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A Christian-Turned-Atheist Teen Asks, How Do I Forgive Myself for My Past Beliefs and the Harm I Caused to Other People?

forgiving yourself

Last month — I am thirty days behind on answering my email — I received a thoughtful email from an atheist teenager who attends a Christian school. At the time he started attending this school, he was a believer. Eventually, he began to doubt, and now he is an atheist. The school used him as a shining advertisement for what a good Christian should be. This young man is having a hard time forgiving himself for being deceived by such a dangerous, harmful theology; for being anti-LGBTQ. He asked me if I had any advice for him that would help him forgive himself.

I have struggled with this question myself over the years. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I directly affected thousands of people with my teaching, preaching, and expectations. I taught people all sorts of harmful beliefs. Worse yet, I modeled behaviors and practices that negatively affected both church members and my family. I was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher for many years, especially during the early years of my marriage to Polly and the formative years of our six children.

Polly and I had a patriarchal, complementarian marriage. These beliefs materially harmed Polly, for which she carries psychological scars to this day. The same can be said for our children. Our beliefs about family and discipline harmed our children. I was the primary disciplinarian in our family, using the rod of correction to beat our three sons into submission. Fortunately, I came to see that such discipline was child abuse, so our youngest son and two daughters were spared the ass-whippings.

We, of course, modeled to church members what we believed and practiced in our home. It’s not that I was deliberately abusive as much as it was that I believed the Bible taught a certain way of family structure and discipline; the same structure and discipline that was modeled to me by my parents, pastors, and the churches I attended. Attending an IFB college only reinforced these beliefs, convincing me they were right. Until I became persuaded that I was wrong, I continued to practice the “Biblical” way of family life, marriage, and discipline. How could I have ever done otherwise? Everything around me screamed that I was right. My literalist interpretation of the Bible said I was right. It would take me thirty years to reach a place where I could admit that I was wrong.

This young man talks about forgiving himself. While I was a true-blue believer a lot longer than he was, I do understand the struggle over trying to figure out how I could ever have believed what I did. It seems clear to me now that I had bat-shit crazy beliefs; that those beliefs materially harmed not only myself but also other people. I was fifty years old before I walked away from Christianity. Why didn’t I come to the light sooner? Indoctrination and social conditioning play a big part in training generation after generation about the faith once delivered to the saints — the Evangelical, IFB version of it, anyway. How could I have believed otherwise? The church was my life. I was largely insulated from the world, outside of playing sports and my work for various secular companies and government entities. There was nothing in my world that said to me that I was wrong. In fact, every preacher I heard preach and every book I read reminded me that I was right; that my beliefs and practices were in line with the Bible.

The best advice I can give to the letter writer is this: carefully, honestly, and openly examine your life and the experiences that led to your decision to believe in Jesus Christ and attend a Christian school. Look at these things from a sociological perspective. Self-examination and self-reflection are essential in understanding your motivations and desires. Once you have done this, forgive yourself, and determine that you will think differently going forward; that your life will be governed by reason, skepticism, and common sense. As I look at my life as a Christian, I see that I was not skeptical; I valued faith over reason, and this led to me having irrational beliefs and practices.

I have found it to be much harder to forgive myself for what I did to my wife, children, and church members. My beliefs caused them harm, both psychologically and physically. With these people, restitution is required before forgiveness can be given. So, over the past fifteen years, I have tried to make things right with Polly and our grown children and people who once called me preacher. When given an opportunity, I have apologized for the harm I caused them. The good news is that to a person they have forgiven me. They have shown me grace and forgiveness, understanding that I was a product of my environment; that I ignorantly taught and modeled the beliefs that were taught and modeled to me.

The letter writer is in a somewhat different position from the one I was in. He is a minor and lives at home. I don’t know how religious his parents are, what sect they are a part of, and how open they will be if he honestly shares with them his feelings. This is why he must tread carefully, lest he finds himself in trouble with his parents, or worse yet, thrown out of the home. I have advised some atheist minors in similar circumstances, to fake it until they make it; wait to fully share their lack of belief until they are out of the house and on their own.

The goal for this young man should be making restitution to people he feels he has wronged with his past religious beliefs. However, even here he must be careful. What will the administration of his school say when they learn he is an atheist; that he is apologizing for his past beliefs? I’m inclined to think that this will not go over very well with them, and could lead to discipline or expulsion. Making things right may mean waiting until after graduation to do so.

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.

Two Questions About the IFB Church Movement

good question

Several days ago, a reader sent me two questions about the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement.

What is an evangelist in the IFB church and what is their role?

Generally, an evangelist is a traveling preacher who goes from church to church holding revival meetings. The goal is to “revive” (bring back to life) church members and evangelize the lost. Evangelists are given love offerings and honorariums and paid expenses for their services.

Most IFB churches believe evangelists are an office in or a gift to the church, much like pastors and deacons. While the Bible does mention evangelists, my understanding is that they were what IFB churches call missionaries/church planters today. There is nothing in the Bible about paid traveling preachers. (Please see Evangelists: The Hired Guns of the IFB Church Movement.)

Over the past fifty years, many IFB churches have lost their appetite for revival meetings. As a young pastor, I typically scheduled two Sunday-through-Friday revival meetings every year. For a number of years, evangelist Don Hardman (please see Book Review: The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman and Book Review: Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman) held three-Sundays, fifteen-day protracted meetings at the church I pastored in southeast Ohio. These days, IFB revival meetings are often only three or four days long. Church members are no longer willing to come to church night after night for a week.

Did you ever meet anyone in the IFB church that still remained friends with you even though you left the movement?

The short answer to this question is no. When I left the IFB church movement in the late 1980s, moving on to Evangelical Calvinism (though still quite Fundamentalist), I maintained many of my connections with IFB pastors, missionaries, and evangelists. Privately, my colleagues in the ministry worried that I was going “liberal.” By the time I left the ministry in 2005, only a handful of IFB-era friendships remained.

In 2008, I left Christianity. I sent out a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners to several hundred people, including my colleagues in the ministry. In this letter, I explained why I was no longer a Christian. I did not call myself an atheist at this time.

My remaining IFB friends labeled me an apostate and an enemy of the faith. My best friend told me that I was mentally ill and a tool of Satan. This sentiment would be repeated by other friends and former parishioners. Prayer meetings were held to pray on my behalf and sermons were preached denouncing me by name. I became a cautionary tale, an illustration of what happens when someone strays from “true Christianity.” Rumors were floated that I had some sort of secret sin in my life. How else could they explain my defection from Christianity?

I am well-known in some corners of the IFB world. I am viewed as a hater of God; an enemy of the one true faith. I, of course, view the IFB church movement as a cult, a dangerous religious sect that causes untold psychological (and physical) harm. I have received countless nasty, hateful blog comments, emails, and social media messages from IFB Christians (yes, I think they are Christians). I suspect that they see me as some sort of existential threat to their religion. And I am, to the degree that my story rings true for many Christians. Numerous people say that my writing played an instrumental part in their deconversion or, remaining Christian, their abandonment of Evangelicalism. Most of these people came out of IFB and Southern Baptist churches.

I hope I have adequately answered these questions.

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, How Did You Deal with Your Emotions as You Deconverted?

i have a question

Recently, a reader named Theresa asked:

Would you please discuss, or please point me to where you discuss, how you dealt/deal with your emotions and conflicts as you were deconverting? My life has been much tamer than yours, yet it’s revolved in a HUGE part around church and faith and belief, and so on.

I’ve been questioning for awhile, but 2019 was an especially bad year, including three huge shakeups in my life, greatly impacting my Christian relationships. It’s all a really long story, one I’m not comfortable sharing with strangers.

I feel sometimes like I’m walking a tightrope, trying to balance or wondering if I should do something now to prepare for the future. For example, I am expected to take over my Mom’s special needs adults class when she passes – not for years yet, hopefully. I love the members, we’re all family – but it will be my chance to cut ties with the church and run.

So much of life now is like this. I don’t have clarity or guidance; and everyone I know wants me to remain as I am. I’ve been a Christian for 45 years +, and taught in one capacity or another for most of that, up until 2019, one of the blindsiding betrayals I went through. I have felt pulls elsewhere as I was growing up, but squashed them, and sometimes I wonder …

I just don’t know how to handle things sometimes. I’ve been in limbo for quite awhile, spiritually and otherwise, and it doesn’t feel good or right to feel this way this much anymore.

Specifically, Theresa asked:

How [did] you dealt/deal with your emotions and conflicts as you were deconverting?

