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Tag: Trinity Baptist Church Findlay

Bruce, the Teenage Bible Thumper

bruce gerencser 1971
Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade, 1971

I attended Central Junior High and Findlay High School, both in Findlay, Ohio from 1970-1974, with brief excursions away from FHS in the spring of my sophomore year (Rincon High School, Tucson, Arizona) and the fall of my junior year (Riverdale High School, Mt. Blanchard, Ohio). All told, I attended Findlay city schools for three and one-half years — my longest enrollment in any school district.

After attending Calvary Baptist Church for several months, our family decided to attend Trinity Baptist Church, then located on Trenton Ave. Trinity was a fast-growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastored by Gene Milioni, a graduate of the inaugural class (1953) of Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Ron Johnson served as the church’s assistant pastor, and Bruce Turner — who came on board several months after we started attending Trinity — was its youth pastor. (Please see Dear Bruce Turner.)

As I reflect on the years I spent at FHS and Trinity Baptist, I see two Bruce Gerencsers, with a born-again experience separating the two. Before I became a Christian, I was an ornery, temperamental teen. While I attended church every time the doors were opened, my behavior, language, and dress reflected a young man who didn’t know the IFB Jesus. It was not uncommon for me to wear a white tee-shirt, frayed Levis, and combat boots to midweek prayer meeting — definitely not IFB approved dress. I wasn’t afraid of using expletives when with my church friends. One time, while attending a youth hayride at the home of Bob and Bonnie Bolander, Bob hollered at me for horsing around. I replied, fuck off. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well. I loved having fun and playing practical jokes, irritating those who expected better behavior from church teens. One Saturday, I was helping paint the walls in the church annex. Pastor Milioni stopped by to “admire” my work, I mean criticize my painting. I stood up, threw my roller in the paint pan, and told Milioni that he could do it himself if he didn’t like my painting. From these incidences and others, my pastors and other church adults concluded that I was an angry, temperamental teenager. It was evident, to them, that I needed Jesus.

In the spring of 1972, after fourteen years of marriage, my parents divorced. Several months later, my mother married her first cousin, a recent parolee from the Texas prison system, and my father married a nineteen-year-old girl with a baby. My parent’s divorce and remarriages upended my life. Making matters worse, Pastor Milioni performed the wedding ceremony for my father and his teenage bride. Both of my parents, along with my two siblings, stopped attending church. I, however, continued to attend church every time the doors were open. Trinity provided me a stable family of sorts. Most of my friends attended the church.

In June of 1972, I celebrated my fifteenth birthday. In September of ’72, I had a life-changing experience. Evangelist Al Lacy held a meeting that fall at Trinity. I attended every night of the week-long revival. One night, as I sat in one of the left side pews with my friends, I came under conviction. At that moment, I knew I was a sinner, and I knew I needed to be saved. So when the time came for the invitation, I stepped out of my pew and went forward. I was met at the church altar by Ray Salisbury, one of the church’s deacons. I told Ray why I had come forward. He led me through what is commonly called in IFB churches the Romans Road, and then I prayed the sinner’s prayer, asking Jesus to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart to save me. At that very moment, I was a changed man. The next Sunday, I was baptized, and several weeks later, I stood before the church and declared that I believed God was calling me to preach. It was not long after that I preached my first sermon.

The changes in my life BC (Before Christ) and AC (After Christ) were instantaneous and dramatic. I started reading my Bible and praying every day. I started dressing up for church, and I no longer used swear words. Every aspect of my life was transformed. I was an on-fire, born-again Christian.

I want to illustrate this transformation with several stories. As you shall see, “Jesus” had transformed my life.

I started carrying my Bible to school every day. I also tried to evangelize my classmates, inviting them to attend church with me. Overnight, I became an insufferable Fundamentalist. I remember writing a paper for one of my classes about Baptists being the true church. I got an A on the paper. My teacher wrote the word “interesting” at the top of my paper and underlined it. I suspect she defined “interesting” differently from the way I did. I would give the correct answers on tests in my biology class and then write the “Biblical” answers below. I do not doubt that I irritated the hell out of my teacher.

