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The Pastor as Gatekeeper and Why Evangelical Churches Continue to be Rocked with Scandals

gatekeeper

As the Black Collar Crime series makes clear, Evangelical churches have just as big of a problem with sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault, and sexual misconduct as Catholic churches do. Thanks to the internet and increasing awareness of sexual abuse, people are now more willing to speak out, and if warranted, report their assaults to law enforcement. Some victims are turning to civil courts to extract justice from their abusers and those who facilitated a climate where sexual predators could prey with impunity. Churches and their leaders are learning that it is quite expensive to ignore or cover up allegations of sexual impropriety.

I am convinced that we have yet to see the full depth and breadth of criminal conduct that has gone on behind the closed doors of countless Evangelical churches. As I think about the fifty years I spent in the Christian church, including twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan, I am increasingly grieved over how little churches and pastors did to address allegations of sexual misconduct. Victims were routinely disbelieved or accused of lying. Why Deacon Bob would never do such a thing, Sally. Why are you lying? Sometimes, victims were believed but told to forgive their abusers. Jesus forgave you, Sally. Shouldn’t you forgive Pastor Billy Bob? Other times, predators were run out of the church, and told never to come back. He’s gone now, Sally. It is time to move on. That is what Jesus would want you to do. What rarely, if ever, happened was the arrest and prosecution of offending pastors, youth pastors, evangelists, missionaries, deacons, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, and congregants.

I can only remember one instance where a predator was accused, arrested, and convicted of his crime, and this only happened after he was caught a second time sexually assaulting a teen boy. Even then, after “justice” was served, he joined up with a new Evangelical church and is “faithfully” serving Jesus. As a pastor, I regularly attended pastor’s conferences and meetings. It was not uncommon to hear whispers and stories about this or that pastor being accused of sexual misconduct. I would hear stories about pastor so-and-so abruptly leaving his church, only to find out later that he was caught at a motel with a church teenager or was fucking the choir director’s wife. One pastor was having sex with his secretary in his church office every Saturday while devoted members were out knocking on doors, inviting people to come to church and hear their “godly” on-fire pastor preach.  He was run out of the church, but later surfaced, as Jack Hyles’ son David did, in another community busily “serving” Jesus.

Years ago, a concerned congregant told me that an unmarried man who had been attending our church was inviting young boys to spend the weekend with him on his farm. I investigated the issue and concluded that the man was probably a pedophile. What did I do? I ran the guy out of the church. I angrily told him that I knew exactly what he was. I also called the pastor of another Evangelical church the man attended and told him about the allegations. He agreed that the man, who is now dead, was likely a pedophile. Both of us thought we had done our duty by protecting church children from a predator. However, neither of us reported it to law enforcement, knowing that doing so would embroil our churches in controversy and harm the reputation and “testimony” of our respective churches. I now know that I did not do all I could have and should have done.

There were other instances of allegations of sexual misconduct or physical abuse, where I reported matters to the appropriate authorities. Later in my ministerial career, a man confessed to me that he had viciously murdered his girlfriend. I immediately called the police, who I knew were looking for him, and he was arrested. The man is now serving a life sentence in an Ohio penitentiary. Early in my ministerial career, my father-in-law, with whom I worked as assistant pastor, came to me and told me that a congregant had confessed to shaking his infant baby to death. At the time, the cause of death had been attributed to SIDS. I told my father-in-law that he should immediately report the crime to the police. He did, and the man was arrested and convicted of manslaughter.

Over my ministerial career, I became aware of child abuse on several occasions. One church member beat his children with a 2×4. One man who rode our church bus with his children, chained them to a radiator when they disobeyed. Another bus family allowed their young children to watch porn in the mornings while they slept in. I could go on and on . . . . Often, I reported these things to law enforcement or Jobs and Family Services (JFS) Other times, I tried to work my pastor magic. In retrospect, I should have reported every abuse report to the proper authorities.

child sexual abuseThe common thread running through the anecdotal stories above and current allegations/crimes is that often pastors serve as gatekeepers for their respective churches. Congregants are encouraged to bring ALL reports of sexual misconduct or other criminal behavior to their pastor. It is up to the pastor, then, to decide whether the authorities should be called. Keep in mind, pastors are not lawyers, nor do they have investigatory authority and skills as law enforcement professionals do. Unfortunately, pastors are often treated as a jack-of-all-trades. Most Evangelical pastors are not qualified to provide competent, professional counseling to congregants, yet, countless congregants are counseled by pastors who know little more than to quote Bible verses. Pastors are often considered vast repositories of wisdom and advice. Few congregants ponder whether their trust is misplaced. When pastors hear of accusations that could tear their church asunder, their natural inclination is to protect their churches’ reputations, thinking that in doing so they are protecting God.

Pastors wrongly think that they and their churches are indispensable parts of their local communities. Why, if scandal rocked the church, it would ruin our “testimony,” pastors think. There are souls to be saved and chicken dinners to be served. And just like that, pastors rationalize keeping wraps on all sorts of sexual misconduct, including the sexual and physical abuse of children. Where, oh where, are pastors who are willing to sacrifice everything to stand alongside victims of abuse? Is it not better for a church to close its doors than for it to silently stand silently by while sexual crime goes unpunished? No pastor, deacon, Sunday school teacher, or congregant should be above the law. Yes, making allegations public can and will cause harm to churches and the families of abusers. But, the only way to stamp out sexual abuse in churches is for people in the know to be willing to report allegations to law enforcement and child protective services.

It is time for churches to take the gate keys away from pastors and other church leaders. It is time for congregants to be instructed to take their allegations to law enforcement and let them determine whether crimes have been committed. The duties of pastors are simple: preach, teach, and eat chicken and pie at potlucks. When pastors hear whispers of sexual misconduct that could be criminal in nature, they should not pass Go, nor should they collect $200. These men of God should IMMEDIATELY pick up the phone and call law enforcement (and if a police officer attends the church, he should NOT be the person to whom the alleged crimes are reported). Pastors shouldn’t investigate, call a board meeting, accuse the perpetrator, or pray about it. All of these things can wait until law enforcement has been contacted. The only people who matter are the victims. Yes, an allegation doesn’t equal guilt, but it not up to pastors and other church leaders to determine guilt; that’s for police and prosecutors to do.

Local prosecutors can help prod pastors and churches along by prosecuting them if they fail to report alleged sexual abuse. Many states consider pastors and church leaders mandatory reporters, who are REQUIRED to immediately report sexual abuse allegations; not investigate and then report, not pray and then report, not get your ducks in a row and then report; not huddle with the church board and then report. Throwing a few pastors in jail for not reporting might help other pastors “see the light” concerning sexual abuse.

The days of covering up allegations of sexual abuse are over. Pastors and churches who ignore this, do so at their own peril. From jail time to million-dollar awards, pastors and churches are learning that not only did Jesus take a dim view of those who harm children, so do those of us who believe that children deserve protection from those who dare to prey on them in the name of God.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

What Do Sexual Predators Look Like?

bob gray jacksonville florida preaching against elvis
IFB Pastor Bob Gray preaching against Elvis, 1956. Gray would later be accused of sexual misconduct. Gray was a serial pedophile.

Evangelicals tend to be submissive and trusting of their pastors, believing these men are specially chosen by God to teach them the Bible and lead them in paths of righteousness. Roman Catholics treat their priests similarly. When these pillars of moral virtue behave in ways not expected, Christians have a hard time believing that Pastor or Father __________ would ever sexually abuse children, take sexual advantage of teenagers, or manipulate congregants for sexual gratification. They just KNOW that their trusted leaders would never do such things, and even after these men of God are convicted and sentenced to prison, some Christians continue to believe that their pastors/priests are innocent.

Part of the problem is that pastors and priests don’t resemble what many people expect sexual predators to look like. The late Bob Gray pastored Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida for thirty-eight years. He was, by all accounts, a wonderful example of a Christian man who devotedly and resolutely followed after Jesus. Yet, when Gray died, he was scheduled to be tried on charges of sexually abusing twenty-two children. All told, Gray was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor for fifty years. His predatory ways can be traced all the way back to his days as a student preacher. Gray was, from the get-go, a rotten apple; yet, for many years, he was a revered man of God who pastored one of the largest church in the country. He didn’t “look” like a predator, and neither do most of the men who prey on naive, innocent, defenseless children, teens, and adults.

