Tag Archive: Tim LaHaye

What One Catholic Doctor Taught Me About Christianity

william fiorini

Dr. William Fiorini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Evangelicalism to Atheism Part Two

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

One of the questions I am often asked is, Why did you become an Evangelical or Why did you become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?

This is the wrong question. The real question is, how could I NOT have become an Evangelical or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?

Every child born into this world is an atheist. Not one of them knows one thing about god or religion, nor about sin, salvation, or morality. As far as god and religion are concerned, every newborn is a blank slate.

Belief in god must be taught and learned. This teaching is done by parents, extended family, and the culture/society the child grows up in. Children taken to a church, temple, or synagogue, are taught to KNOW god, to know their parents’ religion.

Most children embrace the religion of their parents. Parents who worship the Christian god generally raise children who are Christian. This is especially the case when it comes to Evangelical children. From the toddler years forward, Evangelical children are taught that they are sinners in need of salvation. They are taught that unless they ask Jesus into their hearts, they will end up in hell when they die. Every Sunday at church, at home during the week, and at school, if they attend a Christian school, Evangelical children face an onslaught of manipulative evangelistic methods geared to help them accept Jesus as their Savior.

It should come as no surprise then that most Evangelical children make a salvation decision when they are quite young. This initial salvation experience usually carries them into their teenage years. They are safe and secure in Jesus until they are thirteen or fourteen years old.

During their teenage years, it is not uncommon for Evangelical children to either make another salvation decision or rededicate their lives  to Christ. Why is it that so many Evangelical children make another decision during their teenage years?

Think about it. What happens during the teenage years? Children reach puberty and they begin to discover they have sexual desires. They start wanting to do things that their pastor, church, and parents say are sinful.  Most, Evangelical teens, if not all, give in to sinful desires. They feel guilty for doing so and they conclude that they must not “really” be saved or that they need to rededicate their lives  to Christ.

Many Evangelical teenagers find themselves caught in a constant cycle of sinning, getting saved/rededicating their life to Christ, sinning, getting saved/rededicating their life to Christ, etc. As much as Evangelicals deny it, this cycle becomes the Protestant version of Catholic confession.

In the early 1960s, my Dad moved us from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego on the west coast. California was the land of opportunity in the 1960s and my Dad was certain his pot of gold was in San Diego. He ended up selling patio awnings and driving a truck, and three years later we moved back to Bryan.

While living in San Diego, our family attended Scott Memorial Baptist Church. The pastor at the time was Tim LaHaye. Both of my parents made public professions of faith in Christ at Scott Memorial. I also asked Jesus into my heart in Junior Church. I was five years old.

Politically, my parents were right-wing extremists. They were members of the John Birch Society, hated Martin Luther King Jr, and supported the war effort in Vietnam. Their salvation decision at Scott Memorial fit well with their political ideology.

From this point forward, until my parent’s divorce in April of 1972, the Gerencser family was in church every time the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday night, prayer meeting, and revival meeting, we were there. When I became a teenager, attending youth group after church was added to the schedule, along with regular youth group activities.

In the fall of 1972, Evangelist Al Lacy came to our church, Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio, to hold a revival meeting. On Sunday Morning, during Lacy’s sermon, the spirit of God came over me, telling me that I was a sinner in need of Christ. When it came time for the public invitation, I quickly stepped out of the pew, came down the aisle, and knelt at the altar. There, a church deacon took me through the plan of salvation and I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart. I was fifteen.  I was baptized that night, and a week or so later I went forward during the altar call and let the church know that God was calling me to be a preacher. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon.

As a first grader in San Diego, I told people that when I grew up I was going to be a preacher, and now, as a fifteen year old boy, I was telling the world that God was calling me to be what I wanted to be my entire life. From this point forward, most of the preachers I came in contact with worked with me and steered me towards fulfilling my calling. It came as a shock to no one that I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in 1976 to study for the ministry.

All told, I preached for thirty-two years, spending twenty-five of those years pastoring seven churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I preached over four thousand sermons and taught countless Sunday school classes. For many years, I also preached on the street and at the local nursing home.

So, when someone asks, why did you become an Evangelical or why did you become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, I counter that the real question, based on what I have written here is, how could I have become anything else?

Note

All dates are to the best of my recollection. I have done my best to remember where I was and when. If I am off a bit on a date, it is not because I am deliberately being imprecise or trying to hide something. I am an old man with dying brain cells. Enough said.

121615