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Tag: Newark Baptist Temple

The Life-Changing Power of the Mythical Jesus

jesus changes lives

Jesus has the power to change lives. At one time, Jesus wrought change in my life, as he has for millions of American Evangelical Christians. Having spent fifty years in the Christian church, and twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches, I witnessed first-hand the mighty power of the life-changing Jesus. I know of alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, murderers, and thieves who are now exemplary citizens due to Jesus and his ability to change and transform lives. I know of a family member who, thanks to Jesus, is now out of jail and no longer on drugs. This family member was baptized and he is now a faithful church member.  If “knowing” Jesus causes him to stay off drugs, all praise, and glory, to the mythical powers of the son of God.

Those of us who were once card-carrying members of Club Jesus® know firsthand the transformative powers of Jesus. While we are now atheists and agnostics, we cannot deny the fact that religion does have the power to transform substance abusers and criminals into model citizens. Wait a minute, BruceI thought atheists deny the existence of the Christian God! Correct. Here’s the thing that most atheists and Evangelicals fail to understand: the transformative powers of Jesus have nothing to do with whether Jesus is who Evangelicals and the Bible claim he is. Myths and stories can and do have great power to effect change. Politicians and preachers alike understand this, using myths and stories to bring about political, religious, social, and personal change.

American history is littered with stories about how sermons from a mythical book about a mythical God and his mythical son, Jesus, produced great change. That this change was brought about by belief in a mythical deity is immaterial. All that is required is that people believe the myth is true. This is why the mythical Jesus and his miracle-working supernatural power is still a powerful force in America. Substance abusers go to church, hear about the wonder-working power of Jesus, make a decision to turn their lives over to him, and their lives are transformed. While many “saved” substance abusers will return to their addictions, some do find lasting deliverance from their demons.

How then, should atheists respond to such stories? Perhaps we need to determine what is more important: destroying the myths or seeing lives put back on the right track. Take Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a program devoted to helping substance abusers get clean. AA’s appeal to a “higher power” drives many atheists nuts. Pointing to AA’s group and accountability dynamics, atheists rightly say that a “higher power” has nothing to with substance abusers kicking their habits. Fine, but participants “believe” God is helping them to work the program, to take another step forward in their continued sobriety. Are programs such as AA a crutch? Sure, but all of us, now and then, need crutches to helps us walk.

Should we ridicule and demean those who find help and support from religiously oriented institutions and programs? Isn’t the ultimate goal the betterment of society? Yes, I wish people could find help without getting entangled in the mind-numbing web of Evangelical Christianity. I wish my family member and others like him could find help for their addictions without having to turn to Jesus and his emissaries on earth. But wishing changes nothing. Christianity still gives life, purpose, and meaning to a majority of Americans, and atheists such as I need to accept this. Until secularists, humanists, and non-Evangelical Christians can provide comprehensive help to people struggling with addictions, addicts have little choice but to turn to religiously oriented programs. It matters not whether Jesus is who Christians claim he is. Addicts want and need help, and Jesus is ready and waiting to help them. If non-Christians want things to be different, then we must be willing to invest our time and money in developing “ministries” to help those in need. While good work is being done on this front, we are likely several lifetimes away from the day when the miracle-working Jesus is returned to his grave.

The family member I mentioned earlier? I hope that he finds Jesus to be the addiction counselor that sticks closer to him than a brother. All that matters to me is that he finds mental and physical deliverance from methamphetamine. He has been down the Jesus path before, having made numerous professions of faith and rededications at the family church, the Newark Baptist Temple. None of these previous attempts worked, and in time he found himself back in the gutter, homeless, or in jail, losing countless jobs and destroying his relationships with family members in the process. I know that if he continues on this path, it will only lead to continued misery and heartache, and likely result in incarceration and early death. If Jesus can help him break free of his addictions and turn him into a productive citizen, count me as one atheist who will say AMEN.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Dear Pastor Mark Falls, My Wife’s Mother Doesn’t Have Nine Lives

newark baptist temple heath ohio

Over the past fifteen months, I have written several posts about how the Newark Baptist Temple and its pastor Mark Falls has ignored the Coronavirus, allowed COVID-19 to repeatedly spread through the congregation, leading to infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. (Please see IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic, No Need to Wear a Face Mask: When it’s My Time to Die, I’m Ready to Go, and An IFB Funeral: Fundamentalist Christianity Poisons Everything.) Pastor Falls refuses to demand church members wear masks and practice social distancing. While family members swear on a stack of Bearing Precious Seed Leather Bound King James Version Bibles that Pastor Falls takes the virus seriously, video evidence suggests otherwise. Sure, Falls wears a mask (he and his family were infected last year), as do other church members, but by and large, the congregation continues to have unprotected sex with COVID-19. As of today, more than a dozen people have currently tested positive for COVID-19, including Polly’s eighty-five-year-old mother. (Please see My Wife’s Mother Has COVID-19 and Her IFB Church is to Blame and Bruce, How Do You Know Your Wife’s Mom Was Infected with COVID-19 at Church?)

On Sunday evenings, Pastor Falls leads the congregation in prayer for people who are sick and dying. The sheer number of people who attend the church and have COVID-19 is astounding. In any other setting, the Ohio Department of Health would step in and shut down the Baptist Temple. Unfortunately, thanks to Governor Mike DeWine’s ignorant and foolish interpretation of the first amendment and the application of the separation of church and state, churches are exempt from state and county health mandates. As a result, Falls, a hardcore Independent Fundamentalist Baptist and Ayn Rand Libertarian has refused to cancel church services, or demand congregants wear masks and practice social distancing (let alone refusing to encourage church members to get vaccinated).

On Sunday, May 2, 2021, speaking of the super spreader event occurring at 81 Lickingview Drive, Pastor Falls said:

Pray, and please consider others, please consider others. I’m not telling you how you need to do that, but be mindful of someone who might not fare as well as you do.

Polly’s Mom is home, under quarantine for eight days. Last Sunday evening, Pastor Falls asked the congregation to lift Polly’s mom up in prayer. Here’s what he had to say:

Bonnie Shope [Polly’s Mom] had a heart attack this week, and she had no symptoms of COVID, but when they tested her at the hospital, they found out she had COVID. So, she is at home recovering. You know Bonnie. Miss Nine Lives. She doesn’t even have a cat, but she seems to have nine lives. But, she is at home recovering. Just pray that she will not have any complications with COVID.

You can listen to the prayer requests here, starting at the 8:33 mark:

Video Link

There’s so much I could say right now, but I want to focus on one thing: the notion that Polly’s mother has nine lives. Mom doesn’t have nine lives — no one does. Mom has one life, twill soon be past, and only what’s done for Christ will last, scratch that drivel, and then she will be dead. That’s why Pastor Falls is morally obligated to do everything he can to make sure church members are safe. Sure, Mom is culpable too. She has a duty to act responsibly, to act in her own best interest. Instead, she thinks Jesus is going to protect her, and that she won’t die one moment before the date and time God has appointed for her death (Hebrews 9:27). As a result, fatalism drives much of her life (and Evangelicalism, at its core, is fatalistic).

I know that nothing I write will change what is happening at the Newark Baptist Temple. Mom has already violated the quarantine rules, and come a week or two, she will be right back in church praising Jesus (and the powerful prayers of the saints) for her victory over COVID-19. All Polly and I can do is weep. And scream . . .

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce, How Do You Know Your Wife’s Mom Was Infected with COVID-19 at Church?

newark baptist temple heath ohio

Yesterday, I wrote a post detailing my wife’s mom’s infection with COVID-19. Mom’s home from the hospital today. She is required to quarantine for eight days.

I typically don’t share my writing on my personal Facebook page. I don’t want conflict with family members. I treat Facebook like the corner pub, a place where I hang out with friends, drink beer, and watch cat videos. Anyone who knows me knows I have opinions about virtually everything. I have been writing my opinions down, first on paper and now on the Internet, since the mid-1980s. I am not shy about saying my piece. If people want to challenge something I have written or tell me how awesome I am, they know where to find me.

I will, on occasion, “vent” on social media. Yesterday, I wrote:

Polly Gerencser’s mom had another heart attack today. While awaiting admission into the hospital, she was tested for COVID-19. The test came back positive. She is currently asymptomatic, but the doctor said her heart attack could be COVID-related. Where did she get infected? Most likely her IFB (Independent Fundamentalist Baptist) church, which currently has at least ten members infected with the virus (and others have been previously infected). Don’t tell me Fundamentalist Christianity is harmless — it’s not. In Mom’s case, her religion could kill her (along with her refusal to get vaccinated). Mom says she never gets flu vaccinations, so there’s no reason for her to get vaccinated for COVID-19 either. All attempts to educate her have fallen on deaf ears. Besides, God is in control and she’s ready to die and go to Heaven.

I told my editor, Carolyn Patrick:

“I’m so fucking angry about Polly’s mom/church. I mean livid. 🤬🤬 Nothing we can do. Jesus has the wheel and he plans on driving her straight into the grave.”

I really love that last line “Nothing we can do. Jesus has the wheel and he plans on driving her straight into the grave.” 🙂

I had one of the IFB preachers in the family contact me, challenging my claim that Mom got infected while attending services at the Newark Baptist Temple. This person suggested that Mom could have gotten infected elsewhere. I agreed that anything is “possible,” but the question is what is likely or probable. You know, the scientific method.

Here’s what I know:

  • At least ten church members are currently infected with COVID-19
  • The church has had previous COVID outbreaks.
  • Several congregants have been hospitalized and at least one has died from COVID-19.
  • The pastor and his family were previously infected.
  • Except for a short period of time, the church’s pastor has continued to hold services on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night.
  • The church has continued to operate its Christian school.
  • Congregants claim the church and its pastor take seriously the virus and “encourage” but not demand attendees to wear masks and practice social distancing. Further, I have been told that people with serious health problem are “encouraged” to stay home. My mother-in-law definitely falls into this category, yet she attends church 2-3 times a week.
  • Mom’s entire social life revolves around the Baptist Temple and her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nephews, and nieces — most of whom attend church with her.
  • Mom typically eats out at least once a week, often on Sundays at the Olive Garden near the Baptist Temple. Who does she eat out with? People she attends church with.
  • Most of the people who visit her home attend church with her.
  • I have watched numerous videos of Baptist Temple church services. I have also viewed photos of family and school outings held at the church. While it is true some people practice social distancing, some don’t. While it is true some people wear masks, many people don’t. The pastor preaches sans mask. The song leader sings without wearing a mask. Special music groups sing without wearing masks. And the choir belts out praise to Jesus without wearing masks. In May 2020, the CDC released the following choir guidelines: “Consider suspending or at least decreasing use of a choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition. The act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.” (This guideline was immediately removed by the anti-science Trump White House.)

Video Link

Based on the aforementioned evidence, it is likely/probable that Mom was infected at church or at a social event attended by church members/family (who attended the Baptist Temple). Sure, it is possible that a non-church member infected her. But likely? Nope. Perhaps the church should have investigators from the Ohio Department of Health come in and do contact tracing. That will never happen. Libertarianism (and Trumpism) rules the roost at the Baptist Temple. Besides, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine exempted churches from ALL health mandates. That’s right. Churches are free to do what they want. (The number of Evangelical churches that refuse to follows CDC/state health guidelines is astounding. Evidently, loving your neighbor as yourself is not found in their Bibles.)

Fast forward to the 14:29 mark in the above video. You will hear Pastor Falls say that many congregants are out sick with COVID-19. He even mentions some of their names. Many of those mentioned are aged. We knew them back when we attended the Baptist Temple in the early 1980s. The fact that they are infected tells me that they likely didn’t get vaccinated, even though they have been eligible for months and months. And now Polly’s mom has COVID too.

