"In the midst of a world of light and love, of song and feast and dance, [Lucifer] could find nothing to think of more interesting than his own prestige." CS Lewis A Preface to Paradise Lost
Pain. That is what surprised me. So many people have experienced unrelenting pain that began at the hands of callous pastors and Christian leaders. Naively, many of those hurt had once thought that the church would be a loving family that would love and support each other in the pursuit of the faith. And many churches encouraged this sort of thought process. “ Come to church, find Jesus, and find a family.” Some groups even refer to themselves as a “family.”
However, because sin is always present, both in the members AND the leaders/pastors, this ideal has been shattered for many. For some, church becomes the first place in which new Christians experience heartache. Years ago, I had no idea that churches could cause such pain. But, experience and personal reports have convinced me that it not only exists but it can be as bad as some reports indicate.
What convinced me? It is the consistency of the reports. It doesn’t matter the type of church or the denomination, the reports often seem as if someone wrote a screenplay and assigned people their prepared dialogue and roles.
Some might complain that TWW is unduly harsh towards those churches, which seem to have regular reports of abuse. Others complain about a lack of charity to individuals who seem to utilize code terminology. And maybe we are.
Here is our problem. Virtually none of the “it” pastors today acknowledge the tragedy of spiritual abuse. Instead, they place the blame of dwindling church attendance and enthusiasm squarely on the culture. It is them, not us.
The SBC wonders why people are bolting the convention. News reports seem to indicate that those who no longer believe in God in America has doubled in the past 10 years. I have heard pastors rail against the secularization of the culture. And in some respects this is true. However, as the church turns increasingly to the New Calvinism, there seems to have been a concomitant rise in reports of abusive behavior on the part of churches. Is this just a coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
I have spent the last 5 or more years on atheist/nonbeliever websites trying to figure out what’s what. The site that has caused me the greatest concern is ExChristians.Net. This site is made up of people who claim to have been evangelical believers who have left the faith and have become agnostic, atheistic or some vague spirituality. Although most there would claim that they simply stopped believing, they share stories that make me think that some of this unbelief found its roots in the observation of pastors and others behaving unChristianly. Many were berated if they questioned the status quo. Most claim that their pastor was not to be questioned and became irritated if they asked difficult questions.
Tom Rich, who runs the excellent blog, FBC Jax Watchdog, link here, discusses a recent statement by Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources who says that “criticism of pastors is harming the Great Commission.”
According to Rainer what makes a good church member – and one who is a true Christian – is one who doesn't ask questions and doesn't ever complain. In Rainer's view, "undoubtedly many of the worst critics are not true followers of Christ."
Says Rainer: "The time has come for church members to speak up. Too much is at stake. It is truly a sin to remain silent when it is our God-given responsibility to confront those who ultimately would hinder the spread of the gospel with the poison of their words."
Rich goes on to comment that “Rainer is out in leftfield on this – anyone that has spent time in Southern Baptist churches knows the level of opposition they will face if they ever call into question the actions or decisions of their pastor. Even when it comes to serious charges like sexual abuse – the pastor is often defended and protected by those around him while those who raise the charges are shunned and berated or slandered. The culture in most SBC churches is that asking questions and rocking the boat is a sign of spiritual immaturity and rebellion.”
In my opinion, Rainer seems to disregard that , until recently, the pastors controlled the pulpit and the microphone. They were the only ones able to berate the sinners who inhabited their congregation. These members do not tithe enough, sacrifice enough, or do enough. They buy nice houses and don't give enough to the church. They are self-centered and need to give more to their pastor. Their pastors condescend to put up with such people. And the folks are asking too many questions. If the pastor says the earth is 6000 years old, it is and they are to stop asking questions or get booted from Sunday school. The people are terrible sinners and can't see beyond their own navels. They needed to shut up, give the dough and stop complaining.
People looking for a loving Jesus are sometimes confronted with a vengeful God who is chronically angry at His Christians. And their pastor exists in a bubble on the stage. He is rarely around because he has more important things to do like writing books and giving speeches. People are often afraid to approach their pastor because he is too busy or too important. And many become discouraged.
However, the tables are turning and the flock is beginning to answer back. Here is the bottom line. Many of the “happening” pastors claim they want people to come to church and listen to them. Some of them appear on talk shows such as Larry King and Fox, pontificating about the faith and, of course, their ministries. They want public access and public attention but then get really bent out of shape when the public takes them up on their offer, pays attention, and then starts asking really, really hard questions. Like, why do you get a salary of close to a million dollars and yet tell us all to gross tithe to the church?
Let’s look at a current example with special thanks to alert reader “Jessica.” As all of you know, Ed Young Jr. has gotten lots and lots of public attention recently. No, not for his sex talks but for his lifestyle which includes a mansion, a fancy condo, a jet, fancy cars, etc. A couple of weeks ago he tweeted how he had been given a Ferrari. Shortly thereafter, he drove one out on his stage for some lame-brained sermon about how our bodies are Ferraris and we need to treat them well. This did not go over well. In fact, some believe he actually does have a Ferrari but now needs to backtrack. Interestingly, the ever thick skinned preacher felt he needed to defend the deed. Here is the You Tube video.
This is major, folks. There have been varying reports that Ed’s congregation is dwindling. He has always ignored criticism before and continues to enjoy his excessive lifestyle. But, it appears that he can no long do so with impunity. It seems he actually needs to defend himself.
