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From Evangelicalism to Atheism — Part Three

creamery road zanesville ohio
Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I am often asked, when did you first begin to doubt? This is not an easy question for me to answer. As I look back over my life, there were many instances where I had doubts about certain theological or political beliefs. If there is one constant about life, it is change. Over time, our understanding, beliefs, and ideologies change. Sometimes, the change is so subtle that we are not really aware of it until we look back on our lives years later. Anyone who says that he has never changed his beliefs — and I know several pastors who say this about themselves — is either intellectually lazy, a liar, or living in denial.

Every preacher leaves Bible college with a borrowed theology. His theology is the theology that his parents, church, pastor, and college professors taught him. He believes what he believes because of the influence of others. Only when he is free of these influences does he begin to develop his own theological beliefs.

I have always been an avid student and reader. One of the frustrating things about the health problems I have is that I can no longer read as I used to. For many years, it was not uncommon for me to read 500 or more pages a week of theological and biographical texts. To this day, I rarely read fiction. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I accumulated a large library of books. These books were my constant companions and friends. When I left the ministry in 2003, I sold off my theological library on eBay.

While I learned many things as a student at Midwestern Baptist College, most of my theological education came from the countless hours I spent reading theological books, the Bible, and studying for my sermons. It was in the study that I began to come to theological conclusions different from what I had been taught by my parents, former churches, former pastors, and college professors. The most dramatic theological changes took place while I was pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, (later Mt. Perry) Ohio.

I started the Somerset Baptist Church in July of 1983 and pastored the church for eleven years. At that time, I was a typical Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor and remained so until the Jack Hyles scandal rocked the IFB world in 1986. As I waded through the Hyles scandal, I began to question the gospel preached by many IFB pastors and churches. Noted preachers such as Jack HylesCurtis Hutson, and the preachers associated with the Sword of the Lord, preached a truncated gospel, believing that repentance was a change of mind and not a change of conduct. Simply put, the unconverted sinner was against Jesus and now he was for him. Around this time, John MacArthur came out with his book, The Gospel According to Jesus. MacArthur attacked the easy-believism gospel preached in many Evangelical/Baptist churches. MacArthur stated that repentance was not only a change of mind but also a change of behavior. If there was no turning from sin, then there was no true repentance, and without repentance, there was no salvation.

The Hyles scandal, my careful assessment of the gospel preached by many in the IFB church movement, and MacArthur’s book, led me to conclude that the gospel I had been preaching was a truncated, shallow gospel. I began preaching a gospel that demanded sinners turn from their sins. I believed that if Jesus was not Lord of all your life then he was not Lord at all. I believed that if people said they were Christians, then they should act like it. Unless unregenerate sinners were willing to turn from their sin and fully embrace Jesus, there was no salvation for them.

In the late 1980s, I began to reconsider my eschatological beliefs.  I was taught dispensational, pre-tribulational, and premillennial eschatology (end times) in college, and every church I attended growing up preached this end-times scheme. As I restudied the various eschatological positions, my beliefs gradually shifted and matured until I embraced post-tribulationalism and amillennialism. At this point, I was clearly theologically wandering outside the boundary of my IFB heritage. This shift in eschatology resulted in some people leaving the church; however, it also attracted new members who held a similar eschatological views.

It was also in the late 1980s that my theological beliefs dramatically shifted from the one-point Calvinism (eternal security, once saved always saved) of the IFB church movement to five-point Calvinism. My introduction to Calvinism came through the preaching tapes of Rolfe Barnard, a former Southern Baptist and Sword of the Lord evangelist who died in the late 1960s. Barnard’s sermons were powerful declarations of the gospel according to Calvinism. As I listened to these tapes, it was like a light went on in my head. For a time, I was angry because I thought those who had taught me theology had lied to me. Why had no one ever told me about Calvinism? All they told me at Midwestern is that they were against Calvinism and anyone caught promoting it would be expelled.

I began devouring books about Calvinism. I opened a book account at Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service and bought countless Calvinistic, Puritan, Sovereign Grace Baptist books. I read the books of Puritan/Calvinist authors from the 17th,18th, and 19th centuries. I discovered that Baptists, at one time, were quite Calvinistic, and some of my heroes of the faith, including Charles Spurgeon, were five-point Calvinists. I even learned that there were Calvinists, such as the late Bruce Cummons, pastor of the Massillon Baptist Temple, in the IFB church movement.

From the late 1980s until the early 2000s, I was a committed, zealous five-point Calvinist. My preaching style changed from topical/textual sermons to expository sermons. I stopped giving altar calls as I began transforming the Somerset Baptist Church into a Calvinistic church. This move cost me 99% of my IFB pastor friends, a handful of church members, along with almost all of my Arminian friends.

For several years, I published a newsletter called The Sovereign Grace Reporter. I sent the newsletter to hundreds of IFB pastors, and this caused quite a shit-storm. Surprisingly, Polly’s uncle, the late-James Dennis, pastor of the IFB Newark Baptist Temple, was quite supportive. Keith Troyer, then pastor of Fallsburg Baptist Church, was also quite supportive. I would later be accused of leading Keith astray with the pernicious doctrines of John Calvin. (At the time, I considered Keith my best friend.)

Probably by now, some readers are wondering, Why the history lesson, Bruce? I think it is important for me to establish several things:

  • I was an avid reader of books
  • I was an avid student of whatever subject I am reading about
  • I was willing to go wherever the evidence led me
  • I was willing to change my beliefs even if it materially cost me or made me unpopular
  • Truth mattered more to me than being accepted by my peers, friends, or family

These things are still true today, though I can no longer read like I once did.

In my pastoring days, my colleagues in the ministry, friends, and parishioners loved me for these traits. They applauded my willingness to be true to the Word of God, even if they disagreed with me. Now these same people think I read and study too much. I have been told that the reason I am an atheist is because of books (and there is some truth in this statement)! If I would only stop reading all these books and just read THE BOOK, all would be well, one former parishioner told me.

Just as the leopard can’t change its spots, I can’t stop reading and studying. Sixty years ago, my mother created an intellectual monster when she taught me to read. She wanted her eldest son to be like her, a devourer of literature, a person who valued truth above the approbation of men. I owe her a great debt of gratitude.

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

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

From Evangelicalism to Atheism — Part Two

creamery road zanesville ohio
Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

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 this: how could I NOT have become an Evangelical or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?

Every child is born into this world without a religion. Not one of them knows one thing about God or religion, 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 their toddler years forward, Evangelical children are taught that they are broken, vile sinners alienated from God who need personal 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 and turn them into dutiful, tithing Evangelical Christians.

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 recommit 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. 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. California was the land of opportunity in the 1960s, and my Dad was certain his pot of gold was somewhere in San Diego. He ended up selling patio awnings and driving a truck, and three years later we moved back to Bryan. That pot of gold turned out to be empty.

While living in San Diego, our family attended Scott Memorial Baptist Church, an IFB institution. The pastor at the time was Tim LaHaye, of Left Behind and Act of Marriage fame.  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 and social 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 meetings — we were front and center of whatever Fundamentalist church we were attending at the time. 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 in Findlay, Ohio, to hold a revival meeting. On Sunday, during Lacy’s sermon, the spirit of God came over me, telling me that I was a sinner in need of salvation. 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 by the name of Ray Salisbury took me through the Romans Road 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 more than 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 this: how could I have become anything else?

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

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

A Moment of Kindness Remembered for a Lifetime

kindness

It’s early spring in Northwest Ohio, the year is 1972.

A fourteen-year-old boy is playing with his Lionel trains in the basement of a rented house on Cherry St. in Findlay, Ohio.  He loves playing with the trains, a love picked up from working at his dad’s hobby store, G&B Trains.

The boy hears footsteps coming down the basement stairs. It’s his dad.

His dad says, I need to talk to you.

This is strange, the boy thought. Dad never talks to me about anything.

Your Mom and I don’t love each other anymore, says the boy’s dad, and we are getting a divorce.

And just like that, whatever shred of family the boy had was destroyed.

It wasn’t long before the divorce was final.

The boy is in ninth grade, and it is graduation time. His parents both want to come to his graduation but the boy says, I am not going to graduation, and that was that.

Tenth grade. High School. All the ninth graders from Central, Donnell, and Glenwood would join the older students at Findlay High School, making the school one of the largest in Ohio.

The boy’s friends would all be there, his school friends, his church friends, and the boys he played baseball and basketball with.

The boy’s dad remarried — a 19-year-old girl. She has a baby. In a few short years, the boy would be dating women the age of his dad’s new wife. She was never more than dad’s new wife to him. The boy had a mother, and he only needed one of those.

Fall turned to Winter, and then one early Spring day the boy’s dad says, we are moving to Arizona.

What? the boy thought. You can’t do this to me. All my friends are here. You promised, no more moving. Two and a half years, the longest the boy ever lived in one place, and now he has to move.

Upset, angry, bitter, and no one seemed to care.

On a Saturday in March, 1973 the auctioneer’s voice rings out, and everything but essentials are sold to strangers who came to gawk at household goods.  And with auction proceeds in hand, the Gerencsers pile into two cars and move to Tucson, Arizona. Later the finance company would track down the boy’s dad and repossess the cars. When the boy became a man, he then understood why he had to move so suddenly and quickly 1,900 miles from his home.

The boy, despite hating his dad for taking him away from his friends, is excited about the prospect of traveling across the country. So many things to see, so many new experiences to be had.

The first thing the boy does is find a new church to attend. Isn’t it amazing, the boy thought, right in our backyard is the Tucson Baptist Temple, a Baptist Bible Fellowship church! Just like the church in Findlay, this must be God working things out, the boy quietly hopes.

The Tucson Baptist Temple is a large church pastored by Louis Johnson, a preacher from Kentucky. The boy joins the church and starts attending youth group. But, try as he might he can’t make friends. It isn’t like his church home in Findlay where the boy had all kinds of friends, and even a few girl church friends. He feels very much alone.

With the move, the boy has to ride a city bus to his new school, Rincon High School. Right away he notices that some of the kids from the youth group attended Rincon, but they pretend they don’t know him. He feels quite alone.

Rincon has what is called open lunch. Every day the boy would go outside and sit on the grass and eat his lunch. One day, a beautiful Asian girl comes near the boy and sits down to eat her lunch. She is warm and friendly, and treats the boy like she has known him for years. And for the next ten weeks, on most days, she eats lunch with the boy from Ohio. Outside of the fat boy everyone made fun of who rode the bus, this would be the only friend the boy would make.

And then came summer, and the boy hopped a Greyhound bus and moved back to Ohio. With the help of his church and friends, the boy is able to go back to his old school, his old church, with his old friends. Life for the next year is grand, just as if he had never left.

Unfortunately, the boy would have to move to his mom’s home at the end of the school year. This move brought great unrest and turmoil to the boy’s life, but that is a story for another day.

The boy is an old man now, and as he watches a musician on a reality show, he sees a girl that brings to his mind a time long ago, when a beautiful young woman took the time to befriend a friendless boy from Ohio. It reminds him that moments of kindness are often remembered for a lifetime.

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

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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.

Why People Have a Hard Time Leaving the IFB Church Movement

ifb

Several months ago, I was interviewed by Eric Skwarczynski for his Preacher Boys Podcast. Eric is a Christian, formerly a part of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I had a delightful time talking with Eric, sharing my story, and giving my opinion about the health and future of the IFB church movement.

You can listen to the podcast here. You can also find the podcast on Acast, Spotify, and Apple.

https://player.acast.com/preacher-boys-podcast/episodes/bruce-gerencser-from-ifb-pastor-to-secular-humanist-atheist

Preacher Boys has a private Facebook group made up of people who profess to have left the IFB church movement. I say “profess” because some members are still very much IFB in their thinking and beliefs. I liken them to people who convince themselves that they are living in a brand-new home when in fact all they have done is painted the house a different color. A recent discussion about homosexuality revealed that some in the group are still hanging on to the IFB way of thinking, even if they think they are free from Fundamentalism’s harm.

Christian Fundamentalism is psychologically harmful, as countless posts on this site have shown. While it is certainly true that some people can escape without being harmed, most people who spend any length of time in an IFB church find themselves wrestling with all sorts of psychological and emotional baggage. Simply put, swimming in the sewer called the IFB church movement will fuck you up.

Why is it so hard for people to leave IFB churches?

For many IFB congregants, the churches they are members of are the only churches they have ever known. Their entire lives have revolved around their churches. From shared beliefs and practices to close social connection, IFB churches become the equivalent of family. In fact, many IFB preachers promote the idea that the church family is superior to flesh and blood family. Congregants buy into this thinking, often shunning their “unsaved” or non-IFB families. Several years ago, my wife and I tried to get her parents to move to our area so we could care for them. Moving made perfect sense in every way, yet Polly’s parents said no. Why? Their IFB church, the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. They couldn’t bring themselves to leave their church family. Being told this crushed Polly — their own living child. In her mind, her parents loved their church family more than they did her.

IFB church members are taught that their pastor is the purveyor of truth — a God-called preacher of the gospel. Certainty of belief is the lifeblood of IFB churches. Congregants are warned that other churches are liberal or heretical. Want the truth? Only OUR church has it! Imagine spending a lifetime having that kind of thinking pumped into your mind. Disaffected church members want to leave, but they can’t, out of fear that they will become liberals or heretics; or out of fear that if they leave, God will judge and chastise them.

Despite the family and truth barriers to leaving, many IFB congregants do, in fact, leave their churches, seeking out a new church that will better meet their needs. IFB churches have a significant amount of membership churn. Many congregations turn over their membership every five to ten years. For example, I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio and First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio for years. Today, I know very few people in these churches. Granted, many of the people I knew years ago are now dead, but I find it astounding how little continuity there’s been between generations. In 1994, I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas — a Sovereign Grace IFB church. Fast forward to today. The church posted a photo of its congregation on its website. I was surprised by how few people I knew, and by how much smaller the congregation was today. I calculated that I knew less than 10 percent of the people in the photo.

People can and do move on from IFB churches. However, as some of the discussions on the Preacher Boys Facebook group made clear, moving on doesn’t necessarily mean leaving IFB thinking, belief, and practice behind. I see this very thing played out in the lives of Christians (and pastors) who were my classmates at Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. As far as I know, I am the only outspoken atheist who attended Midwestern. The rest of my classmates are either still preaching the IFB way, truth, and life or have moved on to what I call IFB-adjacent churches.

I have one former friend who thinks that he is an enlightened Christian. He proudly claims, “I am no longer a Fundamentalist.” The justification for his claim? His wife wears pants, they drink alcohol, and use Bibles other than the KJV. In every other way, his beliefs and social positions are IFB. Over the years, I have had countless Evangelical commenters chide me for throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. In their minds, I should be like them: enlightened Evangelicals who have jettisoned many of the IFB church movement’s social Fundamentalist practices. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) However, when I poke and prod their beliefs a bit, I almost always find IFB thinking lurking below.

IFB thinking is hard to escape. It’s a disease that infects every aspect of your life. Truly abandoning and forsaking the IFB church movement takes work — lots of it. For many of us ex-IFB church members (and pastors), it took years of therapy to truly break the bondage Fundamentalism had on our lives. And even then, deep scars remain.

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

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.

Rebecca Davis Worried About Her Lustful Four-Year-Old Ogling A Woman Wearing a Bikini

hannah davis sports illustrated
Hannah Davis, 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Rebecca Davis works for the American Family Association (AFA). She is the assistant editor of The Stand, the official whine and outrage newsletter of the AFA. Several years ago, she wrote an eye-opening article about her 4-year-old’s propensity to lust after women in bathing suits and lingerie. While she denies that she is saying her little boy lusts, her article suggests otherwise (link no longer active):

It is almost swimsuit season. There are a number of adjectives I could use to describe my disdain for this time of year. Itsy-bitsy and teeny-weeny are two of them.

No, I’m not a prude, and no, I’m not bitter because I don’t have the perfect figure. I have never been Ms. Skinny Mini, and after having two babies and holding on to an extra 10 pounds each time, I probably never will be. But that’s not really the reason I dread swimsuit season.

Actually, summer is one of my favorite times of year. I enjoy taking our son to the pool. He begs year-round to go the beach.

But the older he gets, the more difficult it becomes to take him to the beach … to the grocery story, to the mall, even to church at times. His eyes are constantly surveying his surroundings, and many times he sees entirely too much.

Although he is only four years old, his little mind is wired to be visual. The dominant perceptual sense in men is vision. God made males that way for a reason, and I’m thankful he did.

There are a number of studies and findings that conclude male brains are more visually stimulated than the female brain. It’s a fact that my son’s actions prove true, even at such a young age.

For example, from the time he was about two years old, if we were in a store and simply walked past the lingerie section, he would point and say “Mama.” Now, it’s all I can do to keep his eyes from innocently zoning in on the window displays when we walk rather hurriedly past Victoria’s Secret.

For several months now, I have been receiving issues of Glamour magazine in the mail. I have no idea why. Somehow I became a subscriber to the magazine. (I have tried to cancel my unwanted subscription but that’s another story.) An issue came in the mail; I accidently left it facedown on the counter before putting it in the garbage can. I was in the kitchen cooking and noticed my son sitting at the counter staring at a scantily clad woman on the back cover. My heart sank.

