Tag Archive: Trinity Baptist Church Findlay

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.

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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.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Danger of IFB Summer Youth Camps

youth camp

Many former Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church members can remember attending summer youth camps during their teenage years. (Please see Camp Chautauqua, Miamisburg, Ohio.) I attended camp every summer between my seventh and tenth grade school years. The summer after seventh grade, I attended an Ohio-based Bible church youth camp. The next year, I attended Camp Patmos — a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) camp. The following two years, I attended Camp Chautauqua in Miamisburg, Ohio — a camp facility owned and operated by the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship.

I always looked forward to attending camp. It was one week out of the summer when I could get away from home and meet up with friends from other churches, meet new acquaintances and, most of all, fall in love. While there were plenty of girls to date at my home church, camp afforded me the opportunity to meet and pursue new loves. At the end of every camp, my new girlfriend and I traded addresses, promising to write one another. Surely, our “love” would survive until next year’s camp, right? Alas, such relationships died by the time the church bus turned out of the camp’s driveway headed for home. Forty-five years later, I am still waiting for that beautiful black-haired girl from Elyria to write me. Something tells me that she won’t be writing, and much like her redheaded flame, she found that absence does not make the heart grow fonder, and a nice-looking boy at church is a lot more appealing than the promise of letters to come.

In 2016, I wrote a post detailing my experiences at Camp Chautauqua:

I have many fond memories of the two summers I spent at Camp Chautauqua. The spiritual emphasis was intense and played an instrumental part in my call to the ministry. A number of the big-gun Baptist preachers preached at the evening chapel services. I can still remember Peter Ruckman’s sermons, complete with his famous chalk drawings. I also remember John Rawlings, then pastor of Landmark Baptist Temple (now Landmark Church) in Cincinnati, preaching one night, and during his sermon he told an illustration about cleaning shit out of the barn when he was young. He actually said the word SHIT!! Needless to say, I was stunned. Later in life, I learned that some Christians didn’t think shit was a curse word, especially when used to describe animal manure.

Camp brought upwards of a thousand youth together for one week. Camp Chautauqua had a lot of real estate for meandering teens to get lost in. Follow me for a moment…It’s the 70s. A thousand teenagers, ninth through twelfth grades. Lots of real estate in which hormone-raging teens could get lost. Well, use your imagination. The highlight of youth camp for me was the girls.

….

The first year I went to Camp Chautauqua, Gene Milioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist, was our cabin counselor. He was pretty easy to outwit. The next year, the youth pastor, Bruce Turner, was the cabin counselor, (please see Dear Bruce Turner) and he proved to be every bit our match. He was not so far removed from his own youth that he had forgotten the dangers of putting a bunch of teenage boys and girls in proximity to one another.

Practical jokes were an everyday occurrence. The jokes were fun to pull on others, but payback could be brutal. From stolen bedding and purloined light bulbs to shaving cream in sleeping bags, practical jokes were a part of what made camp a great experience. And besides, I was a pretty good joke perpetrator.

The music was another highlight of camp. Most of the churches that brought their teens to camp were mid-size to large churches, so the music talent level was superb. Wonderful music. To this day, I think some of the best singing I have ever heard was at Camp Chautauqua.

If I had a negative experience at camp, I don’t remember it. Perhaps, this is the wistful remembering of an old man trying to recall what happened 45 years ago during the glory days of his youth. Perhaps my fond memories are a reflection of the fact that camp, for me and for many others, was a respite from our fundamentalist churches and family dysfunction. Camp was the one week out the year that I got to hang out with my friends and meet new people without having adults watching my every move.

This summer, thousands of IFB teenagers will go to camp. Some teens will attend camps at the facilities mentioned above. Others will attend camps such as the Bill Rice Ranch or The Wilds. My wife’s family is deeply ensconced in the IFB church movement. Many of her relatives send their teens to the Bill Rice Ranch — an uber-fundamentalist camping program. Some IFB churches, wanting to preserve their INDEPENDENT status, hold their own camps. I did this for several years in southeast Ohio. We would rent a camp for a week, and then invite like-minded churches to attend. The last camp I participated in featured a preacher from Fort Wayne who believed Christians could be demon-possessed. He spent the week excusing all sorts of bad behavior as demon possession. By the time the week was over, I wanted to strangle the man. Come the next Sunday, I made sure the teens and adults from my church who attended the camp knew that I totally disagreed with the notion of Christian demon possession.

Over the weekend, I pondered my experiences attending IFB youth camps, and whether my feel-good camp experiences covered up something insidious; that these camps, regardless of how much fun campers have, are tools used by IFB churches and pastors to indoctrinate children and teenagers. IFB church leaders know that they must draw in children and teens before they can be indoctrinated. Thus, camp advertising materials focus on all the fun campers will have, and not the fact that there will be hours-long Bible studies, devotionals, church services, and afterglows (highly emotional after-service campfires). High-powered IFB evangelists, youth pastors, and conference speakers are brought in to evangelize the lost and indoctrinate the saved. Most camp attendees will return to their home churches “on-fire” for God. Perhaps former IFB church members will remember the Sundays after camp when attendees were paraded in front of their churches and asked to give testimonies about what God had done for them over the past week. Passionate testimonies of conversion or getting right with God, complete with tears, are often heard. Adults shout “AMEN!”, praising God for the work he has done in the lives of church teenagers. Yet, in a matter of weeks or months, life for these “changed” teenagers returns to normal, just in time for the church’s annual youth revival or other event meant to stir religious passions.

Many IFB teenagers become immune to indoctrination, enjoying the fun and enduring the Jesus stuff. Others, such as myself, become caught up in a constant cycle of sinning and getting right with God; a continual striving for holiness and perfection. The ultimate goal of camps, youth revivals, youth rallies, and youth conferences is to thoroughly indoctrinate teenagers so they will actually “feel” God calling them to full-time service as pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and Christian school teachers. Those feeling “called” will be further indoctrinated, hopefully leading them to “feel” God calling them to attend an IFB college. (Many IFB preachers see teens called into the ministry as the highwater mark of their ministries, the passing on of the Fundamentalist Baptist torch.) Countless IFB preachers felt the “call” of God at youth camp. While I felt the “call” during a service preached by IFB evangelist Al Lacy, there’s no doubt summer youth camp played an instrumental part in my decisions to become a preacher, attend Midwestern Baptist College, and pastor Evangelical churches for twenty-five years.

How about you? Did you attend IFB summer youth camp? Please share your experiences in the comment section. Non-IFB church camp stories are welcome too!

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.

My Baptist Salvation Experience

bruce gerencser 1971

Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade, 1971-72

Over the past twelve years, I have received countless emails from Evangelicals wanting me to share with them my salvation testimony. Some of these interlocutors sincerely want to understand my past and how it is I became an atheist. Others are looking for discrepancies or errors — from their theological perspective, anyway — in my testimony. Finding these glosses allows them to dismiss my story out of hand, saying, Bruce, you never were a Christian. I used to take great offense when Evangelical zealots dismissed my past life of love, faith, and devotion to Jesus, but I no longer do so. I now realize that many Evangelicals must neuter my story lest it force them to consider and answer uncomfortable questions about their own lives and theology. It’s far easier to just dismiss me out of hand, saying that I never was a Christian; that I was deceived, a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or any of the other epithets Evangelicals throw my way. I have never said to a Christian, I don’t believe your testimony of saving faith. I accept what they tell me at face value. You say you are a Christian; that Jesus is your Lord and Savior? Who am I to doubt your story? Unfortunately, many Evangelicals don’t seem similarly inclined when it comes to my story or those of other Evangelicals-turned-atheists.

What follows my Baptist salvation testimony. Instead of writing out my testimony every time some asks me for it, I will now send them to this post.