Pastor Falls says to the congregation:

Pray, and please consider others, please consider others. I’m not telling you how you need to do that, but be mindful of someone who might not fare as well as you do.

“I’m not telling you how you need to do that.” The Baptist Temple is an IFB congregation. Telling people what to do is part of their DNA. But when it comes to a deadly virus and caring for one’s neighbor, libertarianism and fatalism are the rule. Keep in mind, this church has had numerous people infected with COVID-19. The Baptist Temple is a small church. I would be surprised if they ran 100 people on Sundays. I can’t know that for sure, but attendance seems sparse. Let’s suppose, for a moment, the church does have 100 members in attendance. This means that it is likely 20-25 percent of attendees have had COVID. It is, in my opinion, immoral and irresponsible to continue to hold church services in the midst of a super spreader event. The whole church should be under quarantine. That, of course, will never happen.

Some readers might wonder why what the Baptist Temple does matters to me. As long as I have family who attends this church, I care about their health and well-being. I hope (naively) that something I write will cause Pastor Falls and the church to act in the best interest of their congregants and community.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

My Wife’s Mother Has COVID-19 and Her IFB Church is to Blame

newark baptist temple heath ohio

In March 2020, I wrote a scathing post about the Newark Baptist Temple and its pastor Mark Falls’ handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. (Please read IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic.) In April, I wrote a post about why Polly’s mom refused to wear a mask or get vaccinated. (Please see No Need to Wear a Face Mask: When it’s My Time to Die, I’m Ready to Go.) And finally, last November, I wrote a post about Polly’s father’s funeral at the Newark Baptist Temple. (Please see An IFB Funeral: Fundamentalist Christianity Poisons Everything.) Despite me publicizing their recklessness (and the church and its pastor are very much aware of my writing), the Baptist Temple and its pastor continue to ignore the seriousness of COVID-19.

While family members swear on a stack of Bearing Precious Seed Leather Bound King James Version Bibles that Pastor Falls takes the virus seriously, video evidence suggests otherwise. Sure, Falls wears a mask (he and his family were infected last year), as do other church members, but by and large, the congregation continues to have unprotected sex with COVID-19. A recent family photo shot in the Baptist Temple’s gymnasium features at least three family members with serious health problems (including Polly’s mom). Not one person in the photo is wearing a mark. I see the same thing in other photos taken at the church or its school, Licking County Christian Academy. All the evidence suggests that the church gives lip service to CDC and Licking County Health Department COVID-19 guidelines.

Last Sunday, Polly’s mom told her during their weekly phone call that ten of her fellow church members were currently infected with COVID-19, and two of them were in the hospital. The church has had other outbreaks, and I believe at least one member has died from the virus. It is clear, at least to me, that the Baptist Temple facilitates and promotes super-spreader events, also known as Sunday church services. Polly’s mom continues to attend Sunday services, saying that she wears a mask and sits in the back of the church away from other people. Mom refuses to get vaccinated, claiming that COVID is no worse than the flu. And since she doesn’t get the annual flu vaccine, she has no plans to get the COVID-19 vaccine either. Besides, according to Mom, Jesus is in control, and she is ready to die and go to Heaven.

Earlier today, our nephew — who pleaded with Mom to get vaccinated — informed us that Mom coded while at the doctor’s office (she has congestive heart failure). She had yet another heart attack and was tested for COVID-19 while waiting to be admitted to the hospital. The test came back positive. She is currently asymptomatic, but the doctor told her the heart attack could be COVID-related. While it is impossible to know exactly where she was infected — she doesn’t go anywhere besides church and rarely comes in contact with people outside of her church — it is safe to conclude that the Baptist Temple is the vector.

Pastor Falls, a libertarian, refuses to insist that church members wear masks and practice social distancing. I suspect he thinks doing so is a good idea, but his libertarianism keeps him from demanding congregants follow CDC and Ohio Department of Health Department guidelines. The Baptist Temple is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. The church has all sorts of rules mandating member behavior, yet when it comes to COVID-19, it is hands-off and follow the Lord’s leading. Women can’t wear pants, and premarital sex will get you excommunicated, but whether to take steps to protect oneself from a deadly virus is just a matter of personal opinion.

Polly and I are beyond angry. And frustrated. And helpless. Nothing we say or do will change what is happening at the Newark Baptist Temple. We are forced to sit by while Mom gambles away her life, believing that Jesus and good genes will keep her alive. And if they don’t? Polly and I are left with the chore of dealing with the church, its pastor, and family members. We are left with the chore of cleaning up the mess Mom leaves behind after she dies. She refuses to update her will, leaving Polly and me to take care of everything after she is gone. We pleaded with Mom to set her house in order, but she refuses to do so, leaving her only daughter and son-in-law to deal with all the shit that is sure to come. We will certainly take care of things and do what we can to honor her wishes, but Mom’s unwillingness to make things easier for us is selfishness on her part.

I texted my oldest son the following today: I HATE the Baptist Temple. I literally hate what this church has done to my mother-in-law (and my deceased father-in-law) and our extended family. While Mom is certainly culpable for her ignorant beliefs about the virus and Jesus’s hands-on care, it’s hard not to put much of the blame on the church she has attended for the past forty-five years. Fundamentalist indoctrination has crippled her ability to think and reason, and in the end, it will probably kill her.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

IFB Bullies in the Pulpit

angry preacher

I recently read a blog post on another website that talked about bullies in the pulpit. For those of us raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, we are quite aware of so-called men of God bullying church members under the guise of preaching the Word of God or sharing what God laid upon their hearts. Let me share a couple of illustrations I believe will aptly illustrate my point.

In the early 1980s, my wife and I attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark, Ohio. The church’s pastor was James (Jim) Dennis, Polly’s uncle. Jim graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1960s. Polly’s father would later attend this college, as did Polly and I. Midwestern was known for producing fire-breathing, authoritarian preachers. Tom Malone, the chancellor of Midwestern and pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, took a ” my way or the highway” approach to ministry. Legalistic thinking permeated both the church and the college. Run afoul of Malone, and you were shown the door. I vividly remember someone leaving a church service at Emmanuel and Malone stopping his sermon to address the man leaving. Much to the man’s embarrassment, Malone said, with his Alabamian drawl, “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” The only phrase missing was “on the ass.”

Jim Dennis followed in the footsteps of Malone when it came to being a bully. While Jim could have a winsome personality, cross him and he would quickly put you in your place. The Baptist Temple was his church, end of discussion. God had called him to be its pastor, and as God’s chosen oracle, his word was law.

The church was going through a difficult time financially. Jim decided that he would inspect the tithing records to see which church members were giving and how much. Jim was shocked to learn that many of the teachers and staff in the church’s Christian school were not tithing. Never mind that teachers and staff members were paid pathetically low wages and had few, if any, benefits. Polly taught first grade one year at the school. She made $180 a week before taxes. She also worked in the church’s daycare the previous year. Polly’s total gross wages in 1980-81 were $9,111. I made almost three times as much money working for Long John Silver’s (and had full benefits) as Polly did teaching and caring for the church’s children. Worse yet, women were paid less money than men. Why? Because men were breadwinners, not women. Employees were expected to treat their jobs as a ministry of sorts, the equivalent of a Baptist vow of poverty. It should not be surprising then that many teachers and staff members couldn’t afford to tithe and give offerings. When you are in the poorhouse, it is hard to justify giving money to the church.

One Sunday, an angry Jim Dennis — righteous anger, right?— took to the bully pulpit and savaged his selflessly serving teachers. He demanded that they immediately start tithing, and if they didn’t, he would have their tithes deducted from their paychecks. While I’m sure Polly’s IFB family would wish I didn’t write stories such as this, I think it is important to expose this sort of behavior for what it is: bullying.

Let me share another story before moving on to my own abhorrent behavior. In the 1980s, a fire-breathing Fundamentalist named Mike Lee was the pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. Montpelier Baptist was the first church I worked for after leaving Midwestern in 1979. The pastor I worked for, Jay Stucky, later left and Lee became pastor. My sister and her husband were members of the church both while I was there and after Lee took over the helm. After my sister’s marriage fell apart, Lee would have her followed to see what she was up to. Granted, her behavior didn’t measure up to the IFB standard, but deacons following her to the local bar and grill to observe her behavior? My sister, of course, left the church.

Several years later, the good pastor Lee decided to address the burning issue of church teenagers attending their high school prom. In the minds of Fundamentalists like Lee, attending the prom was among the vilest of “sins.” After his sermon was over, Lee told the congregation that he had something he wanted to talk to them about. Wanting to make sure that no one could leave the church auditorium, Lee had the ushers lock the doors. How do I know this happened? A couple who would later join the church I pastored in West Unity were visiting Lee’s church that day. They were scared witless by his behavior. There’s one word to describe this pastor’s behavior: bullying.

These two illustrations likely seem beyond the pale to non-IFB Christians, but trust me, such behavior is quite normal among IFB pastors and churches. Why is that? Most IFB pastors are anti-culture. I suspect most of them voted for Donald Trump in the last election. Authoritarians love other authoritarians. Many IFB pastors run their churches in a fashion similar to the way Trump ran his businesses and the federal government. IFB pastors, to the man, believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Couple this with a literalistic interpretation of the Bible, a belief that pastors are divinely called by God to speak on his behalf, and that their opinions and personal interpretations have the weight of law, is it any surprise that many of them are bullies?

I grew up in IFB churches and attended an IFB college. My pastors, professors, and colleagues in the ministry all modeled bullying behavior to one degree or another. I heard it at pastor’s conferences in the stories preachers told about their churches, and I witnessed it when I visited other IFB churches. People wrongly assume that Steven Anderson, an IFB pastor in Tempe, Arizona, is an outlier, an aberration. He’s not. The same goes for the late-Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church.

It is not surprising, then, that I was an authoritarian and bully as a pastor. I may have been kind, compassionate, and may have gone out of my way to help church members, but I expected congregants to heed my pronouncements. I expected them to recognize and bow what is called in IFB circles “pastoral authority.” This false notion was reinforced in my sermons, private interactions, and church business meetings. Church members were warned that failure to obey the man of God would lead to judgment and chastisement from the Almighty. And surprisingly, hundreds of people bowed to my authority, believing I was in some way or the other chosen by God to be their “shepherd.”

The good news is that I stopped being a bully long before I left the ministry. I came to see that the church didn’t belong to me. It was “our” church, not my personal fiefdom. Did I totally lose my authoritarian bent? Sadly, no. I learned that many church members were quite comfortable with me making all or most of the decisions. They were fine with me telling them what to believe and how to live. I endured countless church business meetings where I would plead with congregants to share their opinions, only to see them stay silent or let me have the final say. This was frustrating, to say the least, but it is hard for me not to conclude that every church I pastored had cultic tendencies.

After leaving the ministry in 2005 and Christianity in 2008, I have repeatedly apologized to former parishioners for my bullying behavior. While I have been forgiven by those I have harmed, it’s hard for me to live with the damage and harm I caused to others. Sure, I was a product of my environment and training. Sure, I did what was modeled to me by my pastors, professors, and other IFB pastors and evangelists. All that is true and makes for a great psych profile, but the fact remains that I was a bully, that I harmed other people, including my wife and children.

Alas, there are no do-overs in life. All I know to do is tell my story and hope that others will be warded off from authoritarian pastors. Not all pastors are bullies, so I suggest potential church members carefully pay attention to how a preacher conducts himself before committing one’s time and money to a particular church. Bullying behavior can be found in other sects too. In general, Evangelicalism has a problem with bullies in the pulpit, men who are engorged with power and control. The only way to end such behavior is to stop giving these bullies an audience. When all the students stay off the playground, the bully has no one to harm. It’s time for Christians to leave authoritarian pastors to their own devices.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce Gerencser