Menu Close

Tag: The Gospel Coalition

The Insanity of the ‘Life Begins at Fertilization’ Movement

aaron wilson

The goal of the pro-life movement is to make ALL abortion illegal. They will not stop their war against women until fertilized eggs receive the same constitutional protections afforded post-birth humans. Using the incremental approach, pro-lifers have successfully made it impossible for women in many states to get an abortion. Some zealots even go so far as to say that birth control should be outlawed. I have no doubt that once the U.S. Supreme Court is at full strength that zygote warriors will attempt to re-litigate Roe v. Wade.

I have written several articles on abortion you might find helpful:

Abortion Facts, Lies, and Contradictions

25 Questions for Those who say Abortion is Murder

Why it is Impossible to Talk to Pro-Life Zealots About Abortion

Frozen Embryos: If Life Begins at Conception

Tristan Vick also wrote an article for this site on abortion titled, Is Abortion Murder? (A Rationalist’s Take).

Several years ago, The Gospel Coalition — a Fundamentalist, Calvinistic, parachurch group — published an article by Aaron Wilson titled, What Christians Should Know About Embryo Adoption. That’s right, EMBRYO ADOPTION.  Tens of thousands of children need adoptive families, yet people such as Aaron Wilson are focused on rescuing frozen embryos — who are, in their minds, human beings with constitutional rights — from being criminally murdered. Here’s some of what Wilson had to say:

A hallmark of the evangelical church in America is the backing of a pro-life worldview. As such, abortion clinics and the politics that govern them are primary areas of focus in this important cause. However, there’s another front that often gets overlooked in the fight for life: the state of the thousands of children who remain cryogenically frozen as human embryos following in-vitro fertilization cycles.

A growing Christian response to this issue is the life-affirming answer of embryo adoption.

If you haven’t heard of embryo adoption, you’re not alone. Even though thousands of children in the United States could immediately benefit from this act of love, many people—Christians included—remain unaware of this adoptive need.

Because embryo adoption can be confusing, here are six answers to common questions.

1. What is embryo adoption?

Embryo adoption is a way to care for children who, for lack of a better phrase, are “left over” and kept in a cryogenic state following an in-vitro fertilization cycle. Through embryo adoption, an adopting mother gives these children a chance at birth by allowing their embryonic form to be thawed and transferred to her uterus. If one or more implant, the mother then carries and births the child (or children) though she is not genetically related to them. Embryo adoption is often referred to as pre-birth adoption.

2. Isn’t embryo adoption the same thing as in-vitro fertilizatio (IVF)?

No. In many ways, it’s the opposite. In-vitro fertilization creates life as a form of reproductive technology. Embryo adoption is a response to the fact that life has already been created and that it needs a womb to continue developing the way God intended babies to grow.

3. How many embryonic babies exist in cryopreservation?

In the United States alone, a projected 700,000 children exist as frozen embryos. Of these, an estimated 10,000 to 11,000 are available to be adopted. That number grows every week. These statistics reflect two pressing needs: A movement of families who are willing to adopt and an awareness of the life-affirming options available to parents who already have remaining embryos.

4. Is embryo adoption really adoption?

Because the U.S. government doesn’t agree with the Bible’s claim that life begins at fertilization, embryo adoption isn’t considered legal adoption in America. The government only sees human embryos as cells, and so treats embryo adoption as a mere transfer of property. As such, many fertility clinics prefer “embryo donation.”

Biblically informed Christians, however, shouldn’t shy away from using life-honoring terms. Just as Jesus was adopted by Joseph in a preborn state (not received as a donation from God), Christians should honor life by using theologically accurate language.

….

6. How can I care for frozen children?

….

Inform. Most people have never heard of embryo adoption. Those who have often confuse it with IVF. Much adoption evangelism needs to take place inside the church on behalf of these frozen lives. Share embryo adoption articles on social media. Talk with friends. Do research. Talk to your elders and your small group about ways your church can be involved in the mission field that is embryo adoption.

….

Adopt. The most powerful way to care for these tiniest of children is to personally open a womb and a home to them. A great place to start is to check out the website of the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) in Knoxville, Tennessee.

When God Became an Embryo

Jesus didn’t leave his throne for a manager, at least not directly. He first left his throne nine months earlier for a womb.

How much grander is the story of the incarnation when we realize the Son of God went from ruling the universe to becoming the smallest, most dependent, most microscopic form of human life. The God who authored a world that can’t be measured, humbled himself into a form that can’t be seen.

And this same God who became a human embryo to save sinners would have his church stand up for the many human embryos regularly discarded or frozen indefinitely. Consider how you can expand your pro-life passion toward the littlest lives by championing the cause of embryo adoption.

As someone who believes women should have the unrestricted right to an abortion pre-viability, Wilson’s article is a reminder of the impossibility of working with pro-lifers to reduce the number of abortions. Unable to differentiate between a blob of cells and a human life, pro-lifers obstinately refuse to compromise their beliefs. This is why I no longer waste my time arguing or debating with members of God’s Zygote Squad®. Their Fundamentalist religious views have blinded them to the horrific damage caused by their incessant assault on reproductive rights. They will not rest until Ozzie and Harriett, Leave it to Beaver, and the Duggars are the gold standard for American families.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

I Smell Fear: Another Gospel Coalition Article on “Deconstruction”

fear

Yesterday, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) published yet another article on “deconstruction,” this one by Alisa Childers. The excerpt that follows comes from a longer version of the article on Childers’ site than what appeared on TGC’s website. (Please see Alisa Childers, Let’s Deconstruct a Deconversion Story: The Case of Rhett and Link, March 1, 2020.)

TGC, as with many Evangelical parachurch organizations and talking heads, is alarmed over the attention being given to deconstruction and deconversion stories. What was once talked about with whispers is now front and center everywhere one looks. Keepers of the Evangelical flame could, at one time, ignore such stories, writing them off as the rumblings of discontented, disaffected, poorly taught people in love with the world more than with God. These explanations no longer work. Thanks to the Internet, those who are deconstructing, have deconstructed, or have deconverted have a very public place to share their stories. Google has become their friend, as more and more people seek out help for their questions and doubts about God, the Bible, Christianity, the church, and the modern culture wars (primarily being waged by Evangelicals). No longer satisfied with the non-answer answers given to them by their pastors, these Doubting Thomases look for non-threatening places where their concerns will be given a hearing. And this, it seems, has scared the shit out of the people behind TGC. How else do we explain their preoccupation, and that of other defenders of orthodoxy, with deconstruction and deconversion?

Here’s what Childers had to say:

In my book, Another Gospel: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity, which chronicles my own deconstruction journey, I define deconstruction this way: 

In the context of faith, deconstruction is the process of systematically dissecting and often rejecting the beliefs you grew up with. Sometimes the Christian will deconstruct all the way into atheism. Some remain there, but others experience a reconstruction. But the type of faith they end up embracing almost never resembles the Christianity they formerly knew.

I would add that it rarely retains any vestiges of actual Christianity. 

Over the past year or so, it has become common for Christian leaders to begin to refer to deconstruction as something potentially positive. I get it. When I first heard that take, I thought, “Hmmm. That could work. Just deconstruct the false beliefs and line up what you believe with Scripture.” I was operating from the foundational belief that objective truth exists and can be known. But as I continued to study the movement, this understanding of deconstruction became untenable.  

That’s because the way the word is most often used in the deconstruction movement has little to do with objective truth, and everything to do with tearing down whatever doctrine someone believes is morally wrong. Take, for example, Melissa Stewart, a former Christian now agnostic/atheist with a TikTok following of over 200k. She describes how lonely and isolated she felt during her own deconstruction, and how discovering the #exvangelical hashtag opened up a whole new world of voices who related with what she was going through. Her TikTok platform now gives her the opportunity to create that type of space for others. In an interview on the Exvangelical Podcast, she commented on the deconstruction/exvangelical online space: 

My biggest experiences with it were people talking about what they went through—their stories—and it was very personal and it focused on the human beings who have come out of this, rather than on whether a certain kind of theology is right or wrong.

