Menu Close

Tag: Preaching

I Did It For You Jesus — Crank Windows and Vinyl Floor Mats

1984 chevrolet cavalier
1984 Chevrolet Cavalier

In the late 1980s, while I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I purchased a 1984 Chevy Cavalier for $2,900. It had 19,000 miles on the odometer. The car was spartan in every way: crank windows, vinyl mats, AM/FM radio, and no air conditioning. I used the car for my ministerial travels, and we also used it to deliver newspapers for the Zanesville Times-Recorder and the Newark Advocate. If this car could be resurrected from the junk yard, it would have stories to tell about Bruce and Polly Gerencser zipping up and down the hills of Licking, Muskingum, and Perry Counties delivering newspapers. All told, we put 160,000 miles on the car without any major mechanical failures. Tires, brakes, and tune-ups, were all the car required.

If the car could talk it would certainly speak of being abused:

  • Polly hit a mailbox, denting the hood and cracking the windshield.
  • Polly hit some geese, damaging the air dam.
  • Bruce hit a concrete block that had been thrown in the road.
  • Bruce hit a black Labrador retriever, causing damage to the front of the car.
  • Bruce hit a deer, causing damage to the bumper and radiator.
  • A tree limb fell on the car, further damaging the hood.
  • A woman drove into the back of the car while it was parked alongside the road in Corning, Ohio. We found out later that this accident broke the rear frame member.

By the time we were finished with the car, it looked like it had recently been used in a demolition derby. We carried personal liability insurance on the car — no collision — so no repairs were performed after these accidents. We certainly extracted every bit of life we could out of the car. It went to the happy wrecking yard in the sky knowing that it faithfully served Jesus and the Gerencser family.

Our Chevy Cavalier is a perfect illustration of our life in the ministry. Unlike Catholics, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers don’t take a vow of poverty. That said, the eleven years I spent as pastor of Somerset Baptist can be best described as the “poverty years.”  I put God, the ministry, and the church before my wife and children. We did without so the church could make ends meet, thinking that God would someday reward us for our voluntary poverty.

Pastoring Somerset Baptist was a seven-day a week job. I was always on call, with rarely a day off. And as a workaholic, I liked it that way. During the late 1980s, for example, I was preaching on the street two days a week, teaching Sunday school, preaching twice on Sunday and once on Thursday. On Wednesdays, I would preach at the local nursing home. On Saturdays, I would help visit the homes of bus riders and try to round up new riders. I also helped start a multi-church youth fellowship. We had monthly activities for church teens. And then there were revival meetings, special services, Bible conferences, watch night services, pastors’ conferences, and the like. Throw in visiting church members in their homes and when they were hospitalized, and virtually every waking hour of my day was consumed by the work of the ministry.  And lest I forget, we also took in foster children, many of whom were teenagers placed in our home by the court. I believed, then, I could “reach” these children and transform their lives through the gospel and regular church attendance. I was, in retrospect, quite naïve.

But, wait, there’s more! — I am starting to sound like a Billy May commercial. In 1989, I started a tuition-free private Christian school for church children. I was the school’s administrator. I also taught a few classes. Polly taught the elementary age children. Many of these children have fond memories of Mrs. Gerencser teaching them to read. Students have no such memories of me, the stern taskmaster they called Preacher.

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2
Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

For the last five years at Somerset Baptist, we were up at 6:00 AM and rarely went to bed before midnight. When I started the church in 1983, we had two children, ages two and four. Eleven years later, we had six children, ages fifteen, thirteen, ten, five, three, and one. Our home was patriarchal in every way. Polly cared for our home — a dilapidated 12×60 trailer — cooked meals, and changed thousands of diapers; and not the disposable kind either. Polly used God-approved cloth diapers with all six children. She also breast-fed all of them.

Why did Bruce and Polly live this way? The short answer is that we believed that living a life of faith on the edge poverty was how Jesus wanted us to live. After all, Jesus didn’t even have a home or a bed, so who were we to complain?  If God wanted us to have more in life, he would give it to us, we thought. Much like the Apostle Paul, we learned to be content in whatever state we were in — rich or poor, it mattered not.

