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Tag: Newark Baptist Temple

When the Shit Hits the Fan with IFB Family

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

There come seminal moments in your life as an atheist when you learn what your Evangelical family really thinks of you. Often precipitated by a crisis, the truth comes spilling out for all to see. Such a moment happened recently . . . and now I know what one extended family member — a member of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation in Newark, Ohio attended by Polly’s mom — really thinks of me and my wife.

Polly’s mother is dying from terminal cancer. Her death is imminent — days, weeks, or a month or two, at best. She is now living with our nephew and niece. While I won’t go into the details of what precipitated the shit storm, I can tell you my nephew — who reads this blog — recently spent twenty minutes screaming at me; repeatedly cursing at me; calling me names, including lazy fat ass, and threatening me with physical violence — twice. Of course, my atheism and this blog came up. Polly’s family doesn’t like the fact that I write about the IFB church movement and its intersection with family. When I mention family, I never use their names or any identifiers (unless they are public figures). Evidently, I have no right to tell my story. I was told several times to shut up; that I’m a “victim”; that I need to move on; that I need to mind my own business. And what I write next will only reinforce my nephew’s view of me.

As I have mentioned before, Polly’s mom has always treated our family differently from family members in Newark, where Polly’s late sister lived and raised three boys. Even when I was a pastor, we were treated differently; as outsiders; as people who didn’t quite “fit.” This led to all sorts of conflicts over the years, beginning days after our wedding day. For example, as I recently went over Mom’s finances, I noticed that she gave substantial amounts of money to her Newark great-grandchildren for their graduations, birthdays, and special events. She does not do this for our grandchildren. Granted, we live four hours away from Newark, but proximity (or lack thereof) should not preclude Mom from buying a card, writing a check, and mailing it to our grandchildren. It is literally the least she can do.

Let me give you another example. I was a pastor for twenty-five years. Every family holiday one of the preachers would give a short devotional as we all gathered in one family member’s home in Newark. Even the grandchildren from Newark were asked to give the devotional. Do you know who wasn’t? Me. Not one time. It is hard not to take such things personally. I have known my mother-in-law for almost forty-seven years. She opposed Polly and me dating, tried to break us up, attempted to derail our wedding, and voiced her disapproval and disappointment more times than I can count over the years. Out of respect for Mom, I loved her, but I didn’t like her.

In 2005, we finally had a showdown. Mom and Dad came up for Thanksgiving. As soon as Mom entered our home, she started doing her thing: moving furniture, ordering Polly around in the kitchen, and telling her how to cook this or that (Polly is a superb cook, by the way). Things got so bad that I told Mom to STOP; that she was a guest in our home. Mom called the next day and apologized, saying, “we always knew you were different.” Ah, there it is. Our relationship got better in the sense that Mom knew she could no longer bully us. In fact, Polly told her mom, “if you force me to choose between you and Bruce, I am going to choose Bruce.” Since then, Mom has taken a passive-aggressive approach to interacting with us.

Polly is widely viewed by our IFB family as an innocent, passive lamb; the submissive wife. Thus, I am always to blame for what happens in our life. Take our atheism. When we deconverted, we went from being barely a part of the in-group to being in the out-group; the group reserved for heathens, apostates, and reprobates. Over the past fifteen years, not one family member has had a meaningful conversation with us about our loss of faith. Not one . . . So my nephew’s phone call was the first time anyone has said anything to me about our atheism. Oh, they gossip about us, “pray” for us, mention us at church, and use us as sermon illustrations. But, talk to us? Naw, they leave that to God.

Until yesterday, Polly and I had been responsible for Mom’s finances. (We have since legally removed ourselves as agents.) We worked diligently to make sure her house was in order; so all her bills would be paid upon death. And then, for no good reason, Mom decided she didn’t want us to do these things anymore. She had our niece put on her account and moved all her money, $14,000, into her checking account. A large check was written to our niece. All of these decisions were made without our knowledge and consent. We had no choice but to end our legal duty to her. Over the years, Mom (and Dad when he was alive) has repeatedly asked for our help. When things don’t go as she thinks they should, she does her own thing and blames us for what happened. I have a business background. Twice, Mom and Dad, for a plethora of reasons, got themselves into serious financial straits. I helped them get their house in order. When things didn’t go as planned, she “fired” me, and blamed me when everything went south. Just remember, “Bruce is always to blame.” I am her scapegoat. This has happened so often, that we should have known not to involve ourselves in her end-of-life decisions. We did so because we love her and want what’s best for her. (According to my nephew, we are just poor people who want her money, just one of many accusations he hurled my way while verbally assaulting me.)

I am sure some of you will conclude I am leaving things out of this story. I am. I just can’t bear to rehash some of it. Maybe, someday I will. The drama and pain run deep. I was barely able to address these things with my therapist today. Here’s what I do know: this was the last straw; the period at the end of the sentence. We have done all we can do to be a loving, kind, helpful daughter and son-in-law. You can only be shit on so many times before you say ENOUGH.

I have never seen Polly so hurt, broken, and angry. As she left for work, she said “fuck all of them.” I concur. (And then she came home from work and drank beer — a first.) We have crossed the point of no return. Mom has made her bed, so to speak, with her “real” family. We have come to accept that we are not wanted; that we are outsiders; that Mom doesn’t trust or respect us due to our atheism. Polly was the dutiful, loving daughter, yet Mom could never accept and love her as she is. Mom simply could not accept that we were going to walk our own path in life. Every move away from the IFB church movement brought criticism, judgment, and estrangement. My children grew up, married, and had children. They also left Evangelicalism, got college educations, and are gainfully employed in managerial positions. Along the way, some of them got divorced, started drinking alcohol, and picked up colorful language. Recently, my youngest son came out as gay. Polly and I are proud of our children, and what they have done with their lives. We are grateful that the IFB curse has been broken; that none of our grandchildren will ever have to experience what Nana and Grandpa and their Moms and Dads experienced in the IFB cult. Yet, all my mother-in-law sees is sin, disobedience, and disappointment. From beer in the fridge to rock music on the stereo to “revealing” clothes to someone saying shit or damn, all Mom sees is what happens when people disobey her peculiar version of God and her peculiar interpretation of the King James Bible. She has no capacity to accept people as they are or love them unconditionally. Only her “real” family, her church family, are deserving of such things.

