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Tag: Midwestern Baptist College

Short Stories: The Adventures of a Detroit Delivery Truck Driver

bruce midwestern baptist college pontiac michigan 1978
Bruce Gerencser, Midwestern Baptist College, 1978

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac Michigan from 1976 to 1979. Midwestern, founded in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone, is an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. Midwestern’s unaccredited status meant that students did not have access to federal or state grant or loan programs. Most students worked a part-time or full-time job to pay for tuition. Dormitory students, of course, also had the added expense of room and board. While Midwestern had a rudimentary cafeteria that provided a light breakfast and lunch, dormitory students were not required to eat there. Most dorm residents ate a combination of fast food and boxed/canned food. The dormitory had a kitchen with a microwave and a few tables. Every afternoon and evening, weird wafting smells circulated through the dormitory as students tried to “cook” their meals. I still have fond memories of the time my fiancée, who is now my wife, decided to surprise me with a microwave-cooked meal of liver. Needless to say, the liver was inedible. Students who worked at local fast food restaurants would often bring home throw-aways to either eat or give to their friends. The dormitory did not have refrigerators, so in the wintertime, these throw-aways would often be stored — for days on end — outside the dorm in a snowbank. This crude form of refrigeration would allow students to “safely” eat three-day-old McDonald’s hamburgers. Ah, the good old days.

I worked a number of jobs while a student at Midwestern. One such job was working for Orchard Lake Cleaners — a now-closed commercial drycleaner and laundry. Each afternoon after classes I would load laundered uniforms, towels, and dust mops into a Ford F350 box delivery truck and make deliveries to Detroit homes and businesses. The man who operated the cleaners was an alcoholic. It was not uncommon for me to come back from my deliveries to find him passed out, head on desk, and a partially emptied bottle of booze nearby. More than once I had to wake him up so he could pay me my under-the-table wages for the week. As will become clear later in this story, this job proved to be quite exciting and dangerous.

Every day, I would load up the items for that day and head for Detroit to make deliveries. Some were made to homes, others to businesses. I’ve often wondered if there was more to my deliveries than just laundry. Some of the businesses I delivered to were in seedy parts of Detroit. One day, as I pulled in to a downtown business to make a delivery, I noticed a man and a woman having sex in the backseat of a car. Another time, at the same location, I walked in on some sort of shakedown. I knew that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, so I quickly shut the door and went back to the truck, leaving the order undelivered.

One day, I was driving down a Detroit city street on my way to my next delivery when a car turned on the one-way street and headed right toward me in the wrong direction. I successfully maneuvered the truck to avoid hitting the car head-on, but in doing so I clipped the mirrors off of several parked cars. I reported the accident to my boss, thinking that he would praise me for my astute driving skills. After all, I avoided an accident that would’ve likely totaled the truck. What I didn’t know is that there was no insurance on the truck. Needless to say, my boss was quite angry with me and wondered if perhaps he should get someone else to drive the truck.

Several days later, I was driving down one of Detroit’s many freeways and I noticed in the distance that several semi-trucks were parked along the berm. Before I could slow down, I heard and felt a large BAM! on the top of the truck cab. What the heck (Baptist for Hell)! I thought, as I quickly put on the brakes and pulled the truck to the berm. I got out of the truck and hopped up on the front bumper to see what had hit the truck. Not only was there a huge dent in the cab, there was also a gash in the exterior metal face of the box. As I surveyed the damage, a beat-up old car pulled in back of the truck and out jumped two white hippie-looking men. They asked me what happened, and then proceeded to tell me that they were undercover Detroit cops. They were working nearby when they noticed a group of teenagers throwing cement blocks from the overpass to the roadway below. The semi-trucks ahead of me had caught the blocks in the windshield, causing physical injury to one of the drivers. I was lucky that the block missed my windshield and hit the top of the cab instead. I am sure, at the time, that I thanked Jesus for watching out for me. Cue up Jesus Take the Wheel, right? I now know that I could have been seriously harmed or killed if the block had hit the windshield. Thrown a second sooner, the block would have smashed into the windshield. Who knows what might have happened next.