In my experience studying this movement, I think she nails it on the head. Deconstruction is not about getting your theology right. It’s built upon a postmodern-ish embrace of moral relativism. For example, if your church says a woman can’t be a pastor, the virtuous thing to do would be to leave that church and deconstruct out of that toxic and oppressive doctrine. Deconstructionists do not regard Scripture as being the final authority for morality and theology—they appeal primarily to science, culture, psychology, sociology, and history. 

….

Recent comments by Matt Chandler have made the rounds in which he characterized deconstruction as “the sexy thing to do,” hitting on the almost trendy type of cool factor the word now carries. Aside from giving the deconstructionists endless opportunities to make him the butt of their “Matt Chandler thinks I’m sexy!” jokes and memes, his comments (along with the recent comments by John Cooper of Skillet) have revealed that many Christians are using this one word in profoundly different ways. For example, Relevant magazine claims Chandler and Cooper have a “fundamental misunderstanding” of deconstruction. I disagree. I admit I’ve had a few quibbles with points Matt Chandler has made in recent years. But on this I think he understands something they don’t. He links deconstruction with the postmodernism of Derrida, and in a subsequent Instagram post, commented, “Deconstruction doesn’t mean doubt or theological wrestle or struggling through church hurt.” (All things he said he’s been through and has tons of mercy for.) I think he’s dead right.

We are Christians, and we should be deriving our vocabulary and categories from Scripture.  I see nowhere in the Bible where anything like the current movement of deconstruction is promoted or condoned. I propose we leave it with Derrida and instead use biblical words and categories like doubt, reformation, discernment, and even sometimes, (gasp!) apostasy.

Let’s save deconstruction for what it presents itself to be. Here are some characteristics to look for if you think you might be deconstructing: 

1.     Some type of moral relativism is assumed, whether explicitly or implicitly. If Scripture is your authority, you are not deconstructing. That doesn’t mean you’re not struggling deeply with doubt, seeking healing from church abuse, or have profound confusion over what it means to be a Christian.
2.     You are detaching from the body of Christ and seeking only the community of others who are also in deconstruction. If you are working through your doubts and questions in community with other believers, or at least have the intention of doing so, you are not deconstructing. Sometimes this will mean leaving an unbiblical church environment for a time, with the goal of finding a healthy one.
3.     You are looking to non-Christian religious philosophies, history, or sociology—rather than Scripture— to determine authentic Christianity. Not that things like history and sociology are without merit, but if you are honestly seeking to derive your religious beliefs from Scripture, you are not deconstructing.

….

As Christians, we tend to protest when progressives and secularists take words and phrases like “love,” “tolerance,’ “biblical inspiration,” and “incarnation” and change the definitions to suit their preferences. Let’s not do the same with deconstruction

Deconstruction has taken on a life of its own, and now is the time to be extremely careful to define our words accurately. After all, if the word means everything, then it means nothing, yet it carries the potential to suck unsuspecting Christians into a very dangerous vortex of ideas from which they might not return.

According to Childers, those deconstructing are moral relativists.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines moral relativism this way:

Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.  It has often been associated with other claims about morality: notably, the thesis that different cultures often exhibit radically different moral values; the denial that there are universal moral values shared by every human society; and the insistence that we should refrain from passing moral judgments on beliefs and practices characteristic of cultures other than our own.

I could argue long and hard about morality, how all morality is inherently subjective — including that of Childers and her fellow Evangelicals. But, what I want to focus on instead is the clash of worldviews: one that believes the Bible is the ground for “objective” morality, and another worldview that is grounded in humanistic ideals. Childers, a Fundamentalist, believes the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. It is Big T Truth. As such, the Bible is the moral rulebook all humans are commanded by God to live by. Its moral pronouncements must never be doubted or questioned. God said it, end of discussion. Thus, abortion, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, premarital sex, masturbation, and a host of other things are crimes against the thrice-holy God of the Protestant Christian Bible. What ancient men 2,000-4,000 years ago wrote down in writings that were later made into a book must be obeyed at all times and in every circumstance. GOD HATH SPOKEN! No amendments, revisions, or memos are forthcoming. For Evangelicals, morality is set in stone, and anyone who suggests otherwise is _____________ (fill in the blank with whatever pejorative word Evangelicals use to describe those who refuse to play by their rules).

Humanism, on the other hand, takes a very different approach:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

As you can see, the worldview espoused by Childers and her friends at TGC is the polar opposite of that which is espoused by humanists. Childers’ foundation rests on the Bible, whereas humanists value science, skepticism, and rationalism. Childers admits as much when she says that people undergoing deconstruction tend to value “science, culture, psychology, sociology, and history” over the B-i-b-l-e (as if this is a bad thing).

Of course, Childers is right. The Bible is no match for science, culture, psychology, sociology, and history. Gone are the days of passing off Genesis 1-3 as science or with a straight face saying that the earth was destroyed by a flood 4,000 or so years ago. Think about all the Bible stories that were passed off as the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help me God. Think about all the stories that were ignored or sanitized, you know the ones that paint God in a bad light. Richard Dawkins was right when he said:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

This is the God the doubters and questioners see in the Old Testament. And the New Testament is no better. We see a blood cult sacrifice in Jesus’s atonement, misogyny in the writings of Paul, and the wrathful, violent, vindictive God makes a final, glorious appearance in the book of Revelation as he violently slaughters the human race, save the Evangelicals who have been raptured away.

Childers and the TGC want to maintain the status quo. Content to “reform” around the edges, they want things to remain just the way they are. This will, of course, only hasten the death of Evangelicalism. One need only look at attendance numbers to see that Evangelicalism is in decline. I have no doubt that this decline will only continue in the years ahead. What will become of Evangelicalism remains to be seen. I doubt the TGC gang will prevail.

Childers thinks it is okay to have doubts and questions as long as you seek out answers in the right places: theologically sound Evangelical churches. Seeking answers outside of the box is not permitted. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You Are In It and What I Found When I Left the Box.) Lurking outside of the box is are likes of Bruce Gerencser and other deconstruction commandos who only want to destroy your faith. This strawman, of course, is a figment of Childers’ and other protectors of the Evangelical realm’s imagination. I, for one, have never tried to deconvert anyone. Have people ended up walking away from Christianity (and the ministry) after reading my writing? Sure, but I don’t coerce people or try to evangelize. All I do is openly and honestly interact with people, something their pastors are unable or unwilling to do.

The smell of fear is in the air in Evangelical circles. Their house is crumbling, and instead of excavating the foundation, Evangelicals look for outside sources to blame for their demise. Deconversion is just the latest bogeyman underneath Evangelical beds.

I have one thing that Childers does not have: a story. A compelling story. A story that resonates with people who have doubts and questions. Surely, Childers knows the power of a good story. It seems, at least to me, that my story and that of other sevenfold children of Hell, is more compelling than the stories of the tired, less-than-believable stories told by Evangelical preachers Sunday after Sunday. My suggestion to TGC is that they come up with better stories. Better yet, write a better Bible. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Yet Another Evangelical Pastor Explains “Why” People Deconvert

why

Recently, The Gospel Coalition’s website featured an article titled 4 Causes of Deconstruction. Written by Joshua Ryan Butler, co-lead pastor of Redemption Church in Tempe, Arizona, the article purports to explain “why” Evangelicals deconstruct/deconvert. As you shall see, Butler trots out the same worn-out tropes used by other Evangelical preachers to “explain” why congregants are walking away from their churches.