I was raised in the Evangelical church. My parents were saved in the early 1960s at Scott Memorial Baptist Church (now Shadow Mountain Community Church)  in El Cajon, California, pastored at the time by Tim LaHaye. From that time forward, the Gerencser family attended Evangelical churches — mostly Bible Southern Baptist,  or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations.

evangelist al lacy

Evangelist Al Lacy

In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced after 15 years of marriage. Both of my parents remarried several months later. While my parents and their new spouses, along with my brother and sister, stopped attending church, I continued to attend Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. In the fall of 1972, a high-powered IFB evangelist named Al Lacy came to Trinity to hold a week-long revival meeting. One night, as I sat in the meeting with my friends, I felt deep conviction over my sins while the evangelist preached. I tried to push aside the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart, but when the evangelist gave the invitation, I knew that I needed to go forward. I knew that I was a wretched sinner in need of salvation. (Romans 3) I knew that I was headed for Hell and that Jesus, the resurrected son of God, was the only person who could save me from my sin. I knelt at the altar and asked Jesus to forgive me of my sin and save me. I put my faith and trust in Jesus, that he alone was my Lord and Savior. (That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamedRomans 10:9-11)

I got up from the altar a changed person. I had no doubt that I was a new creation, old things had passed away, and all things had become new.  (Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

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. For the next thirty-five years, I lived a life committed to following after Jesus and the teachings of the Bible. While I failed many times as a Christian, there was never a time where I doubted that Jesus was my Lord and Savior. I loved him with all my heart, soul, and mind, and my heart burned with the desire to preach and teach the Word of God, evangelize the lost, and help Christians mature in their faith. No one doubted that I was a Christian. Not my Christian family; not my Christian friends; not my colleagues in the ministry; not the people who lovingly called me preacher. I was, in every way, a devoted Christian husband, father, and pastor. As all Christians do, I sinned in thought, word, and deed, but when I did, I confessed my sin to the Lord and asked for his forgiveness. (If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)  And then I got up from my knees and strived to make my calling and election sure. (Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. (2 Peter 1:10)

This is my testimony.

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.

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.

Public Expressions of Faith and the Future of American Evangelicalism

altar call

Cartoon by Jeff Larson

I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. At the age of fifteen, I was saved, baptized, and called to preach at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Gene Millioni, Ron Johnson, and Bruce Turner were my pastors at the time. (Please see Dear Bruce Turner.) Trinity Baptist was a hyper-evangelistic church affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. My pastors gave a public altar call at the end of every service. I later would attend Midwestern Baptist College to study for the ministry. Students were required to attend nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, pastored by college chancellor Dr. Tom Malone. Altar calls were given at every service. Most IFB churches sang Just as I Am during altar calls, but Emmanuel used There is a Fountain Filled With Blood (Drawn from Immanuel’s Veins), by William Cowper. Sinners needing salvation were asked to step out of their seats and walk down the aisle to the front of the church. Once at the altar, a trained soulwinner would kneel with them, share the IFB gospel, and help them pray the sinner’s prayers. This act of faith was called “making a public profession of faith.” Sinners evangelized during the week were expected to come to church the next Sunday and made their conversion public by walking down the aisle.

Baptism was treated in a similar manner. Being immersed in three feet of water in a church baptismal was considered a public declaration of faith. By being baptized, the sinner was saying, “I publicly identify with Jesus.” Many IFB converts are baptized right after the service or the next Sunday. Preachers would often joke that the reason Baptists baptized new converts right away is that they feared never seeing them again. I was saved one week and baptized the next. And several weeks after that, I went forward during the altar call and confessed to Pastor Millioni that I believed God was calling me to preach. I stood before my friends and fellow church members and told them what God was doing in my heart. My declaration was greeted with hearty amens from older congregants. I am sure more than a few of my friends thought, Bruce Gerencser, a preacher? Yeah, right. This too shall pass!  It didn’t, and for the next thirty-five years, I preached some version or the other of the Christian gospel, seeking to help sinners see their need for salvation.

Over the first fifty years of my life, I watched thousands of people walk down church aisles and ask Jesus to save them. Often, high pressure, manipulative tactics were used to coerce sinners into getting saved. I heard countless preachers say, “the hardest decision you will ever make in your life is to step out of your seat, walk down the aisle, and make a public profession of faith.” The same line was used when cajoling people into getting baptized. “Publicly identifying with Jesus in baptism is the hardest decision you will ever make!” I later concluded that there was nothing “hard” about these decisions. Here you were among Christians. How “hard” could it be to get saved and baptized? And “public?”  What’s “public” about going through the IFB salvation and baptismal ritual in the safety and privacy of a local church filled with likeminded believers?

baptism by immersion

Cartoon by John Parker

Later in my ministry years, I stopped baptizing new converts at the church. Instead, we would go to a nearby public lake and hold a baptismal service. While not as “public” as the baptisms of first century Christian converts in the book of Acts, being exposed to the gazes of worldly vacationers helped cement the importance and cost of publicly identifying with Christ. Few churches, it seems, are willing to ask much, if anything, from new converts. As long as their asses are in the seats and their Benjamins are in the plate, all is well. It is not uncommon for IFB churches to leads hundreds of sinners to Christ each year, with few of them obediently following the Lord in baptism. Some megachurches these days have pretty much given up on baptizing converts. Once or twice a year, they will “offer” baptism to the unbaptized, but rarely, if ever, stress the importance of the rite.

These days, much to the consternation of IFB preachers and Evangelical pastors, cultural Christianity rules to roost. Christians have “personal” relationships with Jesus, and most of them never share their faith. Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest Protestant denomination in the United States — reported that their membership and baptism numbers continue to decline. Scores of SBC churches didn’t take in one new member or baptize one new convert. IFB churches, who still think they live in the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s, also face precipitous membership and baptism declines. One-time IFB megachurches now are a shell of what they once were, that is, if they are still in existence. In the 1970s, Polly and I attended Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan. Emmanuel was considered one of the largest churches in America. One Sunday, they had over 5,000 people in attendance — a rare feat at the time. Today, its doors are shuttered. The same could be said for numerous other IFB churches — churches that once proudly proclaimed that they were one of the top one hundred churches in America.

It is not uncommon these days for IFB and SBC churches to go weeks and months without “public” professions of faith or a “public” baptisms. More than a few churches, attempting to ward off algae growth or smells that come from stagnant water, have drained their baptismals and use the space to store Christmas decorations or old VBS materials. The best and brightest among such churches will come up with new programs and outreaches they are sure will stop the bleeding and import new life into their churches, but if the past is any indicator, they are doomed for failure. Perhaps, it’s time to admit that Americans are really not that into Jesus anymore; that all people want is eternal life insurance and a place to get married and hold funerals. In other words, IFB and SBC congregants are well on their way to becoming Roman Catholics — morning glories who only bloom on Easter and Christmas.

In one regard, the testimony of such Christians is indeed “public.” The unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world “see” how these people live out their faith, and find themselves saying, “no thanks.” My wife and I visited over a hundred Christian churches after we left the ministry. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered; a congregation that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. While we met all sorts of decent people, we didn’t find one church congregation that was different from the rest. We didn’t find one church that earnestly took Jesus’ commands, teachings, and way of life — as we then understood them — to heart. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We decided that despite differences in liturgy and denominational affiliation, these churches were all pretty much the same. In retrospect, I have no doubt this fact played a part in our eventual abandonment of Christianity. We came to understand that for all their talk about commitment, public professions of faith, and publicly identifying with Jesus, most Evangelical churches were little more than private social clubs for likeminded people; that such clubs attract people who need “forgiveness” and need someone to tell them what to believe and how to live. Sadly, the sheeple underneath the steeple far outnumber people who think for themselves. Those who are able to rationally and critically examine religious beliefs and practices usually end up outside of the churches they once called home.

Conservative Christianity still dominates the American social and political scene. Evangelical culture warriors continue to wage war against secularism, atheism, humanism, socialism, and a culture they believe is going to Hell in a handbasket. Try as they might, these crusaders are fighting a losing battle. Oh, they might win a few skirmishes in the short term — say over abortion — but history suggests that their days are numbered. One need only look at the arc of history in Europe and other Western countries to see where the United States is headed. Old curmudgeons such as myself are unlikely to see secularism and reason vanquish the Devil in our lifetimes, but we hold out hope for our grandchildren and their children. Thanks to global warming, their world will be very different from ours, but we have high hopes that their world will be one where religion has finally been driven back into the four walls of churches where it belongs.

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.

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.

1973-1976: Bruce, The Wandering Baptist

bruce gerencser 1976

Bruce Gerencser, 1976

In the spring of 1972, after fourteen years of marriage, my parents divorced. By then, my mother was generally considered a nut job. Her post-divorce actions: suing (and later winning) Winebrenner Nursing Home over wage discrimination, and marrying her recently-released-from-Texas-prison first cousin, only reinforced how she was negatively viewed by others. My adulterous father, on the other hand, was viewed as the aggrieved party. Several months after my parents’ divorce, my father married a nineteen-year-old local girl with a baby. Gene Millioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio — an IFB church — performed the ceremony.

I was angry. How could my parents divorce, adding yet more turmoil to our home? And how could my supposedly Bible-believing pastor marry my father and his new teenager girlfriend? And who was this woman who thought she was going to be my new “mom?” After several months of seething anger, I calmed down a bit, accepting my new reality. Shortly after my father remarried, he moved us from a rental home on Cherry Street to one on the south side of town. This was par for the course when it came to my father. Rent a house, live there awhile, get behind on the rent, run out of ways to manipulate the landlord, and then be forced to move. At least this move was in the same town, same school.

bruce gerencser 1971

Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade, 1972, wearing “welfare” glasses. I was so embarrassed that I quickly earned enough money to buy wire-rimmed glasses

After my parents’ divorce and my father’s remarriage, my parents and siblings stopped attending church. I, however, threw myself headlong into the church. That fall, I was saved and baptized, and a few weeks later I announced to the church that God was calling me to be a preacher. I was fifteen. The church became my surrogate family. My parents had stopped being responsible caretakers years before, so I was pretty much on my own. I spent very little time at home. School, playing sports, attending church, and hanging out with my friends consumed most of my time. I wanted nothing to do with my father’s new wife, a feeling that was returned in spades. Our relationship would later explode, with her hitting me in the face with a leather belt, and me picking her up and hurling her into a cement wall, fracturing a vertebrate in her back.

In early March 1973, my father gathered us together and let it be known that we were moving to Tucson, Arizona. Not when school was over, but soon, as in, right away. My father was trying to outrun his creditors. Two weeks later, our household goods were auctioned off, and what remained was packed into a U-Haul. Off we went, 1,900 miles to Tucson. I cried on and off during our trip. My father had moved us here and there repeatedly over the years. A great adventure, he called it, but I hated him for repeatedly uprooting my life. We had lived in Findlay almost three years; the longest we lived anywhere. I attended the same school system for eighth, ninth, and most of tenth grades. Finally, my father was getting his act together. I had made friends both at church and school. I played city league basketball and baseball, and was actively involved in youth group activities. I had even preached my first sermon. And now, with a snap of his fingers, my father was burning my life to the ground. I felt I had a number of reasons to be wrought with emotion.

As I had done numerous times before, I adapted to my new circumstances. I found a new church to attend, the Tucson Baptist Temple. I tried to involve myself in the church’s youth group, but I never felt like I belonged. Besides, I missed my friends in Ohio. After classes ended at Rincon High School, I packed my meager belongings, hopped a Greyhound Bus, and moved to my mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio. Bryan wasn’t Findlay, but I did have some friends there from my days attending First Baptist Church in the 1960s. Reacquainting myself with these friends provided a short respite for me, but as summer wore on, I found myself yearning for the seeming stability and normalcy of my past life in Findlay.

In August 1973, I moved to Findlay and enrolled in eleventh grade at Riverdale High School. A young family at Trinity Baptist had agreed to let me live with them. While I would have to attend yet another new school, I would still be going to Trinity and have my old friends back, so I thought I could live with attending Riverdale. Besides, Riverdale was a small country school. This would afford me the opportunity to play high school basketball. Unfortunately, after a month or so, the family I was living with had a falling out with the pastor of Trinity, and they decided to start attending a Bible church in nearby Arlington. Once again, I was forced to abandon my friends for people I did not know.

In early October, the family I was living with let Bruce Turner (Please see Dear Bruce Turner), the youth pastor at Trinity, know that I could no longer live with them. No reason was given as to why other than it was “not working out.”  As I ponder this point in my life, I can’t help but wonder if the real reason was that the husband thought I was getting a bit too friendly with his wife. Regardless, I had to move. Bruce found me a new home, this time with Gladys Canterbury. Gladys, in her sixties, was a devout Fundamentalist Baptist. While I wondered how it would work out living with a senior citizen, doing so allowed me to regain much of the life I left behind when my father moved us to Arizona, so I agreed to move in with her.

Gladys went to court and had me made a ward of the court. This action gave me access to medical insurance and provided Gladys with a monthly check for caring for me. To provide for my own personal needs, I started working at Bill Knapp’s Restaurant as a busboy. I arranged my class schedule in such a way that I would be finished with my classes around noon. I would then walk or ride my bike to Bill Knapp’s, arriving in time to work the lunch schedule. Afterward, I would take an extended break and work the dinner schedule. Once again, I adapted to my new reality.

By May of 1974, I was tired of living with Gladys. She was a taskmaster, and often refused to let me hang out with my friends. I was used to going and doing whatever I wanted, so I found Gladys’ approach to caring for me to be quite oppressive. Certainly, she meant well, but I didn’t want to hang out with a senior citizen.  I suspect my feelings weren’t much different from those of my friends. Teenagers, right? I had also learned that Bruce Turner was leaving Trinity. He was my surrogate father, and his departure left a huge hole in me emotionally.

The second week of May, I called my mother and asked if I could move back in with her. She said yes, and a week later she drove to Findlay and picked me up. My secretive move caused quite a bit of turmoil. Gladys threatened to have the police return me to her home, but nothing came of her threats. I started attending First Baptist Church of Bryan, quickly reconnecting with old friends. I found employment at several places: Bob’s Dairy Freeze, Everhart’s Restaurant, and Myer’s Marathon.

I turned seventeen in June of 1974. I took driver’s training at Bryan High School, and prepared to enroll in my senior year. However, Bryan High told me that I would have to repeat eleventh grade; not because of failing grades, but because I left Findlay before school ended. Findlay High denied me credit for my entire junior year because I missed the last ten days of school. I was so angry over this decision that I decided, “fine, I’ll drop out of school!” And so I did.

By October of 1974, my mother was, once again, a patient at Toledo State Mental Hospital. For the next six weeks, I was the head of the home. Both of my younger siblings were still in school. I made sure they went to school, and then I went to work. Outside of that, life at my mother’s house was pretty much one long party. Somehow, my father got wind that we were living without parental supervision, and in November he came to Ohio, picked us up, and moved us back to Arizona. By then, he had moved to Sierra Vista and opened a gun store with a settlement check he received from Ohio Workmen’s Compensation for his back.

After settling into my new reality, I found a stocking job at Food Giant. I learned that I was quite good at grocery work, skills I would later ply into several good jobs. After visiting several churches, I decided to join Sierra Vista Baptist Church — a Conservative Baptist Association congregation. I quickly became involved with the church’s bus route and helped teach Sunday School. It was not long afterward that I started dating a girl named Anita Farr. Anita was, I believe, two years older than I. Anita would become my first real love. I was smitten, and it was not long before we talked of getting married. Anita was in college, so marriage would have to wait, but I had no doubt that she was the one for me.

I turned eighteen in June of 1975. Two months later, Anita returned to college. We planned to see each other as often as we could on weekends. I drove to Phoenix several times that fall. I would stay in the dorm and then we would spend the weekend running around and attending church. Everything seemed headed in the right direction, until it wasn’t. You see, I was immature and prone to jealousy. Anita was a free spirit who loved flirting with men. It was not long before our relationship crashed and burned.

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before our wedding.

Two weeks later, I packed up a couple of suitcases and caught a Greyhound Bus to Bryan, Ohio. I moved back in with my mom and took a job at Foodland as their dairy manager. I spent the next ten months having one of the most thrilling times of my life. I was an adult, had a good job, rented an apartment, owned my own car, and spent every waking hour either at work, church, or running around with my friends. I had no interest in serious relationships with the opposite sex. Anita cured me of that. I dated a good bit, but the moment things started turning serious I was off and running away. I was what you might call a serial dater.

In the spring of 1976, I decided it was time to act upon my call to the ministry. One friend of mine, Randy Rupp, laughed at me when I told him I was going to Bible college. He said, “you’ll never go!” But go I did, packing up my earthly belongings once again, and moving to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll for classes at Midwestern Baptist College — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. And with this move, my wanderings came to an end. Well, kind of . . . well, not really . . . but for twenty-nine months Midwestern was my home.

