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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, 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 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)
  • Free site migration

Using the above criteria, I decided to go with Flywheel (now owned by WP Engine) as the managed hosting provider for this site. Years later, I am still a satisfied client.

I use premium services from Clicky (site stats), Grammarly (post editing), Yoast (SEO — search engine optimization). I also use several paid plugins to add functionality to this site.

Using the aforementioned services, this site is well suited for continued growth.

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.

The costs for this site are paid from donations received through Patreon and PayPal. Thank you for your continued support.

If you have any further questions, please ask them in the comment section below.

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 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, 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 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, 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 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, 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 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, 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 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, 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 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 Relationship with Liberal Pastors in the Towns You Preached?

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.

Astreja asked:

I have a question, Bruce: What were your (and your congregants’) relationships like with more liberal churches in the towns where you preached?

My relationships with non-Evangelical churches/pastors changed from the time I entered the ministry until I preached my last sermon in 2005. I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, attended an IFB college, and worked for and pastored three IFB churches from 1979 to1989. During my tenure as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio (1983-1994), I left the IFB church movement I was raised in and embraced Evangelical Calvinism. By the time I pastored my last church in 2003, my theology had moved leftward, as did my politics. A parishioner who heard me preach in the 1990s and then again in 2003, was astounded by how much my preaching had changed. He believed I had left Calvinism and embraced works-based salvation (social gospel). He was right. I was still in the Evangelical tent, but I had moved from the extreme right to the liberalism found on the left.

our father's house west unity ohio
Bryan Times Advertisement for Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

As a Fundamentalist Baptist pastor, I only fellowshipped with my own kind. In the late 1980s, I received a letter inviting me to attend the monthly ministerial meetings for Somerset area pastors. I responded with a letter of my own, stating that I was a separatist, that I did not fellowship with liberals. Besides, the meetings were held at a local restaurant that served alcohol — a definite “sin” in the eyes of IFB preachers. I received a kind, thoughtful reply from the local Lutheran minister. He reminded me that even Jesus fellowshipped with sinners. Smack! 🙂 It would be years later before I dropped my exclusionary practices and adopted the tag line for my church that stated: “the church where the only label that matters is . . . Christian.” In the late 1990s, I joined the local ministerial association, embracing all those who called themselves Christians. At the end of my time in the ministry, my Fundamentalist colleagues in the ministry considered me an ecumenist and a liberal — two labels I wore proudly.

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 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 Will Happen to This Blog After You Die?

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.

Troy asked:

#1 Do you think your parents passing away at a young age made it easier to announce your atheism and on the other side of thing Polly’s parents were both alive until recently do you think this made her less vocal about it? (And I know writing that letter announcing your departure from religion was not easy, but pleasing parents is something that is qualitatively different)

#2 You often speak of your ill health, while I hesitate to ask it because I love you as a friend, do you want to blog to continue after you die or would you like it to die with you?

I don’t think the physical state — alive or dead — of our parents played much of a part in how Polly and I announced our loss of faith in 2008. If anything, our personalities determined our response. A story from our days at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, might best explain this. Not long after I expressed my romantic interest in Polly, we walked to an elevated drainage cover situated in the field outside of the dormitory. Sitting down, exactly six inches apart, (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.) we “talked.” Well, I should say I talked. Polly quickly learned that her new love interest loved to talk, and talk, and talk, and . . . I learned that the beautiful dark-haired girl who would become my wife two years later was bashful, rarely saying a word. I thought, “does this girl EVER talk”? 🙂 Our personalities are very different. While I have won Polly over to my talkative side — at least when she’s around me — she’s still shy around people she doesn’t know. She’s content to let me be the talker in the family, even when I wish she would speak up. After forty-three years of marriage, we accept that we are who we are, comfortable in our own skins. Dammit, Polly, will you PLEASE tell your mother ____________? 🙂

This aforementioned story best explains how each of us announced our defections from Christianity. I wrote Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and started a blog. Polly? She said nothing, not then and not now. I suspect that people at her place of employment still think Polly is an Evangelical pastor’s wife. The people who work for her know that she is not a Christian, but outside of them, she has not shared her story with anyone. And she’s fine with that. And so am I.

Polly’s Fundamentalist Baptist parents (Dad died in 2020) know we left Christianity. They know we are agnostic atheists. However, we have NEVER had one conversation with them about our loss of faith. And we likely never will. That’s been the MO of our relationship with Polly’s parents from day one (which I will cover one day in a post).

Now to Troy’s second question. Troy is a good friend of mine. While we have never met face to face, we have become close over the years through this blog and Facebook. So I accept his question as coming from a heart of love and concern. If “Dr.” David Tee asked me this question, I would hear, “Hey godless motherfucker. What going to happen to your blog after God strikes you dead and you end up in Hell?”

Troy knows that I am in poor health. Tee does too, but he’s a heartless prick, so fuck him. 🙂 Troy knows my days are numbered, as do I. I hope to live for five or ten more years, but my body tells me that the hourglass of my life is running out. Knowing this, I have had thoughts about the future of this blog. Do I want it to live on after my death? Will Polly be able to maintain this site after my demise? One of my children? I don’t know.

I know I don’t want Polly to be saddled with the costs of maintaining this site — roughly $125 a month. I know that once I am gone, readership numbers will drop, as will donations. That’s just the facts of the matter. We live in a “what have you done for me lately” world. When Bruce Almighty is turned into ashes, I hope people will mourn my loss. However, I know that readers will move on. No new content, no reason to come to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser blog.

My thoughts are this: I need to leave behind detailed instructions on how to move this to a cheaper (and slower) web hosting service. Or, if given time before I die, I will do this myself. This would reduce costs to less than $20 a month, leaving Polly to decide later if she wants to delete this site. Die! Die! My Darling! (Polly will understand this movie reference.)

I’m not sure how I feel about being memorialized after I kick the bucket. That said, I know my writing may help others after I go over the rainbow in the sky (I’m running out of synonyms for D-E-A-D). It will be left to Polly and my family to decide the future of my “ministry.” Maybe it would be nice if this blog outlived me for the sake of my grandchildren. DO IT FOR THE CHILDREN, BRUCE! 🙂 I want them to “know” my story, to read and understand my life. (Most of them were born after I left the ministry. They have no idea that Grandpa was once a Baptist preacher.) Of course, if I finished my damn book, I could autograph copies for my thirteen reasons to get up in the morning. Okay, nineteen reasons — though I can hardly even get off the couch these days when my six oh-so-awesome kids come to visit me to see how soon they will be collecting their inheritance. 🙂

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 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