Eight Years Later Part One

Eight Years Later Part One February 21, 2017

CulpeperBaptistby Bruce Gerencser cross posted from his blog The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

On the last Sunday of November 2008, my wife and I attended a Christian worship service for the last time. Over the months prior to this, Polly and I spent numerous hours talking about what we believed about God, Jesus, and the Bible. We also spent numerous hours talking about the vapid emptiness of churches and how they were little more than social clubs. Our leftward move politically — we had just voted for Barack Obama — caused us to see Christianity in a different light. While we certainly knew of a handful of churches that were committed to liberal and progressive ideals, these kind of churches were nowhere to be found in rural Northwest Ohio — not that it would have mattered had we found such a church. By November 2008, our political and religious views were such that we believed Christianity was bankrupt and had become a corrosive, dangerous force in American life.

Our decision to stop attending church brought a sense of relief, but it also brought a deep sense of loss. Relief because we no longer had to play the church game, and loss because we were walking away from that which had dominated our entire adult lives. While we knew what we were leaving behind, we had no idea what the future would hold. Six months later, I wrote my infamous letter, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. I sent this letter to our family, close friends, and a handful of colleagues in the ministry. I did not mention Polly in the letter. I wanted the disagreement and vitriol that was sure to come to be directed at me, not her. Unfortunately, doing so led people to wrongly conclude that Polly and I were not on the same page about matters of faith. This resulted in me being accused of leading Polly and our children astray, a subtle implication that they could not think for themselves. While Polly certainly processes things in a manner different from the way I do, and our reasons for deconverting were/are not exactly the same, we agreed on one thing: we had no interest in ever attending church again. And eight years later, we still have no desire to attend church. Outside of attending several funerals, weddings, and concerts, we have not darkened the doors of a church. Freed from bondage, oppression, and intellectual superficiality, we have no intention of ever returning.

In future posts in this series, I plan to detail how things have changed for us since our divorce from Jesus and organized Christianity. Before writing about what has changed for us, I want to detail what hasn’t changed. Character-wise, Polly and I are pretty much the same people we were eight years ago. We now enjoy drinking alcohol and using bawdy, colorful language, but outside of that — lifestyle-wise — we are still very much the same people we were when I pastored churches. What has changed is our worldview and how we view other people. I will write more about this in a future post.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is our relationship with Polly’s parents. Outside of telling Polly they are praying for us, Mom and Dad had not said one word about me leaving the ministry and our subsequent deconversion from Christianity. Not one word. Early on, Polly’s mom would invite her to events at the Newark Baptist Temple — their church home for forty years — but Polly’s terse no thank yous quickly put an end to such invitations. It’s been years since Mom has invited us to anything church-related. When we visit them, we make sure that there is no church event going on. We travel three hours one way to their home to tarriance with them, not to be reminded of the intellectual and moral emptiness of Evangelical Christianity. So the obese pink elephant of our relationship with Polly’s parents remains. I highly doubt that its presence will be addressed this side of eternity. And that’s fine. We don’t need them to “understand” as much as we need for them to respect our decision to live our lives sans God, Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity.

Polly and I must also respect her parents’ decisions too, even when they cause deep hurt. Fifteen months ago, Polly’s dad had ill-advised hip replacement surgery. The surgery was a miserable failure, resulting in Dad spending almost a year in the nursing home. Unable to walk for more than a short distance, Mom and Dad were forced to sell their two-story house they had lived in for almost 40 years. Polly suggested to her mom that they could move up here so we could help take care of them.  Polly’s mom replied, we could never do that, our church is here. Ouch. Such is the insidious nature of Evangelical Christianity, especially the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) variety.  The church “family” is Mom and Dad’s “real” family, even though this real family of theirs has largely ignored them during Dad’s recovery from hip surgery (and some of this is due to their unwillingness to ask for help, a fault that Polly and I suffer from too), Polly’s mom has wounded her with words many times over the years, but telling her we could never do that, our church is here was a step above the other in-Christian-love verbal assaults. This one caused a deep emotional wound that has yet to heal. When I suggest that we go visit her parents, I am often met with a frown, a look that says, Why bother. They have their church “family.”

In the next post in this series, I will begin to detail some of the things that have changed for us since we exited stage left from Christianity. Stay tuned.

moreRead more by Bruce Gerencser:

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Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Bruce Gerencser blogs at The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser He writes from the unique perspective of having been a pastor for many years and having seen it all in churches. His journey out of being a true believer and pastor has been an interesting and informative one.

Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 35 years. They have six children, and eleven grandchildren.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Aloha

    Nice article, thanks for sharing your story.

    You might keep in mind, however, that church-families do substitute for blood relatives for many people. And I think that’s a beautiful thing.

    It’s something that I worry atheism cannot easily produce: the sense of family you share with co-religionists. I’ve benefitted enormously from my various church-families, as have others of my lonely friends. Not everyone has a flesh-and-blood family to meet their various needs.

  • Rachel

    The LGBT community has a strong history of creating our own families when our biological families and the Church reject us. Drag culture is made up of “drag mamas,” “drag fathers,” and “drag babies,” for example. I think it’s because humans are very social creatures, so we’re very good at creating our own spaces.

  • SAO

    I don’t know if the church replaces family, but it certainly provides community. It can be hard for elderly people to make new friends, particularly if they are having health problems, which a nursing home implies. In addition, many parents don’t want to be a burden on their children. Caring for them is not just taking care of their health needs, but also, it would require you to help them with their social needs.

    I’d encourage you to talk to Polly about all the meanings that her parents might have meant that *weren’t* ‘you are less family than my church.’

  • There’s much more I could say here, but I won’t. The wounds are deep, and can all be attributed to Christian Fundamentalism. Even when we were loyal, devoted members of the IFB church movement (I pastored a church for 11 years that was 30 minutes south of Newark), we didn’t measure up. So, when I say Mom’s comment to Polly is all about religion, take my word for it, it is. This saga is 40 years in the making. At this point, it is what it is. Both Polly and I have lost interest in trying to get along with Fundamentalist family. If they can’t accept us as we are, that’s their problem and their loss. We have six children and eleven grandchildren, so we have plenty of family to keep us busy.

  • You are right about atheism. It does not provide the social connections found in churches. That said, losing all our friends made us much closer to our children and grandchildren. All in all, it has been a pretty good trade.

  • paganheart

    A while back I read an article about a group of atheists and humanists in California who had started what they called “Sunday morning gatherings,” essentially an event with many of the rituals and aspects of church, without the religious dogma. The “services” were held in a hotel ballroom, and opened with musicians playing and inviting people to sing along, but instead of hymns, they played secular songs. Instead of prayer, they did guided meditation. Instead of sermons, they held discussions about philosophy and ethics.They even passed a collection plate (with funds going to defray the costs of the event) and had coffee and donuts afterward. There was talk about getting together as a group to do community service projects outside the gathering, such as cleaning up local parks or distributing food boxes to those in need. The founders admitted that they started the gatherings because they found that many people, while they no longer believed in the religion, still missed many of the social aspects and other trappings of church.

    Perhaps such events will catch on as the number of “nones” grows, or perhaps people will find other ways to build social and community bonds. My husband spent a school year in what was then West Germany as a high school exchange student, and one of the things he remembers about the experience was that unlike his own family, which attended church almost every Sunday, his host family (and most of the other families he met) attended church only on Christmas Eve and Easter, and it seemed like it was done more out of tradition or obligation than anything else. He also recalls, however, that his host parents were very active in their community; his host father played and coached soccer, his host mother played violin in a community orchestra, and both were very active in their political party. On most weekends, the family traveled to visit their grandparents or other relatives. They did not seem to lack for social connections, despite not being active in church.

  • SAO

    Well, you know your family and I don’t. I’m sorry for the difficult situation.

  • zizania

    On the other hand, we can build families around interests other than our (lack of) religion. I have no actual family within 100 miles but, over the years, have gathered a wonderful circle of friends within the local eco-friendly and food security community.