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Tag: Social Distancing

COVID-19: Evangelicals Practice Situational Ethics

anti-mask

As a teen in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches in the 1960s and 1970s, I heard numerous fiery preachers rail against situational ethics. In their minds, everything was black and white. THUS SAITH THE LORD! No space was given for differences of opinion. Either you were on the preacher’s side, uh, I mean God’s side, or you were backslidden/out of the will of God. Every aspect of life was strictly regulated.

Wikipedia defines situational ethics this way:

Situational ethics or situation ethics takes into account the particular context of an act when evaluating it ethically, rather than judging it according to absolute moral standards. With the intent to have a fair basis for judgments or action, one looks to personal ideals of what is appropriate to guide them, rather than an unchanging universal code of conduct, such as Biblical law under divine command theory.

As you can see, situational ethics has no place in Fundamentalist churches. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Driven by arrogance and certainty, Fundamentalists resolutely believe that the Bible teaches them everything they need to know pertaining to life and godliness. In those (many) instances where a Bible verse does not cover a particular behavior or action, Fundamentalists use implication or inference to give a behavior or action Biblical justification. If all else fails, pastors appeal to church standards — lists of rules and regulations that supposedly can be found in the Bible if you get a 6x magnifying glass out and look really, really, really hard.

And then came COVID-19. The CDC and state/county health departments published rules and guidelines for protecting oneself from getting infected. Once Trump was thrown out of office, these health organizations authored clear guidelines for churches and parachurch groups to follow if they wanted to keep people safe from infection. Had churches followed these guidelines, there would have been fewer infections and deaths from COVID-19. Instead, many state governors exempted churches from health department mandates, saying that the First Amendment trumps public health and safety. Some churches — typically mainline/liberal congregations — did the right thing, but other churches — mainly Evangelical churches — did not. Instead of following the law, these churches practice situational ethics. Instead of making a Biblical case for social distancing, mask-wearing, and vaccinations — and a case can be easily made — pastors tell congregants to follow their hearts, to do what they think is best. Pastors, in fact, go out of their way to NOT tell people what to do about COVID. (Well, those who aren’t anti-maskers/anti-vaxxers — a huge problem in Evangelical churches.) Yet, pastors and congregants don’t take this same approach to abortion, same-sex marriage, LGBTQ people, premarital sex, masturbation, and a host of other behaviors considered sins. Instead, people are left to their own devices when it comes to COVID-19. (Please see Bruce, How Do You Know Your Wife’s Mom Was Infected with COVID-19 at Church?)

Jesus commanded his followers to love their neighbors. It seems to me that loving one’s neighbor in the midst of a killer pandemic requires, at the very least, social distancing, mask-wearing, and vaccinations. Further, it can be argued that loving one’s neighbor demands refraining from holding group gatherings. Instead, situational ethics are the norm in many Evangelical churches when it comes to COVID-19. Crass indifference put others at risk of infection and death. The Bible says there are two great commands: love God, love your fellow man. I used to preach that you can’t say you love God if you don’t love your fellow man. Want the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the World to think well of you and your church? Show through your conduct that you love them. Wear a mask, practice social distancing, and get vaccinated. If you are unwilling to do these things, don’t tell me how much you “love” Jesus. Your words are shallow and meaningless.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce, How Do You Know Your Wife’s Mom Was Infected with COVID-19 at Church?

newark baptist temple heath ohio

Yesterday, I wrote a post detailing my wife’s mom’s infection with COVID-19. Mom’s home from the hospital today. She is required to quarantine for eight days.

I typically don’t share my writing on my personal Facebook page. I don’t want conflict with family members. I treat Facebook like the corner pub, a place where I hang out with friends, drink beer, and watch cat videos. Anyone who knows me knows I have opinions about virtually everything. I have been writing my opinions down, first on paper and now on the Internet, since the mid-1980s. I am not shy about saying my piece. If people want to challenge something I have written or tell me how awesome I am, they know where to find me.

I will, on occasion, “vent” on social media. Yesterday, I wrote:

Polly Gerencser’s mom had another heart attack today. While awaiting admission into the hospital, she was tested for COVID-19. The test came back positive. She is currently asymptomatic, but the doctor said her heart attack could be COVID-related. Where did she get infected? Most likely her IFB (Independent Fundamentalist Baptist) church, which currently has at least ten members infected with the virus (and others have been previously infected). Don’t tell me Fundamentalist Christianity is harmless — it’s not. In Mom’s case, her religion could kill her (along with her refusal to get vaccinated). Mom says she never gets flu vaccinations, so there’s no reason for her to get vaccinated for COVID-19 either. All attempts to educate her have fallen on deaf ears. Besides, God is in control and she’s ready to die and go to Heaven.