Why? Because some of us “unregenerate bloggers” are holding his feet to the fire! Here’s the deal. Ed wanted the publicity, he sought face time on TV, and then he resents it when people ask questions? The tables have been turned. He no longer controls the only microphone.
Take the sad story of Ergun Caner, the FORMER President if Liberty University Theological Seminary. Liberty has long sought the limelight, believing they are a light in a dark world. Senators, Presidents, and the famous and infamous have found their way to the campus. Liberty held itself up as a model of “right” living for the world. Suddenly, the world took notice and started asking questions. Why is a man who lies about his past the head of the seminary? And Liberty balked. The world was not supposed to talk back. But, Caner was forced to step down. Make no mistake about this, dear readers. He would still be the president of the seminary if bloggers had not asked tough questions. And, to make matters worse, an unregenerate world would have seen this and blown off the witness of the church.
Here is a reality check for pastors who claim they want to be a light to the world. Sometimes, they will get caught in the brightness and will be forced to look at some dark corners.
Many churches spend quite a bit of time discussing the finer techniques for reaching a lost world. They have developed talking points for atheists, Mormons, Muslims, and others. They rail against abortion and homosexuality. But, they forgot one thing. They have not figured out how confront and deal with their own weaknesses. Their responses show it. There is a bunch of whining when the congregation talks back. There is even more whining when the world talks back. Rainer actually wants churches to set up boards to chastise the unregenerate bloggers. Why doesn’t he set up seminary courses and provide books that teach pastors and churches how to confront and deal with a questioning world like big boys and girls?
Here is the deal. The Internet is here to stay and the pulpit is no longer the only means of communication. Also, there are a lot of hurting Christians that have been ignored from the pulpit for far too long. And they are beginning to talk back. Pastors and leaders need to acknowledge them and begin to deal with the very real problem of the long-term effects of spiritual abuse.
Calvinists claim to believe in the sovereignty of God. Did they ever consider that God is calling out to churches to live the walk and not merely condemn the rest of the world? Could blogging be part of His plan? Maybe He allowed the Internet for such a time as this?
Doesn’t Rainer know that calling people “unregenerate” sounds like a whiney child and demonstrates his inability to argue the concerns raised by bloggers in an intelligent manner? He needs to read a book (Lifeway has lots of them) that will explain why his response is typical of those who use spiritual abuse as a method of control. Could his poor response be typical of the environment within the SBC and be indicative of the reasons that people are bolting from SBC land?
Pastors need to put on their big boy pants and deal with the questions raised. Recently a pastor told TWW that we were “assaulting the character” of Gary Ezzo and that Ezzo’s teachings were “very biblical.” This is such a ho-hum response from an intelligent pastor. Many nationally recognized groups, both within the medical as well as the Christian community, have called Ezzo’s methods into question. There is a serious concern that his methods could cause serious harm to infants. An intelligent response would have been demonstrated by thoughtfully discussing the large body of damning evidence available regarding this nationally disregarded author. Instead, he utilized one of the dated techniques discussed in many books on spiritual abuse-that of making the people presenting the issue the real problem. Let’s step up the dialogue, boys.
When a pastor puts himself and his church out in the public eye, the public is going to ask questions. And these questions are a darn sight harder to answer than merely presenting the Four Spiritual Laws. But isn’t that why he went into the ministry in the first place? Shouldn’t the church and the pastor welcome these questions, knowing that we are to be the light on the hill? It is an incredible opportunity for ministry. It may be a way for a leader to demonstrate true humility instead of just talking about humility like a certain pastor we know. Imagine this, a questioner could be bringing God’s perspective about a particular flaw to light. He does use outsiders from time to time to carry out his will. In fact, he could be using a couple of middle-aged (yet always glamorous) housewives from time to time.
How are people watching? Here is one true example? TWW was recently sent some documents by a very intelligent man who was burned by some callous church leaders. We did not solicit this. He is sick and tired of pastors making bank off of the ministry. TWW was able to confirm the evidence sent since all of this is a matter of public record. Once again, we will keep the pastor’s name anonymous but he is well known to most of our readers.
Said pastor’s church is growing like gangbusters, so the church has decided to build a new church building on some recently purchased land. As the building campaign progressed, this pastor admonished his congregation not to sell their homes and move to a more expensive home. He said that they should give the money that they would have spent on a new house to the building fund for their new campus.We've got the recorded sermon! Well guess what? The pastor's response kind of reminds me of that old song by Bob Dylan “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” Said pastor, within short order, sold his $350,000 house and purchased a $500,000 larger house. We don't know the circumstances so we decided not to publish his name but it certainly looks bad.
The collective eye is watching pastors who put themselves up for public scrutiny.Heck, they were told to investigate the church for themselves. One needs to be careful for what one wishes for. Unfortunately, the church has not treated some of those in the public well and they are answering back. Here is the question. Will they whine or will they learn to dialogue. I believe the life of the church in America depends on their answer.
Here is a classic video of Johnny and June Carter Cash singing “It Aint Me Babe.” Just so you know, I am a Johnny Cash fan and plan to hang with CS Lewis and Cash for many years in heaven.
Lydia's Corner: Numbers 36:1-Deuteronomy 1:46 Luke 5:29-6:11 Psalm 66:1-20 Proverbs 11:24-26