“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:14 NIV
I would imagine many of you have read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or C S Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress. This week, I have become convinced that God led me (and my husband but I am talking about me here) on a pilgrimage of sorts after I left my former Baptist Church. Today I shall discuss the turmoil occurring at Chapel Hill Bible Church. Here is a chronological list of churches I experienced during my pilgrimage. So many of you have expressed difficulty in finding a decent church in your area. I want you to know that I get it.
- Providence Baptist church: I left due to what I perceived to be a mishandling of a large sex abuse scandal.
- Church of the Apostles Anglican Church: See #1 (pastors were friends) and a pedophile appeared to be omnipresent in the church.
- Chapel Hill Bible Church: I left due to a Calvinista takeover of the church
- Grace Church: Nice but a bit Bible Lite when we were there
- The Gathering: Loved the church but the distance from home was a bit overwhelming.
- Hope Community Church: Left before knowing of the pastor’s sexual relationship. We were there during the no membership phase
- Finally, after an exhaustive search, we found a home at a Lutheran Church close to our home.
Chapel Hill Bible Church: We loved the intellectual depth of the church but found it was changing when we returned.
Years ago, when we lived in Durham during my husband’s fellowship, we attended and were involved in this church. Even after we left for Dallas, we would follow the sermons, etc. When we returned to North Carolina, we chose to live in Raleigh and our kids wanted to be with their friends in church. After being hurt by two churches, we decided to return to CHBC.
When we had our elder interview, two elders, P. and W., warned us that the Bible church was not what we remembered. I got the feeling they were saying “Changes must be made.” This was an understatement. They wanted to hire Jay Thomas and brought him in for a Q+A. I submitted my question. “Are you a Calvinist?” My question was the only one not selected. I knew then that the church was hiring one of the New Calvinists. I didn’t vote for him. I was afraid he would be a strong authoritarian and a hardliner of the New Calvinist sort. I’d written about such folks prior to joining the church. I also knew I would eventually be targeted because of TWW.
In Thomas’s early sermons, he mentioned folks like Mark Driscoll and John Piper in a positive way. He quickly moved to change the Constitution and the Bylaws. I didn’t vote for the changes. These guys are so predictable. We mentioned our concerns to members but most people thought he was just a *run of the mill” Reformed type which wasn’t a problem. TWW readers would have picked this stuff up immediately.
He had all these glorious plans of groups meeting at taverns to discuss intellectual and theological subjects. However, when the time came, he would skedaddle into his office directly after church and appeared to be quite inaccessible. My husband mentioned that he rarely ever smiled and suggested he should try to do it more. I left without hearing about those very cool pub groups getting started. I’m thinking about starting one myself.
Shortly after he came to CHBC in 2011, he wrote the following post for The Gospel Coalition: So You Want to Be a Senior Pastor. I was surprised that he was giving advice on this matter just a few months after coming. He seemed pretty self-assured.
He then brought in his BFF, Eric McKiddie, from College Church in Wheaton to be a Pastor of the Gospel community or some such title. My husband named him “Mini-Mahaney” after he showed up in our Sunday school class to explain that pastors and members are different but they are equal in God’s eye. However, he held up his two hands and the pastor’s hand was noticeable higher than the member’s hand. I turned to my husband and said “We’re screwed.”
From this point on, we began to plan our exit. I discovered that the church had joined The Gospel Coalition without telling the members. I told an elder and he denied it until I showed him proof. Then they unjoined and rejoined. They have since joined 9Marks which is widely known for its authoritarian approach to ministry. I have written extensively about the problems in this group.
Jay appeared to promote Mark Driscoll early on. Driscoll imploded, accused of abuse. Jay promoted John Piper and his church. Bethlehem Baptist is imploding, accused of abuse. Jay wanted to hire someone specifically from Sovereign Grace. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace have imploded, accused of abuse.
The writing for the future of the church was on the wall and I knew many didn’t know it. However, I could not be a member of a church in which I suspected that authoritarianism and spiritual abuse would exhibit itself. We were put into a *shepherding* group without our permission, so we didn’t attend. The time came when Jay wanted to meet with us. We refused, saying we were leaving the church. He then sent us an email asking if we needed his help in finding another church. We politely declined and said we could handle it. We sadly left.
Why CHBC now?
Recently I was given information that is public knowledge. I still have friends at the church. I became concerned that my prediction of the typical Neo-Calvinist, 9Marks style of authoritarianism had reared its ugly head and was hurting good and decent members of the church.
Living in the light: Abuse and Pastor Eric McKiddie
I listened in shock as an elder and Pastor Thomas claimed that there was not any sexual or physical abuse. Did I misunderstand that the possibility of emotional abuse or a hostile work environment might not be seen as abuse by the church leaders? I have linked to a post on this matter at the end of my article. Also, why were they discussing abuse when the church was told that McKiddie resigned, ostensibly to pursue further education? Why was the church being told to be concerned for McKiddie’s wife and children during this time if he was simply pursuing education? Why was the church told to avoid *slander?* Why was the church being told to not discuss this with folks outside the church? Something wasn’t right.
Did Eric ever appear to threaten people? For example, Eric reportedly told a person who quit their job due to a hostile work environment, “If you speak well of us then we will speak well of you.” That seems rather hostile to me. If people reported what they believed to be an impossible work environment, were they told that it wasn’t so bad? Were they told to forgive and move on? Were they not believed? Apparently, there were reports of difficult behavior. Why was this seemingly being covered up?
Jesus told us that the church was to be a light on the hill.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
If CHBC strives to be a light on the hill, they cannot hide what is going on in the church. The light exposes those dark places. It will become known. I imagine that this blog post will soon be read by people who are trying to understand the truth. They will probably be told not to read this. (When this happens, I get a sudden spike of disobedient readers after the service.) I am now a conservative Lutheran. Luther taught that we are simultaneously saints and sinners. There is no hiding our sin when the light shines on us. We don’t get to tell people what they see when the light shines so we better be prepared to explain to others how we deal with that sin. That means we don’t hide our sins. We admit them and deal with them. We should repent and seek forgiveness from those who have been hurt by our actions.
It is next to impossible to hide the truth, especially when people are hurting. I have been writing posts on abuse since 2009 and I can attest to this fact. Hurting people will seek justice outside of the church if they think they are not being heard inside the church. The members were told not to slander McKiddie. I was confused. I thought he was getting his education. Yet, I believe that is not the truth. The very meeting was filled with allusions to abuse. I would imagine that this abuse happened to those who worked with him.
If one looks at the word slander in the Bible, one would find it means to lie in order to cause malicious harm to another. I wrote a post about this. When people tell the truth, they’re not slandering. In fact, if McKiddie hurt people, he will find that those he hurt will speak about it in order to understand what happened to them. If he was the source of that pain, then he is responsible if his children or wife get hurt. That responsibility does not rest on the victims who are truthtelling.
Church leaders should not try to silence those who have been hurt, especially if they have been hurt by leaders in the church. Silencing victims will always result in more pain being expressed. Also, those victims will seek solace from friends. These friends may become angry or concerned for their friends and speak to others. This is normal life. The church should be open about the pain that has occurred and should not spend its capital on hushing everyone up. Instead, they should eagerly seek help in dealing with this. We should actively love, protect and attempt to heal our fellow church members who have been hurt.
How did things presumably get so bad if Eric was a friend of Jay Thomas? Is it because Jay Thomas says he’s shy? Were the elders not paying attention?
Even if Eric had different oversight than Thomas, it would stand to reason that Jay would keep an eye on his buddy. Surely, if things got so bad that McKiddie had to *seek further education,* Thomas would have known about what was happening? What did he do when people attempted to speak with him? Did he hide in his office? Thomas claims he is shy. If so, he should have taken a job in which he didn’t have to interact as the pastor of a midsize church.
