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Tag: Midwestern Baptist College

Bruce, What Happened to Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan?

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

I recently received the following email from a reader named Dan:

I wrote before but never received any response. I just had some curious questions and have had them for a while so thought you might know. I am from originally Downriver and former IFB. Whatever happened to Dr. Tom Malone Jr ? I could be wrong but it seems like in the early 80’s he vanished and Emmanuel Baptist seemed to sort of brush him under a rug.

Another question why do you think Emmanuel [Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan] fell apart so rapidly? I know we are aware of the “personality cult” etc. but is there a more unique reason why it just collapsed? It was collapsing while Dr. Malone was still alive, yet First Baptist Church of Hammond and some other IFB [churches] didn’t collapse. (Yes many did) I am just sort of mystified about Emmanuel. I know Temple [Baptist Church] moved out of Detroit and was successful in Plymouth not being IFB. I was just curious about your opinion on the unique collapse of Emmanuel.

Dr. Tom Malone was the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan. Malone started Emmanuel in 1942, and by the late 1960s, the church was one of the largest congregations in the United States. Malone, a graduate of Bob Jones College started his ministerial career as an evangelist. His travels later brought him to Pontiac where he pastored several churches. In 1942, according to his biographer Joyce Malone Vick, Malone resigned from Marimont Baptist Church due to “denominationalism, doctrinal heresy, and liberalism.” From this point forward until his death on January 7, 2007, Malone was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, evangelist, and conference speaker. One month later, his son Tommy, Jr., also an IFB preacher, died.

Malone started Midwestern Baptist College in 1954. Advertising itself as a “character-building factory,” Midwestern was primarily a training school for preachers. Not a large school, perhaps 400 or so students in its heyday, Midwestern trained hundreds of men, sending them across the country and to foreign countries to start IFB churches. My wife, Polly, and I attended Midwestern from 1976-1979. While we left Midwestern before our senior year due to Polly being pregnant and me being out of work, the college and Malone made a deep impression on our lives. Polly’s father, the late Lee Shope, attended Midwestern from 1972-1976, and her uncle, the late James Dennis, the former pastor of Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, attended the college from 1961-1965.

Midwestern students were required to attend Emmanuel and work in its ministries. Without the college’s students, the church’s ministries would have collapsed overnight. I worked in the bus ministry, taught Sunday school, worked in the youth department, and held afternoon services at SHAR House, a drug rehabilitation facility in Detroit. Polly worked in the bus ministry her freshman year and sang in the choir. She also was part of a traveling handbell group for two years. All students were required to attend church every time the doors were open, tithe and give offerings, and go on visitation one or more times per week. Students were required to account for in writing their “works” over the past week.

By the time, Polly and I arrived at Midwestern, Emmanuel was already in decline numerically and financially. By 1980, Emmanuel was no longer listed on Elmer Towns’ list of the largest churches/Sunday schools in America. Other IFB churches topped the list, with First Baptist Church of Hammond, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, and Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, coming in one, two, and three. Most of the churches on the 1980 list were IFB and Southern Baptist congregations. Today, only First Baptist of Hammond remains on the list. Hundreds of IFB megachurches have either drastically declined in attendance or closed their doors. Emmanuel was one such church.

By the late 1980s, Emmanuel was in steep decline. Sometime in the 1990s (I can’t find the actual date), Malone left the church, leading to wholesale attendance loss. Several years later, Malone would return, hoping to save his baby, but it was too late. Emmanuel eventually closed its doors. The church’s and college’s properties were sold off. Who received the proceeds from these sales is unknown. Midwestern, as an institution, moved classes to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. While Midwestern technically “exists,” it only has a handful of students (and may be defunct) and its website has not been updated in two years.

Dan wants to know what, exactly, happened that led to Emmanuel’s decline and closure. What follows is my educated opinion on the matter.

Tom Malone was a southerner. His preaching style reflected the style found in southern churches. Malone was a powerful preacher, an orator, and a pulpiteer. In the 1940s-1960s, southerners who had come north to Pontiac and Detroit to work in the auto plants found their way to Emmanuel — a church that felt and sounded like home. These well-paid workers helped fund Emmanuel, as did students who worked at the various auto plants. (Students could get a job at Truck and Coach by going to the admission office and putting their name on a list. Polly’s dad worked at Truck and Coach for four years. More than a few students, after graduating from Midwestern, stayed in Pontiac, unwilling to leave their good wages for the paltry wages of the ministry.) By the 1980s, the auto industry was in decline. One need only visit Detroit to see the ravages of this decline. Job losses caused numeric and economic problems for churches, including Emmanuel. Fewer people meant fewer workers. Less money meant less building maintenance and staff. During the three years Polly and I attended Emmanuel and Midwestern, pleas for money were common. By 1980, buildings and buses needed major repairs. The bus fleet, in particular, was a rolling junkyard. Emmanuel ran 60-80 busses in the 1970s, though the fleet reduction was already underway by 1979, starting with the routes operated in Detroit. The church and college continued to hemorrhage people and money throughout the 1990s, leading to their eventual closure.

As student attendance at Midwestern declined, Emmanuel had problems staffing their various ministries. Increasing pressure was put on students to do more. While Polly and I attended Midwestern, we were expected to find non-student church members to fill in for us when we went home for Christmas. Good luck with that. Non-student church members were largely uninvolved in Emmanuel’s ministries. Without Midwestern students, the Sunday school and bus ministry would have collapsed overnight.

Fewer students meant less money and fewer workers. Students gave thousands of dollars to the church, and funded college fundraising campaigns. Without student money and work, Emmanuel had a big problem on their hands. Non-student members had become passive members, expecting students to do most of the work. Now that college enrollment was in precipitous decline, members were expected to pull their weight. This did not go over well. As offerings declined due to attendance loss, Malone cut ministries, hoping to stave off serious financial problems. By this time, I suspect the big money givers that helped fund Emmanuel’s rise to megachurch status were gone. In the Detroit metro area, there are IFB churches on virtually every street corner. Get pissed off at one church? Move on to another. Church hopping is common.

While Malone was a charismatic preacher, he could also be a bully, as could many church and college staff members. This kind of behavior is common in IFB churches and institutions. The IFB church movement revolves around men. These men can be quite demanding and controlling (generally speaking). Abuse and trauma are common — just ask former IFB church members. I suspect that over time, church members were less willing to put up with Malone’s authoritarianism. Rumors abound, but what actually went on behind closed doors remains unknown. Malone’s devotees continue to paint him as a saint, but Doc was a flawed, sinful man, a product of his time. I wish the people who knew him the best would be honest about the past. I have in my possession the book, Tom Malone: The Preacher From Pontiac. Written by his daughter Joyce Vick, the book glosses over Malone’s character flaws, foibles, and church problems. Such books are common in IFB circles. Man is deified, lest people think IFB preachers have feet of clay.

bruce and polly gerencser 1976
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976

IFB churches and their pastors are known for being unmovable and unchangeable. Malone was no different. As the culture around him changed socially, religiously, politically, and economically, Malone dug his feet in, vowing to defend “old-fashioned” Christianity — “old-fashioned” meaning 1950s. I suspect his immovability caused some members to seek out churches that weren’t as ardently Fundamentalist.

Take the things mentioned in this post and combine them, you have a recipe for a church’s decline and death. Scores of IFB churches that once ran thousands in attendance are now closed. Other IFB churches are shells of what they once were. In time, unless it changes, the IFB church movement will decline to such a degree that it will become a footnote in history. Every IFB church and institution I was associated with is in numerical and economic decline. Gone are the days of burgeoning attendances and overflowing offering plates. Now, it seems, IFB churches are focused on “quality, not quantity,” a philosophy they roundly decried 30-40 years ago.

Tom “Tommy” Malone, Jr. was a graduate of Midwestern, its vice president, and the church’s assistant pastor. While Malone, Sr. has an earned doctorate from Wayne State University — a rarity in IFB circles — Malone, Jr, had an honorary doctorate granted to him by his father. (Malone, Jr. did have an earned master’s degree from the University of Detroit. Midwestern gave numerous supporters of the college honorary doctorates. If you happen to come across a Midwestern grad parroting the fact he has a doctorate, it is most likely an honorary degree or a doctorate from an unaccredited diploma mill. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor.)

I know very little about what happened to Malone, Jr. I know he and his wife divorced. Malone, Jr. according to rumors, wandered away from the Lord, later returning to the fold. Malone, Jr, died one month after his father, in February 2007.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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My IFB Lineage

ifb

Dear Lord,

I know that I am a sinner.

I know that you died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead three days later.

I am sorry for my sin.

Please forgive me of my sin and come into my heart to save me.

In Jesus’s name,

Amen

And so it began.

In 1962, the Gerencser family started attending Scott Memorial Baptist Church in El Cajon, California. My parents soon made public professions of faith, becoming born again. It was not long after that I also was saved. One Sunday, a junior church leader asked if there was anyone who wanted to ask Jesus into their heart. With my black and white saddle shoes tucked under my seat so no one could see I was wearing “girls” shoes, I timidly raised my hand. A worker came to where I was seated and shared the plan of salvation with me. After the worker was finished, she asked me if I wanted to get saved. I said “yes.” I prayed a prayer similar to the one above, and sixty seconds later, I went from a child of Satan to a child of God. I was five. Forty-five years later, I walked out of the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, never to return to a Christian church for anything other than weddings and funerals. After several months of pondering what it was I had become, I publicly admitted I was an atheist.

It is not uncommon for Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) children to make several salvation decisions. At the age of fifteen, during a revival meeting at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, the “Holy Spirit,” also known as Evangelist Al Lacy, brought conviction of sin and need of salvation into my heart, leading me to step out of my pew during the invitation and come forward to get saved. Ray Salisbury, a deacon, knelt with me at the altar, sharing with me the Romans Road. He asked me if I would like to ask Jesus to save me, and I said yes. And just like I did a decade before, I prayed a simple prayer, asking Jesus to forgive me, save me, and come into my life. From that moment forward, I knew I was a born-again Christian. Two weeks later, I went forward again and professed to the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. Four years later, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. While at Midwestern, I married an IFB pastor’s daughter. In 1979, we left Midwestern, moving to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth. Two weeks later, I started working for Montpelier Baptist Church, an IFB church affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC).

I am a product of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. That said, there came a time when I left the IFB church movement. One of the biggest problems I have as a writer is with people pigeonholing me. They will read a few posts and then make sweeping judgments about my life. Recently, I had a mainline Christian dismiss something I said because of my IFB past. In his mind, once a Fundamentalist, always a Fundamentalist. I reminded him that my comment was Bruce speaking NOW, not Bruce from forty years ago. My thinking and understanding have greatly changed over the years, but some people refuse to see this, instead dismissing me with a wave of their hands, saying, “Once a Fundy, Always a Fundy.” Instead of granting me the space to grow and mature, they pick out a particular moment on my timeline and say, “whatever Bruce believed in _______ (put in a year), he still believes today.” This is patently untrue and reveals that my interlocutor has not invested the requisite time necessary to understand my story and evolving beliefs. There’s not much I can do about this. We live in a day of quick takes and sound bites. This, of course, leads to erroneous conclusions about my life. In this post, I want to talk about my IFB lineage and at what point in my life I stopped being an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. My IFB beginning is easy to pin down: Scott Memorial Baptist Church and its pastor Tim LaHaye. However, pinning down when I was no longer IFB provides a greater challenge. At what point did I completely abandon IFB beliefs and practices? Or did I ever completely repudiate the IFB? Answering these questions requires more work than just pointing to a pin on my timeline.

As a child, I regularly attended IFB churches with my parents and siblings. Two of the churches we attended were Bible churches — IFB churches without the label. We also attended a Southern Baptist church plant, Eastland Baptist Church, in Bryan. There’s no material difference between an IFB church and an SBC church. In fact, many of the early leaders of the IFB church movement were Southern Baptist and American Baptist pastors who left their respective conventions because of perceived liberalism.

In the summer of 1970, we moved to Findlay, Ohio. I was thirteen. We started attending Calvary Baptist Church (a GARBC congregation), but after a couple of months, we moved toTrinity Baptist Church on Trenton Ave. Trinity was affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF), one of the many IFB fellowship groups. It was at Trinity that I immersed myself in all things IFB, especially after I got saved in the fall of 1972. My parents divorced in April 1972, leaving the church, never to return. I, on the other hand, embraced Trinity as my family. To their credit, they gave me the love and support my parents were unable or unwilling to provide.

In the spring of my tenth-grade year, my dad moved us to Tucson, Arizona. As I had been taught to do by my pastors, I quickly sought out a new church to attend, the Tucson Baptist Temple, pastored by Louis Johnson. Tucson Baptist was affiliated with the BBF.

Over the next three years, I moved back and forth between my dad’s home and my mom’s. Every time I moved, I found a new IFB church to attend. I was attending First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio in the fall of 1976 when I moved to Pontiac to attend Midwestern.

Midwestern was a small, but well-respected IFB college. Dr. Tom Malone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church (one of the largest churches in the country at the time) started Midwestern in 1954. The college advertised itself as a “character-building factory.” Midwestern was IFB through and through, so it should come as no surprise that when I left Midwestern in the spring of 1979, I was a hardcore, King James-only, Fundamentalist Baptist preacher.

As I mentioned above, the first church I worked for was Montpelier Baptist Church. After seven months, we moved to Newark, Ohio, the home of Polly’s parents. For a while, we attended the Newark Baptist Temple, pastored by Polly’s uncle, James Dennis. (The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis. In the early 1980s, Polly’s father, who was an assistant pastor at the Baptist Temple, decided to start a new IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. Never feeling at home at the Baptist Temple, Polly and I decided to help Dad with his new church. For the next two years, I was the assistant pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church (also called the “Bean Pot Church” because we met a former restaurant building called the Bean Pot).

In July 1983, I started a new IFB church in Somerset, Ohio. I pastored this church for eleven years. I was still quite IFB when I started Somerset Baptist Church, but by the time I resigned and moved to San Antonio, Texas to co-pastor Community Baptist Church I had stopped identifying as IFB. What happened?

Two things happened that forced me to reconsider my sincerely held IFB beliefs. First, there was the Jack Hyles scandal. (Please see The Legacy of IFB Pastor Jack Hyles.) Hyles was an IFB demigod who pastored the largest church in the United States, First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. In 1989, Hyles was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with his secretary:

Accusations of improper sexual behavior and financial and emotional abuse are elements of Hyles’ legacy. In 1989, the paper The Biblical Evangelist published a story “The Saddest Story We Ever Published,” accusing Hyles of sexual scandals, financial misappropriation and doctrinal errors. These charges were denied by Hyles who deemed them “lies.” He was accused of a decade long affair with his secretary, Jennie Nischik, who happened to be the wife of a church deacon, Victor Nischik.

It was during this time that rumors were circulating about the predatory behavior of David Hyles, Jack Hyles’ son. David Hyles was a youth pastor at First Baptist. During his tenure, he sexually preyed on teen girls. Jack Hyles covered up his son’s crimes and shipped him off to a church in Texas. While there, he had numerous affairs with church women. David Hyles’ immoral behavior has continued over the years, yet there are still IFB preachers who support him.

The Hyles scandals caused an uproar in the IFB community. Some people were Pro-Hyles, others were not. I was not. The blind loyalty and support for both Jack and David Hyles troubled me, causing me to question whether I still wanted to be associated with the IFB church movement.

The second thing that happened was the release of John MacArthur’s seminal book, The Gospel According to Jesus. This book fundamentally changed how I viewed the gospel. I concluded that I had been preaching a truncated, bastardized gospel, one that was little more than one-two-three-repeat-after-me easy believism (also called decisional regeneration). Coming to this conclusion forced me to radically change my beliefs and practices. I embraced Calvinism and started preaching expositionally. Some of my colleagues in the ministry deemed me a liberal and broke fellowship with me. I made new friends with men associated with Sovereign Grace and Reformed Baptists. Was this the moment I left the IFB?

Many of my new friends were former IFB and Southern Baptist pastors. Much like me, these men saw the bankruptcy of the IFB church movement and wanted nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, my new friends and I left the IFB, but its worldview was still very much with us. I knew a number of Sovereign Grace and Reformed Baptist pastors who were every bit as Fundamentalist as the IFB pastors/churches they despised.

It would not be until the early 2000s that I was finally free from the IFB church movement. While I was still Evangelical theologically, I was no longer KJV-only, I no longer stressed social Fundamentalism, and I was quite ecumenical in my approach to other Christians. I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio from 1995-2002. Started as Grace Baptist Church, I changed the church’s name to better reflect its moderation and ecumenism. My theological and political beliefs continued to move leftward. I voted Democrat in 2000, a sure sign of my increasing liberalism. I also started to question what it meant to be a Christian. I concluded that it was our works that determined whether we were Christians, not mental assent to a list of propositional facts.

In 2005, I pastored my last church, Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. Victory was affiliated with the SBC. One Sunday a theologically astute young man who was a member of Somerset Baptist Church in the early 1990s visited Victory to hear me preach. He told me that my preaching had changed; that I was preaching a “social gospel.” I am sure this alarmed him. The focus of my preaching had indeed changed. While I still affirmed the central claims of Christianity, my focus had changed. I came to see that the religion of Jesus was all about good works, not right beliefs; that our eternal destiny was determined by how we lived, not what we believed.

While I was still an Evangelical preacher, I had abandoned the beliefs and practices of the IFB church movement. In the eyes of some of my colleagues in the ministry, I was a liberal or an apostate. I will leave it to others to judge my life. All I know is that I loved Jesus to the end. My theology may have changed, but my love for my Savior never changed — until it did.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

I Made the Mistake of Checking Out the Facebook Profiles of Former IFB College Friends

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

Last Monday, I tested positive for COVID, as did my wife and our oldest daughter. Thanks to vaccines — we are triple-vaxxed, having received our last vaccination in May — and, in my case, Paxlovid, an anti-viral drug, we avoided hospitalization and possible death (a likely outcome for me without the vaccines). While Bethany is back to her ornery self and Polly is mostly recovered, save for a nagging cough and sinus drainage, my recovery, as expected, has been much slower. I still have a good bit of congestion and I am quite weak. Much better? Absolutely! All praise be to science! But, I suspect it will take some time before I return to my normal sickly self where pain is my biggest problem.

I have spent a lot of time in bed over the past nine days trying to combat weakness and fatigue. Of course, spending time in bed doesn’t necessarily lead to sleep. Pain often precludes me from sleeping, and when it does, I try to “rest,” watching YouTube videos, catching up on recorded TV programs, and surfing the Internet. Sometimes, resting eventually brings sleep, other times it doesn’t. I learned long ago to not fight my body when it comes to sleep.

Last night, I stumbled upon the Facebook profile of a man I knew back when both of us studied for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. This man, a megachurch pastor’s son, was an usher for my wedding. After perusing his Facebook wall, I took a look at his friend list. (Yes, his list was public, a really bad idea.) I noticed that he was friends with lots of people who were also students at Midwestern back in the day. With lots of time on my hands — after all, how much time can you spend reading the Bible and praying 🙂 — I started stalking my former college friends, looking at what they had posted on their Facebook walls. Click, scroll, click, scroll, click, scroll . . . and as I did so, I found myself becoming increasingly depressed. After looking at three dozen or so profiles, I concluded that I had made a mistake; that knowledge wasn’t power.

Every person — and I mean EVERY — was still either an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian, or, at the very least, a right-wing Evangelical. The hatred and vitriol toward the “world,” atheists, liberals, progressives, Democrats, socialists, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama was on full display. To the person, they were Trump-loving, gun-loving, forced birthers, anti-LGBTQ Republicans. And proudly so. I looked in vain for anyone who was a Democrat, a member of a mainline Christian denomination, or who had lost their faith altogether. Taken together, what I found was a monoculture, a cult-like enclave where fealty to rigid, narrow, unbending beliefs was required for admission. What troubled me the most was the devotion to Trump. Even after two impeachments and the January 6th hearing, they still supported the disgraced immoral ex-president.

This shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. If I could break free from IFB thinking, why can’t others? What is it that insulates Fundamentalists from reality? Is there nothing that can change their minds? I recognize that I am, for whatever reason, an exception to the rule, as is my wife. Sure, scores of IFB congregants exit stage left, moving on to friendlier confines, but it seems that few pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and professors are willing to do so, especially once they have been in the ministry for decades. Why is that?

While I found myself depressed over what I saw, I also felt gratitude. I escaped. I found a way to break free. Am I special? Nope, I am lucky. While I continue to struggle with guilt and regret over the harm I caused my family, my counselor reminded me that life could be a lot worse for me and my family had I remained Pastor Bruce Gerencser, the family patriarch. Imagine how life might be for Polly and our children had I remained in the ministry; had I maintained my rigid Fundamentalist beliefs and practices? I can’t think of any way in which that would have been a good thing. So, while it depresses me that my former college friends have matured very little from the days we roamed the hallways of the Midwestern dormitory, I am grateful that I escaped.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

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

humble pastor

Part One

Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

humble pastor

Part One

Part Two

Why are so many Evangelical preachers arrogant and full of themselves? While it would be easy to answer this question simply by saying that these so-called “men of God” are narcissistic Assholes for Jesus®, the correct answer is more complex and nuanced. In what follows, I will use the fifty years I spent in Christianity and the twenty-five years I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan as a backdrop as I attempt to answer this question. While no two life stories are exactly the same, I am confident that I can pick things out of my own story that can also be found in the life stories of many Evangelical preachers. Readers who were long-time members of Evangelical churches or once in the ministry themselves will likely agree with much of what I have written here. Try as we humans might — thinking we are special, unique snowflakes — to frame our stories as different from the rest, certain sociological, psychological, biological, and tribal influences directly affect how we live our lives, revealing that none of us is as radically distinctive as we think we are.

In the 1960s, my parents moved to California, hoping to find a pot filled with gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. While they never found great wealth, my parents did embrace certain religious and political beliefs that would dramatically change not only their lives, but mine. Mom and Dad both found Jesus at Tim LaHaye’s church — Scott Memorial Baptist Church — and while attending Scott Memorial, were exposed to the uber-right-wing anti-communist group The John Birch Society. My parents, overnight, became Fundamentalist Christian zealots and defenders of right-wing political extremism. While in California, Mom campaigned for Barry Goldwater, hoping that he would unseat incumbent Democratic president Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election. Goldwater lost the election, garnering only thirty-eight percent of the popular vote.

Not long after my parents became born-again Christians, I too gave my heart to Jesus. This youthful, uninformed, manipulated-by-children’s-church-workers decision was the first step of many I would take as I followed after and served the Evangelical Jesus. Not long after asking Jesus into my heart, I told Mom that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. A decade later, as is common among Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB), I made another public profession of faith, and a few weeks later I informed the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. This one moment, publicly saying that Jesus wanted me to be a “man of God,” would color and affect virtually every important decision I would make for the rest of my life.

A week or so after I let the church know I was called to preach, I preached my first sermon. I was fifteen. I would preach my last sermon thirty-three years later. All told I preached 4,000+ sermons. During this span of time, I attended an IFB college to study for the ministry, married an IFB pastor’s daughter who was looking to marry a preacher, was the assistant pastor of two churches, and pastored five churches. I also started four new churches, two Christian schools, and a multi-church youth fellowship. While at the various churches I pastored, I started street preaching ministries, nursing home ministries, and youth groups, along with preaching numerous special meetings (revivals, conferences, etc). I also attended pastors’ fellowship meetings, and supported fellow pastors when their churches had revivals and conferences.

In the mid-1970s, I spent three years at Midwestern Baptist College training for the ministry. I met Polly there, and during the summer between our sophomore and junior year years, we married, excited that God had called both of us to into full-time service — me to a life of praise and adulation and Polly to a life of watching the nursery and dutifully modeling the patriarchal way of life. It should come as no surprise then, that Polly’s view of the twenty-five years we spent in the ministry is very different from mine.

During the three years I spent training for the ministry, I taught Sunday school, worked in the bus ministry, helped with the youth group, and held services at a drug rehab/halfway house in Detroit. Unlike many of the men who attended Midwestern, I actually gained a lot of preaching experience by the time I left Midwestern in the spring of 1979. It was not uncommon for men to graduate from Midwestern having only preached sermons in their homiletics class and infrequent services at their home churches.

While attending Midwestern, it was drilled into my head that it was GOD, not MAN, who had called me to preach; that no one but God could tell me what to preach. I was also taught the importance of following the leading of the Holy Spirit, not only in my preaching, but also in determining whether I should start a new church or become the pastor of an established church. As a preacher, according to what was modeled to me by my pastors and what I was taught in college, I answered to no one but God. Jesus may have been head of the church, but on earth I was the final authority on spiritual and theological matters.

Baptists love to attack the Roman Catholic Church with its Pope and his infallible pronouncements, yet they seem blind to the fact that in their churches, every church has its own little pope — the pastor. Saved by God, called by God, filled with the Spirit of God, led by God, and given absolute authority, these Evangelical chosen ones rule their churches as kings and potentates. Pastors, commanded by God to “humbly” sit at the head of the table, expected congregants to submit to their God-given authority, obeying those that have the rule over them (Hebrews 13:17).

Some Evangelical churches, hoping to correct the excesses of single-pastor church rule, have a plurality of pastors (elders) or have governing boards.  All these polity changes do is increase the number of bwanas. The end result is the same: a man or small group of men rule over the church. And more often than not, in churches with governing boards, there is one man, the senior/preaching pastor, who is the hub around which the church turns. As is clear to anyone who is paying attention, Evangelical churches are all about the man who stands at the front of the church and preaches and teaches the Bible. Whether intentional or not, Evangelical churches become Pastor So-and-So’s church. His name is on the sign, bulletin, and every piece of advertising put out by the church. It is not uncommon for congregants to say when asked where they attend church, I go to Pastor Ain’t He Awesome’s church. Churches pastored by men with John Holmes-sized oratorical prowess take great pride in having a pastor who is a great pulpiteer.

I preached thousands of sermons during my time as a pastor, and, hopefully without coming off as braggadocios, was considered by the people I pastored and my peers to be an excellent public speaker. My sermons were well-crafted, steeped in study and prayer, and delivered with passion and animation. I expected every sermon I preached to be used by God to save the lost and motivate the saints. I expected to see visible human responses — be it nodding heads, shouts of “amen,” raised hands, or tears — during my sermons, and at the end, I expected to see movement towards the front during altar calls. I was of the opinion then, and am still of this persuasion today, that public speakers should always bring audiences to a place of acting on that which they have heard — be it getting saved, getting right with God, or advancing this or that political cause.

Evangelical preachers believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. Every word is straight from the mouth of God, and with rare exception, these God-breathed words are meant to be understood literally. This way of reading the Bible forces Evangelical preachers to defend all sorts of absurd beliefs; things such as the idea that the universe was created in six twenty-four-hour days and is six-thousand and twenty-four years old. Ministries such as Answers in Genesis and Creation Research Institute were established to give literalism a veneer of respectability, and countless apologetical books are published in the hope that pastors will read them so they are better equipped to defend Evangelicalism’s literalistic view of the Bible.

Let me conclude this post by tying everything together, setting the foundation for what I will write in Part Two. Evangelical preachers are saved and called into the ministry by God. They are viewed as people uniquely qualified to teach and preach the Bible. From the moment Evangelical preachers are called into the ministry until they preach their last sermon, they are treated as special and placed in positions of honor, power, and authority few Christians ever experience. Evangelical pastors who go off to college to be trained for the ministry are reminded by their professors and chapel speakers that God has given them the greatest job on earth; that becoming president of the United States would be a step down for them; that God will greatly reward them in heaven if they give their hearts, souls, and minds to the work of the ministry; that if God so chooses, they might even see Him use them to reap harvests of souls and build large churches.

Trace the life of the typical Evangelical preacher and you will find a lifetime of adulation, praise, and being in the spotlight. Even in small country churches deep in back-woods hollers, preachers are honored and revered. Is it any wonder, taking all that I have said in this post, that many Evangelical preachers become arrogant and full of themselves? Rare is the man who can handle a lifetime of praise and adoration, coupled with absolute power, control, and authority, and not be adversely affected, particularly when you factor in the Type-A, narcissistic, workaholic, driven personalities many preachers have. And rarer still is the man who is willing to admit these things.

I am sure some Evangelical preachers will self-righteously and indignantly say that they were NOT like me, but with their protestations they will only prove my point. I hope, at the very least, Evangelical pastors, evangelists, and missionaries will shut up and listen to what this old curmudgeon has to say. I may now be an atheist, but my leaving the ministry and Christianity has allowed me to have a unique view of Evangelical preachers and the work of the ministry. Perhaps I yet have a sermon to preach to those who claim by their words and actions to be know-it-alls for God.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Why Our Christians Friends Leave Us When We Deconvert

church is a family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Short Stories: The Day I Stuffed an Atheist in a Trash Can

devil in trash can

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Is it a Sin to Kiss Your Boyfriend?

kissing

Every day, without fail, women somewhere in the world search for “is it a sin to kiss my boyfriend?” Thanks to the post, Hey Girlfriend: Is it a Sin to Kiss Your Boyfriend?, this blog is the number one Google search result. I can’t remember the last time I looked at search logs and didn’t see a handful of visitors coming to this site to find out whether it is okay to swap spit with their boyfriends. I say female visitors, because I’ve never seen a male come to my site as a result of a “is it a sin to kiss my girlfriend” web search. It seems that women have a lot more angst about kissing their boyfriends than boyfriends do about kissing them. I’ve often wondered what it is that drives women to seek out anonymous Internet advice about boyfriend-kissing. Are these women being pressured by their boyfriends to be physically intimate? Probably. Kissing is very much a part of the human experience. Sadly, as with most things that are pleasurable, Evangelicals have deemed kissing between unmarried men and women to be a sin. Let me explain how Evangelicals come to this “Biblical” position.

First, Evangelicals believe that, thanks to Adam and Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden 6,024 years ago, the human race is, by nature, sinful. Born into sin, every human being is at variance with God. The Bible says that infants come forth from the womb speaking lies. We don’t become sinners, we are sinners. The Bible says human hearts are deceitful and wicked, so much so that none of us can truly know our hearts. Because of our fallen nature, we desire to fulfill the lusts of the flesh. At the top of the Evangelical lust list are a variety of sexual sins: fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, masturbation, petting, spooning, and looking at a woman with lust in your heart. Believing that inappropriate physical contact with the opposite sex (there are no gays in the Evangelical church) is a gateway to serious sexual sins such as fornication and adultery, many Evangelical sects, churches, pastors, and families adopt strict rules governing physical intimacy between unmarrieds. For those not raised in Evangelical churches, they will likely find the remainder of this post beyond belief, but rest assured that what I share next can be found in countless Evangelical churches and homes.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s — the era of free love. While hippies were smoking marijuana, listening to rock music, and exploring their sexuality, the unmarried students at Midwestern were expected to maintain a six-inch distance from each other at all times. If you have not read the post, Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule, I encourage you to do so. It goes into great detail explaining how the puritanical leadership at Midwestern made sure students kept their distance from each other. Most of the students at Midwestern came from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches that also had some sort of prohibition against physical contact. During my teenage years, I was a member of Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio, and First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio. Both churches frowned on teenagers and young adults touching one another. Violating the no-touch policy resulted in scoldings and separation during church services from your boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes, the pastors would spend time during their sermons rebuking sexually aware unmarrieds for their inappropriate touching. Time was also spent during youth group meetings drilling it into the heads of teenagers that God did not approve of them intimately touching each other. It should come as no surprise then that when unmarrieds were unable to abstain from acting on their normal, healthy sexual desires, they were often filled with guilt and fear. And I’m not talking about having sexual intercourse. More than a few teenagers found themselves ridden with guilt over holding hands with their girlfriend during church services or putting an arm around their boyfriend when no one was looking. Of course, there was certainly plenty of rounding-third and sliding-into-home sexual activity going on. In recent years, I’ve had the privilege of becoming reacquainted with several friends from my high school days. The stories they tell about their own sexual experiences during our youth group years are certainly different from mine. I’ve concluded that pretty much everybody in the youth group was sexually active except me. I was a good Baptist boy who played by the rules. While I certainly held hands with girls, put my arms around them, and kissed them, I (barely) maintained my virginity until my wedding day.

There are several verses in the Bible that Evangelical preachers use to justify their hands-off rules. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 states:

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

It is good for an unmarried man to NOT touch a woman, God says. Didn’t Jesus himself warn that just an inappropriate look at a woman can cause men to commit adultery in their hearts? From these verses, Evangelical preachers justified their no-touch rules; rules, by the way, that most of them didn’t keep when they were young unmarrieds.

Preachers also used what I call the kitchen-sink verses to prop up their preaching against sexual sin:

Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:15,16)

Neither give place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:27)

Those raised in Evangelical churches know that these verses (and others) were often used by preachers to label virtually anything and everything “sin.” (Please read The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook and An Independent Baptist Hate List.)

Young women in particular were psychologically abused by Evangelical preachers who felt it was their duty to make sure that the women were virgins on their wedding day. Preachers shared horror stories about women who engaged in premarital sex. Virtually all the preaching was directed towards women. After all, they were the gatekeepers. It was up to them to keep their legs closed when horn-dog young men came sniffing around. Men are weak, the thinking goes, so it is up to Susie to make sure that both Johnny and Susie are virgins on their wedding day. And the best way to do this is to not have physical contact with each other before marriage. Just remember, the preacher says. No girl has ever gotten pregnant without holding hands or kissing a boy first! I kid you not, handholding was viewed as some sort of gateway, a gate which, once unmarrieds walked through, would lead directly to them being given over to fornication. I know this sounds crazy, but this line of thinking is still quite prominent today. This is why so many unmarried women do Google searches for “is it a sin to kiss my boyfriend?” They likely attend churches that prohibit physical contact between unmarrieds. Yet, when they are away from the prying eyes of their pastors and parents, these sexually aware young adults engage in various forms of sexual intimacy. Fear and guilt follow, so they seek out “help” for dealing with their “lustful” desires.

Here’s my advice to those who are psychologically and spiritually troubled over holding hands with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Your feelings and desires are normal. Sexually aware people naturally desire physical intimacy. The key is to embrace your sexuality and act responsibly. This means you will have to ignore what your windbag preacher is telling you. It’s highly unlikely that any of the adults who are telling you that physical contact is a sin practiced what they preach. These hypocrites should spend their time teaching unmarrieds sexual responsibility. Most young adults will have sexual intercourse before they are married. While your church may consider this a sin, those outside of the Evangelical church view sexual intimacy as a normal part of the human experience. Educate yourself about sex and make sure you always use birth control. I realize your preacher likely has said that using birth control is you preparing to sin, but I think we would all agree that unwanted pregnancies are a bad idea, and the only way to avoid them is to use birth control. Don’t allow the puritanical sexual standards of others to dictate what you will do. It’s your body, your life. And as far as kissing your boyfriend is concerned? Kiss away. A kiss is just a kiss. It can lead to more intimate behavior, but it also can be just that — a kiss. Remember, you — not your church, parents, or preacher — are in control of what you do sexually. Those who demand that you maintain your distance from the opposite sex are stunting your development.

Part of growing up is the exploration of our sexuality. This includes masturbation. Anyone who tells you that masturbation is a sin is someone you need to stop listening to. Much like the desire for physical interaction with the opposite sex, masturbation is normal, healthy behavior. I guarantee you that most of the married adults in your church masturbated before they were married. And I think I would be safe in saying that many of them still do. Masturbation is a great way to release sexual tension, especially when one is not ready to have sexual intercourse. What I’m saying here is that it is all good. Sexual want, need, and desire are very much a part of the human experience. I encourage you to embrace your sexuality and enjoy all the pleasure that comes from doing so.

Please see Hey Girlfriend: Is it a Sin to Kiss Your Boyfriend?

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Who is This Bruce Gerencser This YouTube Commenter Speaks Of?

bruce gerencser august 2021

In recent years, I have done a number of newspaper, video, and YouTube interviews. Doing so exposes me to the wrath and hatred of Evangelical zealots, especially of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) variety. To be fair, I also receive a number of positive comments, especially about my beard and sexiness. 🙂 Evangelical zealots typically attack my motives and character, often calling me names. Such people are fond of saying I am a liar; that they know me personally and know that my story is not true. Of course, these people never — I MEAN NEVER — come out of the shadows so I can confront my accusers. Instead, they hide in their parent’s basement, hurling invectives my way from their IBM 286 computer with a dial-up modem.

Over the coming months, I have two interviews on the calendar — Loki-willing. Like it or not, I am considered an expert on the IFB church movement. I’ll have reporters call me asking for background on the movement. One reporter emailed me for weeks, asking me to define IFB specific words he was unfamiliar with. I gladly obliged him.

Two months ago, McKinnon Mitchell interviewed me for his documentary on young-earth creationist, convicted felon, and wife-beater Kent Hovind. Hovind and I both went to Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s. Midwestern is an IFB institution. I was able to provide McKinnon background information on the people, beliefs, and churches that influenced Hovind. I thought our interview went well. McKinnon is a delightful man. I wished he lived near me. I would love to take him out for dinner and shoot the breeze.

If you haven’t seen my interview, you can view it on YouTube.

Video Link

Here’s the raw video of my interview, which was edited for the documentary.

Video

Part Two of McKinnon’s documentary:

Video Link

I want to focus on comments by someone named Rod Almond found on McKinnon’s first video:

youtube comments (2)
youtube comments (1)

Rod Almond, of course, is a fake name, possibly a reference to the “almond rod” found in the Bible. I have no idea who he is. Almond states:

  • He personally knows me
  • I am not to be trusted
  • I am full of bullshit
  • My goals (on this blog) are self-serving
  • I have no desire to help people
  • I am a liar
  • I am self-serving
  • He knows people I have personally lied to
  • He knows people I have trashed and used for selfish purposes
  • I am a sensationalist
  • and . . .

Damn, what comes after the “and”? 🙂

Over the past fifteen years, I have had a few Rod Almonds hurl accusations at me, always using fake names to attack my character and spread lies about me. One person said they were a former parishioner, another said they attended church with me at the Newark Baptist Temple in the early 1980s. Not one of these Rod Almonds will put their real name to their accusations. Why is that? If I have hurt someone, I genuinely want to know so I can make things right. I want to make sure that any misunderstandings are corrected. Despite offering them an opportunity to engage me on my alleged offenses, not one of them has been willing to do so. Instead, they lurk in the shadows, hurling rocks at me, along with my wife, children, and the readers of this blog.

Long-time readers of this blog know that I am an open, honest man. I’ve made mistakes — lots of them — in my life. I have gone out of my way to atone for my “sins.” In fact, this blog can be viewed as a fifteen-year act of penance. I write under my own name. I don’t hide from my past or present life. Anyone can contact me via the CONTACT page. I am literally a click or two away. Thus, I can’t help but conclude that the Rod Almonds of the world are not honest interlocutors; their objective is to cause harm or hurt. To such people I say, fuck off. 🙂

If you are someone who wants me to atone for some perceived “sin,” please contact me so we can talk. If not, I will assume you are a dishonest person who just wants to bitch, moan, and complain; a person whose only objective is to cause harm.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser