Tag Archive: Midwestern Baptist College

Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule

six inch rule

Imagine for a moment, that you are sitting in the pew of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. You are 16 years old and sitting next to you is your 17-year-old girlfriend. As with any normal teenager, you are sitting as close as possible to your girlfriend and the two of you are holding hands.

The pastor is getting ready to preach and he asks everyone to turn to 1 Corinthians 7:1,2. With a thunderous voice, the pastor says, THE BIBLE SAYS:

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. (1 Corinthians 7:1,2)

and THE BIBLE ALSO SAYS:

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

All of a sudden, the pastor turns your way, looks at you and your girlfriend, and then slowly turns back to his sermon notes. You feel guilty, so you unclasp your hand from your girlfriends and you scoot a few inches away from her.

Welcome, to just-another-Sunday-morning service at First Independent Baptist Church of Bible, Believersville, Ohio.

In the real world, teenage boys and girls hold hands, put their arms around each other, and kiss each other. We also know that some of them engage in intimate sexual activity. But at First Independent Baptist Church, any physical contact between unmarried teenagers or unmarried young adults of the opposite sex is strictly prohibited.

The thinking goes something like this: fornication, the intimate sexual contact between unmarried people, is a SIN. Committing fornication requires touching, so the best way to avoid fornication is to keep unmarried teenagers or single young adults from touching each other.

Over the years, I told countless teenagers that no girl ever got pregnant without holding hands with a boy first. I repeatedly told them that holding hands leads to familiarity and before you know it you’ll be having sex. So the answer is, no touching.

When I was a teenager, my pastor preached against boys and girls touching each other. Now, this doesn’t mean we didn’t touch each other, it just means that we did our touching away from the sight of the pastor, youth director, deacons, and other church adults.

We turned it into a game. The pastor said we couldn’t touch each other, so while choir practice was going on we would find out-of-the-way places to neck. It was almost like a challenge: we dare you to catch us.

From the age of 14 until my wedding day, I kissed a few girls, put my arm around them, and held their hands. But, that’s where it stopped. Both my wife and I were virgins when we married in 1978.

Polly and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac Michigan. The college had a strict no-touch rule. The rule was called the six-inch rule. (about the width of a hymnbook) Young men and women were expected to keep 6 inches away from each other at all times. Failure to do so resulted in severe discipline.

Living in a dorm filled with normal, hormone-raging, heterosexual men and women made the six-inch rule a real challenge. Most of us learned how to discreetly break the rule, and when we went out on double dates we learned to double date with couples who were six-inch rule breakers as we were.

Sandra, a regular reader of this blog, shared in a comment about her time at Hyles Anderson College:

About the gateway issues with card playing . . .I’m not psychologist but I do believe if you restrict normal human behavior in one way, normal human behavior will come out in another. When at Hyles Anderson we were all told to not touch the opposite sex. I mean, no hand holding (which was fine with me and the IFB church I was in before I left for HAC). But no touching through a pen either, like tapping on a shoulder.

We are social beings and I do believe we need touch to stay alive. When at HAC, since all of the women were not allowed to touch a man on his hand or to tap his back with a pen, guess what happened? The dean of woman (Miss Belinda) said she noticed a LOT of petting going on between the women. In chapel, women would sit next to women and they’d pet each other’s hair, they’d stroke each other’s leg. And she was right – all of that behavior was happening. But my question is why? Probably due to the human need for basic touch. Since the women were not allowed to hug their own blood brother on campus, nor to hold hands for 5 seconds, nor to tap a man on the back with a pencil. . .is it any wonder that the women found a way to get physical touch in their lives? It is normal to want a hug and to rub someone’s bad when they are hurting. By repressing opposite sex touching, they encouraged same-sex touching and it was very evident.

Ponder for a moment being exposed to this kind of environment. Is it any wonder that people coming out the IFB church movement often have to deal with emotional, mental, and sexual dysfunction?

When you are constantly told that a normal human desire is sinful, it is bound cause psychological damage. Being normal heterosexuals, we could only suppress our desires for so long, so we found creative ways to get around the rules and the ever-watchful eyes of those charged with keeping us from fornicating.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, February 1978 The irony of this picture is that we were allowed to break the rule while the photographer took the picture.

In a chapter of The Fundy World Tales I wrote:

Another time I was written up for breaking the six-inch rule. The six-inch rule was a rule meant to keep unmarried men and women from getting too close to each other. Six inches is about the width of a songbook or a Bible and unmarried students were not allowed to be closer than a songbook or a Bible from each other.

I was on the college basketball team. One day during practice I slapped at a basketball and severely dislocated a finger. I was rushed to the emergency room and the doctor was able to fix the dislocation. I’m left-handed and the dislocation had occurred on my left hand.

Every male student was required to wear a tie to class. I found it very difficult to tie a tie with one hand, so one day I asked my fiancé to tie my tie for me. In doing so we broke the six-inch rule. Someone anonymously turned us in for breaking the six-inch rule and we had to appear before the disciplinary committee to answer the charges against us.

We each receive 25 demerits for breaking the six-inch rule. We were warned that if we broke the six-inch rule again we would be expelled from school. Little did they know that we had been breaking it for quite some time.

Most dormitory students lived for the weekend. Students could only date on the weekends. Double dating was required and no student could go farther away than 10 miles from the dormitory. This was called the 10 mile limit. No physical contact between students was allowed. No kissing. No holding hands. No physical contact whatsoever.

Most students tried to adhere to the rules for a while. Some, like my fiancé and me, kept the six-inch rule religiously until we went home for our first Christmas break. While home on Christmas break were allowed to act like normal young adults who were in love. We held hands, kissed, necked, and pretty much acted like any other couple mutually infatuated with one another.

Once the genie was out of the bottle it was impossible to put her back in. When we returned to Midwestern we realized we could not continue to keep the six-inch rule. So for the next 18 months we sought out couples to double date with that had the same view of the six-inch rule as we did. We had to be very careful. Choose the wrong couple to double date with and you could end up getting expelled from school.

Rules such as the six-inch rule put the dormitory students in a position of having to lie and cheat just to be able to act like normal young adults. Many students ended up getting campused (not allowed to leave the campus or date) or were expelled because they broke the six-inch rule.

Illicit sexual activity was quite common among dormitory students. There was always a lot of gossip about who was doing what, when and where. During the spring of my sophomore year many of us rented apartments in the Pontiac area. We were all planning to get married over the summer, and since apartments were hard to come by, we rented them as soon as we found them.

Unfortunately the apartments turned into a big temptation for some couples. They began using the apartments as safe places for sexual activity. I could give you the names of several well-known preachers and their wives who lost their virginity at one of these apartments. Some of these preachers are now known to rail against sexual immorality. It seems they have forgotten about their own sexual immorality many years ago.

Is it any wonder that many of us who were raised in this kind of sexually repressed environment require counseling?  Being you are told over and over that certain basic human needs and desires are sinful leads to overwhelming guilt and despair (and remember masturbation, self-pleasuring, was also a sin).

This is one of the reasons why I think the IFB church movement is emotionally and mentally harmful. My advice to everyone in an IFB church is that they RUN as fast as they can away from the church of which they are a part. Get out before they so fuck up your mind that it requires years of  therapy to regain any sense of self-worth and emotional balance.

How about you? Did you spend your teenage years in an IFB church? Did you attend an IFB college?  How did you deal with the no-physical-contact rule? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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The Midwestern Baptist College Preacher Who Became an Atheist

bruce and polly gerencser 1976

Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976, Polly is first row on the left, Bruce is third row, eighth from the left.

From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College , an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly also attended the college, as did her father, and uncle. While not as large or as prestigious as institutions like Bob Jones University, Hyles-Anderson, Tennessee Temple, or Pensacola Christian College, Midwestern is known for turning out men who are church planters and fierce defenders of the Word of God. Started in 1953 by Dr. Tom Malone, Midwestern once had an enrollment of over 400 students. These days, the enrollment is less than a hundred and in 2010 the college moved its location to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan.

At one time, Midwestern advertised itself as a character building factory. Over the past 62 years, this factory has graduated hundreds of men and women, each devoted to the fundamentals of the faith. While some of the students who attended Midwestern no longer wear the fundamentalists label, I do not know of one Midwestern attendee who is a liberal. Best I can tell, there is only one man who became a liberal and that is me. Certainly, many churches pastored by Midwestern-trained men are Evangelical and to the left of the fundamentalism taught by the college, but none of them, as far as I know, are liberal or progressive. Even more amazing, as far as atheism is concerned, I am the only person who attended Midwestern and entered the ministry as a Midwestern-trained preacher who is now an atheist.

i am special

I am soooo special.  From time to time, I see in the logs  search strings like “the Midwestern Baptist College preacher who became an atheist.”  Google? This site is #1. Bing? #1. I am as rare as real science exhibit at the Creationist Museum. I am sure there are others who attended Midwestern who no longer believe, but I am the only person who has dared to poke his head above the hole and say so.

UPDATED: IFB Pastor Bill Wininger Outed as Sexual Predator

bill wininger

Bill Wininger, former pastor of King’s Way Baptist Church in Douglasville, Georgia

Shelly Foeller, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) mother, tells the horrifying story of her daughter who was sexually abused by Bill Wininger, then pastor of North Sharon Baptist Church:

If you will bear with me, I’d like to tell you a story. It is a true story of a little girl with incredible blue eyes. The church her family attended voted in a new pastor the same year she was born. Her family was very excited about this new pastor, and the little girl became very fond of him as well. She was a delightful child—very smart and tender-hearted. At a young age she expressed an interest in the Gospel, and at her mother’s knee, prayed to give her heart to Jesus.