It was there I met the love of my life and got married. I thought, “everything is moving in the right direction!” Get married, graduate, start a new church, that was the plan. However, God/Bruce had other plans. Seven months after Polly and I said “I do” we . . . you guessed it . . . moved. And over the past forty years we have moved numerous times. New houses, new communities, new churches. The reasons and circumstances for these moves are many, but the driving motivation was, I believed at the time, God. After years of counseling, I now know that wanderlust drives my desire and need to move. Even today, wanderlust whispers in my ear and says, “hey wouldn’t you like to live in ____________?”  Always restless, I am — a restlessness birthed a lifetime ago as my father moved me from town to town, state to state, and house to house. While my reasons for moving  — mostly religious in nature — are different from my father’s, I still followed in his footsteps. We try so hard to break free from our parents, yet when it comes time for me to give an account of my life, it seems that the proverbial apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Like it or not, I am the son of Robert and Barbara Gerencser. Well, not really. Have I told you the story about my father not being my “real” father? I’ll save that for another day.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Going All the Way for Jesus: Being an All-In Type of Person

all in

A commenter on my recent post, Jesus Said: Go Sell All That You Have and Follow Me, described me as an “all-in” type of person. I have often thought about being an all-in person. Was I always this way or did external forces turn me into that kind of person? I have rummaged through the first fifteen years of my life and concluded that I was NOT naturally an all-in kind of person. The best of example I found comes from my team sports experiences. I played Little League baseball, Pony League baseball, city league basketball, and one forgettable year of junior high football. I thoroughly enjoyed playing sports. I had enough talent to garner me a spot on teams, but my seat on the bench was usually right next to the water boy. Basketball was the only exception. I was a starter. This fact, however, shouldn’t be taken as a statement of my basketball prowess. If anything, all it says is that some of my teammates weren’t very good. I was a starter, then, on a very average team.

As I comb through my past sports experiences, one fact comes to light, regardless of the sport: I was never an all-in player. Sure, I would be at every practice and play pick-up games with neighborhood boys, but I was never the type of player who worked day and night on his skills. I enjoyed the fun and camaraderie that sports afforded me, but I was never going to be a lone gym rat, for example, shooting hundreds of shots a day to work on my foul shooting. My dad showed no interest in my athletic efforts. I don’t remember a time when he tossed the ball with me in the yard or attended one of my games. I want to think, surely, that he attended one or more of my games, but I have no recollection of him doing so. It was my grandmother who bought me my first baseball glove (and ball). I do have several memories of Grandma Rausch and my mom attending some of my Pony League games. I vividly remember hearing Grandma loudly telling the umpire while I was batting, THAT WASN’T A STRIKE! Never mind that I couldn’t have hit it even if it was. I was a terrible hitter, often used as a late-inning defensive replacement or a pinch runner (I am left-handed, and I was, in the day, a speedy base runner). I was never going to be Babe Ruth or even Mario Mendoza.

I can safely conclude, then, that I was NOT an all-in person in my younger years. However, as I turn my thoughts to my life from the time I was saved and baptized at age fifteen though my first decade in the ministry, I see a very different Bruce Gerencser. I see that once I became a Christian and declared I was called by God to be a preacher, I was all-in when it came to matters of faith. My transformation took place during the same time my parents divorced and my dad married a girl four years older than I. Yes, you read that right. She was 19. My father was 36. His new wife had given birth the previous year, leaving me wondering if the child belonged to my dad. Nonetheless, my familial circumstances greatly changed the year I got saved. My parents and siblings quit attending church, leaving me as the only Gerencser still a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. I disconnected from my family, and directed most of my time and energy into attending church, working on a bus route, learning how to be a preacher, and running around with my church friends. The church became my family. I spent as little time at home as possible, often not coming home until it was time for bed.

During this time period, Bruce Turner, the youth pastor at Trinity, became a surrogate father of sorts. (Please read Dear Bruce Turner.) I have nothing but good things to say about Bruce. He was a real help to me at a vulnerable time in my life. That said, he was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, and his theology, worldview, and way of living made a deep impression me. By the time I was sixteen, I was an all-in IFB Christian — a True Believer®. When Trinity would host Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship meetings, I would skip school so I could listen to the big-name IFB preachers of the day. Not one of my church friends joined me. I was alone when it came to a thirst for hearing these men of God. I am sure my church friends, if I asked them to comment on my younger years, would point to the changes that took place in my life after Jesus and I became best buddies. Not that I was no longer a fun-loving, humorous, girl-chasing redhead. I was, but my conduct and language changed, as did the kind of girls I was interested in. I only dated girls from the churches I attended, but after I was saved, I looked for girls who were as serious about their faith as I was. My first serious girlfriend after I was saved was the sixteen-year-old preacher’s daughter — Charlotte Brandenburg.

I was all-in with Jesus, so it made sense for me to only date girls who had similar motivations. The last girl I dated, of course, became my wife. We shared similar sentiments about spiritual matters and what it was God wanted us to do with our lives. And for the first three decades of our marriage, I was an all-in pastor, a man who demanded total commitment from himself, his family, and the churches he pastored. I had little tolerance for laziness, and I had no time for golf-playing ministerial colleagues. There were souls to save, churches to build. How could I devote one moment of time to the pleasures of the world while people still needed to hear the Evangelical gospel? Now, I don’t want to paint a picture of someone who was free from temptation and “sin.” I wasn’t, but the arc of my life was bent towards holiness, preaching the gospel, and doing all I could to help people mature in the faith. I often heard preachers talk about “balance.” For many years, I rejected calls for “balance,” choosing instead to devote most of my time and effort into the work of the ministry. Better to burn out than rust out, I proudly told myself.

As I look at the overall arch of my life, I can see how being all-in has helped me when it came to computers, photography, and writing. I tackled all three of these things without any training, choosing a path of self-education. I continue to work on knowing more about these things. I most certainly want to be a better writer and photographer. Computers? I just want the damn things to work when I push the “on” button. In other areas of my life, thanks to chronic illness and pain, I have learned to let go and let Loki. I am still learning to “not give a shit” about some things, even if all-in Bruce still wants to dive into the deep end of the pool. Maybe at age sixty-one, I am learning “balance.”  Or maybe, I have learned that it is okay to not be all-in on some things; that it’s okay not to know everything about e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Is it Ever Okay to Lie?

pinocchio lying

I grew up in a religious culture where lying (bearing false witness) was always considered sin. It was never, ever right to tell a lie, even if the ends justified the means. This was more of an ideal than anything else. Pastors and congregants alike lied. I quickly learned that despite all their talk about moral/ethical absolutes, my pastors and other church leaders would lie if the situation demanded it. Despite frequent condemnations of situational morality/ethics, the Christians I looked up to would, on occasion, lie. One example that vividly comes to mind happened when I was fifteen and attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. As many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches of the 1970s did, Trinity Baptist had a large bus ministry. Each week the church’s buses brought hundreds of people to church. Many of these buses were rambling wrecks, yet parents rarely gave a second thought to letting their children ride the buses. Most parents, I suspect, saw the three or so hours their children were at church as a respite from caring for them.

Church buses had to be annually inspected by the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Each bus had to pass a mechanical and safety inspection. One item of importance was the tires. Trinity Baptist was a fast-growing church that always seemed to be short of money. Properly outfitting each bus with safe tires would require a lot of money, so the church decided, instead, to lie about the tires. In the spring of 1972, it was once again time to have the buses inspected. Several of them needed to have their tires replaced. Instead of replacing the tires, the church outfitted one bus with new tires and took it to the Patrol Post for inspection. After passing inspection, the bus was driven to a garage owned by a church member so the new tires could be removed and put on the next bus needing inspection. This was done for every bus that had tires that would not pass inspection. What church leaders were doing, of course, was a lie. This particular lie was justified by arguing that running the buses and winning souls for Jesus were more important than following Caesar’s law. Over the next thirty-five years, I would see similar lies told time and again, with the justification always being that God’s work must go on and souls needed saving. But, what about not bearing false witness? I learned that for all their preaching on situational morality/ethics, Evangelical pastors and church leaders were willing to tell a fib it advanced their cause. In their minds, the end indeed justified the means.