Then it wasn’t long after that he was with me in a beauty-supply store. I was down on my knees examining some shampoo (for color-treated hair, I admit) when my son picked up a small promotional card off the nearby shelf, handed it to me, and said, “Mama, look!” The card pictured an outstretched woman in a seductive pose wearing a skimpy swimsuit. Again, my heart sank.

Let me make a very clear disclaimer at this point. My son is only four years old. In no way am I implying that his observations are sexual in nature. They are not. His reactions are natural – not lustful – responses to the way his brain is wired.

I use the above examples to show just how powerful a female’s attire can be over males of all ages.

When my son sees a woman wearing clothes that barely cover her body, be it in a picture or in person, he always asks, “Mama, why are they dressed that way?”

I’m thankful for his questions; they make for good teachable moments. I’m thankful that seeing women dressed immodestly is not the norm for him right now. I want it to stay that way, but the reality is it won’t.

So, as his mother, how can I protect him? How can I teach him to channel the wirings of his little brain through a biblical worldview? How can I keep his mind, heart and body pure for his future wife, if the Lord wills him to marry one day? More than that, how can I encourage him to live a daily life of purity out of love and honor for God?

Honestly, I don’t have the answers to all these questions. I am learning that parenting is a day-by-day journey. Some days I do it right; some days I do it wrong. But thankfully God is a God of grace and mercy.

One thing I do know is that, with my husband, we can make an extra effort to keep our son’s eyes from seeing the immodest pattern of this world by monitoring what he watches, changing the channel if need be, diverting his attention elsewhere when in public, and having open and honest dialogue with him when he does have questions about what he sees. Our aim is to always do so out of honor, never out of shame.

We can also show him the importance of modesty by the way I dress and by the way we dress his little sister.

And I can encourage you, ladies, to be intentional about what you wear (or don’t wear) to the beach or pool this summer.

If nothing else, be mindful of your appearance for the sake of my son … your son or someone else’s son.  Actually, keep all men in mind! You may have no idea what you do to them – and to yourself – when you wear a bikini or expose yourself in other ways…

In the past, I have detailed how women in Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) churches are blamed for the lustful thoughts of teenage boys. Rebecca Davis, an Evangelical, does the same. Her poor little boy already has a wandering eye, and it is up to the women of the world to keep him from lusting. He can’t help himself, Davis says, because his mind is wired for the visual. It’s just how males are. (Of course, she refuses to accept this exact same argument when it comes to homosexuality.)

I suspect most readers will think Davis’s article is ignorant and silly. And it is, but millions of Christians think like this. Taught that their sexuality must be repressed, is it any surprise that 4-year-old Evangelical boys grow into sexually dysfunctional 20-year-old toddlers? Years ago, I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. One prayer meeting night, a woman came up and scolded us for letting our girls sleep on the church floor with their panties exposed. That’s right, little girls sleeping with their panties exposed were a problem. I think she expected me to immediately get the girls off the floor. Instead, I curtly told her, don’t look. Were there pedophiles in the church I didn’t know about? Maybe. Was she afraid that teenage boys would see panties and lust? Perhaps. I suppose if some teenage boy lusted, it would be our four- and two-year-old daughters’ fault, right?

While Evangelicals want to point to the “world” and blame it for sexualizing everything, it is those who adhere to the sexual mores of the Bible who have done so. They are the ones who have turned a woman’s breast into a sex object that must be covered up at all times. They are the ones who focus on cleavage, legs, asses, and the female shape in general. Cover up, women are told. Hide your feminine figure. If left to people such as Davis, the human race would perish. Sexual attraction and desire are n-o-r-m-a-l and healthy. It’s the Bible that is out of step with what it means to be human. From Genesis to Revelation, God demands that humans deny their sexuality. I thought God made us sexual beings? It seems strange that he would create us with sexual desires and then say it is a sin if we act on them. Well, maybe not. This is the same God, after all, who created some of us just so he could damn us and torture us in the Lake of Fire for eternity.

So, what do you think? Will Rebecca Davis’s four-year-old son turn into a horn-dog Evangelical teenager a decade from now? If he finds himself uncontrollably lusting after women, who will be blamed? Perhaps, thanks to being taught to Just Say No, he gets the deacon’s daughter pregnant. Whose fault will this be? Again, the Bible is not the answer. Children and teenagers need to be taught the facts of life. As they get older, they need to be taught sexual responsibility. Since most church teenagers engage in some sort of sexual activity before marriage, isn’t it in their best interest to make sure they know how to use birth control? Instead of telling them THE BIBLE SAYS, how about doses of common sense and honest instruction about sex? Instead of teaching them masturbation is a sin, how about teaching them that self-pleasuring is a way to release sexual tension. Better to spank the monkey than get the deacon’s daughter pregnant.

We should pity Evangelical teen boys and men who must go through life with blinders on lest they ravage the first woman they see in tight shorts. Instead of enjoying the beauty of God’s creation, they are taught the human body is shameful and should only be uncovered in darkness after marriage. While I am not suggesting we all turn into naturalists, surely a man can be in the same room with women to whom he might be attracted and not turn into the First Baptist Rapist.

Physical attraction is normal and healthy. I am a married man, happily so for almost 42 years. I love my wife and she is my one and only. Until death do us part, I am hers and she is mine. That’s the commitment we made to one another one hot July day in 1978. Does this commitment mean we can no longer walk down the store aisle and check out the goods? Is Polly being unfaithful if she says Matt Bomer, Sean Connery, or Daniel Craig is attractive? Am I being unfaithful when I admire another woman’s beauty? Of course not. We are confident in our ability to control our sexual desires.

When I was a fifteen-year-old boy, I was standing outside Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio with a group of Baptist Bible Fellowship preachers. I was in heaven just being around these renowned men of God. Well, preacher men are just like factory men, and when they are around their own, they will let down their guard and talk like one of the boys. One preacher made a joke about Jesus’s command, “but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”  He said, the first look is not a sin, the second one is. Just make sure the first look is a long one. Everyone laughed. Great advice for a sexually aware 15-year-old preacher boy, right?

Forget the Bible and religion for a moment and think about this issue from a scientific perspective. Where would the human race be if males and females were not attracted to one another? This attraction is vital to the propagation and future of our species. We can talk about inner beauty and loving someone for their mind, but the fact is, for those of us in a relationship with another, it was sexual attraction that first brought us together. There were plenty of women I could have dated while a student at Midwestern Baptist College. Why did I decide to ask 17-year-old Polly Shope out on a date? She was and is a beautiful woman, but there were other beautiful women at the college. Why was she the one? Biology? Chemistry? Fate?

Here’s what I know: every relationship begins with a look. Hmm, that’s a nice-looking man or woman. Have you ever seen couples that you wonder how they were attracted to one another? You know, the drop-dead gorgeous woman with the guy who looks like he just spent the last month homeless, living on the street. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that sexual attraction is key to our relationship with our significant other. Yes, given time, the relationship becomes far more than sexual attraction, but few relationships start without it. (I speak broadly, knowing that people can and do enter relationships for reasons other than sexual attraction.)

Instead of asking everyone to cover up for the sake of her son, perhaps Davis should focus on helping him grow into a sexually responsible man. I wouldn’t be worrying about the things Davis seems preoccupied with for my 4-year-old son. I’d be more worried about a four-year-old plugging up the toilet with army men or Legos or sticking a kitchen knife in an electrical plug than I would a woman in a bikini causing him to have inappropriate thoughts. If Davis is concerned about the bikini effect, perhaps she should pay attention to her husband’s eyes.

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

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Bruce, What’s the REAL Reason You Left the Ministry?

liar liar pants on fire

In the fall of my tenth grade year, I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. I was fifteen. I vividly remember sitting with my church friends several rows back on the left side of the auditorium as Evangelist Al Lacey preached the gospel. I had heard over a thousand sermons by that time, yet on this night the preacher’s words struck pay dirt in my wicked, sinful heart. When it came time for the invitation — a time at the end of the service when the congregation stands, sings an invitation hymn such as Just as I Am, and the preacher pleads with people to come forward to get saved, rededicate their lives to Christ, join the church, or any other decision God may be laying on their hearts — I wasted no time stepping out of my pew and coming to the front. I was met there by an altar worker and deacon named Ray Salisbury. Ray knelt with me at the altar, took me through the plan of salvation, and had me pray to ask Jesus to save me. When I got up from the altar, it was if a heavy burden had been lifted from life.

Two weeks later, I went forward again, this time to let the church know that God was calling me to preach. Outside of people getting saved, there was no greater shared experience than a young man saying God was calling him into the ministry. Youth pastor Bruce Turner quickly took me under his wing. (Please see Dear Bruce Turner.) Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon from 2 Corinthians 5:20:

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

By the time I left the ministry in 2005, at age of forty-eight, I had preached over four thousand sermons, and pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.

