Pastors Ignoring Confidentiality: Having Gospel Gossip Authority?

Confidentiality is a virtue of the loyal, as loyalty is the virtue of faithfulness. -Edwin Louis Cole



A Dusty Pillar Amongst Newborn Stars-Hubble/NASA

Through the years, we have learned much about how some authoritarian churches conduct business from reading the SGM Survivors blog. Sovereign Grace Ministries was conceived of, and is led, by CJ Mahaney who was also asked to mentor Mark Driscoll. We believe that our readers can learn a lot from looking at membership covenants while considering the anecdotal reports on various survivor sites. It is fascinating how many of the same stories are reported from church to church, regardless of the denominational affiliation. We believe the one common feature is authoritarian leadership.

One issue that is consistently raised by former attendees of such churches is pastor confidentiality. There are many reports of pastors who breached the trust of individuals who have spilled their guts under the expectation of confidentiality. Most people of faith believe that pastors have a moral and spiritual obligation to maintain such confidences. In fact, most states have laws that limit the ability of the state to compel a pastor to divulge such information in a court of law.

Here is a thoughtful article on the subject. Pastoral Confidentiality: An Ethical and Legal Responsibility by David Middlebrook. The following four quotes come from this article.

Pastoral confidentiality is both a moral and legal obligation

“In recent years, however, people have brought an increased number of lawsuits against pastors for invasion of privacy and other tort claims arising out of the disclosure of confidential information by a pastor or other church official. The result of these suits has brought recognition that the obligation to maintain confidentiality is not only a moral obligation, but also often a legal one.

The child abuse exemption

“If the counseling is pastoral or spiritual counseling only, in many states the only exception for divulging information is for reporting child abuse. If the counseling is mental health counseling, lawyers can argue that the exceptions of the mental health privilege would apply, and the court could compel the counselor to divulge the information in a suit involving a parent-child relationship.”

The legal out for the church-Read carefully

“Another situation in which the privilege would not apply is when the individual or someone authorized to act on his behalf signs a written waiver of the right to the privilege or confidentiality. This eliminates the privilege and the information is subject to disclosure. If a parishioner waives this privilege, the pastor has no legal grounds for withholding the information and must disclose it upon proper request.

The legal problem with pastors talking to one another

“A recent Washington state case regarding confessions made by a church member to a pastor dealt with the issue of waivers. The congregant made certain confessions to his pastor regarding a murder in which he had been involved. The pastor discussed it with two colleagues. At the church member’s trial, the court attempted to compel the pastor to testify regarding the confessions. When the pastor refused, stating they were confidential, the judge held him in contempt of court. The prosecutor argued the communications were no longer privileged because the pastor had waived the privilege by talking to others about the conversations. The court ruled that, while the pastor broke the rules regarding the confidentiality of the statements, the congregant’s rights regarding the privileged nature of the communications were still intact. Essentially, the court stated that only the communicant may waive his privilege”

Well, we at TWW have some bad news for all of you. It is becoming patently obvious that many of today’s hyper-authoritarian pastors/churches often divulge such information in order to “help” the penitent. In fact, they may also obligate others who have lesser leadership responsibilities to “report” on others. For example, over at the SGM Survivors sites there have been reports of small group leaders making “reports” directly to the pastors.

Now, you may be thinking that this has something to do with a really, really bad sin. But you couldn’t be further from the truth. Before I begin, I want to clarify an expected critique of this post. As many of our readers know, we believe that pastors and leaders must always immediately report, to the civil authorities, any potential issues of abuse such as pedophilia and sexual abuse We also add to this list the possibility of imminent physical harm to any individual. The law makes this obligation clear.

How a church does an end run around its membership on this issue.

Let’s take a look at a small section of the membership covenant which is posted on-line here at Knoxville’s Cornerstone Church, which a member of Sovereign Grace Ministries. This deals directly with the issue of confidentiality and the leaders’ responsibilities.

“Every reasonable effort will be made to protect confidential communications, especially those received in a pastoral counseling context. However, there may be times when CCK pastors deem it necessary or appropriate to share confidential information with one another, other church members, or others outside the church. These would be people currently involved in the church member’s problem or who may serve in the solution to the problem. The pastors may do this for the purpose of additional counsel, for the purpose of protecting others from the damaging effect of someone’s sin, or to assist one another in providing spiritual care to the people of the church.”

Churches rarely inform new members that they are signing a legal document.

It is important to realize that this paragraph gives the pastors wide latitude in “consulting” with just about anybody they deem to be of assistance to them. Due to their belief that they hold the keys of authority (the latest buzz words), they get to decide when such a breach is appropriate. And you, of the dumb sheep status, are to “understand” that this is for your own good. However, they are restricted in this activity by laws governing pastoral confidentiality. So, they get you to waive your rights!

Do not waive your right to confidentiality, ever!

Now, if such a church had advised the soon to be member that he/she is signing a legal document, that would be one thing. However, in most circumstances this “little” tidbit is not mentioned. TWW believes that anyone joining a church with which they are not intimately familiar should NEVER sign such a document without getting legal advice. In fact, we advise you to never waive your right to confidentiality.

Two scenarios

Let’s consider a couple of real life stories that have been shared with us. We have disguised the names and venues.

Scenario #1

Bob is a member of a church in which he was required to sign such a document at time of membership. Bob, attempting to be open about his life, shared that he struggled with a particular sexual temptation. Bob’s pastor decided to “share” that problem with Bob’s boss who attends the church. The boss decides he doesn’t want Bob around any longer and decides to “fire” him. Bob is still within his first 6 months of his job and he can be fired “not for cause” during that time. Angry, he confronts the pastor who shows him the confidentiality clause. Said pastor claims he was well within his rights to tell Bob’s boss because the boss could hold him accountable while at work. Bob had relinquished his right.