And you know who is to blame for all the choices our children have made? I am. If Bruce had only stayed in the ministry. If Bruce had only pastored the “right” churches. If Bruce had only done this or that, all would be well. Of course, one need only to look at our extended IFB family and Mom’s church family to see that such thinking is fantasy. Dysfunction and sin abound. They are every bit as fucked up as the rest of us. People are who they are, and the best way to get along in life is to accept people as they are. Polly and I have, without reservation, loved and accepted our IFB family. We would love to have meaningful relationships with them. Of course, that will never happen. Why? They are unable to compartmentalize their religious beliefs. It is. for them, a zero-sum game.

We are done with our IFB family. I am grateful that my nephew finally spoke out loud what the family has long thought about us. And when I say we are done, I mean in every way. As it stands today, we will not attend Mom’s funeral. She’s will be dead, so she won’t care. The funeral service will be all about Jesus and getting saved. The graveside service will be more of the same. The viewing will be a torturous night of dealing with Mom’s self-righteous church friends and people who despise us for daring to share secrets out of school; exposing the IFB church movement for what it is: a cult that causes untold psychological (and at times, physical) harm. (Wait until they see my upcoming podcasts about the IFB, including appearances by the former pastor’s wife, Polly Shope Gerencser. May the shit gloriously hit the proverbial fan.)

I am sure some readers may disagree with our decision to not attend the funeral. I know several of our children do. All I ask is that people understand that this is a story forty-seven years in the making. So much pain and dysfunction; so much heartache and loss. This is us saying no more, we are done. This is what is best for us. And at the end of the day, this is all that matters. We can’t control what people will think about this decision. All we can do is what will best help us sleep at night. I hope you will understand.

Have you had a messy breakup with your Fundamentalist family? Please share your experiences in the comment section. Better yet, share your story in a guest post.

Thanks for Reading,

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And then we are done.

“I Don’t Know What You Are,” My IFB Mother-in-Law Says

godless atheist

Yesterday, Polly and I drove to Newark, Ohio to visit Polly’s mom. She is now living with our nephew and his wife. Mom is dying. Could be soon, or could be months from now, but, regardless, the proverbial plane circling the airport is getting ready to land. Polly and I are responsible for settling Mom’s estate. She refuses to write a will, so it is important for us, legally, to settle her estate as much as possible before she dies. We had fourteen frank end-of-life questions to ask Mom. We were delighted when she answered them without a fuss. I suspect that she has resigned herself to the fact that she is dying. She doesn’t plan to seek extraordinary care. Our advice was for her to arrange for hospice. Mom is in a lot of pain, but she refuses to ask for narcotic pain medications. The blame for her unwillingness to accept pain reliefs rests solely on her Fundamentalist religious beliefs: that suffering has value and is part of God’s plan for her life. Hopefully, a hospice nurse will convince her to take the medications.

Mom is eighty-seven years old. She’s been a Fundamentalist Christian her entire life — first as a Nazarene, and then as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). Mom has attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio for the past forty-six years. Polly’s father was the church’s assistant pastor for five years (1976-1981) before striking out on his own. (Dad and I started a church together in Buckeye Lake.) Polly’s uncle, the late Jim Dennis, pastored the church for fifty years. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) The church is currently pastored by Mark Falls. (Please see An IFB Funeral: Fundamentalist Christianity Poisons Everything.) Mom’s entire life has been shaped, formed, and controlled by IFB beliefs and practices. At this point in life, she is who she is. She is going to the grave happily praising the IFB God. We accept that there’s nothing we can say or do that will soften her view of us, our heathen children, and our godless grandchildren (even though some of our children believe in God, just not the IFB God).

Polly and I have known each other for forty-six years. Mom didn’t want us to get married, and went out of her way to upend our marriage plans. Five months before our wedding date in 1978, Mom told Polly that she could not marry me. This, of course, enraged us. We talked about eloping. Instead, Polly, for the first time, stood up to her mother and told her that we were getting married with or without her blessing. Bluff called, the wedding went on as planned.

Over the past five decades, we have had numerous conflicts with Mom. Never Dad, just Mom. You see, she was the head of the home. She ruled the proverbial roost. My quiet, passive father-in-law never stood up to her. I do remember several passive-aggressive moments where Dad did exactly what she told him he couldn’t do, but most often he just bowed to her wishes.

I dearly love my mother-in-law. I will sorely miss her when she is gone, though I suspect she can’t say the same about me. Mom wrongly thinks that I control Polly; that she doesn’t think for herself or make her own decisions; that Polly is still a Christian, and she will return to Jesus once Satan is out of her life. None of these things, of course, is true. We left Christianity in November 2008. Fourteen years later, Mom has yet to have a meaningful discussion with us about why we deconverted. She has talked about us to her pastor and other family members. She’s asked her church to pray for us. She repeatedly tells us verbally or in written messages on cards that she is praying for us. We have come to accept that this is just the way it is. Her religion demands she respond this way. There’s no possible scenario where she can love and respect us as we are.

