Tag Archive: Midwestern Baptist College

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?

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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

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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

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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?

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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.

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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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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.

A Decade Removed from Leaving Christianity, My Wife’s Mom Finally Asks Her if She Believes in God

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Polly and I attended church for the last time in November, 2008. While I was quicker to embrace the atheist moniker than Polly, she intellectually, at least, didn’t believe in the existence of God. In recent years, she has been more open about her lack of belief, but even now she’s quite reserved when compared to her word-generating-machine husband. That said, we are both on the same page when it comes to the existence of the Christian God.

Polly’s father is a retired Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor. Dad graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in 1976 — the same year his daughter enrolled for classes. Dad and Mom moved south to Newark, Ohio where Dad became the poorly-paid assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. The Baptist Temple was pastored by Jim Dennis. Jim was married to my mother-in-law’s younger sister. Dad would later pastor a church in nearby Buckeye Lake. After this church closed, Dad and Mom returned to the Baptist Temple, the church they call home to this day,

Talking about things has never been Mom and Dad’s forte. When we left the ministry in 2005 and Christianity in 2008, Mom and Dad never said a word — NOT ONE WORD! (even after receiving Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners). That is, until today. As most of you know, Polly is having surgery tomorrow to remove bladder cancer and repair a fistula. An hour or so ago, Polly’s mom called her at work. This is the gist of their conversation:

Mom: I have never asked you before, but do you think like Bruce does?

Polly: What do you mean?

Mom: Well, like do you still believe in God?

Polly: No, Mom!

Mom: How can you not? You asked Jesus to save you when you were seven! [actually, it was at age five]

Polly: I’m fine, Mom.

Mom: Well, we pray for you and Bruce and the kids [all heathens, in her eyes, by the way], a lot!

End of discussion.

Polly texted me, “Sigh, OMG! How many years did she have to ask?”

Polly texted me later “Pretty sure she was more upset than me! If she didn’t want to know, she should have kept quiet! I told her I had excellent specialists taking care of me. I mean, seriously! What’s Jesus going to do for me?”

This is the first and only time Polly’s parents have asked about our loss of faith. They had a decade to ask, yet never, ever said a word outside of the constant reminders, “we are praying for you!” I suspect Mom felt led by the Holy Spirit to call her daughter. Knowing that Polly was having surgery, Mom wanted to make sure where her daughter stood with the Christian God. I am quite sure she didn’t expect to hear Polly say she didn’t believe in God. Mom and Dad and their former pastor, the late Jim Dennis, have always believed that I have a larger-than-life influence over Polly. There was a time that that was true, but those days are long gone — as in, twenty-five plus years gone. Polly is her own person, and able to make decisions for herself — including whether she believes in the existence of God.

Polly enters the hospital tomorrow trusting that skilled medical professionals will do their best to remove the cancer and fix the bladder side of the fistula. We are confident that they will succeed in this endeavor. Mom fears for Polly’s soul. All I want is for the love of my life to come home safe and sound.

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 Evangelism All About Winning Souls?

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Neil Carter recently wrote a post about evangelism that piqued my interest. Neil talked about how most evangelistic efforts do little to reach the “lost,” and are really more about tribal identification than saving sinners from the flames of Hell. Neil illustrated this with a question and answer that was posted on Quora.

Someone asked: “Why do people get angry when I try to share the word of God with them?”

A man by the name of Doug Robertson responded:

The entire process is not what you think it is.

It is specifically designed to be uncomfortable for the other person because it isn’t about converting them to your religion. It is about manipulating you so you can’t leave yours.

If this tactic was about converting people it would be considered a horrible failure. It recruits almost no one who isn’t already willing to join. Bake sales are more effective recruiting tools.

On the other hand, it is extremely effective at creating a deep tribal feeling among its own members.

The rejection they receive is actually more important than the few people they convert. It causes them to feel a level of discomfort around the people they attempt to talk to. These become the “others.” These uncomfortable feelings go away when they come back to their congregation, the “Tribe.”

I pondered, for a moment, my past evangelism efforts, and I concluded that Neil and Doug are right; that my soulwinning efforts and those of the churches I pastored did little to save sinners. The majority of the people converted under my ministry voluntarily came to church, heard me preach, and then walked down the aisle to be saved after I psychologically and emotionally manipulated them, and not through community evangelistic outreaches.  (Emotionally Manipulating IFB Church Members through Music and Preaching Styles, Walking the Aisle — A Few Thoughts on Altar Calls, and Why Evangelical Beliefs and Practices are Psychologically Harmful — Part One)

I grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I attended an IFB college to train for the ministry, and while there I married the daughter of an IFB preacher. IFB churches and preachers are known for their aggressive approaches to evangelism, and I was no exception. The IFB churches I pastored typically had several evangelistic outreaches each week. Year-round, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, we would go door to door — much as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do — and try to evangelize people. On Saturdays, we would also go on bus visitation. While our purpose was primarily to bribe children with candy/toys so they would ride one of our busses the next day, we did have occasional opportunities to “share” the gospel.

Several times a year, I would invite evangelists to come hold meetings at the churches I pastored. These meetings ran five to fifteen days in length. The goal was to “revive” the congregation and “evangelize” the community. When we had an evangelist in town, we went door-knocking every day. These concentrated evangelistic efforts gave the hired guns an opportunity to WOW us with their soulwinning skills. The pressure was on them to birth new babies for Jesus.

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Front page photo, Times-Recorder, September 7, 1990, preaching on a downtown street corner, Zanesville, Ohio

In the 1980s and 1990s, IFB evangelist Don Hardman would come to our country church and hold fifteen-day protracted revival meetings. (Please see The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review, Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review, and My Life as a Street Preacher) Don was a street preacher, and it wasn’t long before he turned me into a street preacher too. Instead of going door to door, we would go to nearby communities, stand on a street corner, hand out tracts, and preach as loud as we could. After Don moved on to his next gig, I continued preaching on the street. I tried, without success, to get my colleagues in the ministry to go along with me. To the man, these preachers of the gospel told me that they weren’t “called” to preach on the street. At the time, I saw their refusal as cowardice, an unwillingness to preach like Jesus, the disciples, and the Apostle Paul did in the early days of the Christian church.

