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Tag: Somerset Baptist Church Mt Perry

Blast From the Past (1990): Is TV an Idol in America?

tv-is-evil

What follows is an essay written by my ten-year-old son while a student at Somerset Baptist Academy in Mt. Perry, Ohio. As you will see, my son had been paying attention to my sermons. My three oldest sons, now 41 39, and 36, watched very little TV growing up. We did not own a TV until they were teenagers. (Please see The Preacher and His TV.)

Yes, television is an idol. We worship the TV every time we turn it on and watch it. The Devil is behind the television. It was his idea to make the television so he could enter people’s houses and rule over them. He loves his idea. It gives him his chance to kill people like that Bible says: that he’s a roaring lion and seeketh to devour someone.

In people’s houses everything is turned towards the television. We do not talk to guests. We watch TV and once in awhile make a comment about what there is to watch or something else. Even so-called “Christians” watch filthy, junky, and ungodly stuff on TV. Soon we become slaves and addicts to the TV.

When people watching the TV it is hard for them to stop watching it. People watch dirty and gruesome things and just say, what was wrong with it? or how terrible it was, and keep watching it. No one even bothered to not watch it or get rid of it. The devil laughs at us when we do this because he has won. People have let TV become a part of their lives, so therefore they let it control them instead of them controlling it.

When we as people come home we turn on the TV right away. Whatever there’s to see, it is on full blast. TV damages adults, but totally destroys children. One school teacher had her students not watch TV for 24 hours, and then write a report on it. One boy thought one minute [not watching TV] was like a month, another imagined that his favorite shows were on TV. Japanese children think that they cannot live without it. They have at least 3 TV’s in their homes. They think you are “different” if you do not have a TV to look at all the time.

The TV is a things that lays the way for the Anti-Christ. The Anti-Christ will rule the world by way of the TV. He will have everybody hooked on to the TV and watching filthy stuff, which allows demons come into their homes. TV is man’s number one idol besides other things. The Anti-Christ will speak through the TV. Unsaved people cannot watch or worship the TV during the Tribulation because they will be killed for not bowing down to him [Anti-Christ] when he comes on TV. We should not watch filthy things on TV. (Over 400 words)

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.

What One Catholic Doctor Taught Me About Christianity

william fiorini
Dr. William Fiorini

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In the 1960s, the Gerencser family moved to California, the land of promise and a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. Like many who traveled west, my parents found out that life in San Diego was not much different from the life they left in rural northwest Ohio. As in Ohio, my Dad worked sales jobs and drove truck. For the Gerencser family, the pot of gold was empty, and three or so years later we left California and moved back to Bryan, Ohio.

While moving to California and back proved to be a financial disaster for my parents, they did find Jesus at Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego — a fundamentalist church pastored by Tim LaHaye. Both of my parents made professions of faith at Scott Memorial, as did I when I was five years old. From that point forward, the Gerencser family, no matter where we lived, attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church.

Not only were my parents Fundamentalist Baptists, they were also members of the John Birch Society. While in California, my Mom actively campaigned for Barry Goldwater, and later, back in Ohio, she campaigned for George Wallace. Right-wing religious and political beliefs were very much a part of my young life, so it should come as no surprise that I turned out to be a fire-breathing right-wing Republican and a Fundamentalist Baptist preacher.

If the Baptist church taught me anything, it taught me to hate Catholics. According to my Sunday School teachers and pastors, and later my college professors and ministerial colleagues, the Catholic church was the whore of Babylon, a false church, the church of Satan and the Antichrist. I was taught that Catholics believed in salvation by works and believed many things that weren’t found in the Bible; things such as: purgatory, church magisterium, Pope is the Vicar of Christ, transubstantiation, infant baptism, confirmation, priests not permitted to marry, praying to statutes, worshiping the dead, and worshiping Mary. These things were never put in any sort of historical context for me, so by the time I left Midwestern Baptist College in 1979, I was a certified hater of all things Catholic.

In 1991, something happened that caused me to reassess my view of Catholics. My dogma ran head-on into a Catholic that didn’t fit my narrow, bigoted beliefs. In 1989, our fourth child and first daughter was born. We named her Bethany. Our family doctor was William Fiorini. He operated the Somerset Medical Clinic in Somerset, Ohio, the same town where I pastored an IFB church. Dr. Fiorini was a devout Catholic, a post-Vatican II Catholic who had been greatly influenced by the charismatic revival that swept through the Catholic church in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a kind and compassionate man. He knew our family didn’t have insurance or much money, and more than a few times the treatment slip turned in after a visit said N/C (no charge).

Bethany seemed quite normal at first. It wasn’t until she was sixteen months old that we began to see things that worried us. Her development was slow and she couldn’t walk. One evening, we drove over to Charity Baptist Church in Beavercreek, Ohio to attend a Bible conference. The woman watching the nursery asked us about Bethany having Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome? Our little girl wasn’t retarded. How dare this woman even suggest that there was something wrong with our daughter.

Bethany continued to struggle, reaching development stages months after infants and toddlers typically do. Finally, we went to see Dr. Fiorini. He suggested that we have Bethany genetically tested. We took her over to Ohio State University Hospital for the test and a few weeks later, just days before Bethany’s second birthday and the birth of our daughter Laura, we received a phone call from Dr. Fiorini. He told us the test results were back and he wanted to talk to us about them. He told us to come to his office after he finished seeing patients for the day and he would sit down and talk with us about the test results.

The test showed that Bethany had Down Syndrome. Her Down Syndrome features were so mild that the obstetrician missed the signs when she was born. Here we were two years later finding out that our oldest daughter had a serious mental handicap. Our Catholic doctor, a man I thought was a member of the church Satan built and headed for hell, sat down with us, and with great love and compassion shared the test results. He told us that many miscarriages are fetuses with Down Syndrome, and that it was evident that God wanted to bless us with a special child like Bethany. He answered every question and treated us as he would a member of his own family.

This Catholic didn’t fit my narrow, bigoted picture of what a Catholic was. Here was a man who loved people, who came to an area that had one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in Ohio, and started a one-doctor practice. (He later added a Nurse practitioner, a nun who treated us when we couldn’t get in to see the doctor.) He worked selflessly to help everyone he could. On more than one occasion, I would pass him on the highway as his wife shuttled him from Zanesville to Lancaster — the locations of the nearest hospitals. Often, he was slumped over and asleep in the passenger’s seat. He was the kind of doctor who gave me his home phone number and said to call him if I ever needed his help. He told us there was no need to take our kids to the emergency room for stitches or broken bones. He would gladly stitch them up, even if we didn’t have an appointment.

Dr. Fiorini wasn’t perfect. One time, he almost killed me. He regularly treated me for throat infections, ear infections, and the like. Preaching as often as I did, I abused my voice box and throat. I also have enlarged adenoids and tonsils, and I breathe mostly through my mouth. As a result, I battled throat and voice problems my entire preaching career. One day, I came to see Dr. Fiorini for yet a-n-o-t-h-e-r throat infection. He prescribed an antibiotic and told me to take it easy. He knew, like himself, I was a workaholic and would likely ignore his take-it-easy advice. Take the drug, wait a few weeks, and just like always I would be good as new. However, this time it didn’t work. Over the course of two months, as I got sicker and sicker, he tried different treatments. Finally, he did some additional testing and found out I had mononucleosis; the kissing disease for teens, a deadly disease for a thirty-four-year-old man. Two days later, I was in the hospital with a 104 degree fever, a swollen spleen and liver, and an immune system on the verge of collapse.

An internist came in to talk with my wife and me. He told us that if my immune system didn’t pick up and fight there was nothing he could do. Fortunately, my body fought back and I am here to write about it. My bout with mononucleosis dramatically altered my immune system, making me susceptible to bacterial and viral infection. A strange result of the mononucleosis was that my normal body temperature dropped from 98.6 to 97.0. I lost 50 pounds and was unable to preach for several months.

Once I was back on my feet, Dr. Fiorini apologized to me for missing the mononucleosis. I was shocked by his admission. He showed me true humility by admitting his mistake. I wish I could say that I immediately stopped hating Catholics and condemning them to Hell, but it would be several years before I finally came to the place where I embraced everyone who called themselves a Christian. In late 1990s, while pastoring Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, I embraced what is commonly called the social gospel. Doctrine no longer mattered to me. Moving from a text-oriented belief system, I began to focus on good works. Tell me how you live. Better yet, show me; and in the showing, a Catholic doctor taught me what it really meant to be a Christian.

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 Green Station Wagon

beater station wagon
$200 beater. Polly HATED this car.

In July of 1983, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher Bruce Gerenser, his wife, Polly, and their two young boys, aged four and two, moved from Buckeye Lake, Ohio to Somerset to start of new IFB church. I would remain pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until we moved to San Antonio, Texas in March 1994 so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf. 

Over the course of the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist, we owned all sorts of automobiles — most of them cheap beaters or cars given to us by congregants. Every one of these cars has a story to tell. (Please see I Did It For You Jesus — Crank Windows and Vinyl Floor Mats.) One such car is the green Ford station wagon in the picture featured above.

John Nelson, a congregant who lived down the hill from the church with his wife and four sons (who later would attend our Christian academy), was what you would call a “wheeler and dealer.” John has been running a perpetual yard sale for decades. His father owned a junkyard in nearby Saltillo. Over the years, I bought or traded for cars from John. One such car was the green wagon. If I remember right, I traded John a Chevy Caprice I had purchased from another church family for the station wagon. Out of the 50+ cars I/we have owned over the years, Polly hated this car the most. I mean really, really, really hated the car. And my three oldest sons hated the car too. Let me explain.

The station wagon was a huge car — common of the “boats” manufactured in the 1970s. Personally, I loved big cars — the bigger the better. Polly, however, did not. Not that what she liked or disliked mattered. I was officially in charge of all things auto related — from purchases to repairs to sales. Polly oh-so-fondly remembers days when I left the house with one car, only to return home later that day with a different one. She never, ever said a word, but I have to think that she more than once thought the Baptist equivalent of “what the fuck” when I drove up with a new rolling wreck.

As you can see from the photo, the station wagon had an ugly green paint job. The car had been repainted by a previous owner, by hand. Its paint really made the car stand out in a parking lot, much to the embarrassment of my family. 

Typically, I looked at prospective automobiles from one of two perspectives: looks and mechanical soundness. This car looked awful, but it was mechanically sound. I drove it all over southeast Ohio (and West Virginia on road trips) until I got bored with the car and traded it for something different.

Polly hated taking the car anywhere. She thought, at the time, that the station wagon was a rolling advertisement for our poverty; not the kind of car a preacher’s wife should be forced to drive. Ever the trooper, she said nothing. 

While Polly disliked driving the car, it was my sons who couldn’t stand the sight of the station wagon. At the time, our two oldest sons were enrolled at Licking County Christian Academy in Heath, Ohio. A ministry of the Newark Baptist Temple — an IFB church pastored by the late Jim Dennis, Polly uncle — LCCA was a non-accredited school populated primarily with children from middle class and affluent Christian families. The Gerencser children were among the poorest students to attend the school. 

LCCA was thirty miles from our home. A Bible church near our home, Maranatha Bible Church, then pastored by Bob Shaw, bussed children to LCCA every day, but my request to let our children ride the bus was denied. I suspected then, and still do today, that the church and its pastor didn’t want our poor munchkins intermingling with theirs. So, we dutifully drove 60 miles a day to Heath to drop off and pick up our children from school. Later, a girl in our church started attended LCCA. We would take children to LCCA in the morning, and her father would pick them up after school on his way home from work. He, too, drove a junker. 

My sons have told me that they were embarrassed to see me pull up in the school parking lot driving the green station wagon. Other parents drove new or late model automobiles. Not their preacher dad. Character building? Perhaps. I know this much. Neither of them drives their children to and from school with autos that look anything like the station wagon. Not going to happen. And these days, we drive a 2020 Ford Edge. No clunkers to be found in our driveway. If I came home with such a car today, why I suspect the top of my head would be sporting an indentation left from a Lodge cast iron skillet. Polly is definitely no longer passive when it comes to making car-buying decisions.

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.

What Motivated Me to Work so Hard for Jesus

working for jesus

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected

It all started with my belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. I considered the Bible the road map for navigating through a Satan-dominated, sin-plagued world. The Bible, along with the Holy Spirit who lived inside of me, was my God’s way of speaking to me and telling me what to do

According to how Evangelicals interpret the Protestant Bible, every person is a vile sinner under the just condemnation of God, deserving eternal punishment in Hell/Lake of Fire. The Bible also says that God graciously provides a way for us to have our sins forgiven and avoid eternal punishment. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth to be the final atonement for our sins. Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross, and three days later rose again from the dead, conquering death and the grave. Our salvation and eternal destiny rest squarely on the merit and work of Jesus. He, and he alone, is the way, truth, and life. Through the preaching of the Word (the Bible) and the work of the Holy Spirit, God calls out to sinners, saying, repent and believe the gospel. Those who hear his voice are gloriously saved and made part of the family of God.

The Bible taught me that as a God-called, God-ordained minister of the gospel, I had the solemn obligation to preach the good news to everyone. Work for the night is coming. Leave everything for the sake of the gospel. Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ. These clichés were not mere words to me. They were clarion calls to forsake all, including my family and economic security, and follow Jesus.

Every church I attended, every youth group I was a part of, and every summer youth camp I went to, reinforced the belief that God wanted (demanded) one hundred percent of me. All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give, says the old gospel song, I Surrender All. I went to an Evangelical Bible college to train for the ministry. Every class curriculum, every professor, every chapel speaker shouted out to students:

Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.
We never will give in while souls are lost in sin
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.

My wife went to college to get an Mrs. degree. She believed God wanted her to marry a preacher. Polly knew that she would have to make sacrifices for the sake of her husband’s call. She was taught that Jesus, the ministry, and the church came first. She was also taught that her husband was specially chosen by God to proclaim the good news of the gospel. She was encouraged to read biographies of great men and women of faith to learn how to deal with being married to a man of God. Polly and I entered marriage and the ministry knowing God had called us to a life of self-denial and devotion to the work of the ministry. Hand in hand, we embraced the work we believed God had set before us.

I consider 1983-1994 to be the high point of my ministerial career. I pastored a growing, busy Evangelical church. Sinners were being saved, baptized, and joining the church. Backsliders were being reclaimed. God was smiling on our work. Not only was this my observation, but it was the observation of my colleagues in the ministry. God was doing something special at Somerset Baptist Church.

During this time, I did a lot of preaching.  A typical week for me looked something like this:

  • Jail ministry on Tuesday
  • Nursing home ministry on Wednesday
  • Midweek service on Thursday
  • Street preaching 2-3 days a week
  • Teaching the adult Sunday school class
  • Preaching twice on Sunday

We also had a tuition-free Christian academy, open only to the children of church members. In addition to my busy church preaching schedule, I held revival services and preached at bible conferences and pastor’s fellowships. I was motivated by what I believed the Bible taught me about the work of the ministry.  I looked at the life of the apostles and thought that they were a pattern to follow. Run the race, Paul told me, I. I was totally committed to what I believed was God’s calling on my life.

Some Christians object and say “you are the one who worked yourself to death. Don’t blame the Church or God. OUR pastor doesn’t work this way. He takes time for his family. Blah. Blah Blah.” Even now, as an atheist, I find such objections lame. If the Bible is true, if what it says about God, sin, salvation, death, Hell, and Heaven is true, how dare any preacher or any Christian for that matter, treat the gospel of Jesus Christ so carelessly.  How dare any preacher not burn himself out for the sake of those in need of salvation. No time for busywork. No time for golfing with your fellow preachers.

More than a few pastors are lazy hirelings who do just enough to keep from getting fired. They pastor a church for two or three years, wear out their welcome, and then move on down the road to another church. I have no respect for pastors who defend their laziness by stressing the importance of balance in their lives. Where do they find such a notion in the Bible they say they believe? Jesus doesn’t call them to balance. He calls them to forsake all and follow him.

One of the reasons I see Christianity as a bankrupt religion is the lackadaisical approach Christians and their spiritual leaders have towards matters that supposedly have eternal consequences. Most of what goes on in the average church is meaningless bullshit. Call a business meeting to decide on the color of the paint for the nursery walls and everyone shows up. Implore people to come out for church visitation and the same three or four people show up.

Why should I take the Bible, God, Jesus, salvation, Heaven or Hell seriously when most Christians and pastors live lives that suggest they don’t. It took leaving the Christian church and leaving the ministry for me to realize that most of what I was chasing after was nothing more than a fool’s errand. Many of the ex-ministers who read this blog know what I am talking about. So much of life wasted, and for what? Too bad I had to be fifty years old before I realized what life is all about. Too bad I sacrificed my health on the altar of the eternal before I realized that there is no eternity, just the here and now.

From a psychological perspective, I understand that my type-A, workaholic personality made it easy for me to be the preacher I came to be. Whether it was pastoring churches or managing restaurants, I worked day and night, rarely taking time off for family or leisure. I still have the same tendencies, the difference now being that the list of things that matter to me is very small. Polly matters. Family matters. My neighbors matter. But matters of eternity, Heaven, and Hell? Nary a thought these days. If the Christian God exists, then I am screwed, and more than a few of the readers of this blog are too. However, I don’t think the Christian version of God exists, so I am investing all my time, money, and talent — how many times did you hear that phrase in a sermon? — on the only life I have — this one. I will leave it up to the gods and my family to do what they will with me after I am dead. Of course, depending on what happens to me after death, I could come back from the dead and write a book titled, “Heaven is for Real and Boy are the Atheists In Trouble.”

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.

Life: It All Depends on Where You Are Standing

creamery road zanesville ohio
Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

As long-time readers know, I spend a lot of time writing about my past: people, places, and events that are very much a part of the fabric of my life. I try to be as truthful and accurate as possible when I recount the past, but I am ever aware of the fact that I am giving an account of things as I remember them. Having read a good bit about the brain and memories, I know my retelling of my past may or may not be accurate. As best I can remember, I try to give an honest accounting of my life.

I have a younger brother and sister, and it is amazing how differently we each view events that happened in our childhood. Who is right? I’ve come to understand, we all are. The story we tell depends on where we were standing at the time.  As a fifteen-year-old boy and the oldest son, my view of our parent’s divorce is much different from that of my then eleven-year-old sister. The same can be said about many of our shared seminal experiences.

I live with a lot of guilt. I am prone to depression, and I can be quite pessimistic. I have faced long, deep bouts of depression, times where I have felt that death would be too good for me. With my words, theology, and religious practice, I hurt people. I’ve come to have these feelings because I am looking back at my past with the eyes of a sixty-two-year-old man. How could I have been Bruce Gerencser, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher? Who was that man, I ask myself. Thanks be to Loki, he no longer exists, having been slain by reason and maturity, but I still live with the memories of the past.

I am Facebook friends with several of the kids who were members of Somerset Baptist Church — an IFB congregation I pastored from 1983-1994. I was their pastor through the formative years of their lives. Not only did they sit under my preaching at least three times a week, but they also attended Somerset Baptist Academy, a private Christian school I started in 1989. I often feel I hurt them and let them down. I think back to how narrow I was over things like certain kinds of clothing, music, physical contact between the sexes, movies, and TV. If these children hated me, I wouldn’t blame them. Thankfully, they don’t.

When I talk to these former students, I hear their perspective on our shared experiences. All of them are in their late 30s and 40s now, and many of them are married and have children. Several of them are gay. Their religious persuasions run from atheism to liberal Christianity. None of them retained the IFB Christianity of their youth. From their vantage point, they recall things quite differently from the way I do. Several of them recall my wife teaching them to read. One man mentioned going back to the old church grounds and playing another game of kickball for old time’s sake. Again, what we remember depends on where we were standing at the time.

I recently re-read several posts I wrote about IFB evangelist Don Hardman and his wife Laura. (Please see Book Review: Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman and Book Review: The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman.) As I read these posts, I felt twinges of guilt and sadness. When I was a pastor, I had no closer friends than Don and Laura Hardman. I loved them like they were family. When they came to our church it was the highlight of the year. For fifteen days and seventeen services, we would focus on God and his Word. Every day, Don and I would go out evangelizing and street preaching. The church loved the Hardmans and graciously gave of their money and food to help them.

From my vantage point as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I have nothing but good memories and feelings when I think of Don and Laura Hardman. I never saw them fight, and I never had a cross word with them. Even when we parted company for a few years over my Calvinistic beliefs, we remained friends. In the early 2000s, the Hardmans came to Grace Baptist Church (later named Our Father’s House) in West Unity, Ohio, a church I was pastoring at the time, and conducted a week-long meeting. We had a great time, but I knew that I could not have them back. While they remained right where I met them in 1987, I had changed. My view of God, the Bible, politics, culture, and other Christian sects was evolving. Yet, we remained friends until 2008, when my deconversion permanently fractured the relationship. Laura wrote me a scathing letter after hearing of my deconversion, letting me know that I never was a real Christian.

Here I stand in 2020, no longer a Christian, and now an atheist. My view of the past is clouded with the tincture of time. While I still have fond memories of evangelist Don Hardman’s protracted revival meetings, I have come to see that the preaching and the theology behind it was psychologically controlling and damaging. This is how I view much of my preaching as well, especially the first 15 years or so. Over time I matured. I began preaching expositionally, and I turned from a Bible-quoting, hellfire-and-brimstone-preacher to more of a teacher of the Bible. Oh, I was still quite passionate about God, the Bible, and how we ought to apply it to our lives, but I was much more careful about using the Bible in context and letting the text speak for itself. While the Hardmans remained steadfast and unmovable throughout our friendship, my understanding of them changed. Again, my vantage point changed, resulting in me viewing the Hardmans differently.

My wife and I have known each other for almost forty-four years. This coming July we will celebrate our forty-second wedding anniversary. Several years ago, I uploaded a bunch of old pictures to Facebook: family pictures; pictures from Somerset Baptist Church, and pictures from Our Father’s House. As I uploaded these photos I began to weep. The memories of years gone by flooded my mind; memories of the people I pastored and the children I taught at Somerset Baptist Academy; memories of my wonderful wife and our little babies. Good memories. Wonderful memories.

Now that I have a different perspective, I view the events recorded in these pictures differently. Is this maturity? I don’t know. Time changes how we view the past.  What were once wonderful memories are now clouded by what I now know about the emotional and mental manipulation I perpetrated on those who called me Pastor. As I have shared before, I am in a unique position. I am both a victim and a victimizer. I followed in the footsteps of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers who emotionally and mentally scarred my life. Victimized by their manipulation, I in turn victimized those who were members of the IFB and Evangelical churches I pastored. It’s an ugly cycle of abuse, one that I was fortunately able to put an end to during my latter years in the ministry and subsequent post-Jesus life.

So it is with Polly. While she and I walked side by side through the years we spent in the ministry, Polly’s viewpoint is very different from mine. I was the leader of the churches I pastored, the center of attention. People, for the most part, respected me, loved me, and supported my work as a pastor. For Polly it was different. Like many pastor’s wives, she was my gofer. She did what others didn’t or wouldn’t do.  No one in the nursery? Polly filled in. Entertain people every Sunday for twenty years? Polly did it without a complaint, even when her pastor husband forgot to tell her so and so was coming over for dinner. She quietly submitted to a life as the helpmeet of a poorly paid, Type A, constantly-working, never-home, Baptist preacher.