Theresa has been involved with Christianity for over forty-five years. She’s has a lifetime of church experiences and friendships. Based on her comment, Theresa is not a passive or cultural Christian. She’s actively involved in her church; a teacher for decades. It’s evident, at least to me, that she deeply cares about her church family, including her mother who attends the same church. Yet, she has serious doubts and questions about Christianity and is considering an exit from her church. Internally debating these issues has caused psychological angst, leading to emotional unrest.

For those of us who were lifelong followers of Jesus before we deconverted, Theresa’s story has a familiar feel. I was part of the Evangelical church for fifty years, and a pastor for twenty-five years. Much like Theresa, I was deeply immersed in the machinations of the church. I deeply loved God, the ministry, and the people I pastored. I fully expected to spend my entire life preaching the gospel, saving souls, and ministering to both the saved and the lost. My exit story was one where I would be preaching, and as I was emphasizing the certainty of death, drop dead in the pulpit. Talk about a powerful sermon illustration. 🙂 Alas, my faith died before I did. On the last Sunday in November 2008, I walked out of the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. Several months later, I sent out my infamous letter, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners, declaring that I was no longer a Christian.

For the longest time, wanting to fend off people saying I left Christianity due to some sort of “hurt,” I focused on the intellectual reasons I deconverted. I left Christianity because I no longer believed its central claims about Jesus and the Bible. While I could have continued to play the game, I have never been willing to “fake it until you make it.” When I concluded that Christianity was built upon a foundation of untruths, I felt duty bound to share my story. This, of course, led to the birth of this blog.

Over the years, I have tried to share not only the intellectual reasons I deconverted, but also the psychological struggles I’ve experienced, even to this day. Think about being married for fifty years, having children and grandchildren, and building a life together with your significant other. Yet, you began to have doubts about your relationship and the prospect of your future together. You sat down and made a list of things you liked and disliked about your spouse and reasons why you should stay or go. You weighed all the intellectual reasons for staying or leaving, concluding that it was time for you to end your marriage. You spent countless hours wrestling with your emotions, weeping over what divorce would cause not only to yourself but also to your spouse. Despite your psychological travails, you knew intellectually that divorce was the right thing to do. And so you walked away. While you are now “free,” you still struggle with thoughts about the past. “Did I make the right decision?” “OMG, what have I done?” “Now what?”

So it is for people who were married to Jesus, the church, and the ministry for years. We rightly concluded that Christianity could not withstand rational, intellectual challenge, so we decided to divorce. What we are left with, then, is the psychological baggage that comes with making such a momentous decision. And don’t let anyone tell you differently. Walking away from Christianity is hard (and painful), at least it was for me. Deconverting was, by far, the hardest decision I have ever made in my sixty-five years of life. My whole life changed overnight, including my relationships with my wife and our six children. In short order, I lost everything that was foundational to my life, including lifelong friends. I was forced, at the age of fifty, to begin anew.

Through this process, I have faced a plethora of psychological struggles. So much so that I have been seeing a secular counselor for over a decade. Counseling has been an essential part of the healing process for me. Evangelicalism caused me harm, both physically and emotionally. Worse yet, I struggle with the fact that not only was I a victim, but I was also a victimizer. I materially caused harm to my wife, children, and the people who lovingly called me “preacher.”

Theresa’s journey is her own. I have always been careful to not set myself up as an example of the path to follow. Each of us must weigh our beliefs carefully and decide accordingly. Not every road leads to atheism. Some people find resting places where they are able to hang on to some sort of religious faith. Others cannot. I encourage people to meet truth in the middle of the road. Don’t back up or try to go around truth. Do your homework. Read lots of books. Make sure you intellectually know WHY you no longer believe.

Once the intellectual reasons for deconverting are resolved, there’s still psychological baggage to deal with. It’s much harder to reason away feelings. The question that must be asked and answered is this: why do I have these feelings? Typically, fear is the primary reason for emotional turmoil. “What if I am wrong?” Fear of offending God or going to Hell lurks in the shadows. Pressure from pastors, family members, and fellow church members — who cannot or will not understand and appreciate your journey — only add to your emotional unrest. How, then, should we handle the emotional aspects of deconversion?

First, seek out people who have walked a similar path. This blog primarily exists to help those who have doubts or questions about Christianity or who have walked away from the faith. I have found that telling my story is one of the best ways I can help others.

Second, find a vehicle by which you can express your struggles. Start journaling, or better yet, start blogging. I have found writing to be cathartic, a way for me to work through my questions, doubts, and feelings. I have long encouraged people to write guest posts for this site. Telling your story, even anonymously, can be liberating.

Third, find someone you can confide in. This is not easy, especially when everyone around you still believes. That’s why my inbox is always open. I am not a counselor, but I am a good listener. And there are other people on this site who are more than willing to help people along the way. The goal is not to convert people to atheism as much as it is to lend a helping hand to people as they walk their journey through life.

Fourth, I strongly encourage people to seek out help from a competent counselor. Not a religious counselor; not a pastor; a secular counselor trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Talking to a disinterested third party can be quite helpful as you try to unpack your religious past. Religion can and does cause trauma and harm. People often grossly underestimate the harm caused by their past religious experiences and beliefs. I know I did. It was only recently, ten years in, that my counselor was able to get me to see how much trauma I’ve had in my life and how that trauma deeply marred and scarred my life and the relationships I have with my family. For the longest time, I believed that trauma was what happened to other people, not me. It wasn’t until I made a list of the traumatic experiences in my life that I finally understood some of my psychological struggles.

What advice would you give to Theresa? Please share your thoughtful advice in the comment section.

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.

Two Questions About the IFB Church Movement

i have a question

Several weeks ago, a reader sent me an email, asking me two questions. What follows is my response.

For Independent Fundamental Baptists, I’ve watched a couple of Steven Anderson’s sermons, and I see the congregation agreeing and saying amen to everything pastor Anderson has said (even if it is rude and hateful). Why do the Independent Fundamental Baptists have to agree with their pastor?

While some people paint Steven Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, as some sort of extremist within the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement (even suggesting he is NOT IFB), Anderson is typical of what I saw and experienced as an IFB church member and pastor. Granted, Anderson is more public about his abhorrent beliefs and practices than many IFB preachers, but he hasn’t said or done anything that is uncommon among Fundamentalist Baptists. (Please see Understanding Steven Anderson, Pastor Faithful Word Baptist Church, Tempe, Arizona.)

IFB churches typically believe that their pastors are chosen by God, ordained to be their leaders. Most IFB churches are led and controlled by one man, the pastor. The pastor is viewed as a divine oracle of sorts, one who speaks on God’s behalf. The pastor is a gatekeeper, the hub around which the church turns. Church members are conditioned and indoctrinated to submit to their pastor’s rule and authority.

Thus, when the man of God stands to speak to the people of God, from the inerrant, infallible Word of God, congregants believe his words are straight from the mouth of God. IFB pastors work for God, not the church, a belief that is often reinforced through preaching on subjects such as pastoral authority and the dangers of going against the man of God. So, then, it should come as no surprise that church members hang on their preacher’s every word, showing their agreement with shouts of AMEN!, THAT’S RIGHT PREACHER!, or PREACH IT!

Also, why do they seem to hate liberals, Catholics, homosexuals, Jews, etc?

Hatred of others is part of the DNA of IFB churches, colleges, preachers, and church members. IFB churches aren’t counter-cultural, they are anti-cultural. Congregants are taught to hate the world.

1 John 2:15-16 says:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Thus, it is not surprising that IFB believers hate liberal Christians, Catholics, LGBTQ people, Democrats, abortionists, atheists, socialists, and anyone else who believes or lives differently from them. In Steven Anderson’s case, he wears his hate proudly. Other IFB adherents hide their hate behind the closed doors of their homes or the safe confines of their churches. Whether out and proud or hiding behind an “I love Jesus” smile, IFB Christians hate.

Years ago, I made the case that there was no difference between Fred Phelps, of Westboro Baptist Church fame, and Southern Baptist luminary Al Mohler. While Phelps wore his hate on his sleeve and Mohler couched his hate in politeness and ten-dollar words, both were Fundamentalists and Calvinists with a “righteous” hatred of the “world.”

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.

Evangelical Pastor Questions Whether I Preached the “Real” Jesus

bruce gerencser false jesus

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

Regardless of what I do to ward off bloodsucking Evangelical vampires, they continue to send me emails detailing their opinions about my past and present life. The notice on the Contact page makes it clear that I am not interested in receiving such messages. I even wrote posts titled Dear Evangelical and Simple Contact Form for Evangelicals in an attempt to reduce the flow of preachy and judgmental emails. I also added a page titled WHY?, hoping that Evangelical zealots would read the posts listed on this page and as a result have no need to email questions that have already been answered. Despite doing all these things, Evangelicals STILL feel duty-bound to contact me. I suspect many of them think God is “leading” them to email me or they feel it is important to put in a good word for the Man Upstairs. Wayne from California is one such man. I think Wayne is an Evangelical pastor — based on his email address, IP address, and Google name search — but since he didn’t call himself a pastor, I won’t either.

What follows is the complete text of Wayne’s email. My response is indented and italicized. Enjoy!

Bruce, thanks for sharing your heartfelt sentiments, etc. I do want to ask you a very pertinent question however as it relates to your defection from Christianity. What “JESUS” did you preach when you were pastoring churches for over 25 years? Was it the Jesus of the Holy Scriptures? Or the Jesus of your own theology?

First, you really should have spent some time reading more than four of my posts. If you had, you would never have asked such silly questions. That said, I want you to be fully educated concerning Bruce Almighty, so I will answer your questions.

I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Thousands of people heard me preach. I also held special meetings in churches affiliated with the Nazarene, Christian Union, Free Will Baptist, Assembly of God, Charismatic, Southern Baptist, Reformed Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist, General Association of Regular Baptist denominations/groups, along with numerous meetings held for Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches (IFB). Not one person ever questioned the Jesus or the gospel I was preaching. Not one time, ever!  You will search high and low to find one person who would say to you, Bruce preached a false gospel. Dozens of colleagues in the ministry will tell you that my gospel preaching was Evangelical and orthodox in every way.

I ask because if you really knew JESUS as Savior and Redeemer, how is it that you can walk away from HIM? Wasn’t HE real in your life? Didn’t HE minister to you as you ministered to others? Did you believe anything that you preached? Or was it all a lie…or a show?

Yes, I really knew Jesus, and yes he was real in my life. Yes, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, led me, spoke to me, and ministered to my spiritual needs. However, I now know that just because I had experiences such as these, they in no way “prove” the existence of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit.

I preached the Jesus of orthodox Christianity. I preached the Jesus found within the pages of the Christian Bible. And yes, I preached the Jesus who saved me from my sins.

If you would like, Wayne, we both can unzip our pants and have a Jesus-measuring contest. Unlike that of Donald Trump, my Jesus was pretty big. I was an expositional preacher. Preaching in this manner afforded me the opportunity to make much of Jesus each and every Lord’s Day.

Any suggestion that I preached some sort of defective or false Jesus is ludicrous. I understand WHY you think this might be so. You can’t square my story with your theology, so you must find a way to dismiss my life: I was an unsaved false teacher who preached a truncated gospel and a false Jesus. Here’s the problem. You will search in vain for even ONE person who would agree with you. Having never heard me preach, you are in no way qualified to judge the quality of my preaching.

I took my calling seriously, spending countless hours evangelizing the lost, ministering to those in need, and studying for my sermons. My faith was the essence of my life, as it was for my wife and children. Again, you will search in vain for even one person who will tell you that I was anything but who I say I was during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

Were you ever really a TRUE Believer in Christ from day one? I know you said that your life had been inundated with the “Church,” but not a lot was said with what you did with JESUS! That is perhaps where your problem arised [sic]. The Bible does speaks [sic] very clearly of “APOSTATES,” those that merely “professed” faith in Christ…but they never ever “possessed” real faith in Christ? Could that have been you?

No, I was not, at that time, an apostate. Your inability to comprehend my life comes from your superficial reading of my story. No need to dig in and try to understand. You picked out of my story those things that said to you I was unsaved or an apostate and that is all you needed to know.

Again, I “possessed” Jesus every bit as much as you do.

Biblically speaking, no true believer/follower of Christ could ever walk away from HIM as believers are “SEALED” by the HOLY SPIRIT until the day of Redemption. So my friend, perhaps you were hurt and that caused you to turn away, but the JESUS of the Scriptures would ALWAYS be there for you if you really had a genuine faith in Him. I pray that the God of the Scriptures will bring you to a place of true repentance and faith, and that the hurt/wounds that have caused you bitterness in your soul, will be healed and you can really begin living for Christ!

Ah, now we get to the crux of the matter. You can’t square your once-saved-always-saved theology with my life, so it is evident to you that I was never a true Christian. What an easy way to dismiss my story. With one wave of your hand, you say, Bruce, you never were a Christian! This one thing I know: I once was saved and now I am not. I defy you to find one chink in my Evangelical armor. I checked all the boxes, Wayne, and if I wasn’t a Christian neither are you.

I spent most of my life following, serving, and living for Jesus and his Church. Quite frankly, I find inquiries such as yours to be patently offensive. I suspect you would feel the same way if I “doubted” the sincerity of your faith.

Many Evangelicals have come before you. Armed with Cracker Jack armchair psychology degrees, they determine that I am an angry, hurt, and bitter man. Here’s the problem with this line of inquiry: let’s assume I am now angry, hurt, or bitter. How is this relevant to the veracity of my past religious faith? When I was a Christian I was not angry, hurt, or bitter. And believe me, I know what anger and bitterness look like. I spent twenty-five years wading through the Evangelical sewer, coming in contact with countless angry and bitter “followers” of Jesus.  Again, I defy you to find one person who would say that I was an angry, hurt, or bitter Christian.

Now, if you are asking me if I am NOW angry or bitter? Sure, sometimes. These are normal human emotions, emotions that were buried under teachings about the fruit of the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. If I am angry about anything it is that I continue to receive emails such as yours from Evangelicals who refuse to listen and allow me to tell my own story. I know that as long as I am willing to publicly talk about my life as an Evangelical Christian and pastor that I will have to deal with people like you — people who show me little to no respect because they think they have me all figured out.

Years ago, I told my counselor that I was miffed over people not allowing me to tell my own story. I naively thought that if I explained myself, people such as yourself would understand. My counselor chuckled and told me that my mistake was thinking that Evangelicals cared one whit about what I think. He said, they don’t give a shit about what you think!

I now know my counselor was right. And here’s the good thing . . . I no longer give a shit about what Evangelicals think about my past or present life. My goal is to help Christians who have doubts about Christianity or who have recently left the faith. Over the past eight years, I have corresponded with scores of people who had doubts or questions about their faith. I am pleased that I have been able to lend a small measure of support. In some instances, I was able to help people gently unhitch their lives from Evangelicalism — a belief system that often causes untold psychological damage. I am, in many ways, still a pastor. I sincerely want to help people. The difference now, of course, is that my focus is on helping people walk the path of life with honesty and integrity. While I have been instrumental in helping numerous people — including pastors — embrace atheism, chalking up deconversions is not my goal. This blog is my pulpit and the world is my parish. Thousands of people regularly read my writing. I must be doing something right, yes? I still have a hard time accepting that people actually WANT to read what I write, but they do, and I appreciate their support.

By all means pray. It won’t do any good, but praying surely will make you feel like you are doing something anything to silence my voice and bring me to Jesus.

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.

Questions: Bruce, Why Does This Site Cost So Much to Operate?

questions

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

Alex asked:

You mentioned on a recent post that your website costs 135 dollars a month to run. It is a little daunting to me as someone who is getting started on running a website.. What are the reasons for the high costs and what advice would you give those of us who want to start a website? Thank you.

Clubshadenfreude asked:

I’m curious too, since I have my blog on WordPress and it’s free. I do know that ad appear on it, but for the functionality that I need, it’s okay.

There are numerous free and low-cost blog hosting providers bloggers can use when getting started. If your traffic numbers remain low, such services are sufficient. However, when your site begins to grow, you will start to notice slower page load speeds. Sometimes, traffic spikes lead to your site not being accessible.

Seven years ago, I decided to go with a managed WordPress hosting provider. My reasons for doing so are as follows:

  • Fast page load speed
  • SSL certificate provided
  • CDN service provided
  • No advertisements
  • Automatic software and plugin update
  • Responsive tech support by phone
  • Ability to handle large traffic spikes from Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, news sites
  • No throttling of service when going over alloted monthly visitors
  • Staging sites (ability to design/update site offline)
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If there are functions you would like to see added to this site, please leave your suggestion in the comment section. I do plan to update the theme used for The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. I am hesitant to change themes, but the current one is getting “old.” I will likely go to a paid premium theme.

My goal is to make this site easy to read. I personally don’t like being assaulted by numerous advertisements when I visit websites, so I made this site ad-free. I also hate post excerpts that require people to click on a link before accessing the article. When people come to the front page of this site, they are served five full content posts — no clicking required. Taking this approach means readers can read up to five articles while only clicking once on a post link. This reduces the number of daily page views, but speedy accessibility is more important than higher page view numbers.

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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.

Questions: Bruce, Do You Know Any Evangelical Preachers Who Are Thoughtful, Decent, Kind Human Beings?

questions

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

Becky asked:

Bruce, did you ever meet any truly lovely fundamentalists/evangelicals…besides yourself? That is, people that loved their fellow man and actually tried to follow that directive to care about the sinners, and not to just preach and be power mad?

I have been exposed to the best and worst that Evangelicalism has to offer. Do I know thoughtful, decent, kind Evangelical preachers? Sure. That said, to a person they believe that God will punish all non-Christians in the Lake of Fire after they die. Few of them are able (or willing) to form friendships outside of their club. And all too often, what friendships they do have with unbelievers have an ulterior motive: salvation of sinners. Rare is the Evangelical who can befriend someone and let them go to Hell in peace. They exist, but I haven’t met one lately.

If I used how Evangelical preachers have treated me since I left Christianity in 2008 as the measure by which to judge, I would conclude they are an irredeemable lot of judgmental assholes. One need only read emails from them I have published over the years to see that there are a lot of arrogant, nasty Jesus-loving men pastoring Evangelical churches — especially Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. That said, I am sure there are preachers who self-identify as Evangelicals who are thoughtful and kind people. I just haven’t met any lately.

Unfortunately, Trumpism and Christian nationalism have infected a large swath of Evangelical churches, interjecting coarseness and nastiness into the public square. Whatever goodwill Evangelicals once had, it is now gone. They are now one of the most hated sects in America. (Please see Letter to the Editor: Evangelicalism is One of the Most Hated Religious Sects in America, And They Only Have Themselves to Blame.)

Becky wants to believe that I was a “lovely” Evangelical — thanks — but I must be honest: my preaching was inherently harmful. I was a separatist who divided the world up into us vs. them categories: saved vs. lost. I taught church members to separate themselves from the “world,” and I practiced the same. While I treated my neighbors and strangers with kindness and respect, my Evangelical theology was always lurking in the shadows.

Growing up in poverty and having a parent with mental health problems certainly affected how I viewed others. I spent most of my years in the ministry helping the poor, homeless, and marginalized. I was sympathetic to their plight. That said, my Evangelical theology was never far from me. I cannot overestimate how my theological beliefs materially and deeply affected my thinking.

I have a poor view of myself. I have spent the past decade trying to regain a sense of self-worth. My counselor told me that I was not as bad a person as I thought I was. I know his statement is true, but I still struggle with seeing myself as a good person. Evangelicalism will do that to you. All I know to do is to try to be a better person today than I was yesterday.

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, Wouldn’t Your Life Be “Easier” if You Were Still a Christian?

bible has all the answers

I recently participated in a Zoom discussion with a Mennonite discipleship class in Pennsylvania. At the end of my sermon/lecture/speech on why I am an atheist, I fielded questions from the men in attendance. (Please see Bruce, I Don’t Believe You Are an Atheist.) One man asked me, “do you think your life would be ‘easier’ if you were still a Christian?” I replied, “yes!” The man agreed with me; life was easier for me when all I had to do was read, trust, and obey.

As a Christian, I believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. I believed the Bible contained everything I needed for life and godliness; that the Bible was God’s blueprint for living. As all Christians are, I was a hypocrite, often ignoring or disobeying the teachings of the Bible. That said, the bent of my life was towards holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. I daily asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins (I John 1:9). I sought truth and guidance from the Bible, asking God, the Holy Spirit, to guide my thoughts, words, and deeds. As honest Christians will also admit, I failed at this endeavor. I kept trying, day in and day out, but I never felt I had “arrived” as a Christian.

Despite the existential struggles that came from being a follower of Jesus, life was simple. I didn’t have to think about morality or ethics. When questions would arise, the answer was always the same: THE BIBLE SAYS __________. Granted, in retrospect, I now know that the Bible required interpretation. Thus, I was the final arbiter of what I deemed moral and ethical — not God. Bruce Gerencser, not the Triune God, had the final say on everything.

In November 2008, I attended church for the last time. In 2009, I wrote a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners, detailing my loss of faith. Losing that which had been the foundation of the first fifty years of my life was traumatic, to say the least. I desperately tried to hang on to God, the Bible, and the church, but I was unable to do so. If there was ever a time for God to make himself known to me, it was then. But my doubts and questions were met with silence. Eventually, I concluded that the reason for the silence was this: God was a myth; the God of the Christian Bible was a human construct. Once the Bible and its author (God) lost their authority and control over me, I began sliding down the proverbial slippery slope. Many of the readers of this site have experienced similar frightening slides. Some of you found natural resting places: liberal Christianity, Unitarian-Universalism, or some other religion. For me, my slide finished with a colossal thud at the bottom of the slope. I finally admitted I was an atheist.

Saying I was an atheist was just the beginning of my new life in accordance to science, reason, and skepticism. Gone were God, the church, and the Bible — now what? What do I believe? I had to rethink my morals and ethics. I no longer had at my disposal book, chapter, and verse. I had to ponder what it was I believed about behaviors the Bible called “sin.” I decided that “sin” was a religious construct used by clerics and churches to keep asses in the seats and Benjamins in the offering plates. Sin, Hell, Judgment, Fear . . . thus saith the Lord! Remove these things from the equation and Christianity would shrivel up and die.

I have spent the past thirteen years thinking about what I believe and how I want to live my life. This has been hard. There’s no Atheist Handbook, no rulebook by which to govern my life. Sure, humanism provides a general moral and ethical framework for me, but I still have to determine the moral and ethical beliefs I took for granted as an Evangelical Christian. It would be far easier for me to appeal to a “book” as my standard for living (and certainly Christianity influences my thinking on morality). However, I am committed to doing the hard work necessary to best live my life. My “sin” list now fits on the front of a 3×5 card. Most of the “sins” that perturbed me as a Bible preacher and teacher no longer matter to me. I don’t care about who fucks whom, when, where, why, or how. As long as it’s consensual, that’s the end of the discussion for me.

The longer I’m an atheist, the easier the journey becomes. I have settled many of the moral and ethical questions that perturbed me a decade ago. However, I still struggle with some things. As my politics continue to move leftward, I am forced to rethink what matters politically (and morally). I remain a work in progress.

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.

Questions: Bruce, What Was Your View of “God”?

questions

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

Evan asked:

My first question is, what is God to you? Also, when you were actively involved in the church, what, how, and where did you see God as? To give some examples, is God a bearded man in the sky watching us (as silly as that sounds)? Is he Invisible, Risen? Lively or Unlively? What about when praying to him (as in Jesus)? Do you think he was listening to your words?

Evan is not a Christian, so he asks these questions from the perspective of an unbeliever trying to understand how Christians view and understand God. There is no singular Christian view/understanding of God, so it is impossible to define God from a singular perspective. Put a hundred Christians in a room and have them answer Evan’s questions, and you will end up with dozens of answers. Much like Jesus, “God” is a product of human imagination and experience. Simply put, God is whoever/whatever you want him/her/it to be. What follows, then, is how I viewed God as an Evangelical Christian and pastor. My past view of God is normative within Evangelicalism, but certainly not the only view found within the Evangelical tent.

Evan’s first question is in the present tense, so let me briefly answer it before answering the “what is God to you” in the past tense. I am an atheist, so I don’t believe in the existence of deities. I am persuaded that God is a human construct, the byproduct of a pre-science world. Humans looked at the universe and tried to explain what they saw. Enter Gods. Science, of course, has now answered many of the questions that were once answered with “God.” As science continues to answer more and more questions about our universe, God becomes irrelevant. Of course, the concept of “God” is deeply ingrained in human thinking, so ridding our world of deities is not easy.

As an Evangelical Christian, I believed God was eternal and transcendent; that God was three persons in one (the Trinity): God, the father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. God was all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. Simply put, God was everywhere. There was no place I could go to escape the presence of God.

God was a personal deity. Jesus died on a Roman cross for my sins (substitutionary atonement) and resurrected from the dead three days later. By putting my faith and trust in Jesus, I believed he forgave my past/present/future sins, and I would go to Heaven after I died. The moment I was “saved.” the Holy Spirit moved into my “heart” and became my teacher and guide.

I viewed God as a spiritual presence in my life and the world. Through the Bible and prayer, God “spoke” to me — not audibly per se. Feeling and knowing the presence of God is hard to explain. Religious indoctrination and conditioning led me to believe God was an ever-present reality in my life. There was no escaping God, even when I was sinning. When I prayed, I thought I was directly talking to God. At times. I had profound experiences when praying, reading the Bible, or preaching. Just as God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, I believe God walked with me too.

This is a dumbed-down (no offense to Evan) version of how I viewed and experienced God as an Evangelical Christian. I could have written a 10,000-word treatise on the Trinitarian God, complete with a plethora of Bible references. However, doing so would likely not give Evan the answers he is seeking.

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