One of our biggest fears is that her pastor will preach AT us during the funeral or church members will accost us, saying “Bonnie told me she hopes to see you in Heaven some day. Wouldn’t you like to be saved today?” We are so concerned that this could happen that we are considering skipping the funeral or sitting at the back of church so we can leave immediately after the service. I am not convinced that if Mom’s pastor mentions atheism by name that I can control my emotions. I hate to ruin the funeral by standing up in the service and telling Mom’s pastor to go fuck himself. Doing so would be epic, righteous, and awesome, but I must think of others too. So, our goal is to go out of the way to avoid interaction and conflict with God’s chosen ones.

We spent six hours in Newark. All told it was a physically taxing fourteen hour day, leaving me with excruciating pain and emotional brokenness. We had a delightful time talking to Mom, our nephew and niece, and their two children. It was a perfect day for five hours and fifty-five minutes. Unfortunately, the last five minutes ruined the stay, reminding us of how much we despise the IFB church movement, the Newark Baptist Temple, and its pastor.

Two years ago, Mom sent me a long, detailed list of demands she expected to be met for her funeral. (She did the same for Dad.) I briefly glanced at her demands and put them in an envelope for safekeeping. Several days ago, I got the paper out and read it carefully. What quickly became clear to me is that my family would have no part in the funeral service. Instead, Mom’s “real family” would be in charge of and take care of everything. Only people associated with the Baptist Temple will play a part in her funeral. Of course, we are used to being treated this way, going back long before our atheist days. Mom treats our children differently from the way she treats her grandchildren, nieces, and nephews who live in Newark. You see, they are all IFB Christians. In Mom’s eyes, we are godless heathens or the wrong type of Christians. While we are used to being treated this way, it still hurts to be “othered.” And now our grandchildren are picking up on this. “Why does Mamaw give them birthday/Christmas gifts and doesn’t do the same for us?” one of my grandchildren recently asked. Mom graciously shares the wealth with her “family” in Newark. Our grandchildren got a singular gift from their Mamaw last Christmas — a Christmas ornament to “remember” her by. Special events for Mom’s real family are memorialized with gifts, including money. (One grandchild recently received $100 for graduation.) Our grandchildren don’t receive such gifts. Worse, because Polly and I have step-grandchildren, Mom refuses to acknowledge they are her great-grandchildren. She seems to believe that blood is all that matters. Thus, she accepts as her great-grandchildren her grandson’s children with three different women, but not our “step” granddaughters. (For the record, we do not use the “step” label.) Mom has caused untold harm by “othering” some of our grandchildren.

Back to Mom’s funeral demands. Mom isn’t a deep-thinker or a list maker. Yet, the funeral demands are detailed, typed out, and presented in a way a preacher would make his sermon. Do you get where I am headed here? I suspect Mom’s pastor compiled the list of funeral demands. And that’s fine, but don’t think for a moment that Polly and I don’t see what is going on here

As we were leaving Newark, the following “discussion” took place. Please note that this is a conversation Mom wanted to have with me. Not her daughter, me.

Mom: I want _______ (nephew) and ________ (niece) to handle my funeral.

Bruce (puzzled): Do you think I’m going do something you wouldn’t like?

Mom (looking pained): Well, you know . . .

Bruce (even more puzzled): No, I don’t know . . .

Mom (forced to say what she meant): Well, you know, I don’t know what you are.

(Ah, our atheism, MY atheism is the problem, but Mom refuses to use the A word.)

Bruce: I’ve been your son-in-law for forty-four years. I will always respect your wishes. You gave us a paper outlining your funeral. We will do exactly what you want done.

Mom: Oh, okay.

Bruce: But I’m more than happy to let ________ and _______ handle the funeral.

And we will. Polly and I want nothing to do with the funeral. It would have been nice if several of our children were given an opportunity to participate, but that’s not going to happen, so we will accept that.

Mom’s funeral is the final strand binding us to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and the Newark Baptist Temple. When we drive out of Newark for the last time, we will look in the rear-view mirror and defiantly wave goodbye with our middle finger. So much pain, trauma, and abuse. So many bad memories (and yes, some good memories too). The scars will remain, but praise Loki, the curse will be broken.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Three Questions About the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church Movement

good question

Last week, I received an email from a reader named JT, asking me three questions about the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. My responses are below.

How come many Americans haven’t heard of the Independent Fundamental Baptist church movement?

Most Americans don’t understand that there are flavors of Baptist Christianity, everything from liberal to hardcore Fundamentalist. The IFB church movement is on the far right of the Baptist spectrum. People are often surprised to learn that millions of people attend IFB churches; that at one time, many of the largest churches in the United States were IFB congregations.

The IFB church movement has fallen on hard times. While there are still IFB megachurches, most IFB churches are in numeric decline. IFB colleges are in decline too. Many of them have closed their doors in recent years. Why? As Americans have become more progressive/liberal, IFB churches have dug their heels in, claiming that they are the holders and defenders of old-fashioned Christianity — old-fashioned meaning the 1950s. Racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, and anti-intellectualism plague the movement, as does conspiratorial thinking, Trumpism, and Qanon ideology. Scores of IFB church members participated in the 1/6/21 insurrection. Despite these things, millions of people attend IFB churches (and IFB adjacent sects such as the Bible church movement and the Southern Baptist Convention). Virtually every community in the United States has an IFB church. That people don’t know that these Baptist churches are IFB reflects how indifferent Christians have become to denominationalism (and yes, in the loosest sense of the word, the IFB church movement is a sect/denomination)

Do ex-IFB church members get shunned by church members, pastors, evangelists, and IFB families?

The short answer is yes. IFB churches are exclusionary and anti-culture. While they might grudgingly admit that non-IFB Christians are True Christians, in practice they believe they alone preach the faith once delivered to the saints. That’s why a community can have numerous churches, yet an IFB church planter with come to their town and will start a church. Why, there’s no Bible-believing church in town, the IFB church planter says. I know I believed this when I planted churches in Somerset, Buckeye Lake, and West Unity — all in Ohio. These churches were surrounded by other Bible-believing, Bible-preaching churches, but they weren’t IFB.

Personally, my wife, Polly, and I have been shunned by IFB family members. Polly’s late father was an IFB pastor, as was her late uncle. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) She also has cousins who are IFB preachers, evangelists, and missionaries. Polly’s extended family has largely shunned us. Only one of them is friends with us on Facebook.

Polly’s mom is dying. She has cancer, congestive heart failure, and kidney failure. I would be surprised if she makes it to Christmas. We are planning to drive to Newark, Ohio tomorrow to visit with her and help her, kicking and screaming, get her house in order. We are somewhat estranged from Polly’s mom, but since Polly is the last surviving close relative, it is up to her to make sure everything is taken care of after her mom dies. Of course, there will be a church funeral at the Newark Baptist Temple to contend with. Ugh.

Two years ago, Mom sent us her funeral demands. We gave it a cursory glance, at the time. We know we will have to endure being preached at by her pastor. The funeral service will be all about Jesus, as most IFB funeral services are. Yesterday, I got Mom’s funeral demands out and gave them a careful reading. What stood out was the fact that the Gerencser family — her only living daughter’s family — will have NO part in the funeral service. Mom’s demands were quite detailed. Only IFB family members will have a part in the church and graveside services. It’s hard not to conclude that Mom is punishing her oldest grandchildren for her daughter’s and son-in-law’s unbelief. We will, of course, abide by her wishes, knowing that this will be the last sentence written in our IFB story. I told Polly that when we drive away from Newark some day after her mom’s funeral, I plan to look in the rearview mirror and give a middle-finger salute.

We wish it could be different with Polly’s family. However, their theological beliefs keep them from loving as we are. As long as we are atheists, we will be evangelization targets — not family members, not friends.

Do Independent Fundamentalists Baptists know that they are indoctrinated in a cult?

I was a guest on Clint Heacock’s podcast today and we talked about this very subject. Religious sects, by definition, are cults. (Please see Questions: Bruce, Is the IFB Church Movement a Cult?) However, not all cults are equal. IFB churches cause psychological (and physical) harm. They are not, in any way, benign. That said, IFB church members don’t think they are part of a cult. In their minds, cults are sects such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Charismatics, and others. Why don’t they see that the IFB is a cult too? When you are in the IFB bubble, everything makes perfect, rational sense. The beliefs and practices are “Biblical.” I never thought I was in a cult. I never doubted that my beliefs were right. When you are conditioned and indoctrinated in certain beliefs and practices, it is impossible for you to see your sect’s weaknesses and contradictions. This is especially the case in the IFB church movement. Congregants isolate themselves from “lost” people; from the “world.” Their churches become their families; the hub around which their lives revolve.

I hope I have adequately answered JT’s questions.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Just Remember Girls, No One Ever Got Pregnant Who Didn’t Hold Hands with a Boy First

angry preacher

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. (I Corinthians 7:1-2)

The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth that unmarried men should not touch women. Touch not, want not, right? If men couldn’t contain their sexual desires, then to avoid fornication, they were to marry. In other words, marriage was a considered a cure for horniness. Countless Evangelicals have been taught that if they cannot contain their sexual desires — remember masturbation is a sin — then they should seek out someone of the opposite sex to marry. Hey Betty, I am horny. Will you marry me? 

Many Evangelical preachers use I Corinthians 7:1-2 as justification for the Puritanical rules they use to regulate physical contact between unmarried teenagers and young adults. I came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s. I was a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF), and First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio, also an IFB congregation. Public displays of affection were forbidden. This prohibition forced church teens to turn to secretive means to show their “love” to their boyfriend or girlfriend. We learned how to hold hands in church or on the church bus so no one could see us. There was something exciting about flaunting the rules, even more so when we spent time necking in out-of-the-way church hallways or in the shadows of the parking lot. My favorite necking time was Wednesday evenings when the adults were having choir practice. Church teens were left to their own devices, and many of us used the time for fornication-lite. One girl I dated for a short time told me recently that I was the first boy who kissed her — in the back of the church while the adult choir was practicing Bill Gaither’s song, He Touched Me. 🙂

I had many such dalliances, but that is as far as they went. I was a true believer, so I limited my physical intimacy with the opposite sex to hand-holding and kissing. I was one of the few summer-of-love children who didn’t get laid before marriage. Conversations in recent years with people who were in the youth group with me have revealed that there was a lot of fucking and sucking going on, but none involving preacher boy Bruce Gerencser. I assumed, at the time, that everyone was on the straight and narrow as I was. I now know that their spirits were willing, but their flesh was weak. 🙂

In the fall of 1976, I entered Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. A dark-haired beauty by the name of Polly also enrolled for classes. Polly’s goal was to find herself a preacher boy to marry. I thought of college as being a place of plentiful dating opportunities, and I planned to play the field. I dated a girl by the name of Peggy for several weeks and then turned my romantic interest towards Polly. We quickly hit it off, even though we had little in common. She was a quiet, shy preacher’s daughter. I was a motormouth with a bit of a rebellious streak. Polly would tell me later that she thought of me as her “bad boy.” Polly’s parents saw me as a bad boy too; bad as in not good for their innocent daughter. They spent the next eighteen months trying to discourage our relationship, even going so far as to tell Polly that she couldn’t marry me. A short time after this papal edict, Polly informed her parents that we were going to get married with or without their blessing. This was the first time Polly stood up to her parents. If my mother-in-law had to sum up her son-in-law in one sentence, I suspect she would say, Bruce is “different” and he ruined our daughter.

Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist institution. Established by Dr. Tom Malone in the 1950s, Midwestern had a strict code of student conduct. Single students were required to live in the dormitory, and every aspect of dorm life was strictly regulated. Students could only date on the weekends and had to double-date. Dating couples were not permitted to touch each other — no hand-holding, kissing, snuggling, or other displays of affection. Keep in mind, most of the dorm students were ages 18-30 — the raging hormones years. And it was the 1970s, the freaking 1970s!

i would rather be fornicating

Single students were expected to keep at least six inches distance from the opposite sex — six inches being the width of a church hymnbook. (Please read Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule.) Breaking the six-inch rule brought severe punishment. Repeated infractions resulted in expulsion. While there were a handful of couples who self-righteously obeyed the letter of the law, most students quickly learned who they could double-date with without getting in trouble for holding hands with or kissing their date. More than a few students rounded third and slid into home, with several girls becoming pregnant — or so it was rumored anyway. Students caught fornicating were immediately expelled from school.

Polly and I married after our sophomore year. A year later, we left Midwestern and moved to Bryan, Ohio — the place of my birth. A few weeks after our move, I became the assistant pastor at Montpelier Baptist Church — a young, growing IFB church. After spending seven months at Montpelier Baptist, I resigned and we moved to the Central Ohio community of Newark. Polly’s dad was the assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. Her uncle, the late James Dennis, was the pastor. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) We joined the Baptist Temple, and when Polly’s father decided to start a new church in nearby Buckeye Lake in 1981, we joined him. I became his pastoral assistant (primarily working with the youth of the church), a position I held until June of 1983.

In July of 1983, I started a new IFB church in Somerset, Ohio — thirty miles south of Newark. I would pastor Somerset Baptist Church until March of 1994. At every stop during my young ministerial career, I was exposed to and worked with men who believed it was a grave sin for unmarried teens and young adults of the opposite sex to touch each other. I carried this belief into my first full-time pastorate. Church teens likely remember Pastor Bruce preaching against all forms of physical/sexual intimacy between unmarried people. I am sure they remember me famously saying — oh how I wish I could forget — “no girl ever got pregnant who didn’t hold hands with a boy first!” (Yes, I really did say this, and I did so many times!)

I viewed hand-holding as a sexual gateway drug. I thought that if I could shame teens and young adults into not touching one another (or not touching themselves), then there would be no fornicating going on and no teen pregnancies. I pastored Somerset Baptist for eleven years. During that time, no unmarried church female became pregnant. Does this mean that none of the church unmarrieds was having sex? Of course not. Having talked with a handful of church teens who are now in their 30s and early 40s, I now know that they were lustily ignoring my preaching. I am grateful that there were no unwanted pregnancies that I knew of, though I suspect several girls might have gotten pregnant and secretly had abortions.

Is it any wonder that so many IFB married couples have sexual dysfunction? What in my preaching taught these couples a healthy, scientific, rational view of sex? Nothing that I can think of. Instead, I used guilt and shame in my attempts to get them to conform to an anti-human, irrational view of human sexuality. Thousands of Evangelical preachers continue to preach the Thou Shalt Not Touch gospel to church teenagers. Ironically, these preachers didn’t heed this gospel when they were teens, and they surely have to know that neither will their church teenagers. Hormones, need, and desire win every time. Wouldn’t it be far better to teach unmarrieds how to own their sexuality, preparing them for the day when they engage in sex for the first time? I know, the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says, but Christians have been trying to live by Puritanical beliefs about sex for centuries. How is that working out? Perhaps it is time to shelve the Bible with its archaic sexual prohibitions and embrace a healthy, natural view of sex. Sorry preachers, but everyone IS doing it. You can live in denial all you want, but the fact remains that by age twenty-one, eight out of ten teenagers have had sex, including teens in your congregation. And now that people are waiting until their mid-twenties to marry, I can safely say that most of the singles listening to your antiquated sermons have likely engaged in some form of sexual activity.

Were you raised in an Evangelical/IFB church? How did your pastor handle I Corinthians 7:1-2? What do you remember your pastor saying about necking and premarital sex? Did you feel shame and guilt when your pastor preached about sex? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

My IFB Lineage

ifb

Dear Lord,

I know that I am a sinner.

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

I am sorry for my sin.

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

In Jesus’s name,

Amen

And so it began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

He’s a Woman Now!

gay pride flag

Seven years ago, I wrote a post titled The Jonathan Nichols Story: Growing Up Gay in the IFB Church about a young gay man who was a member of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) in Newark, Ohio pastored, at the time, by my wife’s uncle, James Dennis (please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis). Jonathan’s parents, along with Polly’s mother, are active members of the Newark Baptist Temple. Polly and I attended the Baptist Temple for a year or so in the early 1980s.

Jonathan wrote a two-part story about his life on BJ [Bob Jones University]Unity website. Here’s an excerpt from what he had to say:

I grew up in Newark, Ohio and attended an independent fundamental Baptist church since I was born. That church was more conservative than Bob Jones, and my parents were more conservative than the church. My mom, the church pianist and school music teacher, was forever busy taking the “sensual” triplets out of songs like “Some Trust in Chariots” and campaigning against songs like “As The Deer” and “Bow the Knee.” As you can probably deduce from that, practically no modern music was allowed in our household either. I grew up on classical music and only classical music and quickly learned that there was no such thing as likes and dislikes when it came to music. There was just good and bad. You are to listen to good music and not to listen to bad music. What music you “like” has nothing to do with anything.

That mentality was carried into every area of life.

I suppose being the music teacher’s son allowed me to be a little gay boy without thinking anything of it or being called out about it. I was totally into music and art and pretty things, and nothing was weird. I would play with scarves without feeling odd. Well, without feeling too odd. I knew that none of the other guys my age were playing with scarves. Fortunately, I didn’t think about it too much.

Ok, so I can’t really credit my discretion for keeping me in the closet for eighteen years… Like I said, I played with scarves and wasn’t careful about making it known that I was a musician and not like those “other” guys. The atmosphere was so anti-gay that no one even bothered to think that there could be a gay kid growing up there, regardless of how obvious I made it. Besides, I was still a kid. I didn’t even know what it meant to be gay. Heck, I didn’t even know that it meant anything besides “happy.” So in the minds of the church and my parents, there was no way I could have chosen to be gay yet. And since being gay is a choice, that meant that I was a good, straight little boy. Just like God intended. Right? Totally.

When I said I didn’t know what “gay” meant, I wasn’t exaggerating. It wasn’t until I was in 7th or 8th grade that I figured out that the word referred to two men or two women together in a romantic or sexual relationship. Of course, I still didn’t know about the romantic side of it. Gay relationships were all about sex. They weren’t meaningful.

Sometime in my junior-high or early high-school years, I had a direct brush with a self-proclaimed gay person. A former classmate visited my youth group at church one Wednesday night and brought her friend. Her friend made no qualms about the fact that he was gay. He was totally fine with it and evidently was from an accepting family. Looking back on that, my heart goes out to that boy. He would have been my age: a young teenager just starting to figure life out—just starting to find himself and truly live his life. I couldn’t help but stare at him. I thought he was beautiful. Of course, I would never have admitted that to myself. I was too busy judging him for his sin. I don’t remember much about that sermon, but I remember enough to know what it must have been like for him. Pastor Overton made direct references several times to the “abomination of homosexuality,” even though it had really nothing to do with his chosen topic. It was obvious even to me that he was going out of his way to make the poor boy uncomfortable—to “draw him to Christ” by any means necessary. In this case, the “necessary means” was to rant about how all gays are going to hell because they’ve chosen an abomination over the love and grace of God. It’s sad, but I believed every word of it. I painfully remember the time after the meeting. Pastor Overton talked with the boy alone, no doubt reinforcing in his young mind that the theoretical “he” was loved incredibly much by God, but as a person, God hated everything about him. I don’t know how things worked out with him. I do remember, though, my former classmate sobbing and repeating “I’m scared _________ will go to hell because he’s gay. . . .” I’m ashamed to say it, but in my mind I was replying “Well, yes. He will. Because if he were a Christian, he wouldn’t be gay. And non-Christians go straight to hell.”

The boy never came back to the Newark Baptist Temple. I’m glad. I hope he found real love away from judgment. I hope he’s now going to college as a proud gay man, trying to make the world a better place. I hope he has found happiness instead of hate.

I must continue with my story, though, since I don’t know his. My parents were of the opinion that dating was to be used only for finding a wife or husband, so they strongly discouraged it in my life. I resented that. While I was never sexually attracted to women, I was an incurable romantic and longed for a lady to be chivalrous to. There was one time, however, that I went behind my parents’ backs and “dated” a girl at church. We saw each other twice a week, at the most, and always with many other people around. We kissed once, and I remember thinking after that that kissing is terribly overrated. That was it. A little later, there was a girl at school that had a crush on me, and I had a crush on her. We never were officially “together,” though.

I guess I should clarify something here. . . When I say I had a “crush” on someone, which I did fairly regularly, I don’t mean in the typical high-school want-to-get-together type way. I was a reader, and I could simply imagine myself as their knight in shining armor. Just like I was supposed to be. My personal desires didn’t come into play. . . They were girls that I wanted to see happy, and I was nice and would try to make them happy. The end. Until my senior year.

Every year, my school would send groups to BJU for two weeks, once in November for the BJU Fine Arts Festival, and the other in April for the AACS National Competition, the national tier competition for winners of their state fine arts competitions. I went to Festival every year I was in high school and made it to AACS my first three years. Thursday night at Festival my senior year, I met someone that I had seen from afar years before. Let’s call him Ryan. I had seen him some years before at a BJU summer music camp. I thought he was beautiful. Just absolutely gorgeous. Not that I admitted it or anything, but still. Here he was, talking to a friend of mine right after the final concert. She introduced us officially, and we started talking. He was now a freshman at BJU. We all were going to grab coffee and our friend had to get ready, so Ryan and I waited outside her dorm for her. We got to talking. I felt so free around him– like I could be totally myself and not have to try to make him like me or be scared of saying the wrong thing. We all got coffee, then headed back to our rooms. His turned out to be on the same hall that I was staying on, just a few doors down. We talked until midnight, when we were both shooed into our rooms. Right before he went into his room, he turned around and hugged me. That was the most electrifying moment of my life up to that point. I can’t begin to describe the mental sensation of that second. I wasn’t any closer to admitting anything to myself, but I couldn’t sleep for awhile – the only thought running through my head was “He hugged me!” I now had my first real crush.

….