I left Somerset Baptist Church in 1994. I am now a physically broken down old man. The health problems I now face were birthed during my days at Somerset Baptist. There’s no doubt, had I put my family first and prioritized my personal well-being above that of the church, that we would be better off financially and I would be in much better health. As it was, I spent years eating on the run or downing junk food while I was out on visitation. I know we surely must have sat down to eat as family, but I can’t remember doing so. Of course, I can’t remember us having sex either, and our children are proof that we at least had sex six times. All I know is that I was busy, rarely stopping for a breath, and so was Polly. It’s a wonder that our marriage survived the eleven years we spent at Somerset Baptist. It did, I suppose, because we believed that the way we were living was God’s script for our marriage and family. We look back on it now and just shake our heads.

I am sure some readers might read this post and not believe I am telling the truth. Who would voluntarily live this way? Who would voluntarily sacrifice their economic well-being, health, and family? A workaholic madly in love with Jesus, that’s who. A man who believed that whatever he suffered in this life was nothing compared to what Jesus suffered on the cross. A man who believed that someday in Heaven, God was going to say him, well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord. I viewed life as an endurance race, and it was my duty and obligation to keep running for Jesus until he called me home. No one can ever say of Bruce and Polly that they didn’t give their all — all to Jesus I surrender, all to him I humbly give.

beater station wagon
$200 beater. Polly HATED this car. What’s not to like, right?

Of course, my devotion to God, the church, and the ministry was a waste of time and money. One of the biggest regrets I have is that I wasted the prime of my life in service to a non-existent God. While certainly I helped many people along the way, I could have done the same work as a social worker and retired with a great pension. Instead, all I got was a gold star for being an obedient slave. I am not bitter, nor is Polly. We have many fond memories of the time we spent at Somerset Baptist Church. But, both of us would certainly say that we would never, ever want to live that way again. We loved the people and the scenery, but the God? No thanks. We feel at this juncture in life as if we have been delivered from bondage. We are now free to live as we wish to live, with no strings attached. And, there’s not a dilapidated Chevrolet Cavalier sitting in our driveway. No sir, we have electric windows, electric seats, air-conditioning, and the greatest invention of all time for a back ravaged by osteoarthritis — heated seats. We may be going to hell when we die, but me and misses sure plan on enjoying life until we do.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

The Failure of My Homophobic Preaching

homosexuality a sin

I came of age as an Evangelical pastor during the eleven years I spent at Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. I was young, brash, full of energy, and convinced that God was going to use me to build a large country church. And sure enough, thanks to aggressive evangelism, the bus ministry, and congregational splits among several nearby Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, Somerset Baptist grew to over two hundred people.

For many of the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist, I preached topical/textual sermons. In the late 1980s, I moved away from such preaching and began taking an expositional approach to my sermons. Textual/topical preaching fit well with my IFB ideology. Want to preach against a particular sin? Find proof texts that validate your viewpoint and build them into a sermon. Homosexuality was one such sin that got a lot of attention from me. I was loud and forceful in my preaching, leaving no doubt as to what I — er, I mean God — believed about sodomites and the sin of sodomy.

I was quite certain that if there were any closeted homosexuals in the congregations, my preaching would drive the gay right out of them. I never, of course, used the word gay to describe homosexuals. There is nothing GAY about the homosexual lifestyle, I told congregants, many of whom showered my homophobia with AMENS!  The children and teens of the church, in particular, faced the wrath of Pastor Bruce as he railed against sexual sin. I felt duty-bound to protect their virginity, warning them that physical contact with the opposite sex was the gateway to fornication. The Bible says in I Corinthians 7:1, I hollered from the pulpit, It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Girls were warned that no girl ever got pregnant without holding hands with a boy first. Want to stay pure until your wedding day? I asked. Don’t let a boy touch you! And just to make sure that teenagers put my preaching into practice, I instituted a no-touching rule in our Christian school and I asked their parents to not let their daughters get in cars with boys.

My preaching against homosexuality was meant as a preventative. I was certain that there were NO homosexuals among the faithful. From time to time, we had lesbians or gay men ride one of our buses, and I made sure they knew the “truth” about their vile lifestyle. There was one particular area where we picked up bus riders that was known for its immorality, especially incest. On more than one occasion, several women came to church with their children who had been fathered by their brothers. This inbreeding led to all sorts of physical maladies, including developmental disability (also known as retardation back in the day). No matter how fiery my sermons were, my edicts against their fornication pretty much went over their heads.

In 1989, I became a born-again Calvinist. Church attendance was declining. Those who had left other IFB churches returned home, taking their tithes and offerings with them. This caused severe financial difficulties, forcing us to stop running four bus routes. At this juncture in my ministry, I felt “led” of God to start a tuition-free Christian school for the church’s children. Our highest enrollment was fifteen students.

Fast forward to today. Through social media and private email, I have been in contact with a handful of the school’s students. I have apologized to them for my harsh preaching, especially my rants against homosexuality. Why this sin in particular? Three out of the fifteen students are now gay. That’s right, twenty percent of the student body came out of the closet as adults, proving that all the anti-gay preaching in the world, complete with Bible verses, won’t change who and what people are.

Evangelical preachers continue to rail against what they deem sexual sin. Few people forsake their nature. Instead, they learn to hide who they really are. In the case of teenagers, they bide their time until they can leave home. Once free of their parents’ fundamentalism, they embrace their true sexual nature. Some of them lose their faith, while others find ways to reconcile the Bible’s anti-LGBTQ stance with who and what they are. I do know this: the three people I mentioned in the post have turned into loving, caring adults. It’s too bad they had to spend years being beaten over their heads with the Bible by their pastor and parents. That any of them wants to have a relationship with me is a testimony to their kindness and character. I wouldn’t blame any of them if they spit in my face and told me to go to hell.

Were you raised in a church where your preacher railed against fornication in general and homosexuality in particular? How did things turn out people once they became adults? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

IFB Preacher Steven Anderson’s Advice to Pastors

pastor steven anderson
This is a picture of Steven  Anderson, his wife Zsuzanna , and their seven children. Since the taking of this photo, the Anderson’s have added another child. Pity their children.

Steven Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe Arizona, offered up the following advice to pastors:

Preach DOCTRINAL sermons. This is good advice for any pastor. Don’t fall into the trap of this liberal “relevant” and “practical” type preaching. These are the buzz words of the new-evangelicals. I preach sermons on SPECIFIC subjects such as eternal security, baptism, King James Bible only, exclusivism, the death penalty, the resurrection, the trinity, creation, Bible reading, Bible memorization, verbal inspiration, and also sermons against specific sins such as nudity, drinking, television, birth control, sodomy, wrong music, etc.

Anderson, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, thinks that topical preaching is the best way to preach. For those of you who are not familiar with topical preaching, preaching topically means choosing a particular topic and then finding verses that support the chosen subject. Topical preaching abuses the text of the Bible, often providing little more than proof texts for the subject at hand. This kind of preaching allows preachers to make the Bible say what they want it to say, regardless of context or proper exegesis. Evangelicals can use the Bible to “prove” almost anything. By preaching topically, Anderson can give his political views the air of authority, leading church members to think that God is against such things as gun control, drinking alcohol, public schools, and watching television. Anderson is famous for his sermon on the sin of “men sitting down to pee.” That’s right, according to Anderson, the Bible commands men to stand when they pee. See? You really can use the Bible to prove almost anything.

Topical preaching allows cult leaders such as Anderson to justify any belief that pops into their brains. Anderson has zero theological training, yet he passes himself off as an expert on the Bible’s teachings. His followers fawn over him, viewing him as a Donald Trump-like straight-shooting son-of-a-gun. Numerous devotees of Anderson have told me that his preaching is Devil-chasing, sin-hating, step-on-toes proclamations of God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible — King James-only. They think that the uneducated Anderson is the best preacher in America.

Steven Anderson, along with men such as the late Fred Phelps and evangelist Phil Kidd, mistake their attacks on all who disagree with them for Biblical preaching. Such preachers believe in what is called “hard” preaching — sermons that deliberately offend. Sadly, Anderson has learned his craft well. Now that Fred Phelps is dead, Anderson is widely considered the most hateful preacher in America, a label he wears with pride. In coming months, as I publish some of Anderson’s sermon clips for The Sounds of Fundamentalism series, readers (listeners) will hear Anderson make the most outlandish of statements. Many of you will likely conclude that Anderson belongs in a padded cell. Just remember, several hundred people call him pastor and thousands more think he is a great man of God. Worse yet, come Sunday, countless Steven Andersons will stand behind church pulpits and spew hatred and bigotry — all in the name of God and according to words found in the King James Bible. That countless Evangelicals willingly call such men pastor is disturbing. Wanting moral certainty and believing God speaks through men such as Steven Anderson, these church members will discard reason and common sense and with one voice shout, AMEN, PREACHER. KEEP TELLING IT LIKE IT IS! Until they can be brought to understand that such preaching is abusive and harmful, there is no hope for them. As long as people see these cult leaders as prophets of God instead of molesters of men’s minds, they will continue to think that what they hear preached on Sunday is straight from the mouth of God.

If you have not read Understanding Steven Anderson, Pastor Faithful Word Baptist Church, Tempe, Arizona, I encourage you to do so.

Should a Christian Preacher Turned Atheist Stop Using His Public Speaking Skills?

preacherShould a Christian-preacher-turned atheist-stop using his public speaking skills? Before this question can be answered, perhaps we should ascertain whether the person in question actually has public speaking skills. I’ve heard more than a few preachers over the years who were horrible public speakers. Their sermons were poorly crafted and their speaking skills ranged from incoherent to monotonous. Personally, I don’t know how some people listen to this kind of preaching year after year. Perhaps this is their purgatory.

I always prided myself in preaching well-crafted sermons. I worked hard in the study to produce the best sermon possible. I spent hours and days preparing my sermons. My goal was to preach in such a way that people would not only hear me but be moved to make a decision. The goal of every sermon was to force people to choose. Neutrality was never an option. Choose YOU this day whom YOU will serve, the Bible says. Even now, the most powerful speeches are the ones that demand something of listeners.

When I preached I was animated and passionate. In my early years, I moved around a good bit, but as I got older my movement lessened. Over time, I developed a style, a methodology of preaching. Generally, people found my style pleasing and my voice easy to listen to. I wasn’t a raging, fire-breathing, pulpit pounding, aisle running Pentecostal, but neither was I a droning, lifeless Methodist. (sorry for the stereotypes)

Words are powerful tools. Coupled with the methodology of preaching, words have the ability to move people and motivate them to do great things. However, words also have the power to manipulate and control. Numerous readers of this blog can testify to how the words of their pastor were used to sway, exploit, shame and abuse.

Any preacher worth his salt knows the power his words have over others Preachers know that the right word at the right time can elicit a certain response. They know what words can trigger an emotional response. Yes, preaching is supposed to be about knowledge and instruction, but mere knowledge will never cause a people to rise to the occasion and go to  war with Satan, the world, Democrats, secularism, and atheists. Great orators know how to stir people to do that which they might not normally do. Therein lies their power, and that power, when used wrongly, can hurt people or cause them to do things that are harmful, not only to themselves, but to others.

So what is a person such as myself to do? I preached my first sermon at age 15 and my last sermon at age 48 I spent 34 years telling people, thus saith the Lord. I have given thousands of sermons, having preached through most of the books in the Bible. Preaching is very much a part of who and what I am.

As a preacher-turned-atheist, I find myself in uncharted waters. I still have a passion for public speaking. I know I could be good at teaching most anything. I suspect, knowing my skill-set, that people would find me engaging and easy to listen to. As most any former parishioner of mine will attest, my ability to hold a crowd’s attention was never a problem. Oh, I had plenty of problems and shortcomings, but when in the pulpit I was at my best.

I miss preaching. I miss the personal interaction with people. I miss seeing my words move, challenge, and motivate people. As most ex-preachers will tell you, preaching was not the reason they left the ministry or deconverted. It was the stuff outside the pulpit; endless meetings, personal squabbles, or financial struggles that caused the most stress and angst.

In 2012, Pentecostal-preacher-turned-atheist, Jerry DeWitt, delivered a powerful speech at the American Atheist Convention. His speech, dare I say sermon, was given using the preaching skills that had served him well as a Pentecostal preacher.

Dan Fincke, a friend of mine who blogs at Camels with Hammers, wrote a lengthy post  about Dewitt’s message and his speaking skills and style. Dan thoughtfully raised some issues that former preachers like Dewitt and I need to consider carefully:

So, as Richard Wade watched this former evangelical go so far as to present the narrative of his turn to atheism in the precise idiom of a Pentecostal preacher, he turned to me and said, “You were right!” It made the dynamic so clear.

So—is this a good thing? I think in most ways it is, but I have a reservation. There is nothing wrong with a narrative in which “once I was blind but now I see”. This has always been a part of secularism. The Enlightenment’s emphasis on the “light of reason” was coopted, for example, by Descartes from St. Augustine. We need to reclaim some of the emotionally resonant metaphorical terrain that is part of our linguistic and cultural means of expressing certain kinds of experiences. Just because a certain emotionally powerful form of personal narrative was cultivated in evangelical circles does not mean it cannot have genuine parallels among apostates. We are not just ripping them off or somehow remaining Christians. But sometimes we do remain evangelicals, only now atheistic kinds. The apostate’s narrative often just has some basic formal similarities that make it true to co-opt similar categories to evangelicals when conceiving of and narrating what is happening within oneself.

But what about the Pentecostal delivery? I can imagine some atheists with what I like to call “religious PTSD” rejecting it out of hand for its “triggering” connotations that remind them of the shameless charlatans who pioneered, and up through today still, exploit those techniques to manipulate people into falsehoods and religiously based moral corruption. But the vast majority of the auditorium seemed happy to play along with DeWitt and to really enjoy the experiment. He got a hearty standing ovation from a good portion of the room when he was done and was one of the day’s leaders for applause lines for sure.

But the Pentecostal style might also simply look so well practiced and formulaic and manipulative that it is the equivalent of a shameless Hallmark card or a schmaltzy movie providing cheap emotional triggers using the easiest and least respectable methods in the book for pushing people’s buttons.

I think that if the emotional button pushing is a way to make an end-run around reason, that is corrupt and despicable. But if it is to package and deliver rational truths and moral ideals of rationalism to people in a way that will properly align their emotions to what is actually true and ethical, then ultimately I am not convinced there’s anything dishonest or manipulative about that. I am open to arguments though….

…As I also explained to Richard the morning before seeing DeWitt, I have preachers’ rhetorical skills and yet for the most part I assiduously avoid them in my classrooms, and instead work with my students dialectically and put the stress on the development of their own reasoning skills. Occasionally, I will get on a roll about something I’m passionate about and reach back to make a rhetorically boosted little speech. But even then I hold back on going quite to preacher levels. And if I do, it’s tempered and not exploitative.

There are two reasons for my hesitation. One is purely technical. I once picked up the interesting advice that if you can do something exceptionally well you should do it only selectively, so as not to diminish its impact. In general you should only put as much rhetorical push into an idea as it needs and save your force for when it’s really needed, always calibrating force applied precisely to what is necessary at every level.

But the more morally serious and germane reason I hesitate to go into preacher mode is that it can be downright anti-dialectical and counter-productive to cultivating an atmosphere of rationalism and habits of careful reasoning. Preaching, rather than just teaching or guiding through questions, runs the risk of inherently training and reinforcing the audience’s infamous preexisting susceptibilities to falling for passions and pretty words at the expense of rational thought. Even if you convince them of your point with your bluster and poetry, you do not train them in careful critical thinking in the process, and so you have not guaranteed they have learned to think for themselves, so much as to simply think like you. And you may have just contributed to their ever ongoing habituation throughout the culture in being led by irrationalistic appeals rather than rational ones. This is not just a pitfall of the parts of our movement that dance with religious forms but also the ones which dance with dubious political rhetorical tactics too.

I’m not sure if it is the case that the preacher’s style is always mutually exclusive with training in critical thinking. Clearly a major part of why it’s so dangerous in actual religions is because it is explicitly coupled with injunctions to just have faith and with countless dubious appeals to unjustified authorities. Can a rationalism which explicitly denounces such things be compatible with some fiery preaching? Can one preach successfully against authoritarianism and faith or is there an implicit bogus appeal to faith in the ungrounded authority of the speaker that is structurally there every time a teacher takes recourse to the tactics of the preacher?

Dan waves the red flag of warning and rightly so. Preaching, particularly certain styles of preaching, can be used to manipulate and control. Dan wisely warns about making an end-run around reason. Far too often preaching is nothing more than the reinforcing of this we believe and we shall not be moved from this we believe.

As a preacher turned atheist, I cannot turn off the speaking skills I used to ply my trade for 34 years. They are very much a part of who I am. The best I can do is be mindful of the power of the skills I have and make sure I use them in such a way that people are not only moved but instructed. I need to be aware of the power I have to manipulate people with my words. Self-awareness of this fact will keep me from falling back into using the tricks of the preaching trade to elicit the desired response from those listening to me.

That said, I want to put in a plug for passionate, pointed, challenging public speaking. Quite frankly, the atheist and humanist movement needs a bit of life pumped into it. I have listened to many speeches, lectures, seminars, and debates that people told me were wonderful. Well-known atheists and humanists, aren’t they great? Uh, no. B-o-r-i-n-g. Dry. Monotonous. Some  atheist and humanist speakers would be better off if they stuck to doing  what they do best: writing books and magazine articles. Leave the public speaking to those who do it well. If they are unwilling to do so, then they need to go back to school and take a few speech classes.

The atheist and humanist movement needs people who have the ability to passionately move people to action. I would rather suffer a bit with Jerry Dewitt’s preaching style (and I am not a fan of the Pentecostal style of preaching), than listen to a well-educated, boring man WOW me right into an afternoon nap. We are in a battle against religious zealots and theocrats, and we need speakers who can stir and motivate people to action.

Some atheists and humanists naïvely believe that knowledge is all that matters. Like Joe Friday, they think if they just give people the facts they will see the error of their way. Don’t get me wrong, knowledge is important; it’s essential. Way too many people becomeatheists out of anger or disappointment with the Christian church. Just like the Christian zealot, the atheist should know why he believes what he does. Or as the Bible says, the atheist should be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within them. But, at the same time, we should not divorce our beliefs from our emotions. Some things matter, and if they matter, our emotions should be stirred, motivating us to act accordingly.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians, wrote about being a voice heard above all others. There is so much clamoring for truth these days. Who do people turn to? Those who stir them; those who speak to them. As atheists and humanists we must not disconnect our intellect from our emotions. If we believe we have the answer to what ails our universe, then we must be passionate about it, and that passion ought to come out in our public speaking. Yes, people need to hear what we have to say, but they also need to feel it.

Dear Bruce Turner

bruce turner
Bruce Turner

Bruce Turner was my youth pastor in the early 1970s. Bruce played a very important part in my life, from my profession of faith in Christ to my call to the ministry. I have published this letter before. As with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

Dear Bruce,

I see you found my blog. I am sure the current state of my “soul” troubles you. My “spiritual” condition troubles many as they try to wrap their theological minds around my twenty-five years in the ministry and my present atheistic views.

I plan to address the comment you left at the end of the letter, but before I do so I want to talk about the relationship you and I had and about the influence you had on my life.

You came to Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, fresh out of Baptist Bible College. Trinity was looking to hire a full-time youth pastor and you were the one they hired. You joined the staff of a busy, growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church.

You were there when I put my faith and trust in Jesus. You were there when I was called to preach. You helped me prepare my first sermon (2 Corinthians 5:20). You and I worked a bus route together and went out on visitation.

My parents had recently divorced and you became a surrogate father to me. When my Dad remarried and moved us to Arizona I was devastated. In a few months, I returned to Ohio, and in late summer of 1973, I moved from Bryan to Findlay.

You helped me find a place to live, first with the Bolanders, and then with Gladys Canterbury. For almost a year I went to school, worked a job at Bill Knapp’s, and immersed myself in the ministry of Trinity Baptist Church.  You were there to guide me every step of the way.

When I first moved to Findlay a divorcee and her young daughter wanted to take me in. You wisely made sure that didn’t happen, knowing such a home would not be healthy for me.

When I became enamored with Bob Harrington ( I loved his It’s Fun Being Saved record) you warned me about worshiping big name preachers and you told me to pay attention not only to what they preached but what they didn’t.

You even catered to my personal desires. In the summer of 1973, I had a whirlwind romance with Charlotte Brandenburg. Charlotte was the daughter of the couple who came to hold a Super Summer Bible Rally (VBS) at Trinity. For one solid week, we spent every day with each other. I was smitten with Charlotte.

Later that same year you planned a youth outing to the Troy Baptist Temple, the church Charlotte attended. We went to see the movie, A Thief in the Night, but my real reason for going was to see Charlotte.

bruce gerencser 1971
Bruce Gerencser, 1971, Ninth Grade

When it came time to leave I lingered as long as possible, I didn’t want to leave Charlotte. Finally, I heard a voice the said, Gerencser, get on the bus (for some reason you liked to call me by my last name). As I came hand-in-hand with Charlotte to the bus you turned a way for a moment and told me to get it over with. I quickly kissed Charlotte goodbye and that was the last time I saw her. We wrote back and forth for a few months but, like all such relationships, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity.

You were my basketball coach. Trinity sponsored a team in the ultra-competitive high school age Church Basketball League. One game I had a terrible night shooting the ball. I was frustrated and I told you I wanted out of the game. You refused and made me play the whole game. My shooting didn’t get any better but I learned a life lesson that I passed on to all my children years later.

I remember when this or that person in the youth group got in trouble. You and Reva were there to help them pick up the pieces of their lives. You were a kind, compassionate man.

I remember you helping us get a singing group started. I still remember singing the song Yesterday during a church service (YouTube video of Cathedral Quartet singing this song). I also remember you singing Fill My Cup Lord. Polly and I sang this same song for many years in most every church I pastored.

Who can ever forget your Youth Group survey? You surveyed our attitudes about alcohol, drugs, music and sex and then you dared to use your findings in a sermon. I remember what a stir your sermon caused. You peeled back the façade and revealed that many of the church’s youth were not unlike their non-Christian peers. (it was the ‘70s)

I saw your bad side too. I remember the youth canoe outing where Reva lost her teeth. Boy were you angry. I felt bad for Reva, but in a strange way I loved you even more. I saw that you were h-u-m-a-n. I already knew Gene Milioni and Ron Johnson, the other pastors, were human, having seen their angry outbursts, and now you were mortal too. (Remember I am writing this from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy.)

In May of 1974, I abruptly left Findlay, one week away from the end of school (a move that resulted in Findlay High School denying me credit for my entire 11th grade year). Subsequently, I dropped out of high school.  My Mom was in a world of hurt mentally and she needed me (and I needed her). In the fall of 1974 she would be admitted to the state mental hospital and my Dad would come and move my siblings and me back to Arizona.

In 1976 I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I met my wife at Midwestern, and after leaving there in the Spring of 1979, we embarked on a twenty-five year journey in the pastorate, a journey that took us to seven churches.

bill beard bruce turner 1986
Bill Beard and Bruce Turner, 1986

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. I put to use the things I learned from you, Dr. Tom Malone, and my professors at Midwestern. I put soul-winning first. I committed myself to being a faithful preacher of the truths found in the King James Bible. And “God” blessed the work I did. Somerset Baptist Church grew from a handful people to over two-hundred. We were the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County.

You and I reconnected and I had you come and preach for us. I believe it was a special service and the church was packed with people. The people loved you and I was thrilled to show off my mentor to them. I suppose, deep down, I needed your approbation.

You invited me to come and preach at your church, Braintree Baptist Temple in Braintree, Massachusetts. I now know that the real reason you had me come and preach was because you saw some things that concerned you. My workaholic, Type-A personality was good for growing a church but not so good for me or my family. Sadly, it took me many more years before I realized this.

We stayed in your home in Massachusetts and spent a few days traveling around the area. This was the first “vacation” our family had ever taken and it would be the last one for many years. I was too busy and thought I was too important to take any time off.  Even when I later took vacations, I never took them just to be taking one. I always had a church or conference to preach at while we were on “vacation.”

bruce turner 1986
Bruce Turner with our three oldest children, 1986

You and your dear wife treated us well. You gave us some “run-around” money and we went out to the Cape. My oldest children still remember dipping their feet in the cold waters of the Atlantic.

We parted, promising to keep in touch, but as with Charlotte and me years ago, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity. I suspect my later adoption of Calvinism ended any chance of a continued relationship.

I did write you several times in the 1990s. I read somewhere that you had Fibromyalgia, and when I was diagnosed with the same I wrote you. You never responded. I was disappointed that you never wrote back, but I chalked up to you being busy.

Bruce, I wrote all of this to say that you had a profound effect on my life. I will always appreciate what you did for me.

Now to your comment.

You wrote:

Sorry to see your blog and obvious bitterness toward Baptists. Not all of us preached an easy believing Gospel and certainly not all of us lived a perverted life. These King makers you blog about have never had my respect.

Reva and I have been happily married for 44 years. I am sorry your health is so bad and though you apparently have rejected what you once professed, I am praying for you to the God (not preachers) that I trust.

I sincerely hope your health improves and remember some good times in the old days. Stay healthy friend.

Bruce Turner

I am often accused of being bitter, angry, or some other negative emotion. On one hand, I have every reason to be bitter and angry, but my rejection of Christianity is not ultimately defined by anger or bitterness.

I rejected Christianity because I no longer believe the claims made about the Bible and its teachings. I came to see that the Bible was not inspired, inerrant, or infallible. I came to see that a belief in the God of the Bible could not be sustained rationally (this is why faith is necessary), and even if it could be, I wanted nothing to do with such a capricious, vengeful, homicidal God. I later came to see that the Biblical claims for Jesus could not be sustained. While I certainly think a man named Jesus roamed the Judean hillside during the time recorded in the Bible, the Jesus of the Bible is a myth. At best he was a revolutionary, a prophet who was executed for his political and religious beliefs (and I still, to this day, have a real appreciation for the sermon on the Mount and a few other sayings attributed to Jesus).

My journey away from Christianity and the ministry took many anguish-filled years.  I didn’t arrive to where I am today overnight. I looked at progressive Christianity, the Emergent church, liberal Christianity, and even universalism. None of these met my intellectual need. None of them rang true to me. I made many stops along the slippery slope until I came to the place where I had to admit that I was an atheist (and I still think saying I am a Christian means something).

I am not a hater of Christianity. I have no desire to stop people from worshiping the Christian God. I am well aware of the need many people have for certainty. They want to know their life matters and they want to know that there is life beyond the grave. Christianity meets their need.  Who am I to stand in the way of what helps people get through life?  It matters not if it is true. They think it is true and that is fine by me.

The Christianity I oppose is the Evangelical form of Christianity that demands everyone worship their God, believe what they believe, and damns to hell all those who disagree with them. I oppose their attempts to turn America into a theocracy. I oppose their hijacking of the Republican Party. I oppose their incessant whining about persecution and their demands for special status. I oppose their attempts to deny some Americans of the civil and legal rights others have. (What happened to Baptists believing in a strict separation of church and state?) I oppose their attempt to infiltrate our public schools and teach Creationism or its kissing cousin, Intelligent Design, as science (this is what Christian schools are for). I oppose their attempt to make the Ten Commandments the law of the Land.

The kind of Christianity I mentioned above hurts people and hurts our Country politically and socially. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has harmed countless people, sometimes scarring their lives so severely that recovery is almost impossible (and telling people to get over it is not the answer). I weep often as I read emails from people whose lives have been destroyed by the extremes found in the IFB church movement. My blog exists because I want to help people like this. I want them to have a safe place to work through the wreckage of their lives, lives ruined by their involvement in Evangelical and IFB churches.

In many ways, I am still a pastor.  I want to help other people. The difference now, or course, is that I don’t have an agenda. I don’t have a list “truths” that must be believed. If I can help people walk the journey they are on with openness, honesty, and integrity, I am happy. I am concerned with their journey not their destination (since I think we are all headed for the same final destination, death).

I too, Bruce, have prayed thousands of times to the Christian God and yet, like the universe itself, he yawns and remains silent. Instead of hoping for a God to fix what ails me, I have chosen to embrace my life as it is. I have chosen to try to change what I can and accept what I can’t. Above all, I have learned that it is what it is.

Through this blog I try to flesh out my understanding of the past and examine the path I am now on. I try to be open and honest. I don’t have all the answers and, for that matter, I don’t even know all the questions. All I know to do is continue to walk forward, however halting my gait may be.

I shall always remember our days in Findlay and I will always appreciate what you did for me. When I write my autobiography someday there will be a chapter titled Bruce Turner.

Thank you.

Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Turner’s website

013116

Bruce Gerencser