I stayed in hyper-evangelism mode well into the 1990s. Even after embracing Calvinism, I continued to busy myself evangelizing sinners. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I finally threw in the towel and abandoned my aggressive evangelism tactics. Why did I stop? The short answer is this: knocking on doors and preaching on the street resulted in very few, if any, converts. The overwhelming majority of salvation decisions were made by people who voluntarily attended one of our church services. Every so often, knocking on doors resulted in someone getting saved, but as I look back on these experiences, I have concluded that the only thing these supposed new converts got saved from was us! Not wanting to be seen as impolite, they prayed the sinner’s prayer, asking Jesus to save them, so we would leave them alone and move on to someone else. Praise Jesus, preacher! I have been delivered . . . from YOU!

For the most part, my evangelistic efforts were failures. Sure, I shared the gospel with hundreds of people, but few of them got saved. My soulwinning techniques were perfect — those I was taught at Midwestern Baptist College. I was passionate and zealous, devoting countless hours to evangelizing the lost. Why, then, did I fail so miserably? The short answer is that people found my methods offensive and wanted nothing to do with me, my church, or what I was peddling. Of course, this played right into my martyr’s complex. You see, as Neil made clear in his post, my soulwinning efforts were never really about saving souls. What knocking on doors and preaching on street corners did was separate me and the churches I pastored from the “world.” Their rejection only reinforced the notion that what we preached was the truth; that our tribe was the one true church. The more sinners rebuffed my soulwinning efforts, the more I felt that I was right. There’s nothing like persecution to “prove” the rightness of your beliefs and practices.  When people slammed doors in my face or cursed at me, I felt closer to Jesus. When a man tried to hit me with his truck while I preaching on a street corner in Zanesville, Ohio, I felt glad that I was worthy to suffer for the Lord, and even die for him. Mockery and cursing only made me glad that I could “suffer” for Jesus. The Apostle Paul suffered great indignities as he publicly evangelized sinners. (2 Corinthians 11) Suffering in like manner put me in the company of the greatest Christian ever known. What an honor, I thought at the time.

Over the past decade, I have engaged in countless discussions with Evangelical Christians. Many of them came to this site hoping to evangelize me. (Please see IFB Evangelist’s Wife Says She Loves Me, And God Does Too! and Dear Charlie, I’m Only Going to Say This Once) Despite their efforts, I remain an unrepentant, apostate atheist. I have often wondered, did these zealots really think that I was a promising prospect for Heaven? Did they really think their cliché-laden, Bible verse-filled shticks would cause me to drop on my knees, repent, and ask Jesus to save me? Think of all the possible targets for evangelization. Why go after someone like me? There’s no chance in Heaven or Hell that I would ever return to Evangelical Christianity. Yet, they continue to try. Why is that?

Most apologists know deep down that I am not going to repent and return to Christianity. It’s not going to happen . . . However, by trying to evangelize me, they feed their martyr complex; they reinforce their belief that the world hates God, Jesus, the Bible, their church, and them personally. Foundational to Evangelical faith is the belief you are absolutely right, and that all other religions are false. My rejection of their evangelistic overtures reminds them that their tribe is God’s chosen people; that their beliefs and practices are the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). The more that the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world turn them away, the more certain they are that their beliefs are the right. Our hostility and dismissal just prove to them that out of all the religions in the world, they chose the right one; that someday soon Jesus is coming again, and then all the people who said NO to their evangelistic efforts will pay the price for rejecting their efforts. Picture in your mind millions of smiling Evangelicals surrounding you as you are cast into the never-ending flames of the Lake of Fire. Their last words to you? See, I told 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.

Why Am I the Only One Who Changed My Beliefs?

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

Dr. Bart Ehrman, a former Evangelical Christian and now an agnostic, writes:

Two things have happened to me this week that have made me think rather intensely about the path I’ve taken in life, and how radically it has swerved from the paths of others who were like me at the age of 20. I emphasize “who were like me.”   The reality is that the path I was on already at 20 was (now I see) extremely weird, and to outsiders looks more than a little bizarre. I was a hard-core evangelical Christian dedicated to ministry for the sake of the gospel. Not exactly what most 20-year-olds (including any of my many high school friends) were doing at the time.  If ever I want a conversation-stopper at a cocktail party, all I need do is say something about my past.

Still, given that as my starting point, what happened next is even more highly unusual. And I was abruptly reminded it of it this week, twice.   First, on Monday I had a radio/podcast debate here in London on “Premier Christian Radio” (it is the leading Christian radio station in England) (not that it has a lot of competition, but it is indeed a high class operation) with another scholar of the New Testament, Peter Williams, one of the world’s experts on ancient Syriac as it relates to the Bible (both OT and NT), former professor at the University of Aberdeen and current head of Tyndale House in Cambridge.

I have known Pete for years; he is a committed evangelical Christian with a view of the infallibility of the Bible. Our debate was on the question of whether the Gospels are historically reliable (a topic of frequent recurrence on this blog, obviously) (some bloggers may think “interminable” recurrence). He thinks there is not a single mistake in the Gospels, of any kind.  I think there are. You’ve heard this kind of debate before, so I won’t be recounting the ins and outs (although they were quite different from those you’ve seen before; still, it won’t matter for this post).

The second thing that happened is that I received a Facebook post from a former friend (I emphasize “former” since we apparently are no longer friendly) and classmate of mine from my Moody Bible Institute days (mid 70s), in which he lambasted the fellow alumni from my graduating class for holding me in any kind of esteem. The implication of his lambast was that I’m the enemy of the truth and no one should respect me or my views. I haven’t talked with this fellow for over 40 years, but last I knew we were friends, on the same floor in the dorm and the same basketball team. OK, I couldn’t hit a jump shot, but still, is that reason to be upset four decades later?

In any event, these two events made me think hard about one issue in particular, one that I keep coming back to in my head, in my life, and, occasionally, on this blog: why is it that some people are willing to change their minds about what they hold most dear and important in their lives and other people retain their same views, come hell or high water?    Why do some people explore options and think about whether they were originally “right” or not (about religion, personal ethics, social issues, politics, etc.), and other people cling tenaciously to the views they were given when they were 14 years old? It’s an interesting question.

Because I changed my views on something near and dear to me and my then-friends, I’m a persona non grata in the circles I used to run around in. And granted, I have zero desire (OK, far less than zero) to run around in them now. But I don’t feel any animosity toward my former friends, or think they’re going to roast in hell because of their views, and wish that torment would begin sooner than later. I understand why they do (toward me), but it’s sad and disheartening.

….

What I’m more interested in is why I would have changed my mind and others like him absolutely don’t. Even scholars.  Their views significantly deepen, become more sophisticated, more nuanced – but the views don’t change. (My sense of my former classmates at Moody – at least the ones I hear about – is that their views don’t even deepen or grow more sophisticated; they literally think pretty much the same thing as they did when they were mid-teenagers, only now with more conviction and passion).

