Editor’s Note: This Clergy Project member ponders a question that I also pondered while studying non-believing clergy: what makes him different from other clergy? Specifically: why don’t more of them leave, given what many of them learn about the history of religion and the making of the bible? The answers are not easy and maybe the question isn’t even quite right. It’s an issue well worth pondering, however, and eventual conclusions could have a profound effect on the future of religion. The following is excerpted with permission from a longer post written earlier this year.
By Bruce Gerencser
There are times when I find myself wondering why I cannot be like everyone else. I loved preaching and teaching. I loved helping others. I loved rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty in the work of the ministry. Yet, despite loving these things, they were not enough to keep me in the fold.
Why is it my former colleagues and the students I attended college with are able to continue believing and I am not?
While it would be tempting to say that I am intellectually superior to them, I know this is not the case. It would be easy to dismiss everyone with a wave of the hand and a snide “bunch of illiterate hillbillies” but I know that in doing so I would be painting with too broad a brush (a brush I wish atheists would quit using).
Perhaps there was something wrong with my faith. I have often asked myself this question. Was there something about my Christian experience that was in some way defective? I do not think so. While I certainly can see how someone might — by taking a short look at my life — conclude that the blame for my faithlessness rests solely on my shoulders; but my life, when taken as a whole, reflects that I was one who truly believed in God, Jesus, and the teachings of the Bible. Yet, I am an atheist. While I doubt I will ever fully understand why I cannot be like others, I have come to a few conclusions about the trajectory of my life and how I arrived at where I am today.
I have always valued intellectual pursuit. While I spent many years bouncing from wall to wall within the Evangelical box, even within these constraints I diligently sought to know the truth. This is why I left the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement in the late 1980s. It is also why I became a Calvinist and then later abandoned Calvinism as I embraced more of a works-oriented social gospel. While many of my former colleagues in the ministry have never deviated from the theology they were taught at Midwestern Baptist College and other evangelical institutions, I was unwilling to accept certain beliefs as “truth” just because it was the official doctrine of Midwestern or whatever group I was a part of. Years ago, I attended one of the monthly meetings of the Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship. It was a well-attended meeting, and every preacher had on the uniform — suit and tie.
Not I. I wore an ivory-colored sweater. The reason I remember this is because the host of the meeting pointed out the fact that I was wearing a sweater. He found my attire amusing, yet he thought that it was wonderful that I was unwilling to follow the herd’s dress code. Of course, I spent the remainder of the day having uneasy preachers look at me as some sort of liberal compromiser. Closer friends in attendance ribbed me over dressing so casually. I think this story accurately reflects how I viewed life then and still view it today. Unwilling to acquiesce to tribal demands, I forged my own path. Friends and colleagues viewed me as double minded, whereas all I was trying to do is be honest and follow the path wherever it leads. I am, today, still on this path. Who knows where I might yet end up?
**Editor’s Question** Why do you suppose you weren’t like “everyone else” when it came to accepting religion?
Bio: Bruce Gerencser, 58, lives in rural NW Ohio with his wife of 37 years. He and his wife have 6 grown children and 10 grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. He left the ministry in 2005 and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. He is also one of the original members of The Clergy Project, which began in 2011.
>>>>Photo Credits: By Orbitburco12 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37496046