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Walking the Aisle — A Few Thoughts on Altar Calls

altar call first baptist church hammond
Altar Call at First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana

Every head bowed, every eye closed.

Is God is speaking to you right now?

What is it God wants you to do?

Do you need to be saved? Step out from where you are and come kneel at the altar. Cry out to God. He will save you. Don’t delay. Behold, NOW is the accepted time and NOW is the day of salvation.

Do you need to get right with God? Don’t delay. Don’t wait for another day. Step out from where you are, and come kneel at an old-fashioned altar and do business with God.

Whatever it is God wants you to do, do it today.

As we sing the first verse of Just As I Am, you come. Don’t wait. You don’t have the promise of tomorrow.

Come…

Over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I gave countless public invitations like the one above. The emphasis might have differed from week to week, but the focus was always on NOW, doing what God wants you to do without delay.

Sometimes, I would tell a poignant illustration that I hoped would drive home the importance of making a decision. My philosophy was clear:

  • There is a God
  • The Bible is truth
  • God hates sin
  • Salvation is through the merit and work of Jesus Christ
  • There is a Hell to shun and a Heaven to gain
  • No one has the promise of tomorrow
  • Death is certain
  • Decisions affecting our eternal destiny should never be put off

The invitation was the point in the service where I (God) brought everything together. It was the climax, the point where God showed his mighty power by saving sinners and calling backsliders back to the faith.

Thousands of people responded to altar calls given by me. I was pretty good at it. I knew what to say, and how to say it. I could read the emotions of those under the sound of my voice, and with a few well-placed words, get them to walk the aisle. What I called conviction back then is what I now call guilt. The Bible is a world-class book for making people feel guilty. And when people feel guilty (under conviction) they are ripe for manipulation.

In one church I pastored for 11 years, we had over 600 public professions of faith. We baptized hundreds of people. Rare was the Sunday when no one came forward during the invitation. (For many years, I gave invitations every time we held a service.)

On those rare weeks when no one stepped out for Jesus, I was often quite depressed. I thought, why didn’t anyone come forward? Maybe my sermon was poorly constructed, or perhaps God was punishing me because of some unconfessed sin in my life? In other words, God might send someone to Hell to get my attention.

The number of people responding to the invitation, like the number of people attending the church, is a measure that pastors use to judge themselves successes or failures. Church members judge the success or failure of their pastor by whether God is using his preaching to save people and reclaim backsliders. They also judge him based on the numeric growth of the church. In many ways, the church is no different from the corporate world, where corporations are judged a success or a failure based on economic output (stock price, revenue increase, increased productivity, bottom line profit).

Every church I ever pastored grew numerically. I was good for business. I knew I had good preaching skills. I knew I had “people” skills and that I was effective in reaching people with the gospel. I expected results. I expected God to work. I expected people to walk the aisle and do business with God. My modality in the church was similar to the manner in which I conducted myself in the business world. Over the years, I managed restaurants for Arthur Teachers, Long John Silvers, and Charley’s Steakery (along with a number of other management-level jobs). As a general manager, I was driven to succeed. Success was measured by net profit (a secular version of souls saved and church attendance growth).

Toward the latter third of my time in the ministry, I came to see that the altar call was a tool used by pastors to manipulate emotions, give the illusion that God’s power was on them, and that God was using them. I have no doubt that many pastors believe their own hype, I know I did. I came to see myself as a man used greatly by God. The proof was in the numbers.

When I stopped giving altar calls, many people responded negatively, and a few people even left the church. In their minds, an old-fashioned, Bible-believing church has altar calls. People should have an opportunity to respond to the sermon. People should have an opportunity to respond to the Holy Ghost’s leading. One former friend, a pastor, told me that he would never attend a church that didn’t give an altar call. Never mind that there is not one instance of an altar call in the Bible. Never mind that the history of the altar call can be traced back to Pelagian Charles Finney. In his mind, a good church was a church that gave altar calls. A church without altar calls was a liberal church that didn’t love souls.

billy graham crusade altar call
Billy Graham Crusade Altar Call

In the 1960s, evangelists such as Billy Graham popularized the altar call and brought it to the TV screen. Many of us remember seeing a Billy Graham Crusade on network TV. Who can forget the altar call, hundreds of people pouring out of the aisles making their way down to the front. What most people did not know is that MANY of the people responding to the invitation were actually Christian altar workers. They helped “prime the pump” with their movement forward, encouraging others to do the same. If you take the first step, God will help you take the rest . . .

When we are part of a group, there is pressure to conform to the group standard. This dynamic is quite evident in church. Individuality is discouraged. Dissent is frowned upon. I see the same problem in the secular world. Most human beings don’t want to stand out from the crowd, so they tend to embrace whatever the group standard is.

Personally, I try to fight such conformity. I will gladly sing the national anthem and recite most of the Pledge of Allegiance, but I’ll be damned if I will bow my head and take off my hat in an act of worship as some knucklehead prays for God to bless the race car drivers or a singer sings God Bless America during the seventh-inning stretch at a baseball game. That said, I have no doubt that I succumb to the group standard more than I care to admit.

Group conformity is not necessarily bad, but we must be careful we do not surrender our ability to reason and think for ourselves. The pressure to conform to a group standard in church often sucks the life, vitality, and joy from a person’s life. When the pastor gives an invitation and scores of people respond, the pressure to do likewise is very strong. Being right with God = walking the aisle. Standing in the pew and not walking the aisle = Not right with God.

Many years ago, I attended a Sword of the Lord Conference in the Canton, Ohio area. Curtis Hutson was one of the main speakers. He preached on the family, on fatherhood. At the close of his sermon, he gave an altar call that basically said “if you want to be a better father, you need to come to the altar and profess your willingness to do so” Hundreds and hundreds of men responded. I didn’t. I thought Hutson was being quite manipulative, so I refused to walk the aisle. Of course, I stood out like a sore thumb. People thought, I am sure, Either that guy thinks he is a better Christian than the rest of us, or he refuses to get right with God. Who doesn’t want to be a better father? Never mind that one prayer at an altar does not a good father make.

Pastors well-schooled in their craft and blessed with the ability to effectively communicate, can, if they are not careful, manipulate people. The altar call is just one of many tools that can be used for manipulation. What pastors call God is actually the pastor and his well-honed communication skills manipulating those listening to his sermon.

A public church service can be a dangerous place. Parents, with nary a thought, allow their children to be influenced by men expert in mental and emotional manipulation. Even adults, especially those who have “sin” problems in their lives, are susceptible to manipulation. Adults enter the church building burdened with the cares of life, and the pastor, with his well-chosen words, convinces them to respond to an altar call. Jesus is the answer! Hooked on drugs or booze? Jesus will set you free. Family a mess, headed for divorce court? Jesus will make things right. Come, don’t delay. And people, with lives burdened down by problems and adversity, rush to the altar thinking Jesus will fix everything for them. He doesn’t, and they are worse off than they were before. Why are they worse off? Because they will likely think or be told by the pastor that the lack of change is their fault. They didn’t pray hard enough, or perhaps they had some secret sin they are holding on to. God never gets the blame for failing to do what the pastor said he would do. It is ALWAYS the sinner’s fault, not God’s.

Let me ask you a question. Every head bowed, every eye closed.

Are you saved? Do you remember a definite time and place in your life where you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

If not, raise your hand. No one is looking. This is just between you and God. Raise your hand, I want to pray for you.

I see that hand. And that one. Thank you, Ma’am. Thank you, Sir.

Lord, you see the hands that were raised. Save them, Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen.

In a moment we are going to sing Just as I Am.

If you raised your hand, I want you to step out from your pew and come to the front. Someone will meet you and will share with you what the Bible says about being saved.

Don’t delay.

That’s right, keep coming.

Are there others?

Even if you didn’t raise your hand, is there something you need to confess to God?

Come.

Do it now.

Don’t wait.

Dinner will wait.

Your soul is worth more than all the money in the world.

We are going to sing the last verse one more time. That’s it. Don’t neglect so great a salvation.

God doesn’t promise to always strive with you. One day his Spirit may no longer call and it will be too late for you . . .

Come . . .

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Pastor Luke Nagy, A Theological Anthropologist

adam sin aliens

Luke Nagy is the transitional pastor of First Brethren Church in Bryan, Ohio. I don’t know Nagy personally. Based on me stalking Nagy on Facebook, I’ve concluded that Nagy is a 36-year old white Evangelical, currently studying for a master’s degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. He skews to the right politically, opposes the Black Lives Matter movement, and thinks Doug Wilson and John Piper are wonderful. Need I say more? Suffice it to say, he’s no fan of liberal/progressive politics or Christianity. Not a shocker, I suppose. This is rural northwest Ohio, the land of the Evangelical God, guns, and right-wing Republican politics. A month ago, I wrote MSNBC host Chris Hayes, detailing the political climate in Defiance County (which can be said of all of rural northwest Ohio). Here’s what I wrote:

I am a regular viewer of your show. In tonight’s episode, you mentioned protests in “Trump Country.” I live in rural northwest Ohio — Defiance County, population 37k. Rural northwest Ohio is white, Christian, and Republican. I’m a liberal Democrat and an atheist. (I was born here, lived here most of my life, and pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years before my deconversion 12 years ago.) I often feel like a vampire, only going out at night when I can be safe from attacks by Jesus-loving Trump supporters. 


In 2016, Trump won Defiance by almost  70%-30%.  Every local and state office is held by Republicans. It’s so bad here that many races don’t even have a Democratic opponent. Depressing. That said, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by local protests against racism and police brutality. Most of the white protesters are young adults. I’ve long argued that progress in rural northwest Ohio requires two things: the death of my racist, bigoted generation and the mobilization of younger adults.

….

Be well, Chris. Keep up the good work.

Nagy is a homegrown boy, so it’s no surprise that his politics and theology reflect the status quo for the flatland of rural northwest Ohio. As a 63-year-old curmudgeon, I have learned to live with the fact that, compared to my overdressed neighbors, I am a naked guy standing on the corner of Main and High in Bryan.

I am a subscriber to the Bryan Times, a local newspaper published five days a week. The Times, surprisingly, is quite progressive when it comes to editorial content. I used to subscribe to the Defiance Crescent-News, but stopped after it reduced its news coverage to three days a week. I also became increasingly irritated by the paper’s right-wing, libertarian editorial/news slant. Its editorial page featured a cornucopia of local right-wing Christian nutjobs and syndicated writers. I simply could no longer bear reading the page. Its editorial content was better suited for the bottom of a birdcage than my newspaper rack.

The Times features a pastor’s column every Thursday on the church page. Yes, my preamble above has a fucking point, in case you are wondering where I am headed with this post. Some weeks, the columns are tolerable, even for the village atheist. Other weeks, Evangelical pastors use the column to preach Christian Fundamentalism and their peculiar version of the gospel. This week, Pastor Luke Nagy was the featured writer (behind a paywall).

Nagy’s column was titled An Anthropologists Dream. In the article, Nagy described himself as a theological anthropologist. I initially thought, WTF! Theological anthropologist? Actually, it really is a thing. Leave it to Christian apologists to bastardize a secular field of science. And yes, I know theological anthropology traces its history back to the writings Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine. That said, I spent 50 years in the Christian church and pastored Evangelical churches for 25 of those years. I have never heard of theological anthropology until today. Something tells me that theological anthropology is about as scientific and legitimate as creationism; a pile of Evangelical horse shit covered with a thin layer sciency-sounding words.

According to Nagy, theological anthropology is the “study of ‘man’ both as individuals and as a species, and primarily with respect to God.” Nagy adds:

Anthropologists try to answer a lot of questions and to do this Christian anthropologists begin with two unshakably certain data points.

First: humans are made in the image of God.

Second: Humans are sinful in every aspect of their personality and being.

No science here. All I see is presuppositional apologetics. In Nagy’s mind, these two Bible truths — data points, my ass — are unshakably certain. For Evangelicals, these “truths” might be certain, but for those of us, Christian or not, who reject such nonsense, these “truths” are nothing more than naked theological assertions. Believe them if you will, but their grounding is found in the Bible, not science or human rationality.

Nagy goes on to say that we humans are “unchangeably sinful and bad.” He then concludes his column with this:

The flower children thought that rampant godlessness, drugs, and casual sex would bring in the Age of Aquarius — were living in the Age of Apollyon [Satan]. As a pastor-theologian who focuses on anthropology, the daily news is making a much more profound proof of the perversity of people than I ever could. It’s an anthropologist’s dream. Too bad it’s a nightmare.

trump holding bible

Ah yes, blame baby boomers for the alleged moral decline of America. Our supposed godlessness, drug use, and casual fucking led to what Nagy calls the Age of Apollyon [Satan]. Is there no end to blaming baby boomers for the ills of society? I actually visited Nagy’s church a decade or so ago. I seem to remember seeing a lot of old folks. Are these not the same Christian locals who overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in 2016? Are these not the same people who turn a blind eye to the president’s perverse behavior and mockery of Biblical Christianity? “Hey, he’s anti-abortion and cuddles up to our mythical persecution, so we ignore his racism, bigotry, misogyny, immorality, and criminal behavior. Did you see the Bible picture? Awesome, right?”

Nagy desperately wants to find a boogieman to blame for what he perceives is the moral decline of Western civilization — especially the United States. Instead of looking in his own back yard, he blames secularists, non-Christians, unregenerate sinners, liberals, progressives, Democrats, socialists, Obama, et al. You know, the standard Evangelical blame list. Blame anyone and everyone rather than looking in the mirror. One need only read the Black Collar Crime Series to know that Evangelicals are every bit as perverse as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

As an atheist and a humanist, I reject the notion that we humans are created in the image of the Bible God and that we are inherently “sinful.” Sin is nothing more than a theological construct used by the purveyors of religion to control people. Promise Heaven, threaten Hell, and billions of people will — at least outwardly — deny self and natural, healthy human behavior. Sure, humans can do bad things, and when they do restitution should be required. However, many of the human behaviors deemed “sinful” by Nagy and other Evangelicals are anything but.

What “sins” are Evangelicals obsessed with? Mainly sexual “sins.” You know, things consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes, motel rooms, or back seats. The very “sins,” by the way, Evangelicals engage in too, albeit with a lot more guilt.

Science satisfactorily explains to us the human condition — no theological anthropologists needed. Who is it that is desperately trying to roll back the social progress of the past seventy years? Who is it that views the 1950s as the good old days? You know, the time before the free love and the rock-and-roll generation; the days when women were barefoot, pregnant housewives, homosexuals stayed in the closet, and birth control was illegal; the days before the Civil Rights Act, Gun Control Act, and the EPA; the days when there was law and order and everyone, especially Blacks, knew their place. Evangelical Christians, Mormons, and conservative Catholics, that’s who. Who is it that opposes same-sex marriage, LGBTQ rights, and a host of other civil and social justice issues? Who is it that screams ALL LIVES MATTER and says that systemic racism and police brutality are myths? And who is it that demands the establishment of a Christian theocracy, prayer and Bible reading in public schools, and the toppling of the establishment clause and the separation of church and state? Evangelicals Christians, Mormons, and conservative Catholics. (And yes, I am deliberately painting with a Bruce’s Wide Ass Brush®.)

At every turn, those standing in the way of social progress and science are Evangelical Christians, Mormons, and conservative Catholics. These are primarily the same people who gave us Donald Trump and a federal government dominated by anti-science Republicans. One need only to pay attention to the Trump administration’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic to see how deeply anti-science Christianity has infected the federal and many state governments.

Here’s hoping that the next revolution to sweep the United States is the age of science and intellectual inquiry. It’s time for us to relegate the Bible to the dustbin of human history. Progress remains impossible as long as we believe, as Nagy states, that “humans are made in the image of God and are sinful in every aspect of their personality and being.” When I look into the beautiful eyes of my thirteen grandchildren, I don’t see God and depravity. Instead, I see the wonders of biology and the prospect of a better tomorrow.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Sin and the Myth of the Slippery Slope

slippery slope

According to the Bible, sin is transgression of the law of God. (1 John 3:4) Evangelicals, as a general principle, believe this to be true. However, when it comes to what, exactly, is the law of God — well, let the battle begin. Every sect and every pastor has their own idea about what constitutes God’s law. None of them actually follow and practice ALL the laws found in the Bible. Every follower of Jesus picks and chooses, cafeteria-style, which laws to obey and which to ignore.

Several days ago, a local group posted on Facebook that they were having a Black Lives Matter/Pride rally this Saturday. An Evangelical woman responded by posting comments about the evil of homosexuality, complete with Bible verses. I responded, so, you believe LGBTQ people, adulterers, fornicators, non-virgins, and Mormons should be executed? After all, that’s what God commands in the Bible. Of course, she ignored my challenge to her hypocritical use of the Bible to condemn behaviors she doesn’t like, choosing, instead, to attack me personally.

This woman is not unique in any way. I don’t know of one Evangelical who believes and practices every law in the Bible. Granted, Evangelicals have all sorts of lame explanations for their duplicity, but the fact remains that Evangelicals practice pick-and-choose Christianity. (Please see Should Christians Keep the Old Testament Law?)

For the sake of this post, I am going to assume that every Evangelical extracts from the Bible certain laws, commands, and precepts to govern their lives; that transgressing these edicts are sins.

I grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, attended an IFB college, and pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years. Over the 50 years I spent in the Christian church, I heard a lot of preaching against sin — generally and specifically. I preached a number of sermons myself against this or that sin. Convincing people that they are sinners is the precursor to salvation. Without sin, there’s no need for salvation. Remove sin, fear, and guilt from the equation, and Evangelical churches will empty out overnight.

Once saved, Evangelicals continue to battle against indwelling sin. Surprisingly, having God as your father, Jesus as your BFF, the Holy Ghost living inside of you, and having at your fingertips the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God is not enough to keep Evangelicals from sinning daily in thought, word, and deed. In fact, it seems that Evangelicals sin just like their counterparts in the evil, Satan-controlled world. That’s why Evangelical preachers spend an inordinate amount of time preaching against sin to largely Christian crowds.

Supposedly, Evangelicals are to grow and mature in their faith. One would think that sin would become less of a problem as Evangelicals became more intimate with Jesus. However, as any honest Evangelical pastor will tell you, worldliness, carnality, and sinfulness are common among God’s chosen ones. Jesus is no cure for the human condition.

Evangelical preachers often warn congregants of the danger of the slippery slope. These so-called men of God believe that one behavior deemed sinful, if unconfessed and not forsaken, leads to more serious sinful behaviors. Let me give readers several examples.

Evangelicals believe that it is sinful to use street drugs. Marijuana is considered a gateway drug that opens people up to using harder, more addictive drugs. I came of age in the 1970s. I heard numerous sermons about the evils of drug use — especially marijuana. Numerous church teens were dope smokers. So were my classmates at Findlay High School. It was not uncommon to see people smoking marijuana is the restrooms. Anti-drug preachers posited that marijuana use led to more serious drug use. Start smoking marijuana, and down the slippery slope you will go, ending up a heroin addict. Don’t want to be a heroin addict? the thinking went, don’t smoke marijuana. Of course, few of my fellow youth group members or school classmates became mainline heroin users. I am sure more than a few of them tried LSD or or other psychedelics, but hardcore heroin users? It didn’t happen.

The IFB preachers of my youth loved to preach against sexual sin. I, of course, continued in their footsteps, spending significant time over the years condemning illicit, sinful sexual behavior. I embarrassingly told church teens in one sermon (1980s) that I never knew of a girl who got pregnant who didn’t hold hands with a boy first. The slippery slope . . .

slippery slope fallacy

When it came to sexual sin, the slippery slope argument went something like this. Couples who hold hands will tire of it and want more intimacy. Thus hand-holding leads to kissing, and kissing leads to petting, which leads to fornication. Want to avoid committing fornication? Never hold hands. (Never asked was WHY should we want to avoid fucking?) This thinking led the churches I grew up in and the college I attended to develop bizarre anti-human rules. I would later pass on those same rules to churches I pastored. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.)

A similar argument is used for pornography. People who view porn grow tired of it, seeking out more explicit content, ultimately leading to sexual assault and rape. That’s right. It is just a hop, skip, and jump from YouPorn to becoming a serial rapist.

The slippery slope is a tool used by Evangelical preachers to scare people into conformity. Remember, the goal is always obedience and conformity. Whatever a preacher thinks the law of God is, his goal is lock-step compliance with the teachings of the Bible.

Of course, this approach does not work. Outwardly, it does, but when Evangelicals are on their own, safe in the privacy of their homes and automobiles, no regard is paid to the slippery slope. Sure, sinning Evangelicals have to deal with fear and guilt, but these things are not enough to keep them from behaving in normal, healthy human ways. Any preacher is deluded who thinks that by railing against marijuana and hand-holding he is going to keep church teens and young adults from partying and fornication. Human want, need, and desire win every time.

But, Bruce, for some people, the slippery slope is a real problem. Yep, any of us can and do give in to excess. Most people can drink alcohol without becoming alcoholics. That some people become alcoholics is regrettable, but should we ban the sale and use of alcohol? The same can be said for drugs. Anything can be abused and misused. For example, Polly makes me an angel food cake every year for my birthday. I LOVE angel food cake. I mean really, really, really love it. I can, I kid out not, eat a whole cake by myself. And it is for that reason that Polly only makes me an angel food cake once a year.

We all have habits and desires that seem excessive to others not so inclined. When sin and the slippery slope are removed from the discussion, it becomes easier for us to understand why we do the things we do. Our three oldest sons grew up poor. Rarely, did they get new clothes or shoes. To this day, they talk of the ugly colored Converse tennis shoes I bought them on close-out at Big Lots. Virtually every bit of their clothing either came from their grandparents at Christmas, Goodwill, or hand-me-downs. The boys owned plenty of jeans adorned with iron-on patches. Such was life in the Appalachian hills of southeast Ohio. Fast forward to when the boys were older and had good jobs. Their closets were filled with expensive clothing and shoes. Why, they even had more than one pair of shoes! It’s not hard to draw a line from their upbringing to their extravagance as young adults. One of my sons refuses to let his children wear cast-off shoes to school. His ex-wife is fine with the children wearing $5 shoes from Goodwill. Not my son. It ain’t going to happen! Why? I suspect he remembers his days attending a private Christian school; how his shoes were old, cheap, and shabby compared to those worn by his classmates.

We have a new 2020 Ford Edge, by far the most expensive car we have ever owned. As I reflect on our evolving car-buying habits over the past decade or so, it is evident that decades of driving rust-buckets deeply affected our view of automobiles. We want, dare I say need, newer cars. I can give all sorts of reasons for buying newer cars, but the real reason is that we enjoy owning a new car. I suspect all of us have similar needs in our lives.

My point is this, once we are free of guilt- and fear-inducing sin, we are free to live life on our own terms. Each to his or her own, right? While I think the slippery slope argument has merit in some circumstances, for the most part it is little more than an attempt to control human behavior. Smart are those who recognize where in their life the slippery slope lurks. I am a retired professional photographer. Photographers must be aware of the slippery slope — also known as gear acquisition syndrome (GAS). Photography is not a cheap hobby. I have invested thousands of dollars in camera bodies, lenses, flashes, studio equipment, and miscellaneous equipment. It is really easy for me to want (need) new equipment. Every couple of years, Sony comes out with new camera bodies, always with higher resolution sensors and new bells and whistles. GAS really kicks in for me when they do. But I have learned to not give in to my wants, knowing that doing so sends me careening down the slippery slope that leads to a pile of debt. I know that it is the photographer, and not the equipment (generally), that makes the picture. Sometimes, I fail to reign in my desires. I suspect most of you know what I am talking about. We all have things we are passionate about, things we are willing to spend money on. Don’t get me started on my hats. God, I’m addicted.

For those of you who are ex-Evangelicals, did your pastors use the slippery slope analogy to demand obedience and conformity? Do you still have a problem with guilt and fear over human behaviors you know aren’t sinful, yet you can’t shake the voice of your pulpit-thumping preacher in your head? If you no longer buy into the Christian concept of “sin,” how do you order your life and make decisions these days? Please share your stories in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Preacher and His TV

dehann-quote

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In the 1960s, my Dad would drop my siblings and me off at the Bryan Theater so we could watch the 25-cent Saturday afternoon matinee. But somewhere in my primary school years, going to movies became unacceptable. I suspect that this was due to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preaching my parents were hearing and absorbing at the time. From that point forward, outside of attending a drive-in movie one time at age 18 and taking two different girls on movie dates (Jaws and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)  I didn’t go to a movie theater again until I was in my late 30s.  As a Christian, I believed that going to or renting movies was supporting Hollywood, an institution that I considered a den of iniquity.

In the late 1990s, having become more “liberal” in my thinking, I decided it was time for the Gerencser family to go to a movie. When I told Polly that we were all going to the drive-in to see a movie, she was appalled. She literally thought that God was going to strike us dead. Well, here we are, all these years later, still among the living. Evidently, God didn’t seem to give a shit about us going to the drive-in. By the way, the first hardcore, violent, nudity laden movie we saw? George of the Jungle! The Second? Air Bud.

I grew up in a home that always had a television. My Mom told me one time that American Bandstand was my babysitter. The first memory I have about television is watching the Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember my dad coming home with what I later in life called the “poor man’s color TV.” It was a colored, plastic sheet that Dad taped to the TV screen. The top of the sheet was blue and the bottom was green. Supposedly, the screen was meant to simulate sky and grass. Dad wasn’t impressed, and we quickly went back to watching black and white TV. The Gerencser family didn’t own a color television until sometime in the 1970s.

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he or she were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon — you read that right, 90 minutes — on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our 13-inch black and white TV in the churchyard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

calvin and hobbes tv

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take itHow dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps. What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF or covered with a towel when the man of God made an appearance at their home. That’s just how the game is played.

In the early 1990s, I would, from time to time, rent a television from a local rent-to-own business. Two times come to mind: the World Series and the 1991 Gulf War. Outside of that, my oldest three children grew up in a television-free home. They were teenagers: 18, 16, and 13, before they watched TV (except for watching Saturday cartoons when they were little). Well, this isn’t entirely true. When they visited their grandparents, they were permitted to watch TV — even though I wasn’t happy about them doing so. Like Amish children, they were mesmerized by Disney movies and cartoons.

After our family attended their first movie, I decided I would buy a television, setting in motion seven years of what any competent psychologist would call bizarre, mentally imbalanced behavior. While what I am about to share will sound hilarious to those who never spent any time in Christian Fundamentalism, at the time, there was nothing humorous about my actions.

calvin and hobbes tv 2

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions? you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G- or PG-rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right, Lord. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, ever watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God? Evidently not.

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life:

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of the Internet brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice-holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the Internet. Needless to say, I know exactly how long it takes to look at a pornographic photo while on a dial-up connection. Way too long, by the way. 🙂

My three oldest children, now in their 30s and 40s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

Where was Polly in all of this, you ask? She was the dutiful, submissive wife who believed her God-called, on-fire, sold-out Christian pastor of a husband knew best. Polly rarely watched TV, so having one didn’t matter to her. I was the one who “needed” to watch TV. As I now psychoanalyze this period of my life, I think watching TV was my way of being normal. Serving a sin-hating God and preaching to others a rigorous morality meant that I had to live a Christ-honoring, sin-free life. Again, in light of the atoning work of Jesus on my behalf, I thought that forsaking the pleasure of the “world” was but a small price to pay for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Yet, I wanted to be like everyone else, so I would come home after a long day of studying for my sermons and visiting church members, and leave God sitting on the front porch. Watching TV was my way of unwinding after working days which were often 12 hours long. While I still was selective about what I watched, my attempts to avoid “sinful” viewing rarely kept me from watching whatever I wanted to watch, especially after the children went to bed. Over time, my guilt levels would increase, ultimately leading to the behaviors outlined in this post.

In 2006, 2 years before I deconverted, I finally put an end to my battle with the television. I decided, God be damned, I was going to own a TV and watch whatever I wanted to watch. From that point forward, we have owned a television. While I have continued to buy televisions, my purchases are driven by resolution, refresh rate, and screen size, and not the thought that God was going to strike me dead for seeing a naked woman on TV.

Several years ago, as we were watching an episode of True Blood, I turned to Polly and said, who would have thought that we would be sitting here watching bloody, naked vampires having sex?  We laughed together, both grateful that the preacher had finally been delivered from the demon of TV.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Evangelicals Use “We Are All Sinners” Argument to Justify Sexual Abuse

josh duggar

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

One would think decent, thoughtful people would agree that a fifteen-year-old teen boy touching the genitals of five little girls is criminal. One would think decent, thoughtful people would agree that we should do all we can to protect children from those who will use them for sexual gratification. One would think that decent, thoughtful people would agree that covering up and not prosecuting sexual abuse is not in the best interest of the victims or society.

One would think . . . and you’d be wrong. I have been astounded by Evangelical excuses, justifications, explanations, and dismissals of Josh Duggar’s criminal sexual assault of five girls. Consider for a moment the universal condemnation of Congressman Dennis Hastert over his decades-old sexual abuse of a student of his. According to Hastert’s indictment, he paid a male student $1.7 million “in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against” him. Hastert used money to cover up his criminal behavior just as Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar used their influence to cover up their son’s crimes. Why is one universally condemned and the other explained away as nothing more than a teenager “playing doctor,” a “youthful mistake,” or “that’s what boys do”?Let me illustrates this with three Facebook comments made by Fundamentalist Christian, Quiverfull defender, Duggar and Bill Gothard loving Rick Boyer:

rick boyer 1
rick boyer 2
rick boyer 3

Let me cut through all Boyer’s super spiritual, holier-than-thou, braggadocious, religious bullshit. He is using the “we are all sinners” argument to defend, excuse, justify, and explain away a 15-year-old boy putting his hands on little girls vaginas and a grown man who manipulated and sexually molested girls and young women.

It seems that any time a darling of Evangelicalism finds himself in a compromising or criminal position, the first excuse trotted out by his defenders is “we are all sinners.” While I don’t believe in the Christian concept of sin, for the sake of this post, I am going to accept as valid the notion of sin. I will then, in the rest of this post, gut the “we are all sinners” argument.

First, we may all be sinners, but most of us don’t sexually molest children or groom and assault girls and young women. Such behaviors are deviant and vile and deserve punishment. We the people, through our elected officials, have enacted laws that protect children and vulnerable adults from predators like Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard. Thanks to the statute of limitations and a big help from law enforcement, neither of them will be prosecuted. The fact that they are not being prosecuted doesn’t mean that they are not guilty. Both admitted their behavior, though their admissions leave a lot to be desired. One would think that this would be enough for people like Rick Boyer, but it isn’t.

Imagine if Richard Dawkins, who was abused as a child, was accused of molesting five little girls. Why the Evangelical outrage would be swift and earsplitting. Evangelicals would demand his prosecution and would write voluminous blog articles about Dawkins’s crimes against children being proof that there is no morality without God. And here’s the thing: atheists such as myself would demand Dawkins be prosecuted. Because the issue is CHILD ABUSE, and not obtuse, never-ending arguments about sin, God, and morality. We have laws, and we expect people to obey them. Both Duggar and Gothard broke the law. They got by with their crimes because people covered up their behavior. It wasn’t until a victim made her story public or an investigative reporter sussed out the facts, that the public learned about their crimes. And, as a person who thinks the rule of law is important, and that protecting children is a key part of a just society, I expect people like Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard to be prosecuted for their criminal behavior.

Second, Rick Boyer blames all the outrage on pagans and gullible Christians. This is blame-shifting extraordinaire, a game played by those who want to deflect criticism or judgment. Anyone who has raised children has seen this game played. Johnny gets caught throwing food at Sally and when his Mom confronts him he says, “but Rudy,” Johnny’s little brother, “was throwing food too.” Mom rightly replies, “but I am talking to you, Johnny, about what you did, not what Rudy did.” The wise parent does not let her children blame-shift. Those who do end up having children like Rick Boyer.

I thought Evangelicals were the personal-responsibility wing of Christianity. Since their politics are overwhelmingly right-wing, they have demanded Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accept responsibility for what was done on their watch. Yet, when it comes to Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard, many Evangelicals are strangely quiet about “personal responsibility.” (And don’t get my started on the immoral and criminal behavior of baby Christian Donald Trump.) Why is this? Why has this been the case my entire life? Big-name Evangelical preacher gets in trouble and his defenders flock to the Internet and protect their boy. No matter the crime, they are quick to justify and forgive. I wonder if they would be so understanding or forgiving if it were their daughter or granddaughter who was sexually molested by Josh Duggar or Bill Gothard? Something tells me that they would be calling for the perpetrator’s head to be cut off as swiftly as Geoffrey cut off Ned Stark’s head in Game of Thrones.

get out of everything free card

Third, it seems that no matter what an Evangelical superstar does, the God of forgiveness and the blood of Jesus provide a get-out-of-jail-free card. While Evangelicals will feign concern for the victims, their real concern is for the perpetrator. He’s a star, and is so important to God and his work here on earth that anything and everything he does must be forgiven. No matter the crime, the sin slate must be wiped clean. After all, King David, a man who committed adultery, was a polygamist, and had a man murdered so he could fuck his wife, is called in the Bible, a man after God’s own heart. If King David can have his slate wiped clean and be best buds with God again, surely the same can happen for Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard, right?

Sadly, Evangelical beliefs about sin, atonement, and forgiveness turn Evangelicals into lobotomized lemmings unable to see things as they are. What we have with Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard are clear cases of sexual abuse and abuse of power. Every non-lobotomized person knows this. The facts aren’t in dispute, yet many Evangelicals blithely preach up the love, grace, and forgiveness of God as an excuse for heinous behavior that is rightly condemned by Christian and atheist alike. It’s only Evangelicals who are defending these men. Why is this?

Most Evangelicals believe that the forgiveness of ANY sin is but a prayer away. The Bible says in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Let me use an extreme example to explain Evangelical thinking about sin and forgiveness. There are eight people in the Roberts family. The Roberts are a Christian family, noted for their love and devotion to Jesus. Well, except for Becky. Becky is sixteen and she has a boyfriend who is not a Christian. Her parents demand that she break up with Clint and never see him again. They remind her that the Bible says that believers are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers and God says premarital sex is a sin. Becky continues to see Clint, often sneaking out of the house late at night, meeting Clint at their “special” place. Over time, Becky becomes so angry at her parents and their constant Bible-quoting and judgmental attacks on Clint that she decides to kill her family, all seven of them. Her boyfriend, enthralled with Becky and the sex they shared, says he would be willing to help her kill her mother, father, and six siblings. And one night, that is exactly what they did.