Butler gives four causes of deconstruction (deconversion):

Church Hurt

Many who deconstruct have been wounded by abusive or manipulative church leaders, or generally unhealthy church cultures. Often these relationships were intimate and formative: the pastor you grew up with, the mentor you trusted. For others, the relationships are more distant. You grew up under the influence of leaders like Ravi Zacharias, Carl Lentz, or Mark Driscoll—whose teaching and charisma powerfully inspired you and formatively shaped you—but then the curtain got pulled back. The betrayal can make the whole thing look like a sham. The pain can be excruciating and disorienting.

It’s easier to throw the baby out with the bathwater when you feel like you’ve been drowning.

Church hurt is real. But deconstruction is a false cure.

Poor Teaching

Some Christians have been led to believe they must choose between faith and science, because of poor teaching on Genesis 1. Others have been led to believe God is a vindictive sadist, from a popular caricature of hell. Best abandon Christian faith entirely on account of some dubious or sloppy teaching, right?

Desire to Sin

Some deconstruct out of a desire to justify their sin. Many friends in ministry have suddenly had “big questions about God”—then proceeded to quickly deconstruct their faith. So many times, it later comes out they’d been having an affair that started well before their deconstruction began.

Street Cred

Doubt is hip. The desire to fit in with the cultural ethos of our moment is strong. That’s why so many deconversion stories sound like everyone’s reading off the same script—its well-worn clichés signaling conformity to accepted norms.

Celebrities are leading the charge. There’s influence to be had, platforms to be built, and money to be made. It gets Rob Bell on Oprah, bolsters Glennon Doyle’s book sales, and lets Rhett & Link host Nacho Libre and Harry Potter on their popular YouTube channel.

A wave of #exvangelical podcasters and TikTok stars are following in the wake, with a whole cottage industry to welcome and cheer them on. There’s clout in distancing oneself from “outdated” views of sex and gender, an “obscure” Bible with talking snakes and forbidden shellfish, and “offensive” doctrines like wrath and hell.

I’m not claiming to know the heart of such influencers. Motivations other than street cred can be powerfully at play. I’m simply observing that social pressure is a powerful carrot on the stick—and not just for celebrities.

The cultural hostility is real. Whether in progressive urban centers (like my hometown of Portland), or university environments (like where I currently live), Christians are decidedly not the cool kids. It’s hard to be the awkward one sitting alone at lunch. Many of us feel the social pressure—and the release valve is a simple Instagram post away.

My first response is sigh. Really? People deconvert because:

  • They were hurt by their churches/pastors
  • They were poorly taught
  • They secretly wanted to fuck their neighor
  • They wanted to be hip or cool

Ask one-hundred former Evangelicals why they deconverted, and few, if any, will list the causes above. Sure, bad church experiences play a part when people deconvert, but typically the worst of those experiences happened as we were leaving or after we left Evangelicalism. Most of the former Evangelicals I have interacted with since 2007 left Christianity for theological, social, or political reasons. Most left for intellectual reasons (though certainly their emotions played a part in their deconversions).

Count me as plumb tired (and irritated) with preachers such as Butler ‘splaining why former Evangelicals left Christianity. How about actually talking to former Evangelicals and finding out the REAL reasons they deconverted? How about reading their blogs, listening to their podcasts, or talking to them face to face? How about accepting their stories at face value?

How does Butler explain the increasing number of college-trained, experienced preachers deconverting? I have interacted with hundreds of former Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, worship leaders, youth leaders, and professors over the years. Such people do not fit neatly in Butler’s four corner box. Perhaps the real problem is Evangelicalism itself. Look in the mirror, Pastor Butler, you and your fellow Bible thumpers are the problem. Clergymen and congregants alike are fleeing Evangelical churches. Many of them move on to kinder, friendlier, more inclusive churches. Others, upon learning Evangelicalism is a house of cards built on a faulty foundation (inerrancy of the Bible), deconvert. Instead of recognizing the foundational causes that are driving people away, Butler and his fellows at The Gospel Coalition blame the people who left. Hurt. Ignorant. Lustful. Anything but open, honest, and introspective.

Butler says that some people deconvert because it’s cool. Sure, preacher man. It’s cool making yourself a target of Evangelical zealots. Personal attacks. Death threats. Hateful, nasty emails and social media comments (many of which come from Evangelical preachers themselves). What a “cool” life, right? I suspect that Butler knows that former Evangelicals telling their stories is having a meaningful impact on doubting, questioning believers. Instead of listening to stock bullshit answers peddled by Butler and his fellow preachers, these doubting Thomases find people who are willing to listen to them, willing to give voice to their own experiences.

Let me offer up some Biblical advice to Butler and his fellow Evangelical Calvinists at The Gospel Coalition: Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. (Proverbs 18:13)

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Rick Iglesias Sentenced to Nine Years in Prison for Sexual Assault

pastor rick iglesias

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 July 2019, Rick Diego Iglesias, the former senior pastor of Pleasant Valley Church in Winona, Minnesota, was charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual assault, including heightened charges because the good pastor held a position of authority over the victim.

The Winona Post reported at the time:

In late July, Winona Police Department investigators interviewed the alleged victim, who reported that he or she was repeatedly abused and raped over roughly three years, from 2010 to 2012, according to the criminal complaint.

Iglesias served as the senior pastor at Winona’s Pleasant Valley Church from 1994 to 2014 and more recently worked as a pastor in Mars, Penn. In a statement, Pleasant Valley Church Senior Pastor Chad Ellenburg called the news “devastating.” He wrote, “We are heartbroken for [Iglesias’] wife, Nancy, and son, Brennan, as we cannot imagine the pain and devastation they are experiencing at this time. We are also hurting for the victim, but thankful that they had the courage to come forward. We are praying for them as well as anyone who might be affected here at Pleasant Valley or in this community.”

“We are also deeply grieved that our former pastor, by his actions and deception, failed to faithfully represent Jesus Christ and his Gospel,” Ellenburg continued. “We have done, and will continue to do, everything we can to fully cooperate with the authorities. We will also continue to support and pray for the family, the victim, and those who will carry the responsibility of pursuing justice in this situation.”

In 2007, Iglesias was interviewed by Trevin Wax for a The Gospel Coalition article. TGC has removed the article from their site, but I was able to find a cached copy of the interview. Here’s an excerpt:

I began by asking Rick about his spiritual background and his call to ministry. Rick grew up in a family environment that took seriously the commands of God. Though his family was Roman Catholic, Rick believes his early family life equipped him for future service in the way that “God was honored, prayer was valued, the church was central and service to others was modeled.” Rick’s religious upbringing shaped his values and experiences.

Rick came to saving faith in Christ during his freshman year in college through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. During those years in college, Rick was discipled by other Christians and through his experiences he received a “greater vision for God’s purpose in the world and my part in that.”

As he began participating in local church ministry and foreign mission trips, Rick began to sense the Lord speaking to him about a calling to full-time ministry. To clarify this call, Rick spent extended times in the Word seeking to discern God’s call on his life. “I recall spending a weekend away during my senior year in college with a pastor friend, and as he prayed over me, he prayed a simple prayer, but one that the Lord used at that point in my life: ‘Rick, be like Jesus! Have compassion on the troubled, helpless crowds that have no Shepherd! Be ashamed to die until you have won a major victory for the unreached of the world.’” God used the encouragement and support of godly men around Rick to clarify his calling. “I’ve always believed that you need a specific call not to be in ministry. God calls us to change the world. I believe He called me through circumstances, the Word, people in my life, and an inner peace that continues to this day,” he says boldly. Though Rick understood that God had called him to the ministry, he had some doubts as to how that would all take place. He served full-time at a church for seven years in a college ministry before going to seminary. His journey to seminary was a leap of faith, for he had no money, time, or desire to devote four years to study. Yet, the Lord spoke through his Word and through the generosity of faithful Christians supplied all his financial needs while in seminary.

“Every time that God has spoken and I have tried to respond with obedience, He has more than met me where I needed Him to be,” he testifies.

Rick has never faced any doubts about being in full-time ministry, although rough leadership meetings or discouraging emails occasionally threaten to steal his focus. During the tough moments of ministry, Rick is sustained by the transformation he sees taking place in his people’s lives. “We have front row seats to the life-transforming acts of God!” he says. Being in ministry is a privilege.

When asked about the necessary character traits that Scripture demands of church leaders, Rick mentions two that encompass many others: a passion for God and a compassion for people. “If you have a passion for God, you will be honest and faithful, and you will love the Word, live out your faith, and develop a whole host of traits that God calls us to exhibit as we walk with Him. If you have compassion for people, you will be compassionate and patient, passionate toward the lost, and a whole host of other traits that we need to model in our relationships with people.” The rubric of “loving God” and “loving people” comes from Jesus himself. Therefore, Rick believes that our character traits will come from this perspective.

Rick’s personal struggle is maintaining an “all-consuming passion for God” every day. Though he prays and spends time in the Word, he finds that a burning passion for God’s presence often eludes him. Rick’s goal is to “be connected to Jesus each and every day, to walk so closely that I hear his heartbeat for the lost, for the least, for the lonely, for those that he places in my path.” Keeping that desire at the forefront of his spiritual life is his deepest struggle.

Rick mentions several ways he protects himself from temptation. He meets with two pastor friends every week for accountability. “I have been meeting with these pastors for over 12 years now, so we are transparent and free to share some of the ugliest aspects of our lives,” he says. He also has safeguards on the computer to ensure that internet pornography does not become a snare. He carries a small card in his wallet that lists all the blessings that come from his ministry and what would happen if he were to fall. “Remember – temptation is an opportunity to do good!” he says.

When asked about temptations that plague other ministers, he lists off character flaws and actions such as selfishness, pride, being an overbearing authority figure, compromising integrity, lack of sexual purity, and lacking balance between ministry and family.

…..

Iglesias resigned from Pleasant Valley Church in 2014. The Winona Post reported at the time:

Although he seems too humble to admit it, Rick Iglesias is the kind of man who cannot walk into a room without a few people rushing over to greet him with a strong handshake or an enthusiastic hug. Iglesias’ magnetism can be attributed to many things, from his friendly demeanor to his ever-present grin, but for many, it is his service as lead pastor of Pleasant Valley Church (PVC) for 20 years that stands out above all. “Our focus is to have a real, strong community presence,” Iglesias said. “[We try to have a] positive impact on the community in many ways.”

After resigning from his position this past fall, Iglesias is still very much active in the Winona community, evidenced from his time spent at Winona Senior High School (WSHS) talking to Spanish classes, as well as the abundance of people who make an effort to stop and thank him for his service over the years. His continued community involvement is not surprising; Iglesias and his wife Nancy have called Winona and PVC home since moving to Southeast Minnesota from suburban Chicago in October of 1994. For the past 20 years they have built a life together that includes their son, Brennan, a senior at WSHS, so it will be a bittersweet moment when Iglesias and his family move sometime after Brennan’s graduation in the spring. “When my wife and I came to Winona, we wanted to get involved in the community,” Iglesias explained. “We want to give back to Winona as much as we can.”

Over his tenure as lead pastor Iglesias has helped to shape the lives of people across many demographics, but he admitted to holding a special affinity toward young adults in the community, including college students and those with young families. “We have really strong ministries with youth,” he explained. “We try to make Christianity practical and accessible.” Prior to arriving in Winona, Iglesias worked at a college ministry, and was surprised at the lack of involvement between the church and Winona State University, Saint Mary’s University and Minnesota State College–Southeast Technical. “Here’s a town with three colleges and frankly, there was not a lot going on,” Iglesias remembered thinking. “We need to focus on the next generation.” In the coming years Iglesias, along with fellow PVC administrators and members, focused on how to involve the younger population of Winona, and started initiatives such as ministries aimed at middle school, high school and college students, Monday night contemporary service, and classes to help with money management and other life skills. “I’ve had college students come up to me and tell me ‘PVC has made all the difference [in] my college experience,’” Iglesias said. “There is no success without successors.”

….

In July 2021, Iglesias pleaded guilty to criminal sexual misconduct.

The Winona Post reported at the time:

Former Winona pastor Rick Diego Iglesias pled guilty today to repeatedly sexually abusing a child under 16, but whether he will be sentenced to prison time remains to be seen.

Iglesias, the 66-year-old former pastor of Pleasant Valley Church, was charged in 2019 with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct after the victim told Winona Police Department investigators they were repeatedly abused from 2010 to 2012. A witness, Iglesias’ former boss at a Pennsylvania church, testified that Iglesias admitted to the crimes. Iglesias was charged with the highest-level sex crimes under Minnesota law because, prosecutors initially alleged, he held “a position of authority” over the victim and the victim was under 16. He pled not guilty earlier this year.

Under a plea deal announced today, the Winona County Attorney’s Office dropped the three original, first-degree charges, and Iglesias pled guilty to a lower but still serious charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Iglesias admitted he held a “significant relationship” over the victim beyond just being a pastor, and that the victim was under 16 at the time. Iglesias admitted to multiple instances of sexually abusing the minor over an extended period of time.

“Your reason for [pleading guilty] is primarily that you don’t want to put the victim through the trauma of having a trial, is that correct?” defense attorney Kurt Knuesel asked his client. “Yes,” Iglesias testified.

The plea deal leaves Iglesias’ sentence to be determined. The maximum sentence is 25 years in prison, and Leahy said the presumptive sentence in this case would be 7.5-15 years in prison. The three charges that were dropped carried penalties of up to 30 years each.

Knuesel hopes to persuade the court to sentence Iglesias to probation alone, with a stayed sentence hanging over his head if he violates probation. Prosecutor Christina Galewski said she’ll seek prison time.

Yesterday, he was sentenced to nine years in prison.

The Winona Post reports:

A two-year-long criminal case came to an emotional end on Wednesday as Judge Mary Leahy sentenced former Winona pastor Rick Diego Iglesias, 66, to nine years in prison for the crime of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. He pleaded guilty earlier this summer to abusing a child under 16, over whom he had a position of authority, many times between 2010 and 2012. The Winona Police Department and Winona County Attorney’s Office first brought charges in September 2019 after the victim came forward.

Earlier this summer, Leahy kept open the option of probation without prison time, and at Wednesday’s sentencing hearing mental health professionals testified that Iglesias was at low risk of reoffending. However, representing the victim’s wishes, Assistant County Attorney Christina Galewski pushed for the nine-year sentence Leahy ultimately agreed to.

Leahy said Iglesias’ position as a well-respected pastor “provided a mask” that partly enabled his abuse to go unnoticed and his crime hurt the community as well as the victim. She stressed the gravity of his offense. “It didn’t happen just once or twice, but many times over a period of time,” she said. Leahy continued, “You held a position of trust, and you violated that trust.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Inerrancy Means “Without Error” Until it Doesn’t 

inerrancy

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Several years ago, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) posted an interview of Dr. D.A. Carson. Carson is the president of The Gospel Coalition and a research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity SchoolIvan Mesa, an editor for TGC, conducted the interview. Mesa begins the interview by defining what he believes has been the historic Christian belief on inerrancy. Mesa writes (link no longer active):

“Scripture cannot be broken,” our Lord Jesus said without qualification (John 10:35).  Throughout history his followers have believed the Bible, as a divinely given book, is fully trustworthy and contains no error. To use a more specific term, it’s inerrant.

Carson repeats this well-worn Evangelical belief:

The word “inerrancy” simply means without error; the doctrine of inerrancy is nothing more than the affirmation that the Bible always tells the truth.

Based on what Mesa and Carson have stated, it is easy to conclude that Evangelicals believe that the Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, is without error. This article of faith is the foundation of Evangelical belief, and the vast majority of church members believe that the Bible they hold in their hands is without mistakes. On Sundays, countless Evangelical pastors will remind parishioners that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Evangelicals will leave church on Sunday believing their precious KJV/NIV/NASB/ESV Bible is without error, mistake, or contradiction.

Yet, these very same preachers will go to a pastor’s meetings on Tuesday and participate in discussions over lunch about the errors and contradictions in the Biblical text. These men of God KNOW that there is no such thing as an inerrant translation, yet they deliberately deceive church members about the nature and history of the Bible. These preachers know that doubting the Word of God is the first step out the door of the church. Better to cross one’s fingers behind one’s back when saying the Bible is the inerrant Word of God than have church members doubting the infallibility, perspicuity, and veracity of the Bible

While both Mesa and Carson unapologetically claim to believe in inerrancy, they are less than honest about what they REALLY mean when they say the Bible is inerrant. Mesa asked Carson, “If the word ’inerrancy’ requires so much careful definition and discussion, is it still the best word to use today?”  Why does the word “inerrancy” require “much careful definition and discussion”? If the Bible is “inerrant,” what further explanation is needed?

Carson goes on to state:

a) Inerrancy is not to be confused with precisionism. We expect more precise statements only where the context demands them. “It took him three hours to walk home” may be a true statement, even if it took him two and three-quarters hours, provided the context leads the reader to expect rounded-off figures.

(b) Inerrancy does not refer to grammatical irregularities. To think otherwise is to misunderstand how language works: usage drives change, and in every culture the degree of conformity between usage and a somewhat artificial grammar-book ideal varies with different strata.

(c) The Bible includes countless passages where its “truthfulness” is not the controlling issue. Consider, for example, the anguished laments of Scripture—for example, Jesus’s anguished lament “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is true, of course, that Jesus said this, but as for the words themselves, the focus of interest is less on their truthfulness than on their meaning. By contrast, the assertion that Ehud was left-handed (Judges 3:15) makes a factual claim that is either true or untrue. This is one of the reasons why inerrancy is a useful expression. It is potentially misleading to say “all Scripture tells the truth” if we thereby convey the impression that “Scripture is nothing more than factual expressions.” But to say “all Scripture is inerrant” is to affirm that it is without error, and this negation of untruthfulness covers all of the Bible indiscriminately.

These and similar discussions of inerrancy may seem like nitpicking to some conservatives, while many liberals infer from such discussions that the term itself is useless if it requires so much “careful definition and discussion,” as your question puts it. But the obvious riposte is that once a word or concept is challenged, there is no important term that does not require “careful definition and discussion.” God? Love? Justification? Truth? Spiritual? Trinity? Messiah? Inerrancy is no different. Like the other words, and countless more like them, it can serve as a useful one-word summary, even while it needs unpacking with care and with great attention to what Scripture says.

In other words, Carson’s “inerrant” Bible is not without error after all. And what neither Carson or Mesas state in the interview is that, for Evangelicals, inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts — the original texts that no one has ever seen. There are no original manuscripts so, strictly speaking, inerrancy is a myth. It is a derivative belief based on the notion that since God is perfect in all his ways, somewhere in the process of giving his Words to man, there must have been perfect texts.

It is time for Mesa, Carson, and Evangelical pastors to admit to their congregations that the Bibles they hold in their hands (or read on their iPads) are not inerrant. They need to frankly confess that there are no original documents, and all that Christians have are cobbled-together Bibles littered with errors, contradictions, and internal inconsistencies. The so-called “inerrant” Bible is an Evangelical urban legend, believed only by those lacking training in theology and the Biblical texts. The man shouting THUS SAITH THE LORD, on Sunday? He doesn’t really believe what he is saying. At best, all he can say is this: THUS SAITH THE LORD, MAYBE.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Beware of Evangelicals Who Ask You Questions About Your Tattoos

cant we be friends
Cartoon by Paco

I have written numerous times about how Evangelicals use fake friendships to evangelize non-Christians:

My Evangelical critics might argue that I have it out for Evangelicals; that I can’t see the “good” Evangelicals do; that Evangelicals sincerely care about people. Believe what you will, but one thing I know for sure: Evangelical zealots are notorious for using disingenuous methods and subterfuge to achieve their God-ordained goal: winning lost souls to Jesus. No other group of Christians — Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses excepted — is willing to use fake friendships to achieve a religious objective. I am friends with several mainline Christian pastors. Not one time have these men and women attempted to evangelize me. We are friends for friendship’s sake.

I am convinced that Evangelicals have a pathological need to make other people to be just like them; to seek, force, and demand conformity to their peculiar religious beliefs. Evangelical zealots see every non-Christian as an evangelization target, a prospect for Heaven, a prospective (tithing) church member. The goal remains what it has always been: to recruit new club members.

Lest readers think that I have developed this opinion post-Jesus, people who were following me back in 2007 know that I was quite vocal about Evangelicals and their nefarious evangelism methods. Readers from that time likely remember my interaction with an emergent church pastor named Iggy. Iggy was bragging about what he and his church were doing for the local community. If I remember right, they were handing out free flower pots to people. I asked if the pots had the church’s name on them and if locals were given church advertising brochures along with the pots. After Iggy admitted that yes, the pots had the church’s name on them, and yes, people were given church advertising brochures, he attempted to defend his actions by saying they were genuinely trying to make friends with people in their community.

Then, as now, I objected to what I considered less-the-honest methods to evangelize people; that the goal wasn’t friendship, but saving the lost and gaining new church members. This led to Iggy and me having an epic war of words, one in which I had a profanity-laced meltdown (for which I later apologized).

I share this story to emphasize the fact that I objected to Evangelicals using fake friendships to evangelize then, and I still object today. Whether I was a Christian or an atheist, it matters not. I despise people who attempt to befriend others for ulterior reasons. All I ask is that Evangelicals be upfront about why they are doing what they are doing. In other words, stop the Trojan horse evangelism practices. Have the “soldiers” get out of the wooden horse and declare themselves: we are here to ravage you in the name of the one true Lord and King, Jesus.

This brings me to the latest Gospel Coalition post about yet another way to evangelize non-Christians. Written by Erin Wheeler, wife of Brad Wheeler, the pastor of University Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Wheeler writes:

“I like your ink,” I say casually as I walk past the woman in my exercise class. “Thanks,” she mumbles, eyeing me with that look.

It’s the look people give when someone notices their tattoo. They wonder if the person really means the compliment, or if they just happened to notice their purposely and permanently pigmented skin.

At the gym, our conversation continues for a bit. She tells me her tattoo reminds her of a family member she lost a few years ago. I tell her I got my tattoo to remember how God saved my marriage at a time when I thought we might not make it. I have interactions like these frequently: at the gym, at the coffee shop, at the community pool. As a Christian, I’m hoping these tattoo conversations might lead to a more important conversation. A conversation about the gospel.  

As we go through our days, looking to speak to others about Christ, maybe it’s time we considered how asking about someone’s tattoo could be intentionally evangelistic

….

Tattoos present a marvelous gospel opportunity for us. As my coworker, a former tattoo artist, said, “99 percent of people get a tattoo for a reason. There’s a story behind the artwork.” And that, my Christian friend, is an open door! Why not walk through it?

….

Why not ask the barista you order coffee from each morning (whose name I hope you know by now), “Hey Sam, I’ve noticed that tattoo on your arm and have been thinking about it. What is it exactly?” Depending on how he responds, follow up with, “What made you decide on that design?”  

Or how about a coworker or neighbor you’ve gotten to know a bit? Why not take the risk of possibly sounding nosy or weirdly curious: “Hey Laura, I’ve seen those words on your wrist. What made you choose those? I’m curious.” And then shut your mouth and listen. There’s a story behind that tattoo. 

Even if they don’t share their story with you right then and there, it might be the thing God uses to open a door and give you an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s amazing what you can learn about somebody with that simple prompt. 

In response to my questions, I’ve heard people’s whole life stories. I’ve had a man tell me about his tattoo in memoriam for the infant daughter he tragically lost. Others have shared their love of nature—or “Mother Earth” as they called it. I even had a fellow nurse explain her love for Dr. Who because of how he cared for others, particularly the innocent. According to her, that’s what led her into nursing. Even if someone doesn’t remember getting their tattoo, that drunken night or wild weekend is part of their story. 

We can respond to each of these stories with gospel truth. Jesus, the ultimate caregiver, has made a way for the dead to come to life through his own death and resurrection. He knows what suffering is like. He can identify with the broken. He’s the Creator and Sustainer of this amazing world. All we see, he has made. He’s the master storyteller, and he’s at the center of it all. 

Why not use a tattoo story as a bridge to invite others to become a part of God’s larger story?

Do you have tattoos? If you do, remember this post the next time an Evangelical strikes up a conversation with you about your body art. (Especially if it is Jerry Falwell, Jr. asking about your tats that aren’t visible.) Evangelical zealots want to evangelize you so they can put another notch of the handle of their gospel six-shooter. Yet another sinner slain for Jesus. Perhaps unbelievers need to get tattoos that say “Fuck Off” or “No, I am Not Interested in What You Are Selling” or Born-Again Atheist.” Or maybe just wear garlic around your neck to ward off the Evangelical vampires who want to drain the life out of you.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Jesus is the Only One That Matters

all about jesus

Repost from 2015. Extensively edited, rewritten, and corrected.

In a Gospel Coalition article titled Please Don’t Make My Funeral All About Me, Nancy Guthrie had this to say:

…We were an hour and fifteen minutes in to today’s funeral before anyone read from the scriptures, and further in until there was a prayer. Resurrection wasn’t mentioned until the benediction. There were too many funny stories to tell about the deceased, too many recollections, too many good things to say about the things he accomplished to speak of what Christ has accomplished on his behalf.

But then this wasn’t a funeral. It was a “Celebration of Life.” In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything. Christ and his saving benefits could not be made much of because death and its cruelties were largely ignored…

Guthrie, like many Evangelical Christians, believes that the only thing/person that matters in life is Jesus. He is the end all, the first and the last, the sum of our existence. Even in the most personal of moments, a funeral, Guthrie wants everything to be about Jesus. The person in the coffin is of no consequence. The life they lived mattered little, because without Jesus they had no life. Without Jesus, their life had no meaning or purpose.

Guthrie wallows in her depravity. She sees herself as a loathsome, vile worm, a putrid corpse of sin and defilement. That is, until Jesus regenerated her and gave her new life. From that moment forward, her life was not about her, but about Jesus. From the moment of her new birth to the moment she dies, she is a nobody. Only Jesus matters.

In Guthrie’s mind, the best funeral is one where the minister says, Joe Smith lived, knew Jesus, and died. Now let me tell you about Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the ugliness of sin and death. In other words, Guthrie wants the funeral to be like a church service, a passive event where Jesus is praised and everyone and everything else doesn’t matter.

This approach is dehumanizing and it robs the dead people of all that made them who and what they are. If they lived a full life, then they left behind countless memories and stories that certainly ought to be told. Why not celebrate the dead person’s life? Why not, one last time, remember them for what they said and did? Is this present life really that meaningless without Jesus? Is the Son of God such a Trumpian narcissist that he can’t bear to hear anyone’s name mentioned but his own?

Guthrie sees funerals as an opportunity to be reminded of our worthlessness and the awesomeness of Jesus. Any talk of the good works or the good life of the deceased is too humanistic, too worldly for her. Rather than making much of the deceased, she desires a service where the dead person is just a pretext to talk about the man of the hour: Jesus.

If the funeral service is really all about Jesus, perhaps it is proper to ask exactly what Jesus did for Guthrie’s friend whose ugly sickness slowly robbed them of everything? Did Jesus physically comfort and aid her friend?  Did he have the power to heal her friend? Did Jesus do so? Of course not — her friend died.

Suppose a friend of yours died in a car accident. Your friend could have been saved by a doctor who stopped to gawk at the accident. The doctor offered no aid and made no attempt to save your friend from death. He had to hurry home to help his wife find her car keys. Everyone in your town knows the doctor could have saved your friend’s life, yet he did nothing. Does anyone think that the doctor should be the guest of honor at your friend’s funeral? Of course not. How is this any different from praising a deity who sat idly by while Guthrie’s friend suffered and died? This deity had “all power” yet did nothing.

Guthrie betrays the fact that she is really just like us unwashed, uncircumcised, celebration-of-life, Philistines of the world when she writes “In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything.” Robbed her friend of everything? Wait a minute, I thought JESUS was E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G? Isn’t everything else about their life, even their suffering, just the minutia of life? Why bother to even mention the deceased? Are they not just a prop used to preach the gospel to those who came to the service thinking they were attending so-and-so’s celebration of life?

I was once like Guthrie. I saw funerals as an opportunity to preach the gospel, to witness to people who would not likely darken the doors of the church I pastored. While I did spend some time reflecting on the life of the deceased — that is if they were a Christian — my main focus was on preaching the gospel to the sinners seated before me. In one church, a dear, close friend of mine, a devoted follower of Jesus, died at the age of 40. His funeral was held at the church and for 40 minutes I hammered his Catholic and Methodist family with the Calvinistic gospel. I even told them that the deceased had specifically asked me to preach at his funeral, knowing that it likely would be the last time they would ever hear the gospel.

What did I accomplish? Nothing. I thoroughly offended my friend’s family, and from that day forward I was, to many of them, Pastor Son-of-a-bitch. In Guthrie’s eyes, I did the right thing. I exalted Jesus. I made the funeral about sin, death, and resurrection; about Jesus. But in the eyes of my friend’s family, I made their loved one’s life of little to no importance. The life their brother/uncle/father/friend lived, his good works, his commitment to his family and his job, none of these things really mattered. According to the Bible, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” Any good this man did was because of Jesus, and any bad he did was due to his sinful, carnal nature.

Simply put, Jesus ALWAYS gets top billing.  This is why I have, for the most part, stopped going to Evangelical funerals. Since the deceased is of no consequence, why should I subject myself to the prattle of a preacher as he tries to use guilt (sin) and fear (death) to coerce people, at a time when they are emotionally vulnerable, to become a Christian?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Beware of Evangelicals Coming in the Name of “Friendship”

lets be friends

I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for many Evangelicals to befriend people just for the sake of friendship. Much like Amway or Herbalife peddlers, zealous Evangelicals always have an ulterior motive when talking to and interacting with the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. The good news for us heathens is that many Evangelicals aren’t good Christians. They are content to let us go to Hell in peace. That said, there are plenty of Evangelicals who believe they are duty-bound to irritate, bug, and harass non-Christians, all in the name of evangelizing the lost.

Take Larry Dixon, professor of theology at Columbia International University Seminary and School of Missions in Columbia, South Carolina. Dixon is “convinced that there is a major element missing in many Christian’s lives.” That element, you ask? Befriending sinners as Jesus did. Dixon implores his fellow Evangelicals to leave the Christian Ghetto® and “develop meaningful relationships with those who are still outside of Christ!”

Dixon is so excited about annoying unbelievers that he wants to send pastors a free copy of his book “Unlike Jesus.” Dixon hopes his book will spur pastors to invite him to their churches to give a seminar on “friendship evangelism.” Dixon knows that the vast majority of Evangelical church members never share their faith with anyone — all praise be to Loki for this small favor. He’s hoping to guilt more Evangelicals into feeling contrite over their indifference to the plight of the “lost.” I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches. I browbeat congregants in my sermons over their lack of evangelistic zeal, and when that didn’t work, I taught evangelism classes or had special speakers come in to teach church members the best ways to “reach” their family, friends, and neighbors with the Evangelical gospel. Despite all of this, most church members kept their faith to themselves. Outside of leaving tracts at restaurants or in bathroom stalls, most of them were content to go to their graves keeping the “good news” to themselves. Sure, I made them feel guilty over their indifference towards the plight of the lost, but the fact remained, most of them were unwilling to make fake friendships with people they didn’t know.

Then there is Katy Morgan, a writer for The Gospel Coalition. Morgan believes in an especially pernicious form of friendship evangelism. In an article titled Three Reasons to Visit an Elderly Person Soon, Morgan gives several reasons why Evangelical zealots should prey on old people.

  • They’re probably lonely
  • They’re probably wiser than you are
  • They definitely need Jesus

There it is, the “real” reason for Morgan and her ilk to “befriend” the aged: they definitely need J-E-S-U-S.

Morgan writes:

After years of faithful but seemingly fruitless witnessing, my mother saw both of her parents become Christians in their 90s. From my perspective, it seems two aspects of old age were among the things the Spirit used to bring them to faith in Christ. 

First, age had stripped them of all their old routines and ways of doing things. Becoming dependent on others gives people a chance to rethink what’s important. The stereotype is that elderly people are deeply entrenched in their ways. But age also forces many people to relinquish what they once valued most. And, like my grandparents, they may come to reconsider faith. 

Second, they were coming face-to-face with death. They were confronted with the question of what would happen when illness became terminal. They began to number their days (Ps. 90:12) and asked the Lord for his compassion (v. 13). He had mercy on them.

I pray he’ll have mercy on increasing numbers of seniors. Recently, I saw some cards designed to help start conversations about Jesus with elderly people. Each one had a picture, a Bible verse, and a prayer. I’m hoping I can take these as a gift for my elderly friend around the corner. “What do you think about Jesus?” I’ll ask. “What do you think of these verses?” We’ve spoken a little about God before, and I know she’ll be willing to talk. And what a hopeful opportunity it will be!

There’s a mission field in our own streets: in lonely apartments and quiet care facilities. These men and women have not been forgotten by God. Let’s be his hands and his feet to them: visiting, befriending, learning, and proclaiming.

I am all for genuinely befriending and helping people, be they young or old. However, I despise Evangelicals who come bearing gifts of friendship when what they really want to do is “save” people from the wrath and judgment of their mythical God. Old people, in particular, are in the sunset years of life. Yes, we “feel” our mortality. We sense the specter of death lurking in the shadows. We know that someday, sooner than later, it will be our names on the obituary pages of our local newspapers. We don’t need fake friends reminding us of our frailty. My wife and I have lived in the same rural Ohio town for thirteen years. There are six Evangelical churches within five miles of our home. Want to know how many times the pastors of these churches have knocked on our door to introduce themselves, invite us to church, or share with us that wonderful salvation they prattle on and on about on Sundays? Zero. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, now there’s a Christian sect that takes the Great Commission seriously. Evangelicals? Why, they are too busy worshiping and getting (metaphorically and literally) fat to bother with the temporal or eternal needs of their neighbors.

Evangelicals love to talk about evangelism, reaching the “lost,” and all the other metaphors they use to describe those God will torture for eternity in the Lake of Fire if they don’t repent and believe the gospel. But the fact remains, most of them, including pastors, deacons, and Sunday school teachers, seem to have no interest in evangelizing unregenerate sinners. Why is that? I suspect that they really don’t like bugging people. Who among us loves having door-to-door salespeople knocking on their doors? None of us. And isn’t that exactly what Dixon, Morgan, and their fellow zealots do: without invitation, inject themselves into the lives of others? Believing that they have a mandate from headquarters to go into the highways and hedges and compel sinners to come to Jesus, evangelizers will the bug the hell out of family, friends, and strangers. Never content just to be decent, thoughtful, genuine human beings, Dixon, Morgan, and company scour the countryside looking for “opportunities” to become fake friends with young and old alike.

After I divorced Jesus in 2008, I lost all of my Evangelical friends and colleagues in the ministry, save one man and his wife. I have been friends with this man since third grade — fifty plus years. I just saw him at a basketball game last night. We chatted as I photographed the game. Both he and his wife attend a Nazarene church. Why did my relationship with this couple survive my deconversion? We agreed that we had many things in common, and instead of focusing on our disagreements over politics, God, and religion, we decided to focus on things such as family, grandchildren, enjoying good food, and taking road trips. My friends are willing to let me go to hell in peace. Sure, my loss of faith bothers them, and they wish I were still a club member. I was, after all, their pastor at one time. They have heard me preach countless times. We have shared numerous spiritual experiences together. However, they also know that I am not lacking in knowledge when it comes to the claims of Christianity. What could they possibly say to me that I haven’t heard or said myself? Instead of focusing on things we will never agree on, we choose, instead, to focus on the love and history we have with one another. None of us is in very good shape, health-wise. I suspect that death is going to claim one or more of us sooner, and not later. When that time comes, I have no doubt that one couple or the other will be at the bedside of their dying friend, offering the comfort that only true friendship provides. Perhaps stories of yesteryear will be shared, as the last breath is drawn. Sure, tears will flow. How could it be otherwise?

I know what true friendship looks like. In a 2017 post titled Why Our Christians Friends Leave Us When We Deconvert, I wrote:

As a teenager, I had lots of friends, male and female. Most of my friends were fellow church members, though I did have a few friends in the “world.” I always found it easy to meet new people and make friendships. I had no qualms about talking to complete strangers, a gift that suited me well as a pastor. As a nineteen-year-old boy, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I quickly made a lot of new friends, including one who sleeps beside me to this day. I lived in a dorm room with three other men. Virtually every waking hour of my life was spent with fellow students — at church, school, and social events. As anyone who has ever lived in a college dormitory will tell you, dorm life is busy and full of activity. Practical jokes were an everyday occurrence, and, as an expert joker, I found great satisfaction in pulling one over on my fellow students. I lived on a dormitory wing that was labeled the “party” wing. The other dormitory wing was called the “spiritual” wing. My fellow party-wing residents loved Jesus, but they loved having a good time too. The spiritual wing? They loved Jesus too, but frowned on doing anything that might be perceived as bawdy or mischievous.

One day, a pastor by the name of A.V. Henderson preached at chapel (students were required to attend chapel five days a week). I have preached and heard thousands of sermons in my lifetime. I remember very few of them. I do, however, vividly remember Henderson’s sermon, even forty years later. Henderson was the pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Detroit. Temple was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) megachurch founded by Baptist luminary J. Frank Norris and later pastored by G.B. Vick. The 1970s were the zenith of the IFB church movement. Most of the largest churches in the United States were IFB churches. Churches such as Temple Baptist were pastored by men who were great orators and pulpiteers. Henderson was no exception. Henderson’s chapel sermon was from the book of Job. It was, by all counts, a thrilling, rousing sermon. However, Henderson said something during his sermon that I didn’t, at the time, understand. He said, with that distinct Texas drawl of his, that people will go through life with very few true friendships; that most people were fortunate to have two or three lifelong friends. I thought at the time, what’s he talking about? I have lots of friends! Forty years later, I now know that A.V. Henderson was right; that true friends are rare indeed; that if you have two or three such friends, you should consider yourself fortunate.

“Friends” such as Dixon, Morgan, and their fellow evangelizers, will come and go in our lives. When they don’t get what they want from us — our salvation — they move on to other marks. A common cliché found over the mission board in Baptist churches says, “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?” Rebuff their attempts at friendship and Evangelical soulwinners will leave you in your “need” and seek out other needy sinners. And that’s fine with me. I am quite happy to be left alone in my debauchery and apostasy. I just wish the purveyors of friendship evangelism would leave others alone too. Want to truly help the elderly? Meet their temporal needs. Stop by their homes and volunteer to rake their leaves, paint their houses, or shovel their drives. Make them meals, and sit down and break bread with them. Ask them about their children and grandchildren. Ask them to share stories with you. Genuinely enter into their lives, not as Evangelical carpetbaggers looking at “selling” them Jesus, but as human beings who genuinely love others. Want to make friends with your neighbors? Try being like Wilson or Tim Taylor on the TV show Home Improvement. Wilson and Taylor spent countless hours and years talking to one another over a fence. That’s what friends do. Invite your neighbors over for a cookout. When you see they have a need, try and meet that need. We have a plethora of opportunities to befriend others. We share a common humanity, regardless of our political or religious beliefs. If you are a Christian and a neighbor asks about your beliefs/faith, by all means share them. However, attempting to befriend people as a means to an end — salvation — is repugnant. None of us like being used, and that is exactly what Evangelicals do when they target people for evangelization.

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.

Are you on Social Media?  Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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 Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals

bait and switch

Originally published in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

On a previous iteration of this blog, a fundamentalist Christian by the name of Harold commented on The Jonathan Nichols Story: Growing up Gay in the IFB Church post. That post is an excerpt from Jonathan’s story about being raised in the Newark Baptist Temple, the church pastored for forty-six years by my wife’s uncle Jim Dennis, and how the church and its pastor responded to him when he said he was gay. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) Harold left this comment:

Jonathan, I am a Baptist who views on homosexuality being sin have never changed. I can say however that my views of homosexuals have changed from judgmental condemnation to compassion. You can Google C.S. Lewis views on homosexuals which are compassionate. I think anyone can be delivered from homosexual sin (pornography, masturbation, the actual sex act) and same sex attraction can be overcome but I think for many it is a battle and perhaps a life long battle although I’m not sure about it being life long. For a compassionate view of homosexuality I would recommend to anyone: Christian, gay, family of one who is gay, a book titled” Love Into Light” by Peter Hubbard. Also for anyone wanting free from homosexuality I recommend http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com

Harold wanted to present himself as a compassionate, loving Christian, but I wasn’t going to let him get by with his subterfuge, so I left this comment:

I know you mean well, but cut the bullshit. Bottom line, no homosexual will inherit the kingdom of God, right? Unless they repent of their sodomy they will be tortured by God in the lake of fire for all eternity, right? Quit hiding behind claims of love and compassion. Jonathan is fine how he is. He is free to love who he wants, and have consensual sex with who he wants. Why should you have these freedoms but not Jonathan? Answer, the Bible says…right?

Subterfuge. This word accurately describes the evangelistic methods used by many Evangelicals. Subterfuge is defined as: Something intended to misrepresent the true nature of an activity.

Evangelicals rarely tell non-Christians what their true motives are. They come bearing gifts, speaking of love and compassion, but their real goal is to convert sinners, baptize them, and make them tithing members of whatever Evangelical church they represent. I’ve come to the conclusion that most Evangelicals are incapable of loving for love’s sake and having compassion for others without having an unstated agenda.

A few years ago, an Evangelical wrote a post about his church going from door to door handing out flower pots. He said they just wanted to show the community that they loved them. I asked, did the flowerpots have the name of the church on them, and did you give them literature from the church? Of course they did. The goal, then, wasn’t showing the community they loved them; it was advertising their church in hopes that people would come to it.

Evangelicals are experts at subterfuge, and it is important to force them to declare their true intentions. In my comment to Harold, I also wrote

Harold, what is your end game here? Put in a good word for Jesus? Evangelize? Preach the truth?

When Evangelicals want to befriend you, help you, or to get all cozy with you, you need to consider what their real motive is for doing so. In an article on The Gospel Coalition website, Jeff Cavanaugh wrote:

Yet churches still have a tremendous evangelistic opportunity in the people who live near the church building. After all, these neighbors walk and drive past the church building every day. They may wonder about what goes on when the church gathers. For non-Christians who don’t know any believers personally, the church down the street may be the biggest reminder of Christianity they see on a regular basis.

So how can a church be faithful in evangelizing the neighborhood when the members don’t live there? Some evangelical traditions have made a practice of “visitation,” knocking on doors and trying to engage people in spiritual conversations. Sometimes this effort bears good gospel fruit, though cultural changes in recent decades have made this more difficult as many North Americans have become suspicious of strangers at the front door.

I serve my local church as deacon of community outreach, and our strategy for reaching the neighborhood around us is mainly one of long-term, patient faithfulness. Our goal is to build relationships with our neighbors that, over time, will make it easier for us to have spiritual conversations with them. These relationships also make our neighbors more willing to attend services and other events aimed specifically at engaging unbelievers with the gospel.

The basic principle behind this strategy is simple, and it’s one any church can follow: engage your neighbors by taking an interest in what they care about. Building common ground is easy when you participate side-by-side in community organizations, service projects, family events, block parties, yard sales, and the like. Common interests are one of the most powerful tools for building friendships that can enable spiritual conversations to take place.

My church is located in a historic urban neighborhood that has a well-defined identity, and many of our neighbors have common interests. Neighborhood associations are popular and prominent in the life of the community, and events like street fairs, art shows, music festivals, park cleanups, and community yard sales are common. We engage our neighbors by having church members volunteer for these events, host booths, and attend neighborhood association meetings. We also invite the community to a couple of evangelistic events at Christmas: a service of lessons and carols with a brief evangelistic sermon, and a sing-along production of Handel’s Messiah…

. . . If your church is in a lower-income area, your neighbors’ biggest concerns are likely to be some of their most basic needs: food, shelter, jobs, transportation, education. Your members might help meet some of these needs, and thereby gain neighbors’ trust and attention, through soup kitchens, clothes closets, literacy programs, and such..

My father pastors a church in Ohio in a middle-class suburb with a lot of families, and many of these neighbors’ lives revolve around their kids. So the church hosts some events throughout the year that provide activities for the kids and expose neighbors to the gospel. The church puts on a vacation Bible school every summer. They host a big Easter egg hunt for the kids of the neighborhood, and someone tells the resurrection story with a clear gospel presentation for the whole crowd…

Here’s the money quote:

The basic principle behind this strategy is simple, and it’s one any church can follow: engage your neighbors by taking an interest in what they care about. Building common ground is easy when you participate side-by-side in community organizations, service projects, family events, block parties, yard sales, and the like. Common interests are one of the most powerful tools for building friendships that can enable spiritual conversations to take place.

On one hand, there is nothing wrong with having common interests with your neighbors. But, as Cavanaugh makes clear, the REAL reason for Evangelicals to have these common interests is so they can witness to their neighbors. Again, this is subterfuge.

I know the neighbors who live on both sides of me. Several summers ago, I sat on my one neighbor’s porch and he and I talked for an hour. We talked about family, our gardens, our health, and psychology (he is a retired psychologist). In the summer, I often talked to my other neighbor, an elderly gent, about woodworking, fishing, and gardening. Every so often, he would let me know he saw his “educated” neighbor’s letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News — that’s me by the way — and we will talk about it for a few minutes. We’d laugh and say, see ya later. Sadly, he had a stroke and I haven’t seen him in over a year.

As a good neighbor, I have no agenda. I don’t want anything from my neighbors. I care about them, and I worry when I don’t see them for a while. Both of my neighbors are good people as they are. I have no desire to win them over to my cause or to convert them to atheism. They are part of my community, and I want to be friends with them. I have other neighbors in front and in back of our house. While I don’t know them as well, I try to be friendly and talk to them when I see them. Again, no agenda.

Evangelicals can’t do this. They see every person as a sinner in need of salvation. Every person they come in contact with is a prospect for heaven, a potential church member. Remember this the next time an Evangelical wants to be your friend or wants to be a part of your group. Perhaps, the first question to ask is this: what do you REALLY want or why are you REALLY here?

Remember, Evangelicals are also taught that the world is evil, and that they are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. (2 Corinthians 6:14) They are taught that they must stand apart from the world, its sins, its philosophies, and its inhabitants. They are like the neighbor who only comes into my backyard to steal my watermelons. He is not interested in me, he is only interested in watermelon. The watermelon in the Evangelical world is another sinner saved, baptized, and made a tithing member of a Bible-believing church.

Beware of watermelon thieves.

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Bruce Gerencser