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Bruce, You Were Never an Evangelical

bruce gerencser false jesus

Just when I think I’ve heard it all, a Christian comes up with a new argument to deconstruct, discredit, and minimalize my story. Yesterday, a man who considers himself the smartest man in the room told me that none of the churches I pastored were Evangelical; that, in fact, all of them were cults, and I was a cult leader. How this real man of genius came to this stupid conclusion is beyond me, but I thought I would make an attempt to respond to his baseless assertions.

First, let me list the churches I pastored and their denominational affiliations:

  • Montpelier Baptist Church — GARBC
  • Emmanuel Baptist Church — IFB
  • Somerset Baptist Church — IFB, Reformed Baptist
  • Community Baptist Church — IFB, Sovereign Grace
  • Olive Branch Christian Union Church — Christian Union
  • Our Father’s House — Non-denominational
  • Victory Baptist Church — Southern Baptist

I also preached revival meetings, youth rallies, and special services for varying flavors of IFB and non-denominational churches, along with churches affiliated with the GARBC, Baptist Bible Fellowship, Freewill Baptists, Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, Pentecostal, Church of the Nazarene, and Christian Union.

Every one of these churches and sects was Evangelical in doctrine and practice — without exception. No amount of deconstruction or gaslighting will change this fact.

Every church and denomination had an official statement of doctrine. I was required to embrace and preach the doctrines found in these statements. I did so without objection. Why? Because I believed these things, at the time, to be true.

Take the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, the official doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention, the doctrinal statement of the National Association of Evangelicals, the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. I wholeheartedly embraced all of these documents.

Let me give Pastor Bruce Gerencser a test to determine if he really was a circumcised Evangelical:

  • Do you believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God? Yes
  • Do you believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Yes
  • Do you believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory? Yes
  • Do you believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential? Yes
  • Do you believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life? Yes
  • Do you believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation? Yes
  • Do you believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ? Yes

Taken from the official doctrinal statement of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Anyone suggesting that I was never was an Evangelical is an agenda-driven liar out to obfuscate my past.

If this man still doubts my Evangelical creds, I offer him up unassailable proof: I have Jesus & Bruce 4ever tattooed on my back — my Evangelical tramp stamp.

So there . . . 🙂

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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Evangelical Pastor Levi Skipper Tries to Explain Why God Allows Suffering

pastor levi skipper

Recently, Pastor Levi Skipper, the evangelism catalyst (oh the ministry titles Evangelicals come up with these days) for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board (GBMB), wrote an article for the GBMB website. Titled, Why Doesn’t God Stop the Coronavirus: 4 Steps to Responding Well, the article attempts to answer the age-old question of why the Christian God allows suffering. I say attempts because as I shall show in this post, Skipper fails spectacularly in his defense of God’s honor, reputation, and name.

Skipper identifies the problem many people have with the notion of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God not only allowing the existence of the Coronavirus, but doing nothing about its spread and mortality.

Skipper writes:

Why doesn’t God stop the coronavirus? It’s a simple and yet profound question. As the body of Christ, we must be prepared to answer.

There is a perceived logical argument against God when looking at a crisis. You’ll see these argument arise especially during and in the wake of a crisis.

British comedian Stephen Fry delivered a vicious, scathing attack on the Judeo-Christian God when asked what he would say if it turned out, after he died, that God did in fact exist. He called this God a “maniac,” pointing to the large amount of unnecessary suffering in the world which he, by definition, created and allows (See More).

Don’t just gasp at that statement. This is the sentiment of millions of people today who choose either to reject God or deny His existence.

So how do they get to this mental state concerning God? The argument doesn’t take a lot of mental gymnastics. In fact, it is a very simple and even quite compelling argument.

God is all-powerful: He can do anything He wills.

God is all-loving: He cares with an intense love for His creation.

Suffering is a reality: We see suffering in the world now due to the Coronavirus Crisis.

Enter the problem: If there is a God who is all-powerful and all-loving, why doesn’t he stop this coronavirus?

….

This leads to an inevitable conclusion: A God who is all-powerful and all-loving, as we see the God of Scripture, would never have created the world in which we live. Choosing to believe in Him requires closing one’s eyes to the suffering that surrounds us. Therefore, as some would hold, He must not exist. Or, if He does exist, there no way that He is both all-powerful and all-loving.

Skipper does a good job of framing the objection many people have with the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God and the existence of suffering. We know that if we had the same power and love as God, we would behave differently. Why does God silently sit by while people, along with animals, suffer?

Skipper rightly recognizes that this is a powerful argument used by atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers against Christianity. Personally, I consider it an unanswerable, unassailable argument against claims Christians make for their God.

Skipper states:

First, this will be an argument used against followers of Jesus. In fact, this will be an argument that will quickly silence many Christians.