According to people like Bill Boyer and other grace-and-forgiveness Evangelicals, forgiveness for Becky is only a prayer away. She was a love-struck teenager, kinda like Josh Duggar, and even though she did horrible things, one simple, heartfelt prayer will wipe away the blood of her dead family. Isn’t God awesome?

Oh Bruce, such a fantastical story, one that would never happen in real life. Really? Then you have never heard of 16-year-old Evangelical teenager Erin Caffey who is serving two life sentences plus twenty-five years for the slaughter of her mother and two brothers and the attempted murder of her father in 2008. Let me ask you, dear readers, would you or could forgive your daughter for slaughtering your entire family? Yet, according to Evangelical belief, forgiveness is not only just a whispered prayer away, it is demanded by God regardless of the circumstance.

blood of jesus

Erin Caffey’s father Terry, being the good Christian that he is, forgave his daughter and the boyfriend and two friends that murdered his two children and wife. Here’s what Caffey had to say:

“I planned my own suicide. I decided that when I got well enough to travel, I was going back to my property, and I was going to end it. So when that day came, I went back there and stood on the ashes and began to cry to God. I said, ‘God, I don’t understand why you took my family. Why did you do this? I just don’t understand.’

“No sooner than I said that, I looked down and saw this scrap piece of paper from a book. It was burned around the edges. I picked it up, and it read, ‘I couldn’t understand why you would take my family and leave me behind to struggle along without them. I may never totally understand that part of it, but I do know that you are sovereign. You are in control.’ When I read those words, I was like, ‘Wow.’ It brought me to my knees.”

“People ask me, ‘How could you forgive your daughter and how could you forgive those who murdered your family?’ I am not trying to justify anything. This is my daughter.”

Sadly, because of Evangelical indoctrination, Terry Caffey has lost the ability to feel anger and hate. As a father, I understand the love a father has for his children, but every child can cross a line where no love and forgiveness remain for him or her. Evangelicals have had drilled into their heads the idea that they must love unconditionally and forgive any and all who transgress against them. Besides, someday, in the sweet by and by, Terry will be reunited with his murdered children and wife. And Erin will be there too, maybe with her fellow murderers who found Jesus while in prison. One big happy murdered family reunion. Until their reunion in God’s Big House, Terry Caffey travels America telling his story. Caffey has a ministry called A Cross America Ministries: Enabling Today’s Youth to be Tomorrow’s Christian Leaders. He has written a book, been the subject of a People Magazine feature, been on the Dr. Phil Show, and has a new wife and kids.

I wonder, if there were no Heaven, would Terry Coffey be so forgiving? Would Evangelicals be so willing to forgive and forget the crimes of Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard, and uncounted other Evangelical superstar abusers and perverts, if there were no divine payoff in heaven? (Please see Black Collar Crime Series.) Evangelicals are taught that forgiveness is mandatory. As God has forgiven them, so are they to forgive others. Now, in real life, the forgive-everyone requirement is often ignored. As those of us who were in the Evangelical church for many years know, some of the most mean, nasty, vile, unforgiving people can be found at First Baptist Church on Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. And some of them are standing at the pulpit.

Fourth, this post is getting way too long, but let me take some time to point out the hypocrisy of Evangelicals such as Rick Boyer. If two consenting adult men have sex, Evangelicals are outraged. If two consenting adult lesbian women get married, Evangelicals are outraged. From gay sex to non-married hetero-sex to teenage blow jobs, Evangelicals are outraged. Quoting a plethora of Bible verses that many of them secretly ignore, and calling on God to judge America, but just don’t judge them, they demand Biblical justice be meted out to these unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines. What happened to grace and forgiveness? Well Bruce, Josh Duggar and Bill Gothard confessed their sins, God forgave them, and they promised to never, ever, one time, I mean never, never ONE time, touch a little girl or young woman again. Those queers, adulterers, and fornicators refuse to stop their sin, so there is NO forgiveness for them!

Way too many Evangelicals naïvely believe that people such as Josh Duggar, Bill Gothard, Jack Schaap, Geronimo “Pastor G” Aguilar, David Hyles, Jimmy Swaggart, John Paulk, Jack Hyles, Paul Crouch, Douglas Goodman, Ted Haggard, Earl Paulk, Paul Barnes, Lonny Latham, Michael Reid, Todd Bentley, Tony Alamo, Eddie Long, Gilbert Deya, Coy Privette, Joe Barron, George Rekers, David Loveless, Isaac Hunter, Sam Hinn, Paula White and uncounted other Evangelical superstars, have stopped doing what got them in trouble.  Why should they stop screwing church members, abusing children, and acting in ways most respectable people would consider decadent? Just pray, be contrite, promise never to do it again, wink, wink, and all is well.

What these modern-day Elmer Gantrys have learned is that Evangelicals are gullible, always ready to love, forgive, and forget. Perhaps some of them have learned their lesson and stayed on the straight and narrow, but my gut and six decades of exposure to Evangelicalism tells me that what has really happened is that they have learned to be more careful. I am of the opinion that all the Jesus, praying, and forgiving in the world won’t fix a child molester. Those who desire and molest children will continue to do so until they are stopped. Anyone who thinks Josh Duggar’s or Bill Gothard’s behaviors are one-time events, never to be repeated, is either ignorant or fell on his head when he was a kid. This is why I support the incarceration (and treatment) of child molesters. Children will never be safe as long as we treat child molesters as sinners who can be fixed by God, prayer, and forgiveness.

Is Josh Duggar a pedophile? I don’t know. I do know he molested five girls and this is enough for me to say that he should never be allowed near children. Mark my word, in a few years Josh Duggar will write a book and start a ministry that will extol the wondrous grace of God; how that God forgave and delivered Duggar from his sins. And many Evangelicals will embrace him as the father did the prodigal son. All will be forgiven and no one will consider whether Josh Duggar might be a pedophile who should never, ever be allowed to be near children again.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Does God Hate?

god hates me

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

Warning! Snark ahead!

THUS SAITH THE LORD:

Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the LORD thy God, which thou shalt make thee. Neither shalt thou set thee up any image; which the LORD thy God hateth. Deuteronomy 16:21,22

For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man. Psalm 5:4-6

Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. Psalm 45:6.7

Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy. These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren. Proverbs 6:16-19

Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it? I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Amos 5:20-22

The Lord GOD hath sworn by himself, saith the LORD the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein. Amos 6:8

I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.  Malachi 1:2,3

And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. Malachi 2:15,16

Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. Revelation 2:5-7

God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. Psalm 7:11

When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel: Psalm 78:59

Does God hate? The Bible is clear: God hates.

But, but, but, the Bible says God is a God of love! Yep, and it also says he is a God of hate. Deal with it, or as many Christians do, explain it away.

But, but, but, these verses are in the Old Testament! Is the Old Testament no longer a part of the canon of Scripture? Christian could only hope. Either the Old Testament accurately describes God as a hater or it doesn’t. Your choice. Besides, isn’t God the same yesterday, today, and forever? Didn’t God say, I am the Lord, I change not? 

But, but, but, God hates the sin, but loves the sinner!  Still trying to use that lame, worn out, unsupportable cliché?  Sin is what sinners do, right? When Jesus died on the cross, did he die for sin or sinners? Cue “When He was on the Cross I was on His Mind.” (YouTube video of song)  Sinners sin, and God is angry with all the workers of iniquity. According to Psalm 7:11: God is angry with the wicked every day.

Christians have several choices:

  • Own what the Bible says.
  • Explain it away using big important-sounding theological terms.
  • Make some Old Covenant/New Covenant defense for God.
  • Argue that God went to rehab, took an anger management class, and he is much nicer now.
  • Ignore what the Bible says and just keep living for Jesus.
  • Use Hebrew, Greek and Latin, along with West Virginian and Calvinese, to explain that the word hate doesn’t meant hate.
  • Use the same scissors that Thomas Jefferson used to cut up the Bible and make it palatable. Just get rid of all those pesky hate verses.
every word of god is pure

I am a Bible believer. When the Bible says God hates, who am I to suggest otherwise?The God hates verses make me wonder if the Christian God exists at all. If God really exists, he would have blown up this whole planet by now. We ARE a vile, nasty, wicked, sinful, depraved, dead in trespasses and sin, Barack Obama-supporting, gay-loving people. We deserve God’s hate. Ex-preachers like me really deserve God’s hate. We know better, yet with great impunity, we trample under the blood of Jesus anyway. Here we are, untouched by the hand of the Almighty. Perhaps when NASCAR is over God will have more time to take care of us sinners. That is unless Tim Tebow miraculously makes a comeback and becomes a starting NFL quarterback. Then God will be tied up all winter guiding Tebow’s errant passes into the hands of speedy receivers. God’s going to get you, Bruce. You just wait and see. I am waiting . . .

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Why Evangelical Beliefs and Practices are Psychologically Harmful — Part One

born in sin
Cartoon by David Hayward

Repost from 2016. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

In light of comments on the post Do Evangelical Beliefs Lead to Psychological Damage?, I thought I would give several reasons why I think Evangelical beliefs and practices are psychologically harmful.

Evangelical Christianity teaches that everyone is born with a sinful nature. People do not become sinners, they are, by nature, sinners. From the moment people come into this world they are sinners who are at variance with God. This is the lot of the human race, according to Evangelicals. No one, except Jesus, is exempt. We have no choice in the matter.

What is sin? Sin is, according to Evangelicals, transgression of the law of God. (1 John 3:4) God is Holy. He hates sin and those who do it. Yes, God HATES sinners! (Please see Does God Hate? and God Hates the Sin but Love the Sinner.) All of us deserve to be eternally punished in the Lake of Fire for our sins. We deserve, because of Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden, to be tortured in the flame of Hell for eternity. Or so Evangelicals say, anyway.

Jesus came to earth to redeem people from their sins. According to Evangelicals, God demands human sin be atoned for through a blood sacrifice. When Jesus was on the cross, the wrath of God the Father was poured out on Him — wrath that Jesus did not deserve. Taking our sins and punishments upon himself, Jesus died on the cross to satisfy our sin debt.

Justification by faith is central to Evangelical soteriology. Simply put, the term means that God looks at a saved (born again) sinner “just as if they never sinned.” How is this possible? God hasn’t changed! He still hates sin and those who do it. He still throws people in the Lake of Fire to be tormented for eternity. God is God and this is what God does. It is only through the merit and work of Jesus that born-again sinners are saved from the fury of a wrathful God. Jesus stands between the saved sinner and God, taking on the violence that rightfully belongs to saved and unsaved sinners alike. When God looks at saved sinners all he sees is his son Jesus.

What I have written above is Evangelicalism 101. It is classic substitutionary atonement, justified-by-faith, Protestant theology. Understanding this will be key to what follows.

How do Evangelicals view themselves?

  • I am a sinner. I sin daily in thought, word, and deed.
  • Even now, I deserve punishment from God.
  • The only difference between me and the worst of sinners is that I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. The blood of Jesus covers my sin and I am, by faith, justified before God through the merit and work of Jesus.
  • No matter what suffering and pain comes in my life, I should be grateful that I am saved and that I have escaped eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire.

Most Evangelical pastors spend significant amounts of time preaching about sin. These self-described men of God really can’t be faulted for doing this. As People of the Book, they must preach what the Bible says — and the Good Book certainly has a lot to say about sin, judgment, and chastisement.

In the Old Testament alone there are 635 laws. Then there is the New Testament with all the new laws added by Jesus, Paul, John, and Peter.  Add to these the personal interpretation of these laws, commands, and precepts by Evangelical preachers . . . well, there’s plenty of sin to preach about.

Needless to say, there is a lot of guilt and fear among Evangelical believers. For all their talk about grace, Evangelical preachers spent inordinate amounts of time preaching sermons meant to cause listeners to feel guilty and fearful. Despite being “miraculously” saved, Evangelicals still sin —often more so than the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. No matter how often pastors preach about this or that sin, preachers and congregants alike continue to sin. Evangelicals commit sexual sins, divorce, felonies, misdemeanors, and have abortions, all at levels similar to those who never darken the doors of Christian churches. And thanks to the Internet, we now know that Evangelical pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, youth directors, and run-of-the-mill congregants abuse and sexually assault children and prey on vulnerable teenagers and adults. (Please see the Black Collar Crime series.)

Despite knowing all of this, Evangelicals preachers — ignoring their own secret sins — continue to berate and badger congregants over their sinful behaviors. How DARE you sin!, Evangelicals preachers proclaim. Look at what Jesus did for you! The Bible says, how dare they, who have been freed from sin, continue any longer therein?

Evangelicals believe that the third person of the Trinity — the Holy Spirit — lives inside of them and is their teacher and guide. The Holy Spirit is a sin-o-meter of sorts. When temptation comes, the sin meter starts saying, NO! NO! Don’t do this! Turn! Run! Leave! Stop!

Yet, even with Jesus saving them, the Holy Spirit living inside of them, the Bible as the Words of God, and thundering preachers reminding them of the dangers of sins, Evangelicals still sin like just like the rest of us. Try as they might, Evangelicals can’t kick their sin habit. This ever-present reality results in a lifetime of guilt and fear.

Evangelical church altars are routinely lined with people “getting right with God.” Churches hold revival services so congregants can wipe their sin slates clean and return to walking the straight and narrow way. Pastors weekly spend hours counseling church members who find themselves ensnared by Satan — caught up in temptation and sin. Preachers themselves are routinely caught up in this or that sin. If a preacher can’t walk the talk, is it realistic to expect lesser Christians to do so?

For all their talk about forgiveness and deliverance, sin is still the number one problem Evangelicals daily face. No matter how much they pray, asking for forgiveness, sin keeps returning, spoiling their attempts to live Godly lives. A lifetime of this kind of living makes people emotional train wrecks. Over time, Evangelicals learn how to “hide” their sin. They learn the right things to say when asked about how things are in their lives. They learn how to play the “I am right with God” game. These bought-by-the-blood Evangelicals learn to erect a façade that masks the reality of their lives.

Sinning Evangelicals know they are frauds and hypocrites, yet they dare not admit this to anyone. Little do they know that EVERYONE, including the pastor, is just like they are. Some Evangelicals, after decades of being on the sin roller coaster, decide to get off. They crave an opportunity to live authentic lives, lives that are free from the emotional weight of guilt, fear, and condemnation.

Getting off the roller coaster is not easy. The emotional baggage weighs people down. Isn’t their walking away the BIGGEST sin of them all? Doesn’t this prove that they never were real followers of Jesus? Their churches, pastors, and fellow Evangelicals will condemn them for throwing in the towel. Their defection will be viewed in light of what the Bible says about them: they went out from us because they were not of us. For if they were of us, they would have continued with us.” (1 John 2:19) Leaving is PROOF that they never were the real deal. No matter how many years they faithfully walked the straight and narrow, the singular act of leaving undoes all the good they did in the name of Jesus.

Once free, an interesting thing happens: guilt and fear begins to recede. Psychological stress starts to fade. For the first times in years, they experience peace. For them, it took leaving the Prince of Peace to experience inner peace.

Instead of lives dominated by thoughts of their sinfulness, these former Evangelicals learn that many (most) of the actions the Bible, along with what their pastors and churches called sin, are not sin at all. As time goes on their “sin” list becomes smaller and smaller. Perhaps they learn that there isn’t really any such thing as sin. People do good and bad things, and should be judged, not by a moral standard found in an antiquated book, but by a basic humanistic, common morality —  morality that respects the private acts of consenting adults; a morality that recognizes that many of the acts of other human beings are none of their business.

These former Evangelicals now have the freedom to live their lives on their own terms. Evangelical zealots from their past will warn them that they have made themselves their own God and that if they are not careful, they will become reprobates — those whom God has given over to the list of sins recorded in Romans 1 and 2. These types of threats no longer have the desired effect. Why? Because their minds have been freed from the chains of Evangelical Christianity. They now know what it is to have true freedom. Once free, having experienced the peace that passeth all Evangelicalism, they will never return to the garlic and leeks of Evangelical Christianity. To quote an old Southern Gospel song…They have gone too far to turn back now!

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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The Christian “Get Out of Jail Free” Card

blood of jesus

If you have ever played Monopoly, you know how important it is to have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. You never know when you might need to play the card.

Every Evangelical, regardless of the sect, gets one “Get out of Jail Free” card. This card is also known as the blood of Jesus.

According to Evangelical dogma, the blood of Jesus cleanses sinners from their sin. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:22-28:

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;
For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

Ephesians 1:7 says, In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.

Through the blood of Jesus, sin is atoned for; through the blood of Jesus is the forgiveness of sin. Baptist readers of this blog have sung the old church standard, Nothing But The Blood, many times:

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Refrain sung after every verse

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Exactly what does the blood of Jesus do for the sinner? It covers, erases, does away with their sin. According to 2 Corinthians 5:17:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Through the blood of Jesus, a sinner becomes a new creature (creation), old things pass away and everything becomes new. In an instant, a sinner — no matter how wicked and vile he is — can have his slate wiped clean.

God, through the blood of God (Jesus), forgives and forgets. Perverts, wife beaters, tax cheats, thieves, murderers, Josh Duggar, David Hyles, Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, and Donald Trump are quite happy to find out that the blood of Jesus provides for them a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. The blood-cleansed sinner can shout from the mountaintop, Free, Free, Free at Last! In a moment, all their past transgressions are “under the blood.” Psalm 103:12 says: As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

A popular Christian song, My Sins are Gone, pretty well sums up the Evangelical’s feeling about the blood of Jesus and his sin:

You ask me why I’m happy so I’ll just tell you why
Because my sins are gone
And when I meet the scoffers who ask me where they are
I say my sins are gone

They’re underneath the Blood on the cross of Calvary
As far removed As darkness is from dawn
In the sea of God’s forgetfulness that’s good enough for me
Praise God! my sins are gone

When blood-bought Evangelicals are confronted by those they have hurt in the past, they often say, “that’s under the blood.” This means, “sorry, God has forgiven me for that sin and I am not accountable for it any longer. PRAISE JESUS!!”

My mother was sexually molested as a child by her father. He later became a washed-in-the-blood fundamentalist Christian who never missed an opportunity to remind everyone that Jesus could forgive them of every sin! My mother confronted her father over what he had done to her as a child. His reply?

That’s under the blood, God has forgiven me!

My mother, in a fit of rage, let him know that SHE hadn’t forgiven him. But that didn’t matter. As long as the blood of Jesus had paid her father’s sin debt, no further confession or restitution was required. He went on to live the Christian good life, never one time saying to my mother, I am sorry. My grandfather was a mean son-of-a-bitch before he became a Christian, and he was a mean son-of-a-bitch after his sin debt had been cleansed by Jesus’ blood. (Please see John.)

What about sins committed AFTER a person becomes a Christian? Each sect has its own plan for renewing the “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Catholics use the confessional and transubstantiation to free themselves of responsibility for their sins. The blood of Jesus covers everything, including molesting children. Baptists, on the other hand, use daily prayer and the church altar as places where believers can appropriate the blood of Jesus and get a fresh start. The Bible says in First John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

No matter what the Baptist has done, absolution is only a prayer away. Do the same sin tomorrow? No problem, just pray and start over again. I know some of the more pious among the Baptists will object and say that when Christians confess their sin, they are to forsake it, but personal experience and observing Baptists for many years tells me that do the same sin tomorrow, no problem, just pray and start over again is typically how Baptists handle their “sin problem.”

As an atheist, I don’t have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. When I do bad — I reject the Christian concept of sin — things there is no God to excuse me, so I must own my actions and, if possible, make things right. Granted, my “sin” list is much smaller now. Once I was set free from the shackles of God’s law, Biblical law, or whatever-the-hell-the-pastor-says-is-sin law, I was finally able to begin freely living my life. No blood atonement needed. No catchy songs about the blood covering all my transgressions.

Every day, I make decisions that affect how I live my life, and every day I have the choice to live a decent, honorable life. Every day, I come up short, and it is in those moments that I must say, I am sorry, and, if needed, make restitution.

For my mother, one I’m sorry would have covered a multitude of sins. Too bad Jesus and His blood got in the way.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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God Hates the Sin but Loves the Sinner

love the sinner

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

A common cliché used by Christians when expressing their objection to a particular human behavior is this: I hate the sin but love the sinner.

The reason Christians use this cliché is that they want to be on God’s side and the sinner’s side at the same time. Most Christians want to be liked and respected, yet they know the Bible says some pretty harsh things about non-Christians and the sins they commit. What’s a believer to do? Why, do what Evangelicals do best: come up with a catchy cliché that absolutely goes against the teachings of the Bible.

Here’s the problem with hate the sin but love the sinner thinking. According to the Bible — the book that Evangelicals swear by — God doesn’t think this way. Here’s what the Bible says about God and how he views sin and the sinner:

  • God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. (Psalm 7:11)
  • The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth (Psalm 11:5)
  • Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows (Psalm 45:6,7)
  • Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy. These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, (Proverbs 6:15-17)
  • I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. (Amos 5:2)
  • And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD. (Zechariah 8:17)
  • I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. (Malachi 1:2,3)
  • As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. (Romans 9:13)
  • For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: (divorce) for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. (Malachi 2:16)
  • Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. (Revelation 2:5,6)

The Bible seems quite clear. God not only hates sin, but he also hates those who do it. According to old-fashioned substitutionary atonement Evangelicalism, God would even hate the Christian if it weren’t for Jesus standing between God and the believer. Look at what God did to Jesus on the cross. It is hard not to conclude that God really has a problem with anger. He beat his son to death, not for his own sin, but for the sins of others. Talk about taking the whole sin and sinner thing seriously.

Ponder the message of the book of Revelation. What’s the central theme of the book? The rapture? The second coming? What does the writer of Revelation spend most of his time writing about? God’s wrath. God’s judgment. God does some pretty sick stuff to the humans who are alive when Jesus comes back to earth. And when God is all done opening books and seals and turning angry angels loose to afflict the human race, what does he do? He sends all non-Christians to the Lake of Fire to be tormented day and night for all eternity. This sure makes me want to break out in song and sing, Our God is an Awesome God.

I used to explain God’s view of sin and the sinner this way:

Imagine you are taking a walk in the woods and come upon a skunk. Before you can run, the skunk raises its tail and sprays you. Do you at that moment say, I love the skunk but hate his smell? Of course not. The skunk is directly connected to the smell. No skunk, no smell.

So it is with sinners and their sin. Sin is what sinners do. You can no more disconnect a sinner from their sin than you can a skunk from their smell.

I should note in passing that most of the God hates talk is found in the Old Testament. Christianity would be better served if it jettisoned the Old Testament and the book of Revelation. And getting rid of Paul’s writings might not be a bad idea either. As long as these books remain in the Bible, Christians will continue to have a hard time explaining to non-Christians that God really loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life.

God may be love, but he sure has a mean streak.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Because I Can

because I can

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Evangelicals are primarily known for the things they are against: abortion, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, premarital sex, pornography, socialism, atheism, humanism, liberalism, Democrats, and former U.S. president Barack Hussein Obama. The further you move to the right of the Evangelical scale, the longer the list become. Growing up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, I heard countless sermons about this or that “sin.” Years ago, I heard a preacher deliver a sermon based on the text, neither give place to the devil. After reading the text the preacher spent the next forty or so minutes listing all the things he was against. (Please see An Independent Baptist Hate List.) Most of the preachers of my youth believed the following were sins: women wearing pants/shorts, men having long hair, dating couples have any physical contact before marriage, listening to rock music or contemporary Christian music, going to the movie theater, using non-King James version translations, and cursing. Awful sins, right? As a teenager, I believed that my pastors were against e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. I am sure the teens of the churches I pastored said the same about me.

One of the first challenges I faced after leaving Christianity was determining a moral/ethical framework by which to govern my life. Let’s face it, having an inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible as the moral arbitrator makes life easy. No need to think about or ponder certain behaviors. God said ____________________, end of discussion. Lost on people who think this way is that it is not God speaking. If sermons are anything, they are preachers giving their personal opinions about what this or that Bible verse means. Opinions vary wildly, leading to one group of preachers saying particular behaviors are sinful and other groups of preachers saying they aren’t. They fight among themselves, each certain that their interpretation of an ancient religious text is infallible.

When I first deconverted, I was blessed to have for a friend a charismatic pastor who had also told Jesus to take a hike. He and I spent countless hours together, talking about Christianity, the Bible, and the ministry. We both laugh at how we acted and reacted back then. My friend got his ear pierced. He also got a tattoo. One day we were out and about and we saw a sign in a church parking lot that said, Parking Reserved for Pastor. A photograph was taken of middle fingers extended as we stood in front of the sign. I know, quite juvenile. But remember, Evangelicalism robbed us of much of our lives. We came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s. While our non-Evangelical schoolmates were enjoying free love, drugs, and rock and roll, we were in church praising Jesus. So in many ways, we are living our teenage and young adult years now. We are experiencing things that our contemporaries experienced forty plus years ago.

Now that Jesus, the Bible, and the screaming voices of preachers no longer guide us, we are free to do what we want. Several months ago, a Fundamentalist family member asked me why I was growing my hair so long. My response? Because I can. And when they see me again and notice that I am now sporting a bald head again, I am sure they will ask me why I shaved my head. The answer is the same. Because I can.  The answer to every behavioral question is the same. Because I can.

Now, lest Evangelical zealots say I am preaching nihilism or licentiousness, I want to be clear: just because I can, doesn’t mean I will. What I am saying is that I don’t need a deity, a religious text, or pompous, self-righteous Evangelical preachers to tell me how to live. Using reason and common sense, I weigh each and every choice and decide accordingly. Well, most of the time, anyway. I can, at times, be impetuous, making decisions without taking time to weigh the consequences. Most of the time, I survive my impetuous behavior with nary a scratch. There are, however, those times when making rash decisions has had poor outcomes. When this happens, hopefully I learn from it. If my poor judgment harmed someone else, I do my best to make things right.

I think I will end this post here. Why? Because I can. 

Do your Evangelical family and friends “question” some of your post-Jesus decisions? Have you ever said, because I can? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Let’s Talk About Sin, Guilt, and Human Behavior

jesus spanking sinners

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Several years ago, Ewan asked: 

Do you have a philosophical view of the word ‘sin” anymore?

How is homosexuality defined in your worldview? What of extramarital sexual relationships? or premarital? Are they ‘sin’?

What is an atheistic view of sin? Does it really matter? If there is no sinful behaviour, where does guilt come from?

The power of sin in a Christian worldview is guilt. If I were to have an extramarital affair built on love, is this sinful? What the heck is ‘sin’?

I do not use the word sin in defining certain human behaviors. Sin is inherently a religious term, and since I am not a religious person, I have no need for the word and its theological consequences. Based on cultural and societal norms, humans act in ways that are considered good, indifferent, or bad. What we consider good, bad, or indifferent behavior changes with time, circumstance, and place. Currently, these things are still deeply influenced by religion, yet religion is losing its primacy and this is why we see religious zealots raging against perceived sins and slights of God and his supposedly timeless moral code.

Homosexuality is a scientific term, a word used to describe same-sex attraction. It has no inherent moral quality. Once we remove religion from the discussion, there is less need to concern ourselves with sexual attraction or whom someone marries.

Marriage is a contractual agreement between two people. If this contract includes a commitment to monogamy, then I would consider it bad behavior to commit adultery. However, many people marry for reasons other than sex. I pastored a few couples over the years who had sexless marriages. One woman thought sex was for having children. Once her children were born, she was done with having sex, and she had no problem with her husband seeking sexual gratification elsewhere.

When it comes to premarital sex, I see no reason to consider it bad behavior. We have laws that govern the age of consent, and as long as the sex is consensual, I see no reason to demonize teenagers and young adults for acting on (and enjoying) their biological needs and urges. Our goal should be to make sure every person receives state-mandated, science-based education about human sexuality and birth control. The overwhelming majority of teenagers engage in premarital sexual activity, so it is in everyone’s best interest to make sure teens are properly educated and on birth control until they are ready to have children. Doing so would greatly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, a goal all of us support.

There is no atheist position on sin. Atheism is a belief about the existence of deities, not a statement about ethics or morality. It is humanism that gives many atheists, including myself, a moral and ethical framework. The Humanist Manifesto III states:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

(If I have a “religion” it is secular humanism. My religion’s code is summarized in the Humanist Manifesto.)

The question of guilt is a good one, one that I am not sure I can adequately answer. Some guilt is driven by the pervasiveness of religion and its sin-punishment-reward system. However, I think guilt also flows from being a part of a particular culture and tribe. I am sure there are some behaviors that elicit guilt among my children that might not cause guilt in a different family’s children. Guilt, as with morality, can be, and is, quite subjective.

The more absolute one’s moral beliefs are, the more likely one is to feel guilt. As I have stated many times before, my sin (bad behavior) list now fits on a 3×5 card, and I suspect by the time I die it will fit on a post-it note. Once the church, the Bible, and sin-loving — yet sin-hating — preachers are removed from the equation, guilt often assuages. In other words, remove religion from a person’s life, and guilt levels recede. Pretty good reason for ditching Christianity, don’t you think?

I grew up believing drinking alcohol was a sin. I was fifty years old before I took my first drink. Now that God and the Bible no longer factor into my moral and ethical beliefs, I am free to drink alcohol, as much or as little as I want. In the past, I have spent time with friends who love to drink. While I didn’t drink as much alcohol as they did, I did drink some and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did my wife. At no time did I have a twinge of guilt over drinking the devil’s brew. I drank responsibly, and acted in a way that did not harm others; no sin, no guilt.

What atheism and humanism have given me is personal autonomy and freedom. And a very small sin list.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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How Fundamentalist Preachers Take the Fun Out of Everything

women causing men to stumble

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Those of us raised in Evangelical churches know quite a bit about sin. Sin is the problem and Jesus is the solution. Ruined by the fall, redeemed by the blood. Sin will take you farther than you want to go and cost you more than you want to pay. Sin is the disease, Christ is the cure. Timeless, monotonous messages preached from every Evangelical pulpit. If Evangelical preachers were given degrees based on what they preach about, most of them would have sin PhDs.

Those of us who grew up in churches on the extreme right of the Evangelical spectrum heard weekly preaching against sin, with each and every sin categorized and illustrated. Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers are known for having detailed lists of every possible sin humans dare to even think about let alone commit. And as these preachers get older, they add new sins to their lists, so by the time they retire, there is no human behavior that is not, in the right circumstance, a sin. I once heard an IFB preacher at a Columbus, Ohio pastor’s fellowship preach from the Bible verse that says, neither give place to the devil. After reading the text, he spent the next 45 minutes detailing every behavior he thought was giving place to the devil. His sin penis was way bigger than mine.

The late Cecil Hodges, pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia for 41 years, said one time that preachers beat church members over the head with the sin stick so often that they automatically duck when the preacher starts preaching. Called hard preaching or stepping on toes — Baptist preachers are noted for verbally assaulting parishioners in hope of getting them to stop sinning. Yet, no matter how hard they preach against sin, people keep on sinning. Let’s face it, sin is good for the preaching business.The late Bob Harrington, the Chaplain of Bourbon Street, preached a sermon years ago titled, It’s Fun Being Saved. Harrington later committed adultery, so salvation was a lot of fun for him. But for most Evangelicals, their pastors do their best every Sunday to suck the fun out of everything. (See An Independent Baptist Hate List.)

stumbling block

Not only are there specific behaviors that are sinful, but there are also behaviors that are sinful only in certain circumstances. These are called causing-your-brother-to-stumble sins. Years ago, Nathan Rouse, lead pastor of Radiant Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, wrote a blog post titled A Caution For Every Christian That Drinks Alcohol (the page is no longer active). Here’s what the teetotaling Rouse had to say:

Something disturbing has crept into the american church and it’s not pretty.

Many Christians have allowed themselves to take drinking alcohol lightly.

Now before you start throwing the legalistic stones at me, let me first make the following clear:

I don’t believe drinking alcohol is a sin…

…But, there’s another problem:

The often overlooked sin that is rearing its ugly head are Christians displaying their love and consumption of alcohol to those around them in public and on social media, when there are many around them that struggle with this temptation and addiction.

The Apostle Paul addressed a similar situation when dealing with those in the church arguing over whether they could eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul declared that even though they had the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, they should love those that struggled with this practice enough to not do it front of them.

1 Cor. 8:9-13

But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

We sin against other Christians and “wound their conscience” (as well as sin against Christ) when we openly act in a way that would cause them to stumble.

Now, before you say you only do this with others that are like-minded or with your spouse, let me ask the following questions:

Do you highlight or joke about your drinking in person or on social media (posting pictures of your margarita, wine or bottles of beer)?

Do you drink in public when there’s a good chance you might meet someone struggling with alcohol?

Like it or not, people hold Christians to a higher standard (as they should). Do you love alcohol so much that you’re willing to let your witness be tarnished? Do you love your “freedom” so much that you could care less how it affects another brother or sister?…

I’ve heard and preached sermons many times that echoed the words of Rouse’s post. Not only must Evangelicals not do any of the sins on their preacher’s sin list, they must also avoid any behavior that would or could cause an infantile, helpless church member to stumble — a euphemism for falling into sin.

Church women are asked to cover their cleavage and legs and wear clothing that mutes their sexuality and beauty lest they cause weak men to stumble. Want to go see a certain movie or have a glass of wine at a restaurant? Better make sure weak church members can’t see what you are doing. Don’t say anything about what you did in front of a weak church member lest your words cause them to stumble.

This kind of thinking sucks the life out of people. Every behavior has the potential of being a sin. Wouldn’t the better approach be to expect church members to be responsible for their own behavior? If Deacon Bob gets a boner during Sister Mary’s special because she is wearing a top that accentuates her bosom, is this Sister Mary’s problem? Perhaps Deacon Bob needs to grow up and own his sexuality. The same goes for any behavior that would fall under the causing-a-brother-to-stumble category.

Sin is not the problem, irresponsibility is. While my sin list now fits on a post-it note, I do accept responsibility for any behavior of mine that might harm or negatively affect others. If Polly and I get in a fight and I say something that is hurtful, whose fault is it? Should she be blamed for provoking me to anger? Dammit, she knows I have a temper! I’m a redhead, and everyone knows redheads are temperamental. If she wouldn’t do or say _________, then I wouldn’t get angry. It’s her f…. No, it’s not. I am responsible for what I say and do.

Do you have a story to tell about the preaching on sin in the church you grew up in? Did your pastor preach sermons on not causing a brother/sister to stumble? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.