“The only summit meeting that can succeed is the one that does not take place.” —Barry Goldwater
This post was a collaborative effort between Dee Parsons and Ryan Ashton.
December 1st, a group known as The Media Project posted an article titled, “Protestants also face #ChurchToo scandals. Reporters: Here’s a Handy Way to Assess Them” authored by Richard Ostling. Upon further investigation I wasn’t surprised by the tone of negativity—noticed by many others—given The Media Project’s ties to a tribe with which we have history.
The central claim in Ostling’s piece is that yours truly, and others I work with in the advocacy community, are “militant” and untrustworthy sources of information on abuse in the Church. I was called “sharp elbowed,” but there were no corresponding quotes or explanation for that pejorative. In contrast, “mainstream” organizations, such as the upcoming Wheaton Summit on Church Abuse, were presented as better alternatives.
We will examine those claims, but first, some context.
What is The Media Project?
Before we begin, let’s examine The Media Project itself.
According to their website:
“The Media Project is a network of mainstream journalists who are pursuing accurate and intellectually honest reporting on all aspects of culture, particularly the role of religion in public life in all corners of the world. TMP welcomes friends from other faiths to join us in our discussions and training.”
There is a great need for an entity such as The Media Project since I like the idea of accurate and intellectually honest reporting. I am disappointed, however, in their failure to exercise basic journalism before writing about me or the organizations I work with.
For example, I have been studying the Christian counseling movement for some time. Go to this post and see how I quote directly from their materials. In fact, I received correspondence from academics thanking me for using the exact words of those within the movement to define what it is I am talking about. It’s not just journalistic integrity—it’s good manners.
The partners of The Media Project/Joe Carter
Regular readers know that I regularly write posts which encourage people to read the websites of religious organizations prior to visiting in order to avoid unforeseen problems. So, I decided to look at the partners of The Media Project to investigate why the tone and negativity towards us. It is very quickly apparent that the journalists of this organization might be relying upon the information given to them by their partners.
The aforementioned tweet from Scottie Day was rather remarkable since Joe Carter, the editor of The Gospel Coalition, is involved with the Acton Institute as a Senior Fellow. Joe Carter is also a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, as well as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicatorand an editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible.
For those unaware of Joe Carter’s history with TWW, Joe Carter is a huge supporter of CJ Mahaney and accused me of libel in my ongoing coverage of the Sovereign Grace Ministry scandal. There was a particularly nasty exchange that The Christian Post covered when Joe Carter leveled the charge of libel as well.
- That I was pathologically dishonest because I believed that CJ Mahaney had participated in the cover up of child sex abuse,
- That I was defaming Mahaney by publishing posts that said I (and others) believed the victims’ claims were true,
- That I was guilty of “slander” because I believed in the victims’ claims,
- That I could be sued because I believed the victims.
“Parsons defended herself, claiming that “everyone has a right to express their point of view. Also, I tend to believe the victims.”
“Slander/defamation is well defined as deliberately telling a lie in order to hurt another. I have never knowingly told a lie at TWW & have never said anything to deliberately hurt another. When I have been confronted with an obvious mistake, I have apologized and corrected it,” continued Parsons on Twitter.
Carter has concentrated his wrath on TWW for years, regularly attempting to classify me as a “liberal Christian” while remaining supportive of CJ Mahaney, whose ministry imploded due to the voluminous amount of credible allegations that sexual abuse was enabled and covered up within Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Therefore, it is not surprising to see associates of Joe Carter, whom I do not know and have never been acquainted, immediately seek to smear the work I and fellow advocates do.
The Wheaton Summit on Sex Abuse
Going back to The Media Project’s article, “Protestants also face #ChurchToo scandals. Reporters: Here’s a Handy Way to Assess Them,” this is how the upcoming Wheaton Summit is introduced:
“…the host, Ed Stetzer, a trend-watcher who directs Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center…”
To begin, until recently, Ed Stetzer was the church planting expert for the Southern Baptist Convention and was part of the in-crowd, following in the footsteps of Al Mohler. Stetzer never spoke out against the problems in Sovereign Grace Ministries. But now suddenly, Stetzer is the new authority on sex abuse in the SBC. Why? He never paid much attention to it until it became an issue that garnered press. It is obvious from his choice of participants in the Wheaton GC2 Summit—lacking survivors, advocates, and professionals that survivors trust and who have been confronting church abuse for years—that he has little understanding of the #ChurchToo Movement.