Polly did without. Our entire family did without, but Polly more so than the children and I. She never said a word. She quietly lived in ramshackle houses and drove cars that were better suited for demolition derbies. She made do with what she had. This much I know, I do WISH there were a Heaven, because Polly deserves a huge mansion right next door to Dottie Rambo’s Log Cabin.

Video Link

However, since there is no Heaven, all I can do is make sure that Polly has the best life possible for the rest of this life. She deserves it! 

It should come as no surprise then that Polly remembers the past much differently from what I recall. One time I said, wouldn’t you like to go back to __________church? Immediately she replied, No I wouldn’t. I was surprised by her quick and negative response. I asked, why not? I then quickly learned, from where Polly was standing, that her view of this church was very different from mine. Who is right? We both are.

I have written a good bit about the abuse that went on and continues to go on in IFB group homes. (Please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls, Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sin and The Dogma that Followed Me Home.) The stories that some people share from their time in these facilities break my heart. I want to personally find these abusive miscreants and beat the shit out of them. They deserve to have punishment heaped upon them. They hurt people that I love and respect, and the fact that these dear friends of mine still suffer from the abuse received from men like Mack Ford angers me to this day. Every once in a while, someone will come along and leave a glowing testimony from their time in the same facilities. They loved their time there. They were helped and their life is the better for it. How can this be? Surely, someone is lying, right? Not at all. While it is possible that someone is lying or they are living in denial, more often than not, the difference is simply a matter of where the person was standing in relation to the person, place, or event.

Time shapes how we view the past. For me, I am finding that the further a person, place, or event is in the past, the fonder my memories are. I suspect that’s how we as humans cope with life. The tincture of time often brings healing, and it also allows us to gain enough distance from the negative things in our past that they no longer feel harmful or threatening. While time rarely heals all wounds, it does allow us the space and distance necessary to be at peace with those things that cut us to the quick. Perhaps that’s the best we can hope for.

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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Book Review: The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman

the preacher the life and times of don hardman

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

Laura Hardman, wife of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Evangelist Don Hardman, has written a biography about her husband titled. The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman. This self-published book is 201 pages long. In 2010, Laura published an autobiography titled Laura’s LightYou can read my review of the book here.

Like Laura’s Light, The Preacher reads quite a bit like the Bible. Don Hardman’s story is one of bondage to sin and deliverance from that sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. Also, like the Bible, it is littered with fictions and omissions. I will illustrate some of these fictions and omissions later.

While the book is meant to be a biography of Don Hardman’s life, it is sparse on details, except for those that paint Don in a favorable light. In the preface, Laura states:

I will endeavor to write about a man whom I watched God transform into literally another person over the last thirty-seven years. It is my desire not to glorify or make much of what he did when he was lost, but make much of his new life in Christ.

In other words, the past is the past, it is under the blood, praise Jesus! Time to move on. The greater objective, according to Laura, is for some “sinner or saint” to “read this biography and realize there is hope for a victorious life, not only when we get to heaven, but also here as we walk in this world.” Laura wants readers to know that they too can be just like Don and Laura Hardman and achieve the victorious Christian life.

The book has eight chapters:

  1. A Struggle Through Childhood
  2. No Purpose for Life
  3. Time for Change
  4. The Call of God
  5. Just a Servant of the Lord
  6. A Street Preacher
  7. The Chance of a Lifetime
  8. The Life of Evangelism

These eight chapters take up 142 pages. The other 70 pages are what Laura calls a “Summary and Sketches of What the Preacher Said.” While Laura had uncounted recordings of Don’s sermons that she could have transcribed, she instead decided to summarize thirty of his sermons. While Laura says the reason for doing this is because “the Lord laid on my heart that giving a short essay and sharing how the people reacted might be more edifying,” I suspect the real reason for not transcribing Don’s sermons is because he often preached for sixty to ninety minutes. Over the years, Don lost meetings because he refused to shorten the length of his sermons.

Chapter one details Don’s birth in Canton, Ohio in 1950, his battle with polio, and a bit about his parents, brother, and grandparents. The chapter ends with Don graduating from high school — a rebellious young man who frequently skipped school, hung out at pool halls, smoked, drank beer, and rarely thought about God.  According to Laura, Don graduated in May of 1968 “with a diploma in hand and no purpose in life.”

What’s interesting is that Laura makes no mention of the fact that Don married a thirteen-year-old girl by the name of Cheryl, one month before he graduated from high school. At the time of their marriage, Cheryl was four months pregnant and both Don and she were wards of the court. While I can certainly understand why Laura might not want to mention this, wouldn’t this juicy tidbit enhance Don’s sinner-to-saint story?

In chapter two, Laura skips Don’s marriage to Cheryl, the birth of their two children, Joe and Tangi, and their foster daughter Shelly. Again, if what I am being told is correct, there are plenty of stories that Laura could have shared from this period that would have enhanced Don’s sinner creds. Outside of mentioning Don’s drinking habit, nothing more is said about Don’s life until May of 1977. During this nine-year period, Don was married to Cheryl. An uninformed reader would assume that Laura is Don’s first wife, and that Joe and Tangi are her biological children. In my review of Laura’s first book, I wrote:

Two children were born of Don’s first marriage. Laura claims the children as her own, a claim I suspect the biological mother finds quite offensive (a woman I have corresponded with over the years). While Hardman does say Don had two children, she never calls herself their step-mother. In her mind, when Jesus came into their life EVERYTHING became brand-new and that included the children having a new mother.

In May of 1977, Don, Laura, and their two children moved to Findlay, Ohio so Don could begin working for Ashland Oil. According to Laura:

In June of 1977, things seemed to be going great for us as a family. We moved into a government house on 1143 Concord Court, Findlay, Ohio. Our neighborhood was made up drunks, unmarried couples living together, and a slew of hoodlum kids. Needless to say, we added to their list of hoodlums. Little did we know that this wicked little neighborhood would become a mission field in the months to come.

Laura may have forgotten that I lived in Findlay in the 1970s — grades eight through eleven. I am quite familiar with the neighborhood the Hardmans lived in. The house in question is a single-family dwelling. At the time the Hardmans moved into the house it was around twenty years old. I seriously doubt that the home was government housing. It is possible that it was Section 8 housing, but this would mean that the Hardmans were either on welfare or quite poor. Having already stated that Don had a job at Ashland Oil — which was a well-paying job in the 1970s — it is unlikely that the Hardmans were poor or on welfare.  (Put 1143 Concord Court into Google Earth or Google Map and take a street view look of the house and neighborhood.)

As far as the Concord Court neighborhood is concerned, I seriously doubt the neighborhood was as Laura describes it. While my memory is certainly not what it once was, I do remember that the Concord Court area was a working-class neighborhood of moderately priced, small homes — not unlike the neighborhood on National Court that my parents, siblings, and I lived in the 1970s.

If my memory is correct, what are we to make of Laura’s description of the neighborhood? The easy answer would be that she is lying and that certainly might be the case. However, I am more inclined to believe that this story, like much of The Preacher’s Life, is like a testimony given during Sunday night church. Over the years, I heard hundreds of testimonies, often from people who told the same story over and over. I found that, over time, the stories become more exciting. A story that started out with a person being a drug user years later became the story of a person selling heroin for the mob. As we age, we tend to change, reformulate, correct, and expand the narratives of our lives. The challenge for any reader is to be able to pick the facts out of the bullshit.

Chapter three details Don’s and Laura’s salvation experience. On June 20, 1977, Paul Reimer, pastor of First Baptist Church and church deacon Mike Roberts visited the Hardman home and shared the gospel with Don and Laura. After Reimer had shared the good news with them and Roberts gave a personal testimony of what Jesus had done for him:

Don was the first to take a step forward, and prayed to God for forgiveness. Because we did not know how to pray, they led us in a prayer. Our hearts had been smitten and conviction brought tears to our eyes. We understood for the first time in our lives what Jesus had suffered for us on the cross that we might have life. Our lives were heavily burdened down with guilt and shame, and the chains of sin kept us shackled to the old life. Now we are given the choice of Freedom in Christ or Bondage withe the devil.  It’s doesn’t seem like much of a choice even though many  choose bondage with the devil.

Shortly after Don cried out to God, I also gave my life to God. We literally gave our lives to Christ!

The next Sunday, the Hardmans walked the aisle at First Baptist Church and made their profession of faith public. Several weeks later, they were baptized, and not long afterward they stopped smoking and drinking beer.

Laura writes:

It took about four months of battling our flesh, but God did give us the victory. At the beginning, we only went to church on Sundays, but realized how important that midweek service was in our growth. Not only did I watch a thrice-Holy God changing my life, but also transforming my husband into another man, from a man whose mouth had a cuss word coming out every other word, to one thanking and praising God.

These excerpts are typical of testimonies of those saved in IFB churches. Years ago, an Amish-Mennonite neighbor confided in me that he was troubled because he didn’t have a sin to salvation story like Baptists have. Raised in the church — a devout Amish-Mennonite — he grew into salvation. He wanted to know if his salvation was defective because he didn’t have any bad sinner stories to tell. His question illustrated the fact that IFB congregants and preachers play up the bad sinner part of their testimonies. Everyone wants to be viewed as the baddest sinner in town, a sinner whom God miraculously delivered. As I mentioned previously, most of these testimonies are a mixture of lie, half-truth, fabrication, and fact.

The Hardmans were saved in an era when the IFB churches made much of bad sinner testimonies. While these testimonies were meant to give God all the glory, what they really did was make much of the sinners and their debauched lives before Jesus. Who wants to hear the testimony of the aforementioned Amish-Mennonite man when they can hear the testimony of Mike Warnke, Chuck Colson, Pat Boone, Joanna Michaelsen, and Eldridge Cleaver?

Nine months or so later, in the spring of 1978, “God spoke to his (Don’s) heart about full-time service.” According to Laura, a short time later, God gave Don his life verse, 2 Timothy 4:5:

But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

Laura writes, “of course, he never understood what that meant until later on.” Don later told their church family that God had called him to preach. Pastor Fred Crown, also a pastor at First Baptist Church, came and talked to Don about his call to preach. Laura writes:

Pastor Crown looked him dead in the eyes  and said “So you feel God has called you to preach” and Don said, “Yes Sir.” He (Crown) said, “Then you need to consider not stealing from Him.” Of course, he was dealing with tithes and offerings. Don told him we could not see how we could pay our bills and tithe our income. The wisdom from this preacher never ceases to amaze me. He told us to try tithing for a month, and he would take care of every unpaid bill himself. Needless to say, we never had an unpaid bill and never again robbed from God.

While Don and Laura may never have robbed from God again, they did rob the U.S. Treasury. Some of the churches Don preached at over the years, including the churches I pastored, paid Don in cash. Don did not claim some or all of this cash income on his tax return. This proved to be quite a financial boon to the Hardmans.

Chapters four through six detail Don’s life as a pastor and evangelist. In 1980, Don graduated with a one-year certificate from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist correspondence school. By this time, Don was on disability and he and his family moved back to eastern Ohio to be near family. While in eastern Ohio, the Hardmans helped Victory Baptist Church in Kensington, Ohio, and the Lisbon Baptist Temple in Lisbon, Ohio.

Jim Midcap was their pastor while they attended the Lisbon Baptist Temple. I preached for Jim in the late 1980s when he was pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Negley, Ohio. Jim returned the favor and preached for me while I was pastor of churches in Mt. Perry and West Unity, Ohio. For several years, Jim operated a clothing and food ministry that provided the Hardmans with food and clothing to distribute to the poor and homeless in New Orleans. I had the privilege of taking a trip with Jim and a few other men from Ohio to Louisiana to deliver and distribute food and clothing. I had a great time, and my eyes were opened to the plight of the poor in cities like The Big Easy.

In November of 1980, the Hardmans moved to Pennsboro, West Virginia to begin pastoring Pennsboro Baptist Church.  According to Laura:

…We used all of our money to transport our mobile home and did not have enough money to have our gas turned on…Here we were far hence unto the Gentiles and not a penny to our name until the disability check came in. Still, this Preacher had not come here to become a Pastor, but to be a Servant of the Lord in whatever capacity he was needed.

Don began filling the pulpit at the Pennsboro Baptist Church every Sunday. Some liked him, and some did not like his free spirit in decision, but the congregation asked him to candidate as Pastor anyways. He was voted in as Pastor in December of 1980.

I am sure readers will ask, as I did, why move to Pennsboro unless you planned on pastoring the church? Why move without having the funds necessary to turn on the gas? What happened in Kensington and Lisbon, Ohio that resulted in the Hardmans quickly moving to West Virginia? The book answers none of these questions.

According to Laura, while at Pennboro Baptist, Don became “a friend to the friendless, a father to the fatherless and a teacher to the unlearned.”  All Don wanted to do was “try to make a difference in people’s lives and get them to the God who changed his life.” Don spent two years trying to change the church, but, according to Laura, Don “could not seem to override the traditions of the church.” In the fall of 1982, Don resigned from the church and moved down the road to start Freedom Baptist Church. Five years later, Don left Freedom Baptist and began working full-time on what he called the Streets of America. From this time, until today, Don’s ministry is operated from a base in New Orleans and Midway Bible Baptist Church in Fishersville, Virginia.

I looked in vain for any mention in the book of myself and Somerset Baptist Church, Mt. Perry, Ohio. While Laura mentions numerous churches and preachers who gave Don his start, she makes no mention of me or Somerset Baptist. Laura seems to have forgotten that I was one of the first pastors to have Don hold a meeting for them. She seems to have forgotten than Don held at least five meetings for me — most of them two weeks long — at Somerset Baptist Church and Grace Baptist Church (later Our Father’s House) in West Unity, Ohio. She also fails to mention that we spent time with them at their parents’ home, named our youngest daughter after her, and brought a group from our church to their church’s Bible conference in Virginia. Again, an uninformed reader would never learn that Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Somerset Baptist, and Grace Baptist, played an instrumental part in Don getting started in evangelism.

Of course, I understand why Laura might want to edit me and the churches I pastored out of Don’s life story. Nothing like having a preacher-friend-turned-atheist muck up Don’s story of spiritual ascendency from drunk to Holy Spirit-filled man of God.

As I mentioned in my review of Laura’s first book:

Hardman portrays life in the ministry as one of standing for the truth at all costs. She details loss of friends and loss of meetings because of their stand for the blessed truths of the King James Bible. Not one time does Hardman ever speak of a problem being their fault. It’s always the liberals’ fault. There is always an enemy, imaginary or real, they are fighting. This is the kind of life narrow Baptist Fundamentalism brings.

This thinking is on prominent display in The Preacher. Not one time does the book implicate Don or Laura. It’s always family, a church, or a pastor, who is to blame for broken fellowship or lost relationships. In Laura’s mind, her husband is a God-called man who is tight with the Almighty. Those who take issue with Don’s preaching are liberals or carnal. Over the years, I saw Don repeatedly browbeat church members with the Bible, calling out their sins. One time, he went from teenager to teenager pointing his finger at them, exposing their secret sins. These tactics worked, with church members, visitors, and teenagers alike getting saved or repenting of secret sin. Was this God? Of course not. Like most skilled Baptist preachers, myself included, Don was an expert manipulator of emotions. He knew how to set the hook and reel the fish in.

And here’s thing, I know a lot of things that I cannot share in this review. Since I have no way of verifying what I know, I can’t share it. I mentioned Don impregnating a thirteen-year-old girl and marrying her because I have a copy of the marriage application. Other things that I think are likely true lack evidence. I can say this: there are those who think Don Hardman is an Elmer Gantry-like grifter; that he and Laura have spent four decades making an easy living off their marks. For readers not familiar with the term grifter, a grifter is someone who swindles you through deception or fraud.

Is it possible that Don and Laura Hardman are frauds? Sure. I have no way of knowing or proving this, but I do know that the IFB church has turned out a number of con artists, some of whom have gone on to pastor large churches. Bob Gray pastored Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida for decades. He was finally exposed as an adulterer and child molester, a life of perversion that began when he entered the ministry in 1949. I heard Bob Gray and Don preach at the same preacher’s meeting in Cambridge, Ohio in the 1980s. The Hardmans are or were close friends with a number of the men who operated IFB teen group homes. Many of these men have been accused of child abuse, sexual assault, and rape.

Supposedly, a few years back, I can’t remember the exact date, Don had cancer. This cancer was killing Don and modern western medicine couldn’t cure him. The Hardmans raised a significant amount of money so Don could get alternative cancer treatment in Mexico. Yet, Don’s cancer story is not mentioned in the book. Wouldn’t a miraculous healing from deadly cancer be an important story to share? While this story isn’t shared, Laura spends thirty-two pages — almost twenty-five percent of the biography part of the book — detailing the lightning story.

Based on the amount of space given to this story, it’s safe to say that the Hardmans consider this the highlight of their time in the ministry.

July 1, 2003, finds Don and Laura holding a meeting at First Baptist Church in Forest, Ohio. Don’s sermon text for the night is I Kings 8. Laura writes:

About halfway into the message, we could hear the thunder and see the lightning through the stained glass windows, During his preaching, when a loud crack of thunder rang out, Don would say, “Yes, Lord, we are listening.” He made reference to the verse God’s voice was like thunder. (Psalms 77:18)

All of a sudden, a lightning bolt hit the church and burnt out the sound system, blowing the light bulbs out of their sockets behind the pulpit. We could smell the burning wires but still did not know we had taken a direct hit. Not once did we lose our electricity, so Don kept preaching on Solomon’s prayer of repentance. About 20 minutes later, a women came running into the church and said, “the church is on fire.”

This event made the news, from the Findlay Republican Courier to the Toledo Blade. It was mentioned on CNN, and Don had interviews with the BBC, the NBC Today Show, and Paul Harvey. The book has several of the news stories along with a transcript of Don’s interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show.

Again, what I find interesting is what is missing from this chapter. Laura makes no mention of the name of the pastor of First Baptist Church in Forest. Why is this? Perhaps it is because not too long after God’s lightning bolt sign from above, the pastor of the church was removed for sexual misconduct. The image of Evangelist Hardman must not be tainted by any connection with an atheist, adulterers, child abusers, or rapists. Like the precious blood of Jesus that wipes away all recollection of sin before salvation, Laura conveniently writes out of the book anyone who doesn’t affirm, strengthen, or reinforce Don’s drunk to Holy Spirit-filled traveling evangelist testimony.

Over the years, Don has lost meetings at a number of the churches he once preached for. Whether this was due to his refusal to answer questions about his past or the length and content of his sermons, Don now has just a handful of churches he regularly holds meetings for; churches such as Old Time Baptist Church, (Pastor Lou Guadagno) Buffalo, New York and Lighthouse Baptist Church, (Pastor David Constantino) North Tonawanda, New York. As Laura admits in the book, most of the churches that once had Don preach for them no longer do so.

For the churches and pastors Don still preaches for, Don is a God-called evangelist mightily used by Jesus to win souls and call backslidden church members to repentance. For others, Don is a long-winded, legalistic preacher. And for a few others — perhaps those who know Don and Laura Hardman best — the Hardmans are grifters who have found an easy way to make a buck. For me personally, there are things I have been told that deeply trouble me. While there is no hard evidence for these things, especially since many of these events happened decades ago, there’s enough smoke to make wonder if there is a fire. If I had known these things when Don first preached for me in 1987, I doubt that I would have had him do so. If I was still a Christian, I could play the pious preacher and say that God will make all things known on judgment day. As an atheist, all I can do is review Laura Hardman’s books and make my observations known. It is up to you, the reader, to determine whether what I write is true.

Note: I do not know of any place this book can be purchased. Someone connected to the Hardman family sent me a copy of the book. Laura Hardman’s first book was published by Victory Baptist Press, but I did not find The Preacher in their online catalog.

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 Religion Obscures Seeing People as They Are

Reposted from 2015, edited, updated, and revised

Six years ago, Polly and I drove to Southeast Ohio to pay our respects to a man who was once a vital part of the church I pastored in Somerset. The family asked me to conduct the funeral and I was delighted to do so. Surprisingly, they asked for a non-religious service. It had been twenty years since I had seen this family face to face. In recent years, I have reconnected with some of the children via Facebook. It was good to see them, the children now in their 30s and 40s, with children of their own.

As I pondered what to say, I couldn’t help but think about the eleven years I spent as their pastor. They knew me when I was a fire-breathing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher and school administrator, and they were at the church when I became a Calvinist. They remembered my preaching, the rules, and the standards. They remembered my commitment to the God and the Bible. I hope they also remembered my goodness and kindness. While those things certainly provided the backdrop for our reconnection, they were not the substance of what I said at the service. Why? Because the past, with all its religious and Biblical trappings, would obscure the man we were honoring. I most wanted to talk about him.

You see, he was a good man. He was a friend who would do anything for me, any time, day or night. When I needed help, he always made himself available. While he could be temperamental at times, most of the time he was a kind, compassionate man. But these traits were obscured and mattered little years ago. Instead of seeing the man, I tended to see the sin. Isn’t that what we were taught to do? Holiness and purity were the objective, without which no man shall see the Lord.

He and I were different in many ways. When it came to sin, I could always hide my sin better than he could. Over time, preachers get good at hiding their failures. After all, they are supposed to be shining examples of spiritual maturity and holiness. No one wants a preacher who is just like everyone else. People want a Moses, a Paul, or a Jesus, someone to inspire them and show them the way. So preachers lie, giving the appearance that they, if need be, could walk on water. Deep down they know, that like everyone else, if they walked on water, they would drown. Strip away the clerical façade, and what you see is a man no different from those sitting in the pews.

I remember the first time Greg came to church. He was wearing a shirt that said Zig-Zag; and no, he didn’t roll his own cigarettes. This is a perfect picture of the kind of man he was. He had little pretense; what you saw was what you got. So when he sinned, he didn’t hide it well. I remember one Sunday afternoon he went to the movies with his wife. They saw Born on the Fourth of July. Now, this was a big sin at our church. No movies, especially R-rated movies. I could tell that he was a little antsy at evening service, but he said nothing about the movie. The next day at school, one of his children mentioned that Mom and Dad had gone to see a movie. I asked them, WHAT movie? They confessed, with nary a thought that they had just gotten their Dad in trouble. Of course, the good pastor that I was, watching out for his soul, I called him and asked him to come to my office so we could talk. Nothing like getting called to the principal’s office, right?

Before he started coming to the church, he had been an avid listener of rock and roll music. Well, at Somerset Baptist Church we didn’t listen to THAT kind of music! One day he came to church all excited. He had found out that there was music called Christian rock. He had bought a cassette tape of a group by the name of Stryper. (He loved the song To Hell with the Devil.) I took one look at the pictures on the cassette box and I knew that Stryper was nothing more than a tool used by Satan to deceive Christians. I told him it was a bad idea for him to listen to such worldly music. I think he was deeply discouraged by my “Godly” opinion. He thought he had finally found something that was not only Christ-honoring but that also met his desire to listen to rock music. I, the arbiter of what was Christ-honoring, knew better.

There were a lot of these sinful moments, and as I look back on it, I can see how discouraging it must have been for him. Most of the things I called sin were not sin at all. But, because I thought they were, they kept me from seeing the man for who and what he really was. My religion obscured this man’s humanity, as all religions do to some degree or another, Instead of seeing the man, I saw him through the lens of the Bible and my interpretation of it. My sin list and my dogma got in the way of me seeing this man as a flawed and frail good man. Like his preacher, he wasn’t perfect.

We spent a lot of non-religious time together, and it is from those times I drew the stories I shared with his family. Great stories. Crazy stories. Funny stories. Stories that testified to the kind of man he was. Yes, I could have shared the “other” stories too, but to what end? As I told Polly at the time, if we live long enough, we all will have moments in our lives that are less than stellar. We all have those times where we went the wrong way or made a bad choice, where we hurt others and hurt ourselves. But these stories are not who we really are. They are the exceptions to the rule, the reminder that no one is perfect, including Jesus.

So on that Saturday I mourned the loss of a man I once knew, but I also rejoiced with his family as we shared stories about the good man that he was. This was my first time doing a funeral where there were no religious expectations. No preaching, no need to get a word in for Jesus; no evangelizing or making everything about the church. On that spring day, in the hills of Southeast Ohio, we celebrated the life of a man whom others loved dearly. While his body will molder in the ground, Greg will live on in the memories we have of him. In the end, this is all the living have.

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.

1987: Homosexuality, AIDS, and a Fundamentalist Baptist Crusader Named Bruce

somerset baptist church 1985
Somerset Baptist Church, Mt. Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in the southeast Ohio community of Somerset. After a year or so of meeting in rented buildings, we bought a 150-year-old abandoned Methodist church building five miles east of Somerset, on top of what locals called Sego Hill. For the next decade, I would pastor a rapidly growing (and later declining) congregation. In 1987, Somerset Baptist Church crossed the 200 mark, attendance-wise. We were the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County. I proudly displayed on our church sign the brag, “Perry County’s Fastest Growing Church.” Of course, a few years later, when attendance dropped to under 100, I didn’t change the line to say, Perry County’s Fastest Declining Church.” Only good publicity for Jesus, I thought at the time.

In the summer of 1987, my wife and I, along with our children, attended the Ohio State Fair. The AIDS crisis had come to the attention of then-Governor Dick Celeste — a Democrat — and the Ohio Health Department. The Health Department had set up an AIDS information table at the fair, including information about AIDS, condom use, and how to have safe sex. Needless to say, I was outraged over this overt, in-your-face display of immorality. At the time, I hated homosexuals, and it was not uncommon for me to use homophobic slurs from the pulpit. Privately, I would share with colleagues in the ministry the last homo-joke I had heard. Example: What do you call a man with AIDS in a wheelchair? Rolaids. Funny, right? When a church member told me that he had physically assaulted a gay man who had come on to him, I complimented him for standing up to faggots. Such was the Bruce Gerencser of the 1980s.

Not one to let my moral outrage pass, I returned home and set in motion what would be one of the biggest moments in the history of Somerset Baptist Church. I thought, what was the best way to let Governor Celeste, the Ohio Health Department, and homosexuals know what GOD thought about AIDS and their condom/safe-sex initiative? I decided that the church would run a full-page ad in the Perry County Tribune that would expose what I saw at the state fair and what the Bible said about homosexuality — an abomination that demanded capital punishment.

I made a passionate pro-God, anti-homosexuality appeal to congregants, asking them to help fund a full-page ad in the local newspaper. In short order, I had collected the $900 necessary to publish “What the Bible Says About Homosexuality.” The newspaper ran the advertisement without changing a thing. I called out Governor Celeste by name, as I did the Ohio Health Department. I listed the relevant Bible verses about homosexuality and wrote a short sermonette that drove these verses home. I was quite proud of myself. I sure told that queer-loving liberal, didn’t I? I let everyone in Perry County and the surrounding area know exactly what GOD — whom I often confused with Bruce — said about homosexuality, AIDS, and safe sex.

The advertisement got a lot of press, including coverage by at least one TV station in Columbus. Boy, was I proud of the stand Somerset Baptist Church took against sodomy and sexual perversion! At the time, I believed that AIDS was a curse sent by God as judgment on homosexuals. I know it is hard for readers to square the Bruce they now know with the Pastor Bruce of the 1980s, but let my story be a reminder that change is possible; that even homophobic Christian bigots can see the light. (Please see Bruce, What was Your View on Homosexuality When You Were a Pastor?)

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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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Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

IFB Church Planting and How Church Planters Convinces Themselves Their Churches are “Special”

pale blue dot

We live on a small, insignificant rock, surrounded by countless galaxies, stars, and planets. We know very little about what lies beyond the Milky Way, and despite our progress, there is still much we don’t know about Earth and its inhabitants. Yes, we humans continue to push into the unknown, but despite our inquisitiveness, we remain insignificant creatures with itty-bitty brains living on what Carl Sagan famously called a “pale blue dot.”

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It’s 2019. We supposedly live in the age of science and technological advancement. Yet, the majority of U.S. people believe God created the universe and the Bible is the Word of God. Young earth creationism flourishes and Evangelical Christianity dominates the political scene. How enlightened and advanced are we really if the majority of people worship as if their lives depended on a Jewish man named Jesus who died 2,000 years ago? Ponder for a moment Christian theology; the core beliefs that millions of people believe are true. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) Sunday after Sunday, church houses are filled with people singing praises to a dead man; promising to obey the teachings of a Bronze Age religious text. Pray tell, how enlightened are we really?

According to a 2017 Christianity Today story, there are almost 400,000 Christian churches in the United States. Many of these churches are Fundamentalist, falling broadly under the Evangelical tent. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) The farther to the right you move, the more shrill the Fundamentalists become. One group you will find on the extreme fringes of Evangelicalism is the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Numbering millions of congregants in thousands of churches, the IFB church movement is fiercely separatist, believing that they preach the One True Faith®, and all other sects are either heretical or heterodox. (Please see What is an IFB Church?)

I grew up in the IFB church movement. I attended an IFB Bible college in the 1970s, pastored several IFB churches, and was deeply invested in IFB doctrine and practice. In 1983, I started an IFB church in the southeast community of Somerset, Ohio. It wasn’t that Somerset needed another church — it didn’t. Somerset had five churches within its village limits, and countless more in surrounding communities. Somerset was, in every way, Christianized, yet Rev. Bruce Gerencser, IFB preacher extraordinaire, believed that Somerset needed one more church — a church that preached the One True Faith®. Ponder, for a moment, the arrogance it took to come to this conclusion. Every time I see a newspaper story about yet another Evangelical church coming to the county I live in, I shake my head and say, “just what we need, another fucking church.” All church planters think “God” is leading them to plant a new church, regardless of how many churches already exist. Church planters convince themselves that they are “special,” and that their church will be different and unique. And as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, over time their churches become just like every other church in town.

Think of the arrogance and lack of awareness required for an IFB preacher — who takes up a square foot or two on this insignificant planet of ours — to think that his church is “right” and all other churches are wrong; to think that his church is a solitary beacon of light in a world he believes is filled with darkness; to think that virtually everyone outside of that particular church has wrong beliefs, worships the wrong God, and is headed for eternal damnation and hell unless they see, know, and embrace the “truth.” Truth being, of course, the God-given beliefs of the One True Faith®.

In the grand scheme of things, we are little more than specks of dirt on a pale blue dot. We live and die, and before long are forgotten, a footnote in the history of humankind. What better way to drive away insignificance than to convince yourself that you are special; that God speaks to you and has a divine plan for your life. I planted five churches during my time as an Evangelical pastor. There’s nothing more thrilling than starting a new church. Every Sunday is filled with excitement and anticipation. Over time, you attract people who like you as a person or are drawn to your preaching or personality. As the church grows, you begin to think, “I’m special. God is really using me!”  In 1986, the IFB church I was pastoring at the time became the largest non-Catholic church in the county. I proudly advertised, “Perry County’s Fastest Growing Church.” I just knew that I was right and every other church/pastor was wrong. My church was growing, and other nearby IFB churches were not, so I began to think that there was something wrong with them; that maybe there was some sort of defect in their beliefs and practices; that maybe they didn’t work as hard as I did. Isn’t that the American dream? Work hard, and good things will happen. Yet, when I resigned from Somerset Baptist Church in the spring of 1993, the glory days were long over. I had moved on from the IFB church movement, embracing Calvinism and starting a private Christian school. My credo was quality over quantity. Did leaving the IFB church movement make me more ecumenical? Not at first. You see, Calvinism is its own special club. Ironically, most of the Calvinistic Baptist — Reformed Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist — preachers I knew were former IFB pastors. Much as I did, these preachers had a Paul-like Damascus Road experience and converted to the One True Faith® — Evangelical Calvinism. What this merry band of predestinarians did was just move one more step to the right. Certain that they finally had found THE “truth,” these preachers of John Calvin’s gospel derided their previous beliefs, doubting that those still in IFB churches were really Christians.

The next time you drive by an IFB church or a Sovereign Grace/Reformed Baptist church, just remember that the pastor of the church and his congregation believe that their church is right and every other church is wrong. And remember most of all the insignificant part they play on planet earth. Oh, they believe otherwise, that God is doing a mighty work in and through them, but the fact remains that they are just another speck of dust on a pale blue dot.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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.

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.

Tales From the Appalachian Foothills — Do You Want Some “Rose of Sheridan?”

somerset baptist church 1989

In July, 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

From time to time, I want to share a few short stories from the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist. I hope you’ll enjoy them. Today’s story is titled, Do You Want Some “Rose of Sheridan?”

One spring, a woman who attended our church with her husband and three children asked Polly is she would like some “Rose of Sheridan.” The year before, we had moved a 12’x60′ trailer on to the church property, parking it fifty feet from the main church building. The first thing we did was put a chain link fence around our small yard so Bethany couldn’t wander away and get hit by a car in the parking lot or fall down the cement stairs to what was commonly a called the basement building. After the fence was installed — we paid $400 for the fence out of our income tax refund — we set out to beautify our yard as best we could. Knowing this, Mrs. M made the offering of the “Rose of Sheridan.” We had no idea about what “Rose of Sheridan” was. All we knew is that we wanted “stuff” to plant in our newly fenced yard.

Several days later, Mrs. M brought us three “Rose of Sheridan” bushes. We planted them on the northeast corner where our yard met the basement building. The bushes didn’t bloom that much the first year, but the next summer they were in full bloom. Another church member asked Polly what the bushes were and she replied, “Rose of Sheridan.” The church member got a quizzical look on her face and said, you mean “Rose of SHARON,” right? You see, what Mrs. M gave us was Rose of Sharon and not “Rose of Sheridan.”

phil sheridan somerset ohio

How did Mrs. M confuse the name? Oh, that was easy. You see, nearby Somerset was home to Civil War general Phil Sheridan when he was a child. His boyhood home sits on the south edge of town on State Highway 13. A statute of Sheridan on a horse — the only equestrian Civil War monument in Ohio — adorns the center of town where two state highways meet. The local high school was named Sheridan High School. In Mrs. M’s mind, she confused Sharon with Sheridan, so that’s why the bushes she gave us the spring of 1990 were called “Rose of Sheridan.”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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.

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.

Tales From the Appalachian Foothills — A Perry County Septic Tank

somerset baptist church 1989

In July, 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

From time to time, I want to share a few short stories from the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist. I hope you’ll enjoy them. Today’s story is titled, A Perry County Septic Tank.

Perry County was coal mining country. Several large underground mines were in operation during my years at Somerset Baptist. Also scattered across the county were open-pit (strip) mines. These mines, in particular, caused great harm to the beautiful rolling hills of Perry County. Companies were required to “reclaim” land used for mining, but their reclamation efforts often left denuded landscapes and polluted streams. This land was practically worthless except for recreational use. A southern man by the name of Sidney Hurdle — a lawyer by trade — found a way to monetize this land by selling it on land contract to poor people looking to own a place of their own. Sectioned off in five-, ten-, and twenty-acre lots, Hurdle sold former strip ground land (and non-strip ground land) for $395 down and low payments over the next twenty to thirty years. Sidney Hurdle died a few years back. His son, I believe, continues to sell land as his father did before him:

For nearly half a century Hurdle Land & Realty has conducted business with the philosophy that owning your own property is an essential part of the American Dream. That is why three generations of Hurdles have enabled thousands of people just like you to purchase land hassle free.

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We do things a bit differently than a traditional lender. We promise to finance you, if you promise to pay us. We believe in a hand shake. We take a man for his word. We feel too many people have lost this type of service. If one of us ends up not living up to our agreement, then there are practices in place to resolve that. But in the beginning, we trust our customer. Besides, this saves you money overall, eliminates the complicated process of securing a mortgage from a bank and it all works with just a small amount of cash up front.

When purchasing real estate there are costs involved that are above the cost of the property itself. You have probably heard terms regarding these fees like document prep, attorney cost, title service, deed stamps, survey, application fees, points, commissions and the list goes on. However, when you buy from us, we cover all associated fees with the transaction for you. We will NEVER ask you to pay for any of these fees before or after the sale!

Here is how it works: You pay a total down payment of $295. We currently have a set fixed interest rate of 7.9%. We are flexible with the term of the loan. We will finance to you for as short as 12 months or extend it as long as 360 months–whatever fits your budget! Our office will prepare all the necessary closing documents for you to sign . . .

The website for Hurdle’s Ohio land for sale can be accessed here.

Some people took issue with Hurdle selling reclaimed land to poor people, profiting from their poverty. While I once thought that too, I came to see that Hurdle enabled the working poor to own that which they would never be able to own otherwise. Several congregants owned Hurdle Land, as it was commonly called. One family owned a twenty-acre parcel. Most of the families purchasing Hurdle Land couldn’t afford to build a home, so they bought mobile homes instead. On several lots sat school buses that were converted to year-round homes.

The church family with the twenty-acre plot bought a dilapidated trailer and had it towed up to the top of their hill.  Drinking water was provided by a spring at the bottom of the hill. Sewage was handled by what was called a Perry County Septic Tank. There was no zoning, and locals routinely ignored licensing and permitting requirements. Perry County had septic tank regulations, but many of the people buying Hurdle Land couldn’t afford to have a commercial septic system — complete with tank and leech bed — installed, so they installed a makeshift septic tank instead. A Perry County Septic Tank consisted of running plastic pipe from the mobile home to a fifty-five-gallon oil drum buried downhill in the ground. The drum had two holes, one where the sewage entered and the other where the liquids (gray water) exited and ran down the hill. Yes, down the hill where the spring was! (There was no leech bed) On more than one occasion I expressed my concern that sewage run off might contaminate the spring. I was told, Oh, preacher, don’t worry, we will be fine. Over time, the oil drum would fill up with solids. This, of course, posed quite a problem. The tank either had to be emptied, or raw sewage would run down the hill. Far too often, the drum overflowed, and down the hill went raw sewage. In time, the tank would get emptied by bailing out the drum with a rope attached to a five-gallon bucket. The sewage would be dumped on the back side of the property — out of sight out of mind.

The eleven years I spent in Perry County taught me a lot about the struggles of the poor, the working class; of their desires to have and own just like their more affluent brethren. The family in this story could proudly say they owned twenty-acres of land and a mobile home; an achievement, to be sure. Their children learned from these hardships, went to college, and built their middle class lives upon the memories of Hurdle Land, a ramshackle mobile home, and a Perry County Septic Tank.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.