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.
George Baker, an ex-Southern Baptist pastor and seminary professor, was arrested March 23, 2018 for possession of child pornography.
On the surface, George Baker appeared to have everything. A job helping others, a beautiful fiancé who he was building a life with and doing some university-level teaching. All of that came to a crashing halt on March 23 when he was arrested for possession of child pornography.
“The entire time we were going out, he never mentioned that he had a problem,” Stephanie Conroy, Baker’s now ex-fiance, told the Star. “He said he was helping people addicted to porn, not that he himself had a problem.” [a problem? Is that what possessing child pornography is now, a “problem?’]
Conroy was checking email in a bedroom of the house they shared on Alsbury Blvd., when one of her children walked in and said that there were some police who wanted to speak with her.
“At first I sort of laughed it off, I thought he was making a joke,” Conroy said. “But I followed him into the kitchen and there were two police officers in there. At first I thought my oldest son had been in an accident, but then they told me that they had been investigating George for over a year.”
According to BPD Officer Wes Routson, Baker had uploaded a pornographic image of a child from his computer.
“We’ve been looking at him for awhile,” Routson said. “But one reason it took so long is that we had to send his computer off to be looked at. When you are doing forensic investigations on computers you have to get in line at the state for someone to do it, and thats why it dragged out.”
Baker was arrested and transferred to the Johnson County jail, where he posted bond for $100,000.
Baker had most recently been working for ‘Feed the Right Wolf,’ as a life coach helping people overcome sex and porn addiction.
Craig Perry, owner of ‘Feed the Right Wolf,’ knew that Baker had a problem with teen porn and described him as a “great man who made a mistake.” [uh, teens are still minors. Again, here’s that “problem” word again.]
Perry said that even though he knew Baker had a record of viewing child porn, he hired him anyway.
“I was so impressed by his recovery and his skill set, I let him take my certification course where I train therapists and counselors,” he said. “It didn’t look like this was going to happen again, but when it did, we terminated him immediately.” [How did Perry KNOW it wouldn’t happen again?]
Baker had also taught at TCU’s at Brite Divinity School in 2011 as a teaching assistant while pursuing his Ph.D., in philosophy. Baker also claimed that he was the program manager of the Soul Repair Center at Brite from July 2012 to July 2015, though the Star could not confirm that. According to his LinkedIn profile, he was also the pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Stamford, Texas, from 1998-2001, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Seymour, Texas, from 2001-2003 and pastor of First Baptist church in Weinart, Texas, from 2003-2006.
“He was completely normal around me and my kids,” Conroy said.
For a couple years I’ve been having an intellectual battle with atheists. Not all of them, but the people I refer to as “evangelical atheists.” They are angry and passionate and just as religiously cocksure as the fundamentalist believers they despise.
Or maybe it’s all believers they despise. To them we are all weak-minded and superstitious and pathetically out of touch. If only we’d grow up. If only we’d get an education. If only we had a fraction of their intellectual depth, we would give up our tribal, backwoodsy notions of “God.”
As you can tell, I’m a little passionate about this.
I’m not so much offended by their insulting condescension — though it wouldn’t hurt them to be a little nicer — if only for tactical purposes. As we say in the South, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
More to the point, I’m disappointed by their argument against God. While purporting to be so intellectually superior, too many atheists take on only the worst of religion. If I positioned an argument against only 5th-grade science or against those scientists who had used their knowledge to master the atomic bomb or build Internet viruses or promote biological warfare, I could make a pretty good argument against the inanity and wickedness of science, too.
So it is either disingenuous to argue only against religious fundamentalism, or it’s embarrassing for such smart people to be so uninformed about the true variety and richness of religion. Too often atheists ignore the traditions of vigorous intellectual pursuit which can be found in the theological explorations of all of the world’s religions.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe in the same god many atheists don’t believe in!
Between these two disheartening poles, angry atheists on one hand and fundamentalist Christians on the other, it’s not the muddled mush of some middle ground I’m seeking — which makes staking a claim to “free and faithful” even more difficult.
I want to take a few moments to respond to some of the things you mention in your post about angry atheists.
