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Tag: Trinity Baptist Church Findlay

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.

Bruce, Were You Spiritual or Religious?

i have a question

Linda LaScola recently sent me several questions that she asked me to answer about my past use of the words spiritual and religious. My answers will appear at a later date on the Rational Doubt blog.

Question One: When you were religious, did you also think of yourself as spiritual, or not? How did you talk about spirituality to the people in your congregation?

I spent most of my life solidly entrenched in Evangelicalism, so my answer to this question will reflect that tradition, and not views I held towards the end of my ministerial career. I never would have used the words spiritual or religious to describe my personal beliefs. Religion was what unsaved church members had and those who called themselves spiritual were new age practitioners who worshiped false Gods. I was a born-again, bought-by-the-blood, filled-with-the-Holy-Spirit Christian. Religion is what Christians-in-name-only did on Sunday. I was a seven-day, 168-hour-a-week, slave of the most high God. I devoted virtually every waking hour of my life to serving God, and when I dared to take a bit of me-time, I often battled thoughts of what better use could have been made of the wasted time spent relaxing. This is why during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I only took a handful of vacations, and when I did, they were often connected to preaching engagements. I wouldn’t call my way of living the norm among Evangelical preachers, but I knew plenty of like-minded pastors who burned the candle at both ends, living by the mantras, only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last and better to burn out than rust out.

Most American Christians, even in the Evangelical church, are nominal practitioners. They go to Sunday services when it is convenient, attend wedding and funerals, throw a few bucks in the offering plates, and when asked they say they worship God, love Jesus, and believe the Bible is the Word of God. However, their day-to-day lives say something far different: that they are Christian in name only. I considered these types of “Christians” as religious-but-lost. In my thinking, they were every bit as lost as Satanists, perhaps even more so because they had been deceived by false religion.

My view of “true Christianity” moderated over the years, but during my time as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor and later as a Calvinistic Baptist pastor, I had a very narrow and defined view of what made someone a Christian and how a Christian should live. Some Christian sects, such as the Church of the Latter Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventists, I considered cults. Other sects, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, I viewed as promoters of a works-based false gospel. Mainline churches were, for the most part, filled with religious church members who knew little about what it meant to be a REAL Christian.

As you can see, I put most Christians in the religious-but-lost category. And even within the Evangelical church, there were plenty of unsaved members. I spend countless hours preaching sermons that were meant to show saved church members that they were actually lost; that they had “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5); that they had a head salvation, not a heart salvation.

The spiritual category was reserved for new agers and others who dabbled in various esoteric, metaphysical beliefs and practices. I rarely came into contact with such people. I lived most of my adult life in the rural Midwest, and this insulated me from spiritual beliefs and practices found on the east and west coasts. Thus, I spent my ministerial years among true Christians and non-Christians who were religious-but-lost. I can’t think of an instance where I came into contact with someone who would have fit my definition of spiritual. This, however, didn’t keep me from warning parishioners about the dangers of the new age movement and its “spiritual” beliefs and practices.

Question Two:  Did you go through a “spiritual but not religious stage” on the way to being non-religious? If so, please describe it (e.g., how long did it last, how/why did it change?) If not, how did you go from religious to non-religious? (e.g., through reading, thinking, talking with others, something else, some combination of the above). Please describe that.

As I detailed above, I never used the words “religious” or “spiritual” to describe myself. I was a Christian; a follower of the lamb withersover he goeth (Revelation 14:4); a slave of the most high God. My deconversion from Christianity was predicated on my disaffection towards organized Christianity. I pastored my last church in 2003, but didn’t leave Christianity until 2008. During this five-year span, my wife and I visited over one hundred churches, hoping to find a congregation that took the teachings of Christ seriously (or our interpretations of those teachings, anyway). You can check out the list of churches we attended here. We concluded that, regardless of the name over the door and the differences in liturgy and music, Christian churches were all the same. It was during this time, that I began to seriously question my beliefs. I decided to re-study the Bible — a book that I had spent thousands of hours studying, preaching thousands of sermons from its pages. I turned to authors who were in times past considered false teachers or apostates. Intellectually straying outside of the boundaries of Evangelicalism proved to be a real eye opener.

I have always been a voracious reader. My colleagues in the ministry considered me a bookworm of sorts. When I wanted to study a matter, the first thing I did was buy several books on the subject. My reading often led to me buy yet more books, until I reached a place where I thought I had adequately studied the matter. This practice resulted in several seismic theological changes such as embracing Calvinism and rejecting pretribulational, premillennial eschatology. While these changes caused a bit of a stir, they were considered to be within the boundaries of orthodoxy. The authors I read were also orthodox, so I was never exposed to non-Evangelical beliefs. No need, I thought at the time. I have THE truth, no need to look elsewhere.

It was when I began to read non-Evangelical authors that I realized that I had lived quite a theologically sheltered life. I also came to see that my pastors and college professors had lied to me about other theological systems of belief, the history of the Christian church, and the nature of the Bible — it being an inspired, inerrant, infallible text. Were these men deliberately lying to me? Perhaps, but I doubt it. When you are deeply immersed in a particular way of thinking, it is hard to see any other beliefs as true or even possibly true. In dealing with countless Evangelicals after my deconversion, I have learned that until believers can dare consider that they might be wrong, there is no hope of reaching them. Certainty of belief breeds arrogance, and this arrogance shuts the mind off from any belief that does not fit within the Evangelical box. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box.)

Once I intellectually wandered outside of the safe, orthodox confines of Evangelicalism, I was exposed to thinking that turned virtually everything I believed on its head, beginning with what I believed about the inerrancy, inspiration, and infallibility of the Bible. If I had to point to one author who did the most to wreck my faith, it would be Bart Ehrman. Ehrman thoroughly demolished my beliefs about the nature of the Bible — that it was a supernatural text written by God through supernatural human instrumentality. Once the Bible lost its power over me, the house I had built on its foundation quickly came tumbling to the ground. More than a few former colleagues and parishioners suggested that I stop reading books and only read the Bible. They thought if I would just read the Bible that all my questions and doubts would go away, when in fact it was my reading of the Bible with enlightened eyes that finally brought an end to my belief in the Christian God.

If I were to give some sort of testimony about my loss of faith, I would say that my doubts about Christianity began with my general disaffection towards organized Christianity. This emotional upheaval then led me to reconsider my beliefs. For many years, I was unwilling to admit that my deconversion had an emotional component. I knew that if people thought I left Christianity for emotional reasons that they would dismiss my story. So I focused on the intellectual reasons for my leaving Christianity. I now see that my leaving the ministry and subsequently leaving Christianity was an admixture of emotional, psychological, and intellectual factors. That said, the ultimate reason that I am not a Christian is that I no longer believe the Bible and its teachings to be true. I reject the central tenets of Christianity. While I am of the opinion that the Jesus of the Bible was likely a real person, he was not a miracle-working God-man who died on a Roman cross to atone for the sins of the world and rose again from the dead three days later. He lived and he died. End of story.

Question Three: If you know people who are spiritual but not religious, what are they like? (e.g., were they ever a member of an organized religion? If so, what made them leave?) Are their current beliefs tied to a specific religion (e.g., Christianity, Judaism) or are their beliefs more individual or amorphous? How to they express their spirituality? (e.g., do they pray, do they think things happen for a purpose, or do they feel a sense of being watched over or not being alone? Do they believe in an afterlife?)

I know a handful of people who consider themselves spiritual. These people generally believe that there might be some sort of inner light/higher power/divine essence/energy force, but they have little use for organized Christianity, and no use for Evangelicalism. Some of them have embraced Buddhism, paganism, or earth-based religions. All of them, at one time, were mainline or Evangelical Christians. In the 1970s, I attended a large IFB church in Findlay, Ohio. Trinity Baptist Church had a sizeable high school youth group. In recent years, I have become reacquainted with a handful of friends from my Trinity youth group days. None of them is still practicing the “faith once delivered to the saints.” While I am the most outspoken heathen of the group, the rest of them are far from the Baptist teachings of their youth. None of us would be considered Christians by the men who were once our pastors.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Dear Bruce Turner

bruce turner
Bruce Turner

Bruce Turner was my youth pastor in the early 1970s. Bruce played a very important part in my life, from my profession of faith in Christ to my call to the ministry. I have published this letter before. As with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

Dear Bruce,

I see you found my blog. I am sure the current state of my “soul” troubles you. My “spiritual” condition troubles many as they try to wrap their theological minds around my twenty-five years in the ministry and my present atheistic views.

I plan to address the comment you left at the end of the letter, but before I do so I want to talk about the relationship you and I had and about the influence you had on my life.

You came to Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, fresh out of Baptist Bible College. Trinity was looking to hire a full-time youth pastor and you were the one they hired. You joined the staff of a busy, growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church.

You were there when I put my faith and trust in Jesus. You were there when I was called to preach. You helped me prepare my first sermon (2 Corinthians 5:20). You and I worked a bus route together and went out on visitation.

My parents had recently divorced and you became a surrogate father to me. When my Dad remarried and moved us to Arizona I was devastated. In a few months, I returned to Ohio, and in late summer of 1973, I moved from Bryan to Findlay.