The reason I find the whole matter sad is almost entirely personal (I guess sadness by definition is). My former evangelical friends and current evangelical debate partners think I’m an enemy of the truth, when I’ve spent almost my entire weird journey trying to come to the truth. And so far as I can tell, they haven’t. I’m not trying to be ungenerous, but it does seem to me to be the reality.

I’ll try to put it in the most direct terms here: how is it at all plausible, or humanly possible, that someone can question, explore, look into, consider the beliefs they were taught as a young child (in the home, in church, in … whatever context) and after 40 years of thinking about it decide that everything they were taught is absolutely right? The views *they* were taught, out of the sixty trillion possible views out there, are absolutely right? The problem with these particular views (of evangelical Christianity) is that if they are indeed right, everyone else in the known universe is wrong and going to be tormented forever because of it.

I know most Christians don’t think this: I’m just talking about this particular type of Christian. And they don’t seem to see how strange it is that they are right because they agree with what they were taught as young children. Yes, they don’t see it that way. They think they are right because they agree with the Bible which comes from God so they agree with God and I (and everyone else on the planet) disagree with God. But the reality is that this is the view they were handed as young kids.

Dr. Ehrman brings up a question that I have long pondered “why am I different from my former Evangelical friends, parishioners, and colleagues in the ministry?” I spent most of the first fifty years of my life in the Evangelical church. I attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Yet, in November 2008, I divorced Jesus. Several months later, I sent a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners to several hundred people who knew me well. From that point forward, I became known as Bruce, the Evangelical pastor who became an atheist. As a result of my deconversion, I lost scores of lifelong relationships. I learned quickly that what held our relationships together was the glue of fidelity to orthodox Christianity; that once I repudiated the central claims of Christianity and rejected the notion that the Bible was, in any way, an inspired, inerrant, infallible text, all pretense of friendship was gone. Today? I have two Evangelicals friends (and former parishioners), and even with them, I find that our relationships are strained due to their utterances on social media about the evils of atheism and not believing in Jesus. I ignore the things they post and say, but I do take it personally. And that’s it, for me, when it comes to connections to my Evangelical past.

I have known a number of Evangelical pastors over the years, and without exception, all of them say that they still believe and preach the truths we all held dear decades ago. Several of them have retired or left the ministry, but I have searched in vain for one ministerial colleague who lost his faith and is now an atheist or an agnostic. One is a lonely number, and I am it!  A handful of these “men of God” have moderated their Fundamentalist beliefs and practices, but the majority of them still hew to the old-time gospel. Many of these men still believe the same things they did when they were in Bible college over forty years ago. Dr. Ehrman has written numerous books about the nature of the New Testament text, and in doing so he has shredded the notion that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. (I don’t mention inspiration here because it is a faith claim, whereas claims of inerrancy and infallibility can be empirically tested.) Either these Bible-believers — most of whom believe the King James Bible is the perfect, preserved Word of God for English-speaking people — have never read one of Dr. Ehrman’s books or they have, ignoring, discounting, or denying what he had to say.

I remember having a discussion years ago with a dear friend and colleague of mine about the notion that the King James Bible was inerrant. I provided him a list of words that had been changed in the 1769 revision of the KJV. I thought that telling him there were word differences between the 1611 and 1769 editions would open his eyes to the folly of translational inerrancy. Instead, he doubled-down and said that he wouldn’t believe the KJV had errors even if I could prove it did!  This conversation took place in the late 1980s. Thirty years later, this man, of course, is no longer friends with me, and he still believes that the KJV is inerrant and infallible. And based on a perusal of his church’s website, he still holds to the same doctrinal beliefs he had when he graduated from a small Ohio-based IFB Bible college in the early 1980s. I fondly remember the conversations we had over lunch about hot topics such as: Calvinism, pre-wrath rapture, divorce, and countless other subjects. My ex-friend always struck me as a man who valued and appreciated knowledge and intellectual integrity. Yet, despite decades of reading books and studying the Bible, he remains unmoved from his Fundamentalist beliefs. Why is that?

As long-time readers know, my wife’s father graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — the same college Polly and I attended — and worked for and pastored IFB churches until he retired. Polly’s uncle, Jim Dennis, attended Midwestern in the 1960s and pastored the Newark Baptist Temple for almost fifty years. Jim’s children are all in the ministry. His two daughters married Pensacola Christian College-trained preachers, and his son — also trained at Pensacola — is a pastor. And now, Jim’s grandchildren are heading off to Bible college. The third generation is attending institutions such as The Crown College and West Coast Baptist College. As I look at my wife’s family, I want to scream. Why is it that no one can see the error of Fundamentalist thinking; that no one can see that Evangelical beliefs cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained; that no one can see the psychological damage done by Fundamentalist thinking? What made Polly and me different from her Jesus-loving family? Why could we see what they cannot?

I do know that many Evangelical preachers take great pride in believing the same things today that they believed twenty, thirty, or fifty years ago. It’s almost as if they believe that God (and their pastors/professors) told them everything they needed to know in their twenties, and there’s no reason to revisit past beliefs. It’s as if these preachers are proud of the fact that “ignorance is bliss.” It’s not that these men don’t read books, they do. However, a quick inventory of their libraries reveals that they rarely, if ever, read books by non-IFB or non-Evangelical writers. These preachers know what they know, and there’s no reason to read anything that might change their beliefs. In fact, anything that might cause the least bit of doubt is suspect and considered the work of Satan.

For whatever reason, I was never one to sit still intellectually. I blame this on my mother. She taught me to read at an early age and helped me learn that the library was my best friend. Even as an IFB pastor, I read authors who were on the fringe of the movement, and my reading expanded well beyond Christian orthodoxy in the latter years of my time in the ministry. As a pastor, I devoted myself to reading books, studying the Bible, and making sure my beliefs aligned with what I was learning. This process, of course, led to numerous theological and lifestyle changes over the years. The boy who enrolled at Midwestern at age nineteen was very different from the man who walked away from the ministry at forty-seven, and Christianity at age fifty. In between these bookends were thousands and thousands of hours spent in the study. Whatever my critics might say about me, no one can accuse me of not taking my studies and preaching seriously. Noted IFB evangelist “Dr” Dennis Corle told me that my ministry would be best served if I just spent a few hours a week preparing my sermons, and spent the rest of my time soulwinning. I didn’t follow his advice. I believed then that the people who called me “preacher” deserved to hear quality, educated, well-crafted sermons. I could do this and STILL have time for soulwinning. I have since come to the conclusion that Evangelicalism is littered with lazy preachers who have little regard for their congregants; who barf up pabulum week after week, rarely spending significant time in their studies. And why should they, I suppose? If you KNOW that your beliefs are straight from the mouth of God, there’s no need to read books that might challenge said beliefs.

Several years ago, a former church member wrote to me about my loss of faith. She was sure she knew what the problem was and how I could get myself back on the proverbial sawdust trail. You see, according to her, all those books I read over the years were the problem. If I would just go back to reading only the B-I-B-L-E, then my faith would somehow magically reappear. In her mind, I knew too much, and that what I needed was some good old Baptist ignorance. Did not the Bible say about Peter and John in Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

Peter and John were thought to be unlearned, ignorant men, yet their lives revealed that they were men who had been with Jesus. Surely, being known for having been with Jesus is far more important than being known as a learned, educated man, right?

And at the end of the day, I can’t unlearn what I know. I refuse to limit my intellectual inquiries. I refuse to rest on what I know today being the end-all, the zenith of wisdom and knowledge. No, in fact, leaving Christianity has shown me how much I don’t know; that despite the countless hours I spent reading books, I have not yet scratched the surface of human knowledge and understanding. The best I can say is this, “I know more today than I did yesterday.” And to quote Buzz Lightyear, “To Infinity and Beyond!”

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 Danger of IFB Summer Youth Camps

youth camp

Many former Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church members can remember attending summer youth camps during their teenage years. (Please see Camp Chautauqua, Miamisburg, Ohio.) I attended camp every summer between my seventh and tenth grade school years. The summer after seventh grade, I attended an Ohio-based Bible church youth camp. The next year, I attended Camp Patmos — a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) camp. The following two years, I attended Camp Chautauqua in Miamisburg, Ohio — a camp facility owned and operated by the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship.

I always looked forward to attending camp. It was one week out of the summer when I could get away from home and meet up with friends from other churches, meet new acquaintances and, most of all, fall in love. While there were plenty of girls to date at my home church, camp afforded me the opportunity to meet and pursue new loves. At the end of every camp, my new girlfriend and I traded addresses, promising to write one another. Surely, our “love” would survive until next year’s camp, right? Alas, such relationships died by the time the church bus turned out of the camp’s driveway headed for home. Forty-five years later, I am still waiting for that beautiful black-haired girl from Elyria to write me. Something tells me that she won’t be writing, and much like her redheaded flame, she found that absence does not make the heart grow fonder, and a nice-looking boy at church is a lot more appealing than the promise of letters to come.

In 2016, I wrote a post detailing my experiences at Camp Chautauqua:

I have many fond memories of the two summers I spent at Camp Chautauqua. The spiritual emphasis was intense and played an instrumental part in my call to the ministry. A number of the big-gun Baptist preachers preached at the evening chapel services. I can still remember Peter Ruckman’s sermons, complete with his famous chalk drawings. I also remember John Rawlings, then pastor of Landmark Baptist Temple (now Landmark Church) in Cincinnati, preaching one night, and during his sermon he told an illustration about cleaning shit out of the barn when he was young. He actually said the word SHIT!! Needless to say, I was stunned. Later in life, I learned that some Christians didn’t think shit was a curse word, especially when used to describe animal manure.

Camp brought upwards of a thousand youth together for one week. Camp Chautauqua had a lot of real estate for meandering teens to get lost in. Follow me for a moment…It’s the 70s. A thousand teenagers, ninth through twelfth grades. Lots of real estate in which hormone-raging teens could get lost. Well, use your imagination. The highlight of youth camp for me was the girls.

….

The first year I went to Camp Chautauqua, Gene Milioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist, was our cabin counselor. He was pretty easy to outwit. The next year, the youth pastor, Bruce Turner, was the cabin counselor, (please see Dear Bruce Turner) and he proved to be every bit our match. He was not so far removed from his own youth that he had forgotten the dangers of putting a bunch of teenage boys and girls in proximity to one another.

Practical jokes were an everyday occurrence. The jokes were fun to pull on others, but payback could be brutal. From stolen bedding and purloined light bulbs to shaving cream in sleeping bags, practical jokes were a part of what made camp a great experience. And besides, I was a pretty good joke perpetrator.

The music was another highlight of camp. Most of the churches that brought their teens to camp were mid-size to large churches, so the music talent level was superb. Wonderful music. To this day, I think some of the best singing I have ever heard was at Camp Chautauqua.

If I had a negative experience at camp, I don’t remember it. Perhaps, this is the wistful remembering of an old man trying to recall what happened 45 years ago during the glory days of his youth. Perhaps my fond memories are a reflection of the fact that camp, for me and for many others, was a respite from our fundamentalist churches and family dysfunction. Camp was the one week out the year that I got to hang out with my friends and meet new people without having adults watching my every move.

This summer, thousands of IFB teenagers will go to camp. Some teens will attend camps at the facilities mentioned above. Others will attend camps such as the Bill Rice Ranch or The Wilds. My wife’s family is deeply ensconced in the IFB church movement. Many of her relatives send their teens to the Bill Rice Ranch — an uber-fundamentalist camping program. Some IFB churches, wanting to preserve their INDEPENDENT status, hold their own camps. I did this for several years in southeast Ohio. We would rent a camp for a week, and then invite like-minded churches to attend. The last camp I participated in featured a preacher from Fort Wayne who believed Christians could be demon-possessed. He spent the week excusing all sorts of bad behavior as demon possession. By the time the week was over, I wanted to strangle the man. Come the next Sunday, I made sure the teens and adults from my church who attended the camp knew that I totally disagreed with the notion of Christian demon possession.

Over the weekend, I pondered my experiences attending IFB youth camps, and whether my feel-good camp experiences covered up something insidious; that these camps, regardless of how much fun campers have, are tools used by IFB churches and pastors to indoctrinate children and teenagers. IFB church leaders know that they must draw in children and teens before they can be indoctrinated. Thus, camp advertising materials focus on all the fun campers will have, and not the fact that there will be hours-long Bible studies, devotionals, church services, and afterglows (highly emotional after-service campfires). High-powered IFB evangelists, youth pastors, and conference speakers are brought in to evangelize the lost and indoctrinate the saved. Most camp attendees will return to their home churches “on-fire” for God. Perhaps former IFB church members will remember the Sundays after camp when attendees were paraded in front of their churches and asked to give testimonies about what God had done for them over the past week. Passionate testimonies of conversion or getting right with God, complete with tears, are often heard. Adults shout “AMEN!”, praising God for the work he has done in the lives of church teenagers. Yet, in a matter of weeks or months, life for these “changed” teenagers returns to normal, just in time for the church’s annual youth revival or other event meant to stir religious passions.