There are thousands of Bob Grays pastoring churches — from Catholic parishes to IFB congregations. Sometimes these predators spend their lives in one church, grooming entire generations to accept their predatory ways as normal. Other men move from church to church, ever on the prowl for new victims. Those who blindly trust their pastors risk being taken advantage of. Yes, most pastors are decent, thoughtful human beings, but enough of them are abusers that only the naïve among God’s people would blindly trust these men with their children and teenagers. Numerous times a week, Evangelical preachers, mainline pastors, and Catholic priests are arrested and charged with sex crimes. And so are deacons, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, youth ministers, Christian school teachers, and church volunteers. Churches are magnets for predators. These perverts know that Christians tend to be trusting of others — ignorantly believing claims of salvation and transformation. Even people who were convicted of sex crimes before they were “born again” are often trusted to be on their best behavior. After all, Jesus forgave them of their sins, shouldn’t Christians do the same? Evangelicals, in particular, love stories about “God” giving people second chances. Years ago, a pastor whom I know well told me that his church didn’t do background checks on workers because their past, no matter how heinous, was “under the blood.” In his mind, the precious blood of Jesus was some sort of magic potion that cured pedophiles and sexual predators.

blood of jesus

Several years ago, the Toledo Blade ran an editorial that asked the question, What do Predators Looks Like? Here’s what the article had to say (behind paywall):

A third Toledo pastor now stands accused as part of a sex-trafficking ring that abused teenage girls. And while the idea of clergy members colluding to exploit vulnerable girls shocks the community, it is worth remembering that human traffickers rarely look like villains out of central casting.

Federal prosecutors have alleged that the Rev. Kenneth Butler, 37, the self-proclaimed prophet affiliated with Kingdom Encounter Family Worship Center, is part of the same human-trafficking conspiracy that allegedly involved the Revs. Cordell Jenkins and Anthony Haynes. Those men were arrested in April and are behind bars awaiting trial on sex trafficking and child pornography charges.

To the community, these men appear to be honorable, religious leaders. Authorities say that appearance is a façade.

Experts say that sexual predators who target children will often seek trusted positions in the community that will allow them access to young people and give parents a false sense of security. They seek jobs as coaches or teachers, clergy or youth leaders.

Evil-doers in the movies often look evil. Evil-doers in real life often work hard to look harmless. They look ordinary. They look trustworthy. They do not look as if they were cast to play the part of a villain.

In recent years, society’s understanding of human trafficking has drastically changed to reflect the scope and prevalence of the problem. This is largely thanks to the work of pioneering researchers, one of the most prominent of whom is Celia Williamson of the University of Toledo.

The nation is only beginning to come to grips with the nature and extent of human trafficking. And it is another Ohioan who has been the leader on this issue in Congress — Rob Portman.

But none of this changes the depth of the damage trafficking can do to one life or one family. And the trafficker may be hidden in plain, respectable, sight.

The pastors referenced in this editorial are three respected Toledo pastors.

Since March 2017, I have published over 900 stories detailing clerical criminal — most often sexual — misconduct.  The total number of criminal preachers is much higher, of course, since some arrests don’t make the news and many predators aren’t caught. Some critics, thinking I have an ax to grind, say that the only reason I highlight these stories is that I hate God/Jesus/Christianity and I want to embarrass the Church. Emails from such people are laden with Bible verses or personal attacks, both meant to silence me. What I find interesting is that these people rarely mention the victims, and when they do, they often attack them, suggesting that the sex was consensual or, as in the case of convicted felon Pastor Jack Schaap, the teenage victim was the one who seduced the adult offender. I suspect people attack me because to do otherwise would expose their culpability in allowing sexual predators to prey on church congregants in plain sight.

People of authority, be they pastors, doctors, lawyers, counselors, or teachers, are often privy to intimate details about the lives of those they serve. This access to the darkest, deepest, most vulnerable parts of our lives makes us easy targets for “servant” predators. In the 1960s, my Evangelical grandfather suggested that my mother see a Christian therapist in Lima, Ohio. According to my grandfather, this psychiatrist was a committed follower of Jesus; a man who would deliver my mom from her psychological demons. Why Mom trusted her father I will never know. After all, when she was a child, he repeatedly sexually molested her. But, trust him she did, and this doctor proceeded to get Mom hooked on powerful narcotic/psychotropic drugs. This Evangelical servant of the Lord, once his female patients were addicted, demanded they provide him sexual favors in trade for the drugs. My mom complied with his demands. Is it any surprise, then, that my mom repeatedly tried to kill herself?

We will never totally put an end to sexual abuse. There will always be men (and, to a lesser degree, women) who sexually take advantage of others. When caught, these perverts should be punished, and anyone who enables their behavior should be punished too. Those whose lives were marred and ruined by sexual abuse deserve compassion and care — not blame and guilt. For churches, in particular, fundamental changes must be made to how pastors and church workers are vetted. As things now stand, Christian sects and churches are viewed as enablers and protectors of “men of God” who sexually abuse and take advantage of congregants. Church leaders whine and complain about being unfairly tarred with a broad brush, but the fact remains is that many sects/churches/pastors remain deliberately deaf, blind, and dumb when it comes to sexual abuse. Until the matter is taken seriously, church leaders might as well get used to being tarred. The damage caused by predator preachers is such that I simply don’t have the time to listen to or worry about hurting the feelings of “offended” church leaders. (Please read How Should Churches Handle Allegations of Abuse?) When my email inbox is filled with mail from abuse victims, it’s hard to give any attention to butt-hurt preachers who think their reputation and the “testimonies” of their churches are being hurt by sexual abuse allegations. All I have to say is this: do better.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The Americans: Who Knows What Goes On With the Good Pastor?

pastor tim
Paige and Pastor Tim

Scene from the FX television show, The Americans.

Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip (Matthew Rhys) are lying in bed talking about their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) secretly reading her pastor’s (Kelly AuCoin) diary.

Elizabeth: I told her it was crazy and dangerous and she could never do it again

Strange look on Phillip’s face

Elizabeth: What?  If there was something on him with a parishioner…

Phillip: Elizabeth…

Elizabeth: No, No, I know, but it’s interesting right?  Who knows what goes on with the good pastor.

Who knows, right? There is a myth perpetuated by churches and pastors alike that pastors are morally and ethically superior beings — men who rise above the fray; men untainted by the world; men given to prayer and studying the Bible; men who have the most important job in the world. Christians don’t come to this belief in a vacuüm. After all, this is how the Bible describes the qualifications of men who divinely called by God to be pastors/bishops/elders:

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)  Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (I Timothy 3)

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;  But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. (Titus 1)

The Apostle Paul, writing to two of his protegés, penned both of these passages of Scripture. Paul makes it clear in I Timothy that what he is writing is the standard all pastors must follow — they MUST be these things. Pastors often preach from both of the passages, detailing the high and lofty qualifications men such as themselves must meet in order to ever-so-humbly lead churches. Of course, no pastor, living or dead — the Apostle Paul, Timothy, and Titus included — has ever met these qualifications.

As a pastor, I struggled with these verses, knowing what they said, yet also knowing what kind of man I really was and what kind of men my colleagues in the ministry really were. How could I be a pastor, I thought, and not live according to the standards set forth by God? I had God, the Holy Spirit, living inside of me, and I had the inspired, inerrant, infallible King James Bible. Surely, with the Holy Spirit leading and teaching me and the words of the living God never far from my reach, I should have been able to live according to Paul’s (God’s) dictates in Titus and I Timothy. Try as I might, there was never a day in my ministerial career when I hit a home run. On many a day, I failed miserably in my quest to be what God demanded I be.

Not measuring up caused me quite a bit of angst and depression. I was able to assuage these thoughts by making sure that I spent time in prayer before entering the pulpit. This way, all my sins were forgiven, and I was, at that moment, the man of God Paul said I must be. This approach was what I now call the Baptist version of Catholic confession.

I am sure my admission here will cause some Christians to say, See! Bruce was never qualified to be a pastor. He never should have been preaching. However, these Pharisaical zealots fail to see that no pastor meets the standards set forth in the Bible. That they think some men do is the real problem.

Why do many Christians think their pastors are better than everyone else; that their pastors are pillars of virtue and morality? One reason is that far too many Christians are blind and naïve when it comes to pastors. They see what they want to see, needing to believe that they are being taught and led by men called of God — men who are bright and shining examples of what Christians should be. What these sincere followers of Jesus fail to see is that pastors, early in their ministries, learn that a certain lifestyle is expected of them. Pastors learn to conform to expectations — outwardly, at least.  Pastor Bruce and Sister Polly may have been having a shouting match on their way to church, but praise God, once they opened the doors of the church, they had on their Oh how I love Jesus smiles and were ready to serve the people gathered together to hear Wonderful Sermon #3,666.