Returning to the safe confines of the Orchard Lake Cleaners parking lot, I went into the office and told my boss that my truck driving days were over. Better to mindlessly run a machine at a factory than dodge criminals and concrete blocks. Several years later, someone dropped a bowling ball off an interstate overpass, instantly killing a woman. One second, often the difference between life and death. One second, and the life of Bruce Gerencser might have ended at the age of 19 on a Detroit freeway.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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Short Stories: Anderson Honda

1976 honda civic

When I pulled into the driveway of the dorm at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in August 1976, I already had a job waiting for me at Kroger in Rochester Hills. I had worked for several small grocery companies before moving to Pontiac. I was excited about the opportunity I had to work for a large company. Unfortunately, the job was part-time, and I quickly learned that what I made at Kroger wasn’t enough to pay my bills.

I knew I could get a full-time union job at GM’s Truck and Coach plant. Someone in charge of hiring at Truck and Coach was connected with the college and Emmanuel Baptist Church — the megachurch pastored by Midwestern’s founder and chancellor, Tom Malone. All a male student had to do was go to the registrar’s office and put his name on a list. I hated factory work — though I would work in many factories during my time at Midwestern and the first two years of my marriage. Hoping to avoid repetitive manual labor, I looked for non-factory unemployment.

A professor at Midwestern also worked as a service writer for nearby Anderson Honda, as did the wife of the dean of men. One day, this professor asked me if I would be interested in working as a mechanic at Anderson’s. He had heard that I fixed cars for dorm students (and my own rolling wrecks), and thought I might be interested in turning a wrench for the local Honda dealer. The job was full-time and paid, if I remember right, $7 an hour. I quickly said, YES!

It didn’t take me long to learn that I was long on ambition and short on skill; that I was a minnow in a sea of sharks — men who had years of experience and tool boxes bigger than my car — or so it seemed, anyway. Due to my inexperience, I was given jobs such as oil changes, new car prep, and brake repairs. While I was disappointed that I was given the shit jobs, I did thoroughly enjoy the work.

I noticed several things that perplexed this naive country boy. First, the dean of men’s wife dressed very differently at Anderson’s than she did at school. It was not uncommon to see her in tight slacks and form-fitting blouses. Such clothing was forbidden at Midwestern. Her dress certainly caught the attention of the men in the shop.

Second, I noticed that this attractive woman and the college professor/service writer were overtly friendly with one another. I mean, really, really, really friendly. Do you see where I am going here? Yep, they were having an affair, and their “sin” would soon become public knowledge.

One day, I was summoned to Tom Malone’s office at the church. I had never been to his office before, I wondered what Malone could possibly want to talk to me about. I played basketball with “Doc” on Sunday nights after church — especially when Polly, my wife-to-be, was traveling with one of the college’s music groups. So I “knew” Malone, but really didn’t know him very well. In fact, I feared him.

Malone had me come into his office and asked me to sit down. After making a bit of chit-chat, he told me that he wanted me to quit my job at Anderson Honda. When Malone saw that I was puzzled by his demand, he told me that I was just going to have to take his word for it that quitting was “best” for me. Now, “Doc” wasn’t asking me to quit. This was an order from on high, and saying NO was not an option. No one said NO to Tom Malone.

I dutifully quit my job. After I did so, I learned about the aforementioned affair. I figured that Malone didn’t want me anywhere near these “sinners.” I also learned the owner of the dealership had a falling out with Malone. I suspect Malone didn’t want anyone associated with Midwestern working at Anderson’s. Petty? You bet it was.

I worked a number of jobs after working at Anderson Honda. None of them paid as well as the $7 an hour I made as a mechanic.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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I’m Not Preaching Now, I’m Telling the Truth

preaching

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. Midwestern, started in 1954 by Alabama preacher Tom Malone, was a small Evangelical college known for producing fiery Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers. Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. College students were required to attend Emmanuel. In the 1970s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the country. Today, its buildings are shuttered and a FOR SALE sign sits in the dust-covered main entrance door. (I recently heard that the buildings might have finally sold. The college campus was purchased and converted into community buildings and apartments.)

During my time at Midwestern, I heard Tom Malone preach several hundred times. Considered by many to be a great pulpiteer, Malone was a fervent preacher who punctuated his sermons with illustrations meant to drive home the point he was making. During one sermon, Malone said something I never forgot. In the middle of sharing an illustration, Malone said:

I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.

Everyone laughed and then he finished his illustration.

Over the march of my life from infancy to the present, I’ve heard thousands of sermons and preached thousands more. I’ve heard some men who had no public speaking skills and others who were wordsmiths capable of enchanting hearers with their preaching and illustrations. Sadly, there are a lot more of the former than the latter. Even though I am an atheist, I still enjoy hearing a well-crafted sermon delivered by a man who knows how to turn a word into an epic Broadway production.

Preaching only the Bible is boring, uninspiring oratory. An effective sermon requires illustrations. Jesus himself was a master storyteller. His sermons made ample use of illustrations meant to drive home a spiritual point. A preacher who is good at his craft knows that illustrations are key to helping listeners understand and embrace his sermon. And therein lies the danger.

When I started preaching, I used illustrations from illustration books. As I aged and experienced more of life, I began to use more and more illustrations about my experiences and personal life. If a preacher isn’t careful, it is easy to massage his illustrations to “fit” a particular sermon or audience. Sometimes, the illustration becomes a lie.

As I mentioned above, I’ve heard a lot of sermons. I’ve heard thousands of illustrations and personal stories, all meant to get my attention or drive home a point. Over time, I came to understand that many preachers played loose with the truth, often shaping their stories to make a particular point or to cast themselves in a positive light. In other words, they lied, even if they didn’t understand they were doing so. Often, a speaker can tell the same Holy Spirit-inspired lie over and over until they reach a point where the lie becomes reality and they think it’s the truth.

Take Jack Hyles — by all accounts a masterful speaker and storyteller. He was also a narcissistic liar. I heard Hyles preach numerous times at Sword of the Lord/Bible conferences. His sermons were usually long on illustrations and short on Scripture and exegesis. For Hyles, it was all about the sermon, the story, and the invitation. Everything he said was meant to bring hearers to a point of making a decision for or against Jesus.

Here’s a story Hyles told about winning an auto mechanic to Christ:

When I got to his house, he was working under the car. He was lying face up on a creeper and could not see me as I arrived. “Hyles Mechanic Service!” I shouted. “Who called you?” he asked.” I was not called,” I replied, “I was sent.” “Well, roll yourself under and see if you can see what is the trouble. “I got another creeper, laid down on it, and rolled myself under the car with him. “Looks like to me you need the valves ground,” I shouted. “How can you tell from under here?” “I am not talking about your car. I am talking about you.” “Who are you?” he asked. “I am Pastor Hyles of First Baptist Church.” Then he became inquisitive, and I explained to him that he needed Christ as Savior to make him a new creature and that he was in worse shape than the car. With both of us lying on our backs looking up at the bottom side of the car, I told him how to be saved. When time came to pray the sinner’s prayer, he closed by saying, “Lord, I am just coming for a general overhauling.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. The next Sunday he came forward in our service professing his faith in Christ.

Great story, and one I have no doubt is an admixture of truth and lie. Every time I read a story like this I am reminded of that Sunday morning almost forty-five years ago when I heard Tom Malone say, “I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.”  Now, that will preach, as the Baptists like to say.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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Short Stories: The Preacher Goes to the XXX Movie House

xxx

I grew up in rural Northwest Ohio. We didn’t have XXX movie houses or strip clubs. In Bryan, Ohio, only two establishments sold adult magazines. I was nineteen and a student at Midwestern Baptist College before I perused my first pornographic magazine. I suspect many of the young men studying at Midwestern had similar experiences. Our rural, small-town cultures sheltered us from the perversity found in big cities, as did the hellfire and brimstone preaching of the churches we came from. Sexual naïveté ran wild at Midwestern, and the college’s answer was to regularly preach against sexual sin, hoping that doing so would keep students from sexual temptation.

Pontiac, Michigan was a dirty, dying industrial town. Its downtown area had numerous adult entertainment establishments, including a XXX movie house that played the latest pornographic movies and hosted amateur night stripper contests. It was not uncommon to see a dozen or more prostitutes plying their trade on downtown Pontiac street corners. One woman who comes to mind was a rather large woman with huge DDDDDDDD breasts. She would briskly walk the streets braless, breasts bouncing chin to belly button. It was quite a sight to behold.

As you might surmise, downtown Pontiac was a magnet for young, virile, horny Baptist boys. The personal contact rules (please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule) at Midwestern forbade physical contact between dating couples. No hand-holding. No kissing. No hugging. No nothing. Students were required to stay six inches away from their boyfriends/girlfriends at all times. Of course, students broke the six-inch rule with impunity, causing all sorts of guilt and fear. The good news was that Jesus was only a prayer away. That’s the Baptist way: sin, ask for forgiveness, promise never to sin again — wash, rinse, repeat. It’s a great way to live.