One of the questions my Evangelical interlocutors often ask is this: Bruce, what is the REAL reason you left the ministry? To these people, the reasons I give for leaving the ministry and later leaving Christianity are suspect. Several days ago, I re-read a post of mine John Loftus posted ten years ago on the Debunking Christianity website. I had forgotten the accusations Evangelical commenters had thrown my way (any grammar and spelling errors in the original comments):

Cathy: So the wolf has finally taken off his sheep’s clothes. Took a while. (Cathy is a member of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, a church I co-pastored in 1994. Please see the series I am a Publican and a Heathen.)

Dimitrios: Are you still married? There is more to this story than what you are leading us to………I recognize this is your story, but I can’t help but sense there is more to this than simply “losing” your faith. Are you a homosexual?

Dimitrios: Please disregard my last post…and, I apologize…I see from earlier posts that your wife is still with you. I’ve experienced people “leaving” their faith, due to a lifestyle attraction that was not supported by the church. In any event, I still feel there is more, but perhaps it is best unsaid.

Rusty: what a crock of horse manure if I ever read any.

Guest: I have doubts as to whether your testimony is truthful. but one thing I do know… It is incomplete. of all the journey and hardship you testify of — I don’t recall you mentioning the lord Jesus. It would appear that you became a baptist … not a born again Christian — you burnt yourself out serving a man made establishment. it is not possible to burn yourself out serving God as firstly it is a matter of loving him — to do so you must fall in love with God — after this, all things have joy, good and bad situations, have joy just as it is a joy to endure any amount of hardship for a child you love with all your heart, so it is a joy to endure anything for God, when you love him.

YoBro1: To Bruce G. So…..what really IS your problem? I’m not gonna quote scriptures and tell everyone off. We be praying for you here in Az man. Your brutal truth about what has happend to you, has happend to many as well. Just like Job, he wanted to discredit God and make his wrong justified to make himself feel better. Your you, and you know when the time is right. But, remember He keeps knocking at everyones heart. Be blessed.

Steven Shull: It does sound as if you have an injury that never healed and you blame God or the church for it. Maybe I am wrong. But you kind of come across that way. The Bible says in Ephesians 6:10 that we wrestle not against Flesh & Blood but against principalities and spiritual forces of evil (demons). If you don’t believe your enemy exists or is at war with you. Then that line of thought just gives that enemy even more power to mess with you as he sees fit. As I have said earlier I have been through similar situations in the Church. But rather then trying to find fault with the people in the church or learning Hebrew and Greek so I can study a more perfected Bible translation. I made the extra effort to see who was pulling the levers behind the scenes. Like the wizard of OZ. You find someone hiding behind the curtain. Someone desperately hoping to be dismissed (he needs that to happen) so he can help people discredit God and His word by causing Christians to not see who really is at fault. Then people will fight among themselves and blame God for the outcome.

Straightforward: that’s what happens when man turn to the other side. or they have been there, just that they hid it for sometime.

Over the past thirteen years, countless Evangelical zealots have left similar comments on this blog or sent them to me in emails. Unable or willing to accept my story at face value, they look for the “real” reason I left the ministry and later deconverted. Most often, my critics think I had some sort of secret sin in my life? Did I have an affair? Was I child molester? Did I steal from one or more of the churches I pastored? Was I a deceiver, a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing? The list of sins I allegedly committed is endless. No evidence is given for these allegations. My critics just KNOW in their heart of hearts that there must be some secret reason for such radical changes in my life. What God called preacher would ever leave the ministry or abandon Christian altogether. No, no, no, there must be some reason for me leaving the ministry and leaving Christianity other than what I have said.

These kind of people used to irritate the hell out of me. I thought, “why can’t they just accept what I have to say? Why try to trash my character and reputation? Why make me out to be a liar? Over the years, I have learned that when some Evangelicals read my story, it causes them to doubt their own salvation, leading to cognitive dissonance. Instead of examining their own lives, they dig for ways to dismiss mine. They comb through my life with a lice comb, hoping to find nits that prove that I was never a True Christian®; that I was a tool of Satan; that I was a false prophet.

When Evangelical zealots take this approach with me, I no longer try to help them see the light. Instead, I tell them, believe what you will. My critics would love to see COVID-19 take me out, but until it or some other disease claims my life, I plan to continue telling my story. I am one man with a story to tell, and I still have a few more chapters to write.

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

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Listen to my Interview on the Preacher Boys Podcast with Eric Skwarczynski

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before wedding.

Last week, I was interviewed by Eric Skwarczynski for his Preacher Boys Podcast. Eric is a Christian, formerly a part of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I had a delightful time talking with Eric, sharing my story, and giving my opinion about the health and future of the IFB church movement. The interview is over an hour long. I hope you will take the time to listen to it and let me know what you think.

I appreciate Eric’s kind and thoughtful words. I get a lot of negative press, so it is nice to hear someone speak well of me. I hope I live up to Eric’s lofty introduction.

You can listen to the podcast on Spotify and Apple.

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

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.

How to Turn Your Evangelical Teens Into Annoying Fake Friends

jesus is my boyfriend

Want to turn your Evangelical children into annoying fake friends? Just follow the advice of Katie Polski. Katie Polski is the wife of the pastor of a Presbyterian Churches in America (a Fundamentalist denomination) church. Her husband, Chris, pastors Trinity Church in Kirkwood, Missouri. You can read her blog here.

I am sure Polski means well. After all, most Evangelical zealots mean well. Their minds and hearts are on eternity, on the lost state of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Polski feels burdened over the fact that Evangelical teenagers are not well-equipped to evangelize their heathen classmates. Polski gives the following advice to parents who want to turn their teens into subversives for Jesus:

Cultivate an Evangelistic Disposition

There are three important ways we can do this as parents:

By building relationships with unbelievers

In one of my theology classes, we were asked to write a ten-page letter to an unbelieving friend. When I struggled to come up with someone to write to, I had no choice but to confront the glaring problem…I didn’t know many unbelievers. Parents, we can’t share the gospel with our kids but fail to cultivate a disposition toward evangelism, and one of the greatest ways we do this is by encouraging relationships with unbelievers.

As a mom of a sixteen and seventeen-year-old, I understand how grey the line is between embracing those who don’t know Jesus and embracing their sometimes-alluring ways. There is no easy answer, but what is clear is that we are not called to separate ourselves from unbelievers. Scripture is inundated with references that assume we will know and interact with them. In John 17, Jesus Himself prays that His disciples NOT be taken “out of the world, but that you [Father] keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). This should be our prayer as well as we build relationships with those who don’t know Jesus and prudently encourage our children to do the same.

By demonstrating how to build bridges

The key is understanding that our relationships with unbelievers should be developed with the hope of leading them toward the gospel. The foundation is the relationship. The next step is finding a bridge to gospel-sharing, and that bridge will look different for each friendship. Perhaps start by helping your kids to think of what they have in common with their unbelieving friend. Is it a sport? A certain type of music? A love for movies? All of these can be bridges that open up conversations about Jesus.

What is crucial for us as parents is helping our kids discern the difference between the way they as Christians view this common passion, and the way the world views it. If they love theatre, for example, encourage them to consider giving God the glory when they are praised for a performance. When a friend says, “Why do you answer like that?” there is a bridge to explaining Jesus, the One who gives all good gifts. If your child loves a particular sport, encourage them to not skip church to attend a game. When a friend says, “Why did you miss?” there is a bridge to explain why worship matters.

Even more pointed are the bridges built by taking firm stands in the truth. This is harder to do, but it’s good and right to model and encourage deliberate stances for Jesus. Perhaps it’s posting a Bible verse on Social Media or inviting a friend to a youth group retreat. These are all potential bridges to showing an unbeliever who Jesus is.

By assisting them in evangelism

There is something beautiful about engaging in evangelism with a child. One of the ways this can happen is by praying for our child’s unbelieving friend by name. When we do this, we are entering into the process of evangelism with them. Asking about and praying for these friends helps our children to remember to be gospel-minded, and it sets the stage for all to see the miraculous work that God can do. It’s not always immediate, but God works through the prayers of His people, so pray boldly and watch with anticipation at the work He will do!

Encourage your children to bring these friends into your home. Our actions can be one of the greatest forms of evangelism that our children will ever see modeled. Simply offering to invite an unbelieving friend to a family dinner is an example modeled by our Savior and one we should seek to model for our children. Pray for your kids as they learn and grow in their understanding of what it means to share Jesus with others. Trust that the Lord is working on their hearts just as powerfully as He is working in the lives of those they seek to evangelize.

Regular readers might sense a bit of déjà vu, thinking that this sure sounds a lot like Larry Dixon’s and Katy Morgan’s “friendship” evangelism shtick. (Please see Beware of Evangelicals Coming in the Name of Friendship and Larry Dixon’s Followers Dish the Truth about Atheist Bruce Gerencser) And just like Dixon and Morgan, Polski encourages parents to teach their children to be fake friends with their school classmates. Instead of teaching teenagers how to develop real, lasting, authentic relationships with others, Polskiwants parents to teach them to use manipulative, subversive methodologies to “reach” unbelieving schoolmates with the Evangelical gospel.