Secondly, this argument will be used by the evil one to shake the faith of believers today.

Skipper worries that unbelievers will use this argument to quickly silence Christians. And he’s right. Countless Evangelical apologists have come to this blog to defend their deity’s honor. Their arguments are endless (and tiresome). However, when it comes to suffering (and the existence of evil) their defenses quickly flame out. As long as Evangelicals are tethered to the Bible — a book they believe is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God — it is impossible for them to successfully defend God’s honor on this front. In particular, Bible literalism proves to a big problem in arguments about God and his culpability in human suffering. A cursory reading of the Bible reveals a God who is anything but kind, compassionate, and all-loving. If the Bible is one way we understand the nature of God, then it’s fair for non-believers to conclude that God is, to put it bluntly, a violent, judgmental prick.

Skipper begins his defense of the indefensible by saying:

God created a world in which love could exist. We read about this in Genesis 1.

….

We were created to love Him and one another. However, given the capacity to love means there is a capacity to choose. Had there been no choice to love it wouldn’t be genuine. Relationships would hold no meaning.

Terry Firma, writing for The Friendly Atheist website, responded to Skipper’s claim this way:

This has literally nothing to do with why God would allow or inflict pain, suffering, and death, but maybe Skipper is working up to it. I have to ask though: If love means having a choice, where does that leave a god who says he loves you, and if you don’t love him back, he’ll torture you forever?

It’s the same with Christians’ trite apologetics about free will.

Love me, insists the abusive husband or the sex-fiend kidnapper; and if the object of his warped affection can’t, or won’t, violence is sure to follow.

According to Skipper, the all-loving Christian God created humans to love him and love one another. This statement is, in and of itself, fraught with all sorts of problems. God didn’t create any of us with the capacity to love him. Surely, Skipper understands Evangelical Theology 101. The only two humans created to love the Christian God were Adam and Eve. Thanks to their fall into sin, none of us has an innate ability to love God. We are born into this world alienated from God. In fact, we naturally hate and despise God. That’s why we need to be born again. But, even here, can it really be said that God is an equal opportunity Savior? Of course not. Both Calvinism and Arminianism teach that human salvation is predetermined; that it is God alone who chooses who may enter into a restored love relationship with him. And for those who won’t or can’t love God? The bloodthirsty God of the Bible reserves for us a room in Hell for all eternity. As Terry Firma rightly notes, God is akin to an abusive husband who says to his wife: love me or else.

Later in his defense of God, Skipper states:

The consequence of sin include suffering, pain, toil, and death. This is the reason suffering exists in the world today. An all-powerful and all-loving God created a world in which love could exist. Man chose not to love, and, therefore, sin corrupted the whole of creation ushering in evil, pain, and suffering. One author writes, “Ever since Adam and Eve fell, members of the human community have been thoroughly committed to their own well-being regardless of the cost to others.”

The sum of Skipper’s defense of God is that humans are sinners and that’s why they suffer. Again, none of us had a choice in this matter. God is playing a rigged game. He created Adam and Eve, knowing that Satan — whom he also created — would tempt them, causing them to break his law. God decided that everyone born after Adam and Eve would not have an opportunity to choose whether to eat fruit off the proverbial tree of good and evil. Everyone born after Adam and Eve comes into this world with a sin nature. This too is God’s handiwork. Remember, God is all-powerful. He could have acted differently, but he didn’t. Why is that? What kind of God allows suffering, pain, and death just so he can “save” a few people he determined to deliver from before the foundation of the world? (Ephesians 1:4) It’s all a game, is it not?

Skipper concludes his “defense” of the thrice holy God by saying:

God promises that those who know Him will be set free from the penalty, power and presence of sin. So, while the coronavirus is racing through the world, God has not forgotten us and is still in the business of bringing others into a relationship with Himself.

In other words, don’t count on God doing anything about human suffering. Much like Baal in 1 Kings 18, God is an absentee deity. Perhaps he’s sleeping, on vacation, or using the toilet. Skipper’s all-loving God may seem to not care one whit about human suffering — hey it’s humans’ fault, not mine, says God — but he does really, really, really want to save us.

Skipper tells his fellow Baptists to focus on evangelizing unbelievers. God’s in the soul-saving business! Amen? Amen! Of course, the big question Skipper leaves unanswered is this: why do Christians suffer and die just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world? If God is focused on saving people, what, exactly, is he saving them from? It’s evident that God is NOT saving Christians from suffering, pain, and death, so I ask again, what, exactly, is he saving them from?

It seems to me that the only thing God is saving Christians from is the mess he, himself, created. It’s the Biblical God who created Adam and Eve with the capacity to sin. It’s the Biblical God who created Satan, the tempter of Adam and Eve. God is the first cause of everything, is he not? Yet, Christians buy into the notion that they need “saving,” believing that their God will reward them — not in this life — in the afterlife with eternal love, peace, and bliss in Heaven. Well, that and they will never have to be around non-believers who dare to question God’s love of the human race. Those people will be tortured forever in the Lake of Fire. That’ll teach them to question the all-powerful, all-loving God.

Let me share the good news to Southern Baptists and other Evangelical Christians who may read this post. There is no God. Suffering exists for many different reasons, and no deity is going to show up and make things better. While some causes of suffering are beyond us, much of the suffering we face is of human origin, and it is within our power to ameliorate or eliminate suffering. We are the Gods in this story, and it is up to us to make a difference in the lives of others. While the origin of the Coronavirus remains unknown, we do have opportunities to lessen the suffering of our fellow humans during this pandemic. Praying to a non-existent or absentee deistic God accomplishes nothing, and neither does offloading life to some sort of nonexistent afterlife. The people we really need saved from are politically and religiously motivated zealots who think that pain and suffering are somehow good for us, or that they prepare us for eternity in a mythical Heaven. The idea that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is not true, as any chronic pain sufferer will tell you. Since we only get one go-round in this thing we call life, wouldn’t it be good for all of us if we reduce suffering as much as possible? Surely, lives relatively free of pain and suffering would be good for all involved. I know it would for me, anyway. How about you?

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.

Are Southern Baptists Losing Their Youth?

1959 sbc youth ad
1959 Southern Baptist Convention Magazine

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest Evangelical (and Protestant) denomination in the United States. According to Wikipedia, collectively, Southern Baptist churches have a membership of almost 15,000,000. Astoundingly, on any given Sunday, only 5,000,000 SBC church members actually attend church. That means, on Sundays, two-thirds of Southern Baptist church members are somewhere other than the churches they call their spiritual homes.

Thanks to the rise of the NONES and the rapidly increasing age of their congregations, SBC leaders have been in panic mode over the decline of their churches. This has resulted in the SBC doing what they do best when faced with existential crises: call on churches to pray, double-down on their evangelistic efforts, and start new, super-duper programs that they promise will stem membership decline. This is the modus operandi of the SBC: ignore the obvious and pretend things are not as bad as they seem. Unfortunately, for the SBC, things ARE as bad as they seem.

According to a Pastors’ Task Force on SBC Evangelistic Impact and Declining Baptisms, baptisms peaked in the 1970s and stayed fair constant until the late 1990s. Since then, the numbers reveal a steady decline in membership and baptisms. In 2012, the Annual Church Profile — an annual report SBC churches fill out and submit to the denomination — revealed:

  • Twenty-five percent of Southern Baptist churches reported “zero baptisms”
  • Sixty percent reported no youth baptisms (ages 12-17)
  • Eighty percent reported 0-1 young adult baptism (ages 18-29)

As I read these statistics, I thought, oh my God, no wonder the SBC is in decline. In baseball, position players have cards which list their batting and fielding statistics. Chris Welsh, a TV game broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds, is fond of saying when talking about player stats, “the back of the card never lies” That is certainly true for the SBC — the back of their card never lies. The stats are clear: the Southern Baptist Convention — a collective of 45,000 churches — is in precipitous decline, and it is unlikely that anything can be done to reverse this decline.

Once a church or a denomination loses its youth and young adults, there’s no hope of reversing decline and, ultimately, death. Thirty or so years ago the SBC hitched its wagon to Fundamentalist theology and Jerry’s Falwell’s war against cultural progress. While older members were thrilled with this, younger members were not. The slow death of the SBC is the result of the denomination of choosing theological purity and political power over people; especially young people.

Hosea 8:7 says, ” For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” Thirty years ago, the SBC planted the wind, and now they are reaping a whirlwind; a whirlwind that is causing untold havoc and damage. Now, this does not mean that the SBC will hang a “Going Out of Business” sign any time soon. The SBC and its affiliated churches are sitting on billions of dollars. According to an official SBC fun facts page, denominational churches took in over $10 billion in offerings in 2018. As long as offering plates are passed, credit cards are swiped, and dying congregants leave their estates to their churches, the SBC will continue to live for another day. Denominations and churches die slowly, often taking decades and generations to finally succumb to the forces of attendance and offering decline. The numbers say death is certain. Not today, not tomorrow, maybe not even in my lifetime. But, the ugly specter of death is coming for the SBC, and the only thing that can save them is the Rapture. Something tells me that Jesus ain’t coming back to deliver the Southern Baptists from the just desserts of their war against social progress.

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

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

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Evangelist Bob Harrington Preaching at the Sho-Bar Night Club

bob harrington chaplain of bourbon street

This is the two hundredth and second installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of Southern Baptist evangelist Bob Harrington preaching at the Sho-Bar Night Club in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Please see Evangelist Bob Harrington: It’s Fun Being Saved)

Video Link

Depressed, Repressed, and Oppressed by Jesus

creationism
Cartoon by Kirk Anderson

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Looking back on my 1988 valedictory address at an Evangelical Christian school, I would like to put my remarks into some context. Some of you may have read parts of my story in other posts, but the quick summary is that my mom and I left my abusive dad in Knoxville, Tennessee when I was three years old to live with my grandparents outside Nashville, Tennessee. My mom held some relatively progressive views on racial and gender equality, and she encouraged me to read and to ask questions. She even admitted that a lot of things in the Bible might be allegory instead of historically accurate. Sometime during my adolescence, I realized she had turned thoroughly Christian Fundamentalist, forbidding movies such as “Star Wars” which we had previously enjoyed together.

Additionally, due to rumors that students in my public school district were to be sent to a predominantly African American school district, my mom and grandparents decided to send me to an Evangelical Christian school for grades 5-12. This school taught everything from a “Christ-centered Biblical view” — which means we learned lame apologetics for Young Earth Creationism, were required to take Bible classes, attend chapel, and were forced to abide by a gender-specific dress code. I hated that school.

My grandparents were very active in the Southern Baptist church in our rural community. Grandma became a neophyte culture warrior, and Grandpa was a deacon who quietly helped anyone in the community (whether a member of our church or not) who he heard was in need. He was a master of connecting those in need with those who were willing to help. Grandpa also taught me that my education came first and that I should NEVER EVER be dependent on a man financially. His biggest dream was for me to attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville. It became my biggest dream, too, and I determined to excel academically to make it happen.

In my endeavor to achieve academic excellence, I came to look down upon my peers as inferiors. In my estimation, popular culture was cheap, anti-intellectual, and as useless to one’s intellectual improvement as cotton candy is to one’s nutrition. However, I also grew to look down upon the pastors and leaders of our church as teaching anti-intellectual doctrine. I considered the (male) teachers at our school to be only slightly better. My viewpoint was exacerbated by my exposure to working with Ph.D. Biochemists at Vanderbilt University when I was 16 years old. My mom worked in the Biochemistry department as an administrative assistant, and due to our lack of automobiles, I had to work wherever was convenient for my family in terms of transportation. At 16 years old, I got a job as a dishwasher and lab assistant at the university. I was able to meet highly educated people from all over the world. I knew these were the people I wanted to be like, not the Christian Fundamentalists of my church and school world. However, I knew that the Christians among them were not Real Christians®, and some of the scientists weren’t Christians at all. It became difficult for me to reconcile the Fundamentalist teachings of church and school that these people were damned to an eternity in Hell with the reality that they were kind, intelligent, socially active human beings. These people became my mentors and my friends as I worked with them for eight years (two years before college, during college, and for two years afterward).

As a high school student, I did not have many friends. Students attending the Christian school came from far and wide, so some of my classmates lived a 30-45-minute drive away and I did not always have access to a car. I was not allowed to participate in activities outside school (except for piano lessons to which my stepfather drove me each week), so my goal was to excel in everything I was allowed to do. My competitive nature, coupled with my determination to gain admittance to Vanderbilt, fueled my path to academic and musical dominance. I refer to it as “dominance” because my goal was not merely to learn the material, it was to master the material and to score the highest grades. It wasn’t uncommon for me to “blow the curve” on tests, where I would score 100 and the next highest score might be 85 or even in the 70s. I was known as the “smartest” student in school, and I relished that title.

However, I was a depressed and angry teenager. I felt utterly trapped in a school where everything must fit within a “Christ-centered Biblical worldview.” For Bible class, it was easy for me to regurgitate the material. While there were gaping holes in our education about history (for example, we never learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement), we weren’t required to recount history in a particularly Christian manner — just the facts were required (the facts as they were presented, that is). And looking back, I believe our English teacher was struggling with the confines of Fundamentalist Christianity as he only preached in chapel the minimum required number of times, and he walked a fine line with the literature he selected for his classes. (Years later I heard that he and his wife divorced, and he took a job as a truck driver, traveling the country, and no one seems to be able to find him.) In most classes, there would be discussions of some sort about God, the dangers of secular humanism, the ridiculousness of evolution, and the erosion of society due to people “turning away from God.” And let’s not forget that every chapel service was a reminder that we were all filthy sinners in need of the saving grace of Jesus in order to escape eternity in hell.

I resented that my whole life was supposed to revolve around giving glory to God. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). This was one of the mantras of the school. The other was this: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12 KJV). As a student, I worked hard for my success and thought I deserved recognition for it. Maybe God had given me intelligence, but I had worked hard to use it. I hated hearing all the “God talk” where people were thanking God for this or that in which humans had more of a hand than an invisible deity seemed to. These praises seemed obsequious to me, as from someone seeking favor from a deity they feared.

Students in our school were encouraged to attend Evangelical Christian universities. The administration and faculty wanted as many students to follow a “Christ-centered Biblical” path as possible, both to promote this as a benefit to prospective parents and because they felt it was the right thing to do. Many of my classmates were personally steered toward these types of universities. I was the only one who was not steered in that direction. It was also a benefit to be able to promote that not only do most students attend Christian universities and become pastors or teachers, but the academics are so sound that they can also be admitted to nationally-ranked universities.

When it was time for me to write my valedictory address, I had a lot of different emotions. I was ecstatic to finally be free of the shackles of the “Christ-centered Biblical” education and able to pursue secular education. Additionally, I still looked down on the majority of my peers who were secretly (or not so secretly) listening to rock music and attending parties — to which I was not invited — instead of forging a path for their future (in my opinion). Furthermore, I considered graduation a celebration of my hard work and accomplishments, and I wanted to make sure that was evident to all in attendance. Neither did I want to sully my accomplishments with “giving glory to God.” I was a pompous jerk, excited about having the freedom to escape Evangelical education for the opportunities available in “the world.” While I did have some trepidation about navigating “the world” — partly because I was more sheltered than my public-school-attending peers and partly because I was still afraid of what God might do to me if I strayed too far from the fold — I was glad that no one tried to stand in the way of my pursuit.

My valedictory address reflects my contempt for my peers (hence no congratulatory message to my peers) as intellectual and cultural inferiors. It reflects my arrogance in my own intelligence and willingness to read what I considered to be intellectual books outside those assigned in class. It also reflects indoctrination regarding the “evils” of rock music, premarital sex, drug & alcohol use, and divorce. However, it also reflects that I did not refer to salvation due to a return to Christian values or praying to God or any other Christian trope. I didn’t let the door hit me on my backside on the way out of Christian school.

At the university, I was active in the Baptist Student Union during my first two years and attended church services at a large Southern Baptist Church near campus. However, I took courses that opened my eyes to the false claims of inerrancy and literalism of the Bible, which led me to question much that I had learned in religious circles about human behaviors, and overwhelming, incontrovertible evidence contrary to Young Earth Creationism. I befriended people from different religions, people who were LBGTQ — who were cut off from their religious families for just being who they were — and people who were from different cultural, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. Gradually I lost some of the intense fear of the Evangelical Christian God and was able to live my life freely. Again, I didn’t let the door hit me on my backside on the way out of Fundamentalist Christianity.

Quote of the Day: Baptist Preachers Instrumental in Turning the South Red

Crediting the Nixon campaign with the flight of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party dismisses the role Southerners themselves played in that transformation. In fact, Republicans had very little organizational infrastructure on the ground in the South before 1980, and never quite figured out how to build a persuasive appeal to voters there. Every cynical strategy cooked up in a Washington boardroom withered under local conditions. The flight of the Dixiecrats was ultimately conceived, planned, and executed by Southerners themselves, largely independent of, and sometimes at odds with, existing Republican leadership. It was a move that had less to do with politicos than with pastors.

Southern churches, warped by generations of theological evolution necessary to accommodate slavery and segregation, were all too willing to offer their political assistance to a white nationalist program. Southern religious institutions would lead a wave of political activism that helped keep white nationalism alive inside an increasingly unfriendly national climate. Forget about Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. No one played as much of a role in turning the South red as the leaders of the Southern Baptist Church. …

It was religious leaders in the South who solved the puzzle on Republicans’ behalf, converting white angst over lost cultural supremacy into a fresh language of piety and “religious liberty.” Southern conservatives discovered that they could preserve white nationalism through a proxy fight for Christian Nationalism. They came to recognize that a weak, largely empty Republican grassroots structure in the South was ripe for takeover and colonization.

— Chris Ladd, Forbes, Pastors, Not Politicians, Turned Dixie Republican, March 27, 2017

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Youth Pastor Christopher “Cody” Stutts Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison

christopher stutts

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 February 2018, Christopher “Cody” Stutts, youth pastor at Westwood Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was accused of sexually abusing a child younger than twelve.

The Tuscaloosa News reported at the time:

A former youth pastor for a Birmingham church is accused of sexually assaulting a teenager.

Christopher Cody Stutts, 36, was charged with sexual abuse of a child younger than 12 and second-degree sodomy. Members of the Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit responded to a home in the 12000 block of Mulligan Drive Friday on a sexual assault call. A 14-year-old girl reported that Stutts had assaulted her on Friday and had been for the last three years.

Stutts remained in the Tuscaloosa County Jail Wednesday with bond set at $40,000.

He was fired from his position as a part-time youth pastor at Westwood Baptist Church in Birmingham.

In April 2018, Stutts was arrested again on additional sex crime charges.

Yesterday, Stuttz pleaded guilty to “one count of sexually abusing a child younger than 12.” He was sentenced to twenty years in prison for his crimes.

Let the Fun Begin: Baptist Church Business Meetings

church meeting

Most Baptist churches practice congregational government. This means that the church membership has the final say on what happens in the church. Some Baptist churches are truly congregational. No one can even fart without it being voted on first by church members. However, many Baptist churches are congregational in name-only. Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, in particular, are known for having dictatorial, controlling pastors. The congregation may vote on big money issues, but the day-to-day operation of the church is left up to the pastor. This is especially true when the church was started by the pastor. The church becomes his fiefdom, his personal plaything, and no one, including his charges, is going to take it away from him. As long as the pastor doesn’t diddle little boys or use church offerings to play the ponies, he likely can remain the pastor until “God” calls him elsewhere.

Some Baptist churches — believing congregationalism puts power in the wrong hands — are governed by elders. All this does is concentrate power and control. Elders can and do abuse their authority, often acting in their own best interests. One need only look at megachurches with their corporation-style boards to see what happens when stakeholders no longer have any control. That’s not to say that congregationalism is the best form of church government. As long as people are people, there will be conflicts. What elevates these conflicts in Baptist churches, however, is that both sides believe that the Holy Spirit (God) is leading and speaking to them! I participated in numerous church business meetings where people metaphorically duked it out over who would get his way. I found it interesting then, and still do, how “God” can be so unclear about his good, acceptable, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Perhaps, the problem is that there is no God, and what you have are people with competing wants, needs, and desires.

What follows is a handful of stories from my days as a Baptist church member and pastor. These stories are a highlight reel of sorts from the countless church business meeting I attended.

As a teenager, I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. It was the 1970s, and, thanks to Trinity’s aggressive evangelistic efforts, the church was one of the fastest-growing churches in the area. Attendance became so large that big attendance days such as Easter were held in the auditorium of nearby Findlay High School. Finally, church attendance reached a place where Pastor Millioni and the deacons decided it was time for a larger building. They would later move from their Trenton Avenue location to a spacious, modern round edifice near the Findlay Mall.

Church leaders decided to sell bonds to church members to finance construction. Such bond programs were quite popular at the time. They were later deemed to be fraudulent, little more than Ponzi schemes. One Sunday evening, church leaders called for a business meeting to discuss the new building. I attended the meeting. I was very much a committed follower of Jesus, one who took seriously the standards by which Christians were expected to live their lives. One rule was NO CUSSING! Imagine my surprise then when the church’s song director got into a verbal argument with someone and swore at him! Boy, was I shocked! Here was a man I deeply repected and he said some bad words. Such was my naivetĂ© at the time.

In the early 2000s, while between pastorates, I attended Frontier Baptist Church in Frontier, Michigan. Frontier was a small, needy, dysfunctional congregation. I have concluded that I sought out such churches because I see myself as a “fixer.” I pastored several churches who needed Pastor Bruce to ride in on a white horse and “save” them. While Frontier had an elderly pastor, the congregation was most certainly in need of my help. Or so I thought anyway.

Once a month, the church — a Southern Baptist congregation — would hold a business meeting. The pastor was a strict congregationalist. He refused to make ANY decision without the church voting on the matter. The church was in desperate need of a new refrigerator. I just so happened to have a like-new fridge in storage. I told the pastor I would like to give a refrigerator to the church, thinking he would quickly and graciously say, sure. Instead — I kid you not — he said, “I can’t accept your gift, Bruce. The church will have to vote on it first.” And they did a month later. To this day, I don’t understand this kind of passive leadership, an unwillingness to make decisions on your own lest the congregation get upset with you.

I lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona for a time in the 1970s. I attended Sierra Vista Baptist Church — a Conservative Baptist congregation. In this church, no one could become a member unless the congregation voted on their admission. At one business meeting, congregants discussed several people who were prospective members. When one woman’s name came up, the church matriarch asked, “is she divorced?” “Yes,” the pastor replied. “Then I vote NO on her membership.” And that was that. This church may have had a congregational form of government, but when Granny spoke everyone listened and fell in line.

In 1980, Polly and I attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark, Ohio for a time before leaving to help start an IFB church in Buckeye Lake. The Baptist Temple was trying to raise money to build a gymnasium, along with some additional classrooms for their Christian school. The church’s pastor and deacons had agreed to pay cash for the construction. They believed that by “trusting God,” congregants would cough up the necessary money for the new building. Months and months went by, and then one Sunday an “important” business meeting was called for. At the appointed time, the church’s pastor told congregants that church leaders, with soon-to-be-given congregational approval, had decided to borrow the money necessary to build the building. I thought at the time, wait a minute! I thought we were going to trust “God” to provide the money?” No one said a word. It seemed like everyone was falling in line behind the Pied Piper. When asked if there were any more questions, I nervously stood and said, “Why are we changing horses now? I thought we were trusting God to provide the money.” Silence. You would have thought I had cut a raunchy fart in a crowded elevator. Keep in mind, the pastor was my wife Polly’s uncle. Nearby sat her preacher father and his wife. Needless, to say, my “out of the will of God” words were not appreciated. It wouldn’t be the last time Pastor Uncle and I would clash.

In 1994, I moved my family from southeast Ohio to San Antonio, Texas so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Imagine my surprise at the first church business meeting when I learned that women were not permitted to speak at public meetings. Now, I was quite an authoritarian at the time, but I was egalitarian when it came to business meetings. Worse yet, if a woman had a question, she was to whisper it to her husband or another man, and he would ask their question. I kid you not. The only time women were permitted to speak out loud during public meetings was when they were singing or praying.

Finally, I want to share a story from the eleven years I spent as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. One Sunday evening, the congregation gathered for a business meeting. During the meeting, a man stood up and said, “I have a real problem with So-and-So” — a fellow church member. He proceeded to air his grievances against this man and his family. Then So-and-So’s wife stood up and began listing all the problems she had with the first man and his family. The business meeting quickly turned into a shouting match between these two families. The meeting became so contentious that I just sat down and let these two families verbally duke it out. There was a moment when I thought it might turn into a physical altercation, but fortunately, it didn’t.

Finally, their war of words ended. I stood up and let them know what I thought of their childish behavior. These two families had been sitting on an increasing number of offenses for so long that when given a chance to air them, boy oh boy, did they! The good news is they were able to work out their differences. Both families were devoted, faithful church members, people who would go out of their way to help others. But, on this night, I was reminded of the fact that they were very much human, as we all are.

This post is not meant to demean the churches and parties mentioned. I hope by sharing these stories — and I could spend days writing about church business meetings — that readers would see that Baptists, for all their talk about following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, are just as human as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. All of us want our way, whether it is in our marriages, places of employment, or houses of worship. It’s normal to think that our viewpoint is the right one — no Holy Ghost needed. What’s harder for us to do is surrender our viewpoints to those of others, to admit that perhaps we just might not be right.

Do you have a favorite church business meeting story — Baptist or not? Please share them in the comment section.

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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Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Pastor Stephen Bratton Accused of Sexually Molesting Teenager

stephen bratton

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.

Stephen Bratton, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, stands accused of sexually molesting a teenage relative.  The Houston Chronicle reports:

A former pastor of a Southern Baptist church in north Harris County faces charges of molesting a teenage relative, sometimes multiple times a day, over the course of two years, court records show.

Stephen Bratton, who resigned from Grace Family Baptist Church in Cypress Station last month, was charged Friday with continuous sexual abuse of a child, Senior Deputy Thomas Gilliland said Saturday. The 43-year-old is accused of inappropriate touching that escalated to “sexual intercourse multiple times a day or several times a week” from 2013 to 2015, Gilliland said.

….

Bratton has been an outspoken pro-life advocate, making national news recently for supporting a failed bill that would have made it possible to criminally charge women who terminate their pregnancies.

Bratton came forward to his wife about the abuse on May 15, according to a probable cause document. She called his co-pastors at 4 a.m. to organize a meeting, while Bratton contacted them later that day to say he had “sinned in grievous ways.”

“It was criminal,” said David Shiflet, pastor of the Grace Family Baptist Church in Conroe. “That’s when he came clean.”

The criminal investigation began on May 16 after Bratton allegedly confessed to three Southern Baptist clergy members that he abused the child. Two of Bratton’s co-pastors, Aaron Wright and Erin Frye, met with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office at their church on Bammel Westfield Road that same day, while Shiflet said he referred the complaint to the Department of Family Protective Services.

….

Bratton has been excommunicated and is no longer receiving a salary from the church, Wright said.

“This person’s life is in such a contradiction to the faith that we see no evidence that they are a Christian,” he continued.

Bratton worked at the Old River Baptist Church in Dayton from 2004 to 2007. He now lists himself as unemployed on his LinkedIn profile.

The pastors declined to talk about Bratton’s family other than to say he was no longer living with his wife and their seven children. Court records show an emergency protection order was granted in the case.

….

Grace Family Baptist, a Calvinistic Southern Baptist congregation,  released the following statement:

We are aware of the situation regarding Stephen Bratton and the charges that have been filed against him and of his arrest on June 14th.

Stephen Bratton confessed to Erin Frye and Aaron Wright, both pastors at the church, of sexually abusing a minor in an ongoing way for a number of years on May 16th.  This is the first time this had been brought to the attention of the pastors.

This activity is wrong according to Biblical and civil law and the church condemns the behavior as abhorrent.

The elders immediately filed a police report with Harris County Sheriff’s Office the same day, May 16th.  As the weeks followed the pastors continued to make contact with the detective because they desired the case to be brought forward so that justice would be served.   Once the case began we continued to cooperate fully throughout the investigation.

The elders have called upon Stephen Bratton to accept the full responsibility for his actions and to place himself at the mercy of the criminal justice system.

Stephen is no longer in a position of leadership at the church and is no longer receiving a salary.

Stephen Bratton was also excommunicated by the church the following Sunday, May 19th. Therefore he is no longer a member of the church.

Currently we are working to meet the needs of the family and the victim.

We have deep grief for the victim and have sought to respect the privacy and identity of the victim throughout this process.

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Missionary Mark Aderholt Pleads Guilty to Misdemeanor Assault

mark aderholt

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 December 2018, Southern Baptist missionary and denominational leader Mark Aderholt was indicted for allegedly assaulting a minor two decades ago.  In July 2018, the Baptist Press reported:

Mark Aderholt, a former employee of the South Carolina Baptist Convention and International Mission Board missionary, has been charged in Texas with sexually assaulting a teenager 21 years ago.

Aderholt, 46, was arrested July 3 in South Carolina and booked into the Tarrant County, Texas, jail July 9 on charges of sexual assault of a child under 17, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. He was released July 10 on bond.

The IMB told Baptist Press today (July 16) it learned in 2007 of allegations Aderholt had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old in 1996-97 while he was a 25-year-old student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served with the board from 2000-08.

The IMB conducted an internal investigation in 2007, and the matter was set to go before the board of trustees, “which, at that time, was the only group with the authority to terminate a member of our missionary personnel,” IMB spokesperson Julie McGowan said in written comments. But Aderholt resigned on his own “before the Board could vote on the recommendation from the investigative team that included both men and women,

The IMB has since changed its policies to allow a missionary to be terminated by “staff senior leadership,” McGowan said.

The IMB’s 2007 investigation, including two days of interviews with the alleged victim, led an IMB team to conclude at the time that Aderholt “engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship” with a teen in 1996-1997, that the victim “suffered as a result” and that Aderholt “was not truthful” with the IMB “about the full extent of the relationship,” according to correspondence to Miller from IMB general counsel Derek Gaubatz published July 13 by the Star-Telegram.

The IMB did not report the incident to law enforcement at the time, McGowan said, because the victim — who has identified herself in a blog post and other forums as author and speaker Anne Marie Miller — said on multiple occasions that she did not want to make a report to police.

Miller “was a grown adult at that time, and we followed her lead,” McGowan said. “We were more than willing to support such action at that time, but she stated that her desire was not to file charges. While some want to exclusively call out IMB for not reporting, keep in mind that neither her parents, her husband at the time, two trained clinical counselors or several other friends with intimate details of what happened reported the matter to police, including several individuals who actually live in Texas where the alleged events took place. We can only assume they approached this matter in the same fashion we did: that, as an adult, this was Ms. Miller’s story to share with local authorities when she was ready. We fully support her taking this step now, and we are cooperating with authorities.”

….

Aderholt’s offense allegedly occurred in Arlington, Texas, in 1997, according to the Star-Telegram, and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. An Arlington police spokeswoman told the Star-Telegram she could not release additional information about the case.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary confirmed to BP that Aderholt was a student at the seminary when the crime allegedly was committed. He graduated in 2000 with a master of divinity degree.

The South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) released a statement June 19 announcing Aderholt had resigned after a year and a half as the convention’s associate executive director and chief strategist and that SCBC executive director Gary Hollingsworth received the resignation with “a heavy heart.” The initial statement did not, however, give a reason for the resignation.

After the Star-Telegram reported Aderholt’s arrest, Hollingsworth said in a statement released to BP July 10, “In light of recent news related to Mr. Aderholt, our hearts are grieved and our prayers are with everyone involved.” Hollingsworth told South Carolina’s Baptist Courier newsjournal, “Our hearts are grieved, but we are trusting the authorities.”

Today, Aderholt, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury.  The Houston Chronicle reports:

The judge placed Aderholt on 24 months of deferred adjudication, a form of probation that will not leave a conviction on his record if he successfully completes the term. He was also ordered to spend 30 days in jail beginning Tuesday evening and to pay a $4,000 fine. He prohibited Aderholt from having any form of contact with Miller.

Aderholt’s lawyer, Justin Sparks, stated: “Mark has maintained his innocence from day one. After a probationary term, it ends with a dismissal. Mark agreed to this result because the original allegations were abandoned and for closure.”

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