Scenario # 2

Your church requires you to be a member of a “care” group so you play ball. Assuming confidentiality, you decide to share with the group that you are not sure that you agree with the pastor’s teaching on the subject of pastoral anointing. The group tries to convince you that the pastor is correct but you are unsure. Imagine your surprise when the pastor confronts you about your “unteachable and questioning spirit.” He then puts you under church discipline and you are not allowed to take communion. If you leave the church, he will notify the next church you attend that you are “under discipline.” How did he find out? Your care group leader regularly writes reports on what is said in this group. These reports are distributed to the all the pastors who tell their wives who tell their accountability partners who are overheard by babysitters who tell their moms. And, of course, you signed a pesky little covenant with the confidentiality clause. You are hosed!

Recording devices in pastors’ offices

In fact we have had reports of some churches that have planted recording devices in the pastors’ offices to keep track of what is being said in private. Therefore, it behooves the “sheeple” to be very cautious in assuming that anything they say will remain confidential. As an aside, in many states you have the right to record a conversation without informing the other person. This is allowed in one-party-consent states. Here is a link to one article.

How does pastoral authority figure into this?

We anticipate the following response. “So, what gives these guys the right to divulge my personal confidences? “ Frankly, the answer is simple and, unfortunately, very sad. These men believe that they have the “keys to authority. ” Let’s takes a closer look at their assumptions. Oh, by the way, they do not believe that these are assumptions because the “know” they are rightly dividing the word of God.

Please read Johnathan Leeman’s blog post called What Are the Keys to the Kingdom?  Here is an excerpt at 9 Marks.

“The local church has heaven’s authority for declaring who on earth is a kingdom citizen and therefore represents heaven.

Jesus has authorized the local church to stand in front of a confessor, to consider the confessor’s confession, to consider his or her life, and to announce an official judgment on heaven’s behalf. Is that the right confession? Is this a true confessor?

Likewise, the church’s representative authority in Christ’s kingdom is seen most clearly in its ability to remove a person from citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. In both cases, the full extent of institutional authority is indicated by the power to decisively end a person’s membership, through death in one case and excommunication in the other. “

The inviolable oath

It is vitally important that all potential members of such churches understand that the church leadership believes that the member has signed an inviolable covenant with said local church. If you decide to leave, they believe that the church is authorized to proceed in some action against you because you have broken an oath as defined by the signing of the covenant. Please read the comments under that article. You will clearly see that they believe you cannot break this covenant of membership until they give you permission to do so.

The church has already gone to the lawyers

Here is my take on this sort of covenant. I believe that they have broken fellowship with the signee by not informing said individual that they are signing a document that, in most cases, has been vetted by an attorney. These covenants were not developed primarily to encourage commitment to the church. They were developed to legally protect the church entity from litigious members. It’s just that the lawyers helped the leaders to word in it such a way to make such a document palatable.

We received an inquiry from one church, which claimed they did not use a lawyer in developing their covenant. I asked if they used sample covenants from other churches. Although I never heard back from them, I surmise the answer was that they had. Attorneys, protecting churches, developed most of the samples in widespread usage.

It is even strange for me to discuss protecting the church. The church, according to the Scripture, is the assembly of the believers. Yet, somehow, this has been perverted to mean the entity and it’s assets. So, in some respects, it is schizophrenic to divorce the signatory from the rest of the church entity.

Yet, there seems to be a great divorce happening within the church today. The pastors are now anointed and separate from the rest of the believers. The building and the trustees of the assets are separated from the community of the believers. We are a fractured community.

I bet you think I am exaggerating. Join me on Wednesday when I show just how fractured the church has become. There are two classes: the anointed few and the rest of the followers. As Rush Limbaugh often says “I was born to talk; you were born to listen.” Hmm, if the shoe fits…

Lydia's Corner: Jeremiah 6:16-8:7 Colossians 2:8-23 Psalm 78:1-31 Proverbs 24:26


Pastors Ignoring Confidentiality: Having Gospel Gossip Authority? — 114 Comments

  1. Dee,

    Gospel Gossip! Great description.

    Yep, these hyper-authoritarian pastors can justify almost anything by turning the word “gospel” into an adjective.

  2. Pingback: Pastors Ignoring Confidentiality: Having Gospel Gossip Authority … |

  3. Recording devices in pastors’ offices? Are you speaking of my experiences last year Dee?

    Hmmmmm….. that sounds so familiar, right Josh Buice Pastor at Pray’s Mill Baptist Church. Beware folks this does go on!

    This so called Pastor recorded over 8 extreme and intense ~ what I called “PRIVATE” sessions and without my knowledge or consent ~ with deacons concerning the issues of Spiritual Abuse at PMBC and without my consent. This went on until I spotted him maneuvering his device off his desk. I never gave him permission and even advise him before we ever started when he wanted me to sign agreements before we started and there would be no documents signed and all meeting were to be transparent.

    We’ll at least I kept my end of the deal.

    After he was caught, I then advised him of my displeasure of his “secret recordings, his motivations, and intentions” and advised him that if he ever let anyone outside of those in attendance here those recordings, I would seek legal actions against all parties, and still mean it!

    There there was Mike Everson and all the “Private” conservation he told me about concerning others and their situations…..

    It is bad! NEVER trust a Pastor when you speak to them~they love to Gossip worse than…….oops gotta stop before I make the “man behind the curtain” mad 🙂

    Following Christ, Not Man
    Doug Pittman

  4. It is a dangerous thing to confide in folks today, sadly Church is no exception. There is one word that people ought to think long and hard about–BEWARE that what you share in confidence as a sin my be used against you.

  5. Well, it couldn’t be plainer. Congregants exist to serve the pastor, not the other way round. What did Ezekiel 34 say again about shepherds who devour (read destroy) the sheep?

  6. Southbrook Church in Charlotte, NC has new members sign an agreement that includes, among other things, a promise not to gossip or talk badly about the church or church leadership.

    They also have a very lengthy volunteer application, which states that by signing you are giving permission for the church to run a credit check AND agree that you will not hold anyone legally responsible for anything they might say about you to the church (or the church to anyone else) as they check out all your references, neighbors, etc.

    To recap, anyone can gossip about you, lowly member, and you agree to hold them harmless. Not sure if that 101 membership agreement is legally binding, so that if anyone says/posts something negative about the church and the leadership, they can be sued for breach of contract, but this I do know:

    NOBODY informs you that you are signing away your rights in either case. You have to be smart and cynical to figure it out.

  7. A pastoral counselor friend of mine has a webcam on at all times to protect HIM from allegations of misconduct. Nowadays some pastoral counselors feel obligated to keep notes on their sessions; again to protect themselves.

    It’s gotten sticky, pastors have become gun-shy knowing that the flock will not hesitate to sue them in secular courts.

  8. A common problem is elder teams. The pastor may share a confessed sin with the elder team, but the problem is that these elder teams are often also business professionals and managers, possibly over the person who is confessing. These elders share with their spouses also, and often with others. It spreads quickly. I would personally never trust a private sin with a pastor who has an elder team.

    A second problem is when the pastor also influences the selection of key committee members (for example the finance team). He now has private information over people who are setting his salary, paying staff, and setting the budget. This is way too much temptation, and I have seen it abused on several occasions.

  9. Jimmy
    I am sure that is true. Vice versa is also true and pastors use those recordings for other purposes. And besides, pastors should keep notes just as much as the members should. In fact, both sides should agree to film one another.

  10. Dee said: “And besides, pastors should keep notes just as much as the members should. In fact, both sides should agree to film one another.”

    Let’s just call off the counseling ministry. It’d be safer.

  11. Is it me….or does Sovereign Grace Minstries sound like the Nixon White House

    Eagle: I was thinking the same exact thing.

  12. Jimmy:

    You said:”Let’s just call off the counseling ministry. It’d be safer.”

    I do not understand what you are trying to say.

  13. I have experienced and felt the effects of pastoral gossip, so much so that I have left the evangelical church and sought to find spiritual refuge with my Catholic brothers and sisters. This is not because I ever plan on joining the Catholic Church, but because it felt like the only place where I could go to just worship the Lord and get away from the shenanigans I have experienced. In other words, I needed to go somewhere where I was not recognized. That being said, how do you recover from the sense that pastors are not to be trusted?

  14. Eagle – I think the Nixon White House is an apt comparison in *many* of these cases (not just SGM).

    I’m going to date myself by saying this, but… the W’gate hearings were in full swing immediately after I graduated from HS. I spent much of the summer tuned in, though I’d often be reading and sort of have the TV going on in the background.

    I also have a pretty vivid memory of watching Nixon’s resignation speech – I sort of wish he’d been impeached, as then he wouldn’t have been pardoned by Ford. (One of the single most boneheaded things anyone has ever done after stepping into the Oval Office, imo…)

  15. Catholic
    Time. And finding a pastor worthy of your trust. It’s not simple. Perhaps finding one on the internet to start then slowly looking for another like him. Maybe, in the end, we learn to trust Jesus and always realize that men can let us down. I am sorry for your situation. I have known some wonderful priests. May you find some peace and rest there.

  16. Bob
    You are a smarter person that i am. However, I will not sign another one, that is for sure. And you know what they can do with that confidentiality clause.

  17. Shadowspring
    This is going to be our theme for 2012. We will be warning folks about these membership covenants. Never, ever sign away your rights to confidentiality. People need to wake up and realize they are signing a legal document, and they will be the ones on the receiving end.

  18. In some church bodies if you divulged information you would be fired. I think privacy with confession is really important. If there isn’t confidentiality then parishioners are not going to be honest in confession or they are only going to divulge certain information. It sounds like in these churches, people are probably being disciplined by what CG group leaders sense from the individual or what is accidentally found out.
    Another point to mention is that clearly all men and women have the sin default position no matter how much our pastors yell and scream at us to get better. Isn’t it ironic that the churches who yell the loudest about discipline seem to be disciplining the most? Wouldn’t you think it would be the opposite? I mean, you know your church will nail you yet you just can’t stop yourself! Romans 7 sure applies here. Who will save me from this body of death? I think that these parishioners need the forgiveness of sins (freely given to them) not another exhortation to get better or else because CLEARLY that isn’t working out so well…

  19. I think that these parishioners need the forgiveness of sins (freely given to them) not another exhortation to get better or else because CLEARLY that isn’t working out so well…


  20. Eagle,
    Speaking of Watergate…
    Nixon’s “Evil Genius” Chuck Colson is considered by Jeff Sharlet to be the the ayatollah of Worldview (Dominion) neo-Calvinists, and their connection to Doug Coe’s secretive Beltway “Family”.

    Is it any wonder an authoritarian church movement would be so entwined with an authoritarian political movement? Strict Calvinism, per Calvin himself, is essentially theocratic. Its models are Geneva, Puritan Massachusetts, and Cromwell’s England. America’s leading Presbyters, meeting alongside the Framers in Philadelphia, waited until they saw the final draft of The Constitution before amending the provision of the Westminster Confession that calls for the State to enforce Church discipline.

    Read “The Family” and you’ll find politicos promoting a faith that sounds more like the Fuhrerprinzip or Leo Strauss than the Gospel.
    (Here is the Article “Jesus Plus Nothing” that was the seed of Sharlet’s invaluable expose of The Family.

    To understand the kind of sheep that fall for this medieval nonsense, Watergate penitent John Wesley Dean recommends Bob Altemeyer’s _The_Authoritarians_, available here on The University of Manitoba site as a free as an e-book

    Cornerstone Church Knoxville/SGM, whose membership contract is deftly referenced above by Dee, was founded as the U. of Tennessee chapter Maranatha Campus Ministries in 1983 by Bill Kitrell,who has grown Cornerstone into a 47,000 square foot, 26 acre giant with average attendance of over 900.

    MCM referred to themselves as “God’s Green Berets” of the New Christian Right, reflecting their discipline, militancy, and elitism. My research into the East Tennessee web of SGM and A29 churches is turning up deep, manifold connections to the Maranatha/ Morning Star/Every Nation cult network founded by Bob Weiner, who was been a key figure in the Council For National Policy, the secretive Religious Right summit organization. ( CNP’s Robert Weiner & Maranatha from the independent website Seek God

    While I’m throwing out links, here is a timeline of the Maranatha network, 1975-2008 that is priceless. Beware: It extensive, but not comprehensive. Cornerstone Knoxville, for instance, is not on the list.