American atheists tend to respond to the dominate religion of their culture — Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicalism dominates everything from state and federal governments all the way down to local school boards and city councils. Groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, American Humanists, and Americans for Separation of Church and State spend countless hours dealing with Evangelical breaches of the wall of separation between church and state. Often, these groups are forced to sue schools and governments to stop their violations of the U.S. Constitution. I live in rural Northwest Ohio, a place dominated by God, Guns, and Right-Wing Republican politics. The aforementioned groups could spend the next year here litigating church and state violations. Imagine, for a moment, being an atheist in such a place. Imagine having to sit and watch as Evangelicals trash the Constitution. Imagine not being able to find employment because many businesses don’t want to employ an atheist. Imagine a place where every officeholder is a Republican who loves Jesus, the Bible, and Friday night football. Imagine hearing of sermons where atheists are described as haters of God, child molesters, possessed by demons, and tools of Satan. Imagine being one of only a few atheists who are willing to push back against Evangelical zealots, standing in for others who fear loss of employment, family, and friends if they dare say they don’t believe. Imagine being forced to be a secret atheist lest it ruins your marriage. Imagine pretending to be a Christian and attending church so your spouse and family won’t question your beliefs and judge you harshly.
What I have described above is real life for many atheists. You might want to walk in their shoes before you slap the “angry” atheists label on them. I wonder, would you be angry if you had to live in denial of who and what you are? What if the shoe were on the other foot, and it were Christians who were treated in this manner. How would you respond then? You speak from a seat of privilege. While that privilege is increasingly being challenged, Christians still have the seat at the head of the table. Last fall, I attended a secular coffee house concert where a Christian musician started to tell a faith-based story. She paused for a moment, perhaps pondering the appropriateness of her evangelizing, and then said, well, we are all Christians here, right? I wanted to shout, HELL NO, WE ARE NOT ALL CHRISTIANS. Instead, I mumbled something to my wife and kept quiet. The musician’s statement reflects commonly held sentiment here in Northwest Ohio. I suspect the same could be said of the South and Midwest. Jesus is the king of the hill, and if you want to be fully embraced by your community you better at least pretend to be a Jesus Club® member.
You object to atheists responding to what you call the “worst of religion.” I assume that you think your version of Christianity is a better version, and perhaps it is. You and your church are progressive socially and politically. You have many beliefs that I admire. Yes, I said admire. I’m sure we could work together in turning back Donald Trump’s Evangelical followers as they attempt to establish a theocratic government. While I am not sure of your view of the culture war, I suspect on this front too we could find common ground to work together. I am pro-choice, yet I am more than willing to work with people of faith who object to abortion for moral reasons. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a Christian willing to accept my help. Instead, I am labelled a murderer who is worthy of death.
I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I grew up in the Independent Baptist/Evangelical church. I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I even pastored a Southern Baptist church for a time (not a pleasant experience). I am quite conversant in Christian theology, in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Progressive Christians tend to paint themselves as different from Evangelicals. Often they are, but I have also found that if I dig a bit I will sometimes expose Evangelical beliefs at their core. For example, take the doctrine of eternal punishment. This is the one doctrine that many of my fellow atheists and I have a problem with. Not that we think there is Hell, but that there are Jesus-loving people who look at us and say, unless you believe as I do, unless you are saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, you will spend eternity in a lake of fire being tortured by God day and night. Worse yet, the God whom Evangelicals say loves everyone plans to give all non-Christians a new body after death so they can withstand endless burning and torture.
Whatever your beliefs might be, Pastor Dean, the only doctrine that really matters to me is whether you believe that I will spend eternity in Hell (or be annihilated) because I am an atheist; because I do not find the evidence for Christianity compelling. If you believe that, yes, I will spend eternity in Hell, then I have a hard time seeing you as a decent person. I am a kind, loving, thoughtful man. I’ve been married for forty years. I love my wife, six children, and eleven grandchildren. While I am far from perfect, I would be more than happy to compare good works with the best of God’s chosen ones. Yet, if there is a Hell, none of this matters. All that matters is that I have the “right” beliefs — as if Christians themselves even know what these right beliefs are. Belief in Hell, then, is the standard by which I judge Christians. If they believe only certain people will go to Heaven after death, then I have zero interest in being friends with them. Thinking your neighbor deserves to be tortured for wrong beliefs or human behaviors deemed “sinful” is offensive. Surely, you can see how atheists might become angry over Christians dismissing their lives in this manner. Granted, atheists aren’t worried about going to Hell because Hell doesn’t exist, but like most humans, we do desire to be well thought of by others. We very much want to part of the communities we live in.
Most of the atheists I know aren’t angry. They just want to live and let live. They want to live authentic lives filled with meaning and purpose (and not have Christians tell them there is no meaning and purpose in life without the Christian God). Unfortunately, literalism and certainty drive many Christians to evangelize anyone and everyone who doesn’t believe as they do, atheists included. Readers of this blog know that I am not an evangelist for atheism. I write about my past experiences as an Evangelical pastor. I also critique Evangelical Christianity, calling into question beliefs and practices they swear are straight from the mouth of God. I know Evangelicalism inside and out, and readers tend to trust my opinions. That said, I don’t care one way or the other if someone becomes an atheist. I consider any move away from Fundamentalism (and Evangelicalism is inherently Fundamentalist) a good thing. I view myself as a facilitator who helps people as they journey along the road of life. To use a worn-out cliché, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.
My writing is widely read by religious and non-religious people, and it attracts legions of Evangelical zealots. These zealots call me names, attack my family, and even threaten me with death. These “loving” people of God are hateful and mean-spirited, some of them going so far as to attempt to hack my site or crash it with DDOS attacks. You see, Pastor Dean, your backyard has plenty of shit in it too. How about we both agree that angry Christians and angry atheists do not represent Christianity and atheists as a whole? How about we agree not to use social media as the measuring stick for determining the demeanor of Christians and atheists as a whole? I am sure that, like me, you can become angry. Anger is, after all, a human emotion. After leaving Christianity, I actually had to reconnect with my emotions. I had to learn that it was normal to be angry. What mattered is what I did with my anger. I spent fifty years dying to self/crucifying the flesh. The real me was swallowed up by Jesus and the ministry. It was refreshing, post-Jesus, to be human again. I am still in the process of reconnecting with the real Bruce Gerencser.
Rarely does a week go by where I don’t receive an email or a blog comment from Christians who think they can psychoanalyze me by reading a few blog posts. These mind readers just know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am bitter, angry, and hate God. No matter how much time I spend responding to them or explaining myself, they still heap judgment upon my head. Years ago, I told my counselor that I was perplexed by this treatment. Here I would share my journey and answer their questions and these followers of the thrice holy God would still heap judgment and condemnation upon me. Why? I wondered. My counselor laughed and told me, Bruce, you wrongly think they give a shit about what you believe. They don’t. He, of course, was right. Evangelicals, for the most part, aren’t interested in my story or what I believe. What matters is winning me back to Jesus. What matters is winning a victory for Team Jesus®. What matters is vanquishing the atheist preacher and his “followers.”
Perhaps, by now, Pastor Dean, you can sense and understand why I might be justifiably angry if I chose be. However, I choose not to be angry. Life is too short for me to spend it arguing with people who aren’t really interested in what I have to say. Let me concludes this post with the advice I give to everyone who stumbles upon my blog:
You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.
Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.
Please feel free to contact me when you have a question about atheists and their beliefs. You and I are never going to agree on the God question and the veracity of Christianity, but we can both do our best to understand each other. When given the opportunity, I do my best to call out atheists when they wrongly represent Christian belief. Facts matter, and atheists should be factual in their representations of Christian belief and practice. I ask that you do the same. I am considered by more than a few atheists to be too friendly with religious people. Since most people worship some sort of deity, it would be foolish for me not to be friendly to people of faith. All I ask is that religious people grant me the same courtesy.
Be well, Pastor Dean.
P.S. I also could have written thousands of words about how I was treated by colleagues in the ministry and former congregants after they found out l left the ministry and left Christianity. Needless to say, these so-called men of God and sanctified church members revealed for all to see the ugliness and hate that lies just under the surface of Evangelical Christianity. I find myself asking, why in the hell would I ever want to be a Christian again? Why would I want to around people who treat people in such dehumanizing ways? Forget whether the Christian narrative is true. If Christians can’t be people of love, compassion, and peace, they have nothing to offer unbelievers.
Pastor Dean’s bio states:
Russ Dean is co-pastor of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. A native of Clinton, S.C., and a graduate of Furman University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he earned a D.Min. degree from Beeson Divinity School. He and his wife, Amy, have been in church ministry for 30 years, and they have served as co-pastors of Park Road since 2000. He is active in social justice ministries and interfaith dialogue, and when he isn’t writing sermons or posts for Baptist News Global you’ll find Russ in his shed doing wood working, playing jazz music, slalom or barefoot water skiing, hiking and camping, or watching his two teenage boys on the baseball field.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of almost 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.
An unreached people group in Southeast Asia gave their lives to Christ when their leader apparently dropped dead and came back to life after a group of believers prayed.
David Platt, president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, recounted the “modern-day resurrection” story during the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee meeting on Sept. 19.
A local Southeast Asian Christian who was brought to faith by some Southern Baptist missionaries took a group of friends and began evangelizing in the remote village, Baptist Press reports.