When she was still quite young, unbeknownst to anyone else,something very terrible started to happen. Her pastor, whom she loved and trusted, began to take advantage of her on numerous occasions, violating her little body in unspeakable ways. Because of her tender age, she did not understand this at all. Since her young mind was incapable of processing these terrifying events, the dark memories of these assaults became sealed in the deep recesses of her conscience. Though she did not speak of the things that had occurred, she carried an overwhelming heaviness in her little heart,a pain that she could not put into words…

The pastor moved away, and years later:

Finally she reached the point when she knew the only hope for her survival was to face what was at the bottom of her festering wounds—the truth of what had happened to her as a little girl. Very gradually her memories surfaced, and she bravely, though timidly, started to talk about them. As she recalled details of these life altering events, her mother soon recognized and remembered  specific opportunities for their occurrence.

Over time, as more details were remembered and shared, the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together and make sense.The courageous little girl, who for many years had been unable to tell, had finally found her voice. The silence had ended.This same little girl is now a beautiful young woman, our beloved daughter, Bethany.It didn’t take long for us to learn that there were other young ladies, as well as adult women, who had been victimized by the  same man. All their stories agree together and have a ring of  similarity. The truth is undeniable. The perpetrator, unfortunately,was Pastor Bill Wininger. The time frame was when he was our pastor at North Sharon Baptist Church from 1988 to 1995.

I wish I could say that this heartbreaking story is unusual, but it is not. Just in the last two weeks alone, three women have emailed me about being sexually assaulted as a child or teenager by a deacon or the pastor of the IFB church they attended. Quite frankly, these kinds of things are far too common and every bit as scandalous as the sex scandal of the Catholic church. We should be grateful that, through the internet, women and men can now tell their story of sexual abuse at the hands of men of God.

In classic IFB fashion, Bill Wininger, now pastor of King’s Way Baptist Church, Douglas County, Georgia, has miraculously disappeared from the church’s  website and the website of their Christian School. Jeri Massi at the Blog on the Way writes:

All videos and sermons from him have been removed. The church, following the IFB practice of defiance against the Scripture, is maintaining a curtain of secrecy, even though Paul directly commands that elders who fall into sin are to be rebuked before the entire church. It is not to be a secret. And yes, the goal is to make miscreants afraid of abusing church office.

The good news is, thanks to the internet and those of us who refuse to allow these predators hide, we can hopefully keep them from molesting and harming other children and teens. More and more women and men are coming forward, willing to tell their stories of sexual abuse. Telling their stories takes great courage, because I know the hell that the IFB church movement releases on those who dare tell their secrets.

This is not an issue of Christianity vs. atheism. This is about sexual predators hiding in plain sight in Christian churches. They abuse their way through the church and then move on to another church of prey. They are the lowest of low and they deserve every bit of scorn and ridicule they receive. They also deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Sadly, many avoid prosecution for lack of evidence, or the statute of limitations runs out. Public shaming is often the ONLY recourse their victims have at their disposal.

Several days ago, a friend of mine told me about a recent service at former IFB pastor — now convicted felon — Jack Schaap’s church, First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. It was mentioned during the service that Schaap had led someone to Christ in prison! Praise Jesus. Soon his despicable acts will be forgotten, just like those of his brother-in-law David Hyles and his father-in-law Jack Hyles. In time, we will hear of souls being saved and the life of Jack Schaap being rehabilitated to the glory of God. As I mockingly told my friend, by the time Jack Schaap is out of prison, he will be pastoring the largest prison church in America.

You can read the mother’s entire letter here.

Someone from Sharon Baptist Church sent me the following:

Our current pastor did do something about what Bethany ________ told about Bill Wininger. He went to the Michigan police about it & reported it. The police are the ones who are not doing anything about it.  What would you have the current pastor say to the world about something that happened when he was not there, and didn’t know about until years later? Our church is not covering up for Bill Wininger. We were the ones who turned him in.

I replied to the question, what would you have us say to the world:

I would have them, on their website, say EXACTLY what you said here. Saying nothing is not an option.

All of the churches mentioned in this post are Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, King-James-Only, Separated, Soulwinning churches.

If I remember correctly, there were students from North Sharon Baptist Church when Polly and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the mid-1970s.

Ironically, Bill Wininger wrote a book while he was pastor of North Sharon Baptist Church.

church falsely accused

Revival Fires, the ministry of Dennis Corle, carries the book. Their website says this about the book:

In a country church two male workers are accused of committing horrible crimes against children while running Sunday school bus routes. What should they do? How should they react in the midst of a county-wide scandal? How does a pastor keep from seeing his ministry, at the least, paralyzed and, at the worst, destroyed? How does he deal with the accused and their accusers?

Pastor Bill Wininger tells the amazing story of a church which experienced just such a traumatic event and amazingly, survived the ordeal with minimal damage done to the church. A Church Falsely Accused is the astonishing story of the North Sharon Baptist Church, a country church whose commitment to Christ and to the lost in its community saw victory through a vicious scandal.

UPDATE: August 2014

In August 2014, Wininger was arrested and charged with four counts of simple battery. AJC.com reports:

A former Douglasville pastor was released from jail Friday after spending a night there on charges of having inappropriate sexual contact with a member of the staff at the church and school that is one of the oldest private Christian academies in Georgia.

Four misdemeanor charges of simple battery against the Rev. Bill Wininger involve one woman on the Kings Way staff and are detailed in the charges brought by the Douglas County solicitor general.

Three counts accuse him of having unwanted physical contact with the woman by “grabbing and hugging” her. The fourth charge was that he made “physical contact of an insulting and provoking nature” when he pressed against her with a part of his body that was aroused. The events detailed in the accusation are alleged to have happened between August 2012 and

Each charge carries a maximum punishment of 12 months in jail.

Wininger was arrested Thursday night and he posted a $10,000 bond Friday afternoon following a brief court appearance. No other court date has been scheduled.

One of the conditions of his release was that he have no contact with members of King’s Way Baptist Church or employees of the school. Wininger must have a psycho-sexual evaluation and receive treatment if necessary…

…“The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office spent the past 10 months investigating this individual,” Solicitor General Matthew Krull said. “It is my job to make sure that everyone in Douglas County is afforded the opportunity to live free of unwanted and unsolicited physical contact.”

Krull said there were other accusers but his office decided to prosecute Wininger just on the allegations of one woman, whom The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is not identifying because of the nature of the charges.

Krull said Friday the investigation did not involve any allegations that Wininger targeted children.

Wininger resigned last October after 15 years at the church when allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused children in Michigan 20 years ago. He was never charged on those allegations…

I found no further reports about Wininger’s case.

I find it interesting that IFB churches and pastors preach against psychology and suggest every human misbehavior is sin, but once they are caught in their own web of sin and face criminal charges, they are quick to seek a psycho-sexual evaluation and treatment. Anything, to keep themselves out of jail. Why not stand on the unshakable ground of the King James Version of the Bible and refuse the evaluation and treatment? Shouldn’t Wininger just pray a David Hyles forgive me Lord prayer® and get back to winning souls for Jesus? Isn’t that the IFB way?

I am grateful that local law enforcement officials took the accusations seriously. Far too often, law enforcement ignores allegations against pastors because they have the naïve notion that clergy are above the fray, immune to the passions of mere mortals. As should be clear to all who are paying attention, countless pastors use their place of power and authority to manipulate and abuse others. Yes, most pastors are decent human beings, but a sizable percentage of them are predators lurking in the shadows waiting to rob people of their faith and trust.

UPDATE: October 9, 2015

According to the Douglas County Sentinel:

A former Douglasville pastor accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with a staff member will be in court Friday when he is expected to enter a plea.

Unfortunately, the story is behind a paywall. Once other news agencies report the story, I will update this post.

UPDATE: October 9, 2015:

A former Douglas County minister was sentenced Friday to two years on probation, resolving accusations that he forced inappropriate contact on a staff member of his church and school.

Rev. Bill Wininger was accused of “grabbing and hugging” one woman at the The King’s Way Baptist Church and King’s Way Christian School, one of the oldest Christian academies in Georgia. He also was accused of “physical contact of an insulting and provoking nature” when he pressed against her with an inappropriate part of his body.

Wininger pleaded no contest to two counts of simple battery.

“This plea brings justice for this victim and hopefully gives her some closure to a horrible series of events that happened in her life,” Douglas County Solicitor General Matthew Krull said in an emailed statement. “The victim gave a voice to all those that have been too afraid to stand up to defendant’s unacceptable behavior. This case was very troubling, to see … a preacher in a position of trust and power, use that position for his own selfish needs.”..

…As part of his probation, Wininger was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service at a location that does not assist women or children…

Update: September 1, 2016

According to the Douglasville Patch:

The King’s Way Baptist Church in Douglasville will pay $25,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of a kindergarten teacher who complained the church’s pastor sexually harassed her.

The independent Baptist church, which operates King’s Way Christian School, also will furnish other relief, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced in a news release.

The EEOC filed suit in 2015 on behalf of Marsha Pearson, a kindergarten teacher at the school, who said she was fired after complaining that the pastor, who was also school superintendent, had harassed her.

Former King’s Way pastor The Rev. Bill Wininger was arrested in 2014 on four misdemeanor charges of simple battery against a female employee.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Pearson complained in 2013 that the pastor had been sexually harassing her. Upon reporting the abuse, King’s Way officials “told her that she allowed the harassment to happen to her” and that she was being fired, according to the suit.

What Happened to the Churches I Pastored?

Several weeks ago, someone contacted me and asked:

“Regarding the churches you pastored and started, do they still exist today or have they changed their names ? I could not find any of the church’s personal websites. Sorry if you feel I wasn’t trying hard enough. I don’t know what I missed as there are hundreds of ‘google’ links.”

When I get questions like this, I have to consider, what is the person’s motive for asking this question? Do they really want to know or are they part of a small group of tin hat Christians who think that my story is a lie. Yes, even after blogging for seven years, there are those who doubt that I am telling the truth. They question if I pastored when and where I said I did. One man told anyone who would listen that he knew someone that lived where I did at the time I lived there and they didn’t know who I was. This was PROOF, at least to this reason challenged Christian, that I was lying.