I took seriously the interpretations of the Bible preached by my pastors. I was all in. Wanting to be morally pure, I made a list of dating rules for myself. My goal was to remain a virgin until my wedding day. My dad found my dating rules on top of the refrigerator, read them, and then laughed at me. Sure, my rules were funny (and delusional) but him laughing at me only caused me to hate him more.

I loved listening to preaching. In the fall of 1972 or 1973, Trinity hosted the monthly meeting of the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship. I skipped school that day so I could hear the big-name IFB preachers preach. I was enamored by these men of God, thinking I would one day be just like them.

I also learned at this meeting that preachers could be hypocrites. After one of the preaching sessions, I was standing outside with Pastor Turner and several other preachers. I hung on every word these pastors said. I looked up to them. One of these preachers told a joke about lust. He told us that lust was looking at a woman, turning away, and turning back to look again. And then he said, “just make sure your first look is a long one!” Everyone laughed, but as a devout, committed IFB Christian, I was troubled by his “joke.” For the first time, I learned that what preachers said from the pulpit they didn’t necessarily believe. I knew that I didn’t want to be like that pastor.

Bruce, the teenage Bible thumper went on to become Bruce, the IFB college student, and Bruce, the pastor. I preached my first sermon at Trinity in the fall of 1972. Thirty-three years and 4,000+ sermons later, I preached my last sermon (at Hedgesville Baptist Church in Hedgesville, West Virginia).

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

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Dear Jesus

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Painting by Jessie Kohn

Updated and corrected, June 7, 2021

Dear Jesus,

I’m sixty-four 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 a growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation, Scott Memorial Baptist Church, pastored by Tim LaHaye. It was here that I learned that my tribe had a new religion: Fundamentalist Baptist Christianity.

I quickly learned that our previous religion worshiped 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 no 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 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 moved 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 that 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 summoned an ambulance, and Mom’s life was saved.

Mom would try 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 parent’s 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 started dating, so there was no way I would 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’m 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 named Polly. 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! Polly was six months pregnant by early spring, 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 and 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 were BFFs, right?  Sometimes, I wondered if you really loved me as much as I loved 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 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 were 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, Jesus, but 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 or 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 the Super Bowl, that would be awesome!

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-four 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.

A Sinner Saved by Reason,

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

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce, If You Don’t Believe in Jesus Anymore, Who Do You Think Called You Into the Ministry?

emmanuel baptist church 1983
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination April 1983, age 25

Several years ago, I received the following email:

I read your blog. Thanks for sharing. I have been an Evangelical Christian since I was 5. I accepted Jesus of the Bible at that time. When I read your “Why I Hate Jesus”, it made me sad. I couldn’t help but think that you have had a lot of pain from people who profess Jesus Christ and that Jesus Himself has let you down. I did have a question. On your ABOUT page, the question was “when were you called into the ministry. ” If you don’t believe in Jesus anymore, who do you think called you into the ministry?

In this post, I want to focus on the question, “If you don’t believe in Jesus anymore, who do you think called you into the ministry?”

This is a fairly common question I am asked when someone is trying to square my current atheistic life with that of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I believed that it was GOD who called me into the ministry, but now I believe that this same God is a fiction. If God doesn’t exist, who is it then that spoke to my “heart” as a fifteen-year-old boy, telling me that I was to be a pastor, a preacher of the good news of the gospel?

The Evangelical culture I grew up in emphasized the importance of boys and girls growing up to be full-time servants of Jesus Christ. Children and teenagers were encouraged to pray and ask God if he wanted them to devote their lives to the ministry, be it as a pastor, evangelist, or missionary. As Hannah did with Samuel, parents were challenged to give their children over to God, hoping that he might see fit to use them in a mighty way to advance his Kingdom. Pastors considered it a sign of God’s favor if teen boys were called to preach under their ministry. Like the gunslingers of yesteryear, pastors put a notch on their gospel gun every time a boy surrendered to the ministry.

