From Lord of the Rings:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken:
The crownless again shall be king.



One would think that the dissident members at Two Rivers Baptist Church would have thrown up their hands and retreated into the shadows after losing their lawsuit, as described in yesterday’s post.  In case you’d like to review the “ORDER OF DISMISSAL FOR A LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION”, here’s the link to the legal document on the ACLJ website: 

However, cowering was the last thing this group had in mind.  Dee and I would have fit in extremely well with these “troublemakers”.  Instead, they filed a second lawsuit against their church shortly after the dismissal of the first lawsuit.

The church conflict dragged on during the early months of 2008, and then something shocking happened!  WSMV (a Nashville television station – Channel 4) revealed some incriminating information on April 24, 2008, which can be found at this link:


Here is the stunning excerpt from the internet article:

“On Wednesday, Sutton sent a letter to members saying those who’ve sued the church will be thrown out if they don’t shape up.  But the members aren’t apologizing or repenting as they were instructed, and they’ve launched some new allegations against the church.

Under a torn garbage bag there are thousands of financial records from Two Rivers Baptist Church, and Dennis Shipp said they are records he believes the church never wanted anyone to see.  “It’s very obvious that it was something they wanted to get rid of, it appeared to me,” he said. 

Plaintiffs suing the church retrieved the records and others from a trash bin outside the church in early March.  Shipp said some of the documents they found raised some serious questions.  There are all kinds of (credit card) charges on there that don’t seem proper to me,” he said.

Tickets to an Atlanta Braves baseball game, a $300 deck hand fee for a lavish sport fishing outfit out of Cape Hatteras were charged to the church credit card, and a number of handwritten notes indicating that a church staffer is to be “paid in cash” were found.

There was a note on there that said to give her half in cash and half in check. …  I don’t know why you would do that,” Shipp said.

The group also found finance charges on the credit card statements that indicate the bills aren’t being paid on time, and there were dozens of additional tabs found to expensive restaurants all over Nashville.  “We saw a lot of Ellendale’s and other charges to real expensive restaurants.  A lot of our members don’t have enough (money) to eat at McDonald’s,” said Shipp.

In a letter sent to the congregation this week, Sutton encouraged disgruntled members to repent, apologize and drop their lawsuit to avoid being kicked out of the church.  Shipp said such a move isn’t likely.  “We don’t have anything to apologize for,” he said.

In case you’d like to see how well our pastors are dining these days, here’s the link to Ellendale’s menu:

We have discovered that Mr. Shipp was a former bank examiner for the state of Tennessee. 

You’re probably wondering whether the dissident members were sifting through the Two Rivers trash every day looking for anything that would help their case.  According to “The Big Daddy Weave”, a Two Rivers staff member tipped off the dissidents that financial records had been tossed in a church dumpster.  Deep Throat is alive and well!

What’s most disturbing to us are the handwritten notes indicating that a church staffer was to be “paid in cash”.  Furthermore, why would there be a note instructing that a staff member be paid half in cash and half in check?  “I don’t know why you would do that,” Shipp said in the article.  We don’t either, but we did come across an AP article published on August 15, 2007, that contained an accusation against Pastor Sutton.  Here’s the link and the excerpt from the article:

One of Sutton's former administrative assistants has also said Sutton looked at pornography on his church computer and had an affair with a church staff member — charges that the church denies.  The church's executive pastor, Scott Hutchings, said human resource officials at the church investigated those charges and found no evidence that Sutton had looked at porn or had an affair.

The Associated Press left a message at the church asking to speak with Sutton, but Hutchings, who runs the day-to-day business of the church, returned the call and said he was speaking on behalf of Sutton.

To learn more details about the conflict at Two Rivers, we encourage you to read the AP article at the link provided. 

We moseyed on over to the Two Rivers Baptist Church website (don’t you just love the internet?!) and discovered that Scott Hutchings is the church’s executive pastor.  (   We are reserving comment on why we believe there were “handwritten” notes instructing that staffers be “paid in cash”.  The auditors definitely wouldn’t catch those “under the table” transactions…  And Pastor Sutton had the audacity to comment to the Baptist Messenger that the church undergoes an external audit each year and “always gets a clean bill of health.” 

Check it out for yourself at this link:

Here’s more of what Scott Hutchings had to say in the AP article referenced above:

About 600 members attended the July 28 meeting, which was organized by the church so that rumors and allegations could be addressed publicly. Sutton also attended, but did not respond to the allegations.

At the meeting, Hutchings relayed the accusations brought against Sutton, including charges that Sutton used church money to pay for his daughter's wedding reception and has kept members in the dark on church spending.

Hutchings defended the church budget and acknowledged that the church paid about $4,300 for a reception for Sutton's daughter that was open to all church members. He said Sutton personally paid for another separate reception outside the church.

"When you're pastor, we feel like you have to invite the whole church," to avoid the appearance of favoritism, Hutchings said.

We found the following excerpt from the AP article to be revealing about the hyper-authoritarianism we suspect exists at Two Rivers Baptist Church:

Church trustee Frank Harris has been leading the campaign against Sutton. Two Rivers "appears to have been manipulated from a people-led church to a staff-run church," Harris said.

"Anyone who voiced opposition to leadership was alienated and lost any ministries they may have had in the church," Harris said.

A majority of Two Rivers members voted July 8 to exclude Harris from the church because he was causing strife and division. But some members said leaders didn't follow church rules allowing for absentee votes and not all members at the service were able to cast ballots.

"It was a tough decision," Hutchings said.  "There has to be submission and authority. It's OK to have disagreements. But Frank started taking his disagreements to and causing division in the (church) body."

We sincerely hope the words “submission” and “authority” caught your attention. 
Back to saga …   
On May 4, 2008, there was a special called business meeting for the purpose of voting on whether to dismiss the 71 dissident members.  “The votes fell four votes shy of the two-thirds majority required by the church bylaws,” according to the following Baptist Press article:  “Two Rivers ouster falls 4 votes short”.
According to the article: 
The motion to dismiss the dissidents from membership would have passed except for a decision by Two Rivers' deacons to allow members of the dissident group to participate in the balloting.

"Though Robert's Rules of Order states that those being disciplined are not entitled to vote, the deacon chairman made a decision before the beginning of the counting process to include the votes of the 71 plaintiffs," deacon chairman Carlos Cobos said in a statement released after the vote.
Are you ready for what happened next? 
The following Sunday (May 11, 2008) was Mother’s Day.  Church members had already cast their votes by secret ballot, and the matter had FINALLY been resolved.  Or had it?  A number of those who had opposed Pastor Sutton were not in church on Mother’s Day because they were visiting family members at other churches.
Check out the following headline from the Associated Baptist Press:
“Surprise move at Two Rivers Baptist reverses vote, ousts dissidents”
By:  Lonnie Wilkey
Monday, May 12, 2008
Here is the stunning news:

“One week after an effort to oust 71 members of Two Rivers Baptist Church failed by four votes, the Nashville megachurch voted again and this time removed the dissidents on a show-of-hands vote.

The congregation was told that the 71 plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against church leaders last September should not have been allowed to vote May 4 on a motion for their own dismissal, according to Robert's Rules of Order. Members then voted not to allow the votes of the plaintiffs to count, effectively reversing the outcome of the May 4 vote.”

While we haven’t reviewed the bylaws of Two Rivers Baptist Church, we suspect that this action was a clear violation of the bylaws.  Since when do members vote with a “show of hands”?  With a group that size, who knows whether only members voted.

The article goes on to reveal the following:

“Another business meeting was called following the May 11 service so deacon chairman Carlos Cobos could officially report the May 4 vote, according to an article in the Nashville newspaper, The Tennessean. David Mills, a former trustee and deacon chairman, then challenged Cobos' decision that allowed the 71 plaintiffs to vote, the newspaper reported.
Two Rivers attorney Larry Crain attended the 9:15 a.m. service but told the paper he was not expecting a revote. He defended the action, however. "If you're charged with a crime, you can't sit on the jury," he told The Tennessean.

Cobos also told the paper he was surprised by the move to disallow the 71 votes, but he refused to comment further.”

If the Two Rivers attorney Larry Crain and the deacon chairman Carlos Cobos were surprised by the vote, it’s obvious that church members had not received prior notice that a vote would be retaken on May 11.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that this “surprise vote” was a clear violation of the church bylaws.

 This Associated Baptist Press article concludes as follows:

Last October, Sutton, who has served Two Rivers for more than two decades, easily won a churchwide vote of confidence in his leadership — 1,101-286. The plaintiffs had asked a local judge to stop the vote-of-confidence meeting, but she refused.

In April, Sutton requested that the plaintiffs be dismissed from membership "because of the damage done to the witness, reputation, and welfare of Two Rivers Baptist Church," leading to the May 4 vote.

Neal Buchanan, a long-time member of Two Rivers and a plaintiff, said he went to church May 11 without a suspicion that "anything would happen."

Buchanan told the Baptist and Reflector, the Tennessee Baptist news journal, that Sutton had prayed last week that the Lord's will would be done. After the vote to oust the members came up short, "we thought that it was over," Buchanan said. He noted some plaintiffs had gotten together to discuss ways to reconcile.

When the matter was brought up following the 9:15 a.m. service, it was a total surprise, Buchanan said. "There was no warning whatsoever. In fact, many of the plaintiffs weren't there because they were visiting family members in other churches" for Mothers' Day.

Plaintiff Peggy Lewis, one of the ones who was not in attendance, said she found it ironic that the pastor had previously said he would accept God's will concerning the original vote, according to The Tennessean. "Evidently he didn't like what he heard from the Lord," she told the paper.
Buchanan said no effort was made to see that only members voted. "Last week we had to show our driver's license and sign a ballot. This week, it was done by a show of hands vote."
Buchanan disagreed with The Tennessean's report that the vote passed by an "overwhelming" majority, adding, "It was a travesty of justice in the way it was handled."

"It is a sad day for the church. They can't blame all that has happened on the plaintiffs," Buchanan added.

Two Rivers Baptist is one of the most prominent congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention, which is headquartered in Nashville. Many of the denomination's top leaders attend the church. Sutton, a one-time SBC first vice president, lost a three-way race for the SBC presidency in 2006.
A message for Scott Hutchings, executive pastor of Two Rivers, was not returned May 12.

As outsiders, we believe Two Rivers looks more like a circus than a church!  Who has ever heard of such antics?  (Anyone who reads The Wartburg Watch!). Tomorrow we’ll bring this series to a close and share our candid remarks about this terrible travesty. 

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