My gut told me that the aforementioned letter writer was just curious or nosy, so I decided to answer his question. He also asked a question about my mother’s suicide, a question I did not answer. While I gave him a brief rundown of the churches I pastored and what happened to them, I thought I would turn my email into a blog post.

bruce and polly gerencser 1976

Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976. Polly in the first person in the first row from the left. Bruce is in the third row, eighth person from the left.

So, let’s get some facts out of the way:

  • I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • I was baptized at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • I was called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in 1972 at the age of fifteen.
  • I  preached my first sermon for the Trinity Baptist Church high school youth group in 1972 at the age of fifteen. Bruce Turner helped me prepare the sermon. The text I preached from was 2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
  • In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. I met my wife at Midwestern. We married in July of 1978. In February 1979, unemployed and Polly six months pregnant, we dropped out of college and moved to Bryan, Ohio.

Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, Ohio

In March of 1979, Jay Stuckey, pastor of the church, asked me become the bus pastor. My responsibility was to build up the bus ministry which consisted of one bus. On average, the bus brought in 15 or so riders. I went to work aggressively canvassing Montpelier in search of new bus riders. Several church members helped me with this task. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, the bus attendance was 88.  The head of junior church met me in the church parking lot and asked me what  he was supposed to do with all the children. I told him, that’s your problem. I just bring ’em in.

Several months later, the church bought another bus. On the first Sunday in October, the church had a record attendance of 500. The Sunday morning service was held at the Williams County Fairgrounds. We had dinner on the grounds, a quartet provided  special music, and Ron English from the Sword of the Lord was the guest speaker. Tom Malone was scheduled to be the speaker, but, at the last moment, he cancelled on us. Bus attendance was around 150.

The church started an expansion program to accommodate the growing crowds,  The next week after our big Sunday, I resigned as bus pastor and Polly and I packed up our household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio. Pastor Stuckey left the church a few years later. The church hired a pastor who was a fundamentalist on steroids. Attendance began to decline, he left, and another man became pastor. About a decade after I left the church, it closed its doors, unable to meet its mortgage payment. The Montpelier First Church of the Nazarene bought the building and continue to use it to this day.

emmanuel baptist church 1983

Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination, 1983

Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio

In January of 1981, my father-in-law and I started Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake,  one of the poorest communities in Ohio. I was the assistant pastor, primarily responsible for the church youth group. The church quickly grew with most of the growth coming from the burgeoning youth group. I was ordained in April of 1983, several months before Polly and I moved 20 miles south to start a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, Somerset Baptist Church.

In the early 1990’s, the church closed its doors.

somerset baptist church 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio

In July of 1983, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were 16 people in attendance. The church met in several rented buildings until it bought an abandoned Methodist church building in 1985 for $5,000. The building was built in 1831.

Over the years, church attendance rapidly grew, ebbed, and then declined after we could no longer afford to operate the bus ministry. In 1989, we started a tuition free Christian school for the children of the church. Most of the church members were quite poor, as was Perry county as a whole. Unemployment was high, and what good paying jobs there were disappeared when the mines began to lay off workers and close.

In February 1994, I resigned from the church and prepared to move to San Antonio, Texas to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Because I was a co-signer on the church mortgage and no one was willing to assume this responsibility, the church voted to close its doors. There were 54 people in attendance for our last service.

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner

Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas

In March 1994, I began working as the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church, a Sovereign Grace (Calvinistic) Baptist church. My fellow pastor, Pat Horner, had started the church in the 1980’s. The church ran about 150-200 in attendance.(I am uncertain as to the exact number since attendance records were not kept) Horner and I alternated preaching, with me doing most of the preaching on Sunday night. While I was there, I helped the church start a Christian school and plant two churches, one in Stockdale, the other in Floresville. I also helped the church start a street preaching ministry and nursing home ministry.

This post is not the place  to detail the various reasons why I left the church seven months later. Please read Taking off the Sheep Clothes, the Musings of a Wolf and Jose Maldonado Say I Never was a Christian for a fuller explanation about why I left.

Several years after I left, Horner left the church. The church is currently pastored by Kyle White. You can peruse the church’s website here. I do not think Horner is pastoring anywhere.

Olive Branch Christian Union Church, Fayette, Ohio

In March 1995, a few weeks before my grandmother died, I assumed the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette Ohio, a rural church 23 miles northeast of where I now live. Olive Branch was a dying, inward grown church in need of CPR. Over the course of the next few months, I set about getting the church on the right track. The church was over 125 years old. I had never pastored an old, established church, but how hard could it be, right? Seven months later, I resigned from the church. Despite the best attendance numbers in decades, the church was increasingly upset with my brash, bull-headed style. It all came to a head one Sunday when one of the elders found out I had moved a table from the platform to storage. He confronted me just before Sunday morning service, demanding that I put the table back. I looked at him, said NO, and walked away. Three weeks later, I resigned, and Polly and I moved our mobile home off church property to a lot 1/2 mile north of the church. We sold the trailer in 2007 to the brother of a friends of ours.

Joe Redmond took over the church after I left. He remains the pastor to this day. The church does not have a website. The church is located at the corner of Williams County Rd P and US Hwy 127.

polly gerencser late 1990's

Polly Gerencser late 1990’s, none of this would have been possible without her.

Grace Baptist Church/Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

In September 1995, two weeks after I had resigned from Olive Branch, I started a new Sovereign Grace Baptist church in nearby West Unity, Ohio. The church was called Grace Baptist Church. I would remain pastor of this church until July of 2002.

We bought the old West Unity library building to use as our meeting place. None of the families from Olive Branch came with me when I left the church, but over time three families left Olive Branch and joined Grace Baptist.  In the late 1990’s we had a church conflict over contemporary music and spiritual gifts. Five families left the church. A few weeks later, we changed the name of the church to Our Father’s House, a nondenominational church.

It was during this time that I began to have serious health problems. In July 2002, for a variety of reasons, I resigned from the church. The church body decided that they didn’t want to continue on as a church, so they voted to close the doors and sell the building.

If I had to pick one church that had the nicest, most loving people, it would be this church. After the five families left, things were quite peaceful. This is the only church where Polly and I have the same opinion about the church. Great people, a pleasure to be around

Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan

In March of 2003, I assumed the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church, a small, dying Southern Baptist church in Clare, Michigan.

There is little good I can say about this church. I worked my ass off, the church body, for the most part, was quite passive, and in October of 2003, I resigned from the church.  I never should have become the pastor of this church. It needed to die a quick death. I don’t mean to say that the people were bad people, for the most part they were typical Southern Baptists. Good people, intrenched in the ways of the past, and unable to their way clear to the future. The church and I were a wrong fit.

After we left, so did a few other families, moving on to nearby Southern Baptist churches. A year or two later, the church closed its door.

From October of 2003 to April 2005, I had numerous opportunities to pastor churches or start new works. In the end, Polly and I decided we no longer wanted to be in the ministry. All told, we spent 25 years in the ministry.

From Evangelicalism to Atheism Part Three

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

I am often asked, when did you first begin to doubt? This is not an easy question for me to answer. As I look back over my life, there were many instances where I had doubts about a theological or political belief. If there is one constant about life, it is change. Over time, our understanding, beliefs, and ideologies change. Sometimes, the change is so subtle that we are not really aware of it until we look back on our lives  years later. Anyone who says that he has never changed his beliefs–and I know several pastors who say this about themselves–is either intellectually lazy, a liar, or living in denial.

Every preacher leaves Bible college with a borrowed theology. His theology is the theology that his parents, church, pastor, and college professors taught him. He believes what he believes because of the influence of others. Only when he is free of these influences does he begin to develop his own theological beliefs.

I have always been an avid student and reader. One of the frustrating things about the health problems I have is that I can no longer read as I used to. For many years, it was not uncommon for me to read 500 or more pages a week of theological and biographical books. To his day, I rarely read fiction. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I accumulated a large library of books. These books were my constant companions and friends. When I left the ministry in 2003, I sold off my theological library on eBay.

While I learned many things as a student at Midwestern Baptist College, most of my theological education came from the countless hours I spent reading theological books and studying for my sermons.  It was in the study that I began to come to theological conclusions different from  what I had been taught by my parents, former churches, former pastors and college professors. The most dramatic theological changes took place while I was pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, (later Mt. Perry) Ohio.

I started the Somerset Baptist Church in July of 1983 and pastored the church for eleven years.   At that time, I was a typical Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor and remained so until the Jack Hyles scandal rocked the IFB world in 1986. As I waded through the Hyles scandal, I began to question the gospel preached by many IFB pastors and churches. Noted preachers such as Jack HylesCurtis Hutson, and many of the preachers associated with the Sword of the Lord, believed that repentance was a change of mind. Simply put, the unconverted sinner was against Jesus and now he was for him. Around this time, John MacArthur came out with his book, The Gospel According to Jesus. MacArthur attacked the easy-believism gospel preached in many Evangelical/Baptist churches. MacArthur stated that repentance was not only a change of mind but also a change of conduct. If there was no turning from sin, then there was no true repentance, and without repentance there was no salvation.

The Hyles scandal, my careful assessment of the gospel preached by many in the IFB church movement, and MacArthur’s book, led me to conclude that the gospel I had been preaching was a truncated, shallow gospel. I began preaching a gospel that demanded a repentance that included a turning from sins. I believed that if Jesus was not Lord of all your life then he was not Lord at all. I believed that if  people said they were Christian, then they should act like  it. Unless  they were willing to turn from their sin and fully embrace Jesus, there was no salvation for them.

