Tag Archive: Midwestern Baptist College

1976-1978: The Midwestern Baptist College Dorm Snack Room

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977
Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977,
Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet

It was late September 1975. I had driven to Phoenix to spend the weekend with my twenty-year-old girlfriend Anita at the Southwestern Conservative Baptist Bible College. We had started dating six months prior, a relationship that quickly turned serious. Both of us had volatile personalities. Years later, I concluded that had we married, it is likely one of us would have ended up in prison for murdering the other. 

Our weekend together turned sour, and by the time Sunday night arrived, I had broken up with Anita and angrily driven back to the home of my dad and his wife in the southeast Arizona community of Sierra Vista. I vividly remember driving my 1960s Chevrolet station wagon at excessive speeds the three hours home, culminating in a speeding ticket near Huachuca City. The same state trooper had ticketed me the previous week for assured clear distance. He warned me that my next ticket could result in the loss of driving privileges. I was eighteen.

By the next weekend, I had packed my meager belongings in two suitcases, hopped a Greyhound Bus, and traveled to my mom’s home in the northwest Ohio community of Bryan. I left my car with my father to sell, which he soon did. I am still waiting for the money. 

After returning to the place of my birth, I immersed myself in the life of First Baptist Church in Bryan, reconnected with friends such as Randy Rupp and Dave Echler, and became the dairy manager at Foodland, a local grocery store. I planned to wait a year and then enroll for classes at Briarcrest Bible Institute in Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada.

In early 1976, I turned my focus towards preparing for college. At the time, Canada had strict financial requirements for non-residents attending Canadian colleges. It became clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to meet this requirement, so I began looking at other Fundamentalist colleges to attend. I asked my pastor, Jack Bennett, for recommendations. He provided none. I came away from our discussion angry. I suspect Pastor Bennett thought that I was not qualified or well-suited to become a pastor, due to my family background and general orneriness. 

My mom’s dad and stepmother lived in Pontiac, Michigan. They attended Sunnyvale Chapel, a Fundamentalist church. Upon hearing that I was not going to Briarcrest, the Tiekens suggested that I check out Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac. In June of 1976, I drove up to Pontiac to check out the college. I quickly decided that Midwestern was where “God” wanted me to study for the ministry. In truth, Midwestern was much cheaper than other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) colleges. Jobs were also plentiful. My grandparents, ever-helpful — until you crossed them — found a job for me working at the Rochester Hills Kroger. (Please see John and Dear Ann.)

I arrived at the Midwestern dormitory in late August 1976. A few weeks later, I started dating a beautiful seventeen-year-old dark-haired preacher’s daughter who would later become my wife. 

Men lived in the basement and the first floor of the dorm. Women were housed on the second floor. As one walked into the dorm, one entered a common meeting room. At certain times, dating couples could sit there six inches away from each other (please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule), and “fellowship.” To the right, down the hallway toward the section of the men’s dormitory called the “Spiritual Wing,” was the snack room. (I lived on the “Party Wing.” Of course, I did.) 

While Midwestern had a school cafeteria that provided rudimentary lunches for students, most dorm students did not use the cafeteria. In my case, I was too busy taking a full load of classes and working a fulltime job to fit going to the cafeteria into my schedule. Thus, for the two years I lived in the dorm, the snack room became my “kitchen.” I say “kitchen,” but that would imply it had basic appliances such as a stove, refrigerator, and cooking utensils. It didn’t. The snack room had a handful of tables and a microwave. 

Most students either ate at nearby fast-food restaurants, ate out of a can, or warmed up meals in the microwave. Imagine the eating habits I developed from eating this way for two years. The highlight of each week was going out on a double date on the weekend to a real restaurant that served food that didn’t require a can opener. I will never understand why Midwestern didn’t care enough about dorm students to require that they eat at least two meals a day in the school cafeteria. Surely they had to know that students needed proper nutrition and sufficient nourishment; especially since students were spending virtually every waking hour attending classes, doing homework, working fulltime jobs — often at local factories — attending church three times a week, working bus routes, teaching Sunday school, preaching, and going soulwinning. Whatever the reasons, dorm students were left on their own to scavenge for food. This led to numerous hilarious stories. 

One evening, Polly decided to cook a special meal for me. She knew that I loved liver and onions. I had eaten it on one of our early dates at Jerry’s Restaurant. Polly bought one of those ribbed microwave “browning” plates and cooked liver and onions. Needless to say, an awful smell emanated from the snack room as Polly lovingly cooked for me. The taste was not much better. 

One student worked at a nearby McDonald’s. Each night at close, the manager instructed him to throw away the unsold hamburgers. Not wanting to miss out on a free meal opportunity, the student brought the hamburgers home. Remember, there was no refrigerator — students were not permitted to have appliances or electric cooking implements in their rooms — so this student took to storing the hamburgers outside in a snowbank. More than a few of us afforded ourselves to one or more of Tom’s free hamburgers. It’s a wonder we didn’t get food poisoning. 

Most students had a food box. I had a long cardboard box that I kept under my bed. It was not uncommon for students to trade foodstuffs. It was also not uncommon for food (and money) to come up missing. We may have been at Midwestern to serve God and train for the ministry, but hunger and an empty gas tank will turn the best of people into petty thieves. I put the blame for this not on a lack of character, but on the blindness and indifference of Tom Malone, the college president, and dorm supervisors to the financial and material plight of many single students. All the focus was on winning the lost. What’s a bit of hunger when souls need saving, right? I suspect some with the college administration believed that deprivation was good for students; that suffering hardship would make for better Christians, and for better pastors and missionaries. Midwestern advertised itself as a “character-building factory.” By the time I arrived at Midwestern, I had already lived through nineteen years of doing without. I knew how to adapt and survive, even it meant swiping Hostess cupcakes and soft drinks from the grocery where I worked. 

Polly, on the other hand, came from a solidly middle-class family — a new car every two years, annual vacations. Polly’s dad entered the ministry late in life, graduating from Midwestern in May 1976. Polly was grossly unprepared for the life that awaited her at Midwestern. Her parents gave her little, if any, financial support, expecting her to “survive” on the part-time wages she earned at places such as Burger King, Sveden House, and cleaning houses. Her means of transportation was a worn-out early-1970s AMC Hornet. After the car broke down, her parents told her to junk the car, with no new car forthcoming. Fortunately, her mechanically inclined boyfriend was able to fix the car. When it finally gave up the ghost, Polly drove my car. If it hadn’t been for me providing financial support and allowing her to drive my car, I doubt she would have made it through her dormitory years. Of course, I have a vested interest in making sure that didn’t happen.

While I have many fond memories from the two years I spent living in the Midwestern dorm, I do wish that the college had invested more money in the welfare of its students. Sadly, all too often, it seemed that students were just fuel for the machinery of the college and nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church — the church all dorm students were required to attend. As a pastor, I had the opportunity to counsel church teens about their post-high school plans. While I suggested checking out schools such as Bob Jones University, Tennessee Temple, and Pensacola Christian College, I never recommended Midwestern. Had Midwestern cared better for their students, I may have sent students their way. It’s not that I am bitter about my experiences at Midwestern, I’m not. But the college could have been so much more had it not been so focused on soulwinning. The number of dorm students who didn’t return for their sophomore year was staggering. Midwestern prided itself on this winnowing process; sending home those who were “affectionately” called Momma-called, Daddy-sent preachers. By the time students reached their senior year, the majority of the students in their freshman class had dropped out. I wonder if this attrition could have been lessened had college officials truly cared about dorm student living conditions.

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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And Just Like That

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977

Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

It’s late August in 1976 and I have just walked through the doors of the Midwestern Baptist College dormitory.

A few days later, a seventeen-year-old girl from Bay City, Michigan, a preacher’s daughter,  walked through the same doors.

A few weeks later, we went out on our first date.

It wasn’t long before we were in love; well, we thought it was love, anyway.

I knew she was the one.

I proposed, she said yes, her parents said no, we said we are going to get married anyway, and so we did on a hot July day in 1978 at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio.

Pontiac, Michigan, Bryan, Ohio (twice), Montpelier, Ohio, Newark, Ohio (twice), Buckeye Lake, Ohio, New Lexington, Ohio (twice), Glenford, Ohio, Somerset, Ohio, Junction City, Ohio, Mt. Perry, Ohio, Elmendorf, Texas, Frazeysburg, Ohio, Alvordton, Ohio (twice), Clare, Michigan, Stryker, Ohio, Yuma, Arizona, and Ney, Ohio . . . all the communities Polly and I have lived in over the past forty-one years.

Jason was born in Bryan, Nathan was born in Newark, Jaime was born in Zanesville, Bethany was born in Newark, and Laura and Josiah were born in Zanesville. Just yesterday, they were cute, cuddly newborns, and now they are 40, 38, 35, 30, 28, and 26.

Where did the time go? Polly and I ask ourselves.

Now we have thirteen grandchildren.

My Mom and Dad are long gone and Polly’s parents are in their 80s, in failing health.

I am no longer in the ministry and Polly and I have left the faith.

Never would we have considered such a thing possible.

Yet, here we are.

For decades, Polly was a stay-at-home mom, but now the roles are reversed.

We started married life full of vim and vigor, strong in body. Now my body is broken and Polly faces serious, life-threatening health problems of her own.

Our children are all out on their own, own their own homes, and are productively employed. Just like that . . .there are the two of us . . .and Bethany. Dear, dear Bethany.

Our life has had one constant: change.

Time marches on and stops for no one. A cliche? Perhaps, but nonetheless true.

Most of life is now in the rear-view mirror.

We peer dimily into the future, knowing that death lurks in the shadows.

If I died today, I will die happy.

Happy that I have seen my children grow up into fine adults.

Happy that I have spent lots of time with thirteen wonderful grandchildren.

Happy that I own my home and that I have lived a gratifying life of love with Polly.

If I had to sum up my life I would say, it has been good.

I am often asked, if I had to do it all over again would I ____________________?

I can’t answer this question.

Life is what it is, and playing the what-if game holds no value for me.

I know this one thing . . .

If I could marry one woman in the world . . .

it would be Polly.

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Is it Possible to Reform the IFB Church Movement?

for sale sign midwestern baptist college
For Sale Sign in Front of Midwestern Baptist College

I was interviewed recently for the Preacher Boys podcast by Eric Skwarczynski. The primary purpose of Eric’s podcast is to expose abuse within the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Eric is a Christian, but we share a common purpose when it comes to sexual abuse and clergy misconduct in IFB churches, so I was more than happy to lend my voice to his noble cause. The podcast will be available soon. I hope readers of this blog will find our discussion insightful and helpful.

At the end of the show, Eric asked me whether I thought the IFB church movement could be reformed. I told him I didn’t think it could be reformed and that I hoped to be alive when the IFB church drew its last breath. I want to be the person standing bedside with pillow in hand, smothering the last breath out of a religious movement that has caused incalculable harm. I have seen first-hand (and participated in) the carnage caused by IFB churches, colleges, and pastors. I have talked to and corresponded with countless people whose marriages, families, and personal lives were ruined in the name of the IFB God. The psychological wounds and scars run deep. The widening exposure of abuse within the IFB church movement is a sign that people are no longer willing to be cowed into silence by men who value protecting their reputations and their ministries more than they do victims. This exposure is in its infancy, so we can expect to see more and more abuse stories come forth in the days, months, and years ahead.

While it is certainly true that some IFB churches and pastors have “reformed,” I have found that the changes that they have made are largely cosmetic in nature. I don’t know of an IFB church that embraces progressive theology, liberal social values, or inclusivism. Big change in “reformed” IFB churches usually means they use translations other than the KJV, use drums, have praise and worship teams, allow women to wear pants, and permit men to have hair over their ears. Real “reformists” now let congregants go to movie theaters, drink beer from time to time, or read books not published by the Sword of the Lord or Bob Jones Press. Why, some IFB churches are so liberal that high school graduates are now permitted to attend colleges other than the ones attended by their pastors. Talk about unholy ecumenism! Such changes, however, are window dressings meant to give the appearance of a new, improved IFB. Once in the store, people find the same authoritarian practices and exclusionary doctrines. The fundamental problem with the IFB church movement is their beliefs and practices. These things will never change. They can’t. The very foundation of the IFB church movement is the notion of certainty and right belief. Countless IFB churches and pastors believe that they alone have the truth; that they alone are God’s voice and God’s chosen people in their communities. The IFB church movement has always been separatist in nature. I haven’t seen anything in recent years that suggests this has changed.

gary keen bruce mike fox greg wilson midwestern baptist college 1978
Gary Keen, Bruce Gerencser, Mike Fox, Greg Wilson, Midwestern Baptist College, 1978

The only cure for the IFB church movement is death. And the good news is this: IFB churches, colleges, mission agencies, and parachurch organizations are in numerical and economic decline. The heyday of the IFB church movement was 40 years ago. In the 1970s, many of the largest churches in the United States were IFB churches. Today, many of these same churches are either closed or shells of what they once were. From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an IFB institution started by Dr. Tom Malone in 1954. Midwestern was never a big college, but today it roughly has ten percent of the students it had in the 1970s. Its website is outdated, and current information about the college hasn’t been posted in ages. The spacious 32-acre college campus has long since been abandoned and, I believe, sold. Midwestern is now an ancillary ministry of Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. Its president, David Carr, like his father Harry Carr, is a Midwestern grad. I predict that there is coming a day when I will hear that the college has closed its doors.

Dr. Malone was the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. A product of Bob Jones College, Malone started Emmanuel in 1942 after becoming increasingly troubled over what he perceived was liberalism in the Southern and American Baptist conventions. In the uber-sanitized authorized biography Tom Malone: The Preacher from Pontiac, Joyce Vick shares the following apocryphal story:

People ask me all the time, “Brother Tom, to what group do you belong? Of what association are you a member?”

I answer, “None.”

They ask, “Are you a Missionary Baptist?”

“Yes, I am.”

It may sound like a lie, but they do want to know what I am. “Are you a Southern Baptist?”

I say, “I am Southern and I am a Baptist.”

“Are you a Conservative Baptist?”

“Sure, I am conservative.”

“In what association book does Emmanuel Baptist Church appear?”

“Don’t have any.”

“Where are your headquarters?”

“I don’t have one.”

“You mean you don’t belong to anything?”

“No, I belong to the same thing to which the church at Antioch belongs. There is only one tie between New Testament churches, and that is the tie of fellowship. Each church is a local, autonomous church within itself. We have God, El Shaddai, and that’s enough.”

I have never felt I was called to preach for anybody, but I have felt I was caused to preach to everybody. I am not preaching for anybody but Jesus. There is nothing so wonderful, nothing so wholesome, as for a preacher to know there are no strings attached.

Thank God, I don’t have to fit into a denominational program. Thank God, I don’t have to get my orders from some national headquarters. Oh, thank God for the privilege of going to God for my directions! (pages 303, 304)

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac
For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

Emmanuel would be a new kind of Baptist church: an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregation. In the 1970s, Emmanuel had over 7,000 active members, and had attendances on special days over 5,000. Today? The doors of the church are shuttered, and its few remaining members scattered to other Fundamentalist churches in the area. The same story could be said of countless other IFB churches. Even First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, pastored by the late Jack Hyles and once arguably the largest church in the United States, is a shell of what it once was. Sure, you can find growing IFB churches here and there, but most of them are dying. Oh, they will still brag about the number of souls saved, but actual attendance numbers don’t lie.