Most pastors, of course, will never admit what I have written above. Their jobs depend on them playing The Game; on them being first place entrants in the dog and pony show. Years ago, towards the end of my career as a pastor, I said in a sermon that I understood what it meant to be lustful — that I as their pastor had lusted after women who were not my wife. This was an honest admission, one that every pastor could make if he but dared to do so. After the service, a church member came up to me and let me know that he found my admission depressing; that he came to church to be inspired, and that he expected his pastor to live a life of v-i-c-t-o-r-y. In other words, this person wanted me to fake it, pretending to be something I was not.

If the Black Collar Crime series has taught readers anything, it has taught them that pastors are no different from other Christians — and no different from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. The question, who knows what goes on with the good pastor? can be answered thusly: no one knows. Not his ministerial colleagues; not his parents; not his wife; not the deacon board; not denominational leaders. No one knows everything about him, not even the person he sleeps beside night after night.

I am not, in any way, saying pastors aren’t good people. Many of them are, but they are not what many Christians think they are. At best, they are fleshly men who have demanding, stressful jobs. At worst, they are lazy good-for-nothings who have found a way to loaf and get paid for it. Pastors can and do sin, the difference being that they are often skilled at hiding their sins. If congregants only knew what went on behind the closed doors of studies and manses, I suspect many would lose their faith. And it is for this reason pastors continue to play The Game. Christians need someone to look up to, someone who is a shining example of godliness. I am convinced that Christianity would be better served if pastors just admitted that they are humans; that they have no magical spiritual powers; that they aren’t special in any way. Can’t do that, though. Churches might get the idea that they no longer need professional clergy; that they and their communities might be better served with laymen who lived and worked locally and preached on Sundays. Why, what would pastors ever do if they had to be like the rest of us?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Here’s What I Know About Evangelical Pastors

preacher

I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Christian church, mainly in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Southern Baptist, Reformed Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist, Christian Union, and non-denominational Evangelical churches. I attended an IFB college in the 1970s, and pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan for twenty-five years. I have interacted with and been friends with scores of Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, youth pastors, and college professors over the years. Even now, I have dinner monthly with a United Church of Christ pastor and a former Lutheran pastor. If there’s one species of humans I know well, it’s pastors.

Many atheists, especially lifelong atheists, loathe and despise Evangelical preachers. They make no attempt to understand these men (and women), believing them to be the fruit of a poisonous tree. In their minds, preachers are evil men who promote ignorance and cause harm. While there is some truth to these criticisms, they lack nuance. Sadly, atheism is plagued by laziness. It’s easier just to wholesale mock, ridicule, criticize, and dismiss than understand preachers from a tribal, cultural, and sociological perspective.

Most preachers are raised in their parents’ sect, with its attendant beliefs and practices. I was raised in an IFB home, attended IFB churches, dated IFB girls, attended an IFB college, and married an IFB pastor’s daughter. Is it any surprise that I became an IFB pastor? At the age of five, I told my mother that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. Not a baseball player. Not a trash truck driver. A preacher. I never went through the angst people go through when trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. I looked at the various preachers in my life: Tim LaHaye, Gene Milioni, Bruce Turner, Jack Bennett and countless other preachers I heard speak at revivals, conferences, youth rallies, and other church events, and said to myself, “I want to be like you.”

When I look at my life, I see the influences of my parents (primarily my mom), the churches I attended, and my pastors. I grew up in an anti-cultural world where everything revolved around the church and the Bible. Thus, I was indoctrinated and conditioned to think and live a certain way. What troubles me, and at times, irritates the hell out of me, is when atheists don’t understand how and why men become Evangelical preachers. Instead of understanding and appreciating the various factors that lead to a person becoming a so-called man of God, many atheists assume that preachers entered the ministry for nefarious reasons. This simply is not the truth.

Certainly, some preachers are sociopaths, some are even psychopaths. Some preachers are in the ministry for the money. Others love the lack of accountability provided by being a pastor. The ministry is a great place to hide when you are indolent and lazy. No time clock, no boss but God, no real performance measures. Some preachers are sexual predators. The ministry affords them opportunities to prey on unsuspecting, naive people in plain sight.

That said, most Evangelical preachers are kind, decent, thoughtful people. They sincerely desire to help others, spiritually and socially. What many atheists can’t seem to get beyond is what these preachers represent; their beliefs; their political affiliations. All they see is the culture war, believing that all Evangelical preachers are “evil.” Such thinking is not helpful.

I am not suggesting we ignore the theological, social, economic, and political beliefs of preachers. Beliefs matter, affecting not only our own lives, but the lives of others. If our goal is to meaningfully effect change, then it behooves us to understand where people we disagree with are coming from. We need to walk in their shoes. I have spent most of my sixty-four years of life in rural Ohio. I am a small town, country bumpkin through and through. I understand country life. I find myself estranged to some degree from my people. I’m an atheist, a liberal, a socialist, an environmentalist, and a pacifist. Not many of me exist here in rural Ohio. I love the slowness, openness, and safety rural life provides, but I find myself sitting alone in the proverbial corner pub on Friday nights. I have met a few people who think as I do, but, for the most part, I am surrounded by right-wing pro-gun, pro-war, Christian Republicans; people who think the Bible should be read and prayers recited in public schools; people who are anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ; people who have little experience with the world outside of rural Ohio and who think Applebees and Bob Evans are fine dining. Despite this disconnect, these are still my people — my neighbors, friends, business owners, and workers at the stores and restaurants I frequent.

Whether it’s my fellow country folk or Evangelical preachers, I genuinely want to understand where they are coming from. Of course, I want the same from them. I distinguish between preachers who come to this site spewing hate and garden variety Evangelical pastors who busy themselves preaching the gospel and serving their congregations. I have no tolerance for the former. I am more than happy to gut them and leave them on the beach to rot in the sun. However, most Evangelical preachers are never going to go to an Evangelical-turned-atheist ex-pastor’s website and shit on their doorstep. These preachers are content to minister to their flocks. We atheists may have problems with their beliefs and practices (and we should publicly and forcefully challenge them), but we must not forget that they have the same wants, needs, and desires as we do. If our goal is a better tomorrow, would it not be better for us to meaningfully engage Evangelical preachers? Of course, this requires them to do the same. It’s unlikely that we will convince them to abandon Jesus, but, maybe, just maybe, we can promote understanding.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Do Pastors Receive Special Treatment?

fat preacher

Why do people become pastors? The reasons are many, some of which are laudable, others quite nefarious. Becoming a pastor of a church is a great way to hide in plain sight for psychopaths, adulterers, and abusers. Most churches are pastored by one person, usually a man. In some settings, a pastor may answer to his denomination, church board, or congregation, but often pastors are treated as self-employed workers who only answer to themselves. There’s no supervisor — except God, and he ain’t paying attention — no time clock to punch, or any of the other controls workers typically have. Lazy pastors with poor work ethics love the “work of the ministry.” Show up on Sundays and preach, marry the young, bury the old, visit the sick, and the rest of the week is yours. I knew more than a few pastors who spent more time hunting, playing video games, or working on personal projects than they did doing the work God allegedly called them to. The ministry was treated as a means to an end; a way to make money without much effort.

On the other hand, there are countless pastors who are committed to the churches they pastor. Believing they have been called by God to minister to the needs of their congregations, these pastors work hard, love people, and do what they can to make the lives of their people better. Atheists may disagree with them about God, Jesus, and the Bible, but it is unfair to judge all pastors by the lazy, indolent behavior of some. While I was far from perfect as a pastor, I genuinely loved the people I pastored, and selflessly gave myself to them day and night.

One thing is certain for pastors, regardless of their character, pastors are typically viewed as moral pillars in their communities. Community members think pastors speak for God and have some sort of wisdom other people don’t have. When crisis and tragedy affect a community, pastors are often called in to help, regardless of whether they have the necessary training to do so. Most people have no idea about what kind of training, if any, pastors have. Scores of American churches are pastored by men and women who have no formal training. I mean none. I even know of churches that are pastored by high school dropouts. Regardless of educational attainment, character, and work ethic, pastors are given special treatment. I suspect many people are afraid they will make God angry if they treat his spokesman poorly or dare to treat him like everyone else.

Pastors often are offered discounts at restaurants, auto repair shops, and stores. I suspect many business owners see these discounts as a cost of doing business. Do well by the local preacher and he will speak positively to congregants about your business. Piss the same pastor off, and his words privately to influential church members or the pulpit can have devastating financial effects. Some pastors, knowing this, use this power to their advantage, to extract goods and services from Christians and unbelievers alike.

I was offered discounts or even free stuff more times than I can count. I did my best to say NO, but there were times when declining was not an option. I pastored in southeast Ohio for almost 12 years. At the bottom of the hill from our church was a Dairy Queen-like restaurant owned by the parents of a church member. In the summer, we frequently ate at the restaurant, as did many church members. The owners were United Methodists. In the 1980s, their youngest daughter was raped and murdered while attending Ohio State University. Their pastor was out of the country at the time, so they asked me to do the funeral. Though I did not know the girl, I gladly took care of the service.

Afterward, the father would occasionally stop by our dilapidated 12’x60′ trailer and drop us off damaged food items he had picked up at his wholesale food supplier. At the end of summer, he would drop off fresh and frozen food that he knew wouldn’t last until the next year. One time, he dropped off two crates of eggs that had been hit with a fork truck. There were a number of undamaged eggs in the crates, they just had to be picked out of the uncooked omelet they were floating in. More than 30 years later, our three oldest sons STILL talk about having to pick and clean the eggs.

I could never have said NO to this man without offending him, so I graciously accepted what he had to offer. Sometimes, he brought way too much food, so I would pass it on to other church members. In hindsight, I know some people felt bad for Pastor Bruce, his wife, and six children. We lived in a rundown trailer and drove junk cars. While we dressed well and never gave the appearance of being poor, to those who were really paying attention, it was evident the Gerencser’s didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

I am not one who likes being treated special. I have a difficult time asking for or accepting help from others. This thinking was fueled by my Evangelical beliefs: that God would never leave me or forsake me, that God would provide all my needs, that suffering and doing without were all part of God’s plan for my life. Thus, I rarely accepted discounts or freebies from local business owners. I wanted to be treated just like everyone else. The same went for the churches I pastored. Churches are notorious for asking for preferential treatment or discounts. Hustling for Jesus is what I call such behavior.

Unfortunately, many pastors and churches are out to get all they can from business owners. There’s a sense of entitlement. Many churches think their communities need them, not the other way around. “You need us! Why, if our church ceased to exist, the local businesses would be harmed.” This outsized (and untrue) view of their importance leads pastors to ask for special treatment, both for themselves and their churches.

If I were asked to give advice to preachers, one thing I would tell them is not to be a beggar for Jesus. Don’t expect or demand special treatment. Instead, do everything you can to blend into your communities. Chuck the uniforms, and dress like the commoners among you. Practice humility — you know, just like Jesus did. When people want to laud you by giving you titles, how about saying, “that’s okay, just call me Bruce.” Don’t be a professional preacher. Instead, as Jesus did, walk as a mere man among your congregation and community. Because that is exactly what you are.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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An Ex-Pastor’s Dilemma

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

Contrary to what some of my critics say, I have no great need to convert others to what they derisively call the atheist religion. I’m quite content to live and let live. I fully recognize that many people find great value in believing in God and the afterlife. I even understand the deep emotional need such beliefs meet. Who am I to rob someone of anything that gives their life deeper meaning and purpose? It doesn’t matter whether their beliefs are true. All that matters is that THEY think their beliefs are true, and I have no pressing need to deliver people from their fantasies, delusions, or irrational beliefs.

As much as I think that I am a rational person driven by evidence and knowledge, I know I can, like any other human being, be led astray by false or misguided beliefs. No human being is a god when it comes to rational thinking. We all can and do, at times, fall off the wagon of rational thought. As long as religious people don’t try to convert me, I am inclined to leave them well enough alone. I suspect if the Christian religion were a private, pietistic religion, practiced quietly behind the closed doors of homes and houses of worship, I would have little to write about. Since it is anything but, I am inclined to push back at those who think their beliefs should be required for all, whether believed voluntarily or under threat of law.

For twenty-five years, I was pastor to hundreds of people in churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I was their friend, counselor, and confidant. I married the young and buried the old. A few times, I buried the young and married the old. I led them to faith in Christ. I baptized them. They looked to me to give them certainty and hope, and a message from God that said he loved and cared for them. Through every phase of life, I was there for them. That’s the life of a pastor. I cared for them, loved them, and even to this day I want only what is best for them. And this puts me in a real spot, what I call An Ex-Pastor’s Dilemma.

I pastored my last church in 2003. In 2005, I left the ministry, and 3 years later I left Christianity. By late 2009, I was self-identifying as an atheist. I am not a person who is hard to find. I have a unique last name. I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world (ain’t I special?!).  My Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blog email contact information are readily available via any search engine. I guess what I am saying here is this; I am not an ex-pastor in hiding. I am not trying to forget a past life and make a new life for myself. It’s not that simple.

Here’s my dilemma . . .

Former parishioners and Christian friends often try to touch base with me. They haven’t found this blog yet or read any of the other things I have written that are posted on the Internet, so they assume I am still a pastor. A middle-aged woman, a woman I first met when she was a troubled teen, contacted me to let me know what a wonderful difference God was making in her life. She just knew I would want to know that FINALLY God was using her to help other people. Quite frankly, I AM glad God is using her to help other people. I am glad God has made her life better. I remember the tough time she had growing up, the great sorrows and difficulties she faced.

I didn’t respond to her inquiry. I didn’t want to open the door to her being discouraged or disillusioned. It is one thing if she stumbles upon this blog. If she dares to search a bit, she will find the truth, but I would rather she come to it on her own and rather than me telling her. I am not being a coward. Those who know me know I don’t play the coward’s part very well. But, at the same time, I still have a pastor’s heart. I don’t want to see people hurt. Maybe she will never find out I am an atheist. Maybe she will live a good life, thinking that Pastor Gerencser is proud of her. Such a small deception is one I will gladly commit if someone such as she finds peace and purpose as a result.

It is one thing if an ex-parishioner or Christian friend comes after me like a hungry lion chasing a bleeding deer. Those who find out about my defection from Christianity and become angry, combative, defensive, and argumentative will find that I am quite willing to meet them in the middle of the road and do battle. If I am forced to do so, I will speak my mind and pointedly share what I believe (or don’t believe). However, for those who are only looking for the man who loved them and nurtured them in the faith, I am not inclined to hurt them or cause them to despair. It was never my intent to hurt anyone intentionally, both as a pastor, and now as a preacher of the one true God, Loki. (Please see Dear Wendy, Dear Friend, and Dear Greg.)

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The Gods Have Clay Feet: A Few Thoughts About Evangelical Pastors

pastors gods with feet of clay

The Evangelical Christian church has many gods. While Evangelicals will profess to worship the true and living God — the God of the Bible — often their true object of worship is human and not divine. Most Evangelical churches have a congregational form of church government. Some churches have adopted an elder rule form of government. Regardless of what form of government a church adopts, there can be no doubt about who really runs the church. The CEO, the boss man, the head honcho is the pastor — also known as the senior pastor, executive pastor, and prophet, priest and king.

The pastor is the hub upon which the wheel of the church turns. He (there are very few she’s) is the man who runs the show. He sets the course for the church. He is a modern-day Moses leading the church to the Promised Land. He is the visionary with a vision that the church is expected to follow. He is, after all, the man of God. He is divinely called by God, a call that cannot be explained with human words. He is the man of God, given a message by God, to speak to the people of God.

He is a man not to be trifled with. He has been anointed by God. He has been set apart by God to do the most important work in the world. His calling is higher than even that of the President of the United States. The congregation is reminded that the Bible says “touch not mine anointed.” They are also told the story about the Elisha, the mocking boys, and the bears:

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. (2 Kings 2:23, 24)

You have been warned, says God’s man. Say anything negative about the pastor and you run the risk of bears eating you; or cancer, heart attack, accident, or death.

The pastor is the Lone Ranger’s Tonto. He is the Green Hornet’s Bruce. He is Batman’s Robin. God and the pastor are joined at the hip. After all, the pastor has a divine calling; a calling that can’t be explained or revoked. In fact, the only way anyone knows for sure a pastor is God-called is because he says he is.

Most Evangelical churches are independent. Even those who belong to denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention are independent. Each church is a local, autonomous entity, accountable to no one but themselves. The Southern Baptist Convention has a HUGE sex abuse problem, yet little is done by the Convention because each church governs itself. The convention has no power over churches or pastors, or so they conveniently claim.

Since most Evangelical churches are independent, there are few, if any, standards or requirements for starting a church. Anyone can start a church. Anyone can claim to be a pastor. Anyone, Anyone, Anyone. In most states, there are no legal requirements for starting a church. The Federal government, by default, treats churches as exempt from taxation. By default, they receive most of the benefits of 501(c)(3) status without actually applying for it. Starting a church is a con artist’s dream. Just tune into a Christian TV channel for proof of this. There are no educational requirements; no ordination requirements. Anyone can become a pastor. It really is that easy. (Please see What is a Church According to the IRS) and You Can do It: How to Start an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church.)

