Our Stories: Paul Brynteson
by Paul Gibb
We have a wonderful, articulate, fun-to-be-with member who, over the course of a 20-year period, after leaving behind his Pentacostal religion (and even his Dean’s position at Oral Roberts University), moved ever closer to Unitarian Universalism until finally joining in 2016.
He describes himself as having become a “Religious Humanist.” “For so many years,” he says, “I was a Fundamentalist Christian, very narrow, only one way to believe. I don’t want to become a Fundamentalist Humanist, very narrow, only one way to believe.” In other words, he does not want to have the word Humanist be simply a euphemism for atheist. “I like to leave the door open for something greater than us. One should always leave a little crack in the door.” And he adds that he has been drawn to the UU community “via the Seven Principles and Six Sources.” And in addition to the UU Principles and Sources, Jesus’s teachings are still important to him. “I tend to like what Gandhi is reported to have said, ‘I like your Jesus, I don’t like your Christians.’”
What was it like teaching at Oral Roberts University while starting to have doubts about Pentecostal Christianity? “When I started having doubts while at Oral Roberts, I found that many of the faculty were just like me. They loved teaching and just put up with what was going on at the Oral Roberts level.”
Paul was born in Clearbrook, Minnesota, in 1943. His mother and father were both first generation Americans born in Chicago to Swedish and Norwegian parents. They moved to northern MN in 1942, where Paul’s father would become pastor at a number of different Pentecostal churches.
He describes his parents as warm and affectionate, and they “didn’t focus on you’d go to hell if you did such-and-such. They were doing what they felt God called them to do and they were doing it in a warm and affectionate way.”
But when he was a sophomore in high school he went to a dance after a basketball game. “My father found me at the dance and made me leave. ‘Christians don’t dance,’ he said. ‘It gets you too close to the opposite sex.’” Paul never went to a dance after that.
Paul has two older brothers, one of whom has passed away, and two younger sisters. “I was the only family member to leave this conservative religion and did not do so until I was more than 45 years of age. I’m still close with my brother and sisters.” They get along, he says, and just avoid talking about religion.
After Paul’s parents had both passed, in 2013, he finished and published a book he was writing about his transition from Pentecostal religion to “progressive Christianity.” It’s called The Bible Reconsidered and is available from Amazon for $10, from Paul for $5, and from Kindle Unlimited for free. Anyone who might be interested can email Paul at Paul.Brynteson@nau.edu.
Paul says about the book “I wrote it to tell my story; I did not write it to make money. When I wrote it, it was more for my family, friends, and former colleagues – to be honest and transparent with them.”
After finally leaving Oral Roberts, Paul accepted a department chair position at Arkansas State University and after five years there accepted his final position at Northern Arizona University, where he was for 15 years until he retired and he and Donna moved to Broomfield. While in Arizona he was very involved with health promotion projects with the Navajo Nation.
Paul met Donna, his wife of over 60 years, while in high school. Since she was Lutheran, Paul’s parents were concerned at first, but Donna started attending Sunday evening services with Paul, and his parents dropped their objections. Donna wasn’t resistant when he started moving away from Pentacostal religion and was actually supportive. She said something like “You’re moving in a direction that I am very happy with.”
How did he and Donna get to Colorado? “When we lived in Oklahoma and our two children were young, we took biking, camping, and skiing trips to Colorado. Upon graduation (yes, BA from ORU) our son went to Law School at CU, married a Colorado girl, and is part of a practice with offices in Greeley and Loveland.” In addition to their son and daughter, Paul and Donna have four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren – most living in Colorado.
Paul finds joy in being with his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and also skiing, hiking, and biking. He has backed away from many of the sports he previously enjoyed – including tennis, basketball, and racketball – because he found that too many people in his age group were getting injured. “I went snow-skiing with two of my great-grandchildren last weekend. I don’t ski as much anymore, but it’s still fun to go with grandchildren or great-grandchildren.”
It is a joy having Paul among us!