He also seemed concerned about his ability to study for his sermon for “30 hours a week” now that Eric is gone.I have heard this “30 hour a week” thing going around with the TGC dudes. There is a belief by some that the sermon is the most important time of the week. CJ Mahaney used to say that and the dudes would follow his words until the sex abuse scandal went viral. One well-known person said he didn’t do hospital visits or funerals because he needed to work on his sermon. This *rule* is perfect for someone who doesn’t do well interacting with church members or doesn’t feel like keeping tabs on what is actually happening in the church. I would suggest a shorter sermon while he focuses on serious issues affecting CHBC.
Were the elders ever informed about such issues as a hostile work environment or abusive interactions? Maybe someone could comment on this. Did they prioritize the reports of the leaders over the reports of the lower-level staff and church members? If they ignored these reports, new elders need to be appointed.
Are there similar concerns with Jay Thomas?
Some members know (or have been informed) that Jay did not notice that things were not going well with Eric. Is it possible that Jay supported Eric? I would imagine that Eric’s departure has not solved all of the problems. Is this a systemic problem? If there are similar problems continuing to be reported then the buck must stop with the senior pastor.
Some have been concerned about the minimization of reported problems. Others have reportedly been told to go back and report to the very person who abused his power in the workplace. That is adding further abuse onto the backs of the already suffering victims.
Let’s take a look at what he wrote in his post for The Gospel Coalition in 2011. Has he made sure that every meeting went well? Could the victims get a meeting with him? Did he even have meetings with low-level employees? he apparently believes he has a certain aura that intimidates people. If so, he should be working hard to get rid of the aura.
Here is a suggestion: Go out of your way to invite personal interaction, especially if people are struggling with your leadership. Invite people to talk with you. In my experience, everyone who has taken me up on that offer has had a genuine heart and wants to see a way forward. Every meeting ended well.
It is lonely at the top, they say. This can be true, at least at first. Your new role is going to put you within a frame that can keep colleagues, lay leaders, and congregants at arm’s length. There is often reticence to take up your time. Senior pastors intimidate people. There is an aura around the role that can kill intimacy and the ability to make friends. Also, you will feel tempted to keep your cards close to your vest and to even assume a defensive posture due to the horror stories you have heard from senior pastors who saw vulnerability create problems.
Until all of the pain is revealed and dealt with, there will continue to be turmoil. Allow the light to shine. Be willing to be open with groups like GRACE who will seek out the truth in your church family. Learn about other forms of abuse. Study up on the problem with power differentials in the workplace.
Finally, hostile environments within the church actually stem from spiritual abuse. Here is an excellent article. What Does Spiritual Abuse Within a Church Look Like? Such abuse is no different than other forms of abuse.
Spiritual abuse is the same as spousal, child, elder, or workplace abuse — it can be physical, sexual, or emotional. Because of the context, however, the impact is particularly widespread.
Jay Thomas is undoubtedly aware of Sam Allberry who is quoted on the subject of bullying.
Sam Allberry addressed the frequency with which pastors are fired from their positions for bullying. While “domineering pastors aren’t a new problem, they do seem to be more and more evident in the Western church today.”
He points out that the problem is as old as the Christian church, evidenced by remarks in 1 Peter 5:3 exhorting leaders to serve God without “domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”
One would hardly expect pastors to be bullies since their example is Christ himself. Christ, though direct and honest about sin, was merciful, kind, and gentle, particularly to the most vulnerable members of society.
How does this affect those who work or serve under spiritual bullies?
Those under their care are apt to be more trusting because of the expectation that pastors will emulate Christ. Yet, like any domineering parent, spouse, or boss these leaders manipulate, censor, silence, ignore, verbally berate, physically/sexually assault, and/or humiliate their victims.
Church leaders who are also abusers will slowly escalate their behavior, while victims become confused, second-guessing their personal discernment. Victims might “know” in one sense that something is wrong, yet feel they must be mistaken because of their abuser’s position, or they believe they will not be heard so why speak up?
There are many excellent references in that post. It is my hope and prayer that those in charge will listen well. I loved CHBC. However, I saw this problem coming years ago and got out. Overemphasis on the authority of the pastor often kills the fruits of the spirit. Don’t let it.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
As Picard would say, “Make it so.”
“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:14 NIV