My wife’s uncle, the late James Dennis, graduated from Midwestern in the 1960s. After pastoring a church in Bay City, Michigan, Jim moved to Newark, Ohio in 1968 to assume the pastorate of the Newark Baptist Temple. A church plant by the Akron Baptist Temple (started by Charles Vaden), the Baptist Temple, as it is commonly called, would see exciting numeric growth in the 1970s and early 1980s. However, by the time Jim died, after serving the Baptist Temple for forty-two years, the church was a shell of what it once was. Its one-time large Christian school was forced to drastically reduce its staff. Licking County Christian Academy (LCCA) at its inception was an Accelerated Christian School (A.C.E.) institution. It would later morph into an unaccredited traditional K-12 school. Today, a skeleton crew of staff use prerecorded Abeka videos to instruct students. Some of our relatives currently attend LCCA, as did our three oldest children for a short time.

emmanuel baptist church 1983
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination April 1983

Polly and I attended the Baptist Temple for a short time decades ago. I could write for hours about our experiences there — good and bad. We left the Baptist Temple in early 1981 to help Polly’s father, a 1976 graduate of Midwestern and Jim Dennis’ pastoral assistant, to plant a new church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. I continued to have interaction with Jim and the Baptist Temple into the early 2000s. When our family briefly relocated to nearby Frazeyburg, Ohio in late 1994, people were shocked that we decided to NOT join the Baptist Temple, choosing instead to join the Fallsburg Baptist Church, an IFB congregation pastored by my former best friend Keith Troyer.

Over the years, I have watched the Baptist Temple “evolve.” While the church and its leaders are no longer as dogmatic as they once were over “church standards” (extra-Biblical rules used to govern and control the behavior of congregants), they are still a hardcore, right-wing, King James-only authoritarian congregation. When asked what I think has “changed” at the Baptist Temple, I laugh, and reply, “men are allowed to have facial hair now.” I suspect that this is not the kind of “reform” Eric Skwarczynski is talking about.

IFB institutions don’t reform. At best, they pretty themselves up a bit, hoping to attract unsuspecting visitors. Most IFB churches, however, remain committed to what they call “old-fashioned” Baptist beliefs and practices. They are proud to never have changed anything except their underwear. James Dennis was proud of the fact that be believed the same Biblical “truths” when he retired that he believed when graduating from Midwestern years before. No one should wear unchangeability as a badge of honor. “I have never changed my mind on anything. Bless your heart, my beliefs have never changed! Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and so am I. Can I get an AMEN?” And it is for this reason alone that I am convinced that it is impossible to reform the IFB church movement. The movement has chosen to die on the twin hills of arrogance and certainty. All any of us can do is to help them swiftly meet their end.

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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1978: Grocery Shopping

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

In the fall of 1977, as a soon-to-be-married sophomore student at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac Michigan, I started working in the dairy department at nearby Felice’s Market. I worked forty hours a week while taking a full slate of classes at Midwestern. Throw in attending church three times a week, going on bus visitation on Saturdays, driving a church bus on Sundays, preaching on Sunday afternoons at a drug rehab facility in Detroit, and taking Polly out on a date once or twice every weekend, I was one busy young man. I thoroughly enjoyed my job at Felice’s. It didn’t pay well, but the working conditions were great, and the owners treated me well. They went far beyond what anyone could’ve expected: gave us a $200 wedding gift, helped arrange for us to buy a used automobile (1969 Pontiac Tempest), and hired me to do odd jobs around the grocery store so I could earn extra money. 

In the spring of 1978, in anticipation of our marriage, Polly and I rented an upstairs apartment several blocks away from Felice’s Market on Premont Street. The apartment had four rooms: living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. It was more than enough of a place for us and our meager belongings. The living room had new green and white carpet. One day I came home from work to find a large discolored spot on the carpet. I asked Polly what had happened. She replied, “I spilled tea on the carpet and I used bleach to get the stain out.” Ah, the lessons we learn when we are young.

In July 1978, Polly and I were married at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. Married in front of several hundred of our family members, church members, and friends, we had grand thoughts about the future. “A kiss for luck and we’re on our way,” we thought. We would quickly learn that life does not always go according to plan, and that there was a lot we didn’t know about each other. I often tell people that we married because we were mutually infatuated with each other. Over time, we grew to love one another, and finally like each other. Polly was nineteen and I was twenty-one when we married. I was the only boy she had dated and I came from a dysfunctional home, with a mother who was mentally ill. We had few real-life skills. We had no idea how to manage money, and that quickly led to financial problems. Six weeks after we were married, Polly informed me that she was pregnant. While we were certainly excited that little Jason was on the way, our plan was to wait until after we got out of college to have children.

One day, Polly said to me that she needed to go to the store and buy some groceries. I had no idea what domestic skills Polly did or didn’t have. I assumed her mother had taught her how to shop for groceries. I had been shopping for groceries since my early teen years. Mom would send me to the store with a list and food stamps and I would purchase what she needed. Before working for Felice’s, I had worked for several other grocery stores. I knew the art of grocery shopping inside and out. For Polly, however, going to the grocery store and buying groceries for not only herself, but her new husband, was something she had never done before.

Off to Felice’s she went. I thought that she would return home in about an hour. After several hours had passed and she had not returned home, I began to worry. There was plenty of crime in Pontiac to make anyone concerned when a loved one didn’t come home at the expected time. The previous year, a group of boys tried to assault me as I walked home from work. Another time, as I walked up the road near the college, a car pulled up beside me and stopped. A man rolled down the window on the passenger side, stuck a gun out of the window, cocked the hammer, and pointed it at me. Fortunately, he didn’t pull the trigger. After Polly and I were married, we woke up one morning to find a man who had been severely beaten lying in our front yard. Other students at Midwestern had their own stories about attacks and robberies. Collectively, these stories had me worried about whether something had happened to Polly.

I quickly drove to Felice’s Market, hoping that I would find Polly sitting there with a flat tire or some other mechanical problem. These were the days when we drove rust buckets and beaters, so mechanical breakdowns were a regular part of the ebb and flow of our lives. While I did not find Polly in a broken-down car, I did find her sitting in the parking lot crying her eyes out. She had gone into the store, started wandering from aisle to aisle, and quickly became overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. She left the store without buying anything, returned to the car, and that’s where I found her. Safe, but psychologically a wreck.

People often find it strange that I do most of the grocery shopping for our family. My doing so hails back to that moment in a grocery store parking lot over forty years ago. While Polly is now more than competent to go shopping, she still prefers if I do it. Usually, we shop together. That way, Polly will have the things that she wants and needs. Tonight, I went grocery shopping without her. She texted me a list, and I bought what was on that list. This way of doing things works for us.

I’ve often wondered why, exactly, Polly had a brief mental breakdown years ago. It seemed such an insignificant thing — grocery shopping. However, when you’re not taught to do something and your parents give you little latitude to make decisions on your own, I can easily see how being forced into making decisions might cause psychological trauma. I’ve never been afraid to make decisions, even stupid ones. Polly, on the other hand, found decision-making difficult. She was content to defer to others. What has changed for her in recent years is the fact that she went to the local community college on her own and got a degree. That was a big deal, a seismic event in her life. Polly also received a promotion at work. She is now a supervisor and is responsible for making a number of decisions on a daily basis. This has proved to be transformative for her, though she still has trouble deciding what to order at a fast food restaurant. 🙂

Lurking underneath this story is the bondage of Fundamentalism and the freedom found post-Christianity. Polly was a perfect little Fundamentalist girl. She played by the rules. Whatever her parents, teachers, and pastors told her to do, she did it without question. She didn’t have to make decisions. Her parents made them for her. No need to think, just do. While I certainly grew up in a similar fashion, my parents’ dysfunction and a healthy wild streak gave me opportunities to make decisions on my own. After we married, we were a good patriarchal family, and Polly had another decision-maker lording over her — me. Not only was I her husband, I was her pastor. Talk about an ugly two-headed monster. It was only when we walked away from Christianity in 2008 and Polly went to college in 2010, that things began to change for her. All of a sudden, she was free to walk her own path, make her own decisions, and even have her own money. Never underestimate the power of having your own money.

Fundamentalism harms everything it touches. I could share countless stories similar to the one I’ve shared today that show how Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christianity harmed us emotionally and psychologically. I’m not sure we will ever recover completely from the damage done by our religious past. I do know, however, that life is far better today, even with its pain, heartache, and suffering, than it was back in our “living for Jesus” days. We are free to live as we want to live, go where we want to go, and yes, buy whatever we want at the grocery store.

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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The Day Abraham Blew Himself Up at Emmanuel Baptist Church

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac

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

Originally posted April 2015. Edited, updated, and expanded.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the mid-1970s. All dorm students were required to attend nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Emmanuel was pastored by Tom Malone, the chancellor of Midwestern.

Emmanuel Baptist Church was a large church, what we today would call a megachurch. At one time, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the United States. Emmanuel ran busses all over the Pontiac/Detroit area. During my time at Emmanuel, the church operated 80 busses. (Today, Emmanuel Baptist is shuttered, its members having moved on to other churches.)

One of the bus riders was a young man named Abraham.

Abraham was a walking contradiction. He was a brilliant, crazy young man.

Abraham would walk up in back of people and snip hair from their heads. A week or so later, Abraham would bring the snipped person a silk sachet filled with hair and fingernail clippings. Needless to say, most of us kept a close eye on Abraham.

One day there was a huge explosion at the church. Abraham had built a bomb and brought it on the bus to church. Abraham carried the bomb into a restroom and, whether accidentally or on purpose, the bomb detonated. It was the last strange thing Abraham ever did.

The bomb blew Abraham to bits. One man, an older dorm student, who helped clean up the mess, said bits and pieces of Abraham fell from the drop ceiling. Not a pleasant sight.

At the time, I thought all of this was quite funny. “I guess Abraham won’t do that again.”

Years later, my thoughts are quite different. The busses brought thousands of people to the services of Emmanuel Baptist Church. Most of the riders came from poor or dysfunctional homes. Their needs were great, but all we offered them was Jesus.

Jesus was the answer for everything.

Except that he wasn’t.

As I now know, the problems that people face are anything but simple, and Jesus is not the cure for all that ails you.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

1979: The Gremlin

1970s-amc-gremlin

On a hot July day in 1978, before friends and family at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, a naive nineteen-year-old girl and a similarly clueless twenty-one-year-old boy tied the knot, and with a kiss for luck, they were on their way. Little did they know how quickly their lives would change. After a week-long honeymoon at the French Lick Hotel in Indiana, Polly and I made our way north to our new apartment in Pontiac, Michigan. We were looking forward to our junior year of classes at Midwestern Baptist College. Shortly before the first day of classes, Polly said, “I think I’m pregnant.” We had been married six weeks.

When it came to the birds and the bees, we knew the basics, but birth control? We didn’t have a clue. Needless to say, the method we chose to use did not work, most likely due to operator error. Both of us enrolled in classes just as we had planned. However, Polly began having severe bouts of morning sickness. She dropped all of her classes, but two. By January, the machine shop I worked for laid me off. And just like that, six months into marriage, we were plunged into a financial crisis. Neither of us had any idea about how to handle money. I thought it best to withdraw from college too, but the dean of men counseled me to stay in school and “trust that God would provide.” A month later, God still hadn’t provided, so I dropped out of school and prepared to move us to Bryan, the place of my birth. We lived with my sister and her husband for a few weeks until I found employment and suitable housing.

Come late May, Polly’s water broke and I rushed her to the local hospital. It would be two days before our son was born. Polly had what can only be described as marathon labor. Neither of us knew anything about childbirth — no classes back then. We literally were, so to speak, learning on the job. Well, truth be told, Polly was doing all the learning. I was a scared-shitless bystander, sure that my bride was going to die at any moment. Neither of us had parents nearby, so we were on our own.

As Polly moved into the second day of labor, Dr. Sharrock, a pediatrician/obstetrician, told us that it was going to be a while before Polly gave birth.  He said, “I have to pick up a few things at Carroll-Ames (a local hardware/appliance/five and dime store), and then I will be back.”  I told Polly, “look, since nothing is happening, there’s a car I’ve been looking at that I would like to buy. I will be right back, I promise.” Off I went to a small used car lot on the north side of Bryan to see if the car I wanted was still available. I had already arranged for financing, so all I had to do is decide for sure which car I wanted to buy, sign the papers, and return to the hospital. All told, I was gone for about an hour.

I decided to buy a ‘70-something AMC Gremlin. Cool, right?  It had a six-cylinder motor and a three-speed manual transmission. By this time, I was the assistant pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church and was working a first shift job in the shipping department at pneumatic tool maker, Aro Corporation. We needed two cars. Our other car was a white 1967 Chevrolet Impala with red interior. The Impala had a 327-cubic-inch motor with solid lifters. It hammered like a diesel and burned lots of oil. I was looking forward to having a “nice” car. If I remember correctly, I paid $1,200 for the Gremlin.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of our first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents. Polly is six-weeks pregnant.

With the papers signed and the cardboard temporary license plate attached to the back of the car, I pulled the Gremlin out of the car lot and drove south on Main Street towards the hospital. Life was good. Here I had a “new” car, a beautiful wife, and soon I would be a father. I drove under the railroad tracks and stopped at the first traffic light. The light changed, and just as I moved into the intersection, an elderly man drove through the light and attempted to turn right. Unfortunately, my “new” car was in the way, and the man tore the right-front fender completely off the Gremlin. “How can this be happening?” I thought, at the time. “Polly hasn’t even seen this car, and I have already wrecked it!” This accident would become a metaphor for many of the things we have experienced over the past forty-one years of marriage.

After the police report was filed, I drove the fenderless Gremlin to the hospital. I thought, “what in the world am I going to tell Polly?” When I got to Polly’s room, I panicked as I saw her hooked to all sorts of monitors. I thought, “oh, my God, she’s dying!” In my absence, Dr. Sharrock had decided to induce labor. It was game on. Polly was NOT dying, but she sure sounded and felt as if she were. Several hours later, our son Jason was born. The doctors had to use forceps, so Jason came into this world with what can best be described as a conehead. A pretty baby he was not. Polly, of course, disagreed with me. “What a BEAUTIFUL baby!” Polly would go on to have five more beauties.

Several days later, I picked up Polly and Jason from the hospital with the Gremlin and drove them to our apartment duplex on Hamilton Street. In October of that year, we packed our belongings into the Impala and Gremlin and moved 4 hours south to Newark, Ohio. We would remain in central and southeast Ohio for fifteen years.

Dozens of cars would be bought and sold in our lives over the next 40 years, but none of them has a story quite like the Gremlin.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

1976: My First Christmas with Polly

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977

Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

In August 1976, I packed my meager belongings into my dilapidated, rust-bucket of a car and moved two hours north to the Midwestern Baptist College dormitory. Midwestern, located in Pontiac, Michigan, was a small, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college. I planned to study for the ministry. Well, that, and chase girls. I thought, at the time, that Midwestern would provide me an ample supply of Baptist girls to date. Playing the field, was my goal. However, “God” had different plans. By the end of September, I was in a serious relationship with a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter named Polly. To say that I was smitten is a gross understatement. In February of 1977, we became engaged, and in July 1978 we tied the knot at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio.

Forty-three years ago, I met a young woman who altered the course of my life. How we got to where we are today requires a book-length telling, but for today, let me share with you the story of our first Christmas.

Polly’s family gathered for Christmas on Christmas Eve. On a snowy Christmas Eve afternoon, I left my mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio and traveled four hours south to Newark, Ohio — the home of Polly’s parents and aunt and uncle. The family gathering that year was held at the home of Jim and Linda Dennis. Jim, married to Polly’s mom’s younger sister, was the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple — an IFB institution. Both Jim and Polly’s father were graduates of Midwestern Baptist College.

Prior to the family gathering, a short, dutiful Christmas Eve service was held at the Baptist Temple. Jim, ever the jokester, pointed out to the congregation that his niece Polly had a guest with her. “They have a shirttail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirttail is.” Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed. No one in Polly’s family, at the time, thought that our relationship would last. I was Polly’s first boyfriend, so her family thought I was just a fad that would quickly pass.

After church, we drove to the Dennis’s home. Polly’s mom had her sister and cousin ride with us, just in case we did something nefarious; you know like hold hands or kiss. We safely arrived to Dennis’ home with our virginity intact.

Until my arrival in Newark, Polly and I had never kissed. That’s right, we had been dating for four months and had not yet kissed each other. The reason for this was simple. Midwestern banned, under threat of expulsion, all physical contact between unmarried dating couples. Called the six-inch rule, this ban caused all sorts of emotional trauma for dating couples. You see, it is normal for couples to desire and have physical contact with each other. “Normal” at Midwestern, however, was determined by the Bible, sexually frustrated preachers, and arcane rules imported from Bob Jones University — the college where the founder of Midwestern, Tom Malone, received his ministerial training.

Getting caught touching a member of the opposite sex was a sure way to get yourself “campused” (grounded from all outside activities, including dating). Repeat offenders were “shipped” (expelled). Polly and I both received demerits for breaking the six-inch rule. Our sin? I played on the college basketball team (not a big feat — think intramural basketball). One day at practice, I slapped at a basketball, severely dislocating a finger. I went to the local ER and oh-so-painfully had the finger put back in place. It remains crooked to this day. I had to wear a finger splint for several weeks. Male students were required to wear ties to classes. The splint hindered my ability to tie my tie, so I asked Polly to do it for me. Keep in mind we were standing in the middle of dorm common area when Polly tied my tie. If we had plans to break the six-inch rule, this would not have been the place we would have done so. Unfortunately, a couple sitting nearby turned us into the disciplinary committee. The next week, we appeared before the committee and were shamed for our licentious, immoral behavior. I suspect the only reason we weren’t punished more severely was because of who Polly’s uncle and father were (Jim was a college trustee at the time).

As you might imagine, by Christmas, our hormones were raging. We looked forward to getting away from the college and its rules so we could privately and intimately express our love to one another. Oh, college administrators warned unmarried students that the six-inch rule still applied while at home for Christmas break. I thought, at the time, “yeah, right. Catch us if you can.”

Polly’s parents lived in an apartment on Union Street. I spent a total of twenty-four hours with Polly that first Christmas. Our first kiss came when Polly’s mom asked her to go to the apartment complex’s laundry room to do some laundry. Seeing an opportunity for some old-fashioned necking, I went along, and it was there we had our first kiss. We did a lot of laundry that day.

Come Christmas Day, it was time for me to go home. Polly begged her mom to let me stay one more day, but she refused. Polly’s mom would spend the next fifteen months doing all she could to destroy our relationship — including forbidding us to marry. Needless to say, she and I have had an on-and-off-contentious relationship for years. In recent years, our relationship with Polly’s parents has improved. Age and impending death will do that, I suppose.

Many kisses would follow that first kiss on Christmas Eve 1976. After our return to Midwestern after break, Polly and I had a real problem on our hands. You see, we had crossed a physical line, and once that line was crossed there was no going back. We spent the next nineteen months breaking the six-inch rule, only double-dating with dorm couples who had the same “moral” standards we had. Summer breaks allowed us the freedom to act normally, but while classes were in session, we had to sneak around to just kiss one another. While we both were virgins on our wedding day, both of us knew that if we waited much longer to get married that we would likely have given in to our passions. A week or so before our wedding, Polly’s mom let us go to The Dawes Arboretum south of Newark without a chaperone. We spent several hours enjoying one another’s embrace, coming oh-so-close to rounding third and sliding into home. As it was, Polly was on a strict curfew, and we were late. Boy, did we get a lecture when we arrived home. Here we were getting married in a matter of days, and we were being treated like children.

One memory about our first Christmas stands tall in my mind. Polly and I were sitting on the couch, close enough to touch one another, but not so close as to arouse her eagle-eye mom’s attention, watching a TV special starring Captain & Tennille. One of the songs they sang was their 1975 number one hit, “Love Will Keep Us Together.

Video Link

Forty-three years later, that song is still true. Love, indeed, has kept us together.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Allen Domelle Whines About How IFB Preachers are Treated Today

Allen Domelle is the pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church in Bethany, Oklahoma. A staunch defender of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, Domelle is also the editor of the Old Paths Journal. Last week, Domelle published an article titled, Treatment of the Man of God. Domelle offered four ways church members should never treat their pastors:

  • Never treat the man of God with disdain
  • Never demand of the man of God
  • Never distance yourself from the man of God
  • Never treat the man of God irreverently

In IFB churches, the pastor is called the “man of God.” While Domelle says “the man of God is nothing of himself,” he makes it clear that the man of God’s “position” is what makes him important. Most IFB congregations are pastored by one man. He is considered the head honcho, boss, and ruler over all. Jesus might get top billing, but IFB preachers are the star of the show, the hub around which the church turns. I know of one man who pastored his church for over forty years. He not only preached, but he also wrote the checks, kept the books, looked at the tithing records to see who was contributing, and ruled over every aspect of church life. When congregants were asked where they attended church, it was not uncommon for them to say, “I attend Pastor _______’s church.” This should not come as a surprise. In IFB churches, pastors often stay at one church for years. The longer the man stays at the church, the more autocratic control he has.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an IFB institution. Pastors-in-training were encouraged to go to a community, start a church, and stay for a lifetime. Countless Midwestern graduates did just that. In fact, some men stay until they retire or die, often handing the church off to a son. The patriarchy lives on in IFB churches.

Millions of people attend churches on Sundays that are pastored and controlled by one man. When congregants look towards the man in the pulpit, they see a man above all men; God’s man; a man chosen by God to be their guide and ruler. (The phrase “man of God” is used seventy-two times in the King James Bible.) IFB preachers turn to the following verses (and others) to justify their authoritarian rule:

  • Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation . . . Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:7,17)
  • Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17)

Some IFB churches have a plurality of elders (pastors). Supposedly, having multiple “men of God” stymies authoritarian rule. However, a closer examination of such churches reveals that while there may be more than one pastor, there’s one, and only one, head pastor. Fundamentalist John MacArthur pastors a megachurch in California. The church is governed by an elder board. But make no mistake about it, Grace Community Church is John MacArthur’s church. He alone has the final say. I have yet to see an Evangelical church that has an elder board that didn’t have one man that ruled the roost above all others.

In IFB circles, along with Evangelicalism in general, congregants revere their pastors. This should not shock anyone. When you are taught from an early age that the man in the pulpit is God’s messenger; that he is chosen, directed, and anointed by God; is it a surprise that church members idolize their pastor? As a student at Midwestern, I heard more than one chapel speaker say that a pastor becoming president of the United States would be a step down. I was taught that what America needed was more “men of God” called to preach the gospel and stand against Satan. I left college in 1979 believing that God had put his stamp of approval on my life; that this “calling” I had received from God was irrevocable. (The Bible says in Romans 11:29: For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.)

Let me bring this rabbit trail back around to Domelle’s post. As is common among IFB preachers, Domelle yearns for the good old days — the 1950s. (Please see Pastor Bob Gray Sr. Pines for the 1950s) He pines for a day when “men of God were revered and honored. It wasn’t that those men were sinless, but it was the position they held that demanded the respect of every person, and was expected from every person.”

Let’s briefly look at Domelle’s four ways congregants should not treat the “man of God.”

Never treat the man of God with disdain

Just because the man of God preaches against your sins doesn’t make him a bad man. The disrespect of men of God on social media is atrocious. People feel like they can say hateful and disrespectful things to the man of God because they feel that they have the forum and the “right” to criticize him. Always remember that how you treat men of God is a revelation of your respect of God.

Domelle believes it is always wrong to criticize the “man of God.”  How you treat the “man of God” reveals the level of respect you have for God. Disrespect your pastor, and you disrespect God. Is it any wonder IFB church members fear criticizing their pastor? Mess with the preacher, and you are messing with God.

Never demand of the man of God

To demand of the man of God is to put yourself in God’s place because it is God’s position to deal with the man of God. Sometimes it is not what you are saying that is wrong, but it is how you are saying it to the man of God that is wrong. Your tone towards God’s man does matter to God; you should always be respectful instead of demanding.

According to Domelle, congregants should never demand anything from their pastor. If congregants think the “man of God” is lacking in some way, it is up to God, not them, to straighten him out. Hear rumors that Pastor Billy is fucking his secretary? Take the matter to God and let him take care of it. Scandals are often shoved under the proverbial rug. If God wants things to be different, he will take care of the matter. Sadly, God rarely takes care of anything, resulting in the rug turning into a mountain of dirty laundry. Decades of misconduct are swept under the rug, with congregants believing that God will make things right. As the Black Collar Crime Series makes clear, if church members don’t act no one will.

Domelle believes that congregants should always be respectful to their pastor, regardless of whether such respect is earned. The “man of God” deserves respect no matter what. Again, Domelle invokes God’s name when he says “your tone towards God’s man does matter to God.” Be careful, God is listening to how you talk to your pastor. Use a disrespectful tone and God just might chastise you.

Never distance yourself from the man of God

People who distance themselves from God’s man find themselves missing the heart of the man of God, and they also miss seeing the miracles of God up close. One of the biggest reasons I have found that people follow the man of God from afar is because they don’t want him to find out what they are doing.

In IFB churches, pastors are often considered God’s bloodhounds. Supposedly, they have a nose for sin — well a nose for every sin but their own. According to Domelle, people distance themselves from the “man of God” because they fear he will discover their sin. Wait a minute, Bruce, I thought people’s sins were between them and God. Maybe, but pastors of IFB churches are the equivalent of the Pope. They are Christ’s representatives on earth, given the duty and responsibility to suss out the sinful behavior of congregants.

The “man of God” oversees the lives of church members, both at church and home. His eyes are ever watching for “sin.” What is “sin” you ask? Why, whatever the man of God says it is. His interpretation of the Bible is the standard by which all things are judged. Interpreting the Bible differently is viewed as rebellion against not only God, but the “man of God.” One pastor I knew well told me, “how can a man of God rule over his church unless he rules over EVERYTHING?” His question reveals the fact that authoritarianism breeds absolutism. The pastor is absolutely right all the time. Why? Because he is the “man of God.” Is it any wonder that some people consider the IFB church movement a cult?

Never treat the man of God irreverently

In 2 Kings 2:23-25, some boys thought it was funny to call Elisha a bald man, but God showed that He would not tolerate irreverence towards His servant. Always treat the man of God with respect. Never call him by his first name, but always address him according to his position. Never talk bad about the man of God, because you place yourself against God when you choose to speak irreverently about His servant.

The proper way to treat God’s man is to have a reverential fear of him and follow him closely as he follows God. You should have a fear of God’s man, and you should treat him with dignity and respect; he is God’s man.

Virtually every article or sermon on pastoral authority will include 1 Chronicles 16:22: Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm and 2 Kings 2:23-25:

And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.

Simply put, don’t mess with the “man of God” lest bears kill you and eat your body for dinner. Longtime IFB church members have likely heard these verses many, many times. What better way to keep congregants in line than to warn them that God will kill them if they dare speak poorly of or oppose the “man of God.” Domelle states, “Never talk bad about the man of God, because you place yourself against God when you choose to speak irreverently about His servant.” In fact, according to Domelle, you shouldn’t even call the “man of God” by his first name! That’s right. Doing so is disrespectful. I have heard several IFB preachers say that they demand church members call them Pastor _________ (last name). Some of these preachers have Dr. in front of their names (please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) and expect church members to address them as Dr. ____________ (last name). Never mind the fact that IFB doctorates are almost always honorary or earned through diploma mills. If the “man of God” has a doctorate, people are expected to reverently address him as such.

Domelle tells his readers that they should “fear” the “man of God.” Why? Bears. Woods. Dinner. No one should be astonished, then, that IFB church members fear their pastor. He is the “man of God” and is to be respected at all times. If God and his man are as tight as Domelle alleges, I’d be fearful too. When you believe the preacher has a direct line to God, it makes sense to keep your mouth shut and obey his edicts. Either that or run as fast as you can out the back door of the church never to return. If you are heaven-bent on going to church, there are kinder, gentler expressions of faith than those found in IFB churches. Don’t waste another moment being psychologically traumatized by a man who confuses his place in life with God’s. (Not that I believe in God, I don’t. But some readers of this post do, and my advice to them is to seek out a pastor that doesn’t have a God complex, and will treat them with dignity and respect.)

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Is it a Sin for Women to Wear Pants?

polly-yuma-arizona

Polly wearing her first pair of pants, Yuma, Arizona, 2004

God says:

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God. (Deuteronomy 22:5)

Jack Hyles, the late pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, said in a  December 2, 1973 sermon:

Some of you pants-wearing ladies, I hope God will get you so under conviction tonight that you’ll hit the mourner’s bench before you go home!  Let me tell you something.  You ladies who wear your “britches,” don’t you laugh at me while I’m preaching the Bible to you.  The Bible says a woman should not wear that pertains to a man.  In this heathen generation, you ladies who wear pants have fallen prey to the unisex philosophy.  You are a part of the unisex movement!  I’m going to prove it to you.  You won’t believe it because you want to go ahead and be a part of it.  You don’t want to be different.  You’re not willing to buck the trend, but you’re hearing one preacher tonight who is happy to buck the trends even if he loses his job because of it.  I started 27 or 28 years ago what I believe, and I am preaching the same thing tonight.  If you get my sermons and listen to them, I preach the same things tonight I preached 28 years ago.  I preached against ladies wearing britches 28 years ago, and I’m not going to stop it just because you can’t find a skirt in a department store any more.

It’s time for some of you deacon’s wives to look like ladies instead of men.  It’s time for some of you deacons to yank them up and say, “Put a skirt on and take those ‘britches’ off!” It’s time for some of you who teach Sunday school classes in our church, to look like ladies and not like men.  The Devil is trying to break down the barrier between the sexes.  When you do anything to aid it, you’re a part of his work.

You say, “Brother Hyles, I heard you on the radio. I didn’t expect this!  You come on saying the radio saying, ‘A happy hello to all of our friends in radio land.  It’s a great joy to meet you this morning.  Maybe the burden is heavy and load is light.  We come on the broadcast not with a kick in the pants but with a pat on the back’” That the broadcast, honey.  In the pulpit, it’s a kick in the pants and not a pat on the back!  The back-pattin’ is on Monday morning, but the pants-kickin’ is on Sunday night!  The Devil is using clothing.  Whether you believe it or not, the book of Deuteronomy is in the Bible and Deuteronomy 22:5 says it is wrong for a woman to wear that which pertaineth to a man.  “Well,” you say, “in those days, the men wore long, flowing garments.” I don’t care what they wore, there was a difference between men and women.  I mean it’s up to the man to decide what he wears.  You say, “My husband is not going to do that!”  Well, you Jezebel, I am!

….

I’ll just say it again. It’s time some of you Christians dress like fundamentalists.  In fashion, men’s magazines and clothing trade journals herald men’s mini-skirts- can you feature it?  Can you feature Jim Vineyard in a miniskirt?  That would set burlesque back two generations!  Get this now.  There are harem lounging pajamas.  Did you know that there are lingerie shops for men, where men can buy silk, satin, and lace gowns and pajamas?  You’re horrified, aren’t you?  Yet you wear your “britches” to the store tomorrow!  Men’s magazines and clothing trade journals herald men’s miniskirts, harem lounging pajamas, earrings and necklaces.  One manufacturer is showing men’s shifts- a rather straight-line dress worn by women.  Their colors, psychedelic prints, are soft pinks.  (Can you imagine Sully in a pink shift?)  Fashion designers admit they are using ladies wearing men’s clothing and men wearing ladies’ clothing as a part of the trend to make America one sex.  You haven’t got enough sense to know it! “Now,” you say, “Preacher, what are you saying?”  I’m saying that God wants there to be a difference between the sexes.  I’m saying, in our generation, ladies ought not to wear whatever men have worn, and men ought not to wear whatever ladies have worn.

In 2002, Catholic Marian T. Horvat  wrote:

The three ladies [from a 2002 photo] are wearing pants, which are inappropriate for women for reasons of both immodesty and egalitarianism. As for modesty, according to the sound Catholic teaching of the past, trousers are immodest apparel for a woman because by their nature they emphasize a woman’s form and invite immodest regard. As for egalitarianism, Cardinal Guiseppe Siri made a superb warning in 1960. He noted that the wearing of men’s dress by women is “the visible aid to bring about a mental attitude of being ‘like a man’” since the clothing a person wears “modifies that person’s gestures, attitudes and behavior.

Millions of Americans attend churches that believe it is a sin for women to wear pants (britches, slacks, jeans, trousers, shorts, capris).  Many of these churches refuse to let non-dress wearing women attend their services. The late Jack Hyles, the one-time pastor of the largest church in America, required pants-wearing women to put paper dresses over their clothing before entering the sanctuary. I grew up in churches where pants wearing was grudgingly allowed, but women who did so were considered rebellious hussies. Evangelist John R. Rice speaks for countless Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preachers when he says:

Oh, women, what have you lost when you lost your femininity! When you bobbed your hair, you bobbed your character, too. Your rebellion against God’s authority as exercised by husband and father, has a tendency, at least, to lose you all the things that women value most. If you want reverence and respect from good men, if you want protection and a good home and love and steadfast devotion, then I beg you to take a woman’s place! Dress like a woman, not like a man. Have habits like a woman. And if you want God to especially bless you when you pray, then have on your head a symbol [long hair/head covering] of the meek and quiet spirit which in the sight of God is of such great price.

The message to women was clear: want to be right with God? Stop wearing pants.

In the mid-1970s, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern prided itself in being a character-building factory; an institution that turned out soulwinning, hellfire-and-brimstone preachers and missionaries. While women were permitted to take classes, most of them were there to snag a preacher boy, hoping to graduate with an MRS degree. My wife, Polly, was no exception. She came to Midwestern hoping to find a preacher to marry. She found one. However, I think I can safely say that she sure got more than she bargained for when she married me! I am certain, to this day, that Polly’s mom wishes her daughter had married one of those other preachers. Why, she would still be a preacher’s wife, if she had!

Women were not permitted to wear pants at Midwestern. Dresses had to be knee-length. One weekend, Polly and I went on a double-date with another dorm couple. Dorm students were not permitted to travel more than ten miles from the college campus. Wanting to go to the mall, we decided to break the ten-mile rule. Such daredevils, right? Not long after we arrived at the mall, we noticed the wife of Midwestern’s president walking with her youngest daughter. Imagine our surprise to see Mrs. Malone and her daughter wearing pants!  This was an early example of the hypocrisy that permeated the IFB church movement.

Polly was forty-six years old before she wore a pair of pants for the first time. In 2004, we lived in Yuma, Arizona. We thought of ourselves then as far more progressive and liberal than we were when we married in 1978. And we were, but deep-seated Fundamentalism dies hard. I had concluded that many of the church standards and rules we lived with for forty-plus years were legalistic and unnecessary. Polly, fearing that she would burn in Hell if she broke the rules, was not, at the time, as liberal, especially when it came to clothing. One day, we were shopping at Target, and I noticed that women’s capris were on sale. I picked up a pair, turned to Polly, and said, “why don’t you try on a pair of these.” You would have thought I had asked her to strip naked and run through the store. She had that look on her face, the same one she had when I brought home a Christian rock CD (Petra) and played it in our home. She was certain that God was going to send lightning from Heaven and kills us all. I assured her that God didn’t care about what she wore. Now, I didn’t really know that for sure. I just thought that Polly would look nice in capris. After what seemed like forever, I finally convinced Polly that God was not going to get her if she wore pants.

We returned to Ohio in 2005. By then, Polly was a pants convert. Well, except when her mother was around. Polly’s mom is in her eighties and has never worn a pair of pants. Polly was afraid of what her mom would say or think if she saw her wearing pants. Eventually, Polly decided to show her rebellious streak and donned a pair of pants in her mom’s presence. Polly’s uber-rebellious sister had been wearing pants for years. Not Polly. She was a true-blue believer. I still remember the look on Mom’s face when she saw Polly was wearing pants; a look of sadness and disappointment; a look that has been repeated numerous times over the past decade and a half as we continue to shed the bondage of our Fundamentalist Christian past.

Bruce, this sounds crazy! Sure, from the outside, it does. However, when you are in the Evangelical bubble, believing it is a sin for women to wear pants makes perfect sense. Let me outline for you how my thinking went back in the day.

  • The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God
  • The Bible says in Deuteronomy 22:5 that it is an abomination for women to wear men’s clothing
  • The Bible teaches that there is to be a visible difference between the sexes  — hair and clothing
  • Women are to wear modest apparel, clothing that does not expose their flesh or accentuate their shape
  • Men are visually attracted to women
  • Women shouldn’t dress in ways that cause men to lust after them
  • Refusing to dress properly reveals a rebellious spirit
  • Christians are to dress differently from the “world”

These “truths” governed my thinking, preaching, and conduct until I was in my early forties. Perhaps my deconversion actually began then, as I started to question the rules, standards, and regulations that had governed my life. These days, I tell Polly, “hey, it sure would be nice to see you in a dress once in a while. You know, show a bit of cleavage.” My, oh my! How far we have come . . .

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

The Good and Bad of Midwestern Baptist College

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977

Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977, Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet

Recently, a man named Steven Tassell left the following comment:

I attended Midwestern from 1973-1979

I had my problems however I’m not trying to destroy anyone. If you had a problem with sex at school that was on you. I was a chaplin [sic] for USAF, taught school at Fort Knox and I’m a pastor with my Doctorate in counseling. So instead of telling the bad because any school has that tell the good.

Polly and I attended Midwestern Baptist College from 1976-1979. Polly’s father attended the college from 1972-1976. None of us knows a Steven Tassell. Now, that doesn’t mean he didn’t attend Midwestern. There were a number of married students who attended the college that neither Polly or I personally knew. We were dorm students for two years, marrying during the summer between our sophomore and junior years.

I attempted a cursory search on Tassell’s name. That, too, returned very little information, save a dated church listing, several funeral listings, and a Linkedin profile for a Steven Tassell who attended Midwestern, Faith Baptist College, and is currently a support supervisor at a Walmart Tire and Lube. I am uncertain as to why Tassell felt the need to recite his “important” work history, especially since it bears no relevance to the post he commented on. Tassell says he had a “Doctorate” in counseling. As readers know, most Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers sporting doctorates either “earned” them at unaccredited schools or through online classes, or were given an honorary degree. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) I have no idea if Tassell’s doctorate was earned at an accredited institution. My gut tells me no.

Now, to Tassell’s comment. In classic passive-aggressive fashion, Tassell stated, “I had my problems, however I’m not trying to destroy anyone.” He, too, had “problems” while attending Midwestern, but unlike Bruce, the atheist, he’s not trying to destroy anyone. I find it interesting that, according to Tassell, by telling my story and sharing my experiences as a student at Midwestern, I am trying to destroy people. Tassell suggests that I not speak of the bad things that happened at Midwestern and only speak of the good that I saw and experienced. That I refuse to only tell half the story makes me, in Tassell’s eyes, a bad person. How dare I speak poorly of the college, Dr. Tom Malone, my professors, or my fellow students. Just tell GOOD stories, Bruce! Sorry, but I can’t do that. I decided twelve years ago to be an honest, open, transparent storyteller. If that meant casting a bad light of myself and others, so be it. How can readers ever understand my experiences at Midwestern if I only tell them the good stuff? Honesty demands telling the truth, as best I remember it.

I have many fond memories of the three years I spent at Midwestern. Dorm life, even at an IFB college, was a blast!  I will never forget the fun, crazy times I shared with my fellow dorm students. Three weeks after moving into the dorm, I asked a preacher’s daughter named Polly if she wanted to go out on a date with me. She said yes, and forty-three years later, we are still going on dates, loving one another’s company, and roundly irritating the Hell out of each other. Ah, marital bliss.

I could spend hours sharing stories about the good times I experienced at Midwestern. Doing so, of course, would make Tassell happy. Just focus on the positive. Unfortunately, the bad experiences left an indelible impression on my life and that of my wife. For the first time, we saw the ugly, nasty, judgmental underbelly of the IFB church movement. Should I ignore the gay teacher who groomed younger male dorm students? Should I ignore the affair between the wife of the dean of men and a teacher? Should I ignore the rampant illicit sexual activity by dorm students; people who are now pompous, arrogant moralizers? Should I ignore the oppressive rules and repressive disciplinary system? Should I ignore the weak academics and unqualified teachers? Should I ignore the teacher who taught an IFB form of eugenics? Should I ignore the racism of one of the church’s pastors? (All dorm students had to attend nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, pastored by Tom Malone.) Should I ignore the fact that Tom’s Malone’s wife and children violated the rules the rest of us were expected to obey, under threat of expulsion? Should I ignore being forced to quit a well-paying job, all because the business owner and Tom Malone had a falling out? Should I ignore . . .  You see, it takes the good and the bad to tell a complete story. And as long as I continue to tell my story, I intend to look at the entire structure, and not just the facade that gives readers a false picture of my life, Midwestern Baptist College, and the IFB church movement. That’s the prerogative of the storyteller.

