Menu Close

Tag: Newark Baptist Temple

He’s a Woman Now!

gay pride flag

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

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

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

That mentality was carried into every area of life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

jesus all about life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

life all about jesus

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

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Short Stories: 1976: My First Christmas with Polly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video Link

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

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

The Life-Changing Power of the Mythical Jesus

jesus changes lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

newark baptist temple heath ohio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video Link

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

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

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

newark baptist temple heath ohio

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

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

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

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

I told my editor, Carolyn Patrick:

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

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

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

Here’s what I know:

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

Video Link

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

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

Pastor Falls says to the congregation:

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

newark baptist temple heath ohio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

IFB Bullies in the Pulpit

angry preacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

An IFB Funeral: Fundamentalist Christianity Poisons Everything

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

In 2007, the atheist firebrand Christopher Hitchens wrote a book titled, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. While I think Hitch painted with too broad a brush, I can say Fundamentalist Christianity does, indeed, poison everything — especially the stench of Fundamentalism found in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Polly’s IFB preacher father died on Sunday. Polly’s parents have attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark Ohio for the past forty-five years. Dad left to start a church in Buckeye Lake for eight years, but returned after the church shut its doors. Mom and Dad have remained loyal members of the church ever since.

The Baptist Temple was pastored by James (Jim) Dennis for over four decades. Both Dad and Jim graduated from Midwestern Baptist College, the IFB institution Polly and I attended in the 1970s. Jim retired from the ministry in 2017 and died from complications of myasthenia gravis in 2018. Mark Falls is currently the pastor of the Baptist Temple.

Jim Dennis and I, for more reasons than I will ever publicly share, had an adversarial relationship. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) Jim was a typical IFB preacher: always right, arrogant, and self-righteous. I wasn’t much different back in my IFB preaching days.

Ten years ago, Polly and I decided to stop attending family holiday events in Newark. Polly’s family is littered with IFB pastors, evangelists, and missionaries, and their families. Imagine being the only out unbelievers in a room full of IFB preachers and their families. Not fun, to say the least.

We decided that we would only attend weddings and funerals, especially if they were held at the Newark Baptist Temple. I told one of my sons this: imagine if you were abused as a child, yet you are expected as an adult to return to the house where you were abused for family events; that your abuser still lives in the house. That’s how my wife and I view the Newark Baptist Temple and some of its leaders and members. We refuse to put ourselves in positions where we have to come in contact with our abusers. Behaviors have consequences, and unlike Pastor Mark Falls and the fine folk at the Newark Baptist Temple, we don’t have to forgive or forget. Forgiveness comes only when there is accountability for past bad behavior; admissions that the “saints” so revered by the congregation were/are anything but.

We have moved on, but we haven’t forgotten, and in moving on, Polly and I have decided to not put ourselves in positions that dredge up bad memories and experiences. That is, until Polly’s father died.

Earlier this year, I took Mark Falls and the Baptist Temple to task for their refusal to cancel services in light of COVID-19. (Please see IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic and No Need to Wear a Face Mask: When it’s My Time to Die, I’m Ready to Go.) Polly and I were, and still are, worried about her parents contracting COVID-19 and dying. We learned not long ago, that Polly’s mom had lied to us — for obvious reasons — about attending in-person services and Christian school events. The Baptist Temple has had members contract the virus, including the pastor and his family. Yet, services continue as if everything is normal. No pandemic to see here, praise Jesus. Our God is still on the throne.

One young family member, who faithfully attends the Baptist Temple with his family, told one of my sons that Falls and the church really do take COVID-19 seriously. Just to make sure that I was not operating on outdated information, I viewed hours of videotaped church services and school events — fast forwarded, of course. My original assessment of the Baptist Temple stands. From choir members spitting out for the glory of God, to unmasked staff members and congregants in the first six rows, I saw little evidence for the church doing all they can to keep people from getting infected. I saw the same behavior as I did in March. Ten months of knowledge about COVID-19, but all that matters is Jesus.

Mark Falls was wearing a mask, so kudos to him for doing the right thing. But, as the CEO, boss, and pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple, he refuses to require church members to wear masks. I assume he knows studies conclusively show church services are super-spreader events. And choirs and choir practices? Some of the worst virus spreaders of all. By not putting an end to such practices and by refusing to demand congregants wear masks, he’s shown that he doesn’t take the virus seriously; that as the Libertarian that he is, he values personal freedom over social responsibility; that he puts little value on the health and safety of not only his congregation, but his community.