Villagers responded by bringing idols, necklaces and amulets associated with their occult worship to be burned, Platt said, relaying the account of an IMB worker.
It is reported that shortly after the burning ceremony, the village leader was found dead.
The villagers said they believed they angered the local spirits by giving up their possessions. They asked for their ritual objects to be returned to them.
The Christians, discouraged by the request and the news of the leader’s death, traveled to where the leader was laid and prayed over his body “that God would show His mercy to the people in the village, that God would show His glory and His love to that people who were so close,” said Platt.
“This Asian believer tells our missionary,” Platt said, “that as they were praying there over the man, all of a sudden the man coughed. Everybody in the house got really still. And the man coughed again. People came rushing over, and the village leader started breathing. People started helping him up. Everybody’s looking at these Asian believers like, ‘What happened?’
“They decided this was as good a time as any to share the Gospel,” Platt stated. “So they shared the Gospel, and in the days to come, people started coming to faith in Christ and that village starting burning their idols.”
Platt later admitted that the man might not have really been dead. Why then, did Platt, CHARISMA, and other Christian “news” sites report this as a modern-day resurrection from the dead? There’s zero objective, verifiable evidence that the “dead” man was brought back to life. Isn’t it far more likely that people THOUGHT the man was dead and that, coincidentally, he coughed at the very moment the missionaries were praying over him?
One thing is for certain, the missionaries used this sham resurrection to manipulate scientifically illiterate locals, going so far as to lead them to think that, through their prayers, the Evangelical God had brought the chieftain back to life. This kind of mumbo-jumbo magic show only works in countries populated by people with little to no understanding of science. You know, like the United States.
If these missionaries can really pray dead people back to life, why not bring their show back to America so their magic powers can be closely observed and documented. S-h-i-t (spoken in the voice of Senator Clay Davis on The Wire), I would be happy if they just plied their miracle-working power on the sick and crippled. Again, I would want the “healings” scientifically verified.
Perhaps David Platt and his fellow stone-age Southern Baptists should spent some time learning that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. If Platt wants non-tokers of Fundamentalist weed to believe this story, he is going to have to provide scientific evidence for his claims. Until then, I am with Clay Davis: s-h-i-t.
This guest post was written by Sheldon Cooper. He is a former fundamentalist, and works in the warehouse industry in the St. Louis area. He talks about his past life, and current beliefs at his blog, Ramblings of Sheldon.
I think any former fundamentalist out there that is reading this post will know what I am talking about when I say that there’s usually regrets that you have when you give up your former beliefs. You wonder sometimes why you didn’t give it up sooner than you did (or how you could have possibly believed it in the first place).
I have my moments like this sometimes, and recently I’ve been having my regrets about introducing myself to the teachings of John Piper. It was in the last years of my time in fundamentalism, and John Piper was rather popular in the Southern Baptist circles I was in (and is still popular there).
I was a confused, doubting young fundamentalist, who had a lot of questions, and started talking about those questions to a man that I considered my spiritual mentor (I’ll call him Mike). He was a big John Piper fan, very obsessed with his teachings (and also a big fan of John MacArthur and Paul Washer as well), and he had been getting his Sunday School class, which I was a part of at the time into Piper’s teachings.
Piper’s teachings sounded great to someone in my position, and since I have had depression for most of my life, his concept of “Christian hedonism” (odd name, I know) sounded great. It’s an old concept, but the way he presents it, that we can know the greatest heights of joy if we do everything that pleases god, sounds appealing. It sounds so positive and life affirming to someone who is used to living in fundamentalism all their life.
I did have my questions about him, and some disagreements, his extreme Calvinism troubled me, and I had a lot of questions (and long discussion with Mike, the spiritual mentor) about Piper’s accompanying views on god’s sovereignty All in all, though, I found his views interesting, and even read some of his books.
The doubts about Christianity itself didn’t go away though, and in time, I would end becoming an agnostic, albeit an undercover agnostic (check out the Undercover Agnostic series on my blog to see more of what I mean by this), and I would end up distancing myself somewhat from Mike after a bizarre incident where his wife said to their Sunday School class, (and told the class that he wanted her to tell them this), that he had cheated on her. When I mentioned this to him later, and asked him about it, they both denied it, and complained about people “spreading rumors” about them (yes, this actually happened, I wish I was making it up, I had a lot of respect for him).
Life went on, we parted ways for the most part, and I ended up becoming an agnostic. It turns out that my doubts weren’t just a passing phase, it’s been five years since I quit believing in Christianity. It had been a while since I had even heard of John Piper again, but when an old blog post of his, talking about his views on women in the military started resurfacing on various atheist blogs, I was surprised at what I didn’t know about John Piper.
He’s even more into the idea of complementarianism than I would have ever thought he was, and this would have repulsed me, even as a fundamentalist. Even then, I believed in gender equality (supporting equality in other areas, such as gay rights, well, I didn’t get around that until after leaving Christianity). Here’s what John Piper says about women in the military:
If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed.
For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of our women.
Well, I guess according to John Piper, I’m a “wimp” then…….
I’ve never had a problem, even during my fundamentalist days of believing that women were just as capable as men. Perhaps that came from being raised by a stay at home mom that was also very (how should I put this?) strong willed.
His post gets even more ludicrous:
Suppose, I said, a couple of you students, Jason and Sarah, were walking to McDonald’s after dark. And suppose a man with a knife jumped out of the bushes and threatened you. And suppose Jason knows that Sarah has a black belt in karate and could probably disarm the assailant better than he could.
Should he step back and tell her to do it? No. He should step in front of her and be ready to lay down his life to protect her, irrespective of competency. It is written on his soul. That is what manhood does.
This statement defies common sense in so many different ways. Instead of letting Sarah step forward, because she knows hand to hand combat, and could disarm the attacker more easily than Jason, who has no such experience, he would rather Jason go ahead and try to fight him.
Most people would say that Sarah should go after the attacker, because if she does there is a greater possibility that both of their lives will be saved. He would much rather let his outdated views on gender and chivalry cost both the students in this example their lives than to let Sarah use her wealth of experience and training in this area.
I love what blogger Joe Sands of Incongruous Circumspection said in the title to his response to John Piper: John Piper Wants to be Murdered . I think what is very telling about the example with the students is that he said “irrespective of competency”. He’s saying that even when a woman has the training and skills, she shouldn’t be allowed to use them. That’s the problem with this kind of thinking, people who ascribe to complementarian ideas think that they are showing respect for women, by putting them on a pedestal like this, but I see this kind of view as degrading to women.
In his example of the two young lovers being confronted by someone with a knife, he is saying that even though the woman has proven herself capable of doing something (in this case hand to hand combat), by what she has learned through training, and proven by experience, she should still not be allowed to put those skills into practice. It’s saying that even though you have proven yourself capable, we won’t allow you to act as though you are equal.
If I had known what I know about John Piper now, I wouldn’t have considered his views so appealing. I feel foolish now for not fully knowing what he believed, and not digging deeper. Even as a fundamentalist, I would have disagreed with him on gender issues. I guess it’s one of those regrets I’ll learn from and move on.
There’s much I have learned from that time in my life, and I think sometimes I’ve learned some valuable lessons from it. In some ways, it’s helped me now that I am an agnostic. I can understand the beliefs, the mentality, the culture more than most of the population can. It’s because I’ve believed the same beliefs, repeated the same lines and arguments, and lived a life similar to them.
I understand that world and it’s culture in ways that someone without experience can never fully understand (I’m sure many former fundamentalists know that feeling). It’s given me more understanding, and patience, because I remember who I once was, and what I sounded like. That doesn’t mean I still don’t get frustrated with fundamentalists, but I know where they are coming from in life, and that helps in trying to have discussions and debates with them. It’s one thing that I don’t regret about my past experiences, but there’s still much more that I will have to learn to move on from.
What follows is a letter I wrote to my Fundamentalist Christian step-grandmother, Ann Tieken, in 2012. She was married for many years to my grandfather John Tieken. They lived in Pontiac, Michigan and attended Sunnyvale Chapel. As with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.
Grandchildren don’t get to choose who their grandparents are. When we are born they just show up and we have to accept them.
My Dad’s parents died when I was five. I really don’t remember very much about them at all. I remember the Gerencser farm, the outhouse, the wood cook stove, and the funny language Grandma and Grandpa spoke.
My Mom’s side of the family “blessed” me with two sets of grandparents, Grandma Rausch and Grandma and Grandpa Tieken.
I don’t know how old I was before I realized that Grandma Rausch used to be Grandma Tieken.
For most of my life, Grandma Rausch was the only grandparent I had. She wasn’t perfect but she loved me. I was, after all, grandson number one. She taught me to love baseball and to be passionate about life. She had her faults, but I never doubted for one moment that she loved me.
Here is what I remember about you and Grandpa Tieken.
I remember every Christmas being a day of anxiety and turmoil. I remember the fights, and you and Grandma Rausch not being able to be in the same room together. This was resolved by having two Christmases, two of every holiday
I remember Grandpa’s nasty and violent temper.
I remember Grandpa slugging your son David, my teenage uncle, knocking him off his chair onto the kitchen floor. I saw Grandpa hit him more than a few times.
I remember Grandpa beating the shit out of my brother and me because we took apart an old telephone that was in the garage.
Wonderful childhood memories.
Do I have any good memories of you and Grandpa Tieken?
I have two.
I remember Grandpa taking us up in an airplane he had just overhauled, and I vividly remember Grandpa taking me to a Detroit Tigers vs. Cleveland Indians game at Briggs Stadium in 1968. I got to see Mickey Lolich pitch. He bought me a Tiger’s pennant.
You were always a church- going Christian. What were you thinking when you married the drinking, carousing John Tieken? But you won, and Grandpa Tieken found Jesus.
For the next 30- plus years you and Grandpa were devoted followers of Jesus. I remember going to Sunnyvale Chapel every time we came to visit you. I remember singing the Countdown song (see notes) in junior church.
As I got older I began to understand things from my Mom’s perspective. Her relationship with you and her Dad was always strained. Lots of turmoil, lots of stress. Lots of angry words and cussing.
She showed me the letters you and she traded. So much anger, so little Jesus.
Mom told me about her younger years. She told me about what went on and what happened to her. Awful things. Shameful things. She told me about confronting Grandpa about these things and he told her that God had forgiven him and they were under the blood. Not one word of sorrow or admission of guilt, not even a sorry. A new life in Christ wiped the slate clean.
I have often wondered if Mom’s mental illness found its root in the events that took place on a Missouri farm when she was but a youth. I know she felt she could never measure up and you, and Grandpa had a real knack for reminding the family of their shortcomings. After all, we were Bob Gerencser’s kids.
When I went to college I lived a few miles away from you. For the first time I learned how controlling and demanding you and Grandpa could be. Now I know I wasn’t the perfect grandson; I remember charging to your home phone some long- distance phone calls to Polly. That aside, you did your best to manipulate and control my life.
When I started pastoring churches you and Grandpa started sending us money through the church. We really appreciated it and it was a big help. And then it stopped. Why? The church treasurer didn’t send you your giving statement when you expected it and just like that you stopped sending the money. Did our need change?
When I was pastoring in Somerset, Ohio you and Grandpa came to visit a few times. Polly and I will never forget these visits. How could we?
I remember you and Grandpa sitting in the last pew in the back, on the left side. The building was packed. This was during the time when the church was growing rapidly. After I preached and gave an invitation, I asked if anyone had something to share. Grandpa did. He stood and told the entire congregation what was wrong with my sermon. I wanted to die. He thoroughly embarrassed and shamed me.
I remember when you came to visit us in Junction City. Again, how can I forget the visit? This was your last visit to my home, twenty-three years ago.
Grandpa spent a good bit of time lecturing me about my car being dirty. Evidently, having a dirty car was a bad testimony. Too bad he didn’t take that same approach with Mom.
After dinner — oh, I remember it as if it were yesterday! — we were sitting in the living room and one of our young children got too close to Grandpa. What did he do? He kicked him. I knew then and there that, regardless of his love for Jesus, he didn’t love our family, and he would always be a mean son-of-a-bitch.
I think we saw you and Grandpa once or twice after that. I remember driving to Pontiac to see Grandpa after his cancer surgery. He was out of it. If I remember correctly, you took us to lunch at a buffet.
For his seventy-fifth birthday you had a party for Grandpa. You called a few days before the party and told me that if I was any kind of grandson at all that my family and I would be at the party. Never mind Polly would have to take off work. Never mind the party was on a night we had church. All that mattered to you was that we showed up to give Grandpa’s birthday party an air of respectability.
I remember what came next like it was yesterday. The true Ann rose to the surface and you proceeded to tell me what a terrible grandson I was and how terrible my family was. You were vicious and vindictive.
Finally, after forty years, I had had enough. I told you that you should have worried about the importance of family twenty years ago. I then told you that I was no longer interested in having any contact with you or Grandpa. Like my mother, I decided to get off the Tieken drama train.
And that is where things remained for a long time.
In 2003, I moved to Clare, Michigan to pastor a Southern Baptist church. In what can only be a cruel twist of fate, our family moved to the same gated community that you and your new husband lived in. What are the odds? You lived less than two miles from my home.
You came to visit the church I pastored and invited us over to dinner. I didn’t want to come, but I thought, what kind of Christian am I? Surely, I can forgive and let the past be the past.
And so we went. Things went fairly well until you decided to let me know, as if it was a fact that everyone knew, that my father was not really my father. I showed no reaction to this revelation, but it stunned me and cut me right to the quick. I knew my Mom was pregnant when she married Dad but I had never before heard what you were telling me.
Why did you tell me this? What good could ever come of it? Believe me, I still have not gotten past this. I have come to see that what you told me is probably the truth, but to what end was the telling of this truth?
Church members were excited to find out that I was the grandson to Gramma Clarke (her new married name) , a fine, kind, loving, Christian woman if there ever was one, they told me. All I ever told them is that things are not always as they seem.
Of course I understood how this dualistic view of you was possible. You and Grandpa were always good at the smile real big, I love Jesus game, all the while stabbing your family in the back. It is a game that a lot of Christians play.
Nine years have passed since I last saw you in Clare, Michigan. Life moves on. I have a wonderful wife, six kids, and eight grandchildren. And I am an atheist.
You must have done a Facebook search for me because you “found” me. You sent me an email that said:
What ? An athiest ?? Sorry Sorry Sorry !!!What happened ? How’s Polly & your family??
Nine years and this is what you send me?
Ann, you need to understand something. I am not interested in reviving any kind of relationship with you. One of the things I have learned in counseling is that I get to choose whom I want to associate with, whom I want to be friends with.
My counselor and I spend a lot of time talking about family and the past. He told me, Bruce it is OK to not be friends with people you don’t want to be friends with. No more loving everyone because Jesus loves everyone. I am free to love whom I want.
I don’t wish you any ill will. That said, I don’t want to have a relationship with you, especially a pretend Facebook friendship. Ooh Look! Bruce got reconnected with his estranged Grandmother. Isn’t God good!!
Not gonna happen. I have exactly zero interest in pursuing a relationship with you. It is too late.
My “good” memories of you and Grandpa are few and far between (and I haven’t even mentioned things that I am still, to this day, too embarrassed to mention). You really don’t know me and I don’t know you. And that’s okay.
Life is messy, Ann, and this is one mess in aisle three that no one can clean up. I have been told that I have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. This is perhaps a true assessment of me. I told Polly tonight that I am quite willing to forgive but it is hard to do when there is never an admission of guilt or the words I am sorry are never uttered. How can there be since the blood of Jesus wipes away every shitty thing a person has ever done? Talk about a get out of responsibility for sin card.
I am sure you will think I am just like my mother. I am.
You know what my last memory of my Mom is? After I tearfully and with a broken heart concluded my 54-year-old Mom’s graveside service, Grandpa Tieken took the “opportunity” to preach at us and tell us that Mom was in heaven. Just days before she had put a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger. We all were reeling with grief and pain and Grandpa, in a classic Grandma-and-Grandpa-Tieken moment, decided to preach instead of love.
The Countdown Song
Somewhere in outer space
God has prepared a place
For those who trust Him and obey
Jesus will come again
And though we don’t know when
The countdown’s getting lower every day.
10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5 and 4,
Call upon the Savior while you may,
3 and 2, coming through the clouds in bright array
The countdown’s getting lower every day.
Jesus was crucified, suffered and bled he died,
But on the cross He did not stay
He made this promise true, I will come back for you,
The countdown’s getting lower every day.
Soon will the trumpet sound, and we’ll rise off the ground
With Christ forever will we be
Children where will you be, throughout eternity?
The countdown’s getting lower every day!
Angela Strassheim Photo of of Naked Pregnant Woman
For those of us raised in the Evangelical/fundamentalist church, we are quite familiar with the fear preachers and church leaders have of exposed breasts and cleavage. Women are oft reminded to cover up, lest the weak, pathetic men of the church throw them down in the middle aisle of the church and ravage them. As the recent GRACE report on sexual abuse and rape at Bob Jones University reveals, women are viewed as temptresses out to beguile helpless men. This kind of thinking is found in the Bible:
For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adultress will hunt for the precious life.Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. (Proverbs 6:23-29)
For at the window of my house I looked through my casement,And beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, Passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house,In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night: And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart. She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house: Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.) So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him, I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows. Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee. I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves. For the goodman is not at home, he is gone a long journey: He hath taken a bag of money with him, and will come home at the day appointed. With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him.He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life. Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:6-27)
Clay Yarborough, 33, is president of the Jacksonville, Florida city council. Yarborough, an Evangelical, attends First Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation. Fundamentalist Mac Brunson is his pastor, Recently, Yarborough objected to the city providing funding for an art display that included a picture of a naked pregnant woman on a couch. Yarborough stated:
“I am trying to promote a positive moral climate in our city and though some will defend the pornography by labeling it ‘art,’ we need boundaries in order to be healthy, especially where it concerns our children.”
“The man is entitled to his own opinion,But I don’t think it in any way is pornography. Maybe he hasn’t seen enough porn.”
The more enlightened in Jacksonville rightly poked fun at Yarborough’s fear of breasts. Here’s a picture of a protester that was posted on The Folio Weekly:
Picketer Supports Exhibit with a Ban Boobs from City Hall Sign
As a photographer, I think the photo celebrates the beauty of womanhood and pregnancy. It was tastefully done and in no way is it pornography. Unlike Yarborough, I have seen porn and this ain’t it. (though I highly doubt, being the good Baptist boy that he is, that Yarborough has never, ever seen porn)
The Cultural Council stands ready to defend the artistic and curatorial choices of our cultural service grantees.
Council President Yarborough’s objection to a photography exhibit featuring the human form, which has been present in museums, homes and galleries since the dawn of time, is unfortunate and could be viewed as an effort to stifle artistic expression. This particular exhibit, which celebrates the “transitional points” in life – “the precious, fleeting nature of childhood and adolescence” – opened to rave reviews last week. We’re proud to have an organization of MOCA’s caliber in our community and we stand behind it, it’s executive and the artist behind this amazing exhibit.
Mark Woods, writing for the Florida Times-Union, sums it up best when he writes (link no longer active);
It was almost noon on Black Friday. While many people undoubtedly were busy doing something wholesome, like preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ with a new big-screen TV, I headed downtown, paid my $8 and went inside a building to see some porn.
Or at least that’s how the president of the Jacksonville City Council views what’s in the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville these days…
…We do know this: There is an image in MOCA of a nude woman lying on a couch, her breasts and pregnant belly visible.
That’s right. A female nude with bare breasts and a round belly. In a museum. Shocking, right?
From the Cummer to the Louvre, pretty much every museum in the world has more than a few nudes, male and female, sometimes even together, sometimes holding naked babies. And have you seen that chapel in Italy? Nudes everywhere. Even the ceiling. Not sure what porn-peddler was responsible for that.
Even by itself, without any context whatsoever, it’s hard to imagine the photo in MOCA coming anywhere close to the legal definition of pornography. And the photo isn’t hanging by itself. It is one of 14 in a new exhibit on the towering atrium wall. The basic themes of this exhibit are — please cover your young one’s eyes — childhood and motherhood…
…I’m not exactly sure what Yarborough wants to see hanging in the atrium, what will avoid his personal version of the “I know it when I see it” definition of pornography. Something without nudity, I presume. Maybe a giant still life of fruit. (Well, as long as there’s not two bananas together. That clearly would be wrong.) Or better yet, how about some nice velvet art? But, please, no dogs playing poker. That only would glorify the issue we have with canine gambling.
In all seriousness, this City Council and its president had been on such a roll. I was preparing to come back to the paper and heap praise on them for doing a lot of hard, serious work and avoiding the kind of silliness that has marred the past. But now it appears we’re taking a detour back down Silly Street.
It would be one thing if Yarborough wanted to argue that tax dollars shouldn’t be used for anything related to the arts. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, but I’d be able to respect that position more than the idea that tax dollars should be pulled from this museum because of this photo.
If the councilman wants to bemoan taxpayer-funded titillation, he might want to check out a football game or concert or a lot of other things that, while still far from pornography, might not send the best message to kids…
When this story first came out I posted it to my wife’s Facebook page, complete with the photo of nude pregnant lady. Within seconds, several people reported the posting to Facebook. We suspect that the offended are several of our fundamentalist extended family members. Go back and look at the photo again. Is there anything that suggests impropriety or that a teenager seeing it would be harmed (since the minimum age for a Facebook account is 13)? This is silly, isn’t it? Yet, countless Evangelicals have this irrational fear of breasts. Preachers have spent endless hours reminding women to cover up lest the poor, pathetic men of the church be led astray. Perhaps it is time to teach men to embrace their sexuality. Stop treating men like they are helpless and stop treating women like they are temptresses out to bed any man who dares to gaze upon her comeliness. We do live in the 21st century, yes?