Years ago, I pastored one man who believed it was ALWAYS wrong to lie. One time, a woman asked him if he liked her new hat. Wanting to always tell the truth, the man told her that he didn’t like the hat and thought it was ugly. Needless to say, he hurt his friend’s feelings. When asked by his wife whether an outfit looked nice on her or made her look fat, he would never consider what his wife was actually asking. Fundamentalist to the core, all that mattered to him was telling the truth. However, all his wife wanted to know is whether he accepted and loved her, as-is. Instead of understanding this, he dished out what he called “brutal honesty.” Needless to say, this man routinely offended his family and friends.

One time, after a blow-up over his truth-telling, I asked him, “Suppose you lived in Germany in World War II and harbored Jews in your home. One day, the Nazis come to your door and ask if you are harboring any Jews. Knowing that answering YES would lead to their deaths, what would you say? Would you lie to protect them?” Astoundingly, he told me that he would either tell the truth (yes) or say nothing at all. In his mind, always telling the truth was paramount even if it meant the death of others. I knew, then, that I had no hope of getting him to see that there might be circumstances where telling a lie was acceptable; that sometimes a lie serves the greater good.

Bruce, did you ever lie as a pastor? Of course, I did. Let me give you one example. The churches I pastored dedicated babies — the Baptist version of baptizing infants. Couples would stand before the congregation and promise before the church and God that they would raise their newborn up in the fear and admonition of God. Most of these parents lied, but then so did I. I would hold their babies in my arms and present them to the church, saying, isn’t he or she beautiful? when I believed then, and still do, that most newborns are ugly. Our firstborn came forth with wrinkly, scaly skin and a cone-shaped head — thanks to the doctor’s use of forceps. “Beautiful,” he was not!  I lied to the parents about their babies because I knew no parent wanted to hear the “truth.” The parents lied about their commitment to church and God because that’s what everyone in attendance wanted to hear — especially grandparents.

While I generally believe that telling the truth is a good idea, I don’t think this is an absolute. There are times when telling a lie is preferable to telling the truth. Let me share an example of when I should have lied and didn’t. The church I co-pastored in Texas held an annual preaching conference. I preached at this conference the year before the church hired me as their co-pastor. When discussing who we were going to have preach at the upcoming conference, I suggested a preacher friend of mine from Ohio. I thought it would be a great opportunity for him. He gladly accepted our invitation. One night after he preached, my friend asked me to critique his preaching. I thought, oh don’t ask me to do this. My friend had several annoying habits, one of which was failing to make eye contact with those to whom he was preaching. He insisted on me telling him what I thought of his preaching, so with great hesitation, I did. After I was done, I could tell that I had deeply wounded my friend, so much so that he talked very little to me the rest of the conference. Sadly, our friendship did not survive my honesty. Yes, he asked for it, but I really should have pondered whether he would benefit from me telling the truth. I should have, instead, recommended several books on preaching or encouraged him to use the gifts God had given him. Instead, I psychologically wounded him by being “brutally honest.”  Fifteen or so years ago, I tried to reestablish a connection with him. I sent him and email, asking him how he was doing.  He replied with a one word, FINE.

As a photographer, I am often asked for photography advice. I have learned that people don’t really want my opinion about their latest, greatest photographs. Instead of telling them how bad their photos are, I choose, instead, to encourage them to practice and learn the various functions of their cameras. (Most people never take their cameras off AUTO.) I told one person recently that I don’t critique the work of others. There’s no such thing as a perfect photograph, and taking photographs is all about capturing moments in time. As a professional, how my photos look matters to me, but I know that most people will never invest time and money into becoming a skilled photographer. Often, they don’t have the same passion about photography as I do. They wrongly thought that buying an expensive camera would automatically make their photos look good. It’s the photographer’s skill, not his equipment, that makes the difference. I try to encourage others, even if it means, at times, I stretch the truth a bit. I suspect all of us look for affirmation and encouragement instead of “brutal honesty.” If by withholding the unvarnished truth, someone is encouraged to keep taking photographs, then I have done a good deed. I certainly will do what I can to help them improve their skills, but I never want to drive them away from the craft.

Are you an “absolute” truth-teller? Do you believe it is ALWAYS wrong to lie, or do you believe there are circumstances when lying serves the greater good or causes the least harm? If you are a pastor/former clergy person, did you ever lie? Don’t lie!  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

What Will the IFB Church Movement Do About Sexual Abuse Allegations?

jack hyles quoteIn the post that follows, I deliberately paint with a broad brush. If what I write doesn’t apply to your church or your pastor, then feel free to ignore my words. Be aware that I am no friend of the IFB church movement. It will be a good day when every IFB church in America is shuttered. IFB beliefs and practices are psychologically harmful, and in some instances physically harmful. There are better, kinder, gentler expressions of religious faith available for people who need it. I have spent the last decade telling my own story and listening to the stories of others. So much pain, so much abuse. The only advice I can give is this: RUN!

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a collection of thousands of churches who are independent denominationally, fundamentalist (Evangelical) in doctrine, and adhere to Baptist ecclesiology. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Under this large tent are churches that voluntarily associate with one another, often gathering around a particular Fundamentalist college (i.e. Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, The Crown College, Midwestern Baptist College, Massillon Baptist College, Maranatha Baptist University, Hyles-Anderson College, Baptist Bible College) or certain geographical locations (please see Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps). Virulently anti-denominational, IFB churches/pastors pride themselves in being answerable only to God.

Answerable to no one but God — who never says a word to them — IFB churches are often controlled by authoritarian pastors who rule their churches with a rod of iron. Believing that they are divinely called to be pastors and commanded in Scripture to rule over their churches, these so-called men of God far too often become a law unto themselves. Their churches become their possessions, their ministries given to them by God to lead, direct, and control. It is not uncommon, much like in the business world, for IFB pastors to be the CEOs of their churches for decades, and when they retire, to pass their kingdoms on to their sons. Their churches become the family business. Ask IFB congregants where they attend church and they will often reply, not First Baptist Church, but Pastor or Bro. Johnny B. Awesome’s church. IFB churches are pastor-centric. Everything revolves around the pastor and his decrees.

The church culture described above is a perfect medium for sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, and other predatory behavior. There’s little-to-no accountability to anyone except God, and I can safely say that he hasn’t been seen in IFB churches in a long, long time. While an IFB pastor is answerable to his church’s membership, practically speaking, unless he steals money from the church, is caught fucking the deacon’s wife in his study, or some other egregious “sin,” he is pretty much safe from being fired. Over time, such men gain more and more power, so much so that it becomes almost impossible for congregants to get rid of them. I have seen church constitutions — often written by the pastors themselves — that require a seventy-five-percent “yes” vote to remove a pastor.

IFB church members are often taught to implicitly trust their pastors and to ignore any rumors they might hear about them. (Please see Sexual Abuse and the Jack Hyles Rule: If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen.) Rumors swirled around Jack and David Hyles for years, yet because church members were taught (indoctrinated) to “trust and ignore” the Hyleses escaped being held accountable for their abhorrent criminal behavior. Yes, I said “criminal.” It is clear from the latest Fort Worth Star-Telegram report on sexual abuse in IFB churches that David Hyles committed sexual crimes and his father covered them up. This story has been repeated in numerous IFB churches over the years. Don’t think for a moment that the latest report on sexual abuse is new. This kind of behavior has been going on ever since I was a teenager at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, five decades ago. It was covered up back then and it is covered up today.

Sexual assaults, rapes, predatory behavior, and adultery are covered up way too often in IFB churches. Protecting the “good” name of the church in the community becomes more important than rooting out predatory behavior. Far too often, victims are either not believed or are blamed for what happened to them. IFB pastors are known for their sermons about how women dress, and how inappropriately dressed women are culpable for how poor, hapless, weak Baptist men respond to their carnal display of flesh. Women (and teen girls) are expected to be gatekeepers; to dress and act in ways that keep church men and teen boys from having lustful thoughts about them. When Jack Schaap, the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana and Jack Hyles’ son-in-law, was arrested for sexually assaulting a church teenager he was counseling, more than a few Schaap defenders blamed the girl for seducing him. She was called a slut, a whore, a Jezebel. Schaap was viewed as a tired, overworked man of God who was an easy mark. Never mind the fact that Schaap was old enough to be the girl’s father and that he, through letters, cards, and text messages, sexually manipulated this help-seeking, vulnerable, naive girl. His disgraceful fall into sin was all her fault, according to his defenders.