Being called to full-time service means you are special, uniquely chosen by God to do his work. From the moment a boy says, preacher, I think God is calling me to preach, he is treated by the church as some sort of extraordinary human being. I heard countless preachers say that being called into the ministry was the greatest calling in the world; that becoming President of the United States would be a step down from the ministry. Preacher boys — as young men called into the ministry are often nicknamed — are quickly given preacher things to do. No time is better than NOW, I was told, to start serving God and preaching his Word. I preached my first sermon to the Junior High Sunday school class two weeks after I stood before the church and said, God is calling me to be a preacher. I spent the next few years honing my preaching skills at youth meetings, nursing homes, and any other place that didn’t mind hearing the ramblings of an inexperienced, uneducated boy preacher. By the time I delivered my last sermon in April 2005, I had preached 4,000+ messages, often preaching three or more sermons a week.

What I have written above is key to answering the question, “If you don’t believe in Jesus anymore, who do you think called you into the ministry?” Since I don’t think God exists, the only way I can possibly answer this question is from an environmental, psychological, cultural, and sociological perspective. It is important to remember that it is not necessary for God to exist for people to believe that he does. Billions of people believe in a supernatural deity/force that does not exist. Every day, billions of people will pray to, worship, and swear allegiance to deities that cannot be seen, heard, or touched. These deities can, however, be felt, and it is these feelings that lead people to believe that their invisible God is indeed real. Thus, I KNOW that God called me into the ministry because I “felt” him speak to me. This is no different from the five-year-old Bruce Gerencser believing that Santa Claus somehow came down the chimney every Christmas Eve and put presents under the tree just for him. Of course, time, experience, and knowledge caused me to see that my beliefs about Santa were false, as they did when it came to my beliefs about God.

These religious feelings and beliefs of mine were reinforced by the Bible. Various verses in the Word of God speak of men who are called to be pastors/elders/bishops/missionaries/evangelists. Variously interpreted by Christian sects, all agree on one point: God calls boys/men (and in some cases, girls/women) into the ministry. This calling is essentially God laying his hand on someone and saying, I have set you apart for my use. Church youngsters are regaled with stories about men and women called by God who did great works. From the Bible, stories of the faith-driven exploits of Noah, Moses, David, Gideon, Elijah, Elisha, Joshua, the apostles, and Paul are used as reminders of what God can and will do for those willing to dedicate their lives to serving him. Church children are encouraged to read the biographies of men (and a few women) mightily used by God. I heard more than a few preachers say, look at what God did through Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, Dwight Moody, Bob Jones, John R. Rice, Billy Sunday, Adoniram Judson, Andrew Fuller, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, Jack Hyles, B.R. Lakin, and countless other servants of God. Who knows what God might do through you if you will dare to surrender your life to him? What young preacher boy wouldn’t want to be someday used by God like these men?

I spent thirty-three years believing that God had called me to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ; that this calling was irrevocable; that misery and judgment (and perhaps death) awaited if I failed to obey God. The Apostle Paul said in First Corinthians 9:16:

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!

As with Paul, Bruce the Evangelical preacher had a burning desire to preach the gospel; to tell as many people as possible that Jesus alone can save them from their sin; that there is a Hell to shun and a Heaven to gain; that what is a man profited if he gain the world and lose his soul. I shed countless tears over the lost — both in and out of the church. I spent untold hours praying for revival to break out in America, spreading to the ends of the earth. Believing Jesus was coming back to earth soon, I devoted myself to making sure as many people as possible heard the gospel. I thought, at the time, my duty is to tell them. It is up to God to save them. For many years, my evangelistic zeal burned so hot that I preached a minimum of four sermons a week, along with preaching on the streets and holding services at the local nursing home and county jail. To quote the motto of Midwestern Baptist College — the institution I attended in the 1970s — Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry, Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry. We Never Will Give in While Souls are Lost in Sin, Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry!

My burning the candle at both ends wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t believe that God had called me into the ministry and was speaking to and through me. I believed that this God existed. I may never have seen God or audibly heard him, but I felt his presence in my life. I “heard” the Holy Spirit speaking to me, leading me, and teaching me truth. These experiences of mine were verified by what I read in the Bible and Christian biographies and what I observed in the lives of my pastors, teachers, and mentors. Most of all, they were verified by the work God accomplished through my preaching and leadership. How then, knowing these things, can I now believe that God is a work a fiction; that my ministerial experiences were the work, not of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, but the works of a quite-human Bruce Gerencser?

