We live in rural Northwest Ohio, fifty miles west of Toledo and forty-five miles east of Fort Wayne, Indiana. This is our home, even though we have lived in central Ohio, Southeast Ohio, Arizona, Michigan, California, and Texas. I was born in nearby Bryan, Ohio. My Hungarian grandparents owned a one-hundred-acre farm three miles north of my home. Since 2007, we have lived in the one-stoplight town of Ney, population 356. Over the years, I worked for two local churches, one in Montpelier, another in West Unity.
As a young man, I couldn’t wait to get away from rural Northwest Ohio with its flat land (an overpass is a hill) and social and cultural monoculture. Yet, time after time over the years, I returned to my home, finally making peace with its bland, boring, slow way of life. Now that pervasive health problems have boxed me in, I know I am “stuck,” with no other option than to live out my days in the land of God, Guns, and the GOP.
Lest I leave readers with the impression that I am just sitting around waiting to die, let me be clear, I love living in rural Northwest Ohio. I am a homegrown boy, intimately familiar with my surroundings. I love the watch-the-corn-grow rhythm of life. Yet, wanderlust is ever with me, calling me to waters and hills far beyond my home. I know I am living in the last home I will ever inhabit, so I have to content myself with road trips and vacations to other places. My six children and thirteen grandchildren live nearby, allowing me to be involved in their lives as much as I physically can. Yet, I can’t help but hope that my grandchildren will leave this place we call home and explore the world.
I am an atheist in a place where few people are. I have met fewer than ten locals over the past fourteen years who identify as atheists or agnostics (and some of them are still in the closet). I am sure there are more atheists around me, but the economic and social costs are such that atheists often keep their unbelief to themselves. Evangelicalism rules the roost, even at mainline churches. There are three hundred churches within thirty or so minutes from our home. Jesus is everywhere (yet nowhere because he’s dead) — literally. And the local culture reflects this. People assume you are a Christian. People assume you attend church. People assume you believe the Bible is the Word of God. People assume you believe God created everything. The pressure to conform to religious norms can be overwhelming. While I refuse to conform, I totally understand why some local atheists choose to play the “game” instead of being tarred and feathered as an unbeliever.
Let me give you a good example of how pervasive Evangelical Christianity is in rural Northwest Ohio. What follows is a front-page ad on the Defiance Crescent-News’ website for Auto Servant, a Christian car repair business in Defiance.
Auto Servant has a Facebook page for its business. Here are some of the posts made on the page:
Merry Christmas! From all of us at Auto Servant! We are so thankful for God our father to send His son Jesus Christ! And to lead us all with the Holy Spirit! We are so thankful for all our friends and family and customers! You are the best people in the world! We truly appreciate you all and all you do. For all your prayers and support! We are very grateful for you all! God bless you!
We are so thankful for God our father! Our Lord Jesus Christ! Our guidance Holy Spirit! Thank you Lord for all you have done for us and our families! You are the center of who we are! Thank you to all our wonderful family and employees. You are the best! Thank you to all of our wonderful customers and friends! We truly appreciate you all so much! God has put amazing people in our lives! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!!
Praise God- though the last few days- we were unsure/ now we know/ God has risen! Death has been defeated! Jesus you change everything! Chains fall- fear gone- Jesus you change everything!
Happy Memorial Day! Thank you Lord for your sacrifice and for the sacrifice of all those who gave their lives for us! We pray for Your protection over the USA!
Celebrating the greatest comeback in HISTORY! God bless you all! Thank you Lord Jesus for sacrificing so much for us!
It’s clear from its newspaper ad and Facebook page that the owner of Auto Servant has a certain demographic in mind for its services — Christians. On one hand, this is a smart business model. Using words and imagery that says to local Christians: “Hey, I am part of the same tribe. Get your car fixed here,” is smart and likely profitable. Auto Servant is not the only local business that uses this model. Crosses, fish symbols, and Bible quotations are common. Go to these businesses and you will find Christian kitsch everywhere. Again, these things say to Christian customers: “Hey, I am one of you. Spend your money here.”
On the other hand, the United States is becoming increasingly non-religious. The fastest-growing religious demographic in the U.S. is the “nones” — those who self-identify as atheist, agnostic, or indifferent towards religion. People in this demographic are less likely to frequent businesses that use religion as a marketing tool (even if these businesses think they have a higher motive or purpose for doing so). As godless heathens, my wife and I deliberately avoid businesses that use Jesus to promote their stores. That’s why we don’t eat at Chik-fil-A or shop at Hobby Lobby. That’s why we don’t shop at some local businesses and would never take our car in for repair at Auto Servant. We simply won’t do business with stores that lead with the Cross.
We certainly frequent businesses owned by Christians. We have no problem with an owner’s personal religious beliefs as long she keeps her beliefs to herself. When we go to a business, we are there to fulfill our wants and needs. If we wanted to hear about Jesus, we would go to a church. Several years ago, an appliance repairman came to our home to fix our dryer. We knew he was a Christian, but he was known for providing excellent service, so we decided to have him repair our dryer. During the course of repairing our dryer, he took it upon himself — unprompted — to witness to us and invite us to his church. We said nothing. However, we will never do business with this man again.
We rarely shop locally these days. The reasons are many, but one reason is that we are tired of the constant Jesus-in-your-face business practices. Typically, we do most of our shopping in Fort Wayne, Toledo, or online. By doing so, we use our dollars as a protest to the practice of using Jesus/Christianity as a marketing tool. Will this choice of ours make any difference locally? Nope. And that doesn’t matter. This is a personal choice for us, one that reflects our values. A generation from now, I suspect local businesses will be less likely to parade Jesus and Christianity before potential customers. For now, Jesus is good for business.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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