The title of this post asks, What Will the IFB Church Movement Do About Sexual Abuse Allegations? The answer should be clear to all who are reading: NOTHING! As long as IFB churches remain independent and accountable to no one but the silent God, sexual abuse will continue. As long as congregants are taught to revere, fear, and obey their pastors, it is unlikely that predatory IFB preachers will be in danger of exposure or criminal prosecution. As long as IFB preachers continue to promote warped views of human sexuality and sexual accountability, it is doubtful that predators and abusers will be held accountable for their crimes. And as long as churches value their own reputations more than the innocence of their children and the vulnerability of their women, pastors will continue their wicked ways.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Did You Know Today is “Bring Your Bible to School” Day?

bring bible to school

Did you know today is “Bring Your Bible to School” day? Sponsored by Focus on the Family and Alliance Defending Freedom, BYBTSD is a day when students are encouraged to blow the dust off their Bibles or retrieve them from the back window of the car and proudly carry them to school. The BYBTSD website explains the event this way:

On Bring Your Bible to School Day— this year’s event is on Oct. 4, 2018 — students across the nation will celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. It’s an annual event for students sponsored by Focus on the Family. The event is designed to empower you as a student to express your belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Participation is voluntary and student-directed—meaning it’s completely up to students, Christian clubs and youth groups to sign up online and then lead the activities in their school.

The goal, of course, is to evangelize public school students. That and letting local communities know that Fundamentalist Christians are still among the living; still pushing their anti-science, anti-women, anti-progress, anti-human worldview. What better way to promote your beliefs than by using children?

According BYBTSD founder and Focus on the Family director of education issues Candi Cushman:

We’ll definitely exceed half a million participants, but it’s hard to measure and predict exact numbers because lots of kids wait until the last moment to sign up and join the movement. In addition to public school students in every state in the nation, we also have involvement from many kids in private schools and homeschooling communities who choose to do special events or distribute Bibles in their communities as a way of showing support. We welcome all of them.

Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame is the 2018 BYBTSD honorary chairmen. Students who register for BYBTSD get a chance to win a FREE trip to visit Sadie. Woo Hoo!

Video Link

Focus on the Family and Candi Cushman erroneously suggest that BYBTSD is some newfangled way for children to evangelize their fellow classmates and exercise their First Amendment rights. Back in the late 1960s and 1970s, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers were encouraging church teenagers to carry their Bibles to school; not just for one day, but every day. I heard numerous preachers and evangelists encourage high schoolers to put their King James bibles on top of their school books and carry them to school. Students were also encouraged to make sure “unsaved” students saw them reading their Bibles and praying over their lunches. The goal was to turn IFB students into lighthouses in the midst of darkness.

I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio in the 1970s. I was active in the church’s high school youth group. (Please read Dear Bruce Turner.) Youth pastor Bruce Turner, along with pastor Gene Millioni, encouraged church teenagers to daily carry their Bibles to school. Don’t be ashamed of Christ, we were told. Most youth group members ignored their pastors, choosing being ashamed of Christ over being publicly ridiculed by their peers for carrying their Bibles to school.

One student, an eleventh grader at Findlay High School (1973-1974), took seriously the call to let his light shine by carrying his Bible to school. Not only did he daily carry his Bible to school, he also injected his beliefs into his classwork — writing an English paper on why the Baptist church was the true church and giving Bible answers on biology tests — and handed out tracts to his fellow students. The student, of course, was yours truly.

At the time, I believed God was calling me into the ministry. I saw evangelizing my classmates as training for future evangelistic efforts. I wish I could report that my zealotry led to the salvation of sinners, but all I accomplished was getting myself labeled as a religious nut.  Let me conclude this post with several stories that I think will illustrate how things went for me.

One day — I can’t remember which class — I carried my school books with my black King James Bible on top into a classroom and set them on my desk. I turned to talk to one of my friends, only to have a classmate grab my Bible and throw it to another student. For what seemed like forever, a group of students played hot potato with my Bible. I tried to retrieve the Bible, but was not able to do so. I found myself becoming quite angry over their behavior, which I am sure everyone saw as hypocritical. Students who I thought were close friends because we attended youth group together, pretended not to know me. Much like the Apostle Paul or Elijah, I was all alone on this one. Fortunately, the offending students got tired of taunting me and gave the Bible back to me. Their treatment of me, of course, was proof to me that True Christians® would be persecuted by the “world.” As you can see, my persecution complex started early.

I worked as a busboy at Bill Knapp’s on West Main Cross St. I crammed all of my classes into the morning hours so I could get early release from school. At the time, I was a ward of the court, living with Gladys Canterbury, a godly divorced older woman who attended Trinity Baptist Church. Every day, I got out of school around 11:30 AM and walked or rode my bike to Bill Knapp’s so I could work the lunch hour shift. After my shift, I would often take a long break, eat lunch — I still relish a Bill Knapp’s burger basket — and then work the evening shift. Several busboys were classmates of mine at Findlay High. I also played baseball/basketball with/against several of them. They primarily knew me in a sports context. They knew I carried my Bible to school, and they also knew I carried my Bible to work and read it between shifts. Seeing a big difference between tenth grade Bruce and eleventh grade Bruce, they had a hard time figuring out what happened to me. I took to leaving tracts in their pockets and bags, thinking that this would be a great way to evangelize them. Instead, I angered my workmates, with one boy taking a tract, crumpling it up and throwing it at me. I don’t want any of this shit from you, he said. Persecuted once again for my faith, I thought at the time.

One of my fellow busboys was a boy by the name of Deke. Deke’s father was an executive with Findlay-located Marathon Oil Company. Deke was quite “worldly,” so I took it upon myself to try to evangelize him. One Wednesday, I invited Deke to church. I had invited him and the other busboys numerous times before, and they always said no. This time, however, Deke said yes. I can remember Deke’s visit to Trinity Baptist like it was yesterday. We sat in the back middle pew of the church, as teenagers often did. It was prayer meeting night, but at Trinity Baptist Church, every service was the same, geared towards evangelizing the lost. Deke, of course, had never asked Jesus to save him, so he was most certainly “lost.” Come invitation time, I asked Deke if he would like to go forward and get saved. He told me no, so I didn’t bother him further.

Trinity Baptist had an army of altar workers who would, if “led” by God, go to people perceived to be lost and try to cajole them into getting saved. Deke, being fresh meat, was quickly descended upon by two women noted for their soulwinning zeal. After a few minutes of badgering, Deke agreed to walk the aisle and put his faith and trust in Jesus. I was thrilled! Finally, fruit from my evangelistic efforts, I thought at the time.

After the service, I excitedly talked to Deke about how happy I was that he had asked Jesus to save him. He sneeringly laughed and said, I didn’t get saved. I just did what those ladies wanted so I could get away from them. The only salvation Deke found on that day was deliverance from two over-zealous Fundamentalist women. (Deke, by the way, is actively involved in a liberal mainline Christian church today.) Deke would be the one and only “convert” from my eleventh-grade evangelistic efforts. I expressed my disappointment to my youth pastor over the lack of “fruit’ from my efforts. He quoted to me Isaiah 55:11:

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

I would quote this verse many times over the years when pondering why it was many of my evangelistic efforts failed to win the lost. It’s up to God to save sinners, I thought at the time. My responsibility was to keep preaching the Bible and verbalizing the gospel to sinners. While I had six hundred people walk the aisle in the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist Church, few of them turned into faithful, church-going Christians. What they were looking for was fire insurance and deliverance from guilt and shame over their sinful behavior. That I provided in spades, but despite my efforts to turn them into zealots, they remained nominal Christians or stopped attending church after a few weeks or months. Some people even got saved and never darkened the doors of the church again. For these people, getting saved was something they needed to check off their bucket list: Got saved, sins forgiven, headed for Heaven. Next! 

From the age of sixteen to well into my adult life, I publicly wore my Christianity everywhere I went. Whether it was carrying a Bible to school or standing on a street corner with Bible held high preaching to passersby, I lusted after the souls of men. Despite my passion, my actions and words, for the most part, fell on deaf ears. I saw myself as an estranged prophet preaching in the wilderness, imploring sinners to come to Christ. I now know that I really was just a colossal pain in the ass. Well-intentioned? Sure. But having good intentions doesn’t change the fact that my evangelistic attempts were coercive and belligerent.

Were you encouraged to carry your Bible to school? Did you do so? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Did My Philosophy of Ministry Change Over the Years I Spent in the Ministry?

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

My editor recently asked me a question about how my philosophy of ministry had changed from when I first began preaching in 1976 until I left the ministry in 2005. I thought her question would make for an excellent blog post.

I typically date my entrance into the ministry from when I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in the fall of 1976. I actually preached my first sermon at age 15, not long after I went forward during an evening service at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, and publicly declared to my church family that God was calling me into the ministry. My public affirmation of God’s call was the fulfillment of the desire I expressed as a five-year-old boy when someone asked me: what do you want to be when you grow up? My response was, I want to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never had any doubts about what I wanted to do with my life. While I’m unsure as to why this is so, all I know is this: I always wanted to be a preacher.

Trinity Baptist Church was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). From my preschool years forward, every church I attended was either an IFB church or a generic Evangelical congregation. When I entered Midwestern in 1976, all that I knew about the Bible, the ministry, and life itself was a result of the preaching, teaching, and experiences I had at the churches I was part of. These churches, along with my training at Midwestern, profoundly affected my life, filling my mind with theological, political, and social beliefs that shaped my worldview. These things, then, became the foundation of my philosophy of ministry.

The fact that I grew up in a dysfunctional home also played a big part in the development of my ministerial philosophy. During my elementary and high school years, I attended numerous schools. The longest spell at one school was the two and a half years I spent at Central Junior High School and Findlay High School in Findlay Ohio. All told, I attended four high schools, two junior high schools, and five elementary schools. Someone asked me years ago if I went to a lot different schools because my dad got transferred a lot. I laughed, and replied, no, dad just never paid the rent. While my father was always gainfully employed, the Gerencser family was never far from the poorhouse, thanks to nefarious financial deals and money mismanagement. I quickly figured out that if I wanted clothing, spending money, and, at times, lunch money, it was up to me to find a way to get the money to pay for these things. There were times that I sneaked into my dad’s bedroom and stole money from his wallet so I could pay for my school lunches. Dad thought that the local Rink’s Bargain City — which I called Bargain Shitty — was the place to buy clothing for his children. I learned that if I wanted to look like my peers that I was going to have to find a way to get enough money to pay for things such as Converse tennis shoes, platform shoes, and Levi jeans. In my early junior high years, I turned to shoplifting for my clothing needs. From ninth grade forward, I had a job, whether it was mowing grass, raking leaves, shoveling snow, or holding down a job at the local Bill Knapp’s restaurant. I also worked at my dad’s hobby shop, for which he paid me twenty-five cents an hour, minus whatever I spent for soda from the pop machine.

My mother, sexually molested by her father as a child and later raped by her brother-in-law, spent most of her adult life battling mental illness. Mom was incarcerated against her will several times at the Toledo State Mental Hospital. She attempted suicide numerous times, using everything from automobiles, pills, and razor blades to bring about her demise. One such attempt when I was in fifth grade left an indelible mark, one that I can still, to this day, vividly remember. I rode the bus to school. One day, after arriving home, I entered the house and found my mom laying in a pool blood on the kitchen floor. She had slit her wrists. Fortunately, she survived, but suicide was never far from her mind. At the age of fifty-four, mom turned a .357 Magnum Ruger revolver towards her heart and pulled the trigger. She bled out on the bathroom floor.

It is fair to say that we humans are the sum of our experiences, and that our beliefs are molded and shaped by the things we experience in life. I know my life certainly was. As I reflect on my philosophy of ministry, I can see how these things affected how I ministered to others. The remainder of this post will detail that philosophy and how it changed over the course of my life.

When I entered the ministry, my philosophy was quite simple: preach the gospel and win souls to Christ. Jesus was the solution to every problem, and if people would just get saved, all would be well. I find it interesting that this Jesus-centric/gospel-centric philosophy was pretty much a denial of what I had, up until that point, experienced in life. While the churches I attended certainly preached this philosophy, my real-life experiences told me that Jesus and salvation, while great, did not change people as much as preachers said they did. But, that’s the philosophy I was taught, so I entered the ministry with a burning desire to win as many souls as possible, believing that if I did so it would have a profound effect on the people I ministered to.

I also believed that poor people (and blacks) were lazy, and if they would just get jobs and work really, really hard, they would have successful lives. I would quickly learn as a young married man that life was more complex than I first thought, and that countless Americans went to work every day, worked hard, did all they could to become part of the American middle class, yet they never experienced the American dream. I also learned that two people can be given the same opportunities in life and end up with vastly different lives. In other words, I learned that we humans are complex beings, and there’s nothing simple about life on planet earth. I also learned that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. I would much later in life conclude that life is pretty much a crapshoot.

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. Somerset Baptist was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. I pastored this church for almost twelve years. During this time, the church grew from a first service attendance of sixteen to an average attendance over two hundred. The church also experienced a decline in membership over time, with fifty or so people attending the last service of the church. Somerset Baptist was located in Perry County, the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. Coal mines and stripper oil wells dotted the landscape. Unemployment was high. In the 1980s, unemployment exceeded twenty percent. It should come as no surprise then, that most of the members of Somerset Baptist were poor. Thanks in part to my preaching of the Calvinistic work ethic (also known as the shaming of people who don’t have jobs), all the men of the church were gainfully employed, albeit most families were receiving food stamps and other government assistance. During the years I spent at this church, I received a world-class education concerning systemic poverty. I learned that people can work hard and still not get ahead. I also learned that family dysfunction, which included everything from drug/alcohol addiction, domestic violence, child abuse, and even incest, often was generational; that people were the way they were, with or without Jesus, because that’s all they knew. I pastored families that had never been more than fifty miles from their homes. At one point, some members of our church took a church auto trip to Virginia, and I recall how emotional some members were when they crossed the bridge from Ohio into West Virginia. It was the years I spent in Somerset Ohio that dramatically changed how I viewed the world. This, of course, led to an evolving philosophy of ministry.

bruce gerencser 1990's

Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s

While I never lost my zeal to win souls for Christ, my preaching, over time, took on a more comprehensive, holistic approach. Instead of preaching, get right with God and all would be well, I began to teach congregants how to apply the Bible to every aspect of their lives. I stop preaching textual and topical sermons, choosing instead to preach expositionally through various books of the Bible. I also realized that one way I could help the children of the church was to provide a quality education for them. Sure, religious indoctrination was a part of the plan, but I realized that if the children of the church were ever going to rise above their parents, they were going to have to be better educated. For my last five years at Somerset Baptist, I was the administrator and a teacher at Somerset Baptist Academy — a private, tuition-free school for church children. My wife and I, along with several other adults in the church, were the primary teachers. Our focus was on the basics: reading, English, writing, and arithmetic. Some of the students were years behind in their education. We used a one-room schoolhouse approach, and there were several instances of high school students doing math with third-grade students. We educated children where they were, regardless of their grade. Polly taught the younger students, and was instrumental in many of them learning to read. Most of the students, who are now in their thirties and forties, have fond memories of Polly teaching them reading and English. Their memories are not as fond of Preacher, the stern taskmaster.

During the five years we operated the school, I spent hours every day with the church’s children. I learned much about their home lives and how poverty and dysfunction affected them. Their experiences seem so similar to my own, and over time I began to realize that part of my ministerial responsibility was to minister to the temporal social needs of the people I came in contact with. This change of ministry philosophy would, over time, be shaped and strengthened by changing political and theological beliefs.

In 1995, I started a new church in West Unity, Ohio called Grace Baptist Church. The church would later change its name to Our Father’s House — reflecting my increasing ecumenicalism. During the seven years I spent in West Unity, my preaching moved leftward, so much so that a man who had known me in my younger years told me I was preaching another gospel — the social gospel. My theology moved from fundamentalist Calvinism to theological beliefs focused on good works. I came to believe that true Christian faith rested not on right beliefs. but good works; that faith without works was dead; that someday Jesus would judge us, not according to our beliefs, but by our works. While at Our Father’s House, I started a number of ministries which were no-strings-attached social outreaches to the poor. The church never grew to more than fifty or sixty people, but if I had to pick one church that was my favorite it would be this one. Outside of one kerfuffle where a handful of families left the church, my time at Our Father’s House was peaceful. For the most part, I pastored a great bunch of people who sincerely loved others and wanted to help them in any way they could.

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000

In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. He would be the last Republican I voted for. As my theology became more liberal, so did my politics, and by the time I left the ministry in 2005, I was politically far from the right-wing Republicanism of my early years in the ministry. Today, I am as liberal as they come. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the last presidential primary election. Politically, I am a Democratic Socialist. To some people, depending on where they met me in life, my liberal beliefs are shocking. One man was so bothered by not only my politics, but my loss of faith, that he told me he could no longer be friends with me; that he found my changing beliefs and practices too psychologically unsettling.

I’m now sixty years old, and come July, I will be married to my beautiful bride for forty years. Much has changed in my life, particularly in the last decade, but one constant remains: I genuinely love people and want to help them. This is why some people think I am still a pastor, albeit an atheist one. I suspect had I been born into a liberal Christian home I might have become a professor or a social worker, and if I had to do it all over again I probably would have pursued these types of careers, choosing to be a bi-vocational pastor instead of a full-time one. But, I didn’t, and my life story is what it is. Perhaps when I am reincarnated, I will get an opportunity to walk a different path. But, then again, who knows where that path might take me. As I stated previously, we humans are complex beings, and our lives are the sum of our experiences. Change the experiences, change the man.

I hope that I’ve adequately answered my editor’s question. This post turned out to be much longer than I thought it would be, much like my sermons years ago.

bruce and polly gerencser 2017

Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2017

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Just Remember Girls, No One Ever Got Pregnant Who Didn’t Hold Hands With a Boy First

angry preacher

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (I Corinthians 7:1-2)

The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth that unmarried men should not touch women. Touch not, want not, right? If men couldn’t contain their sexual desires, then to avoid fornication they were to marry. In other words, marriage was a considered a cure for horniness. Countless Evangelicals have been taught that if they cannot contain their sexual desires — remember masturbation is a sin — then they should seek out someone of the opposite sex to marry. Hey Betty, I am horny. Will you marry me? 

Many Evangelical preachers use I Corinthians 7:1-2 as justification for the Puritanical rules they use to regulate physical contact between unmarried teenagers and young adults. I came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s. I was a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). Public displays of affection were forbidden. This prohibition forced church teens to turn to secretive means to show their “love” to their boyfriend or girlfriend. We learned how to hold hands in church or on the church bus so no one could see us. There was something exciting about flaunting the rules, even more so when we spent time necking in out-of-the way church hallways or in the shadows of the parking lot. My favorite necking time was Wednesday evenings when the adults were having choir practice. Church teens were left to their own devices, and many of us used the time to fornication-lite. One girl I dated for a short time told me recently that I was the first boy who kissed her — in the back of the church while the adult choir was practicing Bill Gaither’s song, He Touched Me.

I had many such dalliances, but that is as far as they went. I was a true believer, so I limited my physical intimacy with the opposite sex to hand-holding and kissing. I was one of the few flower children who didn’t get laid before marriage. Conversations in recent years with people who were in the youth group with me have revealed that there was a lot of fucking and sucking going on, but none involving preacher boy Bruce Gerencser. I assumed, at the time, that everyone was on the straight and narrow as I was. I now know that their spirits were willing, but their flesh was weak.

In the fall of 1976, I entered Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. A dark-haired beauty by the name of Polly also enrolled for classes. Polly’s goal was to find herself a preacher to marry. I thought of college as being a place of plentiful dating opportunities, and I planned to play the field. I dated a girl by the name of Peggy for several weeks and then turned my romantic interest towards Polly. We quickly hit it off, even though we had little in common. She was a quiet, shy preacher’s daughter. I was a motormouth with a bit of a rebellious streak. Polly would tell me later that she thought of me as her “bad boy.” Polly’s parents saw me as a bad boy too; bad as in not good for their innocent daughter. They spent the next eighteen months trying to discourage our relationship, even going so far as to tell Polly that she couldn’t marry me. A short time after this papal edict, Polly informed her parents that we were going to get married with or without their blessing. This was the first time Polly stood up to her parents.  If my mother-in-law had to sum up her son-in-law in one sentence, I suspect she would say, Bruce is “different” and he ruined our daughter.

Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist institution. Established by Dr. Tom Malone in the 1950s, Midwestern had a strict code of student conduct. Single students were required to live in the dormitory, and every aspect of dorm life was strictly regulated. Students could only date on the weekends and had to double-date. Dating couples were not permitted to touch each other — no hand-holding, kissing, snuggling, or other displays of affection. Keep in mind, most of the dorm students were ages 18-30 — the raging hormones years. And it was the 1970s, the freaking 1970s!

i would rather be fornicating

Single students were expected to keep at least six inches distance from the opposite sex — six inches being the width of a church hymnbook. (Please read Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule) Breaking the six-inch rule brought severe punishment. Repeated infractions resulted in expulsion. While there were a handful of couples who self-righteously obeyed the letter of the law, most students quickly learned who they could double-date with without getting in trouble for holding hands with or kissing their date. More than a few students rounded third and slid into home, with several girls becoming pregnant — or so it was rumored anyway. Students caught fornicating were immediately expelled from school.

Polly and I married after our sophomore year. A year later, we left Midwestern and moved to Bryan, Ohio — the place of my birth. A few weeks after our move, I became the assistant pastor at Montpelier Baptist Church — a young, growing IFB church. After spending seven months at Montpelier Baptist, I resigned and we moved to the Central Ohio community of Newark. Polly’s dad was the assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. Her uncle, James Dennis was the pastor.  We joined the Baptist Temple, and when Polly’s father decided to start a new church in nearby Buckeye Lake in 1981, we joined him. I became his pastoral assistant (primarily working with the youth of the church), a position I held until June of 1983.

In July of 1983, I started a new IFB church in Somerset, Ohio — thirty miles south of Newark. I would pastor Somerset Baptist Church until March of 1994. At every stop along my young ministerial career, I was exposed to and worked with men who believed it was a grave sin for unmarried teens and young adults of the opposite sex to touch each other. I carried this belief into my first full-time pastorate. Church teens likely remember Pastor Bruce preaching against all forms of physical/sexual intimacy between unmarried people. I am sure they remember me famously saying — oh how I wish I could forget — “no girl ever got pregnant who didn’t hold hands with a boy first!” (Yes, I really did say this, and I did so many times!)

I viewed hand-holding as a sexual gateway drug. I thought, if I could shame teens and young adults into not touching one another (or touching themselves), then there would be no fornicating going on and no teen pregnancies. I pastored Somerset Baptist for eleven years. During that time, no unmarried church female became pregnant. Does this mean that none of the church unmarrieds was having sex? Of course not. Having talked with a handful of church teens who are now in their 30s and early 40s, I now know that they were lustily ignoring my preaching. I am grateful that there were no unwanted pregnancies that I knew of, though I suspect several girls might have gotten pregnant and secretly had abortions.

Is it any wonder that so many IFB married couples have sexual dysfunction? What in my preaching taught these couples a healthy, scientific, rational view of sex? Nothing that I can think of. Instead, I used guilt and shame in my attempts to get them to conform to an anti-human, irrational view of human sexuality. Thousands of Evangelical preachers continue to preach the Thou Shalt Not Touch gospel to church teenagers. Ironically, these preachers didn’t heed this gospel when they were teens, and they surely have to know that neither will their church teenagers. Hormones, need, and desire win every time. Wouldn’t it be far better to teach church unmarrieds how to own their sexuality, preparing them for the day when they engage in sex for the first time? I know, the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says, but Christians have been trying to live by Puritanical beliefs about sex for centuries. How is that working out? Perhaps it is time to shelve the Bible with its archaic sexual prohibitions and embrace a healthy, natural view of sex. Sorry preachers, but everyone IS doing it. You can live in denial all you want, but the fact remains that by age nineteen, seven out of ten teenagers have had sex. And now that people are waiting until their mid-twenties to marry, I can safely say that most of the singles listening to your antiquated sermons have likely engaged in some form of sexual activity.

Were you raised in an Evangelical/IFB church? How did your pastor handle I Corinthians 7:1-2? What do you remember your pastor saying about necking and premarital sex? Did you feel shame and guilt when your pastor preached about sex? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

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