Many IFB teenagers become immune to indoctrination, enjoying the fun and enduring the Jesus stuff. Others, such as myself, become caught up in a constant cycle of sinning and getting right with God; a continual striving for holiness and perfection. The ultimate goal of camps, youth revivals, youth rallies, and youth conferences is to thoroughly indoctrinate teenagers so they will actually “feel” God calling them to full-time service as pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and Christian school teachers. Those feeling “called” will be further indoctrinated, hopefully leading them to “feel” God calling them to attend an IFB college. (Many IFB preachers see teens called into the ministry as the highwater mark of their ministries, the passing on of the Fundamentalist Baptist torch.) Countless IFB preachers felt the “call” of God at youth camp. While I felt the “call” during a service preached by IFB evangelist Al Lacy, there’s no doubt summer youth camp played an instrumental part in my decisions to become a preacher, attend Midwestern Baptist College, and pastor Evangelical churches for twenty-five years.

How about you? Did you attend IFB summer youth camp? Please share your experiences in the comment section. Non-IFB church camp stories are welcome too!

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.

Bruce, What was Your View on Homosexuality When You Were a Pastor?

god hates lgbtq people

I came of age in the early 1970s — an era when LGBTQ people were savaged if they dared to step out of their closets. The Stonewall riots, June 28-29, 1969, outraged my parents and their fellow Fundamentalist Christians. How dare the queers/faggots/sodomites/dykes/homos/perverts show their faces in public. How dare they demand to be treated as humans. Don’t they know that the Bible condemns sodomy? Why it even says that God has given homosexuals over to reprobate minds. My pastors and other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers deeply influenced what I believed about LGBTQ people. Supposedly, all sins were the same, but their preaching betrayed the fact that they believed homosexuality was a sin above all others. I can’t tell you the times I heard preachers rail against homosexuality, calling for the arrest, incarceration and, in some cases, execution of such “sinners.” LGBTQ people were widely considered child molesters. the worst of the worst.

In 1976, I packed up my meager belongings and headed off to train for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Nothing I heard in my classes or from the chapel pulpit changed my view of homosexuals. I lived in the college dormitory. I was shocked to learn that one of my teachers — a single man who lived in the dorm — was a homosexual. Not only that, several students who had effeminate tendencies were his roommates. Why didn’t the college do anything about this? I wondered at the time. As I now look back on the two years I spent in Midwestern’s dorm, I have concluded that there were more than a few gay men and lesbian women. Deeply closeted, these devoted followers of Jesus suffered all sorts of indignities at the hands of heterosexual Jesus-lovers. I wish I could say that my hands are clean, but they are not.

In the early 1980s — as I was busy pastoring IFB churches — I heard that a high school acquaintance of mine had died of AIDS. I remembered the “rumors” about him. His employment and close friendship with his deeply closeted gay boss troubled me, but I thought, “John seems ‘normal’ to me. He’s not a faggot.” John, not his real name, was indeed gay, and sadly, he was one of the early casualties of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This angered me, and along with several of my friends, we blamed his gay boss for his death. “He preyed on John and turned him to a queer,” we thought at the time.  I now know different. John was a gay man, not because of his boss, but because that’s who he was.

I entered the ministry a homophobe. I preached against homosexuality, labeling it as my pastors and professors had done: a heinous crime against human nature. My view of homosexuality was only reinforced by a pedophile homosexual man who started attending our church so he could prey on young boys. I was unaware of his predatory ways until a church member told me that the man was inviting church boys to spend the weekend with him out on his farm. I went nuts when I heard this, and in short order, I confronted the man and told him that I knew what he was and he was no longer welcome at our church. In retrospect, I should have called law enforcement. Instead, Pastor Bruce, the moral enforcer, took care of things.

In the late 1980s, I started a private, tuition-free school for the children of church members. Bruce, the moral enforcer, made sure that Biblical morality was taught to every student. It was bad enough that these children had to listen to my moralizing on Sundays, now they had to put up with it Monday through Friday too. Of course, I failed in my mission. Years later, I learned that some of the students were “fornicating.” I know, shock, right? Teenagers, with raging hormones, having sex! Here’s the kicker, out of fifteen students, today two of them are gay men and one woman is a lesbian. That means the twenty-percent of the study body was gay. WTF, Bruce, all that anti-homo preaching, and they STILL turned out gay! Since de-converting, I have had the privilege of reacquainting myself with several of these students. I apologized to them for what they heard me say about LGBTQ from the pulpit. My words were hurtful, yet they quietly suffered, knowing that the day was coming when they would escape the grip of Bruce, the moralizer.christians condemn gays

My view of LGBTQ people began to change in 1995. I was between pastorates, so I took a job with Charley’s Steakery as the general manager of their Zanesville, Ohio location. Located in Colony Square Mall, we offered mall employees free refills on their soft drinks. Several times a week, a gay man would come to the restaurant to get a free refill. The first time he handed me his cup, I panicked, thinking, I am going to get AIDS! For the first few times, after I refilled his cup, I would vigorously wash my hands after doing so. Had to wash off the cooties, I thought at the time. After a few weeks of this, I began being more comfortable around this man. He and I would chat about all sorts of things. I found out that he was quite “normal.” This, of course, messed with my view of the world.

While I am sure numerous LGBTQ people came through my life before I refilled this man’s drink cup, he was the first gay man I had really engaged in friendly, meaningful discussion. And it was at this point in my life that my view about homosexuality began to change. I didn’t stop being a homophobe overnight, but step by step over the next decade, I stumbled away from the homophobic rhetoric that had dominated my life for many years.

Today, I am loathed by local Evangelicals for my support of LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage. I am sure former congregants hear of my pro-gay views and they wonder what happened to hellfire and brimstone homophobe Pastor Bruce? All I can say is that a chance meeting at a fountain machine in a fast food restaurant between Bruce, the moralizer, and a gay man changed my life forever. And isn’t that how most moralizers become more temperate? When you personally know a gay person, it’s hard to condemn him to the fires of Hell. It’s easy to preach against homosexuality when everyone — as far as you know, anyway — is heterosexual. It’s when you have some skin in the game, when you actually know an LGBTQ person, that things change. Exposure to people different from you and cultures different from yours remains the best cure Fundamentalist Christianity.

How about you? Are you a former homophobe? What caused you to change your mind? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

Public Expressions of Faith and the Future of American Evangelicalism

altar call

Cartoon by Jeff Larson

I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. At the age of fifteen, I was saved, baptized, and called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Gene Millioni, Ron Johnson, and Bruce Turner were my pastors at the time. (Please see Dear Bruce Turner.) Trinity Baptist was a hyper-evangelistic church affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. My pastors gave a public altar call at the end of every service. I later would attend Midwestern Baptist College to study for the ministry. Students were required to attend nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, pastored by college chancellor Dr. Tom Malone. Altar calls were given at every service. Most IFB churches sang Just as I Am during altar calls, but Emmanuel used There is a Fountain Filled With Blood (Drawn from Immanuel’s Veins), by William Cowper. Sinners needing salvation were asked to step out of their seats and walk down the aisle to the front of the church. Once at the altar, a trained soulwinner would kneel with them, share the IFB gospel, and help them pray the sinner’s prayers. This act of faith was called “making a public profession of faith.” Sinners evangelized during the week were expected to come to church the next Sunday and made their conversion public by walking down the aisle.

Baptism was treated in a similar manner. Being immersed in three feet of water in a church baptismal was considered a public declaration of faith. By being baptized, the sinner was saying, “I publicly identify with Jesus.” Many IFB converts are baptized right after the service or the next Sunday. Preachers would often joke that the reason Baptists baptized new converts right away is that they feared never seeing them again. I was saved one week and baptized the next. And several weeks after that, I went forward during the altar call and confessed to Pastor Millioni that I believed God was calling me to preach. I stood before my friends and fellow church members and told them what God was doing in my heart. My declaration was greeted with hearty amens from older congregants. I am sure more than a few of my friends thought, Bruce Gerencser, a preacher? Yeah, right. This too shall pass!  It didn’t, and for the next thirty-five years, I preached some version or the other of the Christian gospel, seeking to help sinners see their need for salvation.

Over the first fifty years of my life, I watched thousands of people walk down church aisles and ask Jesus to save them. Often, high pressure, manipulative tactics were used to coerce sinners into getting saved. I heard countless preachers say, “the hardest decision you will ever make in your life is to step out of your seat, walk down the aisle, and make a public profession of faith.” The same line was used when cajoling people into getting baptized. “Publicly identifying with Jesus in baptism is the hardest decision you will ever make!” I later concluded that there was nothing “hard” about these decisions. Here you were among Christians. How “hard” could it be to get saved and baptized? And “public?”  What’s “public” about going through the IFB salvation and baptismal ritual in the safety and privacy of a local church filled with likeminded believers?

baptism by immersion

Cartoon by John Parker

Later in my ministry years, I stopped baptizing new converts at the church. Instead, we would go to a nearby public lake and hold a baptismal service. While not as “public” as the baptisms of first century Christian converts in the book of Acts, being exposed to the gazes of worldly vacationers helped cement the importance and cost of publicly identifying with Christ. Few churches, it seems, are willing to ask much, if anything, from new converts. As long as their asses are in the seats and their Benjamins are in the plate, all is well. It is not uncommon for IFB churches to leads hundreds of sinners to Christ each year, with few of them obediently following the Lord in baptism. Some megachurches these days have pretty much given up on baptizing converts. Once or twice a year, they will “offer” baptism to the unbaptized, but rarely, if ever, stress the importance of the rite.

These days, much to the consternation of IFB preachers and Evangelical pastors, cultural Christianity rules to roost. Christians have “personal” relationships with Jesus, and most of them never share their faith. Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest Protestant denomination in the United States — reported that their membership and baptism numbers continue to decline. Scores of SBC churches didn’t take in one new member or baptize one new convert. IFB churches, who still think they live in the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s, also face precipitous membership and baptism declines. One-time IFB megachurches now are a shell of what they once were, that is, if they are still in existence. In the 1970s, Polly and I attended Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan. Emmanuel was considered one of the largest churches in America. One Sunday, they had over 5,000 people in attendance — a rare feat at the time. Today, its doors are shuttered. The same could be said for numerous other IFB churches — churches that once proudly proclaimed that they were one of the top one hundred churches in America.

It is not uncommon these days for IFB and SBC churches to go weeks and months without “public” professions of faith or a “public” baptisms. More than a few churches, attempting to ward off algae growth or smells that come from stagnant water, have drained their baptismals and use the space to store Christmas decorations or old VBS materials. The best and brightest among such churches will come up with new programs and outreaches they are sure will stop the bleeding and import new life into their churches, but if the past is any indicator, they are doomed for failure. Perhaps, it’s time to admit that Americans are really not that into Jesus anymore; that all people want is eternal life insurance and a place to get married and hold funerals. In other words, IFB and SBC congregants are well on their way to becoming Roman Catholics — morning glories who only bloom on Easter and Christmas.

In one regard, the testimony of such Christians is indeed “public.” The unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world “see” how these people live out their faith, and find themselves saying, “no thanks.” My wife and I visited over a hundred Christian churches after we left the ministry. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered; a congregation that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. While we met all sorts of decent people, we didn’t find one church congregation that was different from the rest. We didn’t find one church that earnestly took Jesus’ commands, teachings, and way of life — as we then understood them — to heart. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We decided that despite differences in liturgy and denominational affiliation, these churches were all pretty much the same. In retrospect, I have no doubt this fact played a part in our eventual abandonment of Christianity. We came to understand that for all their talk about commitment, public professions of faith, and publicly identifying with Jesus, most Evangelical churches were little more than private social clubs for likeminded people; that such clubs attract people who need “forgiveness” and need someone to tell them what to believe and how to live. Sadly, the sheeple underneath the steeple far outnumber people who think for themselves. Those who are able to rationally and critically examine religious beliefs and practices usually end up outside of the churches they once called home.

Conservative Christianity still dominates the American social and political scene. Evangelical culture warriors continue to wage war against secularism, atheism, humanism, socialism, and a culture they believe is going to Hell in a handbasket. Try as they might, these crusaders are fighting a losing battle. Oh, they might win a few skirmishes in the short term — say over abortion — but history suggests that their days are numbered. One need only look at the arc of history in Europe and other Western countries to see where the United States is headed. Old curmudgeons such as myself are unlikely to see secularism and reason vanquish the Devil in our lifetimes, but we hold out hope for our grandchildren and their children. Thanks to global warming, their world will be very different from ours, but we have high hopes that their world will be one where religion has finally been driven back into the four walls of churches where it belongs.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

My First Steps Towards Believing the Bible Was Not Inerrant

bible inspired word of god

I grew up in a religious faith that taught me the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. The word “inspired” meant that that the Bible was the word of God; that holy men of old who wrote the Bible were told by the Holy Spirit exactly what to write. Some of my pastors believed in the dictation theory. The authors of the Bible were mere automatons who wrote what God dictated to them. Other pastors believed that men wrote the Bible, thus their writing reflects their personality and culture. God, through some sort of supernatural means, made sure that human influence on the Bible was in every way perfect and aligned with what he wanted to be said.

The inspiration got complicated when dealing with the question of WHAT, exactly, was inspired. Were the original manuscripts alone inspired? If so, there’s no such thing as the inspired Word of God because the original manuscripts do not exist. Were the extant manuscripts inspired? Some pastors believed that the totality of existing manuscripts made up the inspired Word of God, and some pastors believed that certain translations — namely the King James Version — were the inspired Word of God. Regardless of how they answered the WHAT question, all of them believed that God supernaturally preserved his Word down through the ages, and the Bibles we held in our hands were the Word of God.

The word “inerrant” meant “without mistake, contradiction, or error.” Some pastors, knowing that every Bible translation had errors and mistakes, said they believed the original manuscripts were inerrant, and modern translations were faithful, reliable, and could be depended on in matters of faith, practice, morality, and anything else the Bible addressed. Of course, these men were arguing for the inerrancy of a text they had never seen, and there is no evidence for its existence. Whatever the “original” manuscripts might have been, their exact wording and content are lost, never to be found.

The word “infallible” meant incapable of error in every matter it addressed. Thus, when the Bible spoke about matters of science and history, it was always true, and without error. No matter what scientists and historians say about a particular matter, what the Bible says is the final authority. That’s why almost half of Americans believe the Christian God created the universe sometime in the past 10,000 years.

At the age of nineteen, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution that prided itself in turning out preacher boys. My three years at Midwestern reinforced everything I had been taught as a youth. Every professor and chapel speaker believed the King James Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. I was a seedling and Midwestern was a controlled-environment hothouse. Is it any wonder that I grew up to be a Bible thumper; believing that EVERY word in the Bible was straight from the mouth of God? If ever someone was a product of his environment, it was Bruce Gerencser.

I left Midwestern in 1979 and embarked on a ministerial career that took me to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.  I stood before thousands of people with Bible held high and declared, THUS SAITH THE LORD! For many years, I preached only from the King James Bible. I believed it was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God for English speaking people. Towards the end of my ministerial career, I started using the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and after that I began using the English Standard Version (ESV).

Many of my former Fundamentalist colleagues in the ministry and congregants trace the beginning of my unbelief back to my voracious reading habit and my abandonment of the King James Bible. One woman, after hearing of my loss of faith. wrote to me and said that I should stop reading books and only read the B-I-B-L-E. She just knew that I if I would stop reading non-Biblical books, my doubts would magically disappear. In other words, ignorance is bliss.

As I pondered my past and what  things ultimately led to my loss of faith, two things stood out: a book on alleged Bible contradictions and the differences between the 1611 and 1769 editions of the King James Bible.

As I studied for my sermons, I would often come across verses or passages of Scripture that didn’t make sense to me. I would consult various commentaries and grammatical aids, and usually I was able to reconcile whatever it was that was giving me difficulty.  Sometimes, however, I ran into what could only be described as contradictions – competing passages of Scripture. In these times, I consulted the book on alleged contradictions in the Bible. Often, my confusion would dissipate, but over time I began to think that the explanations and resolutions the book gave were shallow, not on point, or down-right nonsensical. Finally, I quit reading this book and decided to just trust God, believing that he would never give us a Bible with errors, mistakes, and contradictions. I decided, as many Evangelical do, to “faith” it.

For many years, the only Bible translation I used was the 1769 edition of the King James Bible. I had been taught as a child and in college that the original version — 1611 — of the King James Version and the 1769 version were identical. I later found out they were not; that there were numerous differences between the two editions. (Please read the Wikipedia article on the 1769 King James Bible for more information on this subject.)

I remember finding a list of the differences between the two editions and sharing it with my best friend — who was also an IFB pastor. He dismissed the differences out of hand, telling me that even if I could show him an error in the King James Bible, he would still, by faith, believe the Bible is inerrant! Over the next few months, he would repeat this mantra to me again and again. He, to this day, believes the King James Bible is inerrant. I, on the other hand, couldn’t do so. Learning that there were differences between the editions forced me to alter my beliefs, at least inwardly. It would be another decade before I could admit that the Bible was not inerrant. But even then, I downplayed the errors, mistakes, and contradictions. I continued to read about the nature of the Biblical text, but I kept that knowledge to myself. It was not until I left the ministry that I finally could see that the Bible was NOT what my pastors and professors said it was; that it was not what I told countless congregants it was. Once the Bible lost its authority, I was then free to question other aspects of my faith, leading, ultimately, to where I am today. My journey away from Evangelicalism to atheism began and ended with the Bible.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

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.

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Much Like Mutual Orgasm, God Has “Perfect” Timing

gods-timing-is-always-perfect

Imagine for a moment a passionate, uninhibited couple making love. As their naked bodies writhe in unison, they reach a point of sexual release. And in that perfectly timed moment, both simultaneously have an orgasm. Nothing better, at least to me, than such moments in life. My wife and I have been married for almost 41 years. We have made love a time or two. As any long-married couple will tell you, not every sexual encounter leads to sky rockets in flight, afternoon delight. Sometimes, the sex is just good or okay. But there are also times when the sex is magical, when it seems that everything is perfectly aligned, leading to the type of momentary experience I mentioned above.

As I was reading a comment on social media from an Evangelical talking about God’s “perfect” timing, I thought about how this notion is quite similar to a couple having a mutual orgasm. Bruce, you have a “dirty” mind, some Evangelical is sure to say. Yep, I do. Now that we have THAT out of the way . . .

Most Evangelicals believe that their God not only created the universe, but also controls every aspect of their lives. Calvinists, in particular, preach up the sovereignty of God, believing that everything that happens — past, present, and future — is ordained and decreed by God. I wonder if the recent mass shooting at a Jewish synagogue by an Orthodox Presbyterian man has Calvinists questioning God’s string pulling in their lives? I doubt it. God is God, and if Calvinists stick to their fatalistic beliefs, they must conclude that the carnage and murder wreaked by John Earnest was according to God’s inscrutable will. The same could be said for every mass shooting.

