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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions: Bruce, If You Had It to Do All Over Again, Would You Still Write Your Infamous Letter?

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.

Alisha asked:

I have read several times on your page about your writing a letter to friends and family after your deconversion. You chose to be very open with people about your change in belief. Your wife, you said, has chosen not to really talk much about her leaving Christianity. Now that several years have passed since you sent the letter, I wonder if you feel it was the correct thing to do or if you think taking your wife’s approach might have worked out better?

My wife and I left Christianity in 2008. In early 2009, I wrote a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners detailing our loss of faith, and sent it to hundreds of family members, friends, colleagues in the ministry, and former church members. While Polly signed her name to the letter (and agreed with its content), it was generally perceived as coming from me. Others have always viewed Polly as not thinking for herself or under the spell of “Bruce.”

While there might have been a time forty years ago that was true, I can confidently say that Polly thinks for herself, makes her own decisions, and generally does what she wants. While our relationship is quite “traditional,” the patriarchal form of our marriage died an ignoble death decades ago. We now have an egalitarian approach to marriage. Does patriarchal thinking still show up in our relationship from time to time? Sure. Religious indoctrination will do that to you. Several years ago, I told my counselor that I wished Polly would be more assertive, make more decisions. He reminded me that she was free to NOT make decisions too; that maybe she liked me being the main decision-maker in our family; that I needed to accept her as she is. Doc, of course, was right. The difference now is that I no longer make unilateral decisions that affect both of us. Years ago, I would go to work with one car and come home with another. I would NEVER do such a thing today. We have learned to make decisions together.

The aforementioned letter was our coming-out party. While I continue to be outspoken about my unbelief, spending the past thirteen years sharing my story and trying to help those with questions and doubts about Christianity, Polly, on the other hand, quickly receded into the background, rarely talking about her loss of faith. Personality-wise, Polly is quiet and reserved. In high school and college, she was a wallflower. She went on one date before starting to date me. I was, in every way, her one and only. I’m a talkative, opinionated extrovert. Polly is not. I remember being frustrated with her when we were dating over how little she talked (much like her father). People, including myself, mistook her shyness for her not having an opinion. Trust me, Polly Shope Gerencser has lots of opinions. You just need to learn how to extract them from her as I have over forty-three years of marriage. Do I wish she was more vocal? Sure. But Polly is not me, and it’s unfair for me to expect her to be a quarter-fed talk-a-machine like I am. 🙂

I said all of this to make this point: our personalities largely determined our individual response to loss of faith. I charged Hell with an empty squirt gun, screaming FREEDOM!, and Polly stood on the sidelines, quietly smiling, never saying a word. We each responded the way we did because it was our nature to do so. That is still true today.

When we deconverted, I stood on a corner, street preacher-style, and told the world that I was no longer a Christian. Polly, on the other hand, stood in the crowd, quietly saying, AMEN! Alisha wants to know, with thirteen years of unbelieving life in the rearview mirror, would we do it all over again the same way? On the one hand, I could say, “we are who we are, personality-wise.” Can any of us act differently? (And no, I am NOT interested in discussing free will.) I do know, however, that my letter had real-world consequences. We lost all of our friends save two. And I mean ALL OF THEM! We lost friendships twenty and thirty years in the making. One letter, one honest reflection, and BOOM! — fractured friendships. Some of our friends turned on me, sending me hateful, judgmental emails. (Polly was spared any of this ugliness from our friends.) One of my closest friends savaged me in several emails, suggesting I was mentally ill. Another friend said I was possessed by Satan. And yet another dear friend who had known me for twenty-five years — the wife of an evangelist who had preached for me numerous times — told me that it was evident I was unsaved, that I was a deceiver, that the Devil was using me. (Our youngest daughter is named after her.)

My ministerial colleagues immediately broke fellowship with me. Not one colleague tried to “understand” my story. Not one emailed me and asked if we could talk, have lunch, or tried to interact with me. My letter was a declaration of war — a war that I am fighting to this day.

Imagine losing all of your friends and professional connections in a matter of months. Fifty years in the Christian church, twenty-five years in the ministry, countless relationships, all burned to the ground. To say this response was devasting to Polly and me would be a gross understatement.

Polly took a quiet, measured approach, choosing to NOT talk about her loss of faith. It’s only been in recent years that she has shared with her co-workers that she is not a believer. One of her employees is also an unbeliever, so Polly has been more open to her, but even today, she is hesitant to talk about this part of life with others. (Polly has agreed to share her story on my podcast channel when and if I ever get the *&%$#* thing off the ground.)

We have made a few friends over the years, mainly through this blog and social media. The couple who remained friends of ours when we deconverted are the only people we do things with. I have lunch from time to time with a United Church of Christ pastor and a former mainline Lutheran pastor. Outside of these friendships, neither of us has people in our lives we can call up and have in-person relationships with. Sure, we have six children and thirteen grandchildren, but we want and need non-family relationships as well.