One night, after much prayer and temptation, I decided to check out the fine art films at the XXX movie house. I parked away from the theater, thinking that if anyone who knew me drove by, they wouldn’t see my car. As I walked from my car to the movie house, I could “feel” the “Holy Spirit” telling me, Don’t do it, Bruce. God says it’s a sin. The Bible says it’s a sin. Your pastor says it’s a sin. Your dorm supervisor says it’s a sin. Your preschool Sunday School teacher says it’s a sin. All these voices in my head, but one voice stood above all others — mine. I wanted to do this. I was curious about what was behind the theater’s doors. And so I made my way to the theater’s entrance, paid my admission, and found a seat at the back of the theater.

The first act of the night was an amateur stripping contest. Local young women — some of them prostitutes — stripped and paraded back and forth on the stage. This was the first time I had ever seen a woman naked. I battled conflicting emotions. On one hand, I felt guilty. I was breaking the law of God, and I was violating college rules. On the other hand, I felt excitement — sexual excitement. It was my first time seeing a woman’s body in all its glory — as naked as Eve in the Garden of Eden. What more can I say? After all of the women had performed, judges determined the first, second, and third place winners. The winners were given cash prizes.

Then it was time for the feature film. As with the amateur contest, the movie definitely exposed me to sexual things I had never seen before. Needless to say, I was fascinated by what I saw. I am sure some readers of the Evangelical persuasion are thinking, Oh my God Bruce, you were taken in by Satan’s greatest temptation — lust. I bet you couldn’t keep from doing this again, right? Sorry to disappoint you. This was my first and last trip to the XXX movie house in downtown Pontiac. I would later marry a beautiful dark-haired girl who was a wonder to behold in her own right. Why look from afar when you can see, touch, and well, you know . . .

The highlight of the evening came not on the stage, but as I was leaving the theater. As I exited and turned my head to the right I saw, much to my surprise, a graduate of Midwestern and deacon at Emmanuel Baptist Church (the church college students were required to attend). Our eyes met, and then both of us quickly turned away, pretending that we had never seen the other. This man and his wife were good friends of Polly’s parents. When their names came up in family discussions years later, I so wanted to say . . . boy do I have a story to tell!

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

Short Stories: 1978: Our First Christmas

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

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

On a hot summer day in July of 1978, a young, naïve couple recited their wedding vows, and with a kiss for luck, they were on their way. Little did they understand that they really didn’t know each other as well as they thought they did. Young love, also known as mutual infatuation, will do that, obscuring flaws in your one and only.

Polly and I were college freshmen at Midwestern Baptist College when we started dating in September 1976. Five months later, with a 1/4 carat, $225 engagement ring in hand from Sears and Roebuck, I asked Polly to marry me. She enthusiastically said yes. Polly was 18 and I was 19.

We had grand plans: 3 kids, a house with a white picket fence, and a lifelong pastorate in a nice, quiet rural community. As with all such fantasies, reality proved to be quite different from what we expected. It didn’t take long for each of us to see that being married to the other was not quite what we expected.

Several months before our July wedding, we rented an upstairs apartment on Premont Avenue in Waterford Township (Pontiac) Michigan. Our apartment had four rooms: a living room, bathroom, bedroom and kitchen. The walls were freshly painted. The living room floor had recently been covered with green and white shag carpeting. (I would later come home from school to find a discolored, brown stain on the carpet. Polly had spilled her tea and used bleach to remove the spot.)

After classes ended in May, Polly went home to prepare for our wedding and I moved into the apartment. I worked at a nearby grocery store, Felice’s Market. Knowing that I needed to make extra money so I could furnish our apartment, one of the Felice brothers asked me if I was willing to repaint the store’s roof with aluminum reflective tar. I said yes, and earned $200 for my efforts.

One day, while out and about with college friend Wendell Uhl, I stopped at a yard sale that had a bunch of furniture for sale. I made them a $150 offer for all the furniture, an offer they quickly accepted. Upon returning home from our honeymoon, Polly was quite surprised to see all the “wonderful” furniture that I had purchased to furnish our apartment. After a few months of marriage, we bought a love seat from Kay’s Furniture to replace the piece-of-junk futon I had purchased at the yard sale. The love seat, along with a new double bed we bought from J.L. Hudson’s, would be the last new furniture we would own for the next 20 years.

After our wedding, we had about six weeks before classes started up again. We settled in as newlyweds to a wonderful life of wedded bliss. Little did we know how quickly life would throw us a curve.

During the first week of fall classes, we found out that Polly was pregnant. We had everything planned out, yet, at the time, it seemed God had a different plan for us. We now know that the ineffective form of birth control we were using did not do its job. Polly was quite sick from the pregnancy, which forced her to reduce her class load. By Christmas, Polly was four months pregnant. Her expanding belly advertised to family and friends that little Jason or Bethany was on his/her way.

We planned to go to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve, then get up early the next morning and drive to my mom’s home in Rochester, Indiana. At the time, we were driving an old beater, one of many such cars we would own over the years. After spending Christmas Eve with Polly’s family, the next day we borrowed Polly’s parents’ car, a Plymouth Arrow, to make the trip to Rochester to see my mom. We returned later that night.

Even though we spent Christmas with family, we still wanted to have our very own Christmas tree. We had some Christmas decorations that our moms had given us, and these, along with a few new decorations we had purchased from a nearby department store, would be enough ornamentation for our tree.

We decided to buy our tree from the nearby Boy Scout tree lot. After we purchased what we thought was the perfect tree, we put it in the back of our green Ford station wagon and drove home. Once there, I dragged the tree up the long flight of stairs to our apartment. I then put the tree in the recently-purchased $2 tree stand, tightened the screws, and let go of it so I could admire my handiwork. The tree proceeded to fall over. No matter what I did, the tree would not stand upright.

The more I tried to get our perfect tree to sit aright, the angrier I got. For the first time, Polly saw how angry I could get. My legendary redheaded temper was on full display. I finally reached a breaking point. I opened the upstairs window, and much to Polly’s surprise, I threw the Christmas tree out. It landed with a thud in the front yard.

After I cooled down, we went out and bought another tree. And, as with the previous tree, I couldn’t get this one to stand up straight. As I look back on the tree debacle, I suspect the problem was the cheap, undersized tree stand. My answer on that day for the falling tree was simple: I nailed the tree stand to the floor.

And THAT was our first Christmas.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

Can Atheists Celebrate Christmas? 

bruce and polly gerencser christmas 2015
Santa and his favorite elf.

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Growing up in an Evangelical home, I knew that Christmas was all about the birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Gifts were sparse, often just two or three packages, but never far from view was the most wondrous gift of all: salvation through the atoning work of Christ on the cross. The churches I attended spent significant time each holiday season reminding congregants that Jesus was the reason for the season. Sermons against Santa Claus, consumerism, and idolatry were common, as were pleas for money to help the poor and disadvantaged.

Polly and I started dating in September 1976. On Christmas Eve of that year, I drove from my mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio to Newark to meet Polly’s parents and attend her family’s Christmas gathering. This was the first time I had the opportunity to be alone with Polly, and we took advantage of it, using trips to the apartment complex’s laundry room to get as much kissing in as possible before returning to Midwestern Baptist College and its thou-shalt-not-touch six-inch rule. The family gathering was held at the home of Polly’s aunt and uncle, Jim and Linda Dennis. Jim was the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. Prior to gathering at their house, we dutifully attended the Christmas Eve service at the Baptist Temple. During the service, Polly’s uncle decided to thoroughly embarrass both of us by pointing out that Polly had a special visitor with her. He then said, “Bruce and Polly have a shirt tail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirt tail is.” I can imagine Polly’s Mom saying to herself, not very long if I have anything to do with it.

After Christmas Eve service, we drove over to the Dennis’ home. As I walked in the door, I couldn’t help but notice the largest pile of Christmas gifts I had ever seen in my life. Jesus may have been the reason for the season, but it was quite evident that receiving a lot of gifts came in a close second. Prior to the gift-giving orgy, someone — I can’t remember who — gave a quick devotional, reminding all of us, yet again — as if we haven’t heard before — that Christmas was all about Jesus, his virgin birth, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead. Once the Sermonette for Christianettes® was duly delivered, it was time for the gifts to be distributed. Polly and I had already traded gifts, so I didn’t expect anything for myself. I was surprised (and embarrassed), then, to receive a gift from Polly’s parents — a leather belt.

After Polly and I married, we settled into a holiday routine that had us celebrating Christmas Eve with her family and Christmas Day with mine. Things continue this way until the late 1980s. I had stumbled upon material that purported to reveal the pagan history and true meaning of Christmas. Wanting to be obedient to Christ and untainted by the world, I decided, as the head of the home, that we would no longer practice Christmas. I can only imagine how heartbroken Polly was when I gathered up all of her Christmas decorations and donated them to Goodwill. I did make an allowance for us attending family Christmas gatherings. We bought no gifts for our children, treating Christmas as if it were just another day. For several years, our family drove to the Charity Rescue Mission in Columbus on Christmas Day to help serve food to the homeless. Several families from the church I was pastoring at the time — Somerset Baptist Church — went with us. While I deeply regret becoming the Grinch that stole Christmas, feeding the homeless put Christmas into perspective for the Gerencser family.

Somewhere in the 1990s, I realized that you could make Christmas into whatever you wanted it to be. Much to the surprise and delight of our children, we bought a Christmas tree and decorations. We also allowed for limited gift-giving. As I look back on this, I realize that I did with Christmas exactly what the Catholics did when they took pagan practices and repurposed them for Christian use. Yes, Christmas was originally a pagan holiday, as were many of the practices associated with it, but I believed that such things could be used to further the gospel of Christ and give witness to Jesus. From that point forward, in the churches I pastored I allowed Christmas decorations to be put in the church auditorium. For the next decade, our home and the churches I pastored celebrated Christmas as most other American families and churches did. Jesus may have been the reason for the season, but gift-giving was a close second. To assuage the lingering guilt I had over consumer-driven gift-giving, I made sure our family and the churches I pastored gave liberally to missionaries and the poor.

Twelve years ago, on the last Sunday in November, Polly and I attended church for the last time. For the longest time, we found it impossible to attend anything remotely associated with religion. We had just gone through a nasty divorce with God, and we didn’t want to go anywhere that would remind us of our ex. After a few years, the distance between deconversion and the present was sufficient that we were able to attend Christmas programs and concerts without wanting to commit homicide. Our first foray back into the religious world was attending the production of Handel’s Messiah at a nearby church. That same year, we attended a Christmas concert put on by a Trans-Siberian Orchestra cover band — Siberian Solstice. One of the mainstays of the group is my counselor.

Evangelicals often deride me for practicing Christmas. How can an atheist practice a religious holiday? they ask. Christmas is all about Jesus, and aren’t you being hypocritical if you celebrate a holiday set aside to worship a God you don’t believe in? I suppose that this would be a valid question if the evidence at hand showed me that, indeed, Christmas was all about Jesus and his alleged virgin birth in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. However, the evidence clearly shows that Christmas is all about family, food, and gift-giving, with Jesus often being a cursory add-on — even for Evangelicals. While many Evangelical churches will attempt to put Christ back in Christmas, most church families will practice Christmas in the same manner as their non-Evangelical neighbors. While Polly’s family still practices Christmas just as they did 45 years ago, it is now evident that the obligatory attendance at the Christmas Eve service and the devotional before presents can be opened are mere formalities — things to be endured until the real reason for Christmas begins.

As atheists, we can enjoy the holiday season, sans Jesus. In fact, Polly and I both say that Christmas is far more enjoyable now than it was when I was pastoring churches. Quite frankly, the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s were so busy that we had little time to enjoy the holidays. Like many Christian churches, who once a year want to show the poor and disadvantaged that they really, really, really care, we put together several food baskets and delivered them to the poor. (Isn’t it amazing that the poor only need food and help during the holidays?) Not only did we have to do obligatory alms to the poor, we also had to prepare for special services such as Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. By the time the new year rolled in, Polly and I were quite glad the holidays were over.

These days, we are free to enjoy Christmas without worrying about whether we are giving Jesus his just dues. For Polly and me, Christmas is all about family. We eat lots of food with no worries about waistlines. Polly loves to bake and I love to eat (in normal years, but not 2020 thanks to bowel problems) what she bakes, as do our children and grandchildren. For the next month, Christmas songs will waft through the air of our home — yes, even religious ones. You might be surprised if you stop by to hear us singing Joy to the World, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, or many of the other religious songs associated with Christmas. The lyrics of the songs are reminders of our cultural heritage, not declarations of faith. This is why you will also find us singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. For us, family and not Jesus is the reason for the season. If Christians want to focus on Jesus during Christmas, that is certainly their right to do so. However, I refuse to let them ignorantly suggest that Christmas is a Christian-only holiday. When confronted with such historical ignorance, I remind them that Christmas means different things to different people. It is a holiday that should bind all of us together, reminding us of the blessings of family and our common heritage. Evangelicals who stupidly say that there is a war against Christmas deserve a double-barrel gun salute. There is no war against Christmas, and no matter how many times Sean Hannity says that there is, the fact remains that Christmas is a religious and a secular holiday. Christians are free to worship the baby Jesus — cue Ricky Bobby and Talledega Nights — and sing praises to his name, and the rest of us are free to practice Christmas without the religious baggage.

How do you practice Christmas now that you are no longer a Christian? Are the holidays stressful for you? Do you still attend Christmas services? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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Bruce, Why Did You Leave the Ministry?

bruce and polly gerencser 1985
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

I preached my first sermon at the age of fifteen. From that point forward, I would preach over 4,000 sermons. While many of the young men who studied for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College had zero preaching experience prior to entering college, I was somewhat experienced. I added to that experience while at Midwestern, holding Sunday services at the SHAR House in Detroit — a drug rehab center. These early experiences prepared me well for the 25 years I would spend in the ministry.

In February 1979, I became the assistant pastor of a Baptist church in Montpelier, Ohio. From there, my ministerial travels took me to churches in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Somerset, Ohio, Elmendorf, Texas, Fayette, Ohio, West Unity, Ohio, and Clare, Michigan.

I left the ministry in the Spring of 2005. We were living, at the time, in Newark, Ohio. I made a good faith effort to pastor yet another church, but after candidating at two churches, one in Weston, West Virginia and another in Hedgesville, West Virginia, I concluded that I no longer had the drive and passion necessary to be a pastor. Simply put, the fire had gone out.

When my Evangelical critics comb through my life looking for the slightest mistake or gaffe, they are looking for an explanation for why, exactly, a man with 25 years of pastoral experience walked away from the ministry and deconverted.

I have been accused of having secrets, the “real” reasons for why I left the ministry and later walked away from Jesus. “Surely, there must be secret sin in Bruce’s life,” Evangelical detectives say. Yet, try as they might, they have been unable to ferret out any “sin.” No criminal behavior. No financial impropriety. No sexual peccadilloes. None of the things that typically drive men from the ministry. I was far from perfect, but people will search in vain to find evidence for the behaviors mentioned above.

I left the ministry because I no longer thought that what I did mattered. I was tired of Sunday morning Christianity. The passivity and indifference found in the lives of most congregants forced me to ask, “why bother?” I realized that no matter how hard I worked, people were people. I suspect I had expectations that were too high. So, after I made a halfhearted effort to pastor again, I decided, I am done. Time to use my talents elsewhere.

Several dear pastor friends tried to bait me with job offers, financial aid, etc., hoping the fiery preacher Bruce Gerencser would spring back to life. My refusal to accept their offers left them befuddled. “What has happened to Bruce?” People continue to ask this question today.

Former colleagues in the ministry and church members forgot one important thing: Polly. You see, I was “done, ” but Polly was really, really, really done. For twenty-five years, she had lived with a husband who was never home. She was mother to six children, and was her preacher husband’s go-fer. When I told her that I was done pastoring churches, she let out a sigh of relief.

Polly’s church experiences were far different from mine. While I was praised and showered with adoration, she labored in the background, little more an appendage to her husband’s career. When I said, “I quit,” she quickly ran out to the driveway, started the car, and said, “let’s go.” Not literally of course, but Polly was ready for a new chapter of life. Neither of us knew that three years later we would lose our faith, but we knew that our wading through the trenches of the ministry were over.

While I miss certain aspects of the ministry: being the center of attention, teaching/preaching, helping others — Polly misses nothing. Polly played the piano during the 25 years we spent in the ministry. After we exited stage left, Polly was no longer interested in playing the piano. In fact, we no longer own one. The piano, I believe, was Polly’s way of saying, “I’m done!”

Forty plus years ago a bold, on-fire young preacher and his wife went out into the world to evangelize the lost and teach Christians the Bible. Today, that couple, now aged and with thirteen children, are on to another chapter in their life. Several of our older grandchildren have asked, “Grandpa, were you a preacher?” You see, the Bruce Gerencser they know isn’t a pastor or a religious man. Hopefully, they will one day read my book and learn about the Grandpa and Nana they never knew.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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Hey Girlfriend, When You Feel Tempted to Hug Your Boyfriend . . .

christian side hug

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Hey girlfriend, when you feel tempted to hug your boyfriend, hug your dad, brother, sister, or an old lady in the church instead. Nothing quenches sexual desire like hugging a male family member or ancient Sister Bertha, right?