- He did not invite Emily Joy and Hannah Paasch, the women who started the #ChurchToo hashtag, a tag that was co-opted for the summit until various media groups pointed out those who were missing,
- There are few, if any, experts in attendance,
- Christine Caine plagiarized from an abuse survivor for her new book and settled out of court, but has not apologized. Moreover, she remains silent over her longtime colleague, Hillsong founder, Brian Houston, who covered up his own father’s pedophilia. .
- Belinda Bauman, a “visionary” of the #SilenceisNotSpiritual movement has been dead silent during the Jules Woodson/Andy Savage story. Perhaps #SilenceIsSpiritual when it’s your friends who are accused?
- Thankfully, Nancy Beach is scheduled to appear. A victim in the Willow Creek disaster, Ms. Beach has credibility within the survivor community.
The Wheaton GC2 Summit is part of the “Well-Meaning Establishment”
It is obvious to many observers that this summit has been poorly planned. Organized by someone unknown to abuse advocates, featuring compromised speakers with a history of abuse and cover-up themselves, it is worth asking why the Wheaton Summit should be considered part of the “well-meaning establishment” in The Media Project’s article. Of particular concern is the way seasoned advocates have been smeared in the process.
The Courage Conference is Militant and Comprised of Progressives
Read this following quote carefully.
“Wheaton’s confab represents the well-meaning establishment, in contrast with the more militant Courage Conference led by Easter, who is affiliated with the theologically ’inclusive’ Progressive Christian Alliance. Parsons, Tchividjian and Woodson were among speakers at the third annual Courage Conference in Raleigh (NC) Oct. 19-21.
Courage involves evangelicals and believers from all religious communities. Importantly, it rejects “any ideology that places women in a more vulnerable position and reinforces men to a unilateral position of power and control.”
In case you missed it, that language is a direct shot at complementarians, who will doubtless be represented at Wheaton.
Is the author implying that those who confront sex abuse in the Church, helping survivors like Jules Woodson by amplifying her voice, are militant? At what point is confronting abuse worse than the abuse itself? Since when has this become an issue between liberals and conservatives?
This is the part where Ostling reveals his lack of understanding of sex abuse and survivor advocates. The Courage Conference had indeed invited me as a speaker. I am a conservative Lutheran. Ashley is a progressive Christian. This conference is like the advocate community it serves: an all-inclusive cohort of people from many backgrounds working together on a common, pervasive problem. Advocates don’t limit people due to their theological viewpoint—theological doorkeeping is what abuse enablers do. We do not engage in idealogical bias. Instead, The Courage Conference makes it quite clear in their value statement that an ideaology—such as patriarchy—has an alarming amount of abuse inherent with its theology. Those who participate at The Courage Conference do so with the understanding that confronting abuse means we have to take a hard look at our theology as well. That’s it.
Quite simply, we all agree that church abuse is evil and must be confronted. It’s amazing how much people who differ in theological perspective can find in common when it comes to standing up for those abused in the Church.
Mr.Ostling did not do his research when he made this statement. If he did, he would realize there were many conservatives at The Courage Conference, like myself, who decide to love survivors and work with advocates because abuse is a worse problem than people who do not agree with me theologically.
If egalitarianism was an issue, then why include Nancy Beach in the Wheaton Summit? I know Nancy Beach who was part of the Willow Creek Church, which has women as pastors.
Again, this isn’t a war between liberals and conservatives. This is a confrontation between those who take abuse seriously and those who want to uphold the system that enabled it to begin with.
Yours Truly is “Sharp Elbowed”
One of the more laughable epithets in Mr. Ostling’s piece was calling me “sharp elbowed.” I do admit I can get testy when people are being abused in the Church and the “well-meaning establishment” looks on and does nothing. I have a great deal of experience with the “well-meaning establishment” doing anything but being well-meaning. Does Ostling know how many nights I have a hard time sleeping when I think about stories like the fourteen kids molested at NewSpring Church? My response is to write about it and pray for the children. If that’s “militant,” I’d hate to see what Ostling would do with stories like that.
Abuse survivors are pouring out of the Church like a deluge, and it isn’t the “militant” exposing this travesty that are the problem. The establishment that allowed it to begin with—for decades—is far more culpable than Mr. Ostling dares to realize.
I would love Ostling to visit my church and see me participating in a conservative worship service. I would bet he would find my church suitable when it comes to his definition of the ”well-meaning establishment.”
As for being “sharp elbowed,” I invite Mr. Ostling to re-examine the issues Joe Carter has with me, as stated above. I have to be strong because the establishment has run over too many people without care or compassion. I stand strong because the victims deserve it. Until blogs, victims were voiceless and powerless. Is that militant?
It is the height of journalistic malpractice to frame these current struggles for decency and integrity in the Church in the way The Media Project has. Abuse survivors deserve better. The advocates and professionals working to serve the hurting deserve better. Most of all, the truth deserves better, which is trodden underfoot every time the advocate community is smeared so the establishment can call itself “well-meaning.”
Ostling forgot some folks.
The advocate community is deep and diverse, full of characters I would have liked to see added. Julie Anne Smith, Amy Smith and Todd Wilhelm are investigative bloggers of the highest caliber. They are doing some really great work on exposing abuse in the Church. None of them would be invited to speak at Wheaton’s Summit, but any survivor who attends would doubtless know of these bloggers and their hearts for the wounded.
The work GRACE does, with Boz Tchividjian at the helm, is enormous. He has assembled a team of professionals that are beyond compare when it comes to addressing abuse in religious communities. Among them, Mike Sloan, a former pastor who travels the country, educating churches on how to prevent and respond to abuse. GRACE Board Member Dr. Diane Langberg has worked with trauma survivors for over 45-years and has a Twitter account that is a gold mine for those looking for encouragement, help, and ways to address abuse. Justin and Lindsay Holcomb, also GRACE Board Members, wrote a book, God Made All of Me, which educates children on age-appropriate ways to identify their anatomy and establish proper boundaries.
Wade Mullen’s PhD dissertation on how toxic religious environments seek to control the narrative and manage their image when scandal hits is a must read, as is his Twitter, which regularly features educational tips any leader would do well to know. Christa Brown, an advocate for abused within the SBC, has for decades been working to establish a database of abusive pastors within the convention, and has paved the way for many of us. Brad Sargent, a blogger and frequent collaborator of Julie Anne Smith, regularly unpacks how abuse works in a system. Rachael and Jacob Denhollander are conservative Christians making inroads within the secular world of sports and fighting to see the statute of limitations changed in our country. Claire and Peter Roise of Moscow, Idaho, have established a network called “Awaken,” seeking to address domestic violence in their region. Joy Forrest has done the same in North Carolina with “Called to Peace.” Jimmy Hinton is a pastor who turned in his pedophile pastor father—unlike Hillsong’s Brian Houston—and has a must-hear podcast which regularly addresses abuse.
Rebecca Davis is a blogger and conservative Christian who has deep ties with many of these advocates, regularly analyzing theology that has been destructive but in a way that doesn’t tear apart Christianity as a whole. David Pittman serves male survivors of abuse with his ministry “Together We Heal.” Stephanie Tait, Cyndie Randall, Kimberly Harris, and Sarah Smith are writers, poets, and journalists who work to see justice and healing for all. Ryan Ashton is a graphic designer who has collaborated with many of these survivors and advocates, and is building a website to bring abuse advocates together. Jules Woodson has become a leader in the #churchtoo movement.
There are so many others I have not had the chance to name. But we all work with one, overriding purpose: to see voices amplified that have been silenced, to see justice roll down the mountains, to see a Church that is safe—a refuge from abuse, rather than a predator’s paradise.
If these people, conservative and progressive alike, seem a threat to you, then you are on the wrong side.
The New Church Militant is not here to fight anything but abuse and those who enable it.
Strap yourselves in. The world is changing, and my sharp elbows have barely gotten started.
North Carolina is about to get hit with a pretty bad winter storm. My son in law sent this video to me. I found it amusing. Even us sharp elbowed types have to laugh.