I told my editor, Carolyn Patrick:

“I’m so fucking angry about Polly’s mom/church. I mean livid. 🤬🤬 Nothing we can do. Jesus has the wheel and he plans on driving her straight into the grave.”

I really love that last line “Nothing we can do. Jesus has the wheel and he plans on driving her straight into the grave.” 🙂

I had one of the IFB preachers in the family contact me, challenging my claim that Mom got infected while attending services at the Newark Baptist Temple. This person suggested that Mom could have gotten infected elsewhere. I agreed that anything is “possible,” but the question is what is likely or probable. You know, the scientific method.

Here’s what I know:

  • At least ten church members are currently infected with COVID-19
  • The church has had previous COVID outbreaks.
  • Several congregants have been hospitalized and at least one has died from COVID-19.
  • The pastor and his family were previously infected.
  • Except for a short period of time, the church’s pastor has continued to hold services on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night.
  • The church has continued to operate its Christian school.
  • Congregants claim the church and its pastor take seriously the virus and “encourage” but not demand attendees to wear masks and practice social distancing. Further, I have been told that people with serious health problem are “encouraged” to stay home. My mother-in-law definitely falls into this category, yet she attends church 2-3 times a week.
  • Mom’s entire social life revolves around the Baptist Temple and her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nephews, and nieces — most of whom attend church with her.
  • Mom typically eats out at least once a week, often on Sundays at the Olive Garden near the Baptist Temple. Who does she eat out with? People she attends church with.
  • Most of the people who visit her home attend church with her.
  • I have watched numerous videos of Baptist Temple church services. I have also viewed photos of family and school outings held at the church. While it is true some people practice social distancing, some don’t. While it is true some people wear masks, many people don’t. The pastor preaches sans mask. The song leader sings without wearing a mask. Special music groups sing without wearing masks. And the choir belts out praise to Jesus without wearing masks. In May 2020, the CDC released the following choir guidelines: “Consider suspending or at least decreasing use of a choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition. The act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.” (This guideline was immediately removed by the anti-science Trump White House.)

Video Link

Based on the aforementioned evidence, it is likely/probable that Mom was infected at church or at a social event attended by church members/family (who attended the Baptist Temple). Sure, it is possible that a non-church member infected her. But likely? Nope. Perhaps the church should have investigators from the Ohio Department of Health come in and do contact tracing. That will never happen. Libertarianism (and Trumpism) rules the roost at the Baptist Temple. Besides, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine exempted churches from ALL health mandates. That’s right. Churches are free to do what they want. (The number of Evangelical churches that refuse to follows CDC/state health guidelines is astounding. Evidently, loving your neighbor as yourself is not found in their Bibles.)

Fast forward to the 14:29 mark in the above video. You will hear Pastor Falls say that many congregants are out sick with COVID-19. He even mentions some of their names. Many of those mentioned are aged. We knew them back when we attended the Baptist Temple in the early 1980s. The fact that they are infected tells me that they likely didn’t get vaccinated, even though they have been eligible for months and months. And now Polly’s mom has COVID too.

Pastor Falls says to the congregation:

Pray, and please consider others, please consider others. I’m not telling you how you need to do that, but be mindful of someone who might not fare as well as you do.

“I’m not telling you how you need to do that.” The Baptist Temple is an IFB congregation. Telling people what to do is part of their DNA. But when it comes to a deadly virus and caring for one’s neighbor, libertarianism and fatalism are the rule. Keep in mind, this church has had numerous people infected with COVID-19. The Baptist Temple is a small church. I would be surprised if they ran 100 people on Sundays. I can’t know that for sure, but attendance seems sparse. Let’s suppose, for a moment, the church does have 100 members in attendance. This means that it is likely 20-25 percent of attendees have had COVID. It is, in my opinion, immoral and irresponsible to continue to hold church services in the midst of a super spreader event. The whole church should be under quarantine. That, of course, will never happen.

Some readers might wonder why what the Baptist Temple does matters to me. As long as I have family who attends this church, I care about their health and well-being. I hope (naively) that something I write will cause Pastor Falls and the church to act in the best interest of their congregants and community.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

My Wife’s Mother Has COVID-19 and Her IFB Church is to Blame

newark baptist temple heath ohio

In March 2020, I wrote a scathing post about the Newark Baptist Temple and its pastor Mark Falls’ handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. (Please read IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic.) In April, I wrote a post about why Polly’s mom refused to wear a mask or get vaccinated. (Please see No Need to Wear a Face Mask: When it’s My Time to Die, I’m Ready to Go.) And finally, last November, I wrote a post about Polly’s father’s funeral at the Newark Baptist Temple. (Please see An IFB Funeral: Fundamentalist Christianity Poisons Everything.) Despite me publicizing their recklessness (and the church and its pastor are very much aware of my writing), the Baptist Temple and its pastor continue to ignore the seriousness of COVID-19.

While family members swear on a stack of Bearing Precious Seed Leather Bound King James Version Bibles that Pastor Falls takes the virus seriously, video evidence suggests otherwise. Sure, Falls wears a mask (he and his family were infected last year), as do other church members, but by and large, the congregation continues to have unprotected sex with COVID-19. A recent family photo shot in the Baptist Temple’s gymnasium features at least three family members with serious health problems (including Polly’s mom). Not one person in the photo is wearing a mark. I see the same thing in other photos taken at the church or its school, Licking County Christian Academy. All the evidence suggests that the church gives lip service to CDC and Licking County Health Department COVID-19 guidelines.

Last Sunday, Polly’s mom told her during their weekly phone call that ten of her fellow church members were currently infected with COVID-19, and two of them were in the hospital. The church has had other outbreaks, and I believe at least one member has died from the virus. It is clear, at least to me, that the Baptist Temple facilitates and promotes super-spreader events, also known as Sunday church services. Polly’s mom continues to attend Sunday services, saying that she wears a mask and sits in the back of the church away from other people. Mom refuses to get vaccinated, claiming that COVID is no worse than the flu. And since she doesn’t get the annual flu vaccine, she has no plans to get the COVID-19 vaccine either. Besides, according to Mom, Jesus is in control, and she is ready to die and go to Heaven.

Earlier today, our nephew — who pleaded with Mom to get vaccinated — informed us that Mom coded while at the doctor’s office (she has congestive heart failure). She had yet another heart attack and was tested for COVID-19 while waiting to be admitted to the hospital. The test came back positive. She is currently asymptomatic, but the doctor told her the heart attack could be COVID-related. While it is impossible to know exactly where she was infected — she doesn’t go anywhere besides church and rarely comes in contact with people outside of her church — it is safe to conclude that the Baptist Temple is the vector.

Pastor Falls, a libertarian, refuses to insist that church members wear masks and practice social distancing. I suspect he thinks doing so is a good idea, but his libertarianism keeps him from demanding congregants follow CDC and Ohio Department of Health Department guidelines. The Baptist Temple is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. The church has all sorts of rules mandating member behavior, yet when it comes to COVID-19, it is hands-off and follow the Lord’s leading. Women can’t wear pants, and premarital sex will get you excommunicated, but whether to take steps to protect oneself from a deadly virus is just a matter of personal opinion.

Polly and I are beyond angry. And frustrated. And helpless. Nothing we say or do will change what is happening at the Newark Baptist Temple. We are forced to sit by while Mom gambles away her life, believing that Jesus and good genes will keep her alive. And if they don’t? Polly and I are left with the chore of dealing with the church, its pastor, and family members. We are left with the chore of cleaning up the mess Mom leaves behind after she dies. She refuses to update her will, leaving Polly and me to take care of everything after she is gone. We pleaded with Mom to set her house in order, but she refuses to do so, leaving her only daughter and son-in-law to deal with all the shit that is sure to come. We will certainly take care of things and do what we can to honor her wishes, but Mom’s unwillingness to make things easier for us is selfishness on her part.

I texted my oldest son the following today: I HATE the Baptist Temple. I literally hate what this church has done to my mother-in-law (and my deceased father-in-law) and our extended family. While Mom is certainly culpable for her ignorant beliefs about the virus and Jesus’s hands-on care, it’s hard not to put much of the blame on the church she has attended for the past forty-five years. Fundamentalist indoctrination has crippled her ability to think and reason, and in the end, it will probably kill her.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

American Individualism Will Kill Us All

1970-nova-ss

Son #3 invited me to a car show tonight in nearby Bryan. I enjoy attending car shows, especially if they have lots of classic/muscle cars. Such cars remind me of the automobiles I owned in the 1970s and 1980s. My favorite car remains the 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS I owned in 1975-76. Lots of raw horsepower, a chick magnet.

I was hesitant about attending the show due to concerns over potential exposure to COVID-19. I decided social distancing and wearing a mask would keep me safe, especially since the event was being held outdoors around the Williams County Courthouse.

According to my finely tuned Baptist preacher crowd counting skills, there were about 200 or so people at the car show. Would you like to guess how many people were concerned with social distancing or were wearing masks? Social distancing? No one bothered. And masks? Five people wore masks: Me and Bethany, a couple selling kettle corn, and a man in a wheel chair. That’s it. Roughly 2.5 percent of the attendees were wearing masks.

Yesterday, I had what I call a Bruce’s Git-r-done Day. I turned 63 today, and I still lack moderation and balance in my life. Hey, the house is on fire! Charge, with an empty squirt gun, and put the fire out! Try as I might to slow down, I find it impossible to do so.