In charismatic/Pentecostal circles, some pastors have added titles to their name. Not content to be called pastor, they demand that they be called bishop or apostle. Several apostles have set up shop right here in the county I live in. Once again, a man is an apostle or bishop because he says he is. God has imparted to the man a special anointing, a special dose of Holy G-h-o-s-t power that raises the man to a higher level in the church. Or so he says.

Now let me try to tie all this together. I am writing under the anointing right now, so it is hard to put this all together for you common folks. But I will try.

We have independent churches with independent pastors without any checks or balances. A man can start a church whenever and wherever. The church becomes his church, the religious equivalent of a corporation. The pastor is considered divinely called by God because he says he is. How dare anyone question GOD!

This type of religion flourishes in America. We are a people who applaud the entrepreneurial spirit. Starting a church is akin to starting a business. We worship personalities: entertainers, sports figures, preachers, playmate of the month, et al. We are a lazy people, content to let others think for us.

So what do we have? Churches operated by entrepreneurial pastors. These churches are often filled with people who love to worship personalities, and in this case the personality is the pastor. Content to let the pastor think for them, run the show, and speak to them on God’s behalf, many Christians have surrendered their autonomy for a seat at the feet of the most awesome, most handsome pastor in town. And man, does he have a hot wife!

The pastor, then, becomes a god. He is given so much control and power that it is almost impossible to unseat god when the church finds out the pastor has feet of clay. I said almost… Daily news reports of pastors committing crimes, seducing church members, sexually abusing children, and stealing money are too common to be just aberrations. I could write for hours about pastors I know who have scandalous pasts, yet they are still pastors. They just moved down the road and started a new church or they stood their ground and ran off their accusers. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.)

In the 1980s Jack Hyles, at the time pastor of the largest church in the United States, was accused of sexual improprieties with a married woman in his church. The evidence against him was overwhelming. Yet, he successfully withstood his accusers, and when he died two decades later he was still pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. The church that Jack built lost thousands of members, but he remained god until he went the way of all humans. (Please see The Legacy of Jack Hyles.)

Jack Hyles’ son David was also accused of sexual improprieties. He left First Baptist and moved on to another church in Texas — a church his father previously pastored. Not one word of his past peccadilloes was shared with the new church. David Hyles continued his sexual exploits and conquests. He had sex with women in the church and was only exposed after compromising photos were accidentally found by someone in the church.

After Jack Hyles died, his son-in-law, Jack Schaap became the Pastor CEO of  Hyles Industries. Like his father-in-law and brother-in-law, Schaap had a problem with fidelity. Schaap was accused of having sex with a church teenager. He was later convicted, and is now serving a twelve-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.

Aberration? Hardly. In many churches, the pastors have incredible power and control. They become gods. The pastor does the preaching, does the counseling, and is the chairman of the board. Everything goes through him. In some churches, the pastor even checks the tithing records to see who is giving and how much they are giving. One pastor I know well was told by the church treasurer that many of the Christian school teachers were not tithing. The next Sunday he publicly berated the teachers and told them that he was going to have their tithes taken out as a payroll deduction if they didn’t start tithing. Never mind the fact the church paid the teachers poverty wages, and if they tithed, they would be well BELOW the poverty line. I know this to be true because my wife worked for the school in the 1980s (this was back in the day when the church paid male teachers more than female teachers).

One pastor here in northwest Ohio decided one Sunday to preach against the evils of attending the prom. When it came time to preach, he instructed the ushers to lock the sanctuary doors so no one could leave. Everyone was going to hear what he had to say. This same pastor had the deacons secretly follow church members to see what they were up to. Young couples considering having children were encouraged (required?) to counsel with the pastor first before engaging in procreation.

Another pastor in Columbus, Ohio had a portrait of him and his wife hung over the water fountain in the church foyer. He joked “that way every time someone gets a drink they have to bow to me.” Funny? Not when you consider the horrific mental and emotional damage caused by these megalomaniacs.

Children who grow up in Evangelical churches are conditioned to accept that the pastor is the final authority. Even in matters of faith, the Bible is not the final authority, the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible is. The church believes whatever the pastor says the church believes. If he started the church, he likely wrote the church’s doctrinal statement, constitution, and bylaws. He determines what is truth and what is error. Remember he is God-called; God speaks through him. End of discussion.

It should come as no surprise, then, that some men aspire to be pastors for reasons other than serving others. It’s the perfect job. No one to answer to but God, and he seems to never have anything to say. Conscientious, faithful men do wonderful work, loving and serving the church; however, far too many men are corrupted by the power they are given. Some men have ulterior motives, and the pastorate becomes a safe place to hide. I know of men who had irregularities in their past and the pastorate allowed them to keep from being held accountable for their past deeds.

One pastor in Columbus had no social security number. He had not filed an income tax return in years. His church paid him in cash. When the IRS changed reporting requirements, requiring evangelists and special speakers to be given 1099s if paid over a certain amount, some churches began giving evangelists and special speakers (pastors) cash offerings. Many a pastor has received a brown-bag offering. Evangelical preachers have incredible, and quite legal, ways to avoid paying income tax. Some incorporate as a charity or a ministry. The ministry has a “board” that is made up of the pastor’s family or friends. By incorporating, they avail themselves of the tax benefits that corporations receive. Pastors buy cars, trucks, travel trailers, and houses and put them in the church’s name. They receive a tax-free housing allowance. Many pastors have little taxable income, even though they live quite comfortably. It is a great gig if you can get it.

One day, the inevitable happens. The pastor — the god — falls from his exalted throne. Over time, people become disillusioned with the pastor. They take issue with his preaching, his vision, his wife, his children, his theology, his suit, his hairstyle, his entertainments, etc. People tire of pastors just like they do the other gods they worship. Perhaps he commits a grievous sin. He has an affair, steals money from the church, or embraces a teaching that the power brokers in the church consider heresy; heresy being anything they disagree with.

All of a sudden, the church remembers that IT has power. Members recall they can take down their god and vote him out of the church. And so they do . . . The god may fight to keep his power, to keep his throne, but most often he negotiates a settlement package, the conditions of surrender, and moves on to another church. The church promises to never let another pastor have the power that he had.

But then a new god comes to the church. A new vision, a new inside track with God. He is a wonderful preacher. His wife and kids are adorable. He is given the reins of the church and once again a pastor is restored to the throne. And so it goes . . .

In no way do I wish to disparage good men and women who conscientiously serve their churches; people who sacrifice and work selflessly day in day out. But they, most of all, should know that what I write is true. The American Evangelical church is overrun with power-hungry, ambitious men who have an eye on their own kingdom and not God’s. They are the god of the church, not the God they preach about. Sadly it seems, in many cases, this is exactly what the church wants.

While I no longer believe in the Christian God, I did spend 50 years in the church. For many of those years, I was on the inside, knowing its secrets, knowing who did what and where the bodies are buried. I know whereof I speak.  I know what I have seen and what I have done myself in the name of God. I know too much and I have seen too much for it to be anecdotal or coincidental.

I am not sure I have any answers. We can’t look to the structured denominational churches for answers.  They too have their own power-hungry gods. They too have scandals, as is clear for all to see with the scandal-ridden Catholic church. It is hard not to at least question whether the Christian church is hopelessly corrupt. Regardless of the good men and women who serve selflessly, perhaps the church is irreparably broken.

Some people, realizing this, start new movements, but, over time, they most often become just like what they opposed and despised. They organize, men gain power, and over time there are new gods to worship. Perhaps the best we can hope for is individuals who take the ethical and moral teachings of Christ seriously and live accordingly. They steer clear of organized religion. They seek no place of power or authority. They seek only to love God and love their neighbor.

I am convinced that Jesus, real or not, has been lost in the mire and corruption of the modern Christian church. I have little confidence that he can be found. He has been swallowed by a Leviathan called Christianity, and if Jesus appeared today, he would most likely be nailed to a cross by those who say they worship him.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Churches That Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things and Why Bad People Do Bad Things — Part 2

elmer gantry
Is Your Pastor an Elmer Gantry? Are You Sure? How Can You Know?

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In the first part of this series I dealt with Churches That Abuse: Why Bad people do Bad things. I wrote:

Churches attract all kinds of people with varying motivations for being part of a particular religion. I spent fifty years in the Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical church. When it comes to other religions, I only know what I read in the media. The experiences and observations I share in this post come from the fifty years I spent in those churches, first as a parishioner, and later as a pastor. I spent twenty-five years in the pastorate, pastoring churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas.

