Tag Archive: Southern Baptist Convention

Things That Make Your Non-Evangelical Friends Say WTF? — Part Three

wtf

Guest post by ObstacleChick

I hope you all have enjoyed Parts one and two of the WTF series. It has been fun remembering these rituals and practices from my evangelical childhood, and I am able to experience again how ridiculous these things seem to outsiders. Evangelical Christianity really is a subculture with its own in-group practices and rituals designed to indoctrinate and control its members. Please share with us any of your stories of WTF religious practices in the comments!

Rededicating One’s life to Christ

This was a popular occurrence as pastors would preach about sin, evil, and the necessity of living one’s life for Christ in order to glean the rewards intended for the faithful. During the Altar Call some people would come forward to declare before the congregation that they were committed to putting away their sinful ways and rededicating their lives to Christ. Whatever that means. Occasionally, if the person really thought he or she was bad (and the church needed to inflate its baptism numbers), the person would be rebaptized to show their commitment.

Prayer Requests (“Unspoken”)

Christians really, really, really count on the “power of prayer.”. They will pray for anything from the mundane (Lord, please help me find my car keys as I am going to be late to work) to the catastrophic (Lord, please cure my mom of cancer). Most churches will publish in the weekly Sunday morning bulletin a list of people for whom to pray, typically people who are ill or who just lost a loved one. Often at some point in Sunday school or in the service, there will be an opportunity for people to offer up prayer requests. Those who are shy about saying what it is they are requesting prayer will often say “unspoken” which means that they want people to pray for so-and-so’s unnamed issue, but God, being omniscient, will be able to determine what that is. (I felt like there were certain people who would ask for an “unspoken” prayer request because they just wanted attention and didn’t want to have to make up something).

Door to Door Canvassing

The primary way church find new members is to birth them from within. The secondary way is through recruiting new members from the community. In places like the Bible Belt, where I grew up, almost everyone was already a member of a church, so recruiting new members really meant poaching members from other churches. Larger churches with more resources have an easier time poaching new members than smaller churches. When a church has multiple programs for children and youth, along with modern facilities, that church is more attractive to families. The church I was in scheduled door-to-door canvassing occasionally, where there was typically a pot-luck lunch served after church to entice members to stay, and afterward we would be sent out in teams to knock on doors, hand out fliers, and invite people to our fantastic True Christian church. (I hated it.)

Witnessing/Testimony

All Christian converts were encouraged to formulate and share their conversion story, which was called a “testimony.” Those of us who had been in church our entire lives had a pretty boring testimony. The testimonies that were the most impressive were from people who had been big sinners, like former alcoholics or drug addicts. These were people who were really encouraged to talk about how finding Jesus had totally saved them from lives of sin and debauchery and destruction and had brought them to a place of peace and light. Whether our testimony was grand or not, we were encouraged to share it with sinners in order to bring them to the saving grace of Jesus (and save them from eternity in hell).

Laying on of Hands

This was something done during prayer, either in a church service or in Sunday school or on a retreat. The higher-ups in the church (pastors, deacons, etc.) would lay their hands on the person being prayed over, and sometimes the entire congregation would come forward and touch the person and pray. The touching supposedly conveyed extra Jesus Power.

Foot Washing

This was a symbolic gesture to show servanthood. In the Old Days, people traveling on foot and wearing sandals (as one would do in the Middle East) would get pretty nasty, so when they arrived at their host’s home, the host would offer water and supplies so they could cleanse their feet. A really great host would wash the guest’s feet. There was a story in the Bible of Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and drying them with her hair as a sign of submission and love. Jesus supposedly washed the feet of his disciples as a sign of servant leadership. People who want to appear to be super Jesus-like will wash the feet of others, and typically it’s one in a position of leadership who will wash the feet of their underlings.

Baby Dedication

Because Baptists practice believer baptism and not in infant baptism (like the evil hell-bound Catholics) but still want to acknowledge when a child is born, Baptist churches will hold a baby dedication service. In our church, one Sunday per year all the parents of babies born within the year were asked to come forward to show off their future (revenue stream) soul for Jesus to be prayed over and shown off to the congregation. Parents were warned about eternity in hell and the importance of (indoctrinating) raising their child in the church.

Eschatology/the Rapture

The resurrected Jesus told his followers he would return to earth one day, only the Father knows when, so since 33 CE, Christians have been waiting for him to come back. Christians over the centuries have searched through Old and New Testaments to try to piece together what they think the timeline will be preceding, during, and subsequent to his return. There are disagreements about what will happen when, but it’s all scary to children/teens who are told they better be for SURE and for CERTAIN that they are saved or else they will be left behind with all the evil heathens if they aren’t ready and Jesus comes back and takes all the True Christians out of the world. Tim LaHaye’s popular “Left Behind” book series sums up one of the primary eschatological timelines known to (and devised by) True Christians®.

Quote of the Day: The United States is the Most Warlike Nation on Earth

jimmy carter

We’re supposed to be a ‘Christian’ nation are we not? But we are known throughout the world as the most warlike country on Earth. And I would say almost all the wars in which we’ve been involved, have been unnecessary.

So if God’s kingdom was on Earth, we would live totally at peace with each other. Maybe that’s an individual choice too. Not just between nations not being at war, but with a friendly attitude, or a loving attitude to other people that are different than us.

— Jimmy Carter, June 23, 2019

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Pastor John Ward Arrested on Rape Charges

pastor john ward

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

John Ward, pastor of Bellview Baptist Church in Westlake, Louisiana, stands accused of 10 counts of first-degree rape, 40 counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile, and two counts of pornography involving a juvenile.