(Please see other posts about Midwestern Baptist College)

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Cecil Community Church: Mass Marketing Jesus

tell the world about Jesus

Warning! Truckloads of snark and blasphemy ahead! Read at your own risk. Easily offended Evangelicals will likely fly into fits of rage, so to avoid having to repent over your angry outbursts, I suggest you avoid this post. You have been warned. Don’t whine and complain later.

Several months ago, I received in the mail Evangelical propaganda from Cecil Community Church in Cecil, Ohio. Cecil, population 188, is a twenty-minute drive from Ney, the home of the infamous atheist Bruce Gerencser. The mail I received was a part of a mass marketing campaign by Cecil Community and its pastor Michael Mohr to evangelize lost sinners. Secondarily, of course, the goal of this campaign is to scarf up Christians who are looking for a new church home. Remember, the goal is always the same: more asses in the pews = more money in the offering plates.

Cecil Community used a mass marketing program from Cross America in Kokomo, Indiana. Their goal is to “send a cross and path to salvation to every home in America.” So far, over 1.3 million crosses have made it into the mailboxes of unsuspecting targets for evangelization. Crystal Sanburn, the executive director of Cross America, is the wife of Dick Sanburn, Executive Pastor of Operations at Crossroads Community Church in Kokomo.

Are you ready, dear heathens, to be saved? Follow along as I unpack the agitprop from Cecil Community and Cross America.

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A prayed-over piece of mail. Wow!  And not only that, these prayer warriors are praying for me right now. By name? I doubt it. At best, these pray-ers are using generic “Dear Lord bless all the missionaries” prayers, and not praying the phonebook. Telling me that that they are praying for me specifically is a tad dishonest and disingenuous. I bet after reading this post, they will be praying for me by name. Time to ask God to rain Holy, Righteous Judgment® down on 345 E Main St, Ney, Ohio.

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“You might be asking why you received this,” the back of the mailer says.  Nope, not really. I have been around the Evangelical propaganda tree a time or two. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I used all sorts of gimmicks to evangelize “lost” people and entice them and wandering sheep to attend my church. Why, I used contests, giveaways, and all sorts of nonsense to attract people to my church — and it worked. I would love to know what the hit rate is for these mailers. Something tells me the rate is around expectations for spam — pitifully low. Here’s a suggestion. How about knocking on every door and asking if you can be of help to them, no strings attached; you know, let America see Jesus in your works of charity?

cecil-community-church-5

cecil-community-church-2

Now that is one weak, shallow presentation of the Christian gospel. Want to go to Heaven? Pray this prayer. Super! Did that forty-seven years ago, and just to be on the safe side, I prayed this prayer again! I am good to go, right Pastor Mohr; right Crystal Sanburn? What about repentance? Do I have to give up my sinful ways? What is it in this process that saves me and guarantees me a home in Heaven? How can I be sure that a room is reserved for me in Trump’s Heavenly Hotel®? So many questions. Do I need to go to church on Sundays? Will the fine folks at Cecil Community Church pick me up for church every Sunday? What lengths will you go to disciple me? And don’t suggest I join your online church. Please, is that what Paul meant when he said in Hebrews 10:25:

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

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I prayed the prayer, so that means my life has changed forever! How come nothing has changed? Oh, I see, I have to really, really, really believe. What does that mean exactly? If nothing changes, that means you haven’t believed hard enough. In other words, what Cecil Community Church and Cross America are preaching is works salvation. Evidently, there is some sort of Believe Spectrum®, and you have to hit the right level to win the grand prize — Heaven.

cecil-community-church

The mailer included an aluminum cross with Romans 10:9 stamped on the front of it. The cross even has a hole at the top so believers can put in on a chain and wear it or turn it into an earring. Of course, it could also be used with a nipple or genital piercing. Talk about putting Jesus where the action is.

I wonder, were these crosses manufactured in America? If not, how much were the foreign workers paid to make these cheap-ass popcan crosses?

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cecil-community-church-8

Finally, the mailer included a business card for Cecil Community Church and its pastor Dr. Michael Mohr. I was somewhat surprised that Mohr has an earned doctorate. Most Evangelical pastors sporting doctorates earned them through unaccredited Bible colleges, online, through a correspondence school, or are granted a doctorate for supporting the granting institution. The Bible college I attended, Midwestern Baptist College, gave out fake doctorates annually to men who played kissy-face with college president, Dr. Tom Malone. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor)

I found it interesting that, here in 2019, Cecil Community Church conducts a large mail outreach, yet they don’t have a website. What’s with churches not having websites?  The church does have a Facebook page. Its page says the following about Pastor Mohr:

Michael Mohr has his Master of Divinity and Doctorate from Asbury Theological Seminary and has been ordained with the Evangelical Church Alliance, International since 2003 [ecainternational.org]. With the ECA, Dr. Mohr has given ordination addresses, served on Ordination Councils in Canada and the USA and conducted ordination services. He has preached and conducted special services in churches in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

Previously, Dr. Mohr served as Pastor of Truth Deliverance Ministries & Truth Builders based out of Galion, Ohio. Michael Mohr returned to Northwest Ohio in 2018 and is a Spangler #9 Candy Cane Cook and Pastor of Cecil Community Church. In Defiance County, Michael had been active in 4-H and Scouts. He served as both President of the 4-H Junior Leadership Club and Junior Fairboard & was 4-H King. He served as a 4-H Camp Counselor and 4-H Day Camp Director. He served on the Extension Personnel Committee. He was a delegate to National 4-H Club Congress. And he served on the Ohio 4-H Foundation Board of Trustees. In Ney, Ohio, Michael earned Eagle Scout and was a Vigil Honor member of Order of Arrow. He was Senior Patrol leader of the Northwest Ohio group going to the National Scout Jamboree at Fort AP Hill. He graduated from Fairview High School.

Dr. Mohr equips and empowers others to be baptized practicing followers of Jesus. He says, “Follow Jesus and Be the Church” “Helping people grow close to Jesus gives me joy.” “God has used me often to do His miracles today. I have seen many healings and use Truth to set people free from bondage.”

A quick perusal of Mohr’s personal Facebook page reveals that he is a Trump supporter, anti-gun control, anti-abortion, anti-socialism, anti-Muslim, anti-Gang of Four, and pretty much hates everything about liberalism and the Democratic Party. In other words, he is a good fit for rural Northwest Ohio. Of course, he was born and raised in the white, Republican, Evangelical monoculture of Defiance County. He is, in every way, a product of his environment. I get it. I was raised in the same culture; the difference being is that I saw the light and got help. One need not keep thinking this way. Amen? Amen!

Look, I do not doubt that Pastor Mohr and the folks at Cecil Community Church are good people; that they love their families, work hard, and want a better tomorrow. That said, their worldview is diametrically opposed to mine, and that of most of the readers of this blog. While their stated goal is to entice me into believing their peculiar version of the Christian gospel, their greater objective is to attach me to their Borg hive. Sorry, but that ain’t gonna happen. Been there done that, no thanks.

Were you enticed to pray the sinner’s prayer after seeing this mailer? If not, why not? Surely, you want to go to Heaven when you die, and not spend eternity in Hell with Stephen Hawkings, Christopher Hitchens, Steve Gupton — man, I still miss him — and Bruce Gerencser, right? Or, maybe you are like me. If there is a Heaven and Hell, Hell seems a far more interesting place to be. At least there will be more than one book in the library.

Please leave your thoughts in the comment section. If you got saved, please share your testimony of faith with readers.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

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