First, Polski says that evangelizing teenagers need to build relationships with their fellow students with the hope of “leading them toward the gospel.” Polski warns that Evangelical teenagers should build fake relationships without embracing the sinful, worldly ways of their targets. This, of course, requires lots of prayer. According to the Bible, Christians are supposed to be “in the world but not of the world.” In other words, parents should encourage their teenagers to hang out with worldlings but not participate in their worldly ways. Can you imagine, for a moment, how this will work out in real life for Evangelical teenagers? “Hey, let’s be friends, but I can’t do any of the things you do or go any of the places you go.” “Really, all I want to do is tell you about Jesus, invite you to church on Sunday, and hope you don’t think I’m a religious nut job.”

Second, Polski tells parents that it is important for their evangelizing teenagers to build bridges with unsuspecting, unregenerate classmates. Find out what you have in common with a fellow student — say sports, music, movies — and use that as a “bridge” (Greek for the word hook) to evangelize them, Polski says to Christian teens. Of course, due to a rigid, unflinching commitment to a Fundamentalist interpretation of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, parents must make sure that their evangelizing teenagers don’t compromise their beliefs and practices (actually the beliefs of their church, pastor, parents). Sure don’t want a church teenager losing his virginity to a classmate while trying to evangelize them, or some other horrid sin that normal people call a rite of passage.

Third, Polski tells parents they should assist their teens in evangelizing their classmates. This point is the most dangerous one of all. Polski suggests parents have their teenagers invite their friends to their homes — say to a family dinner. That way, parents schooled for years in the art of manipulating people can soften up and manipulate unsuspecting, naïve teenagers for the gospel kill. Polski and her husband, in particular, are likely experts at using this technique. Most Evangelical pastors and his wives likely have the requisite skills necessary to “make” a teenager receptive to their cult’s teachings. I know firsthand how this game is played, so any attempt by Polski to put a kind, friendly face on this feral pig won’t work.

I came of age in the 1970s at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Saved, baptized, and called the preach at the age of fifteen, I was all in when church pastors Gene Milioni, Ron Johnson, and Bruce Turner (Please see Dear Bruce Turner) suggested that our youth group carry their Bibles to school, hand out gospel tracts, invite classmates to church, and engage in conversations about the gospel when given the opportunity. Out of the hundred or so students in the senior high youth group, I was the only one to heed the call and take the gospel to my hellbound acquaintances — most of my friends attended Trinity — at Findlay High School. I attended one of the largest high schools in the state of Ohio. There were over eight hundred students in my class alone. My mission field was large, and I intended to reach as many of them as I could for Jesus. After all, Jesus was coming soon. By 1976, Jack Van Impe said!

Every day, I would carry my King James Scofield Reference Bible on top of my books. What better way for me to tell my classmates that I was a Christian than to carry my Bible everywhere I went. During lunch, you could find me with a large group of no one sitting at a table reading my Bible. Again, this was my way of saying to my dope-smoking, booze-drinking, fornicating classmates that I was a non-dope-smoking, non-booze-drinking virgin. Did wonders for my social life, both inside and outside of church.

During this time, I was living with one of the church’s matriarchs, Gladys Canterbury. Being the lady who read missionary letters to the church, she approved of my evangelistic efforts. To help pay for my expenses, I work as a busboy at Bill Knapp’s Restaurant. I would get out of school at 11:30 AM and walk or ride my bike to Bill Knapp’s to work the lunch shift. On many days, I would take a several hour break, during which time I would either do my homework or read my Bible, and then I would work the evening shift. Several of my schoolmates worked at Bill Knapp’s too. We had been friends in junior high school, and knew each other from playing baseball and sports at the YMCA. I decided that I would start leaving gospel tracts in their coat pockets, hoping that they would read them, and ask me for more information. Instead, they wondered when I had become a religious fanatic. These same friends one school day took to throwing my Bible around the classroom, mocking my beliefs. I was thoroughly embarrassed by this, and a short time later I quit carrying my Bible to school. I felt guilty, saying to myself, “Bruce, you love the world more than you love God.” Never mind the fact that I was the only church teenager to heed the call to evangelization; the only one to seek lost sinners at Findlay High. I was a failure because I loved having the respect of my fellow classmates more than I did having the approbation of Jesus, my pastors, and the church.

I did have one soulwinning success story. Kinda, anyway. One Wednesday afternoon, I asked one of my classmates who worked with me at Bill Knapp’s if he would like to go to church with me that night. Surprisingly, Deke said yes. Trinity had what they called a “prayer meeting” on Wednesdays, but it was really just a typical Sunday preaching service, complete with an invitation, with a little extra prayer thrown in. So at the appointed time, my friend Deke joined me in the back center pew at Trinity Baptist Church. I think Deke was genuinely curious about what I was up to religiously. Well, he sure got more than he bargained for. The sermon that night was just like every other sermon — come to Jesus lest you burn in Hell for eternity. After my pastor gave his manipulative, coercive “every head bowed, every eye closed, no one looking around” speech, the song leader led the congregation in the singing of Just as I Am. As the singing began, I turned to Deke and asked him if he wanted to go forward and get saved. In no uncertain terms, Deke said no. Several verses into Just as I Am, one of the trained church stalkers, I mean altar workers, came to where Deke and I were standing and began to beat him over the head with Jesus and the importance of getting saved that night. Lo and behold, after a few minutes of what can best be described as tenderizing meat for the gospel grill, Deke went forward, knelt at the altar, prayed the sinner’s prayer, and was gloriously, wonderfully, awesomely, supercalifragilisticexpialidociously saved. Amen right? Amen! Praise Jesus. Another sinner saved from the fiery pit of Hell. 

Deke quickly left after the service, so we didn’t have a chance to talk about what took place. The next day, I talked to Deke at Bill Knapp’s. He derisively told me that he would never come to my church again; that he just prayed the sinner’s prayer so “that lady,” as he would call her, would leave him alone. The only thing he got saved from that day was her.

I am sure that much like Larry Dixon, Katie Polski will say that I have misrepresented her intent and beliefs, but I stand by my repudiation and criticism of her weaponizing Evangelical children; of turning them into annoying, irritating religious nut jobs. There will be plenty of time in their adult lives for these teenagers to make fake friends with unsuspecting unbelievers. No need to ruin their high school years. Again, if one of their classmates asks them about their faith, if they are so inclined, they should share it. But, encouraging Evangelical teenagers to make fake friendships so they can evangelize people is not only is a bad idea, it teaches them that subterfuge and manipulation are okay as long as you do it in the name of God.

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

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

1972: My First and Last All-Night Prayer Meeting

singing group trinity baptist church findlay
Singing Group Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio. Bruce Gerencser is the last person on the right, age 15.

As a fifteen-year-old boy at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, I attended my first all-night prayer meeting. Trinity was a fast-growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, nearing 1,000 in attendance. The pastors and deacons decided that the church needed the men of the congregation to spend a night storming the throne room of Heaven. I’m not sure if there was an exact reason for the prayer meeting, but I suspect it had to do with the church’s troubled building program and the continued evangelization of the lost. At the time, Trinity met in a building on Trenton Avenue. Maxed out seating-wise, Pastor Gene Milioni and the congregation decided to build a large, round building on land donated to them by Ralph Ashcraft on County Road 236 east of Findlay. At the time, the land was farmland. Today, it is surrounded by housing and commercial businesses.

Trinity tried to fund the construction project by selling bonds to congregants. According to Peach State Financial, church bonds are

a form of fixed-rate financing typically used to finance church expansion. What are church bonds? Church bonds are certificates of indebtedness which are sold by churches to create funds for church construction, purchase, or renovation. The church is acting as the borrower and the bond investors who are often times church members are the lenders.

The church bonds issued by the church are sold by the church broker dealer who acts as the lender who follows certain guidelines in the transaction. The church is not required to sell the bonds.

….

The interest rate earned on church bonds for the investor generally runs from 4.5% to 8.5%. Bank savings accounts and Certificates of Deposit pay only a fraction of this amount. A church bond program is a win-win situation for the church and it’s members.

These bonds were, in essence, loans by church members to the church, featuring handsome interest rates upon repayment. Such bond programs were common among growing IFB churches at the time. The risk, of course, was that the bonds were not insured or guaranteed. While I am not certain of the exact details, I believe Trinity’s bond program was fraught with problems, including running afoul of securities laws and late repayment. The church eventually paid off all the bonds and became debt-free.

On that night in 1972, the “need” was palpable. God was moving and working at Trinity Baptist. The buildings and buses were filled to capacity. Three pastors were on staff full-time. Virtually every Sunday, souls were being saved and members added to the membership. A few months prior, I had been saved, baptized, and called to preach. My heart burned with passion for Jesus and the salvation of sinners. Well, that and girls. Gotta keep it real . . .

At the appointed time, a handful of church men and teen boys gathered in the church auditorium for prayer. Some of the pray-ers, planned on praying all night, while others had signed up for specific times, say 1:00-3:00 AM. I, along with several of my youth group friends, planned on “praying” all night. While we intended to fervently and dutifully pray, the thought of a night away from home with friends proved to be the driving motivation for our attendance. We quickly learned that praying for any length of time was hard. Up until that night, my longest prayers were minutes, not hours long. I found myself running out of things to talk to God about. “Surely, he heard me the first time,” I thought, so it seemed to me a waste of time to keep bugging God about the same things over, and over, and over again. However, I went through the motions, kneeling at the altar with the men of the church. I am sure they thought I was quite a “spiritual” boy. Recently called to preach, I am sure they thought that great things awaited the Gerencser boy. Unfortunately, as time wore on, restless, jokester, goof-off Bruce showed up, and Ray Salisbury, a stern deacon who had a daughter I was interested in, told me that I would have to go home if I couldn’t maintain the proper decorum. All prayed out, I rode my bike home and crawled into bed in the wee hours of the morning. I am sure my pastors were disappointed with my lack of enduring spirituality. I, on the other hand, look back at this story and think, “man, I was a restless, ornery fifteen-year-old boy. Getting me to sit still for any amount of time was a victory.”

This prayer meeting was my first and only all-night prayer meeting. Have you ever attended an all-night prayer meeting? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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, Were You Ever a “Real” Christian?

real christian

One of the common lines of attack Evangelical critics use against me is what is commonly called the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.  Rational Wiki explains the “No True Scotsman” fallacy:

The No True Scotsman (NTS) fallacy is a logical fallacy that occurs when a debater defends the generalization of a group by excluding counter-examples from it. For example, it is common to argue that “all members of [my religion] are fundamentally good”, and then to abandon all bad individuals as “not true [my-religion]-people”.

….

NTS can be thought of as a form of inverted cherry picking, where instead of selecting favourable examples, one rejects unfavourable ones. The NTS fallacy paves the path to other logical fallacies, such as letting the “best” member of a group represent it. Thanks to these remarkable qualities, the NTS fallacy is a vital tool in the promotion of denialism.

Simply put, “no matter what you say Bruce, you never were a REAL Christian.”

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. At the age of fifteen, I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Coming under the Holy Spirit’s conviction, I went forward during the invitation, knelt at the altar, repented of my sins, and asked Jesus to save me. Several weeks later, I went forward again and professed publicly to the church that I believed that God was calling me to preach. From that time forward — until I walked away from Christianity in November 2008 — my heart and mind were set on worshipping, serving, and following Jesus. I committed myself to daily prayer and reading and studying the Bible. At the age of nineteen, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. While at Midwestern, I met and dated the beautiful daughter of a Baptist preacher. We later married, had six children, and invested our lives in building churches, helping others, and evangelizing the lost. Simply put, we loved Jesus, and whatever the Holy Spirit led us to do, we did it — even if it cost us socially or economically.

That’s not to say that we were perfect Christians. We weren’t. Speaking for myself, I was temperamental, prone to mood swings that ranged from palpable excitement to brooding darkness. I now know that I was dealing with undiagnosed depression; that what I really needed was competent professional help. It took me more than a decade to see someone once I realized I needed help. Why so long? I grew up in a home with a mother who had serious mental health problems. (Please see Barbara.) I knew the shame that came from having a loved one who was viewed by others as “nuts” or “crazy.” I certainly wasn’t my mother — as my counselor has frequently reminded me — but I didn’t want my wife and children to have to bear the stigma of having a husband/parent who had mental problems. It was enough that they had to bear the brunt of my mood swings behind closed doors. I didn’t want them to bear that burden in public.

I am sure an Evangelical zealot or two is itching to ask, “Bruce, did you ever “sin” against God?” Silly boy, of course I did. I daily sinned in thought, word, and deed; sins of omission and sins of commission. Let me ask you the same question, “did you ever sin against God?” That’s what I thought. Of course you have. Whatever failures I had in my life, and they were many, doesn’t negate the fact that I loved Jesus (and the church) with my all my heart, soul, and mind. I spent the prime years of my life — ruining my health in the process — laboring day and night in God’s vineyard. I chose a life of poverty so I could provide the churches I pastored with a full-time preacher. There’s not one former congregant who can say of me that I didn’t give my all to the church; to preaching the gospel to sinners and teaching the saints the Word of God. Critics will search in vain for anyone who knew me at the time that would say of me, “Bruce was not a real Christian.” Several years ago, a woman who knows me quite well, told a family member, “if Butch (my family nickname) wasn’t a Christian, no one is!” And that’s my testimony too. There’s nothing in my story, when taken as a whole, that remotely suggests that I wasn’t a real Christian.

What happens, of course, is that my Evangelical critics skim over the book of my life, choosing instead to just read the last chapter; the chapter where Bruce, the Evangelical pastor is now Bruce, the atheist; the chapter where Bruce rejects, criticizes, and stands against everything he once believed; the chapter where it is clear to Bruce’s critics that he is a reprobate and apostate. After reading the last chapter, my critics conclude, “Bruce, you never were a real Christian.” Once critics come to this ill-informed conclusion, it is impossible to change their minds (and I no longer try to do so).

The biggest problem my critics face is their theology. Most Evangelicals, particularly Baptists, believe that once a person is saved, his salvation cannot be lost. Once adopted into the family of God and married to Jesus, you are forever a member of the Christian family. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 8:31-39:

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jesus himself said in John 10:27-29:

 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

Did my long years as a Christian show that I was a sheep who had heard the voice of Jesus and followed him? Of course they did. If that is true, and it is, then based on the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, I was a born-from-above child of God who had been granted eternal life by God himself.

Many of my critics can’t bear to admit that I was ever a “real” Christian. They can’t bear to think of spending eternity in Heaven with me, an avowed atheist. So they take a lice comb to the hair of my life, looking for anything in my beliefs, practices, or conduct that reveals that I was not, according to their standard, a real Christian. Their minds are made up: I was a fake Christian. I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Never mind that the evidence of my lived life suggests otherwise. Instead of admitting the obvious, these keepers of the Book of Life strain at the gnat and swallow a camel finding ways to “prove” I wasn’t a real Christian.

On one hand, I agree with them. It is absurd to think that I am now a Christian, and that Heaven awaits me after I died. There’s nothing in my present life that remotely suggests that I am a follower of Jesus. A few critics, unable to square their theology with the sum of my life, take a different approach. According to them, I am still a Christian, and there’s nothing I can say or do to change that fact. This line of argument is equally absurd.

It is not up to me to help my critics make their theology fit the narrative of my life. All I know is this: I once was a Christian, and now I am not. I think of my life this way: At the age of fifteen, I married Jesus. We had thirty-five years of blissful marriage. However, at the age of fifty, I divorced Jesus, and fell in love with rationalism and freedom. When asked about my marriage to Jesus, I say, “all in all, we had a good life together.” There are times when I wistfully look at my marriage to Jesus and yearn for the “good old days.” Stupid thoughts, to be sure, knowing that humans tend to sanitize their past, ignoring or blocking out the bad things that happened. Sure, Jesus and I had a good life together, but he’s no match for my current lover. I could never go back to the leeks, onions, and bondage of Egypt, having tasted and enjoyed the wonder and freedom of the Promised Land.

Some readers, particularly lifelong atheists, often ask, “why does this matter to you, Bruce? The Christian God is a myth. Christianity is built on a foundation of lies. There’s no judgment, no Heaven, no Hell. Your life as a Christian was built on a fairytale!” As a godless heathen, I certainly agree with these sentiments. However, I WAS a devoted Christian for many years. I WAS a committed, sacrificial pastor for decades. It’s impossible to honestly and faithfully tell my story without sharing the fifty years I spent in the Christian church. Years ago, I had a social worker offer me some advice on how to write an effective résumé. She thought that my religious education and ministerial job history were turnoffs or red flags to many prospective employers. She suggested leaving these things off my résumé. I replied, “so what do you want me to do with the huge holes in my work history? Should I just put I was in prison for twenty-five years?” She was not amused.

My past is part of who I am. I can’t and won’t ignore the “Christian years” to make my story more palatable. Nor can I ignore the chapters that are presently being written. Are not all of us the sum of our experiences? Why is it we have no problem when someone says, “I was married and now I am divorced. Several months ago, I met someone who might be the right person for me.” That’s my life. I was married to Jesus, divorced him, and eleven years ago I met someone new; someone who has become just the right person for me. All I ask from Christians is that they accept my story at face value; that they allow me to tell my story honestly and openly without attempting to deconstruct my life. When Christians comment on this blog, I accept their claims of faith without question. Even when they promote bad theology or say contradictory things, I allow them to tell their stories on their own terms. If I have learned anything over the years it is this: there are millions of Christianities and millions of Jesuses. No two Christians believe the same things or worship Jesus in exactly the same way. To discern who is and isn’t a “real” Christian is an impossible task. Who am I to say to a follower of Jesus: you are NOT a real Christian. All of us bring unique books to story time. Mine just so happens to be one of devotion to Jesus and loss of faith. Regardless of what my critics say about my past, I know what I know. After all, who knows my life better than I do? And so it is with you.

Last week, I had a Christian contact me, asking for advice on how to set up a blog and how to rank well with search engines such as Google and Bing. I gave him some general advice. The first thing I told him is this: “I encourage everyone, Christian or not, to tell their story. Blogging is an excellent way to do so.” I am convinced that the best way to help others is by telling our stories. Sure, there’s a time and place for polemical writing; attacks on the text and teachings of the Bible. I am certainly more than willing to take an axe to the roots of Christianity and the Bible. However, I have learned, as a public speaker and a writer, that the most effective way to reach people is by telling my story. As such, this blog will always remain “one man with a story to tell.”

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.

Dear Jesus

Jesus
Painting by Jessie Kohn

Dear Jesus,

I’m sixty-two years old, and there has never been a moment when you were not in my life.

Mom and Dad talked about you before I was born, deciding to have me baptized by an Episcopal priest. They wanted me to grow up with good morals and love you, so they decided putting water on my forehead and having a priest recite religious words over me was the way to ensure my moral Christian future.

A few weeks after my birth, Mom and Dad gathered with family members to have me baptized. I was later told it was quite an affair, but I don’t remember anything about the day. Years later, I found my baptismal certificate. Signed by the priest, it declared I was a Christian.

Jesus, how could I have been a Christian at age four weeks? How did putting water on my head make me a follower of you? I don’t understand, but according to the certificate I was now part of my tribe’s religion: Protestant Christianity.

I turned five in 1962. Mom and Dad decided to move 2,300 miles to San Diego, California, believing that success and prosperity awaited them.

After getting settled, Mom and Dad said we need to find a new church to attend. Their shopping took them to the growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation pastored by Tim LaHaye. It was here that I learned that my tribe had a new religion: Fundamentalist Christianity.

I quickly learned that our previous religion worshipped a false God, and my baptism didn’t make me a Christian at all. If I wanted to be a True Christian®, I had to come forward to the front of the church, kneel at the altar, and pray a certain prayer. If I did these things, I would then be a Christian — forever. And so I did. This sure pleased Mom and Dad.

Later, I was baptized again, but the preacher didn’t sprinkle water on my forehead. That would not do, I was told. True Baptism® required me to be submerged in a tank of water. And so, one Sunday, I joined a line of people waiting to be baptized. I was excited, yet scared. Soon, it came time for me to be dunked. The preacher put his left hand behind my head and raised his right hand towards Heaven. He asked, “Bruce, do you confess before God and man that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?” With a halting child’s voice, I replied, “Yes.” And with that, the preacher, with a hanky in his right hand, put his hand over my nose, dunked me in the water, and quickly lifted me up. I heard both the preacher and the congregation say, “Amen!”

Jesus, the Bible says that the angels in Heaven rejoice when a sinner gets saved. Do you remember the day I got saved? Do you remember hearing the angels in Heaven say, “Praise to the Lamb that was slain! Bruce Gerencser is now a child of God. Glory be, another soul snatched from the hands of Satan?”

After a few years in California, Mom and Dad discovered that there was not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and our family was just as poor in the Golden State as they were in dreary, flat rural northwest Ohio. And so we moved, a process that happened over and over to me throughout the next decade — eight different schools.

As I became more aware and observant of my environment, I noticed that Mom and Dad had changed. Mom, in particular, was quite animated and agitated over American social unrest and the war in Vietnam. Mom and Dad took us to a new church, First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — an IFB church pastored by Jack Bennett. We attended church twice on Sunday and on Wednesday evening.

I attended Bryan schools for two years. Not long after I started fourth grade, Mom and Dad decided it was time to move yet again. This time, we were moving to a brand new tri-level home on Route 30 outside of Lima, Ohio. It was there that I started playing basketball and baseball — sports I would continue to play competitively for the next twenty years. It was also there than I began to see that something was very wrong with Mom. At the time, I didn’t understand what was going on with her. All I knew is that she could be “Mom” one day and a raging lunatic the next.

I was told by my pastors, Jesus, that you know and see everything. Just in case you were busy one day and missed what went on or were on vacation, let me share a few stories about what happened while we lived in Lima.

One night, Mom was upstairs, and I heard her screaming. She was having one of her “fits.” I decided to see if there was anything I could do to help her — that’s what the oldest child does. As I walked towards Mom’s bedroom, I saw her grabbing shoes and other things and violently throwing them down the hallway. This was the first time I remember being afraid . . .

One day, I got off the school bus and quickly ran to our home. I always had to be the first one in the door. As I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that Mom was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had slit her wrists. I quickly ran to the next-door neighbor’s house and asked her to help. She quickly summoned an ambulance, and Mom’s life was saved.

Mom would try again, again, and again to kill herself: slitting her wrists, overdosing on medication, driving in front of a truck. At the age of fifty-four, she succeeded. One Sunday morning, Mom went into the bathroom, pointed a Ruger .357 at her heart, and pulled the trigger. She quickly slumped to the floor and was dead in minutes. Yet, she never stopped believing in you, Jesus. No matter what happened, Mom held on to her tribe’s God.

Halfway through my fifth-grade year, Mom and Dad moved to Farmer, Ohio. I attended Farmer Elementary School for the fifth and sixth grades. One day, I was home from school sick, and Mom’s brother-in-law stopped by. He didn’t know I was in my bedroom. After he left, Mom came to my room crying, saying, “I have been raped. I need you to call the police.” I was twelve. Do you remember this day, Jesus? Where were you? I thought you were all-powerful? Why didn’t you do anything?

From Farmer, we moved to  Deshler, Ohio for my seventh-grade year of school. Then Mom and Dad moved us to Findlay, Ohio. By then, my parents’ marriage was in shambles. Dad never seemed to be home and Mom continued to have wild, manic mood swings. Shortly before the end of ninth grade, Dad matter-of-factly informed me that they were getting a divorce. “We don’t love each other anymore,” Dad said. And with that, he turned and walked away, leaving me to wallow in my pain. That’s how Dad always treated me. I can’t remember a time when he embraced me or said “I love you.” I would learn years later that “Dad” was not my biological father. I wonder, Jesus, was this why he kept me at arm’s length emotionally?

After moving to Findlay, Mom and Dad joined Trinity Baptist Church — a fast-growing IFB congregation pastored by Gene Millioni. After Mom and Dad divorced, they stopped attending church. Both of them quickly remarried. Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a baby, and Mom married her first cousin — a recent prison parolee. So much upheaval and turmoil, Jesus. Where were you when all of this was going on? I know, I know, you were there in spirit.

Mom and Dad may have stopped going to church, but I didn’t. By then, I had a lot of friends and had started dating, so there was no way I was going to miss church. Besides, attending church got me away from home, a place where Dad’s new and improved wife made it clear I wasn’t welcome.

One fall weeknight, I sat in church with my friends listening to Evangelist Al Lacy. I was fifteen. As is the custom in IFB churches, Lacy prayed at the end of his sermon, asking, “with every head bowed and every eye closed, is there anyone here who is not saved and would like me to pray for them?” I had been feeling under “conviction” during the sermon. I thought, “maybe I not saved?” So, I raised my hand. Lacy prayed for those of us who had raised our hands and then had everyone stand. As the congregation sang Just as I am, Lacy said, “if you raised your hand, I want you to step out of your seat and come to the altar. Someone will meet you there and show you how you can know Jesus as your Lord and Savior.” Much to the surprise of my friends, I haltingly stepped out from my seat and walked to the front. I was met by Ray Salisbury — a church deacon. Ray had me kneel as he took me through a set of Bible verses called the Roman’s Road. After quizzing me on what I had read, Ray asked me if I wanted to be saved. I said, “yes,” and then Ray said, “pray this prayer after me: Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner and I know you died on the cross for my sins. Right now, I ask you to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart and save me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” After I prayed the prayer, Ray said “AMEN!” “Did you really believe what you prayed?” I replied, “yes.” “Then you are now a child of God, a born-again Christian.”

The next Sunday, I was baptized, and the Sunday after that, I went forward again, letting the church know that you, Jesus, were calling me to preach. I was all in after that. For the next thirty-five years, Jesus, I lived and breathed you. You were my life, the sum of my existence.

At the age of nineteen, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. It was here I received training to become a proper IFB pastor, and it was here I met the love of my life, a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter. We married during the summer between our sophomore and junior years. We were so excited about our new life, thrilled to be preparing to work in God’s vineyard. We planned to graduate, go to a small community to start a new IFB church, buy a white two-story house with a white picket fence, and have two children: Jason and Bethany, and live happily ever after. However, Jesus, you had different plans for us. Do you remember what happened to us? Surely you do, right? Friends and teachers told us that you were testing us!  By early spring, Polly was six months pregnant and I was laid off from my machine shop job. We were destitute, yet, the college dean told us, “Jesus, wants you to trust him and stay in college.” No offer of financial help was forthcoming, and we finally had to move out of our apartment. With my tail between my legs, I packed up our meager belongings returned to Bryan, Ohio. I had failed your test, Jesus. I still remember what one of my friends told me, “If you leave now, God will NEVER use you!”

What did he know, right? After moving, I quickly secured secular employment and began working at a local IFB church. For the next twenty-five years, I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Jesus, you were my constant companion, my lover, friend, and confidante. I sure loved you, and I believed you loved me too.We BFF’s, right?  Sometimes, I wondered if you really loved me as much I love you. Our love affair was virtual in nature. We never met face-to-face, but I believed in my heart of hearts you were the very reason for my existence. When I doubted this, I attributed my doubts to Satan or to me not praying hard enough or reading the Bible enough. I never thought for one moment, Jesus, that you might be a figment of my imagination, a lie taught to me by my parents and pastors. I was a true believer. That is until I wasn’t.

At age fifty, I finally realized, Jesus, that you were a myth, the main character of a 2,000-year-old fictional story. I finally concluded that all those times when I wondered where you were, were in fact, true. I couldn’t find you because you were dead. You had died almost 2,000 years before. The Bible told me about your death, but I really believed that you resurrected from the dead. I feel so silly now. Dead people don’t come back to life. Your resurrection from the dead was just a campfire story, and I had foolishly believed it. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Everyone I knew believed the same story. All of us believed that the miracles attributed to you, Jesus, really happened; that you were a virgin-born God-man; that you ascended to Heaven to prepare a mansion for us to live in after we die.

It all seems so silly, now, but Jesus, I really did believe in you. Fifty years, Jesus. The prime of my life, I gave to you, only to find out that you were a lie. Yet, here I am today, and you are still “with” me. My parents, pastors, and professors did a good job of indoctrinating me. You are very much “real” to me, even though you lie buried somewhere on a Judean hillside. Try as I might, I can’t get you out of my mind. I have come to accept that you will never leave me.

You should know, Jesus — well, you can’t know, you are dead — that I spend my days helping people get away from you. What did you say, Jesus? I can’t hear you. I can hear the voices of Christians condemning me as a heretic, blasphemer, and hater of God. I can hear them praying for my death and threatening me with eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire. Their voices are loud and clear, but your voice, Jesus? Silence.

Always silent, Jesus. Why is that?

If you ever want to talk to me, you know where I live. Show up at my door, Jesus, and that will be a miracle I can believe in. Better yet, if you can help the Cincinnati Bengals win their last six games, well, I just might rethink your existence. Not going to happen, I know. The Bengals are going to bungle their way to an 0-16 record.

If you can’t help my football team win a few games, Jesus, what good are you? It’s not like I am asking you to feed the hungry, heal the sick, or put an end to violence and war. That would require you to give a shit, Jesus, and if there’s one thing I have learned over the past sixty-two years, it is this: you don’t give a shit about what happens on earth. We humans are on our own, and that’s fine with me.

signature

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.

Evangelists: The Hired Guns of the IFB Church Movement

hired gun

I grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, attended an IFB college, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and pastored IFB churches for a decade. In the late 1980s, thanks to the Jack Hyles scandal and my exposure to Calvinism, I left the IFB church movement. As a writer, I have made it my mission to inform readers about the inner workings of IFB churches and institutions. My wife’s father is a retired IFB pastor, and her extended family includes IFB pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and their wives. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) My IFB roots run deep (our family attended Tim LaHaye’s church, Scott Memorial Baptist Church, in the 1960s), and just because I am no longer a believer doesn’t mean that I can no longer speak authoritatively about the movement. While the IFB church movement has evolved over the years, its core principles remain the same. The older generation of IFB preachers is dying off, but, unfortunately, their children and grandchildren are following in their steps. Polly’s IFB cousins are now in their forties and fifties. Their oldest children are now college age. So far, the colleges of choice have been IFB institutions — offering up another innocent generation to the “cause.”

I wrote the brief biography above in the hope of warding off IFB zealots who think I am too far removed from the movement to have anything of value to say. I will leave it to readers to decide if my words ring true. The IFB church movement tends to slowly evolve and change. This means that while there have been peripheral changes since my IFB days, their core beliefs and practices remain the same. Don’t confuse these superficial changes with transformative change. The IFB church movement remains a dangerous, cultic group that causes untold heartache and psychological damage.

Now to the subject of this post: IFB evangelists.

I came of age at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. The church held several revivals, youth revival, and conferences a year. Typically, the revivals started on a Sunday and went through Friday or started on a Monday and concluded on Sunday. High-powered evangelists were brought in to preach these meetings. Their goal was always the same: evangelize the lost and revive the saved.

As an IFB pastor, I followed in the footsteps of my pastors. Typically, the churches I pastored had two revivals a year. For a number of years, Don Hardman would come to our church and hold what is called a protracted meeting. For fifteen days — including three Sundays — Hardman would preach to saint and sinner alike. Countless church members attended all eighteen services. Nearby IFB churches would bring busloads or carloads of people to hear Hardman’s often hour-plus-long sermons. Souls would be saved and scores of Christians would come forward during the invitations, kneel at the altar, and get right with God. Throw in nightly special music and fellowship dinners, and it should not come as a surprise that these meetings were the highlight of the church calendar. For his efforts, Hardman walked away with $1,000-$1,500 cash in a brown paper bag. I will leave it to you to decide if he claimed this income on his tax return.

Over the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, numerous evangelists preached for me. Notice I said, “preached for me.” As pastor, I was the gatekeeper. I controlled who preached from the pulpit. Evangelists were hired guns, men who came to minister and stir up the church and then ride off into the night. Evangelists were, in effect, traveling preachers who went from church to church preaching canned sermons. Rare was the evangelist who preached new sermons at every church. These “men of God” had certain sermons that “worked,” and as long as these messages were effective, they continued to use them. Seasoned evangelists developed a pool of sermons to preach from. One evangelist, Phil Shuler — a frequent speaker at the Newark Baptist Temple, pastored at the time by Polly’s uncle — had recordings of his sermons. Each night, before the service, Shuler would refresh his memory by playing the tape of that night’s sermon. No need to study, just throw in a few relevant illustrations and regurgitate what had been said before. This practice is common on the IFB conference circuit too.

As hired guns, evangelists are expected to “help” the pastors they are preaching for. Sometimes, evangelists will sanctimoniously ask pastors, “Brother, is there anything I can pray for this week?” Such evangelists are trying to give the air of being directed by God in their preaching, but as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, those “prayer requests” would find their way into their sermons. Some evangelists just plain ask, “Brother, is there anything you need me to address this week?” Every pastor, myself included, had a list of grievances he would love to have addressed by an outside party. Evangelist after evangelist quizzed me about the state of the churches I pastored, and sometime during the week, my answers would show up in their sermons. Unwary congregants took such targeted preaching as a sign God was “speaking” to them. Little did they know that their pastor was the man pulling the strings behind the scenes.

The goal, of course, was to evangelize the lost and revive the church. Revivals were a way of energizing — for a time — complacent, lazy, indifferent church members. I watched hundreds and hundreds of congregants weep crocodile tears and sling snot as they got right with God. For a time, these lovers of Jesus would walk the straight and narrow, but, in the end, they usually reverted to the norm — as we all do. And just as they got settled in, it was time for another revival! Thus it went, spring after spring, fall after fall, year in and year out.

elmer gantry

Let me be clear, many of the evangelists I knew were sincere, honest men of God. (And let me also be clear, some of them were the IFB version of Elmer Gantry.) I don’t doubt for a moment that these men believed that God was calling them to be evangelists. That said, it’s hard not to see the work of evangelists and revival meetings as manipulative tools used by pastors to gain certain objectives. What better way to stir up your church than to bring in a smooth-talking, high-powered evangelist to preach? Congregants get tired of listening to the same voice week after week. The evangelist is a new and different voice, so people are more likely to pay attention. Smart, and oh-so-godly, is the pastor who uses this to his advantage. The goal is to win the lost and revitalize the congregation. What’s the harm in a little manipulation, right?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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