Paula Hendricks, a writer for the Lies Young Women Believe website, had this to say to young women who doubted an invisible Jesus could meet their sexual longings and desires:

 Apparently I’m not the only one who has wondered how God can satisfy when all I want is a pair of strong arms to hold me close. Here’s what Rebecca wrote me:

“The biggest thing I think my crush can give me that God can’t is his strong arms wrapped around me. Although my crush has yet to hold me in his arms, his physical closeness sends shivers throughout my body. I know that God is always there for me . . . but sometimes my feelings get the better of me, and all I want to do is be wrapped up in my crush’s arms and attention.”

Grace added:

“I think what always gets me is that God isn’t physically there like a guy is. He can’t wrap his arms around me. Sometimes I just want that.”

And finally, Isabella said:

“I have often thought, I wish God could come down here and give me a big bear hug. Then I would really be in love with Him.”

But here’s the thing . . . He has come down! And while He was here, He picked up kids and cradled them in His arms. (You have to admit, that shows a tender heart—few guys walk around doing the same thing!)

I know He’s not physically here now…But one day soon, we will see Him. We will be with Him.

When Christ comes again to “marry” the Church, His Bride, He will likely hold us too…

…Now that is something to look forward to! Jesus Christ is not an idea; He is a Person. A Divine Person with arms and legs and beautiful probing eyes. He loves you. Enough to spread His arms wide in order to bleed so you might be healed. And if you have put your trust in His death and resurrection on your behalf, you will soon see and know Him fully.

So in the meantime, as you wait for Him, by all means, hug! No, not your crush. Hug your dad. Hug your mom. Hug your brothers and sisters. Hug your friends. Hug those old ladies at church…

I wonder if Hendricks has heard about the Christian side hug, a type of hug sexually aware, virgin Evangelical young people can give one another without causing sexual stirring or lust?

Video Link

Rational Wiki describes the Christian side hug this way:

The Christian side hug is a means by which young Christians can show affection for each other without engaging in possibly tempting and impure front-to-front contact.

Instead of hugging face-to-face, the huggers stand side-by-side, and can be facing either the same way or in opposite directions. Unlike frontal hugging, side hugs minimize the risk of an eternal damnation which could result from possible incidental contact with a boob or penis of somebody to whom one is not married.

For extra affection, the side hug may be accompanied by a few non-contact blessing pats. If even the side hug is too intense, you can work up to it coyly with this elaborate sequence of gestures. There’s even a Christian side hug rap, which attracted the attention of The Young Turks. The degree of parody and satire intended in the rap version is unknown, but that doesn’t make it any better.

Several years ago, I wrote about the Six Inch Rule, a regulation used at Midwestern Baptist College — the college Polly and I attended in the 1970s — to keep young adults from touching one another. It proved to be a dismal failure. I don’t know of one couple who lived in the Midwestern Baptist College dorm when Polly and I did who didn’t violate the spirit and the letter of the six-inch rule. Something tells me — oh like common sense — that teenagers and young adults are still failing at keeping the touching prohibitions of Evangelical moralizers such as Paula Hendricks. Why, you ask? Simple. We are sexual beings and we desire physical, intimate contact with others. All the sweet, sexy Jesus in the world won’t quench human sexual desire. When it comes to choosing between sexual intimacy and Jesus, my money is on sexual intimacy.

jesus hug

What makes writers like Paula Hendricks so harmful is that they encourage teen girls and young women to act against their nature. They encourage them to repress their sexual desires. Sadly, when these girls later marry, they often bring a warped view of physical intimacy and sex into the marriage (and men can do the same).  Marriage is tough enough without starting life with sexual dysfunction. Instead of teaching teenagers and young adults to repress their sexual desires, they should be encouraged to responsibly act on their desires, starting with a hug or a kiss. If there is more to the relationship, then they can determine where to go from there. There are three bases between the batter’s box and home. Hendricks wants unmarried teens and adults to stand in the batter’s box, never moving or swinging when the pitch comes their way. No running to first, rounding second, sprinting around third, and sliding into home. Not a very fun or interesting game, yes?

Contrary to Paula Hendricks’ horrible advice, hugging is not a gateway to sexual intercourse. Teenagers and young adults can sexually experiment without having intercourse. And if they decide to slide into home base, the best advice to give them is on how to be sexually responsible and use birth control. Of course, this advice must be given to them BEFORE they are rounding third and heading for home. In fact, before they even get to first base, wouldn’t it be better to prepare single teenagers and young adults for their sexual future?

Hendricks now sports the last name Marsteller. She’s married, and I suspect is regularly playing baseball with her husband. I wonder if she touched her husband before they married?

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.