The Christian church often attracts people with ulterior motives. Generally, Christian people are very trusting. When someone gives a testimony of redemption, most Christians readily embrace the lost sheep that is now found. Tales of addictions, sexual immorality, prison, violence, and the like find a sympathetic ear with most Christians. The worse the sinner, the greater the testimony of God’s wonderful, saving grace.

There is no doubt that many sinful, fallen people have found deliverance through what they believe is the saving work of Jesus Christ. Many vile people now live productive, grace-filled lives as born-again Christians. They are to be commended for the changes that have taken place in their lives. While I no longer embrace the Christianity and its message of saving grace, I willingly admit that religion transforms and changes multitudes of people.

Because Christian people are trusting and accept people at face value, they are an easy mark for people who have evil intentions. In among the sheep are criminals, thieves, child abusers, and sexual deviants, to name a few. These people make an outward show of Christianity, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves seeking sheep — often children — to devour. This is true not only in the local church, but also in Christian camps, group homes, and Christian schools.

Churches make it easy for deceivers to set up camp in their midst. The deceivers quickly embrace the church family, begin to regularly attend services, and even give money to the church. They are soon embraced as brother or sister. Before too long they are given access to places of responsibility within the church. They now have access to the treasures of the congregation, be it monetary, physical, or spiritual.

In this post, I want to deal with Churches that Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things. This post deals with a very difficult and controversial subject. It is easy for us to understand evil actions in a church when they are committed by evil people — wolves in sheep clothing. It’s much harder for us to understand evil actions in churches when the evil is committed by individuals who are generally considered good people.

How does a good person — a pastor, deacon, or Sunday school teacher — go from a life as a devoted follower of Jesus to one of engaging in acts of abuse and perversion? It is easy to dismiss them as people who secretly were always abusers, but what if they weren’t?  What caused them to turn from being a follower of Jesus to being an abuser?

I will not offer any iron-clad answers to this question. I do want to suggest that there are teachings and ideologies within many Christian groups, especially those of Evangelical or Fundamentalist persuasion, that are instrumental in turning good people into abusers. They become Good People who do Bad Things.

My focus is on Evangelicalism — the sect I am most familiar with. I could spend the next hour detailing the heinous acts of people I personally know; men and women considered to be devoted followers of Jesus who became abusers of the very people they were supposed to love and care for. If the Black Collar Crime Series has exposed anything, it has exposed the ugly reality that Evangelical churches have a big abuse problem.

I do not want this post to come off as a justification for the behavior of abusers. When 9-11 happened, our focus was rightly on the terrorists who murdered thousands of people. Over time, a few people tried to raise questions about WHY the terrorists did what they did. Sadly, many people have no interest in pondering or answering the WHY question. “Who in the hell cares WHY they did it. We know they did it, and that is all that matters.” I understand this sentiment, but refusing to ask the WHY question leaves us open to a repeat of 9-11. Understanding the terrorists’ motivations just might reduce the number of terrorist attacks going forward. Motivations matter.

Multitudes of people have gone through their own personal 9-11.  They have been attacked, abused, and often emotionally and spiritually destroyed by people they trusted. Their tales of abuse are heart-wrenching, and I have no problem understanding their hatred for those who abused them. What I want to gently do is try to understand WHY the abuse happens. I will understand if you say, “Let them all rot in hell. I don’t care what their reasons were, or why they did what they did.” I have not walked in your shoes, so I have no right to tell you how you must respond to these issues. But I do think answering the WHY question is very important when it comes to reducing emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual abuse.

I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Evangelical church. I believe I can give some answers to the WHY question. I want to look behind the abuse and see what led good people to become abusers. I am convinced there are things within the DNA of Christianity that lend themselves to breeding and growing abusers, especially within the Evangelical church.

Every church and denomination has its own orthodoxy and its own orthopraxy.  When trying to determine why good people do bad things, we must first look at what a particular church or denomination believes and practices. This is essential to understanding why people, in the name of God, people who are committed followers of Jesus, abuse other people, often doing despicable things to those they are supposed to love and protect.

Most Evangelical churches teach:

  • The Bible is the inspired word of God and is sufficient for faith and practice. I am deliberately avoiding the various arguments about inspiration, inerrancy, etc. Every Evangelical believes the Bible, to some degree or another, is God’s truth.  If he doesn’t, he is not an Evangelical.
  • That what the Bible teaches is to be believed, obeyed, and practiced.
  • The Bible is to be, with rare exception, read in a literal sense.
  • The pastor is called by God to preach and teach the Bible to the church membership. I am well aware that a minority of churches have multiple pastors or elders, but the majority of churches are pastored by one person.

When we add these things together, we end up with sects and churches that believe everything that is written in the Bible; sects and churches that expect members to live by teachings of the Bible. They believe the most important thing in the world is to be obedient to God. They also believe that God has given them pastors to teach them and guide them in the teachings of the Bible. The pastor is the linchpin of the church. He is the main cog upon which the machinery of the church turns. It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance the pastor plays in what people believe and practice. The amount of power that a pastor has is astounding.

How do pastors gain such power over people?

People want to believe that when they go to church, they are safe. After all, they are surrounded by people who love Jesus and who seem to sincerely follow the teachings of the Bible. The “it’s what is inside that counts” sounds nice, but in most churches, everything is measured by what can be seen and experienced from the outside. If people “look” Christian then they “are” Christian. If they “act” Christian then they “are” Christian. People enter the pastor/parishioner relationship with their guard down. They trust the pastor. Surely, he has their best interest at heart.

This is why, when charges of abuse are brought against their pastor, it is hard for church members to accept that their pastor is an abuser. “He wouldn’t do such things.” “He is a man of God.” “He is kind and loving.” “He would never do anything to hurt the church or his family.” Looking in from the outside, the level of denial seems astounding, but church members are taught to be loyal. They are taught to stand firm no matter the circumstance. If they didn’t see it, it didn’t happen. (Please see Sexual Abuse and the Jack Hyles Rule: If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen.)

I know of countless church scandals where the facts of the scandal were not in dispute, yet many members refused to believe them. They steadfastly denied reality. When the late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church, Hammond Indiana — at one time the largest church in America — was charged with infidelity, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) movement was divided into two groups of people: those who stood with Hyles and considered all the evidence against him to be false or circumstantial, and those who believed Hyles was guilty of the things he was accused of.

The evidence was overwhelming. I have no doubt that Hyles did what his accusers said he did. Yet, the 100%-Hyles people — those who actually wore buttons that said “100% Hyles” — won the day. Thousands of people left the church, but Hyles survived the scandal and pastored the church until his death. After his death, his son-in-law Jack Schaap pastored the church.  He, too, found himself accused of sexual misconduct. Unlike his brother-in-law David Hyles, who got away with having sex with numerous female church members, (please see UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored) Jack Schaap was found guilty of having sex with a minor and is now serving a twelve-year federal prison sentence.

Hyles had what we called the “Hyles Mystique.” Jack Hyles had god-like qualities. He was a super-Christian, a super-pastor who somehow got thirty or forty hours out of every twenty-four-hour day. He preached at conferences every week, preached at his church on Sunday and Wednesday, counseled dozens and dozens of people each week, and still had time to be a wonderful father and husband. His preaching was inspiring and he had command of the pulpit like few other preachers. Surely, such a man could not “sin” or “abuse” other people. I was quite the Hyles fan, but I later came to see that Hyles was a narcissist and a serial liar.

In Evangelical churches, pastors are considered to be a step above the rest of the human race. They are God-called, God-inspired men who speak on behalf of God. They supposedly have vast knowledge of the Bible and they have an answer for every question. If the God/Bible/Pastor doesn’t have the answer to a question . . . well that’s never happened.

Church members are taught that the Bible is God’s divine answer book. In the Bible, Christians will find everything they need that pertains to life and godliness. If it is not in the Bible, it is not worth knowing. Say what you will about Evangelicals, but many of them take seriously the teachings of the Good Book. They read it and study it, desiring to know how to live their lives in conformity to its teachings.

Church members are taught to NOT trust their own reasoning, nor are they are to trust the vain philosophies of this world. Out in the world, Satan walks to and fro seeking whom he may devour. This is why church members are discouraged from reading books or magazines that are not written by approved Christian authors. They dare not open their mind to the world, and by living this way, they ultimately lose their ability to rationally think and, over time, to spot error and contradiction. Skeptics do not make good Christians. The Bible, or should I say, the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible, becomes the only thing that matters. This is fertile ground for the seeds of abuse to grow and mature.

Sunday after Sunday, people gather together in Evangelical churches to listen to their pastor expound and illustrate his interpretation of the Bible. They think they are doing so with an open mind, but instead they have closed off their mind to everything except what their pastor teaches. Since he is the man of God, he is explicitly trusted by almost everyone.

Before I go on, I need to say that I think most pastors are honorable people.  I think they, as I did, entered the ministry with the best of intentions. They sincerely want to help people and to instruct people how to live according to the teachings of the Bible. Regardless of my beliefs about God, the Bible, and Christianity in general, I greatly respect pastors who selflessly work hard to minister to their churches.

Most churches are pastored by one person. Churches with multiple pastors or multiple staff members make up a small number of the total churches in America. Even in large churches, with numerous staff members, there is usually one person who is THE pastor. Take a look at mega-churches. Tens of thousands of church members and dozens of staff members, yet the churches are labeled as John MacArthur’s, Rick Warren’s, Bill Hybels’ church, etc. No matter how many elders are on the board, there is no doubt whose church it is.

No matter the size of the congregation, the church revolves around the pastor. He is the head honcho, the bwana, the chairman of the board. The pastor has tremendous power granted to him by the church body. In many churches, the power that a pastor has is almost absolute. Granted, a church CAN dismiss its pastor, but rarely are disaffected church members willing to get into a turf war with the pastor. In every church there is a core group of people who are on the pastor’s side. Disaffected church members find it difficult to take on the pastor and those who support him.

As time goes on, the pastor, whether on purpose or not, tends to consolidate his power/authority in the church. He becomes the go-to man for everything, even things that have nothing to do with the Bible or the church. The pastor may even deceive himself about this. He may see this as the church and pastor maturing together like an old married couple.

I am sure you have heard the line: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sadly, this is often the case in many Evangelical churches. Over time, the pastor becomes a monarch ruling from a throne. First Baptist Church becomes John Smith’s church. The pastor’s name is on the sign, the church letterhead, and every piece of literature put out by the church. If the church is a corporate body, with every member being an essential part, why does it matter what the pastor’s name is?

The answer is quite simple. In America we are attracted to personalities. We live in a culture that puts a great premium on star power. As a result, people view pastors as stars and personalities. As with actors, politicians, and athletes who seem larger than life, when a pastor begins to believe the hype about himself, he has taken the first step to being an abuser. Filled with pride and arrogance, the pastor begins to actually believe what people say about him. “Great sermon pastor.” You are the best preacher I have ever heard.”  “What a powerful man of God you are!” “We are so glad to have you as our pastor!”

The pastor and the church are complicit in providing fertile ground for abuse to occur. While ultimately the abuser is the one who must give an account for his abuse, the church is complicit to the degree that it fails to see all people, INCLUDING the pastor, as mere humans. Pastors are capable of committing the same sins and behaving in similar ways as their congregants and non-Christians.

Trust is a good thing. Generally, we should trust one another. However, there is a difference between eyes-wide-open trust and blind trust. Closing off one’s mind to the possibility that good people can do bad things is irresponsible. Every week there are news reports of good people doing bad things. Sometimes these are bad people acting like good people doing bad things, but sometimes they really are good people doing bad things.

Good pastors are capable of doing bad things. I have pondered the WHY of this for a long time. I want to conclude this post with a few thoughts on the “why” of pastors that abuse. Why to good men do bad things?

First, they believe the hype about themselves. Pastors foolishly begin to believe the accolades that are thrown their way. Pretty soon they begin to think, I AM SOMEBODY. This is especially true if the pastor is a gifted communicator or has great people skills. They forget that Bible says pride goeth before a fall. The story of Nebuchadnezzar and his rise to power and fall should be burned into the mind of every pastor. The book of Daniel records Nebuchadnezzar saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?”  Many an Evangelical pastor has uttered a similar statement, only to be ruined by his arrogance and pride. (Please see Tony Soprano Would Make a Good Independent Baptist Preacher.)

Second, they think they are more knowledgeable than they really are. The longer a pastor serves in one church, the more willing people are to come and talk to him about the problems they are facing. Most pastors have little or no training in counseling or psychology. Even when they do have training, most often they are trained to view the Bible as the answer to every problem. When I was a pastor, rare was the day that someone didn’t come to me and say “can we talk?” I counseled hundreds of people over the years. Evangelicals have the same problems as non-Christians do. Sometimes they have MORE problems than non-Christians, due to literalist interpretation of the Bible. The Bible does not make life easier to live. It’s commandments, rules, and regulations are often a source of conflict and psychological stress.

This is complicated further by the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible. In the hyper-fundamentalist wing of the Evangelical church, you will find lengthy codes of conduct said to be taken straight from the Bible. This code of conduct is enforced through the preaching of the pastor. (Please see An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook.) Many times, the pastor’s own personal code of conduct is presented as the standard by which everyone else must live. After all, the pastor got it right from the Bible! (See Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)

As I look back over twenty-five years in the ministry, I now realize the churches I pastored had far more dysfunction than I was willing to admit. My staunch, literalist stand on the teachings of the Bible caused some of this dysfunction. Thinking the Bible is the answer to what ails us is not only ignorant, it can be dangerous. This dysfunction was furthered by my own arrogance as I allowed myself to become THE answer man. I could justify myself by saying that many of the people I pastored were lazy Christians. They were quite willing to accept whatever answer I gave them. One church member, when asked “what do you believe?” answered, “I believe whatever the preacher believes.” Brutal, but honest.

Most church members read the Bible devotionally and never spend a moment studying the doctrines they say they believe. Of course, I now see that this is essential to the long-term survival of Evangelical Christianity. Ignorance is bliss, or, in Evangelicalese, ignorance is faith. When Evangelicals embark on an intellectual journey to truly understand Christianity and its teachings, they often end up leaving the faith or embracing some form of liberal Christianity. Evangelical Christianity is not well served when looked at with the microscope of reason and fact. For this reason, pastors encourage their parishioners to read only approved books, and parishoners are encouraged to send their kids only to approved Evangelical colleges. This is vitally important for keeping the ship afloat. Non-approved books and non-approved colleges usually cause trouble and often lead to people leaving the church. Knowledge is power.

Over the years, I counseled a number of people who needed immediate psychological or psychiatric help. At the time, I despised the mental health profession. I viewed them as tools of Satan. Instead, I gave people lame, unhelpful advice from the Bible. Instead of helping them, I abused them with the Bible. Several church members had nervous breakdowns and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I viewed this as their fault, their unwillingness to trust God and obey his commandments. Those who had a nervous breakdown later left the church. They found out that what I was selling was snake oil. I proclaimed Jesus as the cure and they found out he wasn’t.

When given the opportunity, I tell young pastors to stick to doing what they were trained to do. Leave mental health issues to the professionals trained to deal with them. The same could be said of many things pastors counsel others on without having the proper training to do so.

Third, the pastor thinks of himself as being impervious to sin. He is, after all, the man of God. He is the servant of the Most High. He has his Ephesian 6 armor on 24/7. Pastors can begin to think that they are invincible, that they are above the fray. They really should know better, but arrogance and pride blind them from seeing themselves as they really are. At this point, pastors lack self-awareness and are extremely vulnerable to self-deception and open to doing things considered sinful and abusive.

Pastors have a legal, ethical, and moral obligation to act appropriately and responsibly. The Bible, in 1 Timothy 3, sets a high moral and ethical standard for pastors, as do the laws of most states.

Here in Ohio, a pastor is considered a person of authority. He can be held criminally liable for not reporting abuse or for violating the trust of a parishioner. Let me give an example. If church member Joe has an affair with church member Sue, the Bible calls their behavior adultery. However, when a pastor has an affair with a congregant the Bible still calls the action adultery, but the law calls his behavior an abuse of authority. Countless pastors end up in prison because they ignored their moral, ethical, and legal obligations to church members.

Pastors who commit sexual sin with a church member are abusing the trust given to them by the member. The state recognizes this and accordingly criminalizes such actions, Pastors, due to the sensitive nature of their interactions with congregants, put themselves in situations where the potential for sin and abuse is great. They often see people at their worst. The conscientious pastor acts appropriately, giving what help he can and recommending secular services for those things he can’t help with. The abusive pastor sees vulnerability as an opportunity to take advantage of a church member. Such pastors are rightly considered the lowest of the low, like dog shit on the bottom of a shoe. Preying on the weak and the vulnerable might work in Darwin’s survival of the fittest, but in the church, members rightly expect their pastor to treat them ethically and morally.

Let me share a personal story that I believe will help illustrate what I am trying to say. One spring day, a young woman who used to attend the church came to my office dressed quite provocatively. Her parents still attended the church, but she had left the church, off to sow her wild oats.  She had a short, tight skirt on and when she sat down and crossed her legs, she definitely had my attention. It didn’t take me long to realize what her intentions were. In her mind, the best way to get back at her parents was to screw the preacher and ruin his ministry and the church. Fortunately, I realized what was going on and had my wife come into the office with us.

In no way do I intend to present myself as a pillar of moral virtue. I wasn’t then, and I am not now. In the above-mentioned story, I was fortunate that I did not take a bite of the forbidden fruit. I just as easily could have. If I had, I would have been guilty of abusing this young woman. Never mind her attempt to seduce me. As a pastor, I was the one who had the responsibility to act appropriately in every circumstance. That’s what the Bible teaches and what the law demands.

A number of the readers of this blog were abused in Christian group homes and boarding schools. Their stories of abuse still bring me to tears. How did these people, children at the time, end up in abusive settings? In almost every circumstance it began with their pastor. Let’s face it, troubled teens are not easy to deal with. But we must remember that “troubled teen” in an Evangelical context does not mean the same thing as it does elsewhere. A “troubled teen” in an IFB church might be nothing more than a teen who listens to rock music, drinks a beer now and again, fools around with her boyfriend, or admits to trying pot. This, of course, describes most everyone who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s.

Evangelical children are taught to obey authority, especially the authority of their parents and pastors. When parents have a child or a teen they can’t control — and I readily admit there are some kids who need help beyond what parents can provide — they most often seek out counsel from their pastor. When teens end up in a Christian group home or boarding school, they almost always end up there based on the recommendation of their pastor. In my opinion, when these kids are sent off to a group home and abuse happens, the pastor bears just as much responsibility as the abusers. He is culpable because he is the one who recommended a home such as New Bethany Home for Girls, Hephzibah House, or the Roloff Homes. Our legal system recognizes this, equally punishing the bank robber and the person who drove the getaway car. (Please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls and Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sins.)

Truth be told, pastors often are just as trusting as church members. Parents come to them seeking help for their “troubled teen.” The pastor remembers that “so and so” from college runs a group home, so he gives the parents the phone number for the home, thinking he has done all he needs to do. The pastor has NOT done his due diligence. He should thoroughly check out any place he is recommending to parents with “troubled teens.” The same could be said for Christian colleges. Many Christian colleges are purveyors of institutionalized abuse, yet pastors blindly recommend these colleges to prospective students. Rarely does anyone consider how the bizarre codes of conduct at many Christian schools affect the minds of the students sent there. Pensacola Christian College goes so far as to withhold giving the students and their parents the complete list of rules and regulations until the students are on campus. Pastors are responsible for the people, places, and things they recommend. Ignorance is not an excuse.

I hope this post helps to explain how good people — specifically pastors — can do bad things. I hope I also adequately answered the WHY question. If not, please ask your questions in the comment section and I will do my best to answer them.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Churches That Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things and Why Bad People Do Bad Things–Part One

elmer gantry

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Churches attract all kinds of people with varying motivations for being part of a particular religion. I spent fifty years in the Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical church. When it comes to other religions, I only know what I read in the media. The experiences and observations I share in this post come from the fifty years I spent in those churches, first as a parishioner, and later as a pastor. I spent twenty-five years in the pastorate, pastoring churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas.

While I am no longer a Christian or a pastor, I do keep myself informed about Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical Christianity. Just because I no longer believe doesn’t mean that my experiences and observations are now, suddenly, invalid or lack value. Some Christians try to marginalize or invalidate my writing by suggesting that since I am no longer a Christian, or may have never been a Christian (their view), my experiences and observations can safely be ignored or ridiculed. I will leave it to the readers of this blog to decide whether what I write has value. I suspect, knowing my readers as I do, that what follows will resonate with many of them,

The Christian church often attracts people with ulterior motives. Generally, Christian people are very trusting. When someone gives a testimony of redemption, most Christians readily embrace the lost sheep that is now found. Tales of addictions, sexual immorality, prison, violence, and the like find a sympathetic ear with most Christians. The worse the sinner, the greater the testimony of God’s wonderful, saving grace.

There is no doubt that many sinful, fallen people have found deliverance through what they believe is the saving work of Jesus Christ. Many vile people now live productive, grace-filled lives as born-again Christians. They are to be commended for the changes that have taken place in their lives. While I no longer embrace the Christianity and its message of saving grace, I willingly admit that religion transforms and changes multitudes of people.

Because Christian people are trusting and accept people at face value, they are an easy mark for people who have evil intentions. In among the sheep are criminals, thieves, child abusers, and sexual deviants, to name a few. These people make an outward show of Christianity, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves seeking sheep — often children — to devour. This is true not only in the local church, but also in Christian camps, group homes, and Christian schools.

Churches make it easy for deceivers to set up camp in their midst. The deceivers quickly embrace the church family, begin to regularly attend services, and even give money to the church. They are soon embraced as brother or sister. Before too long they are given access to places of responsibility within the church. They now have access to the treasures of the congregation, be it monetary, physical, or spiritual.

Countless churches, after just a short time, readily appoint newcomers to positions of authority. The reason for this is simple. Most churches need a steady supply of new workers. Sadly, many churches practice the four W’s: win them, wet them, work them, waste them. It is not uncommon for Baptist churches to turn over their membership every five or so years. It is common to find new church members quickly appointed as deacons, Sunday school teachers, junior church workers, youth workers, nursery workers, etc. Rarely is the past life of the new church member examined, either through an interview or comprehensive background check. This is especially true in smaller churches. All that matters is that Jesus saved them.

What I have written above also applies to pastors. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I candidated at a number of churches. Not one church did a criminal background check. Several churches did check my references, but the references they checked were those I gave them. Who would ever give a reference from a disgruntled church member or board member?  Every church I candidated at readily accepted the information on my résumé. I found every church to be trusting, and while this is a trait that should be generally commended, it is this same trait that often results in churches hiring men and women who are deceivers.

Bad people are those who become members of a church for ulterior reasons or those who are pastors with a secret past, who go from church to church preying on unsuspecting congregations. Bad people do bad things to trusting children, teens, and adults. They physically and sexually abuse people. They scam people out of their money — sometimes their life savings. They wreak havoc wherever they go. After getting caught, they pack up their wares and go down the road to another church and set up shop. There is no shortage of supply of sincere, trusting, honorable church members.

There are some things that churches can (must) do to keep themselves from being easy marks:

  • Do not allow newcomers to become members of the church for at least one year. Do not allow them to hold any office of authority or responsibility. Time will likely expose them for what they really are.
  • Require federal and state criminal background checks on every person who will be in a place of authority or will have contact with children or teenagers. This must be a “no exceptions” policy. These background checks should be repeated annually.
  • Pastors should have an open-door policy.  Church members should be encouraged to share any concern they might have.
  • When someone reports abuse of any kind, an immediate investigation must be done. 
  • ALL criminal activity should be reported to the police. ALL abuse should be immediately reported to law enforcement or child protective services. In Ohio, people in places of authority are REQUIRED to report any abuse they are made aware of. They can be held criminally liable if they do not report it.
  • Churches should thoroughly investigate candidates for the pastorate. State and federal background checks should be done. References should be thoroughly checked. Phone calls should be made to the churches previously pastored. I would even go so far as to send people to the churches a candidate previously pastored or is currently pastoring.
  • Candidates for a church’s open pastorate should be just as diligent. Churches are notorious for hiding their dirty laundry. Why did the last pastor leave? What shape are the church’s finances? Churches, as a whole, can be just as abusive as a pastor or an individual church member.
  • Churches must be diligent in their investigation of new church members and prospective candidates for the pastorate. The unasked question is often the very thing that ends up biting the church in the ass. Personally, I would record all interviews, along with ANY meetings the church has. Recordings put an end to the he-said-she-said fights that are far too common in Christian churches.
  • Every church program or class should have a minimum of two workers who are not related. No person should be permitted to teach a class, work with the teenagers, or staff the nursery alone. If possible, every room should have a window in the door or hall wall. This allows people walking by to look in at any time.

Just because someone is a teenager or a pre-teen doesn’t mean he or she should be exempt from the things mentioned above. Many churches staff their nursery, junior church, or vacation bible school with young people from the church (and sometimes from other churches). Churches assume that young people are safe. This assumption can prove to be deadly. Years ago, we had a teenager in our church who was a nice young man. Likable. Easy going. Oh, and, unbeknownst to me, he had spent two years in a juvenile detention center for rape.

The church attracts bad people who do bad things. Unless churches are diligent in protecting themselves, they will continue to be easy targets for abuse. The old adage is true: better safe than sorry. A genuine Christian will not be offended if the church is diligent in its protection of its children and teenagers.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser