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Questions: Bruce, Do You Still Feel a “Tribal” Pull When Coming in Contact with People Different From You?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Kel asked:

As part of a minority group in my home country, I feel that religion, in this case Christianity, provides me with a sense of belonging. It helps since a lot of people of my own ethnicity are Christians, too.

Even after I started questioning my Evangelical faith – though I won’t consider myself an atheist – I can still feel a surge of (“Christian”) zeal when confronted with Evangelicals’ “tribal enemies” or unfamiliar situations (people with different religions, etc.). Strangely, I am never bothered by online atheists though . Probably because they never threaten me with their version of Hell.

My question is: as a humanist, do you still experience this “tribal pull” when you see unfamiliar people with different customs or religions? Especially if they seem threatening.

Kel asks an interesting (and difficult) question: “as a humanist, do you still experience this ‘tribal pull’ when you see unfamiliar people with different customs or religions? Especially if they seem threatening.”

The short answer is no. Now let me explain. I grew up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) home. I was saved, baptized, and called to preach at an IFB church in Findlay, Ohio. I attended an IFB college, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and spent twenty-five years of my life pastoring IFB/Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.

If the IFB church movement is anything, it is anti-culture, separatist, and White — very, very White. The communities I lived in and churches I pastored were very, very White too. And Christian. It was assumed by one and all that everyone was Christian, even if, as an IFB preacher, I tried to evangelize my neighbors for being the wrong type of Christian.

What I have described above is typical for the rural Midwest (even though Ohio is technically in the East). While I have lived in large racially diverse communities — San Diego, Tucson, San Antonio, Yuma, and Pontiac — the bulk of my life has been spent among people who look just like me. My Fundamentalist religious beliefs, then, fit well with my cultural identity.

Thirteen years ago, I walked away from Christianity, and in doing so, I abandoned my cultural identity. However, long before my deconversion, my politics began to change. I went from being a flag-waving, right-wing Christian nationalist to a Democratic socialist. I left the Republican Party in 2000, and even though I am still a registered Democrat (due to our broken two-party system), I am far too liberal and pacifistic for most Democrats. I voted for Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020, not because I liked the candidates, but because I considered Donald Trump an existential threat to our Country. He still is.

I am an atheist, humanist, socialist, and pacifist in a part of the country where people who believe as I do are as rare as an ivory-billed woodpecker. Thus, I remain a separatist, at odds with most of the people around me. My neighbors, for the most part, have never been my tribe. Thanks to the Trumpism that has infected rural Ohio, it is my neighbors I fear, not “outsiders” — as if anyone “different” would willingly move to the White land of God, Guns, and the GOP. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for the fact that our six children and thirteen grandchildren live twenty minutes or less from us, Polly and I wouldn’t live here. We have few friends and often feel like we are black swans in a bank of white swans. We just don’t fit. Yet, we enjoy the slow pace of country life. We feel “safe” — that is until the Trumpists and militias take up arms against the government and seek to harm those who believe differently from them. Thanks to me being a public figure who is well-known locally, we won’t be hard to find when extremists come looking for commies, socialists, and atheists.

As I ponder Kel’s question, I can only think of one instance where I felt a “tribal” pull when coming in contact with someone “different.” Shortly after 9-11, Polly and I went grocery shopping at Meijer in Defiance. I was pastoring a small Evangelical church in West Unity, at the time. As we turned the corner to walk down the next grocery aisle, we suddenly and frightfully stopped. Not far from us was a young Muslim couple (they could have been Indian). She was wearing a face covering, and he was wearing a turban. I thought, “Are these people terrorists? Are they suicide bombers”?

As a humanist, I accept that I will always be considered an outsider. I am the “different” person in Kel’s question. Perhaps I need to ask local right-wing Christians what they think and feel when they come in contact with me.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

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

Let’s Play Smear the Queer

smear the queer

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

Several years ago, I attended a high school football game in which the fans on both sides of the field stood with hands over hearts as the band played our post-9/11 national anthem — God Bless America. This largely Evangelical, conservative, Republican crowd views religion and patriotism as one and the same. In their minds, the United States is a uniquely chosen and blessed nation, a people whose God is the deity found within the pages of the Bible. I doubt that any of these uber-patriotic Christians thought, as they stood to praise Jesus, that what they were doing turned faith into a political football to be tossed to and fro, according to the whims of our political elites. From their perspective, the United States has always been God’s Country®. Other religions are grudgingly permitted, and even atheists are allowed the freedom to live as they please, but no one should ever doubt that there is one true God, and J-E-S-U-S is his name.

Once the crowd was finished masturbating to the American flag and our country’s phallic “greatness,” they settled in to watch two-plus hours of rock-em-sock-em, mano-a-mano organized violence. Christianity quickly faded into the distance as each side cheered their team, calling on them to pummel their opponent into submission. Players were encouraged to hit hard, incapacitating their enemy. So much was on the line: future tales of gridiron glory and a conference championship awaited the team with the most points at the end of the game. As the game wore on, one team got the upper hand and handily beat their rival into the ground. From both sides of the field, the people who just an hour or so ago were singing praises to their God were now screaming and cursing at the officials. One offended fan even went so far as to attack one of the officials because he was fat, leading my son to say, what does the official’s weight have to do with the call he made?

After the game, as I walked to my car, a man and his son passed by me. As they did, the father asked the son what he had been doing during the game (many children “attend” football games, but don’t actually watch the event). The boy replied we were playing smear the queer. I thought, oh my God, here we are in the 21st century, and a boyhood game is STILL called, with nary a thought, smear the QUEER. The boy’s father said nothing, giving tacit approval to his son’s disparaging use of the word “queer.” I suspect the boy has never bothered to consider that using the word QUEER (or any other pejorative word for LGBTQ people) might be offensive. But the father knew better, and yet he said nothing. (and I know some LGBTQ people call themselves queers. That doesn’t mean non-LGBTQ people should use the word in a pejorative way.)

I am not surprised by the things I observed. After all, I live in rural northwest Ohio, a land primarily inhabited by heterosexual white Republican Christians; a land that gives white preference its color; a monoculture proud of its ignorance and simplistic view of the world. While I thoroughly enjoy watching (and photographing) high school sporting events, I find the cultural trappings surrounding these contests to be disheartening. I know that most fellow locals have never ventured far from the farm fields, manufacturing facilities, and Christian churches of northwest Ohio. They are simply living out what they know, rarely, if ever, exposed to the complex, contradictory world that lies outside their borders. When those who live in a particular locality never come in contact with people different from them, and when the few who are different are dismissed and marginalized, it is no surprise that the locals think and behave the way they do. In their world, smearing a queer is just another childhood game; a game, however, that says much about place where it is played.

It goes without saying that not every local is as described above. I am deliberately painting with a broad brush. Over the past fifteen years, I have met a few liberal-minded locals who value pluralism and multiculturalism; people who know something about life beyond the flatlands and cornfields of rural northwest Ohio. Personally, I love the place I call home, even if I am not loved back. I appreciate the slowness of small-town life. I love living in a town where I never have to worry about being burglarized or murdered, and if I leave my car unlocked it will still be in the drive come morning. I don’t want readers to think that I hate where I live. I don’t. This is my home. My children and grandchildren live here, and it is for them I continue to confront local bigotry, racism, and religious extremism. I want them to have a better tomorrow.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

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

Rural Northwest Ohio: Living in TrumpLand

Scores of Trump signs and flags permeate the landscape of rural northwest Ohio — almost six months after Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden. Nearly seven out of ten local voters voted for Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections. President Biden is hated despite handing out thousands of stimulus dollars to local families and millions of welfare dollars to farmers. In the minds of most locals, socialists, commies, atheists, “illegals,” AOC, the Squad, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer are pawns of Satan, evil people who must be repelled at all costs.

Ten or so miles north of where we live, a Trump worshiper planted the following signs on Highway 15:

trump supporter rural northwest ohio (1)
trump supporter rural northwest ohio (2)
trump supporter rural northwest ohio (4)
trump supporter rural northwest ohio (3)
bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

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

Bruce, Do You See Young People Leaving Christianity in Rural Northwest Ohio?

i have a question

I recently asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question you would like me to answer, please leave your question on the page, Your Questions, Please.

ObstacleChick asked:

Where you live in evangelical conservative land, are you seeing younger people leaving religion as polls seem to indicate in the US?

I live in rural northwest Ohio. While I have lived in Michigan, California, Arizona, and Texas over the years, rural Ohio is my home. I understand country thinking, chafe when city-slickers call us ignorant hillbillies, and generally appreciate the cultural values of country life. That said, as I have moved leftward politically and embraced atheism, I have increasingly found the God-Guns-Republican ethos of rural folks to be stifling and frustrating.

Older locals, with a few exceptions, view me as a curiosity — someone they can’t figure out. I have been told on more than a few occasions, “Bruce, how can you be so smart, yet so dumb?” Those who were congregants of mine or know my Evangelical background are shocked that someone of my education, experience, and faith could ever turn his back on Jesus and start worshiping Satan — “Satan” being a catchall for atheism, liberalism, progressivism, communism, socialism, and other -ism’s their pastors have deemed anti-God.

Over the years, I have been repeatedly eviscerated by local Evangelicals and conservative Catholics in letters to the editors of the Bryan Times and the Defiance Crescent-News. Some of these Jesus-lovers have turned to lies and distortions to “prove” that I am Satan incarnate or a communist infiltrator. One man said that I was lying about my ministerial past, and that he had reported me to the state of Ohio for illegally performing weddings (which he did not actually do).

One day, I received an email from this man’s nephew. He informed me that he considered his uncle a blooming idiot. This 20-something man told me that he didn’t attend church; that he was an atheist. Over the years, I have received numerous emails and social media comments from younger locals. With the exception of one woman — a local pastor’s daughter — these young people voiced their discontent over the right-wing/conservative nature of rural northwest Ohio. Many of them no longer attended church or still went to services on Sundays because they had to.

Based on these anecdotes, I have concluded that local young people are increasingly disaffected from the religious beliefs and politics of their parents and grandparents — especially those who had opportunities to move away,go to college, and experience the world outside of homogeneous rural northwest Ohio.. I see this same disaffection with most of my children. Regrettably, one of my sons has become a gun-toting, Trump-supporting, white supremacist — who is now flying a militia flag and the Christian flag from his front porch. Except for him, my children have liberal/progressive values. Not all of them are atheists, but none of them, except for our white supremacist son, attends Evangelical churches. I suspect all of them will vote for Biden on election day. Even Bethany — our daughter with Down syndrome — if she could vote, she’d vote for Biden. The other day a Trump ad came on TV. Bethany booed and said, FUCK TRUMP! She is certainly a product of her environment.

Generally, local churches are losing younger congregants, especially when they go off to college. Churches are dying on the vine, though local Christians would try to argue that this is untrue. “Look at Xperience Church in Defiance,” they would say. “Xperience is growing by leaps and bounds! See, Jesus is alive and well.” However, as someone who has studied Evangelical church growth since the 1970s, I know that just because a few new Evangelical clubs are growing doesn’t mean the rest of the clubs are okay. In fact, where do churches such as Xperience get most of their new members? Transfer growth — Christians moving from one church to another. (Please see The Fine Art of Church Hopping.) Xperience Church has pillaged other congregations to fuel their explosive growth, Interestingly, some of the churches that have suffered the greatest loss from Xperience stealing members are those who did the very same thing to mainline churches in the 1970s and 1980s. You see, it is immoral capitalism that drives Evangelical church growth. Xperience Church just so happens to be the newest hamburger joint in town. Everyone loves visiting a new restaurant — especially here in rural northwest Ohio where Applebee’s and Chipolte are considered upscale fine dining. (Please see Dear Evangelical, Just Because You Quote the Bible Doesn’t Make Your Comment True, “We Accept Anyone No Matter What,” Local Evangelical Says.)

Looks, then, are deceiving. Yes, some local Evangelical churches are growing. However, the question remains, WHY are these churches growing? Where are there new members coming from? Since virtually everyone in rural northwest Ohio is a Christian, this growth can’t be driven by conversions. What’s driving this growth is people deciding they prefer Wendy’s over McDonald’s. The good news is the fact that many young people have decided they don’t like any of the offerings from local hamburger joints, choosing instead to cook at home, become vegans, or seek out rational, progressive restaurants. When you have had a Five Guys or Red Robin hamburger or eaten at a gastropub in Fort Wayne or Toledo, it’s hard to return to cheap, unsatisfying hamburgers sold on every corner in rural Ohio.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

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

I Love Black People, Said the Local White Man

i'm not racist

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

Several years ago, I followed a discussion among rural northwest Ohio white people about racism. The discussion was quite entertaining. None of them admitted to being racist, and many of them felt that, whatever racism there may have been in the past, it no longer exists (or it is just the product of a few racist outliers).

One man, wanting to show how proud he was not to be a racist, informed everyone that he lived near some black people and they had a really nice house and yard!

As I said, there is no racism around here.

And there’s not, if you think racism=KKK (though the recent rise of local white supremacists groups is starting to change my thinking on this).

What we do have is a latent, subtle racism that shows up in comments like the one I just mentioned. He was surprised that the blacks who lived near him had a nice house and yard. Why? Are blacks somehow predisposed to having trashy houses and yards?

Using this kind of logic, I could make the same statement about white people. Near my ex-daughter-in-law’s home in Defiance, there are four or so homes that WHITE people have thoroughly trashed. All of the houses are rentals, owned by white slum lords who rent to people who don’t care about where they live.

So, what’s up with these white people?

Or, we can stop thinking like this, and realize that some “red, brown, yellow, black, and white, they are precious in his sight” people are pigs (shameless use of Jesus Loves the Little Children). Some landlords are slum lords who don’t care about their communities. Their only objective is to maximize their profits and hope the house burns down in a few years.

I know a good bit about poverty, When I lived with my mom in the 1970s, we were on food stamps and AFDC. I know the shame that comes from using food stamps at the local grocery, or having to get welfare eyeglasses. But, despite the poverty, my Mom kept a clean home — too cluttered for her son with OCPD, but clean, nonetheless. We took care of what little stuff we owned.

These life lessons my Mom taught me, Polly and I taught to our children:

  • There is no shame in being poor
  • Work hard
  • Take care of what you own
  • Keep your bedroom/car/house/yard clean

Just because you are poor doesn’t mean you have to make your surroundings look like the county landfill. Taking care of what’s yours and showing respect for the property of others are issues of character, not of race.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

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

Bruce Gerencser