In the late 1980s, I began to reconsider my eschatological beliefs.  I was taught dispensational, pre-tribulational, and premillennial eschatology (end times) in college and every church I attended growing up  preached the end times scheme. As I restudied the various eschatological positions, my beliefs gradually shifted and matured until I became post-tribulational and amillennial. At this point, I was clearly theologically wandering outside the boundary of my IFB heritage. This shift in eschatology resulted in some people leaving the church; however it also attracted new members who held a similar eschatological view.

It was also in the late 1980s that my theological beliefs dramatically shifted from the  one-point Calvinism (eternal security, once saved always saved) of the IFB church movement to five-point Calvinism. My introduction to Calvinism came through the preaching tapes of Rolfe Barnard, a former Southern Baptist and Sword of the Lord evangelist who died in the late 1960s. Barnard’s sermons were powerful declarations of the gospel according to Calvinism. As I listened to these tapes, it was like a light went on in my head. For a time, I was angry because I thought those who had taught me theology had lied to me. Why had no one ever told me about Calvinism? All they told me at Midwestern is that they were against Calvinism and anyone caught promoting Calvinism would be expelled.

I began devouring books about Calvinism. I opened a book account at Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service and bought countless Calvinistic, Puritan, Sovereign Grace Baptist books. I read the books of Puritan/Calvinist authors from the 17th,18th, and 19th centuries. I discovered that Baptists, at one time, were quite Calvinistic, and some of my heroes in the faith, including Charles Spurgeon, were five-point Calvinists. I even  learned that there were Calvinists, such as the late Bruce Cummons, pastor of the Massillon Baptist Temple, in the IFB church movement.

From the late 1980s until the early 2000s, I was a committed, zealous five-point Calvinist. My preaching style changed from topical sermons to expository sermons. I stopped giving altar calls and I began transforming the Somerset Baptist Church into a Calvinistic church.  This move cost me 99% of my IFB pastor friends, a handful of church members, along with almost all of my Arminian friends.

For several years, I published a newsletter called The Sovereign Grace Reporter. I sent the newsletter to hundreds of IFB pastors and this caused quite a shit-storm. Surprisingly, Polly’s uncle, James Dennis, pastor of the IFB Newark Baptist Temple, was quite supportive. Keith Troyer, then pastor of Fallsburg Baptist Church, was also quite supportive. I would later be accused of leading Keith astray with the pernicious doctrines of John Calvin. (At the time, I considered Keith my best friend.)

Probably by now, some readers are wondering, Why the history lesson, Bruce? I think it is important for me to establish several things:

  • I am an avid reader of books
  • I am an avid student of whatever subject I am reading about
  • I am willing to go where the evidence leads me
  • I am willing to change my beliefs even if it costs me or makes me unpopular
  • Truth matters more to me than being accepted by my peers, friends or family

When I was a pastor, pastor friends and parishioners loved me for these traits. They applauded my willingness to be true to the Word of God, even if they disagreed with me. Now these same people think I read and study too much. I have been told that the reason I am an atheist is because of books (and there is some truth in this statement)! If I would only stop reading all these books and read THE BOOK, all would be well, one former parishioner told me.

Just as the leopard can’t change its spots, I can’t stop reading and studying. Fifty-plus years ago, my mother created an intellectual monster when she taught me to read. She wanted her eldest son to be like her, a devourer of literature, a person who valued truth above the approbation of men. I owe her a great debt of gratitude.

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From Evangelicalism to Atheism Part Two

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

One of the questions I am often asked is, Why did you become an Evangelical or Why did you become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?

This is the wrong question. The real question is, how could I NOT have become an Evangelical or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?

Every child born into this world is an atheist. Not one of them knows one thing about god or religion, nor about sin, salvation, or morality. As far as god and religion are concerned, every newborn is a blank slate.

Belief in god must be taught and learned. This teaching is done by parents, extended family, and the culture/society the child grows up in. Children taken to a church, temple, or synagogue, are taught to KNOW god, to know their parents’ religion.

Most children embrace the religion of their parents. Parents who worship the Christian god generally raise children who are Christian. This is especially the case when it comes to Evangelical children. From the toddler years forward, Evangelical children are taught that they are sinners in need of salvation. They are taught that unless they ask Jesus into their hearts, they will end up in hell when they die. Every Sunday at church, at home during the week, and at school, if they attend a Christian school, Evangelical children face an onslaught of manipulative evangelistic methods geared to help them accept Jesus as their Savior.

It should come as no surprise then that most Evangelical children make a salvation decision when they are quite young. This initial salvation experience usually carries them into their teenage years. They are safe and secure in Jesus until they are thirteen or fourteen years old.

During their teenage years, it is not uncommon for Evangelical children to either make another salvation decision or rededicate their lives  to Christ. Why is it that so many Evangelical children make another decision during their teenage years?

Think about it. What happens during the teenage years? Children reach puberty and they begin to discover they have sexual desires. They start wanting to do things that their pastor, church, and parents say are sinful.  Most, Evangelical teens, if not all, give in to sinful desires. They feel guilty for doing so and they conclude that they must not “really” be saved or that they need to rededicate their lives  to Christ.

Many Evangelical teenagers find themselves caught in a constant cycle of sinning, getting saved/rededicating their life to Christ, sinning, getting saved/rededicating their life to Christ, etc. As much as Evangelicals deny it, this cycle becomes the Protestant version of Catholic confession.

In the early 1960s, my Dad moved us from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego on the west coast. California was the land of opportunity in the 1960s and my Dad was certain his pot of gold was in San Diego. He ended up selling patio awnings and driving a truck, and three years later we moved back to Bryan.

While living in San Diego, our family attended Scott Memorial Baptist Church. The pastor at the time was Tim LaHaye. Both of my parents made public professions of faith in Christ at Scott Memorial. I also asked Jesus into my heart in Junior Church. I was five years old.

Politically, my parents were right-wing extremists. They were members of the John Birch Society, hated Martin Luther King Jr, and supported the war effort in Vietnam. Their salvation decision at Scott Memorial fit well with their political ideology.

From this point forward, until my parent’s divorce in April of 1972, the Gerencser family was in church every time the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday night, prayer meeting, and revival meeting, we were there. When I became a teenager, attending youth group after church was added to the schedule, along with regular youth group activities.

In the fall of 1972, Evangelist Al Lacy came to our church, Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio, to hold a revival meeting. On Sunday Morning, during Lacy’s sermon, the spirit of God came over me, telling me that I was a sinner in need of Christ. When it came time for the public invitation, I quickly stepped out of the pew, came down the aisle, and knelt at the altar. There, a church deacon took me through the plan of salvation and I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart. I was fifteen.  I was baptized that night, and a week or so later I went forward during the altar call and let the church know that God was calling me to be a preacher. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon.

As a first grader in San Diego, I told people that when I grew up I was going to be a preacher, and now, as a fifteen year old boy, I was telling the world that God was calling me to be what I wanted to be my entire life. From this point forward, most of the preachers I came in contact with worked with me and steered me towards fulfilling my calling. It came as a shock to no one that I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in 1976 to study for the ministry.

All told, I preached for thirty-two years, spending twenty-five of those years pastoring seven churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I preached over four thousand sermons and taught countless Sunday school classes. For many years, I also preached on the street and at the local nursing home.

So, when someone asks, why did you become an Evangelical or why did you become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, I counter that the real question, based on what I have written here is, how could I have become anything else?

Note

All dates are to the best of my recollection. I have done my best to remember where I was and when. If I am off a bit on a date, it is not because I am deliberately being imprecise or trying to hide something. I am an old man with dying brain cells. Enough said.

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Let’s Go Soulwinning

lets go soulwinning

Let’s Go Soulwinning by Jack Hyles

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Proverbs 11:30

Soulwinning — the art, the endeavor of sharing the gospel with sinners and leading them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. A metaphor for evangelism or witnessing. (It is not a word found in the English dictionary.)

Soulwinner —  a person whose purpose, desire, and motivation is to share the gospel with sinners and lead them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. (It is not a word found in the English dictionary.)

The Bible makes it clear that every church should be a soulwinning church and every Christian should be a soulwinner.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19-20

Matthew 28:19,20 is commonly called the Great Commission. While some may argue that the Great Commission was given ONLY to the eleven disciples, most sects and pastors think the Great Commission is a command given by Christ to every Christian.

Why is it then that most Christians never verbally share the gospel with another person? I am not talking about inviting them to church so the head soulwinner, the pastor, can preach the gospel to them. I am not talking about nonverbal, just let your light shine or any of the other excuses Christians give for not verbalizing the gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Why is it that most Christians never, one time, in a clear, concise way, share the good news of the gospel with a lost, hell bound sinner? Isn’t not doing so a direct repudiation of the Great Commission, a direct command given by Jesus to his followers?

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has turned soulwinning into a fine art. Churches hold soulwinning conferences and clinics. These special events are used to light a fire under church members who are not soulwinners. They are also used to train members in the best soulwinning techniques. Technique matters. Dennis Corle bragged to me that he could win a soul in five minutes. According to him, all a soulwinner had to do is follow the script. Follow the script, use proper technique and you too can be a great soulwinner like Dennis Corle.

No one was a bigger promoter of soulwinning than Jack Hyles, the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. Hyles was famous for telling stories like this:

A few years ago I was in a Bible Conference in Houston, Texas. After a morning service, I returned to my room at one of the large motels on the north side of Houston. To my surprise, the door to my room was open and I heard singing coming from the bathroom. After checking the room number with my key, I realized I was in the right room. Perhaps someone else was in the wrong room.

I hollered through the door, inquiring who was there, only to find it was the Negro maid cleaning out the bathtub. She was actually down in the tub cleaning out the ring.

I asked her if she were a Christian. She said, “Mercy, no! I am as mean as the devil.” I got my Testament out and showed her the plan of salvation. All the time she was in the bathtub. After I showed her how to be saved, she knelt in the tub and received the Saviour.