And that brings us to Dad’s death and the funeral on Saturday. As you might expect, Mom is having a full-blown give-Jesus-the-glory funeral for her husband at the Baptist Temple. I believe there will be meal of some sort afterward. And then, there will be a outdoor, family-only graveside service.

Before Polly first talked to her Mom after her father died, our nephew called to talk to us about the funeral — assuming that we were on board with a church funeral. He quickly learned that, no, we aren’t fine with group gatherings, we are not fine with public visitation, and we are not fine with masks not being required. We told him that we informed Mom months ago, that due to our own serious health problems, we would not attend any group gatherings — including funerals. At the time, speaking of her own funeral, she haughtily replied, “I don’t care, I’ll be dead.” Months later, and now the proverbial shit has hit the fan.

We made it clear that we wouldn’t be attending the funeral, visitation, or meal; that we would attend the outside graveside service as long as it was family-only. Our nephew passed this on to Mom, and when Polly called her, she refused to talk to Polly about the funeral plans. The next afternoon, Polly’s mom called to let her know what the plans were. Since then, some of my sons who take seriously the virus and hadn’t planned on attending the funeral were guilted into being pallbearers. I understand this, I really do. They love their grandparents dearly, so it is hard to say no. Polly and I, however, love life more than we do her parents. I apologize if that seems callous and blunt, but we are not willing to sacrifice our future with our children and grandchildren for a church funeral.

Our relationship with Polly’s parents has been hanging by a thread for years. We walked away from Christianity twelve years ago. Since then, Polly’s parents have had not one meaningful conversation with us about why we left the ministry and later left Christianity. All we get from them are thoughts and prayers. Everyone, of course, at their church knows that we are unbelievers. Mom told Polly that “people” were praying for us. Well, you know what THAT means. IFB funerals are never about the deceased. It’s all about Jesus and evangelizing the heathens — the Gerencsers — who will be in attendance. I am sure Baptist Temple members, its pastor, and Fundamentalist family members think that maybe, just maybe, Polly and Bruce will gloriously come back to Jesus and the one truth faith. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this happened on the day of Polly’s father’s funeral? Way to go, Pastor Falls, uh, I mean Jesus. You reached those atheists for God! That ain’t going to happen, and even if we were so inclined, we wouldn’t recommit to Jesus at the Newark Baptist Temple.

On Memorial Day, 2005, Polly’s sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. Here is what I wrote about Kathy and her funeral:

It’s a sunny, spring day, Memorial Day weekend.

Utica, Ohio is having its annual ice cream festival. A woman and her husband decide to attend the festival. Hopping on their Harley, off they drive to Utica.

The traffic is busy, and the husband knows he had better be careful.

But off in the distance, a woman grows impatient with traffic. She’s in a hurry, wanting to get home. She makes a decision that will have catastrophic consequences a few seconds later. She quickly makes a u-turn, and much to her horror there is a motorcycle coming right at her.

It’s already too late. The husband does what he can to avoid the oncoming car, but his wife, the mother of his three children, is thrown from the Harley and her head hits the pavement.

And just like that, she’s dead.

Every dream, every hope, and every opportunity of tomorrow is now gone.

Being a Christian family, we turn to our God and ask why. We pray for strength and understanding. The heavens are silent, and they remain so even to this day.

In a moment of anguished religious passion, someone says, if one soul gets saved through this, it is worth it all.

No, it’s not. How dare we reduce the worth of a life, this one precious life, to that which God can use for his purpose. A husband has lost his wife and his children are motherless. Her grandchildren will never know the warmth of her love. Her sister and parents are left with memories that abruptly stopped the moment their sister and daughter hit the pavement.

No, I say to myself, I’m not willing to trade her life for anyone’s salvation. Let them all go to hell. Give us one more day when the joy and laughter of family can be heard and the family is whole. One more day to enjoy the love and complexity she brought into our life.

One more day.

Polly’s mom let her know that we shouldn’t expect her (and the Newark family) to ignore Dad’s love for Jesus, the church (though I could tell stories about his “love” for the Baptist Temple — but I won’t), the Bible, and witnessing. We would, of course, never expect her to do so. This is how she has translated our willingness to attend the funeral. It’s our atheism and agnosticism that’s the problem. I wonder who put that idea in her head?

I should the note that her pastor has been front and center in all of the funeral preparations. Mom, fearing that we would not respect her funeral wishes — again, where’s that shit coming from? — typed out exactly what she wanted funeral-wise for her funeral and Dad’s. She sent us a copy and filed a copy for safekeeping with her pastor. Read into that what you will.

Several years ago, when Mom and Dad started having serious medical and financial troubles, we gently suggested they move to rural northwest Ohio and let us care for them. We thought this would also give them a better opportunity to know our grown children and grandchildren. Our offer was rebuffed, just as it was in 2005 when we told Mom and Dad we would stay in Newark if they asked us to, putting aside the fact that all of our children and grandchildren lived hours away. Mom and Dad pridefully said no, telling us to do what we wanted. Fine — weeks later we returned to northwest Ohio, bought a home, and have spent the past fifteen years enjoying the lives of our six children and thirteen grandchildren — and preparing to die.

During Polly’s discussion with her mom about moving here, Mom told her in no uncertain terms that her church mattered to her more than her only living daughter. These words crushed Polly, unlike anything in our forty-two years of marriage. To Mom (and Dad) Jesus and the Baptist Temple were what really mattered to them. They had their “saved” family near them, and got to see them see them every Sunday. Those Gerencsers are atheists, agnostics, Catholics, and the like — nothing like the saved, sanctified sister, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in Newark. My God, the Gerencsers curse, drink beer, wear pants, attend public schools, and watch mature-rated TV. Worse yet, several of those Gerencser boys have been divorced. That’s what happens when you leave the one true faith.

It is evident, at least to Polly and me, that Mom and Dad — mainly Mom, Dad said very little — treated our family very different from that of their IFB/Evangelical family. We came to accept that this is just how it is. I know that Mom never wanted me to marry Polly, that she blames me for every bad thing that has happened in our lives. I have helped Mom and Dad numerous times over the years — personal matters I am not comfortable sharing. And when things didn’t turn out as expected? I was blamed.

You would think that things would have gotten better after Polly defied her Mom and married me anyway; that the good life we have made over the past forty-two years would merit a bit of praise or recognition that we have done well. Instead, I am the man who ruined Polly’s life. This was made crystal clear, yet again, when Polly was talking to her Mom about WHY we couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t attend ANY group gatherings, including the funeral. Mom replied, “well, if Bruce didn’t come to the funeral, you could come, right?” Polly retorted, “absolutely not.”

The running belief in Polly’s patriarchal IFB family is that she is a lemming, a follower; that I am the head of the home and she only does what I tell her to do; that she doesn’t think for herself; that she doesn’t make her own decisions. That “may” have been true thirty or so years ago, back in the days when I was an Evangelical preacher, but those days are long gone.

Yes, I am an outspoken, strong-willed, passionate man, but these character traits should not be translated into me dominating and controlling Polly’s life. These days, our marriage is quite egalitarian — look the word up Fundamentalist family members who are reading this post. Sure, we still have somewhat of a “traditional” marriage –whatever the Hell that means. We are children of the 1950s. However, Polly is her own person. After we left Christianity, Polly went back to college and got a degree. She has been a supervisor at work for years. She is, in every way, a modern woman who still dotes on her husband and children. She’s quiet and unassuming, but don’t think for a moment that she doesn’t have her own opinions. I didn’t force her to leave Christianity, she left of her own accord. In fact, Polly is more hostile towards Evangelical Christianity than I am. Learning about how she viewed our years in the ministry and her role as the pastor’s wife, has been a real eyeopener for me. Her perspective is very different from that of a man who was beloved by congregants and the center of attention.

Fifteen years ago, Polly had a frank discussion with her mom — one of few such discussions. There had been a huge blow-up at our home on Thanksgiving Day. Afterward, Mom called and told me that I needed “help,” that they always knew I was “different,” and that they always “accepted” me. Polly told her mom, “don’t force me to choose between you and Bruce. If you do, I will choose Bruce. I will always choose Bruce.” This blow-up greatly improved our relationship with Mom and Dad. Mom realized she had crossed a line that she better never cross again. Sadly, Dad’s death has reopened ugly wounds, and pushed our relationship up to that invisible line once again. It would be so easy to walk away. We won’t, of course, because we deeply love Polly’s mom.

I told my son that the hold the Newark Baptist Temple has over Polly and I will soon be broken. One death down, and one to go. We will, of course, honor Polly’s Mom’s last wishes, settle the estate if Polly is still the executor by then, and then wash our hands of Baptist Temple. It will be a glorious day when we no longer have to concern ourselves with the Baptist Temple. While, in different times, I would love to share my feelings about my father-in-law at the funeral, I suspect my words are unwanted. You see, I actually knew the man. We worked together, both at the church we started and doing construction projects. Man, do I have a lot of funny stories to tell, stories that would horrify our Fundamentalist family. Dad and I had open, frank discussions about life, about marriage, about his days on the railroad, his tenure as assistant pastor at the Baptist Temple. I shall not tell these stories. They are not mine to tell. These stories go to the grave with Cecil “Lee” Shope, a man I dearly loved and will miss the remaining days of my life.

Dad’s Obituary:

A funeral service for Rev. Cecil “Lee” Shope, 84, of Newark, will be held at 10:00 a.m. Saturday at Newark Baptist Temple, with Pastor Mark Falls officiating.  Burial will follow at Wilson Cemetery.  Family will receive friends from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the church, 81 Licking View Dr., Heath, Ohio 43056.

Lee passed away November 8, 2020, at Licking Memorial Hospital.  He was born September 21, 1936, in Sebewaing, MI, to the late George Washington and Luisa (DeLawder) Shope.  

Lee was an Army National Guard veteran, and a member of Newark Baptist Temple.  He loved his family, enjoyed reading the Bible, crossword puzzles, woodworking, sharing the gospel, nursing home ministry, and pastored Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Bonnie Elenora (Robinson) Shope, whom he married on September 1, 1957; daughter, Pauline (Bruce) Gerencser of Ney, OH; son-in-law, James Hughes of St. Louisville; sister, Dorothy Heider; grandchildren, Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah, Cyle, Christopher, and Adam; and 22 great-grandchildren.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his daughter, Katherine Hughes, and brothers, Earl, Elmer, and Frank, and sister Bertha Dorsch. 

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

The Day My Wife was Sued for $2.6 Million

newark baptist temple heath ohio

My wife taught one year of third grade at Licking County Christian Academy in Newark, Ohio — 1980-1981. The unaccredited school was operated by the Newark Baptist Temple — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregation pastored by Polly’s uncle, the late James (Jim) Dennis. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.)

As Polly will admit, she was grossly unprepared and unqualified to teach school, but LCCA needed a teacher and we needed the money, so Polly dutifully tried to manage a class of third graders.

After Polly left LCCA, we helped her father start an IFB church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. In the spring of 1983, Polly learned that a student of hers, Eddie Linders was alleging that he had suffered serious physical injuries after being beaten up by fellow student, Stan Toomey. Linders’ parents sued LCCA, the Baptist Temple, Toomey’s parents, and Polly — as the boys’ teacher.

The 1983 lawsuit was dismissed. I was unable to find any news report on the original suit. The lawsuit was refiled in 1985.

The Newark Advocate reported on April 5, 1985 (behind paywall):

Lawsuit seeks $2.6 Million in Damages

A former Licking Countian has filed a $2.6 million suit in Common Pleas Court, seeking damages from the family of a boy she claims beat her son several times during April and May of 1981. Patricia Nelson, of Brooksville. Fla., filed suit Thursday on behalf of her 14-year-old son, Edwin. Ms. Nelson alleges Stan Toomey of Alexandria beat her son up while they were both students of the Licking County Christian Academy, run by the Newark Baptist Temple. She filed an earlier version of the suit in 1983, but it was dismissed March 15 of this year. Ms. Nelson seeks $1.6 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive, damages from the Toomey youth and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Toomey, of 4472 Lobdell Road, Alexandria, and Polly Gerencser, of the Emanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake. Ms. Gerencser was a teacher at the school at the time of the alleged incidents and should have controlled Toomey’s behavior, Ms. Nelson said. She also seeks to hold his parents responsible While Thursday’s suit does not enumerate Linders’ injuries, the first claim said he suffered from dislocation of the vertebra, swollen legs, bruises and head injuries. Ms. Nelson seeks a jury trial.

This suit was also tossed out of court. According to Polly, she wasn’t even in the classroom when the alleged assaults occurred, and best she can remember, all the Toomey boy had was a bloody nose. Besides being sued for $2.6 million, what was most irritating about this lawsuit was the fact that Pastor Dennis — remember, he’s Polly’s uncle — didn’t bother to tell us about the suit. We read about it in the newspaper. Needless to say, we weren’t happy.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser