Tag Archive: Newark Baptist Temple

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

believe-in-god

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

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

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

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

Polly: What do you mean?

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

Polly: No, Mom!

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

Polly: I’m fine, Mom.

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

End of discussion.

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

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

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

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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

Baptist Shorts — Culottes

polly gerencser late 1990s

Polly Gerencser, late 1990s, carrying water from the creek to flush the toilets. An ice storm had knocked out the power. Oh, the clothing! But she was and remains one beautiful woman.

Many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers spend an inordinate amount of time instructing congregants about what clothing is acceptable to God. This is especially true when it comes to the clothing of girls and women. Last week, I posted a quote by Gerald Collingsworth, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Mogadore, Ohio, that stated in no uncertain terms that girls wearing “immodest” clothing can and do cause male family members to sexually assault (commit incest with) them. Consider the following graphics from an article written by IFB zealot Daphne Kirkland titled, A Return to Biblical Modesty.

modesty check

dressing modestly

Girls and women are not permitted to wear anything that draws attention to their feminine shape. The goal is to keep weak, pathetic church boys and men from getting boners while in their presence. Girls and women are viewed as gatekeepers, and it is up to them to dress and act in ways that extinguish sinful unmarried sexual want, need, or desire. The goal is no sticky underwear before marriage.

One universally banned item of clothing is shorts. Usually, attention is only paid to what girls and women wear, but I remember a spring day when I was playing pick-up basketball after work and came to get Polly from the Newark Baptist Temple after I was finished. I was wearing a T-shirt, gym shorts, tube socks, and Converse basketball shoes. I went into the church building to let Polly knowing that I had arrived. As I neared her classroom, I ran into her uncle, the late James “Jim” Dennis. As soon as he saw me, he laid into me about my inappropriate dress. He sternly lectured me about wearing shorts, informing me that I was to never, ever again enter the Baptist Temple wearing such clothing. A year later, I witnessed Jim go ballistic at Polly’s parent’s home over her sister wearing slacks to work. She was a nurse’s aide at a nearby nursing home. Her dress was quite typical for people who worked at the home. Keep in mind, Polly’s sister was an adult. It mattered not. As Jim had done with me, he took my sister-in-law to task IFB- preacher-style, telling her that wearing slacks was a sin. Sound almost beyond belief? Yep, but it’s the truth, nonetheless.

polly pontiac michigan 1977

Polly, 1977, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan. Notice the shirt under the sundress?

As temperatures warm in Ohio, it’s natural to see girls and women wearing shorts. Many women find shorts cooler and more comfortable than pants. IFB congregants sweat just as much as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, so it stands to reason that Fundamentalist girls and women want to wear cooler, more comfortable clothing too. However, shorts are verboten. Some girls and women will wear sundresses. Polly wears sundresses to this day. Never one to wear shorts, she spends most summers wearing colorful sundresses. Because sundresses tend to show side boob and cleavage, IFB girls and women — Polly included, at the time — wear sleeved T-shirts underneath their dresses. I often find myself smiling when I see Polly wearing a sundress today — sans T-shirt. Damn girl, that’s some mighty fine cleavage. I know, I am so w-o-r-l-d-l-y. All praise be to Loki for breasts!

Many IFB preachers encouraged church girls and women to wear what is commonly called in the movement, Baptist shorts. Baptist shorts are culottes. Almost every IFB girl and woman has several pairs of these pastor-approved “shorts.” Usually, culottes are loose fitting, especially around the legs. Reaching to the knees, culottes are meant to be comfortable, “modest” clothing. That said, many IFB girls and women HATE wearing culottes. When worn in public, culottes are a blaring, flashing sign that says to the world, I’m a member of the IFB cult! The same goes for shoe-top length skirts or maxi dresses. Polly and I can spot IFB families (and homeschoolers) from a mile away. The “uniforms” and the hairstyles give away their religious identity. Of course, their preachers think this is wonderful. Christians are SUPPOSED to look different from the world, IFB preachers say, but why is it that it is only women who look different; that IFB boys and men look just like their counterparts in the world? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

As an IFB pastor, I held to the party line on Baptist shorts for many years — that is, until two events forced me to change my mind.

One late spring day, I drove up from Somerset, Ohio to the Newark Baptist Temple to talk to Pastor Dennis. Our oldest two children were attending the church school — Licking County Christian Academy — at the time. As I drove into the church’s main parking lot, I noticed four teen girls bent over pulling weeds out of the flower beds. These girls were cheerleaders. Typical of IFB schools at the time, the cheerleaders were not permitted to wear short skirts. Instead, the girls wore red culottes. What set them apart was the fact that their culottes were quite tight, so much so that I could have bounced a quarter off their backsides when they were bent over. I thought at the time, I thought culottes were supposed to be modest. These are NOT modest!

Several years later, we gathered up the teens from several churches and took them to Loudenville, Ohio for a canoe trip. The girls from my church begged me to let them wear pants, but being the stern pastor I was at the time, I said no. The trip was a blast. Most of the teenagers spent more time in the water than out. By the time teens debarked, they all looked like drowned rats. As was our custom, I gathered all the teens up and had them sit on the ground so I could preach at them. IFB Rule #6 — Thou shalt not have fun without spending time listening to a boring sermon. As the teens settled into their seats on the ground, I turned to speak to them and was astounded by what I saw. On the front row were a dozen or so Baptist-shorts-wearing girls. Legs splayed wide, I could see their underwear. Worse yet, an afternoon in the water made their T-shirts see-through. I quickly asked the girls to put their legs down and then I preached my sermon. I later told Polly that I no longer believed that baptist shorts were appropriate for outdoor events. From that moment forward, church teens and women were permitted to wear pants to such events. I know, I know, big deal, right? Remember the context, and where I was at that point in my life. Deciding to let girls and women wear pants in some circumstances was a monumental decision. As time went along, my views on clothing liberalized, so much so that I stopped preaching about the matter.

In the Gerencser home, change came slowly. Polly was in her 40s before she wore her first pair of pants. It had taken me months to convince her that she was not going to go to Hell if she wore them. Today, Polly is a confirmed member of the sisterhood of the traveling pants. Her Baptist shorts? She continued to wear them when working in the garden or painting. Once they wore out, they were pitched into the trash, never to be seen again.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

One of the Reasons I Love My Wife

text conversation

How do I love thee? let me count the ways . . .

Every day, Polly, without fail, texts me when she arrives at work. The screenshot above is of a text conversation we had earlier this week.

I love the last text from Polly, “I’d go to hell and back with you!” — complete with two smilies, signifying that her words are meant in a humorous way. We can’t, of course, go to hell and back. There is no hell. Hell and Heaven are mythical places used by preachers to keep congregants in line. In classic carrot-and-stick fashion, preachers promise congregants Heaven if they will play by the rules, and Hell if they don’t.

While there is no such thing as Hell, it is an apt metaphor for the lie Polly and I have shared. We started dating in the fall of 1976 and married the summer of 1978. This July we will celebrate our forty-first wedding anniversary. Polly and I have had a wide range of experiences as a married couple. Good times, hard times. Heaven, Hell. I can look back over our lives together and see we have experienced a fair bit of Hell in our lives: Poverty. A child born with Down Syndrome. Church strife. Severe health problems. Disagreements with parents and extended family. Loss of faith.  We have had extended periods as husband and wife when we wondered if would ever stop raining; if the sun would ever shine again; if life would ever return to normal. Yet, through it all, we persevered; and in that sense we have indeed been to hell and back. No matter the circumstance, with stoic determination we hung on, hoping (and praying) for a better tomorrow. And as sure as Donald Trump will say something stupid on Twitter, better times did come our way.

I could list numerous reasons why I love Polly, but the one reason that stands above all others is that when I have descended into hell, she has been right beside me, and when I emerge from the pit into the sunshine of a better day, she is still there.

Forty years ago, Polly and I stood before friends and family at the Newark Baptist Temple and recited the following vows:

Groom: I, Bruce, take thee, Polly, to be my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.

Bride: I, Polly take thee, Bruce, to be my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.

Till death do us part. The hells of life have certainly left us scarred, but we have endured. Every day presents us new challenges, but hand-in-hand Polly and I meet them together. And if we must, yet again, descend into hell for a time, we know we will make it because we have one another. To each other, we are friends who stick closer than brothers, even when it’s hot.

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

polly mom and dad 2018 (2)

Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2018

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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

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

Christian Patriarchy: Should Wives Obey Their Husbands No Matter What?

husbands beat their wives

According to Evangelical complementarianism, husbands are their head of their homes. Wives are to submit to their husbands in all things. If husbands ask their wives to do something they think is wrong or they don’t want to do, wives should obey their masters’ commands anyway. Come judgment day, complementarians say, God will judge husbands and they will have to give an account for commanding their wives to do wrong. Most complementarians have two caveats of sorts: no, you don’t have to allow your husband to beat you, and no, you are not obligated to so anything that is “sin.” Outside of these two exceptions, wives are expected to woman-up and do exactly what their husbands tell them the to do. Take the issue of sex. Tired after caring for six children, cooking meals, cleaning the house, washing three million dirty cloth diapers, ironing your husband’s underwear, and making soap for your home-based business? Tough shit. When husbands want sex, wives are expected to give it to them — even during their periods — on demand. Simply put, wives are children with whom husbands can have sex. In every other way, there’s little difference between how wives are treated and how children are treated.

Today. Lori Alexander, defended the aforementioned belief this way:

What do women do who are completely against vaccinating their children but their husbands want their children to be vaccinated? They believe that vaccines contain aborted babies and can cause harm to their children. They are even afraid that their children could die from them since some have. Can they disobey their husbands’ will in this circumstance? Are the husbands asking their wives to sin? (Yes, some believe that vaccinating children is sinful.)

….

God commands that wives submit to their husbands in everything. No, they don’t submit to physical abuse or if their husbands ask them to do something evil but in everything else, yes, they submit. Some wives believe that injecting their children with vaccinations is evil but in this case, I believe they must submit. The Bible doesn’t say that vaccinating children is evil. Yes, abortion is evil and if, in fact, it is found out that most vaccinations are indeed filled with aborted fetuses, then they may have a case but as I stated, there is no way that they can prevent their husbands from vaccinating their children without causing much harm to their marriage. Children NEED a father and a mother. Children need their mothers loving their fathers. They don’t need conflict and chaos in their homes. They need a home filled with peace and love. This is much more likely to happen when the wife is obeying the Lord and her husband.

When a wife is living in loving submission to her husband on a continual basis, her husband will be much more willing to listen to her appeals. If she has researched vaccinations and feels strongly against them, she can share these with him after praying. Then she must give it to the Lord and live by faith instead of by fear.

Now, the husband in Alexander’s story wants to do what’s best for his children. Alexander, I believe, is an anti-vaxxer. What she is saying here is that wives should refrain from doing right by their children if their husbands ask them to do something that might harm them. And believe me, not getting vaccinations harms not only children, but society at large. The general principle is this: Wives are to do whatever their husbands command them to do as long they are not physically assaulting them or asking them to do something “evil.” Since the Bible doesn’t mention vaccinating children, wives should have their children vaccinated even if they think it may harm them. After all, God is in charge and he will protect them, right?

Anyone with an ounce of critical thinking can discern that this kind of thinking is psychologically and physically harmful, and could even cause death. Wives are turned into lemmings who can’t think for themselves. If I asked my wife what is the biggest “hangover” from our Evangelical days, she would say, “my hesitancy to make my own decisions.” We are more than a decade removed from our complementarian days, yet we still struggle with what I call the vestigial beliefs from our past. As much as we have tried to change our thinking, Polly and I still, at times, revert to our old ways. We are a long way from where we were, but fifty years of complementarian indoctrination will not be undone overnight. It takes time.

I have talked to my counselor many times about this — my frustration with our inability to move towards a more egalitarian marriage. “Well, Bruce, you like making decisions, and maybe Polly likes you making them,” he told me. I suspect he is right. I know I DO like making decisions. I am quite capable of making snap decisions, of being able to quickly size up a matter and decide accordingly. After forty years of marriage to me, Polly likes that I can do this, if for no other reason than that I am to blame if a decision has a bad outcome. Of course, I think it is important Polly think for herself and make her own decisions. This means that I often refrain from making decisions on her behalf, reminding her that she doesn’t need my permission to do something/buy something.

We remain a work in progress. Polly now has a supervisory position at her place of employment. Having this job has forced her to make decisions and be accountable for them. I remember her coming home filled with grief, telling about someone getting upset with her over a decision she made. I laughed, and said, “Welcome to making decisions. Every decision you make has the possibility of pissing someone off.”

The Lori Alexanders of the world want to keep women enslaved. “As long as your husbands don’t beat your ass or ask you to rob a bank, shut the fuck up and do what they say!” Crude? Yes, but this is exactly what Alexander is saying. Worse yet, some Evangelical preachers believe that wives should stay with their husbands even if they beat them — especially if they are unsaved. Why? The Bible says:

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. (1 Peter 3:1-4)

In the 1980s, the church I was pastoring at the time joined together with other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) and Bible churches to hold a crusade (revival) in Newark, Ohio. Jim Dennis, my wife’s uncle and the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, was the chairman of the crusade. Pete (or it might have been Bill) Rice of Sword of the Lord/Bill Rice Ranch fame was brought in to be the speaker for the crusade. Several days into the meeting, Rice preached on marriage. Now, I knew he held to a “no divorce” position, so I knew we would disagree on that point. However, I was shocked when he said that Christian wives who were being beaten by their unsaved husbands should consider staying in their homes. Since being beaten by your husband is NOT, according to Rice, grounds for divorce, might it not be better for wives to endure the beatings and, through their godly testimonies win their husbands to Christ? Granted, Rice believed it was okay for wives to separate from their abusive husbands. He had to make such a grudging allowance due to what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:

But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? (1 Corinthians 7:9-16)

Now, there are all sorts of ways to interpret this passage of Scripture, but Evangelicals who believe there are NO grounds for divorce say wives can separate from an abusive spouse, but then can never divorce and remarry. In their minds, remarriage is the same as committing adultery. Rice’s words so incensed me that I withdrew our church from participating in the crusade. That decision made for a bit of family controversy, but I didn’t care. I may have been a complementarian at the time, but I thought wrong to suggest wives couldn’t file for divorce even if their husbands were beating them or abusing them in other ways.

Regular commenter Brian is right when he asserts religion is harmful — especially Evangelical Christianity. Complementarianism is foundational to Evangelical beliefs about marriage and the family. As long as this is so, wives will be considered inferior to their husbands, best suited for bearing children, cooking meals, doing domestic work, and putting out when their husbands ask. Husbands will continue to rule their kingdoms, thinking that doing so is what God commands. And children, seeing this sort of dysfunctional, harmful marriage modeled to them, will follow in their parents’ steps. Until the cycle is broken, complementarianism will live on.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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

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

“Normal” is a Just a Setting on a Washing Machine

normal

I have always had a contentious relationship with my wife’s mother. She never wanted me to marry her daughter, and she went to great lengths to frustrate our dating relationship. It was not until Polly told her mother we were getting married with or without her blessing that she grudgingly gave in and helped Polly plan our wedding. We’ve been married for forty years. Polly’s mom was certain that marrying someone from a divorced family led to divorce. I assume, by now, we have put that bit of nonsense to rest. Over the years, Polly and I butted heads with her mom over how many children we planned to have, how we raised our children, ministerial moves, choices of secular employment, how we celebrated Christmas, and a host of other things.

Polly’s mom is now on the last leg of life. She’s has congestive heart failure and has been give six or so months to live. In 2005, Polly’s younger sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash (If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All) leaving Polly alone responsible for her aged parents. In 2004-2005, we lived in Newark, Ohio, not far from Polly’s parents. Our plan was to live there and care for Polly’s parents as they got older. Unfortunately, they made it clear that our help wasn’t needed. Message received. We returned to northwest Ohio so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. Two years ago, Polly’s dad had botched hip replacement surgery that left him crippled. We offered to move them up here so we could help care for them. Our offer was rebuffed. Polly’s mom told her that they couldn’t move because their church — the Newark Baptist Temple — was very important to them. This sentiment is strange considering that their church has pretty much ignored them since Dad’s hip surgery. Out of sight, out of mind.

It will be left to Polly to take care of everything after her mom dies. Common sense says that Polly’s parents should have a will, but, unfortunately, common sense seems hard to find these days. Polly’s mom refuses to have a will drawn up, leaving Polly a colossal mess to deal with after her mom dies. Polly calls her mom every Sunday at 10:00 PM. They talk for one hour. In recent weeks, I have listened to Polly gently try to explain to her mom why having a will is important. Finally, I had enough and asked to Polly to put the phone on speaker. Bruce, the son-in-law she wishes she never had, is more blunt and direct than his wife. I let my mother-in-law know exactly what she was leaving behind for her daughter if she died intestate. In no uncertain terms I let her know that her view of the family was naïve. (She believes everyone will just get along after her death and there will be no problems settling the estate without a will.) She said nothing, thinking, I’m sure, “here’s another one of Bruce’s lectures.” Polly told me later that her mom let her know that she was putting her dad in a nursing home in Newark BEFORE she dies! I suspect she heard from one of her local grandsons that Polly and I had been talking about what to do with/for her dad after Mom died. One idea was to put him in a nursing home near us so we and children could provide for his needs. It seems that, even to the end, Mom intends to maintain the wall between us and her church and “godly” grandchildren in central Ohio. Her behavior has broken Polly’s heart, but there’s nothing she can do about it. Polly has always been the dutiful daughter, yet it seems her mom has chosen the rebellious daughter’s family over hers — much like in the Bible story about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). In the end, it’s Mom’s loss. She has an awesome daughter, and we have wonderful children and grandchildren; people with great empathy and compassion; people who value family. She doesn’t know this, of course, because she has chosen her dead daughter’s family over Polly’s. Such is life . . .

I realize that if Polly had married a “normal” Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher boy things might be different. Instead, Polly married a “bad boy,” a man who has always marched to the beat of his own drum, a man who has rarely been afraid to make hard, controversial decisions. In Mom’s eyes, I am an “odd duck”; I’m “different.” Why couldn’t I have been like other IFB preachers? Why couldn’t I have kept the faith? You see, the underlying issue is my unwillingness to hew to IFB belief. We left the IFB church movement years before we deconverted. Polly’s mom was upset with me numerous times during my years in the ministry; upset over decisions such as: me not wearing the IFB preacher uniform (white shirt, tie and suit), letting Polly wear pants, allowing my children to listen to Christian rock, not preaching from behind a pulpit, not sending my children to a Christian college, removing the name “Baptist” from our church name, using praise and worship music during church services, and not using the KJV when I preached, to name a few. Nothing was as bad, though, as me leaving the ministry and the two of us walking away from Christianity. I suspect that Mom believes that if I were out of the picture, Polly would come running back to Jesus and the family faith. Little does she know how independent her daughter really is and how anti-religion she has become. She may not be as vocal as her husband, but Polly has no use for anything associated with organized religion. She is, in every way, her own woman. The days when Bruce, the IFB Patriarch, ruled the home are long gone. Most of all, Mom blames me for what our children have become. According to her, I have RUINED them! Actually, what I really did was set them free. Each of them is free to be whoever and whatever he or she wants to be. Yes, to a person each has abandoned IFB/Evangelical Christianity, and some don’t believe in gods at all. Yes, they have abandoned the social strictures of their Fundamentalist youth. OMG! They drink beer and cuss. They are so “worldly,” and it is all MY fault. I am, after all, in her IFB worldview, the head of the home, even though all my children are out on their own with families, well-paying jobs, and own their homes. Mom might lament their worldliness, but I am quite proud of who and what ALL my children have become.

It’s Thanksgiving 2005. We are living in Bryan, Ohio, five miles from where we now live. Polly’s parents came to our home to join us for the day. Mom, as she often did, blew into our home like a tornado, moving furniture and changing meal preparations. It was noticeable to me that Polly was quit stressed by her mom’s behavior. She, however, said nothing. As the day wore on, I became increasingly agitated by Mom’s behavior, so much so that I reminded her that she was a guest in our home and asked her to please STOP micromanaging everything. Well, that went over well. Mom and Dad didn’t stay long that day. A day or so later, Mom called to apologize. During our conversation she said, “Bruce, we have always accepted you. We knew you were ‘different.'”

Different? Sure, but does that make a bad husband, father, grandfather, or person? Since when is being different a bad thing? My mother had many faults, but she taught me to think for myself and be my own person. I carried her teachings into my life and they continue with me to this day. I refuse to follow the well-trodden path. I refuse to do something just because everyone is doing it. I choose, instead, to walk my own path, even if that means I am walking alone. I realize that Mom will go to the grave saddened by what has become of her daughter and her son-in-law. Instead of seeing that we are happy and blessed, all she can see is our ungodly disobedience and lack of faith. Instead of seeing what awesome children and grandchildren we have, all she can see is their faithlessness and worldliness. Her religion keeps her from truly embracing and enjoying our family. In mom’s world, the wash can only be cleaned if the washing machine is set to “normal” and Tide is used for detergent.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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

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

40 Years Later: A Kiss for Luck and We’re on Our Way

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

It was a hot July day in 1978 when Polly and I stood before family and friends at the Newark Baptist Temple and pledged our troth one to one another. We were two naive — in every way — Baptist youths, nineteen and twenty-one. We believed that God had divinely brought us together. We met for the first time in late August 1976, days before our first classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I planned to be a pastor and Polly set her sights on finding herself a preacher-boy to marry.

We were a mismatched couple; Polly was quiet, reserved, and backward, whereas I was talkative, outgoing, and precocious. Our early dates were a whole lot of me talking and Polly listening. After dating for six months — dating meaning double-dates to college-approved restaurants and no physical contact  (See Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule) — I asked Polly to marry me. She said yes, and I gave her a 1/4 carat diamond ring I had purchased at Sears for $225. Little did we know what life would bring our way. Our plans were simple: get married, have two children, move to a town where I would pastor a church the rest of our lives, and live in quaint home with a white picket fence. What could go wrong, right?

Our first reality check came when Polly’s mom informed us that we couldn’t get married; that she and her Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor-husband would not give us their blessing. My parents divorced in the early 1970s, and Polly’s mom believed divorce was hereditary. After several months of stewing over their disapproval, Polly called her mom and told her that we were going to get married anyway, with or without their approval. This was the first time Polly stood up to her parents. Realizing that they had no power to stop us from marrying, Polly’s parent’s relented and set their minds on preparing for their daughter’s soon-to-come July wedding.

Our wedding was typical of the day, but there were several things that stand out even today. My best man and groomsmen were friends of mine from college. We had rented our tuxedos in Pontiac, bringing them with us to Newark, Ohio for the wedding. Thinking the rental company had properly sized our tuxes, we didn’t try them on before the day of the wedding, Imagine our surprise, then, to find out one of the groomsmen’s pants were too small. Panic set in, but Polly’s mom quickly took care of things by letting out the seat of the pants. All is well, we thought. Come time for the wedding, the preacher (the late James Dennis, Polly’s uncle), my groomsmen, and I walked up basement stairs to the front on the church auditorium. As we were walking up the stairs, the emergency-tailored pants ripped from stem to stern. All any of us could to was laugh, and laugh we did. My friend would stand the whole time with legs and butt cheeks clenched together during the ceremony, hoping that no one would see his airy pants. Fortunately, no one saw the tear, though I do wonder if some people wondered why he was walking through the church with his legs to tightly closed together.

Polly’s uncle volunteered to photograph our wedding. We said, sure. Art purchased new lighting equipment for our wedding. As the wedding processional began, I saw this panicked look on Art’s face. His new equipment was not working! Unfortunately, as a result, we have no live photographs of our wedding. We do have posed photos that were taken after the wedding.

The soloist for our wedding was a college friend of ours. He sang two songs, The Wedding Song by Peter, Paul and Mary:

He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts
Rest assured this troubadour is acting on His part.
The union of your spirits, here, has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is Love. There is Love.

A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home
And they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.
As it was in the beginning is now and ‘til the end
Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again.
And there is Love. There is Love.

Well then what’s to be the reason for becoming man and wife?
Is it Love that brings you here or Love that brings you life?
And if loving is the answer, then who’s the giving for?
Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before?
Oh there’s Love, there is Love.

Oh the marriage of your spirits here has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is Love. There is Love.

and We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters:

We’ve only just begun to live
White lace and promises
A kiss for luck and we’re on our way
We’ve only begun

Before the rising sun, we fly
So many roads to choose
We’ll start out walking and learn to run
And yes, we’ve just begun

Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watching the signs along the way
Talkin’ it over, just the two of us
Workin’ together day to day, together

And when the evening comes, we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
And yes, we’ve just begun

Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watching the signs along the way
Talkin’ it over, just the two of us
Workin’ together day to day, together

And when the evening comes, we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
And yes, we’ve just begun

Little did we know, that “secular” music was not permitted for weddings at the Baptist Temple. Afterward, we learned that, thanks to us, all wedding music had to be pre-approved. Forty years later, our “sin” still affects couples wanting to be married at the Baptist Temple. Sorry ’bout that!

After our wedding, we headed to Springfield, Ohio where we would spend our first night together as husband and wife. Neither of us had any experience sexually. Our entire sex education came from things I overheard in high school locker rooms, Polly’s mom giving her a two-minute PSA, and both of us reading The Act of Marriage, by Fundamentalist Baptist Tim LaHaye. Somehow, we figured out.

bruce polly gerencser wedding 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, July 1978, with Bruce’s mom and dad

We spent two nights at the French Lick Hotel in French Lick, Indiana. Afterward, we drove to Rochester, Indiana to visit my mom and then over to Bryan, Ohio to visit my sister and her family. We spent the night at the Exit Two Motel. The room was hot, infested with mosquitoes, and we spent the night listening to clanking pipes. Come morning, we returned to Pontiac, Michigan to begin our junior year of college.

We rented a four-room upstairs apartment in Waterford Township, a short drive from Midwestern. I returned to my job at Felice’s Market and Polly continued to clean the homes of several people, including the condo of a Jewish rabbi and his family. Six weeks after our wedding, Polly informed me that she was pregnant. Pregnant? How can that be? I thought. We are using birth control. Children should never play with fireworks, and so it is with naïve Baptist youths with sex. We knew we wanted to wait to have children, but our inexperience with birth control charted a different course for us. In late May 1979, our son was born, six weeks before our first wedding anniversary. By then, I had been laid off from work, we dropped out of college, and returned to Northwest Ohio — the last place I ever wanted to come back to.

Yesterday, Polly and I celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary. We spent the afternoon and evening in Findlay, Ohio, sitting along the banks of the Blanchard River, photographing squirrels, and talking about life. So much water has coursed under proverbial bridge of our married life. At times, slow-moving streams, at other times floods threatening to overrun the banks, destroying all that stood in their way. Yet, we survived. Six children in ten years. Always living life on the edge of financial ruin. Bankruptcy. Twenty-five years of pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Countless houses and automobiles. A near-death health crisis. Surgeries. Heart problems. Chronic illness, unrelenting pain, and disability. The birth of a daughter with Down Syndrome. The loss of faith and starting over. Any of these things could have brought ruin, yet we endured.

We are not special or gifted in any way. There’s no formula or magic. We know that that we are lucky to have made it this far. Yet, made it we have. As we drove home from Findlay in a car that cost more than our first twenty cars combined, I opened Spotify on my iPhone and started streaming The Carpenters to our car’s entertainment system. My how things have changed. We are a long ways away from when we first listened to these songs on WJR and CKLW, yet their lyrics touch a deep place in our hearts, bringing tears and longing. We started out forty years ago with We’ve Only Just Begun, and in many ways that’s still the case. While most of our life together is in the rear-view mirror, there are still new horizons ahead. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, with a kiss for luck, we’ll make it to the end.

I love you, Polly.

There Are So Many Gays in the Olympics Now

gay olympians

My wife and her mother talk via telephone every Sunday evening around 9:00 PM. One recent topic of discussion was the Winter Olympics. Polly and her Mom both shared what events they liked watching. Polly’s mom, a devout Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian, shared one observation that left Polly and me laughing when she told me what her mom had said. There sure are a lot of gays in the Olympics now, Mom said, with, I am sure, a shaking of her head a low sounding, umm hmm — the sound she makes when something or someone doesn’t meet her approval.

Polly said nothing. She could have, of course, told her mom that there have always been gay athletes in the Olympics. Gays, gays, gays, everywhere gays, but for most of Mom’s life, they quietly hid in dark closets, so she didn’t see them. Out of sight, out of mind. Now that closet doors have been flung open, Fundamentalists are forced to see and engage people who are considered by them to be abominable reprobates. I have no doubt that Fundamentalists wish that gays would stop flaunting their sexuality — you know like heterosexuals flaunt theirs.

Mom’s youngest brother died of a viral heart disease at age fifty-one. Art was a wonderful man, a pacifist who refused to carry a gun during the Vietnam War. He was a telecommunications operator. Art lived in Michigan, hours away from his Fundamentalist family. When he traveled to Ohio to visit on holidays, he would attend church with the family at the Newark Baptist Temple. I never heard Art talk about God, Jesus, the Bible, or Christianity. He supposedly made a profession of faith as a boy, but I doubt that Art attended church other than when he was visiting his Fundamentalist family. After Art died, it was left to his two preacher’s-wife sisters to settle his estate and take care of his personal property. There were things “found” at his apartment that still can’t be talked about to this day. I’ve thought, over the years, surely everyone knew Art was gay. The first time I met Art was Thanksgiving 1976. I knew immediately that Art was “different” from the rest of us fine upstanding Christians. It’s too bad he died so young. I suspect he would have found today’s societal openness towards gays liberating. I would love to have had an opportunity to talk to him about life as a gay man in a Fundamentalist Baptist family.

I don’t fault my mother-in-law for being homophobic. She was raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home where human sexuality was defined by the Bible. Gay people were disgusting, vile cretins in need of old-fashioned Baptist salvation. Getting saved turned sinners into saints, homosexuals into heterosexuals. This is how I was raised too. From my elementary school years forward, I heard pastors, youth directors, and Sunday school teachers say that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah over the sin of ho-mo-sex-u-al-ity (shout the word loudly, enunciating each syllable while pounding on the pulpit). Gay people were viewed as sexual predators. No child was safe when near homosexuals. Church was considered a safe haven because there supposedly weren’t any gays in IFB churches.

I didn’t personally know a gay person until high school. I knew a lot of people who were called queers and faggots, but these slurs were often hurled towards boys who refused to participate in gym or who acted in ways deemed unmanly. They may or may not have been gay. In ninth grade, my gym teacher decided to teach us how to square dance. My pastor got wind of this and made a fuss. Dancing? In school? This resulted in me sitting on the sidelines while everyone else, save two other boys, learned to do-si-do and swing their partner round and round. The other two boys? Yeah….the two “queers” who refused to participate in gym. I was thoroughly embarrassed by having to sit with these boys. (Please read Good Baptist Boys Don’t Dance.)

I am sure my mother-in-law, along with her fellow Christians, is upset and alarmed over how out-in-the-open gay people are these days. Why, there’s even gays kissing on TV! Umm hmm. What Fundamentalists fail to understand is that there have always been gay people. Religious oppression kept them from openly expressing their sexuality. Now, LGBTQ people are out of the closet and openly living their lives as they see fit. Their openness scares the Jesus right out of Fundamentalists. They genuinely believe that homosexuality is a sin above all sins, and that societies which endorse and support such behavior will be judged and destroyed by God. This is why Fundamentalists opposed same-sex marriage and continue to threaten boycotts of companies that support the “gay agenda” or the “gay lifestyle.”  The problem now, of course, is that anti-gay Fundamentalists make up a small and shrinking percentage of Americans and tend to live in southern or rural communities. They no longer have the political power necessary to turn back the Sodomite horde. As the United States becomes more inclusive and tolerant, Fundamentalists are forced to admit that Christianity no longer rules the roost; that even some Evangelicals now think it is okay for people to be gay; that come the next Olympics there will be gay athletes. Umm  hmm…..

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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

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

The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis

pastor jim dennis

Pastor Jim Dennis at a family outing in the early 1980s

Last week, James Dennis, the retired pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark Ohio, died from complications of myasthenia gravis at the age of seventy-five. Jim was my wife’s uncle, married to her mother’s sister. Jim attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1960s, the same college Polly and I attended in the 1970s. Jim pastored the Baptist Temple for forty-six years. Known as a staunch Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Jim’s ministry was well-known in the IFB community. Jim’s three children are all in the ministry. His son Andy is an Evangelical pastor in Newark, his oldest daughter is married to IFB evangelist David Young, and his youngest daughter is married to missionary James (Jamie) Overton.

Jim came into Polly’s life as the young single pastor of the Kawkawlin River Baptist Church in Bay City, Michigan — the church attended by Polly’s parents. He later married Polly’s aunt, Linda Robinson. I first met Jim in 1976 during college Christmas break. Jim, along with Polly’s father, would marry us in a wedding held at the Baptist Temple on July 15, 1978. From that moment, Jim Dennis and I had a complicated relationship. There were times that I admired the man and coveted his advice. There were other times when I despised the man, especially after Polly and I left the ministry and later left Christianity. In the past decade, I talked to Jim a handful of times, never more than exchanging pleasantries.

The story that follows is my understanding of the past and my relationship with Jim Dennis. I am sure that others will object to my telling of this story or be offended that I dare to air Jim’s (and mine) dirty laundry. Their objections are duly noted, but I am a writer and this is a story I must tell. Readers are free to make their own judgments about what follows.

There was a time when Jim Dennis and I, theologically, were of one mind. Both of us were IFB preachers. Both of us were raised in IFB churches. Both of us attended IFB preacher Tom Malone’s “character building factory” — Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan.  Both of us believed we were proclaimers of old-fashioned, Biblical Christianity. Our theological sameness, however, did not last. Jim would pride himself in believing the same things his entire life. Polly’s mom has remarked on more than occasion that she was proud of the fact that she had in her pastor Jim Dennis a man who never changed his beliefs. In her mind, he began the ministry with the right beliefs and he died holding on to those same beliefs. Bruce Gerencser’s beliefs, on the other hand, were constantly changing and evolving. Jim never read books outside of his theological rut, whereas I was willing to read authors who held different beliefs from mine. My reading habits are what took me from the IFB church movement to Fundamentalist Calvinism to generic Evangelicalism to Progressive Christianity, and finally, to agnosticism, atheism, and humanism. In Jim Dennis’ eyes, my life’s trajectory is a warning to those who dare to dabble in the world’s knowledge and goods. And in my eyes, Jim is a tragic reminder of what happens when someone refuses to read widely or investigate their beliefs.

Jim Dennis was known as the patriarch of the family; the wise sage who freely dispensed wisdom and knowledge to all, requested or not. Early on, I had conflicts with Jim over all sorts of issues, ranging from child rearing to whether it was okay to pick my wife up from work wearing gym shorts (Polly, at the time, worked for the Baptist Temple’s daycare. She was paid less wages than male employees because she wasn’t our family’s breadwinner.) In October of 1979, we moved from Northwest Ohio to Newark. We attended the Baptist Temple for 18 months. During this time, Jim and I had numerous conflicts — some minor, some major. Jim concluded that I had a rebellious streak, a view widely held by Polly’s parents and family, and I thought Jim was a closed-minded, authoritarian legalist. Our opinions about each other would only become more settled through the forty-two years we knew each other.

In 1981, Polly and I left the Baptist Temple to help her father start a new IFB church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. Polly’s father had been the assistant pastor at the Baptist Temple for almost five years. He wanted to stay in the Newark area and pastor his own church. There were conflicts between my father-in-law and Jim that precipitated Dad’s resignation, but those stories are his to tell, not mine. Needless to say, Dad was happy to be on his own. I was the assistant pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake until July, 1983, when I left to start the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio.

I believed that it was vitally important for a pastor to live in the community in which his church was located. Polly and I moved to Buckeye Lake — a rundown former amusement park/lake cottage rental community — so we could effectively minister to congregants. (I would also work for the village for several years as a grant writer/program manager/building code enforcement officer.) Buckeye Lake proper was street after street of rundown houses. The poverty rate was the highest in the area. My kind of people, but not the type of people Polly’s parents wanted to be living next to. Our willingness to live among them, endeared us to many people, especially local teenagers. This led to the church growing rapidly. After we left, church attendance declined, and Dad later closed the church.

bruce gerencser 1983

Bruce Gerencser, age 25, Ordination 1983, Emmanuel Baptist Church Buckeye Lake, Ohio

I don’t want to make myself out to be a saint, because that would be a falsehood. Living in Buckeye Lake, living in marginal housing, wasn’t something we would have done had it not been for the importance, in my mind, of living where you minister. During our time in Buckeye Lake, Polly’s uber-rebellious sister came to live for us a short while. One day, Jim Dennis showed up at our door wanting to talk to Polly’s sister. (Please read If One Soul Get’s Saved It’s Worth it All, a short post about Polly’s sister’s tragic death in a motorcycle accident.) Jim quickly became adversarial with Kathy, especially over the fact that she was wearing pants. Jim was an anti-pants crusader his entire life. Women who worked for the church or served in any official capacity were required to sign a statement that affirmed their obedience to his no-pants edict. As his anger towards Polly’s sister rose, Jim decided to physically grab a hold of her so he could “shake some sense into her.”  His physical assault of her quickly came to an end when I threw him out of our home. Sadly, Polly’s sister would later repent of her “sin” and returned shamefaced to Jim Dennis and the Baptist Temple. She would do this repeatedly over the years up until her death in 2005.

From that point forward, I had an off-and-on relationship with Jim. Despite our conflicts, there was a part of me that still desperately wanted (needed) his approval. I had Jim come preach meetings at several of the churches I pastored. As I continued to move leftward politically, theologically, and socially, our relationship became distanced, with us only seeing each other on Christmas Eve for family Christmas. We used to go out to their spacious country home for Christmas Day, but word one year was passed down to us that we were no longer invited to their home. The reason given was the size of our family. This, of course, deeply hurt Polly. These were her uncle and aunt. Why would they shun her like this? No answer was forthcoming.

I could spend hours talking about the various conflicts between Jim Dennis and Bruce Gerencser, but for the sake of this post I want to share just one that I detailed in a post titled Christmas, 1957-2014:

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

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

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

I appreciate Polly’s Mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family. I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people.

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

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

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

Jim’s funeral was last Saturday. I did not attend, though Polly and two of our sons made the four-hour trip to Newark to represent the Gerencsers at what the Baptist Temple called Jim Dennis’ Graduation Service. Unlike Polly and our older sons, I have a hard time biting my tongue when I am around Fundamentalists. I wear my emotions on my sleeve and my face generally tells others what I think. While my health precluded me from making the trip, I suspect that deep down I simply did not want to go. I knew exactly how the service would go — two hours of praising Jesus and deifying Jim Dennis, complete with lies about where Jim went after death. Similar to their Evangelical brethren, IFB preachers often lie when preaching funerals. According to orthodox Christian theology, Jim Dennis is lying in the grave, waiting for his body to be resurrected from the dead. However, traditional IFB preaching says that the deceased is, instead, running around Heaven praising Jesus for his glory and grace.

Jim was an avid hunter. In his younger years he would take trips out west to hunt big game. I suspect more than a few funeral attendees thought that Jim was now hunting the mountain ranges of God’s Heaven. This, of course, led me to ask my son, so, there will be violence in Heaven? Ah the illogical lunacy that makes an appearance at funerals. The man, Jim Dennis, was glorified and presented as one without blemish or fault. The man, the myth, the legend. Those of us close to him know better. Yes, in many ways Jim was a good man. He loved his wife, children, and grandchildren. But, we dare not forget that he was also an authoritarian brute, a man who attempted to dominate and control the lives of others; a man who thought his advice to others was straight from the mouth of God; a man who believed he knew the will of God for others (a will of which he repeatedly reminded me). I have fond memories of us spending holidays at the lake with them. I also have good memories of the few times we went hunting together. These memories, however, do not erase the great psychological damage his preaching and behavior inflicted on countless congregants and church members. Polly and I bear deep scars from being excoriated by him over this or that “sin.” How could we ever forget him telling us that it was not God’s will for us to be poor or that it wasn’t God’s will for us to have more children (even though his own children now have large families). We can’t forget the lectures or the sermons that seemed directed right at us. You see, Polly married a man that NO ONE in the family wanted her to marry, and our current state of the affairs, to them anyway, is proof that they are right. If Polly had only married an obedient IFB preacher, why she might still be in the ministry today. Both Polly and I have made peace with the fact that we will always be on the outside looking in with her family. In the last decade or so, we have finally reached a place where we no longer give a shit about what family members think about us. We are who we are.

Let me conclude this tome with one more story. Seven or so years ago, one of the family’s preachers decided to try and understand our deconversion. We talked privately for a few days until Jim got wind of our discussions. The preacher was told to stop talking to me. I was a dangerous man, one given over to evil and false doctrine. The preacher, of course, complied. Jim was the family patriarch, and when he issued an edict everyone was expected to obey. That Polly and I were living in open defiance of his authority was not something that could be tolerated. Unfortunately, for Jim, we were safely beyond his reach, no longer caring about what came out of his mouth.

The patriarch is dead, but his religion lives on.

Notes

James Dennis’s obituary:

James Dennis

Newark – A funeral service for Pastor James Russell Dennis will be held at 11am on Saturday, January 13, 2018 at Newark Baptist Temple, 81 Licking View Dr, Heath, OH 43056. Dr. Charles Keen will be officiating. Family will greet friends from 4pm-8pm on Friday, January 12, 2018 and for one hour prior to the service at the church. Following the service, Pastor Dennis will be laid to rest at Newark Memorial Gardens.

Pastor Dennis, age 75, of Newark, passed away on January 9, 2018 at Licking Memorial Hospital. He was born on November 3, 1942 to the late Russell and Grace (Welsh) Dennis in Pontiac, Michigan.

Pastor Dennis was an avid hunter, but more than anything, he loved being a preacher. He loved to help people in his community and church family. In 1968, Pastor Dennis became the pastor of Newark Baptist Temple, until he retired in 2015. Following retirement, he continued to proudly serve his Lord until his death. He was a pioneer in Christian education; he founded Temple Tots Day Nursery School in 1970 and Licking County Christian Academy in 1972.

Pastor Dennis is survived by his loving wife of 51 years, Linda (Robinson) Dennis. He also leaves behind his children, Cilicia (David) Boelk, Bethlie (David) Young, Andrew (Jenny) Dennis, and Toree (Jamie) Overton; 19 grandchildren; 3 great grandchildren; and sister, Betty Freeman.

In addition to his parents, Pastor Dennis is preceded in death by his grandson, LCPL James Boelk, KIA Oct 10, 2010.

The family would like to give special thanks to Licking Memorial Hospital, 2nd Floor doctors, nurses, and staff, for all their care and compassion over the past month.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Newark Temple Baptist Missions, 81 Licking View Dr, Heath, OH 43056.

To sign an online guestbook, please visit www.brucker-kishlerfuneralhome.com.

Published in the Advocate on Jan. 11, 2018

The Newark Advocate had this to say when Jim retired in November 2014:

It’s been 46 years since Pastor James Dennis began leading Newark Baptist Temple Church.

Although he still has an overwhelming passion for his role in the church, Dennis has decided to retire in November. It was a difficult decision to make, but he said he understands the need to bring new life into the church as it heads into the future.

“It has been a privilege to serve almighty God, to see people accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. … It’s just a blessing to see how God can change the lives of people,” Dennis said. “But I also understand the need to get a fresh breath of air in here.”

Dennis was born and raised in Michigan, and after attending seminary school, he started a church in Bay City, Michigan. It was there that he met his wife, Linda, after her family began attending the church.

The two were happily married and living in Michigan when Dennis received a call from one of his friends who told him Newark Baptist Temple was looking for a new pastor. At the time, he had no plans to leave his home, but he felt God pushing him out of Bay City.

He accepted the position and moved to Newark in 1967. At that time, the church was still young, having been formed only five years earlier, and there wasn’t much for Dennis to do outside preaching. But through the years, the church expanded, adding multiple ministries and launching the Licking County Christian Academy.

The school was founded in response to what the church saw as a need for an educational experience grounded in morality and God’s word, Dennis said. Although it has remained small, the school provides an important component to education, and Dennis thanks the Lord for every student who leaves a graduate.

Newark Temple Baptist has very active youth and children’s ministries, and six years ago, it started Reformers Unanimous, a ministry that helps people with dependency issues.

“The Lord has been kind to us,” Dennis said of how the church has grown.

….

Although he is retiring, Dennis plans to stick around. He will continue to attend church at Newark Baptist Temple and said he might take on some speaking opportunities if needed.

One thing is for sure: He’s not done sharing God’s message.

“You may step down from a certain aspect of the ministry, but you never stop ministering. It’s an eternal calling,” Dennis said. “I know that God has a plan and a will for me.”

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) church affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). 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 to 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 flower 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 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, James Dennis was the pastor.  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 along 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, if I could shame teens and young adults into not touching one another (or 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 church 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 nineteen, seven out of ten teenagers have had sex. 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.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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

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

Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part Two

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

When I write posts like Leaving the Ministry: Dealing with Guilt and Regret, I am always concerned that someone might conclude that I was unhappy while I was in the ministry or that felt I was trapped in a job I didn’t want to be in.  Neither of these conclusions would be an accurate assessment of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

If you have not done so, please read Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One.

In October 1979, Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager belongings and moved from Montpelier, Ohio to Newark, Ohio. Polly’s parents lived in Newark. Her father was the assistant pastor at the Newark Baptist Temple, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church pastored by her uncle James Dennis. For a few months, until we could find a place to live, Polly and I lived with her parents. Our first home in Newark was a duplex several blocks from Polly’s parent’s home. Living in the other half of the duplex was an older couple who attended the Baptist Temple. Later, we would move to a two-story home across the street from Polly’s parents. We lived there until we moved to Buckeye Lake, Ohio in 1982.

Both Polly and I agree that our time spent living in Newark was one of the most difficult and challenging times we have ever faced in our thirty-nine years of marriage. Polly started working at Temple Tots — the unlicensed daycare “ministry” of the Baptist Temple. In the fall of 1980, Polly found herself pregnant with our second son, Nathaniel. By then, she had started teaching first grade at Licking County Christian Academy (LCCA) — an unlicensed, unaccredited school operated by the Baptist Temple. (Polly was paid less money because she was not the breadwinner.)

I busied myself working in the church’s bus ministry, hoping that Pastor Dennis would make me the director of the bus ministry. He did not, telling me that it wouldn’t be right for him to give a family member the job. (Numerous family members would later work for the Baptist Temple.) James Dennis and I spent the intervening years in a love-hate relationship, with major conflicts seemingly bubbling to the surface every few years. While Polly’s family puts the blame for this squarely on my shoulders, a fair accounting of our conflicts shows that both of us bear responsibility for our inability to see eye-to-eye. Our history is long, complex, and littered with buried secrets that, even at this late date, could prove to be embarrassing. Age and health problems have pummeled James Dennis and me into submission, leaving us without the strength and will to continue the war. This is for the best.

After working for the local cable company repairing push-button cable boxes and working at several factories, in early 1980, I accepted a managerial position with Arthur Treacher’s — a large fast-food seafood restaurant chain located in Columbus, Ohio. My starting pay was $144 a week, or about $423 a week in today’s dollars. After my training and a few months as the assistant manager of the Heath, Ohio store, I was promoted to the general manager position of the Brice Road store in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. I would spend the next eighteen months daily driving back and forth from Newark to Reynoldsburg — about 27 miles one way. I worked long hours, six, sometime seven, days a week.

bruce and polly gerencser 1985

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

With Polly busy raising young children and teaching at LCCA and me working long hours at the restaurant, we found ourselves estranged from one another. For a time, Polly and I were like two ships passing in the night. Polly, ever the awesome mother, focused her attention on our two boys, figuring that our marriage would be just fine. In her mind, the kids came first. I, on the other hand, ever the workaholic, poured myself into my job, often leaving for work early in the morning and returning late in the evening. Conflict with Polly’s parents and Pastor Dennis increased during this time, so I used my long work hours as a way to avoid interaction with her family. I was able to avoid family gathering by saying, I have to work, sorry. Polly’s family didn’t seem to mind that I was absent, believing then, as they do today, that I was “different.”

While Polly and I never talked about the dreaded D word, divorce, both of us recognized that our marriage was in trouble. We were deeply committed followers of Jesus and active in the machinations of the Baptist Temple. Despite my long work hours, I still worked in the bus ministry, went on visitation, and attended church services on Sunday. Polly helped with the nursery and sang in the choir. While we were busy, our life was not what we expected it would be when we left Midwestern Baptist College in 1978. Both of us believed God had called us to the ministry, so as long as we weren’t in full-time service for the Lord, our lives were not in line with the will of God. Polly and I saw this as one of the reasons we were having marital troubles. Decades later, now an old married couple with grandchildren, we now know that the root problem was immaturity and fanciful expectations. Our focus should have been on family and building financial security. Instead, we yearned to be Pastor and Pastor’s wife. In our minds, Jesus and the ministry came first. Wholeheartedly believing this would plague us for much of our married life.

Late in 1981, Mrs. Paul’s bought out Arthur Treacher’s. Mrs. Paul’s made all sorts of stupid changes, and after several months of working for them, I decided I had had enough and turned in my resignation. Several weeks later, I started working for Long John Silver’s as an assistant manager. Long John’s was rapidly expanding in the Central Ohio area, and I was part of a team of managers that helped open new stores. Polly had, by then, stopped teaching and returned to working at Temple Tots. Towards the end of the year, Polly’s Dad decided to leave the Baptist Temple — a long story in and of itself — and start an IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. He asked if Polly and I wanted to come along and help him with the new church. We quickly agreed, and I became the assistant pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. Finally, Polly and I thought, we are back on track, doing that which God had called us to do.

Though much turmoil and heartache would await us in the years to come, we were happy to be in the ministry once again. Outside of a few months here and there when I was between churches, we would spend the next twenty or so years pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. No matter what trials and adversity came our way, we were happy to be serving the Lord. The Apostle Paul wrote that he had learned, regardless of the state of his life, to be content (Philippians 4:11) Over time, Polly and I became quite stoic about life. No matter what came our way, we smiled, put our trust in the Lord, and practiced the content Paul spoke of. Our commitment to Jesus gave us what the Bible calls, a “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Life wasn’t easy for us, but it was satisfying. Difficult times were seen as tests from God (James 1:2-4) or loving correction (Hebrews 12:5-8) from our Heavenly Father. All that mattered was that we were in center of the perfect will of God for our lives (Romans 12:1,2). Believing that the calling of God was irrevocable (Romans 11:29), being in the ministry was what mattered most to us. Over time, the “ministry” swallowed up Bruce and Polly Gerencser, leaving us with no self-identity. We spent much of our marriage denying self and sacrificing ourselves for the cause. After leaving the ministry, and later leaving Christianity, Polly and I had no idea who we were. Our post-Jesus years have been spent reacquainting ourselves with who we really are. This process has been painful, yet satisfying. While we were happy in the ministry, our happiness was derived from “doing.” These days, we continue to learn that happiness most often comes from being, not doing.

Stay tuned for Part Three.

Bob Gray, Sr. Says He is Not a Legalist and Then Proves He Is

biblical dress standard

If following the “Biblical” standard is so important, why don’t IFB preachers and congregants dress like this? Surely, dressing as Jesus did would be best, right?

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers are fond of saying, when confronted over their cultic, authoritarian, legalistic codes of conduct, that they are not legalists; that legalism is adding works to salvation. In this post, I intend to use a recent article by Bob Gray, Sr. to demonstrate that IFB preachers such as Gray are indeed legalists despite their protestations.

The first time I heard the argument that “legalism is adding works to salvation” was in the 1980s in a sermon preached by IFB luminary James Dennis, the now-retired pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. The Baptist Temple (as it is commonly called), as is the case with most IFB churches, had a long list of rules (standards) church members were expected to explicitly keep. Anyone who was in leadership or worked in any of the church’s ministries was required to sign statement saying that they would obey and practice the church’s standards. Women, of course, were not permitted to wear pants, and men were not allowed to have long hair or facial hair. There were other rules detailing what entertainments and social activities were forbidden. These standards were the Baptist Temple’s version of the unalterable laws of the Medes and Persians (Daniel 6:8).  Refusing to sign the form meant you were not permitted to serve in the church and were branded as rebellious and unsubmissive to the will of James Dennis — I mean God.

When thoughtful people would object to the strict rules, they would often say that the church’s standards were legalistic. Pastor Dennis’ response was to remind them that legalism meant “adding works to salvation,” and neither he or the church was doing that!  According to Pastor Dennis, the church’s standards were derived from the Bible and were simply a statement of how God expected Christians to live their lives.

Bob Gray, Sr. uses the same arguments in a recent post titled, How to Tell if You are Being Legalistic. Gray writes:

Legalism is salvation by faith plus works! It is salvation plus baptism, plus church membership, plus keeping the law, plus communion, plus confession.

The Seventh Day Adventist doctrine, Church of Christ doctrine, Catholic doctrine, Armenian doctrine, Armstrong World-Wide Church of God doctrine, the Mormon doctrine, and the Jehovah (False) Witness doctrine are legalism.

Right off the bat Gray establishes with no justification other than what he has made up in his mind that legalism is “salvation by faith plus works! It is salvation plus baptism, plus church membership, plus keeping the law, plus communion, plus confession.”  Thus, Seventh Day Adventists, the Churches of Christ, Roman Catholics, Armenians [sic], Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses all preach a legalistic, works-based false gospel.

Using his made-up definition of legalism, Gray then proceeds to share why he is most certainly NOT a legalist. Gray, the retired pastor of Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Texas writes:

Legalism is not a godly mother who insists that her daughter dress modestly. Legalism is not parents enrolling their children in a Christian school that believes as they do about separation from the world. Legalism is not a dedicated aged godly dad who takes his son to the barbershop instead of a beauty shop every two weeks.

Legalism is not a faithful youth director who insists his teenagers dress appropriately. Legalism is not a hard-working pastor who insists that his Sunday school teachers not smoke, not drink alcohol, no tobacco use, no movies, they visit absentees, and go soul winning.

Legalism is not the careful godly educator who forbids his students to dance or listen to bad music. Legalism is not the man of God who cries aloud against mixed swimming, in essence, mixed nudity, against vampire lipstick promoting drugs, and young males with their Billy Idol bleached porky pine spiked chili bowl hair do!

Right has not changed and wrong has not changed just because you enter into a different century. Black is still black and white is still white. Good is still good and bad is still bad. Legalism is not the faithful man of God who cries aloud against sin.

Was Paul a legalist when he told men not to have long hair in I Corinthians chapter 11? Was Paul a legalist when he told the ladies not to have short hair in the same chapter? Sit still and read the rest of the article before you become mad!

Was Moses a legalist when he said, “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” or when he said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery?” Was Paul a legalist when he said in I Timothy chapter 3 that the deacon should not be double tongued, or when he said a deacon should be the husband of one wife, or should be honest, or should be temperate?

Was Paul a legalist in I Timothy chapter 3 when he said the pastor should be sober, or the husband of one wife, or not greedy of filthy lucre? Was Titus a legalist if he obeyed the Apostle Paul in Titus chapter 2 when he told the aged men to be sober, grave, temperate, sound, loving, patient and the aged women to be holy and temperate? Was he a legalist when the told the young ladies to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, obedient to their husband, and the young men to be sober and of sound speech?

….

As a result in our day, we find ourselves not fighting the vehicle of formalism; as Dr. John Rice boldly put at the top of his SWORD OF THE LORD paper in a banner. We find ourselves fighting INFORMALISM. The pendulum has swung to another extreme with the same cry against the rest of us who hold our feet to the fire on being separatist and are being called “legalist.”

It takes more than facial hair to make a man. Your flowery shirts and glass pulpits are not impressing the Holy Spirit at all. Your “worship teams” disguised as a singing group are not fooling anyone. , especially the Holy Spirit of God. Your colored lights to get the atmosphere you want is insulting to the Holy Spirit. When you decided to secretly follow Rick Warren you had to embrace the tactic of calling the rest of us “legalists.” You are substituting convenience for conviction.

….

God’s people have a choice! You can be free inside of the walls or you can be enslaved outside the walls. It bothers me when I hear God’s people using liberty as a license to sin. Liberty is inside of the Laws of God and not outside of the Laws of God. Every commandment, rule, or standard of God has been given for one purpose and that is to build walls around his people especially the young people.

Liquor, dope, elicit sex, Hollywood, cigarettes, bad music, etc., enslaves and is addictive. God’s do’s and don’ts build walls of protection for his people!

If fundamentalism is not careful we will lose everything that is near and dear to us! Being a fundamentalist is more than believing salvation by grace, verbal inspiration, plenary inspiration, preserved inspiration, virgin birth, sinless life of Christ, security of the believer, and vicarious death of Christ. Being a fundamentalist also includes having some rules and standards to live by so we can be free.

Those rules are bricks in a mighty wall that has been built by our founding fathers so that we might have a place of freedom in this world of slavery. Rules and standards have never enslaved for the truth is they liberate for all that enslaves has been placed outside the wall.

We know cigarettes enslave so we put nicotine warnings on the outside of the packages so why shouldn’t God’s people put them outside the wall. The same is true of marijuana, liquor, and dope.

….

I thank God every day for an old-fashioned wall building Mama, teachers, and preachers! Thank God for wall building schools, colleges, churches, Bible Conferences, and leaders who stand firm inside the walls. This is not legalism but rather it is liberty!

We need the walls to remain strong so that our young people can stay innocent and remain fearful of an enemy that lurks on the outside of the walls of protection where there is the bondage of compromise. Give me liberty inside of the walls.

The rules must be consistent between the pulpit, parent, and peer pressures. If all three are going in the same direction and provide the same consistency the odds are in favor of the follower being allowed to make right decisions! Liberty or legalism?

James Dennis, Bob Gray, Sr. and a cast of thousands would argue that keeping church standards doesn’t save anyone; that their standards are simply a statement of how Good Christians® should live their lives. However, in the real world, these legalistic standards are used to determine who is and isn’t a Real Christian®. Real Christians® will live according to church’s standard, uh I mean the teachings of the Bible. Real Christians® will want to willingly obey their pastor’s dictates. (It is always the pastor who determines what an IFB church’s standards will be. His words are law.) Real Christians® will live Christlike before the world, willingly dressing and behaving in ways that make them stand out.

When saved people refuse to obey, there is doubt cast upon their salvation. These doubts, of course, are rarely uttered aloud. Instead, they become fodder for gossip or Wednesday night prayer meeting. We visited one church where a mother stood before the church and detailed the “sinful” behavior of her adult son who just so happened to be in the service. He quietly bore her excoriation, yet I have no doubt that he wished she would shut the hell up. I felt embarrassed for the man. I have seen similar behavior in IFB prayer meetings where the “backslidden” ways of this or that church member were aired as “prayer requests.” What is implicit in these things is that the person mentioned has a “doubtful” salvation. Those truly saved, would live according to the church’s standards. That they don’t is a sure sign that something spiritually wrong with them; perhaps they aren’t even saved.

IFB preachers who deny that they are legalists will often say, it is up to God to save them on the inside and clean them up on the outside. While this statement sounds good, in the real world, new converts are expected, over time, to strictly obey church standards. If new Christians are reading the Bible, praying, and attending church every time the doors are open, it shouldn’t take a long time for the newly saved to see the “wisdom” of following their church’s code of conduct. A failure to do so means the person is backslidden, not right with God, worldly, or some other negative label. If change is not effected, pastors and their devoted rules-keepers will begin to wonder if so-and-so is r-e-a-l-l-y a Christian.

It is actually quite easy to “test” whether an IFB preacher is a legalist. Just ask him if a lesbian Christian can be a member, or if a Christian woman who recently had an abortion can join the church. Ask him if a woman who wears mini-skirts and low-cut blouses can be a part of their club, or if a man with hair down to the middle of his back can lead the congregation in prayer. Such questions will likely be answered in the negative, thus proving that IFB preachers really don’t leave it to God to clean up people on the outside. That’s their job, shaping them into the kind of Christians “God’ wants them to be. Offenders will be called into the principal’s, I mean’s pastor’s office and educated about how the pastor, uh I mean God, expects them to live. Make no mistake about it, the message is clear: You say you are a Christian, then LIVE like it, and living like means following the church standards established by Christ’s representative on earth, the pastor.

I hope that former IFB church members have some stories to share about legalism and church standards. If so, please share them in the comment section.

Note

I should mention that, according to the gospel preached by James and John, a case can be made for works being required for salvation. James said, faith without works is dead (has not life). I’m inclined to think that, according to some parts of the Bible, that there is a direct connection between how people live and what they believe. We reveal our character by how we live, not by what we say.

Can Atheists Celebrate Christmas? 

bruce and polly gerencser christmas 2015

Santa and his favorite elf.

Growing up in an Evangelical home, I knew that Christmas was all about the birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Gifts were sparse, often just two or three packages, but never far from view was the most wondrous gift of all, salvation through the atoning work of Christ on the cross. The churches I attended spent significant time each holiday season reminding congregants that Jesus was the reason for the season. Sermons against Santa Claus, consumerism, and idolatry were common, as were pleas for money to help the poor and disadvantaged.

Polly and I started dating in September 1976. On Christmas Eve of that year I drove from my mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio to Newark to meet Polly’s parents and attend her family’s Christmas gathering. This was the first time I had the opportunity to be alone with Polly, and we took advantage of it, using trips to the apartment complex’s laundry room to get as much kissing in as possible before returning to Midwestern Baptist College and its thou-shalt-not-touch six-inch rule. The family gathering was held at the home of Polly’s aunt and uncle, Jim and Linda Dennis. Jim was the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. Prior to gathering at their house, we dutifully attended the Christmas Eve service at the Baptist Temple. During the service, Polly’s uncle decided to thoroughly embarrass both of us by pointing out that Polly had a special visitor with her. He then said, “Bruce and Polly have a shirt tail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirt tail is.” I can imagine Polly’s Mom saying to herself, not very long if I have anything to do with it.

After Christmas Eve service, we drove over to the Dennis’ home. As I walked in the door, I couldn’t help but notice the largest pile of Christmas gifts I had ever seen in my life. Jesus may have been the reason for the season, but it was quite evident that receiving a lot of gifts came in a close second. Prior to the gift-giving orgy, someone — I can’t remember who — gave a quick devotional, reminding all of us, yet again, as if we haven’t heard before, that Christmas was all about Jesus — his virgin birth, death on the cross, resurrection from the dead. Once the Sermonette for Christianettes® was duly delivered, it was time for the gifts to be distributed. Polly and I had already traded gifts, so I didn’t expect anything for myself. I was surprised (and embarrassed), then, to receive a gift from Polly’s parents — a leather belt.

After Polly and I married, we settled into a holiday routine that had us celebrating Christmas Eve with her family and Christmas Day with mine. Things continue this way until the late 1980s. I had stumbled upon material that purported to reveal the pagan history and true meaning of Christmas. Wanting to be obedient to Christ and untainted by the world, I decided, as the head of the home, that we would no longer practice Christmas. I can only imagine how heartbroken Polly was when I gathered up all of her Christmas decorations and donated them to Goodwill. I did make an allowance for us attending family Christmas gatherings. We bought no gifts for our children, treating Christmas as if it were just another day. For several years, our family drove to the Charity Rescue Mission in Columbus to help serve food to the homeless. Several families from the church I was pastoring at the time — Somerset Baptist Church — went with us. While I deeply regret becoming the Grinch that stole Christmas, I do think feeding the homeless put Christmas into perspective.

Somewhere in the 1990s, I realized that you could make Christmas into whatever you wanted it to be. Much to the surprise and delight of our children, we bought a Christmas tree and decorations. We also allowed for limited gift-giving. As I look back on this, I realize that I did with Christmas exactly what the Catholics did when they took a pagan practice and repurposed it for Christian use. Yes, Christmas was originally a pagan holiday, as were many of the practices associated with it, but I believed that such things could be used to further the gospel of Christ and give witness to Jesus. From that point forward, in the churches I pastored I allowed Christmas decoration to be put in the church auditorium. For the next decade, our home and the churches I pastored celebrated Christmas as most other American families and churches did. Jesus may have been the reason for the season, but gift-giving was a close second. To assuage the lingering guilt I had over consumer-driven gift-giving, I made sure our family and the churches I pastored gave liberally to missionaries and the poor.

Eight years ago, on the last Sunday in November, Polly and I attended church for the last time. For the longest time, we found it impossible to attend anything remotely associated with religion. We had just gone through a nasty divorce with God, and we didn’t want to go anywhere that would remind us of our ex. After a few years, the distance between deconversion and the present was sufficient that we were able to attend Christmas programs and concerts without wanting to commit homicide. If I remember right, our first foray back into the religious world was attending the production of Handel’s Messiah at a nearby church. That same year, we attended a Christmas concert put on by a Trans-Siberian Orchestra cover band — Siberian Solstice. One of the mainstays of the group is my counselor.

Evangelicals often deride me for practicing Christmas. How can an atheist practice a religious holiday? they ask. Christmas is all about Jesus, and are you being hypocritical if you celebrate a holiday set aside to worship a God you don’t believe in! I suppose that this would be a valid question if the evidence at hand showed me that, indeed, Christmas was all about Jesus and his virgin birth in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. However, the evidence clearly shows that Christmas is all about family, food, and gift-giving. While many Evangelical churches will attempt to put Christ back in Christmas, most church families will practice Christmas in the same manner as their non-Evangelical neighbors. While Polly’s family still practices Christmas just as they did 40 years ago, it is now evident that the obligatory attendance at the Christmas Eve service and the devotional before presents can be opened are mere formalities — things to be endured until the real reason for Christmas begins.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day fall on a Saturday and Sunday this year. It will interesting to see what local churches will do since Christmas falls on Sunday. The last time this happened, many churches held a short Christmas Eve service (so the tithes and offerings could be collected) and canceled Christmas Day services so congregants could spend time with their families. Some Baptist churches who normally held two services on Sunday canceled their Sunday evening service. Of course, wanting to show that they are not like “liberal” churches, a few Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches maintained their regular schedule of services.

As atheists, we thoroughly enjoy the holiday season. In fact, Polly and I both say that Christmas is far more enjoyable now than it was when I was pastoring churches. Quite frankly, the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s were so busy that we had little time to enjoy the holidays. Like many Christian churches, who once a year want to show the poor and disadvantaged that they really, really care, we put together several food baskets and delivered them to the poor. (Isn’t it amazing that the poor only need food and help during the holidays?) Not only did we have to do obligatory alms to the poor, we also had to prepare for special services such as Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. By the time the new year rolled in, Polly and I were quite glad the holidays were over.

These days, we are free to enjoy Christmas without worrying about whether we are giving Jesus his just dues. For Polly and me, Christmas is all about family. We eat lots of food with no worries about waistlines. Polly loves to bake and I love to eat what she bakes, as do our children and grandchildren. For the next month, Christmas songs will waft through the air of our home —  yes, even religious ones. You might be surprised if you stop by to hear us singing Joy to the World, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, or many of the other religious songs associated with Christmas. The lyrics of the songs are but reminders of our cultural heritage. This is why you will also find us singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. For us, family and not Jesus is the reason for the season. If Christians want to focus on Jesus during Christmas, that is certainly their right to do so. However, I refuse to let them ignorantly suggest that Christmas is a Christian-only holiday. When confronted with such historical ignorance, I remind them that Christmas means different things to different people. It is a holiday that should bind all of us together, reminding us of the blessings of family and our common heritage. Evangelicals who stupidly say that there is a war against Christmas deserve a double barrel gun salute. There is no war against Christmas, and no matter how many times Sean Hannity says that there is, the fact remains that Christmas is a religious and a secular holiday. Christians are free to worship the baby Jesus and sing praises to his name, the rest of us are free to practice Christmas without the religious garb.

How do you practice Christmas now that you no longer a Christian? Are the holidays stressful for you? Do you still attend Christmas services? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Other posts about Christmas:

Christmas, 1957-2014

Christmas: A Plea To Evangelicals Who Evangelize Non-Christian Family Members

How Fundamentalist Christians Ruin Christmas

1978: Our First Christmas