“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations if you live near him.” J. R. R. Tolkien
Until my last couple of years at Chapel Hill Bible Church, I viewed this church body with great affection. It was one of the few churches that I had attended that placed a premium on the intellectual strength in the Christian life. Given the fact that it was birthed at UNC-Chapel Hill and also drew a large contingent from Duke, this should not be a surprise. This wasn’t just another “student” church. It was a church that attracted faculty members of educational institutions as well as those from the Research Triangle Park which houses scientific and technology firms. I found my faith challenged in a positive way and saw my thinking growing deeper. I truly loved this church. I still love that old church.
In my opinion, things changed with the advent of the current pastor. When my husband and I decided to “get out of Dodge,” I was wondering if we were the only ones who saw a gathering cloud. Please hear me. I’m grateful that we moved on because we found a church that is life-giving instead of soul-draining. Soul draining… that is the word I’ve been trying to find which well describes our last year at CHBC.
Why did four elders leave? How did they describe their thinking? It’s rare to find such an insight into the minds and faith of four church leaders in the midst of a crisis. Such a crisis can be used for good. Look at the life of Martin Luther whose crisis of faith caused one of the greatest religious upheavals this world has ever experienced. It is my hope that the disturbance at CHBC will lead to changes in leadership and racial understanding.
An anonymous person posted the links to these letters on my last post. I am grateful. I do not know their identity.
FYI: I have not included letters from people of color in the congregation. I may do so at a later date.
Open Letter to the Elders
An Open Letter to the Elders of Chapel Hill Bible Church
With great sorrow and heavy hearts, we, Gary Cuddeback, Walker Hicks, Joo Lee, and Young Whang, officially tender our resignations from the elder board of the Bible Church. Our reasons have both shared and distinct elements, so we will share common threads here and elaborate more on personal statements separately, which are linked below.
First, we want to express our gratitude at having the privilege of serving on the elder board. It has been an honor to serve alongside a group of such earnest men of God, and we have learned so much from you during our tenures. We would also like to thank those of you who have supported each of us in this difficult season, whether it was done privately or publicly. As we have struggled through many tough discussions, you have encouraged us. You have prayed with us. It has been people like you that attracted us to this church in the first place, you have given us belonging, love, genuine friendship, and care.
We are resigning because we share the conviction that the leadership of the church is guided more by a commitment to the preservation of CHBC as an institution than a commitment to the Gospel. Leadership now tends to prioritize loyalty, legal protections, reputations, community standing, membership numbers, and budgets over biblical health, truth, consensus building, and care for individual members of the body. An unbiblical sense of “unity” (meaning, mainly, a lack of conflict or disagreement) is prized over true biblical oneness that is rooted in the costly pursuit of truth, love, and grace. Furthermore, we’ve discovered that adherence to a narrow set of theological convictions and priorities has taken a far-too-prominent role in the life of our church, and these narrow convictions and priorities determine from what we focus on in the pulpit to the emphasis in our ministries and criteria for selection of leaders. Many Gospel casualties have resulted from this shift in focus, not least of them being further marginalization of ethnic minorities and unbiblical disempowerment of women.
Looking back, we have regrets about our tenure as elders. We should have noticed the early signs of dysfunctional leadership structure sooner. All too often, we blindly accepted (and failed to appropriately question) many of the actions and postures of the board.
We are particularly concerned with the generally inhospitable and difficult atmosphere at CHBC for congregants of color. Although CHBC claims that ethnic diversity is a strategic priority, we have failed to make strides in this area; in fact, it is getting worse. In February of 2021, after the disheartening and discouraging response from church leadership to the January 6th Capitol riots (as indicated by many congregants), we sent out a survey of our congregants of color, asking them to respond to the question, “What would you like for the elders and leaders of the church to know about what it’s like to be a person of color at the CHBC?” Here are the responses.
The reason we are addressing the elders in an “open letter” is because of the importance of the issues at stake and our obligation to the body to shepherd and protect the congregation. To that end, we are making this letter available to anyone who wants to know why we are resigning our eldership. We have made every effort in the last two years to work within the system, go through the “proper channels,” and defer to the direction and preferences of the lead pastor, staff, and the elder chairs, but our efforts have at almost every turn been minimized, delayed, rebuffed and largely rejected. In our duties to faithfully shepherd the congregation, we see no other productive alternative.
We know that some will ask, ““Why now? Why not wait to see what happens with the GRACE assessment?” Each of our families has spent recent years in the church advocating for important changes. Our experience, unfortunately, has been that the structures and practices at CHBC are fundamentally inadequate to respond effectively to the challenges at hand. Indeed, in many ways, the structures in place discourage truth and change. Patterns of dysfunction (that show no signs of abating) not only persist but they are maintained and perpetuated. Even since the church acquired GRACE’s services, we have all witnessed multiple occasions of leadership putting forward an appearance of transparency while simultaneously evading truthful, healthy disclosure of vital information. Because we have been repeatedly silenced, dismissed, and rebuffed, we do not have confidence in current leadership’s willingness to receive and apply the GRACE report in the right spirit.
Finally, we have one plea to all of you. Whatever the result might be from GRACE, please advocate to have its full, unredacted report publicly available broadly and transparently. We believe that this transparency will earn trust with the rest of the congregation, and this church will become healthier for it. We sincerely pray that the process with GRACE and LFM will help to shape the leadership of the Bible Church into the kind of discerning, bold, loving shepherds that Scripture calls it to be.
We will miss working closely with you. We have felt incredibly humbled and blessed to have had the chance to serve the Lord and His church. Wherever the Lord leads each of us, we look forward to continuing to be a part of the larger church together with you as we serve Jesus in the community and the world in the years ahead.
Gary Cuddeback, Walker Hicks, Joo Lee, and Young Whang
Gary Cuddleback Letter
Dear Elders of Chapel Hill Bible Church,
I prayerfully submit this letter of resignation as an elder of the Chapel Hill Bible Church (CHBC). As many of you may know, I have recently moved to Virginia. After almost 20 years in the Chapel Hill / Durham area and almost that many as a member of the CHBC, the decision to leave was difficult, and I appreciate continued prayer for me and my family. My wife and I hope to maintain many deep and meaningful relationships we have cultivated during our time in North Carolina – a number of these with members of the CHBC.
Since 2003, I have appreciated the opportunities to serve the CHBC and its congregation. I have served as a Sunday school teacher, substitute teacher in the children’s ministry, served in the nursery, served as a small group leader, and volunteered for many, many events. I have met wonderful, God-filled people and have appreciated serving alongside many of you.
I have been an elder for only a short time (less than 3 years) and almost all of my tenure as an elder has been impacted by the challenges of COVID and the seemingly endless string of controversies and other issues, many that have troubled me greatly. These are the issues I am praying for, as it is my hope and desire for a healthy CHBC.
Starting with the CHBC’s poor response to the events of January 6th last year, I have been alarmed by many patterns of dysfunction in the CHBC. The tepid support, and this is being generous, for the Race and Faith class and the Be the Bridge initiatives have been particularly discouraging. Have we seen an exodus of people of color leaving the church? Is leadership becoming more diverse, both with regard to race/ethnicity and in its perspectives? The body of Christ is diverse and our leadership should also be diverse.
Further, in my opinion and experience, there seems to be a complete lack of transparency regarding how elders, the oversight team, the lead pastor support team and the executive pastor support team are selected, which is of significant concern to me. I pray for more transparency and accountability here. I believe these issues are important for the congregation to understand as well.
Moreover, repeatedly during my time as an elder, decisions were made which I had absolutely no input, yet these decisions were characterized to the congregation as having the endorsement of all elders. This issue has been raised several times by me and others. I’m not sure what it means to be an elder-led church? Maybe my lack of blind faith in those who are making decisions points to my own flaws? Recent events at CHBC should be a wakeup call for us all. I pray for more transparency, accountability and inclusivity in decision making. I also earnestly pray that ALL elders get involved in discussions and decisions. Do not just sit quietly on the sidelines!
Robust discussion is a healthy thing, and all opinions and perspectives should be welcomed. Elders who challenge leaders and decisions and processes should not be marginalized or silenced or discredited as agitators. And members of our congregation, those who love the CHBC, should not be defamed and discredited. I pray, moving forward, that leadership finds a way to facilitate discussion and honor all our perspectives in a Christ-centered and loving way.
In addition, I have observed, even before my time as an elder, a number of friends and others deeply hurt byCHBC leadership. If we focus on one or two of these, it is easy to rationalize as isolated incidents that are typical of any big organization. However, in my opinion, there is a longer history here that should be examined carefully, thoughtfully and prayerfully. What is it about our culture and climate that allowed and continues to allow these events to happen?
I pray that the report from GRACE be taken seriously and to heart. I fear, already, that the report and GRACE’s efforts and purpose have been dismissed and discredited, which would be consistent with ongoing patterns at the CHBC. As expressed in the joint resignation letter, full transparency will earn trust with the rest of the congregation. I earnestly pray that the process with GRACE and LFM will help to shape the leadership of the CHBC and its governance.
Walker Hicks Letter
Dear fellow CHBC elders and brothers in Christ,
Katherine and I have approached our life in the church as a family affair, so my involvement as an elder has always involved both of us. We have made the decision for me to resign as an elder together based on our shared experiences. We have been members of the church for the better part of thirty years (joining the community in the early 1990’s) and have joyfully served and been served by this body for our entire adult lives. Out of a love, concern for, and long commitment to this church family, we are compelled to more fully share our reasons for my resignation from the board.
Our history at CHBC
The Bible Church has been the defining institution in my walk with Christ. I encountered Him as a freshman at UNC in 1994, and in the fall of 1995, a friend at Campus Crusade for Christ suggested that I check out this church on the edge of campus. Upon visiting, I heard the Gospel professed with a clarity, depth, authenticity, and earnestness that I had never encountered before. The worship, the sermons, and the community all pointed me to Jesus through the conduit of the scriptures in a way that was entirely fresh, vibrant, alive, and genuine. I had never experienced anything like it.
Katherine and I got engaged in October of 1996, and Pastor Randy Russell conducted our pre-marital counseling and marriage. We set our roots into the soil of this community and became involved in youth ministry and young adults fellowship, and through those avenues began to grow the kind of deep, long-lasting, intergenerational, Gospel-centered friendships that CHBC specializes in. We are dear friends with many of those we met in the late 90’s to this day.
The Bible Church hit rocky times in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but Katherine and I remained committed to it, for many reasons. First of all, we understand a church to be primarily a family, and families should not break apart slightly or easily when facing difficulties. Secondly, those rich and deepening relationships formed the core of our life at the church, more so than the Sunday morning experiences or other programming aspects. We were serving the body through our youth ministry leadership and also getting fed through those relationships with others committed to following Christ and growing in Him through Scripture, prayer, and fellowship.
Another challenging season awaited CHBC in the late 2000’s, when many people left and the remaining body floundered, staying afloat but barely. I was called to eldership in 2010. The ensuing 12 years have been some of the most rewarding and, simultaneously, discouraging years of our lives in the church. The church embarked on a new era with the hiring of a new lead pastor in 2011, and I, as an elder voting “yes,” was so excited about the new chapter ahead of us. I have spent the last 6 years as a member and secretary of the Oversight Team. Since June of 2021, I have been on sabbatical from eldership duties.
Why I am resigning from leadership
Over the last few years, Katherine and I have both had myriad occasions where we witnessed people in our church body being marginalized or mistreated. We have heard the stories of an array of wounded people, including women, people of color, children, elders, and current and former employees. We brought concerns about those situations to leadership. We shared hurtful attitudes and racialized statements towards people of color, dismissive and demeaning treatment towards women, and thoughtless, callous, dishonest, and even unethical treatment towards employees and other leaders. After the investigation of the executive pastor, we advocated for care and protection for our staff after learning about the ways that they had been wronged.
Each time that we came forward as advocates of those people, we strove to speak respectfully, as we saw church leaders as brothers in Christ and our friends. We sought to honor the proper channels and lines of authority. We came with the full expectation that our leadership would meet those concerns with the biblically-driven compassion, sadness and concern that we felt. We came with the humble understanding that we may not see all situations fully, so we asked questions to fill in gaps or correct any facts we had wrong. We fully expected they would want to know more to understand these situations better. We thought we would get answers to our questions. We thought that we would have dialogue about what went wrong and how we, as a body, could make the situation right and avoid such wrongs in the future. We never expected anything from our leaders other than assertive action to move toward better understanding, repentance, and repair.
Instead, every time, we were met, at best, with vague apologies about people hurting and, at worst, rebukes for having brought the concern forward. A few elders came to me to ask questions and listened to our stories; some have shown sympathetic concern. But never did key leadership ask more than the most basic of questions or show any desire to better understand any of these situations. Only on a few occasions did we hear any recognition by our leadership of wrongs, but those recognitions were primarily of the least significant elements of those issues and came with justifications and disclaimers. There has never been a clear acknowledgement of harm that has been done to our brothers and sisters at CHBC. Instead we have heard defenses of actions, and even outright calls for us to apologize for having brought up our concerns. And from many in leadership, we have gotten a lot of head-nodding and silence; and never have more than a small minority of elders converted their sympathetic concern into action to address the problems we clearly have. We cannot comprehend these responses from fellow followers of Christ, especially those who have taken the mantle of leadership and profess a gospel that is based on our recognition of brokenness and need for Jesus.
Katherine submitted a letter to leadership in May of 2021 that articulated some of the growing concerns we’ve had in recent years. Those concerns have only heightened in the ensuing months by our experiences where I have tried to follow the clear biblical call to elders to shepherd the flock by guiding them, protecting them, and serving as advocates for them.
Excerpts from Katherine’s letter (with a couple of updates and modifications) are below:
I want to be able to stay at this church that I have called home for almost 30 years, but sadly cannot do that if we do not aggressively change course, as I think that we have veered far from Jesus. I think we have glaring blind spots that are doing damage to the Gospel and to people in our body. I am a mother who sees her children, friends, and many fellow believers and non-believers being emotionally and spiritually harmed. I am a follower of Jesus who sees many of her fellow brothers and sisters in Christ at CHBC (leaders and others) both actively inflicting and passively condoning that harm – over and over again and in the name of Jesus — all the while simultaneously demonstrating both total ignorance of the harm they cause and arrogance about their moral and spiritual authority. It’s painful in so many ways to watch.
Some people are valued more than others
First, I have seen people “on the margins,” as well as the concerns of those people, be devalued, minimized, and silenced in and by our church. I include in this category, at a minimum, non-white people, women, people of low socioeconomic and/or educational status– which, if you do the math, is the majority of people.
Ironically, though, people “on the margins” were Jesus’s first priority, whom he regularly ate and fellowshipped with, and clearly deeply related to. These are the people that he was born into – and I know not by accident. Throughout scripture, God has always displayed a special concern for the vulnerable. And he reached those people by being with them and attending to both their physical and spiritual needs.Now, certainly, CHBC attends to the earthly needs of people in our church body through the benevolence fund, staff’s generous counseling of people who are struggling with various issues, and I’m sure many other ways that I do not see. In addition, CHBC facilitates plenty of one-off projects to serve people outside of the church but I think we can agree that those are not the priority of our church.
However, serving people is also different from respecting and considering those people as having something to offer to you and to the church. This latter area is where I think we fall short. I see a theme in our church that the voices of people who do not fit a certain profile are not valued. I have seen it happen repeatedly where people who have differing ideas are often discredited. When discussing important points or initiatives that other Christian organizations who more aggressively attend to the earthly needs of people in our community, I heard, “yes, but what’s their theology?” before celebrating their generosity and kindness and how they are loving and providing for people in ways that are very much like Jesus did; this is a form of discrediting. I have seen women having their needs and concerns minimized and then, on top of that, when they have expressed their frustrations about not being heard, they have been chastised for being disrespectful and deemed “ungodly.” I have seen people bravely convey their painful experiences of both explicit and subtle “silent” discrimination in and outside the church, and not receive the compassion that is so clearly warranted. [Additional specific examples and instances removed for confidentiality purposes.]
Recognition of sin, confession, and repentance
I see a clear and consistent reluctance to investigate, recognize, confess, and repent of sin within our leadership and church body, despite the fact that the willing recognition of sin, confession, and repentance are some of the most profound acts of faith to which we are clearly called.
Recent situations demonstrate that reluctance so clearly in multiple ways. Related to the executive pastor issues, I know many people told leadership there were problems all along. How, though, could those same problems, when seen by an outside consultant, leave that consultant deeply alarmed? Why not investigate those when they were reported in the years prior? And then once it all came out, the public statement was not one recognizing and confessing leadership’s complicity in all of it, but one about how leadership was going to have to work harder to do an extra job? Repentance was critical at that point for healing and the obvious next step, but it’s not what happened. Why not?
I have also seen this reluctance play out in the way that race issues have been addressed at the church, since that is something that I have been intimately involved with and have seen firsthand. Over the last several years, we have heard a lot of talk and preaching about race issues. I have been so deeply encouraged by that. I appreciated sermons on that topic and the awareness that has been brought in the many applications of scripture to those issues, along with other church events. Yet, at no point have we really investigated, confessed, repented of, and sought to address the challenges of racism in our body. It’s a difficult but crucial first step before any racial development can occur. Plus, confession and repentance of sins are foundations of our faith. I realized when I read the letter sent after the Capitol riots, though, that we were experiencing the direct repercussions of never having done that. I saw damage being done with the words – a neglect to care for those who were most vulnerable in our body at that moment, people who had been threatened and were justifiably terrified for their safety. What I have observed both from the pulpit and from church leadership has been an academic and “safe” study of this sin, as if it is sin that others deal with, but not us.
The anemic response from elders to the responses to the survey of congregants of color at CHBC clearly exemplifies the gravity of this problem. Where is the care? Where is the compassion? I see in that situation that even the leaders of the church are illiterate in these issues that are so significant to many in our body and in our society. How are we to reach people for Jesus if we cannot speak on these things? If we were truly investigating race issues, we would know that and be working hard to root out that sin that binds us. But we haven’t. We understand that a “white paper” on race issues is in development; putting efforts toward a document to demonstrate expertise on these issues without ever recognizing or addressing the many appeals for care in our body only further demonstrates the cognitive dissonance at play.
I have noticed what most people in power typically do with events that have negatively affected marginalized people. They will so often hear each of those stories and decide that they were one-off events without import, writing them off as either one person arbitrarily behaving badly toward another or likely the “victim” deserving what came to them. So those stories are erased in their minds as only that, one-off events. However, if instead of erasing those events, one was to plot them on a graph, a clear pattern would emerge. People in those marginalized groups have enough data points that they, as a matter of their own physical and emotional safety, do not erase – and they clearly see the patterns. At the same time, though, the people in power look at their “graph” and don’t see anything, because all those points were erased along the way. And those that see the patterns see them clearly and it alarms them, and it frustrates them that those people who are their bosses, leaders, and decision-makers make decisions without regard to them. I see that having happened in our church. We have to consider why so many data points have clearly been erased at CHBC along the way, leading leadership to miss those patterns.
Katherine’s insights articulate for me many of my reasons for resigning. In addition, perhaps most disturbingly, I have seen that our leadership has increasingly been willing to compromise its integrity and behave in ethically questionable ways. We have witnessed alarming efforts to hide truth and to control and limit essential information from not only congregants but from officers of the church. The patterns are clear and have also been recognized by many “concerned congregants” in our body, yet they have thus far been disregarded, excused and dismissed by our leadership. I have brought my concerns, supported by specifics, to elders and church officials in conversation after conversation and email after email. This letter is not the place to rebroadcast the specifics of those concerns (involving, for example, recent resignations and firings), but I can no longer serve in such an environment in good conscience.
Recognition of my own complicity
I want to be clear that I own my part in contributing to the dysfunction of the leadership. On many occasions and in many ways, I participated in allowing our church to drift. Time and again, I did not push hard enough for course correction or advocate effectively for biblical priorities. I allowed myself to be persuaded in group settings to go along with unsound decisions that, in hindsight, did not reflect wise, biblical thinking. I was in a position of influence and power, and I failed to use that influence assertively and productively for the kingdom. As a result of my shortcomings, many people were hurt, and our church’s witness has been compromised. For this, I sincerely repent and apologize to the congregants who entrusted me with the church’s care.
My call to the elder board
In inviting GRACE to assess our church, we have opened up a golden opportunity for CHBC to change course. GRACE is renowned for its effective work in helping churches navigate just the sort of problems we are having; it is arguably the most respected agency in the field. I am so grateful for their help. As we approach the release of their report in the months to come, I am concerned that there will be a reluctance to share GRACE’s report broadly and transparently. I am also bothered to have even seen hints of communications and actions that may already be undermining GRACE’s potential recommendations and the impact of the report. For example, I have heard leadership question GRACE’s accepted definition of “abuse,” and I’ve heard general criticism of the use of that word and concept. I have also heard, in a recent sermon, criticism of the recent proliferation of material about church dysfunction, expressing general skepticism about the integrity and value of abuse response and labeling it as a “cottage industry” – while we are the midst of an assessment from a leading organization in the field. I urge you, the elders, to express wholehearted, unequivocal support for GRACE’s assessment and to advocate strongly for a full and transparent sharing of the ensuing report.
Katherine closed her letter with a story and an exhortation. I’d like to finish by sharing it.
I’ll tell you a true story that I feel relates to this situation. Years ago, I had a colleague who also did health economics research, like I do. For several years, much of his time at work was spent on studies aimed at understanding the costs and benefits of an eye screening program for children. The screen was a fairly simple and low-cost one, but identified a fairly rare eye problem that, if diagnosed and treated, prevented many debilitating and expensive problems in the future. He was becoming somewhat of an expert in our field regarding interventions for eye and vision problems. One day my colleague was at Target with his kids. He saw something that he thought one of his sons, who was around 8 or 9 at the time, would like, so made a statement about that item to the son. The boy looked up toward the item, then hesitated, stepped a few feet over, and then clearly recognized and acknowledged how much he liked it. His dad was confused and asked, “What just happened there? Why did you step to the side like that? You could see it from where you were.” His son replied, “Oh, I just had to get myself in a place so that I could use my good eye to see it.” He and his wife soon learned that their son had the very problem with his vision that he had been working for years to get diagnosed in other kids. My colleague was an expert on this vision problem but didn’t recognize that it was right there in his own family.
I think the Bible Church unknowingly has only “one good eye.” It is great at studying and appreciating the scriptures. It is a warm and nurturing place for many people. But I would argue that one of our eyes doesn’t work, the one that truly shows Christ’s love for everyone, regardless of their theology, gender, or race; the one that respects and honors all people’s value; the one that is transparent about our depravity and genuinely celebrates our need for Jesus; and the one that recognizes clear patterns that would be evident if the “data points” of people within and outside our church body were recognized. I feel like we are like Esther in the palace with the king, ignorant of the travesty that is about to unfold, and just wanting the Mordecais in our midst to put on some nicer clothes and stop making a scene. Like she did, though, we have to inquire and we have to respond. We are at a critical point in our church journey in deciding whether we are going to do the hard work and recognize that two eyes are better than one, or live in the fear that currently holds us back from that. We serve the maker of the universe, thank the Lord, and we can trust that we don’t need to live in that fear.
We have been putting out this “call to respond” to the systemic shortcomings in our church again and again over the course of this last year and even before. To our dismay and sadness,not only has that call fallen on deaf ears, but it has met considerable active resistance. We love the Bible Church and grieve that it has become what it is today. We exhort you, the elders, to respond boldly to the moment. We will pray for you, trusting the matchless power and love of the Father to bless CHBC, and we continue to covet the prayers of the faithful for ourselves.
Walker and Katherine Hicks
PS. I am resigning as an elder, but we are not revoking our membership at the church, as we are still actively involved in several church activities, as well as working and praying fervently for healing here.
Joo Lee Letter
Dear Elders of Chapel Hill Bible Church,
After much prayer and discernment with my wife Ashley, I regret to inform you that I am resigning from the Elder board at the Bible Church, while continuing our membership. It has been an honor serving in this capacity with you.
When I was appointed to the elder board 12 years ago, I brought with me my perspective as a minority member of the Bible Church. Historically, the Bible Church has sought out non-white elders in order to learn from our differences, as well as helping one another become aware of our blindspots. After years of serving, I went on an extended leave (Article VI, Section B, Part 5e) because of family circumstances. A year ago, I was compelled to speak, as a minority, into the elder conversations regarding the church leadership’s poor response to the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. I was shocked and deeply hurt because of the lack of condemnation of white supremacy, racism, and violent nationalism. It sent a message to the minorities in our church that the Chapel Hill Bible Church supports the idea that this country is for and ruled by white people and that this church caters to the majority. It was obvious that the church’s response had further marginalized the minority congregants of our church.
In these elder conversations, it has been my intent to help the elders understand that the race issue is beyond mere political rhetoric and that it is central to understanding why the leadership’s response was hurtful. The reason the response ended up being hurtful was because of the leadership’s blindspots to the minorities’ experience of racism. Unfortunately, the leadership has been unwilling to explore their own blindspots. During the elder meeting on February 24, 2021 (refer to the meeting minutes), I pleaded with the elders to publicly recognize and denounce racial injustice and white supremacy and to advocate for the minority congregants. At the end of that meeting, I was assured that this discussion on race was just beginning and that the elders would continue the conversation. The leadership promised this in front of the entire elder board. Regrettably, almost one year later, there has been no further discussion. When I attempted to discuss race in the elder’s discussion forums, I was asked to refrain as it was causing too much conflict among the elders.
During the February 24 meeting, I asked you, the elders, whether or not you cared enough to advocate for those who have been victims of racism. Although some elders did come to me personally to say that they desired to advocate for the marginalized, it is clear that the church leadership does not. What I have seen is that the leadership cares more about stability and protecting the status quo than listening to the elders desperately trying to point out a critical blindspot. I am resigning because I can make no further meaningful difference as an elder, and I cannot be part of this group while accepting the fact that the leadership of CHBC only truly serves to the benefit of the majority congregants.
Furthermore, as I’ve become more involved in elder discussions because of the issue of race, I have witnessed disturbing behaviors. I have seen our church pressure former employees to sign non-disparagement and non-disclosure clauses in post-employment agreements by offering money, in effect paying people for silence. Ministry Watch warns churches to not use these legal means. Just as lying tends to beget more lies, the use of these ethically questionable legal means tend to beget more ethical issues. We have witnessed this already. “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) I have also seen frequent uses of half-truths to conceal what truly happened. Unfortunately, half-truths have become an accepted form of behavior, and because of it, honesty and truth have become gray. “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:37) I have also witnessed tactics of intentional delay and lack of follow-through. The discussion around race is one such incident. I have heard from former church staff members who were targeted for dismissal or were pushed out. I have also heard from former staff members who were victims of manipulation.You are also aware of multiple accounts of abuse committed by our former executive pastor. I have seen and heard too much to believe that these are just one-off mistakes. There are some deeply-seeded ethical issues that the church leadership needs to dig through and reflect upon. A deep soul searching is in order.
I know that there are other elders who share similar reservations. I pray that you will raise these issues and continue the fight to transform from within. Please advocate for the full, unredacted report from GRACE to be publicly shared with the congregation. Unfortunately, I have already seen some efforts to undermine the legitimacy of GRACE and its efforts. Please ask yourselves, why would a church hire an independent organization to perform an assessment of the church and then undermine the organization’s legitimacy even before the work is finished?
I am writing frankly about the issues that I see in our church leadership because I love this church. When I started attending CHBC 16 years ago, this church provided me with genuine friendships and community that was truly difficult to find at other churches. Resigning from the elder board deeply saddens me. I think we can all agree that this is a very difficult time for our church. I pray that the Spirit will give you all wisdom and courage to follow God alone. I would like to thank those of you who have supported me as we have had difficult discussions on race. You have prayed for me and encouraged me. Thank you for allowing me to serve the church that we all love alongside you.
In Christ, Joo Lee
February 12, 2022
Dear CHBC Elders and Family,
It is with great sadness to inform you that Young has resigned from the Elder Board and we (Young and Sarah) would also respectfully request to be removed from the membership at Chapel Hill Bible Church.
Out of our deep biblical conviction and based on our discernment of the Holy Spirit and our background and gifting, we feel called to help build a local church that strives to fulfill the vision of unity in Christ among many different peoples. When we first joined the church more than twenty years ago, Chapel Hill Bible Church was the local church that embodied this vision. We had hoped that CHBC would CONTINUE to lead the fulfillment of this vision and be a witness in our already diverse local community of Chapel Hill and Durham. To our great disappointment, it seems that the Bible Church no longer shares this vision with us. After an extended season of struggle and searching our hearts and prayer for guidance, we have concluded that it would not be possible for us to pursue our calling at Chapel Hill Bible Church. Thus we have made this difficult decision to join the minority flight from the Bible Church.
We came to Chapel Hill in 1998 as a family with two toddlers and have been worshiping and serving at the BibleChurch since then. All our children grew up at CHBC. We have benefited so much from consistent Biblical preaching. We’ve made so many friends who have modeled for us what growing in Christ looks like. We are so grateful for these giants of faith who taught us how to love the Lord with all our hearts, soul, and mind and how to love our neighbors.
Young served the church as a deacon, chair of the deacon board, and an elder for three terms, and Sarah served in various ministries. But our greatest joy came from serving in the Korean Ministry, where we regularly shared the word of God with unchurched Korean visitors and immigrants who came to CHBC to check out an American church. Despite our shortcomings in speaking Korean and the significant cultural divide, we saw them get excited about the Word, many accepted Christ as their Lord and grew in their relationship with Christ. When we visited South Korea a few years back, we had an opportunity to see the Lord at work in many of their lives. What a joy and privilege that was! We are thankful to the Lord for this opportunity to minister at CHBC.
While the Korean ministry was thriving, Sunday morning service was filled with a diverse group of people, especially Asians like Chinese and Koreans. Their English skills were modest but they were SO attracted to the good news of the gospel that they filled our pews in the back rows at our old church on Mason Farm Road and in our current building. They tried their best to glean a few words here and there so they could grow in the knowledge of our Lord. We shared these language struggles with then Pastor Acuff and he tried his best to use language that was more easily understandable by foreigners to share the good news with the “least of these”. We were probably at the cusp of being considered a multi-ethnic church (threshold of >20% non-majority people in the congregation, a benchmark used commonly by scholars of religion).
Why does this matter? In Ephesians 3:10, God wants to make known his manifold wisdom through the church, where people from different nations and races come together to worship. Revelations 7:9 offers a vision of heavenly worship: “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Similarly, Ephesians 2:14 says, “for he (Christ)himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” The local church reflecting the heavenly worship should be one of the most tangible ways of demonstrating the reconciliation that Christ has brought into the world, because the dividing wall of hostility between races in the world has been broken down by Christ in the church.
But over the last decade, this diversity at the Bible church has been slowly replaced with one majority culture. It was quite alarming to us to see the 20-30% diversity in the Children’s Sunday school dwindled down to <5% (data from Children’s Sunday school registration a few years ago). We alerted the leadership, and the response was, “That is too bad” and they just moved on. The Bible Church used to engage with the local community by bringing unchurched ethnic kids from the surrounding neighborhoods for things like singing in the choir, and they then would bring their unchurched parents to our Sunday morning service to listen to their children sing.
They then had opportunities to meet our ethnic ministry leaders and some joined our fellowship and came to know the Lord as a result.
As these community-engaging activities were systematically shut down, the regular influx of these unchurched ethnic groups dried up, and even the long-time ethnic congregation members started to leave. We cried with so many of these friends as they were leaving the Bible Church.
Also, while we were leading the Korean ministry, we were bombarded with many very serious congregational care issues (one crisis after another) that overwhelmed us and took its toll on us. We felt like we were laboring in the wilderness, isolated, largely disconnected from the church and with very little support from leadership. We were also disappointed by both subtle and overt signals that we as Asians are not equally valued in the church. After 10 years, we just burned out and we had to leave the ministry.
Over this past decade, we have observed our church staff fill one position after another with people from the majority culture. The interns paraded on stage would be almost exclusively from the majority culture. The worship team on Sunday mornings would be mostly from the majority culture. As we were leaving the Christmas Eve Service last year, an Asian-American woman who moved away several years ago came to greet us, and the first thing she said was, “Why is everyone in the front almost all white?” She asked this question last year when her family received a Christmas card from the church with pictures of all the staff. Sadly, we came to the realization that our church gives lip service to diversity but fails to engage and empathize in a real way with people of color.In Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, the author encourages deeper engagements with communities of color to truly get a sense of their experience. “Be proximate to INJUSTICE,” he says. During this past decade, our church has become more insular, engaged more and more in “holy huddles” and continues to get farther removed from INJUSTICE.
Therefore, it is hard to “see” the sufferings of communities of color or even the sufferings of some in our own congregants. Most people of color at CHBC were shocked and dismayed and indeed hurt by PastorJay’s letter (approved by the elders of the Oversight Team) to the congregation after the January 6th insurrection. Personal experiences of people of color attending the Bible Church collected at that time paint a picture of pain, alienation, invisibility, and marginalization, feeling like second class citizens, hidden by superficial appearance of harmony and unity. As long-term members at CHBC, we would argue that the current state of CHBC is inconsistent with the historical roots of CHBC. While the proportion of multi-ethnic churches in America has been steadily increasing, diversity at CHBC has been trending the wrong way. Although the elder board began to discuss the race issue, it quickly became apparent to me that it is going to be a difficult and contentious process.
We wonder if our failure to engage meaningfully in these issues is more deeply rooted in our blind spots in interpreting the Scripture and framing the gospel because we are so attached to and proud of our historical tradition. We talk a lot about the “line of Scripture”, not being over or under the “line”. But we question if our biblical teaching really hits the “line of Scripture”. There are big blind spots or deficiencies in the way we think about this “line”. Indeed, Dr. Carl Ellis (whose work Pastor Jay commended in his sermon) writes in the Gospel Coalition article that the American evangelical church focuses primarily on personal piety, but not on the institutional or social dimensions of righteousness.
It seems to me this criticism is quite applicable to CHBC. Even in our most recent series through the gospel of Luke, the preaching tends to gloss over so many obvious passages dealing with the poor, oppressed, downtrodden people and misses the opportunities to think about applications of the Scripture with respect to lifting up the marginalized in the society and our community. We call for repentance from individual sins or idolatry while ignoring the broken systems that have hurt and oppressed people, right in front of us. I (Young) would challenge the fellow elders to read Carl Ellis’s short article and authors like Esau McCaulley (Reading While Black) or Soong-Chan Rah, to complement the way we usually think about the “line of Scripture” and to be open to correction by people who shine a light to these blind spots. Without the posture of humility and learning even from those who disagree with us, we fear that we will fall far short on meeting the challenge of being true disciples of Christ who can ably share the good news of the gospel in the current moment in America, especially in the signature issue of racial justice and reconciliation.
We will continue to pray for God’s blessings on Chapel Hill Bible Church and for Spirit-led transformation that would be more welcoming to people from every nation and every tongue. Please pray for us as we embark on the next phase of our pursuit of the Lord and His Kingdom.
May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts. Young and Sarah Whang