The deconversion process afforded me the opportunity to step back from my life and view it from a distance. As I looked at my parents’ religious, theological, social, and political leanings and that of the pastors of the churches we attended, it would have been shocking if I hadn’t, as a teenager, professed that God was calling me into the ministry. At age five, while we were living in San Diego and attending Scott Memorial Baptist Church (Scott Memorial was pastored by Tim LaHaye), I told my mother that I was going to be a preacher someday. Not a baseball player, policeman, or garbage truck driver — a preacher! This, of course, pleased my Mom. (Ironically, neither my mother or father ever heard me preach.) When people talked about the angst they had over trying to determine what they wanted to do with their lives when they grew up, I had no frame of reference. I never wrestled with what I wanted to be as an adult. I always wanted to be a preacher, and by God’s wonderful, matchless grace, that is exactly what I became. Everything I experienced in my life led me to the monumental day at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, when, with tears and trembling, I told the church God was calling me into the ministry. Scores of fellow church members shouted Amen! and later hugged me, telling me that they would pray for me. I am sure that more than a few people had mixed feelings about my calling. Really Lord? Are you sure you can use this temperamental, ornery redheaded boy? I have often wondered what my peers thought as I went from the boy who told the youth director to fuck off! to a young man who loved Jesus, carried his Bible to school, handed out tracts to his unsaved friends, went soulwinning, worked on a bus route, and occasionally preached at Sunday evening youth meetings. The old Bruce, who wore frayed jeans, boots, and tee-shirts to church, gave way to the New Bruce, who wore preacher clothes, including ties. What’s next? Swearing off girls? Anyone who knew me as a preacher boy knows I resolutely obeyed the Baptist Rulebook®. (Please read The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) I didn’t smoke, drink, cuss, listen to rock music, or engage in premarital sex. I had plenty of girlfriends, but I drew the line at kissing, holding hands, and putting our arms around each other. My commitment to virginity was part of my devotion to God. As much as I wanted to have sex, I willingly took many a cold shower, keeping myself pure until my wedding day.

Most Baptist preachers will likely say that they just KNEW God was calling them to preach. If they are still Christians, I am sure they attribute their feelings to supernatural intervention. It’s all because of J-E-S-U-S, not me, I’m sure they’ll say, yet the signs in front of their churches say Rev. So-and-So, Pastor. You see, the whole notion of being called by God is rooted not in the supernatural, but in earthly human experiences. My Baptist faith taught me to call my interest in the ministry a calling from God, but in truth, it was the natural outcome of my upbringing and experiences. My entrance into the preaching fraternity was never in doubt. How could I not have become a preacher?

There is nothing in my story that requires the actual existence of a supernatural deity. All that is required is that I, along with the other players in my life, believe God exists. For my first fifty years of life, I believed that the Evangelical God was every bit a real as the sun, moon, stars, and earth. And now I don’t. Does this invalidate my years in the ministry? Of course not. All that has changed is my perspective and how I see my trajectory from a sinner to a Holy Spirit-led follower of Jesus Christ. Instead of God being the first cause, I now know that environmental, psychological, cultural, and sociological influences molded me into the man who would one day preach thousands of sermons in churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Congregants called me Pastor Bruce, Rev. Gerencser, or Preacher — the man of God who spoke the Word of God to the people of God. I now know who I really was . . . his name is Bruce.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce, Why Did it Take You So Long to Leave Christianity?

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

On occasion, I will have an atheist ask me why it took me so long to leave Christianity. Typically, such atheists are lifelong unbelievers, having little to no experience with organized religion. Others became atheists at a young age and have no lasting scars from their brief involvement with Christianity. What is left unsaid here is this: how stupid do you have to be to be a Christian for fifty years?

Last night, I listened to Matt Dillahunty’s podcast, The Hang Up. This week’s episode featured Dr. Darrel Ray of Recovering From Religion and the Secular Therapy Project — two awesome services I heartily endorse.

One of the commenters on the podcast stated:

When you left religion. When exactly was that Matt [Dillahunty]? You joined the military when you were 30 for 8 years? Joined Dell and studied the bible a couple of years after that? So you finally figured out you had been a gullible idiot at 40s.

In other words, how stupid did Matt have to be that it took him years to conclude that the Evangelical religion (Southern Baptist) he grew up in was false?

It’s always lifelong atheists who make such comments. They cannot wrap their minds around how it is that demonstrably intelligent people can stay tethered to Christianity for decades. This post will hopefully explain this issue to atheists.

Much like Matt, I was a wandering Baptist before I finally deconverted. I left the ministry in 2003. Two years later, in the spring of 2005, I briefly tried to reenter full-time ministry, but after candidating for Southern Baptist churches in Weston and Hedgesville, West Virginia, I told Polly that I was done; that I no longer wanted to pastor. At that point, I was still an Evangelical Christian, albeit with an increasingly liberal bent. (Please see It’s Been Fifteen Years Since I Preached My Last Sermon.)

From July 2002 to November 2008, my wife and I, along with our three younger children, wandered from church to church looking for a congregation that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. From Roman Catholic to Greek Orthodox to Evangelical to mainline Protestant, we visited a broad spectrum of Christian churches. All told, we visited over 125 churches. Please read the post But Our Church is DIFFERENT! to see the list of churches we visited.

During this time span, we spent seven months living in Yuma, Arizona and moved to Stryker, Bryan, Alvordton, Newark, and Ney — all in Ohio. In April 2007, we purchased our home in Ney. We spent time visiting numerous local churches, but eventually decided to plop our weary asses in the pews of the Ney United Methodist Church. This would be the last church we would attend, walking out of the church’s doors for the final time on the last Sunday in November 2008.

During this six-year period, we became increasingly disenchanted with organized Christianity. While I was no longer a pastor, we sincerely wanted to find a church where we could use our talents for God’s glory. Atheism was never discussed. We quickly learned that more than a few pastors viewed us as a threat. All we wanted to do is serve Jesus, but the mere fact that we had spent 25 years in the ministry caused territorial preachers to feel threatened. One pastor told Polly that she could best help his church by working in the nursery. A mother of six who spent decades working in the nursery, I am surprised Polly didn’t gut this preacher on the spot. One Evangelical church about two miles from our home made it clear that we weren’t welcome at their church. We visited this congregation twice, and both times the pastor’s wife repeatedly glared at us. I suspect she viewed me as a threat to her husband’s ministry. Sure, I was a far better speaker than many of the pastors of the churches we visited (we heard some atrocious sermons during this time). That wasn’t my fault. All I wanted to do is use the gifts God gave me. I wasn’t there is take over the church, but I knew I could be a help if asked.

By the time we hit 2008, both Polly and I were worn out from all the bullshit, indifference, and petty territorialism we experienced at many of these churches. It was in this fertile soil that our doubts about Christianity began to grow. The previous year, I had started blogging. I connected with people who were emergent/emerging Christians — a postmodern liberal movement within Christianity. I met an ex-Charismatic preacher, Jim Schoch, during this time. We hit it off, spending countless hours talking about the ministry and churches in general. Well, that and eating chicken wings and drinking booze. We were what I called the rebel preachers; still believers — barely — but not church friendly. I will forever be grateful for the countless hours Jim spent with me shooting the breeze. Our discussions really helped clarify some of the problems I was having with Christianity.

You cannot understand my path to agnosticism and atheism without understanding this two-year period of my life — two years of questions and doubts that culminated with me concluding that I no longer believed in God; that the central claims of Christianity were not true.

Now that I have sketched for readers the path I was on before I deconverted, let me answer the question: why did it take you so long to leave Christianity?

In the early 1960s, my parents moved from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego, California. Dad was looking for the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. Unfortunately, California proved to be just as disappointing as Ohio for my parents. Dad ended up working sales jobs and driving truck, just as he did in Ohio. Mom’s mental health problems made their presence known, making our new life in California challenging, to say the least. Please see Barbara.)

Not long after arriving in San Diego, the Gerencser family visited Scott Memorial Baptist Church (now Shadow Mountain Community Church), then pastored by Bob Jones University graduate Tim LaHaye, of The Act of Marriage and Left Behind fame. Mom and Dad both made public professions of faith and were baptized, as was I at the age of five. From that moment forward, the Gerencsers were born-again Fundamentalist Christians.

I was seven when Mom and Dad packed up our belongings and we returned to Bryan, Ohio. By then, we were attend-church-every-time-the-doors-are-open Baptists. I attended church three times a week, along with revivals, conferences, and special meetings. Once I became a teenager, I started attending youth group and special events for the church’s teens. I was totally immersed in the life of the church. It was the hub around which everything turned. For atheists reading this post, think how deeply and thoroughly I was indoctrinated in Fundamentalist Baptist Christianity’s beliefs and practices.

At the age of fifteen, I made another public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. This is not an uncommon experience for people who were “saved” at a young age. A week later, I stood before the church congregation and told them God was calling me to preach. Several weeks later, I preached my first sermon. Thirty-three years later, I would preach my last sermon. All told, I preached over 4,000 sermons.

At the age of 19, I left my mom’s home to move into the dorm at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution known for training preachers. While I was at Midwestern, I started dating an IFB preacher’s daughter, Polly Shope. We married the summer between our sophomore and junior years. Six weeks later, Polly became pregnant, and a few months later, I was laid off from my job. In the spring of 1979, we left Midwestern and moved to Bryan. A few weeks later, I was offered a position as the assistant pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church. Over the course of the next twenty-five years, I would pastor seven churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.

I was a true-blue believer. I believed every word of the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. I believed that the doctrines taught to me by my pastors, youth directors, and professors were the “faith once delivered to the saints.” While I was a voracious reader, having a library of over 1,000 books at one time, every book I owned served to reinforce the idea that what I had been taught and what I was teaching others was true. It wasn’t until the six-year period mentioned above that I began to read authors that caused me to doubt my beliefs. Authors such as John Shelby Spong and Bart Ehrman forced me to question whether what I believed about the Bible and Christianity was true.

As a pastor, I lived in a bubble, as did the churches I pastored. This bubble protected me from the “world.” When you surround yourself with people who all think as you do, it is easy to think that you are right. Further, doubts and questions were discouraged, tools of Satan used to cast aspersions on God, Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity. While certain things in the Bible didn’t make sense to me, I believed God would reveal the truth of the matter in time or in Heaven. I had no reason to doubt the veracity of the Bible.

I lived this way well into my forties. Does this mean I was stupid for hanging on to my faith for so long? Of course not. Looking at the way I grew up, the college I attended, the woman I married, and the years I spent pastoring Evangelical churches, how could it have been different for me?

When lifelong atheists disparage me, I tend to tell them to fuck off. These pillars of truth seem clueless about how religious indoctrination affects every aspect of one’s life — especially the Fundamentalist brand of Christianity. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Instead of treating me as a dolt, how about giving me a little credit for breaking free from the chains of cultic Christianity? How about giving me credit for punching a hole in the bubble and escaping? How about acknowledging the work I now do to help people who have doubts about Christianity or have left Christianity? Or, you can fuck off. 🙂

Lifelong atheists are a small minority in America. Most Americans come from Christian families. Millions and millions of Americans religiously attend Evangelical churches, pray, read the Bible, and believe Christianity’s central claims are true. Before simplistically and ignorantly calling such people ignoramuses, I suggest that you walk in their shoes a bit instead of projecting your lives onto them.

I wish I had been raised in a home free of religion. I wish I had taken a different path in life — that is, if Polly still became my wife. I wish I had attended a secular college and had non-church employment. I wish, I wish, I wish . . . but wishing is for fools. Life is what it is, and all I know to do is embrace my past, live in the present, and do all I can to help people avoid Evangelical Christianity. For those who walked a similar path as I did, all I can do is listen and say to them, I understand.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

1970s: Junior High Gym Class

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

The black framed glasses? Welfare glasses. As soon as I saved up enough money to buy wire-rimmed glasses, I ditched the glasses.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I have spent a good bit of my life moving, either from town to town or house to house. In 1971 my Dad moved us from Deshler, Ohio to Findlay, Ohio. I lived in Findlay from 1970-1974. I say “I lived,” because my parents divorced in 1972 and my Dad moved us to Tucson, Arizona in the early spring of 1973. I finished my tenth grade year at Rincon High School in Tucson, and once school was out I moved back to Findlay to live with several families in the church I attended. For a few months in the fall of 1973 I attended Riverdale High School in Mount Blanchard, Ohio, and then I transferred back to  Findlay High School and finished out eleventh grade.

Got all that? Here’s my point in giving you a Bruce Gerencser geography lesson. From 1970-72, eighth and ninth grade, I attended Central Junior High School (which has since been torn down) in Findlay. Two school years, my longest consecutive stretch at one school without a move to a new school district (though we did live in 3 different houses during this time), when I actually had time to make a few friends.

While I am now a 6-foot, 325-pound man, during the two years I spent at Central Junior High, I was 5 foot 2 inches tall and weighed a little over 100 pounds. I was a late bloomer, not reaching my current height until the end of eleventh grade. Needless to say, I was quite conscious of my diminutive size.

Even though I was slight of build, I played city league baseball and basketball. I am left-handed, and being a southpaw gave me a decided advantage when it came to playing baseball and basketball. Even though I loved playing sports, gym class at Central Junior High was one of my least favorite classes.

As I mentioned above, I wasn’t very big and puberty came quite slowly for me. I enjoyed playing the various sports in gym class, but when games were over, came the dreaded mandatory shower. Here I was, a small boy with little underarm or pubic hair, among, what seemed at the time, giants. When I took off my clothes and glanced at other boys in the class, it was quite evident to everyone that I was in every way on the small side. Needless to say, I became quite self-conscious about my body.

The gym teacher was also a coach. He was a rough-and-tumble, crude man, typical of many of the coaches I played for. One day, he walked into the shower room where all of us were showering and he surveyed the mass of the nakedness before him and said, Well, I can tell who is having sex and who isn’t. His inference was clear; those with bigger penises and testicles were the ones having sex. Since I was one of the smallest boys in the class — and I mean small in every way — I was quite embarrassed. I am sure some of the boys thought, and we know who ISN’T having sex.

I was also the only redhead in the class. At the time, I had bright, flaming orange hair that definitely made me stand out. My gym teacher called me Carrot. This only added to my self-consciousness.

One week for gym class, we square danced. The male and female gym classes were joined together for dance lessons. I thought, this will be my chance to touch one of the cheerleaders. Typical, self-conscious boy’s dream, right? Well, my dream became a nightmare because my pastor, Gene Milioni, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, came to the school and raised a ruckus about the dancing. As a result, my parents would not allow me to square dance. Later in the year, Pastor Milioni would complain about the choir singing Jesus Christ Superstar. I was in the choir, and as a result of his complaint, my parents wouldn’t allow me to sing. (Please see Good Independent Baptist Boys Don’t Dance.)

I still remember to this day sitting at the top of the gym bleachers watching my classmates square dance. Next to me were two boys who were believed to be homosexuals. The proof of their homosexuality? They refused to take a shower at the end of gym class. Remember, it was the 70s . . . So there I was with the two “fags” who wouldn’t take a shower.

While I eventually grew up to be a physically fit 6-foot man, endowed well enough to father six children, I have been self-conscious about my body my entire life. Once free of junior high gym class, I never took another communal shower. When it comes to using the bathroom, I always try to use a stall. Just the thought of using a public urinal is enough to shut off the flow. If I have to use a urinal, I make sure no one is nearby. And if a man uses the urinal next to me? It’s like a vise grip on my urethra. It ain’t gonna happen. I have often wondered if my experiences in junior high gym class play a part in my inability to urinate when someone is standing next to me.

I do know that my religious training resulted in an unhealthy view of the human body and sex. The Fundamentalist churches of my youth spent significant time preaching against short skirts, pants on women, long hair on men, and premarital sex. Even masturbation was considered a sin. The body — the flesh — was sinful and corrupt and in need of salvation.

How about you? Were you body self-conscious in school? How did your religious upbringing affect how you viewed your body? Please share your experiences in the comments section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce Gerencser