You helped me find a place to live, first with the Bolanders, and then with Gladys Canterbury. For almost a year I went to school, worked a job at Bill Knapp’s, and immersed myself in the ministry of Trinity Baptist Church.  You were there to guide me every step of the way.

When I first moved to Findlay a divorcee and her young daughter wanted to take me in. You wisely made sure that didn’t happen, knowing such a home would not be healthy for me.

When I became enamored with Bob Harrington ( I loved his It’s Fun Being Saved record) you warned me about worshiping big name preachers and you told me to pay attention not only to what they preached but what they didn’t.

You even catered to my personal desires. In the summer of 1973, I had a whirlwind romance with Charlotte Brandenburg. Charlotte was the daughter of the couple who came to hold a Super Summer Bible Rally (VBS) at Trinity. For one solid week, we spent every day with each other. I was smitten with Charlotte.

Later that same year you planned a youth outing to the Troy Baptist Temple, the church Charlotte attended. We went to see the movie, A Thief in the Night, but my real reason for going was to see Charlotte.

bruce gerencser 1971
Bruce Gerencser, 1971, Ninth Grade

When it came time to leave I lingered as long as possible, I didn’t want to leave Charlotte. Finally, I heard a voice the said, Gerencser, get on the bus (for some reason you liked to call me by my last name). As I came hand-in-hand with Charlotte to the bus you turned a way for a moment and told me to get it over with. I quickly kissed Charlotte goodbye and that was the last time I saw her. We wrote back and forth for a few months but, like all such relationships, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity.

You were my basketball coach. Trinity sponsored a team in the ultra-competitive high school age Church Basketball League. One game I had a terrible night shooting the ball. I was frustrated and I told you I wanted out of the game. You refused and made me play the whole game. My shooting didn’t get any better but I learned a life lesson that I passed on to all my children years later.

I remember when this or that person in the youth group got in trouble. You and Reva were there to help them pick up the pieces of their lives. You were a kind, compassionate man.

I remember you helping us get a singing group started. I still remember singing the song Yesterday during a church service (YouTube video of Cathedral Quartet singing this song). I also remember you singing Fill My Cup Lord. Polly and I sang this same song for many years in most every church I pastored.

Who can ever forget your Youth Group survey? You surveyed our attitudes about alcohol, drugs, music and sex and then you dared to use your findings in a sermon. I remember what a stir your sermon caused. You peeled back the façade and revealed that many of the church’s youth were not unlike their non-Christian peers. (it was the ‘70s)

I saw your bad side too. I remember the youth canoe outing where Reva lost her teeth. Boy were you angry. I felt bad for Reva, but in a strange way I loved you even more. I saw that you were h-u-m-a-n. I already knew Gene Milioni and Ron Johnson, the other pastors, were human, having seen their angry outbursts, and now you were mortal too. (Remember I am writing this from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy.)

In May of 1974, I abruptly left Findlay, one week away from the end of school (a move that resulted in Findlay High School denying me credit for my entire 11th grade year). Subsequently, I dropped out of high school.  My Mom was in a world of hurt mentally and she needed me (and I needed her). In the fall of 1974 she would be admitted to the state mental hospital and my Dad would come and move my siblings and me back to Arizona.

In 1976 I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I met my wife at Midwestern, and after leaving there in the Spring of 1979, we embarked on a twenty-five year journey in the pastorate, a journey that took us to seven churches.

bill beard bruce turner 1986
Bill Beard and Bruce Turner, 1986

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. I put to use the things I learned from you, Dr. Tom Malone, and my professors at Midwestern. I put soul-winning first. I committed myself to being a faithful preacher of the truths found in the King James Bible. And “God” blessed the work I did. Somerset Baptist Church grew from a handful people to over two-hundred. We were the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County.

You and I reconnected and I had you come and preach for us. I believe it was a special service and the church was packed with people. The people loved you and I was thrilled to show off my mentor to them. I suppose, deep down, I needed your approbation.

You invited me to come and preach at your church, Braintree Baptist Temple in Braintree, Massachusetts. I now know that the real reason you had me come and preach was because you saw some things that concerned you. My workaholic, Type-A personality was good for growing a church but not so good for me or my family. Sadly, it took me many more years before I realized this.

We stayed in your home in Massachusetts and spent a few days traveling around the area. This was the first “vacation” our family had ever taken and it would be the last one for many years. I was too busy and thought I was too important to take any time off.  Even when I later took vacations, I never took them just to be taking one. I always had a church or conference to preach at while we were on “vacation.”

bruce turner 1986
Bruce Turner with our three oldest children, 1986

You and your dear wife treated us well. You gave us some “run-around” money and we went out to the Cape. My oldest children still remember dipping their feet in the cold waters of the Atlantic.

We parted, promising to keep in touch, but as with Charlotte and me years ago, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity. I suspect my later adoption of Calvinism ended any chance of a continued relationship.

I did write you several times in the 1990s. I read somewhere that you had Fibromyalgia, and when I was diagnosed with the same I wrote you. You never responded. I was disappointed that you never wrote back, but I chalked up to you being busy.

Bruce, I wrote all of this to say that you had a profound effect on my life. I will always appreciate what you did for me.

Now to your comment.

You wrote:

Sorry to see your blog and obvious bitterness toward Baptists. Not all of us preached an easy believing Gospel and certainly not all of us lived a perverted life. These King makers you blog about have never had my respect.

Reva and I have been happily married for 44 years. I am sorry your health is so bad and though you apparently have rejected what you once professed, I am praying for you to the God (not preachers) that I trust.

I sincerely hope your health improves and remember some good times in the old days. Stay healthy friend.

Bruce Turner

I am often accused of being bitter, angry, or some other negative emotion. On one hand, I have every reason to be bitter and angry, but my rejection of Christianity is not ultimately defined by anger or bitterness.

I rejected Christianity because I no longer believe the claims made about the Bible and its teachings. I came to see that the Bible was not inspired, inerrant, or infallible. I came to see that a belief in the God of the Bible could not be sustained rationally (this is why faith is necessary), and even if it could be, I wanted nothing to do with such a capricious, vengeful, homicidal God. I later came to see that the Biblical claims for Jesus could not be sustained. While I certainly think a man named Jesus roamed the Judean hillside during the time recorded in the Bible, the Jesus of the Bible is a myth. At best he was a revolutionary, a prophet who was executed for his political and religious beliefs (and I still, to this day, have a real appreciation for the sermon on the Mount and a few other sayings attributed to Jesus).

My journey away from Christianity and the ministry took many anguish-filled years.  I didn’t arrive to where I am today overnight. I looked at progressive Christianity, the Emergent church, liberal Christianity, and even universalism. None of these met my intellectual need. None of them rang true to me. I made many stops along the slippery slope until I came to the place where I had to admit that I was an atheist (and I still think saying I am a Christian means something).

I am not a hater of Christianity. I have no desire to stop people from worshiping the Christian God. I am well aware of the need many people have for certainty. They want to know their life matters and they want to know that there is life beyond the grave. Christianity meets their need.  Who am I to stand in the way of what helps people get through life?  It matters not if it is true. They think it is true and that is fine by me.

The Christianity I oppose is the Evangelical form of Christianity that demands everyone worship their God, believe what they believe, and damns to hell all those who disagree with them. I oppose their attempts to turn America into a theocracy. I oppose their hijacking of the Republican Party. I oppose their incessant whining about persecution and their demands for special status. I oppose their attempts to deny some Americans of the civil and legal rights others have. (What happened to Baptists believing in a strict separation of church and state?) I oppose their attempt to infiltrate our public schools and teach Creationism or its kissing cousin, Intelligent Design, as science (this is what Christian schools are for). I oppose their attempt to make the Ten Commandments the law of the Land.

The kind of Christianity I mentioned above hurts people and hurts our Country politically and socially. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has harmed countless people, sometimes scarring their lives so severely that recovery is almost impossible (and telling people to get over it is not the answer). I weep often as I read emails from people whose lives have been destroyed by the extremes found in the IFB church movement. My blog exists because I want to help people like this. I want them to have a safe place to work through the wreckage of their lives, lives ruined by their involvement in Evangelical and IFB churches.

In many ways, I am still a pastor.  I want to help other people. The difference now, or course, is that I don’t have an agenda. I don’t have a list “truths” that must be believed. If I can help people walk the journey they are on with openness, honesty, and integrity, I am happy. I am concerned with their journey not their destination (since I think we are all headed for the same final destination, death).

I too, Bruce, have prayed thousands of times to the Christian God and yet, like the universe itself, he yawns and remains silent. Instead of hoping for a God to fix what ails me, I have chosen to embrace my life as it is. I have chosen to try to change what I can and accept what I can’t. Above all, I have learned that it is what it is.

Through this blog I try to flesh out my understanding of the past and examine the path I am now on. I try to be open and honest. I don’t have all the answers and, for that matter, I don’t even know all the questions. All I know to do is continue to walk forward, however halting my gait may be.

I shall always remember our days in Findlay and I will always appreciate what you did for me. When I write my autobiography someday there will be a chapter titled Bruce Turner.

Thank you.

Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Turner’s website

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Bruce Gerencser