KFLY reports:

A tip led to an investigation and arrest of a 45-year-old Westlake man on multiple sex crime charges involving juveniles.

An anonymous called contacted the state Dept. of Child & Family Services’ tip line. On June 17, the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested John Michael Ward.

Ward reportedly admitted to detectives he had been molesting an 11-year-old girl since 2017 when she was 9 years old. Ward reportedly also told detectives he videoed the victim while she was nude on two separate occasions, authorities said.

….

District Judge Sharon Wilson set Ward’s bond at $640,000.

Bellview Baptist released the following statement:

Bellview Baptist Church leaders are cooperating fully with the Sheriff’s office in the investigation. The Deacons, in consultation with Carey Baptist Association, unanimously voted to immediately terminate Ward’s employment with the congregation because of his sexual immorality and failure to maintain the high standard of integrity for the office of Pastor outlined in the Bible.

Church leaders immediately met with the victim’s family to minister to them in their grief and to offer to help underwrite the counseling needed to help the child and other members of the household to heal.

The Deacons also offered to continue to provide financial support to the wife of the fired pastor as well as to minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of her and her family.

The Carey Baptist Association and the Louisiana Baptist Convention have connected with church leaders to coordinate various resources that are available to the church in meeting these various commitments.

Bellview Baptist Church leaders request prayer, respect, and privacy as we process this traumatic event.

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Student Intern Benjamin Widrick Accused of Rape

benjamin widrick

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Benjamin Widrick, a student intern at Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, stands accused of three counts of statutory rape involving a church minor. Widrick is a student at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The Tennessean reports:

The sexual abuse occurred while the former intern was serving 10 weeks with the student team at Long Hollow’s Gallatin campus, Gallaty said. A student pastor first heard rumors in December and immediately notified the Gallatin Police Department and the church’s leadership team, he said.

The Sumner County Sheriff’s Department is now is handling the case and an arrest was made on Tuesday, June 4.

….

he details are still unfolding, Gallaty said, but the church is sure the incident did not happen on church property nor at their summer camp.

“Regardless of the time and location, the fact is that an intern who was representing our church abused their position of influence with a student,” Gallaty said. “That is unacceptable to us. We will continue to work closely with law enforcement in every way we can.”

Gallaty said he reached out to the victim and her family on Thursday. He asked for prayers for all affected.

“As we grieve for the victim, we are also deeply saddened that an event like this took place, especially with a student who was entrusted to our care,” Gallaty said. “It sickens me that our processes and safeguards didn’t prevent this from happening. Long Hollow is a place where we take moral integrity and accountability seriously, and nowhere is that more crucial than on our staff.”

The church requires that interns pass a background check and an interview process before serving at Long Hollow, Gallaty said. The church is trying to figure out how the relationship developed and figuring out how to prevent it from happening again, he said.

They are stopping interns from connecting with students on social media, the church has updated its transportation policies and improved its training process. Church leadership has developed a child protection policy, too.

….

According to online court records, a bench warrant for three counts of statutory rape by an authority figure was issued for Benjamin Widrick, 24, on May 10. Widrick was arrested June 4 and arraigned June 5. A church spokesman confirmed Widrick is the former intern.

Widrick’s bond was set at $20,000, which was posted on June 4.

All three acts of statutory rape took place on Aug. 1, 2018, according to the court records.

 

Black Collar Crime: Mother of Alleged Victim of Evangelical Children’s Pastor Matt Tonne Speaks Out

matt tonne

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In January 2019, Matthew “Matt” Tonne, associate children’s pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, was accused of indecent contact with a child. The alleged contact took place at the Mt. Lebanon Retreat and Conference Center in Cedar Hill, Texas. The Village Church is pastored by Calvinistic Southern Baptist luminary Matt Chandler.

Baptist Press reported at the time:

Matthew David Tonne, the 35-year-old accused, was dismissed as associate children’s minister from the Southern Baptist megachurch on an unrelated matter in June, senior pastor Matt Chandler said Jan. 24 in video and printed comments at thevillagechurch.net. The alleged crime occurred at the Mt Lebanon Retreat and Conference Center, a Baptist ministry in Cedar Hill, Texas.

“We want to state clearly that there are no persons of interest in this investigation that have access to children at The Village Church,” Chandler said. “We would not let anyone who is under investigation for a crime like this be near any of our children at TVC.”

Tonne, a husband and father of three, had been out of jail since Jan. 9 on $25,000 bond. His original court date of today (Jan. 29), has been rescheduled to Feb. 7, based on documents filed in Dallas County District Court.

The Village Church is making at least one change in its ministry to children, Chandler said in the website comments.

“We have decided to no longer do overnight events with elementary children based on counsel from MinistrySafe,” Chandler said, referencing the ministry founded by attorneys to help churches, camps and ministries protect children from sexual abuse. Additionally, the church has hired a director of care, Summer Vinson Berger, whom Chandler described as a licensed professional counselor skilled in trauma care.

“She is helping us evaluate all of our current practices and will help us further strengthen our ministry here,” Chandler said. “We view physical and emotional safety as a top priority and will continue to pour resources into that area.”

….

No details of the 2012 incident were available, other than a statement about the health of the victim and the victim’s family.

“Earlier this year, the minor came to a place where it was possible to verbalize the memory of what happened for the first time through ongoing therapy. (Cedar Hill Police) Detective (Michael) Hernandez has been investigating the case since that time,” Chandler said. “It took courage and strength for the child and the family to share this information, and we want to support them in any way possible.”

The church has no other reported incidents of abuse at the 2012 camp event, Chandler said.

“We have been working with the family and Detective Hernandez to do all that we can to bring healing and the light of justice to this situation,” he said, “including the decision to make this investigation public now.”

Parents and children at The Village Church have no need to fear for their safety from sexual predators at church events, Chandler said.

“We are committed to doing all that we can to protect our children,” he said.

Pastor Chandler might want to pay attention to the news (or this website). Parents have EVERYTHING to fear when it comes to entrusting Evangelical churches with their children. Sexual predators are deeply embedded within Evangelical congregations. Thoughtful, protective parents ought not to let their children out of their sight. Chandler can’t know for sure if there are other predators lurking in the shadows of the Village Church. Is his “word” good enough?

You can read the church’s press release here.

Tonne maintains his innocence. Recently, the mother of the girl allegedly abused by Tonne spoke to the New York Times:

Christi Bragg listened in disbelief. It was a Sunday in February, and her popular evangelical pastor, Matt Chandler, was preaching on the evil of leaders who sexually abuse those they are called to protect. But at the Village Church, he assured his listeners, victims of assault would be heard, and healed: “We see you.”

Ms. Bragg nearly vomited. She stood up and walked out.

Exactly one year before that day, on Feb. 17, 2018, Ms. Bragg and her husband, Matt, reported to the Village that their daughter, at about age 11, had been sexually abused at the church’s summer camp for children.

Since then, Matthew Tonne, who was the church’s associate children’s minister, had been investigated by the police, indicted and arrested on charges of sexually molesting Ms. Bragg’s daughter.

Ms. Bragg waited for church leaders to explain what had happened and to thoroughly inform other families in the congregation. She waited for the Village to take responsibility and apologize. She waited to have even one conversation with Mr. Chandler, a leader she had long admired.

But none of that ever came.

“You can’t even take care of the family you know,” she remembered thinking as she walked out of the large auditorium. “Don’t tell more victims to come to you, because you’re just going to cause more hurt.”

….

At the Village, one of the most prominent Southern Baptist churches in the country and a bedrock of Texas evangelical culture, Ms. Bragg said leaders had offered prayer. And at times she was grateful, and she tried to respect their decisions.

But as months passed, she came to believe their instinct to protect the institution outweighed their care for her daughter or their interest in investigating the truth.

For years she trusted that her church’s top leaders had acted in the best interest of the congregation, and that if she disagreed, the problem was hers. She had a spiritual reason: to doubt them was to doubt God.

….

ut her daughter’s ordeal showed her a different side of her church. The Village, like many other evangelical churches, uses a written membership agreement containing legal clauses that protect the institution. The Village’s agreement prohibits members from suing the church and instead requires mediation and then binding arbitration, legal processes that often happen in secret.

The Village also uses an abuse prevention company called MinistrySafe, which many evangelical churches cite as an accountability safeguard. Ms. Bragg assumed that MinistrySafe would advocate for her daughter, but then she learned that the group’s leaders were the church’s legal advisers.

The Village permanently removed Mr. Tonne from the staff within weeks of learning his name from the Braggs. To this day, the Village denies he was fired because of a sexual abuse allegation.

Mr. Tonne’s lawyer said his client had been falsely accused.

The Village declined to answer a list of detailed questions about the matter from The New York Times, and Mr. Chandler declined multiple requests to be interviewed.

….

Unable to wait any longer to hear from church leaders, Ms. Bragg asked for a meeting with them. The first opportunity, the church said, would be several weeks away, three months after the family had reported the incident.

 

At the meeting, none of the church’s top three pastors were present. Ms. Bragg and her husband brought a list of 15 questions, asking about church policies and the camp. They received no clear answers.

Ms. Bragg raised the possibility that the perpetrator could have been someone from the Village. That was impossible, she recalled being told by Doug Stanley, a senior director at the church, because leaders followed the church’s moral code, enshrined in the membership covenant.

She turned to her husband as they walked out. “Thank God” for the police detective assigned to the case, she said. “If we were relying on our church to give us information, we’d be leaving empty-handed.”

….

As summer ended, Ms. Bragg got welcome news. The police detective had filed the case with the Dallas County district attorney’s office, and the Village was finally ready to make a public statement. Relieved, she prepared a family statement to accompany the church’s announcement, which was posted online.

Then, on a Sunday in September, Mr. Chandler told the congregation that an allegation of sexual assault had surfaced. He did not name the suspect. “It took courage and strength for the child and the family to share this, and we want to support them in any way possible,” he said.

What he said next infuriated Ms. Bragg. “We want to clearly state that there are no persons of interest in this investigation that have access to children at the Village Church,” he said. “We would not let someone who is under investigation for a crime like this be near any of our children at T.V.C.”

It was a technicality. Mr. Tonne had already been removed.

….

You can read the entire feature article here.

Pastor Matt Chandler denies doing anything wrong, says a report in Commercial Appeal.

How to Evangelize Evangelicals

whining evangelical

I am of the opinion that Evangelical Christianity is, overall, psychologically, socially, educationally, and politically harmful. This has become increasingly clear now that Evangelical beliefs are front and center in debates over global warming, same-sex marriage, LGBTQ civil rights, abortion, immigration, and a host of other issues. If Evangelicalism were all about personal salvation and piety, I would have no need to write this post, but since many Evangelicals are Heaven-bent on establishing the Kingdom of their God on earth and forcing the moral and immoral teachings of the Bible on all of us, it is imperative that atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-Evangelicals find effective ways to combat Evangelical influence, dominance, and control.

Far too many atheists think that the best way to reach Evangelicals is to argue with them, post anti-Christian memes, or engage in monkey-esqe shit-throwing contests on social media. While these types of activities might make atheists feel good or elicit laughs, they do nothing when it comes to turning back the Evangelical horde. The primary reason this is so is that Evangelicals are conditioned to believe that attacks and harassment from unbelievers are persecution. Evangelicals are taught to view such persecution as the normal part of living a godly life in a wicked, sin-filled world. 2 Timothy 3:12 says: Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Remember this the next time you feel inclined to put an Evangelical in his place. You are just feeding his persecution complex when you do. While it might make you feel good in the moment to gut a creationist on social media, ask yourself, what is it that I have accomplished by doing so? If the goal is societal transformation, then rational freethinkers and secularists must find effective ways to evangelize Evangelicals.

The purpose of this blog is to help people who have doubts about Christianity or who have already left Christianity. My goal has NEVER been to evangelize Evangelical zealots or apologists. I see myself as a facilitator, helping people on this journey we call life. If I can help someone move away from Fundamentalist thinking (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? ) then I have done my job, even if that person ultimately doesn’t become an atheist. I feel no compulsion, as Evangelicals do, to make atheists of all nations. That said, it would be dishonest of me to not admit that I desire to see bloom an atheistic, humanistic, secularistic world; one devoid of religious superstition. The question then, for me, is how best to evangelize questioning, doubting Evangelicals. And believe me, Evangelicalism is a huge mission field, one with millions and millions of people who have serious questions and doubts about their beliefs and practices. The percentage of Americans who are atheists, agnostics, or indifferent towards organized religions (nones) continues to grow. Younger Americans, in particular, have had enough of Evangelicalism and its incessant moralizing and culture war. Recent revelations about sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement have caused countless young and old Evangelicals to leave their churches. Spilling onto the internet, these doubting, questioning, disaffected Christians are looking for help and answers. I want this blog to be one place where such people can find help.

Evangelical zealots and apologists find my writing offensive. Their minds are closed off to any view but their own. That’s why I don’t spend time engaging diehard Evangelicals. Doing so is a colossal waste of time. Such people arrogantly believe that they are absolutely right. Armed with supernatural truth — the Bible — given to them by a supernatural God, Evangelical zealots believe it is their duty to take the word of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible to the ends of the earth. Years ago, I told my counselor that I didn’t understand why Evangelical zealots didn’t accept my story at face value. I naively thought that if I just told my story they would understand where I was coming from. My counselor chuckled and replied, “Bruce, you assume they give a shit about what you think. They don’t!” Needless to say, my naiveté was forever shattered. And it is for this reason, I don’t argue with Evangelical zealots. Per the comment rules, such people are given one opportunity to say whatever it is they want to say. After that, it is time for them to move on. It’s people with doubts and questions that interest me, not people who are taking daily intravenous injections of Fundamentalist Kool-Aid.

I have found that the most effective way to evangelize Evangelicals is for me to simply tell my story. I was part of the Christian church for fifty years, and spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I pastored churches affiliated with the IFB church movement, Southern Baptist Convention, Sovereign Grace Baptists, Christian Union, along with a nondenominational church. I trained for the ministry in the 1970s at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an IFB institution. I attended countless preacher’s meetings and conferences, and after I left the ministry in 2005, my wife and I visited over 100 churches. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) My life experiences have given me a story to tell, and it is that story that resonates with doubting, questioning Evangelicals. I am humbled that that thousands of people read this blog each day, most of whom will never leave a comment. I know of numerous other non-Evangelical writers who have taken a similar tack, and they, too, attract a large number of readers. If my email is any indication, the story-telling approach is working.

If you are a former Evangelical and you want to help people who have doubts and questions, I encourage you to tell your story. Either start a blog or write a guest post. Your story matters. Thousands of people lurk in the shadows of this blog. Telling your story just might be the thing that helps them to finally see the bankruptcy of Evangelicalism. If you need help setting up a blog or would like to write a guest post, please send me an email via the contact page. I am here to help.

Another way to effectively reach Evangelicals is to get them to read books that challenge their core beliefs. Personally, I try not to get into doctrinal debates with Evangelicals, choosing instead to attack the foundation upon which their house stands: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Protestant Christian Bible. Successfully destroy the foundation, and down comes the house. Take debating creationists. It’s almost impossible to deliver them from their delusions, from the notion that the universe is 6,023 years old. Why? Biblical inspiration and inerrancy demand that they accept Genesis 1-3 as “science,” and reject anything that doesn’t conform to the creationist worldview. Ken HamAnswers in GenesisCreation Museum, and the Ark Encounter — a colossal monument to Evangelical ignorance — all testify to what happens when one embraces inerrancy (and literalism). Challenge their beliefs about the Bible, interjecting questions and doubts, and it then becomes easier to rebuff their creationist beliefs. Once this is accomplished, other beliefs can then be successfully challenged.

I have found that Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books are often effective in disabusing Evangelicals of their beliefs about the nature of the Bible. Once an Evangelical doubts that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, the church door is open and he has taken his first step towards freedom.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

Let me leave you with one more way we can evangelize Evangelicals. As Evangelicals, we were taught the importance of our “testimony” before the world. Think of all the nasty, arrogant, hateful Evangelical zealots who have visited this blog and commented over the years. Have their words not testified to the worthlessness of that which they preach? Their words speak volumes, do they not? The same can be said of the preachers who are featured in the Black Collar Crime series. What’s the takeaway here? That how we live is far more important than what we say. If we fail to practice what we preach, our words are worthless. Atheists, who typically follow the humanist ideal, need to understand that Evangelical doubters and questioners are watching how we live our lives. They want to see if atheism/humanism has made any difference in our lives. They want to see what it is that moves us, gives us purpose and meaning, and helps us get through the day. If we truly want to evangelize Evangelicals, then our lives must testify that there is a better way; that love, kindness, happiness, and fulfillment can be had without kowtowing to a mythical deity; that freedom rests not in religious dogma, but in rational, skeptical living.

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.

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Public Expressions of Faith and the Future of American Evangelicalism

altar call

Cartoon by Jeff Larson

I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. At the age of fifteen, I was saved, baptized, and called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Gene Millioni, Ron Johnson, and Bruce Turner were my pastors at the time. (Please see Dear Bruce Turner.) Trinity Baptist was a hyper-evangelistic church affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. My pastors gave a public altar call at the end of every service. I later would attend Midwestern Baptist College to study for the ministry. Students were required to attend nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, pastored by college chancellor Dr. Tom Malone. Altar calls were given at every service. Most IFB churches sang Just as I Am during altar calls, but Emmanuel used There is a Fountain Filled With Blood (Drawn from Immanuel’s Veins), by William Cowper. Sinners needing salvation were asked to step out of their seats and walk down the aisle to the front of the church. Once at the altar, a trained soulwinner would kneel with them, share the IFB gospel, and help them pray the sinner’s prayers. This act of faith was called “making a public profession of faith.” Sinners evangelized during the week were expected to come to church the next Sunday and made their conversion public by walking down the aisle.

Baptism was treated in a similar manner. Being immersed in three feet of water in a church baptismal was considered a public declaration of faith. By being baptized, the sinner was saying, “I publicly identify with Jesus.” Many IFB converts are baptized right after the service or the next Sunday. Preachers would often joke that the reason Baptists baptized new converts right away is that they feared never seeing them again. I was saved one week and baptized the next. And several weeks after that, I went forward during the altar call and confessed to Pastor Millioni that I believed God was calling me to preach. I stood before my friends and fellow church members and told them what God was doing in my heart. My declaration was greeted with hearty amens from older congregants. I am sure more than a few of my friends thought, Bruce Gerencser, a preacher? Yeah, right. This too shall pass!  It didn’t, and for the next thirty-five years, I preached some version or the other of the Christian gospel, seeking to help sinners see their need for salvation.

Over the first fifty years of my life, I watched thousands of people walk down church aisles and ask Jesus to save them. Often, high pressure, manipulative tactics were used to coerce sinners into getting saved. I heard countless preachers say, “the hardest decision you will ever make in your life is to step out of your seat, walk down the aisle, and make a public profession of faith.” The same line was used when cajoling people into getting baptized. “Publicly identifying with Jesus in baptism is the hardest decision you will ever make!” I later concluded that there was nothing “hard” about these decisions. Here you were among Christians. How “hard” could it be to get saved and baptized? And “public?”  What’s “public” about going through the IFB salvation and baptismal ritual in the safety and privacy of a local church filled with likeminded believers?

baptism by immersion

Cartoon by John Parker

Later in my ministry years, I stopped baptizing new converts at the church. Instead, we would go to a nearby public lake and hold a baptismal service. While not as “public” as the baptisms of first century Christian converts in the book of Acts, being exposed to the gazes of worldly vacationers helped cement the importance and cost of publicly identifying with Christ. Few churches, it seems, are willing to ask much, if anything, from new converts. As long as their asses are in the seats and their Benjamins are in the plate, all is well. It is not uncommon for IFB churches to leads hundreds of sinners to Christ each year, with few of them obediently following the Lord in baptism. Some megachurches these days have pretty much given up on baptizing converts. Once or twice a year, they will “offer” baptism to the unbaptized, but rarely, if ever, stress the importance of the rite.

These days, much to the consternation of IFB preachers and Evangelical pastors, cultural Christianity rules to roost. Christians have “personal” relationships with Jesus, and most of them never share their faith. Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest Protestant denomination in the United States — reported that their membership and baptism numbers continue to decline. Scores of SBC churches didn’t take in one new member or baptize one new convert. IFB churches, who still think they live in the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s, also face precipitous membership and baptism declines. One-time IFB megachurches now are a shell of what they once were, that is, if they are still in existence. In the 1970s, Polly and I attended Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan. Emmanuel was considered one of the largest churches in America. One Sunday, they had over 5,000 people in attendance — a rare feat at the time. Today, its doors are shuttered. The same could be said for numerous other IFB churches — churches that once proudly proclaimed that they were one of the top one hundred churches in America.

It is not uncommon these days for IFB and SBC churches to go weeks and months without “public” professions of faith or a “public” baptisms. More than a few churches, attempting to ward off algae growth or smells that come from stagnant water, have drained their baptismals and use the space to store Christmas decorations or old VBS materials. The best and brightest among such churches will come up with new programs and outreaches they are sure will stop the bleeding and import new life into their churches, but if the past is any indicator, they are doomed for failure. Perhaps, it’s time to admit that Americans are really not that into Jesus anymore; that all people want is eternal life insurance and a place to get married and hold funerals. In other words, IFB and SBC congregants are well on their way to becoming Roman Catholics — morning glories who only bloom on Easter and Christmas.

In one regard, the testimony of such Christians is indeed “public.” The unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world “see” how these people live out their faith, and find themselves saying, “no thanks.” My wife and I visited over a hundred Christian churches after we left the ministry. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered; a congregation that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. While we met all sorts of decent people, we didn’t find one church congregation that was different from the rest. We didn’t find one church that earnestly took Jesus’ commands, teachings, and way of life — as we then understood them — to heart. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We decided that despite differences in liturgy and denominational affiliation, these churches were all pretty much the same. In retrospect, I have no doubt this fact played a part in our eventual abandonment of Christianity. We came to understand that for all their talk about commitment, public professions of faith, and publicly identifying with Jesus, most Evangelical churches were little more than private social clubs for likeminded people; that such clubs attract people who need “forgiveness” and need someone to tell them what to believe and how to live. Sadly, the sheeple underneath the steeple far outnumber people who think for themselves. Those who are able to rationally and critically examine religious beliefs and practices usually end up outside of the churches they once called home.

Conservative Christianity still dominates the American social and political scene. Evangelical culture warriors continue to wage war against secularism, atheism, humanism, socialism, and a culture they believe is going to Hell in a handbasket. Try as they might, these crusaders are fighting a losing battle. Oh, they might win a few skirmishes in the short term — say over abortion — but history suggests that their days are numbered. One need only look at the arc of history in Europe and other Western countries to see where the United States is headed. Old curmudgeons such as myself are unlikely to see secularism and reason vanquish the Devil in our lifetimes, but we hold out hope for our grandchildren and their children. Thanks to global warming, their world will be very different from ours, but we have high hopes that their world will be one where religion has finally been driven back into the four walls of churches where it belongs.

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.

Why Baptists Let President Trump Sign Their Bibles

Bible signed by President Donald Trump

While touring tornado-ravaged Alabama last week, Donald Trump visited Providence Baptist Church (a Southern Baptist congregation) in Opelika. According to the Washington Post, the President received a hero’s welcome:

The president was granted a hero’s welcome in the corridor of a state that overwhelmingly supported him in 2016.

Inside a Baptist church, the president autographed at least two Bibles for an adoring horde of volunteers, who were packed eight-deep around tables of recovery supplies. Thousands waved and cheered along the roadways, some paved and some not, with nary a protester in sight. Crowds greeted him in a wrecked neighborhood with MAGA (Make America Great Again) signs, Trump chants and a mannequin decorated with Trump merchandise outside a crushed home.

“I’d vote for him again,” said Ada Ingram, a local resident, in the annex of Providence Baptist Church serving as a shelter. She said proudly that Trump had signed Bibles belonging to her sister and a 12-year-old volunteer, who drew uproarious cheers when he posed for a picture with Trump. She called the president a “godsend.”

“He signed his Bible!” she exclaimed

Many people were upset over Trump signing his name on Bibles. “Is he the author of the Bible?” one man rhetorically asked. Of course not, but neither are the men this man thinks ARE the authors. Most of the books of the Bible are written by unknown authors. Of course, this fact is not preached from Evangelical pulpits. Preachers mustn’t ever say or do anything that would cause parishioners to doubt that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God.

Those upset over Trump “defacing” the Word of God are ignorant of Evangelical Baptist church culture. It is not uncommon for Bible owners to write inside their Bibles: the date/time/place they were saved, the date/place they were baptized, and their life verse.

Life verse? “What the hell is a life verse?” liberal and progressive Christians ask. A life verse is a passage of Scripture that is your governing statement. My life verse was Proverbs 3:5,6:

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

This passage of Scripture set forth how I wanted to live my life:

  • Trust in the Lord with my whole heart
  • Don’t trust my own reasoning and understanding
  • In everything I do, I will acknowledge God

And if I did these things, God would direct my path.

Congregants — especially children and teens — are also encouraged to have famous preachers sign their Bibles. I wasn’t into having my Bible signed, but I knew countless people who would wait in long lines to have a famous pastor or evangelist shake their hand and sign their name to the person’s Bible. This practice was common in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist and Southern Baptist churches. There was nothing about what Trump did that was out of the ordinary. If blame rests on anyone, it rests on the people asking him to sign their Bibles. Having Trump sign their Bibles is like having King David sign their Bibles right after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. Trump is a despicable human being, yet some of the Evangelicals at Providence Baptist think differently.

Trevor Noah, of The Daily Show fame, perhaps summed it up best when he said:

I’m just slightly confused why anyone would want him to [sign their Bible]. Because seeing Trump’s autograph on a Bible should be like seeing a picture of your own mom on the cover of a Penthouse magazine. It should render the whole thing useless, and if you keep reading after discovering it, you’re going directly to hell.

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.

SBC President J.D. Greear Gives Recommendations For Addressing Sexual Abuse Scandal

jd greear

J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, gave an address today to the Convention’s executive committee that set forth ten recommendations to address the current sexual abuse scandal. The Biblical Reporter summarized Greear’s recommendations as follows:

  •  A call to “repent for decades of inaction;”
  • The announcement of a series of 12 training videos called, “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused;”
  • The announcement that all six Southern Baptist seminaries, officers of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders and all Baptist state conventions have adopted three respective “Statement of Principles on Abuse” documents;
  • A call for Southern Baptist churches, associations, conventions and entities to take immediate action to review policies and procedures relating to abuse;
  • A call for the SBC Executive Committee to make background checks a minimum requirement for Southern Baptist committees and trustee boards;
  • A call for Southern Baptists to review local church ordination practices to ensure proper vetting;
  • A call for state conventions and LifeWay to identify questions related to abuse that can be added to the Annual Church Profile;The announcement of programming at the SBC annual meeting that will address abuse among Southern Baptists, including a time of lament and an event hosted by the ERLC;
  • The announcement that the Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group is evaluating the possibility of creating a database of offenders, but Greear acknowledged the development of such a resource is “complicated” and “will take time to evaluate;”
  • A statement that the study group “strongly believes” the governing documents of the SBC should be reviewed and amended regarding the definition of a cooperating church, so that churches demonstrating “wanton disregard for sexual abuse … are not in good fellowship with this convention.”

Greear said, “We need to regard any exposure, any shining of light on abuse, as our friend, even if it makes us ask some uncomfortable questions about ourselves, publicly. Our job is to love and serve people, especially those who have suffered abuse. Our job is not to protect our reputation.” Nice words. Let’s see if these words become actions. I have my doubts. I just looked at the SBC website. Not one mention of the sexual abuse scandal. So far, it is business as usual.

Enough? Smoke and mirrors? Same old shit, new day? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Why Southern Baptist and IFB Churches Will Never Fix Their Sex Abuse Problem

jd greear

J.D. Greear, current president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) said:

Having an SBC database places pastors in an investigative role that we do not have the expertise or objectivity to fill. Managing the database alone poses significant problems. In fact, pushing for any kind of ‘internal investigation’ from a church level has proven to be one of the main problems in cases of abuse within the church.

We best protect by leaving investigation to people qualified to fulfill that role. The most effective thing we can do right now is educate pastors about the problem and the resources to deal with it and hold them accountable for doing so. [Since this quote, Greear has been calling for training videos, but still no database.]

And therein lies the reason Southern Baptist, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), and other “independent” denominations/churches will NEVER fix their sex abuse problem. Greear SHOULD be calling for the immediate establishment of database that lists every pastor, deacon, Sunday school teacher, youth pastor, choir director, children’s church pastor, evangelist, and congregant who has been accused of, arrested for, convicted of, or imprisoned for a sex crime, using their position of authority to sexually manipulate a woman, or any other crime that makes them unfit to be a church leader (or a Christian, for that matter). Instead, he hides behind the notion that pastors/churches are unqualified to “investigate” such claims. And I agree. All allegations of sexual misconduct or criminal behavior should be immediately reported to law enforcement, and not to the pastor or other church leaders. This does not, however, negate the necessity of having a database. If someone has been accused of a crime, his or her name should go in the database — especially if he or she is accused of a sex crime. Then, if the accused decides to move on to a new church, at the very least the new congregation will know that person has been accused of criminal behavior. Leave it to the prospective new church to investigate past allegations — you know, by talking to leaders in the former church, law enforcement, doing a comprehensive background check and, the simplest of all things to do, DO A DAMN GOOGLE SEARCH ON THE PERSON! One the reasons I maintain the Black Collar Crimes series is to create a database of sorts of religious leaders who have been accused or found guilty of sex crimes, theft, and even murder. By publicizing these stories, I hope to keep cockroaches from scurrying away in the dark of night to new digs; that is if church leaders bother to search the internet.

Just because someone isn’t prosecuted doesn’t mean he or she is innocent. I can point to numerous preachers who were accused for decades of criminal behavior and even investigated by law enforcement, yet they escaped prosecution. What a database does is show conscientious church leaders that there may be a problem with this or that prospective pastor; that where there is smoke, there may be fire.

I realize that IFB churches and autonomous Evangelical churches might find it harder to have such a database. However, those churches are able to cooperate on all sorts of other issues, so appealing to their independent ecclesiology doesn’t fly with me. To preachers and church leaders I says this: doing nothing, and then blaming it on your theology, is an abdication of your responsibility to love, care, and protect your flock; especially the least of these — children. You owe it to your congregations to make sure there aren’t pedophiles, perverts, child molesters, and rapists in your midst. And you owe it to other churches to warn them when these same people move on to new hunting grounds.

The right path forward is clear, but I seriously doubt that SBC, IFB, and other Alphabet Denominations® will do much of anything to cleanse their temples of criminals. There are souls to save, empires to build, and ministries to protect, so there’s no time for “suffering the little children.” (Matthew 19:14)

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.

The Roman Catholic Church, IFB Churches, and Southern Baptist Convention: Who’s Next?

mandatory reporting

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

The Roman Catholic Church sex-abuse scandals have been centuries in the making. They were first reported in the US media in 1985 but didn’t garner widespread attention until 2002, with the Boston Globe exposé. Since then, media coverage and public awareness of the church’s “dirty little secret” has snowballed, turning into an avalanche with the “Me-too” movement.

It doesn’t surprise me that it took so long for the problem to come to light. After all, decades would pass between the abuse I suffered and the day I finally talked about it. Many other people have similar stories. Also, as we have seen from the church’s own reports, individual parishes, not to mention dioceses and the Vatican itself, did everything they could to keep knowledge of wrongdoing “in the family,” if you will.

In this matter, church officials were like the proverbial Dutch boys with their fingers in a crumbling dike: They could hold back the tide of truth, but only for so long. Now the dam is breaking and the revelations are flooding in, not only from the Roman Catholic Church, but from other religious organizations.

The only thing that surprises me about recent reports of abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and other sects such as the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is that it took so long for them to come out, even though they’ve come just months after the Pennsylvania grand jury report. As a matter of fact, I am surprised that there haven’t yet been revelations of sexual abuse in other churches or religions.

Then again, it probably won’t be long before we learn about such things, because nearly all religions are built on hierarchical power structures. The most orthodox or fundamentalist, or the most institutionalized, have the most rigid hierarchies. All such power structures present ample opportunities for the powerful—who are usually, but not always, male and of at least some degree of privilege—to use sex as a means of controlling the less senior or more vulnerable members.

Naturally, such things can be said about a corporation or university, or the military or a gang, as well as a church. There are, however, two things that make religious institutions particularly fertile ground for sexual exploitation. One is that clergy members’ and other officials’ authority is amplified by their putative relationship with God, or whatever they call their supernatural authority. The other is that everyday worshipers, volunteers and other members of the church, synagogue or other house of worship tend to bring their vulnerabilities to the forefront to a greater degree than they would in a workplace, classroom or platoon. In other words, they are looking for acceptance they might not find in their communities or stability that might not exist in their families. Members of the clergy, whether by inclination or training, are very good at finding those vulnerabilities.

I am, of course, talking about my own experience. One of the reasons I became an altar boy (how odd it is for me to say that as a transgender woman!) is that I was looking for (and found) a circle of friends, or at least peers, that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Also, I was frankly looking for something that would keep me out of the house, away from an emotionally and mentally unsupportive family. I spent more time with the Fathers in black collars than with my biological male parent. That gave one of the Fathers his opportunities.

And those opportunities for a predatory cleric or authority figure to prey on a vulnerable child or lay person come, not only in the context of in-church activities such as being an altar boy or acolyte, but also in camps, retreats and other off-site gatherings. Even more exposed are those who are sequestered in a convent, seminary or other place where they are preparing for what they believe to be a life of service to God and humanity but which, too often, turns out to be a life of servitude to an institution. While such people may genuinely want to give of themselves to their fellow humans and give themselves over to God, they also see being or becoming a priest, nun, minister or even a deacon as their purpose, even their raison d’etre, to an even greater degree than people who are, or are training to be, accountants or lawyers or other professionals or tradespeople.

That is why, in the weeks and months ahead, I fully expect to hear more revelations of sexual abuse from other churches, and from religious entities outside of Christianity. I can’t say that such revelations will make me happy, but I can at least be satisfied that some victims will find some measure of justice, if not peace. Still, I can only wish that others could have had the opportunity I’ve had to name my abuse and abuser. It is for them, as much as for anyone else, that the truth about sexual exploitation in religious entities—wherever, whenever and however it was perpetrated, and by whom—must, and will, continue to come out. The only question is: Which church or religion will be exposed next?

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Children’s Pastor Matt Tonne Accused of Sex Crime

matt tonne

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Matthew “Matt” Tonne, associate children’s pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, stands accused of indecent contact with a child. The alleged contact took place at the Mt. Lebanon Retreat and Conference Center in Cedar Hill, Texas. The Village Church is pastored by Southern Baptist luminary Matt Chandler.

Baptist Press reports:

Matthew David Tonne, the 35-year-old accused, was dismissed as associate children’s minister from the Southern Baptist megachurch on an unrelated matter in June, senior pastor Matt Chandler said Jan. 24 in video and printed comments at thevillagechurch.net. The alleged crime occurred at the Mt Lebanon Retreat and Conference Center, a Baptist ministry in Cedar Hill, Texas.

“We want to state clearly that there are no persons of interest in this investigation that have access to children at The Village Church,” Chandler said. “We would not let anyone who is under investigation for a crime like this be near any of our children at TVC.”

Tonne, a husband and father of three, had been out of jail since Jan. 9 on $25,000 bond. His original court date of today (Jan. 29), has been rescheduled to Feb. 7, based on documents filed in Dallas County District Court.

The Village Church is making at least one change in its ministry to children, Chandler said in the website comments.

“We have decided to no longer do overnight events with elementary children based on counsel from MinistrySafe,” Chandler said, referencing the ministry founded by attorneys to help churches, camps and ministries protect children from sexual abuse. Additionally, the church has hired a director of care, Summer Vinson Berger, whom Chandler described as a licensed professional counselor skilled in trauma care.

“She is helping us evaluate all of our current practices and will help us further strengthen our ministry here,” Chandler said. “We view physical and emotional safety as a top priority and will continue to pour resources into that area.”

….

No details of the 2012 incident were available, other than a statement about the health of the victim and the victim’s family.

“Earlier this year, the minor came to a place where it was possible to verbalize the memory of what happened for the first time through ongoing therapy. (Cedar Hill Police) Detective (Michael) Hernandez has been investigating the case since that time,” Chandler said. “It took courage and strength for the child and the family to share this information, and we want to support them in any way possible.”

The church has no other reported incidents of abuse at the 2012 camp event, Chandler said.

“We have been working with the family and Detective Hernandez to do all that we can to bring healing and the light of justice to this situation,” he said, “including the decision to make this investigation public now.”

Parents and children at The Village Church have no need to fear for their safety from sexual predators at church events, Chandler said.

“We are committed to doing all that we can to protect our children,” he said.

Pastor Chandler might want to pay attention to the news (or this website). Parents have EVERYTHING to fear when it comes to entrusting Evangelical churches with their children. Sexual predators are deeply embedded within Evangelical congregations. Thoughtful, protective parents ought not to let their children out of their sight. Chandler can’t know for sure if there are other predators lurking in the shadows of the Village Church. Is his “word” good enough?

You can read the church’s press release here.