As far as family relationships go, we are estranged from much of Polly’s Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) family. We maintain a decent relationship with her mother, but we have yet to have a meaningful discussion with Mom about why we are no longer Christians. Mom and Dad (now deceased) got the letter I sent in 2009, and that’s been the extent of any discussion about why we left the ministry and later left Christianity. I suspect Mom has read my blog now and again, as many of Polly’s IFB family have, but our losses of faith remain the proverbial rainbow-colored elephant in the room. I suspect Mom still thinks that I am the patriarch of our home; that the only reason Polly is an unbeliever is me; that when I die, she will come running back to Jesus and Evangelical Christianity.

I could go on and on about the price we have paid for leaving Christianity. Would our lives be better today if I had never sent my infamous letter to family, friends, and former parishioners? Would our lives be better if I had never started blogging, never written letters to local newspapers’ editors, never given interviews detailing my story? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. We are who we are. Could I have NOT written my letter? I have pondered that question more times than I dare admit. I suspect Alisha wants to know if it is better to gently remove the bandaid or just get it over with and rip it off. I can’t tell her what to do in her own life. Am I happy with how our life has turned out post-Jesus? Sure (in general). Is Polly happy? Sure (in general). Neither of us is a woulda-coulda-shoulda kind of person. We tend to be realists, pessimists, and pragmatists. Would our lives have been different if I had stayed quiet about our unbelief? Maybe.

Perhaps some of the readers of this blog will chime in about their approaches to declaring (or not) their unbelief. This truly is one of those questions where there is no right answer.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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

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

Questions: Bruce, Were You a “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” Christian?

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.

ObstacleChick asked:

Related to questions others are asking, when you were fully in the fold, sold out, dedicated to the Trinity, did you ever feel any discomfort when you read things in the Bible that didn’t make sense or add up? Like, where did the children of Adam and Eve get their mates? Or about the dead that supposedly resurrected in the Easter Story in Matthew’s version? Or did Noah’s offspring all procreate with their siblings and cousins? (And why if it took so long for Noah and his sons to build the Ark there were no grandchildren running around during that time – or were those kids horrible reprobates too?) Were you a “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” kind of guy? You mentioned that you actually would study and prepare for your sermons, so you must have seen all those issues and more…you’re a smart guy.

Let me start by giving a short answer to ObstacleChick’s question: “Bruce, Were You a “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” Christian?” No, I was, instead, a “God Said It, That Settles It” Christian. For most of my years in the ministry, I believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Thus, I viewed the Bible as the very words of God — written by men under the influence and control of the Holy Spirit.

I was a serious student of the Bible, spending upwards of twenty hours a week preparing my sermons. I had a large library, but most of my books were written by people who believed as I did. Thus, I rarely read dissenting voices (this changed in the late 1990s as my theology and political views became more liberal). Did I see the issues raised by ObstacleChick? Sure, but the authors I read always seemed to have answers that satisfied my questions and doubts. I was, in every way, a true-blue believer.

I believed that God would, in time, answer any doubts or questions that I might have. I might have to wait until I got to Heaven, but all things would one day be revealed.

My view of the Bible gradually changed. First to go was King James-onlyism — a cardinal sin in the IFB church movement. Then, in the early 2000s, I started preaching from the English Standard Version (ESV). Influenced by the Emerging (Emergent) church movement with its post-modernist thinking, I began entertaining my doubts and questions — at least in my study — instead of turning them away with Evangelical cliches. While my preaching remained orthodox until the end — with liberal tinges — I ended the ministry a far different man from the one I was as a young preacher. After I left Christianity in 2008, several former parishioners told me that “books” were my problem; that I just needed to ONLY read the Bible. Alas, the horse had left the barn, never to return. Thanks to Dr. Bart Ehrman, Bishop John Shelby Spong, and others, it was impossible for me to return to a supernatural view of the Bible.

I regret not voicing my questions and doubts from the pulpit. I owed honesty to the congregations I pastored. Of course, I am not certain church members could have handled the truth. I might have found myself unemployed had I cast “doubt” upon the Word of God. Years ago, I shared some personal details about my life in one of my sermons. Afterward, someone came up to me and expressed displeasure over what I had said. “We want a pastor who is an overcomer, one who is victorious over sin.” Evidently, being open and honest was not appreciated. This man wanted me to “fake it until I make it.” He preferred the facade instead of the real (very human) structure.

I appreciate ObstacleChick saying I am a “smart guy.” I don’t think ignorance is bliss. As Matt Dillahunty is fond of saying, “I want to know as many true things as possible.” However, as an Evangelical Christian, my thinking processes were corrupted by religious indoctrination. “God said it, and that settles it” thinking causes untold harm. As former Evangelicals know, taking God at his word is a bad idea.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser