Jason and Bethany —  and our white two-story home surrounded by a picket fence. The only thing that came of our fantasy? We have a son named Jason and a daughter named Bethany. Virtually everything we were told about how wonderful it was to be a pastor and a pastor’s wife proved to be a lie or, at the very least, gross distortions of reality. Much like selling Amway, with those at the top of pyramid getting all the accolades and money, so it was with the ministry. Big-name preachers pastoring churches with large attendances were well-paid and received the loving adoration of those who thronged to hear them preach. Believing that these preachers were the norm, young pastors and their wives would enter the ministry thinking that they too would one day be used mightily by God. The big-name preachers traveled the conference circuit, telling young pastors that if they would just work harder, sacrifice more, and follow their examples, that God would surely bless them and use them to build large, soulwinning churches. John R. Rice, famed Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist and editor of the Sword of the Lord, was fond of saying, There is nothing wrong with pastoring a small church — for a while. The message was clear: a sign of God’s blessing was a thriving church with an ever-increasing attendance. (In the 1960s and 1970s, most of the churches on the Top 100 Churches in America were IFB churches. Today? Only two or three IFB churches are on the list.)

In the spring of 1979, Polly and I left Midwestern and moved to the place of my birth, Bryan, Ohio. Polly became pregnant six weeks after our wedding, and several months later I was laid off from my machine shop job. With a child on the way, no insurance, and out of money, we decided to drop out of college and move to Bryan so I could find employment. I took a union job in the shipping and receiving department at ARO — a large manufacturing concern that years later was bought by Ingersoll-Rand and closed.

bruce and polly gerencser 1985

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

Six weeks after moving to Bryan, I became the assistant pastor for nearby Montpelier Baptist Church. The church didn’t pay me a salary, so it was necessary for me to continue working at ARO while I took on near-full-time responsibilities at the church. Believing that God called us into the ministry, Polly and I were willing to make any and every sacrifice to fulfill our calling, even if it meant burning the candle at both ends and being forced to earn a living outside of the church. This thinking would permeate our thoughts and drive our behavior for most of the next twenty-five years.

Polly and I established our marital relationship according to what we believed the Bible taught about marriage and the family. Having a traditional marriage meant that I would be the breadwinner and Polly would care for the children, cook meals, and be the keeper of the home. Complementarian to the core, I expected Polly to submit to my God-given authority in the home. Wanting to be pleasing to God and her husband, Polly submitted herself to what can best be described as an authoritarian ruler. Passive by nature, Polly was fine with me running the show, making all the decisions, including taking care of the finances and disciplining the children. In many ways, we lived lives that were modeled to us by our parents and older ministers and their wives. Little did we know how corrosive and psychologically harmful such thinking was, and to this day we deal with the after-effects of patterning our lives after Evangelical beliefs concerning marriage and the family.

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity

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

It was not until the late 1990s — twenty years into our marriage — that Polly and I began to question the foundation our marriage was built upon. As we looked at not only the people I pastored but many of our colleagues in the ministry, we noticed that many of them were building comfortable middle-class lifestyles, complete with all the trappings of American capitalistic culture. Here we were living in poverty, working day and night, and sacrificing our lives for the sake of the ministry while everyone else seemed to be enjoying the good life. Why weren’t these church members and preachers living according to the teachings of the Bible? Why did it seem they loved the things of the world in direct contradiction to what the Bible taught in 1 John 2:15,16:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Where were the churches and pastors who were willing to sacrifice their lives for Jesus, even unto death? Polly and I had made the mistake of actually believing what we were taught in church and Bible college. We actually took to heart what we read in Evangelical books and heard at conferences. Silly us! we would learn.

In the next post in this series, I want to talk about the subtle marital and family changes we made while still in the ministry, and how these changes laid the groundwork for where our marriage is today.

Why Are So Many Evangelical Preachers Arrogant and Full of Themselves? Part Two

humble pastor

Read part One

Why are so many Evangelical preachers arrogant and full of themselves? While it would be easy to answer this question simply by saying that these so-called “men of God” are narcissistic Assholes for Jesus®, the correct answer is more complex and nuanced. In both yesterday’s and today’s posts, I will use the fifty years I spent in Christianity and the twenty-five years I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan as a backdrop in an attempt to answer this question. While no two life stories are exactly the same, I am confident that I can pick things out of my own story that can also be found in the life stories of many Evangelical preachers.

In the 1960s, my parents moved to San Diego, California hoping to improve their lives financially. Unfortunately, their California dream proved to be an illusion. Two years later, Mom and Dad packed up our earthly belongings and moved back to Ohio. The Robert and Barbara Gerencser who left Ohio for the promised land of California were very different people when they returned to Bryan, Ohio. While in California, my parents and I were saved at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church — Scott Memorial Baptist Church. Overnight, Mom and Dad became devout followers of Jesus.  Not long after I asked Jesus into my heart, I told Mom that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. I was six years old.

At the age of fifteen, during an Al Lacy revival meeting at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, I made another public profession of faith in Christ. I remember feeling a deep sense of conviction over my sin, and once I prayed to Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me, the shame and guilt I felt over my sins was gone. Several weeks later, feeling, yet again, a deep sense of God working in my heart, I went forward during an invitation — a time at the end of church services where people are asked to come forward to the altar to do business with God — and publicly confessed to the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. At that moment, I became the latest member of a special group called “preacher boys.”

Preacher boys, called by God to do the most important job on earth, are viewed by pastors and churches as the future of Christianity. Without a steady supply of preacher boys, churches wouldn’t have pastors, new churches wouldn’t be started, and the lost would go unsaved. Thus, preacher boys are treated in ways that make them feel unique and special. Pastors love to brag about how many preacher boys were called to preach under their ministry. Similar to gunslingers putting notches on their six-shooters’ wooden grips every time they killed someone, pastors see preacher boys as notches on their ministerial guns.

After announcing my call to the ministry, I spent the next four years being handled by pastors who took it on themselves to prepare me for the work of the ministry. In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I packed my meager belongings into the back of my rust-bucket of car and moved from my Mom’s trailer three hours northeast to Pontiac, Michigan. Pontiac was the home of Midwestern Baptist College — an IFB institution started in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone (who pastored a nearby megachurch, Emmanuel Baptist Church). Midwestern was established specifically for training preacher boys for the ministry.  Midwestern was an unaccredited school, so students received no financial aid. Most of the preacher boys had to work full-time jobs while attending classes. These future pastors were also required to work in one or more of the ministries at Emmanuel, along with being in attendance for Sunday school, two worship services, and midweek prayer meeting. Students were busy seven days a week, with little time for relaxation. It should come as no surprise, then, that many students washed out after their freshman year. Men who endured until the end were viewed as battle-tested preachers ready to enter the hard work of the ministry. Filled with pride and given the approval of IFB giant Tom Malone, these newly minted men of God fanned out over the world establishing new churches and pumping new life into older, established IFB churches. Forty years later, most of the men from my class are still plucking grapes in God’s vineyard. I am, as far as I know, the only person who attended Midwestern and later pastored churches who is now an atheist. (Please read The Midwestern Baptist College Preacher Who Became an Atheist.)

Evangelical young men who enter the ministry most often spend their entire lives in what I call “the Evangelical Bubble.”  Within this bubble, pastors are sheltered from the world; within the bubble Evangelical theology and practices make perfect sense; within the bubble pastors are rarely challenged concerning their beliefs; within the bubble pastors are viewed as God-called authority figures; within the bubble pastors receive the praise and adulation of congregants; within the bubble pastors are revered and treated as demigods; within the bubble pastors answer only to God; within the bubble pastors have no equal; within the bubble pastors put into motion their agendas, their God-given visions for their churches; within the bubble pastors’ birthdays and ministerial anniversaries are celebrated; and within the bubble God uses pastors in unique ways to supernaturally advance His kingdom.

Pastors who remain in this bubble are surrounded by like-minded people who believe the same things, sing the same songs, and generally live cookie-cutter lives (at least outwardly). Exposure to the outside world is limited, especially for those who are full-time pastors. I have long advocated for churches forcing pastors to be bi-vocational. Doing so exposes pastors to a world far different from that of the Evangelical bubble. Unfortunately, few churches see the value of having part-time pastors. Churches which, out of economic necessity, pay their pastors part-time wages often demand their pastors give them full-time attention.

Safely ensconced within the Evangelical bubble, pastors go about doing the work of the ministry.  These sheltered men frequent pastors’ fellowships and conferences — meetings where pastors get together to whine about how evil the world is and how hard it is to be a pastor.  These meetings provide pastors yet another opportunity to have their right-beliefs and right-practices reinforced and approved by fellow clergymen. Such meetings are pep rallies meant to rally and energize the generals of God’s army.

On Sundays, pastors mount the pulpit and preach sermons they believe God has laid upon their “hearts.”  Congregants gather to hear the Word of God from the man of God, showing their approval by shouting “amen,” nodding their heads, and raising their hands. After services, pastors stand at the back of their churches, shaking hands and listening to members tell them how wonderful their sermons were. In the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, I never had a church member shake my hand and say, Pastor Bruce, that sermon sucked or Pastor Bruce, are you sure God told you to preach that sermon?  I preached plenty of bad sermons over the years, but congregants still praised me for giving to them the Word of the Lord. Imagine being in an environment where no matter what you do, everyone tells you what a great job you are doing. Spend enough time being praised and never criticized, you will begin to think — to speak bluntly — your shit don’t stink.

Taking what I have written above, is it any wonder that many Evangelical pastors become arrogant and full of themselves, especially when their churches grow numerically? Outwardly, these men of God are humble, but inwardly they think, Wow! Look at what God is doing through me — ME! ME! ME! being the operative word. Praised by congregants and peers alike, preachers find it is easy for them to lose touch with reality.

Rare is the man who can withstand a lifetime of praise and adoration without negatively being affected. Over time, pastors start to believe their press clippings, thinking that they have arrived. Sunday after Sunday, congregants file into services to hear THEIR pastor preach. It is not too much stretch for me to say that many pastors begin to develop bigger-than-life personalities, thinking that congregants are there to see them perform. Credence is given to this when pastors leave their churches for new ministries. What happens?  Many congregants stop attending services. If Pastor Ain’t He Awesome isn’t preaching, I’m not going, they say. Let pastors take a sabbatical or vacation and what happens? Church attendance declines. Evidently, while the proverbial cat is away, the mice play.

Throw in certain personality and psychological traits pastors tend to have, it should come as no surprise that many Evangelical pastors are insufferable, arrogant, full-of-themselves assholes — especially in the view of those who live outside of the Evangelical bubble. Does this mean that Evangelical pastors are inherently bad people? Of course not. But years spent in the Evangelical bubble can change pastors, often for the worse. I have no doubt that some pastors will whine, complain, and howl over what I have written here, saying I AM NOT LIKE THIS!  Others, however, will admit that what I have written here hits too close to where they live.

Pastors can become so immersed in the work of the ministry that they lose all sight of reality. The solution, of course, is for pastors to leave the ministry and devote themselves to reconnecting with humanity by wallowing in the pigsty of the world. As long as they remain in the Evangelical bubble, pastors will not see things as they are. Of course, pastors aren’t going to listen to me. The calling of God is irrevocable, they will tell me, God has CALLED me, and I must not disappoint or disobey Him!  And therein lies the problem. Evangelical pastors believe that God is behind their call into the ministry, and that every sermon preached and every decision made is done by the mighty power of the Spirit of God. Until these Gods become men, I fear there is little that can be done to deliver them from the other-world, rarefied air of the Evangelical bubble.

For me, once I finally admitted that I was not what I claimed to be, that the wizard behind the curtain of Bruce Gerencser’s life was not the Evangelical God, but Bruce himself — then, and only then, could I make sense of a lifetime spent in the ministry.  Every decision I claimed was made according to God’s leading was, in fact, influenced not by God, but by my parents, pastors, peers, and my own wants, needs, and desires. I now know that I genuinely want to help other people; that I love trying to fix things that are broken; that I love the thrill of building things from scratch. And yes, I now know that I loved receiving the praise and adoration heaped on me by congregants. I loved being the center of attention, the decision-maker, the man with all the answers. Does this mean I was a bad person? I will leave that to others to decide. All I can do is give an honest accounting of my life. In doing so, I hope former Evangelicals and those trying to extricate themselves from the Evangelical bubble will be gain a bit of understanding about what they have experienced at the hands of God’s men. While I did many good works as a pastor, things that I am proud of, I must also admit that I was not always a good person; that I was, at times, filled with pride and arrogance. Am I better man today than I was as a pastor? Most certainly. I now know what it means to be human. And in reconnecting with my humanity, I have found that I still have much to offer, without, of course, the baggage of Christianity.