I have laughed many times about this and have jokingly said, “I guess I am the only preacher in the world who ever won a lady in a bathtub!” This is just another of the many unusual experiences that God gives to soul winners. We should be on the lookout constantly for people who need the Saviour

I have won people to Christ in train stations, in bus depots, on airplanes, in grocery stores, in barber shops, in shine parlors, in service stations, in garages, in school buildings, on ball diamonds, and in many other places. There are many hungry hearts waiting for someone to tell them the story.

You can read more of Hyles’s soulwinning stories here. (Hyles was a powerful preacher and a masterful storyteller. He was also a pathological liar.)

You can read more of Hyles’s soulwinning stories here. (Hyles was a powerful preacher and a masterful storyteller. He was also a pathological liar.)

For decades, Hyles and First Baptist Church conducted what they called Pastor’s School —  a week-long event used to motivate pastors and church leaders to win more souls. Under the leadership of John R. Rice and Curtis Hutson, the Sword of the Lord held Soulwinning Conferences all over the country. These conferences were used to encourage and motivate pastors and churches that had forgotten Jesus’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

From the 1960’s-1980’s, countless IFB churches experienced explosive growth as they went into the highway and hedges and compelled (without vampire powers) sinners to put their faith in Jesus. In the 1970’s, most of the 100 largest churches in America were IFB churches.

Today? First Baptist Church in Hammond, once the largest church in the world, no longer conducts the Pastor’s School,  The Sword of the Lord no longer holds soulwinning conferences all over the country. Based on the 2013 Outreach 100 Largest Churches List, there is not one IFB church on the list. (Many large IFB churches refuse to publish their actual attendance numbers.) Most of the IFB churches that made the Top 100 list in the 1960s-1980s are shells of what they once were. Some have even closed their doors. What happened?

In 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern, a small IFB college, was known for producing preachers who were great soulwinners. Tom Malone, the founder and chancellor of Midwestern, was also the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Every student was required to attend Emmanuel.

For many years, thanks to its bus ministry,  Emmanuel experienced explosive attendance growth and was listed as a Top 100 church. Emmanuel saw high attendance days of over 5,000. Soulwinning was the lifeblood of the college and church. Students were required to go out soulwinning at least once a week, and each week were required to account for their soulwinning activities.

Midwestern held a soulwinning contest while I was studied there. Students competed with each other to see who could win the most souls. The winner of the contest usually won a hundred or more souls. Every student was required to participate in the soulwinning contest. One year, the college put up a big banner and chart that was used to track who was winning the most souls. In the mind of Tom Malone, soulwinning was all that mattered.

for sale sign midwestern baptist college

For Sale Sign in Front of Midwestern Baptist College

Today? Midwestern has its campus up for sale, having moved its small student body to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion Michigan. Emmanuel, a church that once bragged about being a Top 100 church is no more. As with the college, its facilities are up for sale.

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac

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

What happened? Why is Emmanuel closed, Midwestern a shell of what it once was, and the IFB church movement facing steep attendance declines?

If you ask IFB pastors this question, he will likely tell you that the WORLD is the cause for the attendance decline. People love their sin more than they love Jesus. They might even point the finger at Evangelical mega churches and their slick marketing, worship bands, and relational sermons. Where they will never point the finger is at themselves. In their minds, they are the true church, preaching the true gospel. They seem unable to see that it is their theology and methods that have led to their decline.

Instead of preaching a transformative, holistic gospel, they preached decisional regeneration, also known as easy-believism. Salvation became a simple transaction between a sinner and God. Sinners were told to pray a prayer:

 

Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Come into my heart and save me from my sins. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. I am trusting you to take me to heaven when I die. Amen.

If people prayed that prayer, they were considered born-again Christians. Millions of Americans have prayed a prayer such as this. From Billy Graham crusades and Campus Crusade outreaches to Southern Baptist churches  and IFB churches, the sinner’s prayer contained the magic words that made one a child of God. This bastardized version of the gospel filled churches with people who had no idea about  what it meant to a Christian or a member of a Christian church.

The sin of the soulwinning movement and the IFB church is that they thought that winning souls was just a matter of using the right techniques. Pastors taught church members to use certain formulas such as The Roman’s Road to lead people to saving faith. Got Questions, a fundamentalist website explains The Roman’s Road like this:

The Romans Road to salvation is a way of explaining the good news of salvation using verses from the Book of Romans. It is a simple yet powerful method of explaining why we need salvation, how God provided salvation, how we can receive salvation, and what are the results of salvation.

The first verse on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We have all sinned. We have all done things that are displeasing to God. There is no one who is innocent. Romans 3:10-18 gives a detailed picture of what sin looks like in our lives.

The second Scripture on the Romans Road to salvation, Romans 6:23, teaches us about the consequences of sin – “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The punishment that we have earned for our sins is death. Not just physical death, but eternal death!

The third verse on the Romans Road to salvation picks up where Romans 6:23 left off, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus Christ died for us! Jesus’ death paid for the price of our sins. Jesus’ resurrection proves that God accepted Jesus’ death as the payment for our sins.

The fourth stop on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, all we have to do is believe in Him, trusting His death as the payment for our sins – and we will be saved! Romans 10:13 says it again, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins and rescue us from eternal death. Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, is available to anyone who will trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The final aspect of the Romans Road to salvation is the results of salvation. Romans 5:1 has this wonderful message, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through Jesus Christ we can have a relationship of peace with God. Romans 8:1 teaches us, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, we will never be condemned for our sins. Finally, we have this precious promise of God from Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Would you like to follow the Romans Road to salvation? If so, here is a simple prayer you can pray to God. Saying this prayer is a way to declare to God that you are relying on Jesus Christ for your salvation. The words themselves will not save you. Only faith in Jesus Christ can provide salvation! “God, I know that I have sinned against you and am deserving of punishment. But Jesus Christ took the punishment that I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. With your help, I place my trust in You for salvation. Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness – the gift of eternal life! Amen!”

Have you made a decision for Christ because of what you have learned through the Romans Road to salvation? If so, please click on the “I have accepted Christ today” button below.

The soulwinners were told to stay on point, reiterating the points in the soulwinning plan. If the sinner asked questions not related to salvation, the questions were to be ignored and the sinner steered back to the soulwinning plan. They were to give the sinner just enough information to get saved. Questions would be answered later after they were baptized and became a part of the church.

Think for a moment about what I have written here. Doesn’t all of this sound similar to a sales program used by Amway or some other direct marketer? Work the plan! Stay on point! Press the prospect to make a decision! Close the sale!

When I was in college, I sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners. My Dad sold them for many years and I thought, like father, like son. Every Saturday, the local Kirby office would hold mandatory sales meetings for their salesmen. These meetings were pep rallies meant to motivate salesmen to sell more vacuüm cleaners. They even sang songs with lyrics like There’s power, power wonder working power in a Kirby, sung to the tune of the There’s Power in the Blood.

The Kirby pep rallies were quite similar to that which took place at Hyles’ Pastor’s School and Sword of the Lord Soulwinning Conferences. The goal was the same: motivate salesmen to hit the street and sell merchandise. In the case of the IFB church, the merchandise was Jesus, salvation, and fire insurance.

Were you a member of an IFB church? Were you a soulwinner? Was your church an aggressive soulwinning church? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

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Hustling for Jesus: Christian Home-Based Businesses

christian business

Comic by the wildly entertaining Jeffrey Weston, at Ape, Not Monkey.

Suzanne, who blogs at Every Breaking Wavehad this to say about her experiences with home-based Evangelical Christian businesses:

One of the things that the ladies kept trying to pound in my head during those early days, besides telling me that I should use “To Train Up A Child” to discipline my very ill child, was that if I was going to be a good Christian submissive wife I was going to have to not work outside of the home. Which was foreign to me, I’d always had some sort of job outside of the home, even if it was part time, and mostly tried to work at a time when Jim could take care of the kids so that they didn’t have to go to daycare.

This was the first time I’d heard of the family economy. I did this for a year or two, did the quilting, to make some money while I was incapacitated by the fibro. But eventually I did go back to working outside of the home, to the disappointment and derision of the ladies of the church. I just kept telling myself that they didn’t know any better, none of them had college educations and it seemed like a waste of my own education to not work.

But like any good cult, eventually the messages being replayed over and over again went into my head and I started seeking a way to do the home-based economy thing, find something I could do. When I started making flags it seemed like the perfect answer, most of what I made was either an air-brushed design, or something like a 9 foot long half round lame flag with an inset of glittery chiffon or a special shaped, painted, stoned, flag that was one of the kind. One of the most popular ones I sold was a half round flag with a flaming sword appliqued into place and bejeweled and stoned with a hand-worked sword hilt on the flag handle.

What I’m trying to say is that the flags were one of a kind, hand made, designs I’d come up with, more like art work than anything mass produced. I charged accordingly, because, none of those things I’m talking about are quick and easy. Sometimes I’d have close to sixty dollars in materials alone in the flags.

At first I sold quite a few, and I’d get contacted frequently to make something special, or perhaps an entire set of flags just for a church. Did so well and had enough orders that I quit my job as a systems admin at an insurance company. Home-based economy, honoring God, etc…

…With the flags and large banners I ran into a snag after a few months, a snag I’ve seen played out again and again and again in the Christian home economies in many different divisions.

It would go something like this. I’d be at a teaching conference, or someone would see my now-defunct website and start asking questions about one of the items. Most of the time this was about the half round 9 foot long flags with a half round center of glitter bedecked chiffon, not an easy item to make, but one that I’d managed to come up with a nearly fool proof method to make. I had my own pattern I’d made, and my own special technique for appliqueing in the center, while cutting away the solid lame in the center. It wasn’t easy, but it was my way to do it that worked every time.

The problem with this particular highly-coveted flag is that you needed a minimum of 5 yards of very expensive materials. It was usually about sixty dollars for fabric in that particular one. The ones that contacted me proclaiming what Good Christians™  they were also were the very ones that demanded either a) a big discount or b) to know exactly how I made that flag so they could make their own. Why? Because the $90 I was charging was thought to be too much for this item that took lots of expensive fabric and the expertise to make.

Many times I’d give in with a sigh, sketch out how to make one if I was at a conference, or explain via email. Usually what happened is that the person would get so far into the project, screw it up and then demand I fix their mess. For free. Most of the time when I looked at what they’d done I’d have to point out that they’d mangled the delicate fabric so badly that they’d have to start from scratch again. Would have been way cheaper just to buy from me in the first place

Eventually I’d sell the pattern, but people would still balk at spending ten bucks for a pattern and demand I explain for free.

And the people who were whining and demanding were also screaming out what Good Christians™ they were so I owed it to them because I was a Christian.

I got to see that Good Christian™ dynamic at work in just about every place, public secular business or Christian business, people saying that since they were doing the work of the God they deserved a discount or freebie, who would not let up until they got their way. Vyckie Garrison and I have had discussions about the Good Christian discount whine.

To add insult to grievous injury every single freakin’ time I’d come up with a new design, something I’d sketched out, made the pattern for and then made the sample and posted it on my website within a week I’d see a badly executed copy made from discount fabric of my original design up on Ebay for a cheaper price. To me that is what separates true artists from the artisans. Artists do it because it’s inside of them, artisans are just looking to make a buck.

Even as sales were decent after awhile I got most burned out by the attitudes of entitlement, the begging, whining, demanding a discount and the general intellectual thievery. I stopped making flags for anyone but myself, or when someone who’s seen one of mine and is willing to pay without whining. Just readied a big box of flags going on a missions trip to Cuba next month.

One thing I started to notice during my years at good old Creek Church, the tendency of the Creekers and other Good Christians™ to take advantage of people, press every advantage and try to drum up business by means fair and foul. Example, just about everyone that sucked up to the Pastor’s wife bought Pampered Chef merchandise and many ladies at the church signed up to sell beneath her every single time she started putting the pressure to people over being Good Christians™ helping out each other.

It was as if none of them thought hard work and conviction was enough, they had to press every advantage and try to game the system each and every time. Some of them still are, hence Mrs. 5 by 5 fleecing two different sets of the elderly she did the books for out of over 20K. Today I saw her with another new senior citizen that has a small business and I’m going to see if I can talk to her newest employer’s relatives before she steals from this women…

… Here’s what I learned in the last twenty years plus years dealing with Fundigelicals and their businesses/home based economies:

(1) If they can take some small advantage of you, then they will. If you call them on it they will claim it’s their right as Christians to be entitled to more or they outright deny they’ve done it.

(2) They believe if they can whine, beat you down, demand, threaten or haggle long enough you will give in to their sense of entitlement and give out something for free or deep discount. Why? Because Christian! Because Bible!

(3) If you happen to not totally agree with their flavor of True Believer then they might refuse to serve you and/or jack up the charges.

(4) They act like they have some sort of moral superiority over you all the while behaving badly.

You can read the entire article here.

Suzanne’s wonderful rant and roll got me to thinking about my own experiences with Evangelical Christian home-based businesses/Christian businesses and a church that considered establishing such businesses as a command from God. Let me share several stories with you.

First, let me say I don’t have a problem with a person starting a home-based business. It is a great way to make money. But, when such businesses are wedded to a religious ideology, that’s where I have a problem. While Polly and I were ardent homeschoolers and came into contact with a number of families who had home-based businesses, we never had the desire to have a home-based business (the money was a lot better in the “world”).

In 2005, while we were living in Newark, Ohio, we attended Faith Bible Church in Jersey, Ohio. Polly and I really loved this church, and we thought maybe, just maybe, we had found a church to call home.

Faith Bible was a growing patriarchal Calvinistic, Reformed church filled with young families with lots of children. Everyone home-schooled, the women kept the home while the men worked, and home-based businesses were quite common. I suspect Faith Bible had a lot in common with the church Suzanne mentions in her post.

One day after church, our family was fellowshipping with several families and the discussion turned towards our family. It was assumed that we were like they were, that Polly was a keeper of the home and that I was in the world making money to support my family. When Polly let it be known that she cleaned offices for State Farm and that I was unable to work, the air was sucked out of the room and the friendly discussion stopped. It was quite clear that the manner in which we were trying to keep our heads above water was disapproved of, perhaps even regarded as sinful. From that moment forward, everything changed for us. We felt a sense of distance from other church attenders, and it was not long before we decided to attend church elsewhere (we attended Faith for many months).

It was not uncommon for families at Faith Bible to have a lot of children. Polly and I have six children, and in most churches that would be an exceptionally large family. At Faith Bible? We were just one large family among many. With families being so large and women not being permitted to work outside of the home, home-based businesses became an easy way to supplement family income.

Churches such as Faith Bible have a distrust of the government. They are quite conservative, vote Republican, and think the government should stay out of their lives. The Terry Schiavo case was in the news while we were at Faith Bible, and I vividly remember a discussion that went on one night at a men’s meeting. Everyone, well everyone except me, was against allowing Schiavo’s husband to terminate life support. I found it ironic that the men felt the government should step in and stop Schiavo’s husband, yet, to the man, they thought the government should stay out of our lives. (I did appreciate the respect the men afforded me even though I voiced an opinion they considered immoral. I suspect I was quite the topic of discussion later.)

What better way to stick it to the man, to get the government out of your life, than to operate a home-based business? There are few government rules or regulations that apply to home-based businesses. Often, such businesses fly under the radar. They often don’t have the proper licenses or permits, pay taxes, or file tax returns. This illegal behavior is justified as “not giving the immoral, godless government any more money than they have to.”

Suzanne mentioned what is commonly called “getting the Christian discount.” Years ago, my Fundamentalist grandfather operated an airplane engine repair shop, T&W Engine Service, at the Pontiac Airport (now Oakland County International Airport).  Tom Malone, chancellor of Midwestern Baptist College — the college Polly and I attended in the 1970s — owned an airplane that was housed at the Airport. One day, Malone’s plane was having engine problems and he asked my grandfather to take a look at it. (He knew Grandpa was a Fundamentalist Christian) Grandpa did, told Malone what was wrong, and how much it would cost to fix it. Malone asked for the “Christian discount.” After all he was doing the Lord’s work. Shouldn’t a Christian businessman want to help out a pastor? Grandpa told Malone that there would be no discount. Malone was quite upset that Grandpa wouldn’t give him preferential treatment.

I pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years. I can’t tell you the times I had a business owner ask me if I wanted the “pastor’s/church discount.” In every instance I said NO! Just because people are Christian or pastors doesn’t mean they deserve a discount. Yet, some Christians and pastors have no problem begging for Jesus. Like Tom Malone, they say they are doing the Lord’s work, and shouldn’t EVERY business owner want to give God’s special people a discount?

While businesses often grant Christian discount requests, it doesn’t mean they like it. They are pragmatists, fearful that if word gets out that they aren’t giving the discount that they will lose customers who are Christian. Maybe they will, but better to lose customers than to do business with those who try to extort you in the name of God. (A political example of this was John McCain being stuck with Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. McCain hates Evangelicals, but fearing the loss of the Evangelical vote, he gave Republicans the ‘Christian discount” and made the IQ-challenged Palin his running mate.)

I, for one, do not frequent businesses that use the fish symbol to advertise their business. By using the fish symbol they are saying to me that Christian business and Christian money has more value than mine. From time to time, I will run into Christians in store parking lots selling their wares. Often they try to convince me to buy by giving me a guilt-laden speech about the money going to support their Christian family, their church, their youth group, orphans, or overseas missionaries. I NEVER buy from people who use Jesus to make a buck. In fact, I go out of my way NOT to buy from them (and mock and insult them if they try to pressure me into buying).

I pastored one church where I had to ban home-based sales marketing during church. From Mary Kay and Avon to Pampered Chef and Tupperware to Girl Scout Cookies and Amway, church members tried to get other members to buy their wares or attend their parties. I began to think that the church was turning into the story in the Bible about the money changers in the Temple. I saw myself as Jesus cleansing the Temple. As I look back on this, I now realize that my preaching helped to promote such an environment. I was a complementarian, traditional-family, women-not-working believer, so church women, for the most part, didn’t work. This created a huge problem because most of the families were quite poor and they NEEDED two incomes to make ends meet. Wanting to honor the commands of Bruce Almighty®, they turned to home-based businesses to supplement their incomes. Rarely did their home-based businesses generate as much income as they would have made in the evil, sin-filled, secular world.

Several churches I pastored had Christian business owners that also home-schooled their children. In every case, the children became a free or poorly paid work force. One such business was totally staffed and operated by children. What upset me the most was that the children would be running the business during the times they should have been home doing their school work. Their parents told me that their children did their school work in the evening. They used ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) materials so very little parental involvement was needed. This family never properly registered with the state or local school officials, so they were pretty much free to do what they wanted. Still, I am surprised no one ever reported them. I suspect one reason they weren’t is that the children were quite engaging, a pleasure to be around. It was hard not to see them as a rural Ohio version of a sweat shop.

Let me reiterate, I am not against home-based businesses. I am all for people making money and providing for their families. What I am against is the religiosity that is connected with many of these endeavors. Putting out a booklet that lists all the home-based or traditional Christian businesses in the area is a sure way to make sure they never get one dime from me. I expect the people I do business with to compete in the marketplace. I expect them to play by the rules, have the proper licenses and permits, and pay taxes.

Notes

Just in case someone is getting ready to whine and complain, I am not saying that all home-based Christian businesses are like those mentioned in this post.

Over the years, numerous Christians have called me up to schedule an appointment to share with me a wonderful, God-honoring way to make shit-loads of money. (OK they didn’t say shit-load.)  A.L. Williams, Amway, Excel, and more vitamin, weight loss, better health MLM  programs than I can count. In every case, they are no longer in business. Evidently, God failed to bless their hustling for Jesus.

072816

Ralph Wingate Jr Uses Me as a Sermon Illustration

ralph wingate jr

Ralph Wingate, Jr

From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan, to prepare myself for the ministry. Students were required to attend chapel services every day. Over the course of the three years I spent at Midwestern, I heard many of the big name Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers preach during chapel. If you were a preacher boy like I was, you wanted to hear these mightily used of God preachers. One such preacher was Ralph Wingate Jr.

Wingate, the son of a preacher, was a graduate of Midwestern.  In 1973, Wingate went to Newington,Connecticut to plant a new church, Emmanuel Baptist Church. (from 1970-1973, Wingate pastored First Baptist Church, Dwight, Illinois) The church was wildly successfuland this made Wingate a favorite son of the chancellor of Midwestern, Tom Malone.

In August of 1983, Wingate assumed the pastorate of Calvary Baptist Church in Normal, Illinois. Due to health problems, Wingate retired in December 2013. He pastored Calvary for 30 years.

Wingate, after stumbling upon my blog, used me as a warning, a cautionary tale, in one of his sermons. What follows is an audio clip of the part of the sermon that mentioned me.

Enjoy!

Christmas, 1957-2014

christmas tree new lexington 1984

Our Christmas Tree, New Lexington, Ohio 1984

Christmas has played a part in my life ever since I entered the world in June of 1957. In this post I want to detail some of my memories about Christmas.

As a child, Christmas at the Gerencser home was a typical American Christmas. Family, food, and gifts. While there were never many gifts, my siblings and I always received several presents from our parents. My Dad filmed many Christmases with his 8mm movie camera. Sadly, after Dad died in 1985, the movies were either lost or destroyed.

christmas 1950's

Christmas, late 1950s. Dad with his movie camera.

In the 1960s Christmas at our home changed, and not for the best. My grandfather on my Mom’s side remarried.  My grandmother remarried several times, but was divorced by the mid-1960s. My grandparents on my Dad’s side died in 1963. Grandpa Gerencser died February 1, 1963 and Grandma Gerencser died a month later on March 5th.  So, I was left with Grandpa and Grandma Tieken and Grandma Rausch, and they didn’t get along.

In the 1950s, Grandpa Tieken and Grandma Rausch went through an acrimonious divorce, a divorce that resulted in neither parent being deemed  fit to raise their children. They had two children, my mother Barbara and her brother Steve. This acrimony was on display in the 1960s when Bob and Barbara Gerencser gathered for Christmas with their three children, Butch (that’s me), Bobby, and Robin. Into our family gathering would come the grandparents, teeth bared, hateful towards the other, likely fueled by alcohol. The fighting got so bad that it was necessary for us to have two Christmas gatherings, one for each grandparent.

In the summer of 1970, we moved from Deshler, Ohio to Findlay, Ohio. In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced. Dad would marry a 19-year-old girl a few months later and Mom would marry her first cousin, a recent Texas prison parolee. From this point forward until I entered college, I have no recollections of Christmas. I am sure we celebrated Christmas. I am sure we had a tree, perhaps gave gifts, etc., but I have no recollection of it.

In the fall of 1976, I left Bryan, Ohio and moved to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll at Midwestern Baptist College, a fundamentalist Christian college noted for training men for the ministry. In September of 1976, I began dating a young, beautiful 17-year-old freshman girl named Polly. She would be the last girl I dated and two years later, in July of 1978, we married. This Sunday, Polly and I will celebrate our 39th Christmas together.

My first Christmas with Polly was in 1976. I drove from Bryan, Ohio to Polly’s parent’s home in Newark, Ohio. Polly’s Dad, Lee Shope, was the assistant pastor at the Newark Baptist Temple, a church pastored by her uncle Jim Dennis. The Shope family Christmas was a multifamily affair, with two sisters joining together to have the celebration. Christmas of 1976 was held at the home of Jim and Linda Dennis.

Being Polly’s boyfriend, I was topic of discussion and inspection. Needless to say, I failed the inspection and I am still the topic of discussion all these years later. I vividly remember Polly’s Uncle Jim letting the whole church know that I was there visiting Polly. He said, “Bruce and Polly have a shirt tail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirt tail is.” While I have no doubt Jim was trying to be funny, Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed. This coming year we will celebrate 37 years of marriage, so the shirt tail has proven to be quite long.

As I entered the Dennis home, I was taken aback by how many gifts there were. Underneath the tree and flowing out from the tree were countless gifts, more gifts than my siblings and I received our entire childhood. The number of gifts, what I would later label an “orgy to consumerism,” continued unabated for many Christmases.

Polly’s family being a family of preachers — her Dad, Uncle, and Grandfather were preachers — they made sure they put a good word in for Jesus before the gift opening commenced. Every Christmas, one of the preachers, which later included Polly’s cousins and nephew, gave a short devotional reminding everyone that the birth of Jesus was the real meaning of Christmas. Interestingly, even though I was a pastor for 25 years, I was never asked to give the devotional.

After Polly and I married, we began to develop our own Christmas traditions. We spent Christmas Eve with Polly’s parents and Christmas Day with either my family in Bryan, Ohio or with my Mom at her home in Rochester, Indiana, and later Columbus, Ohio. Polly’s family Christmas continued to be marked by the gift giving orgy and lots of great food. Christmas with my Mom and family was much more of a measured affair. Mom made sure her grandkids got several gifts, as did my grandparents and Aunt Marijene. Christmas at Mom’s house continued until around 1990 when she and her husband Michael moved to Michigan. The move was somewhat unexpected and I came to understand later that they likely moved due to Michael’s shady business dealings with people who threatened to kill him.  Mom would commit suicide in April 1992, while living near my sister in Quincy, Michigan.

Christmas 1983, Polly and I decided to have Christmas with my extended family at our home in Glenford, Ohio . I only remember two things from this Christmas: Grandpa and Grandma Tieken being their usual judgmental, pushy self and Mom being upset with me because I made her go outside to smoke. This would be the first and last time my extended family came to our home. For the next decade, not one member of my extended family came to our home, save a couple visits by the Tiekens. (whose visits were excruciatingly unpleasant)

Over time, I drifted away from my extended family. I began to see them as outsiders, someone of them in need of salvation. I regret distancing myself from my family, but like everything in the past there are no do-overs. We continued going to my Mom’s for Christmas until she moved to Michigan. We continued going to Polly’s parents home for Christmas until circumstances forced us to stop going. I will detail those circumstances in a moment.

In the late 1980’s, I came to the conclusion that Christmas was a pagan holiday, a holiday that no sold-out, on-fire Christian could ever celebrate. I unilaterally gave away all our Christmas decorations and we stopped giving our children gifts for Christmas. It’s not that we didn’t buy our children anything, we did. Our children, to this day, will joke that Christmas for them came when the income tax refund check showed up. Living in poverty with six children resulted in us, thanks to the Earned Income Credit, receiving a large income tax refund. When the check arrived, a one-time large infusion of cash into our bank account, we bought our children everything they needed, with “needed” being the key operative. While we bought the children clothes, shoes, underwear, and the like, we bought them very few toys. We left it to grandparents to buy them toys. We did make sure they had bicycles, BB guns, and firearms, but very few toys. Living as we did, 8 people in a 720 square foot, 12×60 battered, old trailer, required our children to spend a significant amount of time outside. Toys became whatever the kids picked up in the yard or woods. I have often wondered, looking at the wealth of toys our grandchildren have, if our children are not compensating for their childhood. I know, as we buy for our grandchildren, that we are.

During my “Christmas is Pagan Holiday” years, I routinely disparaged the gift orgy that went on at Polly’s parent’s home.  At the time, I thought the money being spent on gifts could be better spent on evangelizing the lost. While I would later move away from the view that Christmas is a pagan holiday, I never lost the belief that many Christians are quite hypocritical when it comes to Christmas. Jesus is the Reason for the Season and Wise Men Still Seek Him, devout Christians tell us, but their orgiastic celebration of the true meaning of Christmas, consumerism, betrays what they really believe. After all, conduct reveals what we truly believe.

Over time, I allowed, remember, we were patriarchal in family structure, Polly to resume a low-key celebration of Christmas in our home. We had to buy new decorations because I gave all away our old antique decorations, given to us by our mothers, to Goodwill. For a time, we had an artificial Christmas tree. For the past decade  or so we have bought a fresh Christmas tree. Since we moved back to rural NW Ohio in 2005, we have bought our tree each Christmas from the Lion’s Club in Bryan.

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

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

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

I appreciate Polly’s Mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family. I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people and I couldn’t ask for better in-laws.

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

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

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

We moved back to NW Ohio is July of 2005. Since then, our family has gathered for Christmas on the Sunday before Christmas. Doing this allows our children to avoid conflicts with their spouses family plans for Christmas. This past year, Polly’s parents drove up and joined us and they may do so again this year.

christmas 2011

Christmas 2011

These days, Christmas for Polly and I is all about family, especially the grandkids. For us, Christmas has become a celebration of love, a celebration of the gift of a wonderful family.  While we do not believe in the Christian God, we still enjoy Christmas music and all the other trappings of the Christmas season. It’s a cultural thing, no need to complicate things with religious demands. When twenty-three people pile into our grossly undersized living room to open presents, we will be reminded of how good we have it.

christmas 2013

Christmas 2013

How about you? How has how you celebrate Christmas changed over the years? If you are now a non-Christian, how do you handle your Christian family? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

112816

Dear Bruce Turner

bruce turner

Bruce Turner

Bruce Turner was my youth pastor in the early 1970s. Bruce played a very important part in my life, from my profession of faith in Christ to my call to the ministry. I have published this letter before. As with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

Dear Bruce,

I see you found my blog. I am sure the current state of my “soul” troubles you. My “spiritual” condition troubles many as they try to wrap their theological minds around my twenty-five years in the ministry and my present atheistic views.

I plan to address the comment you left at the end of the letter, but before I do so I want to talk about the relationship you and I had and about the influence you had on my life.

You came to Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, fresh out of Baptist Bible College. Trinity was looking to hire a full-time youth pastor and you were the one they hired. You joined the staff of a busy, growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church.

You were there when I put my faith and trust in Jesus. You were there when I was called to preach. You helped me prepare my first sermon (2 Corinthians 5:20). You and I worked a bus route together and went out on visitation.

My parents had recently divorced and you became a surrogate father to me. When my Dad remarried and moved us to Arizona I was devastated. In a few months, I returned to Ohio, and in late summer of 1973, I moved from Bryan to Findlay.

You helped me find a place to live, first with the Bolanders, and then with Gladys Canterbury. For almost a year I went to school, worked a job at Bill Knapp’s, and immersed myself in the ministry of Trinity Baptist Church.  You were there to guide me every step of the way.

When I first moved to Findlay a divorcee and her young daughter wanted to take me in. You wisely made sure that didn’t happen, knowing such a home would not be healthy for me.

When I became enamored with Bob Harrington ( I loved his It’s Fun Being Saved record) you warned me about worshiping big name preachers and you told me to pay attention not only to what they preached but what they didn’t.

You even catered to my personal desires. In the summer of 1973, I had a whirlwind romance with Charlotte Brandenburg. Charlotte was the daughter of the couple who came to hold a Super Summer Bible Rally (VBS) at Trinity. For one solid week, we spent every day with each other. I was smitten with Charlotte.

Later that same year you planned a youth outing to the Troy Baptist Temple, the church Charlotte attended. We went to see the movie, A Thief in the Night, but my real reason for going was to see Charlotte.

bruce gerencser 1971

Bruce Gerencser, 1971, Ninth Grade

When it came time to leave I lingered as long as possible, I didn’t want to leave Charlotte. Finally, I heard a voice the said, Gerencser, get on the bus (for some reason you liked to call me by my last name). As I came hand-in-hand with Charlotte to the bus you turned a way for a moment and told me to get it over with. I quickly kissed Charlotte goodbye and that was the last time I saw her. We wrote back and forth for a few months but, like all such relationships, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity.

You were my basketball coach. Trinity sponsored a team in the ultra-competitive high school age Church Basketball League. One game I had a terrible night shooting the ball. I was frustrated and I told you I wanted out of the game. You refused and made me play the whole game. My shooting didn’t get any better but I learned a life lesson that I passed on to all my children years later.

I remember when this or that person in the youth group got in trouble. You and Reva were there to help them pick up the pieces of their lives. You were a kind, compassionate man.

I remember you helping us get a singing group started. I still remember singing the song Yesterday during a church service (YouTube video of Cathedral Quartet singing this song). I also remember you singing Fill My Cup Lord. Polly and I sang this same song for many years in most every church I pastored.

Who can ever forget your Youth Group survey? You surveyed our attitudes about alcohol, drugs, music and sex and then you dared to use your findings in a sermon. I remember what a stir your sermon caused. You peeled back the façade and revealed that many of the church’s youth were not unlike their non-Christian peers. (it was the ‘70s)

I saw your bad side too. I remember the youth canoe outing where Reva lost her teeth. Boy were you angry. I felt bad for Reva, but in a strange way I loved you even more. I saw that you were h-u-m-a-n. I already knew Gene Milioni and Ron Johnson, the other pastors, were human, having seen their angry outbursts, and now you were mortal too. (Remember I am writing this from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy.)

In May of 1974, I abruptly left Findlay, one week away from the end of school (a move that resulted in Findlay High School denying me credit for my entire 11th grade year). Subsequently, I dropped out of high school.  My Mom was in a world of hurt mentally and she needed me (and I needed her). In the fall of 1974 she would be admitted to the state mental hospital and my Dad would come and move my siblings and me back to Arizona.

In 1976 I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I met my wife at Midwestern, and after leaving there in the Spring of 1979, we embarked on a twenty-five year journey in the pastorate, a journey that took us to seven churches.

bill beard bruce turner 1986

Bill Beard and Bruce Turner, 1986

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. I put to use the things I learned from you, Dr. Tom Malone, and my professors at Midwestern. I put soul-winning first. I committed myself to being a faithful preacher of the truths found in the King James Bible. And “God” blessed the work I did. Somerset Baptist Church grew from a handful people to over two-hundred. We were the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County.

You and I reconnected and I had you come and preach for us. I believe it was a special service and the church was packed with people. The people loved you and I was thrilled to show off my mentor to them. I suppose, deep down, I needed your approbation.

You invited me to come and preach at your church, Braintree Baptist Temple in Braintree, Massachusetts. I now know that the real reason you had me come and preach was because you saw some things that concerned you. My workaholic, Type-A personality was good for growing a church but not so good for me or my family. Sadly, it took me many more years before I realized this.

We stayed in your home in Massachusetts and spent a few days traveling around the area. This was the first “vacation” our family had ever taken and it would be the last one for many years. I was too busy and thought I was too important to take any time off.  Even when I later took vacations, I never took them just to be taking one. I always had a church or conference to preach at while we were on “vacation.”

bruce turner 1986

Bruce Turner with our three oldest children, 1986

You and your dear wife treated us well. You gave us some “run-around” money and we went out to the Cape. My oldest children still remember dipping their feet in the cold waters of the Atlantic.

We parted, promising to keep in touch, but as with Charlotte and me years ago, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity. I suspect my later adoption of Calvinism ended any chance of a continued relationship.

I did write you several times in the 1990s. I read somewhere that you had Fibromyalgia, and when I was diagnosed with the same I wrote you. You never responded. I was disappointed that you never wrote back, but I chalked up to you being busy.

Bruce, I wrote all of this to say that you had a profound effect on my life. I will always appreciate what you did for me.

Now to your comment.

You wrote:

Sorry to see your blog and obvious bitterness toward Baptists. Not all of us preached an easy believing Gospel and certainly not all of us lived a perverted life. These King makers you blog about have never had my respect.

Reva and I have been happily married for 44 years. I am sorry your health is so bad and though you apparently have rejected what you once professed, I am praying for you to the God (not preachers) that I trust.

I sincerely hope your health improves and remember some good times in the old days. Stay healthy friend.

Bruce Turner

I am often accused of being bitter, angry, or some other negative emotion. On one hand, I have every reason to be bitter and angry, but my rejection of Christianity is not ultimately defined by anger or bitterness.

I rejected Christianity because I no longer believe the claims made about the Bible and its teachings. I came to see that the Bible was not inspired, inerrant, or infallible. I came to see that a belief in the God of the Bible could not be sustained rationally (this is why faith is necessary), and even if it could be, I wanted nothing to do with such a capricious, vengeful, homicidal God. I later came to see that the Biblical claims for Jesus could not be sustained. While I certainly think a man named Jesus roamed the Judean hillside during the time recorded in the Bible, the Jesus of the Bible is a myth. At best he was a revolutionary, a prophet who was executed for his political and religious beliefs (and I still, to this day, have a real appreciation for the sermon on the Mount and a few other sayings attributed to Jesus).

My journey away from Christianity and the ministry took many anguish-filled years.  I didn’t arrive to where I am today overnight. I looked at progressive Christianity, the Emergent church, liberal Christianity, and even universalism. None of these met my intellectual need. None of them rang true to me. I made many stops along the slippery slope until I came to the place where I had to admit that I was an atheist (and I still think saying I am a Christian means something).

I am not a hater of Christianity. I have no desire to stop people from worshiping the Christian God. I am well aware of the need many people have for certainty. They want to know their life matters and they want to know that there is life beyond the grave. Christianity meets their need.  Who am I to stand in the way of what helps people get through life?  It matters not if it is true. They think it is true and that is fine by me.

The Christianity I oppose is the Evangelical form of Christianity that demands everyone worship their God, believe what they believe, and damns to hell all those who disagree with them. I oppose their attempts to turn America into a theocracy. I oppose their hijacking of the Republican Party. I oppose their incessant whining about persecution and their demands for special status. I oppose their attempts to deny some Americans of the civil and legal rights others have. (What happened to Baptists believing in a strict separation of church and state?) I oppose their attempt to infiltrate our public schools and teach Creationism or its kissing cousin, Intelligent Design, as science (this is what Christian schools are for). I oppose their attempt to make the Ten Commandments the law of the Land.

The kind of Christianity I mentioned above hurts people and hurts our Country politically and socially. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has harmed countless people, sometimes scarring their lives so severely that recovery is almost impossible (and telling people to get over it is not the answer). I weep often as I read emails from people whose lives have been destroyed by the extremes found in the IFB church movement. My blog exists because I want to help people like this. I want them to have a safe place to work through the wreckage of their lives, lives ruined by their involvement in Evangelical and IFB churches.

In many ways, I am still a pastor.  I want to help other people. The difference now, or course, is that I don’t have an agenda. I don’t have a list “truths” that must be believed. If I can help people walk the journey they are on with openness, honesty, and integrity, I am happy. I am concerned with their journey not their destination (since I think we are all headed for the same final destination, death).

I too, Bruce, have prayed thousands of times to the Christian God and yet, like the universe itself, he yawns and remains silent. Instead of hoping for a God to fix what ails me, I have chosen to embrace my life as it is. I have chosen to try to change what I can and accept what I can’t. Above all, I have learned that it is what it is.

Through this blog I try to flesh out my understanding of the past and examine the path I am now on. I try to be open and honest. I don’t have all the answers and, for that matter, I don’t even know all the questions. All I know to do is continue to walk forward, however halting my gait may be.

I shall always remember our days in Findlay and I will always appreciate what you did for me. When I write my autobiography someday there will be a chapter titled Bruce Turner.

Thank you.

Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Turner’s website

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