  21. CJ Mahaney has transfered his church membership from CLC to Solid Rock church, a different SGM church. He states that this is only temporary as he will be starting a new church in another state in the near future. He also states that he no longer feels it’s necessary for a reconciliation process between himself and CLC, which was a process that was requested in the Fall. He is getting out of Dodge ASAP. I don’t know that he has reconciled with anyone that has had serious issues with him . . . what a fearless leader (insert eye roll). And all this is playing out before the AoR results has even been issued. I guess others will have to clean up the mess he leaves in his wake? Well, actually, people have already been trying to clean up while the high and mighty leader is cleared and allowed to go start again. I guess all the other high and mighty leaders (in and out of SGM) just don’t want to see the carnage. Hmm . . . they will just walk by and leave the injured in the street. Sometimes it seems like they read a different Bible than me.

  22. Who called Falwell on the carpet…the secular media.

    Eagle you are on another good roll. It seems that we as Christians say so many things against the secular, but they call them as they see them and are right on target most of the time.

    Why can’t Christian news outlets perform some solid journalism?

    My question for the last six years and my frustration. That is why blogs like this, FBC Jax and others are so important. When I became involved in helping Wade expose Fundamentalism and the IMB, there were only a handful of blogs by Southern Baptists. I was one of the only women writing on SBC issues at the time.

    This has changed, however, now and there are many, many. There should be because man does the church need cleaning and Christ needs to be the center once again. There needs to be some heavy handed apologizing to people like you, and it needs to be on bended knee with genuine (as opposed to what I call (fake) Jimmy Swaggart tears) going on.

  23. Dee,

    Thank you for your kind words. I have not even been able to share my attending Mass with some of my former students and friends because it is so ingrained into them that they are right and “Catholics are going to hell, for the, most part” I covet your prayers and am thankful for your blog.

  24. Eagle:
    Roger Ailes/Glenn Beck and David “Wallbuilder” Barton made a monumental strategic blunder in trying to sell the bogus histories of RJ Rushdoony and Cleon Skousen to a world that can “refudiate” their pious fairytales by instantaneously pulling up primary documents, including the complete works of every Founder, for free on an I-Phone.

  25. I think this issue is important to discuss, but I have some sympathy for the pastor who was listening to the member discuss a murder he was involved in. That is pretty serious, and does warrant counsel…perhaps we can cut that guy a little slack. What would YOU do if someone confided in you about something that serious? I for sure might not name a name, but I would talk to someone about it…………

  26. Bridget

    CJ Mahaney has been exposed as a seriously deficient leader who has a tendency to use spiritual abuse along with self glorification. Anyone who props up this man has gone over to the dark side and I don’t care if they have the name of Piper or any other au courant name.

  27. justabeliever

    I agree with you. However, the reason I put that example in there is to show just how seriously the civil authorities take pastoral confidentiality. In the meantime, we have pastors and church leaders who have no compunction “sharing” their concerns with one another, their wives and their best friends.

  28. Catholic

    Did you know that the Internet Monk’s wife converted to Catholicism while he was still alive? His site received so much criticism over this. Being the man he was, he started selling rosary beads on the site to help a friend and I believe to make a statement.

    There are many evangelicals who, tiring of the hoopla, are running toward the liturgical churches. I empathize with the choice of Catholicism. You know what you are getting and you will not have new doctrine being invented or the next greatest sex book being touted. In my youth, I occasionally attended a prayer meeting in upstate NY run by Father John Bertolucci and enjoyed it enormously. The nuns were wonderful singers. A groups of Christian friends and I rented a ski chalet in NH for the winter. We couldn’t find a good church except a small Baptist church which preached two Sundays in a row on the evils of demon hootch. However, there was a pretty little Catholic church nearby and one Sunday, on a whim, we visited. The priest was awesome and he invited us to join in communion with the church. He loved the Lord and we attended there for the rest of the winter. Boy, could that guy take off with the homily!

    As you can tell, I am not of the “Catholics, Orthodox and anyone who uses too much liturgy and baptize babies are going to hell” camp. In fact, I think I will look through some songs that my church uses that come out of the Catholic renewal movement. If you see some, know they are dedicated to you!

    I am very interested in your story and will pray for you. If you are ever at the point you would like to tell it, anonymously, please let us know.

  29. Debbie
    You said “It seems that we as Christians say so many things against the secular, but they call them as they see them and are right on target most of the time.” One of the criticisms we get at this blog is we are highlighting the problems of the church. People say this is a bad witness to the world. I always laugh. These people assume that a church that hides its flaws is pulling one over on the folks. They are not. The people see us for who we are. And they laugh at us because they know we are full of baloney with our holier than thou pretense.

    It is time that we admit who we are and proclaim the grace of Jesus because we all need it. I often say that these pastors jump up and down, saying “look at me”, “look at us.” “come to our church”. etc. Well, people look and sometimes they see something different, something not so nice. Then these folks cry “Foul.” “Do not look at the man behind the curtain.” Well, people do and it is time that we accept that fact and figure out what do with it.

  30. Why don’t magazines like Christianity Today, Relevent, etc.. investigate this organization? Why are so many people silent? — Eagle

    “One Hand Washes the Other?”

    Or just an instinct to circle the wagons against Heathen Persecution? (Like a lot of Islam did after 9/11.)

    In any case, in a lot of church environments “Thou Shalt Gossip” is the Eleventh Commandment.

  31. Here is story about mind control and trust.
    This Doctor was trusted by children and adults.
    He used his power to control innocent people for 40 years.
    He became a member of Campus Crusade For Christ in 1979.
    You can read about this: Escape From Christbridge Academy.
    Dr. John Gottuso

  32. Eagle: Christianity isn’t cancerous. People are cancerous. People who use Christianity for their own means. If you look in scripture, which represents true Christianity, you will find that Christianity is glorious. It is as Wade as preached. Christ is Christianity. Christ and what he has done. People have poisoned it using the name of God for things God’s name or even Christianity should not be used for. The fact that Christianity is being used does not make Christianity the problem.

  33. I am an SBC insider.  I’m a layman, yes, but still very much an insider.
    I personally know many of the players frequently discussed on this site.
    I’ve followed this blog for a while, but this is my first post.  You get
    much correct in what you blog.  You do miss motives oftentimes and don’t
    always see the good that exists in these people, but you still get a
    great deal right.  In many ways, most SBC leaders are godly men, but,
    like all of us, they are stained by sin.  They all believe what they are
    doing is God’s will.  Some of them, however, have read too much of their
    own press and have come to trust too completely in their own instincts
    for implementing what they believe is right.  This area you are talking
    about today is one where I see it show up frequently.  

    I am writing this post to both those men – the SBC pastors, leaders and
    insiders – as well as to myself.  Just because you are “sharing” with
    other leaders or ministers, it does not give you license to break a
    confidence.  When someone shares in confidence, that means what is said
    stays in confidence!  If there is confusion over whether what was shared
    was confidential, assume it was.  There are no special counselors you
    have the right to share with.  There is no person or church so far
    removed the situation that it is fair game to share.  You do not have
    the right to treat other pastors as superiors to the person who has
    shared with you.  No matter how much you feel the need to steer the
    outcomes of what you have learned, there is never a reason to break a
    confidence (short of abuse or pending danger).  Let God steer the
    outcome.  He is in control, not you or I.  All too often, I see people
    treated as objects of curiosity with no real concern for how breaking
    their confidence could affect them.  I’ve frequently seen serious
    confidences breached immediately without batting an eye.

    When I find myself tempted to share a confidence, I can be pretty
    certain why I would do it – to further myself.  Whether it is to
    ingratiate me to someone else with my inside knowledge, to protect
    myself from looking bad or just to be entertaining, breaking a
    confidence usually focuses on promoting me.  There are times when I have
    had someone share in confidence and I have the opportunity to
    potentially help by breaking that confidence, but even then it is never
    justified.  It is usually taking the easy way out rather than truly
    helping people with their hurts.  

    My experience with lay leaders, pastors and SBC leaders leads me to
    advise NEVER sharing anything you aren’t willing for others to know.  In
    all likelihood, it WILL get shared.  If not immediately, it will come
    out at some point.  My experience is that it doesn’t take long –
    particularly if it could affect the peers of the person you’ve told.  If
    you don’t know who you are about to confide in extremely well and trust
    them explicitly, do not share confidential information with them.
    Breaking a confidence appears to be a temptation most leaders just can’t
    handle, though I would argue it is a heinous breach of trust and a sin
    against both that person and God.

  34. SBCLayman,

    Thank you for your comment and for your confirmation that we are getting a good deal right here at TWW.

    With regard to not seeing the good that exists in some of the people about whom we write, of course they have a good side. That’s why they are revered; however, it’s important to remember that all Christians have mixed motives on this side of the cross.

    Here’s the serious problem — many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are getting hurt both emotionally and spiritually, and we feel an obligation to inform them about what is actually going on within Christendom. It is frightening how little the average Christian knows.

    We are especially concerned about the practice of re-writing church by-laws and drawing up membership agreements. What I find most distressing about these trends is that Jesus Christ came to set us free and church leadership is trying to enslave members through rules and regulations. We believe Christians should “Just Say No” to legal documents that are masquerading as “membership covenants”.

  35. Dee said: “church leadership is trying to enslave members through rules and regulations. We believe Christians should “Just Say No” to legal documents that are masquerading as ‘membership covenants’.”

    I think church leadership is much less about ENSLAVING MEMBERS through rules and regs. Having been a church leader it has been much more about avoiding the state’s intervention in church business.
    We never had a discussion about “how can we trap members.” We had many, many discussion concerning the modern court system and it’s ever increasing impact on the local church.

    ENSLAVING MEMBERS? Wasn’t on the radar. ENCROACHING STATE? Yeah, that one was on the radar.

    Life in these litigious United States? We’re all there regardless of our business.

  36. Jimmy
    These “covenants” are all about protecting the church entity, not the average church member. So let’s all stop playing games and be honest about it. I am sure that you were a loving and kind leader and this would not apply to you.

  37. Is Jimmy really Seneca? It seems one disappeared and the other appeared and they have the same tone about them.

  38. H+M
    That is the name of one of my daughter’s favorite stores! Thank you for the link. I just started reading the story and I am startled. I will read the rest of it this evening. Thank you very much.

  39. Jimmy-

    I am glad we live in a litigious society. It is often times, the only place where grievances can be heard and justice begin to scratch the surface.

    I would be very glad to see pastors held to the same standards as others who are public figures (teachers, police, etc..) after all, most pastors enjoy enormous financial benefits from their Federal Tax exemption status, housing allowances….shouldn’t they be held to account? Maybe churches should ditch their tax privileges if they don’t want to as much public scrutiny.

  40. doubtful
    Awesome comment to Jimmy. Thank you for providing that perspective. Yep, these churches want us all to come to them and give them our money and our lives. But, when we look at them and say, “Now hold on a minute” they cry, “Foul.”

  41. Eagle,

    I remember when I was a little kid in a working class neighborhood of Racine, you could still hear the older people speak Polish out on the porches on nice nights.

  42. Like Eagle, I’ve also gone through a Christian “wringer” at various churches, but unlike him, I’ve kept my faith in Jesus.

    I dunno, maybe it’s because I’m a stubborn jerk (Southern hillbilly redneck stock, don’cha know), but through all the mess of those days I simply came to the conclusion there’s no way in hell (excuse the pun) I was going to let some supposed morally-conflicted pastor who carries more baggage than I do make me doubt Christianity. That way lays madness.

    No, my walk with Jesus is just that, MY walk, and all the idiotic jabberings of fallable men can’t turn me away.

  43. Surely, Dee, you don’t believe the people in the chairs who have given sacrificially want the money to be lost via the courts because the elders, leaders haven’t done due diligence to make sure they get things legally right.

    I’d be all for going back to the 50’s where there was almost no paper trail but we actually live in a world where a paper trail has ever increasing importance.

    Now you can have a home church; but God help you if some Sunday morning one of your attenders suffers a significant injury. Then you’re still up the same crick without a paddle.

    It’s a sad world friends. That’s why we’re all insured.

  44. BTW, one poster suggested the Catholic priests would never divulge a confession.

    That’s not my experience with priests. They struggle with the tongue like the rest of us.

    Should pastors violate confidences? No.
    Does it happen? Yes

    Is there a confessional in this world where your secrets are 100 per cent safe? No, there isn’t.

    So, what do you do? It’s your call.

  45. Dee–
    Unless I missed the intended snark, considering his remarks, I seriously doubt that Jimmy was anywhere near loving or kind.

  46. “No, my walk with Jesus is just that, MY walk, and all the idiotic jabberings of fallable men can’t turn me away”

    John, Bravo! I came to the same conclusions after seeing so much evil in the mega institutions. (Behind stage)

    It is not God’s fault people use Him for their own gain and ends. It is our fault for allowing man to turn us against God because of them.

    This is one of the problems I finally came to concerning Calvinistas….the “determinist” God. God was MAKING those who said they are His, do the evil/deception/spiritual abuse. He planned it and ordained the evil done in His own Name! He planned for them to twist His Word to use against His own people. Amazing! (Of course, they will say you can choose to sin but not “choose” to follow Christ. And you can’t choose to follow Christ but then after He makes you believe in Him, then you can choose to sin? Or, You can’t help it. You are “totally depraved” even after being Born Again!!!! That is why CJ can spiritually abuse people for decades and be “Born Again” in the Calvinista world. He is not responsible. He is totally depraved and a “sinner” AND Born Again.)

  47. “I’d be all for going back to the 50′s where there was almost no paper trail but we actually live in a world where a paper trail has ever increasing importance”

    Or blogs to discuss the spiritual abuse of Jimmy’s idols. :o)

  48. Jimmy
    Oh yeah, the 50s in which the hypocrisy of the June Cleaver familyalong with Jim Crow begat the 60s.Great time.

  49. Muff
    I grew up in the family that spoke that language on the streets. I still make a mean pierogi.

  50. Jimmy
    I have no problem with the insurance and the legal contacts. i have a problem when such things are presented as nice little membership contracts.

  51. Dee said; “I have no problem with the insurance and the legal contacts. i have a problem when such things are presented as nice little membership contracts.”

    Sadly, that’s where litigation has brought us; church membership contracts.


  52. If my wife and I ever start attending church again (emphasis on IF), I can tell you this: we’ll sing in the choir if they’ll have us, teach Sunday school to the yoots, watch the babies in the nursery (which we like, actually), or do any myriad of the other things one does when one finds a like-minded group of believers.

    What we will never do, however, is formally join a church again (“sign here, friend”). Been there, done that, and the tee-shirt bled.

    If a fellowship can let us do the any of the above without us putting pen to paper, fine. If not, we’ll go somewhere else where they will.

  53. One might almost get the idea that one particular pastor WANTS to involve the State and WANTS to be sued– the one who wrote this:

    “Furthermore, we do not conduct biblical counseling with someone unless they sign a waiver relinquishing their right to confidentiality. If we refer people to an outside counselor, we likewise have them and their counselor sign a confidentiality waiver so that if we need to know about something, or if we need to notify the police, we can without legal recourse. Without this kind of foresight, sinners corner church leaders between a proverbial rock and a hard place, like the guy who early in my pastoral ministry told me he had cheated on his wife repeatedly and feared he had a venereal disease but did not want to tell her and expected me to cover for him under the guise of confidentiality. I just laughed loudly as I picked up my phone to call his wife while he threatened to sue me.”
    Even though the husband in the story may have been a really bad guy… It’s hard to imagine why anyone in this preacher’s church would ever be honest while getting counseling– or indeed seek it at all. Folks there must learn only to confess innocuous sins.

  54. mot
    Jimmy is not being fair here. Tom Rich of FBC Jax is a good friend of this blog and we, along with Wade Burleson and many other bloggers support Tom in his suit against FBC Jax and its rogue pastor, Mac Brunson. This horrible pastor misused the sheriff’s office and the state attorney’s office to out Tom who was blogging anonymously.They then threw him out of the church, accused him of stealing mail and stalking Brunson’s wife (laughable). This whole thing is travesty and Brunson should be ashamed.We have covered this story extensively on this blog and will continue to do so. Jimmy should be ashamed for defending Brunson.

    In fact, everyone, pray for the Tom and Yvette Rich. They are great people.

  55. Dee/Deb, you didn’t read very carefully. I simply gave one example of a church being sued by a former member (actually I just posted a URL).

    I made NO comment on the merits of the suit.

    I said NOTHING about the the ex-member.

    I don’t suppose I should await your apology. dryly

  56. Jimmy:

    You give one example and a very poor one at that. Not sure why you think you deserve an apology,

  57. Jimmy
    You have made your self known, loud and clear, over on his blog. I know how you feel. Tom is a good man and he is our friend.

  58. Jimmy is a Fanboy. And like all Fanboys, the Object of his Fanboying CAN DO NO WRONG.

    The only difference is with Jimmy, it’s justified as Godly.

    Just like the abusive pastors in the main article.

    Abusive pastors who would LOVE to have a fanboy like Jimmy as their plausibly-deniable enforcer.

  59. Even on Tom’s blog, I’ve made no reference to the merits of the case. Practicing law on the internet is not in my best interest.

    The question was; Give an example of a church being sued by a member.

    I posted a URL.

  60. Jimmy: The question was give examples. You gave one and a poor one. You can not justify your position.

  61. Tom did us all a favor. Brunson used the civil authorities to harass a member even falsely accusing him. This situation made some very interesting news to the secular world in how churches misuse their position. I remember reading about it on several political blogs. Funny how the “case” was closed right on the timing after they got the subpeona and Rich’s name. How were they able to get supeona’s? Rich was accused of stalking the Brunsons and stealing their mail. And Mac’s security at church also worked in the Sheriff’s office.

    False accusations which gave this ‘sheriff” aka Mac’s security the ability to get THREE subpeonas to find the identity of three blog owners. Tiffany Croft was not even anonymous! And BBCopenForum was one of the blogs out of another state concerning Bellevue Baptist.

    Then, all of a sudden, the false accusations were dropped. These are EVIL men who misuse their position and do evil in the Name of Jesus.

    What amazes me is that Brunson is still a pastor of any church. people actually think he is pastor material. Shows how bad it has become.

  62. Dee,

    This is slightly off the topic of this particular post, but fitting in with the theme of your “series” on authoritarian leadership. Another thing leaders sometimes do that wittingly or not gets them out of accountability is that they add a step to the “church discipline” procedure of Matthew 18.

    It is widely held that there are four steps to the discpiline process for a sin: 1) private confrontation, 2) bringing one or more witnesses, 3) telling the church, and 4) excommunication. Repentance brings restoration at any point, including after step 4. Well, many churches add a step 2.5 to their by-laws and documents. In “telling the church”, they insert that telling the church actually means telling the elders of the church, who will in turn tell the whole body only after they have decided that it is proper. Again, as a “protection” device. Often the avoidance of gossip is given as a reason for the original confronter not telling the church himself.

    So, if anything is brought against an elder (or all the elders collectively), the elders decide whether to tell the whole church. Having read my bible, I’ve never seen a step 2.5.

  63. Jimmy –

    I think, in cases like SGM, more members SHOULD sue pastors and churches if that is the only way to keep them honest and above board. It might keep future members and pastors from being spiritually abused in the future. If the Christian big guys don’t lead righteously, we do need tbe government to step in don’t we.

  64. “And the weapon that his fear is the one that will be used against him” Neal Peart of Rush

    Confidentiality has its good points and bad points. The problem is a proper understanding of biblical “binding and losing” in the church today. I keep hearing this term “elder led” churches and it really bothers me. Elders were never to be given this much authority they are to be overseers and to be protectors of the flock there are way too many Nicolatians in the church.

  65. Did anyone see tonight’s Last Man Standing episode?

    2/28/2012 should be up shortly

    The theme is about litigation and about halfway in the boss wants Hector to sign a waver in order to go on a special vacation , in essence that he won’t sue the company. Hector’s response is priceless , We’re family , why would I sue, Dad….

  66. The question was; Give an example of a church being sued by a member. — Jimmy

    I know this shtick. Had it forced down my throat more times than I can remember.

    NO example you can give will satisfy Jimmy. He will demand more and more “So-Called” evidence in an infinite regression, parsing any & everything you answer letter-by-letter so he can find a flaw and reject it. Seen this so many times, both inside and outside of churches:
    * Rule Number One is Jimmy Is Always Right.
    * All other rules See Rule One.
    * And Once You Agree With Jimmy 1000%, We Won’t Have A Problem, Will We?

  67. The lawsuit is justified, more than justified in Tom’s case. Tom and Yvette, I am proud to call you friends, and I support you as well. I along with those who have already expressed their love and support for you guys, stand with them in standing with you.

  68. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I get treated better by my amoral employer, a Fortune 500 “too big to fail” bank, than the churches treat their members. Why on EARTH would I want to put myself underneath these “pastors” when they are so very intent on making sure that they have all the legal rights and I have none?

    Jesus didn’t have his followers sign releases, etc. James 5:16 says: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Nothing there about a release that I can see.

    I can’t help but wonder if pastors who have these sorts of covenants and confidentiality “outs” aren’t somehow getting their power hungry jolllies from doing this.

  69. Southwestern Discomfort,

    What a sad but true observation you have made. It is such a terrible witness to a watching world.

  70. Eagle:

    The lack of grace shown by many “Christians” is what drives people away from Christianity and churches. I for one cannot explain it.

  71. “The question was; Give an example of a church being sued by a member. — Jimmy

    I know this shtick. Had it forced down my throat more times than I can remember.

    NO example you can give will satisfy Jimmy. He will demand more and more “So-Called” evidence in an infinite regression, parsing any & everything you answer letter-by-letter so he can find a flaw and reject it. Seen this so many times, both inside and outside of churches:
    * Rule Number One is Jimmy Is Always Right.
    * All other rules See Rule One.
    * And Once You Agree With Jimmy 1000%, We Won’t Have A Problem, Will We


  72. Eagle-

    Lack of grace by Christians didn’t cause me to lose my faith, the Bible did that for me. But I would often wonder to myself, why God was so bad at making his followers good?

    That said, I know many Christians who are great people, but probably no more than some of the atheists and homosexuals I know, who are just as gracious. It just seems the argument falls flat if you try and validate Christianity by the actions of its followers.

    Just my 2 cents….

  73. doubtful,

    Thank you for that response. One thing I have learned from the White Horse Inn (a weekly podcast hosted by Mike Horton and Rod Rosenbladt amongst other guys as well) is don’t present the Gospel as being helpful or the promise of being nicer. Present it as being true. You make a compelling case for this. There are people of all faiths that have high moral standards. That seems to be the thing that connects all religion; the law. The gospel is something so completely different and is something that has to be proclaimed not just lived out. It sounds to me that if you have left the faith you did it because you don’t believe what the bible says about you and God. You are one of the few I have heard who left for that reason. Most leave because of the nonsense that goes on with people within the faith, those things that TTW tries to expose. Based upon research, it appears that many Christians are pretty clueless when it comes to the major tennants of the faith. I am not happy to see that you are denying it per se, I am just glad that you have pointed out this fallacy that people think that if only Christians were nicer, more people would convert.

  74. Eagle,

    As you and others here well know, Muff is about as liberal as you can get without denying the deity of Jesus. Still, and using that as a starting point, indulge me a thought or two:

    1) God does not turn a blind eye to the abuse of little ones. He has given us full power to halt this shit if we’ll only listen to the divine nature he imparts to each and every one of us at birth instead of the me-first-play-it-safe-asshole nature. Evil wins when good people do nothing.

    2) We have little or no control over physical death, earthquakes, & tsunamis. But the 99% of the other stuff? We have full control over it and the onus is on us as humans to live up to the power the Almighty has invested in us as the crown jewels of his creation.

  75. Eagle –

    The God you seem to want is the one who would have kept Adam and Eve from choosing to partake of the the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He would have then created puppets. Do you want people to love you because they have to and have no choice (not love in my book)? Or, do you want people to love you because they choose to? Man was created in the image of God before the Fall. All mankind is capable of love and goodness. This is how God made us, but we do not choose His way. The Fall introduced man choosing something other than God.

  76. Bridget2-

    Can’t speak for Eagle, but I find that argument to fall flat. God has allowed thousands of years of suffering (rapes, genocide, murder, child abuse, etc…) to punish Adam and Eve’s disobedience over a piece of fruit? The punishment doesn’t fit the crime and it doesn’t explain Satan and God allowing Satan to deceive Eve in the first place….God could have stopped Satan, but he chose not to….just doesn’t add up in my book.

  77. Dee,

    I LOVE what you wrote to “Catholic” yesterday morning. To Catholic, glad to have you here and I love reading your posts. Dee, you are spot on (as usual!). Six years ago I was a solid MacArthurite and I told a friend of mine that Mother Theresa was in Hell. I write this now to my great shame. God have mercy on me. Like you wrote Dee, I started to grow quite weary of the many shenanigans going on within the typical, evangelical megachurch. I recently spent a decent amount of time at an Eastern Orthodox Church and while I don’t see myself full on converting, I have come to love the liturgy and the ties to tradition and to the ancient historical faith, of the Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican churches. From my readings and research, I sense that I am not alone in this journey.

  78. Doubtful –

    Sorry it doesn’t add up for you. I, personally, don’t think we can get it all to add up. We are not God and cannot possibly think completely like him. Although, we do constantly try to bring Him to our level and fit Him into what we are able to understand. The premise and ability take part in the Christian faith is based on the work of Christ and faith, which is beyond reason.

    I don’t think the argument that God is responsible, and to blame, for the evil that man has perpetuated upon himself and those around him adds up either. The Fall wasn’t about a piece of fruit. It was about who Adam and Eve (mankind) would trust and worship. They were given everything, all rule, and dominion, but were asked not to eat of one tree. They desired and took what God said they could not have.

  79. The free will theodicy falters for unbelievers because it’s not about the principle of relationship behind eating fruit, it’s the sheer global multi-millenial scale of human evil, death, and misery that seems unjustified by giving people free will in the first place.

    Attempting to explain how one person’s decision impacted the human race gets into the subject of the origin of the soul (if applicable) and the general topic of imputation. I’m not sure how eager people are to get into all that here at Wartburg. I’ve known enough atheists to know that the free will theodicy does not work. In the abstract it “works” but in the concrete no atheist I know considers the sheer scale of evil that can be seen to be worth human agency in a Christian theodicy. Nobody put this objection more succinctly or vividly than Dostoevsky.

  80. WTH
    I heard Bart Ehrman make that exact argument in a debate on The Problem of Evil with Dinesh D’Souza at UNC.

  81. WTH –

    I have no desire for a debate 🙂 But it’s good to throw some other perspectives out there once in awhile. You never know . . .

  82. Eagle –

    I totally agree with you on the “love” aspect. I’m pretty sure Jesus expressed that concern as well when asked about the greatest commandment. I’m glad you’ ve experienced a bit of love recently. I hope it continues 🙂

  83. Still part of the traditional theodicy, Muff, even if it’s coming from Greg Boyd. Now it’s true some more contemporary theologians have tried to separate natural evil from moral evil and N. T. Wright did a good little survey of how and why that came about in the West and explained what was lacking in that approach. The problem is still the same, which is simply that the Devil is still God’s devil. God permits the Devil to exist. As Bonhoeffer put it, conceding the Devil influences things merely pushes back the origin of the evil will to an early agent within the created order without addressing the mystery of human activity. Augustine said straight up that he had no natural efficient cause he could cite to explain the origin of the evil will and no one since his time has done any better. Boyd has done a better than average job of articulating a fairly traditional theodicy via diabology. The Russell reference (I’ve read all five of Jeffrey Burton Russell’s books on the devil) tipped me off early that Boyd’s ideas were going to be fairly traditional.

  84. Eagle,

    Churches and Christians that REALLY understand, know, employ and extend LOVE and GRACE are hard to come by, but when you do, it is the most potent, convincing, enticing evidence for God.

    My husband and I have talked about this a lot, especially in light of our MH experience. My husband and I have a crazy, gnarly testimony. He definitely should not be where he is today, and our family should not be together. If I were to share all the ways our life has gone against the “statistics”, you would be unable to deny that our lives have been touched by the GRACE of God. One of the things we heard a lot at MH was that they were kind of ashamed that they didn’t have a real “testimony”. Most had been raised in church, gone to Christian college, or just had a kind of ho-hum life. Many have not experienced true, radical GRACE that they could not deny, because they have not been in a place of true brokenness. I consider our painful experiences a blessing for this reason.
    Luke 7:47
    “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

    I think when catastrophe hits like you said, many Christians consider that a time to show how Christian they are and earn “brownie points” with God and other believers (kind of like a personal PR statement?). A mark of a truly GRACE affected Christian is that GRACE is extended pretty consistently (know them by their fruit), not only in times of need. Non-believers comes through in catastrophe and will do wonderful things in those circumstances.

  85. As always WTH, there is much speculation on the origin of evil and why it’s allowed to continue. Whether it’s Augustine, Wright, or Boyd, Scripture is simply not clear on a great many things. I only said that in my opinion, Boyd offers the best one yet. And I still think his departs significantly from say Piper’s or your local preacher’s version.