Longtime pastor loses his religion

Name: Bruce Gerencser.

Where I live: Ney, Ohio.

Where and when I was born: Bryan, Ohio, in 1957.

Family: Wife Polly; children Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah; 11 grandchildren. Married for 39 years.

Education: Attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Mich. — a fundamentalist Baptist institution — from 1976-1979.

Occupation: Photographer, disabled.

How I got where I am today: I was raised in rural Ohio. My father moved us around a lot. By the time I was 21, I had lived in 16 different houses, lived in 10 communities, and attended school in six different districts. My parents divorced when I was 15. My father died at age 49 of complications from heart surgery. My mother, after spending decades suffering from mental illness, including two lengthy stays in the state mental hospital, killed herself at the age of 54. My wife and I married at the ages of 19 and 21, respectively.

Polly is the daughter of a fundamentalist Baptist pastor. I spent 25 years pastoring evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. In 2007, we returned to rural northwest Ohio and bought our first home. Our children and grandchildren all live within 20 minutes of our home. This was our last move. We intend to pass the latter years of life in Ney, a town with one stoplight, two bars, a gas station and one very outspoken atheist.

Where I’m headed: I am headed to the same place we all are — the grave. Knowing that this is the only life I will ever have, I try to live each day to its fullest, committing myself to doing as much good as possible while I am among the living.

Person in history I admire and why: Wendell Berry. Berry’s books taught me the importance of place/community and the symbiotic relationship humans have with all living things.
A quotation I like: “What do you most value in your friends? Their continued existence.” —Christopher Hitchens

These are a few of my favorite things: Day trips with my wife, photography, dirt track auto racing, Cincinnati Reds baseball, Cincinnati Bengals football, Ohio State football, attending my grandchildren’s school and sporting events.

These are not: Donald Trump, evangelical Christianity, preferential treatment given to Christianity by local government and schools, current war on opioids that is hurting those suffering from chronic pain and need narcotic pain medication.

My doubts about religion started: I was born into the Christian church. I was baptized into the Lutheran church as an infant. In the early 1960s, my parents moved from rural Ohio to San Diego. While in California, my parents began attending Scott Memorial Baptist Church, pastored at the time by Tim LaHaye. Both of them had born-again experiences. While in California, they became members of the John Birch Society. At the age of 15, I asked Jesus to save me and a few weeks later told the church I believed God was calling me to be a preacher. I preached my first sermon at age 15 and my last sermon at age 48. I spent 25 years pastoring evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas and Michigan.

I was, in every way, a sold-out, on-fire follower of Jesus. I remained evangelical until the latter years of my time in the ministry. My beliefs and politics began drifting leftward, resulting in me being labeled a liberal by some of my colleagues in the ministry. After I left the ministry in 2005, I began reading books that challenged my beliefs. One author in particular, Bart Ehrman, had a huge impact on me, forcing me to reconsider what I believed about the nature and history of the bible. This resulted in me admitting that I could no longer believe that the bible was an inspired, inerrant, infallible text. My house of faith quickly came tumbling down, and in November 2008, I attended church for the last time and admitted I was no longer a Christian.

Before I die: I want to finish the book I have been working on for what seems like forever. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1997 and in 2007 I developed neurological problems that have forced me to use a cane or wheelchair to get around. I know, based on everything my body (and calendar) is telling me, that I am on the short side of life. Before I die I would like to spend time traveling along the upper Eastern seaboard with the love of my life.

Ways I promote freethought: I regularly write letters to the editor of the local newspaper, most often on the subjects of evangelicalism, atheism and politics. I also blog at “The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser” (brucegerencser.net). Through my blog, I receive a large amount of email from evangelicals who have questions and doubts about Christianity. Some of the letter writers are pastors, many of whom have lost their faith.

Freedom From Religion Foundation