Most Evangelicals believe that their God is involved in not only life’s big things, but also what is considered minutia, the trivial things of life. According to Evangelical orthodoxy, the Triune God of the Protestant Bible is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. God is all-powerful, present everywhere, and knows everything. According to the Gospels, God cares for the fallen sparrow and knows the very number of hairs we have on our heads. He is a God of detail; a God who pays close attention to the small stuff. Years ago, I preached a sermon about the cliché, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I rejected this notion, telling congregants that God sweated the small stuff and so should they. A cursory reading of the Bible reveals that the Christian deity most certainly cares about our every behavior. The Bible story that illustrates this best is that of Uzzah and the Ark of Covenant. 2 Samuel 6:1-8 states:

Again, David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubims. And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. And David was displeased, because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah: and he called the name of the place Perezuzzah to this day.

Uzzah, being a good Jew, saw the Ark shaking, and fearing the embodiment of God’s presence would fall, he put out his hand to steady it. How did God reward Uzzah for his quick save? He smote him — love the King James Bible! — and Uzzah died.

According to the Rational Christianity website:

The Ark of the Covenant was an embodiment of God’s presence with the Israelites. The atonement cover (or “mercy seat”) that covered the ark was God’s throne (2 Sam 6:2) and God’s presence was above it (Lev 16:2); it was also the place where God met Moses and gave him commands (Ex 25:22). If someone approached the ark, they would effectively be in God’s presence – a sinner standing before a holy God who does not tolerate evil (Ps 5:4-6) – and would die as a result of their sins. For this reason, God had given the Israelites many rules concerning the Ark of the Covenant. It was to be kept in the Most Holy Place in the temple, hidden from view by a curtain (Ex 26:33). Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and then only after he had undergone ceremonial cleansing, made sacrifices to atone for his sins and the nation’s sins, and burned incense to conceal the atonement cover (Lev 16). When the ark was moved, it was covered with at least 3 layers of cloth by the priests to protect others from seeing it (Num 4:5-6, 15, 18-20); the priests/Levites carried it and everyone else had to stay about a thousand yards away (Josh 3:4). These laws enforced the concept of God’s holiness: sinful people couldn’t be in his presence, not even the high priest.

Hence, when Uzzah touched the ark, he was profaning it and disobeying God; he should have grabbed the poles used for carrying the ark instead, for that was their purpose (Ex 25:14-15)

God sure made his point, didn’t he?

Another Bible story that punctuates God’s attention to triviality is found in Acts 5:5-11:

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

Acts 4 details the story behind the aforementioned passage of Scripture. Recent Jewish converts were selling their lands and houses and giving the proceeds to the Apostles so they could buy a Lear jet. Verses 34 and 35 state:

Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

Married converts Ananias and Sapphira want to do their part, so they sold a parcel of land, planning to donate the money to the Apostles. Being good Independent Baptists, however, Ananias and Sapphira decided to short God a few bucks so they could take a vacation to Rome. Somehow, the Apostle Peter, who just weeks before denied knowing Jesus, found out about Ananias’ and Sapphira’s greed and exposed their subterfuge. Once exposed, God rained judgment down upon their heads, killing them both. As a pastor, I said on more than one occasion that if God still killed Christians today for lying as Ananias and Sapphira did, churches would be empty. One little lie, and God struck both of them dead. Damn, Jesus, your Father sure has a temper!

It’s clear from Holy Writ that the Evangelical God cares about everything Christians do. Thus, it is not surprising that Evangelicals believe that Jesus sits in Heaven hearing their prayers, making sure that their requests align with his will. And at the exact moment a prayer lines up with the perfect will of God, the request is granted, leading the recipient to praise God’s “perfect” timing.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Evangelicals believe that these verses teach that there is a time (and purpose) for everything. Evangelicals are known for divining what happens in their lives as God’s “perfect” timing. Meet a man at Starbucks you later marry? God’s “perfect” timing. Find a red Ford Fiesta at a price you can afford? God’s “perfect” timing. Need a house to rent and find one that’s just the right price? God’s “perfect” timing. Receive a call from a church wanting you to be their next pastor? God’s “perfect” timing. Leaving a church to pastor another church? God’s “perfect” timing. Having sex with your secretary in your study? God’s “perfect” timing. Okay, I am kidding about the last one. That aside, Evangelicals believe that whatever unfolds in their lives is according to some sort of divine clock God uses to determine what will and won’t happen in their lives.

Bruce, this is nonsense! Yes, it is, but this doesn’t change the fact that most Evangelicals view God as the controller of their lives (as do many Catholics, Muslims, and other religious people). In the real world, there’s no master string-puller. Luck, and not divine decree, often facilitates many of the events in our lives. Back in my college days, I believed the Evangelical God brought my wife and me together. After all, I had planned to enroll at Prairie Bible Institute in Canada, but at the last minute God — also known as a lack of money — “led” me to register for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I planned to have fun dating as many girls as I could, eventually settling on one to marry when I was a junior or a senior. God, however, had other plans for me — a beautiful, dark-haired seventeen-year-old preacher’s daughter. I dated one girl for a couple of weeks, but then I decided to ask Polly out on a date. Talk about God playing matchmaker!  Six months later, I asked Polly to marry me, and in July we will celebrate 41 years of marriage. God’s will? God’s timing? Pfft! . . . Luck, just plain luck. Two years before meeting Polly, I was wildly in love with a college girl I met while attending a Baptist church in Sierra Vista, Arizona. We talked about marriage, and for six months we had one hell of a torrid relationship — within the boundaries of no-sex-before-marriage Christianity. And then, POOF! our relationship was over and I moved back to Ohio. Years later, I would conclude that had this girl and I married, one of us would had ended up in prison for murdering the other. Both of us had similar personalities: outgoing and temperamental. Was our failed relationship God’s “perfect” timing for our lives? Of course not. We were lucky that we dodged a bullet.

As I look back over my life, I can see luck playing out time and time again. Not always, of course. Sometimes, I can see that things happened because of decisions I made or decisions that were made by others. Who is absent in this survey of my life, however, is the Christian God.

The next time you are having an awesome roll in sheets with your lover, I hope when you achieve that mutual orgasm, you will be reminded of God’s “perfect” timing. 🙂 Or at the very least, how lucky you are to have had such a wonderful experience.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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