I decided to go to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Bryan to renew my driver’s license. Afterward, I stopped by Bill’s Locker Room to order an embroidered red apron. The BMV was busy, with everyone lined up outside waiting to be waited upon. Out of the 20 or so peopled queued up, four of them were wearing masks. And Bill’s Locker Room? There was a sign on the front door that stressed the importance of wearing masks. Want to know how many employees and customers were wearing masks? One — me. That’s it.

I stopped home to eat lunch with Polly before she headed off to work. I was quite fatigued, but I decided to push myself and drive to Defiance to pick up my prescriptions at Meijer, run our car through the new car wash next door to Kohl’s, and stop by Menard’s to buy two bags of sand.

Roughly 20% of people in Meijer were wearing masks. Menard’s? Everyone was wearing masks. Why? Menard’s requires its customers to wear masks. Damn commies, the lot of them. How dare they tell free-born Americans what they can or can’t do.

The sand, of course, was out in the yard, which I only figured out after traipsing through half the store. As I was headed towards the checkout, I was hit of wave of lightheadedness and fatigued. You’ve pushed yourself too far now, dumb ass.

I managed to check out, crawled into the seat of our Ford Edge, turned the air on high, and sat in Menard’s parking lot for ten or so minutes, hoping to catch a bit of wind in my sail. I finally felt well enough to drive home. I told myself, “this was a really stupid idea.”

II checked my blood pressure and blood sugar level. My glucose level was 62. I took my evening medication, downed a Dr. Pepper, and ate a sandwich. Man, was I tired! I turned the TV on to watch All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC. Halfway through the show, I fell asleep. An hour later, I woke up, and my was body was screaming from head to toe in pain. The pain was so bad that I ran a hot bath and sat in the tub for a half-hour, hoping the pain would abate (and it did).

Around 1:00 a.m. or so, I started trading messages with a woman who was a teen in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church I pastored in southeast Ohio in the 1980s. We had a delightful conversation.

Polly arrived home from work at 2:30 a.m. I told her I was really feeling weak, and my eyesight was blurry. I thought, I’d better check my blood sugar level. What the fuck, it is 40! As any diabetic knows, a 40 reading means its time to head for the emergency room. Not me. I’m Bruce Gerencser, a real American. I can do all things through Bruce!

I started to stand up, only to find that I couldn’t do so. I told Polly, I’m in big trouble. Get me a Dr. Pepper. I chugged it down, no change on my glucose level. WTF! Polly, now quite concerned said, do you want a glass of orange juice? Yes, right away, I replied. 90 minutes later, my blood sugar level rebounded to a whopping 50. It took until 7:00 a.m. for my glucose level to reach 72.

As I reflect on the lack of social distancing and mask wearing by locals andAs I reflect on the lack of social distancing and mask-wearing by locals and my unwillingness to balance my life, I have concluded that American individualism will be the death of us all. While I can smugly and self-righteously chastise locals for not caring about their neighbors, am I really any better? Don’t I owe it to Polly, my children, and my grandchildren to prudently manage my health? It’s one thing for me to push myself a bit, but it’s another thing to run headlong into a brick wall, thinking that I am impervious to harm. I am not.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Living in the Land of Jesus, Guns, and Republicans: I Went Shopping at Meijer Today

meijer-covid-19

This post contains cursing. If you are easily offended by such language, I suggest you read something else.

Earlier today, we drove to nearby Defiance, Ohio to do some shopping at Meijer. I wondered exactly how locals would be acting now that Governor Mike DeWine has loosened or removed many of the restrictions that keep Ohioans sequestered at home. I say “wondered,” when, in fact, I knew exactly what I would see.

I live in the land of Jesus, Guns, and Republicans. And not just any Jesus. Sure, there are liberal and progressive Christians around here, but, for the most part, those who worship the dead Son of God are Evangelicals. Even those who attend mainline churches tend to skew to the right religiously. Atheists? Why, we are so rare that locals don’t even think we exist.

There are hundreds of churches in the quad-county area. I live in a community of 356 or so people. Within a few miles of my home there are three Church of God congregations, a Catholic church, a Methodist church, and two non-denominational churches. That’s why locals who haven’t read my writing assume I am a worshiper of Jesus. Several years ago, a woman engaged my daughter Bethany — who has Down syndrome — in a discussion about music at a high school basketball game. The woman asked, “so what kind of music do you like?” Bethany quickly gave her top five list of country bands. Then the woman said, “you like Christian music too, right?” Bethany said nothing. Much like her mother, she hates Christian music. I looked at the woman, gave her my fake smile, and said, “oh, we listen to all sorts of music.” And without missing a beat, I said, “should be a good game tonight.”

This woman, a devout follower of the Evangelical Jesus, had no place in her worldview for people who didn’t listen to Christian music. Imagine what her response might have been had I said, “We are atheists. We don’t listen to shitty Christian music.” Of course, I am too polite to do so.

I assume that local Christians have at least have been taught what is commonly called the TWO GREAT COMMANDMENTS:

  • Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thy heart, soul, and might (mind)
  • Thou shalt love your neighbor as thyself

I say “assume,” because, based on what I saw while shopping today, it is evident that local Christians have forgotten about loving their neighbors. I personally know several local progressive/liberal pastors. I know these men of God take seriously the Coronavirus pandemic and what can be done to lessen the spread of COVID-19. I do wonder, however, what local right-wing pastors are conveying to their congregants about the current pandemic. I suspect, not much.

I am sure someone is going to ask, “what does Evangelical Christianity have to do with what you experienced today?” Everything. You see, Evangelical theology breeds right-wing Republican/Libertarian political beliefs. All those old people who watch Faux News every night? They live here in Defiance, Williams, Henry, and Fulton counties. They have birthed children and have grandchildren who, having experienced little else but the white Evangelical monoculture of rural northwest Ohio, walk in their right-wing parents’/grandparents’ shoes. Want to know who to blame for the presidency of Donald Trump? Look no farther than rural northwest Ohio. Almost seven out of ten voting locals voted for Trump. Beliefs have consequences. Not only do Republicans control EVERY local/state/federal office, but their Jesus-infused political beliefs also infect every aspect of local life. And local Republicans are not the centrist Republicans I remember from back in the days when Jim Rhodes was governor and Howard Metzenbaum, John Glenn, and George Voinovich represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate. Thanks to the racist Tea Party rebellion against “Kenyan-born” Barack Obama, local Republicans have moved to the right, embracing immoral Libertarian politics. Many of these same people are militia-friendly gun owners who supported the recent armed takeover of the Michigan state house.

I can’t help but notice their memes and posts on social media decrying liberals, atheists, and virtually every action taken by the government to keep them safe during this pandemic. No conspiracy is too extreme for them. Bill Gates, as a modern-day Josef Mengele? The Chinese government behind the Wuhan virus? 5G causes COVID-19? Vaccines, the mark of the beast? I have seen every one of these crazy conspiracies touted on local Facebook pages. Good Christian people want the country opened up NOW! If doing so kills the neighbors they are supposed to love, so be it. All that matters to them is their “rights.” Ironically, most of the locals demanding freedom to do whatever they want, are anti-abortion, opposed to same-sex marriage, and oppose teaching evolution in public school science classes. Evidently, “freedom” only applies when their way of life is interrupted or impeded. I so wanted to ask these Libertarian dick-waggers, “do you mind if I strip off my clothes and stand on the sidewalk in front of your house while your children play in the yard?” Freedom, baby! It’s tyranny to restrict me in any way! Don’t like it? Stay in your house. Such is the absurdity of immoral, anarchist Libertarianism.

Yesterday, I heard a newscaster say that sixty-eight percent of people wear masks to protect themselves and others from exposure to the Coronavirus. I said to the TV — a common thing for me to do these days — where? Austin? Seattle? Not here, that’s for sure. Since March 7, I have gone to the store (hardware and grocery) six or so times. I have done my best to avoid mouth breathers, ordering online from Walmart, Amazon, Target, Chief Supermarket, Menards, Wayfair, CVS, New Egg, B&H, and several small companies when I can instead of going to brick-and-mortar stores. (You should see the mountain of cardboard we’ve accumulated in our garage.) Today’s trip was unavoidable. I know that every time we go to the store we risk infection, but it’s impossible for us to become hermits — even though such a life is appealing. All we know to do is limit exposure as much as we can, hoping the COVID-19 virus doesn’t track us down and kill us.

Today, roughly thirty percent or so of shoppers were wearing face masks. At Meijer, employees are required to wear masks, and every worker kept the letter of the law. I saw numerous employees, including one manager, with their masks pulled below their noses. I wanted to say, “you do know you breathe in and out of your nose, expelling whatever into the air?” I get it, wearing masks is uncomfortable and restricts breathing. To that I say, “tough shit.” Life is hard, period, right now, and we all have to adapt. Stop your whining.

As far as my fellow citizens were concerned, most of them were not wearing masks, and neither were they the least bit concerned about social distancing. (And to those who were wearing masks and trying to stay the fuck away from each other? Thank you, for loving your neighbor as yourself.) I saw numerous groups of mainly older people closely huddled together shooting the breeze. I wanted to go up to them and say, “are you guys idiots? You do know that you are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and dying, right?” Something tells me that doing so would have been a waste of time. Trump, Hannity, Ingraham, and their favorite TV preachers told them all the need to know about the Wuhan virus, end of discussion. Got any hydroxychloroquine or bleach?

What made things worse is that Meijer management decided to have its workers stock shelves on a Friday at 4:00 PM. Managers get from employees what they demand, so it seemed clear to me that managers were not that interested in making sure workers properly wear masks and practice social distancing. It’s impossible to stay six feet away from people if there are stockers and carts in the middle of aisles. The dairy aisle was the worst. Two women were stocking the coolers. They had THREE stock carts, plus a cardboard cart in the middle of the aisle, blocking traffic from both directions. I wanted to scream. Yes, I am angry, pissed off, and irritated. I am oh-so-tired of such carelessness and indifference.

Two things stood out during our shopping foray at Meijer. First, there were two morbidly obese seniors driving motorized carts through the store. They were together. Neither of them was wearing masks. One woman had a tank of oxygen perched on her basket in case she needed it. I thought, “talk about clueless. Death on wheels coming my way!” Second, there was a man in his early thirties with his significant other and several children. No mask, no surprise. He was a burly manly man. Real men don’t wear sissy masks. As I watched from a distance, the man sneezed, with gusto, not once, not twice, but three times. Three massive bursts of particles into the air. He made no effort to hold his sneeze or direct it into his arm or a cloth. Nope, this man just expelled his sneezes into the air. I am at a place in life where I consider such behavior criminal, no different than an HIV positive man having unprotected sex with someone. This man could have COVID-19 and not know it. Sure, he’s young, but young people DO die from this virus, and at the very least he could be an asymptomatic carrier. Whatever he was, he most certainly was an inconsiderate asshole.

I could write a lot more about our trip to Meijer today, but I will leave my raging storytelling here. I know that someone is sure to say, “Bruce, you should stay home! Sick? Aged? Not my problem. You need to quarantine, not me.” Fine. Are you going to make sure we have sufficient income to live? Are you going to make sure we have access to food, safely delivered to our home? Are you going to make sure we have medical care, including the delivery of our medications? “Of course not, Bruce! Freedom, baby! I get to live, and you, well sorry, but you don’t. Can’t worry about a ‘few’ old people dying.”

And come Sunday, these people who raised holy hell over supposed “death panels” a few years ago, will go to church, professing their love for Jesus and their fellow man. Disconnected from their words will be the reality of their behavior. Don’t tell me how much you love Jesus and your neighbor, show me. People who really love their neighbors will do everything they can to make sure the sick, elderly, and vulnerable are protected and cared for. That you refuse to wear a mask tells me that the only person you care about is self. I thought Jesus told his followers to deny themselves, to put God and others first? All I saw today was unmitigated selfishness.

I am an atheist, yet I live according to the grand truth that I should love my neighbor as myself. It matters to me if my neighbors, along with their families, get sick or die. The least I can do for them is wear a mask, wash my hands, and stay six-feet away. And to locals who only value their personal freedom and scream TYRANNY when asked to wear a mask? I say, “fuck you.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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IFB Preacher Gene Gouge Says He is in a War Against All Things Social

pastor gene gouge

Gene Gouge is the pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Hickory, North Carolina. Liberty Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. Gouge has been its pastor for over thirty years.

Recently Gouge made news headlines by saying the COVID-19 virus is much to do about nothing; little more than evil, communist propaganda.

WSOC-9 reports:

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Pastor Gene Gouge at Liberty Baptist in Hickory has been broadcasting his message of concern across the foothills — and he isn’t mincing his words.

“The news media is pure evil, communist propaganda,” Gouge said.

Not only has he attacked coverage of the pandemic but also whether or not the virus is truly a threat to the country.

“95% of everything that has gone on about the last month or two months is a mirage. It is an illusion, a delusion. It ain’t real,” he said.

Gouge believes the response to the pandemic is violating his congregation’s civil rights, so he put a sign outside his church asking the governor to stop the persecution of churches and Christians and to open the churches.

He believes people should be allowed to gather at places of worship.

“We believe this virus has been weaponized and has been used to hurt our country and hurt our constitution,” he said.

When Channel 9 asked him about the more than 50,000 deaths nationwide so far, the pastor responded, “You’re not going to develop an immune system by staying in the house and by wearing gloves and wearing a mask. People who are susceptible, cancer patients, elderly people no doubt should be extra precautions.”

After the above news story was published, Gouge took to the pulpit to “educate” congregants about the “war” he was fighting.

Here’s a partial transcript of what he had to say:

We are in a war. We are in a battle. I’ve said it from day one, we’ve been lied to, we’ve been manipulated, this virus has been weaponized to destroy this country, our nation, and the economy. And our states. We are at war. We are literally now being attacked.

….

We are at war. We are at war . . . The word social. I don’t know if you realize it or not, the word social is not even found in the Bible. The word social is a word of the world, it’s not a word that’s in the Bible. Any time that word social comes up it ought to throw up immediately a red flag of warning. I mean to us who are saved by the grace of God. Socialism. Socially. What’s a socialist? It’s one step from a communist. Amen. And then you got social reform. You know what social reform is? It’s the new coming, new world order. Then you got social medicine. That’s what we’ve heard about now ever since Obamacare. Social security. Don’t get mad at me. Social security is using the money, our money, to take care of us. that’s a scary thought, ain’t it? Social justice. I’ve been to Cuba. You see the billboard. Viva La Revolucion. Social Justice. And then social distancing. Oughta throw up a red flag just like that when it was used. You know what that is? Dividing the people. Dividing the people. You know what that basically is? It’s nothing more than communism. Communism is atheism. Atheism leads to Satanism. And I’m telling you this world is headed to a one-world religion of Satanism — the worshiping of Satan. You can read that in the book of the Revelation.

We’re at war. We’re at war.

Got all that? Gouge believes the word “social” is evil because the word is not found in the King James Bible. I wonder if Gouge thinks ice cream or potlucks are evil too since neither word is found in the Bible?

I wonder if Gouge owns a dictionary? Had he bothered to look up the word social, he would have found this:

social definition

Social sure sounds like church to me.

Gouge’s “social” rant is little more than a Trump campaign speech. Lies, half-truths, distortions, all meant to drive Gouge’s fake war agenda. I love his “atheism leads to Satanism” line. As any atheist would tell Gouge, atheism doesn’t lead to Satanism. Atheists believe Satan is a myth, and the only thing atheism has led them to is freedom from hearing nonsensical sermons such as this one.

Gouge believes that government-mandated social distancing is the persecution of Christians and churches. Here’s the message he put on the sign in front of his church:

Freedom Baptist Church Hickory North Carolina

Pastor Gouge says he is fighting a war. Based on my investigation, the only war Gouge is fighting is against science, reason, common sense, and loving your neighbor as yourself. If Gouge were alone in a cabin somewhere, his words could be easily dismissed as the rant of a deluded hillbilly. Unfortunately, Gouge has a following, people who hang on his every word. And this makes Gouge dangerous — a promoter of ignorance that can and does psychologically and physically harm others.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Coronavirus Pandemic: Why Churches Should Close Their Doors

mark palenske and his wife

In recent weeks, I have published a number of posts about Evangelical churches that refuse to close their doors over the Coronavirus Pandemic. Whatever their reasons for remaining open, the fact remains that these pastors and church leaders are risking infections and death by doing so. God is not going to save them from the COVID-19 virus. Far too many Evangelicals think that God will cause the virus to pass by their homes just as he did in Egypt long ago when the death angel claimed the firstborn child of every family. In their minds, they believe that faith, the blood of Jesus, and prayer, will provide them an inoculation against the virus. As countless Evangelicals are now finding out, such thinking is not only stupid and delusional, it is deadly.

Recently, Greers Ferry First Assembly of God in Greers Ferry, Arkansas held what was billed as a Kid’s Crusade. Whether this event was the infection point is unknown, but one thing is for certain: thirty-two church members, including the pastor and his wife, are infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Three days ago, Pastor Mark Palenske posted the following message on Facebook:

I know that some of you have wished for another update sooner than this, but sitting down at the computer is not my highest priority at this point. Dena and I are beginning to feel some improvement, but the pace of that improvement is much slower than we would like. Our primary symptom at this juncture is a lingering nausea that keeps us wanting stillness and very small amounts of food. We are 12 days beyond our initial symptoms at this point, so this is obviously not a short term situation. Thus far, we have 26 people connected to the church who have tested positive for Covid-19 and at least 16 more who have been tested and are waiting for results. Five of those 26 have been admitted to the hospital (including Dena, earlier in the week) and one more is being transported as I write. There was very little in my training for the ministry that covered the full measure of what our church family has dealt with in the past few weeks. The intensity of this virus has been underestimated by so many, and I continue to ask that each of you take it very seriously. An act of wisdom and restraint on your part can be the blessing that preserves the health of someone else. I have two goals for this afternoon’s post. The first is that many are collecting reasons to fear, and I think that is counterproductive to our current challenge. There are many reasons for concern and we are being given large amounts of information daily that demands we carefully sift through it. Fear erodes our willingness to work together, and it steals the confidence of our youngest generation. Our lifestyle has not seen such sudden shifts in our routines or the influx of uncertainty that it has seen in the previous days. Any builder will tell you that the strength of the building lies within its foundation. It’s not hard to construct something quickly, but it takes more time to construct something that will last and endure hardship. Our country has ventured into a fickle and shallow society recently. We have applauded self-expression and overvalued individual human talent. Our culture revels in recreation (something that is not bad, but can be over-prioritized) and entertainment. In the process, we forgot what we were made of. Our foundation was built with a cooperative spirit and has motivated generations before this one to make sacrifices for the good of the whole unit. There have always been people who see the life of their fellow man as worth their efforts. I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that we live in a sturdy place. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, right now than where I am. I trust my fellow citizens to rise up and meet this challenge. We are not invincible, but we learned centuries ago that faith outweighs fear. We learned that God, when given a place in our homes and in our lives, orders our steps. I read this morning…”Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)My second goal is to try and alter the current of our social media tendencies. We can give into some real human frailties when we leap to conclusions and seek to injure an unknown individual or when we allow our rage to express itself without self-discipline at its core. Facebook, does not have to be negative! It does not have to inflict its will on the suffering or its opinion on someone with a very different perspective. It can be an incredibly useful tool to encourage and uplift. Let me explain. I would much rather tell you of the superstars that have fought side-by-side with my congregation during this battle, than highlight the obstacles that stood in our way. Two local doctors have gone well beyond their normal duties. It was because they were relentless and diligent, that we discovered the scope of what we are dealing with. There is wisdom in building a relationship with a physician and this circumstance proves that truth all over again. The medical world has their hands full. I remember the two nurses who met us out in the parking lot the day that we were tested. Their world changed in a single moment and they stood tall to the challenge. Let’s be patient with them at this time. They are doing their best, not only to help us return to our lives and our families, but to help them return to theirs as well. Dena and I receive a daily phone call from the state’s Department of Health. Each morning a ray of sunshine asks us how we are doing. We spent hours on the phone together going over each detail of our story. Retracing every step and sharing more information than we could imagine. They took that information and scoured our community for more that might have been affected. Our daily phone call from them won’t last forever, but I thank God for their help in all of this. They are dealing with an unpleasant reality that is testing their training and protocols, and if you ask me, they are doing so admirably. Mistakes and overlooked facts are bound to happen with something of this magnitude, but no one works in a circle of perfection. Not me! Not you! But it’s compassion and character that guides us through the tough times. I would also like to thank my neighbors and my fellow Cleburne County citizens. Your phone calls and care packages have been a God-send. We have lived here for 13 years (almost to the day) and you have been a family that we have cherished greatly. Long before the reality of this virus, we knew that you would step up for the community and we were not wrong! Lastly to the church and our family (both literal and figurative), you have been fantastic! Love is not just an emotion. It’s a series of thoughtful actions. We have felt and trusted in your love and will continue to let that love lead us forward. To anyone that reads this (I know that it’s long), I have a challenge for you. Fill Facebook with the names and faces of the heroes of this season. Tell others about how they impacted your life. Encourage! Uplift! Refuse to voice the negative and share hope with each other!!!

I wish nothing but the best for Pastor Palenske and his infected church members. I don’t want to see anyone get sick, and I certainly don’t want to see anyone die. That said, it must be pointed out that Palenske paints himself as a helpless victim, one filled with all sorts of wisdom and insight post-infection. Where was that wisdom and insight BEFORE thirty-two people were infected with the COVID-19 virus? Why was Palenske still holding church services and Kids Crusades as if all was right in the world? At the very least, Palenske and other decision-makers have to own their own culpability in this debacle. If services had been canceled and people had practiced social distancing, it is likely that this outbreak could have been avoided.

Other Posts About Churches Refusing to Close Their Doors and the Coronavirus Pandemic in General

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Quote of the Day: Dear Evangelical Pastors, This is no Time for Civil Disobedience

james ellis iii

When municipalities began encouraging social distancing of at least six feet and capping attendance numbers for public gatherings, alongside other decisions of closure or limitation, many churches quickly turned to congregant-free video broadcasting of worship services or even drive-in-movie style worship in their parking lots. Other congregations – to the chagrin of many, both Christian and not – continued meeting in-person as scheduled, emphatic that they were simply going to trust God.

“My goodness gracious, if the people of God cannot display wisdom, resilience and calm, then who will?”

For me, the theological problem here is imagining that we are in some way doing God a favor when gathering face-to-face in Jesus’ name, as we normally do, for worship, Bible study and discipleship groups. Something is hugely awry when for the public good (which includes our congregations since they, too, work and live “in public”) and over a temporary period, postponing physical gatherings jars us so. It is as if we believe a mystical, magic medicine is produced through our corporate worship or that God isn’t the infinitely capable caretaker that Scripture attests, which renders, then, 10 or 11 o’clock Sunday mornings as the only time that heaven is open for business.

Frankly, it makes us, as Christians, look seriously out to lunch (to put it kindly). Believe me, I understand that cognitive dissonance during trying times is very real. We may feel like we are living in a movie because what is real still doesn’t feel that it should be. We can’t see the forest for the trees. I get it. But this is no time for civil disobedience, but rather for us to turn with confidence to the God we say we believe in.

— James Ellis III, Director of Student Ministries at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, Canada, Baptist News Global, March 25, 2020

Bruce Gerencser