I wanted so much to be able to be honest with someone that I was actually in contact with. I hinted to my closest friend that my friendship with Ryan wasn’t just a friendship. She was, naturally for someone in our atmosphere, worried for me. So, despite her promises that she would trust me to do what I felt was right, she went to my youth pastor for help. He promptly told the senior pastor, who is superintendent of the school. The next day, I was called into Pastor Dennis’s office for questioning. Pastor Overton was also in the room, sitting to my left with a legal pad and a pen, taking notes. Dennis tried to start off nice enough, but it was obvious that they found out. I decided that a clean breast of the issue would be best, and went into my research on the matter, hoping at least to get an opposing rebuttal and at best to convince them. How naive I was. . . I don’t remember much of that conversation, but one thing rings vividly in my mind. I mentioned that the Greek word malakoi in I Cor. 6:9 was never elsewhere, in the whole of Greek literary writings, translated “effeminate.” It carried a whole different connotation. His response? He turned around, pulled his Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance off the shelf, looked up the word, and pointed to the definition. He never for one second imagined that Dr. James Strong was not infallible and that his concordance was not holy writ. In those several hours, my pastor beat me down. Hard. I was totally conquered, save in one regard. I would not tell him who I was “dating.” I did not see that it was my place to get someone else, especially someone I loved, in trouble like this. Dennis found out anyways. He had me break up with Ryan. I cried all night.

The next day, I woke up to the realization that Ryan blocked me on Facebook and wasn’t responding to texts. I was devastated. Then I was called into the church office again. Pastor Dennis, Pastor Overton, the principal, vice-principal, and my mom were there. I was curtly informed that I was being expelled. I was to call Ryan and tell him that he had an hour to turn himself in or Dennis would call BJU administration and get him expelled. After that, I wasn’t to have any contact with him. My mom was placed on paid leave to homeschool me for the remaining two and a half months.

This all happened the day before my state fine arts competition. All of my prepared speeches and music entries were now worthless, and my mom, who, by the way, fully supported the school’s decision, needed to carry on for two stressful days as if nothing had happened. Dennis told me to tell no one about why I had been expelled. He said it was for my own good. Like a fool, I believed him. If I had gone looking for help or support then, I might have been better off. It would have exposed some of the underhandedness, at least. At the time, though, I was far too scared to do anything like that. I was totally beat down, and reverted back to being as much of a non-person as I could. That worked for about a month. At that point, I realized that they had never provided refutations to any of my points. They had simply refused to consider them. They had used their position of power to crush me. I had never been on the wrong side of any authority figures before then, and I was quickly cowed. I also realized that I had been more fulfilled in my time with Ryan than any other time in my life, especially that month. I decided then that I would go with what I had researched rather than blindly follow the men that cared only to see me bent to their will. I decided, furthermore, that even if I was wrong, any god sadistic enough to make me who I am and then hate every ounce of it did not deserve my worship. I would rather live in eternal torment knowing that I lived by love towards all than spend paradise with the being of hatred who is infuriated by my just being me.

I messaged Ryan and asked him if he would have me back. He said yes. By now, attending BJU was out of the question for me. I had no idea when I would see Ryan next. He mentioned, though, that he would be staying on campus over the summer to work. I immediately determined that I would be there for the two summer music camps, as no one else knew that he would be there. I managed to convince my parents to let me drive myself there, so we would have a car at our disposal. All that was soon to change. Two events left me devastated. Late at night on July 3rd, Ryan ended our relationship. He needed someone who could actually be there with him, and I couldn’t do that. July 4th, 2011, was probably the worst day of my life. Everything was closed and everyone was doing something. I had no distractions from the fact that the one person in the whole world that I most wanted to be with didn’t want to be with me anymore. I made it through, though. I was still going to go down to the camps, though. He still had, and still has, a special place in my heart. If it weren’t for him, I would not yet have come to grips with reality. He helped find me, and I am eternally grateful for that.

Well, camp time came. I drove down from Ohio to South Carolina, and things were going wonderfully. Despite the emotional wounds, I was happy to be with him. Then, on Tuesday night, my mom called. She had decided to do me a favor and clean my room for me, which evidently included rifling through the papers in the bottom of my desk. There, she found a note I had written to myself shortly after July 4th as a way to get some of my feelings somewhere, anywhere, outside of my head. She now knew that Ryan was on campus and I was seeing him. She called the camp director, and he had us separated with the threat that I would be sent home if I tried to contact him again. At the end of the week, my mom flew down to Greenville to accompany me back. After this, though, I wasn’t having any more. I knew that I couldn’t change again. I tried it, and it didn’t work. I had spent sleepless nights crying to God for help. No change. Either God was (1) fine with me being me, (2) powerless to change anything, or (3) sadistically watching me flounder in my sin. Under none of those possibilities did I feel obligated to try to change this second time.

The above story was excerpted from Part One and Part Two of Jonathan’s story (links no longer active).

Years later, I still weep as I read Jonathan’s story. No one should have to go through the abuse Jonathan did at the hands of Jim Dennis, Jamie Overton (Polly’s cousin), and his parents. Jonathan’s story is a reminder that Fundamentalism harms everything it touches.

Polly talks to her mother every Sunday evening at exactly 10:00 pm for one hour, unless providentially hindered. 🙂 Yesterday, Mom mentioned that Jonathan’s dad is seriously ill, in the hospital, and possibly dying. And then, out of the blue, she mentioned Jonathan, saying, He’s a woman now! That’s it, he’s a woman now! Evidently, Jonathan has transitioned since the publishing of the story mentioned above. I chuckled a bit when I heard Mom say this, thinking she likely finds it impossible to wrap her mind around the fact that a boy who was raised in her church is now a woman. This does not compute in her world. 🙂

In IFB churches, there’s no such thing as LGBTQ people. Oh, they exist, but such people are never free to be themselves, never free to be at peace with who and what they are. Imagine going to church on Sundays, knowing you are going to be the target of homophobic sermons from your pastor, youth pastor, and guest preachers; and that if the “truth” ever got out you would be immediately excommunicated from not only your church, but your family. I can only imagine the pain men and women such as Jonathan have suffered in their lives, all because they are “different.”

Polly’s mom, nor her fellow church members at the Baptist Temple, will ever accept Jonathan for who he is (I don’t know if he has changed his name and pronouns, so I continue to say “he”). As the Jonathans of the world learn, they must go outside of the church to find love and acceptance.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Do We Need to Believe in the Christian God to Have a Meaningful Life?

jesus all about life

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Do we need to believe in the Christian (Evangelical) God for our lives to have meaning? Larry Dixon, a former professor of theology at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina thinks so. In a post titled Man’s Significance, Dixon stated:

Why does man consider himself such a “big screaming deal”? Is there no basis for our thinking we are unique in the universe, that there is something about man that shouts “You have value! You have worth!”

Evolutionary theory essentially argues that man makes up his own significance. The Bible teaches that we are made in the image and likeness of GOD — and we, therefore, have meaning.

How sad to miss that fundamental truth of our creation, and to simply sit back in despair and entertain ourselves to death with our machines!

Listen carefully to what Dixon is saying: Those who deny that meaning is derived from belief in God, live lives of despair, spending their brief sojourn on this earth entertaining themselves. Dixon, an Evangelical, shows that he is clueless about how secularists, atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-Christians find meaning and purpose. One can reject a created by God anthropocentric view of life and still find great satisfaction in living life to its fullest. In fact, it is unbelievers who often value and cherish life the most because they only get one opportunity to walk the path of life. If you have taken the time to read my ABOUT page, you likely read my answer to the question If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?  Here is what I said:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Another explanation of how non-believers view life can be found in the Humanist Manifesto:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

That Evangelicals can’t wrap their minds around this fact is their problem, not ours. Perhaps Evangelicals are unable to comprehend a meaningful, purposeful life without God is because life before death is viewed — in theory — as little more than:

I say in theory because — as observers of Evangelicalism know — God’s chosen ones love THIS life as much as atheists do. Christians profess to be ready to go home (Heaven), but few of them are lining up to board the next bus to the pearly gates. Blissful, pain-free eternal life might await Christians once they cross to the other side, but they don’t seem to be in a hurry to experience the pleasures of Club Heaven®.  Simply put, Evangelicals say one thing and do another.

life all about jesus

Believers and unbelievers should alike admit that this life matters, and how each of us finds meaning and purpose is no one’s business but ours. My wife’s mother is in her 80s. Her world (and that of her husband, who died in 2020), revolves around Jesus, the Bible, and her church — the Newark Baptist Temple. Six years ago, Polly’s father had his hip replaced. The surgery proved to be a disaster and he spent most of the last years of his life in a nursing home. My in-laws were forced to sell their home — a place they have lived for thirty-eight years. Knowing that they had to move, Polly suggested to her Mom that they move near our home so we could take care of them (We live 3 hours northwest of their home in Newark, Ohio). Polly’s Mom replied, I can’t. My church is here. I have known Polly Shope Gerencser for forty-six years and I have NEVER seen her so devastated as she was by her Mom’s words.

Polly’s sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005. (Please see If One Soul Gets Saved It is Worth it All)  Polly is her parents’ only living child. Both Polly and I thought that they would not only want to be closer to their daughter (we see them two-three times a year), but also near our children, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. When Polly’s Mom said I can’t. My Church is here, Polly heard, My Church is more important than you! My “real” family is my church.

Polly’s parents have the right to choose what matters most to them. When Polly and I returned to rural Northwest Ohio, we did so because we made a conscious choice to be near our children and grandchildren — all of whom live less than twenty minutes from our home. Family matters to us. For me personally, I know that chronic illness and pain have likely shortened my life expectancy. Knowing this, I want to spend as much time as I can going to races with my sons, watching my grandchildren’s school and sporting events, and doing all I can to leave those I love with a lasting memory of a husband, father, and grandfather who lived life to its fullest. Some days, all I can do is sit quietly by and watch my grandchildren play. Other days, infused with a false sense of energy and vitality, I play hard, laugh, argue and debate, and remind my children that I am still the intellectual king of the hill (I can hear them snickering). Regardless of how I feel, it is my family that gives my life meaning and purpose. It saddens me that my in-laws chose a contrived family — one that will dump them if they ever fail to bow in obeisance to Jesus — over a flesh-and-blood family that loves them. It is, however, their choice, so I must live with it. Their decision is yet another reminder of the fact that Christians often forsake the earthly for what they think will improve their room size in God’s mansion in the sky.

Now, let me get back to aimlessly living a life of despair.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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Short Stories: 1976: My First Christmas with Polly

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977
Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come Christmas Day, it was time for me to go home. Polly begged her mom to let me stay one more day, but she refused. Polly’s mom would spend the next fifteen months doing all she could to destroy our relationship — including forbidding us to marry — which we ignored, telling her we were getting married with or without their blessing. Needless to say, she and I have had an on-and-off-contentious relationship for 45 years. Our relationship has improved in recent years. Polly’s dad died last year, but I suspect Mom will always believe “Polly could have done better.”

Many kisses would follow that first kiss on Christmas Eve, 1976. After our return to Midwestern after the break, Polly and I had a real problem on our hands. You see, we had crossed a physical line, and once that line was crossed there was no going back. We spent the next nineteen months breaking the six-inch rule, only double-dating with dorm couples who had the same “moral” standards we had. Summer breaks allowed us the freedom to act “normally,” but while classes were in session, we had to sneak around to just kiss one another. While we both were virgins on our wedding day, we both knew that if we waited much longer to get married, we would likely have given in to our passions. A week or so before our wedding, Polly’s mom let us go to The Dawes Arboretum south of Newark without a chaperone. We spent several hours enjoying one another’s embrace, coming oh-so-close to rounding third and sliding into home. As it was, Polly was on a strict curfew, and we were late. Boy, did we get a lecture when we arrived home. Here we were, 19 and 21, getting married in a matter of days, and we were being treated like children.

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

Video Link

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser