"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Tom White, Abuse, VOM, and the Power of the Internet

Last Thursday afternoon I received a call while in my office at Emmanuel Enid. One of our secretaries buzzed in and said, "I have a man on the phone who claims to be the father of the young girl abused by Tom White and he wishes to speak to you." My heart skipped a beat. Earlier in the week I had felt impressed to write an open letter on the Internet to the unnamed and unknown girl allegedly abused by Tom White, the Executive Director of Voice of the Marytyrs. The police and press had both reported that Tom White had committed suicide while under investigation for possible abuse of this young girl. When I first heard of Tom's suicide, my immediate thoughts went to his victim. I was not sure if she would ever read the open letter, but I asked the Lord, if possible, to use the letter to bring healing to the girl and her family. For her to understand how important she was to me (and others), I wrote these words: "The first person I thought about when I read the story of your abuser’s death was you. I do not view his death as something more tragic than his abuse of you. Let me say that again in a different way. The abuse perpetrated on you is far more tragic than your abuser’s death. I did not think of his ministry, his reputation, or even his family when I first heard of his death. I thought about you.  Your abuser’s sin and shame and his lack of personal responsibility and courage are the direct causes of his death. Your abuser took his own life and you had nothing to do with it."

Her father was now on the phone. I answered trepidatiously, not knowing what to expect. During the subsequent forty-five minutes I had one of the most moving phone conversations of my life. I cannot go into all the details of the conversation, particularly in regard to the abuse and the circumstances surrounding Tom White's death. These matters will remain confidential out of respect for the victim and her family, as well as the family of Tom White. What I can say is that there is no doubt the abuse occurred. In addition, there is no doubt the open letter helped this young girl's family. Her father told me that he was at work and had Googled "Tom White" and on the third page he found my post "The Sin and Suicide of 'Voice of the Martyrs' Executive Director Tom White: An Open Letter to the Young Girl He Abused." He thought to himself, "What in the world is this about?" He read it at his desk and began to weep. He said that he received a great deal of comfort and healing from the open letter and immediately printed off a copy of it to take home to read to his wife. He said they both cried as he read the letter again to his wife at their house. "The Holy Spirit brought such incredible comfort and healing to us both." The parents of the young girl have saved the letter and will  at the appropriate time read it to their daughter.

The parents' response to the discovery of their daughter's abuse is a textbook case on how parents should handle such a tragic situation. The young girl is doing remarkably well, and credit goes to her father and mother for the forthright, loving and supportive manner in which they responded to their daughter's abuse and her abuser. I have requested that the couple write a guest post of their experiences as a means of comforting other families who have gone through similar difficult situations. They are considering it. Regardless, I know that hundreds of people will be helped in the future by this remarkable family. Their story is gripping. My prayers continue for this family.

Finally, the power of the Internet has been reinforced to me through this experience.  We who write for the cause of Christ always do well when we write words that either bring healing to the wounded or refreshment to the weary; nothing lukewarm for us.  Thanks to my new friend who called last week, I have been encouraged once again that the Lord can use words written and published on the Internet for His glory and the good of His people.

The Sin and Suicide of 'Voice of the Martyrs' Ex. Director Tom White: An Open Letter to the Young Girl He Abused

Dear Tabitha,

When I heard about the self-inflicted death of your abuser, I felt compelled to write you this open letter. The only thing I know about you comes from the Voice of the Martyrs media release and the police department in Bartlesville, both of whom describe you as "a young girl." They also said that your abuser, Tom White, had "inappropriate contact" with you. Many of the young girls I know are computer savvy, and if you search for information regarding Tom's death, I hope the Lord will guide you to this open letter. If after reading it, you feel loved, understood and encouraged, then I will have accomplished what I believe God intended.

I have chosen to address you by Tabitha because I believe this name represents your character well. Tabitha means "gentle and kind." In the New Testament, one of the women admired by all the disciples was named Tabitha. She was known for her gentle, trusting character, and most of all, for her desire to do good. These things, by God's grace, precisely define who you are. How do I know this? Because you and your family were close to Tom White. You share the same values of caring for Christ and His people, particularly those Christians who are being persecuted around the world. Unfortunately, you have suffered the most severe type of personal persecution there is. The invisible physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries that every adult should respect in young girls have been violated by your abuser. What makes your abuse even more horrific is that it came from someone trusted by us all. I am proud that you talked about what happened to you. You did good! I admire your courage and strength. Tabitha, you did good! You have strength and character. I marvel at your wisdom for such a young age. I have a daughter of my own that I dearly love, and you exhibit all the characteristics I see in her. If I could, I would adopt you as my own.

In Acts 9, when Tabitha died in Joppa, her death was important enough for the disciples to come to her home immediately without delay (Acts 9:38). Though I cannot physically come to your home today, I send this letter with the prayer that it finds its way to you. There are a few things you may want to know about me. I am in Christian ministry. As already mentioned above, I am a husband and father. For many years I have sought to help young girls who have been abused. The first person I thought about when I read the story of your abuser's death was you. I do not view his death as something more tragic than his abuse of you. Let me say that again in a different way. The abuse perpetrated on you is far more tragic than your abuser's death. I did not think of his ministry, his reputation, or even his family when I first heard of his death. I thought about you.

I know that last Wednesday a portion of you died when you heard of Tom White's death. My grandfather in the ministry once wrote "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind." The news must have been overwhelming to you and your family. In some ways you may feel relieved that you will not have to continue to talk about your abuse in the police station or the courthouse, but inside you feel diminished because Tom White is dead.  There are others around you who are comforting you and telling you the truth, but my hope is that God will startle you by allowing you  to read this letter and know that He is speaking to you through a perfect stranger who understands:

(1). You are not responsible for your abuser's death.

There will be times that you may feel if you had kept quiet and not said anything about what happened, then the tragic events of last week would have not occurred. When those times come, please remember the truth. You are no more responsible for your abuser's death than you are your abuse. Anytime you begin to have thoughts of "If I only had ...." or "If I had not..." push them out by knowing that God alone holds the keys of life and death, and He never gives them over to us. More importantly, bringing to light the abuse is not the cause of your abuser's death. Your abuser's sin and shame and his lack of personal responsibility and courage are the direct causes of his death. Your abuser took his own life and you had nothing to do with it.

(2). Your life is not defined by your abuse or your abuser's death.

Yes, it will be difficult to ever forget what has happened these past few months, but it is one thing to remember events, quite another thing to be defined by them. You are a child of God who has significance, value and worth because of Him. Your future is His. One of these days I believe that you will be able to help other people overcome the pain of abuse because God has granted to you the special grace of experiencing supernatural healing that only comes through enduring unnatural hurt. You have been abused, but you are not defined by that abuse. Your personhood is defined by your God, and He makes no mistakes.

(3). Your ultimate healing (and mine) will one day be in the presence of Christ.

The Bible does not tell us a great deal about heaven, but one description given is that He (Christ) will "wipe away every tear." All the tears caused by the dysfunction and curse of sin will be wiped away by Christ. I don't know how it happens, but somehow, someway, the reconciliation between the abused and the abuser will occur in the presence of Christ. When you are unsure of your forgiveness of your abuser now (a natural feeling, by the way), turn it over to Christ. When you doubt your ability to ever desire to see or speak to your abuser again (a very natural feeling as well), turn it over to Christ. Your abuser professed faith in our Christ, and for many years he worked to lead others to know Christ. However, no matter what he did on earth for the good of God's kingdom, what he did to you on earth is unconsionable and inexcusable. Christ knows that better than you or I.

Only Christ can bring about the needed reconciliation. He will bring it to pass. Don't despair. Your complete healing is coming one day. And when it comes, it will be done right, with utter and absolute grace and righteousness, and it will be a permanent solution to the wounds in your soul and the sin in your abuser. Christ alone has the kind of power that can wipe away your tears. He will. Until then, I pray you experience Him as your "balm in Gilead."

Until we meet personally, know that you have a friend, a Christian pastor serving in the same state in which you live, who cares for you far more than you may ever comprehend.

In His Love and Grace,

Wade Burleson
Lead Pastor
Emmanuel Enid





Controllers and Manipulators Are in Need of Something

I have written in the past about pastors and other religious leaders using their so-called spiritual authority to control people in their churches. Spiritual abuse is not pretty, particularly because it is done "in the name of the Lord" and the abuser is deceived into believing he is doing the will of God. However, attempts to control, manipulate and coerce others is not limited to religious leaders. Every relationship between two people has the potential to be a relationship where one person trys to control the other person. Whether it be family relationships, workplace interactions, or personal friendships, there is always the risk that someone with whom you relate will attempt to control what you think, when you act, or how you feel.

Controlling and manipulating other people is not Christian. Jesus never pressured people to follow Him. His words, "Come, follow Me" (Mark 10:21) form a selfless invitation, not a strategic manipulation. Followers of Christ always benefit when they accept the invitation to follow, but Christ is unaffected and unchanged whether the invitation is accepted or not. There is no need for Christ to coerce, manipulate or control others to follow Him, because He doesn't need people to follow Him in order to feel worthy, significant and valued as a Person. He is worthy, significant and valuable in Himself. And, more importantly, He both knows and feels His worth and significance.  He doesn't need others to follow Him and He doesn't need to know that other people value Him. That's why Jesus never manipulates or controls anyone. What Jesus does is purely selfless because He Himself is without need in His inner being. Jesus wins us over by His love and inner strength. He is fulfilled in Himself. Our rejection of Him does not affect Him because He doesn't need us to feel worthy. Therefore, He doesn't coerce us.

Christ came that we might have His kind of abundant life. You and I won't know what it means to really live until we understand our value, our signficance and our worth in God's eyes. When He becomes our primary Source of life, we will not need others as alternative sources. For example, when the love of Christ becomes my primary source of love, then my life is not threatened by the absence or withdrawal of another person's love. When the significance I feel in life comes from knowing how much Christ values me, then I don't need to manipulate my circumstances or control my environment to ensure other people value me. When I begin to understand that what makes me honorable as a person is the honor I have in God coming and dying for me, then I don't worry too much whether or not people around me see me as honorable. When I begin to see that my reputation is all about what He thinks of me (and what He thinks of me must be pretty doggone good to do what He's done for me), then I don't care what others think of me. When He is my Source, I don't panic at the lack of alternative sources.

So next time you find yourself trying to control or manipulate someone to say, do, feel, or be the way YOU want, ask yourself one simple question: What am I needing? Controllers and manipulators always need something. And, no matter how good and godly anybody tries to make it sound, controlling and manipulating other people to, say, do, feel or be a certain way is evidence that there is a great void in the inner life of the manipulator. That void can only be filled by the knowledge of Christ and His grace relationship with us. For this reason, to give in to coercive behavior is to enable the manipulator to continue finding his life in secondary sources rather than Christ. And to give in or to give up is about the worst thing you could ever do for the manipulator you love in your life.

Think about it.

What Does the Lord Require of Thee? - A Review

One of the great privileges of blogging is becoming acquainted with men and women from across the world that I would not normally know were it not for the Internet. One such person is Judy Scott Brandon, Ed.D. Judy is a wife, mother, former public school teacher and university professor. She is a Southern Baptist who over two decades ago chose to set aside her professional career for a season in order to stay at home and raise her children. An opportunity arose to write a weekly column in her local newspaper, The Clovis News Journal, and for the last 25 years she has been a columnist read by thousands of people in her home state of New Mexico. Judy's book, What Does the Lord Require of Thee? is based on those newspaper articles. The first portion of the book consists of stories and essays of what it means for Christians to live and work for justice. In the section entitled "To Love Mercy," the reader is introduced to Strange Guy, and the inner joy that comes from showing mercy to friends and complete strangers. The third and final section entitled "Walk Humbly with Your God" is filled with colorful anecdotes that illustrate the importance of humility in the believer's life. Judy's writing is precise and fresh. She possesses the unique ability of writing with self-deprecating panache and humor. The book is composed of stylistic easy-to-read essays that grip the attention and sustain the memory. All believers, both males and females, young and old, will benefit from Judy's wisdom and wit.

Dr. Richard Land: An Astute Apology Aimed At Amnesty

Dr. Richard Land, the Oxford and Princeton educated Director of the Southern Baptist Convention's Religious Liberty and Ethics Commission in Washington DC, issued an apology on his radio show Monday afternoon, April 16, 2012. The previous Saturday afternoon, Baylor Ph.D. candidate Aaron Douglas Weaver wrote a blog charging Dr. Land with plagiarism.  Aaron's evidence seemed irrefutible.  The Washington Post picked up on Aaron's charges against Dr. Land by Monday. Dr. Land's apology that same day (Monday) was swift, succinct, and specific. I find it interesting that the head of the Southern Baptist Convention's agency on ethics does not refute the charges, but simply apologizes. I do not know how this will ultimately play out, but I suggest that any person desiring to study the best way to deflect personal charges that have the potential to be explosive in nature examine the timing and content of Dr. Land's apology. He is erudite in more than just scholarly things. He seems to understand that Southern Baptists have a streak of mercy which can be triggered when someone says, "Aw, shucks! I didn't mean to do it. In fact, it's such a minor thing I wouldn't have even noticed had it not been pointed out to me! I promise to pay better attention to such minor details in the future!"  In academia and politics, Dr. Land's "oversight" has historically been deemed punishable behavior. We'll see if Dr. Land managed to strike the cord of mercy in Southern Baptists' collective heart through his astute apology aimed at amnesty. We'll see.

Houston Baptist University: Being a Convictional Baptist Is Far More Important than Being Called a Baptist

Houston Baptist University is considering dropping "Baptist" from its institutional name. Houston is doing what several Baptist churches have already chosen to do. The church I pastor is legally constituted as Emmanuel Baptist Church, Enid, Oklahoma, but in publications, advertising and web-based information our church is known as Emmanuel Enid. It is to be expected that most Baptists, both young and old, have no idea why churches and institutions carry the name Baptist. A few Landmark Baptists will try to tell you that John the Baptist started the FIRST Baptist Church, and all true Baptist churches succeed from those early Christians who met with their first pastor. Several years ago I warned Southern Baptists about the growing implications of allowing Landmark Baptists to provide leadership in our missions agencies. Landmarkers believe that since Baptists form the only true church, then baptism in a Baptist church is the only true baptism. I got censured for calling out my Landmark friends on their error while serving on the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. But, that's another story.

Some Baptists will try to tell you that the name Baptist is distinctive because it identifies those Christians who practice baptism through full water immersion rather than sprinkling or pouring. To believe that the full-orbed distictiveness for being Baptist is simply the mode of baptism is far too simplistic. Don't misunderstand me: The word baptizō  means to completely “immerse" an object into another substance.  That is the very definition of the word. Any parent who says, "We baptized our baby this Sunday" and refers to the pouring or sprinkling of water on their child is mispeaking.  I have volumes and volumes of books in my library, written by eminent scholars, who conclusively show that the ancient Jews and the 1st and 2nd century Christian Gentiles all practiced baptism by full immersion.  Even pagans understood in the early years that Christians were immersed in water, professing their faith in Christ' death, burial and resurrection from the dead. The Roman Emperor Constantine, after allegedly converting to Christianity in the 4th century, falsely believed that the Christian rite of baptism washed away one's personal sins. Because of this belief, Constantine waited until shortly before his death to be baptized in order to avoid dying with any unwashed sin. He was baptized by immersion (Eusebius, The Life of Constantine, Chapter 62). A disagreement arose in the Roman Catholic Church after Constantine's death over the timing of baptism. Many Roman Catholic theologians argued that infants needed baptism to wash away original sin lest they die in their infancy unbaptized. Infant baptism became a widespread occurance in the Roman Catholic church throughout the middle ages (AD 500 to AD 1500). Even AFTER the Reformation in 1517, Christians in those groups that split from Roman Catholicism (i.e. Anglicans, Puritans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc...) continued the practice of infant baptism.

There are some Christians who have always resisted infant baptism, even throughout the Middle Ages. These Christians were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church for being traitors to the state. Likewise, after the Reformation, Christians who resisted infant baptism were persecuted by Protestant AND Catholics and were given the epitath "ana-baptists" for being traitors to the state! The Holy Roman Empire throughout the Middle Ages had kings who came to Rome to receive God's blessings to rule a portion of the empire. Church and state were united. When the Reformation came, England split from Rome, but England still kept a state church--the Anglican Church. Germany split from Rome and still kept a state church--the Lutheran Church. Scotland split from Rome and still kept a state church--the Presbyterian Church. I could go on and on. Taxes paid pastors salaries in Protestant and Catholic countries. Kings appointed the pastors (bishops) in Protestant countries and served as head of both the church and the state. The Pope continued to appoint bishops  and kings in Catholic countries.  Those Christians in Protestant England, Protestant Europe states and Roman Catholic states who refused to baptize their children in infancy eventually became known as Baptists. The Baptists in England and Europe, like their ana-baptist forefathers, were persecuted for being traitors to the states in which they lived. For over a millenia, Christian names and state citizenship had been bestowed on children at their baptisms--the rite which came to be called christening. Baptists refusing to baptize their infant children were deemed traitors to their respective states. Some Baptists were tortured and others were put to death by their governments. Some sought to escape persecution by coming to the newly discovered land of America. But what is important to understand is that Baptists have historically lived by a deep conviction that the Kingdom of God is separate from any kingdom of this world.

Jesus Christ told his disciples, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). Baptists are Christians who have a deep conviction that the church of Jesus Christ will always be separate from any political kingdom in this world. Our King is not an earthly king, He is a heavenly King. Our Country is not of this world, it is a heavenly one. Our allegience is to a Sovereign over the  universe, not any sovereign who reigns over a specific country. Because Baptists have always had this as a deep conviction, there are a few things for which Baptists will be willing to die for in this life:

(1). Freedom of religion--because allegiance to Christ can never be forced.
(2). Separation of church and state--because our kingdom is not of this world.
(3). Freedom of speech--because eternal Truth is never afraid of spoken error.
(4). The sanctity of all human life--because all human life comes from the Creator and is meaningful because of Him and not because of one's class, race, gender, religion, political affiliation, or one's country.
(5). States must protect the individual's rights--and when the state abdicates her role as protector of the individual, then individuals have the right to overthrow the government by ballot, or when necesssary, by force (see Baptist John Gano, Chaplain for George Washington and the Revolutionary Continental Army and the pastor who baptized the father of our country during the Revolutionary War, as an example for when a Baptist believes war is justified).

America's Bill of Rights was attached to the United State's Constitution as a direct result of the efforts of Baptists in America. These Baptists came from England and Europe and had seen the damage church/state governance does to individual rights. Soon, throughout America, First Baptist Church's began to dot the landscape. Convictional Baptist Christians were now proud to be identified as Baptists, and no longer had to hide for their lives. They were living in freedom in a country that  understood the necessity of protecting the rights of the individuals in the state. Unfortunately, over the past 200 years, we Baptists have lost sight of our foundational convictions and have become far too political, far to ideological, and far too egotistical for our own good.

To the good people of Houston Baptist University and any other church considering dropping Baptist from your name, but particulary to those who condemn HBU and others for making this decision:  I urge you to remember the title of this post and by God's grace have it seared into your conscience:

Being a convictional Baptist is far more important than being called a Baptist.

To My Daughter Charis on Her 25th Birthday! Love, Dad

Charis, it was a quarter of a century ago today, on Sunday, April 12, 1987 in Shawnee, Oklahoma, that you entered this world. Your name means "Grace" and your mother and I felt from the very beginning that we were immeasurably graced by God to be your parents, but in time we felt even more favored to be your friends. We have written you a private birthday note which you should receive in the mail, but I felt impressed to write this public post to express my deep love and respect for you as a person and to encourage you with a specific word about your personhood. There are so many things I admire in your character including your faith, your perseverance, your kindness, your selflessness, your loyalty, your generosity, your wisdom, and countless other excellent qualities. There are so many additional attributes you possess, including your bulldog determination (a chip off the old block!), that cause us incredible joy! I could write a veritable book summarizing what your mother and I think and believe about you. We know you are not perfect, nor are we, but it is His grace and mercy in our lives that have taught our family to be quite comfortable in the skin, personality, and temperament He has given each of us. Your fiance Travis is a truly blessed man. He, like I, has been given by God a remarkably strong and gifted woman. Soon, you and he will marry, and your surname will change. As you know, Shakespeare once wrote, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  That is so true of you! Though your name may change, you will not. You will always be the special person of charis that God has made you to be.

I have tried during your life to help you capture the truth that who you are as a person has never been defined by your pastor-father, nor will it ever be tied to the identity of any man. Contrary to what some of our Christian friends believe (and teach), you have no need of any alleged 'covering' provided for you by a male. You didn't need any covering from me, nor will you need one from your future husband. The only covering you need you have; and it is given you freely by your Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the only Person from whom you can find real and eternal personal identity. Your mother and I have sought to model for you what a biblical, godly marriage is all about. Your mother is my equal. She is my friend. She stands alone in her personhood. You've been taught that you are the equal of any man, and we believe you know that to be true! We are excited that you have the privilege of marrying your best friend, and we do not believe there is a better man you could have chosen to marry in the entire world! We are confident Travis will remain your best friend throughout your life. But you have a Friend who is even closer to you than your future husband, your father, or your grandfathers. No male in your life was ever designed by God to be the source of your life, or the basis of your happiness, or the stability of your future. Christ is all that to you and more. He is your Source. He is your Sufficiency. He is your Stability. For this reason, no matter what you hear in the future from well-meaning pastors, I would encourage you to remember what your mom and dad have taught you over the years. You are the equal of any man in worth, value, signficance, purpose and abilities. You can both lead and follow, serve and be served, encourage and be encouraged in every area of life, including the emotional and spiritual level.

When we get to heaven you will be given "a new name" (Revelation 2:17), you will not be married (Luke 20:34), and you will no longer give birth to any children (Luke 20:34). Of course, those you love who are "in Christ" and those who love you who have also come to faith in Christ will be your BFF's, and we are delighted to be included in that group! But your identity for eternity, your significance forever, and your personhood in glory will be defined by Christ--no man. It is for the women in my family, particularly you, that I have sought to remind Christian women what the Bible says about God, women, and female personhood. Contrary to what many others would want Christian women to believe, the Bible reveals God has chosen to liken Himself to a female, and we are the fruit of His womb. In short, you have as much of the image of God in you as any male. You were created in HIS IMAGE, and your identity is in Him.  This birthday greeting is public because many of my friends are at a conference this week called Together for the Gospel. They read my blog, and some of them don't yet understand the importance of this issue in the Kingdom of God. I want them to know that when I write on the subject of women, I am primarily concerned with being biblical, but my motivation is practical, not philosopical or theological.

I write for you. I want you to know I see the Image of God in you. I rejoice that the Life of my God is in the soul of my daughter. You, Charis, are a beautiful human being, and it is because God's love for you and Christ's life in you. Happy Birthday! I look forward to being your friend for all of eternity.

In Our God's Grace and Love,

Dad

Bubba Watson Is My New Favorite PGA Golfer

I've played golf for over thirty years. Oakwood Golf Course in Enid has been my home course for the past two decades. I told my sons this afternoon that every single hole on the back nine is a direct copy of the back nine at Augusta--for good reason. Perry Maxwell designed Oakwood in Enid, Oklahoma and he also designed Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Whether it is the par five holes (numbers 13 and 15), the par three holes (numbers 12 and 16), or the specific doglegs on each hole, the parallels between the two back nines of each course are close to exact. It's always fun to watch the Masters on CBS because of this familiarity, and viewing this incredible golf tournament has been an annual tradition for my family. After watching today's emotional victory for Bubba Watson and reading Billy Graham's Evangelistic Association article about Bubba Watson, this young man has become my new favorite PGA golfer. The picture above is of Bubba hugging his mother after winning the tournament on Easter Sunday 2012. His wife was at home watching the tournament on television, caring for their newborn adopted son. Here's hoping Bubba wins a number of additional majors!

Liberty U's Legal Counsel Needs to Take a Chill Pill

The legal counsel of Liberty University posted, allegedly on behalf of LU's Board of Trustees, the following article on Liberty University's website:
"On April 4, 2012, a Southern Baptist blogger, Peter Lumpkins, wrote an innacurate account of Liberty's recent Board of Trustees meeting as it relates to the university's invitation to Mark Driscoll to speak in Convocation. Lumpkin’s recent blog contains information that is defamatory and portrays Liberty University in a false light.

The Board of Trustees of Liberty University did not vote unanimously that Mark Driscoll is not welcome on campus, as the blog states, and, in fact, Mark Driscoll is still scheduled to speak in Convocation at Liberty University on April 20, 2012.

Liberty University's legal counsel has demanded the immediate removal of the post. Liberty University is also posting this notification so that our community is informed as to the inaccuracy of the post, and advised that Lumpkins' blog is clearly being used to disseminate misinformation about Liberty University and to cause strife and harm to the university."

Peter Lumpkin's blog can be read here. I don't know if Peter Lumpkin's facts are correct, but I suspect where there is smoke there is fire. I am experienced in understanding that a Board of Trustees will often do things in private that are the very opposite of what they claim in public. Regardless, what I find humorous about Liberty's post is its statement "Lumpkin's recent blog contains information that is defamatory and portrays Liberty University in a false light."

What? Has Liberty ever considered that the invitation to Mark Driscoll is what puts LU in a bad light? Further, does legal counsel at Liberty remember when the Vice-President of Liberty declared the Board of Trustees would NOT take action against Ergun Caner and that the charges of bloggers were "unfounded?" One would think Liberty would have learned a lesson from a couple of years ago.

For what it is worth, here is some advice to legal counsel at Liberty University:

(1). It is much better to be silent than to make statements that you will one day contradict.
(2). No blogger has the power to "cause strife and harm to the unversity." The university has all the power to cause strife and harm by your own actions.
(3). Next time bloggers say something that you deem "false," just keep quiet, and if it is truly false it will eventually go way. If what has been written is NOT false, then you should focus your attention on  repairing problems in your midst. Bloggers don't create the problems, you do.
(4). Whoever writes for your Public Relations Department needs to work on syntax.
(5). Liberty, you should know you definitely have a problem when Wade Burleson is agreeing with Peter Lumpkins.

Happy Easter everyone!

The Finest Defense of Childhood Evangelism In Print

Every Christian ought to have in his library, and read at least once a year, The Kingdom: The Emerging Rule of Christ Among Men, written and published in 1899 by George Dana Boardman. It is the definitive classic on the biblical phrases "the kingdom of God" and "the kingdom of heaven," terms used by Christ and the apostles repeatedly in their ministries. Boardman's father, George Dana Boardman "The Senior," was an associate of Adoniram Judson in Burma. When Senior died, Boardman's mother married the widowed Adoniram Judson, thus George Dana Boardman grew up with the famous missionary as his step-father. Boardman would return to America and graduate from Brown University and go on to pastor First Baptist Church, Philadelphia from 1864 to 1894. On page 62 of The Kingdom, after referencing Jesus' statement "suffer the little ones to come to me, for of such is the Kingdom of God, Boardman explains how the consituents of the Kingdom of God (believers) possess the child-like traits of self-unconsciousness, trustfulness, guilelessness, conscientiousness, teachableness, obedience, and love. Boardman writes that Jesus taught "before any one can enter into His Kingdom, he must come down, or rather go up, into the child-state." Boardman then gives one of the finest philosophical and biblical justifications for childhood evangelism I've ever read. Boardmen writes:

"Since childlikeness is one of the essential terms of the Kingdom of God, it follows that child-like piety is profoundly philosophical. I do not say that the child as such is sinless, or that he has been born anew: much less do I say that a child is specially devout. But I do say that the spirit of childhood is the natural emblem and the representative of the Christian spirit. And just because this is true, little children are of all persons the most likely to become Christians. It is the very characteristics of the child-state--this self-unconsciousness, trustfulness, guilelessness, conscientiousness, teachableness, obedience, faith, hope, love--which give to the little child a peculiar aptitude for the Kingdom of God. He does not have to unlearn long years of self-complacency, distrustfulness, craftiness, stubbornness, waywardness, selfishness before he can enter the child-state; he is in the child-state already and the child-state is prerequisite for the heavenly. To expect, then, the early conversion of children is, I repeat, profoundly philosophical: for it is in the entire harmony with the very genius of Christianity. And the younger the child, the likelier the conversion. The real wonder is not that infants are converted. The real wonder is that adults are. Our King nowhere said to little children, "Except ye be converted, and become as adults, ye cannot be saved." But our King has said to adults, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye can in no wise enter the Kingdom of God." Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, and said:

"I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that though didn't hide these things from wise and discerning men, and reveal them to babes; yea, Father, that so it was well pleasing in thy sight" (Luke 10:21).

The theological seminary is good: a Christian mother's knee is still better."

Let Him Alone; God Hath Bidden Him to Speak: FBC Jax and the Consequences of Silencing Dissent

On April 8, 2009, three years ago this Easter Sunday, the religion reporter of the Florida Times-Union newspaper quoted Rev. Mac Brunson, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida as giving a statement that would eventually get Brunson and his church in some legal hot water. Rev. Brunson said, "What you're dealing with is a sociopath."

Brunson was referring to Tom Rich,  a long-time member and Sunday School teacher of  First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida. Tom had anonymously started a blog in 2007 called FBC Jax Watchdog in which he criticized his pastor's leadership, particularly regarding financial decisions pertaining to the church.  The church's security team, which included members of local law enforcement agencies in Jacksonville, opened an official "criminal investigation" to find the identity of the anonymous blogger. The means the church used to identify Tom Rich led Rich to file a federal lawsuit claiming "the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and State Attorney’s Office violated the blogger’s First Amendment right to anonymity and free speech by wrongfully uncovering his identity and providing it to the church in 2008." The city of Jacksonville and the state of Florida eventually settled the lawsuit with Mr. Rich, after acknowledging "accidentally destroying" several of the official records involved in the case. The city newspaper editorialized at the time that the church's use of power was troubling.

Last Friday First Baptist Church, Jacksonville settled the defamation lawsuit that came as a result of Tom Rich being publicly identified as "a sociopath" by their pastor. Last Sunday, Rev. Brunson read a statement of apology to his church (emphasis mine):

"In April of 2009, I was quoted in a Times-Union article regarding an Internet blog which concerned this church. The article stated that I had labeled the author of the blog "obsessive compulsive" and a "sociopath." I did use those words and those conditions to describe Mr. Tom Rich, the author of the blog. These are serious and debilitating conditions. These statements have resulted in protracted litigation for myself and this church. Mr. Rich and his family were longtime members of this church. Mr. Rich is not obsessive compulsive  and is not a sociopath. I regret making those statements. I want to apologize to Mr. Rich and his family. I also want to apologize to you and the church."

I read Rev. Brunson's apology in the April 2, 2012 Times-Union newspaper accounting of the event. Reporter Jeff Brumley writes that Stan Jordan, a former Duval County School Board member and state legislator, was in attendance when Brunson made what Jordan calls "a statesmanlike" apology. "It was the right thing to do. That's what Christian life is all about," Jordan said. "I respect him for it. When you err, you fix it."

I do not know Stan Jordan. I must, however, politely disagree with his dogmatic assessment that Brunson's apology exemplifies "what Christian life is all about." The apology could also be about the appropriate and just end of legal recourse. Newsrat, one of the commentors on the Times-Union website, gets it right when he asks, "If the apology was “what Christian life is all about,” why did it take a lawsuit to get it?"

That is a good question, Newsrat, particularly in light of events in the past few weeks. For example, on February 8, 2012 (less than eight weeks ago),  Mac Brunson stated under oath (page 36, lines 24 and 25 of his 91 page deposition) :

"I think based upon what he (Tom Rich) has written that I've formed an opinion of the man."

Mac Brunson's deposition continues (page 37, line 6 through page 38, line 8) with Tom Rich's attorney asking follow-up questions (Q) and Rev. Mac Brunson giving the answers (A):

Q You're basing your opinions on what you've read (on Tom's blog); correct?

A. Yes

Q Or really, what you've been told?

A No, what I've read. I don't have to put a gallon of gas in my mouth to figure out I don't want to drink it.

Q Well--

A I don't have to read everything he said to reach an opinion about what I think is going on with him.

Q But if Mr. Rich or any church member wrote an article and published it on the Internet that was critical of you, that doesn't make that person a sociopath, does it?

A No.

Q It's doing it over and over again that makes him a sociopath?

      Mr. Weeden (Rev. Brunson's attorney): Object to form. Go ahead. Unless I tell you don't answer it--there's just something wrong with the way the question has been asked.

A That is one of the contributing factors. That gets close to a definition of obsessive-compulsive.

Q And a sociopath.

A I think so.

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As recently as February 8, 2012, Mac Brunson stood by his statement that Tom Rich was "a sociopath," a statement orginally published by the Times-Union on April 8, 2009. Thankfully, last Sunday, Rev. Mac Brunson apologized for his statement. Nobody knows the motive for why Rev. Brunson apologized after three years, but there are at least two possiblities:

(1). The Holy Spirit brought Rev. Brunson to repentance for his statement in less than eight weeks (February 2012 to April 2012) after He could not bring the gift of repentance to Rev. Brunson during the previous three years (February 2009 to February 2012). After all, the Holy Spirit is the One who enables us to display to others "what Christian life is all about," right? Or,

(2). Part of the settlement of the lawsuit, which included an undisclosed financial payment to the Rich family, included reading an apology to the church for the original statement by Rev. Brunson that Tom Rich is a "sociopath."

I do not claim to know which of the two reasons above is the one which led Rev. Mac Brunson to apologize. The original judge in the defamation lawsuit was replaced by one of the best friends of retired judge A.C. Soud. Judge Soud, whose name has been mostly kept out of the newspapers, was front and center in orchestrating the events at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville that led to a trespass warning issued against the Rich family. Judge Soud was Chairman of the Trustees at First Baptist Church , Jacksonville at the time the trespass warning was being issued to the Rich family. Last week, Soud's friend and fellow judge handling the lawsuit recused himself from the case. He  apologized to Mr. Rich and his attorney for not knowing the extent of Judge Soud's involvement in the events. An out of county judge was then chosen last week to replace the judge and adjudicate future lawsuit proceedings.

First Baptist Church, Jacksonville reached settlement with the Rich family before the end of last week, and the statement of apology was read on Sunday morning. The Spirit moves in mysterious ways, His powers to behold, as does the legal system too! Real Christian life involves calling a spade a spade.

This sad chapter is finally over. I think Christians everywhere owe Tom and Yvette Rich a debt of gratitude. They have displayed courage and conviction during a very difficult, trying time. I have never met Tom or Yvette, but I admire their tenacity and principles. Though I personally choose to always write things with my name attached, the tactics taken against Tom by his home church of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville AFTER his identity was discovered, only proved accurate his initial belief that his family would be in too much danger were his identity to be known by leaders of First Baptist Church. I think the favor Tom and Yvette Rich has done for us all is make it a little more difficult for Christian leaders to publicly denigrate and damage the character of those who criticize or question them.

Finally, just a word to my fellow pastors. If you are publicly criticized, censured, or condemned, it would be good to follow the advice of King David, who when verbally castigagated by one of his subjects and asked by Abishai if he could "go cut that dead dog's head off," responded, "Let him alone. God hath bidden him to speak."